Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Pessimist Thinks Optimistically About His Upcoming Birthday

If you don't have to live with me you may not realize how much of a pessimist I am. Yes, in fact, the sky IS falling.

As a good Fancher I put on a very strong "brave face" and laugh off those bad things that happen to me or to my family and friends. But, inside, my inner Eeyore comes out to tell me how he knew this might happen - if only I had listened!

Well, I've been thinking during these last few weeks or so. And, you know what? Life is pretty darn good and I should start being happier about it.

So, I've decided to start my 2016 New Year's resolution a bit early. As of today I will, um....I WILL (that's more like it)...resolve to try (Do or do not. There is no try. - pulling Yoda from deep within me.)....I WILL RESOLVE to be happier about my life and the direction it is heading.  There, I said it. And I said it in public.

I've already had positive results. Just yesterday I heard of a potential opportunity to travel and train teachers and I replied that I would love to do this. The fact that my passport has expired and that it interferes with school only crept into my mind for a brief stay before I decided to believe that it will work out and this is a right set of circumstances for me to engage in.

2016 will be a great year. All of the [insert list of problems such as weight, debt, age, etc] will take care of themselves if I take care of my mental well being.  So, as I turn 58 on January 2, (born in 58 means there's some sort of karma thing going on this year - so I have that going for me), I want to really enjoy my last 2 years of the 50's.

I need to travel more and I need to do things I've always wanted to do - like fly fishing. Really. I want to go to some distant stream in the middle of nowhere for a couple of weeks and learn to fly fish. While I'm there I want to finish this darn book I started two years ago. And then I .....

Channeling Eeyore once again - "One can't complain. I have friends. Someone spoke to me only yesterday."

I do have friends. More than 2 or 3.  Happy Birthday to me - and many more....


Things That Piqued My Interest This Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Saying Goodbye to a Good Pet

[UPDATED   This post was originally written on December 7th. We weren't ready to have this news out of Facebook so quickly so I waited to actually publish it. ]

If you've had a pet you know where this is heading...

[You can stop now I won't be offended. If you continue, you may want to grab some kleenex]

There comes a time in every pet owner's lifetime when there is a decision about continuing the pet's life.

They might have been more naughty than nice. They may have shed a bit more hair than you liked. They may have even taken away part of your favorite sofa or bed. But you still know that you will miss them.

We really had a Black Friday with the realization that our cat, Jacob, would probably not make it to the end of the year. Initially we were hoping to make it through that weekend. Since then it has become a day to day ritual - walk down stairs in the morning and look to see the status. I almost feel like a Roman emperor - thumbs up or thumbs down (life or death).

12 years ago, almost to the day, we brought home 3 kittens that we named Joey, Jacob, and Link. We also brought home an older female named Mia. Mia would rule the roost for about 10 years before she lost her battle with health issues.

Unfortunately, Joey was the first to go. He had cancer and just, suddenly, wasn't well. He went quickly and even though it has been 3 years, he is still missed.

Now it is Jacob's turn. He has liver cancer which will not end well. The picture at the top is from Saturday night as I said goodnight to him. He had gotten to the point where he just wanted to lay in our front window. He was let out a few times to explore the vastness of the front yard, as a young cat, and has always wondered about that place on the other side of the glass.

It's time for Jacob to join Joey. I can never remember which was the fluffiest and which was the fuzziest. That was determined by Sheila and Nancy many years ago. But I know that things will be pretty darn fluffy and fuzzy now in that kitty front yard where there is no glass to keep kitties out.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Building Empathy Through Interviews

7th graders are all over the map when it comes to emotions. So, on one level, you might think that it isn't hard to get them to develop empathy. But how many of your students, at any grade level, have conducted interviews to gain knowledge of their interviewee?

My first semester at Meridian school is winding up and I am still getting used to the timing of projects. That led to a two week period between the Thanksgiving break and final exams.

I knew that I wanted to introduce an interview process soon. I also wanted to include either the 7th grade ELA teacher or the PE Coach with a project early in the next semester. And then it hit me - 6 Word Memoirs.

As the name implies, students write about themselves by using only 6 words. After checking with the ELA teacher I found that she had just completed a unit on memoirs. And, after talking with a few students only a handful had done a 6 Word Memoir (6WM) in the past. And so it began...

On the first day I gave the students a post on interviewing like a pro. It doesn't exactly apply but I wanted them to think about what the pros think about before, during, and after an interview. To minimize time on the article I had them do a jigsaw and we discussed things they learned about what to do before you go to an interview; what you do during an interview; and what things to think about after the interview.

