Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Year in the Omnibox

Ye Olde Omnibox (screenshot mine)

Inspired by a post by Jennie Magiera at the end of last year, I chronicled my year in my Chrome browser's Omnibox at the end of last year. It's pretty easy to do: type in a single letter, and see what website the Omnibox autocompletes for you. Without further ado, here goes.

A - about.me: Interesting. I've got an about.me profile, but I don't spend much time editing it. I must not go to very many A websites.

B - blogger.com: Given that I run this blog through Blogger, that makes sense.

C - calendar.google.com: Love Google calendar. And many Google tools. Nuff said.

D - drive.google.com: See C above.

E - edcampsfbay.org: I help organize edcampSFBay. Proud to see this show up here.

F - flowofhistory.com: Cool history website that I occasionally direct my students to. Check it out - neat flowcharts of how history unfolded.

G - gmail.com: See C above.

H - hhs.schoolloop.com: My school's grading portal. I don't love Schoolloop, but, well, that's why I have my class website on a Google site.

I - images.google.com: See C above.

J - nothing autocompleted when I typed in a J.

K - kaizena.com: Great way to leave audio feedback on my students' writing. Love Kaizena.

L - lmgtfy.com: YES!!! Love LMGTFY for answering bad questions people ask.

M - maps.google.com: See C above.

N - nextvista.org/my-name-is-michael: Great video I showed my students at the end of the semester. Take a couple minutes and watch it. Now. Seriously.

O - oetc.org: OETC puts on some great edtech events. They do conferences right: long sessions focused on doing, not on listening to the presenter talk at attendees.

P - phishtracks.com: A site that streams every concert my favorite band has ever played? For free? No surprise here...

Q - nothing autocompleted when I typed in a Q.

R - remind.com: Great tool. Use it regularly to text my advisees.

S - sites.google.com/site/worldhistorywithls: My class website. Yup.

T - tweetdeck.com: In an upset...

U - usbank.com: Yeah. Makes sense.

V - vimeo.com: No explanation needed.

W - wellsfargo.com: See U.

X - nothing autocompleted when I typed in an X.

Y - youtube.com: No explanation needed.

Z - nothing autocompleted when I typed in a Z.

Really interesting - a lot of similarities to last year's post (linked above), but a few important differences as well.

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Initial Thoughts on Google Teacher Academy: Austin

The crew! Photo courtesy of Danny Silca
I was supremely lucky to get chosen as one of the 52 educators to attend the Google Teacher Academy last week in Austin. It was an experience. Some framing, then some reflections.

I come at professional development with a pretty democratic lean. As an edcamp organizer, I believe in the power of choice and conversation. While I often have to deal with professional development that doesn't develop me professionally, I choose to attend events outside of my paid time that do develop me professionally. Events that give me choice and ownership over what I'm learning and give me the time and space to have meaningful conversations with other dedicated educators.

Secondly, when you have the opportunity to bring together fifty talented educators - classroom teachers, tech coaches, administrators - plus eight or so GTA lead learners, well, there should be some pretty powerful conversations that come out of that time. We should be taking some big swings at some pretty thorny educational problems. Groups like this don't get to come together that often; this time is valuable. Let's make sure we're using it to dream up some moonshot solutions to education's biggest problems.

In retrospect, this bar was probably impossibly high. However, it was the hope that I came in to GTA with: to see some truly revolutionary PD and leave with an exploded brain and some solutions to go out and try.

Aspects of GTA completely met this goal and then some. Others didn't come close.

The highlight of the session parts of GTA were definitely the first morning and the second afternoon of the event. After talking a bit about moonshot thinking, we spent the first morning doing some design thinking around problems we faced at our sites or districts. We ranked these problems and chose areas to focus on. We were placed into common groups with folks with similar issues. These groups chatted about these problems and mapped some stumbling blocks to them using hexagonal thinking, which was a really neat process.

And then came the advanced tool sessions. For the second half of day one and the first half of day two. Given the goal I came into GTA with, this was not a good use of our collective time and passion.

