Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Where Have All The Good TImes Gone....

     I opened my laptop for the first time in 3 days, took care of a half dozen emails that were waiting for me, and hopped onto Twitter to see what was happening.  Then it hit me: in terms of educators on social media I was totally out of the loop; I had lost my edge; I was (am), sigh,  irrelevant.

   So, what the heck happened?  Well, a year ago I had just finished a wonderful 3 days in Philly for Educon and I was getting ready for the TCEA conference.  I was trying to figure out how to get into the SXSWEdu conference and was sad that I probably wouldn't be able to afford the ISTE conference in San Diego.  But "hey,' I thought, "at least I have a couple thousand folks on twitter to interact with and stay on top of the latest and greatest things in education."

     Fast forward a year.  Not only did I not go to Philly this year, I didn't even have time to watch the twitter stream for Educon last week.  Then, this week, I found out that I'm needed at my school every day next week and so I won't attend any of TCEA for the first time in a couple of years.  That one really hurts because I love the interaction in the social media lounge and I've given short talks (or brought students to talk) on PBL for teachers coming into that area.

     I should be going to SXSWEdu because I've signed up as a volunteer. That gets me a badge but I'm really not sure how much time I can get off for that.  And ISTE is right down the road in San Antonio. I have a room but I haven't paid my conference fee yet because I'm just not sure whether I'll get the time to take that in.

     So what happened?  Simple.  I changed jobs and am now much more tied to my work than ever before in my teaching career. It was a piece of cake being a teacher (in comparison) and it really wasn't that hard to get time off to go places.  Little things were so simple to take care of.  Hopping on Twitter each night and for hours on the weekend?  Nothing to it.  Life was pretty darn cushy.

    What to do about this problem? I can start by helping out school kick butt on the standardized tests that are rapidly approaching.  I can help my teachers so that they can still enjoy their free time.  I can learn to more effectively schedule my day so that I get home earlier and have more time to participate with others on Twitter.  And, I can put conferences that are important to me and my professional development on the calendar for my principal to see.

     This year is starting out really sucky. There I said it. That doesn't mean the rest of the year has to be as equally bad.  It's time to get things in gear.  I need to put ISTE on the calendar and make it a priority.  I need to put PBL World on the calendar too.  And IPADPALOOZA, and, ......

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chat Overload!

The other day I saw a great tweet and noticed the hashtag for a 1:1 educators chat.  Then I saw another great tweet with a hashtag for a Nebraska Educators chat.  And then I saw 2 or 3 other chat hashtags fly by and I realized that what was once just "Edchat" has really just gone bonkers.

If you aren't on Twitter then you may not be familiar with chats.  In a nutshell, if you want to have a topic that others can comment upon then you use the pound sign ( # ) followed by a word that describes the topic.  In the Twitterverse we call the #-sign a "Hashtag." With limitations on the number of characters and with people wanting to emphasize that they want to have a get together (a chat ) there are many abbreviations for these.

The oldest chat I became involved with was the Educators Chat or #edchat.  It was (is still) on Tuesday nights and there really weren't many others.  During the first year on #edchat I saw a handful of other chats pop up but none made me say "I need to follow that hashtag!" Then #edchat started to  explode with hundreds of people "chatting" during the hour.  This lead most people to use other dashboards besides the regular Twitter page. { Dashboards such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck allow you to create columns which makes it easier to manage the chats. }

Then came my favorite Twitter application - Tweetchat.  With Tweetchat there is only one column and it is totally devoted to the hashtag you want to follow.  It even puts the proper hashtag at the end of your tweet.  About this time I looked over at my favorite gatherer of information, Jerry Blumengarten (also known as Cybraryman (@cybraryman1)) His list of chats had, probably, 20 chats listed and I was amazed by that fact.  Today there are well over 100 education chats listed.  If you have an area of interest, there is probably a chat for you. Jerry just happens to be on the #edchat team, so he knows a thing or two about chats.

So where does this chat obsession go from here?  Well the good thing is that there are educators learning from each other and helping each other all over the world and at all times of the day.  But there are many of us who are amazed at the huge number of tweets with hashtags.  Some educators are moving on to other means of getting together.

The one most talked about is Google Hangouts.  With a Hangout you can have up to 10 people and you can share your screens.  But then you can share the hangout with the world.  So, even though 10 people are "talking" others can interact with the conversation through various means including, get ready for it - Twitter!  Just think, you could have a google hangout and everyone outside of the initial 10 could be using a hashtag for the hangout!  Makes my head hurt ( but in a good way...)

Don't be surprised when you see the following hashtag:  #rthanded55yoeducoachchat.  The chat for 55 year old education coaches who are right handed.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Umm...That's Not Exactly PBL

Have you ever had a teacher tell you a plan for an activity she was going to run in her class and she emphasized the fact that she loves "doing PBL?" This "project," that will last 3 days, is having the students demonstrate what they have learned in her 6th grade math class over the last 2 weeks.

