Saturday, November 26, 2011

Taken from my new tumblr

Hi, my name is Peter, and I'm really interested in the ways the internet is changing the world. After reading a lot about the ways DIY Education people are really utilizing social networks to learn and better themselves, I felt I should jump on that bandwagon.

A bit about myself, I'm a 26 year old graduate student in Tacoma, working as a mental health worker and tutor. I attend the University of Washington's Tacoma campus, and am finishing my Masters in Education with a specialization in Curriculum and Instruction. I initially started the program seeking to be a science and math teacher, but after a really terrible experience student teaching, I realizing that perhaps teaching in conventional public schools wasn't for me. I then began reading about the DIY Education movement, Edupunk, and all that amazing stuff, and have since realizing that as the schools continue to consistently fail students by pursuing this testing paradigm, a lot of kids are taking their learning into their own hands. Occupy Wallstreet is a prime example of that- nobody is teaching those kids how to be revolutionaries, or teaching them anything about social justice. Their schools have been training them to be test taking drones so they won't get screwed over by NCLB. So, where is this coming from? The internet. The internet is teaching people how to be human beings, how to recognize oppression and injustice, how to network with others, and how to better yourself without any adult. Information literacy is probably the most important thing a kid can learn in schools, but right now the general mood is to cut as many electives as possible, while ramming test taking skills down their throats, all with the hopes of getting better funding, which is currently a pipe dream in most districts.

The world is changing, and education must change with it. Khan Academy is one example of how technology can really change the way students learn, at least in mathematics. If you take the Khan Academy math curriculum seriously, you can teach and test yourself on any number of mathematics curricula, and if paired with a tutor or teacher, the chance of you really getting a good understanding of this stuff is increased. Furthermore, the data culture of Khan Academy allows for amazing troubleshooting ability for teachers- where previously they were stuck with just knowing that Billy got questions 2, 5, and 6 wrong on the test, they can now see that he spent 2 minutes on 2, and 5 seconds on 5 and 6, and what those problems were, and so forth and so on. Furthermore, Billy won't be able to pass onto the next concept until he has shown mastery of the concept, which involves getting a streak of 10 questions correct. He might need to do 50 problems to get that down, but by the time he's got that, chances are he really understands that.

That's just one way the tools of the information age are changing schooling. I envision a student centered school, where the first few hours of the day are spent doing the basics, reading, writing, mathematics, and then the next few hours are spent with students working online to connect with experts in various fields, get internships, and take ownership of their own education, rather than letting the neighborhood they grow up in determine the quality of their educational experience. A student interested in automotive repair might connect with some auto technicians currently working on higher level certifications. A student who has a learning disorder might connect with other people on a newsgroup and exchange ways of coping with their disorder and successfully learning difficult concepts. A student interested in astrophysics would seek out doctoral students as mentors, and students interested in social justice might seek out activists and political bloggers. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, but now we have the entire planet, and with the internet, experts everywhere are willing to mentor and connect with people across the globe. It is a crime that with this amazing tool, students are being forced to learn prescribed curricula that teaches to tests (that are not particularly valid or reliable) designed to determine the economic strength of a country.

I met a high school librarian recently. He worked in a poor district, but had been given a grant to recreate the school's library, turning it from some dusty place with untouched books and sleeping teenagers to a large information center, complete with rows of computers. Now, when I see teenagers on computers, I expect to see facebook and flash games, but these were nowhere to be seen- instead, students were looking at websites and blogs. I asked him what he had done to make this happen, and he told me that his job was to collaborate with teachers to make web-quests that teachers could incorporate into their curricula. Students would learn how to google, how to review information, and how to analyze the validity of websites. He was teaching them how to learn without a teacher, a skill that too many people do not have, and instead see the only way to improve their lives is funneling money into the educational system, which, while providing nice letters behind your name, is no longer necessary.

So, that's what I'm all about. I don't know what I want to do with this passion, although over the next few months I intend to do a lot of research on the information age's impact on education as a focus for my Master's project. Perhaps that will give me some direction. In the mean time, I'd also like to teach myself how to do tech support and networking. I worked in IT years ago, and really enjoyed it, and as a personal project, as a sort of proof of concept that DIY education actually works, I would like to get some sort of network certification on my own, using the internet as a primary resource.

