Here Comes the Goose Stepper

 

Last week, I came across this phenomenal video on my Twitter:

First, I thought, “That’s rather funny and clever.”

Then I thought, “Man, what a bunch of goose stepping morons.”

Then, I started thinking about teaching because that’s what I do. And what I thought – forgive me – is that we’ve got some goose stepping teachers walking around and they should probably knock it off.

We watch a video like the above and shake our heads. We chuckle a little over how goofy the soldiers look, even without the Bee Gees. Because the goose step is strongly associated with the Nazis, North Korea, and other dictatorial regimes, we see it as backwards, a symbol of blind obedience. George Orwell captured most westerners’ opinion of the goose step when he wrote that it was only used in countries where the population was too scared to laugh at its military.

But here’s the thing about those goose stepping soldiers: Some of them, maybe even most of them, are thinking about how much they’re killing the thing. Pick a soldier out of the above video clip and this is probably pretty close to what’s going through his or her head:

Look at me, crushing this march. Nobody goose steps like I do. Watch me swing my legs. Perfectly straight! Not like Chan-woo over there. Man, I feel good! I’m goosing the hell out of this step!

Which goes to show you that people have an amazing capacity to feel proud of themselves even where they’re doing stupid things.

And that brings me to teaching.

We do a lot of stupid things. Things that have little to do with helping students learn and become better people. And a lot of us are damn proud of these things.

We spend an hour on a bulletin board to impress other adults who happen to pop in or walk by our room. We’re proud of our work – as proud as a goose stepping Nazi – but that bulletin board isn’t going to make much of a difference, and we just spent 60 minutes on it.

We’re proud of our fancy newsletters with their decorative borders, perfectly arranged text boxes, adorable clipart, and copious information for parents. Look at us, establishing a consistent home-school connection! Nevermind that half the newsletters never get seen, another quarter of them don’t get read, and most of the information can be shared in an email that would take five minutes to write.

I’m guilty too. I feel all proud of myself when students are working quietly when the principal pops in. I’m strutting like a peacock when my straight line of third graders go marching walking down the hall in complete silence. Student compliance warms my heart far more than it should. I once nailed a lesson on rhombuses and felt great about it.

Until I remembered that knowing the characteristics of a rhombus is about as useful as knowing how to goose step.

The lesson is this, and it’s one I hope at least a few of those North Korean soldiers realize:

or

Some things are worth doing well and feeling proud about. These things include:

  • Taking the time to build relationships with students who will do better because of those relationships.
  • Teaching engaging lessons where students learn things.
  • Providing quick and targeted feedback that helps students improve.
  • Showing patience, tolerance, and grace in front of your class when a kid loses his shit.

But other things are just goose stepping your way past the reviewing stand with a silly look on your face.

Figure out the difference and spend more time on the stuff that matters. If you don’t, someone might just take a video of you marching down the hall with your silent, obedient class and add a Bruno Mars song to it.*

* If you know of such a video or can make one, please share.

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Want to know more about optimizing your time and focusing on what matters the most? Check out my book, Leave School At School, which does that and more.

 

 

 

 

How Can Educators Navigate the STEM Technology Desert?

By Frankie Wallace

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs are set to increase over the next year and likely beyond — demand has been growing for the past decade. Yet, there aren’t enough graduates pursuing STEM-related careers after graduation. Additionally, teachers who are skilled in these subjects and can teach them in a compelling way are few and far between.

STEM subjects are taught in schools everywhere, but students aren’t as excited about them as art, physical education, or theater (let alone lunch or recess). STEM classes are required, but electives and creative classes are what students get excited about. However, by approaching STEM education in a new way, teachers can show students just how thrilling STEM classes can be.

To start, they simply need to skim news headlines: From increasingly sophisticated AI finding its way into our classrooms to the possibility of insect droids pollinating Mars, what seemed like science fiction a decade ago is now reality. Technology of the future is all part of STEM, and giving learners a window into these developments is sure to spark interest.

But what can educators do once they’ve caught students’ interest? Let’s explore some ways we can improve STEM education in technology deserts.

Three Ideas for Better STEM Education

The best STEM lessons combine interesting, hands-on activities with computer-based learning. Without both components, students don’t get a well-rounded introduction to STEM. A common STEM lesson is the egg drop challenge. You’ve probably seen this in sitcoms, or maybe you’ve even designed one yourself. You have to build a vehicle that can keep a raw egg safe when dropped from a second story.

Thanks to technology, STEM lessons today can go far beyond this basic challenge (though it still may good to include in classes). Here are a couple lesson ideas:

  • Split students up into groups of four and have them compete in a design challenge. Assign them a specific task and then have them work together to plan, design, and build the solution. Lego Mindstorms makes a STEM education set for this type of lesson, combining hands-on design with computer science.
  • Hold a quiz competition similar to “Jeopardy.” This is even better is if you have the students design the game system. You can then populate it with questions.
  • Get your students involved in a robotics competition where they can compete against teams from other schools. Not only will students work together on a STEM project, but they’ll meet other students who share their interests. This may work especially well for introverts who feel left out of other types of school activities.

Teachers who evolve their lesson plans will prepare students for going into real world STEM fields. Adopting new technology into your classroom is and utilizing it to its full potential is a recipe for educational success — and doing so doesn’t even have to break the bank.

 

STEM Lessons Can Be Affordable

Despite the fact that STEM often includes new age technology, lessons and projects don’t have to be expensive. The Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem proved this with their “hack-o’-lanterns,” a month-long project where students created modified pumpkins using what they learned about analogue and digital inputs. The pumpkins had features like flapping wings, eyes that lit up, and dancing components.