Do you (a) tell her "that's not a project!"; or, (b) ask her "why are you wasting your student's time?"; or (c) tell her that she has great ideas and you'd like to help her plan for a more meaningful PBL unit.  Hopefully, through discussion, all three of those answers come up.

This evening I saw a link to a "pbl" where the students were to calculate the volume of a soda can and then redesign a new can that would hold the same volume of soda.  This is a standard activity and certainly is better than having students work 20 problems on volumes of a cylinder.  I even used that same thing as a 6th grade math teacher back in 1995.  I could easily have said (to this teacher), "Honey, that is NOT PBL! (while wagging my index finger)

So how should we, as fellow educators, handle this when we see it? Where do we take the conversation to make it truly meaningful for our co-teacher? We start by asking her to think about who might want to redesign a soda can.  Why would they want to redesign it? How would they redesign it? Now we tell her to imagine the students being the designers.  How would these designers be asked to make a change to the standard soda can? Then we tell her that she's thinking like a PBL teacher, now.

I worry, as more and more teachers become "experts" in PBL, that they will start squashing ideas and activities that other teachers want to do in their classroom.  Some of these activities can make great idea starters for a pbl unit.  Instead of squashing the ideas we need to be encouraging these teachers to use their ideas as jumping off points to greater things.  Some of these activities are great as scaffolding pieces for the middle of the project, for example.

Take the time to help your fellow teachers learn how to build inquiry into their lessons.  Help them teach their students to become better questioners.  Be gentle with their (the teachers) egos.  You want to help them not shut them down.  It is your (our) duty to help fellow teachers be the best that they can be so that our students can be the best that they can be.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Hey! Where'd You Get That?

A good friend of mine, who has now been married for more than 30 years, used to use this expression whenever we saw a good looking woman:  "It doesn't matter where you go for your appetite, as long as you come home for dinner."

The same holds true with your projects.  Projects that you run in your classroom need to be  your projects but it doesn't matter where you go for your project ideas.  Projects that are taken, fully intact,  from someone else and then run in your class just won't work the same.  And your students will know that it isn't your project.

So stop beating yourself up about using someone's project idea.  It's OK.  You can use the idea.  Just make it your own.  Have your entry event totally unique to how you want to start the project.  And figure out how you want your project to end.  Allowing students to pick their own end product means that, even if a group wants to do something that was an end product in the original project idea, your students have ownership in it.

Now when it comes to some of the scaffolding activities, in the original project,  you may really like some of them.  That's OK.  But, until you have run the activity you won't know what could go wrong.  What material isn't listed that would really help.  What time changes did the original teacher make when they ran it.  Was it a "class period" activity and the original teacher was on a 90 minute block?  Or, was it a "class period" activity for a 45 minute class and you have a 90 minute block?  Work through the activity yourself (which should be your modus operandi anyway) to gauge the length of time needed.

Now that you've selected the project idea, you have your entry event, and you have determined how you will handle end products, it is time to really look at the theme of the project and see if there are any other things you might want to add or subtract to make it "your" project.

Hopefully you are starting to see that getting ideas from somewhere else is an incredible time saver BUT you still have to create your project.  You still need to arrange your calendar with content, scaffolding, and assessments.  I really like having someone's project to manipulate into my own.  What I present to my students may not even look at all like the original project except that the original content is there.

Remember, it doesn't matter where you go for your project appetite, as long as you come back and create your own project meal.  I know, bad statement.  But I had to come back to my opening.

Where to get project ideas:

  •  Regional Education Centers in many states such as Texas, Ohio, and South Carolina may have links to resources.  Transformation 2013 in Texas has good project ideas, for example.
  •   Edutopia has a whole section of their site devoted to Project Based learning.
  •   Curriki is a resource I sometimes forget. They have classroom activities that can easily be molded into a project idea.
  •    We Are Teachers is one I like to have in my pocket.  Great resources and activities.
  •    Discovery Education has some great resources and is not always thought of as a place to come up with project ideas.
  •     Buck Institute for Education is the most obvious one for me but I thought I'd put it late on the list.
  • Your local newspaper, a magazine (hard copy or online), or current events aren't necessarily taking someone's project idea, but there may be a problem to solve or a concept to explore and there's your project.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Read Anything Good Lately?

I read this great editorial the other day by Ross Douthat encouraging people to read things that they might not normally read.  His focus was on politics and how you learn more if you read from authors who you don't, necessarily, agree with.

I got to thinking what things I read related to education.  Most people think of me as a high school level PBL guy.  But I read about early childhood articles recommended by my friends who are teachers or administrators at the lower elementary level.  I read tech articles that are both education and non-education related.  I read posts by principals dealing with administration issues.  I read posts and articles by higher education folks.  And, I read articles about various teaching strategies and methods from all levels.

Most of the educators I interact with on Twitter seem to do the same as me but is that entirely true?  Do those #kinderchat teachers also read things recommended during #educoach?  Do the principals and superintendents I follow also read tech posts; and do they check in on various twitter chats not related to their school issues?

