Friday, August 30, 2013

The Creation Station: Changing the Climate of the Library

Mrs. Owens, our school librarian, has been doing some research on the Maker's movement. She has decided to create an area in the library where students can create things that they can take with them.

She has stocked shelves full of art supplies that she has to encourage more self expression for the students and to create a different feel for the library itself. It can be difficult to change the perceptions that have been in place for years and years.

While discussing the library with Mrs. Owens, I really got the feeling that she was wanting the library to be a gathering place for both students and teachers. I tend to spend a lot of my out of the classroom time in the library because I feel so comfortable sitting among all the books. I imagine that kids that don't like to read don't get that feeling.

While I don't have the space that the library does, I too try to create spaces of comfort (is that a phrase a thing?) where kids can feel like the room isn't all about content. Here is a picture of the area I created for #SaveComicSans, our ukulele club.

I let the students sit there as well when they are working or have a bit of free time to read or visit quietly. Unfortunately there isn't enough of that time already built in to the school day. It is really hard to build a community around content.

I have also brought in blankets for the kids to use when they want to. I have one class that beats feet to the room so they can get one. It is a pretty simple way to change their feelings of comfort in the room. 

I am really pleased that Mrs. Owens is looking at her library and trying to make decisions that will positively affect its climate. I am hopeful that other teachers will notice and start thinking about it too.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Creating Art in the Social Studies Classroom

I am having my 8th grade students create art centered around what they learned about Columbus or the Americas before Columbus. I really want to encourage them to think of art as a viable way to show their learning and not just for self expression. Here are the instructions I recorded. I put them online so that parents would have the opportunity to see what I wanted.

I wanted to do something to show my students that could not only show them a possibility, but also to show them that I was willing to participate in what I am having them do. Here is the song:

Here are the lyrics:

Some Island That I Thought I Knew

I think of all the time I spent looking for you
I went to the kings of both Portugal and Spain
I even drew some maps
Read a bunch of Marco’s crap
But still I only thought I knew where I was going

I talked the Queen of Spain into giving me 3 ships
I hired some sailors to follow me to the end, all to the end
Even when things got really rough
I was sure we had the right stuff
We would stick it out until the voyage was over.

But you didn’t have to surprise me
You were really San Salvador and not the West Indies
and I never really did know
that the place I found was not what I was looking for
What about when I stooped so low
got on my knees and kissed your sand and made a fool of myself
I would never figure it out though
Now you’re just some island that I thought I knew

Am I crazy for putting myself out here like this? Probably, but I sure should not expect my students to try to do something I am not myself willing to do. There is an even more important reason for me though, this is another shared experience that I want my students to share. 

I am really hoping that my lack of talent coupled with my willingness to share will help my students be more willing to try something they may not be so sure about. I am hoping that a few students will be more willing to put themselves out in front of the class with no guarantee that what they do will be embraced. I am hoping for them to choose something that is not safe.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Powerful, Indelible, Perfect Memories from Music

Imagine two cars facing each other on a lonely road at night. They are separated by ten meters and two people, one boy and one girl. The headlights shine on the couple. The girl reaches up and takes the boys baseball hat, places it on her head and leans up for a kiss. In the background the radio is playing George Harrison's I Got My Mind (Set on You).

Every time I hear this song I am transported back to that time and place. I can still hear my friends yelling at me from the car to go. I still can feel the softness of her cheek on mine, the huge roundness of her eyes as she looked up at me. I wasn't in love with the girl then, but I am in love with the memory of that moment. Of all the memories I have made more powerful by the music playing in the background, this one is the most powerful, the most indelible, the most perfect.

I think of it every time I hear that song.

I got the hat back the next night but the moment had already passed. It was a perfect moment, not a perfect match. 

What Does Their Passion Look Like?

I have to admit, I have a slightly addictive personality and I also have a tendency to get stuck on something for an inappropriate amount of time. My latest addiction (since yesterday) is a series of videos created by a young man known as Krispy Kreme or Froggy Fresh. (The story behind the name change is documented on his Youtube channel.)

Watch this video first:

The raps on this early outing are pretty juvenile: 

Talk crap and I'll give you a scar
Talk crap I'll throw eggs at your car
I'll cut holes in your tires
I'll put poop on your porch and I'll light it on fire...

