Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The OmniBox: My Year on Chrome

So Jennie Magiera’s post on how she reflected on her year on social media struck me as pretty cool. I particularly dug the part about the autocompleted website that shows up for each letter of the alphabet in a Chrome browser's OmniBox. Since I use Chrome all the time, I thought it would be cool to give it a try. Here goes nothing…

A = aesoponline.com: How I put in for subs in my district. Not sure that this says about me…
B = blogger.com: Makes sense - I blogged a lot more this year than I did last year, particularly at the end of the year.
C = cnnsi.com: Where I head first to read about sports.
D = drive.google.com: Yes.
E = edcamphome.org: Made me smile.
F = fall2013a.sched.org: Fall CUE’s online schedule.
G = gmail.com: Nuff said
H = hhs.schoolloop.com: Grade recording and parent emailing for HIllsdale High School where I teach.
I = integratedsf.oetc.org: The website for Darren Hudgins and OETC’s interatED San Francisco conference. Darren and his team put on a great conference. Check one out if you haven’t.
J = nothing suggested in the autocomplete - the OmniBox recommended playdate San Jose’s website, a letter of rec I wrote for a student whose name starts with J, and John Stevens’s Twitter page.
K = kaizena.com: Love Kaizena - it’s a great way to leave verbal feedback on a Google doc your students have submitted. I leave more and better feedback more quickly with Kaizena. That’s a win in my book.
L = livephish.com: Yes, I love tha band Phish. A lot.
M = maps.google.com: Nuff said.
N = naviance.com: My school coordinates a bunch of student information - and college applications - through Naviance.
O = nothing suggested in autocomplete.
P = plus.google.com: See G and M.
Q = nothing suggested in autocomplete.;
R = remind101.com: Love Remind101 - one way texting reminders to my students? Done.
S = sites.google.com/site/worldhistorywithls: My class website. Everything for my world history classes goes up here.
T = tweetdeck.com: Nuff said (for a fourth time).
U = usbank.com: Where I pay my credit card. That’s a thing.
V = nothing suggested in autocomplete.
W = wellfargo.com: My bank.
X = nothing suggested in autocomplete.
Y = youtube.com: In an upset...
Z = nothing suggested in autocomplete.

There you have it: my year on Chrome. Here’s to 2014 being every bit as awesome as 2013 was. I’ve got a feeling it will be...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

End of Semester Reflection: Thoughts on Semester One in a 1:1 Class

So this will probably be a lengthy post. To go all teenager hashtag on you #SorryNotSorry. Please feel free to read on, but do so at your own risk.

I feel like I learned more this semester - my first in a 1:1 classroom - than I did my first year teaching. Granted I see more now than I did in year one, but there were just crazy amounts of learning that went down this semester.

So what went down this semester? I thought you'd never ask.

Some Positives

(In no particular order. And these paragraphs don't flow together. They're like bullet point paragraphs. Whoops.)
My class this semester

Students had a lot of choice in the content of their projects this semester. In the two big content-related projects from the semester, kids had huge amounts of choice around the content of their learning: the content of these projects were bound only by the unit we were studying. Kids could go out and learn something of their choice about World War II and the Holocaust - 1:1 allowed that kind of freedom. It allowed students to ask - and answer - their own questions within units. It gave them the opportunity to pursue their passions within a given unit. HOWEVER, this freedom came at a cost: there were big content holes that my kids had. More on this later.

Another good part of class was the choice students had in the way that they could demonstrate their knowledge - yay to all of the free internet tools out there! Or they could use good old pencil and paper. Or Minecraft. Or build a diorama. Or just about anything else that they wanted to build.

Self-directed learning generally goes well with my kids. They have now spent a year and a half in the weird that is my classroom. Students have gotten use to less structure. They have gotten comfortable (or more comfortable) making choices about the content of their learning and following through with a deliverable.

After a year and a half together, my kids collaborate online like woah: they have done a lot of this and they do it well. It's fun to watch!

20time has been a lot of fun. After an epic failure last year, students have taken to the format I'm using this year well. (Thanks Kevin and Kate!) Most importantly, my students are doing meaningful work that will impact others in a positive direction. I can't wait to see these projects come together second semester!

