Friday, April 27, 2007
Yesterday I asked a group of sixth graders to evaluate three websites (I've added them to my links). They were given a checklist of criteria that a credible site would have. The kids spent about 15 minutes at each site and then explained to the class what made each site credible. This is a great activity to teach kid the parts of a website, but I wondered what would happen if the websites they evaluated were bogus. The scary thing is, they didn't notice.
I'm not kidding.
One of the sites describes an elusive tree octopus. The only objection to that information was that the kids thought teachers would be more likely to assign a report on "the regular kind of octopus." The next site reported on a study of cats' reactions to bearded men. The kids couldn't really see why they would need to know that cats are turned off by pictures of Abraham Lincoln, but they didn't question that it was true. Finally, a history of the Fisher-Price airplane. Even the name didn't give it away. The kids told me this was a great site, that they would be able to find information about the plane's engine, size, and speed - all things a teacher would surely require for a report.
When I told them the sites were bogus, most of the kids were surprised and uncomfortable. One claimed he knew it all along, but I think that was because he was embarrassed about being the one who had championed the airplane site. Did the kids not catch on because they don't have the background knowledge to know better? Perhaps they just don't know enough about octopi to rule out the possibility of a tree-dwelling version. Or is it that we aren't asking enough of these kids, intellectually? If stats about a plane's size and speed is all that's required for a report, where is the analysis? The critical thinking?
It worries me, this discovery of mine. I want to rush out and give this lesson to the entire student body before it's too late. Something has to be done!
My thanks to Kathy Schrock, a teacher who has made her lesson ideas and templates available to all teachers. These activities are really all her idea.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
A week or so ago, I teamed up with a 6th-grade math and science teacher to take a stab at a loosely constructed library skills class. The class is 40 minutes a day for 4 weeks. We decided that we wanted to see what would happen if 25 kids had a chance to learn certain information retrieval skills outside of the hustle and bustle of a standard class. We planned to spend a week on reference materials, a week on using the library catalog, a week on the district's digital library (databases), and a week on using websites for research. We started with websites, knowing the kids were itching to get to the computers the minute they walked through the door.
As adults, we often assume that the 'kids these days' were born with a mouse in hand, a flash drive around their necks, and Das Interweb running through their veins. We think we will be sooooo far behind these kids once they hit the workforce. Not so. Here are some of the things that these 6th-grade sweethearts neither knew nor understood:
- the Internet is not an application
- where to type a URL
- what a URL is
- not to use spaces when typing a URL
- how to click on ANYTHING
- how to move between websites
- how to find the name of a website
- why a website will not appear if its address has been spelled incorrectly
The list goes on and on and on. I was met with blank faces when I used words like homepage and browser. The kids were given a pretty standard website evaluation sheet which asked questions like "are there photos on this website?", "does the page take a long time to load?", and "does this site link you to other useful websites?". Nothin'. And I mean nothin'. Pinball they know. How to find video game cheat codes, also yes.
The funny thing is, many of these kids have computers at home. I am beginning to suspect that having a computer at home means very little if no one knows how it works. So don't worry too much, fellow adults. I think your jobs are safe, for a little while at least. My 6-month old niece might steal them from you someday, but I don't think you'll get much trouble from my 6th-graders.
Friday, April 6, 2007
This is all theoretical ranting, you might say, but I have a concrete example of one small way the Almighty lets us know that we are not worthy. Occasionally schools will have what's called a minimum day, which in normal human language might be called a half day. These often happen on the day after teachers and students have been at school in the evening for parent conferences or an open house. One might think that such a half day makes a good reward for the hard work and inconvenience of the night before. One might even think that the teachers would be encouraged to take a couple extra hours (seriously, it's less than 3) for family, rest, and warm fuzzies about a job well done. Not so, dear readers.
