Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It's EdCamp, not TechCamp


I am planning on presenting at #EdCampKS this Saturday and it will be a reprise of a session I did in St Louis on ukuleles. While it is true that I really enjoy playing the ukulele and sharing that interest with others, that isn't the only reason why I do this presentation. As unbelievable as it seems, most EdCamps are tech-centric.

We often complain about how we have trouble getting colleagues involved in online educational social media. The truth is probably as simple as they aren't the #Gerds we are. They don't feel comfortable with the technology and we talk way too much about the tech. Yes this is oversimplified and rife with generalities, but that doesn't mean it is wrong.

I have been called a rebel, a rabble rouser and one guy insists on calling me #thatguy, all of which I wear as a badge. We need to be in the learning business, not the tech business.

#geek+nerd

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

We Can't Solve the Nation's Education Problems, We Can Solve our Communities Education Problems

This post came about from reading David Stewart's post Where's the Passion? Please go read it for some context.

I often get frustrated by problems that are seemingly unsurmountable. I can't solve racism, misogyny, or bad eating habits. I applaud those that try or at least try to add to the discussion. I have found that my global and national reach are nonexistent, but I can have an impact in my community. 
The reality is, we don't need to fix the nation's public education system. We need to fix our local education systems. 
I believe that every school community is different and that no one (or two or three) solutions can be the best fit for all. We don't live in a small country with a very stable, heterogenous population (cough cough Finland) nor does my school have the same needs as the closest school five miles away. Just like individual students, individual schools have specific needs.

Besides, I have a vested interest in my school. That is where my students are. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Taboo: When You Hate Your Students

Just finished recording an episode for BAM Radio Network 's new show Taboo. The premise of the show is to talk about things that are usually avoided by educators. This episode was on hating/disliking students or classes. I will post a link when it is up.

I know I have had students/classes that made looking forward to being with them pretty difficult. I have had my share of nights spent crying because I felt disrespected and abused by them. Even now I have days when I just want to leave and take an emotional break from the room.

I will say that when I decided to shift from trying to be in control of the classroom to trying to develop relationships with the students I found that not only did many of the students' behavior improve, but that I became more empathetic to their needs and their acting out. I am now much less likely to punish them and much more likely to discipline.

What do you do when you have students that make your class less inviting? How has your behavior towards them changed (or has it not changed?) I would love for you to leave your thoughts. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

More Thoughts on Blogging (With or Without Students)

The value in blogging is twofold. The first is the actual act of writing and thinking while writing. This can help crystallize thoughts or ideas. The second is the ability to share what you are thinking with the community outside of your area. Of the to values, the latter is the reason to blog instead of journal on paper.

Students, or adults for that matter, who are posting on a blog do not necessarily see the value in creating a larger community. I think we, educators on social media, used to be able to articulate that better. Now we seem to be more preoccupied with making that a narrative about only Twitter or Facebook.

As an adult, I often get more excited by an 'outside our community' comment on one of my students posts than the student does. I believe this is the new normal for them. They expect to talk to people they don't know.

Worrying about online safety with student blogging takes up too much intellectual capital. Use an easily moderated platform like Kidblog. Nothing goes in and out without approval (if you want to set it up that way.) Honestly, you should worry more about your students being jerks on social media than being picked up  by a stranger trolling for kids.

I often tell people I write only when I can't not write. I rarely give my students the opportunity to opt out of writing. Sometimes we have to make them practice what they really don't want to practice. That is part of being an adult, making decisions that may not be popular with everyone. Yes there are other ways for students to create content for blogs. We still need our kids to be literate which means able to read and write.

There are a hella lota resources for student blogging on the net, reach out and get you some. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, you can just innovate and make it better.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sometimes Teaching Really Is About the Content

As I begin to prepare myself mentally for my new junior high social studies position I have been doing some content reading. I have been a history buff for a long time, in fact the first series of books I remember reading were on famous American Indians when I must have be 7 or 8. I particularly enjoy the colonial and American Revolution time periods

I asked for some input on twitter, love #sschat, and got some recommendations for both geography and history. So I bought Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present and pulled out my copy of Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. In a lot of ways they are pretty similar texts. Their purpose is to take a hard look at the history that has been taught in schools and compare it to history from other people's perspectives. Fortunately, a lot of the information I am reading I have already been exposed to through other sources or even in college classes.

