Friday, December 27, 2013

2013: A Year in Review and Reflection, and a Choice

What a year Education Universe-

A lot has changed.  A lot has happened.

2013 started off wonderful with the news that I would be a father.  As winter moved into spring, I continued my graduate studies toward my administrative degree.  Things were going pretty well, until the world came crashing down on me.

In late March, I woke up one morning with two tingling feet.  I thought I slept on my legs wrong, and didn't think much of it.  As the days moved on and the feelings got worse, I found myself at the doctor, and then the E.R.  I found myself at the doctor again wondering why my legs felt the way that they did, and eventually began diagnostic testing after meeting with a neurologist.

My mother has MS, and so of course I was worried that I might be showing signs.  I waited a week in the most panic-stricken state I have ever been in, hoping that the MRI's would come back clean and these feelings would go away.  But on April 1st, (of all days...) I was told I was indeed showing signs of MS in my brain.

The panic got worse.  It didn't help that on Easter Sunday, the day before, my grandmother had passed away.  I was sent into a spiral.  Fortunately, we were on Spring Break, and I had a week to try to collect myself and get back on my feet, as tingly and numb as they were.

But it didn't go so well.  I found returning to work a challenge.  Physically I was still adapting and recovering and mentally I was fragile.  I informed my colleagues of what had happened who in turn made sure my students knew what was going on.  I wasn't at my best as a teacher and I knew it.  Getting up and getting to work was hard, and my performance was being examined under a microscope because of my absences and eventual hospitalization to receive treatment.  Stress got to me.  Nerves got to me.  I broke down.  When I finally was able to come back, it was my colleagues and my students who saved me.  Of course my wife, Caitlyn, halfway through her pregnancy, brought me back to life.  I'll never be able to repay her and how strong she was to carry me through the end of last school year.

It was during all of this that I spent a lot of time at home and online.  I couldn't do a lot else, and I sort of laid low.  I began to learn more and more about the Personal Learning Network after taking an educational technology class as part of my master's program.  I began to make connections and meet people.  I'm not going to lie, I got addicted to Twitter for about a month.  It drove my wife nuts.  I don't know if it was a coping thing or not, but it got my mind off of things.  It helped.  And I thought I was getting to be a better teacher and professional because of it.  I was learning things that I wanted to know more about.

I learned about gamification, flipping the classroom, augmented reality, engagement, mystery Skypes, Twitter chats, the Google Teacher Academy, ISTE, Edcamps, and of course the importance of blogging.

I met some cool, inspiring, passionate educators.  They gave me faith that teaching is indeed what I always imagined it to be.  Whether it be the Two Guys and some I-Pads wizards Brad Waid and Drew Minock, Sean Junkins who inspired me to blog, Victoria Olson who is like a celebrity in Canada these days, Dave Burgess whose book validated my own teaching philosophy, or Toby Price, who might like Star Wars even more than I do.

My reality as a teacher does not resemble the picture I had in my head when I started down this career path.  I have a very unique group of kids with vastly different skills and expertise.  I have very little in terms of professional development or collaboration.  Being in a school that is being affected by No Child Left Behind, and in a state with reformed teacher evaluation legislation, my hands are sometimes tied and my vision is sometimes not something that can be achieved in a timely fashion.  And by no means will it be easy.

But moving into this school year (after a relaxing, much-needed summer) I was inspired.  I charged myself with doing better.  I charged myself with trying new things.  I charged myself with continuing to know my kids as the people they are, not the face they put on at school.

I truly believe there is a place between the dramatic, sarcastic, self-centered, short-sighted world of the middle-schooler and the idealistic, rigid, conformist, sterile, and scripted persona far too many teachers employ where student and teacher need to meet.  I don't want to show all of my cards to my kids and by no means do I want them to either.  I don't think 100% true middle school personality or 100% true teacher personality can work together.  There has to be a bit of a line that can't be crossed.  There has to be roles, and norms, and expectations.

Which brings me to this school year.  Things were moving along ok as I blogged about flipping my classroom.  That didn't go so well, but it was a learning experience.  But with all of the energy I poured into new initiatives, scrounging up every bit of loose tech I could find, and implementing an XP system similar to popular video games using assessments in class and the points earned, I shifted my focus away from certain things like behavior and procedures.  It's not that I don't see a place for them, but I know that my room has ran as a sort of "controlled chaos" for the better part of 5 years.  Students have been louder than in other classes.  They have a bit more of a tendency to shout out or blurt out in a discussion.  I knew in my head that there was a limit to how much off-task behavior I would condone.  It wasn't concrete, I just knew it when I saw it.

(In the middle of all of this, my son, Jace, was born in late October.  I love him.  I've known him two months now, and it's amazing how little there is that I wouldn't do for him without hesitation.  He is my new inspiration when times get tough.  I live for him now first, and me second)

But back to the present.  With the new evaluation system in place in the State of Illinois, the bar has been raised on teacher evaluation.  I found that practices in my classroom were no longer acceptable, even though the same evaluation tool had not indicated so over the past four years.  The bar just got raised.  Just as I thought a dark 6 months were behind me, the anxiety and fear I felt when I thought every step I took as a teacher was being examined was coming back.

I'm not blaming anyone.  I know I can and should improve.  I know that the sky is the limit as a teacher.  I know I can learn every day.  I also know that I was ok at what I did in the past.  It's really a head-scratching moment when what was ok yesterday is not ok anymore.  It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  It makes you feel attacked, it feels personal.  I don't know that that is what Danielson had in mind with her four domains, but it seems to be what is happening in my experience.

And teachers have felt this way before.  They have been at a fork in the road between conscience and conformity.  They have stood there, looking at the safe road that keeps them out of harm's way and their kids pacified.  Then there is the other way, which may lead to a breakthrough or a breakdown.  It sounds like a twisted Robert Frost poem, but it's the truth.  I worry about both paths.

I have always been different.  I value that about myself.  I like to think for myself.  I like to do things my way.  Sometimes they don't work out, but I adapt.  I change.  I learn.  But I have always been rubbed the wrong way when I'm told that my way is wrong.  Sometimes it's flat out true.  Other times it's no better or worse, just different.  But I get into trouble because I stick up for myself, and go down with my ship.  By the way, it's a pirate ship... thanks Dave Burgess :)

So as 2014 prepares to grace us with its presence, I have a choice.  Swallow my pride, or go down with the ship.  This really isn't the hill I want to die on, but I have a hard time choosing my battles.  Like Captain Kirk, I don't believe in a no-win situation.  I'm still looking for a third option.  And that is what I am spending this week searching for.  Inspiration, motivation, and redemption.