Then I paired them up (key word there, "I" paired them up).  Many were with people they don't normal hang out with so getting to know them became a harder task. I gave them 10 minutes to come up with a set of questions to use as openers. And, I instructed them to go down any path that became an obvious interesting topic that might be used to write a 6WM.

To help them think, I gave them a list of topics that might be good places to draw from for questions.
The trouble is I forgot about how the 7th grade brain works. Because I put a list in front of them, they couldn't come up with imaginative questions or question sequences to go deeper on any other topics than the ones I presented to them. I actually heard one boy ask another "Have you ever been married?" When I heard that question I asked why he had asked it. He said "because I had included "marriage" on my list of possible topics." Silly me; I was thinking that maybe there might have been an interesting wedding that they might have attended.

By the end of class I actually was pleased with the results from most of my students. They had asked good questions and had made good recommendations to their interviewees on what they should write their 6WM about.  Very few ended up needing help in understanding the process and how to make a relevant recommendation.

Before the next project starts I will be able to draw from this experience as we discuss interviewing to gain empathy. Because when the next semester starts (after our holiday break) I will be having my students interview clients or other pertinent people before they start brainstorming ideas. I feel better about their interviewing skills and I believe they will be better at identifying the needs and desires from those that they interview.

To finish the 6WM, I am having them go through a critique rotation today. They are writing their 1st draft and are presenting it to their small group. The small group is tasked with recommending at least one word to be changed to make the 6WM stronger. Then the students rotate to different groups and go through the process a second time.

They will be turning in an 8.5 in. by 11 in. paper with their 6WM on it, that has been decorated to help tell the story. These will be placed on our classroom wall so all of my classes can see what the others have written.

Sometimes a quick 2 week assignment can bring out a lot of learning. In this case my students have learned about how to be a good interviewer. My students have also learned more about their classmates. And, I have learned more about all of my students. Sounds like success.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Smart Kids Need Competition Too

Not a very smart title to this post because many of you will have seen competitions such as Speech and Debate , or  Robotics Competitions, National Academic Quiz Tournaments, or even Model UN.  But there are others who may not realize what these competitions are all about.

If you are in that camp then I would like to suggest that you find where your school's academic teams are competing and go and support them.

This weekend I am attending my first Model UN. It is the Central Texas Model UN (CTMUN) and is hosted by the University of Texas. I have brought 21 students who are mostly 10th graders.  For several students this is their 4th or 5th MUN and for others this is their first. After an opening ceremony last night there was a first session that lasted until 10. These students were in classes all day, withstood a nearly 1 hour drive in crowded vans, and then participated in their first sessions.

As we walked to the vans, at the end of the night, the energy was palpable. There was laughter and discussions about students who they had encountered at other MUN's (both good and bad comments were bantered about). I talked with the students about the Saturday sessions and the end of the day "Social." I almost fell to the floor with laughter on hearing the description of what the MUN Social is like: "It's just a dance with some food. But it's fun to watch nerds, who have had no contact with the outside world, getting sweaty and grinding on the dance floor."

MUN is a perfect specimen of 21st Century Skills on display. Students have to think critically, communicate ideas, cooperate and collaborate, and many will show their creativity by using accents based upon their country or even dressing in character.

And they do so for HOURS.  Today I spent much of the day in the session where students were representing Japanese leaders in the 1850's. They started discussions based around the last decade of the Shogunate starting right after Commodore Perry's arrival. Whether to include the US in a trade agreement was considered.

As I came in and out the years progressed and as I am sitting here right now they are discussing whether to assist the United States (Union Troops) or Confederate States (Confederate Troops) or whether to stay neutral. We have obviously moved into the 1860's but the discussions are still as emotional and the delegates appear to have just as much energy as they did when I first came into the room 8 hours ago.

And how many spectators do we have for this incredibly exciting and entertaining competition? Right now I AM the spectator in this room. In no room have I seen more than 3 spectators (including myself) all day. And all of the spectators I have seen are wearing badges, like myself, that indicate that I am a school sponsor.

I interrupt this writing to say that we just lost a delegate who disgraced his people for working with the Chinese. There was a trial with 2 Pro and 2 Con speakers. The delegate on trial was found guilty and was sentenced to death. A MUN moderator appeared, asked the delegate to rise and plea for his life. While mid plea he was viciously stabbed by the MUN moderator and he died on the session floor.

From this point forward he will be a Spirit, although there was some discussion of calling him Zombie for the rest of this session. [No students were actually hurt during this session!]

