What Makes Work Fun

I’ve spent a lot of time “playing” this year. I’m looking for tools that will make communication and collaboration easier with my middle school classes. I’m often frustrated by the lack of time I have with them- 45 minutes every fourth day-and how “shallow” my teaching feels given that lack of time. If I was only able to see them every day, I could build more depth into this class of mine.

But I can’t invent any more hours of the day or days to the week, so I had to come up with a different strategy. What if I could design a classroom that was available to them regardless of the technology they had at hand? Something they could access equally from a mac, pc, iPhone, or even their iTouch? I needed an environment that allowed them 24/7 access, and then a reason to go there outside of class.

Ah, there’s the rub. I could set up the tool- but how could I get them to go there? I felt an ephiphany slowly coming on. It started on the first day of Christmas vacation, when I didn’t have to go to work and I actually wished I could. Not to escape from my “real life” (which is rich and full on on its own) but because I enjoy my job. That lead to me figure out just what it is about my job that I like so much- and how I could put some of that into my own classroom. I had to mull it over for a couple of days, but here’s what I’ve come up with:

 I have a LOT of control over what I learn, when I learn it, and how.

Most of the time I am excited about what I am learning because I see the direct connection of what I am learning to the job at hand. For example, learning to do programming in Alice is easier when you are excited about being able to offer an after school activity class to middle school students once you master it. Learning Pages was a challenge rather than a chore when the outcome was the graduation program. Having a reason (and knowing what it was) made a big difference in my motivational level.

It isn’t always fun. I sometimes have to tough through something and force myself to learn a piece that doesn’t appear easy, like when I had to bite the bullet and learn what  CSS was and how I could use it for teaching web design. Or figuring out how to use the lesson tool in Moodle.  The difference between me and my students is that I’m usually able to wait for a time when I’m READY to learn, rather than a time when someone is READY to teach me.

 I’m not stuck in the same environment all day long.

Sometimes I work best with others, sometimes best on my own. Sometimes I need quiet, sometimes I need the distraction of music or conversation. On my hyper days, I work best standing up.  The relevant point here is that I CAN choose my environment. No one says I can’t use headphones or retreat to a quiet space where no one can find me. If I need to eat while I’m working, I can. It made me wonder…how can I afford this opportunity in my classroom?

 I’m allowed to “fail” and use that failure to succeed.

I think this is a crucial point. We need to look at failure as “not the endpoint.” Failure has such a negative connotation that we have taken it out of the school vernacular.  Kids don’t “fail” – they “do not meet standards.” My point is that failure is a step to success. If we succeed every time we try, we  need to step it up a level.

My schedule allows me time to experiment. I can formulate a hypothesis, try it out, evaluate it, and determine whether or not this is the correct outcome. I don’t have to do the “one-try and hand it in” method. If necessary, I can try, evaluate, regroup and retry until I get the outcome I am looking for. Does our schedule and curriculum accomodate this for students when they need it?

 I feel valued.

This may well be the most important element. It matters that I do my job, and that I do it well. My contribution doesn’t sit alone on the edge of a desk in a pile, waiting for a grade based on a rubic. My grade comes from the success of the people who build off my work. I share what I do – sometimes with just one other person and sometimes with many. It becomes enmeshed with the works of others to create something new and valuable that gets used. It’s not stagnant.

And now the challenge…

I’m not all that unique. What works for me is apt to work for others. Now the question is this: How do I bring what works for me into my classroom so it works for my students? How can I affect change that brings about better learning? Stayed tuned- as I figure it out, I’ll share.

It’s All About Relevancy

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