Monday, December 28, 2009

Two steps forward

I've always found December a frantic time for teaching. It's a short month because of the Christmas break, and there are plenty of interruptions in it because, for all practical purposes, it marks the end of the fall semester. In my school, we also give semester exams, which means that our regular schedule is thrown out the window for the week before break. Nonetheless, I made some progress this month in getting my international exchanges going.

Yes, international exchanges. I found a classroom in Spain through ePals that was in our age group and was willing to email in English. We just sent off our first emails to them before the break. I'm going to keep my exchanges at two for the moment and see where they go.

We've also now had two exchanges with our French school. I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that our correspondent French school is not in Brittany, as I first thought, but in Aquitaine. I eventually found this out by doing Mapquest searches on towns mentioned in the student emails. My French counterpart did send me a copy of the school's web address, but I haven't been able to pull it up. Perhaps this has something to do with the electrical failure in the computer lab at their school. In any case, it gives us a lot to talk about.

One lesson that I have certainly learned is the necessity for patience. There always seem to be bugs in the system to work out, and, although the tech base in my school is far from extraordinary by US standards, it seems to be better than either of these schools. I just hope that my students can be patient as well.

My second strand has been to turn more of the learning in my class over to my students. As you might recall from earlier posts, this was inspired by things I read over the summer, most notably Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson. What I've done over the fall is to turn over researching facts, group paper outlines, and finally individual paper outlines to the students and posting them on our class wiki. One big step I took in December was to make the wiki public. I had worked with our school administration to get this approved, and approval came some time ago, but I waited until I thought the wiki was ready. I finally realized that I was waiting for me to be confident enough to throw the switch, which I finally did the first week of December. So far, the reaction I've gotten from making it public has been positive, if somewhat minimal.

I suspect that where I'm heading with this approach is some sort of inquiry-based learning, but I would have to make myself a lot more familiar with what inquiry-based learning is before I would claim to be going there.

I've been trying to keep up with various blogs in my Google Reader. Most of the people I follow seem to be light-years ahead of me in the tech stuff they use, which I find both inspiring and a bit discouraging at the same time. I guess that's another patience lesson; to run the marathon at one's own pace and be comfortable with one's own achievements while being aware of what else is out there.