Sunday, December 18, 2011

Good Fences Make Lousy Families

There has been quite the back and forth over the past month regarding the pro's and con's of awards in education and the edublogosphere. This post isn't about whether I am for or against them, it is about why this conversation resonates year after year.

When I first started going online to learn from other teachers I started looking for class blogs that I could steal ideas from. Soon I noticed others looking at my class blog and even sometimes commenting on something I posted. This was (and still is) an incredibly motivating experience, a kind of peer approval badge. In effect, someone like me liked what I was doing.

I suspect many of us have felt out of place before in our schools. We tend to be the "geeks" or "nerds", not usually the most popular (and yes, even as adults that makes a difference so don't bother protesting.) But, when we found each other online things changed. We became much more than popular, we became accepted. We became family.

I am not saying that we are sympathetic protagonists that changed from caterpillars to butterflies when we created a PLN cocoon.  It is just that we now live in what we covet for our students, a community of people that truly care and share with each other. We have discovered that the real value of the internet is in how it can bring us together, not with content delivery.

So, what does this have to do with the aforementioned debate over blogging awards? The tone of the debate is more important than what the debate is about. Our community is building fences. Robert Frost understood when he wrote "something there is that doesn't love a wall" that walls are isolating. I don't want to be isolated anymore, I have lived most of my life being alone (even in a room full of other students). Good fences may make good neighbors, but they make lousy families.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Where Great Teaching Begins Chapter 1

Something I don't do enough is intentionally read education books. I mean I have them and sometimes will read a chapter or so, but I have no real intention to read the whole book and really think about the concepts. So this year I decided to join ASCD, and actually do some reading. The first book I received from them is Where Great Teaching Begins by Anne Reeves.

I am committing myself to reading and (more importantly) thinking about this book and as such I am going to write a blog post for each chapter. Here are my thoughts on chapter one.

Reeves identifies the purpose of instructional design to make student learning the focus of planning. While this seems like a 'duh' statement, it really hit me. I have always been the guy that says I can link any activity to curriculum. You want to watch a movie about space pirates that become furniture movers, I am the guy that can tell you how to justify it. Obviously, this is a real problem.

I am probably changing my teaching assignment next semester and am already trying to make a plan for how I want to teach the year. Since I am a big history geek I am planning on using that as my big theme and tying in the rest of the curriculum into it. I don't think that will be very difficult, but I really have to make sure I don't pick activities that I want them to do over choosing the learning they need. My plan is to have a broad outline of the year in place before Christmas so I can start fitting in the learning my students need (see, I am already applying what I am learning from the book :).

Another thing that struck me about this chapter is the last section "So Who Are Lesson Plans Really For?" The answer is for the teacher, administrator, and the students. When I read it my first thought was about having students help write the plans. It would seem that the persons most effected by the plan should have some voice in it. What do you think?

 Reeves, Anne R.. Where great teaching begins: planning for student thinking and learning. Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 2011. Print.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Real Value of Using Technology in Your Classroom

The real value of using technology in your classroom is not:
  • student engagement- If you want better student engagement, design better lessons.
  • the "cool" factor- see above
  • 21st century skills- Identify what that means first, then we will talk.
  • parent involvement- Do we really need to make more excuses for unengaged parents?
  • learning how to keyboard- I won't even dignify this one with a response #oopsIguessIjustdid
The real value of using technology in your classroom is:
  • creating connections- We learn so much through others that are different.
  • sharing- We are smarter than I.
  • conversations-A post is an attempt to start a conversation, a comment makes it happen.
Technology is not only about doing old things in a new way (although  there is nothing wrong with that). Technology should be about creating opportunities for us to learn from others when that would be impossible without it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to Create Your Own Interactive Art Display

Mrs. Smith (our Art teacher) and I have teamed up to create an interactive art "museum" for our students' work. This is how we are doing it.