Well, they should.  And so should I.  That's what it means to be a professional.  I should read any and every thing related to my profession.  We all should.  Let that be your mantra for 2013.  If you need a list of people to read then start here.  Or, start following the hash tag of a chat you wouldn't normally follow.  Then read an article or blog post recommended by someone using that hash tag.  This is the year that we all get smarter.  Got to go read something.......

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Years Rant

It's New Years Day and my birthday is tomorrow.  I'll be 55.  I've been with my wife for nearly 25 years, my kids are 20 and 13.  And, I have 3 cats.  Other than the financial mess we've made, we have a pretty darn good life.

What makes me frustrated?  There are not enough people in the world who are willing to work outside of "normal hours."  What makes me mad?  That I get frustrated with these people who seem to have wonderful lives and are content to work those normal hours.

I think it all started when I was growing up.  My dad worked in a Ball Bearing Factory.  He worked a basic 40 hour week but would work whenever he was needed.  There was a time when he had to cycle his shifts working days for a couple of weeks, mid-days for a couple of weeks, and then grave yard for a couple of weeks.  This seemed to go on forever but probably "only" lasted 2 or 3 years.

But that was work for pay.  My dad would then come home and work around the house.  He was very handy.  He kept a very large garden (for Connecticut standards) that was probably more than 1000 square feet.  He repaired lawnmowers and snow blowers and various other pieces of equipment for friends and co-workers.  And, he always had time to throw the baseball or do some other father-son thing.  Even though he was 46 years older than me.

I was certainly lazy, by the standards set in those days, but I also learned from watching and helping my father that there are times when you do whatever is needed to be done.  And you did this until it was done correctly.

So, when I came home from college, the first summer, I decided that I would take a grave yard shift at the local Waring Blender Factory.  I was on a four year scholarship with the Navy (Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps - NROTC) and I knew that when I graduated I was guaranteed a job as a Naval Officer.  I'd NEVER have to work in a factory like my dad.  But I wanted to experience that life.  I learned a lot that Summer, but mainly I learned that I was right for saying that I'd NEVER work in a factory like my dad.  Ironically, I worked there the next summer as well.  Just not the grave yard shift.

In the military you learn that you do whatever it takes to get the job done right.  There were days that ran together.  And, you'd look back and realize that you hadn't slept in a couple of days.  But that's just what you did.  When you add that to my growing up you see that there is this work ethic there that won't ever be changed.  And it is that background that gets me so frustrated with my current profession.

Teachers work hard.  Let me get that out straight away.  They don't get a chance to go to the bathroom or sit and make a run to Starbucks for a coffee.  They come home and have to deal with calling parents of students even while they put their own children on the back burner.  Since the profession is mostly women (and men in this world are pretty much the same as they've been for hundreds of years), teachers end up going home and cooking dinner and playing with the kids and putting the kids to bed and helping the kids with homework, and.....(but that's a topic of another post) - BEFORE they grade papers, call parents, and plan the next day's lessons.

Teachers, these days, are expected to be actively learning or providing learning to other teachers during a majority of their Summer Break.  So very few ever take that 12 week vacation - even though there are a lot of cynics who decry the fact that "teachers don't even work during the summer!"  So, I understand why teachers get defensive when additional items are thrown on their plate.

However, I think it's time for teachers to remember who their consumer is and what their product is.  The consumer is the parent sending their child off to become all they can be.  The product is that child.  We need to do whatever it takes to make sure the product we deliver has been given every ounce of our ability.

All I ask is that teachers take a minute to think about my last paragraph.  Are teachers doing everything they can to create the best product?  Are administrators recognizing when teachers need a break and when teachers aren't putting forth the requisite effort?  Are instructional coaches doing what it takes to make sure teachers are armed with the best tools available?  Are instructional coaches identifying teachers who need a break or aren't putting forth the requisite effort?

Just because it is a Saturday or Sunday doesn't mean teachers can't meet and plan for the coming week.  Just because it is the middle of a Spring Break, Winter Break, or Holiday Break doesn't mean they can't get together for a coffee and discuss upcoming plans.  Just because it is 9 PM doesn't mean they can't get on social media or Facetime, or Skype, or IM and discuss things going on in the classroom that need attention.

Teachers need to work together better.  Teachers need to have "study buddys" who they can bounce ideas off of or that they can ask help from.  Teachers need to stop working in a vacuum.  Gone are the days when a teacher came to school and spent the day inside the classroom only to leave at the end of the day and not have to interact with anyone else.

My wish for 2013 is that the 2 or 3 teachers who read this go out and find someone on their campus who they can get together with outside of "normal" hours.  Then these same teachers need to get on twitter and find a group of teachers who is on twitter at times they are on and are willing to interact and help with plans and ideas.  Then these same teachers need to pick one day a week when they can devote to a twitter chat and start being an active participant.

My wish is that every student has a teacher who is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure they are receiving the best education available.  Happy New Year faithful reader(s).