Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Great Day of Learning

Thoughts on TIES 2011 Conference - Monday, December 12:

-First, what a fantastic day! Great speakers, plenty of colleagues, engaging topics, and a chance to really reflect not only on how I teach now, but how I can teach - but even more important - how I can challenge and serve my students going forward.

Throughout the day I was able to attend some really cool sessions on various topics. The first session I went to was titled "What Teachers Can Learn From Video Games." The presenter, Ryan McCallum (@cleanapple), did a wonderful job of sharing his vast knowledge on the topic, and discussed many of the ways video games can help teach students meaningful things, even if they may not be cognizant of this learning while they play. Some of the main ideas were:
-The innate assessment in gaming, and how players receive immediate feedback on what they need to do better on, as well as how they are succeeding.
-The crucial narrative/story piece of so many games, and how so many times the player becomes an active member of that story - thus providing engagement & motivation.
-With so many games dependent on working collaboratively, players are force to work in a very positive, collaborative way with each other - and this collaboration amplifies the learning experience.

The Keynote speaker - Joel Rose - talked about his experience in co-founding School of One, and NY Public Schools initiative started a few years ago. Pretty fascinating stuff - I'm still curious about 'the algorithm - but the takeaways for me were two-fold: A. are there ways for me, as an individual teacher, to design my room in such a way where I can instruct through multiple modalities? B. as we continue into the 21st century, there are simply ways in which we need to adjust our methodology - not just integrate tech and new design - to help reach all learners.

After these two sessions, I had the privilege of presenting myself. I felt very fortunate that almost the entire school board for my district stopped by to chat and check out my presentation, as well as our tech integration specialists, some admin folks, and fellow teachers.

I split the next session time between two different speakers: one on PLEs, or Personal Learning Environments. It was interesting stuff, and I could see some natural tie-ins to what we do in our district already with Personal Learning Plans. That said, the talk seemed a little more geared towards administrators and others who are on a different pay grade than I am, so I moved on to...

My colleague/instructor/tech specialist Molly Schroeder's (@followmolly) talk on Advanced Google searching - essentially Google Searching like you mean it! Here's how great this was: I recently finished a Teaching & Technology cohort where Molly taught two of the classes...and I still learned some very cool new stuff!

After lunch I spent some time in the Exhibit hall, then caught Christian Long's (@christianlong) talk about School Design. I found this talk quite engaging, and he had a lot of great things to say. Here are some things that really stuck out to me:
-any effective school design needs to be human-centered, NOT object-focused
-we need to embrace failure
-the role of environment - the 3rd teacher in a student's life being just that: their environment
-for the process: verbs are better than nouns; it's continual and tangential
-3 rules in the development process: empathize, wrestle with ideas/concepts, put it together-test it-get feedback...as the old Saturday Night Live bit used to say: "give it a test run, see how it plays"
-the mission of our school/district needs to be at the core of what we do
-finally, acknowledging the world is a messy place...how can design thinking deal with that?

This was a great day for me as a professional. I learned a lot, was inspired, survived my first presenting opportunity, and was able to share thoughts with other dedicated people in the field, many of them much smarter than myself.

Looking forward to next year already!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I Can Only Laugh...

Honestly, there are plenty of days when doing what I do is an absolute joy. The lesson is seamless and effective. The students are attentive and productive. Discussion is vibrant and informative. Things are good, life is good, and working with awesome people plus getting paid? Solid.

Other times, doing this gig is altogether frustrating and maddening. The lesson wasn't as refined as I'd like and it missed the mark. Students are disengaged and disrespectful. As for discussion? Please.

And even on some other days, like today, all I can do is take a step back and laugh. Laugh at the absurdity of it all. It's amazing how in one class period, you can have a fantastic, in-depth discussion; students understanding and following the lesson and its finer points; then in the same period experience a flurry of irrelevant, off-topic, random questions/comments/arguments.

Sometimes doing this can feel like being a parent - proud of you, enjoy your company, followed by moments of fearing for the future of my own country!

Only in 6th Grade...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Compassion, Insight & Purpose

I've been thinking a lot about the importance of these three elements within this 'digital age' we live in. Different aspects of recent news stories have probably brought this stuff to mind. Watching just how quickly the stories at Penn State have unfolded, aided by the power of social media, is a bit mind-boggling. Looking in from the outside, it seems like compassion for other people and a situation overall can get lost in the shuffle.

