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Why it’s bad to say video games are…well, bad.

I have been forced to stay home for almost 3 weeks now due to an injury and have been inundated with plenty of commercials and advertising geared towards stay at home moms, unemployed high school grads, retirees, and other people who would be home at 11am on weekday.  I have also been able to watch the morning news more often than normal and one PSA they show every morning in an attempt to get parent’s attention is about how kids are staying inside more to play video games and go on the internet as oppose to playing sports, after school programs, and other ‘social’ activities.  I have a beef with this.  Now while I agree it is not healthy for kids to sit in front of the computer for hours on end with no monitoring but it is probably as unhealthy to force them to participate in activities that 1) they might not like 2) they may not be good at and most importantly 3) Activities that 1+2 might actually lead to them being bullying.  What usually happens to the kid that’s “no good at something”?  Name calling, teasing, put downs, those certainly can’t be good for development.

I would say that growing up I was more of the “in front of the computer” type as oppose to the after school program type.  Any program that would have kept me in school would always feel like more school to me.  I did not have many “play” dates…when I wanted to meet with friends I rode my bike over to their house and we played some outside, went to the local pond, but what did we usually do, play video games together.

I remember WISHING their was a service that would allow me to play with people all over the world but alas no matter how fast Sonic the Hedgehog was he couldn’t quite reach broadband speeds.

I also remember the first CD-ROM I had, “Great Moments in History”, I thought it was the coolest thing and I was far from a nerd.  I was completely in awe of the technology, I could watch clips of Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, all these great things with a touch of a button.

I would sit and “play” on the computer, this “playing” led me to where I am today and is the major reason of why I have my job today, why I have been somewhat successful, maybe not monetarily but it gave me the chance to wake up every morning and go to a job that I LOVE!  I am often asked, “How did you learn how to use the computer?”

My response, “I played on the computer a lot as a kid.”

It has kept me closer to family and friends and just has been a blessing.  If I were forced to go out and play then who knows where I would be; 5 pounds lighter maybe that’s about it.

Now, parents have a major roll in this.  They do need to monitor the usage of the internet, safety, etc, but to limit it would be like telling a child, “Sorry you have already went to the library 3 times this week, not today.”

When kids were playing we said they weren’t studying enough, now they aren’t playing enough.  Let kids be kids, let them find themselves, let them explore what they enjoy.

Feeding them fried foods, junk food, not telling them you love them, and many other social issues that I am not going to sit here and go on and on about probably have more of a negative impact then kids being on the internet, playing video games, etc.

Games = problem solving, especially the video games of today.  They are so intricate and complex it really takes a thoughtful process to succeed.  Now with most games being multiplayer games the level of “teamwork” is as high in video games as maybe some sports.  When you were a kid how were sports played.  Think about it…9 times out of 10 in grade school 1 or 2 kids were head and shoulders above the rest and everyone else were almost place holders.

The video games kids play now pair them up with people all around the world (that’s a gift and a curse).  Their definitely are some issues with this that need careful monitoring because we know there are plenty of untrustworthy people out there.  But that’s true in the “real world” as much as it is int he “virtual world”.  I have come across more “sketchy” type of people outside libraries walking around then I have playing co-op games of Fifa World Cup Soccer.

Don’t get me wrong, I played sports as a kid and all the way through high school.  I played outside, I rode my bike wherever I needed to go, went to the town pool, and was pretty social.  I still play sports, I love basketball, running, football and many more types of exercising but I was never forced into it.  It’s just what I liked to do.  I am thankful my parents never really pushed me into a “play” date.  Now if one of my friends asked me over they would take me there but never did they say, “You’re going to Johnny’s today.”

Today I find myself in front of the computer at work and at home and it continues to help me to grow.

Here is an article that speaks more to the specifics of “Why Video Games are Good for Your Kids”.

Kids need this freedom to grow, to find themselves, and some will want to play video games and stay on the computer.  What’s so bad about that?

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Are lesson plans a waste of time?

The short answer is, “no”, the long answer is, “yes”.

Obviously planning needs to go into the lessons you create for your students, not just planning but careful planning in order to ensure that what you are teaching is as effective as possible.  Every school district has their own version of lesson plans; what’s required, how often they need to be completed, how specific you must be, etc.  I think a more general lesson plan is more useful then plans that are outlined to the day.

My “perfect” lesson plan would include; the objective, essential questions, activities, and also a “recap” of what you have done with your class since your last plan was submitted.  One major thing missing from my version of lesson plans would be the “day”.  Now, I think you definitely need a specific time frame but tying your plans down specifically for certain days of the week really would limit you and hinder those ‘teaching’ moments.  Some of the greatest moments inside my classroom were born out of a sequence of events that I did not plan for.

