Friday, December 12, 2014

Real Teaching (and Learning) from Afar

I had the amazing opportunity to attend and present at the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence National Institute in Walt Disney World last week.  The thing is, I'm still a teacher and my students were still going to be in my classroom.  They also still need to be having valuable collaborative experiences, even in the absence of their teacher.

I wasn't willing to cook up filler activities.  So I asked myself, "How can I teach without being present?"

Step 1: 

I set up the necessary resources online so that all students could access them.  Students were going to study the rise of democracy in early 19th century America and the controversial presidency of Andrew Jackson.  I also made sure to post QR codes that bring kids to those resources throughout the classroom.

Step 2: 

Of course, while I'm being inspired by other educators and experience the Disney Magic, I don't want my students to have a miserable week.  It made sense to let them decide how they wanted to learn.  We spent a whole class period reviewing the lesson goals, essential questions, and multimedia resources.  I let the kids decide how they wanted to learn the materials and how they wanted to demonstrate that learning.  We recorded our plan on a Google Doc on which they were all editors.  This meant they had real control over how the week would go.

Click here to view the full week's plan on the Google Doc.

Step 3: 

Communicate, communicate, communicate! I shared our plan with parents, my department chair, and the teacher who was filling in for my while I was away.  Everyone knew the plan and everyone knew how to get in touch with the stakeholders.

I also formatted the shared Google Doc with spaces for the kids to update me on their progress and ask questions if they needed guidance. If you look at the document linked above, their contributions are in blue and my responses are in purple.

Step 4:

Off I went! I was excited and nervous, but I knew I would be in contact with the kids all along.  They let me know how things went and asked questions.  I responded with encouragement and suggestions to help things go more smoothly.  By the end of the experience, I knew exactly where each of my classes was going to be when I walked back into school on Monday morning after missing an entire week.

Step 5:
Now it was time to assess their work.  Truthfully, I was blown away and they were so proud to show me.  Here are a few samples:

  • Katie talked about the way we communicated and how she showed her learning about the limits of democracy on a Glog.

  • Niles and his friends made an awesome movie trailor about Andrew Jackson and the Spoils System.

  • Thomas and his group chose to make a Common Craft style video about suffrage in the early 1800s. While the video is short, the information is accurate and indicates they properly analyzed the provided resources.

  • Kate's group went a more traditional route, but they get creative and demonstrated voting rights with a concept web that was a well-developed pun. Even the little spiders were holding signs that read, "Vote for Charlotte!"

  • Jamie's group made a Prezi about Andrew Jackson's Bank War that includes document analysis, primary source images, and even an embedded video clip.

The lesson for educators to be learned here is that students are more creative and engaged when they're allowed to determine how they want to challenge themselves in their learning. I was still able to assess whether they properly analyzed the resources and learned the content, but they had a lot more fun than they would have in a traditionally teacher-structured class.  I could tell they also felt like their ideas mattered based on what some of them wrote in their posts.  Click on Katie or Niles to read their reflections first hand.  The proof of learning and engagement is in their work, and in the question they asked me when all was said and done:

Can we do something like this again?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tech Tips for Developing Real Relationships With Students

The reason I believe so much in the importance of tech integration in education has little to do with the tech itself. Instead, it has everything to do with the communication and relationship-building that tech makes possible. Recently I wrote a post for Smarter Schools Project on this topic. Click here to read it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Student Voice is Essential at EdTech Conferences

Four of my current and former students helped me write an article about the importance of student voice at EdTech conferences.  In their portions they went even further and called for student input into lesson plans, app designs, and professional decision-making.

Click the image below to read their words.  Thanks for sharing!
Click this images to read the article.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Traversing the EdTech Slopes

I love to ski. It is part of my identity. I don't remember learning how to ski. My parents taught me themselves when I was 3 years old.  For me, skiing is as natural as walking or breathing.  Want to see how much I love it?  This is a cliff in Steamboat, Colorado.

Our students are like that with smartphones, iPads, and laptops.  They have always lived in a world of YouTube, apps, tweets, and snapchats.  They thrive on the relationships they build partly through tech integration.  But many of them go to schools run by adults who are intimidated by the complexity of these tools.

I tried snowboarding when I was about 15.  I'd already been skiing for 12 years. I thought I'd be a quick study. I wasn't. It was hard. I fell a lot. It hurt.  Many long time teachers have become comfortable with more traditional methods.  They're good solid methods.  They're used by good solid teachers.  The thing is, these teachers are still skiing while their students live to snowboard.  These teachers are using time-tested methods, but there are new methods worth learning and adding order to incorporate the skills needed in a tech saturated world.  Skiing is a solid foundation, but the future is snowboarding.