Mrs. Smith chooses are work that she thinks best illustrates what she is having her students do. She then puts it on the "art museum" wall. I take the student and have them explain to me their artwork. He/She tells me about the work, what they did, and what they learned. Then we record the video.

After the video is recorded I upload it to Youtube. This is a real hassle because it is blocked at my school. I put the video in my Dropbox and then when I get home I upload it to Youtube. I tried uploading the video to Vimeo at school but discovered that to watch it on a mobile phone I had to use their paid service which is about $60 a year.

After I upload the video to Youtube I go through the settings and make sure that the video is Creative Commons licensed, that comments are moderated, and change any other settings I think is necessary. Then I get the url and put it into a QR (quick response) code generator. I use QRStuff to create the codes, but I doubt it matters which service you choose.
Here is the QR Code

Finally, I print out the QR code and put it next to the art work the student created. Now when someone comes along and wants to know more about the art work they can simply scan the code with their smart phone and instantly start watching a video of the artist explaining his/her work.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

How Blogging Rocks Our Students' World

I was selected by Heather Mathews to continue the #RockStarMeme. I am extremely honored that she selected me and am humbled by the nice things she said about me. The meme is supposed to have us explain how blogging has rocked our world, so here I go.

My original intent for a blog was something that I could use to showcase student work, show neat sites I wanted to share with them, have a place for them to do some self-directed learning. In effect, it was supposed to be centered around my students. It wasn't until a couple years later I started writing here.

What started out as a lark, has become something much more transformative for me and for some of my students. We are no longer bound to the small community we live in. We have exposure to virtually (see what I did there ;) the whole world. We have opportunities to share and grow with students and adults that have cultural differences, different religious beliefs, and different lifestyles.

I could go on and on about why blogging can and does change us, but I want to leave some room for the wonderful educators I tag.

@DrJohnHadley John has done amazing things with his college students at the University of South Alabama through blogging. I have been fortunate enough to spend some time with him and he is the real deal.

@DeputyMitchell  David has created an amazing project called Quadblogging that allows classes to partner up and share blogging and commenting. My only problem with it is I didn't come up with it myself :)

@mr_avery Shawn has been an excellent ambassador for children blogging and commenting. There have been many times he has recharges my batteries with his enthusiasm.

@NZWaikato  Myles is one of my earliest and best friends online. While many teachers have leveraged their classroom to become famous online teaching personalities, he just keeps his head down and continues to do excellent work with his students.

@IntrepidTeacher Jabiz has shown me through blogging that you can be open, honest, and engaging without being a caricature. He constantly challenges me with his insight, wisdom, and humbleness.

Award recipients, here's your challenge:
Since you have been awarded the meme, you  are supposed to write a post about how Blogging has Rocked your World then:
  1. respond to the meme and link back to this blog entry
  2. leave a comment on this blog entry and then ask 5 more people to participate
  3. Notify those 5 people by sending them a quick note (a tweet prob would work)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Is Your Classroom Flipped? Yes and No

I was asked that question today by a teacher that I respect greatly and I replied "no". Today's definition of a flipped classroom is one where the teacher gives students a quick (usually video) lesson to be viewed outside of the classroom so that class time can be used for practice. I don't do that, my students don't have the access to technology it would require.

After thinking about the question though, I think maybe the answer should be "yes". While I don't give my students work to do outside of my room, I put my lessons on my blog. The students go there to see what activity they will be working on. The instructions, links to additional sites/materials, and any necessary explanations are found on the post itself. This allows my students to access the assignment throughout the time they are working and frees me up to be available to help.

The main reason I see this as a "flip" is that when my students ask me specific questions about the assignment I simply point them back to the post. (Of course there are times when they ask questions I have not answered which requires me to either modify the post or simply answer the question to the class as a whole.) I don't spend time "teaching" the lesson, I spend time observing and pushing my students.

Does this mean my classroom is "flipped"? I guess you can decide that. All I know is that my students have more time to practice and I have more time to observe.

