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.

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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.

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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

Twitter High School Theology Education Chat

twitter-bird-callout  #RCTheoEdChat 

One of the groups who do not appear to have a voice in education are Catholic high school Theology teachers. There are many Catholic blogs and bloggers and some, in my opinion watered down, lesson plans for Theology teachers but no where have I seen open dialogue. There is a Theology teacher who has posted her lessons on iTunes U but resources are scarce.

In this day and time we must gather together to discuss issues related to technology use, pedagogy, best practices, engaging students, building relationships, sharing resources, and supporting each other. We can utilize technologies including social media spaces as forces for good.

I propose that we come together as high  school teachers of Theology on a weekly basis. I am willing to lead this new chat but word of the chat needs to spread across the globe in order to be most effective. I invite you to join me for the premiere of #RCTheoEdChat on Sunday, February 22nd at 7:00 pm CST. The topic for that evening will be Creating Reflective Learners. If you have ideas for future topics please Email, text, tweet, call, or leave a message. Expand your Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN) and join us for this great adventure!

More doing, Less lecture

 2015 - 2After sitting through a day of being lectured to about not lecturing (do as I say), I found it quite fitting that I picked up a book this morning from my shelf and happened to open to a chapter titled No More Lectures. I was also paging through my Evernote files today and my eyes were drawn to this quote from the book,
From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments by David Thornburg “As long as teaching is dominated by the presentation of material (including that in textbook form), we risk perpetuating wrong approaches to open-ended challenges.” And I don’t believe in coincedences.
I believe that classrooms need to be learner focused places where students can’t wait to get to, but I hear too many of the following phrases;
     “We’ve always done it this way.”
     “I’ve covered it but they didn’t listen.”
     “There’s no way my kids can do that.”
I also see too many people keeping what they do inside their classrooms, using prescribed curricula, and working with little support and no evidence of networking with others. The teachers who fail to meet students where they’re at using the tools that kids use are becoming fewer in education but they still carry weight in their buildings.
My vision for education hinges upon a student centered classroom. One where students have voice and choice. Many of my colleagues would not even think of taking a class period every now and then to just talk with their students. Informal chats in class and online can lead to deeper learning for teachers and a more supportive student body.
I want my kids to be curious problem solvers, critical thinkers and creators not just consumers of factual information and in order to do this they need to have time to reflect, but it takes time to reflect on learning. Why is it that we always come up against time as a constraint to education? Many teachers run out of time in class, so they assign more work to fill up any free time students might have after school (I’m not a fan of homework)! Of course, these are probably the same teachers who lament the fact that our teens don’t get enough sleep on one hand and on the other hand will not be willing to start school a couple hours later in the day.
I’m a fanboy of using portfolios (I need to work this into my own repertoire), blogging, and social media as ways for students to connect with experts, reflect on learning, and sharing with the world their successes and struggles.
Just the other day, Dr. Justin Tarte tweeted the following, You wouldn’t go to a hospital that looked the same as it did 50 years ago, so why do we allow this with our schools? What does this quote from Dr. Tarte have to do with less lecture? Well, I swear that I have desks in my classroom that are at least that old. I’ll admit that I’m overweight, but there are kids bigger than me and I get pinched in some of the furniture I have. But even more than seating and lecture as a primary mode of instruction is the question, why are we teaching the content that we teach? Who decided that the subjects we teach our students are necessary for their future success as learners, leaders, and adults in our society? Personally, I think we need to re-think education.
 2015 - 1
What are your thoughts?

Gifts, Resolutions, and Wishes*

Picture of students learning.

My students learning

This year has been the best year for me both personally and professionally. Now don’t get me wrong, there were some very challenging obstacles along the way but those will always serve as a reminder that in the end perseverance and faith in God will win the day, er I mean year.

I started 2014 by making the decision to quit a teaching position in North Carolina. I could no longer live a 20 hour drive away from my family nor could I work in a school system where the idea of putting students first was a foreign concept. The administrative support was inconsistent and at times down right missing. For example, testing results were of the utmost importance but on the days of testing there was no one around to distribute supplies or tests or even directions!

GIFTS

Needless to say, I thankfully moved back to the Midwest. In February I was tickled pink to finally meet the person who restored my faith and vision in education, my friend and mentor Mr. Jimmy Casas, Principal at Bettendorf High School. Jimmy showed me what education, teaching, learning, and leading in the 21st Century could become. He also introduced me to a vast network of forward thinking and innovative teachers and leaders. I attended my first EdCamp and my first tweet up! I knew from the moment I met Jimmy and his crew face to face that I was in the right place working with the right people to lead educational change.

