Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tommy Heads To Camp

     Today our son, Tommy, headed to camp for 2 weeks. That means that last night we were making sure everything that was required was packed and that his name was on each pair of clothing. Normal stuff that parents do all over this country during the summer.

     This is actually the second time Tommy has attended this camp and we are thrilled for his return. As with the normal routine of parents, Tommy has been telling us multiple times over the last few days that he really doesn't want to go to camp. We keep reminding him of the fact that two years ago, when we picked him up from camp, he actually cried and was a mess for a couple of days because he missed the routine and camaraderie of the other campers.

     The other thing he missed, and is the reason the camp is so great, is the leadership of the administrators of the camp Steven and Susie Baskin. Just like in the military or any large corporation, the leaders can really effect the overall aura of a place and this is definitely true with the Baskins.

     And so today we dropped him off at the camp to begin is 13 days of adventure. He was still a little apprehensive when we got there but the best thing that could have happened did as we walked from the car: he ran into his counselor from two years ago. This was the counselor he kept crying about missing and who we weren't totally sure would be there again so we hadn't said anything about this possibility. But, there he was. And, he knew Tommy immediately and there were hugs and smiles and we all knew it would be OK.

     This camp, Camp Champions, is in the Hill Country of Texas and sits on Lake LBJ which is a constant level lake. We were worried that the lake would be really low since Texas is in such a severe drought but it was a beautiful scene of water craft, docks, and other water "toys." We took a stroll along the docks so Tommy could show us his "favorite thing"- a rope swing out over the water that must be able to get you more than 10 feet in the air.

     But water sports aren't the only activities.  If you name it there's probably a way to do it at Camp Champions.  If you want a taste go here and watch the video they have for campers (past, present, and future) to watch on the camp website.  

     I know, tonight, Tommy is probably a bit homesick.  I know, tonight, that he is probably a bit stressed and worried.  But I also know that tonight, for the first time in 2 years, Tommy will be starting an adventure that he will remember for the rest of his life.  Thank you Steve-Sir and Susie-Ma'am for having such a great camp and making Tommy-Sir part of your family.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Hidden Advantage to Being a PBL Teacher

This week I am attending some training in the new End of Course (EOC) exams for the state of Texas. It is a training created by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and is presented by the local Educational Service Center (Region XIII) with local trainers from Round Rock ISD and Georgetown ISD.

     The training is being conducted for the Physics EOC and is at a Round Rock ISD school so most of the teachers are from Round Rock but there are teachers from many of the towns around the area including Austin, Pflugerville, Hutto, and Manor (myself).

     During the first day there were some things I noted about the training that bugged me but they really were minor. What I discovered was that it appears that I might have been a bit less bothered than some of the teachers in the class. I couldn't put my finger on why, at first, but towards the end of the day it suddenly dawned on me: I now see PD in a whole new light because I am a PBL teacher.  Let me explain. 

     Firstly, where others saw difficulties in changing their ways, I saw an opportunity to introduce new ways of doing things in my projects.  And, where others saw that they were going to have to figure out how to increase collaboration and critical thinking I saw that I needed to hone my skills, in those two areas, so that I might be a better teacher.

    They may seem like subtle differences and, on the surface, they are.  However, where I am calmly thinking of projects that I can create, I see very stressed teachers around me wondering how they are going to add "one more thing" to their busy requirements.

    And the school districts add the stress to their teachers without even thinking.  At least I hope they do this without thinking.  It really would be a cruel and evil thing to do if this were premeditated.   For example, one teacher was told yesterday that she needed to have all of her lesson plans for the first six weeks in by the end of next week (August 5th) when teachers don't even have to report back until more than a week later.  Another teacher had attended the Chemistry EOC that ended earlier this week.  The essential knowledge she gained is the exact same as in this training.  Next week she will be attending the Biology training too.