Was some of it interesting? Yeah. Chris Aviles is a ninja. He shared some new things he does with his students using nGram viewer. I'd pay to hang out with Jennie Magiera. But sessions I'm told to go to, that have no choice involved in selecting what you learn, and have no connection to the moonshot thinking and design thinking process we just spent the morning of day one doing? The part of GTA I was really quickly geeked on? This was a big disconnect from that. In my opinion it was not the best use of the sixty people in the room's time. However, that’s just me. For others, this might have been the highlight of their GTA experience. Also sprinkled into this afternoon and following morning of tool time was a talk about the history of Chromebooks and a chance to chat with one of the Google employees working on Google Classroom. Again, in my opinion not the best use of the time of the sixty people in the room: it wasn't action oriented towards solving big problems we faced.

The afternoon of day two? When we got to dig back into our problems? When we got to craft and give feedback on our driving How Might We... statements? Then become action oriented and design solutions to these problems? YES!!! More of this! If I had my druthers, we'd do two days of just this. It'd be mega-intense, but people would leave action-oriented, and having spoken to lots of educators with common - and uncommon - issues.

So big picture, what are the takeaways? I got to meet some great people. I loved the passion of Dane Ehlert as he spoke about his math students and his desire - despite some very real obstacles - to do what was best for them. James Peterson is crazy smart. I got to reconnect with Chris McGee, who gave a great mini-presentation about saying yes to everything and working to make the people around you look brilliant. Joe Marquez's passion (and sweet belt buckle) were a great jolt of energy.

I leave Austin and GTA with some thoughts. I leave knowing that the time I get to spend with really brilliant people is valuable. While in Austin I thought back to the best session I attended at the CUE conference in Palm Springs last year: it actually wasn't a session. I sat in the Bloggers' Cafe and talked to Moss and Kristen for an hour about how we could make conferences really valuable for people like us who didn't need to talk about the hottest new tool, but needed to have conversations with smart driven educators. GTA reinforced this conversation, and the idea that these gatherings are rare and need to be really driven towards action and solutions. And the half of GTA that did this - the morning of day one and the afternoon of day two - was BRILLIANT. I need to keep this in mind for events that I'm lucky enough to attend that have these groups of people. *cough* Portland in February *cough*

I leave knowing that the GTA organizing team is taking risks and asking for feedback. When I talked to folks who did GTA a while back, they said that my experience sounded more valuable and a step in the right direction from the session-based GTA experience they had. I also got a chance to chat with a couple of the organizers of GTA, and they outlined the tweaks they had made and how they arrived at this point: by listening to feedback from attendees.

Is there a perfect way to do GTA? In my ideal world, I'd love two whole days focused on taking action towards moonshots with ideas generated using design thinking. No tool talk. Lots of time to see the moonshots and action plans of others and connect them to resources that I and other attendees might have. For me, that'd be revolutionary. That'd make my head hurt at the end of the day, but in a good way.

But that's me. I'm weird. Others may read this and think I'm an idiot and I've got it all backwards: GTA should be about taking deep dives on Google tools. And maybe it could be both things: attendees could choose a tool focused or a design thinking focused sub-academy within GTA.

In the end, though, I need to be clear: it was certainly worth my time. I'm very thankful that my school stepped up and covered the cost of the vast majority of my trip. There were moments of brilliance, to be sure. There were memorable people, folks who I want to keep in touch with. And I hope that this drive to maximize the face time I get with my PLN actually is a thing that I follow through on.  

Really, though, I need time. Time to process how to maximize the face to face time with my far-flung PLN. Time to see what doors being a GCT opens for me. Time to process how I'm going to take moonshot thinking and design thinking back into my classroom, as well as into the professional development spaces that I get to play a role in. Time to go for walks and think about all of this.

And in the end, in addition to everything I mentioned above, I got to share GTA with four of my closest edubuddies and chat and eat BBQ and go bowling with them. I'm thankful for Victoria, Rachel, Matt, and John for sharing this experience with me and for pushing me to be better than I think I can be.