Oh and I finished my master's program with a 4.0.  I passed my principal's test.  But I'm terrified that I am going to be a needs improvement teacher.  I'm thinking about changing my blog title to something like that.

I haven't given up all year, and I'm not about to start now.  That is my resolution.  Oh and losing twenty pounds is too.

I feel better.  Few more days of being a bum at home and then productivity starts up on Monday.  1 week to turn my year around.  1 week to improve.  1 week to get back in the game.

Happy New Year-

Mr. J.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ending My Journey by Proposing We Start Another...

Hello Education Universe-

Well I did it... I think.  I'm done with my grad work.  Time to put some things to use.  I'm going to work on sharing some of the PLN experience with my co-workers.  I'm excited because there are things that we can improve by scouring the earth for great ideas.  We can also begin to get feedback from people outside our small little school.  I created the following prezi as a very brief intro to the PLN journey:

It is truly amazing what you can find.  Ideas, inspiration, motivation, and like-minded individuals that can actually validate that your ideas aren't crazy.  It's powerful.  But if you are new to social media or are operating from the more traditional (which isn't bad) paradigm, the thought of endless information, constant connectivity, and the dissolution of the end of the work day can be challenging, if not downright frightening.

But this ability to develop ourselves begs the question if professional development and training in the old workshop "sit and get" form is really something that should exist anymore.  For some things perhaps.  But I can't help but think that a school that pursues its own development at the individual level would not grow so much more because each discovery would be genuine, non-coerced, and meaningful.  And the message that we are sending our students, that learning is lifelong, could not be better.

And what if, just if, we spread this message to our students.  It would be a revolution.  There are so many pioneers that have blazed this trail that the pitfalls and dangers are beginning to subside.  This isn't a frontier anymore.  It isn't uncharted waters.  It's the way the world is doing its business.  It's the way business does business.  It should be part of the way education does its business too.

So I digress.  I will put my soapbox away.  But now that I have nearly finished my graduate work, I feel I better do something good since I spent all that time and money to get to where I am.  And a midst a challenging school year, I want to take a step forward.  I  want to make my school better.

And now it's time to hit the hay before Jace wakes me up.  I don't want to cross him, seeing as he is going to be the commander-in-chief someday...

Take care,

Mr. J.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Investigating a Text and Sounding Smart Doing It

It's been a while Education Universe,

Being a new daddy has cut into my blogging, but I did develop something from work I did last year and some reading that I have done that I think could be useful.  Over the last year or so, I have read and reread Social Studies can be SPECtacular, by Anthony Fitzpatrick.  The book focuses on identifying four simple themes from a text:

S for "Social"
P for "Political"
E for "Economic"
C for "Cultural"

Here in Illinois, our current social studies standards are organized in the following way:

14- Political Systems
15- Economics
16- History
17- Geography
18- Social Systems

You can see easily how the two align.  4 of my 5 standards are the themes that Fitzpatrick outlines.  The 5th, geography, I address separately in the 7th grade and throughout units that I teach as opportunity presents.

The reason I love this idea is because students by default will get more out of what they read if they are actively reading and searching for these themes.  The only thing that is needed is a tool or graphic organizer for students to work with as they read.  That's how the inSPECt process was born.  We are investigating, or inspecting, the text for these themes.  So essentially, we are looking for social, political, economic, and cultural themes (SPEC) in the text (hence the "in"and the "t" on the ends).

Fortunately I was able to come up with something that I rather like.  I started with color coding the text, looking for social, political, economic, and cultural themes in blue, red, green, and yellow, respectively:

From there, I took the themes from the text that I identified and put them into a very simple graphic organizer that was color-coded by theme too.  This way the evidence of what was read was gathered easily and could be analyzed and discussed quickly.

From there, I created a summary form that outlines the source and the evidence of themes collected.  The information is put into a pie chart to show the dominance of one theme or the harmony and balance found among several themes.  Regardless, it leads to a more sophisticated conversation about the text.  The last thing to do then is to discuss the findings in a brief summary, pointing out the themes as they appeared in the text.  Tying this type of activity to the common core standards, it is require students to cite evidence from the text as well as identify themes.  If we were to inspect more than one text on the same subject, could quickly point out discrepancies or the ways in which the author chooses what to focus on or highlight.

Lastly, the design of this template was thought of with the idea of making it electronic in the future.  A google docs live form can arrange information in the same way that this form does, producing the charts automatically.  There can be no doubt that this is much more in-depth of a reading activity than a simple worksheet to complete by scanning the text.

What is most appealing though is the discussion.  It can be rich.  It can be insightful and creative.  But most importantly, it gives students a chance to play historian by making their own conclusions.  There can be more than one right answer provided that the support from the text and evidence gathered is also there.  

I was observed doing this today in class, and I felt it went well.  The discussion was much better across the board.  I'm thinking about using this approach more, phasing out some of my lectures, and perhaps slowly taking a second look at flipping some of my content to allow for more text analysis.

I could really use some thoughts and feedback.  I work in a small school, and I'm the only person who teaches 7/8 social studies in the building.  That isolation sometimes works against the creative process and growing as a professional.  But that's why the Education Universe is here.

And as always Education Universe, you take care.

Mr. J.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned

Hello Education Universe-

The title of this post of course, is another one of the enigmatic quotes from Yoda.  This one however is something I'm trying to accomplish with students who have made up their minds on certain aspects of life long before I began my work with them.

I am not omnipotent.  I don't think I'm better than people.  But I do get upset that my students come to school with some misconceptions about the world.  Given, my culture is different than that of many of my students.  The town I grew up in does not resemble the one in which I teach.  The schools I learned in do not resemble the school that I work in.  But people are still people, and this country exists under the premise that we are all the same.

I know that there cannot be some list of beliefs, some canon of culture, some philosophy of principles that should be conveyed to students by teachers.  Again, this country is built on believing what we want to believe.  We have a right to our opinion.  We have a right to voice that opinion.  But that doesn't always mean that society at large will uphold it as valid.

I broke up a fight recently at a school dance.  I've done it several times in my five years as a teacher.  I have preached to my students that violence is not the answer.  But in middle school, I face an uphill battle in convincing students that raising a hand is synonymous with failing to see other options.  Violence isn't the answer to solving a problem with another human being.  If they make that choice, retribution is no more noble a motive than the aggression that caused it.

But yet I am told over and over how striking someone is the only option to someone who strikes you.  That is false.  My students have a compulsion to save face in the school and the community, and are unable to back down.  I have spent time explaining to students that long before the violence erupts, there are ways to avoid it.  Talking to friends, trying to open a dialogue between parties, speaking to adults, and alerting family members are solid strategies.

This does not mean I don't believe in self-defense.  Self-defense is necessary to remove oneself from harm's way.  We all have a right to live, and I have explained to students that protecting ourselves from imminent danger is most certainly permissible.

