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Say what you will about the Germans

Look what I found. It's my year in review! You know, the one that I have done every year starting way back in 2023. Actually this is not a year in review. This is just a few random musings because I wanted to say hello and I feel like I can't do that effectively if I'm not shoving a bunch of unedited verbosity down your pie hole.1

Here's what's in here just in case you want to skip to a certain section. Or skip a certain section. Or just read the section headers and tell all your friends that you read it (you know, like I do with The NY Times, Edutopia, all the Apple press releases, and the emails I get from everyone except you. I would never do that with your emails because you are special and I value our friendship/marriage/collegial acquaintanceship/former relationship/restraining order.

Too Many Hats (a case for specialists) | The Germans Get It | ChatGPT in schools

Too Many Hats (a case for specialists)

Let's start with something education related, because, let's face it, everyone's got an opinion about education because everyone (except the entire House of Representatives, apparently) has received an education. From my anecdotal research, I have been able to confirm that everyone's opinion is correct and/or wrong. So congrats, you've figured out how to fix educating our next generation! If I could put in a quick request as a teacher, school lead, and adjunct professor - I'd love it if we might be able to wear a few less hats in the classroom. I get it, really I do, schools need to work within a budget (apparently schools have "had no money for that" since schools began back when we conquered the dinosaurs) but teachers are actually highly skilled knowledge workers, not generalists, and I'd put in a plug for letting teachers teach what they're supposed to teach. Here's my thinking by way of an example:

Earlier this academic year I was teaching a 6 week unit on body systems. I teach the Kenyan equivalent of 4th grade, so we're learning all sorts of cool stuff related to how our bodies work (if you're curious about my experiences as a male teaching SexEd, this link's for you). The unit was full of great inquiry, each child chose a different body system to research based on their curiosities, we had anatomical model assembly races, composed raps about the skeletal system, studied and created voiceovers, wrote stuff... it was fairly well integrated across disciplines if I do say so myself.

teachers are actually highly skilled knowledge workers, not generalists

One thing that you might want to know about the school that I teach in, is that there's no art teacher because "we have no money for that" so it's left to the classroom teachers to teach art, which approximately 0 of us are qualified to do. Since that's the case, we just all sort of do art; there is not much teaching involved on our parts. My first integrated art lesson was, I thought, kind of OK2. We created a silhouette of one of the most important parts of the body system we were studying, then sifted through magazines (surprisingly hard to come by in Kenya) to find images related to that body system and created a collage. The next integrated lesson was drawing and... wulp... I don't have much to say about it except that if you run a school and you expect art to be part of your curriculum, for all that is good and holy please hire an art teacher. Make money available for that because that is actually your job. This is what students are capable of producing when you "do" art while teaching a body systems unit:

anatomical inaccuracies aside, it would appear this person sat on a duck but the bill is sticking out of the anus? Or the anus is distended? Who’s to say, really - eye of the beholder and all that.

The Germans Get It

My goodness do I miss efficiency. I miss it so bad I feel like crying multiple times a week as I'm in mourning the hours lost just sitting here waiting for things to happen and/or people to show up when they said they would. You know, the whole integrity/keeping your word thing. The #waitingon identifier in my task list is embarrassingly long. The older I get the more I start to realize what does and doesn't matter in my life and, simply, I value my time and respect the time of others. That's Rule 1 for me. I don't have as many flexible hours in my day as I would like because teaching3, though I am told that apparently I have the same number of hours per day that both Abraham Lincoln and Hellen Keller had, but I think we all know that the jury is still out on... science. What time I do have I want to use with intention and purpose even if that is intentionally creating space for my brain to wander and have a argument with itself. For all the struggles I go through being a dad and a husband, I treasure that "together time" and expect the boundaries that I put up around it to be respected (by both me and others).

I have found that here in Kenya there is a relationship with time that for those of us that make it a priority to respect other people and their lives/relationships outside of the ones that are immediately in front of us at that present moment, creates an unfathomable amount of friction. I'm the type of person who is on time. I'm the type of person who you can rely upon to keep his word. I'm on time because I value other people and their lives and responsibilities and know that I am just a small part of their bigger picture. That is not the cultural norm here and it is so incredibly difficult for me to cope with. It breaks my heart a bit because it makes me want to just continue working and participating in environments where people consider how their actions impact others. "Other people are relying on me to be on time, so I will make that a priority and get up a few minutes earlier." I wish for that every day here, sadly.

I'm the type of person who is on time. I'm the type of person who you can rely upon to keep his word. I'm on time because I value other people and their lives and responsibilities and know that I am just a small part of their bigger picture.

