My second week at unlimited gave me enough to time to settle into the program here. I’ve developed some nice relationships with some students and I’ve managed to really get into some nice teaching – especially with the one-on-one mentoring. One student is working on an entreprenual project centered around a game called Acorn Drop that he has designed. He has already made the game into something interesting enough for public release. He wanted my assistance in publicizing his efforts.
I thought that a good way to drum up some publicity would be do show him how to set up a development blog. (Something like my teaching blog here but with updates about the development of his game.) We managed to get something happening here: http://acorndrop.sf.net/ so now he’s in business blogging and trying to attract some more interest in his project which could turn into something pretty interesting.
Another one-on-one project is with a younger student who wants to have a web site where he can feature mp3’s from local bands. His older brother is in some bands around Christchurch and can supply downloadable mp3’s that will help to publicize these bands. Rather than just give him step by step instructions on how to build a web site I am trying to encourage him to look at the processes required to achieve any kind of project like this. I worked with him to see how he can assess his requirements and prioritize and divide up his time. He’s already starting to get things moving along so we hope to have something presentable at the end of the term.
The main jist of this past week has been quite introspective. I am starting to find what works for me as a teacher and what does not. I tend to sort of default to teaching one-on-one and at present my ‘up in front of the class’ teaching sessions might be a bit to didactic for this environment. Its hard to keep the students’ interest so I try to make what I’m teaching as relevant to their projects as possible. One expression of this idea came in the form of a special class that the school arranged for me to give. They wanted me to introduce students here to the idea of internet communities and how this ties into their entrprenual projects. I spent around 15 hours doing research and compiling all of my information into quite a succinct and stylish powerPoint presentation. They emailed the entire school about 3 times to encourage the students to attend my class. I was also told to expect around 15-20 mostly year 12 and 13 students to show up. I prepared my presentation at almost a tertiary level because I had little experience to draw upon for this sort of thing and had to rely completely on what they predicted would be my audience.
I thought that this class would be a nice way to showcase what I’ve been doing here at Unlimited for the past 2 weeks so I invited Peter Williams to attend. Imagine my dissapointment when only 9 students, most of whom were year 9 and 10, showed up. This was a difficult situation for me to say the least. An experienced teacher would have been able to dumb down their presentation on the spot. Despite my efforts, I ended up pitching a class that went way over their heads. To top things off, the only older student who showed was one of the most notoriously disruptive young men in the school.
We started off alright. I ask a lot of questions when I teach which allows me to see if they are understanding what I’m saying. The older student was contributing very nicely which really helped things. I gave him a lot of agency to speak because I saw that he was helping to clarify some of the finer points of what I was saying. At some point in the discussion, however, his interest switched off and he began using the same liscence to drag the class way off the subject and even began to heckle me a bit in front of Peter. I smiled tolerantly and kept plowing through my presentation hoping that he might switch back on given the dynamics of the subject matter. He got worse and worse until it got to the point where I had to confront him in front of the class. When he attempted to make a crack I stopped him mid-sentance and asked him to think whether or not his comment was constructive or distractive. I effectively shut him down from speaking out but of course he was really peeved with me at this point. When it came time to do the task I quietly went over to him and asked why he wasn’t participating. He just shrugged his shoulders blankly so I invited him to leave the classroom just as voluntarily as he came. He took me up on the offer and left which immediately lightened up the atmosphere of the room allowing some teaching and learning to take place.
What an experience. I suppose I’m due my share of educational experiences like this although I was not at all happy that it had to take place while I was being observed. It did help to really see where I fit in to the scheme of things as a teacher and how I work in this experiential sort of environment. I am beginning to think that I probably am a straight down the line high school teacher although I do appreciate the experiential approach and will probably try to incorporate these techniques as much as possible in my classroom.