Monday, September 30, 2013

20% Time, Day 4: It Starts to Come Together

So day 4 of 20% time is done and projects are starting to come together. Students who had project ideas initially have had time to play with those ideas and shape them into something that fulfills the 20% time project requirements. The folks who didn’t have ideas - or said they didn’t have ideas - have realized that in fact they are interested in things. Which, you know, is good.

Teachers talked about doing their own 20% project in class as the kids worked on their projects. As the first three days of 20% time unfolded, things were chaotic. I spent every day running around answering questions for 50 minutes. Which was fine. But chaotic. I didn’t see how I was going to be able to spend any time in class working on a 20% project.

Well, this week I spent a lot less time answering questions. Kids are starting to know what direction their project is going in. Which is, you know, a GREAT thing. And as I had time to breathe for the first time on a 20% time day last Friday, I began to wonder if I too would have the time to do a 20% project with my kids. I know I want to. No idea what I’d do it on. But that’s part of the process!

I’ve given the go-ahead to about 10 projects to go and get started - these individuals or groups have written up their proposals and they are ready to go. And they’re excited.

I’ll leave the last word to the kids:

Student #1: I have never been more excited about a project in my life. I really hope I’m able to do this. I’ve always been interested in music, but this summer, I went to a concert at Stanford and these seven twenty year olds wrote and arranged original songs and they were the most beautiful things I’d ever heard. Everyone in the audience was straight up head bobbing and jamming and crying. But seriously, though - that’s the point of music, to take a feeling and convey it to the audience. I’d like to attempt to do that, especially when it’s for a good cause.

Student #2: I can’t even express to you how excited I am about my project. This is an issue that’s really close to my heart because I know a lot of people on a personal level who self harm and struggle to find the things that make life worthwhile. It’s exciting for me to even think about creating a product that could help them, and people like them. Because being sad sucks. Especially when you don’t know how to make the sadness go away. I want to do everything in my power to help lighten the sadness on personal levels (my music) and on a more technical level (the money donations). It’s also exciting because writing music about a certain focused topic will help me grow as a writer and a musician because it takes me out of my comfort zone.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

History #flipclass Teachers Unite (Again)

It had been about a month. It was time for the batsignal. We needed a #flipclass history teachers hangout. Luckily, Kaelyn Bullock started asking good questions about what a flipped inquiry history class would look like. And just like that, the batsignal was sent. The conversation is embedded below.

North Bay CUE Conference Thoughts

I was lucky enough to get to attend the North Bay CUE’s annual event today. It was a good time! Like most conferences these days, it was awesome to get to catch up with Twitter friends in real life. People are the highlight. Does this mean that conferences aren’t worth it? Absolutely not. I take ideas back to my classroom that will make me a better teacher. But man, it’s cool to get to hang out with folks who are passionate about making education better!

I got to check out Amy Fadeji’s #twitterrocks in the first session of the day. Amy swore this was her first presentation on Twitter, but her session layout was excellent. I especially liked her use of a TodaysMeet backchannel as a non-Twitter way people could share concerns and questions they had. It was inspiring to be in a room learning about Twitter with multiple administrators and superintendents. Connected administrators - what a powerful thing!

I got to co-present with with Sarah Press about the Innovation Day we had at our school last spring. We spent a lot of time thinking about the structure of this presentation - neither of us wanted to stand up in front of people and talk AT them for 90 minutes. We settled on a nice structure that allowed us to share what Innovation Day was and have participants brainstorm issues they would have on their campus running Innovation Day as well as try to find solutions for these issues. The presentation is embedded below. All of our resources that we used to prep for Innovation Day are there - please steal away!

Catlin Tucker’s keynote was excellent. What really struck me was Catlin’s emphasis on failure in the classroom. It’s one thing for me to talk about failing forward with my students. It’s entirely another thing to have an author and keynote speaker tell a large group of teachers that is their job to go out and fail and then reflect and get better. What an awesome charge to go and do!

Catlin’s push to get teachers to blog was one I hadn’t thought about but is so totally on the money. By blogging, teachers are doing two really important things that often get skipped over for a lack of time: they are reflecting and sharing. What a great rationale for blogging!