As I read through these texts I can't help but think that we really can't separate how the students learn with what they are learning. We can use best practices and get our students to learn to the best of their abilities, but if we don't critically view the content and allow students to see different perspectives and points of view we are not doing our jobs. It isn't enough that they learn, they need to learn how to learn critically.


The Next Big Thing? Galaxy Note 8


So I got rid of my Nexus 7 tablet and moved to a Galaxy Note 8. Ever since I had an Acer tablet back in the early aughts I have been looking for something I could afford that I could take notes on with a good stylus. After playing with a Galaxy Note 2 and the Galaxy Note 8 I decided to take the plunge.

A few of the apps that I am really enjoying right now is S Note, a note taking app found only on the Samsung Galaxy series and S Planner, an easy to use made for Galaxy calendar app. All the great apps I had on my Nexus 7 work great on the Note and the screen is HD and brighter so they even look better!

Although my Nexus 7 was a good tablet, eventually I was only using it for reading Kindle books. I have already quit using my iPad 3 and the Note is my now go-to device. (I even moved my MB Air into the office, only bringing it into the family room when I want to chat on Twitter.) Honestly, the widgets you can put on your Android desktop is so much better than anything an iPad can offer.

How can I use this in the classroom? Well the best upgrade from the Nexus was with the forward facing camera. Now we can use it to take pictures and video, not just selfies. Really, the Note is more of a personal device for me and not bought with my classroom in mind. I will use it often though to read plenty of ed related books

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why I Chose the Fitbit One (and What I Like About It)

My wife and I recently signed up to prepare for a 5K. I had been planning on using my summer mornings to start walking/jogging to start losing a little weight. (You know it is time to lose weight when your students poke you in the belly and attempt a Pillsbury Dough Boy giggle.) Of course this was the perfect excuse to buy a new toy.

I did some research into different distance trackers including the Nike Fuel Band (because I use the Nike Running app on my iPhone which I really like.) I chose the Fitbit One over the Fuel Band because the Fitbit app is also on Android, unlike the Nike Running app, which I will be moving back to if/when the Galaxy Note 3 comes out. I also like that I can look at the device and get more information than just a few lights like with the Fuel Band.


The Fitbit One measures steps, floors climbed, miles traveled, calories burned and even records your sleep movements if you wear it to bed. When I use it in conjunction with the Nike Running app on my phone the distance travelled on both devices are very close.

I live on a hill and walking up and down it replaces climbing stairs, just a few trips up and down the hill easily meets my basic goal for now. The sleep recording doesn't mean a lot, although according to the information I have viewed I sleep pretty consistently with an average wake up number of 12-15 times a night. I have no idea if that is good or bad.

A really nice bonus for me is the calorie tracker. The device keeps track of the amount of calories burned and if you use it in conjunction with app, either online or on a mobil device, you can keep track of the food you consume and see where you stand at any time with your calorie count. Since my goal is to lose weight, that really comes in handy.


If you are wondering about the durability of the Fitbit One, I can attest that it can survive a trip through the washing machine, at least 20 minutes in the wash cycle. I left my Fitbit in my shorts after running and my wife through them in the washer. Twenty minutes later I realized I had left it in my shorts. When I pulled it out it was wet and soap, but it was still working. I think water couldn't get into it because it was still in the rubber clip which seems to cover any of the cracks water might seep in through. I wouldn't suggest recreating this in your home, but it is good to know that if it gets wet it may not be the end of the device. 

I won't know if this purchase was the right one for a few more months. If I continue to use it and it continues to encourage me to get into shape and lose some weight it will be a definite success. If not, it will not be because of the device's shortcomings but because of my own.