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