Teaching Learning

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Hey, everyone. I’m Mike, the new Ambassador from Ft. Leavenworth, KS, where I teach 7th, 8th, and 9th graders Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 and coach football and basketball. I’m also studying for my master’s degree in School Leadership and loving family life with my wife Diana and two beautiful baby daughters.

I’ll open my account here by telling you a about how I got fired up about ShowMe.

I first encountered the idea of computer-driven instruction in 5th grade, in a short story in which kids did daily lessons in an hour or so through computer-telephone devices at home. They spent the rest of the day playing in anti-gravity chambers with genetically engineered pets like dogs but with more legs and fur.

I thought it was a cool idea back then, especially the sixty- to ninety-minute school day. I had no clue, of course, what computers were. Mrs. Johnston challenged us in the subsequent discussion and writing assignment to consider how mechanized instruction might make school less cool. I’m sure I argued that it made school much more cool and got a B because, while I failed to respond as instructed, I spelled every word correctly and used proper capitalization and punctuation.

Where’s that idea today? We’re not in that short story just yet, are we? I think we’re about to deal with technology-driven instruction in a big way in the next generation, however. School budgets are facing massive contraction; those who must make the hard budget decisions in government are faced with a massive shift in priorities driven by demographics and debt. They face the terrible choice between paying for these essential promises and paying to help children fulfill their promise. I don’t envy them.

We’ve also spent about twenty years in the classroom perfecting an industrial evaluation process that might lead to a better mousetrap but doesn’t seem to lead to students becoming better learners. While we wrestle with standards and assessment, technology tempts policymakers to shift fiscal focus away from buildings and facilities toward on-line instruction and remote delivery. On a slow day, technology leaves many teachers floundering in the dust. Our students need us to break this wild horse to harness, and fast.

Does anyone think we won’t be trying to leverage technology to make schools less expensive but more effective? Where will we create those ideas? Where will we develop new techniques? How will we discover that new strategies and techniques work without many years of trial and evaluation? What’s the cost if we fail?

We’ll have to do those things in communities like this one, built around ideas like ShowMe. ShowMe and technologies like it help us overcome some of the impersonality and inflexibility of educational content developed for students but delivered by technology. That technology simply can’t incorporate the personal touch of a professional teacher. We’ll have to share action research with each other, because we don’t have time to wait for the ivory tower researchers to finish running multiple double-blind controlled trials involving hundreds of students over half a generation. Our budgets are shrinking now, and our students are building their futures now.

I found ShowMe through my school district’s technology staff, and the idea struck me at first as a great way to overcome a recurring problem in my class: I call it Poliquinitis. Poliquinitis is the phenomenon in which a student understands a new concept flawlessly in the classroom, only to return to the content several hours later in the form of a homework assignment and discover that nary a hint of a clue remains.

My ShowMes — so far — are refreshers based on my actual teaching. Unlike a video made by some other teacher or professionally produced by some think-tank, or even a tutor, my ShowMes include my voice inflections, my bad jokes, my style, my occasional mindless errors, and, unfortunately, my handwriting and art work. If that doesn’t nudge the neurological network between the ears of my forgetful students into action, then I’ll just have to re-teach it in class. That’s where I’ve started with ShowMe, but I think there’s a lot of potential for wider use of this technology in schools, and I’m really excited about it.

I’m looking forward to teaching my students how to make ShowMes and having them share them with each other. In my classroom, my ShowMes support learning at the memory, understanding, and apply levels very well. Those aren’t the skills of learning, however. They are the skills of doing.

Can ShowMe support the development of higher-level learning skills? Can ShowMe help us in our quest for that Holy Grail of positive-feedback loops known as independent learning? Can ShowMe help me get my students to analyze, evaluate, and create? Let’s find out.

That’s where I want to go. That’s why I’m here. I’m really excited to be an Ambassador in this community. Please bounce your ideas off me, too, in the comments on this blog or out in the wider ShowMe on-line community. We can’t meet the challenges a wild new world is going to present to us alone, but we can leverage our content knowledge, teaching styles, and favorite strategies to even the odds. They can’t put a price on what we do — and we’ve got the paychecks to prove it — but it’s going to take more than just more money (which probably isn’t coming) and more assessments (which, sadly, probably are coming) to get our students ready for their futures.

I do have my own blog. It’s about math and curriculum and occasionally personal. I’d love to have conversations with you there as well. It’s at http://mikepoliquin.com.

Let’s do this!

Mike Poliquin
ShowMe Ambassador

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