Thursday, February 20, 2014

#edcamp Organizer GHO

I had the honor of being part of a Google hangout of veteran edcamp organizers tonight and it was a blast. It's always great to get to talk edcamp, and the conversation with Kristen Swanson, Shannon Montague, Alice Barr, Debby Jacoby, and Peter Strawn lived up to expectations. We chatted about tips and tricks for new edcamp organizers and also talked about how to make sure that conversations at edcamps are focused on innovative pedagogy. The Storify of the Twitter backchannel chat for the hangout is linked here. The actual GHO is embedded below.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Do-Nothings in #20time

Let me clarify first: I don’t have many of these. One for sure, a couple of maybes. Out of 110 kids doing the project, that ain’t bad. Now that that clarification is out of the way…

What about that kid who is blatantly doing nothing during #20time? What do you do? Cancel the project? Get into them to try to get them going?

These are second semester sophomores were talking about. Kids who I have taught for four straight semesters. We know each other. We’ve got a relationship.

I talked to the most prominent of the do nothing kids yesterday.

“I’ve watched you this semester in #20time. I don’t think you’re doing anything.”

“No, I’m not, really.”

“Here’s the deal: not gonna lie, that bugs me a little bit. But I appreciate your honesty.”


“I’m not going to yell at you. Or even make you do anything. If you want to fill out the weekly reflections and not do anything, to get the grade, I guess I’m going to let you do that. If you feel okay about doing that, if you want the grade that way, I’m not going to stop you.”
(Note: my students reflect on their progress weekly and create monthly rubrics to self-assess their progress. I grade these weekly reflections and their monthly reflection for completeness. More on this here.)

“Hmm. Okayyyyy. (pause) Is the final product graded?”


I don’t know how I should have handled this student and their choice. A part of me is really bothered that they are choosing to waste 20% of their time in my class this year. I look around at what other kids are doing and think about the kids who are so excited for history every Friday. Kids who code like mad for 45 straight minutes. Or are pulling together a sports camp for middle schoolers. Doing neat stuff, and stuff they are genuinely interested in.

But I can’t force that interest either. I had a lot of discussions with this student about their project. Clearly nothing came of these talks. Still, though, I’m left wondering about the best way to have handled this.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Some #playdate14 San Jose Thoughts

The video above is the epitome of #playdate. It’s something I never would have taken the time to make, because without #playdate I never would have had time to mess with Pixorial. Is it beautiful? No. Does it give me a window into how I would use Pixorial in my classroom because I got a chance to use the tool? Absolutely.

What is a playdate? An opportunity to explore tools - hands-on - with other eager learners. Instead of leaving an edtech conference with a load of tools to mess with but no time to learn them, playdate gives participants time to mess with and learn tech tools of their choice in a space with other educators who want to learn the tool.

The concept of a playdate seemed cool. After picking the brains of the founders of playdate, Andrew Schwab, Lisa Highfill, Rachel Diephouse, Kyle Brumbaugh and I set out to make one happen in the Bay Area.

I’ve gotta say, it was a blast. I got to mess with Pixorial - and envision a workflow for student-created videos on Chromebooks in my classroom, Minecraft - a program some of my kids LOVE and one I hadn’t had time to mess with, and If This Then That - an automation program I had used a little bit, but only scratched the surface on.

Would I have had time to learn these tools? Maybe on spring break. But to get to learn them in a room with other excited educators? Yes please!

#playdate14 in San Jose was a blast. It was a different kind of tech conference, but a very fun one. I loved leaving knowing tools better, not knowing more tools.

Am I done with paid tech conferences? With edcamps? Heck no - I’m really excited about edcampSV on Saturday! Should there be a space in your conference schedule for a playdate though? Yes. There most certainly should be.

Roseville GAFE Summit Resources

I got to present a couple sessions at the GAFE Summit in Roseville outside of Sacramento last weekend. And forgot to post the links to the resources. Whoops...

Here is the doc that had all the information for my Doctopus, Goobric, and Kaizena session. The passion based learning presentation is embedded below.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

#flipclass Panel

I got to hand out with a whole bunch of intelligent #flipclass folks and chat with a group of teachers working with Chris McGee today. Really enjoyed this convo and the way it showed off the many facets of flipped learning.

The GHO is embedded below.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

20Time and The Suck

I wrote earlier about how The Suck started to descend on my class’s 20% time projects at the end of last semester: the far off deadline for the projects - April - had allowed some groups to settle into some complacency. And not-productivity.

While I was a little bothered by this, I also understood how it could happen: the deadline for these projects was so far off there wasn’t the time pressure to produce immediately.

So. Enter Doctopus! I used my favorite script to push a document to my kids that asked them to create a rubric for their productivity for the month of January. They had to reflect at the end of each Friday on what they had gotten done that day and what they needed to get done before next week.

