Back In the Saddle Again

Corn growing in driveway

photo by Aaron Maurer @coffeechugbooks. Used with permission

It’s a good thing that I took a break from social media for a month. There were so many things that I did with my family and moving two households into one place was just the most recent event. Yes, I have bruises from carrying boxes and household items and I have muscles screaming that I didn’t even know I had, but the move is over. Finally, after two years, my wife and kids and I are living in one place, in Iowa.

What was being off social media for a month like? At first it was freeing. I felt like I had more time, which I didn’t have because I’ve been taking two online classes, one that ends this week and one that ends the day school starts on August 24th. I found that I couldn’t keep away from my Flipboard account which is where I get most of my news and where I curate information into a dozen magazines. I didn’t turn my notifications off so I did notice the constant stream of my Twitter feed popping up on my iPhone. I read a lot for pleasure, tried out some new iPhone games (including one called Ingress which is location based and entails getting outside and capturing virtual portals), and I colored. Yes, that last one was coloring. I bought an adult coloring book Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, a set of colored pencils, and spent some time coloring. No, I’m not trying to reclaim my lost childhood, I have read a number of articles about coloring helping keep stress levels low so I gave it a try. I find that when I color I am so focused on staying inside the lines and preoccupied with my color selection that my mind does not wander to the daily stressors of my life!

My daughter has been running with other kids from her cross country team this past week so I was at school from 7 AM until 8:30 or 9 AM all last week. This week she begins two a days that start at 6 AM and 6 PM and we’ll throw in a drama camp at 3 PM. It will feel like being at school full-time.

Where do I stand as of today? I have about 400 Voxer group messages, I have been peeking at my Twitter feed and occasionally favoriting tweets and even retweeting the past couple of days. I have to learn my routine again which means setting aside time for things like blogging and participating in chats. It was really difficult to stay away from chats. I looked at my notifications about every third day just to make sure I wan’t getting trolls into my feed.

I miss my friends. As many of you may know, I don’t have a lot of friends IRL, so being away from my friends on Twitter and Voxer was really trying on me. I’m an introvert at heart, but I love all the friends I have made via social media. I saw quite a few items come across yesterday from Shelly Sanchez (@ShellTerrell), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Robert Schuetz (@robert_schuetz), Andrea Kornowski (@andreakornowski), Aaron Maurer (@coffeechugbooks), Mark Barnes (@markbarnes19), Darin Johnston (@AnIowaTeacher), and the always early riser Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) and I couldn’t help but feel ecstatic that I would be joining in their conversations again and tapping into their expertise.

Now, do I try to get through all those Voxer messages or do I mark them them all read and begin anew?

Technology, A Blessing and A Curse

Always on, connected 24/7 always carrying more technology than the astronauts involved in the Apollo moon landing can be both a blessing and a curse. As I tried to follow along with the #NotAtISTE2015 group and all the wonderful presentations from ISTE 2015 I realized that I could not keep up. It was too mentally stimulating. I felt like my mind was on information over load. I realized that I need a break!

It seems as though I have lived, breathed, and soaked in social media and education for six years straight. I believe that everyone needs to take a vacation or even a staycation (is that even a word?). Needless to say, I’m taking the month of July off. No social media, no blogging, no Voxing, no Twitter. Unfortunately, Email never goes away. If I didn’t keep up with that at least every other day, I would most likely have over 1,000 Emails by August 1st.
July 2015 Calendar
One of the first people I began following on Twitter was Dr. Doug Belshaw. He (@dajbelshaw) started taking a month away from social media in 2007. He called it Belshaw Black Ops. Doug has the right idea, we all need to take a break from our always on society. I too am going to focus on reading books during July and spending time with my family (Coach D – I will also NOT be following news stories).

Yesterday I read a blog post written by another Twitter friend of mine, David Geurin (@DavidGeurin). He is a high school principal, blogger, and moderator of #MOedchat. You can read David’s post here. One thing from his post hit home and it hit me hard. He said, “I will pull back as I completely restructure my time. You see, there are five people in my life who are counting on me more than anyone else. They call me husband and dad.” I don’t know why Mr. Geurin’s post resonated so profoundly with me. Is it because we are both married and have four children? Is it because I too feel that my family had been getting whatever dad has left over in the tank after ed chats, school, grading, and student events?

