Week 8: Can you teach more than you know?

Interesting question for a teacher.  I have always thought that a teacher could teach anything.  My certification is in high school mathematics, but that has not stopped me from teaching subjects out of my certification.  As a rural Alaska teacher, it is very common to teach outside your “expertise”.  I remember when I had to teach high school biology, physics, health, PE, photography, language arts, and social studies!  Many times I was just teaching content I learned the day before, or if I was lucky, looked ahead in the text and was a handful of pages ahead of students.  Not the best method for teaching and learning, but you learn to cope, plan, and deliver, and hope you have done a sufficient job in teaching students required curriculum.

In our changing educational system, we are beginning to look at alternative methods of teaching and learning.  Makerspaces is one of the promising methods.  It’s not new, but it is gaining traction.  One of the major shifts affects both teachers and students.  Students need to take a more active, empowering role in their learning, and teachers need to take a more supportive, facilitating role in student learning. (Martinez, 2016)

I have tried to incorporate this new ideology in my class the last few years.  Not in a makerspace environment, but in a regular classroom environment.  There are times that teachers are absent from class, and one of the regular questions that comes up is what are students going to do?  Not to disrespect substitute teachers, but many times well-planned directions and activities go the wayside.  I have shared with my students that it really is up to them to learn material if a teacher is absent from class, but the response I usually get is that it is MY job to teach and theirs to learn.  Not quite the makerspace mindset we want from students!

It is important to allow students to have ownership of their learning.  It is a major shift in student expectations.  It is my belief that the following three trends can facilitate that: collaboration between teachers and students, technology powered learning, and blended learning.  (Barseghian, 2011)  Students are accustomed to learning from teachers, but teachers need to be accustomed to learning from students.  Students also need to get accustomed to learning from each other.  This can happen in the class, or online through social networks.  Technology is a powerful tool.  Tool the operative word here.  Students need to create and use interactive technology for learning.  The statistics are shocking concerning technology.

  • 75 percent of teachers say they regularly use technology in their classrooms. However, only 40 percent of students report that technology is used in their classrooms.
  • 94 percent of students report that they use technology to do their homework, while less than half of all teachers (46 percent) incorporate technology into homework assignments.
  • 86 percent of students reported using more technology outside of school than in it.
  • Only four out of ten students surveyed by CDW-G felt their schools were meeting their technology expectations.

These are results from a CDW-G survey. (Trierweiler Hudson, 2016)  They are disheartening and surprising.  There is an obvious disconnect.  Teachers and students need to work together on the importance of technology and its utilization in education.  It’s encouraging to know that according to another survey, two thirds of parents would purchase a mobile device for their child to use in school. (Trierweiler Hudson, 2016)

With this new information it is possible to proceed with the third trend, blended learning, the use of computers and traditional learning.  Students conduct research, watch videos, participate in collaborative online discussions, and so on at home and at school.  I believe that students want to use technology in their education, but there appears to be a restrictive environment.  At my district, the Internet is severely restricted.  It doesn’t help that there are students that search inappropriate sites, engage in social networks, stream all sorts of media that clogs up the broadband, and hack the system.  I think if we can teach the proper use of the Internet and behaviors online, we can curb this.  There are legitimate reasons for not restricting Internet usage.  Although we have parents sign an Internet Permission form that describes the proper behaviors and use of technology at school, the district still restricts full access to the Internet.

I believe that we can achieve this teacher as facilitator and student lead learning model if we incorporate these ideas.  There are obvious roadblocks that need attention, but with some work and guidance, we can allow this educational shift to occur.



Cartoon from http://www.templateof.com/post_educational-cartoon-word-work_239338/



Barseghian, T. (2011). Three Trends That Define the Future of Teaching and Learning. KQED: Mind Shift. Retrieved from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2011/02/05/three-trends-that-define-the-future-of-teaching-and-learning/

Martinez, Sylvia Libow; Stager, Gary S.. Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Constructing Modern Knowledge Press. Kindle Edition.

