Who am I?

 

| Top | Mathematics | Technology | Courses | Tech Responsibilities | Background | Education | Certification | Personal |

Who Am I? I'm Derrel Fincher, currently on hiatus completing my dissertation in using BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as a 1:1 program. I'm interested in 1:1 programs that require machines powerful enough for creation and collaboration. Sorry all you pad-type device aficionados--none are quite to that point. This brief note will tend to focus on teaching, but the philosophies I developed there carried on and inform my decisions about technology integration. And, of course, I developed most of this page while I was teaching, which explains some of the odd mix of present and past tense. Check out my resumé for a more complete listing.

From 2006-2011, I was the Director of Information and Communication Technology at Graded - The American School of São Paulo in São Paulo Brazil, where I worked with the middle school administrators and teachers to pilot, then roll out a 1:1 BYOD program.

Prior to Graded, I was the Upper School IT Coordinator and School Webmaster at Taipei American School in Taipei, Taiwan. As IT Coordinator I helped teachers integrate technology into their curriculum. As TAS Webmaster I oversaw the school website  and maintained the web server portion of our on-site servers.

I was at the American School in Japan from 1997 to 2004. I was fortunate to student teach there then become a Middle School Math and Technology teacher as well as the MS web coordinator.

The photo shows me with my sixth grade math students doing what I do a lot—listening and watching. I've found that the less I talk and the more I listen and watch, the more students learn. Much of what I do is to ask the right question at the right time. I challenge their assumptions and expect them to support their beliefs and thoughts. But they also find that their ideas are valued and that it's okay to change their minds. My educational philosophy derives from my life before teaching, experience in the classroom, knowledge of technology, watching my own children learn, and studying the foundations of education. I do have strong feelings about what helps students learn, just as I have strong feelings about mathematics and technology.

Mathematics is, above all, a human endeavor. It was created by humans to help them understand the world around them, just as I use it to help understand the world around me. I try to communicate that philosophy to my students by the way I teach and work with them. My students soon learn that I seldom have answers—just more questions. For math, they learn that most problems that do have answers have numerous correct answers but many more incorrect ones. They learn that whatever their solution, they must be able to support it both mathematically and realistically. They learn to validate their own answers by discussing with each other the mathematics they used and the decisions they made. They learn to listen to what others are saying and evaluate it critically. They learn that problems aren't solved in a heartbeat. They become mathematicians.

I didn't come to this philosophy of mathematics suddenly; it happened over a number of years. I may teach now, but I'm also an engineer. I spent fifteen years of having to use math in my profession and, truthfully, the math I learned in school did little to prepare me as it presumed each problem had only one teacher-validated answer. As an engineer, the problems I faced were so open-ended that the range of solutions sometimes seemed boundless, but not only did I have to make valid assumptions, I also had to convince others that my assumptions and approach were correct. Math helped me understand and shape that world; it helps my students understand and shape theirs.

| Top | Mathematics | Technology | Courses | Tech Responsibilities | Background | Education | Certification | Personal |

Technology supported my students, but it was not the technology of spreadsheets, calculators, and math programs most think of in a math class, although we did use them. Technology allowed us to extend the community we build inside the classroom, allowing students to communicate and collaborate with each other anytime, while allowing me to see their work in progress. Students may instant message me for a quick clarification on an assignment or to ask more probing questions, or they may use a more elaborate system to practice professional discourse with each other. They may post their work or reflections in a collaborative web site so the others may see it and comment on it, or they may give me feedback about how they think they are doing or how class is going for them. Technology is not solely for projects, special occasions, or something to be scheduled. It is relentless. It is our students’ future.