Whatever the reasons, I have these two men to thank for my disappearance from the Twitterverse and digital social media. I’m going to live in the moment, try to dream, relax, and connect with people face to face. I’ll be back in August with #CathTheoEdChat and start gearing up for fall presentations and the 2015-2016 school year, but I’m hoping I can be a better resource to my PLN upon my return.

25 Books to Gnaw on Over the Summer

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Looking to up your game, keep up to date with current trends and research, or develop professionally? Well, look no further because these 25 books are on fire. Quick reads with a plethora of opportunities to step out of your comfort zone into a world of meaningful learning. All of these authors practice what they preach and every one of them is personally approachable and helpful.

Don’t wait for the beginning of next school year! Add some personalized PD to your summer months. You cannot go wrong with these 8-) Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

Anderson, Mark, and Jackie Beere. Perfect ICT Every Lesson. New York: Crown House, 2013. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Assessment 3.0: Throw out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning. Print. Save to EasyBib

Barnes, Mark. Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-centered Classroom. Print.

Bender, William N. Project-based Learning: Differentiating Instruction for the 21st Century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Bonk, Curtis Jay. The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

Clarke, John H. Personalized Learning: Student-designed Pathways to High School Graduation. Print.

Davis, Vicki A. Reinventing Writing. the 9 Tools That Are Changing Writing, Learning, and Living. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Dueck, Myron. Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn. Print.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:. New York: Ballantine, 2008. Print.

Ferlazzo, Larry. Building a Community of Self-motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and beyond. Print.

Gee, James Paul. The Anti-education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning. Print.

Grant, Peggy. Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology. Print.

Gray, David, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly, 2010. Print.

Hirumi, Atsusi. Online and Hybrid Learning Trends and Technologies. Print.

Horn, Michael B., Heather Staker, and Clayton M. Christensen. Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Print.

Keeler, Alice and Miller, Libbi. 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom. Print.

Miller, Matt. Ditch That Textbook: Free Your Teaching and Revolutionize Your Classroom. Print.

Meloy, Judith M. Writing the Qualitative Dissertation: Understanding by Doing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print.

Ricci, Mary Cay. Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools. Print.

Solarz, Paul. Learn like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. Print.

Stumpenhorst, Josh. The New Teacher Revolution: Changing Education for a New Generation of Learners. Print.

Terrell, Shelly Sanchez. The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform Your Teaching. Print.

Tucker, Catlin R. Blended Learning in Grades 4-12: Leveraging the Power of Technology to Create Student-centered Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2012. Print.

Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level. Print

Please add your summer books to the list in the comments!

YAY! School’s out for Summer ;)

You have probably seen the teacher countdowns to the end of the school year. You may have seen or discussed plans for summer vacations. Now taking a break in the form of a vacation is important, but recognize that teachers don’t get the summer off!

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For all of you new teachers or pre-service teachers, let’s hope you aren’t joining the profession for June, July, and August. I will give you a little insight into this teacher’s plans for summer. A little backstory here, I have taught off and on since 1995 and my background is in the social sciences. I was hired this past school year to teach theology, religion, college and careers, and mobile computer science principals (MCSP).

Every content area was new to me, the building and staff were new, and the culture/traditions were new. Needless to say, it has been just like being a new teacher again.

At my school we have finals next week and the school year officially ends May 28th. Woo Hoo! Schools out for summer……. Not really.

I have already been researching and planning differently for next year. One of the online summer courses I’m taking is already running with assignments due NEXT WEEK! I also have a six week online course to help me prepare for the mobile computer science principals class. There goes 1/2 of June and all of July. If that isn’t enough, I will spend another four weeks online from the last week of July until mid August. So that’s six credits over the summer and I will get a stipend instead of credits for MCSP.