Anyway, if you are into DIY education, information literacy, virtual academies, information technology, networking, education, science and math education, academia, or are just a really interesting person, I want to talk to you.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Student teaching is done. I know I sort of stopped posting here, but it's because I really had no time. Unfortunately, it was all for naught, as I didn't pass.

I went into science teaching because I had this amazing passion for science, and wanted to share with the world how amazing this stuff was. I was placed in a middle school in a rural area, and found that for the most part, students really didn't care. They were not self motivated, and the main focus became classroom management.

I am terrible at classroom management. I knew I would be, which was why I chose to try middle school first, hoping that by throwing myself to the lions, I would somehow survive and be better off for it. That was a mistake.

I was inconsistent on discipline, I became overwhelmed and missed stuff, I froze up and forgot the details of everything I had planned, and tended to be hyperfocused, meaning I often was very bad at juggling 20 things at once. The kids realized they could throw me off, and lost respect for me completely, and I lost what little control I had over the classroom. It was just bad.

So, that's it. I'm a terrible teacher. My ability to teach is good, but my ability to manage middle schoolers isn't. It's really frustrating, as I feel that both the students and I lost some amazing opportunities to do science, but very early on I lost a lot of faith in them- I did a DNA extraction lab, which was fairly advanced for their grade level, but I thought it would be a good experience for them to do a bit of real science. Well, after informing the students that they were not to drink the chemicals as they were toxic, one of the students did, and threw up. I lost a lot of hope at that point, and just decided to stay with more safe activities, and basing everything around the standards.

Still, the problems kept on getting worse and worse, and I got observed on a Friday the 13th, with my worst class. The observer told me that it wasn't going to work out, and I was placed back into a supportive role in the classroom, and my student teaching career was ended. I will not be getting my teaching certificate this year.

So, that leaves me in a very frustrating position. I realize that I lack many of the skills a teacher needs, so I question whether or not I should pursue student teaching again next year. The possibility of sub teaching for a while has been brought up, but most of the districts now require all subs to have a teachers cert, due to the overpopulation of unemployed teachers. If I am able to get a job as a sub teacher, I would possibly consider doing student teaching again, assuming I was getting better at classroom management. However, if that isn't working out, I'm looking at some other options.

No matter what the case, I intend to finish my masters degree. I'm practically done with it, I need a handful of classes, and then I will have the degree. However, the real conundrum is what I do after that. If I can't teach, that severely limits the possibilities for employment. There are textbook publishers, corporate trainers, and various administrative positions, but the competition for such jobs is insane.

One possibility that has been coming up more often than not is pursuing another MEd, and possibly a PhD, in school psychology. I have my BA in Psych, and over four years of children's mental health experience. If I were to do the school psychologist route, it would mean more schooling, but one thing I have realized is that I love being a student. I'm very good at it, and I'm honestly happiest when I'm learning and working with complicated, theoretical things. And a possible implication there is that perhaps I need to find a niche, where I can simply be an expert on something complicated. Chances are the best way to go about that is pursuing even more education, and throwing myself even further into debt.

Still, I stand by something my mother, a neurospecialist, told me- She started out as a floor nurse in a hospital, and was miserable, mediocre, and just bad. It sounds a lot like my student teaching experience. Eventually, she got her masters, and is now a movement disorder specialist, and is incredibly happy with her work. She, knowing me fairly well, things I'm exactly the same way- I need to just have my little niche where I can get away with being a bit of an odd absent minded scientist type, because, in the end, I know my stuff.

In any case, my goal for the next few months is to get in touch with people involved in various areas I'm interested in, and possibly pursue some internships or job shadows. I also hope to find some work doing research, as most graduate programs like to see that.

