#TeachinginNC means some big changes for me

California native, Dave Orphal, moved to North Carolina this past summer.  In this and his last post, he shares some of his adventures…

I’ve still got quite a bit of adjusting to do after having moved to North Carolina. I’ve got some BIG questions:

  1. Duke, UNC, or NC State: whom shall I root for in college basketball?

  2. How large does a group have to be before “Y’all” becomes “All Y’all?”

  3. Ketchup, vinegar, or mustard-based: which will be my style of BBQ?

Speaking of BBQ, I’ve learned that I’ve been using the term all wrong. In California, when I’m invited to a BBQ, my first thoughts are, “MMMMMM… What are we having?  Hamburgers?  Chicken?  Ribs?” In North Carolina, BBQ means only one thing, slow-cooked pulled pork. Everything else I had cooked on my back porch turns out was either “Grilling” or “Cooking out.”

The going is slow, but I’m adjusting.

1 to 1 computers

So far, these adjustments have been tongue-in-cheek and a lot of fun, but others are proving to be a challenge. My first big adjustment at my new school is the improved level of technology. This is the focus of this post.

If you follow my blog, you know that my last high school in Oakland had very few computers. There were about one hundred putty and black colored desktop models in three labs on campus. The school also had three laptop carts, each holding a class set of Google netbooks. These two hundred computers served nearly eighteen hundred students. Coordinating lab time or checking out a cart for the specific day I needed my students to access technology was so difficult, I eventually gave up and started implementing a BYOD program.

On the second Thursday at my new school, I handed out brand new, 11 inch MacBook Airs to my homeroom students, just like all of the other Junior class homeroom teachers did that day. By the end of the following week, every student had her/his computer.

My curriculum has been dominated by paper and pencils, now what?

I love my curriculum.  I’ve got seven lessons that take my kids through a process from  analyzing a group of primary source documents to writing essays that answering rich and complex questions.  It’s seven lessons of graphic organizers, note taking, writing, editing, and rewriting. Other than the obvious of having my students type and revise their essays on their MacBooks, I’m at a little bit of a loss.

My school, and now I, use Moodle to manage the on-line aspects of our classes. I see lots of cool looking but also scary buttons on my teacher’s page. So far, I’ve only uploaded a PDF of the primary source documents were using in our first project and the MS Word versions of the lessons.

What I love about computers in the classroom

Just today, one of my student teams discovered the joys of Google Docs.  As a team, they have to create a set of notes about fourteen primary source documents for their upcoming essays. They are in teams, because these documents are difficult and I want them to help each other. In the days of paper and pencil, my student-teams would divide the work, then hand copy each other’s notes.  This team, however, were all taking notes, each on a different document, onto the same Google Doc. “It’s great, Mr. Orphal,” said one student. “We can see who’s working and who isn’t and we can help each other as we work. We can even all work together on it tonight, if we need to.”

My new school uses an app called “Remind” that allows me to text messages to them without each of us having the other’s cell phone numbers.  I love this. In my days in Oakland, I was free and easy with giving out my cell phone number.  Very few of my students had home access to e-mail, but they all had phones.  Texting became a great way to send notes about homework, school events, and deadlines.  At the same time, I felt a little bit exposed.  I felt that one of my students might use my number to play a prank on me or try to cross the line between teacher-student relationship and try to become friends.

Digital Challenges

The most prevalent challenge I’ve found so far is kids wasting time playing on their computers.  I’ve caught students looking at music videos on YouTube and playing games.  While I’ve read articles decrying modern technology as the source of these distractions, I take a different view.  Teens have always wasted class time.  In my day, it was passing notes rather than texts and hiding a comic in the textbook rather than YouTube.  The technology may have changed, but the behavior is the same.

My strategy for this is two-fold.  First, I try to have a challenging assignment that engages students and gets them using the internet to explore the questions they have and satisfy their curiosity.  Unlike the history classes I attended in high school, my students do not read chapter 5 section 2, define the key terms, and then answer a few questions.  They will not have a quiz on Friday.  For more about my curriculum, you can look here.

Second, I am constantly walking around the room.  As much as I try to have an engaging curriculum, I know that not every kid will be excited about their studies every day.  A Pollyanna I am not, so I move around.  When I’m near, even the bored kid works.  When I see a kid on YouTube or some other site, I good-naturedly chastise them, teasing them about what they are watching.  I’m less interested in punishing them than I am about redirecting them back to work.  Then, I ask them a questions about their work.  Usually, the student admits that he/she doesn’t understand what we’re doing, and I have an opportunity to sit down and talk about our work.

Looking for help

Like I mentioned above, the biggest challenge for me is transferring my paper-and-pencil curriculum into a digital world.  I’ve got a Moodle page for my history class, but again, I’ve only uploaded the Word documents of the handouts I’ve traditionally given.  While this has worked to keep me away from the photocopy machine, it’s not very high-tech.

I would love to hear from others who have crossed the analog-digital frontier.  

  • How did you make the shift?

  • Did you write brand new curriculum, or did you migrate your curriculum on-line?

  • What sites or apps am I and my class missing out on?