Thursday, January 24, 2013

That Time My Network Didn't Become Trolls

I was doing a quick check of my Twitter feed when I saw a comment from @JonBecker  that led me to this post by Will Richardson.  The conversation revolved around the comment by Don Brookover, a student at the University of South Alabama. Go ahead and read the post and the comment.

The conversation around the comment was at first of irritation (anger?), but it eventually evolved to addressing this issue. I found Mr. Brookover's blog and suggested that instead of talking about it on Twitter it might be better if it happened on the post.

This could have gone badly. I see too often people react very poorly to thoughts they disagree with online and their responses are worse than the original post. Let's face it, there is a lot of frustration and anger in the education technology field driven by our perceptions of the direction schools are headed. When confronted with a pre-service teacher that seems to flippantly discount what we are trying to do online, becoming angry is a very real possibility.

Fortunately, the network responded with respect and dignity. They responded to engage and educate, not to shame or hate.

As I thought about this throughout the day I could see a very real parallel between Mr. Brookover and students that I have. They have different experiences, different backgrounds, and they think differently than I do. Shame and hate won't help my students learn either. There are lots of lessons for us in this story. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I Hide My Disability

I’m not interested in being politically correct. I don’t think we should treat people differently, I think we should treat each other with respect and dignity. I see no respect or dignity in labels. Having written that I am immediately going to do the exact opposite and label myself. (I doubt I have to worry about offending myself anyway.)
I have a problem that causes me a lot of grief. It makes being a professional educator difficult. It has caused me to lose sleep, become very anxious, even decline to do things that would be beneficial for me and others simply because of the stress it causes. To sum it up, it isn’t any fun at all.
My problem is social anxiety. I haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor, but I know the effects. As a child I was very, very uncomfortable in new situations. The problem was so bad that I ran away from kindergarten every day for the first week of school. Of course there was no diagnosis, no trips to a counselor’s office, just my grandfather picking me up and taking me back. I had to “tough it out”.
If I am in a new situation, especially meeting new people, I can be very quiet. I even developed a coping mechanism, yawning. I don’t know where it came from or why I do it, but if you see me in social situation yawning I am not bored, I am anxious. Obviously this habit does not endear me to others.
I find it very difficult to be in new places. I often find it difficult to go to places I am familiar with by myself. I have been known to pass up gas stations hoping I have enough to get me home because I can’t stop at a station that I have used many times.
My wife, Dianna has been very helpful. She for all intents and purposes becomes my coach exhorting me to go beyond my comfort zone. Without her prodding there is no way I would have presented at METC this year. There is no way I would have attended ISTE in San Antonio a few years ago if she hadn’t gone with me or EdCampKC for that matter. Sometimes she is just understanding enough to let me be and not get upset that I can’t return that item to Wal Mart because I am just too anxious right then.
What accommodations have I made for myself so that I can be successful? I try to always have someone I know with me. I try to arrive at new places early so I can become familiar with them before the added stress of the event that is taking place. I carry something with me like a book or hand held game so that I can retreat into a comfortable situation. I decline to do a lot of things that I later regret. I talk to people online.
I have discovered that the social issues I have in the face to face world go away when I am typing on a keyboard. I can have conversations with people I would never be able to even say “Hello” to in person. I have even found that by having these conversations online I can transfer that confidence to face to face meetings.
How many students have a “hidden” disability? Students can often go for years hiding illiteracy, how much easier is it to hide something even less obvious than that? What are you doing in your classroom for kids like me that some days are barely hanging on until they can get back home where they can relax? Have you actively sought out the quiet kids or the ones that don’t seem to make friends and spend a few minutes with them? If you go out of your way to make them more comfortable, they will be more successful in your classroom.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Modeling Bad Behavior

A couple days ago I was using an aluminum foil boat to collect data for our math class. We were practicing on mean, median, mode etc. (see post below) and I wanted to tie it in to what I had planned to do in science. As I conducted the experiment the students kept asking me about what I was doing. They knew it was to collect data, but they wanted more information. Kids get indignant when you refuse to share information with them!

A thought occurred to me and I decided that perhaps it would be a good idea to have them watch me do an experiment and allow them to critique what I did. This would give me a good idea about what they already know and what we should focus on. Today I conducted the experiment.