I attended the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) convention even paying extra to sit in on sessions lead by Steve Dembo, Dave Burgess, and Molly Schroeder. At that same convention I got to meet and spend time with Paul Solarz, Joy Kirr, Josh Stumpenhorst, Garnet Hillman and George Couros. I was so inspired by all these people that I knew I had to become an active participant in the educational change conversation by creating presentations for other teachers.

RESOLUTIONS

In March I dove deeper into my studies in educational technology and assessing for deep understanding. I also began substitute teaching and vigorously searching for teaching jobs focused in the Midwest but more specifically the state of Iowa. I needed to be near the core groups of leaders and teachers that had so touched my life.

I indeed began presenting at the Iowa 1:1 Institute, then at EdCampTC, I also had a proposal to present accepted for the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) conference but due to financial concerns I had to withdraw my presentation. However, I was fortunate enough to attend the Technology Integration Conference (TIC) in Dubuque, IA where I met keynote speakers Richard Byrne (Free Tech 4 Teachers) and Lisa Johnson (Tech Chef 4 U). I also attended one day of the Games Learning Society Conference at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

WISHES

I wanted to teach and learn in an educational community in a face to face setting (I wanted a teaching job badly). In May I got the call from the big leagues. I had my best interview ever at Iowa City Regina Jr/Sr High School. The day following the interview I received two phone calls. The first call came from a principal in Minnesota with news that they selected another candidate I was both disappointed yet also relieved. It was a very strange mixture of feelings. Within two hours of that call I was again on the phone with principal Glenn Plummer from IC Regina who offered me a teaching job which I readily accepted.

The irony in this tale is that Regina was the only Catholic school I had applied to and I was enjoying the time I was spending as a substitute teacher at a Catholic high school in La Crosse, WI. I truly believe that God had/has a plan for me. I was hired to be a religion teacher and I had been searching decades for ways that I could become more involved in the church that I loved and called home. I am absolutely certain that God has planted me in Iowa City, near my core professional learning network, in a school looking for ways to serve the needs of its students better so that I may grow to my full potential as a teacher, learner, and change agent.

The future is potential filled as are the communities I serve. Have a happy new year friends. May you live long . . . . and grow where you’re planted 😎

*P.S. I “borrowed” the title for this post from Barb Gilman @BarbInNebraska

Student Voice and Choice: The Future is Now

Just out of curiosity, how do we move to prepare for the future in education while leaving many schools behind where those who are preparing for the future are at?
Dr_Who_(316350537)
Ever since I personally tried to catch up with where the movers and shakers of the edtech community are at I have oftentimes felt that I have been riding on the shirt tails of educational reform. I have tried to keep up to date with the research and trends in education by reading blog posts, attending conferences, creating a stellar PLN and engaging with colleagues via Twitter, Voxer, Flipboard, and other social media sources, but I always feel like I am behind everyone else.
Now, I’m not talking about “keeping up with the Jones’s” by having the newest technology, I am talking about knowing what is right for my students and being able to put what is right into action. Things such as getting rid of desks and putting in comfortable seating, making my classroom more inviting and collaborative, and getting my students connected with a global audience. A student first mindset is essential in moving education forward.
What about all the things students need to know so that they can move on to upper level courses? Should student voice and choice lead education or do we as teachers know that there are certain things that kids need to know, just because?
I would like to know how you plan for the future while trying to catch up with the now? How do you plan your professional development? Should students really have choice and voice or do we as teachers know them well enough to decide for them?
Flying Tardis

“Dr Who (316350537)” by aussiegall from sydney, Australia – Dr WhoUploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dr_Who_(316350537).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dr_Who_(316350537).jpg

Sticks and Stones. . .

Do words matter? When I was a bit younger, someone said to me that my children were precocious. My first thought was, gosh that sounds harsh. Seeing the expression on my face, the person must have known what I was thinking because they then proceeded to define the term to me. From that day forward I vowed to make it a habit to either ask what a word means that I am not familiar with or to look it up in a dictionary.
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So, what is it with the education world trying to co-opt the word rigor? Rigor, by definition, is not something that I want my kids to experience in education. Why do we not use the term vigor when it comes to education? Vigor means full of life, healthy physical and mental power. Rigor has a negative connotation whereas vigor is positive.
I do not want my kids learning that people are strict, unyielding, or harsh. I want my kids to be active learners. I want my kids to be creative communicators who know how to learn and can communicate and collaborate with a global audience. Now this kind of agility and adaptability lends itself better to the term vigor rather than rigor.
Do you think words matter? Would you prefer your kids to be vigorous or rigorous learners? Let me know in the comments.
Hour glass with wings

A Crazy Kind of Teacher

It has been almost one month since my last blog post. Wow, time flies when you’re…….swamped!

