Tag Archives: lessons

Analog Development

Analog Development


by Richard White

I’m a minimalist.

Seems like I’ve been “going light” for most of my life, or at least since I got turned on to backpacking, and started eating everything from cereal to steak out of one of those little Sierra cups that were all the rage back in the 70s. I don’t carry any consumer debt, I don’t check a bag (even flying transcontinental)… and you can still occasionally catch me eating Lucky Charms out of that little cup.

The ultralight ethos only got reinforced when I began preparing live in France for an extended period of time. Books, music, photos, lesson plans… everything got moved onto a 15-inch Titanium PowerBook, and it seems like I’ve been living out of a laptop ever since.

I’ve had lots of reasons for expending the time and energy it takes to transfer old-school paper-based lessons and lesson-plans into digital form. Part of it has to do with the ease of transferring information from one year to the next. I look at some of those “Course Planners” that I used to plan the year with, and remember how I’d painstakingly transfer one year’s schedule into another planner for the following school year (writing in pencil, in anticipation of the inevitable changes that would necessitate last-minute adjustments). I had two large 3-inch binders, one for each semester, in which I’d keep detailed lesson plans, copies of handouts, lab activities, tests, test keys.

It’s all a bit overwhelming when I think back on it now.

I’m reminded, though, of how important those pen-and-paper, “analog” lessons were, now that I’m in the process of developing a new course. You can get all sorts of “planning in analog” advice, from everyone from Nancy Duarte to Garr Reynolds, and they’re right.

There are lots of reasons why it’s good to plan with a pencil and pen. Making diagrams and sketches is almost always easier on paper. Collaborators can easily add to your work (as long as they’re in the same room). Paper is easily transported, and multiple pieces of paper can be easily spread out for examination.

For me, it’s mostly a simple question of real estate. I’ve got a two different calendars that I’m working with, a lesson plan for the day, a textbook propped open—and yes, the laptop opened up—and that allows me to organize the disparate elements of the course and assemble them into something more-or-less cohesive, in a way that clicking back-and-forth among eleven open windows on the tiny screen simply doesn’t allow for.

Imagine me and the Sierra cup, a 10-oz steak flopping over the sides, and sauteed mushrooms dropping onto the ground while friend, fellow backpacker, and chef for the evening Brian laughs hysterically.

The final product for the course I’m working on (a computer science course) will include a website, the lessons (in PowerPoint form), a series of assessments, and a whole lot of code examples and programming assignments, and all of it will eventually live on the laptop.

For now, though, I’m enjoying the paper. The notes. The ballpoint pen. The mess.

It’s all part of the process.

Playing Well with Others… and Charging for It



by Richard White

We’ve already discussed opening up your classroom content to the world, and what the advantages and risks might be there. There were three events in the last week that reminded me of what an interesting process this has the potential to be.

One of the first was an email that I finally got around to answering, a courteous email from a colleague previously unknown to me in the east.

…I happened upon your most excellent site and was wondering if you’d be will to share your materials with me.

I really like your practice tests and presentations and was wondering if you’d be willing to send the originals to me (it’s hard to use the PDF’s) as well as the answers…

So now I’ve got to put my money PowerPoint slides where my mouth is. I don’t know how much time I’ve got for an open-ended collaboration with someone–I can’t be the only one here who feels like I’m running just to stand still–but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this.

The second thing that happened makes me wonder if giving “my stuff” away for free just makes me a great big sucker. The New York Times published this article, Selling Lessons Online Raises Cash and Questions, reporting on how some teachers are making money on the side selling their lesson plans to other teachers. I was a little surprised by some of the figures in the story–tens of thousands of dollars made selling lessons for one teacher–and I have to admit to more than a little curiosity about the specifics here: What do these lessons actually look like? Don’t teachers have the capability of creating their own lessons? What teacher has the discretionary budget to purchase sight-unseen lesson plans in hopes that they might satisfy some need? And perhaps most significantly, will someone pay me $30k+ for my stuff? Because, you know, I don’t have a problem with that.

Apparently there were a few people who did have a problem with that, in the letters to the editor after the article’s publication. As my tech director points out, however, when teachers tutor students in the evenings, we certainly don’t expect them to have to do that gratis. And if that’s the case, then why would we expect them to give away content that they’ve created for free, particularly when those lessons were created–as they almost always are–on the teacher’s own time, at home?

Finally, a conversation with my school director today wandered into the topic of “students producing original work,” and whether it wasn’t perhaps a bit naive on the part of teachers to expect that student X this year is going to have something new and exciting to relate on, say, “Macbeth,” given all the research and thinking that has already been devoted to its study. This directly led to some consideration of the New York Times article: if we expect original work from students (whatever that may mean), might we not expect something similar from teachers? Don’t we want something more from teachers than someone to stand at the front of the room, clicking through a PowerPoint presentation? And what does it say about your capabilities as a professional educator if you have to rely on someone else’s material for inspiration?

Perhaps you see the straw man here. Educators–indeed, professionals of all types–don’t work in isolation, and aren’t expected to. Opening up discussion of all kinds–sharing of research, discoveries, materials–benefits all concerned, and at its best, has the potential to help teachers improve their craft, and students improve their understanding of the material. Indeed, at most of the schools I’ve worked at, an informal electronic archive of resource materials is kept for some classes, including:

  • PowerPoint presentations
  • videos
  • worksheets
  • labs
  • independent projects
  • rubrics
  • syllabi

So yeah, sharing and collaborating is an important part of professional development, and I don’t see anything wrong with charging what the market will bear, if that’s what you choose to do.

Anyone want to buy a lesson on Circular Motion?! :)