     I walked out thanking my stars that my school district was much more lenient with the trainings.  And, if a curriculum specialist was really in tune with what was being presented in the trainings they would see that except for some great examples of a 5E lesson there really isn't much difference between the trainings.   But I'm getting away from my main message that as a PBL teacher I am now much more comfortable with change than I used to be when I was a regular classroom teacher.  And this difference is palpable when you are in the midst of a room full of regular classroom teachers being given new information that will effect their coming school year.

Friday, July 22, 2011

New Tech Annual Conference Wrap Up

Amway Grand Plaza by danperry.com
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      When I arrived at the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids, MI, I felt like I had grown up in that town.  I love the city because of its beauty and its calm exterior.  Walking around, that first day,  I saw educators who were energized and excited.  More and more those educators were congregating in the bar area exchanging stories and ideas.  (I should emphasize that the bar area is across from the check in and there are a number of tables, couches, and chairs.  It's a natural place to get together.)

     By 6PM that night there must have been 60 or 70 people in and around this area.  Many had laptops or ipads open and there was a wonderful hum of human interaction.  There were schools having impromptu meetings,  groups greeting other groups with "How have you been?" Or, "How was your year?"  And, there were hugs, hand shakes, and high fives as people met those who they hadn't seen since the last conference or maybe had only talked with via Twitter or Facebook.

     The first morning was much the same as the night before and greetings and hugs were pervasive.  But after breakfast the New Tech Network and Knowledge Works folks threw the attendees a curve ball that many are still swinging at today.  The Keynote Speaker that kicked things off was Alfie Kohn and there are few speakers in the education world who would have been better.  I should state, right away, that I had seen Alfie Kohn speak (via the internet) and I had read excerpts from one or two of his books so I already was aware of what was coming.  Many (most?) of the audience didn't know what was about to hit them.

     I probably know more  people who don't like Alfie Kohn than like him.  And that's unfortunate.  I know the reason they feel that way because his words can inflict pain.  As a matter of fact I believe he would feel that he hadn't hit his mark if there weren't damaged egos or defensive dismissals of his remarks.  He is provocative and he is opinionated and he attacks the status quo.  If you knew nothing more than that you would still understand the head shaking that I saw around me during his talk.   I couldn't have been more happy and my brain started throbbing as I absorbed his challenges to remove the stigma of assessment and to be more authentic with our teaching.  My adrenaline was flowing, my brain synapses were firing, and I was ready to start the learning sessions.

     The overarching theme this year dealt with math and literacy and, as an engineering teacher, I was able to have my fill of mathematics-related training hours.  I need to give a quick tip of the hat to Geoff Krall (@emergentmath on twitter) who seemingly taught for every hour of every day in a room in the bowels of the conference center.  The room was always at capacity and he was not in need of math teachers ready to collaborate and learn from each other.

     The highlight of the week for me, though, was a visit to the company offices of Steelcase, a design engineering firm.  We had the run of the place and we could (and did) take pictures and videos of all that we saw in the place.  Without a doubt the most talked about item they produce is a simple two-sided white board (Huddleboard) that is about 2 ft X 3 ft and attaches to a track above just about every wall in every office.  They can be brought down and written on and taken to another room to be hung there.  We all wanted them for our classrooms.    Our challenge?  To use the design process to explore a problem we want to fix in our classroom or in our teaching.

     I could fill a post with just the topics presented at the conference.    Instead I will push ahead to the closing keynote.   I will mention that there were few hours of the day that didn't have at least one session that would be beneficial to any teacher or administrator.   Instead of saying "there's nothing I want to go to," I found myself choosing between 2 to 4 sessions that sounded good.  But we need to talk about Jillian Darwish (@jcdarwish on twitter) of Knowledge Works, who really was the dessert for this multiple course meal.

