I must say that many back-to-school nights are a bit painful. For those of you who are not familiar with this, it's an evening where you go to the school (without your children) and the teachers tell you a little bit about how they will approach the year. This year, I attended three different back-to-school nights for my three children (elementary, middle school and high school).
Most teachers hand a sheet with all the information they plan to present (which is good because there are often lots of links and other helpful information). And then they proceed to walk through it. I'm sure most of you can relate. You are sitting there while the teacher reads what's on the sheet to you. You could have got the sheet delivered to you and then just visit the teacher another time. Of course, I'm not exactly the best audience and there's no Session Hopping available at back-to-school.
I believe that many teachers will tell you that it's equally painful going through from their side. My wife used to dread both back to school and open house nights. Not sure how my mother felt (a school teacher for 35 years). I should really have asked her before I posted this. But my guess is that she didn't really like it that much either. The nice thing about being a professor is that you never saw parents except on rare visits (shake their hand, exchange pleasantries) and at graduation. You never had to do a presentation to them.
So while I was really dreading having to do three different back-to-school nights, I must say there were two very pleasant surprises. And, just in case any of the other teachers who have my children in their class this year read this, I must say this whole year was an exceptionally good back to school night. Still there were two standouts.
ePortfolios and Blogs
My oldest daughter, a freshman in high school, has a fantastic teacher, Ms. Gerber, for Honors English. Ms. Gerber has the class creating ePorfolios and Blogging as teaching tools! I honestly almost fell out of my chair when she casually mentioned this. And I was struck by the stares of the other parents who clearly had no idea what she was saying.
Now I know that many of my fellow bloggers who come from education will be saying "no duh, Tony" this is happening all over the place. But it's a bit different when you see it really being applied.
As an example, the students watched the courtroom drama 12 Angry Men. Ms. Gerber asked the students to post comments in the class blog: Assignment Two. Certainly, seeing what the other students said in their responses is a great thing. There wasn't much interaction among the students as in Assignment One. But it was still good to see answers. And it was funny to see my daughter say:
I used to have a feeling I would be a good lawyer, because I have a lot of arguments with my dad, but now I'm not so sure. If that's what it's like in a courtroom, I wouldn't last very long!
Ms. Gerber also has started the students on a journey of creating an ePorfolio using Google Sites. They aren't much to look at yet, but having recently run across a few examples of ePortfolios that students have pulled together across several years – I'm sure that it's a great idea to have them starting on one now.
I'm quite curious what recommendations people have around how to effectively create an ePortfolio that will help you get into college. Currently, my daughter's portfolio is oriented around Years and Subjects. That doesn't seem right to me, but maybe it doesn't matter at this point. Any pointers?
Audience Response System
The other pleasant surprise was Mr. Luke Olesiuk, at the middle school. He teaches math and went through all of the normal stuff that all the teachers do. However, he made it quite enjoyable because he used an audience response system in the classroom and presented most everything that way. As we walked in, he provided each parent a clicker. It's from TurningPoint Systems – see it below:
Then he spent what I have to believe was a fair bit of time designing his presentation. Instead of saying, my goals for the year are X, Y, and Z. He would put a question on the projector that said - "My goals for the year are all of the following except one of these …" and he would list X, Y and Z and at least one funny response. I was surprised how effectively it kept everyone engaged. Most parent intentionally would get wrong answers (at least I hope), but it gave him opportunity to talk through why those were the goals or whatever.
Truly he turned something mundane into something fun. And he ended exactly on time (used a timer in his hand to track). Clearly he spent time designing this out, but the result was great. It made me think that with the advent of audience response via web solutions, this is going to make in-person presentations a lot more interesting in the future. Quite topical given: Narrowing Gap between Face-to-Face and Online Presentations and New Presenter and Learner Skills and Methods.
The only drag was the following note that we received:
Parents - I'm still missing Clicker # C14 from Back-To-School night last night...if you accidentally borrowed it after the presentation yesterday, please send it back with your student on Monday. Thank you!
Amazing that he doesn't lose them with kids, but does with parents.
Maybe if Turning Point Systems sees this post they can send him a new one. :)