So far this weekend I have rubbed shoulders with Vladimir Lenin, who has been in and out of the Russian Revolution sessions, and various public figures who arrive periodically to add flavor to the discussions.

As I come to a close they are debating whether to take control of Hawaii; to side with the Union by sending troops into California; or to invade China or the Philippines.

This writer rises in defense of academic competition and asks that we have a vote on making these spectator sports. This delegate recognizes that, in the past, we have not had large groups of supporters for these events and it is time that we show that our academically talented students need our love. This delegate yields the rest of his time and takes his seat.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Still Ripping Educators Off

I started (this current round of...) getting upset about this (continuing) problem of educators being ripped off for supplies, a couple of weeks ago. I was talking about it with a fellow educator and he reminded me of a time when a teacher went to the vendor floor at a conference. She commented on how expensive this one item was and the vendor said, "Why are you upset? The school district pays for it anyways."

Those outside of the teaching profession assume that we get such a great deal and "the district just pays for things." Even if that WAS true, and it's not, I'm a tax payer in a school district and therefore I help put together the funds that are to be spent. I don't need my school district being ripped off when they are using my money!

So then, today, I wanted to price 4 inch to 6 inch balls that I want to use in a project down the road. I figured I'd start by looking at foam balls and that they would be the cheapest. Within minutes I had been to several sights, including Oriental Trading Co (a teacher go-to site) and Amazon.com.  I found what I was looking for in the 50 to 75 cents a ball range and was doing some mental calculations that I would need 50 to 75 dollars to get the 100 balls that I wanted.

Then I went to Discount School Supply. Doesn't that sound like some company trying to help us teachers out? Well, not so fast. These guys wanted $2 a piece for the balls. That is more than double the price - for foam-stinkin-balls! I would be more upset but I have seen this since my days in the military. "Oh, is that being purchased for a government entity? We'll mark it up 100%"

When you see the statistics about the amount of money a teacher spends out of their own pocket on school supplies each year (probably averaging in the $500 to $1000 a year for me) it really galls me that these places would charge double (and often 3 or 4 times) for something that could be purchased somewhere else. No wonder crowd funding sites are so popular with teachers (such as Donor's Choose).

I'm going to get balls for my project. I'll spend 50 to 100 dollars from the look of it. But I won't be spending any money at any of the "discount educator" sites. They can wait for the purchase order that I'm not filling out because I'm using my own money and NOT my school's money.  Grrrr...

You may return to your regularly scheduled lives.....(and I'm pretty happy that I kept my maturity with this post and didn't say anything like, "I got my balls in an uproar!" - That would have been wrong.)

Things That Piqued My Interest This Week (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Don't Make Me Call

I hate phones. There. I've said it. I'm not sure when it started. But probably when I was very young.

You see, in our family, everyone had to be part of a phone conversation. I think it came from my father's generation when it was unique to get a call from someone and therefore everyone spoke to whomever was on the other line.

"Hey, it's Aunt Pauline, come here and talk to your Aunt Pauline!" Or, even worse, "...Oh, Chris is here. (then to me...) This is your Uncle Bob. Talk with him (as the phone was handed to me.)"

It didn't matter if I was in the middle of something. It didn't matter if I needed to run to the bathroom. It just didn't matter. You dropped everything and you picked up the phone, turned on your most pleasant and polite voice, and started talking.

Once I was on my own, in college, I didn't talk on the phone much. I would make my obligatory Sunday call to my parents. And, occasionally, I would call one of my high school buddies. But I was a 16 hour drive away from my home and I would, periodically, get a bit homesick and I would want to hear a friendly voice.

When I was in the Navy I really had no reason to call anyone except my parents (which fell below the weekly level by then). And so I just didn't talk much on the phone. And by the time I was dating my (now) wife, I was either in the same town or we were out to sea. We couldn't talk when we were at sea (unlike these days with cellular coverage).

As a teacher I always failed at calling students. I would procrastinate until it was a moot point or we had a face to face conference. The best thing about leaving the classroom to become an instructional coach - no more expected parent phone calls.

I also had the advantage of living in Japan and the Netherlands for a few years each. I could use the excuse that there wasn't a convenient time because of the difference in time zones. I rarely had to call anyone. It was nice.

Inconvenience became my go to excuse. "Oh, I can't call now it's dinner time there." "I'd call now but they are probably getting ready for bed." "I can't call this early they're probably getting ready to head out and they don't need to be interrupted by a phone call." So, I didn't call - for months.

