Wednesday, November 27, 2013


We don't take the time often enough to tell kids - or entire classes, or their parents - of the great things that they are doing. Or maybe I shouldn't say we - I don't do this enough. Whenever I do, it is absolutely one of the highlights of my day: whether it is feedback to kids or parents, positive news is ALWAYS fun to deliver.

Fast forward to Monday night. Having cleared the enormous hurdle of writing - giving feedback on writing is time consuming! - that got dropped into November, I finally had some time to do some more serious reflecting.

Teachers are neurotic for a lot of reasons. We always see the one kid off task, not the rest of the class that is engages. That one kid - or small group of kids - eats at us. Teach four awesome periods, but that last period of the day bombs? That's the one that sticks with you all night. I go home tired and frustrated and forget the other four great periods. That last period sticks out like a sore thumb.

Well, this year I've been really blessed with a spectacular last class of the day. (Well, my last class of the day.) My fifth period just gets it. They're on point. They help each other. On Fridays - our 20time day - they're an absolute dream: focused, on task, and excited about their projects. But most importantly for me, in this first year of being 1:1, they give me thoughtful, not whiny, actionable feedback about what they want to change about my class.

And today I got to tell them that. All of it. Especially the part about how they let me end my day on a good note. And it felt SO NICE to get to express genuine gratitude to these kids about being, well, awesome. They gave themselves an impromptu round of applause. It was a really nice way to head off into Thanksgiving break: feeling really thankful and blessed to get to end my day with such an incredible group of kids.

Friday, November 22, 2013

#20time Update

So a bunch of groups are straight cruising right now. High fives on the way in, excited to go and DO their 20time projects. But teachers know: you don’t see those students (the ones who are engaged) when you reflect. You see the students that are meandering through the class period.

Well, that’s what I’m seeing right now: I’m seeing the groups that aren’t using their time in class well. The groups that are socializing and not moving forward with their projects. I’m seeing the groups that forgot the materials that they needed for the day (despite the frequent ‘every Friday for the rest of the year is 20time’ reminder) and who don’t use classtime well to plan or gather information. And even the smattering of students that still don’t have projects approved.

There have been distractions: students have been doing a lot of Humanities writing the last few weeks. (I run a world history class that is closely linked to the my students’ English class - common students, common themes, common content, common tasks.) But I still need to make a few corrections for a few groups before we break for the end of first semester - get them out of their unproductive - or less productive than it could be - rut.

I’ve got a couple weeks until the next 20time: we do 20time on Fridays and with Thanksgiving break this next week we won’t have 20time for two weeks. I need to do some thinking about how to refocus some of these groups. How to move them forward, into a place of action every week.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Day of #20time

I've been meaning to write more about how 20% time has unfolded over the last month or so in my room, but have gotten crazy busy. Whoops...

After losing some momentum because of missed work days - my fault for not budgeting time well - we are back on a #20time roll. My fifth period class today was a joy. Projects are approved and kids are rolling. I wandered around and took pictures - they are below.

So much fun to watch kids go out and just do. Create. Help others.

A couple groups are going to be using on-campus facilities for their projects and had to submit facilities use forms to get the space they needed. These requests got turned down, so a couple groups spent time today with one of our principals talking about their projects and facilities needs. Both are moving forward with the blessing of the principal. She bumped into me today and mentioned how cool it was that the projects were happening, but also how neat it was that kids were being forced to deal with the red tape of securing facilities use as sophomores. Clearly, I agree!

Matt, Tara, and Karen editing one of their how-to videos

Natalie working on her gluten-free cooking website

Ana, Mari, and Lauren making blankets for needy families

Jacob and Sophia making fliers for their coat drive

Aidan and Andrew working on their Minecraft how-to video series

Zach creating a video game and William learning about special effects in zombie movies

Sanchit building his website for his computer company

Thursday, November 14, 2013

World War II Project Thoughts

I’m still waaay in the developmental phases of what my 1:1 class looks like. As of now, it consists of some whole class work - big historical thinking projects: socratic seminars, structured academic controversies (basically inquiry-based history) as well as Humanities focused items that connect my class to English content. This time is coupled with time for a ‘your choice’ section of the unit where students have the freedom to go learn about some aspect of a given unit that interests them.

So based on some feedback from my students after the Rise of Totalitarian Dictators unit, changes were made to the ‘your choice’ section of my World War II unit. (WWII unit project description here.) Students were given the choice to pursue a smaller area of focus for this section of the WWII unit - female spies, for example - or something larger that would allow them to see the whole scope of WWII.

Great. Awesome. Let’s do this.

Oh wait. Then I took away the ability to show what you learned with a Google presentation. My kids had done too many of them. Let’s move on to something new.

So what happened? Kids who are REALLY excited about Thinglink. Kids who taught themselves Prezi. Groups are collaborating using And guess what? This doesn’t happen WITHOUT taking away Google presentations.

Scale models are happening. Minecraft is happening. SO COOL.

