We’re It!

My first direct interactions with businesses were mostly with Amazon.  I ordered books on the website, and they showed up on my door.  Sometimes I went to the mall, which were always stocked with whatever.  I’d go in, looking for some new shoes or a new video game, find them in a store, hand the cashier some money, and walk out.

A pristine view of business formed in my head.  In school and in my neighborhood were people like me, who joked and accidentally insulted and decided to mow the lawn (or not), but in businesses were robots who knew what went where and maintained perfect organization.  It really never occurred to me that businesses were run by people.

I won the position of “Camp Director,” one day, and was suddenly the employer and supervisor of 25 staff members, and was responsible to several hundred clients.  With ActiveGrade, Dan, Michal and I are responsible for a lot of people – today someone recorded assessment number 130,000!  In both positions I work really hard to make my businesses seem professional and, more importantly, to deliver on the implicit and explicit promises I make.  As a teacher I took part in the education of hundreds of people – talk about responsibility!

The pristine image of business I formed when I was a kid is gone. I realized that all businesses make mistakes and have inefficiencies.  What’s replaced it is a more impressive picture: people that are not only working hard but constantly evaluating themselves, asking themselves where they want to get better, and relating to customers, colleagues, and friends the whole time.

This is what being human is about to me.  It’s up to us! We’re in it together!

Thanks for working and playing with me.  I’m excited to include the kids.

Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t?

I play ultimate frisbee with a bunch of people every week.  Most of the people are between the ages of 20 and 65, and we play pretty hard: sprinting, leaping, and diving for two to three hours, three times a week.

Recently, an eight-year-old boy named Q started playing with us.  He’s like four feet tall and maybe 70 pounds.  We’ve decided it’s ok for him to play with us; we just try not to run over him.  We have not agreed, however, on how to treat him on the field.  Do we go easy on him? How easy?

Maybe make it SEEM like we're trying?

Maybe make it SEEM like we're trying? - Photo by Nic McPhee

This is exactly the problem I faced in my classes every day.  One person has lower skills, or less experience, than the others – where do we set our expectations?  Some players in my game say Q should not get a defender, and if he drops the frisbee we should let him pick it up as if he didn’t. I say that if he’s in the game, he’s in the game! Rules apply!  If he’s not ready to play, practice with him on the side of the field until he is!

It’s hard to say what’s best for Q.  If you were in our game, you’d know the specific details that he’s actually a pretty good thrower, and doesn’t crack under pressure, and can really catch a disc, and that we should probably turn up the heat on him at least a little.  Still, you wouldn’t really expect him to be able to do everything the other players can do.  I think a moderate course is the best for Q’s skill level.  If we let him keep playing, when he’s 14 he’s going to be better than all of us. If we make him stop, or practice on the sidelines, he’ll lose interest.  For the rest of us, when he’s in the game, we can’t really play as hard, and we stop improving as quickly.

In my math classes, the kids with low skill levels had the same effects, and the dilemma was the same.  I’d love to say, “if you’re in, you’re in!” but where does that leave the kids that aren’t in?

I Don’t Want to Steal Those “Aha!” Moments!

I remember coming to the understanding that people might see colors differently.  That led me to realizing that maybe ALL of everyone’s perceptions are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.  Holy crap!

Holy crap, am I glad that I thought of it before my boring science teacher told me that.  And yet, in my math classes, I often tried to blow the kids’ minds with stuff they probably hadn’t thought of yet. I made a three-dimensional grid of string in the classroom so they could stand in it, and imagine it stretching out forever.  Did I rob them of the opportunity to think of that themselves?  It’s not a particularly important concept to my class – I could have waited and let them find their own awe.

I’m so engaged. I think this is awesome… and it is! But can my student, who looks so bored, ever think it’s awesome after he’s been told so by someone so boring?

Maybe it’s better to come up with engaging questions on a smaller scale, and to help people to a proficiency with the skills they need to start asking themselves the big questions.


So, here are the questions I want help with (don’t worry, they won’t rob you of a profound thought):

  • When they say, “oh my gosh, I just realized that maybe everyone sees color differently and no one could tell!” what is the best way to respond?
  • Is it ok to throw out a spoiler to your whole class?
  • What are the big ideas you thought of for yourself, that gave you that feeling of dawning awe?

“The Roots of Modern Science”

Michal left a history book open on the table, and this section popped out at me.

The Roots of Modern Science

Before 1500, scholars generally decided what was true or false by referring to an ancient Greek or Roman author or to the Bible. Few European scholars challenged the scientific ideas of the ancient thinkers or the church by carefully observing nature for themselves.

from World History, McDougal Littell, published 2009.

There’s an implication that, since 1500, scholars have generally been challenging the scientific ideas that came before them. Think that’s true? In your classes, you’re the ancient dispenser of knowledge. What do you do to get students to practice challenging your ideas?

Could it be worth teaching untrue theorems, giving inaccurate analyses of novels, or giving kind of naive reasoning for histories… just to keep your students skeptical? At Scattergood the freshman science teacher used to teach Copernican theories about the solar system for a few weeks, so he could later say, “and then we figured out it was really this way.” I always wondered how many students got the message that “it’s really this way” is probably never really true.