However you cannot look to defend yourself.  Self-defense is reactionary.  It is not premeditated as some of my students fail to see.  You cannot actively look to defend yourself.  You cannot instigate a fight, let the other side swing first, and then retaliate in self-defense.

Ultimately, this line of thinking ends with students turned adults in squad cars.  That worries me.  I want students to realize that they must find ways to deal with their aggression and frustration civilly.  That does mean walking away sometimes.  It does mean knowing when to stop.  It does mean knowing when to let someone else show their ignorance because you know how to show restraint.

Maybe my Jedi blood just runs too think.  "Knowledge and defense, never attack."  That's what the Force was to be used for.  I think the Force in our world may be common sense.  We need to act thoughtfully, considerate of ourselves, and of those around us.

"Mind you what you have learned, save you it can."  And if we unlearn what we have already learned, it allows us to learn something more useful.  Then we can use it to save ourselves.

Thanks Yoda.

-Mr. J.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I Just Got Chills

I'm not sure how to start this one, so I'm just going to.

I just read a blog post tweeted to me by Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate.  I love the book, and I've already talked about that.  There's something there for everyone.  But for @tansmom, it apparently meant a lot more.

I feel as if I am jumping on a bandwagon or just being redundant, but I shared a lot her sentiment.  I have sat here most of my summer learning from so many people, collecting ideas and rejuvenating myself in an effort to be the best that I can this year.  I can't stand being like other teachers.  I mean I want to be talented and respected like other teachers, but I want to be different too.  I want to do things my way, not out of arrogance, or ignorance, but out of passion and creativity.

I'm 27.  I'm closer in age to my students in most cases than my colleagues.  Separating my professional, academic, and personal lives is getting harder in today's society.  I believe that barriers between them should exist, but be much less strict than other people do.  I think engagement is necessary, creativity is vital, and rapport is required.  And because of those things, I take a lot of risks too.  And sometimes they blow up in my face.

I know exactly what @tansmom is talking about when mentions being tired.  I too fought a battle with my health this year.  In April I was diagnosed with MS.  It shook me to my core, scared me to death, and created a moment in my life where I knew a new self would live going forward, and an old self had been left behind.  I did the same thing and somewhat punted the last month of school away.  Just sitting at my desk and trying to act like I was ok was all I could do.

It was at about that time that I found PLN's and Twitter, blogging, and the playful banter of digitally connected educators.  They were people who thought like me.  They were coming up with great ideas and sharing them.  I shared mine too.

But my way, my ideas, aren't always totally accepted.  I joke with my students a lot.  I don't sweat small stuff, and I surely don't make them sit silent day in and day out.  Forgetting something isn't a big deal until someone does it constantly.  We've reenacted, argued, gotten loud, used technology, and created culture and camaraderie.  That's ruffled feathers, but guess what?  I'm not going anywhere.

And to those veteran teachers who are trying to raise a pirate flag, you are our most valuable sailors on this voyage.  You have the passion and creativity that has been tempered with wisdom and experience.  You know how to guide us younger pirates that may shoot first and ask questions later.

So don't give up the fight.  Fly your flag.  Go down with your ship, but not sinking because it's worn and neglected.  Go down in a blaze of glory.  Never strike your colors, and stay true to yourself.  When it's all said and done and you see that former student in several years, what do you want them to remember?

And who knows?  Maybe the waves we will cause will spark more learning, more ideas, and more people to join the crew.

You're not alone.

Mr. J.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Back to Basics, a Grassroots Movement, and an Educational Anaconda Plan.

Hello Education Universe-

Today the 1st quarter of the school year ended.  Wow.  Went quick.  I took a lot of leaps so far this year and not all of them panned out.  Flipping my classroom is on official hold until after my son is born and I get back to equilibrium in my room.

I have been trying to find the answer for helping my struggling students.  I know that I am still very much a novice teacher.  However I find myself not catching a break.  Classroom management, instruction, planning, and even grading have been one challenge after another this year.

So I had to put my creativity and aspirations aside in the interest of reaching my students in a way they could understand.  So I went back to basics for the units I am currently teaching.

However right now I am in my classroom fighting a battle against a faceless, formless beast known as apathy.  I have so many students who are not valuing education, not putting forth effort, and who just don't see any repercussions from not being successful in school.

It scares me.  I knew that my perception of school would be different than many of my students.  School was my job, the pathway to my future.  I was told that from a young age.  Grades were not negotiable with my parents.  I too many times take for granted that my students feel the same.

It doesn't matter which way I flip my classroom, which of my many pirate hooks I use, or how much I gamily my curriculum if no one cares.  So I'm going to war... a war on apathy.

I have been doing research into covert resistance and clandestine resistance cells.  I want to start a grassroots movement, one child at a time.  Starting with one cell of students who do care, I want to work one at a time, turning each child's work ethic into a battlefield.

I want to create a new majority.  Very similar to Lincoln's beliefs on slavery, I want to stop apathy from expanding where it already is.  I want an educational Anaconda Plan.

I want to surround apathy and destroy it, piece by piece, child by child.  But how?  Like I said, I have to start somewhere.  I'm going to start to meet with students who are interested, in a pseudo veil of secrecy.  I want them to feel like they belong to something new and exotic, filled with adventure and intrigue.  We're going to liberate the school.

God help me for this one...  so many ways for it to blow up in my face.  Oh well, Edison had to take a few shots at the light bulb before he got it right.

Take Care,

Mr. J.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Professional Growth: One Size Does Not Fit All

Hello Education Universe-

I'm licking my wounds a little bit this week from a few rough classes and some revelations that I'm not getting some of the results that I want.

It's going to be one of those years where I learn just as much (if not more) than my students.  I go between the stress of that realization and the excitement in a challenge to get a job done.

However as all of us go through our triumphs and tribulations as educators, we need different ways to get feedback and seek answers.  Unfortunately collaboration and time to prepare are locked beyond a wall made of red tape that has made our jobs much more hectic and high stakes than it ever has before.

That's not an excuse, it's reality.

However just as each student is on their own educational journey, so are we as teachers.  Sometimes self-reflection is the best way to help us figure out our next step.  Other times time is our best friend.  A weekend to clear our heads and get back in the game may be all we need.  Sometimes our colleagues have the answers we're looking for, or the ideas we have not yet thought of.

But again, when?

This is why personal learning and professional growth cannot be the same for each of us, and needs to evolve just like our profession constantly does.  There is so much out in the world to be found that sometimes we just need the time and the direction to find it.

I work with about a dozen wonderful teachers.  And a lot of they have found the answers I need as they made their way along the trail.  So with little time to talk or collaborate, how do we tap each other's skills?