If, for some reason, you've made it this far, do yourself a favor and go read Rachel and Matt's excellent reflections on GTA.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

#ShareTheMess: The October/November Swoon

"nosedive" by Elijah Nouvelage from flickr
Late October and early November was a bad time for me. Yeah, it's the time of year that we all hit a dip in our collective energy level - there isn't a long weekend to be found in October, the new year smell of the school year has worn off, it starts to get dark earlier and earlier - but I made some mistakes in October and November. They dogged me for about a month. Don't do what I did. In no particular order:

Don't focus only on the students you're struggling with. There will be students that you have growing pains with. That you butt heads with. There will be classes that are a struggle. But fixating on those students you're struggling to get on the same page as, focusing on the things you're not able to do in the class you're struggling with: do those things for long enough and they get toxic. You stop seeing the great thinking some of your students are doing. You become blind to the growth that groups of your kids are making. And your failures build up inside you as you continue to fixate on the areas you're not making progress in and ignore the successes present around you.

Don't compare your old students to your new students. Yeah, we do it. Yeah, it's inevitable. But those comparisons can eat you up. I loop with my students: I get my ninth graders for a two year world history loop. So when I said goodbye to my tenth graders last May, I knew what was coming. I have looped back down before: this year was the fourth time I've done it. However, the contrast this year really hit me. In too many instances I only saw what my students couldn't do. In other times it was comparing second semester tenth graders to first semester ninth graders.

Combine these two things for a solid month? Come the middle of November I was a mess. I felt like a phony: here I was, advocating trying new things in the classroom and celebrating what your students can do when you get out of their way and I couldn't get out of my own way.

Finally, Victoria asked me about all the things my students could do. Asked about what was going right. And finally, slowly, I started to focus on the great thinking my students were doing. I started to be kinder to myself, to see my students for who they were: freshmen who I had another one and a half years with. Talented kids who were making strides at critical thinking and owning their learning.

And that focus made all the difference. I started seeing the amazing projects they were working on. The student who taught me a ton about the transgender movement. The kids who shared a ton of information about a fascinating slave revolt in Rome that I had never heard of.

And here we are, in December. First semester is (shockingly) almost done, and things are looking up. All it took was someone asking me the right question.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Can I Do?

Let's start by owning some privilege: I'm a straight white male born in America. I have a masters degree. I appear to be Christian. I don't have obvious physical handicaps.

I was born with a platinum spoon in my mouth. I acknowledge that.

I can't solve issues of racial, socioeconomic, gender, or any other inequality in 140 characters on social media. I can't know what it is like to live in fear: that isn't my experience.

However, I can acknowledge my privilege with my students. And I can talk with my students about issues of class, race, and gender inequality. I can start to shine a light on these issues in my classroom.

By starting to have these conversations with my students when they're in ninth grade, hopefully they - and I - can be part of solving some of the ills of our country.

I also can encourage teachers to teach hard things. Talk about race. Talk about class. Talk about gender. Be transparent about inequality. Our students can handle these hard conversations, often in ways that adults can't.

I can share the curriculum I co-created on Ferguson. I can explain what we're about to talk about in my class when it starts in ten minutes: we're going to talk about what yesterday means. Break down what a grand jury does. Explain what yesterday's ruling in Ferguson means. I can give my students the time and the space to talk about this.

And as we talk about this, some students will be uncomfortable. And that's good. For me, that was the first step in owning my privilege: I first started to feel guilty about being born white before I could begin to unpack and own my privilege.

Is this enough? No, probably not. But it is something.

I hope teachers today are at least doing something.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Effectively Leveraging the Tech You Have

Here's another post from my Leading Edge Certification - Digital Educator course that I had to do that felt blog post-y. The prompt is in italics, my response is below it.

How do the number of devices, student access technology, and 'classroom' setting influence one's pedagogical approach? What steps can an instructor take to best leverage the technology in his or her classroom?

