Thursday, September 29, 2016

Teaching In the 21st Century

Yesterday, my teaching partner was home sick with a sore throat, and I was on an airplane for five and a half hours (with a one hour plane change in SLC).

Just because Deb had a sore throat and was home in bed, doesn't mean she wasn't working. Just because I was above the earth doesn't mean I wasn't working too. Because in fact, we were both working. Or in this case, we can call it playing.

Students are almost finished reading Viktor Frankl's, Man's Search for Meaning. The book creates amazing discussions. I've watched students come alive as they discover a new way to look at problems, at life, at finding meaning in their own lives. Yesterday was discussion day, but remember, both teachers were absent from the classroom.

Google has some amazing resources such as google classroom and google docs. Deb created discussion groups and invited three or four students to each group. I also received an invitation to each group discussion. While sitting on the plane, I had an open window to each discussion and would jump back and forth among the five groups. To some of the students, I entered the conversation by typing, "Hi, I'm joining you from 30,000 ft. I look forward to reading and participating in your discussion." I followed the conversation and jumped in with encouraging words such as, "That's a great point Garret," or "That's a great quote you used." I asked questions and offered a few of my insights, but most of all I listened in cyberspace as the students spoke to one another via computer.

For the second hour of class time, students were writing their college application essays in  Google classroom. It is an amazing tool that allows me to FREAK out my students. They will be typing along and suddenly---I am present in their document. Yesterday's participation included compliments on writing style and opening lines, and my excitement to see where the essay was going. Joining their online writing effort seemed to be a special nudge. Often I would open a student's document and find a first line only. I'd hop to another student's writing then hop back to the first student and it was still just one line. Then I would break my silence. "Are you still thinking?" When I returned, sometimes an entire rough draft would be hammered out.

At the end of school, Deb and I were pretty amazed at what had happened. Even we communicated through an online source. I texted, "You successfully created a way for us to stay in our pajamas at home and teach school. We can now hire a robot."

Today Deb was feeling better and back in school. A minute before the bell rang, as students were putting books in their backpacks, she took a casual poll on yesterday's silent Socratic discussion. "They loved it," she wrote.

Teaching in the 21st century certainly has its challenges, but it also has its perks. Who could have imagined I would engage with students while flying over North Dakota--still a rarity-- as it could become a very expensive way to teach school.