Fall CUE

This weekend was the 2012 FallCUE conference. First a huge tip ‘o the hat to Jon Corippo for the ride to the conference.  I wouldn’t have been able to attend on Friday at all without Jon’s generosity. Another tip ‘o the hat to  Wayne Stagnarro for pushing me to attend. 

FallCUE has only been around a few years. There are some old timers who talk about a Northern California CUE conference, but that is ancient history in my book. The modern version of the conference is held at American Canyon High School in Napa County. Yes, THAT Napa. It wasn’t really that difficult of a decision to attend; fall in wine country is not exactly a tough sell! It is one of the few conferences I can actually get my wife to accompany me to, imagine that.

On to the conference. There were really a number of workshops that helped me with things I have been struggling with. Alice Keeler brought her spreadsheet magic and filled in a huge hole in my teacher student feedback loop. She showed us how to use a Google Drive form to gather student assignments, and then use a mail merge script to send feedback to the student via email, directly from the form spreadsheet. Very slick, and even I can do it! As if that were not enough, she then showed us how to use a pivot table in the same spreadsheet to keep track of the student assignments. 

That alone was worth the price of admission. But wait, there is more!

I also got to sit in on a session by Ramsey Musallam talking about how and why to “Flip” a classroom. There is a lot of buzz out there about flipping a classroom, and mostly I have been unimpressed. My thinking is that replacing a boring lecture with a YouTube video of a boring teacher lecturing doesn’t do anything to engage more students, or help students be more engaged. But that, Ramsey explained, is not what it is about. I am not going to pretend to articulate what I now understand, because I don’t think I can. Not yet. But I do have a few ideas about how I can implement what I learned this week. 

I left that workshop with my head spinning, but wait, there is even more!

Another highlight of the conference was the closing keynote by Vicki Davis, aka Cool Cat Teacher. I have followed Vicki on the Internet in a number of platforms for a couple of years, and she often dumps my cheese cart over.  She talked about telling kids “you are good at something and it is my job to find it.” I need to get back to the classroom and find some kids’ talent.

The teacher desk

The Saga of My Teacher Desk.

At the close of the last school year the decision was made that I would change rooms. The old room I was in was a computer lab with rows of fairly new tables designed for computers. It looked really nice for the casual observer; nice straight rows of tables, comfortable rolling chairs with a computer in front of each one. It looked great, but it didn’t work great.

The tables themselves contained conduit for all the cables for the computers. It made managing cables easy, but it meant the tables were locked in place. They couldn’t be moved to make a more convenient layout. When the kid in the far corner had a question, I could not get there to help. Literally. I couldn’t fit down the row with all of the students sitting at their work stations. You  can imagine what it means to class management, much less instruction, when the students know the teacher can not get to a particular part of the room! So I jumped at the chance to move to a new room with tables that I can put anywhere I wanted.

I took the first step by sending my students to the new room to decorate it. They sorted through mountains of student work to come up with good exemplars, and arranged them on the walls to their liking. I kept authority over where the tables went, but the kids did everything else. They wanted me to tell them where the teacher desk needed to be. “Over by the phone” some said. “No, by the window would be better” said others. Finally I said to put it right where it is, in the old room.

I left the desk in the old room because I found that I spent too much time sitting at it. If I am sitting at my desk I am not helping kids with their work. To do that I need to be near their work, at the students’ work stations, not mine. It has been 7 weeks of being desk-less, and I can say my classes are much better. Kids are more engaged, in part I think, because I am more engaged. I do not have a desk to retreat to, so I am teaching by wandering around. I don’t miss the desk, but my feet are sure more tired!