For those saying, “Well I don’t always stick to my plan so it’s fine.”  Well then aren’t you doing yourself a disservice?  Let’s say you hand in your plans just to be able to submit them but then change your activities and end up doing some really great innovative things.  How are your supervisors suppose to see this?  They can’t be everywhere.  This is also where the recap would become a very good thing for you.

I really think schools need to look at their lesson plan structure.  Is it busy work for teachers?  Are they being looked at and being used as a tool?  They should be.  Do teachers work hard on their  plans?  Do they collaborate?  They really should be.

In business you learn about “opportunity costs”.  Simply put an opportunity cost is the cost of what you could be doing while doing something else.  For example; let’s say instead of going to the gym you decide to go out to the movies.  You have the cost of the movie but also the opportunity cost of not going to the gym.  You could have been at the gym and been burning calories, so those calories you didn’t burn would be part of your opportunity cost.

We must make sure lesson plans are not cutting into teachers, “opportunity to do something great” costs.

Down but not out

“Although Mr. Puliatte isn’t present in class, he’s able to demonstrate to the class how the work is done. It’s the same teaching he provides in the classroom, except he’s doing it all from home.” -Senior, Joy Cho

Last week I had to get surgery on my ankle which has had me home, forced to stay on the couch with my leg elevated ever since.  Before leaving I put together some work for my students to complete in my absence but wanted to figure out a way to stay connected with them, so they wouldn’t be forced to a life of busy work for the immediate future.  I felt even if I gave them thoughtful work to complete I would still be doing them a disservice.  I looked into Skype and other ways to video chat with them so I thought I would give it a try.

By Skyping with them I would still have a presence if the class even if it wasn’t every day.  This would also expose my students to technology they might not used before, especially in the classroom.  The only preperation that was needed was for someone to make sure the computer and projector was turned on and I could take care of the rest from home.

So far it has gone even better than I have expected.  Even though I have been out for a little over a week I have still met with my class on a regular basis.  We have had discussions, gone over questions they have had about the work they have been doing and yesterday we had the closest thing to a ‘regular’ class since I have left.

I have used other software to manage what they see through the projector so while we are discussing topic I can pull certain things up from the internet, their notes, etc.  I have even been able to assess them by creating an online quiz that they had to complete and submit.

The student seem to be really into the whole idea of using all of this technology and I think they are getting  a lot out of it.

It is making a good thing out of a bad situation.

“The best part about this class over the last week is that students are able to learn the material normally, just like Mr. Puliatte is in the classroom. He would speak through Skype and show the course materials through his iPad-connected computer.” -Senior Student

Don’t be a know it all

One of the most refreshing things you can show your students is that you are human.  You are not a robot.  You do not have all of the answers.  You are not perfect.  You are not Superhuman. That’s what Google is for.  When you don’t know an answer to something be honest and say that you don’t but use it as a teaching moment.  This can also help with some of the students who try and be ‘wise guys’ and stump you, they will quickly realize that this doesn’t work.  When I don’t know an answer, I take time out of my lesson (which aren’t written in stone by the way) and as a class we research it and figure it out together.

Now don’t go overboard and do this with every question, but do it with the questions you are truly unsure about.  Because when you don’t know something and try and fake it,  your students will call your bluff and to start second guess you and that’s not good.  You’ll become the teacher who, “Doesn’t have a clue!”

Oh an oxygen mask? Yeah I’ll just figure that out…

Piggy backing off my last post, I really think that unless you are working mission control somewhere, the best way to learn technology is to submerse yourself in it and basically teach yourself. Use google, YouTube, message boards, etc. for help but the best way is by doing.

Today I was on a plane and when the flight attendent did her little performance like she always does. She went through the exit locations, floating devices, yadda yadda, and then explained how to use an oxygen mask…a life saving device… no one budged, no one’s hands went up, no questions no nothing. I was thinking to myself, if I have to figure out how to use this thing to save my life I am a goner. But when I try to explain to someone how to create a distribution list I get stared at as if I am growing a tiny alien head out if my shoulder and I never get passed the first step without stopping for 10 minutes to answer questions.

Maybe we should start trying to ‘wing it’ when it comes to technology and asking questions about more important things….like helping maintain the oxygen supply of another human being.

Don’t forget to bring a pen to computer class!

If the above title does not make sense to you then we are off to a good start.  First and foremost I am writing this during my lunch hour, and if you know anything about me then you know that me missing a meal is as common as a lunar eclipse over a triple rainbow in front of the Loch Ness Monster.  But I feel that this post deserves it.

I have been training teachers how to use programs for the past 3 years and I have found that usually the most seasoned teachers are the ones who have the hardest time picking it up and understanding the different programs.  This is not for a lack of trying.  I just think sometimes the method they use is one that rarely works.

When I train teachers who have been in the game for 15+ years the first thing they do is whip out their pens and notebooks…and then I cringe.  I try to do my best taking them step by step through whatever process we are working on and more times then not they only feel comfortable if they are feverishly writing down everything I say.

