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

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.

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 😎

 

The Epic Adventure: Year 1

With the new school year upon us or started already, there is much for a new teacher to do not the least of which is to find a way to fit into the new school culture. I have spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about what technology tools to use in the classroom. I know I want to gamify my religion classes, but what tools will help me make class more efficient for my students as well as help them be more successful?

Tools
The first thing I started with is Google Classroom. Classroom helps me to keep track of assignments made, assignments that students have turned in, and I can add links to materials to supplement the course.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom Logo

I started using Google Forms and I was surprised when student responses were automatically gathered into a Google Spreadsheet. The only thing that we have to figure out is how we can take a Google Document have students write something and then turn it in to one central location within Classroom. I think that this tool will become my learning management system and will eventually aid students and myself to find and use class information more efficiently.

For back channel discussions or even posting and responding I am thinking about using 81Dash. I can create different rooms for my different classes thus keeping discussions organized.

81 Dash Logo

81Dash.com

There are many more tools I could use, but I need to start with a manageable few and add or make changes as we go along. Oh, I also need to get my kids writing reflective blog posts that can be read and commented on by the world.

I did give my juniors the opportunity to show how they can incorporate Dr. Tony Wagner’s 7 Survival Skills into their life by giving them access to The Periodical Table of iPad Apps by @sjunkins. Most, if not all of these apps, can also be found as android apps. I am really looking for them to incorporate the skills into their lives and get creative about showing how they will or have incorporated those skills.

Gamification
I will be using a Google spreadsheet created by Mr. Michael Matera at Teachers Pay Teachers to keep track of student levels and experience points (xp). Michael is a pro and my mentor when it comes to gamification.

picture of Mr. Matera

Mr. Matera – Gamification Sherpa

My badging system will most likely take the form of physical card stock type of badges about the size of baseball cards. Using this system of badging students are responsible for keeping track of their badges (which they can easily do with one of those three ring binder sized plastic baseball card holders).

The most difficult part of this journey is coming up with a story line. I know I will have my students time traveling from the present to the past and back so that they are taking a look at the biblical stories and then applying them to life in the present in their lives. I’m not quite sure what role I should have in the story? I’m going to have students divided up into groups called tribes and these tribes will need to find an appropriate name. Solo Quests, small group quests, challenges, and adventures will await tribes as they complete their work of journeying through the bible. Stay tuned for further updates.

 

Reflective Teaching 30 Day Blogging Challenge, will you accept?

My Brain is Full!

Arrggggh! My brain is full! In my corner of the technoverse I am feeling pulled in too many directions at one time. Getting the kids to their summer activities, keeping up with social media, completing two online courses, following #NotAtISTE14 and #ISTE2014 blog posts, trying to find a new home, the #summerLS challenges, Voxing with new friends, and trying to do some PD reading along with trying to create new curriculums . . . Who was that person that said teachers never do anything in the summer? My summer is full, self inflicted, yes, but full none the less. 

Boring

Today (Saturday), I had to complete vocabulary that was due Friday and an essay that was due yesterday for a Mexican history course I am taking. Now don’t get me wrong, I love learning and I have been taking online courses since 2009, but how do people learn by merely reading professors notes and textbooks? It’s interesting that the only things graded for this course are a dozen vocabulary words each week and a weekly essay. Sounds pretty easy until the professor expects that 10-15 hours a week should be spent reading and no sources except the course notes and the textbook are allowed to be referenced in either assignment. This is done merely to check for understanding of assigned reading material. I can’t spend 2 hours a day reading! I’m a father with a wife and four kids. Kind of flies in the face of what we are trying to have our 21st Century pK-12 students do. Is this really what college has become? A mere regurgitation, in paraphrase, of the course materials.history-mexico-dvd-cover-art

Acceptable Use and Large Internet Companies

I cannot put Vicki Davis’s (@coolcatteacher) book down.

http://www.coolcatteacher.com/reinventing-writing-vicki-davis/

Reinventing Writing Book Cover

She had me hooked from the very first page. So, in chapter two I realized that a school needs to revisit its acceptable use policy (AUP) on a regular basis. I also learned that we all should be reading those things that we just normally click agree to so that we can get to the information or tool we want to access. Some companies, Google and Facebook, to name a couple provide their services for free, but they use our information to their advantage. Facebook just came out in the open about a social experiment that they performed where they manipulated data so that some users got more negative news from friends and others got more positive news from friends. See Facebook and Google can do just about anything they want with the information they access about us.

If you know me at all, I am pretty open about my digital footprint as well as sharing lessons and information with others, but I am getting just a tad bit unsettled by how Google and Facebook as well as other online companies are using and manipulating my online experiences. 


Reinventing Writing

The biggest take away I have from chapter two is that when selecting a digital tool I should always ask the question, “what am I trying to do?” It is pretty obvious that we should not just be using technology for the sake of using something technological, but that we should be using technology to help us do things better or more efficiently. For example, I use the tool Evernote for writing and editing my blog posts. Are there other tools I could be using? Sure there are, but I feel that this one is

Picture of Evernote logo

Evernote App

cleaner and easier than others. I can access my notes from my MacBook, iPhone, iPad, android, or almost any device that connects to the Internet. If I had to hand write and edit my blog posts, then I would probably not engage in this very helpful activity. It’s a tool that helps me in my writing and helps me reflect on the things I have done, I am doing, or I might do in the future.

