Posts Tagged failure

“Go ahead and tear up, tear up the paper”

Even if you have a Xbox 360, it’s still fun to dust the cobwebs off the NES once in a while, right?

I did an old school task today with frosh, using good ol’ slips of paper. They had done homework on Edmodo, writing out the subject, main idea, author’s purpose and theme for an xkcd comic strip (sorry, I can’t find the actual strip I used). And when I say they “had done” the homework, I mean maybe a third of them did.

Anyway, since their sentences were on Edmodo I could easily cut and paste them into a Word doc, and I compiled examples of good, average, and needs-work work. I then ran off copies, making each element (subject, main idea, etc) a different color. I stupidly marked each sentence with an A, B or C, thinking that would make it easier to poll the groups to find out which ones they thought were best. That might not have been stupid if I hadn’t put them on the Word doc in order of best to worst.

So I had to spend some stupid time tearing off the sides of the little slips of paper that had the letters on them before starting the activity. It was at this point that I thought, “Have I forgotten how to use paper?” I think many teachers feel inadequate and overwhelmed when asked to incorporate technology into the curriculum. I was feeling the same way trying to incorporate paper. Paper. 

I hope all those hands-on, kinesthetic kids got something out of arranging the slips of paper. And it definitely seemed like good learning was happening when they were trying to convince each other – and then trying to convince me and the class – why one sentence was better than the other. And I’m not sure how something like this could be replicated digitally (unless I get that class set of iPads that I’m not working on getting).



And all this crazy paper talk puts this song in my head:


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When the chalkboard disintegrates

But the chalkboard never did disintegrate, did it?

Today my projector wouldn’t turn on. It was actually the projector in a colleague’s room where I teach one class. I’d known this projector to be temperamental (which, I must admit, I was not able to spell without help). My colleague suggested using the gnome instead of the remote to turn it on. She keeps a ceramic gnome on a desk under the projector and uses its long pointed cap to hit the button that is about a foot above the highest point I can reach.

My students watched patiently as I reached toward the projector with the gnome’s cap, pressing the button that is supposed to simply go from orange to green, but either emitted a wailing beep instead, remained orange, turned green for a moment before resorting back to orange, or, finally, turned an angry red I had not seen before. This was when I finally realized it was time to proceed with a backup plan.

I was merely planning to share a document with my newspaper staff – a critique from the state high school press association that I had just received in my email without enough time to make copies. And then I was going to show them a powerpoint and collectively work on turning interview notes into a story. But I needed the projector for all of this.

When I worked in a school with a 1:1 program, I quickly became aware of the need for backup plans to account for a particularly slow server during that class period. So this idea of contingency when using technology is nothing new. But I have become so reliant on the projector that I was truly thrown for  a loop without it.

And that’s why I started thinking about a malfunctioning chalkboard. I guess teachers used to run out of chalk? I remember scrambling to find some in my first year of teaching. That’s easier, though, since, if we are able to get our hands on some chalk, we know how to solve that problem. A faulty projector? We’re done. No teacher knows how fix that aside from calling your IT department and getting a loaner. Which, I suppose, is the same as borrowing some chalk from a neighbor, though much more bulky.

So I was simply reminded again of the value of having another plan in my pocket. I suppose it’s the same for any lesson – we could realize it’s going poorly and change course. But today I was not so nimble. I stood there, poking that button with the tip of that gnome’s cap for maybe ten minutes, waiting for the machine to warm up, then trying not to cuss as it faltered. It was one of the moments when, as a teacher, I realized how much I was wasting everyone’s time.

Not a proud teaching moment, but a real moment nonetheless. My student journalists saw me struggle, get frustrated, and make light of the situation. Then I told them to get to work on their own stories, and off they went, without my direct instruction for that day.

Who needs a projector anyway? Who needs a teacher? Who needs a gnome?

Maybe no one did today, but by next class I’m going to need at least one of those three things to work better.

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