Help me help you: Moving from “Know any good [insert subject] websites?” to “Can you help my students learn…” (by Kevin Jarrett)

Help me help you: Moving from “Know any good [insert subject] websites?” to “Can you help my students learn…” (by Kevin Jarrett)

{Cross posted on Welcome to NCS-Tech!}

photo credit: yuheitomi

Every tech-savvy educator has heard it before - a colleague's plea for a great program or interactive website to use in a particular lesson. Often the requests are easily answered with a shouted-out URL; other times, not so much. That was the story for me, last week, as not one, but two colleagues asked me if I "knew any good math sites." Well, yes, I know quite a few, in fact I have an entire category devoted to the subject here on NCS-Tech, but I don't think they read my blog. Much. Or ever. :) It's not entirely their fault. They are busy people. Who has time to read blogs? :) They know I live and breathe this stuff, that I'm constantly finding and sharing great resources, hanging out on some street-corner in Twitterville like the knowledge junkie I am, waiting to score my next hit. So um, yeah. I know some good math sites! :) Then there's always...

Although its great fun for gently teasing people (and making a point about being self-reliant) ... wasn't the answer here. (They wanted MY insight, not Mother Google's.) Besides, I wanted to shift the conversation, to get them thinking less about specific websites and more about what students need to know and be able to do. So I asked: "What are they working on?" One colleague, on her way out the door late one afternoon, tried to answer as she was gathering her things - a "two ships passing in the night" fleeting style of conversation typical in these situations, at least for me. But I got this response via email from the other:

"in Math we have covered: whole numbers to millions (place value); adding and subtracting whole numbers to thousands; column addition of up to five numbers to thousands; solving simple algebraic expressions such as x + 5 = ___ or t - m = __ ; word problems of addition and subtraction; and we are just beginning multiplication by one number.

Aha! Armed with that information, I was able to suggest some specific activities on the free and fabulous

With selectable grade levels and subjects leading the way to engaging interactive applications that capture kids' attention, is a sure winner. She enthusiastically agreed and is trying the site this week. There is a problem with how I handled this - the entire conversation was 1:1 and occurred via email. No one else benefited from the exchange of information. So my challenge now is to move these conversations from email (or face to face hallway chats) onto the online learning community we've built for our school using a Ning. So when a request for help came in from one of my second grade teachers, I gently encouraged her to post it on the Ning, which she did:

Now we're getting somewhere! I was able to answer her question publicly, simultaneously providing the answer to her and anyone else who might happen to see it:

My goal: encourage people to ask questions in our Ning so that answers can help as many people as possible,while giving everyone a chance to contribute to the conversation. But, it's easier said than done. Why?

photo credit: tibchris

Teachers, by and large, just like their students, are shy. In my experience, it takes a special kind of person to stand up and publicly ask, "hey, can you give me a hand with this?" Totally understandable! These are accomplished professionals with years of experience. Maybe they think they should already know these things (not necessarily!) Maybe they fear their peers will think less of them for asking the question (um, no, can you say 'model the learning?') Maybe they're not comfortable writing the question in what they think will be an intelligent fashion (it's not as hard as it seems!) But like the journey of a thousand miles, it all begins with the first step, asking for help. As our elementary school's computer teacher/technology facilitator, being a source for that help is a big part of my job. What I'm finding after seven years in this position is that I need to broaden the conversation - involve more people in the process - to help my colleagues help themselves, and each other! -kj-