Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Christmas Bonus

by Eric Gjerde
A couple of weeks ago we had our New Tech coach visit our school to evaluate our progress implementing the PBL model. My classes were using Socratic circles to discuss their genocide research. We had a meeting afterwards and she was very impressed in where our school is for a first year PBL school.

In my individual meeting with the coach she gave me positive feedback about my class. She gave me what I consider to be a great compliment when she said, "You don't really follow the PBL model, but don't change anything." What she meant is that the model can be a formula to help teachers learning how to teach PBL, but that I had personalized it using my own language and methods.

 I am not going to lie, that meant a lot to me. It definitely made my day month. To me it was validation from an unbiased outsider. To me that is all I am looking for in my job. For people to recognize that I care about kids and am trying to create meaningful learning experiences for them. There was no formal write-up that went into my file, good or bad. It will not be published in the paper or used in any official way. I will not get a raise or any financial gain from it.


An Agate embed

In my previous life I worked pouring concrete floors. We got bonuses twice a year including at Christmas. We always looked forward to getting some extra money. I also saw the negative side of bonuses as some guys "expected" to get a certain size bonus and would get angry if they did not. Others would compare their bonus checks and be jealous of others who got more than they did. The bonuses did not create a collaborative atmosphere in the company. So I know what it is like to get that kind of bonus, and I can honestly say that the compliment from a former PBL teacher meant at least as much as money to me.

I have not always felt valued and appreciated in my previous teaching jobs. But I am having my best year ever with freedom to create my own curriculum this year. I am proud to be a teacher, a professional. To be recognized as such is all the Christmas bonus I need.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"I don't know either"

Today I think we had a breakthrough in one of my classes. We are about a week into our PBL unit on genocide. I changed up the driving question from "Why do people hate?" to "Why do people tolerate hate?" I really want students to focus on the lack of action by the world to stop genocide in the last century and move them to DO SOMETHING about it.
South Sudan Slaves

We started off the first day with one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan as a guest who shared his story with us. The next day we talked about the scandal at Penn State and how no one intervened to help the victims. Then I introduced the driving question and we looked at this slideshow and students generated their own essential questions in groups. I told students that they would make mini-documentaries as their final product but it was going to be up to them to decide on what to do with them and to find their audience.

We spent the next few days researching. I got some pushback from some students that they did not know what "to do." So against my goals of student-centered approach I created a template (again) to help guide them in their research.

But... we talked about my goals and purpose of the class moving from teacher directed and centered to student-centered. I told them that worksheets are the opposite of creativity.

One of my students spoke up and said that the problem was not with the research but that they did not know what their videos are supposed to look like.

I paused and responded, "I don't know either."

You should have seen the look on their faces. I mean how can the teacher not know what he wants for the final project.

I told them if I told them what I wanted that is exactly what they would do. But I wanted them to be creative and come up with their own ideas. I wanted them to make a video with a message for the world, not for me. Slowly I could see the lights go one. I think we turned a corner in class today. I think they are starting to understand what this class can be like if they take control and guide it instead of me....

To be continued...

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Getting ready to start a new PBL project on genocide building off from the imperialism project that we will be completing this week where we asked the question "What if _____ ruled the world?" Students studied imperialism and then will write a creative essay exploring how the world would be different today if a culture other than Europe dominated.

I would like to share my outline of my next project and beg ask you all for some feedback. First of all we will discuss slavery, the beginning of racism, imperialism, and genocide. For an entry event I am working on having a couple of different groups come in to present what it is like to be a victim of genocide. I am working with a local group of Native American educators, refugees, and a pastor who is one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan. I would like students to interview refugees and explore the history behind the conflicts.
Kosovo refugees from United Nations Photo

Their final presentations will be short documentary videos about the refugees. Today I got the idea of introducing Kiva to my students. Then I thought that students could have a premiere showing of their documentaries and charge admission to raise money to donate to Kiva. I am excited about this concept except for one thing: it is all my idea. I really would rather that it came from my students. So I am trying to think of a way to introduce the big concepts to students that might allow them to come to similar ideas themselves. I don't want to force it on them either in a fake way.

My conundrum is how to do this in an authentic way. I want to tell them about Kiva because most/all have probably never heard of the concept. I also will be planning the visits of our guests and outlining documentaries as the final product. I may try to end my input there and see what students will come up with on their own. Maybe something even better than my ideas!

I know that at least one class is ready for action because a girl made a comment this week that my class is negative and depressing because of all of the negative aspects of history we have looked at so far. I definitely sense that they are ready to do something positive to make a difference in the world.

Finally my driving question for this project needs some work. I originally had the driving question of "Why do people hate?" but am not sure that is specific enough to genocide. I have also considered "Where does racism or hate come from?" but still feel like that is too specific.

So now it is your turn. How would you introduce these ideas to students with enough freedom for them to make up their own minds about what to do with it? Also can you suggest a better driving question or do you like some variation of mine?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

6 best reasons to attend #edcampGR

#1 Derek Braman- Derek is a 5th great teacher in Kentwood. He loves learning and gives his kids great lessons that are both hands-on and tech-based. Derek teaches an after school club in the programming software Kodu. Derek is also a fun person who loves Star Wars (what else do I need to say about him). If you are an elementary or middle school teacher you need to get to know Derek.