It's complicated, this social media-digital age-omnipresent news environment. No wonder things can get crazy in a matter of minutes. I don't think elements like compassion and insight can possibly keep up with the pace of the news-reaction-more reaction-commentary-news cycle.

But I think they should.

My role is obviously multi-faceted; there is no shortage of hats I need to wear. Well, here's another one: I need to foster in my students a spirit a mind-set of reflection. Of taking a breath, sitting back, and really thinking about what they are consuming digitally, especially before they react digitally. I have to coach my students up on the importance of compassion - or empathy - to really put themselves in another's shoes and see the situation from a different angle; to have insight and understand the subject matter so they can competently respond; to have a purpose for what they are saying/writing/etc.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Birthday Wishes

Birthdays, for the most part, are very fun occasions. My students in school still love to advertise their special days, announce what they hope to get, and what fun plans they may have coming up to celebrate. For my own children, a birthday is huge - after all, there's two of them!

They turned 5 this past summer, and so far, every single birthday (and rightfully so) has turned into a multiple-day affair: fun party with some little friends, a day with relatives over, and a day with just mommy and daddy to have fun and be together.

Someone very dear to me is having a birthday today. It would of course be very cliche to say how she gets better with age like a fine wine, etc., etc. Furthermore, I probably couldn't blame you for cringing.

However, I've known this person for almost half of our lives. Considering that, I would argue I am very much an authority figure on saying that she indeed gets more and more amazing by the day. That said, without further ado -

A very happy birthday wish to...

-my very best friend

-an incredibly talented teacher

-a wonderful, loving mother

-someone who inspires me, challenges me, puts up with me, makes life that much better...

Happy Birthday KJ! Love you

Monday, October 31, 2011

Overdue Check-In

It's been a while since I've written. Too long, as it turns out. A big part of that is a reflection of just how busy a month October has been. Another factor is distraction. One reason is fairly legit; the other not so much.

That said, there's been no shortage of things going on and things on my mind, and a couple of them I'd highlight:

1. This past weekend (Saturday morning, no less) I helped present at our district's Technology Open House. I have to say I thoroughly loved the experience. My conversations with district parents, kids and residents were excellent, had depth, and were quite heady on topics ranging from what I'm doing with technology in my classroom to how students are implementing technology in their own learning to big-picture 21st-century learning skills and the ideal classroom. What a rewarding experience to have intelligent conversations with so many people.

2. Keeping in theme, Nicholas Carr was in town last week for a national librarian conference. A big part of his time that day (or so it was reported) centered on his essay about Google's effect on intelligence.

Here's why those two items go together: it is incredibly important for me as an educator, parents as parents, my boss as an administrator, etc. to guide students as best we can on how to maximize technology tools for the benefit of their learning and growth. Our district's/community's focus on 21st-century learning skills has been a very important discussion - no matter the search engine, tablet/smart phone brand, or computer - students must  have transcendent thinking & learning skills: collaboration, problem-solving, research, analyzing/synthesizing, evaluation, etc. to be successful. I'm glad so much of our focus is there, as opposed to being too worried about hardware all the time!

Finally, I've been thinking a lot about why I do this and the general importance/impact of teaching. I've always thought there's an immediate, local impact with what I do - tons of old students are always stopping by, babysitting my own kids, asking to be TA's, etc. Last week a kid who was up visiting from Alabama after her family moved spent a chunk of Friday in my room because some of her friends were on a field trip. It's nice to know your classroom can be a "home base," even for alumni. I recently found out, however, that my friend's little sister is teaching English to students in Africa (Djibouti), and I can only imagine the impact her efforts are having on so many people. To follow up her great efforts and the reflections from her experience, read her blog here.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I've read a couple interesting posts/articles the last couple days. This isn't really unusual; I seem to do this on a fairly regular basis. You know, read stuff. Anyway, it is the content of these particular pieces that has me thinking. Thinking about HOW we teach what we do, and WHY we do it these ways.

Beyond this new information, there has been a lot of discussion at my school over the last six months centered around standardized grading and standards-based teaching methods.

