It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I hope to come back stronger as the weeks progress. Summer has been fantastic with friends and family, home and abroad.

I was back at work three weeks ago and I feel it’s good to be back in the swing of things, and I’m excited to continue building up a school as we are in our third year now. I will continue experimenting and exploring the opportunities of using digital media in my lessons. An increasing number of the students have laptops, digital cameras, smartphones and what not. We need to take advantage of this. Kids use these tools on a daily basis, and school has to become competitive using its first and foremost advantage – knowledge.

I am also happy to report that I’ve finally got my hands on an iPhone 3G, and I must admit I’ll never go back to old school mobiles ever again. It’s a different world altogether. Bless my Sony Ericsson K810i – it was a fantastic phone. Thing is, iPhone is just part phone, part everything else. Of course, it’s not flawless, and some flaws are frustrating. I hope to write a post with a personal review after some more weeks of testing and working with it.

Now to sharpening pencils.

In these times of grading fixation in education it is interesting to come across the outspoken critic and author Alfie Kohn. Mr. Kohn has written a number of books on the negative effects of rewards and punishments of grading. He is also skeptical of the traditional system of homework. In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (2006) he questions the need and positive effects of homework. He believes that the school and its environment is the main focal point for learning and work.

Winterlong

The debate is timely in Norway too as I encounter parents who feel overwhelmed by their kids’ homework, especially as they advance to higher levels. Every week they are given a homework plan with assignments in the main subjects. The assignments vary from reading, task solving, math calculus or research for a project or paper. Most parents feel that their kids should have homework as they did when they attended school. The problem for many families are time. The nuclear family is a minority in the Norwegian society (and other societies in the West) and a lot of time and organizational evolves around transport and logistics. How to make the proper priorities, and how to make homework meaningful?

I try to evaluate the way I give homework to my students, I try to reinvent, evolve and be original. It’s not always easy, but I think Mr. Kohn has an interesting point when he questions the benefits of homework. It does not necessarily take up much time of the kids’ sparetime, but could we try to break out of this and try to think in new ways about homework?

Double bill

At an end note I’d like to recommend a riveting comment from a Norwegian girl who’s a high school student. She criticizes all the bad karma around the Norwegian school debates these days in the aftermath and hangover of the PISA-tests. She says Norwegians hate not to be on top in international rankings and that our politicians tend to panic. These tests are important, but they only measure a fraction of what schools teach their students. What about social and moral behavior, ethical values like respect, debating skills and skills to question – in essence – how to become decent people. Ms. Tømte writes:

Den norske skolen har altså utviklet seg fra å være en autoritær institusjon til å bli et lærested der voksne og barn snakker samme språk og har det samme fokus: Å gjøre folk av oss.

Thus has the Norwegian school developed from being an authoritarian institution to become a place of learning where adults and children speak the same language and have the same focus: To make us into decent people. (My translation).

And this relationship requires mutual respect – and authoritarian teachers don’t easily acquire this in Norwegian schools, but teacher who do earn their students’ respect have moral authority based upon a wide and substantial knowledge base.

Lately I have found myself moving my workflow increasingly from my desktop to the web. I find Google Docs very handy. I work in two places, one of them has wireless internet access while the other one does not. At the latter I find it hard to do word processing like creating weekly plans, homework assignments and other necessary digital related work. Earlier I would make the weekly plans at home and then print it out. This year I am challenged with acquiring information from several subject teachers, usually Tuesday night. This does not always happen, and it needs to get done at school on Wednesday when plans have to go out.

Enter Google Docs: I have a weekly plan template online which I use a copy of for every week. This way I create an accessible library of weekly plans for future reference and an instant access to my work wherever I am. Coming to school on Wednesday I get the info I need from colleagues and put it into the document I prepared the night before at home online in the computer lab (without the wireless access). This makes the hassle of handwritten jumble on neat weekly plans unnecessary and my workflow easier.

When a colleague in the administration saw this he asked if this would be possible for the whole staff to create a pool of templates, forms, plans and other useful documents for everyone to edit, copy, paste and access. Now that would help everyone’s workflow if people were keen on participating and sharing. I wonder.

Google Apps Team Edition aims to facilitate this. Questions do remain though, and a returning one from co-workers in particular, boils down to this: Is it safe? And how much do I want to be on Google’s servers..?