Saturday, July 25, 2015

#youredustory, Week 29: Summer Reading Recommendations

Prompt: What are the best educational books for summer reading?

Ooh. I'll emerge from my not-blogging summer vacation for this one!

One of the best books I've read this far this summer is How We Learn. Benedict Carey, a New York Times science writer, looks at studies of how people learn and retain information. This book has broad implications across education: whether you want your students to memorize their times tables or get a creative insight into a problem, Carey has looked at the relevant research and pulled it together in an easy to read format. What really stuck with me from this book was the idea of percolation: once we seed a problem in our brains, it will continue to subconsciously work on the problem after we have moved on to other tasks. I need to rethink how and when I give my students time to work through more complex work that might benefit from this percolation. Kudos to Greg Garner for this sterling recommendation!

Another book I read recently that came highly recommended - this time by Matt Vaudrey and John Stevens - that I really enjoyed was How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. The glimpse into Google - and the emphasis the authors put on managing smart creatives - was insightful. Though they didn't acknowledge his work, I was reminded often of the ideas Dan Pink lays out in Drive. This book is probably most directly relevant to administrators and district level employees, but as a teacher I really enjoyed it. There were definite crossovers to the classroom for me.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Friday, June 19, 2015

#youredustory, Week 24: Pedagogical Innovation

Prompt: What is pedagogical innovation?

Hmm. Can there be real pedagogical innovation? Legit ‘this has never been done in a classroom before’ things still in education?

Or are there so many ideas within education - ideas that have come in and out of vogue, then back into fashion again - that we’re just recycling? Can we really innovate? Are we really “making changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, and products” within education? (Thanks, Google, for that definition.) I’m not sure there is a lot of pedagogical innovation that is available if that is your definition - it is a pretty high bar.

Part of the design thinking task on
South Africa
Unsurprisingly, I think we need to look at pedagogical innovation a bit more loosely. When I did a weeklong design thinking task in my history class this past semester, was it pedagogically innovative? No. I’m sure that there are plenty of other history teachers who have not only integrated design thinking into their classrooms, but done a much better job at it than I have.

However, for me, this was a pedagogical innovation. It was new. It was something I hadn’t done before with students. I had no idea how long aspects of the task would take. I had no idea where kids might get stuck. Or where they might make incredible progress, or show great depth of thought.

To me, then, pedagogical innovation is intensely personal. What is innovative to me may be second nature to others. Something they could do in their sleep. And vice versa - what is boring to me may be incredibly innovative to others.

The important thing here is to not lose patience with people who are taking risks in their classroom. Even if the risk is, in your mind, small or nonexistent, we MUST celebrate those risks. Shine a light on them. Recognize the attempt, the outcome that was in doubt, and the learning that happened from the risk.

Because my risk is someone else’s second nature.

And education isn’t going to change the way we want it to unless we can have teachers - and students - feeling comfortable and supported taking risks, innovating on their terms.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

#youredustory, Week 23: Are Ceremonies Important?

Prompt: Why are, or aren't, graduation and promotion ceremonies important?

Ceremonies that honor the strengths of ALL students are important. ALL students need to have their accomplishments honored. Not JUST the valedictorians. Not JUST the kids with with perfect attendance. Not JUST the kids winning big scholarships.

ALL students.

Thanks to Chris Wejr, Ian Landy, and Scott Bedley for pushing my thinking on the topic of awards and ceremonies.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Friday, June 5, 2015

#youredustory, Week 22: Year End Reflection

Prompt: Most of us are somewhere near the end point of the school year. Reflect on the 2014-15 school year. What went well? What didn't go as well? What changes are you going to make for the 2015-16 school year?

The start of summer looked pretty tasty from the John Muir
Trail in Yosemite!
Given that my last day with students was last Thursday, this is a timely prompt. I've been turning these questions over in my head for a while - it'll be good to get something coherent out.

Also, this turned into kind of a mammoth post.  #SorryNotSorry

What Went Well
A couple things come immediately to mind. First, I spent the last two years really banging around trying to figure out how to do history class better. Two years ago I ran a self-paced, mastery based class. While some good things came out of this, I felt like my class lost the richness of common experiences around rich document sets and big ideas. So, out with that.

Last year I was 1:1 for the first time and tried to create time and space for kids to work on areas of history they were interested in. Aspects of this went well, but I often sent kids out to do the thinking in areas of history that interested them without enough context to really understand what they were looking into.

So, the circuitous answer that I'll finally arrive at: I think that my students were more prepared this year to look into areas of history that interested them. They had the context they needed to make meaning of their individual or small group explorations that they did together.