I have had the busiest, the most hectic, the most chaotic month than I can remember since I began teaching in 1995!! And I am loving every minute of it 😎 I began my first full-time teaching job since 2009 this August and it seems as though I have been caught in a whirlwind ever since. The year got started as any school year does, and I am at the top of my game in the classroom. It seems to be that all the other pieces of being a veteran teacher have gone out the window. No, the technology pieces are just fine although there have been days….. I have been keeping up with current trends, issues, and research in education like I never have before. Thanks to my Twitter PLN, news aggregators like Feedly (blogs), Flipboard (I have about a dozen magazines that I curate to including technology news, blogs, video games, social media). I also use sparingly Reddit, Tumblr, News 360, Pearl Trees, Pinterest, Zite, and Scoop.It, Rebel Mouse,Nuzzle, Instagram, and Google+.

Google Classroom is a very nice addition that could make my classroom paperless just as soon as all my high school students have a computer of some sort. It seems that Classroom just isn’t ready for the world of mobile learning. I have enjoyed gamifying my 9th grade religion class and using Cel.ly for class communication is awesome. Implementing so many technology pieces, which will include student blogging, flipped learning, and a possible digital textbook makes for a pretty busy first year at a new school. You might be wondering why does this sound so challenging to a veteran teacher? School culture and WADITW (we’ve always done it this way) as a common, sometimes never even stated, response.
I want to be a teacher leader and I have that role firmly established in the classroom by intentionally building relationships with my students. This alone takes a lot of time and planning. I figure that I should just be able to pick up where I left off teaching and dive right in. Whoa there, back the bus up! Some say that I am setting expectations too high for myself, that all I can be is me, and that I will never achieve perfection. I understand this on one level, but on another level, I want to put the best me possible in front of my students every day. Yes, I daresay, my goal is to be a national award winning teacher of the year. I don’t say this because I want an actual award, I say it because it is what my students deserve. If I don’t challenge myself to be the best and set the bar high, what am I really accomplishing for my students?
I was asked by students to be their coach for robotics, and so it is, I am now a robotics coach. Do I know anything about robots? Not a thing. This is where I put myself on the line and get out of my comfort zone (I’m a certified secondary social sciences teacher). Yes, my kids know more than I do and I am learning by leaps and bounds every day! I also want to start a one day a week club where students get together and play good old fashioned board games (we could sneak in some video games too). I see how important it is for even high school students to enjoy time at school by playing. Play involves most of Dr. Tony Wagner’s @DrTonyWagner 7 Survival Skills and we get to have fun learning.
Okay, so my reading of books has taken a hit, but like this video about Snap Chat explains, I am living in the moment and I am definitely living the dream! 😎

Reflections on My Teaching

imageOkay, so I blogged about once a week, but I did post on all 30 days worth of questions from @TeachThought.com‘s #ReflectiveTeacher challenge.

Day 25

The ideal collaboration between students–what would it look like? Collaboration between students would look like a global menagerie. Kids from all over the world would be working in Google Docs and communicating via various means all in an effort to solve a world problem.

Day 26

What are your three favorite go-to sites for help/tips/resources in your teaching? Twitter, Blogs, and Flipboard!

Day 27

What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching? Weekends and holidays mean time with my wife and kids and also time to look more in depth at lessons. I also use holidays and weekends to plan for the upcoming week. In my world, every holiday is a working holiday.

Day 28

Respond: Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa? Neither. Technology is a tool just as a pencil is a tool. We don’t let pencils drive curriculum and we don’t let curriculum drive pencils. Kids needs should drive curriculum. Curriculum should be inquiry based and individualized for every unique individual. The days of one style fits all should be a vision of the past.

