Some walk, some run

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This poster connects to my Thursday conversation on homework and grading (the contentious zero debate) with Saskatchewan educators on Twitter. By the way, join us Thursday’s at 8:00 PM Saskatchewan time #saskedchat. It also connects to my previous post here on edustange, where I ponder the best way to bring students to personal reading.

Most days the students (and I) go InMotion after recesses and lunch. It takes the form of a simple walk following the paths of the adjacent park. We do the loop, run the rhombus, or follow the cross country route passed the Gazibo I like to use for reading from time to time. A small number of the 100 students run the course in five minutes. More alternate walking and jogging behind the leaders. Most walk with me, and a few drag their tails tossing footballs back and forth or having a chat. They take the full ten minutes.

The InMotion moment is not timed, but we mark the courses with this unofficial 10 minute deadline in mind. My classroom schedule is something like that. Part of the time is spent encouraging the ones rambling along in their own moment of sunshine to focus on moving forward. The objective is achieved and we all gather together in the end.

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Silent, sustained personal reading

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I suppose I always appreciated being read to as a child, but point of singularity for me was when I began adolescence. At twelve or thirteen I became a ferocious reader. Summer camp has its memories of deep woods and canoe trips, however, by my last year the memory I love best is slouching in an old leather couch in the cozy camp library burning through books. Back home and back to school, it was mining the public and school libraries for books. By age fifteen, I was done reading my father’s extensive science fiction collection. I still have the best of those on my shelves.

I do 20 minutes of silent reading most days with my fourth and fifth grade students. Perhaps a third can immerse themselves in something daily. The rest are compelled to make reading a connected experience. They try to read alone, but turn to classmates constantly to share. Some cannot engage with their own books, but need to turn to neighbours hoping they are reading something better.

Perhaps I am not supposed to discourage this process. Maybe they are not ready for intimate personal reading. I am trying to establish the conditions for sustained reading. Perhaps for many, it will start through the sharing. What are other people’s experience?

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Will Superintelligent AIs Be Our Doom?

Will Superintelligent AIs Be Our Doom?

Nick Bostrom says artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to humanity.

There is a kind of pivot point, at which a strategy that has previously worked excellently suddenly starts to backfire.

We may call the phenomenon the treacherous turn. While weak, an AI behaves cooperatively (increasingly so, as it gets smarter). When the AI gets sufficiently strong—without warning or provocation—it strikes, and begins directly to optimize the world according to the criteria implied by its values.

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. After reading this, I understood how applicable this principle, or social dynamic is to education (or a military industrial complex, corporation, union, etc.). Data collection services begin as the servant of learning, then there is a treacherous turn where the relationship pivots and learning becomes the servant of data. I stress about this during our team meetings. There is insufficient time spent on discussing strategies for reading comprehension. Energy is consumed on creating and interpreting data. Since there is no credible way to document a series of conversations in which connections (for example) are revealed through reading, we dismiss informal, extemporaneous conversation as a meaningful strategy in the classroom. The learning strategy is optimized according to the criteria implied by testing’s values….

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September Genius Hour

Minecraft is popular, but we have a range of projects happening for our first month of fourth and fifth grade genius hour. I’ve dedicated one period each week.

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Finishing Lines

I hated track and field competition when I was a child in school. It was not an activity in which I was particularly successful, if by success you mean winning, or even being average. I did not run proficiently in the time specified. This morning, my mind turned to a number of my fourth and fifth grade students. They were struggling with representing a number with base ten blocks. My inner voice was warning me to be prepared for poor results on the post assessment. They were adequate at the moment (getting it with coaching), and experience warned me that might be where they remained. I hate that whisper in my head.

They really liked working with me. They were moving forward without stress. It was so wrong to judge them against the curriculum outcome. I know they will cross the finishing line set by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. I need to respect they are motivated to learn. Stupid clocks and calendars.

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Multiple Choice, Flashbacks

Damn! This app looks awesome. It is too bad I don’t administer multiple choice more than once a year. This app looks so sweet, it makes me want to embrace my inner 1980’s teacher.

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Shouldn’t Education and Learning Be the Same Thing?

I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Anne Sullivan

Schooling and institutionalized education have become removed from true, instinctual, and human/humane learning. Humans have been learning since the beginning of time with major discoveries and innovations historically and currently emerging in spite of school. This is the biggest problem I have with schools – most are contrived and coercive and do not honor the innate human need and desire to learn, discover, and evolve. Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D. User Generated Education

Gear stein goes on to summarize the historical trends of western public education with a few effective quotes.

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What I did this summer

Well, one of my students from last year went to Paris, France. I know that because he shared it on Edmodo. If my followers picked my tweets out from amongst the flowing streams as they bobbed by, they would know much of what I did this summer.

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No trade for the logical

That was an additional bit of data in the problem of the morrow which was not yet fully revealed to him. War was I was unlike spherical trigonometry as anything could be, thought Hornblower, grinning at the inconsequence of his thoughts. Often one approach the problem in war without knowing what it was one wanted to achieve, to prove or construct, and without even knowing fully what means were available for doing it. War was generally a matter of slipshod, makeshift, hit or miss extemporisation. Even if it were not murderous and wasteful it would still be no trade for a man who enjoyed logic. (C.S. Forester, Lord Hornblower 1946)

This afternoon I’ve been sitting quietly in my backyard enjoying my final week of vacation. Rather then work my way through a television series on Netflix, I chose to really experience CS Forrester’s Hornblower series, something I enjoyed as a adolescent and one of my first serious purchases as an adult.

The quote above resonates with my feelings about teaching. I’ve spoken elsewhere about the connoisseurship involved in being a teacher. I’ve loved my involvement with social media and conversations with colleagues in the staff room. But I am often oppressed by the need to explain myself as a teacher. There are skills to acquire and knowledge to master in order to become a successful teacher. But it might also be said that there is so much that is situational in teaching, so many variables to attend to, that planning creates an understandable tension between anticipated results and the inevitability of disappointment.

I reject the metaphor that teaching in a public school is like going to war. It is poisonous to view the dynamic of learning as a conflict between individuals. But the real illogic is imagining that you can create a stable system for learning. Like Hornblower’s description of war, education is an extreme problem. Both the goals and the means are not as clearly realized as we would like. We endlessly remind ourselves, and anyone who will listen, that schools are not factories; and yet we cherish some dream that, in fact, we can create a successful, human factory for children. In something more than a week, I will be plunged back into discourse on reliable data about teaching strategies. I’m afraid it’s probably just a dream.

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Teaching is not Paint by Numbers

I cannot document it, but I recall hearing in grad school, or perhaps as long ago as an accreditation seminar, that a study concluded that grading language arts essays extemporaneously, achieved the same results as using an exhaustive rubric. It was referred to as connoisseurship. Teaching, and the process of learning, doesn’t really lend itself to systems analysis. It is not manufacturing. It is an art.

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