Huge caveat: this answer is grounded in my (limited) knowledge of how to teach history at a high school level. I don't pretend to speak for or know anything about teaching other subjects. Or multiple subjects for my elementary colleagues.

Given that... Let me now make a broad sweeping statement: I think that the ideology - the pedagogy - behind teaching can look the same regardless of tech access. Teachers can be the focus of class, or classes can be more student centered. Classes can focus on the memorization of facts, or focus on students creating knowledge. Teachers do what they think is best for their students, or they can look listen and hear what students really want in their classes. Teachers can focus on content acquisition, or they can focus on skill acquisition. Classes can pursue a curricular goal at the same time and with the same content, or teachers can allow space for student interest and choice. For me, with tech or without tech, the goal of my classroom is always the latter.

However, I also think tech makes me better able to be student centered. To focus on student creation. To hear my students' feedback. To allow for skills to be the focus. To leverage choice and interest. So tech doesn't change my focus.  However, used thoughtfully and fearlessly, it allows me to get closer to the classroom I want to run.

I think that the most important step an instructor can take to best leverage the technology in their classroom is simply to reflect on who is using the tech and to what end the tech is being used for. Regardless of the number of devices in the room, if the teacher is the one using tech - or is using tech the majority of the time - I think that teacher needs to ask themselves some reflective questions. Could stations be set up to free up what tech is available? Could kids use the available technology to do the thinking and explaining more (and the teacher subsequently doing the explaining less)? Can tech be offered as an option - but not the only option - for demonstrating knowledge? Do students own devices that they can use to increase the amount of technology available in class?

There are ways to stretch devices, to make less than a 1:1 environment work. But important questions need to be asked about who is using the technology - it should be the students - and how the technology is being used - it should be used for creation of knowledge, not consumption of knowledge. Focusing on these things allowed me to stretch the technology that I had before I was 1:1.

The final word: do you want tech? Then go out and get it. Offer to pilot anything and everything. Ask your PTA for funds. Talk to your administrators. Have a clear and compelling vision and share it. And if you feel like you need the technology and it isn't going to come from your district, go out and get it. Look for grants. Use Donors Choose. Make it happen!

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Twist on #edcamp

edcamp apple used with permission
I've been lucky to be a part of a pretty dynamic Voxer channel of edcamp organizers for the last several months. We've spent a good chunk of time talking about a lot of different things: sponsorship of edcamps, how to run a slam at the end of edcamp better, how to get a more varied group of people at edcamp - the conversations have been pretty wide-ranging.

I was excited to get to steal a couple of ideas from this amazing group of folks and integrate them into our most recent edcampSFBay, which was held in August. We tweaked the slam at the end and made some changes to how we ran the raffle. Both seemed to run better with the tweaks - progress!

We've also spent a lot of time on this Voxer channel talking about what edcamp 2.0 looks like. What is the next iteration of edcamp? The conversation circles back to this every so often, and some really intriguing ideas have been shared.

For me, the magic of edcamp is the people. It's the conversations. It's getting to see old friends. But edcamps can be a lot of work - ask any organizer and they'll tell you. But here's the thing about the "edcamps are a lot of work": it's work I do as an organizer gladly. Happily. This holds true for every other edcamp organizer out there.

So what is all that work? A site to hold the edcamp is one major hurdle. Once you've got that, the ball starts rolling. But there are other areas that take some doing. Sponsorships. Name tags. Organizing food and drink. Setting up areas to display swag. Making the slide decks for the day.

Know what doesn't take a lot of work? Building the session board.
This is the easy part! (Photo is mine)

So wait. What if you've got a place that has hosted and wants to continue to host edcamps? (Thanks Notre Dame of Belmont!) What if you ran an edcamp without sponsors. Without food and drink. Without swag. Without all the things that take a ton of work. Just sessions.

What if this edcamp was from 8-12? Build the session board. Three hour-long sessions. Everyone goes home at noon with the whole afternoon to do work or be with their family.

