Educational CyberPlayGround ®

Work in Schools some changes...

There used to be a time, in the times of Miss Dove (a book) when teachers were considered respected, and knowledgeable about what they taught. At least the children feigned this type of respect if some parents did not. But the times they are a changing. Teachers have to move up to the plate and make sure they know their content. A teacher once said to me, how hard can teaching be. I have a book, I read it and learn it, there may be a few places that I am fuzzy about but what can happen, the book can fall on the floor, I could forget the book, but I could use a kid's book, and perhaps a page would be missing. Teachers are at the bottom of the educational food chain, so in this day and time if you are still in the classroom, one is considered to be a failure. Never mind that you can make magic with your teaching skills, never mind that the kids love you, never mind if you are a great mentor for new teachers. Being in the classroom is considered a failure in many cases. And if you are there, you develop the bladder of a camel, learn to send messages by sneakernet and to eat lunch in 15 minutes or so, if you want to use phones, bathrooms, and check messages.

* This change happened in a very quiet way. Those of us who found ourselves connected in schools initially had a dedicated line. A PHONE for goodness sakes. Now those of you who always have a phone, fax and pager, please indulge here. You have to practice by going to a school and standing behind the nurse, a couple of kids having to call home with the loudspeaker blaring to know, that having a phone is a secret weapon in a school. You can actually talk to the car repairman or schedule an appointment during your lunch time. It was a miracle. And there were educational miracles that happened. You could schedule a field trip, talk to a mother before she got upset about something, and communicate a problem from your side of the chalkboard.

I know the phone was not supposed to be in the hands of a teacher because when my principal left for a trip, the vice principal would come and take the phone and lock it up. My kids and I would look as if we were long in the tooth and sad. Then we would retrieve the little phone that came in the mail with the time magazine and hook it up in case we needed it. We were special, we had a phone. We did not use it a lot. We never had incoming calls, and we understood that the main reason we had it was for the use of the Internet. But, we were empowered. With cell phones this is probably laughable. But until you have been in these situations, I just wanted to share that the PHONE is important to teachers for reasons that should be obvious.

The computer..

A teacher in a classroom now, has no idea which of her kids are connected. Though we still read a lot of science, there are kids who are actually doing science, in museums, in organizations that promote hands on kinds of science, and on the Internet with sites such as the Exploratorium, and Windows on the Universe, kids who used to look at the teacher as the source of information are asking some book clinging teachers, Whaaaashssss Uup?

The truth is, the kids still usually know better than to tell the teacher they don't think they know very much, but at the beginning of the school year as you a teacher take whatever your accustomed place is in the classroom, you are being evaluated.

Little eyes are looking at you, and little ears are listening, and some brains are going into shutdown depending on what you say. Content is available for the tiniest of students these days. Information is everywhere.

Lots of teachers are found to be wanting in information by the kids and the kids suffer the teachers silently, glued in the seats, dreaming of any and everything but what the teacher is talking about. They practice counting their teeth with their tongues. They send messages, they talk long trips to the bathroom. But not in a class with a lot of interactive learning. You the teacher, the coach, the helper are tired moving from place to place because the work and the concentration is so intense. This kind of teaching is not as easy as opening a book and staring a class down. This is cooperative working and learning. You might break a sweat.

Here are some of my experiences...

I teach using NASA training so I am not without resources. A little kid came to me and said... " What do you know about the Jovian comets? " I did not say, "Huh," I sort of turned to him and said, I know a little about them, but what makes you interested? So he told me all about comets, and by the way, he said, " You can go to Berkeley and learn and also be there when the comets strike the surface of the planet and get paid for it." This was a fourth grader talking to me. I made a mental note of what Alex said, because he tended to be very accurate, but I could not get to the computers in the back of the classroom because little heads were glued to their work. So Alex and I continued the discussion. Was I teaching? Yes, we were using the Hubbell Space Science Institute pages to check the new postings, and to follow up on a field trip. In the school system we were mandated to take certain planetarium trips. We had just taken a tour of the planets, planetarium style. We made an average of 90 on the pretest, but we made 75 on the post test. I would tell you why but I would be sued. The main point is that lots of the kids went to sleep, the presentation was not as exciting as the web sites we had been using, and the director sailed through it in a sign songy voice, and he was in a hurry, so they stopped listening and the test was not important to them. It was important to me, but that made no difference. What they said about the presentation rhymes with ducks. You know how they say it just loud enough to let you hear it, in case you did not get the drift. I did got to Berkeley to take POPS , there was a stipend and except for the scarey trip down the mountain from the observatory at Lick, it was a wonderful experience. But I liked the LIck Observatory trip and the experience of learning astrophysics. It was a gift from a child.



We teach math in the USA a mile long and an inch deep. A little girl came to me and said. "I am not doing 400 math exercise on rounding." "It is boring, I had it last year, pick any ten problems and I will make up some and you can test my problems." I looked at her and laughed. What I did was illegal. I simply found a piece of software that allowed her to wander through the same kinds
of learning, but it was interactive software. Without the computer I would not have known that this child, this girl enjoyed math. Her mother was a scientist who was concerned because I USED technology. But the student finished Dr. Quandary, and the other problem solving simulations (I think I am not supposed to say games) so we worked on probability and some other applications developed by Tom Snyder.She did indeed know the work. We have repeating cycles of information and with the technology we can practice and get immediate feedback and go on to the next level. She and I crossed into pre algebra. She and I did work on probability. But the most amazing work she did was calculating the surface area that ants consumed in a leaf in the Rainforest and then creating a database for the amount of leaves consumed by a certain amount of ants in the rainforest. This was not even math, this was the Jason project, some of the interdisciplinary information that was in the problem solving. So, math is different depending on the class, the teacher and the access to technology. A class in Mississippi used the NASCAR curriculum to study physics.. but I digress. ...

Interactive maps, at

So work in schools has changed. Unfortunately the time is still a problem.