20time has made Friday - always a fun day to teach - an absolute dream to be at school! (We do our 20time projects every Friday.) I get to walk around and troubleshoot with groups. Kids are on task and excited to get this opportunity and freedom in class.

Despite the emphasis on choice impacting other aspects of my class (mentioned briefly above and also discussed below), this semester has been SAMR-friendly. I think I'm working to modify and redefine what a history classroom can be. It's exciting! Lots of bumps are happening along the way, but it's exciting. Students are creating. A lot. That's a good thing.

Being 1:1 means that new collaborative inquiry structures are needed. I've worked to redefine what historical inquiry can be in 1:1 classroom. In short, ask a big question, provide a few sample resources, and give kids not enough time to fully wrap their heads around the question you ask. No one can do all the work - there isn't time - and if you ask the right question kids are engaged. More on this new inquiry structure can be found here.

I think I've got a dream class: I almost don't need to be there to teach it. And it's my last class of the day. I just got lucky, but it is most certainly a positive.

For the first time ever, I might have zero kids fail. Which is always the goal, but not something I've ever been able to do.

If you push hard enough for things - repeatedly, to lots of people - often times the things you want will show up. After running my Chromebooks on the student BYOD network, and complaining to a lot of people about how slow it was, I was able to get my own private wifi network that runs only my Chromebooks. Huge win!

The "ask forgiveness not permission" maxim went well. Because of it, I made big steps toward making my class line up more completely with what I think my ideal classroom is. Thanks to not asking permission, I eliminated tests and added 20time this semester. This mindset worked out well - I'd strongly recommend it to anyone.

No homework. That's still a positive.

I got to hang out with tons of awesome peeps: Robert Pronovost and I organized a #brewcue every month this semester. Edcamps were plentiful: edcampSFBay and two SoCal edcamps happened this semester. Yes, edcamps are awesome. Yes, these three helped prove this rule. CUE conferences and events - the fall CUE conference and the North Bay CUE event - continued to drive me to be better. Hanging out and talking to awesome people helps me to create higher expectations for me and my classroom than my administrator could ever have. Love my PLN!

Some Negatives

The unit structure I chose to use allowed for my student to have a lot of choice. However, this choice came at the expense of content knowledge: there are definitely huge gaps in the content knowledge of my students. And while big picture I'm okay with this (you're going to make mistakes whenever you try to innovate in your classroom) it's something I need to clean up.

There was entirely too much writing clumped into about six weeks at the end of October and November and not enough earlier in the semester. Another drawback of student creation: probably not enough writing tasks.

I am abjectly failing in one class: resentment towards tasks - even tasks that allow for significant student voice and choice - dominates that class. It is far and away my biggest failure from this semester. It is also going to be my biggest victory second semester. More on That Class here.

All of the online collaboration and creation that my students have done has come at the expense of class discussions around document work and other big ideas that we've covered. I need to do a better job finding this balance to get my kids the space to process ideas together.

My assessment structure isn't what I want it to be. While trying to give kids space to take risks in the classroom, it has morphed into something I don't love. Can we just get rid of grades? Great.


Overall, the semester was a positive one. Probably the most fun semester I've ever had in the classroom. I'm blessed so be working with a group of awesome kids who will roll with me and try things and then provide good actionable feedback that helps make my class better.

That's probably the biggest positive of the semester: a spectacular group of kids.

And learning. By me in particular. If my kids learned 20% as much as I did this semester, they learned a ton.


I'm excited for what second semester has in store. We've got a fascinating three or four weeks to spend on Afghanistan. We're going to spend a couple weeks on Syria. There's an awesome counterfactual history project that we'll do. And May? I've got no idea. My kids might run class in May.

And this the fourth - and last - semester with these students. It's gonna be a blast.

We're gonna crush it. I can already tell.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Changing Voices

I've been pretty purposefully using social media - Twitter in particular - for two years now. I know that as I have become more comfortable with Twitter my voice on Twitter has changed.

I started Twitter as a lurker. A hardcore lurker. I slowly began to participate in hashtag chats - I cut my Twitter teeth with the awesome folks in the #flipclass chat. I started to contribute to discussions around that hashtag during the week.

