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.