The answer:  a blog.

Just like this one.  What if all those emails that we send to each other or those lunchroom conversations were encapsulated?  What if we kept them somewhere?  What if we tagged them to help each other?  What if the question we wanted to ask the expert teacher or that newer teacher savvy in the new techniques could be placed in one spot and answered as we have the time?

Why not?

Now imagine if we each reached out in our own ways into the education community through the development of our own personal learning networks.  Some of us like to talk face to face, others like to read, and others like to use social networking.  So in our own ways we can bring a multitude of information to back to base to be used as needed.

I'm going to say something right now that not everyone is willing to admit.  I can't do this job alone.  I need help.   I need encouragement.  I need feedback.  I need ideas.

But so does everyone else.  I have some that you need, and I'm game for trading.  But how?  But when?  It's so frustrating to know you need help finding the help to help yourself.  It's like Kid President said:  "I'm on your team, be on my team."


If you're like me, you can't switch your job off.  And when you don't feel effective, when you don't feel happy with how things are going, you dwell.  I'd be willing to bet that most struggling teachers would benefit from a way to grow professionally that is easily accessible and constantly growing.  We all want to be great, and some days we are.  Other days we are not.  And those days when I'm not great, I lose sleep over it.

So as I learn to be an administrator and by nature an instructional leader, I cannot wait to implement this  type of professional learning community.  A PLC of PLN's...  now that sounds interesting.

Ok, better get back to class.  We're talking about something... I think.  Oh shoot, I have a presentation to give.

Sometimes you just get on a tangent, and you just have to hope it takes you back to the circle.  But I guess that wouldn't make it a tangent would it?

Until next time,

Mr. J.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Preserving Artifacts Isn't Just for Archaeologists... or Administrators

Well Education Universe, I have some news for you-

Charlotte Danielson and her four domains are going to invade your school if they haven't already.  If you are like me, an Illinois educator, you know that soon enough our evaluation will be tied to four domains:  Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities.

Most schools require a combination of walkthroughs and formal observations to p determine an overall rating.  The information from these encounters is presented in the form of "artifacts" or "evidence."  Administrators are trained to collect this evidence, and while most teachers are not, we still need to do it.

This is where Google can come to the rescue.

With a few short clicks, you can set up a Google Doc form to help you.  I have done so already.  Setting up some sort of "artifact collection system" is a good idea because it allows you to store your own evidence of your quality teaching and professional experiences.  Nothing is worse than being caught with your pants down come your end-of-the-year evaluation.  While it should not be perceived that you are "going to war" during your end-of-the-year meeting, you do want to go prepared.

Administrators are busy.  They can't possibly see all of the good things your are doing in your classroom.  They may see some, or see you on a day you could wish you had back.  But if you are keeping your own evidence and collecting your own artifacts, you can showcase yourself to the best of your ability.

It's one of those things where you say to yourself that you will do later on... but we know we get busy.  Do it as you go.  You'll be amazed at what you are finding.  Just like we can't possibly show administrators everything we want to, we can't possibly just remember everything we do in the year.

Many pieces of evidence aren't planned.  That talk you have with an upset student, the spur of the moment lesson deviation, and the parent conversation you just happen to have in passing as you went to the office can also be pieces of evidence.  You won't remember those next week, let alone in May.

So do yourself a favor, and keep track of how good you are at what you do.  Your students will be the ones who benefit from you being a more mindful professional.

Take Care,

Mr. J.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Flipped Classroom Check-In #4: The One Where I Called Time Out

Education Universe, I could use a pick me up.

What an exhausting week, and it is Wednesday.  My flipped video ambitions have been somewhat neutralized for the moment.  I have an 8th grade class that balks at them because "last year was easier," and a 7th grade class that needs to show me they can handle independent work and a classroom management interface like Edmodo.

Needless to say, I am a little bit disheartened.  We are nearing the end of a unit, which I'm hoping will end with some sort of positive... something.

I feel as if in my enthusiasm to practice what I have been learning about, I may have forgotten the most important and sacred maxim of teaching:  do what is best for your students.

I have 8th graders telling me how they want to learn.  It's not an outrageous request.  It's just what they are used to.  They want the security of doing things they know how to do.  I like mixing things up to keep them on their toes.  I also like preparing them for the undoubtedly 8 different personalities they will deal with in high school at a given time.  I am conflicted.

I have learned a few things in my first attempt at a flipped classroom however.  Let me share with you a few things I probably read about and forgot, or ignored in my pursuit of something I thought would be awesome:

1.  Videos really do need to be short.
2.  If students in general are just watching the videos in your classroom because they don't do the work at home, you are facilitating a computer lab in which you hear yourself talking all day.
3.  BYOD and flipped classsrooms share a connection that is not required, but should be at least considered.
4.  Independent work using the flipped model requires a recognition on the part of the student that they need to do their part, and ask for help when they need it.
5.  Ease into flipping, do not just go for it.  It's too much for a child to handle without letting them get their feet wet first.

There is more I have learned and filed away, but those were my biggest lessons.  I don't think that this attempt was a failure, because I learned something.  Actually, I learned a lot of things.  I figure this experience in similar to Edison's first few hundred attempts on that pesky light bulb.  Didn't go so hot.  But he figured it out... so I need to keep trying.

It's been one of those weeks where as a teacher I really feel like I am working hard to just tread water.  I'm outgunned at the moment, and I thought flipping my classroom would be like the cavalry riding in.  That hasn't been the case.

So as I have blogged countless times to share, to collaborate, and hopefully inspire someone, this evening I feel like I'm sending out the blog equivalent of an SOS.  I could use a hand.  I could use  a fresh idea or two.  I could use a second viewpoint, or an alternate perspective.  Unfortunately, no one in my building is attempting something quite like what I was envisioning. Additionally, only one other teacher teaches in my subject area.  Regardless, the time to collaborate is just not there.

So I am reaching out to the Education Universe.  You have great ideas, and as my Twitter page says, I'm always looking for the next great one.

Is it cheesy to quote the new Batman movies about why we fall.  So we can learn to get back up of course.

Alright, back to work.  I need to keep giving it my all.

Mr. J.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flipped Classroom Check-In #3: The One Where I Learned to Adapt

What a week Education Universe.

I'm about three weeks into school now, and I have tried to employ my flipped model and XP systems that I devised this summer.  The XP system, combined with Edmodo and Classbadges has been great.  The kids love it.

The flipped model... not so much.

This one is on me.  I gave the kids more than I should have and not enough time.  In my head, this utopian concept of the kids working, asking questions, and moving on through the activities made sense.  In reality, lots of questions, frustration, distractions, being a kid in general, and computer issues have been what I am dealing with so far.