As my confidence increased, I started to use my Twitter superpower: I've got a pretty solid list of who does what in my head. If you've got a question, I probably don't have an answer. But I probably do have a couple of people that will have an answer. Or the beginning of an answer. I went from being a lurker to a connector.

Now? I'm not sure how or what my voice has evolved to. I still talk to a lot of people on Twitter. I connect people and ideas when I can. I share a lot more of what my kids are doing - both on Twitter and on my blog - than I used to. That's a change.

As I've become more cognizant of my voice and how it has changed, I have also seen the voices of others change. I've seen most educators I follow get more comfortable with the medium. Some share more aggressively. Others go through bursts of intense interaction then more quiet periods.

Others have made other changes in their voice on Twitter. Whether consciously or not it's been fascinating to watch the shrillness of some voices go up. It's been interesting to watch people interact less and talk at people more. To become very sure of their correctness - of their approach, of their pedagogy. Of the fact that they are right.

I sincerely hope I don't come off this way on Twitter. I have opinions - some of them strong - that I'll share. But I hope that my voice hasn't become something that needs to be managed. Or muted. Or that my voice has become so sure of itself that I don't ever express doubt. Or share my myriad of failures and learnings in my classroom.

Because I feel that happening to people in my PLN. Tones have changed. Reflection seems to have gone down. Shrillness - and absolute certainty of rightness - has gone up.

Are we all still reflecting? Sharing? LEARNING? Because if you know you're right all the time, are you really learning? Are you really reflecting? Is your voice as valuable - and vulnerable - as it needs to be?

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Sunshine Award: Spread the Love

Last Thursday was a chaotic day: I watched my students do one of their Socratic seminar finals, calibrated Humanities papers with my work wife and Humanities partner-in-crime, had three meetings, went out to lunch with a bunch of teachers I work with, and packed for my holiday trip. It was a good day. A busy day - I essentially wasn't on social media all day.

At some point during the day, I did check my phone and saw that Eric Saibel had included me in a tweet about the Sunshine Awards. I saw it and made a note to myself to go check it out later.

I had seen the #SunshineAward hashtag thrown around a little bit on Twitter but hadn't really looked into it. Well, when I read Eric's post about what the awards were and saw that he included me in his post, I was honored: my day had been made. So thanks for taking the time to recognize my blog Eric - you absolutely made my Thursday!

And now I get to pass along the goodness of the Sunshine Award - which is what makes it fun. I'm all about some positive recognition for the smart folks around me. According to the rules of the Sunshine Award I am required to:

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger
2. Share 11 random facts about myself.
3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for me.
4. List 11 bloggers that I believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love! (These people can't include the blogger who nominated me.)
5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers I nominate.

So, here goes nothing!

1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
Check - Eric, you rock! Thanks for making my day!

2.  Share 11 random facts about myself.
- I am a proud Midwesterner. I grew up in Madison, WI and even though I haven't lived there since high school I still have a lot of love for the Sconnie. And it's sports teams!

- My path to teaching was a meandering one: I spent two years teaching, doing HIV/AIDS work, and coaching the school soccer team in Olukonda, a small town in northern Namibia. After that, I spent two years teaching environmental education on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Finally, five year after I graduated from college, I went back to school and got my masters degree and teaching certification.

Stanford vs Notre Dame, 2013
- I'm an enormous sports fan, and college football is far and away my favorite sport. I've had Stanford football tickets since grad school. I love those six Saturday tailgates in the fall with friends.

- I've been lucky to travel a decent amount in my life. I've hit six continents - Antarctica is going to be a struggle - and forty-six states. Texas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota: I'll make it someday. Hawaii is on my list to get to soon though.

- The most beautiful places I've ever been in the world are Bryce Canyon National Park in the snow, the South Island of New Zealand, and the jaw-droppingly, painfully gorgeous singletrack above Crested Butte, CO.

- My hero is my maternal grandmother. She was a quiet, strong woman who I really got to know well as I grew into an adult after my grandfather died in the late 1990s. She was sarcastic and stubborn as heck: just like me. (And my mom, her daughter.)

- I've been brewing my own beer for over two years. I love the process - and the smell - of brewing. Plus, it's awesome to roll up to a tailgate or a BBQ with a handful of bombers of beer you made!