I was looking for the students to identify a few specific behaviors that I modeled incorrectly including:

  1. I did not have my instructions for the experiment.
  2. I did not do any measuring or data collection.
  3. I played around by shaking the wet aluminum boat at a nearby student.
Most of them didn't identify any of these three behaviors. They were more focused on safety (I didn't wear gloves!) and the fact that I left my tools out instead of putting them away. I suspect that both of these ideas have been well instilled in them and now I know where to put in my effort.

Was this a better pre-assessment than giving them a multiple choice test?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Mostly Positive Experience With Donors Choose

This was previously posted on the MSTA blog

A few years ago on a lark I asked my wife to buy me a ukulele for Christmas. After almost two years of noodling with it at home and at school (modeling learning to my students) I decided that I wanted to start a ukulele club at school. I talked to my building principal about it and she was very supportive. With money always an issue I told her that I would like to try Donors Choose, a site where teachers can ask for money to be used to fund projects.

I went to the Donors Choose site,, and set up an account. I had to look carefully and read a couple help files to figure out how to set up the project. I wish it had been easier, but I did eventually figure it out. As I was setting up the project I discovered a few things that almost made me stop.

The first problem I had was that there was an 'optional donation' figured into the price. After reading the information I saw that it was to help defray any changes in the amount that was quoted because many projects don't get funded in the usual 30 days the quotes are good for. Any monies not used that way are then used by the organization to help fund other projects. This seems reasonable to me.

The second problem is that I was restricted to specific sites to order from. The ukuleles I wanted were $20 cheaper on Amazon than on the site I was required to use. That being said, choosing the products for the project was as simple as adding them to the cart. That worked seamlessly and I was very impressed.

After finishing up putting all the information required for the project I submitted it to be checked over. Donors Choose uses volunteers to make sure the information meets the site's expectations. It only took a few days until I received the email that it was approved and live.

After getting the email I wrote a blog post for my class blog. There I explained how to use the match code I received from the organization. This code allowed donations made through the first seven days of the project to be doubled up to $100 a piece! This effectively made each donation using the code double. Because of this, I tweeted the link on Twitter to my post that gave the match code. I wanted all the matching funds I could get!

While waiting for the project to be approved I spent some time talking about it on Twitter with my friends. I had several that asked t be notified when it went live so I tweeted to them first. Many of the donations I received came from people that I talk to on Twitter. Don't underestimate the power of social media to help fund your project! If you don't use Twitter, Facebook can also be a great place to ask for help.

I anxiously kept a watch on my project site to see how the donations were going, I was completely shocked that in less than twelve hours it was fully funded. I received notice the next day that the items have been ordered (much faster than going through my school district's bureaucracy :) I was very surprised by the speed of the whole process.

Enrichment Needs to Be Embedded, Not Added On

Being a teacher in a high poverty, rural district I have been expected to read a lot of books about how children in poverty are different when it comes to their ability to learn. Typically the argument is that the life they lead outside of school makes a difference in how they learn and what they learn.

I'm not brain researcher and I have no experience with students that come from upper middle class or wealthy homes either so to speculate on the truthfulness of these arguments would be just that. What I do have is a long term exposure to children that live in poverty because I grew up here from the perspective of a middle class upbringing (although to be truthful my parents worked long and hard to get to middle class even though they both have college degrees.)

I have been reading Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen. I see a lot of familiar information in the book, things I have been exposed to since I was in my education classes. Something that is sticking with me from this book is the idea of student enrichment. The idea being that students in high poverty areas need more enrichment opportunities at school because they get fewer of those opportunities at home.

Did I mention we have a very large percentage of our students that ride buses home? Guess who don't get to participate in enrichment activities outside of school?

This year my school started a before school enrichment program (with a 'let's increase our test scores by doing computer based learning' component). Students have the opportunity three times a week to participate in an activity during time they used to sit in our gym to get ready for the day. I am pretty sure this just isn't enough enrichment to bridge the gap.

I realize that enrichment to my students has to happen in the classroom, but what exactly does that entail? How do I give my students enriching learning activities during the school day? I'm pretty sure that I can't do it successfully if all I do is test prep. Seriously.