Jonnie Becker spends her time facilitating an improved vision of science in the minds of the teenage youth attending North Butler High School. A self-determined techie who wanders her way into learning all kinds of new things.
As an active, enthusiastic member of the Iowa Community of Practice, IACOPI, I have been transitioning to becoming a professional who facilitates a blended learning environment. Basically, I am learning to retain myself on how to teach in such a way to create a community in my classroom where students use digital tools and virtual environments seamlessly within the actual face to face brick and mortar of our school building. Wow, it did take me the better part of three summer months to learn what that meant to me. The trouble is I got my mind, my consciousness, around that idea I just forgot to keep my unconscious mind in the loop. Here’s what happened…
My blended teaching has taken shape in all my classes, not just the physical science class I do for the IACOPI. Well, my chemistry students are just getting into their first Project Based Learning Task: The Riverwood Fish Kill from Chemistry in the Community 5th eds. I don’t follow the curriculum as put together by the publisher instead I borrowed the idea and then make the rest of it as we go. Part of this process makes the project flow more organically. I let the students propose what they think could have killed the fish, we split into teams and research that cause hypothesis, test for, and evaluate data with their team’s unique possible cause being the lens for how they approach the work. Most of my students proposed totally realistic hypotheses that they have no clue how to test. So we spend some time digging for background research. We are not a 1 to 1 school, so I do not have access for all students in my classroom. I am blessed with six networked laptops just for me, so I am not really complaining. Yet, I still need them working and learning because really I don’t know the best way to test some of their ideas either. Nevertheless, I sent some students to the business computer lab, some to the library, some to the general computer lab, and I had a few six or eight still in my classroom. So of 20 students I was “monitoring” six to eight at the moment my principal stopped by to check on me teaching.
Pause…my heart is anxious just remembering this moment.
I was sticken with horror!!! My mind knew that the students, where ever they happened to be, were working, thinking, collaborating, learning but my unconscious mind said THIS IS WRONG! You are doing NOTHING, you are just standing here (folding flyers for midterm to send home to explain the process of standards based grading). EEK quick LOOK BUSY, look like you’re teaching, look like a teacher, fake it quick!!! So, I interrupted a student reading an article she had just found and pretended like I was giving her advise on some possible search terms. (Which totally wasn’t needed because she was finding better things than I had found on the same topic). The string of endless judgements went racing through my head: she’s lazy, she left all her students off on other teachers, she’s irresponsible, she isn’t prepared, this isn’t learning, there is no objective for the class, there’s no assessment for this “lesson”, there’s no lesson, she isn’t teaching!!!
My principal didn’t say anything, but if I was thinking those things with all I had learned about blended environments, then either he is too professional to say them, or he is just trusting me at this moment. Everything I had ever experienced had created a deep internal knowledge that was in conflict with calling what I was doing and promoting as “teaching.” Like I was paid to be a conductor of the orchestra, but I was letting them write their own music as they played and I was letting their own ears decide the quality of the song. I was just blended into the notes, making minor suggestions which spark the genius with the players already. Yet, I, at that moment viewing the scene in the eyes of a stranger to the community could only view chaos because it was not the classic song an orchestra “should” be playing.
How did it turn out? I stopped bugging that poor innocent student, decided my own judgements were far more harsh than anything my administrator could ever conceive and went back to folding the flyers. Retraining myself to trust in the power of my student’s starts today! Maybe it IS me who is HOLDING them back with my archaic lingerings of the industrial model of education. Today, I surrender to a better way, and hope it doesn’t get me fired. Comment if you know what this feels like.