Additionally, I added a section to the end of these individual or small group explorations where we came back together as a class and looked at the work of our peers and answered some synthesis questions to try to tie the disparate content they had learned back up. The peer audience helped, and the synthesis part got kids to make connections between very different content.

Other things that went well, but more briefly:
- Socratic seminars continue to rock my world. I love getting to sit back and listen to kids play with ideas and hear them think, build on the ideas of others, and disagree in an academic way.
- The emphasis on social justice and issues of inequality in America was good. I'm glad I'm not scared to teach hard topics anymore. I'm glad we spent three weeks early in the year talk in about Ferguson - it was a touchstone that my kids came back to often throughout the year.
- 20time continued to be fun. It was neat to watch kids work on things they were passionate about. And kids made some mind-blowingly cool things.
- The 'final exam' my kids do at the end of their freshman year is a mock trial of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission cases from post-apartheid South Africa. This is the fifth time I've done these trials and both the content kids mastered and their oral presentation skills were on the whole better than what I've seen from students in the past.
- I finally integrated some design thinking into my classroom! And while there were a things I need to tweak, the thinking and quality of conversation I saw from students was exceptional. Additionally, they listened to peer feedback and acted on it in a way I've not ever seen kids do before.
- Without being all "look at me", I was honored to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy in Austin in December and was humbled to get to do a TEDx talk in January as well. Both of those were neat experiences, but for very different reasons.

What Didn't Go Well
- The short answer? I'm proud to say there is no achievement gap by race in my classroom. However, there is a huge achievement gap by gender. Guys do worse in my classroom than females do: 11% of males in my class got a D, 4% got an F. By comparison, only 2% of females got a D and none failed my class. And while I know that this generally reflects realities in education across schools and ages, it is something that definitely I need to think on and try to solve next year.
- Third period didn't go well. Too much not caring about producing quality work. Too much caring about what other people thought of you and saw you doing. Ugh. There will be some cleanup that needs to be done around classroom culture there next year.
- To be honest, I need to look at the student feedback I got as well. I'm going to let the school year breathe before I take a look at that. Ask me at the end of June :)

Changes For 2016-17
Honestly, I don't know that I have wholesale changes that I plan on making. I need to take a look at the student feedback and see what my kids had to say. I need to decide if I am going to do 20time in the second year of a loop with students or if I'll have them do passion-based blogging on Fridays. I've got student feedback to look on that topic as well.

I've mentioned a couple times already in this post that I teach a two year loop with kids. This means that I'll be tweaking material from two years ago for next year. I'm looking forward to the changes that I'll make around curriculum: more North Korea, less totalitarian USSR; less Cold War and a genocide unit in its place; who the heck knows what I'll be teaching at the end of next year (we've got a lot of choice in what we cover second semester sophomore year).

So there you have it. Year 7 (or 8, or 12 depending on if you count student teaching and teaching in the Peace Corps and environmental education) is in the books.

Onward and upward. But first, breathe this summer.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Monday, June 1, 2015

#youredustory, Week 21: My Creative Council

Prompt: Who would be in your creative council?

This sounds like another question that I sometimes ask edtech friends when we congregate: who is in your edupantheon? I think I'll answer that question - the answers are essentially the same.

In no particular order...

Rushton Hurley: I got to know Rushton before I realized how mind-blowingly cool he was: Rushton ran the MERIT program when I did the program in the summer of 2011. He was there every day, helping us along and pushing us. It wasn't until I started to hang out in a wider circle of edtech folks that I realized how amazing Rushton was. I appreciate his ever-present positivity and nerdy sense of humor. Most importantly though, after hanging out with Rushton, I always feel energized and ready to go do the work that needs to be done. I want Rushton on my creative council not only for his knowledge, but for that 'we're going to do it' feeling I always leave conversations with him with.

Kristen Swanson: As I got to know the edcamp movement, I always looked up to Kristen and the rest of the edcamp founders. It wasn't until I attended edcampSac with Kristen that I realized that not only had she helped found this movement I love, but she is ridiculously intelligent. I had the privilege of sitting in several sessions with her that day and left kind of stunned with what I had heard that day. Her selfless dedication to the edcamp movement and ridiculous work ethic are both humbling and laudable. I want Kristen on my creative council because the work gets done - and done well - when Kristen is involved.

Jennie Magiera: I first got to chat with Jennie as I was trying to plan the first PLAYDATE in the Bay Area. I say the following with the greatest love and admiration: Jennie is CRAZY. She is one of the most energetic and just flat out fun people I've gotten to meet in education. However, she also is whip smart and all about doing what is best for kids. Her CUE conference keynote was great this year, and I loved it because she talked about real issues real kids faced in a real way, F bombs included. I want Jennie on my creative council because I feel like her energy would be a huge asset and I think she and the next person on the list would come up with crazy-brilliant ideas that would actually work.