I got to lead a session in the afternoon on better feedback with Google tools. First live demo presentation ever! And by the end of the session, everyone had created a Google form, gotten responses on it, and run Doctopus and Goobric on the results of their Google spreadsheet. Check out the step by step directions I created here. I ran out of time to have everyone walk through Kaizena, but I’m hopeful that my fast run through and the step by step notes (available here) that I made will have people feel comfortable using this powerful feedback tool.

Thanks to the NBCUE team for throwing an awesome event - great wifi, nice facility, good food. As always, hanging out with passionate educators is awesome!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday’s #EduWin

Tomorrow marks the end of week seven of the school year. Which means six week grades were due Tuesday night. Which means I can see my advisees’ six week grades today. But first let’s back up.

A little context: my advisory was the chronically underachieving group in my smaller learning community last year. No one did horribly, but my advisory was the ‘paper in a little late’ or ‘not passing the benchmark’ or ‘talks too much and doesn’t focus’ group.

And while we can all agree that grades are dumb, my advisees six week grades blew me away. Half my advisory has a 3.5 or above, 80% have a 3.0 or higher and no one has anything below a 2.5.

That’s my #EduWin for today.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Unit Structure: What Will This Year Look Like

Or what one unit this year will look like...

I’ve written previously about my struggles with last year’s new structures in my class. In short, my class was too prescriptive and a bit of the richness of wrestling with primary source documents together was lost when some of that wrestling was done asynchronously.

There were some good things, though, that came out of last year’s experiments. Things that I’m keeping for this year. I’m still done with homework. No more. Done. Period. No homework is staying. I also had elements of my class running synchronously last year. In these ‘the whole class together’ times, we worked together on bigger historical thinking activities: we did Socratic Seminars, inquiries, and structured academic controversies. The richness of doing these activities synchronously isn’t something I want to lose. And I won’t.

What’s new this year? 1:1 Chromebooks. A student teacher. No tests. More student-centered. This is my put up or shut up year. What do I believe education should be about? Well, why doesn’t my class reflect that? This is that year that my class jumps way closer to my beliefs about what education could - and should - be about.

Students working UNDER desks. Because, well, why not?
So, now that I’ve just about finished up my first content unit of the year, what did the content part of class look like? (The content part of class as opposed to the historical thinking part or the writing part.) We started the Russian Revolution unit crowd-sourcing knowledge about big areas of the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s rise to and use of power. I’ve blogged about this here. After crowd-sourcing this information, students went back over the documents their classmates created and came up with their own inquiry questions to research that were based within the Russian Revolution. Check out the directions my students went through to do this here.

Students had a couple weeks to go out and do research. Presentations started today for them. They had to present their learning in 3-4 minutes then answer questions from their classmates. I’m fascinated to see how things unfold.

Really though I’m excited to hear from my students about their experience in this unit. Generally history classes are about a mile wide and inch deep - people focus on breadth of content coverage. Not this unit. This unit asks my kids to be an inch wide and some level of deep - maybe not a mile, but for some students close to that. I’m curious to see how this (somewhat militant) push towards student-centeredness sits with my kids. I’m excited to hear their feedback. I’m excited to recount my failures with them and explain how I’m going to learn from these failures and make the next unit better.

I’m excited to #FailForward!

Friday, September 20, 2013

20% Time, Day 3: Backwards Planning

5th period's birthday party list
Thus far this year in 20% time, my students have spent some time brainstorming all sorts of ideas - good, average, bad, and everything in between - and gotten some structure for what their 20% time projects will look like. However, managing a large, year long project isn’t necessarily something my students have been asked to do in the past. Enter today…

We started class today with a brainstorm about all the things that they would do in order to throw a birthday party. After sharing out and recording these ideas, we started to think about what the first things they would have to do in order to throw this party. Then the second steps. And the third. Then, which tasks we would leave to the very end, right before the party.

But why? Because all my kids backwards plan. They break big tasks into smaller pieces and order them. Given this context - the ‘you know how to do this’ - I was able to step back and talk about their 20% time projects. My kids will be managing a project over the course of the entire year - breaking their project into smaller chunks is going to be necessary in order to succeed. In fact, their project proposals ask them to break down their projects into month-long chunks.