Sinopah Mountain, Glacier NP
- I love places that make me feel small. Standing on the top of a mountain is one of my favorite things to do in the world. These big mountains - and also giant trees - recenter me and remind me not to get too caught up in my worldly struggles: I'm a pretty small speck of dust on this gorgeous planet.

- This is why I've got a redwood tattooed on the inside of my left ankle.

- The first time I met my little sister - like in the hospital right after she was born - I ran across the room and bit her in the face. Then I tried to give her away to my grandparents. In my defense I was only two at the time. Thirty two years later we get along great though!

- Hillsdale High School - where I teach at - has small learning communities that divide up the incoming freshmen classes into groups of about 110 students. I then share a group of students for two years with the same math, English, and science teacher. I was lucky to get hired into the same four teacher team as two of my close friends from grad school. Getting to work closely these last five and a half years with my good friends Sarah and Johnny has been an absolute joy and a blessing.

3.  Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for me.
- What is the first (or next) book YOU write going to be about?
This one is a struggle for me. I've written a book chapter already but I felt weird about it. I strongly believe that we should be sharing our work, our curriculum, our classrooms - warts and all - with everyone. For free. Education is NOT a zero sum game. Everyone can win! The idea of writing a book is fine with me, but I'd be really uncomfortable publicizing it. If I were to write a book though I'd write about turning over control of our classrooms to our students. About how much fun it is to teach less and facilitate more. About how to get out of our kids' way and watch them be really awesome.

What is one place in particular you hope to visit in your lifetime?  Why?
- This is a tough one. Like really hard. Getting to see spectacular animals up close and personal - I once looked a small female leopard in the eyes from about four feet away and it was an absolute THRILL - in the Okavango Delta in Botswana while I lived in Africa was really cool. Based on these experiences, I'd love to go see animals in Kenya and Tanzania some day.

- What is one place you REALLY love that you know you’ll return to?
The place I've been that I'd return to the quickest is the South Island of New Zealand. Hands down. That one is easy!

- What is something NEW you’ll do (in life) in 2014?
Regularly reading books. I know, it doesn't sound new. But while I read a lot about education online, I don't read enough books.

- What is one book that has changed you?  Why/how?
I gained a new respect for literature reading both For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. The end of both of these books - where the characters are, who is there, what the characters are saying - is to the letter PERFECT. Wow. Love both of those books, but the endings really take them over the top.

- What practice/hobby/thing have you set aside that you’ll take up anew in 2014?
I didn't mountain bike enough in 2013. That needs to change for 2014.

- What is the best performance you’ve ever seen (any medium/venue/context…)?  Indulge us with a few details.
Can I get two? Okay, good. Stanford dismantling Oregon the day before my 34th birthday this year was masterful to watch. They won that game on the trenches. It was awesome. The second is the four song opening to Phish's second set in San Francisco on August 19, 2012. I LOVE Phish (no, I don't do drugs) and this tiny venue - only about 8,000 people - exploded to open the second set because of the things I like most about Phish: gorgeous improvisation and spectacular seguing together of songs. The segue into Sneaking Sally Through The Alley gave me goosebumps in the moment, and still does to this day.

- What type of body of water calls to you the most as a special getaway?  Any one spot in particular?
I love lakes. I spent a month every summer of my childhood on a small lake in New Hampshire. I love swimming and Pleasant Lake in Elkins, NH will always hold a special spot in my heart. Generally though, find me a cliff and some deep water and I will happily repeatedly hurl myself off of it. Repeatedly!

- You have a free pass to any restaurant in the world: where do you go, what do you order?
I have no idea where I'd go. Is that bad? But I know I'd be absolutely crushing a filet mignon medium rare with the best bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon on the menu.

- What kind of a “maker space” do you have in your house?  What does your dream maker space look like?
None sadly. Wherever my computer is? I don't really know what my dream maker space is. I'm not much of a tinkerer. I'm open to changing my mind about that though!

- What is the most important attribute to possess as a 21st Century educator/thinker/creator?
I already kind of mentioned this, but I think we need to share relentlessly. Share your successes AND your failures. Share your dreams. Your questions. Your curriculum. And do it for free!!!

4.  List 11 bloggers that I believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
This is tough. In no particular order:

- Shawn White: My edcampHome co-creator always makes me think with his posts.

