Wednesday, May 22, 2013

PLN's Help When You Least Expect It

On October 3, 2007 I opened my Twitter account. My wife had been on for a while (since it was introduced to the public the Spring before at the SXSW conference).

If you go onto Twitter and look me up (@cfanch ) you'll see that I have one list of people to follow: Edpros.  Most of the people on that list were in my original group of people I followed or who followed me and a majority of those names have been on Twitter in excess of 5 years now.

These educators were my original PLN (Professional Learning Network) before we used the term on twitter. I can still count on them to provide great insight into all things education and when I need an answer to a tough question I will send it their way.

During the years from 2008 to now, I have tried to get teachers, who I work with, to get onto Twitter so that they can glean knowledge from educational experts. At Manor New Technology High School I was totally unsuccessful.  I stopped trying and would just send links of great blog posts I had read because of my friends on Twitter. Or I would share a tech secret that I had learned about because of people sharing stuff on Twitter. But, as far as active users, I (again) was totally unsuccessful at showing them why it was a must to be connected to a PLN.

Now I am at a new school where the number of tech savvy teachers is at a minimum. Those that are good with technology are doing really great things. But there really is only one teacher (out of about 50) who are active on Twitter for professional reasons and a couple who have Twitter accounts but don't understand how to use them to help their teaching skills.

I have given up (or at least I think I've given up) on encouraging teachers to try Twitter.  I am sharing blog posts, occasionally, with my fellow teachers at school but I rarely mention that I found the post on Twitter. And, to be quite frank, I have gotten pretty darn bitter about not being able to share information with anybody I work with.

This leads to today and an exchange I had with a wonderful person I met on Twitter a few months ago and was able to say hello to at an Edcamp in Waller Texas. {Don't even get me started on getting teachers to go to Edcamps. I ran my own Edcamp 2 years ago that about 25 people came to and only one of them was from my school or school district.}

There was a time when I was always on Twitter - sharing things, having great times with my PLN buddies, learning things.  Now I get on occasionally but I feel like an outsider and not in on all of the jokes and innuendo.  And so I noticed a group of people talking about creating a Twitter for Educators panel for next year's TCEA conference.  Everyone on the list in the tweets is connected, doing great things with education, and are forward lookers in all things new and cool in education. I feel that that's where I was 3 or 4 years ago.

And so I said, " @RafranzDavis After 5 + years on here, if they havent' figured it out they won't ever figure it out (Twitter for PD), #mrnegative " And I meant it.  Why even try to get people interested in this stuff they'll just ignore you and laugh and call you "Mr. Twitter." But Rafranz didn't give up.  She replied " @cfanch which is why this "super panel" is needed !!!:) " She continued " @cfanch all that we can do is show how we use it. We can"t force people into changing how they learn best. However, we can't stop trying :) "

She's right of course. I just wonder if I have the energy to keep up the fight.  At this Edcamp I heard teachers asking all kinds of questions about how to get onto twitter and how to use it. Part of me wanted to yell "Where have you all been?" But I smiled and helped people get through the beginning steps of getting connected.

My wife is in the business of showing people in the travel industry how to use social media and she has the same reaction when one of her clients asks how to do something that is (for me and for her) very basic. But she keeps reminding me that there are people who aren't connected. There are people who really don't understand how to use the space. There are people who are afraid of looking dumb.  There are people with all sorts of excuses on why they haven't gotten connected yet. And they need people like Rafranz and people in her PLN - and, yes, they even need Mr. Cranky Pants.

Even though I knew everyone of those people she was talking with about the "Super Panel" for TCEA, I don't feel connected to them. Maybe I need to get back on Twitter and connect with them so I can feel like I'm a part of a PLN again. Because you're never really NOT a part of a PLN.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Consistency Is The Key

When I am asked about PBL and "how to do it" I often run across teachers who are worried that they won't be able to do their normal classroom procedures. This can't be further from the truth. Unless, of course, their normal classroom procedures aren't grounded in best practices. Then I'm hoping they do anything BUT their normal procedures.

Classroom routine, more than anything else I can think of, is the key to good classroom management. When the students are met at the door and they enter the room with the expectation that there will be an agenda and it will be adhered to, then they will meet the challenge. This is especially true in PBL classrooms where there is, not only, a teacher's agenda but each group may have their own expectations and agenda.

To help establish classroom routines, there are certain parts of the PBL process that should be present all of the time and will help students understand what learning is expected.  This starts with the Driving Question (DQ).  Once the Entry Event has been delivered the DQ should be posted prominently in the classroom and, I would add, on other materials given to the students as resources for the project. Within the first few days teachers should, purposefully, direct students to the DQ and remind them that this question is the reason for their learning.

Once the Entry Event and DQ have been delivered to the students it is customary to create a list of items that need to be understood for successful completion of the project. In most classrooms these items are called the Need to Knows or NTK's.  This list of NTK's becomes one more thing that should be boldly displayed within the classroom.  And, a good habit is to start class -every day- with a discussion of where the students are as far as learning about these key components of the project.

In New Tech classrooms we not only have a list of NTK's but we make a list of things that we Know.  The combined list is our Knows and Need to Knows (K/NTK"s).  When students are able to list their "Knows" they are reinforcing the idea that they come to the project with certain skills that will be needed for successful completion. In revisiting the lists each day we are able to line out NTK's and add them to the Knows section. Leaving the NTK's up but just lining them out helps students visualize their learning.

The final key component to successful PBL classroom management is well constructed rubrics.  Rubrics let students know what they are being assessed on within the project. And, with set levels of below, on, and above proficient (as a minimum) the students know day to day how much work needs to be accomplished. A fellow teacher adds a special category for students who have completed all line items on the rubric - The Wall of Awesome.  When students do everything required and do it well but want to go further then they are put upon the wall.