It was neat to watch the level of freak-out go down this week. Students are starting to get ideas ironed out and move into their project proposals. And they’re getting excited - which means I’m getting excited!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Today’s #eduwin

I written before about the School Redesign Project that my students did - it was a cool project that created some neat - and also subversive - thinking. Here was one of the presentations:

On slide 7, this group - who is discussing a redesign of the school schedule - suggested, among other things, class yoga breaks on days with longer class periods. During the question and answer session of this group’s presentation, someone asked which change would be the easiest to enact. The answer the group gave was yoga breaks on block days. The immediate follow-up question won’t be a surprise: “Are you going to lead yoga breaks?” Unfortunately, no one in the group knew how to do yoga.

Fast forward two weeks. One of the group members asked if I would be okay if they led a yoga break on our once a week 88 minute block period.

“I thought you didn’t know how to do yoga. Or teach people how to do yoga.”

“Well, I watched some YouTube videos last night. I think I want to try.”

Umm, YES!

After a little negotiation on the location of the yoga break, it was on. Today, 45 minutes into class, 2/3 of my third period world history class headed outside and did yoga for 10 minutes. And it was kinda awesome!

Sorry for the high contrast in the picture - I was pulling the ‘make sure you can see your students outside while you are near your classroom and can check on the kids in there’ trick. And yes, that larger individual in the right foreground is my students’ math teacher, who had a prep third period and went out and joined the kids.

That, friends, is my Wednesday #eduwin.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#20Time, Day 2: Some Structure

I started off 20% time in my class two weeks ago with the Bad Idea Factory - more on that here. Well, last Friday came along and it was time for week 2 (day 2?) of 20% time. But I took off from school a little early to head down to the first ever edcamp in Palm Springs, CA. And then flew back on Sunday. And collapsed for an epic nap upon returning home. Hence the lateness of this post.

Day 2 of 20% time was all about structure. Not structure in a ‘you’ve got to do all this’ way, but an attempt to provide some form to the crazy - and awesome - brainstorm that came out of the Bad Idea Factory. Students left the excited had left excited, but without any real idea what the project entailed. Day 2 was channeling of that excitement.

So, what is that structure? Like most things I’m doing with 20% time, these structures are heavily borrowed from Kevin Brookhouser and Kate Petty. Students can work alone or in groups of up to 4. Their work for the year of 20% time should be something they normally don’t get to do at school. Failure is absolutely an option - the final product is not graded, so dream big! Some sort of a product must be created - I don’t want a list of ideas at the end of the year. And finally, their 20% project must positively impact a community or group of people in some way.

So if the final product isn’t graded, what is? Good question! Their daily reflections - document linked here - will be graded. Both Kevin and Kate have their students blog their reflections. That would be one more layer of stuff for me - I get the power of public reflections, but this year they’re going to Google doc their reflections. One less thing. My student’s project proposal - linked here, heavily borrowed from Kevin - is graded. The outside interview my students must do with the community they will impact is graded pass/no pass with revisions available for those who struggle with this section. In December, students will give a two minute ‘what I’ve done so far, where I’m going’ presentation about how they’ve used their time during the fall semester. This will be graded pass/no pass, but shouldn’t be overly burdensome. Finally, my students will give a TED-style presentation in May that encapsulates their year of learning that will be graded. This speech is going to be big and awesome.

We went over these guidelines and graded/ungraded sections, then I returned my students to their initial brainstorms. Given the increased schema that they now had about their 20% time, planning restarted anew. Some groups and individuals started filling out their project proposals while others wrestled with the content of projects.

This Friday we’re going to talk backwards planning then return to planning the project. I’m hopeful to have a handful of project proposals to review by the end of the period!

Postscript: I attended Kate’s 20% time presentation at edcampPS. It was cool to see the amount of interest that folks down in SoCal had for doing 20% time in their classrooms!

Postscript #2: I’m building the 20% time section of my class website as I go - feel free to check that out here.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Few edcampPS Thoughts

Holly, Wokka, and Sam as edcampPS got rolling
So back in May when the first edcamp Palm Springs was announced, clearly I was intrigued. I love edcamps - I think the structure and organic nature of edcamps, but also the kind of teachers they attract, make the edcamp experience unique among educational professional development opportunities. Plus, they’re free. So I wanted to go. But I live in the Bay Area. Palm Springs is a long way away.