Earlier this evening I was chatting with Andrew Marcinek about the importance of leveraging some students' innate tech integration skills to help move schools in the right direction.  Administrators, teachers, and tech staff are often weighed down with standards and initiatives.  The idea of finding the time to learn a new unfamiliar method can feel overwhelming and scary.  Why not let students have a voice in how and where tech can be integrated so that it truly engages them in their own learning?

Student Tech Teams might be one way to help bring these ideas together.  Andrew wrote an article for Edutopia recently about how tech teams work and how they have started to pop up in schools all over the country.  Teachers certainly provide the guidance and expertise that students need in schools, but why not allow students to have a voice in how that expertise can be combined with powerful tech tools to create something neither of them ever imagined?

I've been rolling out the pilot of Rockets Help Desk at my own high school, and already I've seen my students have a real impact on teachers in our school and district.  A science teacher reported using the Prezi tutorial to give students a choice for more animated presentations.  The school nurse stopped by for a quick face to face lesson on sharing Google Docs so she could collaborate with her counterparts in 7 other schools on a new district wide policy.  An elementary math teacher invited Rockets Help Desk to show her 5th graders how to use Google Forms to collect survey data.  There are many more examples.

Our logo.

Rockets Help Desk launched September 6, 2014.  To date, only 10 weeks later, there are 17 formal requests the students have filled for teachers, and many more informal ones that haven't been tracked or recorded.  In each case, teenagers filled a real need for the adults in their school. The teachers provided the education vision and the students provided the tech tools to amplify the learning.

So if you've never tried to ski or snowboard, here's my advice. Take a quick lesson from a coach.  The coach will likely be younger than you, but don't let that stop you. You will fall and it will hurt, but don't let that stop you.  The satisfaction you'll feel and the fun you'll have when you finish that first run on your own will be well worth the frustration.

We need to remember that trying something new is hard.  We might fail a few times before we succeed.  The success will be well worth the struggle.  We, educators and students, can work together to make it happen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"So What?" - The Power of Twitter, Voxer, and Great Questions

My good friend Tammy Neil, a math and tech integration teacher from Florida, challenged a few of us in the Breakfast Club, a daily educator chat on Twitter (see #BFC530) and active group on Voxer, recently with a great question:

"So what?"

The context of the discussion surrounded the power of social media and how our students use it.  Alex from Target has gained nearly a million Twitter followers merely because a teenage girl shopping one day snapped a picture of a cute guy working the Target register and posted it.  Tammy asked us, "So what?"  What will this young man do with his now widely heard voice? Will he use it for personal gain, or will he use it to do something important? To make a difference?

This prompted me to think about my own history classes and what it is like to be a student in one of those classes.  Why should they learn about history? So what? How will students' time spent in my class make a difference? I have been working hard to ensure my classes are learning history in order to gain enduring understandings, rather than to merely learn the facts.  Here's how I responded on the Voxer discussion.

Click here to listen to my Vox on "So What?" in the history classroom.
Little did I know, Christina Carrion, a tech integrator from Texas, heard my Vox and thought it was a decent example to share with a colleague.  Her colleague was interested in how Twitter and Voxer can be a part of educator growth.  Here's how she explained it a couple of days later.
Click here to listen to Christina's Vox on how she shared my Vox with a colleague.

I was thrilled, but also felt woefully under-qualified to serve as an example to others.  Although I am striving to make sure the students' experience day-to-day in my classroom makes a difference in their lives, it is still something I am working on every day.  It is certainly not something I've mastered.  I wanted to give her another example of how I craft the essential questions that are meant to help students arrive at their enduring understandings.
Click here to listen to my response to Christina.
Turns out, Christina's share went further than I thought. Here's how she used it in a training on Twitter for teachers in her district.
Click here to listen to how Christina introduced Voxer at a training.
Of course, this made my day.  But that is not why I share it. I share it because it demonstrates a few things about the power that a community of educators can have:

