Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lesson Plan Lunacy

In a recent 3DWiredSafety blog post, I wrote about a 2nd grader who was suspended for drawing a stick figure holding a gun, and asked that a little common sense be exercised.

Jeff commented, "Since when does common sense have a place in today's schools? We've replaced common sense with mandates, low standards curricula, and zero tolerance policies. Where have you been, Art?"

Jeff is right. Administrative lunacy has been around for a long time, but things are getting worse. His comment caused me to think back on some of the stupidity of bureaucracy and administrative trivia I'm fought over the years. I'd like to relate one particular mandate that I refused to follow throughout my 30 years of teaching and stands as one of the only negative comments on 30 years of evaluations.

My pet peeve is lesson plans. Today, more than ever, lesson plans are required to be in a certain format. It varies from school to school, but there are places for objectives, goals, standards, methods, materials, blah, blah, blah, blah...

Let me start by saying that I spent hours planning my lessons, developing material, testing things BEFORE I go into the classroom, and making sure I give the kids the best education possible. When I had a text for the course, it has a scope and sequence that I would use as a guide to make sure that there weren't gaps, but if I were to take the time to write plans out the way THEY wanted me to, I would have to give up time that I devoted to the kids. I felt the kids were more important than the department chairman or any other bean counter in the state department.

As a result, I would always have plans, often pages long, they they were MY plans for ME to us in a format that I could follow. This didn't please some administrators. The classic example of my attitude and my disdain for ineffective administrators took place back in 1990.

I have elementary certification, K-12 science, and was teaching computer education when there was no certification for it. In this particular case, I was teaching 10th grade science during summer school.

Earlier that year, a $500 grant from the board of education enabled me to develop a hypermedia program to teach the digestive system. The program was written using IBM's Linkway program and 17 years later, it still works on todays Windows machines.

(Before I go on, I want to clear up any misconception that I may be "anti-administrator". There are many great administrators who were key mentors to me. Among them was Judy Wilson, who was Assistant Superintendent at the time and was responsible for the grant program that allowed me to develop the program.)

Back to summer school...

It was 8 weeks into the course. Anyone who as ever taught summer school, knows what that means. I decided that I wanted to do some action research into the effectiveness of multimedia education. I told the kids that for the last two weeks we were going to study the digestive system, but that I wasn't going to teach them. They were going to learn it themselves. I told them that they were going to have a pretest and a post test and that their grades would have little to do with the results.

Some were puzzled, some were angry, some were asleep, and all thought that I had lost it. I then took them to the lab and showed them how to use the program. I had created it to meet all learning styles. If a student wanted to do nothing but read about it, they could click through page after page. If they were visually oriented, they could click on various parts of the digestive system and find out about them. They could use hyperlinks in the text to move around as they saw fit. They could use any combination graphics and text that they wanted. There was a built in text editor where they could copy and paste text and write notes and save them. They absolutely loved it and for the first week every single student was totally engaged.

I had already had my observation, but I wanted my department chairman to see what these kids were doing. I invited him to visit. He came in for about 15 minutes and said he had to leave to observe another teacher. I asked him what he thought and his reply was, "It's very nice but it isn't the 10th grade curriculum."

"Bill, (not his real name)" I said, "It's the 10 grade curriculum that got them here. In the past week, they've done more reading and writing of science than they have done for the entire year."

Partly to his credit, he said, "Well I guess I can justify that."

To which I replied, "You don't have to justify anything. If anyone has a problem with that, you can send them to me."

"By the way, where are your lesson plans?" was his retort.

I simply reached into my pocket and handed him a floppy disk.

Needless to say, he didn't even know how to turn on a computer. Holding the disk out he muttered, "What do you want me to do with this?"

I just smiled and said, "You really don't want me to tell you that, do you?"

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