Thursday, June 14, 2012

I am Sandpaper...

I am Sandpaper.  

Learning is a process that encompasses one thing more than anything else... friction.  How we deal with friction is an important step in how successful our students are in school.

According to Wikipedia, sandpaper has the following characteristics:
Sandpaper is part of the "coated abrasives" family of abrasive products. It is used to remove small amounts of material from surfaces, either to make them smoother (painting and wood finishing), to remove a layer of material (e.g. old paint), or sometimes to make the surface rougher (e.g. as a preparation to gluing).
When I started teaching, I felt it was my job to reduce friction as much as possible in my classes.  Scaffolded note sheets, graphic organizers, mnemonic memory devices, study guides, video, etc. Any way I could find to make the content easier for my students to learn and retain, I tried out.  And for the most part, I continued to do this for many years.  

As I became a more seasoned teacher, I found that I also needed to be sandpaper remove some of the things that students came into my class with.  In some instances it was to correct a misconception they had from previous learning.  In other cases it was to help them expose some of their own feelings and thoughts and have them look at them in reference to society as a whole.  I can remember the student in my 12th Grade American Government class in 1996 who was an ardent supporter of David Duke for President. The first time this young man made a proclamation in class in support of Duke and the reaction of his peers was one of the most intriguing times in my teaching career.  By the end of the semester, the student had at least seen the entire "David Duke" package and moved closer to the center politically.  

In other times, it was my job to create some friction that did not exist.  There are always students who are more advanced than others and become bored and disengaged.  I looked for ways to extend their learning, how to provide opportunities to add on to what they have done. I can remember students in my computer repair classes, who I gave old servers to and asked them to build out a bulletin board system for us to use in class.  

Since I have moved into a more Administrative role in my career, first as a Vice Principal at a High School and now as the Director of Technology for a High School District, I am still sandpaper.  

I smooth things to make information, data and tools easier to access for teachers and students.  I provide opportunities for them to learn with someone, or to learn independently, but to make that process as easy or "frictionless" as possible.

I also work to remove some of the misconceptions that students and staff have around the use of Technology in schools.  One of the projects we are working on is a way for teachers and students to only sign in to our network once a day and have access to all of the resources they need to be effective in their role or learning.  (Single-sign-on) When teachers and students need to sign into several different systems everyday to get access to the tools they need, there are going to be times when the barriers of that one extra sign in is going to be enough to keep them from using that tool.  

We are also working to provide a structure and a path for teachers and students to extend their own learning, by providing resources that allow them to have access to resources and other people from around the world.  To be able to communicate, share, collaborate in a space that is not defined by one's physical location or time of day.  

After all these years, I am still sandpaper.. looking for ways to reduce friction, to remove old and outdated practices and to extend and add resources for the people I work with on a daily basis.  

As always, I appreciate your comments....