Enter John Stevens, one of the edcampPS organizers. He solved part of the issue: “Just fly down here and stay with me and my family.” Well then. Lacking an excuse not to go, I bought a plane ticket. Great decision. (Also, enormous props to John for putting me up for the weekend!)

I don’t want to talk about everything that happened at edcampPS, but there were some definite highlights. First, most of the #caedchat team was there. Given that the majority of the team - everyone but Sam Patterson and I - are SoCal folks, it was great to spend the day with this awesome group of educators who I had spent so much time planning chats with. Jo-Ann Fox brought irrepressible energy, Holly Clark asked tough questions all day, Ryan Archer provided some fascinating tidbits about his transformation as a teacher, Sam Patterson had the irreverent humor on point all day, and John Stevens and Jessica Pack, well, they helped organized the day. Some highlights:

The #caedchat crew  teamed up and facilitated a session on Twitter in the morning. As an absolute Twitter evangelist, I LOVE talking with other educators about Twitter. I also get eye rolls when I bring up Twitter on my staff, so having a room full of teachers that wanted to talk about and learn to better use Twitter is absolutely a blast to me.

Kate Petty’s 20% Time session offered a couple important reminders for educators. First, we sometimes need to remember to emphasize the process over the product in our classrooms. This is obviously true for something like 20% Time, where final products of this project are not graded. This emphasis on process can help move our students away from their obsession with points and grades. Second, and building on moving students away from their obsession with grades and points, Kate discussed that it was important to give students the chance to fail in their 20% projects. Being open and honest about this with students - you’re welcome to fail on this project - is so needed in an educational system that doesn’t allow students anywhere near enough opportunities to fail and learn from those failures.

One of the absolute highlights of the day for me was a post-lunch session facilitated by Moss Pike and Chris Long. Their session was titled ‘Check Your Ego at the Door’ and dealt with control and choice in the classroom. First, the session started with us rearranging the room and getting the chairs into circle so we could have a discussion. YES. This is what edcamp is supposed to look like. But the conversation was a deep one. Free flowing and touching on student choice, rules in the classroom, and making change at our sites and in education (to name a few of the light topics we discussed), it was everything an edcamp session is supposed to be. The body language of the participants reflected this as well - people were actively engaged in conversation and showed this whether they were speaking or not. Plus, props to Ryan Archer for one of the lines of the day with his realization that as teachers at edcamp, “We’re finally part of the one percent!!!”

'Things That Suck'

I got to facilitate ‘Things That Suck’ in the final session of the day with Matt Vaudrey. First, if you haven’t met Matt and gotten a chance to talk to him, do it at the next conference you are at: the dude is absolutely hilarious. Even on the 6:30am drive to edcampPS. Anyhow… Always a rolicking session with lots of voices and opinions, this version of Things That Suck was highly enjoyable. It even included a kindergarten teacher - who shall remain nameless - who had to put herself on timeout because she wanted to discuss everything!

Ah, what the heck - I’m outing you for that, Elizabeth Goold - your passion made Things That Suck even more fun!
iPad, photo by DianeDarrow

And while edcampPS was fun - I won an iPad mini in the swag drawing at the end of the day!!! - it was really the relationships and conversations - some new, others old - that are what edcamp is all about. Hearing a teacher’s visceral frustration with their prescribed curriculum, and how they are trying to deal with a complete lack of autonomy in their classroom. Excited teachers thinking about turning their students loose on 20% Time. Another teacher who can’t wait to get out of the classroom and into their TOSA position. The relationships, the people, the conversations - that’s what made edcampPS special.

Hats off to John, Jessica, Eduardo Rivera, and the rest of the team edcampPS team - the inaugural version rocked! Thanks for all your hard work - y’all delivered a great learning experience!

And the experience was capped by a late Saturday evening beer with Alice Chen, who couldn’t make it edcampPS! Well, Alice had desert not a beer, but regardless is was a nice way to end the weekend.