Okay, I get it. I shouldn’t get excited about students being engaged by a new tech tool. But still. If they are excited to use the tool to show what they know, and are more engaged in the content creation, that’s a definite win.

Andrew and Aidan on a GHO w/ Diane Main talking about their Minecraft project

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

#brewcue: How (and Why) to Make It Happen

Before we get into the how to make a brewcue happen, let’s talk about the why. Why should you bother to organize a brewcue? Thanks for asking.

Photo courtesy of @pronovost

Do you like hanging out with dedicated educators who want to make school better? Brewcue will help with that.

Do you like informal conversations about education? PD that you choose, at your own pace? Brewcue is for you.

Do you like connecting pictures on Twitter handles with actual faces? Brewcue is the place to do that.

Do you relish extended conversation, not 140-character-at-a-time conversations? Or conversations that can flow, but face to face - not in a Google hangout? Yes. Brewcue for that too.

Do you like an excuse to hang out with friends, but call it professionally developing? Yup. Brewcue. Make it happen. Now.

Now, the harder part: the how to make a brewcue happen. Okay. It’s not really that hard - it’s actually pretty easy. Another reason to organize one! Okay, on to it.
  1. Find a cohost for brewcue. This person will help you publicize the event, and if no one else comes to the brewcue, you’ll get to hang out with your cohost for an hour and talk about education and whatever else comes up. Robert Pronovost is that guy for me.
  2. Choose a date. Set a time that both you and your cohost can make - remember, if no one else shows you need someone else there to talk to! But don’t worry - other people always show. Also, Robert and I always try to leave about a week of time to publicize the brewcue. The more time you have to tweet out the location, the more folks will see that it is happening!
  3. Choose a location. For Robert and I, as Bay Area residents, we shoot for somewhere about halfway between San Jose and San Francisco: we want as many people as possible to make it to the brewcue.
  4. Publicity, publicity, publicity! Tweet out your brewcue. Use your state and/or district hashtag. My favorite? Tweeting the brewcue date and location five minutes before California edchat (#caedchat, the best state edchat) begins: at this point there are a lot of people looking at the hashtag, but there aren’t a ton of tweets going to the hashtag yet. Tweet out reminders as the day of brewcue approaches - you never know who hasn’t seen the tweets publicizing the event yet!
  5. On the day of the brewcue, have a way to let the attendees know where you are at at your chosen venue. Robert has created a brewcue sign on his iPad that lets people know which table we are at. In the early days, though, we just wrote “brewcue” on a napkin and hung it on a menu. This totally worked fine.
  6. Buy the first pitcher. Then, sit back and enjoy the conversation.

Not into the brew aspect? Or want to do your brewcue in the morning, when a brew is less appropriate? Throw the more staid version of brewcue: have a coffeecue at a local coffee house.

Finally, though, really why do this? Education is all about relationships. Brewcue builds relationships. And hey, usually a whole gang of #eduawesome folks show up!

Over 20 educators deep! Photo courtesy of @pronovost

#fallCUE: All of the #EduAwesome

Oh man. Fall CUE. Yes, it was almost two weeks ago. Yes, I’ve been way too busy to talk about it until now.

Like everything in education - literally everything - fall CUE was all about relationships. The absolute highlight of the conference was getting to see friends from all over California (AND ONE FROM MICHIGAN!!!), folks I don’t get to see more than a couple times a year, and get to spend time talking with them. Not a Twitter discussion. Not a Google hangout. Face to face.

The best part of these: spontaneous gatherings of #eduawesome people that happened on both Friday and Saturday nights. Small gatherings got bigger and all of a sudden, there were groups of awesome people hanging out. Spectacular.

The best sessions I went to - with one exception - were not about tech. Rushton Hurley’s session on inspiring staff and students was tremendous. If you ever have a chance to see Rushton present - even if the session isn’t something at the top of your need-to-learn list - go see it. The man crushes presentations. Roni Habib’s session on creating a culture of creativity was thought-provoking and movement oriented - a great way to end the first day of fall CUE. The tech highlight? Andrew Schwab’s session about living in a post-desktop world was also excellent. I always love Andrew’s unique, thoughtful take on edtech and this session certainly lived up to that standard!

The two keynotes - by Ramsey Musallam and Angela Maiers - were both spectacular and sprinkled with passion. Ramsey’s use of humor and Angela’s message for compassion in the classroom were excellent. A highlight? This happened. Yes, a #brewcue shoutout during Angela Maier’s closing keynote.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

#20Time Google Hangout

I got to do a Google Hangout with a bunch of awesome #20time teachers today: Kevin Brookhouser, Oliver Schinkten, Joe Ferrari, Christopher Cooper, John Stevens, and Kate Petty. We discussed project implementation and reluctant learners, aspects of #20time to grade - and not grade, and cool project ideas kids have so far this school year. And several other things. The goodness is embedded below.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Peace Corps in Southern Africa

This is NOT educationally related. However, I did spend a lot of time writing this piece about my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia in 2003 and 2004. Want to read it? The link is here.