     Where Alfie Kohn had challenged us to make a difference and change the how things stand by getting us to question the very profession we are in, Jillian Darwish challenged us to realize how technology is changing the face of education (as well as the students entering our classroom) and to accept this change as something we need to embrace and work with.   Her talk was based upon the pillars of Self, Organization, Systems, Society, Economy, and Knowledge.  Within each of these pillars she showed us factual data, examples, and poignant videos.   Just as in the opening keynote I left there with my adrenaline flowing, my synapses firing, and I am ready to start the school year.

     And so we are just weeks away from the start of the 2011/2012 school year.  The teachers and administrators who had the benefit of attending the New Tech Network Annual Conference are way ahead and will be ready to get this party started.  Bring it on.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Conference Preparations

   As I get ready for the New Tech Conference in Grand Rapids I have been hearing lots of commentary by teachers on what they are bringing.   Invariably I hear them lamenting the costs of checking baggage.   But, in our world (home), the thought of checking bags is a non-starter.  "Do NOT let them get your hands on your bags."  That is the battle cry of my wife, Sheila Scarborough, who is a social media trainer for the travel and tourism world.

     So, as I get ready for my trip the number one thought going through my mind is what not to bring.  That makes it much easier than if I had my heart set on a certain item and had to give it up to make it fit.  When I arrive at the check in I will have my carry-on luggage and a computer bag.  Nothing else.   So where do I start?

     Since I live with the woman I always ask my wife to go through my packing with me to make sure I haven't forgotten anything and to make sure I'm not taking too much stuff.  For those of you who don't live with her she has created a great video on "How to Pack a Carry on Suitcase."

     As you saw in that video, you really can pack a lot in there if you plan right.  And to plan right you need to look at your itinerary.  Mine?  Well, I fly into Chicago on Saturday for a conference that is in Grand Rapids on Tuesday.  I fly out of Chicago the following Saturday and the conference ends on Thursday.  That gives me days before and after to travel and see a bit of Michigan.

     But, that means I need clothes for seeing a baseball game and having a few beers (maybe a nice dinner) in Chicago.  It means conference attire and workout wear for the conference days.  And it means clothes to go hiking or a run along the beach at Sleeping Bear Dunes  Northwest of Grand Rapids.

     I've already decided that I need enough clothes to make it until Wednesday.  I will have to wash clothes on Tuesday or Wednesday during the conference.  A bit inconvenient but worth not checking a bag and paying to worry about it not arriving at my destination.

     You can do a conference with minimum clothing.  But, you really do have to plan out each day in advance.  Watch the video and make a list of what you want to bring and you can successfully avoid those baggage handlers who so lovingly take care of your luggage.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

New Tech Conference Planning

     It's almost time for the New Tech Network's annual conference for all schools in the network.  As I get mentally ready for the conference there are things to think about, sure, but I just received a tweet from a new teacher " what should I do at the conference?"  Well, here's the answer:

     First, you are going to be spending time in an incredible city - Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Yes, it's a sleepy city on the weekends and it's mostly business people during the day but at the same time that's an even better deal for those of us attending the conference.  We, the New Techies, get the whole city to ourselves.  Take advantage of that fact.  Take some time to be a tourist.  You can start by watching this video that was shot all around the conference hotel.  You'll definitely get the lay of the land.

     This next piece of advice is needed, only because I've seen teachers who don't listen to this advice.  And that is to take it easy!  You will be working your brain all day.  You will want to be with your friends and faculty mates at night.  And this can cause some long days.

     There are some simple things to do to combat this fatigue.  First get some rest and some exercise.  There are plenty of places to walk to or you can go for a run.  The paths along the river are well lit and I never felt uneasy while going out for a morning run. Second, go to breakfast early.  There is plenty of time for breakfast and even if you aren't a breakfast eater there is time to talk with friends and set up your planning for the day.  Speaking of planning here are the (2011) topics to be discussed at the conference.   Another great thing about the conference is that breakfast and lunch are provided and the Amway Grand does a nice job with the catering.

     Now, at night, there are going to be LOTS of opportunity to go out and have some fun.  I have seen too many teachers arriving in the morning looking less than sprightly thanks to their escapades during the previous night.  Pace yourself.  The B.O.B. will still be there many years from now.  And so will the piano bar.  Really.