  1. Together We Can Do More: Educators work largely alone in classrooms with closed doors.  But when we have the inspiration and opportunity to work together, we can come up with valuable ideas that really impact student learning.  In this case, a conversation in an organized PLN setting caused educators from all over the country to think about 2 key goals: teaching children to spread a meaningful message via social media, and how we engage our students in the classroom so that their learning really matters.
  2. History is MUCH More than Events and People: I have often felt, as a history educator, that our content area is ignored by policy-makers and education big-wigs.  Look at the evidence: STEM and STEAM dominate the education grant landscape, standardized testing focuses on math, science, and language arts (not that I want a history standard test implemented - not a fan of those at all), and CCSS doesn't even give history it's own category.  But as history educators we play a crucial role in helping an entire generation learn the civic lessons that will shape their decisions as adult citizens.  Our lessons must tie together a mix of law, morality, and critical investigation skills.  It is essential that we make our students' time in our classrooms valuable and relevant to their lives today and their decisions as leaders of the future.  This is what essential questions and enduring understandings can do.
  3. We All Need Inspiration: It turns out, I was inspired just as much as, or perhaps more than, Chirstina Carrion by that Voxer conversation.  She was inspired to research more about her teaching practice and the role of essential questions. She used that idea in an attempt to inspire other educators to get connected on Twitter and Voxer.  My inspiration goes deep too, though.  She inspired me to believe that my teaching practice really is worthwhile and that my urge to keep growing is one that I should follow.  She inspired me to believe that I should keep sharing my ideas with others publicly.  Not all of them will be popular or inspirational, but if one idea can inspire one other teacher on one particular day, it is all worthwhile.
So, thanks Tammy, for asking us a great question: "So what?"

Thanks Christina, for letting me know that my ideas are valid and worth expanding and sharing.

Thanks BFC, for connecting me to these thoughtful compassionate educators.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pedagogy Behind the Paperless Classroom

I have been co-presenting with 6 of my students over the past few months at various conferences on the paperless classroom.  There are a few questions that are consistently brought up either with raised hands, on the backchannel during the session, or afterwards when attendees want to ask me face to face.  Most of them are clarifying questions around how a paperless classroom fits into teaching and learning pedagogy.  After our most recent workshop at MassCUE, I thought that these questions are asked so often it would be worth publishing

1. Why do you hate paper so much?

Ok, so no one has asked me this to my face at a conference.  But my colleagues and a few students have.  I've made an effort to preempt this question when I share at professional conferences by using this comical advertisement.

Funny, right?  No, I don't hate paper. It has an important place in our lives and in our education system.  In fact, although students don't have to keep any paper and I do not hand out paper as part of my class, I do post QR codes that are printed on paper throughout the room so students can scan them and quickly get access to resources.  We are paperless in the sense that nothing is distributed or recorded on paper, but I suppose we use a few sheets a week for QR codes.

My five-year-old comes home with drawings she has poured her little heart and soul into from kindergarten every day. I adore them.  They are on paper.  I do not hate paper.

2. What about the kids who are texting/tweeting/gaming while they're on their devices in your class? Are you worried they are missing out?

Here is how students responded on the backchannel:

In reality, sure, there are kids texting here and there in class.  I even see it happening.  But I don't call kids on it unless it is excessive and it is getting in the way of their learning.  As the students said in the backchannel, these instances are rare.  We have a human need to connect with others while we learn.  Instead of discouraging them from texting, I focus on encouraging them to collaborate constantly on the topic of the class.  As quoted by educators who were present and were tweeting, here is how I framed it when speaking with the educators at our workshop:

3.  Does a paperless environment really help students learn better?

It isn't that the learning is better or worse, I just see it as different.  There is little or no memorization required, although students learn facts through the process of analyzing information and creating something from it.  Instead, my focus is on building their capacity to learn rather than telling them how to learn.

Here's an example from the backchannel at our workshop last week.  The first message is a question from a teacher and the response that follows is from a student.

A workshop attendee even quoted Tessa and tweeted it out:

So, rather than tell them how they must use their devices to learn, I give them a historical essential question -- I am a history teacher after all -- and the resources they need to find the answer.  I suggest a way they can investigate, analyze, and create something that demonstrates their learning.  I also suggest the apps that might make that possible.  But if they have different ideas and different apps, I'm open to them and I usually say, "Yes!"  As long as they are learning the content in their own way, they are building their personal capacity to learn.

Another tweet from a workshop attendee:

4. My students are already "digital natives" and know more than I do.  What could I possibly teach them about tech that they don't already know?

Our students have never lived in a time when the Internet and cell phones did not exist.  They have always had access to each other and to information instantly.  The only phone booth-like stucture they're familiar with is the Tardis.  We may have to put in a bit more effort to integrate tech as naturally as they do in our own lives, but that doesn't mean that we don't have a LOT to teach them about the power of the devices they carry in their pockets everywhere they go.  An educator tweeting during my session at MassCUE quoted me:

They need to learn to find resources that are authentic and reliable from the plethora of high and low quality information available.  They need to learn how to use social media to make contact with people outside their community who are experts in the field.  There are countless other ways technology can be leveraged to learn in new ways, and they need teachers and parents to help them realize the possibilities.