As I sit and type this in the Las Vegas airport, I’m left with a couple thoughts. We NEED to get more administrators to edcamps. They have a unique perspective on education that is so valuable in a room full of teachers,. Also, though, hopefully getting to see such a dedicated group of teachers would allow these education leaders to free up teachers to take risks in their classroom: to go out and try something, then support them if they fail. I’d love to say I knew how to do that.

Second? Get yourself to an edcamp. Even if it means some travel. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

School Funding Rant

I was sitting in a meeting yesterday where we were trying to decide how to spend about $10,000 that would be coming to my school from our district. I don’t exactly remember the reason the money was coming our way. Here were my choices to advocate for how to spend the money (in parenthesis is the amount of money needed to cover this cost):

Spend it to pay for subs to cover teachers when they had to take a day out of the classroom to co-plan with their department. My school is working towards having students defend a portfolio of their best work in order to graduate. In order to create these portfolio pieces, departments need time to (in no particular order): be clear on the most important skills that a high school graduate should have after spending time in their department, create projects that push students to do that thinking, reflect on and modify those projects in order to make them better/more in line with department goals/better line up with school goals, and create new projects in areas where projects are lacking. Clearly, spending money in this area is essential to our school’s mission, as well as creating critical thinkers and productive citizens. Cost: all of the available money

Pay for locks for our students’ lockers. Since the ACLU lawsuit about public education providing all the necessities for a student to function normally for free - meaning public schools can’t charge for field trips, locks for lockers, or PE clothes - these expenditures are becoming more normal. After discussing this topic very briefly, it is agreed that this money must be spent to ensure equal access to all our students. Cost: $1500

The next possible use of the money was to support low income seniors so that they could attend senior events. This means things like prom (though low SES students can get highly reduced prices to prom), Senior Knight (the senior party the night before graduation), and graduation gowns. Cost: $2000

My school has an advisory program that teaches students life skills and content that would normally be covered in content area classes. However, given the NCLB and high-stakes testing era, these skills have fallen by the wayside - advisory makes sure every student has a place to learn the skills. My advisory (grades 9 and 10) also serves as a home base for students throughout their adjustment to high school. Every year I have student-led conferences where parents/guardians show up and have students reflect on their progress thus far in the year, set goals for the next grading period, and answer parent and teacher questions. The next use of the money from my district was was to reimburse the 9th and 11th grade teachers for the time they put into these conferences. Cost: $6000

The final choice: ensure funding for the entire year for our after school program. We have had an after school study program for the last four to five years. This program is funded by our site’s money and staffed by graduates of the program and run by graduates of the high school I work at. The after school program serves at-risk students that, despite our best efforts, don’t get served by our best efforts. Cost: $1000

Why does a school - an incredibly progressive high school, with a history of innovation and creativity - need to fight for a couple thousand dollars? All of these things I just mentioned should get funded - all are essential. The fact that I - and the other teacher I teach with - have to MAKE A CHOICE about funding programs that are incredibly important to my school (a progressive school that doesn't waste money and has a butt-load of teachers that work REALLY HARD) really angers me. Should all of these programs be funded? Yes. Like one hundred times over. Why can’t they be? Grr.

Thanks. I feel better now. Or a little better.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Google+: Cross-post From CUE’s Blog

This post was the fourth in a series of blog posts that a bunch of my #EduAwesome buddies wrote for CUE's blog. The three earlier posts are linked in the first paragraph below - check them out! Thanks to Kate Petty for giving me the opportunity to write a guest post for CUE!

So. Now that you’ve heard about getting on Twitter to build your PLN from David Theriault, you’ve gone out and interacted - shared what you knew, asked questions, and found and shared cool resources. Nice - great first step. Then, you started blogging like Jen Wagner suggested - keep it up! After Jo-Ann Fox’s encouragement, you’ve taken your Twitter usage to the next level and started to participate in various education-related chats. Sweet! But what more is there? I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED!

I’m here to share with you the final frontier - or maybe the next frontier. Google+. Yes, Google+. It’s worth your time. Believe me.

How? Why? I thought you’d never ask!

