Saturday, May 9, 2015

A god among gods in Nonstandard Classroom

RantWoman has a friend from college who teaches Computer Science. Her
post below reminds RantWoman of some students who have come through
projects at the Friendly Neighborhood Center for Extreme Computing.
RantWoman is posting almost verbatim, with friend's permission and
some additional comments at the bottom of the post.

RantWoman particularly notes that the behavior of the college students
in the first pedagogical spell are only a few degrees dialed back from
the nonstandard high school students in the second pedagogical

Friend writes:
I had a fascinating afternoon today.  I taught my class, and then I
visited a non-standard high school, where one of my students is a
volunteer teacher.

My ethics class was talking about the effects of technology,
especially personally addictive technology like video games and cell
phones, on society.  One of the things that has moved online in the
last year or so, here, is teaching evaluations.  Rather than an
envelope full of bubble forms and half-length pencils with which to
fill out the forms, I get emails telling me to remind students to fill
out the evaluations online.  To the students, the evaluations are just
one more stupid questionnaire, no more compelling than the one from
their last on-line purchase.  So I offer treats if all the students
fill them out.  I never see names attached to comments, and I don’t
see numerical summaries or comments until I submit my grades.  But I
do see how many students have completed them.  The last one got filled
out last night, so I bought "brownie bites” (and some non-chocolate
cookies) on my way in today.

It was a gorgeous day, not hot, but sunny and pleasant.  We had class
outside.  Because we agreed that 75 minutes was too long to sit still,
during the regularly scheduled 2-minute stretch, the students shifted
around so fewer were staring in the sun.  We also had a brief panic
about little red bugs that were not chiggers.  But generally, I think
we all enjoyed being outside.  And the participation levels were
pretty typical, even though one young man was stretched out on the
grass and another was perched on a wide pedestal.  I didn’t see him
climb up there, and my first thought was, “I wish I could climb that.”
 I also noticed one person (at least) had shed his shoes.  So I did
the same.   …  The discussion was good.

Then I drove to the north side of town to The Learning Center at the
[name omitted] School.  My student had prepped me that the students are ones
who couldn’t handle standard high school.  He has two classes.  The
first is the general computer class, where students, singly or in
groups, work on projects.  One showed me art he makes online.  A
couple of them showed me games they were developing.  One had just
learned how to use circles to draw an equilateral triangle.  He wanted to know, why
hadn’t his geometry teacher showed him this?  One of the students was
working on designing a cake for another teacher, based on a sword and
shield from a game, I think.  He was looking at a site called Cake
Engineering.  We talked about engineering a cake.  Later, he had found
a stencil for part of the design.   I asked one boy if he had anything
he wanted to show off to me and he said no.  It struck me that that
might have been an awkward way to ask, but probably he just wasn’t in
a mood or stage in the development where he wanted to show something.
The school has bees, and one boy was working on rendering images of a
honey keg.  The exciting part, to me, was that the image of the keg
had raised letters saying “Honey Keg” that he had designed, and he had
clearly done some design/programming so you could rotate the image and
see the letters from the side, and at different angles.  He also told
me about the process of getting the honey from the hive.

After a while, most of the students left and the Advanced Placement
class of 6 boys remained.  They were an interesting bunch.  One told
me (while showing me the game he was designing) that he had trouble
with conversation.  I acknowledged that, but after more discussion,
got from him that it was more about being afraid of doing it poorly
than anything else.  I could relate to that.

One boy was very high energy.  At some point, I was standing on one
side of the table and they were on the other, with my student sitting
behind them being quieter than I think I could have been.  I was
talking about artificial intelligence, drawing them out on what is
intelligence, what is learning.  Sometimes one would look up an answer
online, but the others would scold him.  The high energy boy was
checking out the remaining brownie bites, and at one point, when I had
praised one of his answers, he jumped up, raised his arms in the air,
and announced that he was a god among men!

I said, maybe, but certainly he was a god among gods.

At first someone was about to correct me.  Then he processed that I
was saying they were all gods, and he settled down with a small smile.

The only disconcerting moment was when one of the boys started making
strange, rasping sounds, and I thought he was having trouble
breathing.  I asked if he was okay, and someone said, “He has
Tourette’s.”  It occurred to me later to apologize for drawing
attention to that, but I realized that such an apology would likely
create awkwardness where there had been remarkably little.  Thinking
back, when he was showing me his project, I had notice that he
twitched — mostly because I tend to mimic people’s motion, and I had
caught myself twitching.

The students had some questions about what college was like and what
it would mean.  They were really good, thoughtful questions.  And some
of them sat very still and a few of them moved around or acted as if
they would tickle each other, and the high energy boy jumped up a few

It reminded me a lot of myself in high school.  I remember having
wrestling matches in home room, though I also remember one year I
refused to attend home room.  I would hang out with friends from other
home rooms, somewhere where at least my teacher would see me and know
where I was.  In fact, this morning, I was at a faculty meeting where
I called out questions when they occurred to me, much as these boys

There was a deep feeling of being home, while I was there.

I don’t think I have the discipline to work with these boys on a daily
or even weekly basis.  I’m not sure I have the knowledge that they
want, as my student does.  But I will definitely visit again.  I
invited one of the boys to shadow me some time in the late Fall next
year, to spend a day with me so he can see some college classes and
talk to college students.  I think anyone except the god among men
would be very welcome.  And that student, I’d happily meet outside of
my own college classes.

It was a good day.

RantWoman's unsolicited advice based on assumptions she may or may not
have good reason to make:

A visiting teacher might not have a way of finding anyone's labels but if
someone were going to work with these students, it might be worthwhile doing some
of the following things:

--Read up a little on Asperger's and autism and particularly effective
pedagogical approaches or consult with someone who has special ed

--Just keep a log of how students are on different days, what they are studying,
what they are working on, sense of potential...

If High Energy Boy, for instance, does not already have an IEP (Individualized
Educational Plan) what you log could help him get one; if he has one,
having whoever works with him document both issues and potential might
be helpful as school and parents figure out how to target resources.
[Yes,  if the students are in Nonstandard classroom, they
probably do already have Individualized Educational Plans. Chances are though
the teachers and counselors are overwhelmed and any additional set of
eyes might make a difference either in bringing out students' gifts or
just in helping test what works. Yes, some of the students likely will
freely tell people their labels; others will not and have a right not
to. And RantWoman is glad these students are getting to learn from
someone in graduate school!]

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