5. You must be a 1:1 school.  How could I possibly do this when my school isn't 1:1?

Actually, we are a BYOD school.  This means students have secure access to wifi in our building.  They bring and use their own devices in school.  I happen to believe in this model more than 1:1 where schools choose the tool for the students.  My students are teenagers and, in conjunction with their parents, have a right to choose how and what they use to access the world.  No one device fits all.  I do think every students should have some kind of device, so I'm on board with 1:1 in that sense, but not when this means the device choice is made for the student.

There are several students in each of my classes who do not arrive with a smartphone, tablet, or netbook of their own.  But our school has laptop carts and iPads.  With planning, I can ensure that the students who need them can access them every day.

In the backchannel, my students explained how we make it work:

What about the paperless homework?

Most assignments are not due until 4-5 days after they are
assigned, so students have time to plan ahead for access.

Of course, nothing is flawless.  For my students and I the paperless model works and I have watched their enthusiasm for history grow as a result of the possibilities a paperless environment creates.  Going completely paperless is not necessary, but if educators teach their students to leverage the power of connecting ideas and people through technology I truly believe they will see a positive shift in their classrooms.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Attending an Edu Conference With my Students Changed Everything

Tessa and Melanie talk about how apps
like Evernote and Google Drive make
organization and collaboration so
much easier for them.
Our students make us laugh, drive us crazy, and inspire us to better ourselves.  They shouldn't just be the reason we teach, they should be a part of the teaching.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to present at MassCUE with 6 of my current and former students.  Watching them present was a proud moment, but it wasn't my favorite moment of the conference.  I knew they would blow the presentation out of the water. I knew they had prepared well and that their session attendees would learn something.  The BEST part of my day was watching them experience, learn, and network because of the unofficial opportunities the conference creates.


My students had met members of the Burlington High School Help Desk via Google Hangout a couple of times thanks to the vision and urging of Jennifer Scheffer.  Meeting face to face, talking tech, and planning for future brilliance took their networking experience to a whole new level.  They were buzzing with excitement as they shared hot chocolate and ideas.


When the Rockets Help Desk crew decided to go to Reshan Richards' session on his vision and creation of Explain Everything, they didn't find seats and sit politely to listen. The found some carpet on the back wall and played around with the app as they listened to his ideas about learning and creating.  For them, experiencing a workshop as an edtech conference is about more than receiving information.  They needed to create their own understanding as it was happening.

Connecting with the Experts

After listening to Reshan Richards and trying out his tool, the girls were excited and ready to build something new.  They wanted to talk with him and arrange for more time to pick his brain.  I encouraged them to walk from the back wall up to the front.  They introduced themselves, told him why they love Explain Everything, and asked if he would be willing to do a Google Hangout so they could carry on the conversation. He said, "Yes!" and even gave them Explain Everything t-shirts.  They are so eager to build a relationship with this influential and visionary educator in a real and authentic way.  I can't imagine how far this will take them.

The kids are chomping at the bit to go to another conference.  So my new mission is to connect them with conferences and opportunities to share their ideas and create new ideas with educators and experts.

I can't wait to see what they do.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Teaching Technique: The 1 Minute Throwdown

History teachers know that lessons on exciting events are easy.  It's teaching the philosophies behind those events, the intangibles, that is tough.  I needed a quick engaging plan to help the kids learn the material without watching them glaze over before my eyes.

This time I was teaching the 19th century ideologies that influenced the European Revolutions of 1830 and 1848: conservatism, liberalism, nationalism.  My plan was for the kids to come up with their best 1 minute presentation and go head-to-head with one another to find out who could best explain their ideology while entertaining their audience. Classmates would vote for the winners.

Day 1

  1. Define the word ideology and give students resources that describe the three 19th century ideologies.
  2. There are 3 ideologies in this instance, so I divided the class up into 6 groups: 2 groups per ideology.
  3. Groups read the resources and come up with an accurate, teacher-approved answer to the essential question: What were the major political ideologies of 19th century Europe and how did they influence social and political action?

Day 2

  1. Groups review their notes from Day 1 and start planning their 1 minute presentation for the throwdown.
  2. Once a plan is in place, groups show me their scripts, images, props, and sketches so I can ensure that everything is historically accurate.  
  3. The 1 minute presentation must be recorded, saved, and ready for the throwdown before students leave class.

Day 3

  1. Throwdown Day!
  2. Groups perform/play their 1 minute project.
  3. The rest of the class tries to arrive at a definition of the ideology.  This definition is approved or edited by the performing groups.
  4. The class votes for the best 1 minute projects!
1 minute projects that resulted varied from Common Craft style videos, to live skits, to appsmashed projects that blew my socks off.  Here were our winners from today:




Click here to watch an appsmashed video made with ChatterPix and Videolicious.