The camera is shaky, but surprisingly well framed. The beats are sick and the mixing is spot on. 

One of his latest videos has much better raps:

Notice the camera work is still amazingly good. The rap has an amazing hook:

Why's James cryin'
Cause he just got dunked on!
I ain't even lyin'
Yo he just got dunked on!

He has some hilarious rhymes in this video, it seems that whoever writes the raps has an interesting but hilarious sense of humor.

Froggy Fresh doesn't just swag and clown, he also has a series of incredibly poignant videos that revolve around a recurring villain from his videos, James. In Mike's Mom we see his best friend and constant video companion Money Maker Mike getting a call. Mike's mom has been killed by James and Mike vows revenge.

The beats drive the action, they fit the song perfectly and drive the anxiety Mike is feeling. The rap is engaging and impart the emotion of the storyline. 

I can see it in his face
I can see it in his eyes
Mike be strong
Mike don't cry
Mike hold on 
Mike don't do it
Mike was gonna kill him
and everybody new it

The follow up video continues the story.

At first I watched the early videos enjoying the ridiculousness of the words, the incredibly well done beats, and awesomely weird scenes each video had. The more I watched though, the more I realized how well done the audio, video, and editing was for these videos. I don't know if there is an professional adult involved in this production or if one of these kids is the next Steven Spielberg/Joss Whedon. 

Imagine having these kids in your class this year. What could you possibly teach them that is better or even more important than what they have already accomplished? How could we leverage their passion for creating videos and creating a huge online cult following into our rooms? How do you know that you don't already have kids just like this watching the clock and waiting to get home to do what is important to them?

Storytelling: Don't Be That Guy!

These are stories I tell when I think a student may be about to do something stupid that could be remembered for a long time by his or her classmates.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Storytelling: I Peed My Pants

I have decided to share some stories here I share in class with my students. I shared this story to help my students see me as human. I am trying to create a community with them and by making myself vulnerable by sharing stories like this.  

The A Word

Authentic: : not false or imitation : real, actual via Merriam-Webster

Have you noticed the number of times people have thrown around the word authentic, especially when relating to student work? I have been guilty of that myself, I have talked for years about authentic student blogging. But, I don't think that word means what we think it means.

Can we really have authentic student work in the classroom? Since we require the work, doesn't that make it not authentic? Or, by definition is all work students do real? 

I have given assignments to my students where I thought they were doing authentic work. For example, I have had students write fiction which they shared on the internet through their blogs. Of course I was looking for an authentic audience to read their authentic writing. But, on considering what I had them do, I wonder if there was anything authentic about it. 

I know that some of my students really enjoyed writing fiction. Not only did they thrive with the assignments they were given, they spent their time writing new fiction or reworking older assignments to make them better. I believe that was authentic. It was true to them.

Many of my students did not want to write fiction. Some wrote some amazing stuff anyway, but it wasn't their choice. They did great work but had no choice about having to do it. Was being able to decide on what the story was about enough to make the assignment authentic? Did it become authentic when they took ownership? Is the fact that it was assigned enough to make it false?

At this point you are probably wondering why I care. I worry that we are lying to ourselves about the work we have our students doing. I worry that we placate our assignment 
decisions through words like authentic when they really aren't. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hard Questions Part 2

1) Why is quitting considered to be bad? Is it better to waste your limited amount of time doing something you really don’t want to do? Should we give our students the right to quit?

2) Is ‘professional’ in PLN enough or do we need to make the p ‘personal’?

3) Should our lessons allow for students to dig as deep as they choose? Do we limit their curiosity by giving them too much guidance, by modeling too much?

4) What would we do if our students decided to not learn what we asked them too, but instead learned what they wanted to? What if we decided to teach what we wanted to and ignored the required curriculum? Is one more ok than the other?

5) Should competitive sports programs be taken out of public schools? Does every student benefit from those programs or is the benefit limited to the athletes? Are they a bigger distraction than they are worth?

The last Hard Questions post generated a lot of great conversations. This is something I am afraid we have gotten away from over the last few years. I decided I wanted to 'tag' a couple people to write their own Hard Questions post. Deven Black and John Spencer have accepted my request.

In the past these types of blog posts had rules, I prefer to give suggestions:

1) Share the link back with the person that originally tagged you so they can both comment and promote the conversation. The original tagger should post a link to the new posts on their original Hard Questions post.