What time is left? Time for moving my family to the area, setting up accounts, and maybe a day or two at a water park. I’m not complaining either, I just want people (especially people outside of education) to know that all summer is NOT a huge vacation in the life of a teacher!

Ending Strong

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimjarmo/6011264840/

Creative Commons via jimjarmo

I don’t feel on top of my game today. I know that old adage, “you choose your attitude.” I want to feel good, excited, motivated, inspirational today, but I am literally drained. Some people say, “well it’s that time of year.” Others say, “how many days do we have left?” And still more say, “get ready for your schedule to be disrupted.”

What should we do to make even the small moments of time we have left with our students meaningful? How can we re-charge and motivate ourselves and our students to end the school year strong? I feel as though I have been flying by the seat of my pants all year and now I want to end strong.

This is my first full-year back in the classroom after a five year hiatus and I want to end the year with excitement for me and my students. They don’t want to read any more, they don’t want to do vocabulary or discuss religion any more. It seems as though the kids’ heads are already in summer vacation mode. It feels like pulling teeth just waiting for them to respond.

What will motivate us for the next three weeks so that we can end the school year strong?

What Would Happen if the Lights Went Out?

What would happen to society if all our electronic devices failed? I’m not talking about just for a few hours or days but what if it was months or years? What if our electronic infrastructure was attacked, or began to fail as rapidly as it arose? No, I’m not a defeatist or a doomsayer. I genuinely wonder what would happen?

A single candle burning in the darkness

Without Electricity

 

I’ve talked to more than a few teachers recently who have used this argument as justification for supporting the argument that kids need to know some basic information in areas like history, English, math, and science? What happens if we throw out the textbooks and we put our faith in web based or cloud based materials?

I think that these are reasonable questions and I confess that I don’t have a good answer to them. I also remember an old saying, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

TWITTER STRUGLES

I’ve been trying to get people to join in a new Twitter chat that I started a few weeks ago and I have heard all kinds of excuses.

“I don’t tweet.”
“But, it’s the best free professional development  around.”
“That’s nice, but I’m okay with that.”

Here’s another, “You want to get together and talk, let’s pick a night and do that instead of banging some keys and staring at screens.”

And another, “here comes that techno geek who doesn’t even know what’s going on in the world.”

TECHNOLOGY ISSUES

Because I use technology to try and become a better teacher and person, I have to put up with quite a few snide remarks from colleagues that have it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had no knowledge of the impact that technology can have on teaching, learning, and connecting myself and my students to a global audience.

I have even been told to just be myself, to forget  what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Quit reading “Teach Like a Pirate.” Quit reading blog posts. Quit Tweeting, Googleing, and all that social media stuff. Just quit trying to be someone you’re not.

The thing is, I’m not trying to be someone else, I’m trying to become a better teacher and person by learning from others successes and failures. And I’m trying to transcend mediocrity. I feel that if I’m not learning then I’m not improving. If I’m not engaged with what’s happening in the field of education then I will have to work harder to catch up in a few years.

PEDAGOGY

What would happen if I just closed my classroom door, assigned textbook readings, lectured, and then threw in a quiz here and a test there? What if I closed my classroom door and did whatever I wanted because, “unless parents or students are complaining you can do whatever you want.”

What if I bought into the philosophy that I’m going to do what’s best for me because the students and parents are ungrateful toward teachers and I don’t get paid enough to put up with this crap?

Would anyone really care as long as I kept out of their hair and didn’t ruffle any feathers?<p/>

I would care.

What would we do if the lights went out?

We Have to Stop Pretending…#MakeSchoolDifferent

Inspired by Scott Mcleod’s challenge at http://DangerouslyIrrevelant.org and Tom Whitby’s http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com  Scott originally challenged 5 educators to enter 5 ways that we can #MakeSchoolDifferent and the blogs were to be posted on twitter using the hashtag #MakeSchoolDifferent challenging five more educators to offer their contributions. I will enter my own contributions to the conversation.

makeschooldifferent21

We have to stop pretending…..

1. That practicing short term memory skills equates to long-term learning gains. If it is not important to a student, then it will not be remembered for long. You are only fooling yourself if you believe that these skills are important in today’s world.

