Tag Archives: sharing

Open to Change

Open to Change


by Richard White

It’s a fine line to walk, finding out what works for one’s self, but being open to change.

I found out the hard way a while ago, when, after 15 years of experience “mastering my craft” teaching in a number of different California schools, public and private, I had the good fortune to be able to invite a series of student teachers to share my classroom with me. On their worst days in my classroom, they left school defeated, nursing a sad feeling that they’d chosen to enter the wrong profession (been there, done that). On their best days, though, they blew me out of the water with their enthusiasm, their brilliant ideas, and outstanding teaching that left ME wondering if I it wasn’t time to turn in my lesson plans and go do something else. I learned very quickly that, when working with a student teacher, the best approach for me was to 1) listen to their ideas, 2) offer the wisdom of my own experience, and 3) shut up and get out of the way. Some days there would be post-lesson damage control to be done (for the students AND the student-teacher), but most days I’d walk away with a great new lesson/unit/teaching strategy that I could add to my bag of tricks.

Don’t get me wrong, though: working with a student teacher, when it’s done right, is a difficult and time-consuming process. The hardest part for me was always number 3 above, the shutting up. I mean, doesn’t this person know how much experience I have? Don’t they see how strong I am in the classroom? Don’t they realize how GOOD I am??! Of course, there are lots of different ways to be good, and what works for me isn’t going to work for someone else. There are lots of different strategies that can be employed in effective teaching, and I need to be open to the possibilities. I need to be open to the idea of changing some aspects of what I do, especially if there’s something better out there.

That’s the theory. The reality is that, especially as one spends a few years in the game, one gets invested in one’s system. To think about it from a media perspective, the carbon copies I used for my first lessons had to be typed into WordPerfect files, and then had to be retyped into ClarisWorks files, which fortunately were auto-translated into AppleWorks files, which required some finagling to be reformatted at Word .doc files, which are going to have to be completely redone (perhaps?) as LaTeX files… The time and energy that one spends in developing and presenting content has its own inertial legacy that becomes increasingly difficult to challenge.

At the level of the classroom itself: Do you make your notes available to students? Do you require students to take their own notes? Do you post your classroom content on the Internet? Do you allow students to take pictures of your notes? What about recording lectures?

We need to be open to the idea that students are developing new ways of acquiring and processing the information and procedures that we share with them. The “old way” of doing things isn’t necessarily the “best way,” although—and here’s the tricky part—it MIGHT be a really good way, and something that IS going to work for most of your students!

And there’s the rub. We have our years of experience that we are charged with using to help our students, but we have to be willing to accept that something new MIGHT be better, without yet knowing whether it really is or not.

My only advice here is to be willing to have the conversation. If students ask for your content to be made available online, consider doing that. If students want to take photos of classroom work, consider it. Why wouldn’t you want to allow that? Are you afraid that someone might actually get a copy of that information and… learn something??!

Oh, the horror! :)

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?! :)

Gedanken Me This: Why not open up your classroom content?

GEDANKEN ME THIS: Why not open up your classroom content?


by Richard White

Richard teaching at Berkeley High School
Richard teaching at Berkeley High School

In the process of slowly putting aspects of my face-to-face teaching up onto the Web, I’ve been asked this single question more than any other:

“Can I get a copy of your PowerPoint slides?”

The presentation slides that I use to structure my classroom discussions contain just about what you’d expect from a carefully considered deck. I’ve got graphics and diagrams, important definitions, sample problems that I want to go over with the students, and an impressive lack of the dreaded “bullet points.” I’m a faithful acolyte of Garr Reynolds (Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery is amazing) and Nancy Duarte (buy slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations
NOW), and I have enough experience to know that the slides are not my presentation–I’m the presentation; the slides are just a tool that make it easier for me to present to a larger number of people.

One of the main reasons I began using presentation software (which can include Microsoft’s PowerPoint, Apple’s Keynote, OpenOffice’s Impress, Google’s Docs, etc.) was to make my “lecture notes,” graphics, and material covered in class available to students who had been absent, or for those who just wanted copies to review with. I made PDF printouts of the slides available for download on the course website, but was reluctant to share the actual slides themselves. Because… well, those are MY slides.

I’ve been working on MY slides for YEARS now, refining them a little almost every time I use them. I feel suprisingly attached to those slides, and protective, and I’m not alone in this. At least two of my colleagues–one where I currently teach, and one at a former school–feel exactly the same way. The colleague in Northern California is about as hybrid as it gets: this guy–my best friend Aaron, and partner in edtech crime–actually records video of his lectures every day, and posts it on the Internet for his students to see.

But you can’t get him to share his slides with you to save your life. It’s funny.

So here’s your Gedanken for the day. Why NOT share your slides?

Seriously. Why not? Why not share your slides, and your handouts, and just about everything else that you use in your class? What do you think is going to happen if you do?

In software development, this idea of opening up your source code for the world to see (and for others to potentially collaborate on) is called “open sourcing,” and we teachers have been doing this for years. “Steal from the best” is the advice my mentor teacher gave to me, inviting me to watch and learn from others, and freely incorporate whatever ideas I thought would assist my own development as an educator. We do this informally (“Hey, how are YOU teaching “Macbeth” this year?”), formally (“We need to sit down to plan this next unit together…”), and institutionally (“Richard, how’d you like to work with a student teacher this semester?”). And frankly, all this sharing? I love that about our profession. So I don’t know why I’m so protective of my course materials.

In discussing this, my friends and I came up with lots of great pretend-excuses.

  1. “I worked hard on these slides–I’m not just going to give them away.”
  2. “What if someone uses my slides… ‘incorrectly’?”
  3. “It’s the responsibility of every teacher to create their own presentations.”
  4. “I want students to have to copy down the information by hand–that way, they’ll learn better.”

I’m not convinced that any of these points stands up to much scrutiny, though. In the end, making slides available to students and colleagues enhances your ability to communicate with them, and does absolutely no harm to you or your teaching that I can think of.

Ask yourself this question: if you were to die tomorrow, would you prefer that your slides pass into the afterlife with you, or would you like them to be available for the potential benefit of others?

I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea yet myself, but… I’m opening up my class. Not EVERYTHING, of course. I can’t post online materials that I AM allowed to use in class under Fair Use doctrines of U.S. copyright law. I’m not going to publicly post students’ grades, or other materials to which I don’t think students should have free access (next week’s test comes to mind here).

But my syllabus? Of course! My grading policies? Sure? The handout and grading rubric for next week’s Independent Project. Yup. The schedule for the next unit? That only makes sense…

And my PowerPoint slides? Well… okay. I’m in.

You convinced me. (Download Chapter 4 PowerPoint deck, 1.7MB)