My students demonstrate their learning by posting reflective and informative blog posts using Blogger.  Here is the assignment for posting on this lesson.

While this lesson might not be considered "fun" from a teenage perspective, it definitely had them laughing and trash-talking a bit. They had a stake in producing a high quality result because they knew they would show it to classmates and compete.  They also liked that they have a lot of choice over what the final product would be.  Over ten different apps were used by the groups, and some used no apps at all to put together their live skit performances.  This teaching method could be used to help kids learn about political parties, economic concepts, constitutional principles, and lots of other intangible but essential concepts that are part of history.  Give it a shot and have fun!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Student Connect -> Teacher Connect

Some educators from my amazing PLN from #BFC530 created an off-shoot group called Student Connect. We have a Voxer group that allows our students to leave messages for one another from across the country.  Lisa's 11th and 12th graders in Pennsylvania can talk to my 9th and 10th graders in Massachusetts can talk to Scott's 7th graders in New Jersey can talk to Sarah's 7th and 8th graders in Georgia can talk to Becca's K through 5 students in Texas.

We come up with the question for each day and the kids talk to each other about their answers.  They LOVE listening to voices of kids from all around the country thank to Voxer.  They laughed together when eating waffles was mentioned as a fun weekend activity.  They shook their heads together when the stress of the PSATs was mentioned.  One of my sophomores said, "It's nice to know they're the same as us."

Day 1 Question: What do all kids want every teacher to know?

Becca used a table as a surface for kids to write their answers. I decided to do the same after she gave me the idea!

Day 1 Responses:

Here are the responses from classrooms all around the country and from students as young as 5 and as old as 18.

Lack of sleep was a major theme.

Day 2 Question: Happy Friday! What are you looking forward to this weekend?

Day 2 Responses:

Sleep appears again! Boy, these kids are stressed.

In a post from earlier this school year I wrote about how my students have a common wish for all their teachers: Get to know us!

This message came through loud and clear once again.  They also want us to understand what part of their crazy schedules they value the most.  They are overbooked, overtaxed, and seriously lacking sleep.  At the same time, they want time to focus on the things they are passionate about.

In fact, in a one-on-one meeting with a 10th grader I had this afternoon, she vented about how stressed out she was and about how all the adults in her life expect a full commitment to school/sports/arts/etc.  Her statements was, "I get commitment but I don't get obsession."

That certainly made sense to me.

I don't want this new addition to my classes to be another project to pile on top. Instead I want it to be something that makes kids feel like there are others out there who understand how they feel.

I can't wait to hear more from my students and my friends' students from all around the country.  When they hear each other speaking they feel connected, and when I see them getting excited about this new unofficial project of ours, I feel more connected to them. One sophomore said to me. "I like walking into your room, seeing the question on your desk, and writing my ideas before we get started with class."  That sweet spot, where we all feel like someone is listening to our voice, that's where the learning happens.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Paperless Love

I was honored to be invited by Dr. Will Deyamport, III to write a post with my students about our experience with a paperless classroom.  The link is below.  Please read and comment! Thanks Dr. Will!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Massachusetts Classroom Gets Global

How global is Massachusetts?  Well, the infographic below might be helpful.  But, the real question we need to ask is: How global are Massachusetts classrooms that are preparing Massachusetts students?
See more statistics on global education around the United States at Mapping the Nation
I'm just at the beginning stages of this new pedagogy of global learning. I wish I'd arrived at it sooner.  Last week my sophomores had a 45 minute video chat with the expert historians Jamie and Darren at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England.

After studying the evolution of textile machinery, they got to see a prototype Arkwright Water Frame live via Google Hangout.

They learned about urbanization, the health of women factory workers, Luddite protests, and the enslavement of orphan children.

After being part of an international chat, my students wrote about what they learned and how it was different than typical classroom experiences.

Kate said:
I did learn a lot because I was interested in the topic and could interact with the person who was teaching. I liked that we could see him actually touch the machines and turn them on so it could be demonstrated the way it worked [sic]. The only thing that was bad when how the sound and picture were getting delayed. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

Cassie talked about everything she learned, including the horrible treatment of orphans:
The mill owners didn't care very much about the conditions of their workers and fatalities because they just cared about their profits. They even used orphans as workers so they wouldn't have to pay them.  All they had to do was feed them and give them a place to sleep.