We had the glorious opportunity to travel to Germany over our winter break, though it's not really winter here so I'm not sure why we call it that - wait, maybe we don't call it that… and I never wanted to leave. You have stolen my heart, or, as the Germans say, AUSDCHWANGFHARTENZENTTLE. Say what you will about the Germans, but I was in heaven. A restaurant said it was going to open at 9a and it actually opened at 9a. Not 9ish (which here translates to around 10:15) but actually at the time that was posted. People drove safely and efficiently and worried about other people on the road, not just themselves. People knew how to queue which, for some reason here, confuses people to no end. Waiters took our order, let us know then and there if something wasn't available, and our food arrived as expected in a reasonable amount of time. There were a few auto accidents - drivers actually pulled over to the side of the road to exchange details. Novel. Systems were in place. Systems that were respected. It was just pure magic. I can't believe I am even writing this right now... these are the most mundane observations of what I had been used to when living in America, but I find them missing here and usurping the bandwidth that I'd rather be using for something more productive or helpful.

My young budding photographer son really nailing it with cultural/commercial commentary on the holiday season in Germany. I believe his exact words were, “Dad this is a beautiful Christmas outfit and I should take a picture.” 🤷🏼‍♂️

Also, just FYI Germany itself, as a monolith, which I recognize, it is very much not, is freaking awesome. The cities were a fascinating mix of historical preservation from ages ago, an acknowledgment of past atrocities, and a model of modern, sustainable living. We passed fields of solar panels and wind turbines. The Bavarian countryside was just stunning. All the people were like 2 feet taller than me. There was cultural diversity in their food!

Anyways, if I don't have my time to do with as I see fit, what do I have? New Year's resolution: use the phrase "you're wasting my time, and my time is not yours to waste" more. How to win friends and influence people. Nailed it.

ChatGPT in Schools

If you're following the education landscape at all, AI made a big splash this fall when ChatGPT was released and became available for all to use. If you don't know what that is, this isn't the place for me to explain it to you but in brief, it's basically an AI chatbot - you can ask it questions or make requests of it in writing and it will produce for you. It's insanely good at many things. If you haven't toyed around with it yet, I'd recommend it.

Multiple of my university students submitted their final papers by plugging the driving question into the AI wizard and turning in the results. Here's what AI hasn't seemed to figure out yet - how to build an author study based on selected children's picture book authors whose work spans a minimum of a decade and a half, utilizing at least 4 examples of their work as pillars for analysis.

I will say that the essays were fascinating to read and rather unfortunate to grade4. Just out of my own morbid curiosity, I cut and pasted a few of these papers back into the AI robot that had written them and told it to grade itself according to the criteria that I had set forth in the rubric for the students. Ouch. It was even more harsh than I was marking up. It literally5 failed itself on every one of the essays that it wrote. Not quite sure how to square that one...

There are a lot of conversations around this technology in schools right now. It's so new, some districts are embracing it, others are banning it... I honestly haven't been with it long enough to have formulated a strong opinion yet, but I hear the "this is the same argument we had with calculators for math and cellphones/internet for history" side of things loud and clear as well as the "we need to know how to write, it is the fundamental skill for communication in our modern age" argument. Maybe I'm a bit of both. I love technology and I love embracing it. I also adore teaching writing and am mostly aghast at the quality of writing that is coming out of many students these days. At some point maybe I'll share a few snippets of writing that have been turned in to me at the university If you ever want to feel horrible about our future generations as written communicators, I have just the thing for you.

Long paragraphs short, this is a really interesting topic to be following right now - so much more than the Science of Reading dung war that is being flung around in the elementary school circles. Not that that debate isn't important, but it is so politicized and journalists are weighing in as experts... it's a mess. The pendulum is always somewhere, I guess, and right now it's really far to one side of the 'how do we teach someone to read' debate.

Note: This newsletter was entirely generated by ChatGPT. Or was it? (It wasn't) (maybe) (?)

It’s great to have you here.

🇰🇪: The disappointing state of aggressive tourism that is back following the pandemic. An important local cultural activist, Edwin Chiloba, is murdered, put in a metal box, and dumped by the side of the road.

📖: Here’s an interesting post on a teacher using ChatGPT to create a lesson plan…

Rebecca Birch - On Education
On chatGPT for education
I can admit when I’m wrong. In my most optimistic of moods, I think that 2023 might be the year we ditch adversarialism. On a global scale, it’s been fairly toxic and makes us all smaller, but in education, I think the “I’m right, you’re wrong” approach helps nobody, least of all students. I loved Greg Ashman’s intenti…
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if you are a cake person, I’m sorry but that’s as bad as being a cat person


ringing endorsement, I know. really tooting my own flugelhorn here


that's how the kids do it, yes? Use "because" and then state the thing? Without the "of"?


the AI used a semi-colon correct; though!


like, actually literally not figuratively literally. literally literally.

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