     For those of you first year New Tech teachers, you will be apart from the rest of your faculty during the day.  Take the time to meet other teachers who are new to this thing called PBL.  Especially in your content area.  Thanks to Google Apps, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+  there are a number of ways to connect with these people after you leave the conference.  Use these people to help you in your frustrations and share your successes with them during the school year.

     For those of you who are returning teachers, get to know other teachers in the network.  It is so tempting to spend every minute with your fellow teachers.  Instead spend the day with people who, until the conference, were total strangers.  Or, find someone who you follow on Twitter and get to know them F2F.  And, with the passing of Betty Ford, there will be plenty to do across the river at the Ford Museum while we are there.  Take time to see it.  Admit it, more than once you have looked across there and said, "I need to go check that out sometime."

    I'm so fired up about going this year that I've arranged to fly into Chicago and I'm driving to and from Grand Rapids.  After the conference I'm taking some time to see some of the sights within a couple of hours drive.  If they have the conference here again next year I'd suggest the same for you.  Enjoy, collaborate, and learn.  That's what we do at the New Tech Annual Conference.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

iPad2 At The One Week Point

     I have now been using the iPad 2 for a little over a week and I'm starting to get used to using the apps.  To force me to deal with it I've decided that I will use it it as my only source of internet connectivity while I travel from July 16th to July 23rd.  This will include 3 days at a conference for our New Tech Network.

     I now have additional folders and my kids have managed to download some apps that I have placed into a separate folder.   I'm still debating whether, ethically, I am using it as a school computer if there are games on it that are not being used by my students educationally.  By asking the question I already know that it is not ethical.  A good rule of thumb is if you have to ask "Is this ethical," it probably isn't.

    So what have I used the most?  Social Media, of course.  As a Twitter user I'm trying to get it figured out on this thing.  I have the Twitter, Tweetdeck, and Echofon apps and I like the Echofon best (even though I am a tweetdeck user on my laptop).  I also use Flipboard, and love it, to get a quick read of whats on my Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn feeds.   Flipboard is the best and if you don't have it I'd get it (if you use social media and/or want news feeds).   I still plan on getting everyone's opinion on the best Twitter app to use.

   Besides social media I've played with Dropbox and will continue to use it during the conference.   I hope to see if it makes sense to have people share things with me via that app.  I know that with Google Apps we already have a good place to share documents so this conference will make me decide whether I need Dropbox or not.

    When it really comes down to it the app I've used most is Free Books.  I've managed to read  5 books this week.  I decided to explore H.P. Lovecraft and am amazed that I hadn't read any of his books earlier.  When I was in high school there was this new writer writing short stories for Yankee Magazine named Stephen King.  You might have heard of him.   I loved King and read all of his book (or at least the first dozen or so) as soon as they were written.  Well, Lovecraft is like a 1920's version of King.

     I haven't really gotten into the "Productivity" apps yet but I want to have them flushed out by the time we start classes.  Maybe while in Grand Rapids I can explore these.  One thing nice is that Apple just opened a Teacher Apps section in the App Store that I read about today.  Having one place to go and shop may make it easier than going to the Education Apps section with its 8000+ apps listed.

    Finally, since I have the wifi version of the iPad2 I wanted to explore my options for accessing wifi.  One app I got was the Free Wifi App which, as the name says, helps me find the nearest free wifi.  Some of the spots for my town were outdated but I want to see what it does for my travels next week.  The other thing I'm thinking about doing is getting the T-Mobile mobile hot spot.  Since I've been a T-Mobile customer for about 8 years I can get it for about $80 and I can add it to our data plan.  That would allow me to be able to operate wherever T-Mobile is strong.  As my wife found out yesterday there are a LOT of places in West Texas that are NOT T-Mobile accessible for data.  We'll cross that bridge when I get there.