Education is sometimes such a dance. There are so many ingredients that affect what we do and so many groups that influence it. A small child (a friend’s child) in Africa told his mother that he did not need to go to school any more. I laughed. My brother made the same pronouncement years earlier.
Jack Taub used to say that what we consider time out is exactly what we do in school. We sit them in a corner and don’t let them talk. Technology and well trained teaching professionals change that. But everyone is not ready for change. What is sad is that there are so many layers of bureaucracy between teachers and the latest technology and innovative practices. Not quite like slavery, but there are many overlapping levels of management.
The first several years of teaching can drive a person mad. There is never enough time, enough ways to get the job done, and it is a grueling task. Then one day, one day, you get it, and you feel like the teacher you wanted to be.
I loved learning from Project Tomorrow what I had discovered in my early years of technology use. There were two projects that led me to understand the value of technology in learning. One was the National Geographic, which offered a series of science projects for kids. So exciting.
It was science right on, a different kind of citizen science at the elementary level. It was called Kids Network. We had a PI in various areas, and we reported data to the group. We were placed in teams, some national and a couple international.
The project was about water or trash or pets or soil, but what really happened was that the learning became joyous because we were using math and science in a research way, and we plotted graphs and shared our sense of the place that we were in. But we also communicated with groups from various places in the world. Every child wanted to be a part of it. The other thing is that I was moved from the center of the room to the role of facilitator. I was the mailman — that was because we only had one printer. The folders of letters and information were so important to the children. Children who told me that they hated to write were sharing ideas and information with people from all around the US and the world. I had such joy in watching them share their information on a personal level. The learning was not incidental. We used math tools, graphs and pictographs, and we understood them well. We learned to use maps and charts. We were citizen scientists.
The original class wrote grants to make things happen. Sure they got me in trouble. For example, we had “airplane lunches,” the warmed over lunch program. and they hated it. So the kids and parents went to the school board. In this era this would have been okay, but back then I was a trouble maker. Oh well. I was a teacher traitor. But I just got over it. Michelle Obama was not there to help me so I just weathered the storm.
One of the children in that class, Nathan Lyon, was just featured as a chef on the Today Show. We, parents, teachers, and children, learned together. The school lunch did suck, and the project “Trash” let us document it.
NCLB killed projects like this.
The second project that gave me enlightenment was a romp through the world of the Maya. We had done the Jason project, but there was this interdisciplinary project — the Voyage of the Mimi II — that was science, anthropology, history, readings, and experiments. Frank Withrow, when he was the program manager of the U.S. Department of Education’s television series, developed it. I did not have money to buy it, but at a dinner at the National Geographic, I sat at a table with people who made it possible for me to access the program. I was sharing how we did the glyphs, the clay, the trips to the zoo, and all the things that I and the kids learned. I was teaching in a school that had very poor kids, one of them Mayan, and some very rich kids. We got along well because we bridged the economic divide with the excitement of learning. In addition I had been learning about Mexico and the Mayan culture on my own so I had “stuff.” George Stuart sent me the whole program, on a trial basis, after I shared how much I loved it. I was so lucky.
I went to Tulum, and in preparation, I studied the area through the National Geographic magazines and books. I had Earthwatch resources as well. Here’s a brief excerpt from Wikipedia:
Recounted here for the first time is the adventurous life of Frederick Catherwood, the 19th-century English artist who discovered the lost Mayan cities in the jungles of Central America and the Yucatan plateau. In 1839 Catherwood and his American companion, John Lloyd Stephens, were the first Westerners to view the immense terraces, fabulous temples, and elaborate palaces that had been inexplicably abandoned ten centuries earlier. Superbly illustrated by Catherwood, Stephens’ lively travel diaries recounting their extraordinary archaeological discoveries were published in 1841 and 1843.
I had a picture of the mounds, the remnants of the cities.
My students became cultural anthropologists, artists, researchers, historians, scientists. It was an amazing, amazing journey of leanring — and this was before broadband.
So we did not do Skype. We had the explorer himself, talking about his work on film and in person in my classroom. We had the Stuart family to answer our questions. David, since that time, has cracked the Maya Code. Even kids who thought they were not readers made glyphs and wrote in Maya code. One of the children from that class is now working at Google. He wanted to solve an even bigger problem related to the other cultures of South America. I love it that we can still talk using Facebook.
So here I am saying, well, the program is not too expensive. But there are problems. No group wanted to claim it so the gifted and talented program supervisor let me use it. However, she would not buy it so I used it for the trial period and sent it back. Who could have known that G. Stuart would be at my table. He sent the videos and resources the very next week. That man sent me my own personal set of the “Voyage of the Mimi II” and some film segments that others did not have. It was the gift of a lifetime. I had the other things I needed, pictures of Cenotes and the pictures of the explorers who found the Maya cities. One of my students was visiting Tulum and he took pictures and did a lecture after the Christmas holiday for the whole class. It was amazing to watch. The class was a fourth-fifth grade combination.
As a teacher, I never had a lot of money, but there were grants. What happened when NCLB came along was that we were not allowed to be innovative and creative. We were forced to do whatever the educational leaders of the country decided was the best path for learning. Too bad.
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