Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#ShareTheMess: A Bad Pedagogy Day

My kids are nearing the end of a super intense unit that attempts to figure out why Afghanistan is the way it is today: it traces the history of Afghanistan through foreign meddling as well as the cultural and geographic factors that make Afghanistan unique. It’s a way more traditional unit than my class has been thus far this year: there are a lot of primary and secondary sources worked in with some videos and contextual direct instruction. A progressively structured history unit - very Common Core-friendly - that isn’t pedagogically innovative.

The unit is sequentially planned and kids have tons of questions: there is a lot to be curious about in Afghanistan! For this reason, the lessons blend into each other and don’t necessarily end when the bell rings.

But enough excuses. Today, the end of one lesson - that involved direct instruction - ran into the beginning of the next lesson. That also involved direct instruction.

A bad pedagogy crap-nado of badness!

I essentially never use direct instruction to the whole class. To small groups? Sure. Not the whole class though.

And when my kids got bored and drifted out of paying attention, I couldn’t even get angry at them. I wouldn’t want to listen to me talk - it isn’t fair to expect that of them then.

It got better the second time through - because I decided to play every musical reference that I made while doing the direct instruction. Thanks for making fifth period better than first period, Peter Gabriel and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

So there you have it. I was a bad teacher today.

Better tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Innovation Day: Cross-post From CUE's Blog

This article was written for CUE's blog post and can be found here. It was cowritten by Sarah Press, Liz Tompkins, Rian (a student of ours) and me. We were were part of the team of teachers at Hillsdale that put on Innovation Day. Thanks also to our student Rian for adding her perspective on the day above, and for contributing the awesome video embedded above! Thanks to Kate Petty for the opportunity to share Innovation Day with the CUE community!

What Is Innovation Day?

Many teachers and administrators are creating time in their students’ days to allow for passion-based learning. You might have heard of Genius Hour (check out the #geniushour hashtag on Twitter) or 20% Time (#20time on Twitter). Instead of a chunk of time each week being used for passion-based learning and creation - like with Genius Hour and 20% Time - Innovation Day allows for a whole school day of student creation. Kind of like an on-campus field trip, on Innovation Day students come to school and spend the whole day doing projects they have planned based on their own interests.

Why Do Innovation Day?

Several reasons, really.
  • It’s fun. Let’s not overrate kids being excited to come to school.
  • It gives kids a sense of ownership and voice. We ask students to come to school and do what we ask them to do on a regular basis. Why not give them some--or, in the case of Innovation Day--a lot of ownership and choice?
  • It fosters intrinsic motivation. According to Daniel Pink’s Drive, motivation comes from the ability to have autonomy in a task, the ability to show mastery, and a purpose for the task to be completed. We want motivated students, and Innovation Day provides a forum for students to experience autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
  • Innovation Day foregrounds talents and interests that don’t necessarily get revealed at school that often.
  • It’s a great place to develop 21st century skills like collaboration, problem-solving, and project management.
  • Innovation Day serves as a community builder as students who don’t often get a chance to collaborate academically get to work with each other for purposeful, not just social, work.
  • On year-end reflections, students loved Innovation Day. It was universally a high point for our students.
  • Lastly, we felt like we saw increased engagement in tasks in our classes after Innovation Day, though this is hard to quantify. The day seemed to pay off in student focus and attitude for the rest of the year.

How Did We Engage All Students on Innovation Day?

7 hours is a long time.

How do you keep over a hundred kids engaged in completely unique projects?
  • Discussion. In the weeks before, students have to reflect on what matters to them. Innovation Day is engaging when you are passionate.  Discussion, innovative YouTube clips, and models help kids realize the exciting autonomy they’ll be facing.
  • Open Options. Group work vs. independent work, indoors, outdoors, on computers, on instruments—since all kids learn differently, different options are better for different kids.
  • Structured, Hour-By-Hour Proposals. The proposals reveal the logistics of the project and the realistic level of engagement it provides.  Broad guidelines, i.e. projects will: produce a deliverable, address a larger audience, and have an impact on the audience, allow for independence but add a helpful structure.
  • Formative Feedback on Proposals.  It’s a place you can ask follow-up questions and suggest an added layer of complexity or a different medium if necessary.
  • Excitement! Have kids talk about what they are planning to do.
  • Breaks. Allow a few breaks in the day so kids can see what the others are doing— and be sure to check in with them throughout the day! There is a fun buzz in the room when all the projects are being completed.

