Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To Mr. or Ms. Anonymous

An anonymous reader writes:
I love what you do, I really really do. I would love to implement a great many of your techniques in your classroom. I feel, however, that so often the issue of access is overlooked. I work in a low-income school district and nearly every single one of my children live in poverty. I do my best each day to be paperless with what little resources I have (mostly because my school does not have any paper). I beg, borrow, and steal everyday to get what I can for my students in order to prepare them for the future. I just wish that sometimes your blog posts could be, well, for the rest of us.
Ok. I'm game. But I'm only one guy. Speaking from the point-of-view of my own experience. It's hard for me (impossible, more accurately) to speak for "the rest of us".

So instead, I'd like to invite you to speak about you and your experience, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. You are the best person to speak about your situation.

Here's the deal: you come out from behind your anonymous mask and I'll give you a guest post to describe your predicament and help get a discussion going about your situation. Maybe we can figure out some stuff, maybe not. We can at least give it a shot.

Leave a comment here or post me on Twitter and we'll try to connect. We'll try our best to connect, at least.


  1. He or she's right. It's hard to do this sort of thing even when it seems going paperless is a good equalizer. The resources, time, and culture shift needed to become paperless is time consuming, which makes what you do so important for the rest of us reading. I would like to hear more from Anonymous about these struggles.

  2. I'm not anyonymous, but I could be. We have 48 computers for 1000 students. That's not 1:1, that's 1 computer for every 20 students. Twitter and Facebook are blocked. Around half of the education blogs I read are blocked under various categories: adult, humor, forums. I teach 11- and 12-year-olds so having my students create accounts on many of the sites I'd like them to use is a Terms of Service violation. A violation I'd be ready to go through with if it wasn't my first year in my district and second year as a teacher. I cannot scrounge up random netbooks or old laptops and create my own 1:1; IT won't allow them on the network.

    That said, I do what I can with what is available to me. My students published all their final drafts on our classroom blog. They use Diigo student accounts to research when we have access to the laptops. They did a "PaperPoint" project (they named it, I didn't) to get better at creating presentations that are bullet-point free. They presented those slides on our document camera.

    There's not much we (classroom teachers) can do about a lack of hardware access. I can't buy more computers for my kids. My school won't do a BYOL program. It's just sit and wait and make do as we slowly add laptop carts.

  3. I'm not Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. However, I need to add my two cents here.

    The school that I work in has 94% of our population (k-8) receiving free or reduced lunch. That's poverty.

    Early in my teaching career, I had 10 computers in my room because I took what other people didn't want, both in my school and my community. We did all kinds of web things as the computers were to slow to use desktop apps.

    I also wrote a $3500 grant to get digital cameras, video cameras and a couple other things.

    It's up to the teacher to take some of this on and make it work.

    My district has, recently, taken a more active roll. They have written grants for a laptop pilot and an online learning program. There is an iPod Touch pilot.

    So, step up to the plate. Write a grant. Put out a Facebook message that you are seeking technology, old or new, for you classroom. Write a letter to you local Best Buy, Staples or Office Max. Create a project on Donors Choose.

    People will help. Take the initiative! What we are learning via Twitter and blogs about being paperless is doable if you are willing to do some work.

  4. I understand when teachers say they don't have resources. My school district is 95% free lunch. But, teachers, admin and edtech staff go after grants. Our edtech department has gotten some great resources and IT is great about getting what they can for us.

    I am lucky in that I have 8 computers in my room. We do have a computer lab for each department and a couple of laptop carts available in our building.

    Teachers go out looking for grants, go on, and more. One administrator seems to be able to get all kinds of supplies and equipment from companies and schools that are better off than us. We, as a district, go and actively look for donations and grants. The science department has used some of its supply money to purchase projectors and document cameras.

    One thing that we have not leveraged yet, but I am pushing for, is having the students use their smart phones and iPod Touches. Its amazing, considering the poverty level, how many students have iPod touches, iPhones, Blackberry's, G1's, and Palm phones. Talk about 1-1!

    Ask for help, look for grants and donations (local companies) and keep up the good work!

  5. I'm totally with you about grants, Ben and Dave, and I'm not writing to say anything negative about grants. The specific predicament that I'm in is that unless our IT department buys the hardware, it's not allowed on our network. Our hardware comes to everyone at once, so even if I wanted to get a grant for my individual classroom, it wouldn't be honored.

    You have pushed me to re-open that conversation with them, though.

  6. I am definitely not anonymous anywhere I go on the web, but I'll weigh-in on this one too.

    Until this year my school had roughly 80 working computers for 1200 students. Reserving space in the computer labs was a first-come first-served system. Fortunately for me I'm the type of person that gets to school 1.5 hours before the day begins so I often was able to book the labs "under the cover of darkness." Other times I had to plan weeks in advance in order get computer time. Did the logistics mean that I couldn't have my students using the web on a daily basis? Yes. Did it mean that my students couldn't do some really interesting, engaging, transformative work online? No. It just meant that it came in smaller doses and that I had to make the most of the time my students got online.

    Throwing up your hands and doing nothing isn't the solution to logistical problems brought on by the poverty of your student population. In fact, you should push even harder to educate yourself about using web-based technology in the classroom because when the day comes that you do go 1:1 you don't want to be behind the learning curve. I witnessed colleagues this summer telling students to close their new netbooks during class. These colleagues were saying this because for years they had ignored using the web because of logistical frustrations. How do you think their students felt when they got netbooks and were told not to use them?

    Russ, what you're saying about IT overruling teachers' desires for more access to the web is something I've railed against for years. If IT is blocking access because they don't have the knowledge or resources to manage a network so that students can add their devices to it, that's a problem you should take to your curriculum director or principal. Likewise if IT is blocking legitimate sites because of fear, that's a problem to take to curriculum directors or principals. IT shouldn't be making decisions that impact classrooms. Gather the research that supports your position. Most curriculum directors and principals that I've met pride themselves on making research-based decisions. If you can show them the research, you have a much better chance of making change than trying to argue with IT folks who have never taught in a classroom. Of course, taking this action is probably easier for me than it is for some other teachers as I have a bit of Hawkeye Pierce (MASH reference for those scoring at home) in me and I have tenure.

  7. Thanks folks for all of your thoughtful comments. I think Ms. Anonymous has been found... stay tuned.


  8. I hear from teachers all the time telling me they don't have time to put in the extra work for grants, or to work out the logistics of scheduling the computer labs. In one way I completely understand this, but in another, I want to ask why not? If you want your kids to use it, make the effort to make the time! You don't have to use it everyday, try for once a week and then later twice a week. Just make the effort!

    My most common solution to students not having access at home, is to open up computer labs before or after school and let them do research, homework, blogging then.


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