December 2007

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In the recent issue of Edutopia (Nov/Dec 2007, Vol. 3, # 8), Mitch Martin describes about how a good teacher must be bad at something to be good at teaching (Mr. Martin’s Oopses, page 10). I must admit – I’ve been thinking about this article a lot lately in both teaching and beyond.

Martin describes his attempts at learning how to play guitar, in how he had juggle practicing with his family and job – all the while feeling the exact frustrations and distractions that his students experience in his classroom.

After reading that passage, I instantly remembered back to my student teaching seminar, when the professor asked us “how can you relate to students who don’t care about getting good grades?” Coming from a small liberal arts college in the Midwest, most of us in the room were highly concerned with our grades. Getting grades was easy – empathizing with our students was hard.

After many years, I think that Martin offers at least a possible solution – put yourself in your students’ shoes. Translation: try something new where you might have to struggle a bit to succeed. Martin believes that “the best teachers are the ones who have struggled and succeeded.” I am reminded of a wise colleague of mine (now retired) who always told me that any good idea always starts with a LOT of fumbling and error.

So I challenge you all to make this your New Year’s resolution. Try something new – something in which you may have to struggle a bit in order to succeed. Not only will it enrich your life, but you’ll be able to better empathize with your students and it will make you a better teacher.

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The use of digital photo frames to show slideshows is nothing new. But while I was setting up our house for Christmas (tree, lights, etc), I noticed the digital photo frame in the family room that has been repeating the same family pictures for the last 11 months (it was a 2006 Christmas gift).

Immediately, I realized that it could easily be used for another Christmas decoration. So I went to Flickr, searched for “Christmas” and found a slew of high quality, general Christmas pictures. After realizing that my frame only recognizes JPEG’s, I selected only those files – and ones that were shot horizontally (they look better in the frame than vertical ones).

So I was able to create a temporary, yet dynamic Christmas slide show (interspersed with family pictures at Christmas). Beyond using this idea for other holidays and special days, I realized that I could do the same thing in my classroom.

Imagine topic-specific pictures that can showcased to peak curiosity, engage discussion, and generally highlight the topic at hand. These pictures can easily be changed by swapping out memory cards, so it would be fairly easy to get it ready for several lessons over a school year.

As digital photo frames are getting pretty cheap, they can easily be purchased for the classroom. Or, if you are like me, then your old electronics end up in your classroom. I might have to upgrade mine at home and use my old one at school!

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