Professional Development, Dept.

Teachers are routinely expected to attend professional development (PD) to supposedly help them in their teaching.  I recall one such PD I was forced to attend when I started teaching at my current school.  It was held at the school during the week before school started.  It was called “How to write rock star lesson plans” and it seemed to be all about collaboration, with the general message that writing lesson plans was a waste of time. Teaching should be organic and student-centered.

His ice-breaker was to go around the room asking everyone to name their “super power”. This is typical at PD sessions that seem to abound in references to unicorns, super heroes, Ninjas, rock stars, and other like-minded crap as if teachers are a special breed who must be spoken down to. The teachers at the session complied and he always had some witty comeback or conversation talking about the super power they named, except when he came to me and I said that my super power was “card magic”.  This left him speechless probably because I didn’t say anything about unicorns or something clever, so he went on to the next person.

The day proceeded along those lines.  His basic premise was that “constructivism” was the way to go in teaching.  He  started with a quote from Gary Stager, a known constructivist who publishes and gives talks and is generally well known by fellow constructivists.  I forget what the quote was and it doesn’t matter. It told me I really didn’t want to be in this room for 6 hours. (Yes, 6 hours.)

I thought he was on the right track when he talked about how in California schools, students in early grades, when learning about the California Missions, construct a mission out of sugar cubes.  “That only teaches you how to build a mission out of sugar cubes. Does it teach you anything about the history of missions?”  OK, so far.  But then he talked about a better alternative (wait for it):  Minecraft!

Again, I realized I had 6 more hours of this crap.  In retrospect I could have left and no one would have noticed. But I stayed til the bitter end which included him showing two pictures, one of a class where the seats were in rows and the teacher was at the front, and (one was supposed to assume) the students were bored and disengaged. The second picture was one with whiteboards all around the room with students up and about looking at the various math problems, supposedly engaging in meaningful dialogue about each problem, a la Jo Boaler.  “Now in which class do you think the students are more engaged?” he asked.  Reminds me of a question on a true-false test I had in Social Studies in second grade in which the question was “The fireman is my friend.”  How do I know? Depends on the fireman. And in the case of the classrooms, maybe the students in the first class were engaged. And if they weren’t, maybe the teacher wasn’t that great.

Finally, at the end, he had us write a program in some programming language. Of course, he called it “coding”–no one calls it programming anymore.  “Coding” is an important part of education, he said, though what it had to do with writing “rock star” lesson plans is anyone’s guess, other than one doesn’t have to write a lesson plan to have kids code. Just tell them “Find a way to draw a square using this coding program.”  The coding was the typical “Logo-like” program that allows one to draw line segments, skip around, rotate, etc. In short, it teaches nothing about programming other than how to get things to move on the screen to create shapes–the program has already been written.  I didn’t know how to proceed so I asked the teacher next to me how to do it and he showed me–he had worked with the program before.

Similarly the PE teacher a few seats away was expressing frustration and got mad at the PD leader for not providing instruction.  “You can figure it out,” he told her.  She too received instruction from the teacher next to me, and then she proceeded to tell other teachers how to work with it. The moderator was delighted with this and said “Look; a few minutes ago she didn’t know how to write code, and now she’s telling others”. As if this was proof that students learn better from each other than from a teacher.

I related this tale to a hard-fast educationist some months later and she responded: “Well, everyone knows that students learn more from hearing it from a classmate than from a teacher.”

It’s a brave new educational world we live in.  I want no part of it, nor any of the damned PD that comes with it either.



5 thoughts on “Professional Development, Dept.

  1. “…my super power was “card magic”.”
    Flash cards?

    “he called it “coding”–no one calls it programming anymore.”
    I program and what I produce is code. I create programs. I am a programmer. I program. I might write code, but that’s only in reference to some specific task. We used to call them SLOCS – source lines of code. Coding is more of a vocational or process term. I find this new educational meme extraordinarily annoying. It’s like STEM. That’s only an educational term. They really shouldn’t even pretend to know what an engineering/math/programming career is all about. One Hour of “Code” will solve everything because it has engagement power. Um, no.

    They hate the basic algorithms of math, but they luuuuv coding. Why don’t they try writing a program that simulates multi-digit multiplication. Better yet, do it for any base. How about a program to parse a character string for any mathematical expression and solve it. I’ve done that and it’s something that can’t be done JIT with PBL. You need to parse, convert infix to postfix, and then solve. If you have variables along with constants, it gets more complicated. Do any of them even know the difference between a character string “23.5” and a “double” variable with a value of 23.5? How engaging is it to try to do a PBL task where you run into a dead end with no clue how to proceed? Google can pull up lots of crap with many bad examples. Cluelessly hack away to meet the project deadline, or just do the ‘A’ part of the STEAM project. I can’t even imagine a PBL approach to data structures, classes, or even pointer variables.

    Also, for a computer science career, you have to be able to get through Calculus II in college along with linear algebra or matrices – at least. PBL is vocational education that can never make up JIT for missing subject unit knowledge and skills.

    Those who can, do. Later, they teach high school AP Calculus track courses. (Most of my son’s high school math teachers were from industry.) Those who can’t, do Professional Development.


  2. Pingback: Clarification and Amplification, Dept. | traditional math

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