Friday, January 27, 2012

Bill Kirchen at the Zoo Blues Jam

I like to attend the Blues Jam hosted by the Big Boy Little Band at Zoo Bar in Washington DC. The little blues bar is situated right across the street from the National Zoo on Connecticut Avenue. Nothing fancy about the Zoo. The place is small and crowded with furniture. Most people, especially the young professional types who make DC such a boring place most of the time, do not frequent the Zoo. There is a grittiness about the place that makes me feel at home.

The music cooks like no other place like I have been in since the Bona Vista Blues bar in Buffalo New York. Thursday night Big Boy was really stirring the pot. And then for desert, the legendary Bill Kirchen steps to the stage and really cooked. Playing four or five tunes with Big Boy Little backing him up, the Zoo was suddenly a major music venue. You never know who is going to take the stage on Thursday nights at the Zoo Bar.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I created a post where I outlined what I thought should be the guiding principle for 21 century learning centers. In what follows in this post I intend to present what the philosophy of teaching and learning that I believe should guide the learning environments that we create. I believe in student-centered learning. A learning environment exists for the learners. I am an unrepentant constructivist. I define constructivism as developmentally appropriate learning that is learner initiated and directed that is supported by the connected physical and digital network of the teacher and partners of the learners. Like Huzinga and Piaget, I see play as instrumental to human learning as it is quite literally, practice for life. I also believe, like John Dewey, that learning should have a practical aspect to it and relate to the learner's world. Learning should be hands on, touch and try rather than the prevalent mode of tell and test. I believe in dialogue and story telling as the primary structure for communication in a learning environment. Like Jerome Bruner and Roger Schank, I believe we organize our world with narrative order by telling stories and that we should encourage learners and teachers to interact in this way. Learning environments should prepare us for the world by allowing us to interact with the world to, as Sir Ken Robinson encourages “find their element”. In this technological flat world this is very possible, necessary and doable. The primary task of a teacher is to discover the passions of the learners and to connect those passions to the curriculum in the learning environment. The learners need to feel safe so that they will try things and risk failure. Learners should proceed at their own rate and not be penalized for failure but rewarded for success. Assessment should reward the learner for what they can do rather than penalize them for what they cannot do yet. The feedback loops need to be as immediate as possible much like in a video game so that the student will continue to “level-up”. Progress is marked by benchmarks set by the teacher and learner and should proceed at an individual pace and design in collaboration with classmates ( games). I believe that the learning environment should be a constant dialogue between the members of the learning reality with each other and the world around them. Technology should play a large role in expanding the world of learning. Students should be engaged with the real world. Learners should have real world experiences in their learning worlds. We should strive to put students in situations where they are practicing being what they are interested in. Rather than being lectured to about history for instance, learners should practice being historians by writing history whenever possible. Learners should be journalists by creating newspapers and magazines, not just reading about it. If a learner wants to write, the learner should publish short stories and novels or magazine articles and journal articles. Learners should be encouraged at all times to share what they learn with the world, to find an audience for what they know. The purpose of the learning environment should be to put the learners’ names in lights. The environment should be a dialogue and have no physical limits or time boundaries. The learning world should be a place where learners and teachers share stories about the world around them with each other and with the larger world through the use of digital technology. The learning environment should be as interdisciplinary as possible. Curiosity should be encouraged rather than destroyed as it is so often in learning environments. Learners' interests should drive the learning, within a broad curriculum. Every group is different and every member of the group different from the others. No groups should be taught the same way and no learners learn the same! Learning is an active verb, something you do yourself and not something you have done to you. Learning is empowerment. Everyone in the learning environment should be encouraged to see the world from as many vantage points as possible. That is how a community begins to join together into a new vision of sharing and collaboration. Imagination creativity, group formation are the special traits of human beings that learning environments should be trying to encourage in everything that they do. Learning is a social activity! I believe everyone in a learning environment is a teacher and a learner. Human beings learn best by example. Our every action presents a way of being to those watching us. That is a tremendous responsibility that I have always been anxious to shoulder. When we leave learning environment at the end of the day we should all have sore shoulders from all of the students standing on them and leaping into the new world.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Howlin' Wolf--Meet Me At The Bottom

Here is the other side of the Capitalist coin....this is the sentiment you never hear!

Monday, January 09, 2012

I just finished reading an interesting Blog post in The Real Mr. Fitz, A Teachers letter to Obama: A Lesson in Irony. I found this post to be just another argument to find a way to protect, preserve and encourage the present school paradigm. School doesn't work and needs to replaced with new ideas. I offer these ideas and encourage response from anyone.

First, make school non-mandatory!!

Second, end the physical tyranny of buildings, schedules, and classrooms.

Third, design learning around what the learners want to learn about.

Fourth, Improve feedback loops through Gamification and play which is essential for learning and needs to be part of learning networks.

Fifth, Embrace Bring Your Own Digital Device(BYOD) and Robust Universal Broadband Access(RUB) to create de-centralized digital learning networks everywhere.

Sixth, Make knowing something more important than certification, the prime qualification for teachers.

Just a start! Call this revolutionary irony!!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Character is demonstrated in many ways by a teacher. One of the most important is showing up everyday and doing your job. In my last position I have showed up every day. In the three years that I worked at Wakefield School I did not take a sick day. I have taken very few sick days in my 32 years of teaching. You can count on me to show up everyday and getting the task completed. A second indicator of character is dedication to the vocation, to service to the students and faculty. I am dedicated to what I do. I am defined by what I do. A colleague, Mr. Thomas Bazar, writes of me “I can honestly say, like James Brown, who was considered the hardest working man in show-business; Mr. Constantine is the hardest working man at Wakefield. He always was available, or made time, for students, colleagues, administrators, parents, etc. His patience and ability to multi-task is astounding”. I have always tried to improve myself through professional development including conferences, seminars and graduate school. I owed it to the teachers and students of my community to always be the best that I could be. Character generally leads to excellence. I have received several teaching and service awards in my career demonstrating excellence. They include The Tandy Technology Scholar Award and the 2006 Maryland K-12 Distance Educator of the year and several service awards, from the Newport School, The University of Maryland, and the Wakefield School.
One of my primary goals as a technology integrator is to find ways to knock down the classroom walls and expand a teacher’s ability to reach students using digital tools. I worked with a Russian language teacher preparing students for a competition in Russian called the Olympiada of Spoken Russian. We set our goal to provide the students with on- line rehearsal examples of the set poetry recitations for the competition and on-line written free conversations. Essentially we were trying to make an on-line language lab with the resources at hand. The teacher and I recorded several video tapes of her reciting the set pieces for the competition. We then placed the videos on a web site which was accessed by the students. They watched the videos and then recorded their own which they emailed back to the teacher for evaluation. We also set up a list serve for all of the students to converse with her in Russian as well as established a class network on AOL instant messenger. We were making vidcasts and podcasts way before they became popular. The students had spectacular results at the Olympiada winning several gold medals in the competition. It achieved the results we were seeking and expanded Russian instruction way beyond the classroom. We extended both the student’s digital skills and language skills.