- Moss Pike: Confession time - as recently as the end of last school year I wasn't following Moss in Twitter. I didn't know anything about this freaking SoCal ninja. Now I consider his thoughtful voice one of the most important in my PLN. Love me some Moss Pike!

- John Stevens: Passionate. Dedicated. Wants to make math class a better place. Won't take no for an answer.

- Matt Vaudrey: A second SoCal math teacher in a row. Matt does awesome stuff in his middle school math classes. His blog is funny and irreverent and ALWAYS contains at least one laugh out loud moment.

- Carolyn Durley: One of my favorite bloggers. Period. Carolyn is so thoughtful and her posts always make me pause and reflect.

- Andrew Thomasson: See reasoning for Cheryl Morris.

- Cheryl Morris: No, Cheryl and Andrew aren't the same person. I know this because I've hung out with Cheryl regularly and never met Andrew. Their student-centered English classes in the 2102-2013 school year embarrassed me into blowing up my class structure - for the second year in a row - and making my class a better, more student-driven place. I'll be forever on their debt for that implicit challenge they threw down to me.

- Victoria Olson: I don't spend enough time talking to elementary teachers. I think that meaningful tech integration into the classroom looks different in a high school class than in an elementary classroom. Similar to Carolyn Durley, Victoria's posts make me stop and reconsider my notions of what tech integration can be in any classroom, regardless of age.

- Catina Haugen: See reasoning for Amy Fadeji.

- Amy Fadeji: No, Catina and Amy aren't the same person either. However, they are both connected and blogging elementary principals from the northern part of the Bay Area of California. I love their insights! We need more connected administrators who share!

- Catlin Tucker: I love how Catlin shares so much of the awesome stuff she does with her students on her blog. A must read and full of resources.

5.  Post 11 questions for the bloggers I nominate.
- What is your go to beverage on Friday evening? Why?
- If you could make one change to the educational system in the US - or Canada, Victoria and Carolyn - what would it be?
- Describe your perfect day.
- What is the most important characteristic you look for in your friends?
- What is your proudest moment as an educator?
- Who is your hero? Why?
- What teacher had the biggest impact on your life? How did they impact you? Does this teacher know the impact they had on you?
- What needs to happen in 2014 for you to be reflecting on a successful year 52 weeks from now?
- Who is one must-follow educator on Twitter? Why are they so great? Tell me someone I haven't heard of!
- What is the biggest risk you've ever taken in your life? How did it work out?
- I'll let you off the hook with an easy one: when are you coming to the Bay Area next so we can hang out and I can steal all your best ideas? (With attribution of course!)

To the awesome eleven peeps above, please tag me in a tweet once you finish your post - I want to read it!

Eric, THANK YOU. This was a spectacularly fun blog post to write - you rock!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Socratic Seminar Reflections

I've already written about my decision to have my kids do a Socratic seminar for their final as well as the trainwreck that one of the Socratics was. If you're interested in running Socratic seminars in your room they might be worth your time, but I'll spare you the rehash of either of those things. The troublesome Socratic was a difficult thing to be a part of. However, that struggle didn't - to me - overshadow how well these Socratics went.

That Class did a great job with their Socratic. Students carried the conversation for about 100 minutes. The kids in That Class who had struggled with positive engagement and focus in my class generally rocked their Socratic. Which was clearly rewarding to see. Now, to figure out how to channel that positive energy from the Socratic for second semester.

And the other two classes? Well, they were as engaging as any Socratic I had ever been a part of. Both classes talked up to the bell - and would have talked far longer! Remember, this is over 110 minutes into the conversation. Both had 100% verbal participation from participants. Both dripped with good ideas and deep thoughts. Both allowed me to sit back and watch - and not say a word! - for over an hour and a half. Most importantly, both were a blast to watch because kids got a chance to be smart. I love it when my kids give me an excuse to write some positive emails home.

So in the end, was one sour experience enough to dissuade me from doing Socratic seminars as final exams in the future? Heck no! They're way too much fun. Plus, the grading is way easier. (Which doesn't hurt.)

Give Socratic seminars a try. Several times. Stick with them. After a year of doing them, man are they fun to watch!

My 'score sheet' after another spectacular Socratic seminar