So, it looks like I'm back on square 1 again. I've learned a lot about my weaknesses and strengths, which is good. Still, this has been a pretty major blow, and despite all attempts to stay positive about it, I can't help but feel a bit down about it all. That, and I just lost another grandparent. This year has been very bad for grandparents- I have lost three this year, at a rate of one per three months, almost like clockwork. The one that just went was a huge inspiration to me, a teacher turned college professor and war hero. I wanted to follow in his footsteps to some degree, although since he died I've realized that the reason he became a college professor wasn't because he was a teacher, it was because he was a genius at something. If I want to do that (which I do, I would love to teach at a college level, the idea of being able to get as abstract as I want and have consistently motivated and mentally capable students appeals to me greatly), I have to become great at something, so I suppose that is my next step, figure out what my passion is.

Thankfully, I have a head start on that- psychology. During my 4 years working in mental health, I got burned out. Rightfully so, the job was a mix of social worker and mental health worker, and was emotionally exhausting. Still, the problem was that it was a simple job- I was working in the trenches, and didn't really get to do any real counseling or psychoanalysis, the cool, interesting stuff. Having realized that, I want to get back to my dream of becoming a psychologist, one I had forgotten about after the burnout, and start my path towards fixing people's minds.

Anyway, that's where I am now. The world is open, and that's a very scary thought.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Well then.

So, I've been student teaching full time. It's like, week 4 or 5 in, and I'm really tired all the time. It's one of the most rewarding, purposeful, and fulfilling things I've done in my life, but at the same time I am also staying at the school till 4-6pm, arriving an hour early often, and waking up at around 5am. I make a ton of mistakes, but I learn from them, and am slowly becoming a decent teacher. Not a great teacher, that probably takes years at least, but I have an awesome cooperating teacher who has very high expectations of me. Which I like.

This is probably one of the best things that's ever happened to me. It is also by far the most stressful. I have next to zero free time, and I'm always somehow behind. At the same time, I'm also learning a lot of cool time saving tricks- google calendar with attachments is my latest one. It's great, I can LP from anywhere.

In any case, I've got things to do. I'll probably post a massive entry at the end of this ordeal.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Busy at teaching.

So, I'm in the midsts of week three of student teaching. Last week I got spring break, which was a much needed vacation, but frankly, I already need another, it feels like. I'm really getting into the full swing of student teaching, and the stress level is ridiculously high. I'm pretty much in survival mode all the time, it seems like, and then things just get more stressful. But at the same time, I do feel like I'm getting better, despite the cognitive load being massive.

I'm realizing I have a lot of problems as a teacher. But then again, that's what student teaching is for, to iron out those problems enough that you can become a real teacher. It's molding me into an entirely new species, and the process is exhausting and can seem almost traumatic at times. This is the hardest I have ever had to work, and despite me spending almost every waking moment either at the school or at my computer working on LPs, I still suck. Usually I'm able to master skills easily, and gain competency with ease, but this, this is genuinely challenging. I'm trying to think of it neurologically, like I'm just building the massive amount of connections needed to handle such a stimulating and mentally challenging job, and that helps a little, but at the end of the day, I still am faced with the reality that I didn't teach a certain topic as well as I should have.

But I must march on, and remember that I will improve. I'll post more when I have time.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

The calm.

So, I have just completed my first full week of student teaching. The previous week I had a day off for a career fair, but this week I was there all 5 days, teaching 3-5 periods a day, usually around 4. I ran lessons, I disciplined kids, I learned a lot.

I'm now on spring break, which is very nice. I'm going to try to go on a little vacation to Portland at some point, but aside from that, I intend to lay low as much as possible and recouperate, maybe get some lesson planning done for the next two months. I've already planned two units out, and am working on the other two for science, whereas with math I'm a bit lost. I've planned a few lessons out, but due to my background and familiarity with science education, it's not nearly as easy.

My cooperating teacher has been giving me a lot of really good advice, and I've been doing my best to take it. The honeymoon phase has ended, and many of the kids seem rather neutral towards me, rather than the polite, pleasant youths I had gotten to know. I'm now witnessing all the different ways kids try to screw with teachers, which is... Exhausting. In fact, everything about teaching is exhausting at this stage. It's a very tiring job- I come home, and I just want to sleep. Some days I have a chance to, other days I go to meetings and make it home after 7. Still, there's a sense of purpose to it all, and a real want to make the educational experience as positive as possible for the kids- if it isn't, it'll be harder for everybody.