Sometimes what gets lost in the debate over the merits of the 'flipped' classroom, allowing retakes and other educational issues is the simple fact that thoughtfulness is so extremely important. Worried that students will not study enough for the first testing go-around and take advantage of multiple retakes? Develop a thorough process students must go through to achieve ONE retake; make them prove they have evaluated what standards they are not proficient at yet, how they plan (with your support) to gain the needed knowledge, what sacrifices they are willing to make - before- and after-school help, lunchtime sessions, etc. - to reach this goal before they can have another crack at a retake. Worried that the 'flipped' classroom idea isn't a good one - not for you or other staff at your school? Again, think. Best practices still apply. Students still need to be engaged, the chance to problem-solve, collaborate, and apply content in various forms. Simply replacing a lecture format upheld by outdated teaching principals won't change too much...I liked what the author of the blog entry on the 'flipped' classroom had to say about this. It's exactly what this is all about - thoughtfulness.

Finally, I read an article written by Alfie Kohn last week - complete with snark - regarding some of the popular phrases teachers can say over time. Granted there's plenty of sarcasm, and probably extreme in some cases, but in a fun way it just drives home the point: thoughtfulness in what we do is important!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Power of BYOD

This is probably going to be a shorter post, but one that I can't help but write. It is a really, really cool time to be teaching what I'm teaching where I'm teaching. Why? There are plenty of reasons for this: solid colleagues; understanding, supportive and flexible bosses; great support from curricular and technology people; and for the most part, sweet parent support and kids willing to learn.

Beyond all those reasons, there is a new one this year: because of our district's 'Bring Your Own Device' push for students, more and more of my students are taking advantage and using their own devices in school. The set-up is fantastic: students and parents must attend an informational/training meeting and get the device registered. Expectations are clear, from Admin on down. Our building is wireless, enabling students to access online course material, collaborate with other students, and utilize our district's strong Google Apps presence.

So far this year, students in my Language Arts classes with their own devices have shared rough drafts with me in real time, before they have even left my room; submitted assignments ahead of schedule - because they could, and also completed and submitted work from the online portion of my class. Why is this great? It's supported top-down, students are very engaged, work efficiency is increased, and collaboration goes up. What's not to like?! I can't wait to see how this continues to develop throughout the year!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

...And We're Back!

Greetings/salutations! It's been a while. So much to say and get caught up on. For now, I'll keep it short.

Summer was dynamite. Fast, furious, and fun. Lots of play and travel with the family. Really cool work finishing up the teaching and technology cohort with great teachers and colleagues.

We're 8 days into the school year, and I am still feeling quite a bit of excitement towards this new year. I think a big part of that is the great springboard effect from finishing the Tech cohort with such great people doing really cool things.

Incredible the difference a year has made. After being a part of the cohort, tech integration has been a part of my classroom this year from day 1. For example, every student is enrolled in and using my LA Moodle Course. Additionally, students have had access to my class website since open house night even before school started, when they and their parents could scan the Qr Code for the website with their smart phones.

Hopefully I will write more this year than last. I'm also considering an EduBlog for more networking and classroom features. More to come...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

...And Exhale

It's been a busy few weeks. End of quarter and grade reports, finishing work for the latest class in our technology cohort, bringing the kids to all sorts of area attractions over Spring Break. But finally, a quick respite, and a chance to catch my breath. As an added bonus, the weather finally decided to cooperate with some warmer air and sunshine. Go figure. While the work has been plenty, and stress levels have had their momentary spikes, I have to say the experience in the tech cohort class has once again been rewarding; two for two so far in that regard. Not only rewarding...challenging, inspiring, thought-provoking and engaging would also be appropriate superlatives to use. What's been great about this experience is how much I've learned as a professional, as well as how much I've immediately taken away and/or created to use directly with my students. To me, that's what valuable learning is all about. Another nice quality about the type of work we are doing in this cohort is how elastic and ever-evolving the products and learning seem to be. Take our latest project, for example. We needed to develop an Integrated Technology Unit; something that could be used in a subject we teach. Many of us put multiple hours of work into this unit. It's worth it, though, because I will begin implementing this work with my own students in a few short weeks. What makes it elastic? Just this morning, I was already thinking about how I can add to & modify my unit...and I just submitted it last night! Even though I spent a ton of time on it, and am very proud of where it is so far, the best part might be the fact that this is just the starting point...from here I can continue to develop this unit, make it exactly how I want it to be once I start to see how it interfaces with my students. Exciting stuff - it makes the work and journey all the more worth it - and I can't wait to see what lies ahead with the next class. But for now, I'll enjoy the next 5 days off...from that at least; Spring Break is over!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


As per yesterday's thought on the weather:

Scratch that; things totally suck now. A solid 3-4 inches on the ground, preceded by sleet overnight and this morning. Glad we're a few days into spring; it looks like mid-January out my window.

