Dealing with the fear of being a boring teacher.

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teaching

The Overflowing Froth of Realness: Iowa BIG

A quick primer on what we do at Iowa BIG:

It’s been slow, especially because I’m used to running my own little kingdom of a classroom, but Iowa BIG is bearing the fruit of a community-focused, project-based model.

The dream was to create a schooling experience with a seamless connection and sometimes blurred difference between who’s doing the learning and who’s doing the supporting of that learning. As I watch my students move out into the community to pitch their projects and seek support from local experts and interested parties, I can’t help but beam with pride.

BIG_LOGO_x_WIDE

I woke up this morning to an inbox full of reports and evidence of community building that I had no direct control of: students telling me that they met with local counselors and psychologists that have steered a project on mental health in a totally new direction; I didn’t do that. 300 people gathering to support a student’s long-term study of gender equality this Friday. I had such a small role in that.

Community Building, Inc.

It all comes down to the view of community building as a profession. I was brought into that fold by a local media company; their constant drum beat being that a built community, a connected network where the central node becomes less and less so, is vital to the success of schools, businesses, and the ability for residents to thrive.

I have to admit I didn’t get it at first… So, we should, um, have hang-outs at coffee shops? Sure, but what should the conversation be? You don’t get to plan that, but you do get to support it and help drive it. But don’t these Luddites have a complete lack of understanding of my beautiful vision for education? No/Yes, but they’re integral in creating a vision for education that’s more doable and effective than your “beautiful vision.”

At Iowa BIG, students, faculty, and, most importantly, the community at large pitch projects into our pool. The students then pull from that pool know already that the project matters to someone. The teaching and learning of the students overflows beyond any individual teacher so quickly, it’s almost amazing that we’ve intentionally left the community out of education for so long. Sure, parents support sporting events, and some donate money to the schools, but actual involvement in the educational process has been becoming more and more divorced.

Why else would we have such complicated conversations about grading? I know I’ve spilled some serious digital ink on the subject. If Wormeli is right, that grades are supposed to be communicative over time, instead of summative of a time, then why wouldn’t we carry that naturally beyond the preposterously reductionist practice of grading directly into instruction and mentoring?

As a teacher, my only real talent is the experience I have of working with young people. I can take the smallest tell and imagine what misconception or hang-up may be preventing that project/student from moving forward. That’s my profession. I am not so good at generating a thousand project ideas for every student and having all those ideas hit the mark. Many teachers suffer needlessly over this ineffable hubris that has been placed on the teaching profession: somehow, student interest and buy-in must stem from the teacher or else, I must be a bad teacher.

That’s impossible! For every student!? Impossible!

Yet, I see burned out teachers every May wishing for a break. I then see those same idealists stand up with a firmed chin in August to try it again. You know what they say about repetition…

Without creating a network of interconnected communicative nodes, all dedicated to the education of the network’s students, bringing them into how the community gets work done and needs work done, you’ll never achieve the individualized instruction that everyone claims to want. You’ll never attain the quandrant-D-OMG-engaging-real-world-real-real-World lessons everyone’s trying to design. The school budgets aren’t big enough, but a symbiotic, intentionally-built relationship between education, business, nonprofit, government, and so on?

That’ll do it.

Schools that are Just Killing It:

  1. Blue Valley CAPS
  2. Northland CAPS
  3. Makerspace@Lakewood City Schools
  4. Eagle Rock, CO
  5. Iowa BIG (obvi)

Help me make this list longer, email: shawn dot thinkthankthunk at gmail dot com.

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One thought on “The Overflowing Froth of Realness: Iowa BIG
  • Matt E says:

    Your zeal can’t not be contagious, and this may well be the future of education. But it leads me to wonder where someone like me would fit in, if at all.

    I teach math. Not because I just landed there by default, or because there happened to be an opening in a math department somewhere and I kinda remember being good at math, but because I absolutely love the subject. It brings me as much joy as your current endeavors appear to bring you. I don’t love math for what it can be used for; I am one of those odd ducks that sees immense, eternal beauty in it. For me it is not merely a means to an end, it is a meaningful artistic pursuit. I consider part of my job to be P.R. for the discipline, since so many of my students see math as, at best, nothing more than a tool to be used.

    It looks to me like any math that arises in BIG projects would be purely on an as-needed basis. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Yes, of course that’s important. But if that’s all math is, I have no interest. And I’m not alone.

    So where do we math-loving, high-school-kid-loving educators go?