Jon Corippo: Jon and Jennie are listed back to back for a reason: I feel know both of them would have no problem with running full steam ahead with what they weren't supposed to do - they'd do whatever it was, and make it an amazing experience for kids. Both Jon and Jennie are the right kind of crazy, the kind of crazy I'd want pushing me on a day to day basis. I got to visit Minarets, the high school that Jon started, a few years ago to check out their 1:1 program. And while I came away impressed with what Minarets was doing in this area, I went away floored by the culture and sense of community on that campus. I want Jon on my creativity council because of his ability create that sense of community and for his 'we're gonna make this happen' attitude.

Ramsey Musallam: Ramsey is brilliant. Period. The incredibly thorough way he thinks about education is nothing short of incredible. If I could be in any teacher in my PLN's class, it'd probably be Ramsey's chemistry class. I've also had the privilege of being around Ramsey as he has learned things. This is something everyone should experience: his unbridled enthusiasm is unlike anything I've seen in adults or kids. It's amazing. I want Ramsey on my creativity council for his thoughtful approach to education and for that enthusiasm.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

#youredustory, Week 20: Engagement in Reading Tasks

Prompt: Student Engagement in Reading Class
Sweet annotations by Ryan M, photo by me

So I don't teach a reading class, but info teach a literacy-rich history class. And yes, kids need to encounter text in every class. Every teacher is a reading teacher.

A second preface: if you read this blog occasionally, you know I'm not a huge fan of engagement. Points can make kids engage. What makes kids curious? What makes them want to read more?

For me, there are a couple things at work here. One is material that is interesting. Yes, obvious and vague. Readings we do to prepare for Socratic seminars are usually discussion-inducing in the prep stages. So there's a clue there: giving kids the time and space to make meaning to talk about what they've read is important. I've seen kids really dig in when the readings are followed by a Socratic seminar - there's an aspect to the public performance that I think helps kids dig into a text.

Additionally, texts that speak to larger human issues - inequality, evil, issues of race and class - seem to generate interest in the topic at hand. The more readings stray from a clear, 'correct' answer seems to help too. As a history teacher, I watch kids engage in a task when they're trying to figure out what happened in the past, however recent that past may be.

Finally, if my kids have a purpose for reading they know what they're looking for. They know what they might see. They're readier to do the intellectual work of making meaning of a text.

So there's a scattered answer about curiosity and reading. Give them time and space to talk, get texts with big issues and without right answers, and give kids a purpose for reading. Not a magic bullet but a start.

More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

#youredustory, Week 19: Anti-Bullying Message From My School

Prompt: What strategies does your school use to send an anti-bullying message to students?

Wikibully by TheCuriousGnome
from Wikimedia
Explicitly, schoolwide? Not a ton. All freshman go to a cyberbullying presentation by our counseling department, who are joined by our dean and school resource officer from the local police department. And while I’m glad this is presented to all freshmen, it is a bit heavy on scare tactics of online activity. There is nothing said about creating a positive digital identity.

Within class, there is a lot of behavior regulation that can be done. We loop with our students for two years, and as we get to know kids more - and kids get to know each other more - there is much less nastiness said between students.

However, the transferring these actions to the public sphere - when kids know they are out of earshot of adults - continues to be an issue.

We all need to do more in this area, I think.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Friday, May 8, 2015

#youredustory, Week 18: Favorite Education Conference

Prompt: What is your favorite education conference you've attended? Why should others attend?

Photo by Rachel Wente-Chaney, used with permission
This. This is why I love iPDX. Three people I respect a ton sitting and talking, pushing on each other about what good professional development is. Conversations like this one with Scott, John, and Kristen are what I love about having edufriends all over the place that I get to see every so often.

But that can happen at any conference. And it does, to a certain extent. But the quality of the people at iPDX - facilitators, attendees, keynoters - is so high. This is definitely one of the joys of a smaller conference.

You get to a point where you go to enough PD - mandatory, site or district-based PD or PD that you choose to go to that - that you know bad pedagogy in PD when you see it. Sit and get sessions that focus on apps or tools. Led by one person in front of the room talking at people.

30 New Ideas in 60 Minutes. Session clickbait, if you will. 'Come listen to me for sixty minutes - you'll leave smarter.' And there are people I can sit and listen to for sixty minutes. But that isn't a long list.

It can be different. Longer sessions. Explicit instructions about being a facilitator, not a presenter. Time to sit and reflect and create. Time to build something to take home and use. Time to continue the conversations begun in sessions. Keynotes that push the boundaries of what a keynote can be.

These things can happen: that's what iPDX is. That's what iPDX does. It can be done.