And so a teacher who has a set daily agenda, posts and revisits the DQ as well as the K/NTK's, and requires groups to have their own agenda, will have a classroom that glows with learning. At no point should a students ask "what should we do now?" Wouldn't it be great if everyone of your 32 students had their names on your Wall of Awesome?

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Chance of a Lifetime

Student Photo MNTHS
The fact I got to see President Obama was not a given. I'm not teaching at Manor New Tech (MNTHS) any more. Yes, I do a lot with PBL in our district but the fact is I am not a teacher at the school being visited by the President.  But Steve Zipkes, the MNTHS Principal, told me his goal was to have all of the former teachers at the campus when Mr. Obama was there.

Finally, Tuesday night, I received an email from the White House advance team representative that I would be part of a group of "Volunteers" and I would have a meeting on Wednesday to get more information.

Wednesday afternoon there were about a dozen of us from around the district who were given assignments for the big day. At the beginning of that meeting we were told the layout and we knew that some of us might end up in the cafeteria where there would be a live stream of the speech. Again, I knew that I might just be there and not get to see the man in person. But I was asked to be at the entrance making sure students, staff, and guests entered in an orderly fashion. And I was told "when they close up you can go into the gymnasium for the speech." 

As it turned out things went incredibly smooth and about an hour before the arrival we had closed up and I was inside tweeting and talking with many of our guests. Being "in the loop" I knew when the motorcade had arrived and that he had entered the main part of the building to see the student presentations. He was free to spend as much time as he needed so when he hadn't arrived in about 20 minutes I knew the students were getting maximum time with their President.

During the waiting time I started getting tweets and texts from friends around the country who were watching the live White House feed, online.  They could see me and all of my actions so we started having some fun with strategic hand gestures and comments about the brightness of my bald spot.  Then a really cool thing happened.

They had anticipated almost 200 press for the event and there was plenty of room in the gym for that number of people. The advance team wanted it to look full and so they invited the entire student body to come in and see the speech live.  It was a little cozy but as the advance team had said, "we need it to be crowded with lots of happy cheering people."

Before the President came into the gym, he was introduced by a senior at MNTHS, Tevyn Washington.  Tevyn was one of my favorite students and his introduction was well thought out and moving. Listening to his speech caused tears to well up in my eyes for the 2nd time that day.

The president's speech started out, as was expected, very presidential but he quickly got to talking about what he had seen during his tour of the school and he included the sound bytes that had been provided for him. It was a pretty emotional time for those of us who had been at the school for a while. His entire speech can be found here. I thought I could keep it together, but he still managed to get me teared up a couple of times.

Thanks to the military I've been in the presence of Presidents,Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State and Secretaries of Defense. But once I had left service I really didn't picture being able to see the President. Especially in a small town in central Texas.

Mr. Obama spoke the truth yesterday. He didn't embellish his remarks and his speech writer didn't make up statistics.  We are doing good things in this district. We feel that we have such a long road to go to get where we want to be. We see the blemishes. We know where we are lacking. But for one day a school district and a town could stand together and beam with pride as the whole nation recognized the efforts of some of their own. It was a day none of us will ever forget.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Nothing to Write About Today...

I really want to write a blog post today. I wanted to write one yesterday.  This past week was pretty busy so I didn't think about it. But I wanted to write a post last weekend too.  It's not like I don't have anything to say about PBL. It's not like I haven't read some great posts that got me thinking that I should write my own post on that certain topic. No, I just can't seem to get started.

As a matter of fact I'm making myself write this post that may, or may not, get published. I do that quite often. I write a few paragraphs and get distracted and get up from the laptop. When I return I don't have any interest in finishing the post and it gets deleted (usually) or saved as  draft.  Currently I have 134 published posts and 4 sitting in draft.  One of those drafts is more like a diary entry and will probably never be published. But I do have a couple that I have kept and could dust off and finish and post in short order.

But not today.  It's lovely outside and I don't feel like writing a post. Yet, ironically, here I am in my third paragraph - not wanting to write.  What would I write about? There's PBL stuff I guess. I've done a lot of thinking about helping people get over their fear of trying PBL. I've thought about how schools, who are planning on using PBL as their primary mode of instruction, could set up their master schedule and their classrooms. Sometimes I feel like I'm ALWAYS thinking about PBL. But I won't be writing a post about PBL today.

Last week I went to Edcamp Waller (in Waller, TX) and I could write about Edcamps. No, just wrote one and there are tons out there right now because we're in Edcamp season. There were some great sessions about apps at the edcamp and I could write about them but I'm just not feeling techie today. No inspiration coming from edcamps......hmm.....maybe teaching, in general.

I'm about to conduct training, for our staff, tomorrow morning on C-SCOPE, which our district will be using next year. It houses curriculum and assessment pieces, as well as other great resources. C-SCOPE is a hot button topic in Texas because many school districts are using it as their curriculum, instead of a curriculum resource.

There are conservatives in this state upset with some of the lessons found within it.  Can you believe they portray those great heroes of 1773 (Boston Tea Party) as potential terrorists? All they did was destroy a ship's (flagged by the Crown) cargo. I mean it's not like they attacked a U.S. Ship - oh wait, we were under British rule....don't let me continue, I might say something wrong.  Not writing about that....

You see there's just nothing to write about today. So I'll wrap up here. It can really take forever to write a post. I've been at this for almost 15 minutes today.  That's 15 minutes that I won't get back.  Maybe I'll sit down tonight and start on a post. Or maybe tomorrow.... I've really got nothing to say.