Podcast #38 The Mail Bag Grab Bag: Eclectic discussions this week on Middle Level Education!

News & Events

1.  Start planning for October’s Month of the Young Adolescent!
2.  Innovative Practices Across the Curriculum, June 24 in Minnesota. 
3.  Institute for Middle Level Leadership.  July 13-16 & 20-23
4.  Best Practices for Student Success.  July 28 & August 6 
5.  NMSA Annual Conference, October 30 – November 1 
6.  Summer Teacher-to-Teacher professional development program registration is open. (free)
7.  Michigan Joint Education Conference, June 25 in Holt, MI.  Integrated Education Conference. 

Reader/Listener Mailbag:
*some parts of the email below were deleted for privacy sake.

Fellow Teachers

There is a disturbing trend happening in school technology education in New Jersey. From my experience as a middle school computer teacher, it appears that school districts think technology can be thrown-in as an add-on to academic subjects like Language Arts or Math. I’m seeing the addition of laptop carts as a way to integrate technology into the classroom, but having more hardware and software at student’s fingertips does not provide proficiency any more than additional textbooks on a classroom shelf. My previous school district decided that teachers can be trained to add computer skills into their curriculum allowing the elimination of computer rotation in exploratory arts. While I agree that computers are a wonderful tool for student learning, and laptops provide flexibility and limited time-wasting, the technology that they represent is extremely content laden unto itself. Technology education in not an ACADEMIC ACCESSORY any more than teaching is a FALL-BACK PROFESSION.

When I began teaching computer technology, I was too naive to realize that many teachers viewed specials as a chance for their prep time and for kids to relax their brains for REAL education later in the school day. Therefore, I included things such as tech-specific vocabulary, quizzes, tests, hands-on projects, independent research and collaborative learning. I held kids accountable for CONTENT, and I handled my grades 5 through 8 as if they were any other academic class. I did my best to connect the dots, from simple to complex, word processing to page layout,  bitmap painting to multi-layered vectors and pixels, single-use programs to software suites and acronyms of WWW to GIF, TIFF and JPEG. And we were just scratching the surface. Podcasts, Blogs, Websites and Video were to come as we partnered together, students and teacher, and grew the program to another level. How can all of this possibly be integrated into the already overburdened schedule of academic teachers whose main function is to please administrators with student proficiency demonstrated on standardized testing?

Shortsightedness is described as “lacking imagination or insight.” The bigger picture was very clear to me. As we provide the opportunity for students to grow in their hands-on skills, and we continue ongoing training for teachers to be on-level with their students, integration of technology in the classroom comes through the assignment of projects that utilize these very skills. The Social Studies teacher wouldn’t expect me to teach the kids about ancient Mesopotamia, so why would I expect them to teach paragraph vs. line breaks, document formatting, or picture editing techniques?

Technology in NJ, as of 2007, is now subject to scrutiny at the 8th grade level by the state. We as teachers needed to assess students and show an acceptable level of proficiency, and my guess is that some type of structured test is to come. Is now the time to cut back our training and content? Aren’t we going in the wrong direction, or am I just missing the point?

New Jersey

First….thanks for the shout-out to the hard working folks down here in Lacey, WA.  Out of curiosity, why?  I hope it has to do with the great many listeners you get from our area.  (Ed. Note:  It does.)

I just finished listening to podcast #37 and I had a couple of thoughts (and maybe future topics).  I was wondering if you could talk about creative scheduling to meet the needs of students that don’t learn.  For instance, in our school next year, we are implementing a seventh period flex-class (30 minutes) everyday except our early-release Wednesdays.  The time is dedicated to reaching non-learners, but not necessarily the intentional non-learners.  There are built-in incentives to push kids to take more responsibility for their learning, etc.  What are some other things that have been tried?

Personally, I am an eighth grade math teacher (Pre-Alg & Alg) in a building that has a teaming model.  I feel that I am at a crossroads in my teaching because our principals have taken away many of the “fun things” that kids look forward to during the school year and in many ways have changed us into a results-oriented staff.  While I endorse the standards movement, I wonder how you (and your audience) feel about the move to focus on the content standards instead of the process standards. 

Our building also got rid of football and baseball several years ago due to a double-levy failure and 1 part of the fallout is our buildings losing some of their spirit and personality.  What have you seen done to pump-up the spirit level in your buildings?

Lacey, WA

Shawn & Troy had lots to say about the letters. Now we need your input.

  • How do you feel about technology? should it be integrated or taught separately?
  • How do we address content standards and process standards?
  • How do you integrate technology into your class? Why?
  • What would you like to do in integrating technology? What is holding you back?
  • How do we address students needing extra opportunities for learning?

Your thoughts? Please add to the comments or drop us an email.