#2 Ira Socol- Ira is a former New York City policeman, architect, and is now getting his doctorate in education from MSU. He is a writer or books and blogs. His expertise is in UDL and the history of education. He dreams of education that is personalized and meaningful for every student. Ira questions just about everything about the system of education. When you talk to Ira you will see a different perspective and that is a good thing.

#3 David Britten-David is a former military officer and current superintendent. David has a no nonsense approach that is focused on students. He cares about students and authentic learning. He will not let politicians' mandates get in the way of what he knows is best for his students. If you are an administrator you definitely could learn from David. 

#4 Andy Losik- Andy is an elementary technology teacher and former Michigan edu-tech teacher of the year. Andy has tons of experience using technology to support learning at the elementary level and is always willing to share his expertise with others.

#5 Deanna Rolffs- Deanna is a school improvement consultant at KISD. She is an expert on using data to improve instruction and standards based assessment. I think Deanna's greatest skill is her ability to listen and facilitate difficult topics. She is a truly caring person.

#6 Ron Houtman- Ron is the Wizard behind the screen of edcampGR. He is the brains and the organizer of this event. Ron is an educational technology integrator. Basically Ron knows just about everything about how to effectively use technology for student learning. Ron is also kind and helpful-basically loved by everyone.

The best thing about these people is that I call them all my friends. Many of them I "knew" online before we ever met face to face but I definitely am glad to have met them and have grown from the knowledge and support of each of them.They may not really be "the best" reasons to come to edcampGR because I could have picked Ben Rimes, Melanie Gray, Dan Spencer, David Coffey, Brooke Storms, or Sarah Wood instead. The point is that there is going to be a great group of motivated, passionate educators that you should meet and learn with at edcampGR.

So mark your calendar for November 5th, register, and join the conversations!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Imperialism in my classroom today

I wanted to introduce imperialism and colonialism to my students in a way that would make an emotional impression so I had my principal and IT people come in and take away all of their laptops. We are a brand new school that is 1:1 laptops and the students love them.

I told the students that there was a board meeting and they decided that one of the new programs in the vocational school in our building needed them more than we did. So because of budget cuts our students were losing their computers and might get new ones next year.

It worked wonderfully. Some of them got mad. Some got emotional. Some started texting their friends or parents about it. Students choose to come to our school from 20 districts in our county. So many of them said "why should we even come here?" or "I am going to go back to my home district." One of my favorite responses came from a student from a rural district who was very upset, "I am a farmer and this is the only technology I have. You can't take it away from me!"

Once they were loaded on a cart and taken away I tried to continue teaching but the students kept interrupting with questions and complaints. I then asked them how it would feel to go home and have someone meet them at the door and tell them this was not their house and to leave. I then asked them how to think about how it must have felt to be Chinese, African, or Native American and have Europeans do just that.

In one class a few students had some hints that it was not real and refused to turn in their laptops in "protest." There were two groups of protesters. One group sat on the floor in the middle of my room, but when I called them out individually they all turned in their computer. The other group was off to the side of the room and refused to give up their computers. This led to a good discussion afterwards of protesting and how they have been trained by schooling to be obedient and compliant.

When I revealed that they were getting their computers back some students just thought it was a joke. I think they got the connection after we talked about it as we gave them their computers back and specifically talked about colonization. We then looked at this slide and did "Knows and Need to Knows" (part of the PBL process).

This is where I have one question about the PBL process. The students were so excited after the simulation but by the time we got done with KNTK's I felt like they were almost lulled to sleep. To me we lost all of our momentum as a class and went from excited to bored.

My plan is to try to re-capture some energy tomorrow by scrapping my planned mercantile simulation and instead leading a "research session" on Libya and Quidaffi. I am hoping the spontaneity of it will generate some enthusiasm because I don't know where we will end up and want students to pursue it however they choose to.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I am a biased teacher

Interesting conversation started yesterday in #sschat on Twitter started by a question from Jamie Josephson:

by David Shankbone
Some people see #OccupyWallStreet as undetermined in importance and too politically biased to discuss or promote. This turned into a somewhat heated discussion about the role of person politics in the classroom. It is a complicated question. On the one hand, I do not believe it is our job as educators to teach children a specific political agenda such as who to vote for. On the other hand we do teach children about morality and many things in history and current events are clearly wrong.

I may be in the minority now days but I still believe that some things are morally wrong. My personal beliefs stem from my religious faith which I never try to use with students. But I believe that society does hold many actions as wrong that are universally agreed upon regardless of the reasons why (religious, human rights, good of society, etc).

Therefore I think that teachers have a responsibility to teach that some things are clearly wrong. For example, slavery, human rights abuse, murder, genocide, corruption, racism, and theft. There are also many subjects that are open to debate as to their morality: abortion, stem-cell use, just war, and cloning to name a few.   Although I have strong opinions about these subjects as well, I would not push my "agenda" onto students. I would present facts of both sides of these issues and let students decide for themselves.

Some ideas may be hard to decide which camp they fall into as this seems to be determined by societal norms. For example women rights would not be considered important in some countries where genital mutilation is still widely practiced. Gay marriage is still a very controversial subject in the United States. So whose role is it to decide which camp controversial things fall into? I would argue that teachers should make this decision in light of their community that they teach in.