The technologies used were open source and inexpensive, which made it affordable for the school budget and allowed students to take projects home with them. Students worked with Arduino boards, which are programmable “mini computers” that can be designed for practically any purpose. The school found that the project kept students engaged even when they were home — emails would come in in the middle of the night or early in the morning as the kids continued working on their pumpkins.

Combine STEM Lessons With Other Subjects

Students who can’t seem to get interested in STEM may find lessons more interesting if they’re combined with other subjects. Using STEM teaching tools can improve your teaching dramatically by helping you bridge gaps between subjects.

  • Connect with the English teacher and have students create 3D floor plans for a home that’s featured in a book the English class is reading. This is particularly helpful for literature set in historical or futuristic settings, where students may struggle to visualize environments within the text.
  • Students who love their history class can use the Scratch app developed by MIT, to write their own games. Students can then present their app to the class to teach them about specific events or people.
  • Partner with the art teacher and ask students to design a robotic arm that can paint on its own. Students could also recreate famous paintings on their computers.
  • Gym classes can have students wear fitness trackers. The information collected can then be used in biology class to demonstrate about how physical activity affects the body.

It’s important for students to understand that STEM education isn’t relegated to just the science or math classroom. In order to encourage them to pursue highly relevant STEM fields, it needs to be tied to real-world issues. A perfect example of this is bioengineering and environmental engineering, given modern industry’s focus on sustainability. Students should be given a broad range of knowledge about the many different ways STEM is used today.

In practically all fields, understanding STEM concepts is a major help. For example, even working artists should have some concept of STEM in order to market their work or streamline their processes by using analytics and data collection. Students who live in rural communities may not have access to the same technology as those in more urban areas, but things like social media and video conferencing can still connect them with companies and other students to increase their learning potential.

 

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Teachers Should Not Feel Guilty About Taking The Summer Off

It’s that time of year once again. The time of year when teachers try to convince people who don’t teach that they really don’t have summers off.

Teacher Nicholas Ferroni, who enjoys a large Twitter following of mostly fellow teachers (it might have something to do with his looks, though his pandering to teachers probably doesn’t hurt), got an early jump this year when he asked teachers to share with him all the work they’ll be doing this summer.

He’s calling it #NoSummersOff and he’s been sharing videos of teachers explaining how many humps they’ll be busting between this year’s final bell and next year’s welcome-back-to-school-time-wasting-PD-day.

Ferroni explained that the campaign is “not intended for sympathy or to complain, but to crush the myth that only NON-educators believe: teachers have summers off.”

But why do teachers feel the need to crush this myth instead of embracing it?

I believe it’s because of guilt, that feeling teachers seem especially susceptible to.

Teachers who don’t work over the summer might feel guilty because we live in the most overworked country on the face of the planet.

  • In the U.S., 86 percent of men and 67 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week.
  • According to the ILO, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.
  • According to the BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950.

We embrace work. We glorify busy. We live in a culture where work is valued much higher than leisure. People regularly brag (although they mask it as complaining) about how many hours they put in on the job. Even when they have opportunities to take breaks, they refuse. According to Glassdoor, Americans use only about half their vacation time. Just one in four uses all the time they’re entitled to. 10% take no paid time off at all.  When they do take a vacation, 56% of surveyed workers admitting to checking in with the office during it.

The idea that we teachers could have two months free from work feels like a luxury that we should not indulge. And so a lot of us work, not because we really need to, but because we’re surrounded by people who work too much and who place too much value on it. In short, we’d feel guilty if we took this time for ourselves, so we don’t.

You can see this guilt in the explanations teachers give for why they’ll be working this summer. People only go out of their way to explain their actions this much when they’re worried about what others think, and we teachers are forever trying to convince non-educators that hey, we work summers too! We’re essentially saying, “Look! We’re just as foolish as the rest of you!”

As teachers, we also suffer from the feeling that we can never do enough. This guilt follows us around like a new puppy and it’s reinforced almost daily. There is rarely a lesson that goes perfectly; some student always needs more help. No matter how much time we put in, we could always put in more to make the lesson, or the bulletin board, or the student materials just a bit better. With new research and new technologies and new instructional methods, there’s always more for us to learn.

Another book to read.

Another conference to attend.

Another Twitter chat to join.

Given all we don’t know and can’t yet do as well as we would like to, how can we justify taking two months off every year?

I don’t know. But I do know that other professionals don’t feel the same way. They don’t feel the need to justify their perks. CEOs rarely bother trying to convince non-CEOs that they’re actually worth the outrageous amounts of money they’re paid. Business execs feel no shame over their season tickets and access to the company luxury box. Doctors don’t feel bad about their summer cottages.

Let’s call time away from the job what it is: a perk. And let’s stop apologizing for it. Let’s stop being guilted into giving it away. Instead, let’s embrace it.

The next time a non-educator tries to make you feel guilty for having two months off by asking, “So, what are you going to do with all that time?” smile and say, “As little as possible. It’s great!” Then tell him, “I hear there’s a teacher shortage. You should become one!”

Instead of videos of guilted teachers talking about how many classes they’ll be taking, or the curriculum they’ll be writing, or the lessons they’ll be planning, I’d much rather see a string of videos of teachers explaining how they will be taking the summer for themselves and their families. I’d rather see them proudly doing nothing on a beach, or visiting national parks with their kids, or catching up on their favorite Netflix shows while eating a giant bucket of popcorn.

And they shouldn’t feel the need to justify or apologize for any of it.