Another take away for me is that there may be very good reasons for the Internet policies that schools have concerning access. (Cue Adam Bellow’s version of Filter Wall set to the tune Wrecking Ball) On the other hand I struggle with why filter anything with the exception of pornography? If we want our kids to become good digital citizens then we need to teach them to stay engaged in appropriate activities and keep away from inappropriate activities. I wonder how many parents hand their kids a smart phone, let em lose with it all day long, but then expect schools to keep them away from things that are inappropriate? I agree with Adam’s plight in Filter Wall, and I have had the experience of finding something for my students only to have it blocked the day we go to actually use it. Frustrating? Absolutely! Necessary? Absolutely not! When did we get to the point that we have to prove an educational purpose before using a website? Who decides what and educational purpose is? Could I use alcohol, cigarette ads, and games for educational purposes? It may be that good intentions are meant but it seems to be more work for everyone in the long run. Especially when it comes to games. It really rubs me wrong when anything with the word “game” is blocked or filtered. I guess we shouldn’t have fun in the classroom.

What is your favorite tool? What are your feelings about the filter wall? 

Writing and Reflecting: Is Writing Truly Reinvented?

Yes, I may just be a glutton for punishment. I began three classes yesterday! Two classes are for college credit and one class is directed by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) via her new book Reinventing Writing. I know, all of this is self-inflicted but surprise of all surprises the one that matters the most and that will help my students be successful is the one that will not count for any credit. I am taking a political science class and a Mexican history class, both online. These online courses are just like the traditional classes that I took from 1990-1995 in my undergraduate days. The only real difference is that instead of going to a lecture hall, I have to sit at home and read, do vocabulary (in .doc or .docx format only), and take essay exams once a week for four weeks. In one of the courses there is weekly discussion but it’s nothing like spending an hour in an education related twitter chat. In both of these classes regurgitation of factual information will be rewarded with grades. No premium is put on original thought. To quote one of the professors, “I am measuring your reading comprehension and engagement of what I assign.” 8-(  Really, I mean really? NO OUTSIDE SOURCES!

When I reached the end of chapter one of Vicki’s new book, I was revved up and ready to set off on a further exploration of writing. According to my college transcripts, I am a social studies teacher, but in my heart I am a teacher of students and a lead learner. I love learning, especially learning about topics that are meaningful to me and lead by people who are also passionate about teaching and learning. 

http://www.coolcatteacher.com/reinventing-writing-vicki-davis/

Reinventing Writing Book Cover

Mrs. Davis asks three questions at the end of chapter one of her book, “Is writing truly reinvented? What is different? What is the same?” These are the questions I will grapple with in this blog post.

The Same Old Words in a New Way

Writing is the same as it has been in my lifetime. I think of words or phrases, put letters together to form words, that are then (I hope) linked into grammatically correct sentences that make a point. When writing with paper and pencil, a person can always erase words and write them over. When using ink on paper if a mistake is made anyone reading it can see there is a mistake unless the entire page is completely rewritten. I remember having to type papers on an electric typewriter in high school. We had correction ribbon but it never quite worked right. So, if I made a mistake, I would more than likely have to type the entire page over again. I could try to use white out, but it wasn’t readily available and it tended to make things look messy anyhow. It seemed that if I ever moved the paper from the typewriter carriage it would never line up with any of the words properly, so it meant retyping a page.

When I was in college, the world of writing had moved into the dawn of word processing programs. There was Word Perfect and various other word processing and computer writing tools, but things began to standardize when Microsoft Word came out. Word is pretty much the world standard for writing papers today, or is it? I write my blog posts into my Evernote account and they are then accessible from every device that has the Evernote app or access to the web. A lot of people that write for a living use Scrivener and many other organizational writing tools. We seem to be moving away from the large ominous corporate behemoths like Microsoft and writing anywhere at any time misstake free!

Writing is the same but we are free to write any way our brains tend to process information. Let me give you a personal example. I hate outlines. There, I said it and I stand behind it. I probably have some old English teachers turning over in their graves right now. I don’t like to free write either. Some people can just write and write without a thought about spelling and grammar as they feel that it frees up their mind and they can go back and correct mistakes after they have their great thoughts down on paper. I process things first (mull things over in my mind for a while- – this can sometimes be for a week or more), then I sit down to write. I edit as I type and there is an inner dialogue that goes on in my mind. I am actually saying the words in my head and at my lips without moving my lips. If I don’t like something, or I type something incorrectly, or if something doesn’t make sense, it gets edited immediately. 

Writing for the World

Personally, I think that the greatest change in writing is that of audience. In my blog alone I am writing for a worldwide audience. I would like to think that most of my audience is made up of other teachers who may be looking to learn something new or teachers who read what I write and come to the conclusion that they can do a better job than that guy, but I also know that there are pre-service teachers who are reading this right now and asking, “can I really take the risk to put something that unpolished out there for the world to see?” Hey, I’m not perfect. I do, however, enjoy writing. I just never thought that I would be writing to be able to understand myself better or that my audience might be other people in the field of education.

I believe that I learn the most from my writing. Writing is my way of reflecting on things that have my mind in a tizzy or ideas that might actually be half-baked. Writing also allows me to see if I understand something clearly and from that see things that I do not understand so clearly. Our students can take their ideas to the world at large to get feedback, constructive criticism, to move people, to persuade people, to understand others in far off places, or to share their understanding of the here and now. Young people today can start a movement through writing. 

The written word is the same today as it always has been, but the words that we write can have a far greater impact without the need to be great or famous. I love the written word! Old or new I love to read the written word. Now, because I can write in a style that is comfortable to me, I love to write. My only hope is that my words make sense and that my words are helpful to someone else.

What do you think about writing? Do you feel that your writing could have a positive impact on someone? Is writing truly reinvented?