Many social studies teachers argue that no politics (personal or any outside agenda) should enter the classroom to influence students. I think that they are lying to themselves. First of all teachers influence students by the resources that they choose to use or not use. I plan to have students look at these charts about the reasoning behind #occupywallstreet. I also plan to have them search the hashtag on Flickr and see what messages they find. Just by choosing this resource I am influencing the conclusions that students will come to. I feel it is more honest to let students know your view point and feel free to disagree with it than to pretend that you do not have one. Students are not stupid and recognize us as experts on events and they know that we have an opinion. I see no value in hiding it from them.

If you use a textbook then you are really giving students a biased, European centric view of history.There is no such thing as an unbiased viewpoint. So rather than seek to be unbiased, teachers should teach students to identify bias and evaluate it. Biases do not automatically make something wrong or untrue. It is an important skill to name a bias and then be able to interpret whether or not the bias corrupts an idea or argument.

Of course we share our biases all the time. How many teachers present a balanced view with the positive side of Bin Laden, Hitler, slavery, or Nazism? No one does because these are outside of the United States and easy to condemn. On the other hand many schools still promote Christopher Columbus as a hero. Is there really a positive side to a greedy conqueror who maimed, killed, and enslaved?

Some historical people are more complicated such as Thomas Jefferson who wrote some of the most beautiful language of equality and human rights while at the same time was a slave owner who had an affair with one of his slaves. We should tell both sides of the story when they exist. But sometimes there really is no positive side to the history and one historical figure (or group) is the abuser and the other is the victim.

So bring some personal viewpoints into the classroom and let students know that you are against some things: corporate greed and abuse, unfair immigration laws, slavery, or human rights abuse. At the same time be prepared to play the devil's advocate at times. Students already know that you are biased anyway. Let them analyze your biases and decide for themselves what they think is true, right, and just.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 as a PBL theme

I just posted on TeachPaperless about why I will not be teaching 9/11 tomorrow. That does not mean that students will not learn about it eventually. It might take us all year in Global Studies to get the background to truly begin to understand it.

As I will have the same students next year for American History I am thinking that 9/11and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would make a great PBL theme for the whole year. It could be connected to almost everything in our history.

  • The terrorist acts on civilians could be compared to other attacks on civilians such as the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Wounded Knee Massacre or the My Lai Massacre.
By Rolling Thunder at de.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

  • The propaganda of WMD to justify a preemptive strike against Iraq could be compared to other propaganda in history. The use of patriotism for war to distract people from domestic and economic problems is another theme in US history.

  • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could be compared with the many other conflicts in our history. The parallels with Vietnam are numerous. 

  • The history of Afghanistan can only be understood in the context of the Cold War and the Soviet Union. 

  • Our setting up governments in Iraq and Afghanistan could be compared to puppet governments in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America under the guise of "keeping out the Reds" while we protected our rights to pilfer countries of their natural resources.

  • The torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib could lead to a discussion on civil rights and who has rights under our Constitution. Not to mention the high percentage of minorities who serve in our armed forces and fight the politicians' wars. 

  • The question of the motives of the terrorists leads to complicated discussions of imperialism, puppet dictators paid for oil, and centuries of hate between Jews, Muslims, and Christians dating back to the Crusades.
What would you add to this list?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Time, relationships, consensus, and other ramblings

I have read a couple of posts that resonated with me lately from Chris Lehmann and Clarence Fisher about teachers having enough time to prepare and plan together. The emphasis was not on preparing for any individual lesson but on planning as a team for the big picture of how your school will work and innovation. I agree that time is being taken away from many staffs as it costs money.

By Bogenfruend

My new job started so different from my previous jobs and I would guess different from most of your experiences. For  my first job I was hired around a week before school started to teach five classes with no textbooks or prepared materials. My second job I also was hired right before school started. In my experience this is the norm. Some of you may even be waiting to hear about a job right now. This is often unavoidable as schools do not know enrollment or people change positions at the last moment leaving vacancies. But this is a terrible way to run an organization.

Our team at our new school has been truly blessed with adequate time (there is no such thing as too much time!) We started working together after spring break and had three weeks of extra work time in the summer. We did not have students or any "teaching" duties during this time. We received PBL and other training. We worked hard on curriculum, created a handbook, and planned an orientation for students the first week of school. We also got to know each other by traveling to Indiana for a couple of days visiting another New Tech school, a summer barbeque, and lots of shared meals.

If you were a fly on the wall in our "office" you might at times think we were "wasting" time talking about our children, dogs, or the Tigers. But this was valuable time spent getting to know and trust each other. We were strangers in April, but now are a team that knows and understands each other and is growing together. I can not imagine starting a new school if I was just hired last week and did not know anyone.

I feel some of our results are impressive. One member of our team was not released by his district until school ended in June. When he joined us we made very fast progress. We looked at Standards Based Grading as a team for one day and decided to implement it fully. We wrote a mission and vision statement in two hours. We were able to make many decisions that typically a staff might argue about for months very quickly.

I think this happened for a couple of reasons. First we all choose to work at this school to be a part of the movement to change schools. We all came with a framework of wanting change, cutting edge practices, and the best learning environment for students. We do not have any teachers who resist and fight changes that might be found  at a traditional school. Also we are starting a school "from scratch." We all have backgrounds in traditional schools and we all have received the same excellent PBL training. The teamwork and trust we have in each other is exciting.

Finally my principal is a great example of a empowering leader. She does not tell us how to do things. Decisions are made by consensus. Yes, all five of us must listen to each other and agree for something to happen. This has led to many passionate discussions but because we respect each other and the overall goals that we have, we reach agreements rather quickly.

And this is my favorite thing about this job: professionalism and academic freedom. I never feel "managed" by my principal but feel like an equal partner who has different responsibilities. The responsibility of being a part of every decision and truly having my voice heard has been reinvigorating to me.

The best part of this starts in two days when it is my turn. I get to share the responsibility in my classroom with students and give them a greater voice in their education than they have ever had before. I know that I have pushed my principal and team in ways that they would not have expected. I anticipate how my students will push me in ways I can not predict. I have never been so excited for school to start!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Has your school started yet?

Evey year I am reminded of how important education is in the state of Michigan. I am willing to bet all of you that live in other states started school this week or earlier. Public schools in Michigan (with the exception of year round schools which are not that common) are required by law to start after Labor Day.

Every Labor Day you can walk the Mackinaw Bridge. Photo by A snapshot of our lives

What is the great educational reasoning for this? Tourism, of course! In 2005 businesses and chambers of commerce lobbied to extend summer vacation through Labor Day to encourage families to travel and take vacations. House Bill 4803 was passed banning schools from starting until after Labor Day.

Now teachers can start before Labor Day so pretty much every teacher in the state had PD days this week to keep the school year from going longer into June. I guess they don't care about teachers' tourism money ;)

It also does not apply to sports as fall teams have been practicing for weeks and most football teams are playing their second game of the season today.

Now I don't really know if this affects students' learning all that much and I personally don't care about the starting date a whole lot.

What it does show to me is how ridiculous politicians are when they meddle in education and that they are flat out liars when they say they care about kids and make decisions based on business motives. (Don't even get me started on how our current governor has cut business taxes and school funding this year!)

So I hope everyone is off to a great start of the year and we teachers in Michigan will join you next week when we have permission from politicians and business leaders to begin.

Friday, August 26, 2011

"Do you care?"

We had a diversity PD day this week with illustrator E.B. Lewis as one of the speakers. He told some stories about his early life and struggles in school. A couple of things really stood out to me. First was his statement, "My trademark is hugging." There is someone hugging in every one of his books.

The emphasis of his whole talk was on caring. He told a story of speaking at a middle school assembly of around 400 students. He asked the students at the beginning of his talk if they cared. He said that only about 50 students raised their hands. He went on to explain what he meant about caring and having a purpose in life. He asked again and had the same hands. Unfortunately he did not share what the rest of his speech was about but based on what he shared with us I would assume it was his life story.

At the end of his speaking to the students he asked again, "Do you care?" Everyone that he could see raised their hand. Then he made the statement that really hit home with me:

"Hopefully, I saved a life that day."

Think about the power of that for a minute. Saving a life. He was only there one day. We get students for a whole year. We have a great opportunity in front of us every day.

I feel very good about my #1 goal for the year: love students.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Goals for the Year

Ok so I have a new job at a new school (Kent Innovation High) at a new level (high school) teaching a new subject (world history) in a new style (PBL) while part of a team implementing new assessment methods (standards based assessment) as part of the New Tech Network. I am basically creating all of my curriculum from scratch (which I love!) without a textbook.

With so many changes I have been thinking about all of this and what I want to focus on in my first year at this school. Here are my goals:

  1. Love students-I want to get to know my students as individuals: their strengths, weaknesses, and passions. My curriculum is never as important as they are.
  2. Help students love each other-I want my room to be a place where students are safe and encourage each other. True collaboration will be when students support each other.
  3. Love of learning-I want students to enjoy learning for the sake of learning.
  4. Serving-I want my students to care about the world and want to make a difference in it NOW.
If I can accomplish these four things I will know I have had a GREAT year!

What are your goals for the 2011-12 school year?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

PBL challenges students to think, then do.

I wrote a short article for the Grand Rapids Press today explaining/defending Problem Based Learning. It was in response to a commenter ripping PBL and innovation in the classroom. I think it is important for all of us to promote authentic learning at the local level whenever we get the chance. If you are interested in PBL check it out.

If you are coming to this blog from the article please check out this post about Personalized, Passionate Learning to learn more about my philosophy of learning.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What do you know about the history of the Congo?

I have been doing a lot of reading this summer preparing for my World History class this fall. Here is what I have read so far:

As you can see it was focused on indigenous peoples, imperialism, and the effects of it. I also watched the excellent documentary The Canary Effect.

But my most recent book has been the most disturbing to me. How much do you know about the killing that happened in the Congo from 1890-1920? Conservative estimates put the number of Africans killed at least 10 million or over half of the population. 

I must confess that I knew nothing about this before I started reading King Leopold’s Ghost . Everyone knows about the Holocaust but this history is mostly ignored. This book disturbed me on many levels: the cruelty of the Europeans toward Africans, the racism, brutality, torture, rape, and forced labor. But this book also presents "heroes" who fought against the evil acts of the Europeans. But even the "good guys" are flawed often criticizing the Belgians but ignoring the same imperialistic acts being perpetrated by their own country (Britain and the United States) against other indigenous peoples around the world. The Africans are not totally innocent either as many of them worked as soldiers for the Europeans committing terrible crimes against their own people or neighboring tribes. It was also very disturbing to me that I had never heard of these events before and I know that most Americans know nothing about it.
Africans cut off hands of people murdered to prove that they did not "waste" ammunition on animals by Gastev
I find myself a bit depressed by this book (but I highly recommend it). The more I research and learn about the history of the world I find it is full of powerful, greedy people who abuse others and endless wars. Evidence of corruption, bribery, and coverup is in every government. The United States often pretends to act for democracy and "the common good" from a moral perspective, but when the truth comes out money, power, and personal advantage in the world are the true motivations of its actions. 

Mankind never seems to learn from its mistakes and disease, poverty, wars, ethnic cleansing, and genocide continue to this day. Meanwhile the wealthy hiding behind multi-national companies build their wealth while the poor fight their battles in the name of democracy.

The only redeeming people seem to be outside of the government working for missions or human rights organizations. I want to give students a positive view of the future, but the patterns seem eternal to me. The best I may be able to give them is the power of a few strong voices to bring change. Certainly the United States has improved its treatment of many people over time but there is still much work to be done. How do you balance the truth with a positive view of the future?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Personalized, passionate learning

There is a Save Our Schools March in Washington D.C. this week. I can't go but here is my contribution to the discussion.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Confused? Frustrated? Good!

This past week our staff attended a training for all schools starting a New Tech school in the fall. There are 18 new high schools opening across the U.S. next year. There were also teachers from four schools in Australia who are not officially part of New Tech Network, but use a problem based learning environment. My school had already had an extensive three day training in PBL so I went into the training with a good background. Some of the other teachers had just been hired the week before so everything was new to them.

Our morning session did not make a ton of sense to me. We were being immersed into a PBL situation as students. Our task was to make an audio walking tour of historic sites in Washington DC based on Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. We were required to tie the historic sites to the beliefs of the Founding Fathers. We went through the PBL process of an entry document describing the task and found out what we know and what we needed to know. During this the question came up as to whether or not we needed to actually read the book. This question was discussed but never answered. This was the pattern of this daily session: lots of questions answered with questions and little direction.
from Flickr

We were often confused and frustrated. Now this was not the whole time. We completed a great group contract with our Australian partners in our group. We talked about the task and had divided it up. I attended an excellent "workshop" on how to find the ties in the symbolism between monuments and primary source documents.

On the last day our trainer laid out the scope and sequence for us of how the whole project would work in a real classroom. It was not until then that I understood the whole process and the whole week. I was confused and frustrated by design. They wanted us to feel the stress of a student "doing" PBL for the first time.

I thought the trainers were a bit unorganized and should have explained the directions better. A typical teacher (read me) would explain the whole project in detail at the beginning including how to find and interpret the appropriate resources and what tools to use. This approach tends to kill interest and motivation. But there was another reason to allow some confusion and frustration. It is what they call "just in time" instruction. How many of you all know that students tune you out when you explain something and you must re-explain it over and over again to them individually?

One of the important principles of PBL is to allow some confusion/frustration to create a need for students to seek out more information. Then you have their attention when you explain or share resources. Now you don't want students to be frustrated too long so that they want to give up. If they are new to PBL it probably will only take 5 minutes of confusion before they are ready for more instructions.

As Dan Meyer says "Be less helpful." I need to work on more questions and less answers from me to students. I need to put the responsibility and focus of learning back on the students. How about you? How do you use confusion/frustration to teach students?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I unfollowed you (or not)

OK this may be a narcissistic post but here I go anyways. I enjoy cleaning, well not really cleaning but throwing away stuff. I adhere to the model "When in doubt, throw it out." So as I obnoxiously tweeted yesterday I unfollowed almost 300 people on Twitter and told people if they want me to follow they need to talk to me. I am here for the conversations. So here are my reasons for following/unfollowing someone:

* If I have had a "conversation" with you through @ messages on twitter then I kept you. If you have never tweeted @ me then I may have unfollowed.

* If I recognize your avatar in my stream because I often read your tweets I kept you. If I feel like I never have seen your avatar, I checked your page and if you rarely tweet or haven't tweeted in months I unfollowed.

* If I have met you in real life I kept you even if you rarely tweet. Those relationships are more important than Twitter.

* If you tweet about your meals, your kids, your vacations, and your favorite sports teams I kept you. If you only tweet about education and links I might have unfollowed you. If you only tweet links I suspect you may be a bot rather than a human.

* If you are a social studies teacher I kept you. If you are a math teach I might have unfollowed you. Social studies is my new focus and math was my old one. If I connected with you as a math teacher and you are active I kept you (see first * point)but if you are a math lurker then sorry you are gone :)

* If you are an international teacher or live outside North America I kept you. I am looking to make world connections related to social studies and expanding my network.

* If you are an educator in Michigan I kept you. Local connections are important too.

* If you are part of New Tech network I kept you as this is part of my new school.

In short, for me Twitter is about getting to "know" people. If you want me to follow you all it takes is a few @ messages. I don't judge or rank my followers other than whether they interact with me as educators (not interested in spam :)So if I dropped you just starting talking to me. Also I don't block any educators so anyone can follow me. I am not elitist. I just don't see the point in listening you if you don't want to talk to me.

Ps. My favorite people on Twitter are those who give my crazy ideas pushback. Yeah I like to respectfully "debate" people :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Can skatebaording save our schools?

Watch this great TEDx talk over on Shawn's blog (go watch his TEDx talk too it's excellent) and wanted to share it here.

Money quotes:

         Nobody knows ahead of time how long it takes anyone to learn anything.

         When learning is the goal and learning is the reward there is no point in cheating.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What is TPACK missing?


How many discussions, blog posts,and tweets have you read saying"It's not about the tools" or "We need to focus on the pedagogy" or "Just purchasing technology will not change the way teachers teach." We criticize schools for adopting shiny tech and expecting it to radically change schools. Studies show that teachers just keep teaching the same way as always trading in blackboards for whiteboards for IWB's and exchanging overhead projectors for bullet points in PowerPoint on LCD's.

TPACK is an attempt to articulate the proper balance of technology integration into education. It seeks to find the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content. The "sweet spot" is where all three of these are balanced and intersect. While I understand and appreciate this diagram it really does not help me with the how to make this happen.

Saying that we need to focus on pedagogy first before technology is not helpful because it does not define what good pedagogy is.(at least not in my admitted limited reading about it) That is my problem with TPACK.

Recently I had problem based learning (PBL) training from the Buck Institute. In my humble opinion PBL is the pedagogy that we should be advocating for. It is student centered, inquiry based, with authentic tasks, community involvement, and a real audience.Teachers start either with the standards or an interesting problem and tie it to the standards. Then teachers develop a guiding question for students to explore with further essential questions to define it in more detail. Students collaboratively research and explore the problem and create some kind of proof of learning that they present to the community as their final product and assessment.

All of this process can be done without any technology, but it is easier, more efficient, and offers more opportunities for depth and collaboration WITH technology. Research can be done through the internet instead of books. Writing can be done in a word processor instead of on paper. But the real gains are that social networking tools can be used to gain information not found in books. Collaborative writing can be done in GDocs. Interesting final products can be made such as web based wikis or produced on computers such as podcasts or movies. Computers also allow different groups of students to take the project in unique directions that are difficult to achieve when using limited paper materials.

So if I was an administrator considering a major technology implementation such as going 1:1 with some kind of internet device, I would start with PBL training. I would have every teacher go through the training preferably even a year before the technology was purchased. Then I would create time for teachers to work together and discuss PBL implementations in their classrooms. I believe that PBL is the pedagogy that would lead to a successful technology integration program.

When the time came to add the technology teachers would "naturally" add it to their PBL projects. After teachers had created great project ideas they would look to technology to support the learning goals through research, writing, and collaborating. They would look at technology options for students to create "proof of learning" and presentations. Teachers and students would hit the "sweet spot" in TPACK.

So TPACK experts, where am I wrong? Am I misrepresenting it in anyway?

Teachers, how many of you have taken an education class on PBL in undergrad or graduate school? I never remember even hearing it mentioned.

College of Education professors, is PBL a required part of the coursework at your school? If no, why not?

I am not (quite) ready to declare PBL the only pedagogy schools should use, but variations of it seem to be the best practice to me. Anyone got a different pedagogy that they think is equal or superior to it?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Between Sessions at TEDxGR

I was lucky enough to get an invite and attend TEDxGR this week. It was my first TED experience and was definitely the best conference I have ever been to. I would highly recommend attending any TED conference that you have an opportunity to, but especially here in Grand Rapids.
by TEDxGrandRapids
One of the best parts for me was talking to one of the speakers Mickey McManus of MAYA between sessions. He presented on human centered design as a new literacy (more on that in another post).

He told myself and a few other attendees several stories but what struck me most was the interview questions of new hires that he shared. He said that at Maya they have two core interview questions:
1. Tell us about a time you failed.

If  the person being interviewed has to think way back to college or the beginning of their career, Maya is not interested in hiring them. If they use the pronoun "we" a lot and do not take personal responsibility for the failure they are not interested.

If the person tells a story of failure from the past couple of weeks or months and they use the pronoun "I" taking personal responsibility for the failure then Maya is very interested in hiring that person.

In design they use the mantra fail often, fail early. That way when the time comes that it matters you will succeed.

2. Tell us about when you did the impossible.

This question matters because past results are best indicator of future performance. Failing alone is not enough if it does not ultimately lead to success. He said that it doesn’t matter if the task was really impossible because of course it wasn’t since they completed it. What matters is that they thought it was impossible and achieved it.

I think there are huge implications for education in these questions. We need to give teachers and students permission to experiment and fail often. Worksheets and test prep will not get this done. Students need to create their own solutions to authentic problems and test them over and over. Students need to feel safe and encouraged to take chances with creative solutions and they need to understand that failing is not a permanent state but a step in the direction of finding a working solution. Then students will develop the quality of resilience, which Mickey pointed out is one of the back bones of what has made our country great in the face of challenges and tragedy. 

Secondly how often do we give students the opportunity to solve impossible problems? Too often they are given worksheets or assignments that they know the answers are in an answer key somewhere. Students need to be challenged with legitimate questions that the teacher does not know the answer to and have multiple solutions waiting to be discovered. Students need the chance to confront things like poverty, clean water, war, genocide, starvation, and the environment. If we challenged students to do the impossible I believe we would see an increase in both motivation and achievement as students rose to the task.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Narcissus in the Garden of Malcontent

My church had this piece in it today by Corey Van Duinen called "Narcissus in the Garden of Malcontent." It was an entry in art prize last year. It is made of different kinds of wood. Notice his footwear and what he is listening to. I wish I could copy hear what Corey wrote describing the piece about how technology can be used to connect but often leaves us alone and ignoring our beautiful surroundings. He was not condemning tech but showing the tension between how it makes our lives better vs. how it isolates us and causes us to miss out on things.

I thought it was interesting how he used ancient Greek mythology to speak about a modern ethical issue. This juxtaposition demonstrates a complex understanding of both the current tension of technological change and the meaning of the original story. I would gladly accept this as a final project in a social studies class. We need more art in all classes and we need to look beyond bubble sheets for a demonstration of students' knowledge of content.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Off topic today

I really missed the classroom today. I was sitting in the first day of three days of Project Based Learning training. It was good training and I have been looking forward to it, but the death of Osama Bin Laden was what I longed to be discussing. I saw a tweet about a guy who unknowingly live-tweeted the attack. I was fascinated by this story and was reading his timeline when the instructor asked us to focus by closing our laptops. It was really hard for me to oblige. It was also hard for me to concentrate on the topics all day.

What I really wanted to do today was discuss the history behind Osama and terrorism. I wanted to set aside lesson plans and talk about the results of this event in the U.S. but more particularly abroad. I would have loved to talk to students about what they think the reactions will be in the Middle East, the role of Pakistan in all of this, and the decision to bury Osama at sea. I wanted to show students how to use social media to track what is going on in other parts of the world and how they can learn from the primary sources themselves.

Today was a social studies teacher's dream. Students automatically coming to class wanting to talk about your subject (its like a weatherman during a giant storm) These opportunities don't happen everyday and don't last. I missed the classroom today, but I can't wait until next year!

But it always comes back to students for me. How many times is the lesson that we have prepared not what students need for that day? Maybe because of personal issues at home their mind is elsewhere or maybe they are really interested in learning something different. We rarely give students options to steer their learning. The least we can do is to be flexible to give space to discuss current events.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Culture vs. Control

My follow-up post to Space Matters is at the TeachPaperless blog. I move on from the architecture of CSA to my impressions of the students.

The second and more lasting thing I noticed was the students. They were in hallways and classrooms. They were on laptops, listening to headphones, working independently, working in groups, and working on projects. Everyone seemed engrossed in whatever tasks they were involved in. Not everyone was doing the same thing. It was not quiet, but it also was not loud either. The one group of people I had a hard time locating were the teachers.

Go check it out!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Space Matters

Our new team visited Columbus Signature Academy a New Tech school in Indiana this week. I want to reflect on some of the amazing things we saw there.

The first thing I noticed was the architecture. We almost drove past the building because it is a fairly small storefront building with a small sign attached. As soon as we walked in we could see that it was much larger than it looked from the outside and continued down a long hallway back from the front. Turns out it is a converted warehouse which you can see in a 2 minute video here 

The design was modern with exposed ceilings in the hallways. The classrooms all had large glass panels on the interior walls so you could easily observe any of them. Some of them even had the complete walls made out of glass. 

They were designed large enough to house 50 students and 2 facilitators. Most of the furniture was on wheels so any room can easily be reconfigured for any purpose.

The hallways were spacious with numerous meeting spaces for students like you might find at a restaurant or coffee shop. 

Students were working independently or in groups everywhere. You had to really search to find the facilitators (teachers). Students were busy and engrossed in their learning.  I think this space really speaks to the values of this school.

They believe in transparent learning that is shared openly with the community so nothing is hidden. 

They assume students will be responsible so they trust them with varied spaces rather than controlling them in rigid classrooms. Students have to prove that they are irresponsible rather than vice-versa.

There were less rules and more principles of responsibility such as this sign encouraging appropriate gum-chewing.

In the large class above students were practicing debate with topics such as Trix vs. Coco Puffs and Oatmeal Creampies vs. Swiss Rolls. At the end of class all of the students put all of the furniture back in its "regular" position with zero instructions from the facilitators. Students take care of their school because it is theirs. Every space has behavior expectations created by students even bathrooms!

Anyone entering this school could immediately "feel" that this school was different from a traditional school by its design. It is also obvious that the students and staff embrace it to become motivated learners in their group projects. The design fits the emphasis of collaborative problem solving.

To top it off my principal told us that this is what our school will look like. It is being re-modeled currently and I have seen the prints but have not been in the building yet. 

Does what your school looks like represent / accommodate / facilitate / encourage student learning?
Most of us do not get the opportunity to design a school, but how can you re-design your classroom so that it is student-focused and student-friendly?

Part II of this visit about the students is posted at the TeachPaperless blog.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pinch me

This week was my first week on my new job.  Other than being excited to meet my new teaching partners, I was not entirely sure what to expect. I was blown away this week by the opportunity before me. The new high school is set up and funded by the intermediate school district for the county. I don't know if this structure exists in other states but in Michigan there is an intermediate school district for every county that provides support and special services for all of the school districts. For example our ISD provides a career tech center for high schoolers and has many consultants on practically any education topic imaginable.

I spent a lot of time this week meeting all of these people. They were great. Everyone was friendly, helpful, and truly enjoys their work. They were also excited about our new PBL high school. My principal described it best: it felt I was Harry Potter when he first arrived at Hogsworth. Everyone knows who you are and is excited to meet you because you are a teacher in the new school.

As my colleagues and I brainstormed ideas for our new school we constantly met experts who can help us on all of the logistics and training that we need. We met all of the superintendents and the head of IT. We were told how much money was invested into remodeling our space and that we are getting the latest technology in our wing of the building. Of course the most amazing thing to me is I am getting paid for the whole rest of the school year for professional development and to collaboratively develop curriculum with the other teachers. I have never felt more supported professionally in my life.