I have learned a lot of lessons, but I'll keep them off till another time. Right now, I'm just glad I survived my first week, and while I need this vacation, I really can't wait to get back into it. Also, I have recently found a goldmine of cool science videos and stuff, which, if I have time to filter through, I might post here. For those of you familiar with SA (somethingawful), they have a science thread on GBS. It's pretty cool.

Also, reading The World is Open and Uncovering Student Ideas in Science. Good stuff.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Student teachings.

So, I'm student teaching full time now. It's going well- today went amazingly well. Yesterday, I practically lost control of two periods, and just managed to finish everything. Every day I'm getting better, but there are still really awful periods to remind me that I've still got things to learn, which I am becoming more and more aware of on a daily basis.

A few things-
Let kids own their learning. Instead of doing regular notes for the immune system, one of the cooler body systems, I had them help me write a story about a gang of (they came up with the bad guys) who had a war with the police force. The students owned the story, and then I gave them the opportunity to just copy down the notes and summarize how the parts of the immune system work, or to make a story, comic, picture, etc, that got the gist of it down.

They owned it. It was amazing. They were motivated, and I saw some amazing work coming out of them that showed really strong understanding. Ironically, the students who tend to not get it as strongly did the generic notes, whereas many of the students who are either unmotivated or do the best academically did really amazing work. While I like foldable lecture notes, I'm thinking I should give them an option to design their own learning creatively more. It was my cooperating teacher who kind of spurred me in this direction, and she was wise to do so, as it is really helping me break free and find out my own teaching style, and how to make it effective.

Next thing is to eat well. I'm saying this on a grumbling stomach, but that's because I wasted a bunch of time catching up with family, which is a whole different type of self care. Still, I notice a major difference between me being well fed and me starving- although at the same time, I'm very worried about putting on weight as I don't have as much exercise time as I once did. That being said, I weigh 135 lbs last I checked, so I'm probably okay. Teaching really takes a lot of energy, and one of the things I'm noticing is I'm a pacer- I am constantly using proximity as a classroom management tool, and I really enjoy being dynamic and moving all around the classroom, it keeps the kids on their toes.

There are simple things, too- pause before picking on the first person that raised there hand. You always get the enthusiastic boy that loves to answer stuff, but after a few seconds, you might get someone else. Another thing, if a student asks a question, don't address them directly. Tell the entire class what they just said, so you don't lose them. It took me a while to realize that, but it's painfully obvious.

I wish I had a list of these painfully obvious things.

Anyway, I need to sleep.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Student teaching.

This marks the end of my first week of full time student teaching. It's been a blur, and it hasn't even been a full week, as Thursday I went to a job fair. Even so, it's been exhausting, and a massive learning experience, despite it being one of the hardest weeks of my life.

Wednesday, I had classes fall apart. They barely got their notes done, and in one class, they didn't even get to that. I was nervous, I couldn't get control, and it was just a mess. However, today, I managed to yell. I've been afraid to use my voice, as I am a very soft spoken person, but I managed to raise it enough to grab their attention, and continue the lesson. I hate doing that, as it feels like using a grenade when the problem is solvable by a few well aimed strikes, but it worked. The classes got where they needed to be, and while they were shocked to hear nice Mr. J yelling, they got the work done. I need to get better at this, though, as raising my voice really kills it. Hell, just talking at a moderate volume for too long does that, so I'll just have to be careful.

The job fair went very well. I went in with my online education viewpoint, and with a few districts that had online education, networked very well. In fact, one gentleman from Tacoma tracked me down and we had a chat- it's a good sign when they're trying to find you. My goal for this weekend is to update my resume on all the online stuff.

I'm frankly exhausted. I was so stressed out earlier this week I got a nosebleed, and there have been other physiological symptoms of stress popping up. I can't wait for spring break, as even though today went very well, I need some time to decompress not only from the first few weeks of student teaching, but both my grandparents dying and finals week. One more week, one more week.

In the mean time, here's a science flash simulation I showed a few students who came in during lunch. It shows the relative scale of everything. It's really amazing.