All of the excellent conversations that is edcamp. None of the hassles that can be timesucks for organizers.

Well, we're going to figure that out. edcampSFBay is going to run two express edcamps this spring in Belmont. Keep an eye out for tweets about it. Come join us! It'll be a blast. And way easier for us organizers :)

Note: I make no claim at being the person to come up with this idea. This bubbled out of a dynamic group of edcamp organizers chatting on Voxer. I also am sure that other edcamps have done half day events with no sponsors. I'm sure this isn't an original idea.

But I'm also sure that these express edcamps will rock. And they'll be way less work for the  organizers - which means more edcamp for everyone!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Impact of Technology on Communication and Collaboration

Another reflective piece from my Leading Edge - Digital Educator certification. I felt like this one was worth sharing. The prompt is italicized.

How might the communications and collaborations of a digital educator differ from those of a traditional classroom teacher? In what ways might they stay the same? Does technology change the way we interact, or just enhance it?

The goals of communication and collaboration for a digital educator still attempt to achieve the same goals as those of a traditional classroom teacher. The end product that we want is still the same: what is best for our students. Any new form of technology or pedagogical method needs to be measured against that yardstick.

The content of the conversations is probably relatively similar as well. Discussions of best practices, of how to engage students, of how to deal with classroom challenges are timeless: teachers always have and always will have these conversations. Before I was a digital educator - whatever that term means - this was the content of the conversations that I was having with team members at my site. We pored over student work, we designed projects and assessments, we shared successes and failures.

Now that I'm a digital educator, I there are subtle changes in the content of the conversations. I don't talk about demonstrating mastery of content anymore with members of my PLN. I don't talk about tests, mine or those from the state or district, anymore. This is due to a shift in my own pedagogy. Much of this shift is attributable to my first couple years on social media.

These days I'm more likely to be talking about cultivating student curiosity, or 1:1 rollout plans, or just saying hello to friends I've made via social media that I come across online. The content of the conversations has changed.

I'm not sure if technology has changed the way I interact or enhanced the way I interact with my fellow educators. I do know this though: being a digital educator has allowed me to see into a TON of classrooms that I never had access to as a traditional classroom teacher. I can access more diverse pedagogy, have my ideas and conceptions of the classroom challenged in ways I couldn't fathom, and talk to pedagogical experts from across the US and the world because I am a digital educator.

My classroom is also a far more public place. My class website holds all the materials that we've used, allowing for teachers anywhere to access it and use and modify what I've created. Student work is there as well and is shared for all to see: peers, parents, other classrooms and teachers - anyone can access the materials that my students have created.

I am also more able to share the thoughts I have around pedagogy, assessment, and the role of school because I started blogging about 2.5 years ago. By taking the time and think through and reflect on what I believe in, my understanding of my classroom is far more precise than it was before I started blogging.  

Sorry - this was kind of a lengthy response, and in the end I'm not sure I answered the second prompt about how technology changes communication and collaboration. I'll try to sum all of it up in a sentence. Technology has profoundly changed the way I view my classroom and school in general. It has enhanced my ability to share my ideas and get feedback on my practice.

In short, being a digital educator has changed the what I do in my classroom and who has access to my classroom.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A Late Start to 20time

Yes, yesterday was Halloween. Yes, I just started 20time. No judgment, right? I didn't want to start 20time until really solid norms were in place with my freshmen. I also missed a couple of Fridays in October and wanted to make sure we had a few Fridays in a row to get the 20time momentum rolling.

Last year I started 20time with some brainstorming and the Bad Idea Factory (all blatantly stolen from Kevin Brookhouser). I liked how it went. However, a few tweaks happens this year.

I started the class talking about how my kids have the content of their thoughts controlled - to a certain extent - at school. "Think about this. Write this. Now do this." What did they think about when their brain had free roam of any topic? What did they WONDER about?

I shared that I wondered while hiking. Walking. Doing dishes. In the shower. Places my brain didn't have assigned tasks. NOT at school. I shared that I wondered about why we were murdering the environment. About why people did bad things. About how to run the best history class in possible.