Perhaps Alisyn said it best:
This was a very memorable event, and a few months from now I will remember this unique opportunity and the information about the factories much more than I would have remembered it if we had just copied notes or listened to a lecture. .. The experience got us engaged in the information, and I would definitely want to do this with other experts on different topics throughout the year.

My new challenge as a teacher is to keep my students connected to the outside world. If I'm preparing them for a global workforce, they must be learning globally now. Real life doesn't happen inside the 4 walls of a classroom.

...Not to mention that I couldn't help but get caught up in the fun myself.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The World is Our Classroom

During the school year of 2013-2014 I had a goal of helping my students understand the power of their mobile devices when it comes to learning.  I achieved this, in part, by going paperless in my classroom and asking students to demonstrate learning through multimedia products instead of tests.  Inspired by Sylvia Tolisano's session at BLC14 in Boston, one of my personal and professional goals during the 2014-2015 school year is to show students that the best learning happens when we leverage all of the resources available to us.  While I might be their history teacher, I'm usually not the person with the most expertise available. In fact, the world is available to my students.  They just have to tap into it.

This week my students will be meeting and talking with Jamie, an Explainer at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England.
Jamie from MOSI Manchester.
My sophomores have worked hard to learn the proper terminology and the social and economic impact of industrialization in preparation for the chat.  I'll be sure to post soon about how it went and about the kids' reactions.

Our next unit covers the revolutions for independence in Central and South America in the early 1800s.  The beginning of the unit focuses on the system to racism and the intentional divisions that were created and perpetuated in Central and South American colonial socio-economic systems.

Casta system from Museo Nacional del Virreinato
A pyramid many history teachers use in an effort to simplify the system when teaching it.

After using a few revolutions as case studies (usually Haiti, Mexico, and Brazil) the students get the chance to analyze some of the compelling art that has been inspired by that tumultuous and sometimes bloody era.
The History of Mexico (a portion) by Diego Rivera 1931

Hidalgo and National Independence by Jose Clemente Orozco 1937-38
If you know of an expert, historian, or museum educator who could talk with my students about their research and experience I would be grateful.  I'm working hard to connect my students directly with the experts, and to cut out the middle man (me).

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kids Speak: Good Teacher v. GREAT Teacher

The curriculum I teach might be history, but teaching is about a heck of a lot more than curriculum.  More than anything else, building a real relationship with students is what facilitates learning.  In case I needed a reminder, my newest students for the 2014-2015 school year did a great job talking about those meaningful relationships with teachers in their first blog post of the year.

On the first day of school we watched a video in which a series of teachers and administrators talked about the hard fact that every child deserves a great teacher.  As part of their first blog post I asked students to talk about teachers they've had in the past that have been "great" and to give reasons.  Here are some of their awesome answers:

A great teacher must also be compassionate so they take outside factors into consideration. For example. if a student is having a rough time at home the teacher understands and makes necessary adjustments to help through that issue.

One specific thing that you could do for me this year is to really get to know me.  I really appreciate it when a teacher is very understanding with me and knows who I am. I have survived a lot and it is so welcoming when a teacher shows support for his or her student because the student feels appreciated.

Some qualities that a great teacher has are humor, kindness, patience, and being able to relate to students.

Sure, some kids mentioned that great teachers assign very little homework, or that great teachers crack jokes all the time.  But what they really want is for a teacher to make their homework meaningful, manageable, and worth their precious over-scheduled time.  And for teachers to understand that humor goes a long way to building that real relationship.  After reading through all 116 posts from title to final punctuation, one particular piece of media embedded into one particular post stood out as the common theme among all students.  So, I tweeted it out.

Clearly the educators in my PLN agree. With 77 retweets and 45 favorites to date, it is the most far-reaching tweet I've ever posted in my 5 and a half years on Twitter. While building this kind of relationship with some students is easy, it is harder with others. And, how can one person build a real relationship with 116 different individual struggling teenagers after seeing each of them for only 55 minutes a day for 180 days? This year I'm experimenting with a new idea.

 I didn't just post the idea to Twitter, I sent home an email to parents. Here's the excerpt:

I even put it up nice and big on Monday's class agenda and announced my intentions to the kids in all 5 of my classes.  Before we jumped into the day's lesson on museum exhibits from the Industrial Revolution, I talked with the kids about my hopes for these meetings.

It won't be easy, but after tweeting it out to my PLN, emailing it home to all parents, announcing it to my students, and now posting it publicly to my blog -- I'm committed and I will hold myself accountable.  I know that a relationship can't be built with 4 meetings a year, but at least these meetings can be the start of a real conversation.  If even one or two of the 2014-2015 #gallagherhistory crew scores me among "great" teachers, it will have been worth it for sure.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Creating a Place for Students to Create

Public education is changing.  But change is slow when new programs, ideas, or teaching methods don't fit into existing structures.