Day 29

How have you changed as an educator since you first started? I have changed a lot in the past fifteen years. My due dates are merely suggestions now and I don’t have classroom management issues. I can focus on developing relationships with students and less time on prepping or finding lessons. I listen to what students concerns are, what their stress level is at, and try to make them as comfortable and at ease as they can be when they are in the classroom. Gone are the days of crossword puzzles and lists of vocabulary words. Gone are the days of watching a video for a week. And gone are the days of keeping track of how many days late and what percentage off an assignment should get. I try to give students choice and voice and I demand that if something is worth doing that it is worth doing well. My students are now always in beta and nothing is ever truly finished.

Day 30

What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid? I would direct students to find what they enjoy doing and to go for their dreams. I would redesign my classroom so that it was a true learning space. I would become a coach and mentor rather than an all knowing god. I would make sure that every student had an iPad and a MacBook Air. I would have my students blogging and working with kids all over the globe. Finally, I would get rid of the Internet filter wall. If we are to teach students to become responsible and ethical, then we can’t go around blocking everything that they encounter when they are outside the building.

What are your thoughts?

I now know why this challenge is so challenging 😎

 

Perseverence Leads to Success

Thanks to kedavis, I’m going to complete @teachthought’s 30 day #reflectiveteacher blogging challenge. In a previous post I had written that I failed at this, but once we fail we’re supposed to pick ourselves up and persevere. Maybe I will not win an award for consistency, but I should be in the running for one on perseverance 😎 So, here goes days 13 – 24 and I will try to be brief.

Day 13

Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness. Google Classroom is my favorite EdTech tool. It’s a combo of twitter, Google Drive, and a grade book all in one. I also use a reflector that turns my PC (not a fan of pc’s) into a receiver for air play which can then be displayed onto my SMART board. Yes that means I can display my iPhone or iPad screen from anywhere in the classroom as well as that of my students. I can now ask, “is that appropriate for the principal to walk in and see on the board?” The next EdTech tool would be personal electronic devices. I think this one is self explanatory. I will add that my Least Favorite EdTech tool is, a too I literally despise is THE FILTER WALL!

Day 14

What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students? Feedback for learning is the stuff we tell others to help them improve. I like to tell students what I like and offer suggestions for improvement. I don’t do this often enough. I think though with tools like Google Classroom and Kaizena and track changes that I can get better at it. Now if I can just convince kids to submit their work through Google Classroom.

Day 15

Name three strengths you have as an educator. Passionate, student centered, advocate.

Day 16

If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help? The super power I would like to have is the ability to read minds and do that Vulcan mind-meld thing that Spock has going for him on Star Trek. Or, look like Batman!Batman                                                       http://www.technologytell.com/entertainment/48117/batman-day-means-batman-fangirl/

Day 17

What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today? IMO, the most challenging issue in education is standardized testing and the common core (bore). I like how George Couros put it at the Illinois Computer Educators Conference last year, “In the U.S. you have common core in Canada we have common sense. Wake up people. Why do we need to test every student every single year? Especially when we need kids that are creative, problem solvers that can collaborate with a global community and communicate through the use of varied media. My two bailiwicks in education are grading and standardized testing.

Day 18

Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy. For example, a “teacher is a ________…” A teacher is a Sherpa or guide. We help students achieve their dreams. We are dream supporters.

Day 19

Name three powerful ways students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often. Writing, blogging, pod-casting. I really haven’t used anything but writing. I think that pod-casting or recording one’s thoughts could be very powerful. I want to try having the students reflect on their learning by creating a recording.

Day 20

How do you curate student work–or help them do it themselves? I would do this through either a personal website or via Evernote. I would gladly help them, but I would also want them to include things from outside of school.

Day 21

Do you have other hobbies/interests that you bring into your classroom teaching? Explain. I like games! I have gamified my religion class calling it The Epic Adventure. We are an academy of time travelers that go back to biblical times to try and understand culture and religion and then time warp back to the future and try to apply biblical teaching to the present. I also like electronics and engineering. I plan to study engineering in the future and to someday teach engineering.

Day 22

What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching? My PLN looks like a global menagerie. The people in my PLN help keep me honest and help me become a better version of myself. They have helped me out of numerous stick wickets. Thanks PLN, you ROCK!

Day 23

Write about one way that you “meaningfully” involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don’t yet do so, discuss one way you could get started. In the past I had community members come in and judge National History Day projects. I will be having community members coming in to share their stories with my students and I will have my students presenting at various community events. Anything to get the students out there sharing the wonderful things they do with the community.

Day 24

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why? (Mobile learning, project-based learning, game-based learning, etc.) Personalized learning!

By the way, Love this article on differentiation http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/what-is-differentiated-instruction/

Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts in the comments.