It Aint' About the Tools: Bad Practices Will Always Be Bad Practices

I am writing this as a follow up to @KDWashburn's post Tools Do Not Determine Quality

After reading Kevin's post, I wrote this comment. Since it is rather long I decided I would also post it here.

Much of educational technology is just a new way to do an old thing. For example, blog posts take the place of paper and pencil (of course the possibility for a larger audience is the real draw), drawing programs like Microsoft Paint (which I just had my students use) takes the place of real paint, and PowerPoint (or any presentation software) takes the place of hand created posters.

The things that make the new technology valuable are the same things that made the old technology valuable. You are right that we have some teachers caught up in the “cool” tools, but if the assignments aren’t much different than they would have before, the tools are not the problem.

You referenced some talking toy that was reciting words out of a textbook. Is this any different than the time honored tradition of writing vocabulary definitions? I would imagine that you will find students following this practice in every school in the United States, yet you and I both know this is a useless practice.
Whether we use old school tools or new, shiny tech tools to have students learn it is the role of the teacher to make sure the practices we have our students use are educationally sound.

I guess to sum up I would say that it really is no surprise that teachers are using tech inappropriately when they have been been using bad practices with old school tools.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Parents Can't Access Their Child's Digital Work

My students' parents don't all have internet access. This is really a shame because they are doing some really good work on their blogs. Their latest assignment is to write a story and add digital elements to it. One of the early activities was taken by Jabiz Raisdana's class blog.

On the post Episode #1-Mood and Setting the students were asked to write a paragraph that gives the setting of a story. The kicker is that they have to set a mood with the paragraph, not just identify the time and place. As you can imagine, I jumped on the assignment and had my students participate as well. They created some great paragraphs. Check out their blogs here if you want to read some.

Unfortunately, there was a lack of transfer between that lesson and their creative writing projects. I have seen no evidence that any of the students have taken what they have learned and applied it to this new project. I decided that needed to be addressed.

Today my students were told to create a picture that can be used with their story. They had to use Microsoft Paint. While it isn't the best program to draw with, every Windows computer has it and the students can add it to their digital toolbelt. Below is an amazing picture drawn by one of my eighth grade students for this project.

The pictures will be printed onto card stock the size of a postcard. The students will then rewrite the first paragraph of their stories. This time they will address their lack of mood in the setting. They will take that paragraph and write it on the back of the picture which will then be mailed to the parents as a postcard.

This will allow parents to get an idea about how the students are using their time in my classroom. They will be able to see the picture that the students created digitally and they will have the first paragraph of the story the students are writing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Help Daraja Academy Provide Education for Girls in Kenya

I grew up and now teach in very poor, rural community. In a nation of the very advantaged my students have less than most. Many of my students benefit from social programs provided by the government as well as charity provided by our local community.

As a youth pastor I am painfully aware of how a few dollars can make a huge difference in the lives of families that just can't quite make it to the next paycheck. I see the struggles families have that are always on the brink of financial ruin, with the only real safety net the kindness of others in our community.

I know many of you are also a witness to similar situations in your schools and in your communities. I understand that charity begins at home.

Over the past few years I have become very aware of the world outside of the city limits of my small town. Many of you have made me reconsider many of my thoughts and priorities. You have shown me that sharing and caring no longer should be contained in a classroom, it needs to extend throughout the world. 

Now I am asking you to help out some children that live outside
of our communities, outside of our countries.

The Darja Academy is an all girls secondary boarding school in Kenya. The school offers opportunities for girls to get an education and empowers them to fight their way out of the poverty they live in. Now Darja has an opportunity to raise funds through Nike's Girl Effect. If you donate any amount to Darja you will give them a vote that may put them in the top six candidates. Not only will the money you donate be used to help educate their students, if they get enough votes they will have receive a huge publicity boost.

I am going to donate because I know that although charity begins at home it should not end there.