Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of Mice and Men: First Day Hurdles, Week 1 of the Flip, and the Positives of a Negative Twitter Experience

Warning: Lengthy post ahead.  I haven't posted in a while so this post will be three posts lumped into one.

First Day Hurdles

After two days of staff meetings and logistical meetings my version of New Years Day finally arrived: The First Day (with students). The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new denim filled the air as the kids bustled in for their first day of seventh grade. Homeroom seemed to last forever as we explained all of the paper work that the students would need to bring home that evening (Google Docs would simplify this process so much, but alas thats a discussion for another day).

I was extremely excited about the activity I had planned (see my previous post). I went to the main office to pick up the laptop cart, brought it to my room and plugged it in, and with that lost power in my classroom. Apparently our 1960s era school did not anticipate the toll that computers, ipads, and the like would take on the circuit breakers. Incidentally I also caused the Vice Principal to lose power..oops! So there I was on the first day with no power and an awesome lesson I couldn't implement...what's a teacher to do?

Well we proceeded anyway sans technology, I'll admit the first few classes did not go as I hoped since I didn't have the ipads to do the online portion with them. I have a prep in the middle of the day and was able to print out the materials, so things went MUCH smoother the second half.

In terms of the tape and straw activity, the kids LOVED it and I think they were really able to see how it connected to the flipped class and how the flipped class was going to help them. I will definitely be using this again next year, with a few minor tweaks. One being that in all the excitement I forgot to go over names with my kids (oops sort of a big deal on the first day). I felt a little like a first year teacher again. I guess in a way I am since this is my first fully "flipped" year. A lot of what I'm doing is reminiscent of my first go around.

What I learned from this? Technology is great, iPads are wonderful, but sometimes they fail and don't work, so don't forget to have a paper back up! Incidentally, don't we tell our kids this all the time!?!

Onward and Upward: The First Week

Overall this week wasn't the most exciting for the kids, I went over how to watch the videos at home and did a lot of checking in with their passwords and such. I handed out the coursepacks and went over how to use them. I also lectured in class so they could see how I explain the powerpoint slides that they would be seeing in the video and made sure they knew how to follow along with the notes.

What I learned: Students adapt quickly. I was really worried that students would need a whole week to get used to me and my note style before they started to watch the videos at home, I think all they really needed was a day. Next year I will probably start with the at home videos within the first two days, that way we can get right into the fun stuff "doing" history instead of listening to me talk about it.

My First Negative Twitter Experience

I was participating in a Twitter Chat and I used the word "irregardless" I hadn't even realized that I'd used it. Now, trust me, I am fully aware grammar is one area that I could really improve on (you read my posts so you're aware of this) heck I'm sure this post is filled with errors (I'm not saying this is OK, just that I'm aware it happens). However, I am fully aware that "irregardless" is not a word. I honestly, even now cannot tell you why I used it. I was tired, it was the end of a long day, none of which excuses using a made-up word, but my point is it happened, as these things some times do. I was alerted that I had a new tweet and when I looked someone had replied with a statement that "irregarless is never acceptable for an educator to use." I froze, I realized my mistake, I was mortified and embarrassed. She was right of course, how could I as an educator have made such an error? Would people still take me credibly on Twitter? I pulled the offending statement from the interwebs hoping people hadn't seen it. As silly as it sounds, this woman's tweet sat in the back of my mind the whole next day at work. I began to question myself. I suddenly pictured my tweet getting picked up by some organization as an example of an ill prepared educator. I started to wonder if I could call myself an educator. I couldn't get past those words "is never acceptable." Someone in my profession should know better, should never have made such a mistake. Beyond all that my feelings were hurt, I had been trying to make what I thought was a really positive point on education and this woman zeroed in on my mistake, broadcast it to the universe and really made me feel like I had no business being a teacher. I felt judged it was "never acceptable" for an educator to make that mistake, therefore, I am not an educator, I am a fake.

I realize this may seem very silly to some of you (I can hear you now: for goodness sakes it was JUST a TWEET) but it honestly really really impacted me...and then it hit me....words are powerful...words hurt....we as teachers use words all day every day.

How often do we quickly correct a student's error without looking past it at the point they were trying to make? If this woman via cyberspace that I have never met in person could impact my feelings in such a negative way, imagine what I could do to a 13 year old sitting in my class. If she could cause me to question my abilities within my profession...what could I cause my students to question?

I firmly believe in making mistakes, I believe that you learn from them and that failure can lead to great outcomes if you choose not to accept it. However I also believe there is a way to correct my students without causing them to question themselves. I realized I need to approach how I correct students very carefully and so I came up with following to guide me this year as my students (and I myself) inevitably make mistakes.

1. Absolutes do not encourage improvement. I would never tell a student "it is never acceptable for you to make this mistake." Rather I would tell them that it is acceptable, they are human, they are learning, they are incomplete in the best possible way. Together we will learn how to take mistakes, learn from them, and implement change from them. We will look at why we make mistakes, what preconceived thoughts we have about things, and realize that sometimes, we just make them, and as long as we are willing to fix them, and try our best to not make them again, that's ok.

2. Public correction of a mistake is more about the corrector and less about the learner. It's one thing to realize many students are making the same mistakes and going over them together, but announcing a students mistake in public is going to do little more than embarrass them and make them afraid to make another one. All it will serve is to make the teacher look "all powerful." Socrates was famous for purporting that the first step to becoming wise is admitting that you don't know everything. I'm not saying we should let mistakes go and never point them out, but rather I think it is important to allow students to learn of an error in a comfortable private environment where they are given the opportunity to fix it.

3. Words have power, negative words, positive words, all words. I need to choose them wisely and be aware that constructive criticism while far better than negative criticism can still hurt. It is essential for my students to realize that I am correcting their mistake and not personally attacking them. I believe strongly in the use of positive language with students and will continue to look for the meaning and the message first and foremost before I go about correcting the incidentals. I don't want to miss out on a student's brilliant ideas because I'm stuck on a spelling mistake. Praise the idea first...privately correct the spelling mistake. I need to make sure my words are about empowering my students and not phrases meant to only empower me as a teacher. A private message from this woman pointing out my error would have been welcomed, but I guess I wouldn't have learned as much from that.

I thought about tweeting back to this woman and telling her that she'd hurt my feelings, telling her that I hoped she would never correct her students publicly like that, but finally I realized that I need to get it together and grow up. I'm an adult, I've been avoiding Twitter, I've been ridiculous. I made a mistake, I fixed it, and now I'm returning to probably make more...but that's why life long learning is so great! In the long run this woman did me a great favor, reminding me of the power our words have.

Ok way too long of a post. So as you can see I've learned a lot these last two weeks. How are things going in your first few weeks? How do you handle things like technology and power failures? Have you had any negative experiences on social networking sites? What are some ways you help students realize their mistakes without making them feel poorly about themselves?

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