Thursday, April 7, 2011

A short conversation with...Karl Fisch @karlfisch

Karl Fisch

How long have you been teaching?

23 years

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Yes. When I began I taught fairly similarly to the way I was taught, with perhaps a little more humor - but otherwise, pretty similar. I think I was a decent “traditional” math teacher. (And I don’t equate “traditional” with bad necessarily, it’s just the easiest way to describe it.) But when I started teaching was when the NCTM Standards were first gaining traction and I fairly quickly started changing my instruction to a somewhat more constructivist approach. (Note: true constructivist teachers would laugh at how far away I was/am from a constructivist approach, but it was/is at least trending in that direction). I then transitioned into a part time math teacher/part time tech guy, and then went full time technology coordinator in my high school for 14 or so years. Then, due to budget cuts, I picked up one section of Algebra this year (in addition to my tech duties) and I’m trying to implement much of what I’ve learned/thought about over the last 14 years.

How did the video “Did You Know” come about?

You can read through a few blog posts to learn more, but the sort-of “short” version is that through some grants I had written we had started some staff development efforts at my building around technology and 21st century learning (before that was a buzzword). We were having some really great conversations in my building, and I was reading many books and blogs that were contributing to my thinking. I then went to two conferences, TIE (which is our statewide ed tech conference in Colorado) and for the first time NECC (now ISTE), where I saw many amazing and motivational speakers.

So by August of 2006 I had a ton of ideas swirling around in my head and my administration asked if I wanted to speak at a faculty meeting at the beginning of the year. This is something I’ve done before where I update folks on the tech in the building, but this time I really wanted to have a conversation around all these ideas. Unfortunately, a faculty meeting - especially one a few days before the kids arrive - is a horrible place to have a conversation, so I almost said no. But instead I asked for the weekend to think about it and then went home and created the original Did You Know? that weekend.

Normally I would say showing a PowerPoint in a faculty meeting, with no discussion, is the worst pedagogical technique known to mankind. But my hope was that it would be thought-provoking enough that the conversations would occur outside of the faculty meeting. Turns out I was right.

Has the popularity of that video series impact your “educational life” in any way?

Well, in some ways yes, in others, no. Certainly it has given me my 15 minutes of fame, and that has led to some opportunities to go to other schools/districts and lead some professional development around all these ideas that we’ve been talking about online. And it’s certainly increased the amount of email I get!

But in other ways, no. In my building I’m still the same guy, and I’m still responsible for the same things, and - at the end of the day - it’s still about trying to meet the needs of our students. As it should be.

What's the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

Best? Yikes. I guess two things. First, that it’s not about you (as the teacher) - it’s about the kids. That sounds cliche, but it’s true. We are part of it, certainly, I don’t want to minimize our role, but I fear that too often we make decisions that are best for the adults without realizing their impact on the kids. Second, something I’ve said for a long time but I honestly can’t recall if I heard it from Chris Lehmann first or someone else, but that when I asked what I teach I try not to answer “I teach math” anymore but, instead, say “I teach students” or “I teach students mathematics.” I think the distinction is more than just semantic.

Karl blogs here

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