Saturday, July 20, 2013

edcampHome: A Few Initial Thoughts

edcampHome logo, created by Kelly Kermode
Oh man. I don’t really have words right now for what went down today. But I want to try to get something out today before my brain fries. A few thoughts, in no particular order.

I am so grateful to the participants who just rolled with the punches. Did we know it was going to take 50 minutes to set up the session board in the morning? Nope. But people hung with us. Did we know we’d cancel a session in order to respect our end time? Nope. Did we know that it might be tough for people to sign up for sessions and get the Google hangouts (GHOs) started with the people who wanted to be in them present? Well, yeah - we actually knew that. But man, people stayed positive. They came and wanted to learn. Despite the difficulties. So much respect, and thanks for sticking with it today.

I was so impressed with the explosion that the session board became. I totally forgot to credit Vicky Sedgewick for the idea I stole of hers and said this morning, but people really took the ‘What do I want to learn today?” to heart and took risks. Suggested sessions. Moderated sessions. Participated in GHOs. Slammed at the end of the day. So. Freaking. Rad.

Moderator team: thanks so much. You guys freaking rocked it. You lived through multiple sets of conflicting directions from the organizers, difficulty in choosing (or not choosing, as the case became) sessions to moderate, people wanting in and out of your sessions. Wow. Just wow. Whenever I meet one of you in real life, the first drink is on me. I am so humbled that such an #EduAwesome group of folks helped us along the way this Saturday. Wow. Just wow.

Lastly, Kelly, David, and Shawn: y’all rock.  For Realz. Y’all spent way too much time with me these last few weeks - and not enough time with your family - but man was that fun. Things got chaotic so much today, but no one freaked out, or even did anything other than smile. It was an absolute joy and honor to plan this event with you. I can’t wait to get to meet you guys face to face (or see you again, David).

I’m left with two takeaways. One, learning is messy (or a hot mess to quote my buddy Holly Clark). I’m glad that the edcampHome participants got to see us struggle and try to problem solve today, on the fly. Live. The more classrooms we can get teachers and students doing that in, the better. We’ll all be better for it. Fail fast, learn, and iterate. Learning is messy. Share it. Second, we - everyone, everyone I follow and interact with on Twitter - are #BetterTogether. Today doesn’t happen without the brainpower of a lot of people. From folks who didn’t attend today who gave us feedback in April and May to moderators who gave us suggestions along the way, to the rest of my organizing team: we are #BetterTogether. Keep relentlessly sharing and making my classroom a better place. I know I plan to.

That’s all I’ve got. I know others will write more eloquently and do a great job encapsulating the event. But I’m livestreaming a concert by my favorite band and it starts in 10 minutes. I wanted to get out some thoughts. Here they are.

Again, thank you all. Fail forward. Share the mess. We are all #BetterTogether.

Friday, July 19, 2013

DIY Chromebook Storage

I was lucky enough to get two Donors Choose requests funded, making my classroom 1:1 next year. I did not, however, have enough money to buy a $2000 cart to store and charge them. Thanks to the IT department in the district my mom is on school board, I just made a DIY Chromebook storage cart for $182.


And there you have it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

IFTTT: Instagram Hashtag Creates a Photo Blog Post

If This Then That (IFTTT) is a web service that links various disparate accounts - email, social media, storage, etc - and allows you to create automated actions if a defined event occurs. That is the worst description of IFTTT ever. Whatever. The front page of the IFTTT site says 'put the internet to work for you.' That's a way better description.

This post was inspired by a slam I saw Jeff Heil do at the California Google Apps for Education summit this past weekend. Jeff showed how he had created an IFTTT trigger for when he publishes a picture to Instagram with a certain hashtag, that picture will automatically get uploaded to a photo blog that he maintains.

This IFTTT recipe immediately got me thinking about a field trip I went on last year. The teachers asked the students to use a hashtag in Instagram photos as a way of getting everyone access to the pictures everyone took that day. It worked really well. So could those photos be stored forever somewhere - photos from any number of Instagram users - not just one like in Jeff's recipe? Like on a house blog? The answer: yes. How? Come along for the ride!

Step one: head to IFTTT and create an account. Then, create a new trigger.

Next, click on the giant blue 'this.'

You need to choose your trigger - the action that will prompt another action - next. There are a lot of choices in the trigger page. Find the Instagram icon and click that.

At this point, if you haven't used IFTTT before - or if you haven't used the Instagram trigger on IFTTT before - you'll need to link your account to IFTTT. Do that. 

You'll then have to choose what action you want IFTTT to look for in Instagram. You want it to look for a hashtag from any user.

There were ten choices of possible Instagram triggers associated with my account - you're going for 'new photo by anyone tagged.' Why IFTTT calls it tagged and not hashtagged is beyond me. Moving on.

Now choose an Instagram hashtag that you will share with your students. This is the hashtag that, if added to any Instagram photo by any user, will publish that photo to your website. PRO TIP: Go to Gramfeed and make sure that you have created a unique hashtag that isn't being used by other people - you don't want some random's pictures showing up on your website!

Click 'Create Trigger' and you're set. With the 'This' part of IFTTT. Next, choose the action your trigger will perform. Click on the giant blue 'that' and choose the action. After this, you'll be confronted with a bunch of choices again. You could have these hashtagged photos go to a Blogger, Tumblr, or Wordpress blog. Your choice.