Then kids started writing about what they wondered. If anyone ever tells you that American teenagers don't think, have them do this. Holy cow. The depth and thoughtfulness of their questions was amazing.

After that, we watched one of my favorite videos on all of the internetz: Google X's moonshot thinking video. I framed this video by asking them to think about what happened when people chose to pursue their wonder.

Needless to say, my kids seemed to understand pretty quickly the power of choosing to pursue their wonder.

Next, I briefly talked about how we had virtually eliminated choice and passion from school. How kids often didn't have the space at school to pursue the things they are interested in. About how I struggled with making kids do things that they might not be interested in in my class when I'd rather teach "find your passions and learn about and pursue them" as a class. And most importantly, I told them that I was giving them every Friday back until April to pursue something they were excited about.

Next, they brainstormed things they wished they could do: mental activities, physical activities, hobbies, things to help the school and community, and their own moonshots.

"Woah. LS.  This is hella hard. And really deep." Hearing that every period of the day? On Halloween? On the day they could have skipped school to go the Giants victory parade? That's an #EduWin for sure.

Finally, we got into the Bad Idea Factory. I shared a couple of my ideas from the brainstorm they had done on the board and asked my kids to do the same. Momentum was built. Kids riffed off of each other's ideas. And then the bell rang and they were excited about next Friday. The four panoramic shots of the board are embedded below - there are some spectacular ideas up there. Some great idea. Some intensely personal ones. And some bad ones.

I like the tweaks I made this year. Grounding 20time more concretely in wonder, in moonshots, and in a place to explore and be excited about school really seemed to resonate. I'm excited for next Friday!

Bad Idea Factory: 2nd period

Bad Idea Factory: 3rd period

Bad Idea Factory: 5th period

Bad Idea Factory: 7th period

Sunday, October 5, 2014

My TPACK Diagram

This week in my Leading Edge Certification class, we were asked to create our own personal TPACK diagrams - how technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge overlap in our classrooms. It was an interesting reflective exercise. My diagram is linked here and embedded below.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Managing Expectations

Spawned out of a Twitter conversation that I thought died and then was reignited, a blog post. Thanks to John Spencer for poking a thread I thought was done.  Let’s do this!

All connected educators deal with a huge number of excellent educators in our PLNs who do great things. How do we, as educators, deal with the expectations that come out of this knowledge? That was the gist of the conversation that got reignited last night.
"Men's high jump" from Wikimedia by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Clearly, this is a place where the adage ‘Different strokes for different folks’ rules. I’m looking forward to hearing what my fellow conversators have to say about this. But my two cents? Here they are.

How do I manage the expectations of the Twitter-sphere? Or to put it better, how do I deal with expectations I have of myself because I’m connected to so many great educators? In an age where I can see into so many great classrooms, and in an age where people are hesitant to share the mess that is their collective classrooms, it is easy to beat yourself down. To set the bar to unreachable levels. Or get a serious case of FOMO about what you’re NOT doing.

So how to manage? Here’s my recipe.

  • I want to keep getting better. Always.
  • Better doesn’t always mean new. Better means improvement, not shiny.
  • I get to look into a lot of classrooms. That sets the bar high. That bar motivates me. I know that I won’t reach the best of what my friends and colleagues from all over the world do. But I know I need to be okay with that failure. The bar I set for myself is higher than any administrator could - or should - set it. It’s still the bar I want to set for myself.
  • I have some things that I believe are almost static: I believe in them strongly. Can I change them? Yes. Do I anticipate changing them? No. (More on this idea here.) My semi-static beliefs:
    • Student creation: regardless of what I am using - technology, or paper and markers - I believe that students need to be creating knowledge, not consuming knowledge. Do you need to consume some knowledge to create? Yes. Do you need to consume all the time? Or even most of the time? Heck no.
    • Curiosity rules: want to talk about rigor? The Common Core? Good, neither do I. If I can get my kids curious about something - to the point when they have questions, and iterate questions on top of answers they find - I don’t need to worry about rigor. Or the Common Core.
    • The grey area of history is the most important area: what makes history interesting ISN’T memorizing facts. Is it the story? Maybe. Is it getting to cast judgment on the past? Yeah, that’s a possibility. Is it big ideas that cut across time and subject area? Sure. Students need to be tossed into the grey areas of history with the skills to create and defend arguments. The answers they come up? Inconsequential. What matters is the why.