Every year I swear there is this point, a moment in the year, where you decide to keep on with what you are doing because you're just into the year too far.  I'm afraid of that point, so I'm blogging my resolve to rally the troops after the unit finishes and take a new approach.

I tried to do a little too much.  I thought some of my kids would be done so early with the flipped videos that they would need more to do.  That hasn't happened yet.  My bounty system therefore hasn't taken off like I would want it to.  The good news is that on September 5, I already know the changes I need to make.

I feel like that first year teacher again.  Wide-eyed, enthusiastic, but missing the mark because I just didn't know better yet.

So if this were a baseball game, I think I probably didn't strike out, but hit a weak ground ball to first base.  Time to shorten up, focus, and simplify.  This IS going to work.  It has become a part of me.

Ok, time to eat my lunch.

Mr. J.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Flipped Classroom Check-In #2: The One Where I Almost Pulled the Plug

Hi Education Universe-

Rough day.  Just got home at 10 PM from grad school and working on my flip vids.  I'm a little behind, partially due to technical stuff and slight procrastination.

I talked about how we were going to use the Cornell style of notes in class today with a few modifications.  Here's a look at them:

This is what students will fill out when they watch.  I was really excited about this.  I mean sure it was a little more work than annotating PowerPoint slides in class with me, but they could do it whenever they wanted.

That's the point of the flipped model right?  Accessibility, flexibility, and mastery.

They were less than enthused...  eye rolls for all.  Combine that with a very loud day and confusion still over the XP system and you can imagine that I was a bit deflated when I came home.

I could have gone for a jog, instead I decided to blog.  This is one of those days where as upbeat and positive as I am, I felt like perhaps I should just quit the whole thing and go back to something traditional.

I'm sure Dave Burgess would have made me walk the plank, or maroon me in a school in the 1950's.  It's hard to keep up that spirit when the kids don't exactly buy in.  But I'm going to stick to my guns on this one, because ultimately I think it's best for them.  When they get that free time after completing their required work to explore, I think they'll buy in.

I also added a quartermaster system to my class so students who are responsible and trustworthy can get badges on Edmodo as quartermasters.  They handle classroom logistics from running errands, decorating, cleaning up, making copies, and grading papers.

I awarded the first quartermaster badges today.

I also found new contacts as I met Rob Steller (@robbiestells) on Twitter.  He is working to produce a classroom XP interface that would mesh with some of my ideas.  I look forward to learning more in the future.

Here's his project at  Check it out!

Back to flipping videos, and hopefully not desks tomorrow :).  7th graders in August are just loud.

If I had to get a tattoo, it would say one of the following (in order)

1.  Carpe Diem (cliche but I don't care)
2.  TLAP
3.  School = Fun
4.  What's the Common Core?
5.  #Gamification
6.   Do or do not, there is no try.

But I'd never get one... so that's all just speculation

Until next time...

Mr. J.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Flipped Classroom Check-In #1: The One Where I Might Have Procrastinated Just a Bit

After a 3 week hiatus... I'm back!

So as always... hello education universe!

If you are a visual learner, or if you just don't want to read my glorious post... here's my first Flip Vid:

School has started, and I am slowly getting back into the swing of things.  Tomorrow will be quite a bit of work for me as I work to get my flipped videos completed.  But at the suggestion of many people I have met in the Twittersphere, I am going to blog as I go.

So here's the update.

My classroom is up and running, and I am in the process of working on putting the final touches on my XP system.  My first flipped video is completed, with about two dozen in the works.  I have about 48 hours to get those done as well.  I'm trying very hard to make the videos somewhat entertaining, and I hope that the kids like them.  I ran into my first snag over the summer when I recommended xtranormal to some fellow Tweeps and found out that it was shutting down its service.  I was horrified, because this meant that my digital sidekick, Mike, the History-Loving Robot was lost.

Farewell.  You are, and forever shall be, my friend.

Ok so Wrath of Khan references aside, I had a problem.  So I quickly scoured the internet for a replacement.  I came upon two websites:

Go Animate will be the new home of my cartoon creations, while Pow Toon serves as the way to create the introduction and graphics for the beginnings of my videos.

And with Go Animate, Mike got a new look, or as I call it, some "upgrades."  So he's back!  And he got back on Edmodo!

My videos are coming along.  I am using my SMART Board and a USB microphone to record my instruction.  If I am using a program like Google Earth, I use a USB headset to narrate instead. I am combining the theme of the videos and my XP system in class to create sort of a military/secret agent type of system.  So far, the kids seem to be ok with it.  In the future, Mike will probably be getting into trouble that only my students can save him from.  But that is for another day.

Students will interact with most course materials, including my videos, through Edmodo.  This has allowed me to form groups of students for projects and eventually reading groups in the future.  Each group of kids came up with their own "company" name and logo using the NATO alphabet.  The results were that the "Junior High Army" command structure began to form:

Each grade became a "division," each section in each grade a "regiment," and "companies" became project groups.  Each designed their own logo to represent themselves:

So now it is just a matter of getting the work done.  I am picking reading assignments, finishing up my videos, and creating assignments over the next couple days.  I'm excited, but I'd be lying if I said I don't feel at times as if maybe I got myself into an amount of work and prep that perhaps I cannot keep up with... especially with Baby J. only a few months away.

But I think I am on to something... and I'll check in again soon!

Enjoy the year!

Mr. J.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Tag' Em

I hardly recognized you education universe... it's been awhile.

My ball game got rained out tonight so I am taking the time to post for the first time in forever.  Hopefully no one of the nearly 2,000 page viewers held their breath (no refunds).  Anyways, a quick new thought tonight in my constantly developing XP system.

I ordered 150 plastic dog tags the other day.  I'm using them as a way to keep track of things that tend to wander away in my room.  I'm going to give each kid a set, and if they want to borrow something or reserve their spot at the computer, they need to give me their tags.  Additionally, if they are misbehaving, I can take their tags for awhile as a way of reinforcing my expectations.  They will also be allowed to write their name and unit (group) on the tags and show them off.

Here's what they look like:

These will help to reinforce my military XP system theme as we go, and may serve as an in-class intervention for behavior prior to a referral or other corrective action.  It will also help me make sure my stuff comes back to me.  I bought like 5 million pencils last year that I never even got to use.

I'm hoping groups of kids will choose matching tags and we can begin to develop subcultures within my class with norms and expectations of their own.  With everything tied to academics, this was a good way to reinforce the behaviors.  We'll see what happens.

I plan to document my journey this year.  Between flipping, grouping, e-learning, BYOD, and the XP system, who knows what's going to happen.

Right now there's just a lot of possibilities.

Hoping for a drier tomorrow... I got a championship to defend.