And? What happened?

Kids were generally more productive with their time. And their reflections were honest. Painfully honest in parts.

“We weren’t as productive as we needed to be. I need to do a better job of facilitating in my group to make sure we stay on task and focused during class.” Wow. Okay. Looking forward to watching that.

“I set my goals too high for this month.” That’s a problem I’m happy to deal with.

“We got stuck in The Suck in the middle of the month.” Word: need to be able to diagnose it to be able to fix it!

Did this totally solve the problem of The Suck? No. Did things get better? Yes. In fact, I’m pushing this document out to my kids tomorrow to keep track of their productivity for the month of February.

20Time Video

I went around and interviewed my students last Friday - our dedicated 20time day - and asked them about their 20% time projects. The results are below. This is only a small sample of what they are working on though - I only interviewed a couple of the classes about their projects.

I love the variety of projects they are working on!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

20Time and Real World Problem Solving

I tweeted this earlier this week, but the back story bears more mentioning:

I had a student come busting into my seventh period prep a couple days ago.

“LS!!! We figured out how we can make our breast cancer run work!”

Umm, yes - I can work with this excitement!

This is a student who has not always been sold on the 20Time projects we are doing this year. Or on the changes I have made to my class this year. But man, was she excited in this moment.

What she’s dealing with is something I’ve started to see with other groups: as more and more kids are seeing the end of their projects in sight, the groups that need a place to hold their 20Time project have started to need to get facilities organized to hold these events. And then they run into roadblocks.

And I’m not helping them. At all.

It has been really rewarding to watch them start to deal with those hurdles. All proposals to use school space are getting rejected (the out of hand rejecting of student requests is another issue altogether). But then the kids have to go out and advocate for themselves, to make their ideas work within the larger schedule of the school. They go out and talk to the athletic director to organize using the gym for a three on three tournament. They talk to an administrator about using the little theater for their benefit concert.

You know: deal with the logistical red tape (for lack of a better word) that they need to do in order to hold their event. It’s this problem solving that has been rewarding to watch.

At times, the kids find it frustrating. Really frustrating. But to see breakthroughs happen? And legitimate excitement about solving these issues that have troubled them for a couple months? Yeah, that’s a 20Time #EduWin!

Curiosity, Engagement, and (No) Tech

Back at the end of last school year, the smaller learning community that I am a part of at Hillsdale High School decided to embark on a mission to improve the quality of talk in our classrooms. We did a book study last summer and came in this year ready to have conversations about how to increase the quality of discussions in our classrooms.

As we've met over the course of this school year, we've had some fascinating conversations around talk. These conversations have slowly evolved over time. Subtly, our shared conversation has shifted into a discussion of engagement and curiosity in the classroom. It wasn't a choice any of us made, it has just been where the conversation has flowed naturally.

The conversations have been fascinating. We haven't really come to tangible conclusions (yet!) but I leave these meetings feeling stimulated and left with ideas to chew on.

The most recent distinction we've made is one between curiosity and engagement. My English colleague is currently preparing our shared students for the California high school exit exam (CAHSEE). Not the most exciting material. However, in an effort to build engagement about rules of punctuation, she showed up dressed as a pirate for a few days last week. Engagement was built. But as she correctly pointed out, hokey tricks like this build engagement - which is good - but don't necessarily create curiosity.

So then. Curiosity. And the point of all of this.

Curiosity is that classroom magic: kids drive the conversation with their questions, questions they legitimately want answers to. Tangents are taken, dead ends are run down, and class flies by. Agendas go out the window: let's figure out the answers that kids want!

My kids spent last semester working with me in a 1:1 classroom - my first semester on a 1;1 environment. We learned a lot as I attempted to modify and redefine what a world history class could be in a 1:1 environment. Kids were engaged and at times curious as they had freedom to direct their own learning.

Fast forward to this semester. We just finished the fourth week of school. We're working on a department created portfolio task that looks into why Afghanistan is the way it is today. With the exception of 20% time which is still every Friday, my kids haven't touched the Chromebooks in class this semester. At all.

And the level of engagement is as high as I've ever seen it.

Why? The subject material is stimulating: Afghanistan's history is as complex as any country I've learned about. We're working with fascinating primary and secondary sources on a daily basis. And the kids are into it!

So what? What's the takeaway? I don't need tech to spark curiosity. Can it help? Sure. When kids have choice in their learning, curiosity has a chance to shine through. But a well-designed unit (this unit has been created by seven teachers - #BetterTogether!) with no tech and no choice over content can engage the heck out of kids.

And even though I intuitively knew this, it's easy to forget the power of a well-designed no tech unit, especially in a year where I have been working hard to intentionally integrate technology.