AWS: Academics World Series

School was once all competition. As I grew up in Lahore I only knew 3 things: School, friends, and cricket. I took family for granted so I never really thought about them when I was away in any of the other three domains of my life. Today my list is very different of course but I write this piece to reflect on my middle school years and my perception of the world, my world, in that period as it pertained to academics.

In each of the three strands of my middle school life there is one thing in common: competition. I was always in competition at school, I was always in competition with my friends, and cricket like all the rest is a competitive sport. Competition drove me back then like it was the reason to live: win or lose but compete. Whether competition is good or bad is a debate I don’t care to have at this point. But I am wondering how I can use competition (“healthy” competition for all those education enthusiasts who like to police our morals) in my teaching to hook students in.

I look at a majority of my students and they either demonstrate no desire to compete with others academically, including their friends and foes, or they compete in a bullish manner with only those whom they feel they are somehow superior to. They are all very smart, generally very competitive, but when it comes to academic achievement they don’t care to compete. I don’t see joy on the faces of many kids when they hear they got an A in a subject. I, the teacher, probably have a lot to do with this: whatever “this” is. But it bothers me. So, as I think about next year, I am considering organizing of several academic competitions. I think competition can ignite interest in education and provide an answer to many of my students who think academic excellence is no thing of honor to pride yourself in and therefore, there is no need to strive for high achievement.

Competitions may be one way of getting kids to want to achieve more. Ideally, I’d like each competitive event to be a differentiated competition, which, essentially is a competition that, like our elections, is free and fair with equal opportunity for all individuals who strive to be on grade level. Also, because “grade level” is an important distinction, ideally the competition will be academic in nature which includes gym but excludes natural talents such as singing or dancing or being good at math ( just kidding about the last).

Now, I’m not thinking small here as in classroom-level. I’m thinking large as in school level. These would be competitive events of the top quality. These are events that would be talked about in the same way as we talk and get excited about the super bowl, FIFA world cup, he olympics, and the triwizard tournament (some of us that is big). And even better, they’d be ranked in the same league as the student vs staff game, the international food day, and the talent show! The prizes will be BIG! Like HUMONGOUS big, funded by the Peynado Foundation. Here are some ideas:

Competition 1: UNMS Spelling Bees (Castle invited at the second spelling bee event) Judges – Humanities Team.

Competition 2: UNMS Creative Arts Rage (gym and art competitions). Judges – gym and art teachers.

Competition 3: WORDS are my WEAPONS: poetry (including song) and speech competition. Judges – Humanities team & AP Chianese.

Competition 4: Math games Tourny
Judges – math team

Competition 5: Inventions: the science fair. Judges – science team & Ms. Peynado.

Competition 6: TBD

A minimum of SIX school-wide competitions would help promote academic achievement in the community. I am hoping that these events will shine the spotlight on those students who receive it the least, if any, during the school year. It is like saying to the kids that “you are smart, you are learning,and we’re freaking proud of you and you should be too! Today, it’s all about you; so, let’s celebrate!” I don’t say something like that to my kids enough. These competitions will be even more powerful if the winners receive things like free tickets to cool places and concerts, all day trips with their favorite ( we can replace the word “favorite” with something else) teacher, opportunity to be a teacher for a day alongside their “favorite” subject teacher, etc. Options are endless!

When I was a kid, I won trophies, not in sports but in academics. Sports are important (I did win one trophy in a track event and some money playing cricket), but so are academics. I am simply suggesting that sports are great due to the element of competition and academics could use a bit more if this element..

iPad: to be or not to be…

I’m asked to write a proposal, well may be a request, if I am interested in receiving an iPad for instructional purposes from my principal. First and foremost I must commend this very strategic protocol put in effect by her. Because one must have a sense of the purpose of a tool in order to use it effectively. You shouldn’t be given a toy that you wish you never had.

I feel teachers should definitely be consulted before introducing a new learning/teaching tool into the community especially if the use of that tool will be mandatory. And if not consulted prior to, then at least provided with thorough training on the tool. Thorough not in the teacher training sense, which amounts to anywhere from no training at all to a full half-day training session, but thorough in the real world sense where training is more like a full week.

In any case, it is great that these iPads have arrived and it’s greater that they are pushed out on the basis of teacher demand. Now the real issue here is whether or not I should request one. I must think about convincing ways I would use it for effective instruction if I would like one.

I’m really not sure if I want one though and I never thought hat I’d ever turn down an iPad! However, I’m glad that I haven’t simply asked for one because I really love apple products and I want one. This, at an introspective level, shows me how much I have grown as a teacher over the few years I’ve been privileged with the opportunity to teach. As a new teacher I used to think technology and money were what was missing in NY schools. But, I disagree now. Because of this realization, I ask myself now the same question my principal asks: how will I use it to enhance and improve my instruction? I’ve been thinking about it and I still don’t have an answer. May be it’s because there are valid reasons to why I shouldn’t request for an iPad.

I currently own a MacBook and an iPhone 4. I am a heavy user of both. In fact, it would be a big challenge for me if I had to teach without them. My iPhone is my voice recorder for kids who need directions repeated. For the non reader, I sometimes use the audio version of stories. My laptop has every tool I need to teach my way. Therefore, the question becomes: what can’t I do with the tools that I currently own that the iPad will enable me to do?

Argument for:
1. I can walk around with it taking notes on students. The large screen on the iPad gives it an edge over my iPhone and my marble composition notebook.
2. I can write reflections about my teaching practice while on the go with my iPad. This will help me plan a better lesson for the next day. I seldom get to annotate my own lessons on a daily basis. I can’t do this with my laptop because it’s plugged into the smart board with slides usually projected through it.
3. I can take pictures of student work and project them on the board right away for students to see and learn from.
4. I can give a dependent student the iPad and use my iPhone to FaceTime with him/her even when I can’t physically be at his/her desk to look at the work/answer questions – the future of student-teacher conferencing!
5. I can sync my MacBook materials with the iPad making them
More mobile/accessible/electronically annotatable – move to go green!

Argument against:
1. One more thing to carry on my long commute.
2. Many useful apps are for a price.
3. I can reflect and take notes in my notebook like I already do.
4. My iPhone does everything an iPad can do.
5. I’d be responsible for the iPad if it is lost or damaged.

Well, I feel the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, but only slightly. Will I be able to use the iPad to teach better, more effectively, and more efficiently? I don’t know.

But I do know this: there’s only one way to find out!