What’s the Point?

As a family we recently started watching the television series “The Walton’s.” I remember watching the series back in the days of three analog channels. The show takes place on a mountain in West Virginia during the depression. At the time, a person could buy a bull calf or a new drive shaft for $9.00. Radio was the only form of electronic entertainment and some houses didn’t even have telephones. Work was hard to find and those that could find it worked hard

.waltons

So why the history lesson? I get nostalgic whenever I watch shows like this. Shows that put our humanity into perspective and the values of life, love, journeys, family, and relationships. I ask myself at times if, with all the technology we have at our fingertips, have we lost some of these values? Do we not need these values anymore? Are the old days and old ways no longer applicable?

On “The Walton’s” John Boy is the oldest son and he processes his thoughts by writing pen on paper much like I process by typing on my blog. He was more diligent than I have been the past few months. Yet, there is still something about taking pen and paper to process thoughts that resonates with the human psyche.

I have noticed a number of news articles lately stating that using computers for notes and discussion in class leads to less retention by students. I try constantly to get my students to understand that by taking physical notes they will have better comprehension and retain information longer. Jesus taught by using parables and through example. He constantly challenged the conventional wisdom of the day. See, parables were intended to get people to stop and think. Isn’t that the point of a high school theology course?

Aha! We need to stop and think, we need to discuss Church teachings, we need to explore the values of life, love, journeys, family, and relationships. This must be face to face not device to device. If I didn’t sit with my students and process what they read in their textbooks, then good questions and relationships would not develop. If I didn’t introduce my students to the four types of love as put forth by C.S. Lewis, How could we have a discussion about family, love, and relationships?

Catholic theology teachers also need to teach students how to look references up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, and various papal encyclicals. They also need help knowing how to find the answer to the various questions that invariably come up in a teenagers life. Of course, getting them comfortable with asking their parish priest for guidance should be practiced also. How do they get to practice this if they either don’t go to mass or if they don’t have some sort of relationship with their parish priest? I have made it a priority to invite priests and other religious into my theology class so that my students can become comfortable in knowing these people at a personal level.

Nothing has really changed from the times of the Walton’s. The things around us might change, our modes of entertainment might change, but humanity has not really changed since our beginning. Values matter, relationships matter, love matters teaching our students with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a Christ like spirit of charity is necessary in every generation.

Good night John Boy!

 

 

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Teaching Strategies: Are They Worth It?

img_0384Teaching strategies is a topic I give a lot of thought to. Hattie’s Visible Learning and effect size is getting much of my attention as of late. The FIT teaching approach as a framework for growth and leadership piques my curiosity. Carol Dwerks’s Mindsets make mind sense. And, the teachers throwing out grades (#ttog) movement has me focused on feedback versus letter grades.

Finding effective teaching methods has been a goal of mine for the past five years. I have to admit that I go into most teaching situations with an idea and content that has to be covered. Rarely do I have time to think about how to best help students learn the concepts, ideas, and content with a scaffold that helps provide structure and support in order to move learning forward.

So, I hunt for the elusive silver bullet that will help me make a difference for my students and colleagues. Recently, I purchased a book of strategies that had examples and processes for over 50 types like anticipation/reaction guide, discussion partners, mind maps, think-pair-share, jigsaw, etc. I know that I will be able use many of these with success in my classroom.

One of the problems I’m trying to solve is how to effectively teach vocabulary. img_0383I teach three sections of 9th grade theology and there is a lot of new vocabulary that then represents ideas or concepts that are highly elusive in the best of times. So, I was searching for strategies and came across a website for Marzano research that offers access to over 300 teaching strategies for $30.00 per month yearly subscription. I was wondering if anyone has used this subscription service and whether it is worth the price?

Teaching is my Life

I know the I have been negligent in keeping up with my blog, but (you knew a but had to be coming) I have been spending the time with my family, my students, and my curriculum. Some of you may have even wondered, where did he disappear to?

chaos-391652_1280

cc0 Public Domain

While at my son’s baseball game last night, I was able to jump on Twitter and interact a bit and to look through my Flipboard aggregator. I had to step back from Twitter chats for a while because, well, I was buying too many books and trying to filter through and process too many great ideas. Gamifying classrooms, eXPlore Like a Pirate, blended learning, Ditch Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, grading, not grading, feedback, badges, personalized learning, embedded assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment, project based learning, innovation, HyperDocs, and mindsets in the classroom are all ideas I am trying to wrap my mind around. Oh, and let’s not forget that I also teach high school theology, college and careers, computer science principals, and junior high religion!

So, I’ve been busy. Such is the life of a teacher and teaching is my life. Being a teacher and building relationships within a classroom is something that God has hardwired into me, but being a stereotypical guy, I pour my all into it. I mean, how many people are at their son’s baseball game curating articles into magazines?
My Twitter PLN is great and I love everyone who is in it. I sometimes feel that I don’t contribute enough or I feel jealous that many of my peers have had the focus to publish a book, present at or attend conferences, teach webinars or create podcasts. Meanwhile, I am all over the place with these ideas and not really incorporating any of them into my classroom or my professional development.
So what might I do to rectify this situation dear reader? I am going to take a statistics course this summer and begin my doctoral studies in the fall. In the past I have written about trying to work out a doctorate online with a board of directors and badges as credentials. Well, I’ve decided to go the traditional university route. I know it will be expensive, but I need the deadlines, a system, and a mentor to hold me accountable. What might I research? Curriculum, assessment, and motivation. Stay tuned for more. My goal is to try and post at least weekly throughout the summer.
Pax Christi

30 Goals Challenge: Exercise 2

Quite a while back I began Shelly Sanchez Terrell‘s The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers: Small Steps to Transform your Teaching (I carry the book with me everywhere Shelly). I have been so busy that I tend to look at the cover and sigh, saying, “I will get back around to you one of these days.” Well today is the day! And I am going to Blog about it. My posts might not be real lengthy, but I hope to cause you, dear reader, to pause and think. Think about how we can become the best darn teachers in the world for the world’s best kids.