Got a Gmail account? Everyone has a Google+ account associated with their personal Gmail account. If you use a school-related Google Apps for Education (GAFE) account, your network administrator determines if you have Google+ turned on. Regardless, you should be building your Google+ PLN through your personal Gmail account. (What if you changed jobs? All that work on your GAFE Google+ account would disappear…)

Get a picture up. Now. First step. Want to be super helpful? Use the same profile picture that you used on Twitter for your Google+ profile. It’ll make it way easier for people who follow on Twitter to find you on Google+. It’s the little things, right?

Next? Check out the occupation part. Write in your education-related job. At minimum, do those two things.

Want to go above and beyond? (The correct answer is yes.) Add where you live/work. It’ll help folks in your area connect with you. Also, write a little bit of an introduction for yourself. Does it need to be lengthy? Does it need to be worded perfectly? Nope. Let folks know you are an educator as well as a couple areas of education you’re interested in.

Feel free to add more details if you’d like. Bonus points for you, you PLN overachiever! Does your profile at the top of your Google+ page look something like the screenshot below? Excellent!

Now, you need to find people to follow on Google+. Scan all the awesome folks you follow on Twitter. Start searching for these tremendous educators on Google+. Put them into your circles. But what’s a circle? Circles on Google+ are a way to connect with people. Once someone is in your circle - any circle - you see what they share on Google+. Can you have multiple circles? Yes. Can people be in more than one circle? Definitely. If you have multiple circles, they can be used as a way to filter who you follow on Google+.

Pro tip: these awesome educators you’ve circled in on Google+ - whose posts are they sharing? Yup, you guessed it: circle those folks in as well. Similar to Twitter, Google+ isn’t really useful until you start to circle people in. Build that PLN!

Sharing on Google+
So. You’ve got this fancy Google+ account all tricked out. You’ve added people to your circles. Now what do you do with it? Yup, YOU SHARE! But what do you share? Great question. People share their blog posts. People share interesting or thought-provoking articles on Google+. Read an interesting post on Google+? See that +1 button on the lower left corner of the image on the right? Yes, the one with the red arrow pointing to it. Click that button to share this post with everyone that has you in their circles. Additionally, many blogs have a +1 button on them as well. Click that and the cool blog post that you’re reading - on someone’s blog, not on Google+ - will go out to everyone that has you in their circles.

Ready for the next step? You’re darn right you are! Start looking into Google+ communities. These communities can be created by anyone. They can be public or private. Membership can be automatic or moderated. The communities that you are interested in are probably focused on some specific aspect of education. Communities are a great place to get answers to your questions or share your expertise in a given area. Search for the right Google+ communities here. Contribute to the discussion! Share your experiences. Answer other community members questions. Pose questions that you have that you want expert feedback on. Want a couple of communities to join? I dig the 20% Time in Education and Chromebook EDU communities.

Pro tip: when you join a community, check out the notification feature - a little bell on the left side of the page. You probably want notifications off so your inbox isn’t deluged with emails.

The Best Part of Google+: Google Hangouts
Yes. You’re right - I did save the best for last. While I like the features of Google+ I just shared with you, to me what sets Google+ apart is the ability to do Google Hangouts.

What are hangouts? Face to face video conferences. That include easy integration of the Google apps suite. And screensharing capabilities. As well as silly sound effects and costumes that can be superimposed onto your face. And, the best part? These video conferences can be uploaded directly to your YouTube channel for later viewing! (A super easy - and free! - way to screencast, even on a Chromebook!)

Yes, Google Hangouts - and hangouts on air - have almost limitless possibilities. I’ve planned conference presentations - and entire conferences - on them. I’ve piped into conferences remotely to talk about tech tools. Talked with software developers and given them feedback on their products. Done a group video letter of recommendation for a friend. I’ve brought experts into my classroom and connected with other classes all over America. I’ve had conversations that got too big and complex for Twitter get moved to Google hangouts. I talk pedagogy with other history teachers from all over the United States about once a month via Google hangouts. A few of us were even crazy enough to run an edcamp entirely through Google hangouts!

Yes, that was a brain dump of possible uses for Google hangouts. Really, though, the sky is the limit with this awesome tool. Socratic discussions across classrooms? Do it! Remote tech support? Done. The fifteen things you thought of that you could use Google+ for while reading my list? Go out and do them. Soon. Then leave your innovations in the comments section below so everyone else can ‘borrow’ them!