I used Blogger and will walk you through those steps. After clicking on Blogger, you'll need to connect your account. PRO TIP: Create your new blog first before you get to this point, otherwise the blog you want photos to publish to won't show up. You want to create a new photo post.

Next, you need to format what your photo post will look like on your blog. Complete this screen to your liking to make this happen.

Then, click 'Create Action.' Then, on the next page - a review of your recipe - click 'Create Action' and you're good to go! I'm looking forward to what gets shared this year by my students - I think it will be a pretty cool way to hold onto memories from our year!

Just a note: this trigger won't work on old photos on Instagram - only new photos with the hashtag will trigger the recipe to run.

Happy photo-publishing!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

History #flipclass Discussion

I got to hang out with Jason Bretzmann, David Fouch, and Tom Driscoll on a Google+ hangout tonight and chat about flipped history classes. The conversation ran a little long - not the worst thing in the world. We chatted about summer PD, what we'd learned this summer and would be taking into our classroom in the fall, and what changes we saw making for the next school year.

I live demo'ed Voice Comments for the gentlemen. We ended with our summer beer highlights. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Sometimes, when I’m out hiking, the sky is so blue. The trees are so green. The mountains are so brown. And grey. And red. And SO tall. The streams are so clear and the lakes are so turquoise.

And it is SO quiet.

Except for the birds. And the rivers. And that corner you turn and hear the waterfall for real for the first time and it sounds like a train. Then it isn’t quiet.

And I go. Up. Up more. And the views are gorgeous. So pretty that they hurt. And you get to a place and you stop. And feel small. Very small. And a year of worries and concerns melt away in an instant.

And in that instant - an instant I felt numerous times over the last month - I feel so thankful to have lived such an incredible life.

I also feel ready to go back and tackle another school year, to go out and innovate and fail and make my classroom a better place, a place students really want to be in.

I hope you were able to - or will be able to - find that place this summer.

That place, top of Sulphur Skyline. Not posed. Photo by Joe L.

My favorite image from the trip is below.

Innovation and Failure

For four years, I ran a pretty successful world history class. Students had the opportunity to do the work of historians in class. Critical thinking happened. Meaning was made by wrestling through conflicting primary and secondary source documents. And yet. My class wasn’t what I wanted it to be. There was more that was possible. My immersion in the Twitter-sphere had radically shifted what I thought a classroom would and could be. This year was the beginning of that craziness.

And it was hard. I failed. A LOT. And as the end of school wound down, maybe three weeks before we finished, I was in a pretty dark place. I was unhappy that the changes I made were noticeably not creating the changes in student actions that I hoped they would.

But. But.

As the year wound down, I had a couple parents - including one who was an educator - approach me and tell me how much they appreciated what had happened in my class this year because it was so different. That is was innovative and what students needed.

That was good to hear, and was the light at the low point for me. Because - and teachers know this - you don’t see the seventy to ninety percent of students that are doing what you ask and get it: you see that ten to thirty percent that isn’t. And I was seeing only the negative fruits of the changes I made in my classroom, not the changes that were more successful. This was the starting point.

But then, as school wound down and I had more time to exercise (prime reflection time for me), I realized that the bite of the failure that I felt so distinctly at the end of the year was actually okay. Or maybe not okay, but to be expected.

If you are going to try to innovate in your classroom, you must be ready to accept and learn from failure.

Anyone who says they have innovated in their classroom and doesn’t talk about failing is either a liar or not innovating. Period.

So yeah, it - for lack of a better word - sucked to feel that failure at the end of the year. But if you want to change decades of the status quo in education, you better be ready to feel that pain. And then, have a PLN to turn to to make next year better. For me? That’s going to be more project-based learning, an attempt to do away with tests, and figuring out what my classroom looks like when we’re 1:1 with Chromebooks. And that, my friends, is exciting. And makes the sting of the failures of this year lessened.

My classroom will be a better place for all students next year. Promise.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Without sounding all high and mighty and ‘he likes to talk about presenting’, I’ve noticed an interesting discomfort in sessions I’ve had a hand in facilitating. I cut my presenting teeth facilitating conversations at edcamps: start a conversation, give some context, then get out of the way and let the knowledge in the room surface and build ideas collaboratively. This is the type of conversation I like to be a part, in part because this is what my classroom looks like. If I spend more than two minutes at the beginning of the class period talking at my students, I have done some serious thinking and determined that this is the best use of our time together that day. This is where I am most comfortable, both in my classroom and when presenting/facilitating conversations with other educators.

This style works well, particularly for edcamps or other conferences where participants haven’t paid their hard-earned money to be at the conference: my expertise (or lack thereof) wasn’t paid for by anyone - I wasn’t chosen to present, so I can move to the side. I don’t feel the need to talk.

However, at conferences that people pay to be at, I feel like it is my duty to give attendees something tangible to make their time with me worth it. This means, for now, I talk more. More than I feel like I should. I always ask for feedback and generally my feeling isn’t borne out by the people I’m presenting to.

However, as I watch presenters I look up to, I know that this is an area that I need to improve in: talk less and let participants do more. I’m hopeful...