Friday, March 30, 2012

Blogging out of school

I think I have mentioned that I am an art teacher.  I spend my days drawing and painting and playing with clay, with the most amazing, adorable, interesting children.  I get to tell them all the things that are cool about art history, and make connections with science and literature, and figure out what's going on in their life, and try to support them.  Sometimes I get to order boxes and boxes of art supplies, which when they come feel exactly like birthday presents, and then I get to unpack the boxes and neatly organize things in my cupboards, and make lists.

Seriously, could there be a better job?

The school where I teach (FAIR school Crystal) is focused on integration and equity, and one of the areas we seek to create equity is through technology.  We are working hard to eliminate the digital divide.  We do this through a strong commitment to technology.

If you think about it there are 3 intersections between technology and education.  1. Using technology as a teacher to make the work of teaching more efficient or effective.  2. Using technology with students in the service of your curricular goals.  3. Teaching technology to children, or providing them with technology resources.  An example of number 1 in my room would be the amazing ease with which I can make power point presentations using high quality images from museum web sites to show my students art history examples.  Early in my career I would check out books from the library, mark images I wanted to use in my instruction, rent time with a photo-copy stand at a local art center and take slide-photos of the examples I wanted to show children, and have the film processed into a slide set.

Some aspects of using technology as a teacher have slowed me down.  I used to use a paper grade book, calculate my grades with an adding machine, and fill in bubble sheets with a number two pencil to submit my grades.  Now I use an online grade-book and submit my grades electronically.  It takes about 5 times as long.  Seriously, the software was designed by a committee!  I actually weep regularly when I have to use it.  Don't even get me started about the wasted potential of photo-seating charts, but every time I try to use the software I have realized I would have been better off with a ruler and some graph paper.

I use technology with students in several ways.  The classroom teachers all have interactive "smart boards."  For several years I was angry and hurt that I didn't have one, but honestly, a lap top projector is all I need.  My students are doing most of the time, they don't need to come to the board to get that sort of stimulus.  Google image search is nirvana for art teachers.  I used to have so many reference books in my room, books about animals, books about the ocean, cupboards full of National Geographics (actually, I still have that, you can pry them from my cold dead hands,) books about art history.  Now if a kid wants to know how to draw an emu, I have them look up an emu online.

Also, the photocopier is my best friend.  What to do in the background of your self-portrait?  Here, let me make you 3 photo-copies and you can try three ideas and decide which looks best.  Can't decide what medium to use?  Photo copies!  Need to enlarge your drawing, but don't think you can do it by hand?  You get the idea.  And projecting images my children have made during performances, conferences, and posting them online?  Awesome.

One of the best ways to get teachers to confidently teach technology is to give them access to technology.  Our district, and my principal in particular, have committed to giving teachers, and thereby students, immersive access to technology.  Our 8-12 grade students have lap tops to use.  So do the teachers.  We have many wonderful programs, film editing, photo editing, you name it.  And teachers and students are encouraged to bring their computers home, share them with their families, and use them for their personal interests.  Because that kind of fluent, personal use is how people learn!

All of which is a very long introduction to why I feel totally fine using my work computer to create and maintain a personal blog.  And to explain why I have been sick to my stomach all week and haven't been blogging.  In a recent post I casually linked to the site when I mentioned the percentage of my groceries that were P6.  A teacher friend of mine followed the link and was re-directed to a fairly raunchy porn site.  Yuck!  She posted a comment chastising me for this, rightfully so, I should not be posting corrupted links.

Upon further examination I found that my link was good, the site had been hacked.  We tried using the url from home on several devices and realized the fault was in the site, not my link.  So we notified the people who might be able to fix it, and I assume all is fixed, though to be honest, I haven't checked it out on my work computer...

So here is the thing: technology and the internet is very perilous for us teachers.  I have read cases of teachers being fired because a friend posted a photo of the teacher drinking wine at a party.  I have read cases of teachers being fired because there was horrible mal-ware infecting their computer which caused a child to see a porn image.  But how can we expect teachers to stay current and teach their students and be relevant if we deny them access to resources that almost everyone else takes for granted?

Negotiating the balance between changing technology and the classroom is a huge challenge.  Everyone in the modern world is hooked in to their cell phone, but is it appropriate for a teacher to have a cell phone on during instruction time?  I would say no.  How about response times for e-mail?  My husband will return a work e-mail within 20 minutes.  I might not check my e-mail till the bitter end of my day depending on clean-up, parent phone calls, and prep work for the next day.  Don't expect me to have access to a computer until after work most days.

I have no conclusion, just a wish list.  I wish that our society would remember the variations in peoples work day/rhythm/technology access.  I wish my district had grading software that actually saved me time.  I wish I could afford a personal laptop to blog from at home, and while I am at it a good digital camera with manual focus and a tripod to photograph close-ups of wee little plants in my garden.

And I really wish that things that I link to don't get hacked by icky porn sites that make me afraid to link to anything again.

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