Mr. J.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gamification is not Capitulation

Greetings World-

I know it's been several days since I spoke my mind, but I was on vacation and enjoying the summer weather.  But now it's time to get back to sharing my thoughts.  Today's topic:  Gamification.  If that's a new term to you (which it still sorta is to me), here's the wikipedia entry:


Or if you feel like some light reading, Amazon has this book for $2.99 on the Kindle:

I'm currently working on two books:

I've kept an eye on Twitter recently and noticed that there is some opposition to this idea of turning learning into more of a game-like experience.  Using the mechanics of something children understand to teach them makes sense.  I've blogged about my ideas using experience points and leveling in the past and so I will stick to my guns in believing in this idea.  

I think to some this idea of rewarding students for their work in these ways reveals the timeless differences in pedagogical thought.  For  example, remnants of an "Old Guard" may not have the desire to implement something like gamification or game theory into their classrooms.  They also may not have the experience or background with modern  video games that would allow them to be comfortable with such an idea.  

For others, rewarding students for "doing what they are supposed to be doing" is just against their principles.  These teachers usually use phrases such as "when I was in school" or "when I was a kid" or "I wasn't taught to teach like that."

Others will misuse this type of thinking.  Gamification isn't really an excuse to play Call of Duty instead of talking about World War II.  It's using the concepts that make up the basis of the video gaming experience in the classroom.

This is not "giving in" to students.  This is not lowering expectations.  To me, it's actually raising them.  The days of drill and kill, strict discipline, doing homework because the student is supposed to, paying attention because the student is supposed to, and not having to worry about engagement are gone.  They've gone the way of the 3.5 inch floppy, chalk boards, and the card catalog.  

I equate my limited by growing concept of gamification to teaching diverse students.  Students learning to speak English would suffer if taught only in English.  What if we taught students with visual impairments how to read only by pointing at letters?  What if we taught students with learning disabilities exactly like every other student, with no modifications?  We think outside the box, we innovate, and we modify the content and/or the experience for students who need it in order to achieve.

That's all gamification is... just on a bigger scale.

Video gaming requires a set of skills.  That may be a stretch to some but is.  Problem solving, planning ahead, and critical thinking can play a part in some (not all) games.  Additionally, there is a tangible reward, a recognition of the achievements made.  Gamifiying your classroom to provide incentives like this creates overt competition, and may actually lead to better results.  

But the bottom line is making the classroom into something more readily understood and digested by students is a good idea.  It's like tapping into a special dialect of the kid language, the kid experience.  While it may not be for everyone, gamification is for me.  

But that's because I speak that language.  I'm 27 going on about 15.

More to come on this topic down the road.  I should get a badge for this post...  because it makes me happy and would cost absolutely nothing.  That's another thing.  Create these badges or awards digitally... and they're FREE.  

Kid-friendly and budget-friendly...  I hope a superintendent reads this, and then hires me.  I'm 6 months from being able to be a technology director with my administrative certificate :)

Now if we could only gamify grading...

I'm out.

Mr. J.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Why Part of Me Chooses to Still Reside in Middle School

Greetings Universe-

A pretty solid Twitter chat got the ball rolling on this one.  Hats off to #bcedchat as its maiden voyage was a success.  I should have smashed a bottle of champagne over my computer or something.  Props to @MsVictoriaOlson and @brynmw for getting the ball rolling.  Continue standing on guard for thee and and educating for all thy sons and so on.  Well done.

Anyways, in the back channels of tonight's chat, another idea surfaced.  Old Twitter friend @logan_ashlee and new Twitter friend @webby37 took part in an epic, epic, sci-fi reference dropping session that led to laughter.  It's almost 2 am, and honestly I still am getting a kick out of it.

And then someone, not me, realized that once again this type of discussion was entertaining.  So why not be productive with it.  What if as we discussed education, we spun it our way?  In this case, the nerd, pop-culture, high-tech, social media way.  Why not a #punedchat?  Why not a #refedchat?  Why not an #eduivoque (thesaurus'ed "pun")?  How about a #doubleedutendre?  But I digress, enough butchering of the English language.

If you don't think that being funny in your classroom is a huge advantage, then you are sorely mistaken.  Everyone has their own style and their own personality, but being funny is a way to connect with your kids.  And if you don't think that is important either, don't ever teach middle school.

I am a sarcastic, quick-thinking, pop-culture referencing human being.  Thankfully it plays in my classroom.  And that is why part of me stays in middle school.  It never left.  I share interests with 12-year olds.  They're into the fact that I love sports, video games, dodgeball, movies, stand-up comedy, and TV.  I also can't stand boy bands, which divides the house but leads to lots of jokes at the expense of Justin Beiber, One Direction, and my swooning female students who are just captivated with them.

Teasing doesn't work for everyone, but humor does.  You can't laugh too much.  It does make learning difficult at times, but when someone remembers what you said in class because of that really crazy thing you said before, during, or after, it's worth it.

So I look forward to the opportunity to try out my brand of me on my Twitter pals.  I'm just going to act like I do in a staff meeting:  borderline obnoxious, rarely quiet, yet surprisingly collaborative.  Take the good with the bad and just roll with it :)

But here's a few things that I have learned about making people laugh at my school:

1.  It starts with you.  I make fun of me more than anyone else.  There's a lot to make fun of.  Just realize your turn is coming too.  Share the love, but start at home.

2.  Know who you can give a hard time to.  I have some kids that I know are solid when it comes to playing along with my antics.  Others will stare me to death.

3.  Make cool things lame and lame things cool.  It gets a reaction.  For example, I rip on all those little teeny-boppers my kids talk about.  But then I make Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton seem awesome.  Plus we reenact it.

4.  Look crazy, but stay in control.  Anytime something doesn't work in my class, I've yelled at it.  I've thrown things at it.  Then I blame it on a kid.

5.  Use students in examples or as examples.  Demonstrate concepts using analogies and explanations with the kids in them.  Presidential succession is a lot more fun when I talk about how one crazy student killed another who was pretending to be President.

6.  Use their words to make your points.  I'm often talked about fascism as "nationalism on steroids."  I may have mentioned how the Hessians were "tipsy" at Trenton during the Revolution.  Harry S. Truman's middle name... It's just "S."  So when you tell the kids that his friends called him "Harry S.", you can't miss.

7.  Exaggerate.  Make conversations so much more than they are.  I make so many empty threats it's insane. Kids know I'm not going to throw them out a window or staple them to a bulletin board, but saying it is so much more fun than saying "please be quiet all the time."  They think it's goofy, and they listen more and pay attention to see what is going to happen when someone doesn't.  Not a perfect plan for everyone, but hey, works for me.

