At some point during a meeting last week, I found myself pontificating to a room full of other teachers on the subject of how to cultivate one’s online presence and personal learning network. I remember discussing the clear benefits of using Twitter and blogs as tools for professional growth, and suggested many ways that teachers could reap benefits by sharing what they were doing online.
After sharing this sage advice, I felt, instead of the well-earned satisfaction of the honest advice-giver, rather a sort of queasy itching surging about in my brainpan. Mental acid reflux. It didn’t take long for me to realize what was wrong with my advice: not only was I preaching to the choir in many respects, as the audience for my declamations included the extremely online-savvy Kim, Adam and Rebekah, but I definitely hadn’t been practicing what I preached.
This whole school year, I’ve been sharing what I’ve been doing in the classroom, and what I’ve been thinking about it, with the students, their parents, a few other teachers… and that’s it.
As a new teacher here at YIS I’m happy with the technological side of many of the projects that my Middle School Humanities classes have worked on this year – from using VoiceThread to Google Earth to wikis to using shared Google Docs comments instead of on-paper essay revision comments – but I certainly haven’t been internationally engaged in sharing or soliciting advice on those projects. So, I’m dusting off this long-neglected blog.
As a warning shot in this anticipated barrage of sharing, I’d like to talk not about my classes but about the after-school activity I’ve been running.
It’s called “Digital Carpentry” and is all about 3D modeling. We’ve been exclusively using Google SketchUp, and we’ve been having a lot of fun. So far, the most pleasant part of it all is that I haven’t had to lecture anyone how to do much of anything, in spite of the fact that they’ve been making increasingly complex 3D models of increasingly detailed things, and it’s been an interesting journey for me as an instructor.
Aside from watching a few tutorials together at the beginning of each class, passing out some cheat sheets, and giving some advice when someone needs it, I have mostly just sat back and watched my students use SketchUp as if it were as self-explanatory as an Etch-A-Sketch. Here are some of our weekly challenges, made and finished in 45 minutes or so:
Their next project is to make a structure to help the cities of the future, especially our nearby neighbor / conjoined twin Tokyo, meet the challenges of space limitations and overcrowding. I showed them videos about the outlandishly ambitious arcology projects Sky City and Shimizu Mega City, and so far they’ve come up with some good ideas for Future Cities.
What excites me most about this after-school activity isn’t the creative skill and energy of the students in the club – although that’s both self-evident and exciting – it’s the ideas for connections to Middle School Humanities I see in this tool. Using SketchUp as a component of a project we could make plans for ancient temples, designs for steam engines, solutions for future housing problems, and everything in between.