Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My week with Morpheus

Last summer at Keystone Technology Institute, a friend of mine (Brandon) came up with this idea for a stuffed animal to travel the United States, visiting classrooms and learning new things as he went. The animal's travels and learning would be documented using numerous Web 2.0 technologies and be accessible to any class with an Internet connection. Some of us immediately recognized that this was a 21st Century version of Flat Stanley. A few short weeks later, Morpheus Fortuna was born.

Partly to support Brandon and partly to get my students thinking globally, I signed up to host Morpheus. I'd been thinking of all kinds of things the students could do with him ever since the drive home from KTI. However, as the date of Morpheus' arrival drew closer, I began to feel a degree of trepidation. Would the kids respond? Would they think it was cheesy? Would they even voluntarily sign up for a project?

I'd briefly mentioned Morpheus to the class during the second or third week of school, and the response had been tepid. That wasn't doing wonders for stress level. There had been a glimmer of hope two weeks later when the kids asked, "when's that turtle coming?" So, here I was on the eve of Morpheus' arrival wondering if my decision to host was a monumental mistake or not. The day Morpheus was to arrive, I surveyed the kids to gauge interest levels in what they wanted to do. No whining, no complaining, just 100% response. OK, I was feeling a bit better, but not so much so that I wasn't wide awake thinking about the project for two and a half hours the night before I kicked it off in class.

Kick off day was upon me, and I have to say things went much better than I expected. My big group formed themselves into sub-groups after I'd thrown out some ideas, and all of a sudden I had a science aspect to the project, groups that wanted to deal with the history of Harrisburg, and a group that wanted to do something with high school life. I even had stories being written featuring Morpheus and someone willing to become the voice of Morpheus on his blog site! The next three days were an incredible ride: the kids were trying new things, pushing boundaries, and getting excited about what they could share with the other classes.

I guess I was worried about nothing, but as Brandon told me when I updated him on what was going on, "You must have sold it to the kids." I guess I must have. My students exceeded my wildest expectations once I set a vision and let them run with it. Lesson learned: don't doubt that they can do it; believe they can!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

If I could turn back time...

I was interviewed and videotaped today by the district Classrooms For the Future (CFF) coach about my experiences with the technology and the change in my classroom; this will all be part of presentation our tech staff will be doing tomorrow for districts getting the CFF grant for the first time. I was asked about how it fit with the district's vision, curriculum and Learning Focused School initiative and if I'd seen any changes with the students. One question, though, has really gotten me thinking this evening: "If all of the technology was taken away tomorrow, could you go back to teaching the old way."

Could I go back to teaching in a 20th Century Classroom? Although I've forgotten the exact wording of my answer at this point in time, the gist of my response was that I can't imagine going back. When I think of the disservice I was doing to my students, I'm almost appalled at how we were getting kids ready to be citizens in this new, smaller, connected world. I was doing the only thing I had ever known: teaching like I had been taught when I was a student when the world was much larger and the Internet wasn't as accessible as it is today.

I'm thinking of a new math teacher in our building as well tonight. Dan joined us nearly a year ago now, and he mentioned in a meeting this morning how he has already transformed his teaching. He has experienced the power of the Polyvision board and seen its impact on students. He realized he was simply teaching the way he had been taught when he was in school. Dan, because of his experiences with our Polyvision Board, has already begun transforming his teaching style; in fact, he's even actively seeking out available classrooms he can teach in that are equipped under the CFF program.

It is no longer a matter of whether we can go back in time; we cannot. We have reconnected with many of our students. We have engaged them on new levels. They are THINKING and INTERACTING. We must move forward. We must make the transformation.

Could you go back? Would you? This may be a worthwhile discussion worth having.