Additionally, we all need a place to do something that isn’t education. For me, the combination of a Fitbit plus a love of taking and editing pictures on my phone has become an extremely important balance to deal with this bar I have for myself.

Thanks to Melissa, Victoria, John, and Jeremy for the conversation.

For more reflections on this conversation, check out what John had to say.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

About That Blog You Purportedly Have...

So yeah. I haven't blogged in like forever. Or since early August. And October looks like it will be busier than September.

One reason for all of the busy is that I've enrolled in the Leading Edge Certification - Digital Educator course. As I was writing a post for next week is occurred to me that the post - and perhaps several other that I will do - made a decent blog post.

So the discussion post is below. The prompt is in italics. More cross-posting to come?

How might the pedagogy for a digital educator look different than that of a traditional brick-and-mortar teacher? In what ways might it stay the same? Does technology change the way we teach, or just enhance it?

Pedagogy looks different for a digital educator than that of a traditional teacher in a number of ways. However, I believe that the most important way is that given that information is now almost ubiquitous, learning should be almost ubiquitous as well. If we are teaching and learning digitally as professional educators, we must extend that same courtesy to our students. No longer should all students be learning the same thing at the same time for an entire year in a course. Students should have time to dive to more depth in areas they are interested in and pursue answers to questions that they create - NOT driving questions the teacher creates like PBL says to do! - and genuinely want answers to. This requires a significant letting go of control for a digital educator that a brick-and-mortar teacher may not be comfortable with.

However, kids are still learning. They still must read, write, and synthesize information. Students must still defend their beliefs and understandings about a given topic of study. But most importantly, education was, is, and always will be about relationships. All good teachers focus on relationships - they always have and always will.

For me, technology dramatically changed the way I taught. I ran a relatively progressive inquiry-based classroom for about three years. Then, everything changed: I did the MERIT program, learned for a year online with my PLN, and attended CUE Rockstar. Things are different now, not just enhanced. An infusion of technology, a dynamite PLN that lets me see into their classrooms and challenges me to be better every day, and a belief that students no longer need to all be learning the same thing all the time has dramatically shifted what my classroom looks, feels, and sounds like. I firmly believe that my classroom is evidence of the transformative aspects of technology in education.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Qualitative Data in the Classroom

Like most teachers, I don't have much time to care about standardized test results. Like I'm pretty sure they're killing education and making it harder for teachers to do what is best for kids in their classrooms.

Okay, I'm more than pretty sure about that assessment - I know that to be true.

But this isn't a rant about standardized testing. Or about quantitative data in education.

I know that there are a lot of educators out there who are pushing hard to try to redefine what a school is and can be, or what a classroom is and can be. That's one of the biggest reasons I'm on Twitter: to steal ideas and inspiration from these people.

But as we make changes that we believe are in the best interests of our students, quantifying why things are better for our students can get tough.

I know that as I've embarked on my personal journey to redefine what a history classroom is, I've run into this quantification problem. If pressed, how could I prove that what my students are doing in my class is better now - as I bumble my way towards this goal of a better history class - than what I was doing before?

Because I can promise you that if my kids had to take standardized tests - or tests of any kind for that matter - they'd do far worse than they would have done a couple years ago. (I say somewhat proudly.)

So as we work to redefine what a classroom and a school can be, what are we to hang our hats on? What can we point to as a sign that what we're doing is working?

I can speak about grades (they've gone up - far fewer Fs, and a higher percent of students are getting a C or higher) and behavior issues (they've gone way down) but what else can I point to?