2) Wait three or four days after post your questions before you tag your tweeps. This will allow more time for the conversation to take place before it moves on. (Yes I am breaking this 'rule'. I reserve the right to not do what I say should be done :P )

3) Get permission from the tweeps you tag before you tag them. This type of post isn't the easiest to write and there is the possibility that a question may cause less than professional commenting.

Creating a Classroom Community with Shared Experiences

You may be familiar with this video. If you Google 'the worst music video ever' it is number one on the list. I showed it to my junior high classes today. Yesterday I sang to them Dumb Ways to Die with an ukulele accompaniment. 

My goal is to create shared community experiences for us. The diversity of our community is huge and getting more so all the time. We don't have the luxury of any real shared history through the usual tv shows, music, or even being together in the same school.  As the social studies teacher I am taking on the responsibility of creating shared experiences for us. Do you think it is possible to create a community without some shared experiences?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Begin the Beguine

"A Beguine was originally a Christian lay woman of the 13th or 14th century living in a religious community without formal vows, but in the creole of the Caribbean, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the term came to mean "white woman", and then to be applied to a style of music and dance, and in particular a slow, close couples' dance." Wikipedia 

How appropriate to begin a year than to look at what kind of relationship we want to have with our classes. In the above video Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dance to Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine. It is easy to notice that Fred Astaire leads the dance, but without Eleanor's accompanying the dance would fall flat. 

I like to think that I am the Fred Astaire to the class's Eleanor Powell. I will lead the learning dance, but if my students can't match my lead the whole experience falls apart. We will have to work closely together, creating a community of learning that will hopefully make the group stronger collectively than the parts. As we dance together we Begin the Beguine.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What Not to Do on the First Day of School

It is that time of year again. I am not writing of back to school sales, clothes shopping, or even the great first day of school. It is the 'What I am doing on the first day of school' post time.

What I am going to do is so much more important. I am going to write things you should absolutely, positively, definitely not do on the first day of school. Heed my warning or be prepared to pay the consequences.

1) Do not play the Sex Pistols Anarchy in the UK

I am not suggesting that the Sex Pistols aren't worth listening to, they are. I am not suggesting that playing this song will result in anarchy in your classroom because it won't. The reason you absolutely should not play this song on the first day is that some student will ask you where the UK is. When you try to explain it is England you will soon be down a rabbit hole. Of course you will never get the student handbook read if you go there. 

2) Do not try to get the students to sing along to the incredibly cute Jimmy Fallon show's version of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines

Unless you are a music class you really have no business wasting time on today's popular music. Instead I suggest this video of Brian Williams rapping to Good Vibrations

Let's face it Marky Mark is history and Brian Williams is a well respected journalist. This video has you covered with at least 3 different learning objectives!

3) Do not show The Goonies

Yes, The Goonies is a wonderful film from the incredible 80's. Yes, Goonies never say die! Unfortunately The Goonies are practically impossible to follow. Don't shoot off your best fireworks at the beginning of the show, save it for the end! If you absolutely must share your love of The Goonies, might I suggest Cyndi Lauper's opus music video?

This advice also applies to The Princess Bride.

4)  Don't wear a Hawaiian shirt.

Even Tom Selleck can't pull this off. (Especially with the Detroit Tigers hat. I mean, seriously?) 

5) Do not reference Saved by the Bell

Every boy that ever saw an episode knows exactly how John feels:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hard Questions

This probably won't make me the most popular guy on the blogosphere.

1)  What if genius hour or 20% time are just unconscious bribes that teachers use to get kids to 'toe the line' the rest of the day?

2)  What if we work really hard to be better teachers because we don't believe that what we teach is important enough to stand on its own merit?

3)  What if we let students choose their own learning and they decided to learn things that won't help them long term, or worse they just decide to actively not learn anything?

4)  What would change in our classrooms if we really decided that the first, most important thing we had to do was love the students?

5)  What if we really bought into the idea that high stakes testing wasn't important? Grades? Social status? Beauty? Race?

6)  What if we spent less time arguing about what works best in the class and instead spent that time making what we do better?

7)  What if we attend conferences or edcamps to be seen more than to learn?

8)  What if we are invested so heavily in social media because we have an isolating, difficult job and are really lonely?