Last spring I proposed a Student Help Desk program for our high school.  My hope was for students to have the opportunity to create tutorials that would help teachers and students integrate BYOD more smoothly and successfully at our school.  See, I don't believe in tech for tech's sake.  But our students are already bringing incredibly powerful smartphones and tablets to school, so why not teach them to leverage that power to enhance their academic experience?  BYOD can help students:

This is how professionals are getting things done, so why shouldn't our students be working this way in the classroom as preparation for their professional lives as adults?

The problem is that this idea - having students create the school programming without a highly structured curriculum already in place - doesn't fit into a public school where teachers and students are told they have to meet standards and follow frameworks.  It also did not fit nicely into our schedule or our academic departments. It isn't really a business class and I'm a history teacher.  Science? Nope.  Health and Wellness? Nope.  At first it was a tough sell.

Thanks to some supportive and forward-thinking allies, after several drafts this is the proposal that was accepted:

8-1-14 RMHS SHD Pilot Proposal.pdf

Rockets Help Desk started meeting the second day of school and, based on an early teacher request, the kids settled on their first tutorial topic: digital note keeping in Evernote.

Click the screenshot to see the students' first public tutorial.
We still don't really fit into any of those public school categories.  I'm still teaching my 5 history classes and am facilitating Rockets Help Desk instead of a traditional duty (like lunch or hall monitor).  Even though the students are working hard and are producing authentic products that are meant to help their school community, they aren't getting credit... just yet.  They are choosing to use directed study time, traditionally used by students to help with the crush of homework, to build something new for our school.  Also, we don't really have a home yet. We are operating out of the library media center for now, a great central location in the school.  But don't have our own computers or a guaranteed quiet space for recording audio and video.  For now, the kids are using my laptop and their own BYOD devices to make it work.  It is working, though! We are making it work together.

I'm hoping to support the kids by publicizing their work via Twitter and through an in-house e-newsletter so that teachers and students at our school can benefit.  As the year goes on I'm hoping to hand over more and more control of Rockets Help Desk to the kids.  My early members, Julia and Megan, can become mentors for students we recruit in the future.  Over time we can grow into a program that helps students and teachers communicate about how we can learn best together.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Set-Up Students for #EdTech Success in Week 1

Here's my plan to set up my students for the content, collaboration, and creativity that technology will allow in our (ironically) history classroom:

Day 1: Inform Students and Parents

  • It will all start when I show students this video from November Learning to spell out my mission: give them to tools to be doers.

  • Next I'll let students know that every final creation they produce will be published to the world, not just to me. They need to make it relevant and interesting. More importantly, it needs to be something they are proud to connect with their name online.
  • Of course, I'll send home electronic and paper notices (the first and last paper notice of the year) to parents to let them know the same information and to assure them that they will have full access to all of their child's class materials and work in real time.  Grade data will also be available online, but with password protection.
  • Sharing my own published work with both parents and students is essential. The goal is to let them know I walk the talk. I'll encourage them to check in on my blog, Twitter feed, LinkedIn or any other social network contributions I make. I have been and will be modeling the power of publishing to the world.

Day 2: Start Publishing

  • Once again, I'll show students my blog. It's meant to model and encourage kids to share their learning with the world, too.
  • Students will start a new blog or share the URL of their existing blog with me. I'll provide only minimal suggestions and resources needed to do this but no step-by-step instructions.  Then, I'll watch to see how they cope. Do they turn to me? Each other? Their phones? How do they accomplish the task? Once I've seen how they already know how to use technology, I will know where we will be starting together. These blogs will be the central location for publishing their final creations and I'll subscribe using Feedly.
  • Before leaving, the kids will start to write a one paragraph reflection of their experience in class. What did they already know about blogs? Did they already have one? Was the process of creating one and getting it up and running fun? Frustrating?  If necessary they can finish up at home.

Day 3: Problem Solving

  • They will get started on important web literacy activities from resources like a Google a Day to teach them how to search and problem solve together using the boundless resources available online.  I think I might even make a Google a Day into a contest between 5 teams of students in each class.
  • When the teams have all done their thing, I'll ask how many of them noticed this little helpful pop-up:
Click here to see it for yourself!

  • Tonight their post will be about the struggles and thrills of the competition. They will write what they learned about working together, about their own strengths when combined with their classmates strengths. They will write about what they learned of how to really harness the power of the information available online.