8.  Stay connected.  My kids talk to me through email and on Edmodo.  That's a great starter platform.  You get to think out being funny if you choose to be.

9.  Find colleagues that you can have a give-and-take with.  One of my colleagues will come into my room from time to time and I act like it is the biggest disruption in the history of education.  Then I will do it for her.  We also go into each other's rooms and critique what's going on just for the fun of it.  The old social studies vs. math routine works well.  I make fun of math as "something a machine can do" and she will tease social studies as "just stuff dead people did."  It's funny, the kids eat it up, and it also gives us a chance to explain why learning what we are teaching actually is worthwhile.

10.  References.  Last but not least, references.  Anytime that a reference to something kids understand can be made to what you are teaching is awesome.  Especially if it is funny.  A phrase, a song, a movie, a TV show, fashion, etc. can all be used to be funny.  Someone will get the reference, and if they don't get it, I usually go on a tirade of a tangent to explain it.

I remember one time I made a reference about how airplanes during WWI and airplanes today would be like comparing an Atari to an Xbox 360.  Then most of them were lost, because they didn't know Atari.  That was an immediate "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" moment from me.  I went on my tangent and we had to youtube Pong real quick.  I pretend to be angry, they think I'm nuts and laugh, and they can all tell you what they did in class today.  Guess what kid... you just learned something.

And if all else fails in your attempts, go back to #1.  Make fun of yourself for trying to be funny and failing and you'll probably end up being funny.

We can't all be the @sjunkins of the world with a quip locked and loaded at every moment, but we can all make a kid laugh.  That part of me stays in middle school, because if learning isn't funny, it's not fun to me.

And with that, I'm out.

Mr. J.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Plan! I Just Had to Write This All Down

Ok, so it's been a week.  Sorta on hiatus from blogging and Twitter a midst union negotiations, intern hours, grad school, and the occasional bit of shuteye.  But tonight I wanted to get some thoughts on paper... digital paper that is.  If only trees were followers...  sigh.

 I'm loved outdoors.

So I was thinking, I need to put together my plan for next year.  I talked with my admin about it yesterday and got the green light for most of the things I wanted to do.  Big win.  So I decided I better articulate it somewhere so I can execute it.  So here it goes:

First and foremost, I am flipping my classroom.  Instructional videos will be recorded for the unit that we are in ahead of time.  Students may choose to watch them in class or outside of class, depending on preference and access at home.  Students will be given a series of assignments for the unit, again all ahead of time.  Projects will be assigned every 9 weeks, staggered between 7th and 8th grade.  Projects will go up until midterm of the quarter or start at midterm until the end of the quarter.

Students will be divided into reading groups (more in a second) and project groups.  Students will choose their own project groups and will design a logo and create a team name.  This will be their company (military) so to speak for the year.

Students will be asked to take notes on the videos in something similar to a Cornell note style.  This way they can summarize the videos and indicate what questions they have.  On Edmodo they will take an assessment over each  video using a randomly generated set of questions.  

Students will also have reading assignments to complete.  These assignments will be differentiated using data taken from the MAP test.  This way certain skills can be keyed in on.  These assignments will most likely be more response-based to incorporate our newly designed routine writing techniques.  

For each assignment, the total points will be recorded.  Points will also convert into experience points, or XP.  This will be used in the leveling system that I have blogged about previously.  Students who level up will receive certain perks throughout the year.

For students who finish ahead of time, the "bounty board" will be used.  This will be a place for extra assignments to boost grades and boost XP.  This is not extra credit, because accepting a bounty from the board will then require the student to finish the assignment in the allotted time.  If members of the same project group finish early, they could utilize class time to work on their 9-weeks project.
For students who are struggling with content, there will be time set aside during class to meet with me for reinforcement.  I will require their notes to be completed on a video lesson prior to asking for the reinforcement.  These mini-lessons can then clear up misunderstandings with students and focus them on the key points they may not have totally understood.  It will also free up computers for students because we cannot all use them at once.  I may try to use my Bamboo Capture and SMART Board in these lessons to record mini-lessons to add to my video library.

At the beginning of class I will try to answer individual questions, which will hopefully lead up to the mini-lesson I just mentioned.  After the mini-lesson I will go back to individual questions or work on tech issues that may arise.

Students will also be competing for several title belts that I have created.  Highest grades will have the honor of wearing the belt and bragging it off in class.  I love friendly gloating.

For students who finish everything, they may use the student contract form I developed to help me and my video-making process.  They may be allowed to create a student-made flipped video to add into future lessons.

Lastly, my classroom will be broken up into sectors instead of rows of desks.  Certain things go on in each sector.  It will make expectations clear and managing my class simpler.  In a perfect world, I will have about 20 different things going on at once.

Fingers crossed that this works!

Until next time,

Mr. J.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Teachers Aren't Superheroes: True or False?

Good Evening!

I was reading an article that made the way to me through the grapevine on Twitter.  It discussed how teachers are not superheroes, capable of superhuman feats.  Instead they are fallible human beings just like everyone else.  Here's a link to the article:

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a... Teacher? 

James Harrell is right.  We are not superheroes.  We are not born with superpowers.  Everything that we can do in a classroom is because of education, creativity, and perseverance.

We trained to do what we do.  Most of them time we work alone.  We're constantly looking for an edge, tools to augment our classroom.  Technology that does for us what we cannot do alone is used as much as possible.  And most of the time, the odds are stacked against us.  And when we go home, we go about our normal lives, blending in with the world because we leave a lot of what we do at work, only taking it home in our heads and hearts (and oh yeah, the grading... it's not a perfect analogy).

But does that sound like anyone you know???

Where James Harrell takes a misstep is saying that we can't be just a little larger than life.  We can be a certain type of hero.  This is why I have always been a Batman fan.  He's a normal guy.  He trained hard to achieve peak health and fitness.  He uses his intellect and his training to solve crime and defeat his foes.  And whenever he can, he uses technology.  From his fleet of vehicles to his hand weapons to his grappling hook to his other high-tech gadgets, he's always got a tool for the job.  Not to mention, he primarily works with a kid:

We're not going to get a flashing light in the sky asking us for help.  If it were only that easy.  We may not have the fancy car or the sweet costume, but when all of that strips away Bruce Wayne is no less human than any of us.  He just chose to be more.

That's what is needed from us as teachers.  We have to choose to be more so that our students will see that they can make the choice.  And no, we aren't going to be rich or famous for doing it like Batman is.  But that's why he's in a story, and we're out here. 

 I'd compromise for the costume.  