Looking up - the first few days of "Spring Break" will be in the low- to mid-30's, so we'll have that going for us...which is nice.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


So much going on these days. Plenty of thoughts on my mind:

-As I continue to look at learning in the 21st century, how will that continue to look & evolve in my classroom? school? curriculum? delivery?
-The role mobile devices will have in learning, specifically where I teach: Reading and Language Arts. E-readers, iPads, smartphones are all capable of so much. Opening windows for utilizing these technologies in a responsible manner will be crucial in my teaching over the next few years. Even the effective use of sites like polleverywhere.com will give kids a chance to have their voices hear by using their smartphones. My guess is that will engage many students.
-Spring Break probably needs to get here fast...the kiddos are barely hanging on right now!
-Weather: dreary...although I'm thankful there's not a foot of snow falling right now.
-Winter sports around these parts - Minneapolis - this year. In a word: brutal.
-My wife is a fantastic 1st grade teacher who maintains a blog of our family. This month she has been stepping up to the challenge of writing every day. To borrow a line from Ferris Beuller, if you have the means, I highly recommend it. She's a wonderful wife, great mom, and a talented teacher & writer.

That's all for today...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dipping the toes in; Why My job doesn't suck

This has been a year of new endeavors in my classroom. For the first time, my students are now using Google Docs as their primary tool for writing in Language Arts. They are able to share their works with me on-line, and I am able to give feedback to them at any time. At first, the thought of doing this with 45 LA students seemed daunting, but I was blessed with a lot of support, and the results have been very positive. I never worried about how the kids would handle it - this stuff is such a part of their lives - it was getting over my own fears that mattered the most.

Another frontier I have entered lately has been expanding students' use of cell phones - specifically the smart phones so many of them have - in both my Reading and LA classes. There are some good resources out there, and for each class I am finding more and more reasons to create an environment in my classroom where students can effectively use their phones, while being responsible & thoughtful users. In Reading, some of my students now use their smart phones as e-readers, and download free books for independent reading time; they share great new books they've discovered with classmates. In Language Arts, I have had students who need to get some quick research done for a multi-media project...I only have 1 student computer in my classroom, and some days the computer lab is booked. Solution: use your smart phone, spend 2-3 minutes searching what you're looking for (our building is wireless), write down the facts & cite the source, good to go! I look forward to discovering more ways to take advantage of this technology, and further develop my classroom expectations & policies (along with the kids) to govern student use.

A big part of this has been the support of my principal, and that can't be overstated...it's a huge deal to work in an environment where you're supported & encouraged to do what's best for kids and learning, even if it is "new" and "untested" to a certain degree. That, along with many other things, is why on this particular Friday, my job doesn't suck. In fact, between that and the exciting new opportunities for learning and collaborating with and between my students, it can be downright rewarding at times.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Back From Break, Still Lying Fallow...

Don't misunderstand - I'm very much active in my classroom, interacting with students, giving instruction and facilitating learning, and providing feedback. What I mean is that while break is over (a very nice and restful break, I might add) and the action has resumed, I am very much in a state of rest and nourishment intellectually.


A little while back, as part of an assignment for our Teaching & Technology cohort, a colleague of mine used farming as a metaphor for technology & education. Going with that thought, I find myself very much like a seed lying fallow, soaking in the nutrients to help me grow. As I've written before in this space, I really enjoy the learning process, of feeling challenged, and looking at ways to improve and grow. While I am between classes for the cohort, I am sitting back, soaking in lots of great information, and taking the time to reflect on everything going on within and outside of my classroom walls. Currently on my mind:

-Grading, standards, and the marriage of the two...
-Tech in my class and beyond - communities of learning...
-Motivation, and its latest paradigms - great stuff Daniel Pink...
-Creativity, and looking at education/schools/learning in a whole new way - Sir Ken...
-My role in all of this, where I am next year/5 years/10 years down the road...

There's a lot to be said for lying fallow. We don't often get to do it, especially in this profession. I will try to marinate in everything I've been taking in lately, hopefully to turn that into great new action down the road.