Today is Friday. Good Friday to be exact. Today our students will go home at 12:40 to begin a holiday weekend (although I am not religious, I still appreciate a good chocolate-based holiday). We teachers will stay until 3:24 on the dot, under the watchful eye of our warders. Most of us won't do much work, to tell the truth. We will linger by the bitter, burnt coffee that is beginning to stick to the bottom of the carafe. We will check our email and read the LA Times. We will eat leftover half-doughnuts (these were the thanks given to the teachers for staying late last night), maybe make some copies for Monday, and probably spend a not insignificant amount of time thinking of how best to sneak out without being detected. Why do we stay, you ask? Why such inefficiency? This must be the reason our schools are in such bad shape, you say.
We stay, of course, because they make us stay. Our contract says that we are not allowed to leave. We are paid, after all, for the whole day. The whole 6.6 hour day. Wait a minute! 6.6 hours! That can't be right. School starts at 7:30. School ends at 3:24. That's (wait for it, wait for it) almost 7 hours and 54 minutes! Oh right, we don't get paid for our whopping 30 minute lunch, or the 20 minute morning break Californians call "Nutrition" in spite of the nachos that are served in the cafeteria. That's still more than 7 hours of work. Lucky for the district, our contract is so long and complicated that no one really understands how nearly 8 hours turns into 6.6. We also fail to get paid for time we spend at school before or after the official school day, time we spend grading and planning on the weekends and in the evenings, or time we spend agonizing over the daunting task that is our chosen profession. So, on a day like today, I can't help but feel that this forced teacher-detention is especially cruel. It is insulting. It is plain ol' rude.
For me, the light at the end of this tunnel is that, in its own twisted way, this vicious oppression actually helps to build relationships among teachers. During the two hours and some odd minutes that we are trapped, faces pressed to the bars of the enormous professional fence that surrounds us, we will talk to each other. We will actually stop and talk about our students, the subjects we teach, and the techniques we have recently used in class. We won't have to run full-tilt towards our classrooms at the bell, cutting off the conversation just as it's getting good. We will sit down with teachers who are new to the school, or those who a ready to retire, and we will be teachers together. We will bond over this foul treatment of our kind, and we may come out stronger for it. So HA! school district. IN YOUR FACE!
Thursday, April 5, 2007
“They’re bored! So bored, with nothing in the world to do,” I exclaimed in an exaggerated teacher- voice that lets kids know I’m joking around.
Giggles from them, then silence.
“Are you telling me that you actually cannot think of a single thing to occupy your time? No websites to visit? No books to page through?”
Smirks and shrugs.
“Ok. Let’s see. What do you like to do? What do you want to be when you grow up?” By the way, I hate the wording of that question, but find it often spills out of my mouth without my permission; it sounds so superior. More smirks and shrugs. They make eye contact with each other, but nothing develops from this.
“Do you think about what your lives might be like in the future?”
Giggles, then, “noooo?”
Then, out of nowhere, one of them nudges the other and says, “A vet.” Hallelujah! This was just about to get really painful for me.
“Great!” I am overly enthusiastic about this answer. It is a common aspiration at this age and therefore pretty unoriginal, but I am so happy to have learned that their vocal cords are still functioning that I don’t care. “Do you have pets?” I learn that she has three dogs, used to have more, and one of them recently had puppies.
“What about you?” I look at Shy Girl B and wait on the edge of my seat.
Shrug. Smile. Giggle. Shrug. Smile. “Pharmacy Technician.”
Um. “Wow, really? Is someone in your family a pharmacy technician?” No offense to pharmacy technicians, but I cannot figure out where this girl got the idea unless she knows someone in the profession. It’s pretty specific.
“No, I just think it sounds interesting.” Don’t we all.
So, joyous in my success, I bound out onto the library floor and pull books about careers for people who love animals, communicating with animals, rescue dogs, guide dogs, Chihuahuas (Shy Girl A’s preferred breed), history of medicine, alternative medicine, chemistry, and experiments with mixtures and compounds. They accept my offerings and politely flip through the books for a minute or two. I have great hope that I have changed the course of their lives with this one conversation until I am thwarted by a teacher just returned from a field trip. He brings us leftover pizza, and after having plopped pepperoni on one of the dog books, the girls retreat (bookless) to the library workroom to eat theirs. I haven’t seen them since. Damn that teacher, damn field trips, and damn cold meat-lover’s pizza on a sagging paper plate.