Mr. J.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

To Boldly Use the Force to Live Long and Prosper

Greetings Education Galaxy-

I'm going to take a break from my technology pedagogy tonight.  I had to work out some of my inner nerd.  I'm sure I'm not the first person or the last to ever do what I'm about to do, but oh well.  Tonight I want to prove that the countless hours I have spent being a sci-fi nerd were not in vain.  Here are the lessons Star Wars and Star Trek have taught me and how I apply them to teaching:

 "The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." -Spock
Teacher Translation:  Do what is best for your students, not teachers, not yourself.

"Do or do not, there is no try."
Teacher Translation:  Effort is meaningless.  Things either happen or they don't.  Choose to make them happen.

"Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is."
Teacher Translation:  None.  Yoda said this one.

"Pass on what you have learned."
Teacher Translation:  Anything you keep to yourself helps no one else.

"I don't believe it."  
"That is why you fail."
Teacher Translation:  Believe in your students, believe in yourself, and believe that what you are doing is important.  It's not half the battle, it is the battle

"But good words. That’s where ideas begin."
Teacher Translation:  Discussion, collaboration, conversation, and expression are the precursors to progress.

Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. 
Teacher Translation:  Learn from your mistakes, from your failures, from your shortcomings.  When you get knocked down, come back stronger and wiser than before.

"You will find that it is you who are mistaken... about a great many things."
Teacher Translation:  You know what they say about people who assume.  We don't know everything, so keep your eyes and ears open.  There are possibilities that you haven't considered.

"I'm a doctor, not an engineer."
Teacher Translation:  There are things that other people are better at than you.  The same goes that you are better than others at some things.  Trust others to help you and help others when you can.  Collaboration is key.

"In this galaxy there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all that, and perhaps more...only one of each of us." 
Teacher Translation:  We're all special.  Everyone deserves our best.

"It is possible to commit no errors and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life."
Teacher Translation:  Sometimes we think we have a lesson figured out perfectly, we teach it exactly how we  want, and it still goes awry.  Win the next one.

Teacher Translation:  Everything you do should continue to hold your students' attention and as much as possible, entertain.  

So while so many of you folks are sitting on your laptops, your tablets, your smart phones, etc. at ISTE13, I thought I'd give you some food for thought.  Being a geek is so useful.

I'll leave you with one final quote from Captain Picard.  When it comes to new technology, new strategies, new ideas, or just something awesome you want to do for kids, follow his famous words...

"Make it so."

Second star to the right, and straight on until morning,

Mr. J.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The "Big Picture"

Greetings World-

I am in the wake of my Google Teacher Academy rejection, I have begun a 12-step program to rehabilitate myself.  Not really.  It was a fun experience and truly the camaraderie among playful and entertaining educators.  So while I didn't make the cut, I wanted to say thanks to those of you who chatted up the event and hyped it up into something positive to be a part of, regardless.  So @sjunkins, @msvictoriaolson, @iteachag, @EricDemore, @techbradwaid, @TechMinock, and @logan_ashlee, thanks for making the last few weeks a blast!

I've been playing with my Bamboo Capture some more.  I have found that there is a wireless feature that can be purchased for abut $40 to the tablet.  Here's the link if you didn't know about it:

Wireless Kit for Bamboo Capture

I want to use this wireless feature for an opening activity to a unit that I call "The Big Picture."  With a SMART Board, I want to create a visual outline of the material to be covered.  I'm a horrible artist, which in this case plays to my advantage.  With the wireless feature I can walk around my room and mention for example "George Washington crossing the Delaware."  I can hand off my tablet to a student to illustrate part of the picture, and then hand it back for me to continue talking.  Then I might need to talk about German mercenaries, which another student could draw for me and label as "Hessians."  Another could help discuss the setting by mentioning it was on Christmas Eve, and draw a Christmas tree, or even Santa (might have to be careful on the religious stuff if that's a big deal where you are).

The picture is not supposed to be historically accurate.  It's supposed to be funny or outrageous (@burgessdave).  The point is to mix things up, create something out of thin air, and to get a ball rolling.  The goal is to make kid-created analogies, illustrations, definitions, etc.  Jargon will be turned into "kid-friendly" language and history will be illustrated with a teenage mindset that I just help facilitate.  I mean after all, you never know what a junior high student will do/say (which I why I love teaching them), but every once in awhile you have to put the brakes on something.

While we do it on our SMART Board together, kids will have a piece of 11x17 or legal paper to also illustrate their own version of the big picture.  When we're done, we should have some sort of wacky image that can be conveyed in terms that the kids helped to develop and illustrate.

This is sort of what I have in mind, thug this was done on a dry-erase board.  My kids did a "big picture" on their own about the Civil War last year.

Just a quick thought tonight... but hopefully a good one.

Until next time-
Mr. J.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Tech Curriculum out of Thin Air?

Hello World-

So among other things today I was asked by my administrator to help to create a tech curriculum for this coming school year.  Of course I jumped at the chance.

We used to have a tech class that went by the wayside in budget cuts with our industrial arts program, consumer and family science program, and several sports and clubs.  I'm glad such a vital set of skills is going to be taught directly again.

The question is, where do you start?  I teach in a district diverse in its student population.  Gauging the technological skills and ability to use applications and other Web 2.0 technologies in my students will be tough.

Some have no typing skills, understanding of basic Windows concepts, and cannot even save a file on their own.  Some have more know-how than I do.  It's a wide range of children to attempt to meet and engage.

So of course I immediately with to my PLN on Twitter and am hoping for ideas there.  While I wait, I also took a look at the NETS Standards, which can be found here:

NETS Standards

The six standards are at least a jumping off point to designing a curriculum.  For each school or program, expectations are going to be different.  Our kids will get two 30-minute blocks a day for "tech" instruction.

I would despise it if this class became Keyboarding 101 or educational website playtime.  That's not a tech class.  Technology changes, revolutionizes, enhances, and inspires.  It's how we communicate globally, and built civilization.  It is how we are going to continue to cure cancer, solve environmental problems, and continue to improve society.

Your wpm or how many math problems you got right on the latest math game website will not do those things.  We need to teach how to use today's tools to make tomorrow's tools.  We need to know how to share our ideas about the past and the present to get new ideas for the future.  We need to learn what we  can do to help what has been done.

Digital citizenship is the starting point.  Our job as teachers is to guide students as we educate them.  Using technology and social media in positive ways has to be considered.  If we can make progress in this area, there is going to be less resistance to other tech initiatives such as 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device.

Here are some resources I found to get me started with that:

Digital Citizenship 
Digital Citizenship 2
Digital Citizenship 3
I want to give kids access and the ability to use tools to learn in new ways, not just type up their report for me a little bit faster.  Who knows, we may need them to use some advanced tech to save our life someday as opposed to typing up our death certificate just a tiny bit faster.

Keeping thinking, keep laughing, keep learning.  Have fun and teach kids.

Mr. J.