About Life, Play, Work

Education Philosophy

I am fortunate that when I entered into academia, entirely by accident, I did not go right into the classroom as a teacher. I came from the corporate world to work with a US State Dept. sponsored educational initiative launched by the Clinton Administration that was headquartered within the City University of New York university system. Some time after I was recruited to help an American school get their technical-house in order. I would have been an awful classroom teacher at the time, I’m sure of it. In both of those previous academic experiences I had the pleasure of working with great teachers and seeing them in the classroom. This made me hungry to be in there as well. Now that I have a few years of teaching under my belt, and quite a few friends who are former students, I can state with certainty that having classroom teaching be a part of my otherwise techie-job is the single best thing that has ever happened in my life.

Education is the number one practice throughout the world that stands a chance of truly improving the lives of us all. It is through education that we have the opportunity to instill in children a sense of respect for the unknown, inquiry, understanding and awe. Awe at the possibilities of the human mind, the creative power of our brain and of the imaginative resourcefulness of our forbearers. It is through formal education that we introduce young students to the wonders of nature, the grandeur and mystery of our galaxy and to the potential of creation and imagination within them.

It is my belief that in formal education teachers are placed in a privileged position. We are experts, guides, leaders, specialists, and at times, even heroes. Indeed, teachers are superheroes. With that designation comes a great responsibility to use any superpowers responsibly, and to use them to do good. It is up to us to engage and to interest. It is on us to create a channel for the energy, hunger and creativity within each student who walks into our classroom or teaching space. It is our responsibility if a student falls out of love with a subject that at first seemed interesting to them. It becomes our job to keep up with students’ pace if indeed they are interested in the subject we are teaching them, as they will want to know more and more.

Teaching is an incredible specialty. Anyone who takes it lightly aught not be in a classroom. The young mind always wants to know more, wants to experiment, is eager to create, and is open to learning from mistakes. It is this last component of learning that needs to be at the top of the list of any good teacher; that students feel safe to make mistakes in the classroom. A perfectly timed mistake is the single best teacher in life, and thus should be a formal part of any classroom. Students should be fearless when entering new territory of learning, they should want to do it all, and they should have comfort in knowing that their superhero-teacher will be there to support them when they realize a mistake has been made. I love teaching!


Digital Moviemaking Fun!

Digital Moviemaking classes can be a bit unnerving to those teaching it simply because part of it does away with the usual model of having chunks of content ready to dole out during sessions. Though much preparation is required, it is best to let students lead the process while the teacher guides discussion and production of content. It’s tricky, but great fun for kids and there’s lots of learning involved.

What I have been doing lately is interweaving discussion sessions between production periods. We’ll touch on fundamentals in a classroom setting and then begin to work on a group project integrating those discussion points covered earlier.

The approach is different depending on the grade level. Deep creative story writing is not part of the class as it alone could take over the entire year. So parts of it are covered, such as the more technical component of script formatting, the importance of story structure and character archs. I’ve found it useful to introduce the conflict component right away and to have students try to draw a story around that. Having students bring in news/magazine story-clippings is also useful to get those creative juices flowing. It all depends on the group of students in the classroom.

Walking the students through pre-production is key. Most do not like the time spent on planning, and will most often tune you out when spelling out the various components that go into a production even before you leave the planning stage. In all these are the steps we follow to get to a set to start shooting; these must be completed before heading out:

-Chose production crew and assign titles/duties
-Chose cast
-Design the workflow
-Develop a shooting script along with director notes for the production team
-Develop storyboard
-Get photos of possible set locations and annotate key information on them
-Develop shooting script
-Make list of required costumes, props, key pieces of set or settings necessary for certain scenes
-Make equipment list
-Go shoot!

Any of the above can be skipped/morphed/swapped. Nothing is set in stone when working with creative minds. The most important thing is the story, always get the story down first. After story, everything falls in place.

Play, Work

Ideas for keeping teachers longer by offering tech-incentive

One of our major challenges, very similar to so many other international schools, is how to keep teachers for longer than the standard two-year initial contract period. The city of Barcelona, and the quality of life here, helps a great deal. The School also puts in some financial incentives into a three-to-five year commitment on behalf of the faculty. And now I’m trying to get in there by offering all newcomers a laptop that they are free to keep once they complete their third year at the school, free of charge. Additionally I’d like to offer a mobile phone free of charge to all incoming faculty next year.

So, there are two things on my end I’m looking to offer. One is a free laptop that after three years of working here they will call their own. On the fourth year we would actually hand over another new laptop to replace the aging one, which then becomes property of the teacher. If the financials work out, I’m sure we can do this for the incoming teachers for the 12-13 academic year. The laptop we’ll hand out would be a MacBook Air.

As for the phone, there are a couple of things at play here. This year we got into a three-year contract with Vodafone for their mobile office product. In essence all school phones are mobile phones, the type of handset that looks like an office phone but which has a SIM inside it. With this system we no longer have to wire all classrooms for regular phones, and moreover when teachers move to a new classroom, they simply pick up the set and take it with them. I manage the whole thing via a web portal Vodafone has made available. Sometimes we suffer from normal cell interfierence on calls, but overall the system is working out well. We get preferential fees on mobile-to-mobile calls whenever these two mobiles calling each other are School owned lines. This works well for extension calling from one office to another, for instance. Soooo, this is what I am thinking. Either way the school already provides a phone for all classrooms. Why not provide this phone to a teacher instead? The teacher will always be within the School’s reach for any emergency, and the teacher can use the reduced calling fees to make local calls as an added bonus provided by the school.

In all, if these two things move forward for the upcoming school year I think new faculty will be happier for it.


Takumi’s solo project

Takumi, one of my 12th grade Digital Moviemaking students surprised me earlier this year when he handed in an individual project. It surprised me because Takumi is the quiet I-rather-work-on-my-own type of student. He is sweet and always willing to work with other students when asked, but if it is up to him he’d rather work on his own when creating his projects.

Day after day he would come into my classroom and grab a camera and walk to the third floor of our building to shoot. I had no clue what he was shooting and every now and again I would take a peek at his screen while he was editing to ensure he was indeed working on an interesting project. As usual, he did not say much about his project beyond what he had already provided in a written description.

In the end he handed in the following, well-made, short video. I hope you enjoy.