Students must be prepared for that future, not only by using current technologies but also by becoming comfortable with the uncertainty that comes with learning a new skill. In September 2003, I began a new course, Explorations, that I had developed over the previous year to match my belief in what it means to learn technology. Because of it's design and flexibility, it replaced one entry level course, Technology Skills, and two advanced courses, Exploring Programming, and Multimedia Skills.

| Top | Mathematics | Technology | Courses | Tech Responsibilities | Background | Education | Certification | Personal |

At ASIJ, I taught courses in math and technology to middle school students. Depending on the semester I have anywhere from 120 to 145 students total, with most being seventh and eighth graders. I've had both sixth grade and seventh grade advisories.

Explorations, which I began in September of 2003, is a multi-tiered technology course with students on all tiers in the same class. Advanced students must propose their own learning goals and follow through on them. Less advanced students have more structure, but they also must show their learning, not only with their products but also by the way they approach problems. They, too, have substantial freedom to shape their own learning and integrate the class with other classes or with their own personal desires. The course is about learning; preferably theirs.

Math 6 is based on the Connected Mathematics Project, which is a National Science Foundation funded development. It was chosen as the top ranked mathematics program by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and rated as exemplary by the United States Department of Education. Links to the article are available on our sixth grade mathematics home page, http://math6.net.

Invent & Engineer is a hands-on course I introduced for students to build and invent. Projects have included disassembling VCRs and making something useful from the parts, building and racing CO2 powered dragsters, creating structures and bridges, building and flying water powered rockets (right), and building and flying two-and-a-half meter tall hot air balloons.

Multimedia Skills, replaced by Explorations, is a course that existed on one sheet of paper, but had not been taught from Spring of 1997 until I took it over in the Fall of 1999. I introduced FrontPage® as a web site development tool. Students, developing their webs on a FrontPage enabled server, quickly learned that a web is a way of structuring and presenting information, and that it is more difficult to do in a multi-author environment. Students have collaborated with a class in California, communicating via a discussion group and web site. They experienced the advantages of collaboration, but they also found out some of the difficulties and frustration. As with Exploring Programming, I modified the course to focus more on projects that students propose and select.

Exploring Programming, also replaced by Explorations, is an elective course I introduced to give students a basic introduction to programming and a chance to explore programming. They worked with projects in Logo, Visual Basic®, and Visual Basic for Applications®. The focus was for them to explore programming to see what it offers rather than for me to give them predefined tasks. They proposed and selected projects and worked with each other to develop their projects. They learned a fair amount of math at the same time, but they don't realize it. However, even in a class devoted to technology, students often need to discuss their ideas using “old-fashioned” technology. These students are developing and debating a sorting algorithm at the white board.

Keyboarding Skills is designed to teach keyboarding to all sixth grade students and any seventh or eighth grade students who didn't have it at their previous schools. My thoughts on teaching keyboarding give some insight into the program.

| Top | Mathematics | Technology | Courses | Tech Responsibilities | Background | Education | Certification | Personal |

Technology Responsibilities

As the Director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) at Graded, my department was responsible for all of the technology infrastructure on campus and for supporting integration in the classroom for all of the teachers. During my time there, we essentially rebuilt the entire infrastructure and greatly expanded capabilities.  Of course we did a lot of other things - new website, new SIS, migration to the cloud, and so forth. But the best thing I did was work together with my academic technology coordinator and the middle school principal to implement a BYOD 1:1 program. You can read a bit about it on my blog.

One responsibility I continue with is that of World Virtual Schools coordinator for the Association of American Schools in South America. The World Virtual Schools project is funded by the Department of State Office of Overseas Schools with the explicit intent of helping AOS (American Overseas Schools - the schools shown as assisted on this page) schools develop a continuity of service plan that will allow them to continue in the event their campus becomes inaccessible or students have to evacuate a country.

As the Upper School IT Coordinator at TAS, not only did I help teachers with integration, I also researched new technologies and programs that might be useful in class. A couple of examples are Wikis and digital audio recording using free software. I also provide training for teachers, which is often best done in a small group setting as teachers are about to launch into a project. TAS maintained a Blackboard courseware site, which I maintained for the Upper School Teachers. As the TAS Webmaster, I not only oversaw our main website, trained content editors, and worked with our web services vendors, I maintained the various webs on our internal servers. That requires both programming and database work.