Now when it is their turn to do it on their own, they refer to their notes like a treasure map trying to navigate the screen with failed clicks, drags, etc.  This usually leads me to repeating the steps and more writing. Why do this?  Think about it.  After a master musician learns how to play a song how often do they reread their music?  After a master chef puts together an amazing meal how often do they go over their recipe again?  Well if you want to be a master teacher and really learn the technology that surrounds you why are you handcuffing yourself to a piece of paper?

It’s funny, today I gave a teacher a print out that had screenshots of all the steps, even labeling what each feature was, etc, and asked her to try it on her own so she might be able to better understand the process.  She cast it aside and told me it was too “busy”…so I went step by step as she wrote everything I said.  What she ended with was something I think even Will Hunting would struggle to understand.

People, especially teachers are always saying that the kids know the technology the best.  Why is that?  :::Here comes a common response::: “Because it is the times they were born in!”  I don’t buy it, that’s an excuse, they still have to learn the technology, they are not born with the knowledge of how to send send a tweet, create a podcast, or even how to turn the computer on…someone has to teach it to them and it is often themselves.  I have yet to read any informatuon that says we are evolving so quickly that children are now born with a better sense of technology.  They’re not.  We all have to learn it.

Okay, I think I was starting to rant and trust me I understand that you might not be comfortable without taking notes because when you grew up, when I grew up, that’s really how we were taught…through note taking.  But it simply doesn’t work with technology.  Use a marathon runner for example.  When they train they don’t just run 1 mile every day and expect that in a few months they can go out and run 26.2.  They build up to it.  So lets compromise.  First ditch the notebook and pen the next time you want to learn something to do with the computer whether it’s a program your school uses to grade or putting together an iMovie.  What I suggest to bridge the gap is to learn how use and take screenshots.  Technology is visual and physical so if you need a piece of paper in front of you to start take a screenshot and put your “notes” on their.  For those that do not know, a screenshot is exactly what it sounds like, a picture of your screen.  When I do trainings I always supply teachers with screenshots of all steps.  Less words more pictures.  I might circle a few things or make a few notes or even write out different steps, but they are always accompanied by a screenshot.  Since you would get fired if you wrote on the computer monitor this is the next best thing.  The “notes” you will be looking at will look exactly the same as what’s on your screen.  Eventually you should ditch the screenshots and learn to teach yourself by trial and error…figuring out how to get from point A to point B with only your mouse and intuition to guide.  Then you will no longer be a slave to the notebook!

Taking screenshots on a MAC:

  • Command-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen, and save it as a file on the desktop
  • Command-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area and save it as a file on the desktop
  • Command-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window and save it as a file on the desktop
  • Command-Control-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen, and save it to the clipboard
  • Command-Control-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area and save it to the clipboard
  • Command-Control-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window and save it to the clipboard

Taking screen shots on a PC:

  • Pushing the PrtScrn key will take a picture of your entire screen and copy it to the clipboard
  • Holding Alt+PrntScrn will copy only the foremost image onto your clipboard

There are many free tools you can download to help with screenshots.

We were all born not knowing how to walk but we were able to teach ourselves.  Think of technology like learning to walk, first crawl, then take baby steps, then run with it!

Go Google yourself

Go Google yourself.  No really do it.  You know what I mean, you go onto Google and punch your name in to see what comes up.  If you haven’t done so then I suggest you try it, you might be surprised by the results.

What’s even  better is Google has what’s called “Google Alerts” where you can type in your name (or anything for that matter) and it will e-mail you whenever a Google result is added.  Here is the link to the Google Alerts Page

You obviously do not have to just use Google alerts for your name but anything you want to be notified of; your subject matter, your school, etc.

Why is this a helpful tool for a teacher you ask?  Here are 3 real instances where friends of mine used Google alerts:

1) A parent started a blog about a principal I knew just ripping them apart.  They were posting lots of unflattering things, attacking them personally and saying things that were flat out bogus.  The principal received a Google alert about the blog so he actually commented on the blog post…”Dear So and So, if you have an issue with my methods I suggest we set up a meeting so we can discuss the matter.  Thanks.”  All of a sudden said blog vanished.

2) A friend of mine gave her class a current events project that took place over an entire marking period.  After her students had picked out a topic, she had them set up Google alerts for their topic.  Now, instead of the students using a lot of class time to search every day for new material they already had a lot of great resources waiting in for them in their e-mail every morning.

3) RateMyTeacher.com  Be honest, you’ve been on there to check yourself out…and if you haven’t you probably will now.  With a Google alert set up for your name you will be notified when a new rating has been published.  🙂

Here is a web page I found that gives some tips on Google alerts for educators

Also, here is a link for “25 Exciting Google Apps and Tools for Educators“.