I believe that my students collaborate better. How do I prove that? I know my class FEELS nicer too. But how to I quantify that? I know my kids better. I get to talk to every kid every day. I think my kids are happier in my class. How do I show that is true?

Should I even care about quantifying this stuff? I'm not even sure. I think it’s important to do that though - to show that what I’m trying is working.

But as I've thought about this issue more and more - non-test data from my classroom - the more I realize I don't know. That's why I'm really looking forward to this week's #caedchat: I think I'll leave with a lot of ideas for what I can be on the lookout for this year.

So I can better understand how my classroom has changed. So I can assuage students and parents that aren't always comfortable with different.

Thanks in advance for the ideas. Hope to see you at #caedchat on Sunday at 8pm PST.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

#cuerockstar Reflection: Gratitude

As I drove home from #cuerockstar Manhattan Beach on Thursday, a few thoughts started percolating around in my head. Nothing like a 7.5 hour drive to do that...

Two years ago, I applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities trip to South Africa. I would have spent several weeks in South Africa learning and studying. I considered myself a good bet for the program. I teach a six week South Africa unit - classroom application for my work in the program - and I served in the Peace Corps in Namibia, so Southern Africa is near and dear to my heart.

Well, so much for that: I didn't get in.

And it was the best thing that could have happened.

Instead, I spent the summer edtech nerding. I went to the national flipped learning conference in Chicago. I went to #cuerockstar at Minarets High School. This blog was born two summers ago.

My introduction into edtech actually happened the summer before that, the summer of 2011. This was the year I did the MERIT program at Foothill College. MERIT gave me some ideas and was the beginning of my edtech journey; it was my toe into the water. However, I was in over my head at MERIT: I had too much to learn. It was in the summer of 2012 - after I had spent a year tinkering ni my classroom and learning - that I took the next steps and really sent my classroom and my learning into overdrive, into a place that is always evolving and changing.

And as I was flying up I-5 in the Thursday dusk, it struck me how much had changed in two short years. I had the honor of attending a myriad of awesome PD opportunities this summer. I even was able to present/facilitate at a few. Two years ago, I never would have guessed that this might be the case.

As I was thinking about this, I was also struck by how important a few people had been on my journey these past couple years. Clearly there have been a lot of really crucial people over these last two years - many names could get mentioned. But three stand out as being crucially important.

Diane Main has been my lead cheerleader and encourager from day one. Diane was the assistant director of MERIT when I did the program in 2011. I've had the privilege of serving on the MERIT faculty under Diane's direction the last two summers and have had a blast being part of that process. She is the person who encouraged me to go to my first edcamp and who told me I should get involved organizing edcampSFBay. She pushed me to attend events and do things that I wouldn't have been comfortable doing. More than anyone else, Diane is the reason my students do the weird things they do in class and the reason I've spent an exhilarating summer kind of conference hopping across North America and seeing awesome educators I'm lucky to call friends.

In addition to Diane's influence, I received some crucial encouragement in the summer of 2012 at the end of #cuerockstar. I really looked up to the folks that presented that summer at Minarets. (I still do. And I feel lucky to call many of them friends now.) However, at the end of the conference, Jon Corippo and Lisa Highfill both reached out and said some incredibly kind things.

Yeah, I've changed my Twitter handle since then :)

My mind had been scrambled by three great days of learning at Minarets. To have two people of Lisa and Jon's caliber reach out to me boosted my confidence in my ideas and my practice immensely. Like so many teachers, I felt like I had nothing to share with members of my PLN. To get that encouragement from Jon and Lisa meant the world to me.

I'd love for there to be some sort of smooth transition here, a way to connect an explanation of an immense chunk of gratitude to Diane, Lisa, and Jon to my concluding thoughts. However, I'm not sure there is. So I'll just get to the conclusion.

Who were the crucial people at moments where you made great change in your practice? Do they know the impact they made? Maybe equally importantly, who are you helping to grow? Who are you helping to stretch their wings?