Logistical Concerns For Innovation Day

Even with the detailed planning that went into pre-Innovation Day preparations, we still had several logistical concerns to work out.

Some kids needed quiet, others (like the student writing a heavy-metal guitar solo) needed to make noise. Some needed room to spread out, others needed space to focus. We surveyed students a week ahead of time to assess their needs in terms of space and materials, and then worked with the spaces available to us to accommodate what students needed. We ended up having a collaborative, relatively noisy work space in our cafeteria, a computer lab, a quiet classroom, and a variety of students in outdoor spaces and special rooms (e.g. music practice rooms on periods without music classes).

Materials and Technology
Our school is quite limited in our technological resources. We encouraged students to work in groups, to bring their own devices when possible, lent out several Chromebooks, and opened a (slow, but functional) computer lab with internet connectivity. There ended up being enough devices to go around.

All Innovation Day participants wore a special name tag that served both as a hall pass and as identification in case of behavioral concerns. We also created a shared Google Doc that listed all of the work spaces available. Each of the four advisory teachers on our team then listed which students should be in which spaces, and updated the list as student needs changed so that we always knew where kids should be. We had five supervising teachers (the four advisors and one student teacher), so each of the three main workspaces had one supervising teacher, with two roving the other locations.

What Innovation Day Looked Like: Student Documentarian Perspective

Innovation Day was a really good way to let us experience something we are truly interested in while in an educational environment. There were so many different project ideas that people were doing, like song writing/singing, story writing and movie making. After about two hours some people started to lose focus, because their projects had only just been started and they weren’t all the way into it yet, but they did get back on track fairly quickly. It would have been nice for them to take a break to go and look at everyone else's project throughout the day, just so they could take their minds off their project and do something else, while still participating in Innovation Day. Toward the end of the day people had either finished their projects and were sitting around, or were working really hard in trying to get to a good stopping point. It seemed to work well with the amount of people we had; it might have been really hectic if there had been more people participating in it.

How Innovation Day Went: Teacher Perspective

The day was hard to beat for positive energy. Students were excited, by the time the day actually rolled around, to implement their meticulously planned projects. They were equally excited to see what others were doing. Many concerns, such as behavioral problems, never materialized for us, and many positive surprises--students teaching other students, students shocked at the talents of their peers, honest and sincere praise for work--arose. And clearly, the true measure of success was in students demanding to know, even before the day was over, if we were going to do Innovation Day again next year.

What did our Innovation Day look like? Check out our student author Rian’s Innovation Day video!

Really, though, the last word on Innovation Day should be left to our students. Why should you run an Innovation Day at your school? See what they had to say below!

Interested in running an Innovation Day at your school? Let us help you get started! Check out the Florence Innovation Day Website with a ton of awesome student products from our spring 2013 Innovation Day. All of our Innovation Day prep resources can be accessed here - feel free to modify and use the heck out of them!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Tweak on Things That Suck

I'm kind of an edcamp junkie. I may or may not have referred to edcamps as crack PD a couple days ago.

If you've been to an edcamp you know why I feel this way: by their nature, edcamps draw on the very best and brightest educators in a given area. Who else is going to give up their Saturday to go to a conference THAT DOESN'T HAVE AN AGENDA  until the day of the event?

One of the iconic edcamp sessions - there aren't any prearranged sessions that happen at edcamps, but this is an exception - is Things That Suck (TTS). If you aren't familiar with TTS, check out Bill Selak's post about it here.

Things That Suck at #edcampPS this fall
Why does TTS rock? Because it gets people moving. And thinking. And sharing their opinions about education.