And I'll own it - at iPDX15 this year I was nowhere near as good as I wanted to be as a facilitator. Some sessions didn't quite go where I expected them to go. In others I did too much presenting and not enough facilitating. But I‘ve reflected on - and hopefully learned from - my mistakes. And I've got a list of ideas about what to do better moving forward.

At places like iPDX I learn from watching others facilitate. Kelly Kermode thinks about experiences in sessions really thoroughly. I loved how this year she had attendees creating, moving, and offering feedback in her session on visualizing data. Curt Rees left me with a lot of small things that I can do as a teacher to impact culture on a campus. When you start thinking about cultural and cultural shifts, ideas can get big and daunting in a hurry. Curt did an excellent job keeping things manageable, but oriented towards action. Leigh Graves Wolfe gave a closing keynote that was incredibly participatory - like 500 people participatory - and was a huge risk on her part. And NAILED it.

I leave conferences like iPDX excited. Energized. Looking forward to implementing ideas in my classroom and at PD that I organize. Looking forward to marinating on the ideas around PD that echo through my head.

I leave hopeful for more conference experiences like iPDX.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Friday, May 1, 2015

#youredustory, Week 17: What Motivates Learning

Prompt: What motivates learning?

Yeah. Choice is important.
A choice of public right of way by Kate Jewell from wikimedia

In an ideal world, in order of importance:
  1. Curiosity
  2. Choice

In an ideal world, it’s not really a list. It’s two things.

In school as it is currently constituted, in rough order:
  1. I need to get a __ so I can get into college / so I can stay eligible / so my parents don’t get angry / etc
  2. The test
  3. Compliance
  4. Engagement
  5. Choice
  6. Curiosity

Yeah. I’d say there are some things that we need to fix...


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!

Monday, April 27, 2015

We Need to Teach Hard Things

Students need to be able to recognize this in the media.
As I watch racist media coverage float out of Baltimore...

On the heels of talking about creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth last night on #caedchat...

There are a lot of things that we - the adults in this world - have effed up pretty good. There are a lot of problems - heavy, difficult problems around race, class, gender, culture, and numerous other things - that we are leaving for the next generation to solve.

Given this, I believe we as educators have a moral imperative to have hard conversations, to raise awareness, to increase knowledge around race, class, gender, culture, and any other areas where systems of oppression and inequality exist with our students. (And yes - there are many adults who are scared to talk about these things.)

We must start developing our students’ critical lenses for viewing society. For consuming media that is all around them. For creating media that challenges assumptions and stereotypes.

So they can make the world a better place in the areas we have failed.

“But this makes some students uncomfortable.”

GOOD. I remember my initial grapplings with my extreme privilege in this world. I was uncomfortable with my whiteness. This wasn’t something I had chosen. For me, that discomfort with my privilege was an important first step towards starting to come to terms with my privileged place in the world.

As we kicked off this school year with a three week unit on Ferguson, I watched some students be uncomfortable with the death of an unarmed young black man. (The most uncomfortable group? White males.)

Students need this discomfort! Critical lenses don’t just appear out of the blue, especially for the privileged members of our society. All students need the time to talk and learn about systems of oppression in our country. They need to be exposed to the hard conversations. Students need the language to talk about this.

Some things are more important than the curriculum your state/district/school tells you to teach. This, I believe, is the most important of those things.

Friday, April 24, 2015

#youredustory, Week 16: We Can Do Better Than Rigor and Engagement

Prompt: What does rigor and engagement look like in the classroom?

Ooh. Two words I really don't like. Let's do this!

Let's start with engagement. And to be clear - I don't want kids bored in my class. At all.


If you ask me to make a choice between students being engaged and students being curious, I'll choose curiosity any day. Kids can be engaged by a silly costume. Or a dynamic lecture. Are these bad things? No. But if done all the time... I don't want my students paying attention in class to see what weird thing I'll do next. Because with engagement, the teacher is far too often the focus.

Curiosity, to me, is king. When kids are curious, I can get completely out of the way. When curiosity strikes, questions iterate on questions and students really drive and own their own learning. Kids pay attention to what question they want an answer to, not to what I'm doing.

And rigor. That's a tough word. I'll leave the arguments about rigor - and its etymology - to others. I'll repeat something I heard Dean Shareski say on Techlandia a couple months ago: do we want school to be hard for kids all the time? How brutal would your day be, how much would you dislike school, if it was difficult all the time?

To answer the prompt though. Challenge and curiosity - which I'm happier to talk about - sound loud in my classroom. Challenge and curiosity sound like kids talking and doing and disagreeing. Challenge and curiosity involve choice over what is learned and how that learning is demonstrated.

Appropriate challenge and curiosity should drive education - not rigor and engagement.


More information on #youredustory can be found here. Consider joining in the fun!