As part of exercise 2, I am creating goals and my teaching manifesto. I’m not sure of being at the manifesto part yet, but I do have goals. I used a tool called Buncee to create the stunning visual below. I also have a copy posted in my classroom for all to see. What are your goals for this school year?

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

My 2016 30 Goals Challenge.

 

Knowledge: Easy Come, Easy Go

Knowledge about educational psychology, educational technology, relationship building, and being able to implement sound pedagogy are all essential tools for helping a teacher to be successful. So why then do many teachers appear to either lack one or more of these skills or they lack the time and energy to research these topics? Why do some teachers appear to be so skilled and competent, whereas I feel like I can never consume enough research or learn enough about my students to just keep my head above water?

I know that most teachers believe that what they teach is very important for our kids to know for success in life, but do these same teachers truly believe that kids will actually remember what they were teaching decades later? The only thing I can recall from my high school chemistry class is that the chemical equation (if that’s even the proper term) is C6 H12 O6. Most of the material from high school geometry and algebra is either very deeply buried in my subconscious or lost because I haven’t had to use it for quite some time. Heck, maybe I’m literally losing my mind because much of what I learned in college geography and earth science has been lost to the ages. And I majored in geography with an earth science minor!

  
There is an old saying I recall, “it’s like riding a bike.” The saying is meant to convey the idea that anything learned can be easily recalled just as if you have not rode a bike in a few years you will be able get back on a bike and ride it any way because you learned to do it at one time. Well, I beg to differ. I think that the mind begins to let go of ideas, concepts, and information after they have not been used in quite some time and this is much different from learned psychomotor skills. Although, muscles that are not used do tend to retard or even atrophy over time.

The question for this teacher is which happens quicker, the loss of learned ideas, concepts, and information or the loss of psychomotor skills OR were the ideas, concepts, and information ever fully understood? I guess I need to do more research.

Is High School Theology Just About the Content? 

For about a year now I have been searching. I have been searching for ways to engage my freshman theology students. I go between the USCCB’s “Framework,” my school’s textbook, the Bible, etc. I often feel like Moses wandering through the desert. I have learned from the National Directory of Catechesis that there is a different way to teach theology.Alpha and Omega

I am not a creator of teaching materials, I am a searcher for the best materials for my students. I have searched for any freshmen theology teachers who have developed standards that augment the bishop’s “Framework.” The “Framework” does a good job of outlining the content that should be included in high school theology courses, but it lacks what the students should be able to do or how they are to show what they have learned.

Do I decide what it is that my students should be able to do? Am I the one to decide how my students show their learning? What are the best ways for students to show that they understand, that they remember, that they can apply, analyze, evaluate, and create? The Church is the authority on many things, so who is the authority when it comes to theological pedagogy?

I guess that I feel I rely on the Church for so much that when it comes to something that is so extremely important like preparing the souls of adolescent learners, I need more than just my feelings, prayer, and approved textbooks to guide these decisions. I do have textbooks that have suggestions but that’s the rub, they are just suggestions. Can I make those learning decisions? Yes, I can. Do I know why I would choose an essay to express the four senses of scripture or an album cover with liner notes, or are the senses of scripture not really that important? Where should I be expending my efforts?

To me, it appears that there is a disconnect between what research is showing in education in general and the specifics of what is to be known in theology. What should freshmen theology students be doing? What should they be producing and creating? How do they show that they are making the connection between knowledge and the heart? How do we help them come to know the goodness, richness, and Tradition of the Catholic Church?

The Dreaded PD Staff Meeting

the dreaded dead spider

the dreaded dead spider

For the past year, I have been wondering why I come away from staff meetings in a grumpy mood? The funny thing is I enjoy meeting with my colleagues but I seem to leave the meetings frustrated. Don’t get me wrong here because I work for great administrators and colleagues and we have awesome students, but we are stretched too thin. I feel that a couple of things are in motion here; one, I never feel as though what I have to say matters to anyone and second, the focus is seldom on what’s best for kids but on topics that might someday be remotely related to my daily interaction with students (and even this is quite a stretch). And some things just get started and they whither away, so why put effort into something that may or may not be revisited in the future?

I feel that for a staff “professional development” meeting to meet my needs as a professional teacher and learner it has to have five things.

First, it helps if the topic will be personally useful to me and by that I mean something that I can turn around and implement in my classroom. Second, it needs to be focused on helping students become self-motivated learners. Third, I want to know that my voice is valued as a contributing member of the community. Fourth, professional development meetings need to be a dialogue not a lecture.  And last, the topic needs to have a sense of urgency attached to it. 

I want to be the best teacher I can be for every student, teacher, and parent I meet. So, wouldn’t it make sense if professional development centered around what individual teachers need most?

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.