Apr 23, 2011

Change IS Gonna Come (get ready Iowa)

Last Wednesday in Iowa City,  a short documentary film premiered entitled "Black American Gothic: Planting Urban Roots in Iowa."  An opinion article appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen prior to the film's release stating, "New documentary will spark some needed discussion"

The opinion piece briefly describes problems with racism that exist in Iowa City, but the evidence of those problems appear in the comments section

For example, the opinion piece states that black folks move to Iowa City from Chicago because they want better lives for their families. The commenters discuss their belief that black folks come to Iowa City for shorter welfare lines. 

The filmmaker is quoted as saying, "Soon Iowa City and much of Iowa will be truly multiracial like most of the nation, and now we must all reconsider what that means." The commenters do not understand this statement. One of them asks, "Does that mean we have reached some magical number on the desired mixture of races?" 

I read this article and feel a knot in the pit of my stomach. I remember the looks on my all-white students' faces when in Government class we discussed the 2010 U.S. Census prediction: by 2023 more than half of the children in our country will be nonwhite; by 2042 more than half of the adults will be nonwhite. Iowa will not be immune to this change. My family is evidence of the shift to a more multiracial community, as are the many other multiracial families in my neighborhood. Change is here and more is coming. One can only hope that when those white folks who make such closed-minded comments become the minority, the multiracial majority will treat them better than they have been treated. We need to learn to respect each other, not beat each other down.

Apr 20, 2011

Popularity--not in my Job Description

This week I had a one-on-one conversation with a student who has been having some issues, both in and out of school. She is frustrated by gossip and people who trash-talk about her, yet she consistently puts herself in the middle of the group of people who frustrate her most. We talked about her feelings and what she can do to help the situation. In the middle of the conversation, she told me that the kids who have been giving her problems in our classroom don't like me. I had to chuckle.

Making students like me is not my job. Helping them to graduate from high school and become contributing members of our society is.
Creative Commons attribution by madmolecule 

Don't get me wrong, it is nice when I have students who turn out to be friends. I have had some close relationships with students that have been built on mutual respect. But friendship is not the purpose of our relationship. The purpose is educational: I facilitate their learning. I assist them in their self-directed studies. I do whatever I can to help them achieve graduation from high school. I try to help them learn how to be successful in the world after high school.

Our journey together needs structure. Structure means that certain rules and standards are in place. When students break the rules, there are consequences. It is part of my job to impose those consequences. This doesn't always make me a popular person...

Creative Commons attribution: by Bytemarks
But popularity is not my goal. In the real world, all choices have consequences, and my students need to learn about those consequences. Come to work late, and you may be docked some pay. Use illegal substances and your health may suffer/you may be arrested/you may lose your job and/or you may lose custody of your children. Make disparaging remarks to a peer--in person or on Facebook--and you may be on the receiving end of a harassment lawsuit. Spend your hours texting when you should be working and you may not have a job for long.

These are the real life consequences for the choices many of my students make on a daily basis. It is my job to model good choices, and to teach them about the consequences of bad choices. It is rarely an easy job and it is definitely not one that is popular--but it sure is rewarding when I have the privilege of watching a student graduate. It's even more rewarding when they come back to visit, hug me, tell me about their lives, and share their success stories! Such moments make me realize that teaching in an alternative school program is a very long-term job--the true rewards don't come until long after the kids have left.
Creative Commons Attribution: by smays

Apr 11, 2011

Apr 9, 2011

Creating an Alternative Education PLN

This past week I attended the Iowa Association of Alternative Education's annual state conference. Like every conference, a lot of information was presented and it is the job of all attendees to sort through the information to decide what is useful.  David Warlick (@dwarlick on Twitter) described 21st century literacy as a process that involves more than reading and writing--it is the process of asking questions and sorting through vast amounts of information. As a teacher, I am constantly bombarded with information, but the most valuable information doesn't come from websites, textbooks, or news stories; it comes from my colleagues!

Because there is so much value in networking with other alternative educators, our conference planned for one room to be dedicated to the sharing of ideas in a roundtable format. As an earlier post mentions, I am interested in starting up and Alternative Education PLN on Twitter, but I haven't had much luck in finding many alternative educators on Twitter! The IAAE conference was the perfect opportunity to help my colleagues learn the value of Twitter as a resource. There is no longer a need to wait until next year's conference to get new ideas about lesson plans, ask for feedback on strategies, or to ask questions about how other educators are doing things. We can do all of that and more instantly--on Twitter!

But how do I get my colleagues to learn about the power of Twitter? I tried to spread the word at the IAAE State Conference by facilitating the technology roundtable. Conference attendees came in and sat at laptops. They directed their own learning (much in the same way they teach their students!) and asked for help if they needed it. Below is the document I used to get them started. Please feel free to share it--comment if you want me to send you a link to the original Google Doc so that you can edit it for your own purposes. Spread the word to your Alternative Education colleagues...let's get an #AltEd PLN started!

PLN Resources for Alternative Educators
If you’re on Facebook, then you know how amazing it is to connect with old friends and chat with family members who live far away. What if you could have the same kinds of chats with colleagues in alternative education? Many alternative educators feel isolated. Many of us work in rural one-room school houses or in small schools with very few colleagues. Many of us love what we do, but don’t feel that we have colleagues nearby who really understand what our jobs are like. Through the Internet, we can join together! Here are some ways to start a Professional Learning Network (PLN) for Alternative Educators!
Some rights reserved by Brajeshwar from flickr

Twitter: twitter.com
Have brief chats, post links to news articles, and meet new colleagues on Twitter!

