Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning with the Olympics

We've been warned not to say anything publicly that could make our board or school or identifiable colleagues look bad in any way.  I don't think I'm doing that here.  I'm merely expressing a different opinion, and I expect I'll be in the minority of public opinion.  I'll really just be making myself look petty, yet I continue undeterred.  People can judge the board's tweets on their own merit without the help of my ranting.

The Olympics only happen once every four years (sort of).  And it's only for a limited time.  And it's all about celebrating our country's achievements.  But I need some clarification around what to do in class during this pivotal period of time in our history.  All week, I've been negotiating with kids watching on their phones while I tried to teach.  One student astutely pointed out, "They have it on all the TV screens in the school, so they obviously want us to watch it."

And the school board concurs:

This was sent out yesterday morning, and similar tweets previous to that, and it gives tacit permission for students to go ahead and enjoy the games even if it's not what your teacher had in mind.   They don't say that explicitly, but I'm willing to bet it's the message many students are getting.  The board twitter rep recanted briefly only when a student questioned if he could miss a test to watch the games, but their silence was permission when others tweeted about skipping school.  The Games are related to school (in some unmentioned way), so therefore it's acceptable to watch them during class time. 

I can think of a lot of things that are even more school-related that we don't allow students to do during class time.  Some teachers might want to try to stop students from doing math homework long enough to explain an English project during English class.        

But the Olympics is bigger than math.  It's an infrequent spectacle that brings our country together.  This is true.  And from that vantage point, it's really not a big deal to miss a little school for the sake of community.

But what is disconcerting about the board's view, and of many schools' practice of showing the Olympics in auditoriums, is how contrary it is to everything else we're being told this year.  Aye, there's the rub.

Shortly after reading the board's blessing, I replied with this tweet, tongue-in-cheek (couldn't copy and paste it as a tweet for some reason):
"I'm struggling to determine my learning goals for this activity as reflective of the essential learnings tied to my curriculum."
And then I swiftly deleted it.  People love the Olympics, and how dare I bring opposition onto the floor, particularly in a forum frequented by students hoping for a snow day and, at the very least, looking forward to an afternoon of passive viewing - a group, I hasten to add, who used many nasty words and threats when the board chose to keep school open on a very cold day this year.

But I maintain the sentiment.  Since September, we have been directed towards an approach to learning that must now overtly and clearly link everything we do in class to the curriculum.  There's no more room to go off on student-directed tangents until they run their course.  As I understand it - and my understanding of it shifts regularly - we are required to determine how best to evaluate student understanding of essential learnings based on each course's individual curriculum documents, then provide transparent learning goals daily (or close to daily) to help the students understand why and how they will reach the final target of satisfying the curriculum requirements.  For my purposes, it means if I have a class that is going to town on discrimination issues, we can't just take an extra week or two to do more exploration on it because then we won't have sufficient time to cover the rest of the learning expectations for the course.  And covered they must be or else no students, technically and officially, will have passed the course.

I'm getting on board with the more stringent approach, but how do the Olympics fit in here?  For some courses, it's an easy curricular tie-in.  Not mine.  Maybe I could fudge something but is that what the board is hoping we'll do?  Or are the AER rules out the window when it's convenient for them.  Or does school spirit trump AER?  I hope it does.  And I hope this series of tweets from the board office is an indication that we can all relax and not fret so when the AER-police drop in, as is expected, to ask our students what the learning goals and success criterion are for my specific lesson today.

It's a shame they didn't drop by this afternoon!


The Mound of Sound said...

You've "been warned," really? How can you teach effectively if students are watching Sochi coverage on their smartphones? I assume you're still expected to work through the curriculum while your students, with the school's support, are AWOL.

Here's an idea. How about you get a nice little voice to text app, record your lectures and then e-mail them to the kids so they won't have to miss a thing.

Marie Snyder said...

Our teacher's federation told us that, just like any other job, if we insult our employer publicly, we could face termination. Yikes! I've since deleted many posts because of it. I hope this one is okay. I'm just commenting on something they put out on twitter. I'm not making them look badly to anyone, only suggesting that I disagree with their stance on the issue. Some people, however, might already view their tweet negatively, but that's got nothing to do with this post (except that they might have found a place to vent). See how nervous I am about all this!!!

I can't teach when they're all on their phones, and it's been a grumpy week for me because of it. And my usual gang of "special Friday after work meeting" crew were all busy tonight, so I vented online. Now, in class, I'm the meany who actually sent a kid to the office to please leave her phone there for the rest of class. It'll take a while to mend that classroom relationship.

Some people think that, because they're on their phones all the time, that kids today are good with technology, but this group might not be able to use e-mail. They just know how to text back and forth, and they text each other within the classroom! It's the new version of passing notes. It's not the technology they like, but their link to all their friends all the time - that, and passive entertainment. I spent a class just discussing how to manage boredom and how to make it look like you're attentive when you're not. Useful skills for the workplace! (It's a careers class.) They really just need to learn how to check out their phones without being noticed. As in, don't yell across the room, "Did you get the text I just sent you?!"

This too shall pass.