Monday, September 28, 2009

UDL and the Start of School

School began one month ago. This was the start of my 25th year of school. And still I am surprised by the students. Really I am not so surprised by the students but by their behavior. You see, by fifth grade, my students have already learned how to play the game. Sit as quietly as possible, don't leave your seat unless you raise your hand and ask permission, do not call out in class, and never, never ask a classmate for answers.

So they come into our classroom and find things are a bit different. Can't sit still? Then stand up. But move to the back so you don't block anyone. Need to get a drink? Wash your hands? Go to the bathroom? Take a break? Then do so. But be sure you are not disrupting other classmates in the process. Have something important to add to the conversation? Go right ahead. But be respectful and don't talk over anyone else. Need help and your table mate seems to know what he is doing? Then ask for help. Check your answers with his. Ask him how he got his answers so you can do it yourself next time.

The two most important rules we teach in our class are to have respect for others and be an active learner, doing whatever you need to do to accomplish that task. This is unusual for children. Not so much the
respect part but respect takes on a whole new meaning when you are making so many decisions. You see, when the teacher says the rules are to sit quietly and respect him/her, then respect is easy. You sit quietly and don't speak unless asked to.

But when you are responsible for your own learning, then respect changes. Maybe you need to come closer to the front of the room during a presentation so you d
on't get distracted. You need to be sure you do so without blocking anyone else or without making a commotion moving chairs. Maybe you need a fidget toy so you can concentrate better while touching an object. Get up quietly and grab a Koosh ball. Just don't toss it up and down or the student next to you gets too distracted. Maybe you need to take notes. Don't wait for the teacher to tell you to do so. Grab paper or your Post-Its and start writing. Or grab a laptop and start typing. But don't be distracting in the process.

By Decem
ber, by November, by October even, our students have learned this. They move about freely, work well together, have conversations with each other, and are respectful - most of the time - of each other. But each September, I have to be reminded that they come to us from classrooms that don't run this way. Decisions are not made by students. Rules are not so easy to follow. And, as much as they love their teachers, their classes, their school, the learning is different here. It takes some getting used to. After all, it's hard to learn to be a learner. And that's what our classroom is all about.

'final exam'
'"It is our choices. . . that+show+what+we+are,++far+more+than+our+abilities."'

Friday, September 4, 2009

Buying and Learning About a New Phone

This week my family switched phone services. There were a number of reasons for us choosing to leave the service we have been using since buying our first cell phones. One was that, although they swear they don't exist, we live in a dead zone. We figured it would be nice to be able to use our cell phones in our house. I hated having to tell people to call me on one number during certain hours and another number during other times. Another reason we left was because we decided it was finally time to get a data plan and our service has high prices for data plans.

So first we tried service company S. My husband, who is bold and brave and likes taking risks (more about that later) chose a smartphone, signed up, and played for a couple of weeks. I, who am
not bold or brave or happy to take risks, stayed with my old tried-and-true. The one day I took his phone to work, I called him from the car and got disconnected twice. End of service company S.

Next we
go to service company T, which is what we ended up with. Hubby again chooses a smartphone, signs up and tests out the service. He calls me from the store to tell me how excited he is with the phone and the service. I want to know if Catherine Zeta-Jones is going to sell me the plan. I grudgingly agree to try it out but still push him to stay with our old tried-and-true. But he is now hooked on the idea of having service in the house.

So two weeks later, Hubby finally convinces me to go for it. Now this is big. We have a f
amily plan. My husband, my daughter, my mother, and I are all on the same plan. So now we all have to get new phones. Off to the store we go.

Hubby, as is his way, did lots of research first. He finds the ideal phone for our daughter. She is not getting a data plan. She cares about the ca
mera, the keyboard, and the ringtones. She gets the phone he recommends, takes it home, and complains about it all night. It is returned the next day.

Her complaints - she couldn't easily take a picture, she sent herself a ringtone and then couldn't find it, she didn't understand the manual (I read it too and agreed with her on that one), and she hated the touch screen. The next day we get a phone that doesn't have as good a rating as the one she hated. But it has a keyboard and easy to use camera. And she
easily found her ringtone. Sold!

Mom gets a basic phone. She wants something easy with good service. We come home and she is frustrated that she cannot get to her contacts by pushing one button. After all, that's how her old phone was. She li
ked her old phone. She wanted a new phone exactly like her old phone. I take her back to the store the next day where the sales rep configures her phone so she can access her contacts with one button push. She is happy but still carrying around her old phone just in case. Of course, the service has been turned off but...

In the meantime, Hubby is excited by his smartphone and keeps showing me all the cool apps he can download and ways he can configure it. He wants me to get his phone. But I don't want his phone. I don't like his phone. Why not? There is no keyboard. It is all touch screen. I cannot work the touch screen. Hubby says I will learn. I say I don't want to have to. I get his phone but an earlier version that had a touch screen. Yes, it will probably be obsolete soon but I am happy.

This switching of phone services has taken a great deal of our time this week. And it has me thinking about learning and learners.

First, there is my mom. She is not comfortable with change at all. She is terrified that she will push the wrong button and mess up the whole phone. So
she'd rather not have too many choices of buttons to push. Hence, the desire to have a one-button connection to her contacts. She's happy she can take pictures but doesn't really intend to use that function. Her phone can actually add audio to the pictures but she says she will NEVER use that function. How many teachers do you know like this? They like the idea of functions but are too afraid to try them out. Forget taking any risks at all. It is difficult for these teachers to bring technology into their classrooms.

Next, is my daughter. She is very willing to try new tools but wants the learning to be quick or she is not interested. She is willing to push every button, try every function, read the manual, watch tutorials. But if it takes too long to learn, she is done. There are many teachers like this, too. Give them quick, simpl
e tools to incorporate into a classroom and they are ready and willing. But they are not so willing to try something more challenging unless there is a clear goal. My daughter spends hours learning Photoshop. I think this is a very difficult program to learn. She is becoming a master. But her goal is to create better artwork. She has a clear goal and is willing to work to get there. But to send a text message and take a picture? Her other phone worked just fine, thank you.

Then, there is my husband. He spent lots of time telling me how unimportant it was to get a data plan and data phone, until he actually got his hands on one. Then it was urgent to change our plan, spend more money, and get the top smartphone that existed. He learned quickly by reading every blo
g, watching every tutorial, scouring the manual, and staying up until 2 AM playing with the phone. I know many teachers like this. They are enamored with the latest and greatest, rushing to bring more and more to their classrooms. Big risk takers, willing to try anything.

Then there is me. I guess I have a little bit of all of them in me. I am, like my husband, anxious to try new tools and willing to learn, but not willing to spend hours learning a new tool. I actually follow a rule: if it takes me more than 10 minutes to learn the basics, I will not use it in the classroom. But,
of course, like my daughter, I have exceptions. Frames is a good example of that. I had a goal, wanted to achieve that goal, and knew this tool would help me do that. So I spent more time learning. And a little part of me is like my mom...terrified I will mess up everything, but not scared enough to stop pushing buttons.

What kind of learner are you?

Image: 'Phones'

'Catherine Zeta Jones - then and now'

'Notes: Simple Text Editor'

'buuf2 1'

'Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia'