Monday, February 28, 2011

I Think I'll Create a Conference

     In a little over a week I will be participating in SXSWedu in Austin.  It occurs during the week prior to SXSW with its Interactive/Film/Music conferences.  Each of those conferences have student/education panels but none is entirely devoted to education like SXSWedu.

     So, I've got my own panel, I'm speaking on another panel, and I'm looking forward to the conference.  Why, then, did I spend most of my morning walk today thinking about creating a conference that is educator-centric?  Isn't this conference educator-centric?

     Well actually, no.  You see this conference is set during the week before spring break for most of this state's schools.  So very few teachers will be able to attend.  I will be attending only after taking two personal days and having the school district pay for a sub for each day. 

     Why did they set this conference up then?  Well I have my ideas but, instead, I'd like to think about how great this conference could have been.  What would be my ideal conference?  Hmmmmm............
     First, from all I have heard, the conference would have to have the feel of an Educon.  I've already told the principal at that school that I would like to run a conference like that at our school and he said I could bounce ideas off of him.  Next it would have to have a lot of tech,like ISTE.  Wait, we already have TCEA so Austin already takes care of the tech side of the house.
     This conference needs to happen when teachers could actually attend.  If it keeps the name SXSW it needs to be during the week of Spring Break.   Yes there are tons of people in Austin already but a few hundred more wouldn't be a big deal.  But does it (a) have to keep the SXSW logo, and (b) does it have to be during the same week? 
     What other time could this be done?   An obvious time is between mid June and the first of August when most teachers are on summer vacation.  The trouble with this is that there are already many other conferences, including ISTE, and there are also professional development requirements that teachers are meeting during the summers.  Oh, and some teachers actually take a personal vacation.
      Then there's the Fall.  This would work if there was a weekend conference as long as the University of Texas(UT) football team wasn't in town or if there wasn't a game like the Oklahoma game for UT where many of the Texas teachers would be preoccupied.
      I am going to go out on a limb and say that SXSW will allow us to keep the name no matter what time of year we do the conference.  And, I'm going to state that the conference will be a Friday, Saturday, Sunday conference in the mold of Educon.  The first day would be at my school and that would allow for student led panels and students could run the technology for the classrooms being used.  And, I would call it SXSWeducon.  So, mark your calendars for September 30, 2011.  (And not just because it's my wedding anniversary.)
      That's right September 30 (DAY1):  Shuttle Buses leave from downtown Austin to arrive at 8:30 - 9:00 at Manor New Technology High School.  KEYNOTE:  9:00  First Sessions start at 9:45 and go until 4:45.  Lunch is provided and shuttle buses start round trips to downtown Austin at 11:30.  Last bus leaves Manor New Tech at 6:00 PM.
       (DAY 2) and (Day 3) :  Sessions start at 8:30 and end at 5:15 and are located in Austin.

     Yes there are a LOT of details to work out.  But with SXSW people helping me (overall) and Manor ISD people helping me with the September 30th plans.  This will be an incredibly powerful and meaningful conference.  You better sign up at the early bird prices.  We're capping it at 150 people and it will sell out quickly.

     (You do realize this is a fantasy, don't you?)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sometimes It's Hard Being a Guy....

    This week there was a blog post which was the first in a series of posts by "Emma," a New Technology High School teacher with her thoughts on teaching 21st Century skills.  

     The post was brought to our attention by our school's coach and, unfortunately for me, I decided to read it.  After reading it I really felt awful for "Emma" who was in just a miserable position at, what sounds to me like, a miserable school somewhere in this country.  What hit me the hardest was that "Emma" was teaching in a school with the same title as my own, a New Tech school.

     Now I could have just said, "Gee, that's too bad for Emma."  But, NO, I had to write a rebuttal in the comments section.  And, to my credit, it didn't really show how emotional this post got me.  You see she was, it appeared, telling the world that the reason she was so miserable was that she had to teach using Project Based Instruction which didn't allow her to teach her content.

      Emma went on to say that her students were just told to do google searches and to create end products that were flashy but had little umph.   She had many examples where PBL was limiting the learning going on in her classroom and I responded to them in my rebuttal but here's an example I didn't talk about in those comments:  "After all, it’s not about what individual students learn but the final product."  Wow, that is so counter to what we learn when our teachers go to training each summer.

     You see the New Tech Network (NTN) gives us training each year called the All Schools Conference where teachers and coaches from schools in the network conduct training in all facets of PBL.  In addition we have Fall and Spring Meetings of the Minds (MoM's) conducted by the coaches in each region which emphasize best practices.

      So, I write a rebuttal and I move on, right?  Well, along comes some guy who goes by Ben F. who decides to write the following:  "I would recommend that Sara, Patrick and Chris read E.D. Hirsch, Diane Ravitch or Stanley Fish, but their continued employment at New Tech would be imperiled by entertaining such heretical thinkers’ ideas. Safer to keep a closed mind, alas."  To a "real man" - thems fightin words! 

       Let me preface what I'm about to write by saying that I am 53 years old, I'm out of shape and over weight, and I've never been in a good fight.  But if Ben F. had been sitting in the room I might have walked over and, well, I would have...well, you get the picture.  My blood was boiling.  My heart rate was maxed.  My respiration was maxed.  I couldn't focus on my students I had to refute his remarks.

       Luckily for all concerned our Master Teacher, and good friend, was present and she let me write my comments and then she read them over.  She simply smiled, chuckled, and said, "no, you're not submitting that."  But I would have if she hadn't stopped me.  I would have told him.  He would have known just how mad he had made me.

       I calmly went back to my classroom and wrote the comments that you can read on the post.  But I got my jab in when I wrote, "But, I can’t think of one person, including me, who would like to ever see you “round these parts,” as we hicks from small town Texas say."  Now that's maturity!  I didn't let that high level of testosterone affect my thoughts.  (Sometimes it's hard being a guy...)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What The Heck Is Going On In Education

     This is an amazing time to be in education.  It is both a thrilling time, with where we are heading with technology and social media, and a scary time, with the threat of job losses due to budget problems in many state governments and our federal government.

     The headlines for the last 3 days have been filled with protests going on in Wisconsin as the governor has (in all appearances) decided to go after educators as he pushes to restrict collective bargaining with unions.  There's a lot more going on than that simple analysis but it feels as though the teaching profession is under attack when you hear the stories from that state and others.   I watched the live stream from Uptake.   I read a ton of blog posts and news articles such as this by Peggy Robertson in a guest post for Anthony Cody's Living In Dialogue blog,  this OpEd piece by Diane Ravitch for CNN, and this thoughtful post by Eric Sheninger in his blog A Principal's Reflections.

     Ironically, on Friday, I met with 2 University of Texas education majors who will be coming to work with my students next month and I told them how sorry I am that they are getting ready to graduate in the state of Texas where few, if any, job positions will be available this year or next year for people new to the profession.  I suggested that they look at international schools as an option.  Although I've been suggesting that to future teachers for years.  "Get out of this country and learn about teaching, yourself, and the world view of the U.S. of A."   Then, when you return, you will have experience, you will be more confident with your own sense of self, and you will appreciate this great country we live in.

     Now, even going the international route is getting sticky.  Certainly much of the Arab world is going to be crazy (at best) and down right dangerous (at worst) and keeps me from recommending those countries as potential places to teach.  In other parts of the world it is getting to where it's, sometimes, not a great idea to be an American.  We joked, half seriously, when we lived in Europe after 911 that we should tell people we were Canadian.

      So, if you come across someone with a dream of being a teacher, what will you say?  Will you be honest about the times they will be facing in the next few years?  Will you unconditionally recommend following those dreams knowing there might not be a job for them once they finish their training?  I know what I will do. 

     I will tell them that teaching is a profession that they must be passionate about.  That some days they will come home wanting to cry with frustration and other days to cry with joy.  That they will get hugs from kids they never knew could hug and they will get shunned by kids too cool to hug.  There will be parents that will hurt with their words or actions and then there will be a simple note of "Thank You" from a parent you've never even had an opportunity to meet.  And yes, there will be people who will label you as in-able to get a real job; only in the profession for the long summer vacations; or "just a teacher." 
      This is NOT an easy time to be coming into the profession.  But, I have met (both virtually and face to face) some incredible people who are striving to make our country's educational system the best in the world.  And, if we can make it through the tough times coming our way, teaching will, once again, be a profession where we can hold our head up high and say, "I'm a teacher!"

Monday, February 14, 2011

PBL Project Idea for Geometry

By Podbay Flickr CC
     Two years ago I came up with an idea for a 2 to 3 week project based upon my experiences with moving every couple of years while in the Navy. 

     I've decided I really want SOMEONE to work this project and then get back to me with their version of the project and some feedback on how it went. 
     So, please feel free to steal this idea and run with it. 
     I could see it being done with students as young as 4th or 5th grade and I could see it being tweaked by the concepts of maximizing functions to a calculus class. 
     Have fun and here's the link to the Google Doc.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thoughts on Conferences, from TCEA 2011

From timsamoff Flickr CC
I have finally attended part of TCEA 2011.  This was my first visit, since arriving in Texas in 2006,and I was only there one afternoon since I had to share the badge with others from my school. 

As active as I am on Twitter and as interested in tech as I am, this may surprise some of you that I had never attended TCEA.  If you're a teacher, though, it may not surprise you at all.

You see to attend a conference you really need to be able to take a day off.  And, if the conference is out of the area it is rare that a school district will pay for you to attend conferences.   Here are some of my experiences with attending conferences since 1994:
            Newport News VA - It was my first two years of teaching and I was sent to "training" sessions but other than that I never even new about conferences except the Virginia versions of NCTM and NSTA. (only local conferences/trainings)
           DoDDS School in Brunnsum, the Netherlands - I attended the ECIS conference in Berlin and I was encouraged to attend once they found I had never been to it (all costs paid)
           Gainesville, FL - This was my best experience.  There wasn't a lot of discussing conferences but if you had one that you wanted to attend there was no problem.  You were paid for travel but you had to present what you had learned to your fellow teachers. (travel paid)
           Round Rock, TX - Similar to Gainesville but you had to foot the bill.  Paying your way can make these a non-starter.  Still, Texas has many in state conferences that are of high quality (such as TCEA)  (totally out of pocket)
           Manor, TX -  This was (and is) an incredible experience.  The first year I went to several conferences and got to attend the New Tech Foundation All -Schools Conference which has to be the best strictly professional development conference - period.  Since that first year the money has started to dry up but still I was told to "pick one conference and we'll see."  (all paid but money is drying up)

      And so I have made it to TCEA.  I spent the afternoon in the Web 2.0 area because it was Edubloggercon.  It was well worth it because I got to meet some of my personal favorites from the twitterverse.  It was good to discuss things and to think - uninterrupted.

     I'm still amazed that this conference isn't pushed more by our district.  I think they just don't understand what is available.  As one of the Smart vendors said, "we don't need the IT people here, we need the teachers so we can talk to them about their experiences with the product."  So, unless there is some magic dust spread, TCEA2012 will be attended by our tech folks and I'll probably be forced to take some personal days and buy my own entry into the event.