2. That content is important. Being king of your content is nice, but if you are familiar with the content you teach then you can lead others to sources of rich content that can be mulled over, chewed on, and reshaped to form a learning experience for students versus a teacher controlled information dump.

3. That grades matter. The marks I received in school at any level do not make me who I am. I naturally do “old school” well, but I push myself to not care about the grade. I want my kids as well as myself to be in an always beta mode. Always learning, always curious, always pushing the boundaries of new experiences and new technology.

4. That traditional brick and mortar schools are better than other forms of learning. Blended courses, online courses, YouTube, Apps can all contribute to effective learning. Kids want to hear and see things that are authentic and relevant to their lives. They don’t want to waste time learning something that they may need sometime in the future, because the future is changing too rapidly.

5. That all students are the same. We are on the cusp of personalizing education for students and we should all be moving in the direction of learning how to make that happen, make it real, and improve it to the point that it is useable for all.

I am challenging the following educators to add their voice to the conversation #MakeSchoolDifferent:

1. Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy

2. Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz

3. Shannon M. Miller @shannonmmiller

4. Jake Duncan @jkdncn

5. Joy Kirr @JoyKirr

Is Throwing out grades just a Flash in the Pan?

 

 I have been thinking a lot about the movement Teachers Throwing Out Grades. There is even a group dedicated to the topic with a Facebook page and a weekly Twitter chat #TTOG. My inner voice says this is right, but the 20+ year teacher in me says that society and higher education aren’t ready for it yet.

So many questions come to mind. On what should we base student achievement? Should we test or quiz? How do we quantify ideas, creativity, imagination, mastery? Do we really want kids to be masters of content or well rounded generalists? 

I’m not against this movement, because, my inner voice says it’s right. I would like to see how we can get from where we are to the point of throwing out grades. I imagine that if I were to throw out grades, that I would get a lot of push back. I have thought about grading against standards, but that seems like a stopgap measure at best. How do I assess what students know and how do I orchestrate that learning? 

Is it simply enough that my students know how to learn, get excited for learning, and can teach others the strategies that work for them? Add to that the things that are important to me as a parent; getting along with others, following directions, leading, is kind, helps others, and taking on appropriate challenges.

It’s definitely a lot to think about and it causes a lot of cognitive dissonance. I rack my brain and just can’t bridge the gap between where we are in education and where we are going in education. Could it be that there is such exponential change that I can’t think fast enough to keep up? Whatever it is I really wish I had a little more clarity on the topic of throwing out grades.

Topics not Subjects

So Finland has figured out how to increase student achievement, again (read full article). Being at the top of PISA in math and reading wasn’t good enough so they decided that kids learn best by topics versus by subject area.

Hopefully you noticed where I messed up in the last sentence. Go ahead, read it again and analyze it. Finland didn’t decide how kids learn best, good teachers everywhere have known that students at all levels learn best by topics. The Finns have just had the fortitude to go ahead and implement what they know is best for their kids. We have called it “authentic learning.”

Anytime a teacher can make connections relevant and related across subject areas work for students. When I first started teaching in 95 it was called integrated thematic instruction or interdisciplinary thematic instruction. I remember that my best semester as an undergraduate was when the topics in biology course matched up with the topics in geography, cooperatives, and English. It was as if someone climbed inside my little closet of a brain and turned the light on. “I can see!” It made sense.

 

 Others have written about silo learning (subjects) before and I understand authentic learning, but for whatever reason it wasn’t until I read the article on the Finns new implementation that it has finally solidified in my brain. I have struggled for many years because I don’t see myself as an expert in a subject area. I have always been interested in many different things all at the same time (some might actually identity me as a generalist). I found myself envious of elementary teachers being able to make the connections rather easily due to their self contained classrooms but I don’t enjoy working with a younger age group.

I am not calling for an end to subject matter experts, but I do think that if we focus on the acts of teaching and learning we can gather the infromation we need when it’s needed. Good teachers can teach well, great teachers teach others how to learn what the want to learn and model learning in action, word, and deed making connections across many disciplines in the process.