Guilt has been mentioned by some of my new colleagues. In Michigan, just like the rest of the country, thousands of teachers are being laid off and the governor wants to cut per pupil spending by over $700. There is a dark cloud over teachers and education right now. But I do not feel guilty at all. I feel I am a part of something important. We will be a lab school to show all of our districts the possibilities of PBL for all learners. I will not apologize for a school being started in the "right" way.

The perfect shot
by Lorenia

I feel valued, important, energized, and honored. All of the planning, time, money, and resources are not for me, but for students. I am working for the same wage as my previous job (and I am sure will be working much harder). I gave up my tenure to come to this position. I am not getting merit pay. I am working extra weeks in the summer (with extra pay) because I want to be a part of this. I am truly blessed. I know that every student who enters our school in the fall is going to feel the same way about the opportunity to come here.

Hey politicians, you want to "fix" schools? Treat teachers as professionals. Give them great teaching resources and collaborative professional development. Then get out of their way and let them do their jobs! We don't need merit pay, we need the professional support and opportunities to dream incredible learning opportunities for students. And yeah it is going to cost some money to create these kind of schools, but our kids deserve nothing less.

Monday, March 28, 2011

edcamp classroom

As I help prepare for edcamp Detroit I came across this post by M.E. Steele Pierce. She does an excellent job describing how empowering edcamps are by giving teachers control and choice in regards to their professional development. I will not regurgitate her thoughts here. Go read her post instead.

One quote from her post:
“Because edcamps are seen as unstructured, even chaotic, schools and district offices think there is no validity in them,” says principal Eric Sheninger. “I would like to see schools and districts give up that control.”

I have been thinking about why administrators may be slow to accept this kind of PD. I think it all comes down to lack of control of content and trust that useful things will get done. Control and lack of trust-how many times does this come up in education? That is why we have NCLB and RTTT. Politicians, the media, and the general public do not trust educators as professionals and seek to control the quality of schools through things like Common Core curriculum and standardized testing. We wouldn't want teachers or students to actually have a say in how learning will proceed.

Just as educators crave to learn with each other in an unstructured environment, so do students! Why not schedule an edcamp day or week at school? It would not have to be scheduled the day of, but perhaps the week before. Students could choose their own topics and sign up for a teacher's room to learn together at a certain time. The topics would be left up to students. Teachers would be present, but could be prohibited from speaking unless asked to. Who knows what students might choose to learn from each other? I guarantee that teachers would learn about students' passions and could then use that to influence their future lessons.

I know what some people will say. What if students just waste the day? (I never have students who waste time in my class. Ever! Yeah, right.) What if they just want to talk about Justin Beiber?

Again too much of school is about control and lack of trust. Let's give students a chance to show how they would use time to learn. So what do you think? How could you implement this idea in your class, grade, or even your entire building?

Monday, March 21, 2011

My best post ever!

I hinted on Twitter last week that I was anticipating great things. I mean we had our state tech conference and March Madness, but I also had a secret that I hoped would come true.

Well today I accepted a history position at Kent Innovations High. It is a new project based school starting next fall through our county intermediate school district. It is part of New Tech High that is spreading in the mid-west.  This school integrates the curriculum of the four core subjects into student centered projects. It also works with local businesses to give students real problems to solve. This model of school represents so much of what I believe is best about learning.

The crazy part about this job is that it starts right after spring break. The staff gets all spring and summer to get to know each other, be trained,  and design the curriculum! We will actually be given time to be prepared to make this work. The school space is also being re-modeled so that it looks more like a Starbucks than a traditional classroom.

I can not really express how excited I am about this opportunity. There have been disappointments the past couple of years that I did not want to express publicly, but I am seeing that it is all working out for the best now.

I will continue to blog here in a similar fashion, but the focus will naturally turn to what we are doing in this school. I will also probably blog about history more, but will cover all core subjects as our projects will be integrated. I hope we will also be helping students to use on-line tools to collaborate with others and share their learning. I will be calling on my online community to create interesting learning opportunities for my new students. I can't wait to get started...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My MACUL11 presentation

I presented for the second time at MACUL this year on the topic of collaboration based on the video games my students made with students in Vietnam. Overall I was very happy with how it went. I had less attendees than last year, but great conversations. My goal going in was to get the audience to participate and not just have me talk at them for an hour. I created a backchannel for the session and at first was disappointed that no one used it, but then I realized that was because they were having real conversations instead!

I would like to thank @bruce1lj@kchichester@TheNerdyTeacher, and my tech support @toddhower for their participation in my session. (I would thank the rest of you but do not know your twitter names) It was fun to meet these people face-to-face for the first time in my session, and they definitely added to the conversation. The highlight for me was Skyping in my collaboration partner Gary Bertoia from Vietnam followed by four of my students at school. The audience was able to ask them questions and hear about our project from multiple perspectives.

Here is my Prezi which probably will not make much sense without the audio :)

I Ustreamed the session, but forgot to start the recording until I was a few minutes in. The video is not so great but you can hear the discussions. The skype calls start at about the 33:30  mark if you want to jump to that part.

Here is the Livebinder that I created for my session. It contains a lot of information that was not talked about in the session, but to help you in your collaboration efforts including tools, collaboration examples, places to connect, and the Scratch games that the students created.