Days 4 & 5: Apply

  • Now that they've learned that the web and their classmates are powerful resources, we will really dive into our curriculum. I'll give each student one of 5 a document excerpts. They'll have to find out which classmates have the same documents and then work together to do the sourcing using just their newly found skills and their mobile devices.
  • Each group will carry out the sourcing, create a quick presentation, share it with the class. Together we will look for commonalities between the sources and see if we can develop an essential question for the unit. I suspect this process will take 2 class periods, but I wouldn't be surprised if they end up working on it overnight even without an explicit assignment for me, since they will be accountable to their group mates and classmates in the end.
Check out SHEG for more resources.

  • A blog post following this will include their presentation, either embedded or in the form of images, and a reflection of what they learned about the history and significance of the primary sources by going through this process.

By the end of our first week... 

students will have learned that they are in charge of their learning, they are powerful enough to find out anything they want to know, they can work together to solve problems, they will have created something new and important about a historical document, and published their creation to the world.

By the end of our first week... 

I will have read three separate writings from each of my 125 students. I will know how they are feeling about their first history classes, about investigating historical evidence, and about creating and publishing to the world.  More importantly, I will have read their writing and seen their creations. This is just the beginning of the incredible skills they'll build this year. (So exciting I can barely stand it.)

Not bad for week 1, right?

How will you set your students up for #EdTech success?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Are These Really "Atrocities"?

Chris Jordan is a photographer and artist making bold statements with images.

At about the 7 minute 30 second mark he calls the statistics surrounding prescription drug consumption, imprisonment, and breast augmentation surgeries "atrocities" in our culture. Is he right?  Since I teach teenage girls and see their daily struggles (not to mention that I vividly remember my own), the stats on breast augmentation surgeries for women under the age of 21, and given as a gift for high school graduation.... well, I'm not sure what to say.

Once we have gotten past our first five days and students have set up their initial tech, critical research, and analysis skills; I'd really love to dive into history with these images of today's statistics.  The lesson is that we have arrived at this place because of our history.  My job is to teach kids the history and to help them understand how it affected the present.  Their job is to help create change that will move us in a positive direction.  The people who came before us were not bad, but they were not aware the way we are.

School is meant to create better people who can think about the world's problems in new ways. We educators should not be indoctrinating a method of thinking. We should be inviting kids to create new ways of thinking.  I saw this last week on the iSchool Initiative tour bus and it really sets the mission of modern education:

How do we help our children understand that we and they are tasked with shifting our culture?  How do we get them to think in terms of "better" instead of "more"?

For more of Jordan's powerful work please visit his blog at Running the Numbers and Running the Numbers IIExperience the images. Read the corresponding statistic and click to see the picture zoom in or out to give you a true sense of the numbers.

Note: This post was inspired by coursework from Primary Source, Inc.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Leaders Communicate, Plan, and Act Together

During our final day of the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Student Leadership Institute, BOLT students learned about the importance of communication, planning, and working with others. A leader does not have to be the smartest person in the room, just the person that can recognize others' talents and figure out how those talents will help everyone reach their goals.

On Thursday afternoon one of our last activities, facilitated by Christian Huizenga, was aimed at teaching the kids to communicate and plan before attacking a problem.  Their hands were tied together with yarn and then intertwined with someone else. They had to find a way out.

We kicked off Friday morning with MouseQuest in Epcot.  Continuing the theme of thinking and acting together, students worked in groups of 6-7 to solve clues, find answers, complete tasks, and answer challenges all morning. They had to take on roles within their groups based on their strengths.

We celebrated with a group picture in front of Spaceship Earth.
After returning to the Grand Floridian Conference Center the kids got a chance to learn about the way technology can make communication and problem-solving as a group even better through the iSchool Initiative and their tour bus on the #DLRTour.  Our hope is that students will bring these ideas back home and use the power of the mobile devices they already own in school to amplify their academic experiences.

BOLT Middle School Facilitators Johnny Calder & Jason Fulmer on the iSchool bus.

Finally, Friday afternoon closed with our BOLT student leaders learning from the former Commander in Chief what being a leader is all about.

President Bush's message to the kids about being true to themselves and to the people who love them will certainly serve them well as they embark on their leadership journeys after returning home from BOLT in Disney World.  (To read more about our guest, click here!) He even took the time for group and individual pictures.

After a brief awards ceremony our time with the future leaders of BOLT was over. I'm looking forward to hearing from all of them about how they are deploying their visions of leadership in their schools, churches, and communities and I hope to see many of them again next year in Disney World at the 2015 BRSOE Summer Leadership Institute.  Amazingly, I've already heard from one student who conquered a fear she's had for a while before she event left Walt Disney World. I know she, and all of the other students I worked with this week, are destined for greatness!