A topic - homework, for example - is given to the participants. Folks array themselves across the room with one side of the room being the "this sucks" side and one side being the "this rocks" side. Traditionally, people have five minutes to discuss the topic. The facilitator checks in with the sucks side, then the rocks side, then gets the middle to weigh in. Obviously that order is flexible, but you want to hear from all sides in a couple minutes. Then, the discussion opens up and you've got three minutes or so to have a free flowing conversation about the topic. At the sound of the five minute timer, it's on to a new topic.

At some point this fall, I heard about an edcamp TTS session - maybe at edcampKC? - that used the last minute for each topic to talk about how to solve this issue. How do we make homework better and meaningful? How do we fix 1:1? Standardized testing. You see the point.

The last couple times I've facilitated TTS I've really enjoyed this tweak. It transitions people out of semi-debate and into problem solving mode. Which is really why we're all at an edcamp in the first place!

Best part? Plans are in the works to do some really cool stuff with TTS at a couple California edcamps happening on the same day in February!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why YOU Should Attend a PLAYDATE in 2014

Because I said so? Bad reason.

So you go to a conference. Or an edcamp. You meet a bunch of awesome people. You feel inspired. You're ready to go make changes in your classroom. You've got a bag of new tech tools you've heard about. You're excited to implement them in your classroom.


Except then you get home from the event. You've got real life responsibilities. You need to get things done - lessons to design, grading to do. This bag of new tech tricks stays on the periphery; this bag stays on the shelf begging for you to come and play but you have no time. But those tools are there. They’re ready for whenever you find the time to learn about them, and about how to implement them in your classroom.

Well, enter PLAYDATE. The #BurNTA team outside Chicago conceptualized PLAYDATE as the answer to this conference woe: having a bunch of tools you want to try out but having no time to learn how to use these tools.

Similar to an edcamp, a PLAYDATE is usually held on a Saturday. And is free. Similar to an edcamp, there shouldn't be any presentations during sessions. Then things change.

First, the session board is built before the day of the event, but it is still participant-driven. Before the event, the organizers survey the attendees about what tech tool they are interested in learning how to use. The session board is built off of these desires: whatever tools PLAYDATE attendees want to learn are the sessions that are run.

Attendees are instructed to indicate interest in a session based on tools they want to learn, NOT tools they are already an expert in. Going to a PLAYDATE and messing with tools you already know how to use all day misses the point of PLAYDATE entirely: you leave PLAYDATE comfortable with new tools and knowing what this tool is going to look like in your classroom.

PLAYDATE sessions are generally about an hour long. The first twenty minutes or so are spent reading up on resources about the tool. The middle third of the session is spent trying out the tool. What can it do? What can't it do? The final third of each session is spent sharing out tricks for using the tool as well as implementation ideas for the tool.

Are these session guidelines hard and fast guidelines? Certainly not. However, the general idea of a PLAYDATE should be adhered to: hands-on playtime with a tool so that you could implement that tool on Monday.

Interested? I hope you are. Check out the original PLAYDATE site here - there are links there to help you start your own PLAYDATE. I was able to do a Google Hangout with the PLAYDATE founders - it is embedded below and has some great information about how the idea came about and what your PLAYDATE day will look like. Also, check out Jennie Magiera's blog post about how PLAYDATE came to be.

The first PLAYDATE of 2014 is on February 15th in San Jose, CA. The #BurNTA team is hosting the second Chicago area PLAYDATE on March 8th. In either part of the country? Both websites have registration information on them. Further down the road, Los Angeles will be hosting their second PLAYDATE on August 9th.

Come out and play!

Endnote: this shouldn't have been read as an indictment of conferences or edcamps. A PLAYDATE is designed to do all of those things you wished you had time to do at conferences or edcamps - talk, test, play, envision, implement, try, iterate, and revise. I'm on the organizing committee for three edcamps - clearly I believe in the model. Both edcamps and conferences inspire me and push my thinking. Getting to talk to other smart, passionate educators makes me better in the classroom. And really when it comes down to it that's what it's all about.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Branding in Education

Branding. It's a thing. A thing companies talk about. For profit companies. It's all about being known for something positive. But it involves actively going out and building your brand. Pimping your product. And your name.

