A Matter of Time

Playing BreakOutEDU at the beginning of the school year.

Playing BreakOutEDU at the beginning of the school year.

It has been quite some time since I last blogged. I have been doing a lot of research about how kids best learn. I have read/been reading the following books for my personal professional development: Ditch that Homework by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller, Make it Stick: The Science of Classroom Learning by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel, Hacking Digital Learning: 10 Ways to Launch EdTech Missions in Your Classroom by Shelly Sanchez Terrell, and Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom by Daniel Willingham.

All of this research takes time but time well worth it if my students benefit from what I learn. I have been trying to put these research backed ideas into practice, but I don’t really feel as though I’m being successful. I have spent time explaining to my students how to best study for transfer from short term to long term memory, how the brain works, and how to take notes based upon what research says works best for the brain. I believe that the problem I’m having is a matter of trust. Many of my students believe that the best way to take notes in U.S. History class is to just ignore whatever I talk about and ask for the PowerPoint presentation to be put online. I can tell them or show them what the research says but they believe that cramming and just rereading information right before a test is the best way to study. This seems to be so ingrained in their psyche that anything new/old will not work for them. I’m hoping that it is just a matter of time before they come to understand that spaced practice, retrieval practice, and elaboration will actually change the neural pathways in their brains to the point that information has transfered to long term memory.

Frequent quizzing is said to be helpful in the tranfer of information. I always think of quizzing the day before or the day of when I would like to quiz the kids, but then I feel like I’m surprising them and they feel like I’m not being fair even though quizzes make up only fifteen percent of their final grade. I’ve tried exit slips and I have found that this is a great way to gauge how well I covered material but I don’t feel that it’s  something I should put in the grade book.

This is going to be a year long experiment with what I hope will be great long term effects. If you have any advice or would like to help me out drop me a comment or send me an Email. Lets hope that it doesn’t take me another five months to come back to blogging.

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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?

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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

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.

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?
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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.

Why Do I Blog?

IMG_0492Some people may wonder why do I blog? My simple reply is, I blog because it helps bring order to my mind. The longer answer is that I blog to reflect upon my craft of teaching, to share what has worked for me and what has not worked for me. I blog about my challenges and successes. I also blog about things I am thinking about and I blog about current trends and research in education.
My blogging does not have the same impact on the education world as someone like George Couros who posts about three times a week at The Principal of Change. Nor does my blogging have the same impact as Alice Keeler’s blog Teacher Tech. My blogging impacts me the most. Do I hope that my blogging helps others? Absolutely! Could I work at trying to blog on a more regular basis? Yep. Could I even create a blog that thousands of readers would flock to? I don’t know (shoulder shrug).
Many of the other Iowa teachers that I know use blogging in the same way as I do, although some of them do reach thousands of people on a regular basis. Blogging and reading blogs is sharing and we need more sharing/vulnerablility in education (read more about this at Aaron Maurer’s (@coffeechugbooks) blog here. I think that blogging will help me be a better teacher and a better person. I once said to a colleague (Coach DeMarco) that I don’t just want to be a teacher, I want to be a great teacher for my students. Coach D told me that I have to quit striving for perfection and just be me!
I have built relationships with my students and they are not perfect people, nor would I expect them to be. I love them just as they are. As long as I love them and challenge their thinking, I will be a great teacher in their minds. Coach D and I also talked about real learning and real learning doesn’t necessarily come from a book and definitely not from a worksheet assigned as home work. Real learning comes from asking meaningful questions and creating a classroom where we can talk about those questions, research those questions, write about those questions, reflect upon those questions. But how does one grade true learning? How does a teacher or sherpa distill that thinking, those discussions, those reflections into a single letter? Comments will be greatly appreciated, as I would like to know what you are thinking.
Why do you blog?
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 😎