At ASIJ, I was the Webmaster for the Middle School. I did or oversaw most of the pages that were not directly associated with a class. I also maintained space on shared servers for students' development and joint projects. In addition, I helped most of our teachers get their class website up, with the number of teachers who had sites going from two, when I took over the web, to most of the teachers in the school. That was before powerful database-driven web software became available. ASIJ now uses Blackbaud's software for their website.

Background in Technology: As an engineer, I had to learn how to program and wrote numerous simulation programs of one type or another during undergraduate and graduate studies. My background includes programming in FORTRAN, BASIC, Visual Basic, 20-20 Macro Language, DOS, and VMS, as well as using CAD programs, Word Processing (numerous types), Spreadsheets (VisiCalc, 20-20, Lucid 3-D, and Excel) and databases.

My first personal computing experiences were with the IBM PC and HP-25, the first computer I bought was an IBM PCjr (well, we don’t all make good decisions!), and I have had to use both Macs and IBM PC compatibles in my work. At one point, our family of four had four laptops and three desktops, all networked to the Internet with fiber optic cable. (Summers in the United States were a slow torture as we ended up on dial-up.)

In my life as an project manager, I had software engineers working for me who were responsible for writing the software for code that ran the tools we developed. Their ability to write software was obviously far ahead of mine, but I learned a fair amount about what it takes to create good code and how to manage such a project so that good code results. Working at Taipei American School in the well-run IT department, and having to oversee our web servers, gave me the ability to run a world-class operation on limited funds. At Graded, I got a chance to put everything into practice and work with some terrific people at the same time.

And I’m also the guy who will spend time learning how to make a program do what I need it to do rather than fall back on old, familiar habits.

| Top | Mathematics | Technology | Courses | Tech Responsibilities | Background | Education | Certification | Personal |

Prior Experience: I substitute taught in 1996. I did my student teaching for 17 weeks during the 1997-1998 school year under the mentoring of Cheryl Goerger, and I started teaching my own classes in the fall of 1998. (I also subbed when I wasn't student teaching.) The student teaching was sandwiched between two summers spent in Mallorca, Spain working on my credentials. Prior to that I worked for Schlumberger in the field and in R&E (research and engineering). With them, I was a wireline  field engineer in Woodward and Weatherford, Oklahoma; Farmington, New Mexico; and Evanston, Wyoming. I was a manufacturing engineer and project leader in Houston, Texas; a project manager in Tokyo, Japan, and a program manager in Sugar Land, Texas. They were kind enough to send me back to school and pay for my Masters in Mechanical Engineering in the '80s.

Education: I completed the Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology (OMAET) at Pepperdine University in July of 2002. Previous education includes: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Oklahoma State University (Stillwater); M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Utah State University (Logan);  and Teacher Certification Program, The College of New Jersey International Program (Mallorca, Spain). I'm now working on my doctorate in Learning Technologies through Pepperdine.

Teaching Certificates: I hold New Jersey certification in both Elementary Education and K-12 Mathematics

Family Information: I have been married to Bridgette since we were both twenty after a two-year engagement. We have two children, Adair and Cameron, both of whom graduated from ASIJ. Bridgette, with whom I've had the privilege of collaborating, taught numerous grades, most recently as a sixth grade humanities teacher at Graded. (Yes, she was one of the key people in getting humanities implemented.) She's now working on her doctorate at the University of Arkansas.

Hometown: Although I was born in South America, I spent most of my childhood in various spots in Oklahoma and Texas with the result that I claim the Oklahoma/Texas area as my hometown.

| Top | Mathematics | Courses | Tech Responsibilities | Background | Education | Certification | Personal |

 

Last maintained 10/10/2011

   

This site best viewed with browsers released in 2001 or later.

Original Content ©2001-2008 by Derrel Fincher, Other rights reserved by individual authors

Do you have suggestions, questions, or comments about anything you see here? Contact me.