Unfortunately (in my opinion), educators are starting to worry about their brands. They are starting to make conscious choices about how they sell themselves on social media to people - and companies.

That distresses me.

Branding has no place in my classroom or in my life. And I don't think it should have a place in yours.

Is there place for branding in education? I think that there is. But that sure as heck doesn't reside in a classroom. But a school? Take a look at what Jason Markey is doing outside Chicago with the @LeydenPride Twitter account and hashtag. The two Leyden high schools are playing an active part in shaping the message that the public gets about their schools.

Take a look at Tim Lauer's Instagram feed: he regularly shows off the beautiful moments that go on at Lewis Elementary School on Portland.

Tim and Jason are playing an active role in the conversation about their respective schools. Any principal that isn't working to actively trying to have a hand in the message about and opinion of their school is missing a part of their job, I believe. And given the amount of teens and parents on social media, why wouldn't a school try to infiltrate that space and try to control part of the message that is going out about them. Seems logical.

But the branding of teachers? Creating a brand for all our students? Get out of here. I want no part of that. It disgusts me.

Let's start with students. I am all in favor of students actively working to create a positive digital footprint. Yeah, get a Twitter account. Tweet relevant things to your life. Don't cuss like a sailor. Don't tweet dumb pictures of yourself or others. Talk to your friends. I get it.

But what is a student brand? Who are they trying to sell themselves to? To what end are they marketing themselves? WHY are they marketing themselves? Colleges or employers aren't going to judge them based on their Twitter followers. Or how many hits their blog has gotten.

Why do teens need to build this brand? Go out. Be a good digital citizen. Populate a Google search in your name with good content that you control. That's a positive digital footprint. Or digital tattoo. (Or, according to some, digital tramp stamp.)

But don't sell yourself. Don't market yourself. There just is no need. And what message is that sending these students when we tell them to go out and brand themselves? Enough people are self-centered in this world. We have no need to go around consciously creating more.

Now on to the bigger problem: teachers deciding to brand themselves.

We all know what it looks like:
  • "Let me tweet my blog post 18,000 times. To 75 different hashtags. Including to conferences and events that I'm not even at. I WANT BLOG HITS!!!"
  • "Let me tweet my website. Even though there is nothing new up on it. I'll throw in a few hashtags too for good measure."
  • "I'm going to choose one trick. I'll tweet about that thing over and over again."
  • "I'm going to be loud. Always right. I'll act like I know what I'm talking about. I won't consider other opinions. Ever. I'm right, dangit!"
  • "I'm going to tweet promotional materials about myself. Over and over again. Who could ever get tired of me?"
  • "I'm going to tweet pithy sayings repeatedly. I'll drop them in education-related chats. They'll be somewhat relevant to what people are talking about. Even if I say the same things over and over again, people will always agree with me and retweet these sayings. I'm building my brand."

I've had discussions with people on Twitter about these actions. About branding. People who I respect. People who think teachers - and students - should be branding themselves. Sorry. I disagree. Strongly.

Let's start back at a few really key questions.
  • Who are you blogging for?
  • Who are you tweeting for?
  • Why are you involved in social media?

Let me give you THE ONLY acceptable answer: to make your classroom - or the classrooms you serve - better.

That's why we all joined Twitter in the first place. Some recently. Some years ago. But we got on here to connect. To learn from other passionate, dedicated educators. From all over the world.

Is your #EduFame making your classroom - or the classrooms you serve - a better place?

Let me answer that question for you: no. No it most certainly isn't.

What if you spent that time you spend pimping yourself or your blog mentoring a new teacher? Holding office hours to help struggling students? Actively making your classroom a better place for your students?

I'm going to channel my inner Jeremy Macdonald here: just do good - the rest will take care of itself. Make your classroom a place kids can't wait to get into every day. Don't waste your time - and more importantly your students' time - chasing down #EduFame.