Trierweiler Hudson, H. (2016). Do Your Students Know More About Technology Than You Do? Scholastic. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/do-your-students-know-more-about-technology-you-do


5 thoughts on “Week 8: Can you teach more than you know?

  1. First of all, hats off to teaching in rural Alaska! Every time I talk to someone who teaches in a small area, I am amazed. All of you seem to have an endless amount of preps, and I honestly don’t know how you do it. Second, I never considered your sub situation. Is it easy to find subs in smaller areas? Do you have to plan to be sick? 🙂 Last you mentioned districts restricting full internet access. This is something my district does as well. However, my students who are my technology teachers have taught me a way around it. Many of them don’t have wifi, because their parents cannot afford it. My students will connect to the school wifi then they download a VPN and voila! They have access to Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and anything else their little hearts desire. Kids today can definitely be resourceful when they have a reason.


    • Our district IT department is great at finding the ways students bypass network restrictions, and once they find it, it’s blocked! I suppose I should be glad they are “protecting” our students from inappropriate material online. It’s not that difficult to find subs, but there are times during the year that a large proportion of teachers are gone, and it’s hard to find subs. I really believe all teachers should teach in a rural area with many preps(different content areas), so they can appreciate being in a urban area where you may only have 2 or 3 preps(in the same content area) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed your post, Gerald! I have also been in situations where I’ve taught as a generalist, outside of my content area (math) and outside of my certified grade level (6-12). I immediately thought of these experiences, and the many, many schools in rural Alaska where teachers “teach what they don’t know” every day. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but with the proper attitude on the teacher’s, administration’s, and community’s part it can be a situation that has many benefits, as I’m sure you know.

    Thank you for bringing up the reality — students often use technology at school for non-educational purposes and try to “hack the system.” This is a real headache, and although I feel schools and teachers have improved over the last 10 years in handling this both proactively and retroactively through policies, classroom management related to technology, and rearranging the physical space of classrooms and computer labs, it’s hard for me to believe that this issue will ever go away. However, I appreciate how you bring up that this fear can inhibit the type of transformation and shift we are aiming for in teachers and students. It’s important to model and teach the appropriate uses and applications of technology. Using it for things like making, tinkering, and engineering, rather than simply word processing or Google searches seems like a way to encourage students to use technology the right way.

    Love the cartoon at the end. Thanks!


  3. Gerald,

    Wow, thank you for sharing your experience in learning Minecraft with your son! I think that the fact that you built the house in just half an hour shows how your prior gaming skills came through to help you.

    It would be awesome to see your students determine coordinates from a map. Would you write out partial instructions to get them started; or just give them the coordinates to find and watch?

    The idea you have for creating structures using mathematical formulas or equations sounds really great. Also, your geometry ideas remind me of ways to create shapes that are so much better than just drawing it on graph paper, because these shapes can be modeled, then turned like a physical object in your hand.



  4. That cartoon is so funny! Usually, when I can’t figure something out I hand it off to my nine-year-old and six-year-old.

    I liken teaching in rural Alaska to one of those cooking shows where you are given a bunch of incompatible ingredients and a tight timeline and you hope you can come up with some recipes that work and have a somewhat decent presentation of everything. Whether it is teaching at the high school level where you might be teaching far outside your area of certification and a multitude of different preps each day (I had 11 my first year of teaching, with only one of them being a science class) or at the elementary level where you might have four, five, or six grade levels all in the same room together (I had six grade levels in one village and four in another), there will be plenty of opportunities to teach something you do not know. Bringing in outside resources, such as elders, is extremely helpful when teaching those things that are specific to an area or a region, such as language and traditional ways of life. My students learned how to make traditional tools, traps, hats, artwork, and instruments from elders and other members of the community.

    I think the point you brought up about technology not being used in the ways kids use technology was a valid one. As each year marches on and technology changes more and more, the lessons which once counted as technology lessons are no longer applicable. We need to change how and what we teach with the changes in technology if we want our teaching to remain current. Does this mean that we need to take night and summer courses so our knowledge level can remain ahead of that of our students? Not necessarily. This is where learning with and from our students in an ever-changing environment is not only valid, but necessary.


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