Hashtags for Alternative Educators on Twitter:
#AltEd #atrisk #edchat #education #IowaEd #IowaSchools #IAAE

Apps that make Twitter easy (on Android, iPhone, or computer):

tweetdeck: allows you to create a home column for your Twitter feed and additional columns with Twitter filters for specific hashtags (conversations). Also allows you to view your Facebook wall in the same app! www.tweetdeck.com/

HootSuite: like tweetdeck, HootSuite allows you to monitor multiple platforms and keywords at once. You can also schedule tweets to be posted at a later date and track your followers. hootsuite.com/

To post links, you’ll need a URL shortener. These services take long web addresses and shorten them so that they fit in a 140 character tweet! Here are some suggestions:

Need help? Check out Sue Waters’ helpful blogs at http://theedublogger.com/tag/twitter/  She has information about Twitter, how to set up a blog, and how to set up/use Skype in your classroom. Still stuck? You can DM (direct message) me on Twitter @jenmardunc, contact me on my blog jenmardunc.blogspot.com, or ask for my business card so that you can email me directly.  Be sure to use the #IAAE hashtag so that I know you are from the IAAE conference!

3 public sites for blogging
Blogger.com is Google’s blog engine
WordPress.com is favored by many (including our new Department of Education chief, Jason Glass! Visit his blog at http://educationelements.wordpress.com/about-jason-glass/)
Tumblr is another blog hosting platform

There are other blog platforms specifically for educators and their students
edublogs.org is specifically for educational purposes. It is a “safe” space for students to blog because only other students and teachers are a part of the blog system.

For help on how to start a blog, visit this WikiHow site  http://www.wikihow.com/Start-a-Blog
Need help deciding which blogging platform to use? See this comparison in Google Docs or type in this shortened version of the link http://bit.ly/gX7CTX

Examples of blogs

There are many, many more blogs! To find them, do a Google Blog Search by going to http://blogsearch.google.com

If you find some blogs you want to follow, you can usually do so in a few ways:
1. Use your Twitter handle to log in and follow (if the blog allows
2. Use your Google Account to log in and follow
3. Use an RSS feeder, like Google Reader. www.reader.google.com

You can set up Google Reader to “feed” you news stories from websites and blogs all over the world! News reader/feeder apps let you customize your own “newspaper” each day. Want to read about alternative education around the world? Search for the phrase “alternative education” in the Google Reader search page and subscribe to the feed. It will filter out every story with the phrase “alternative education” in it that is posted on the web. Then read away--on your computer or on your SmartPhone.
What does all of this look like in an alternative classroom? Here is the blog I created for use in my classroom this year. Feel free to visit and/or borrow anything on our blog: http://ndaltschool.blogspot.com  

Links to blogs created by alternative students are at the bottom of the page.

Alternative Education is Going Global

Alternative Education underway - The Guardian Newspaper

I'll be honest, I don't know much about Belize. But this article showed up in my Google Reader feed (set to find all news with the tag "alternative education") and I decided to read it. What interests me about the article is the fact that government in Belize City believes that opening an alternative school will lead to an improved quality of life for all citizens. An alternative school will educate the kids who currently have no place to go, no purpose except survival.

It is exciting to think about alternative education in a global sense. Alternative students often feel like they are the only kids in the world going through the things they go through. How powerful to share a global connection with kids like them in Belize!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Apr 5, 2011

How do we Create an Alternative Education PLN?

I've been fortunate enough to have some planning time this week. It comes just in time to prepare for the IAAE 2011 Spring Conference, where I will be facilitating a technology round table discussion. I don't know how many people, if any, will come to the discussion; but I've still been trying to plan things to share with anyone who stops by. It is difficult, though! There is so much out there in terms of technology that it is hard to narrow down what is most important for alternative educators. In the end, what I've considered is what has most impacted my life as an educator and therefore my students' learning. That impact comes from my newfound ability to communicate with other like-minded educator from across the globe through Twitter and blogs.

In Iowa (and in other places) alternative educators are often isolated. We teach in one-room schoolhouses or in small programs with very few colleagues. District-wide inservices rarely cover topics that relate to what we do in our classrooms. We don't fit into any other department in the district. For professional development purposes, I'm often left unassigned to group meetings or lumped in with special educators or guidance counselors. On a day to day basis, I miss having colleagues with whom I can brainstorm and share stories. The Iowa Association of Alternative Education's annual State Conference is the first place where I made connections with colleagues who do what I do. Each year when I attend the conference it feels like I'm going home.

But the conference only comes once a year--what about some daily interaction?

That's where Twitter comes in! Through Twitter, I've met a few more alternative educators from across the U.S. and I've met some traditional educators who think alternatively. It is wonderful to exchange ideas with these people! Our interactions make me strongly believe that my IAAE colleagues should try to join in on the conversation. I would love to see more alternative educators on Twitter! I've advertised on #edchat and joined the Educator's PLN at-risk/alternative group to look for other alternative educators; but so far only one more person has joined me... How do I find more alternative educators? Are they out there? Are alternative educators nationwide lagging behind when it comes to having an online presence? or are they just too busy to interact with each other?

If you were looking to start an online PLN of alternative educators, where would you start?


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