Do what is right: create the space so that your students crush it in your classroom every day. The rest will take care of itself.


End note: Jeremy's piece, linked above, really made me think. As did Greg Garner's piece linked here. Thanks, gents.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

#MIflip14 Reflections

I was lucky enough to be a part of the planning team for the second annual Michigan Flipped Learning Conference which was held this past weekend in Byron Center, MI outside of Grand Rapids. Over 100 dedicated educators braved the cold and snow showed up to learn for a day.

Similar to the first version of this conference, I had a blast there. I tweeted some initial reflections on the conference - the screenshot is below.

A couple things bear some fleshing out. First, Steve and Zach did a great job with the keynote. Inspiring, funny, and self deprecating. A great job.

Second, Michigan education policy is, umm, well, pretty tough. To the best of my understanding, half of Michigan educators' evaluations are based on, wait for it, test scores. I'll lay off the string of profanity that this induces in my mind and just say that this is beyond a travesty. A buddy of mine tosses around the phrase traveshamockery. That's what an evaluation system like this is: a travesty, a sham, and a mockery.

But the point wasn't to rant about Michigan education policy. It was to express gratitude and amazement at the incredible dedication of the Michigan educators who, despite adverse conditions, still want to change education and schools for the better.

Ideas flowed all day. Conversations continued into the hall after sessions ended.

I had a blast and can't wait for #MIflip15.

The #MIflip14 planning team

History Ed Blog Circle: January

When Joe Taraborrelli tweeted me about his idea about doing a history educators blog circle, I was immediately intrigued. When I read his blog post about it - and read the topic for January (teaching students a list of facts about the past versus teaching them to think historically) - I was more intrigued. Because I've spent some time thinking about this topic.

My starting point for this discussion is one that I imagine some history teachers would find heretical: I'm not interested in assessing any student in my room ever on a fact they can find on Google. Yes, that means no tests. And I'm okay with that.

So clearly I won't be siding with the teaching students a list of facts side.

This leaves teaching students to think historically. I was lucky enough to get to get take the curriculum and instruction part of my masters degree studying with Sam Wineburg. Sam is a pioneer in being explicit about the mindset that we as historians approach documents with. We source documents. We place them in their proper context. We read for bias. Historians look for omissions or over-emphasized parts of the story. We compare versions of stories, looking to corroborate information between documents.

It's a deeper reading of primary and secondary sources. And one my ninth graders aren't used to doing as they enter my room in August of their freshmen year. This ability to do real historical thinking - and add layers of complexity to these initial skills listed in the previous paragraph - is spiraled throughout the two years in my classroom.


I'm not convinced that students can do this historical thinking - the parts of my class that occupy the upper levels of Bloom's - without at least a little bit of contextual knowledge. Yeah. That means facts.
(I'm way more than willing to listen to dissenting opinions on this though.)

This belief has guided my approach this year in my classroom. My room is 1:1 with Chromebooks for the first time. I firmly believe that students should be using devices to create, not consume. However, I don't think you can ask students to go out out create without a little bit of contextual knowledge.

I've worked really hard this year on paring down just how much contextual knowledge students need to go out and think historically. Some units I've gone too far and my kids haven't had enough contextual knowledge to head out and be as successful as they and I would like them to be in their inquiry within units.

It's really a delicate balance to try to strike. If I'm not going to be assessing my students on their factual knowledge, I want to waste as little class time as possible dealing with factual sets that aren't relevant to the thinking that they'll be doing within a unit.

This means that my students are going to leave my class with some conceptual holes. Which I'm okay with. Hopefully they'll leave my class engaged in the bigger ideas of history. And the fact that history is a story, not a set of facts to be memorized.

Hopefully they'll leave my class better able to parse through conflicting accounts of news stories. Better able to pull bias from a source - any source, print or more likely digital - that is put in front of them.

So there are my two cents: history classes should focus on historical thinking and not on memorizing a list of facts. Yes, some factual knowledge is needed to go out and do that historical thinking. However, this should be pared down as much as possible to just prepare students for the more difficult work that I believe a history class should focus on.