18 months ago I lost my brother to cancer. I vowed to call my sister-in-law on a regular basis. When I called her I told her I'd call her more regularly. I vowed I'd call my two sister's more. When I did call them I told them I'd call them more regularly. But I haven't changed my ways.

I wake up and say, "I should call _____________(fill in the blank with any of a dozen relatives). I'll make sure I give them a call today." After breakfast I say, "They're probably out doing something or they are in the middle of something I don't want to interrupt what they are doing." By early evening I've conveniently forgotten that I wanted to call and I say, "I can't call now it's too late (on the East Coast)" -or- "They're getting ready to eat (on the West Coast)."

And now it's at the embarrassing stage. I haven't called for months. The thought of interrupting the person at the other end just stops me in my tracks. I look at the phone. I might even pick it up but I'll come up with an excuse not to call "this time. I'll call later"

So, to all of my friends and relatives who haven't heard from me in a while. I'm alive. I think about you (really! I do!) regularly. I've tried sending emails instead but that hasn't resulted in much two way communication with anyone. No one uses email any more. But, in my mind, the beauty of email is that it can be opened at a convenient time. I do not want anyone picking up the phone feeling obligated to talk to me. I want to be talk to people when the time is perfect. And that never seems to happen.

I need to call. I should call. I really ought to call. But I probably won't call - today. But maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll find the perfect time to call. Yeah, I'll call then.

Friday, October 9, 2015

You See, It Takes Time

We are seeing a real dichotomy in education these days. Thanks to social media we are exposed to teachers, at all levels, doing wonderful things with their students. We're seeing students doing incredible things that they have chosen to do - not because they are completing an assignment that they have to do.  

We are seeing images of happy and excited people from gatherings of educators at edcamps, conferences, and webinars. And we're also seeing students in these images. Students - outside of the normal school day!

Then there is the reality of schools being labeled as "low performing." And students dropping out of school because they perceive life will be better with their gang family or, sadly, because they need to provide for their family. The images we see are of unhappy and, often, angry students. 

Between the two extremes lies the average school in the average district. And, at the average school, teachers are pressured to meet certain test requirements. To meet these requirements they must follow a strict curriculum with every day mapped out for them. They don't dare deviate from the course. The strict curriculum is designed by "experts" who know that teaching a certain topic in a certain way will guarantee the average student will succeed. And by succeed they mean pass the state test. 

But there are INCREDIBLE things going on all over the world. Students are going deeper in their learning. Student attendance rates are improving. Students are, (gasp), having fun and are enjoying learning. If students are attending classes and having fun in school then maybe, perhaps, their scores on state tests might just be improving! What a crazy concept!

Schools are having success. But there is this little statement that stakeholders in schools hate to hear - it takes time.  We saw it at Manor New Technology HS. My first year our scores in math were not good. There was hope that I, the "Old Math Teacher," could suddenly make things better. But what was lost on all of us was the fact that we were doing things differently. Our students had to learn how to learn and our teachers had to learn how to help students learn in this world of project based learning (PBL).  The superintendent and principal bought into the idea of "Trust the Process" and the teachers had incredible support and autonomy. We could try new things, and fail, without a huge to do about it.  And the school's scores started improving. 

All it took was time and the willingness of stakeholders to allow things to not go well so that we could figure out how to do it right. States and school districts have got to be willing to take risks and try new things with their students. Even though things might not immediately improve.  Are you willing to try something that excites students? Are you willing to try something that increases attendance rates? Are you willing to try something that keeps students from choosing life without school? Are you willing to give it 3 to 5 years? Are you willing to see test scores, possibly, stagnate or even go down? All we ask is for you to Trust the Process. Because, you see, it takes time. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Early Forays Into Empathy (7th Grade)

Today my 7th graders created questions about "Empathy." This was their first week of school and today was the second day of class for them (they are on an A/B Block schedule). As a Design class I want them understanding the idea of Empathy. As an International Baccalaureate (IB) school the students are expected to understand empathy as well. So here's what I did and the results of their work:

Step One - I gave them a quote about empathy from Seth Godin - -->

Empathy doesn't involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, "why did they do what they did?"
The useful answer is rarely, "because they're stupid." Or even, "because they're evil." In fact, most of the time, people with similar information, similar beliefs and similar apparent choices will choose similar actions. So if you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from.
Dismissing actions we don't admire merely because we don't care enough to have empathy is rarely going to help us make the change we seek. It doesn't help us understand, and it creates a gulf that drives us apart.  

Step Two - I asked them to experience the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to create questions about the quote that we will explore in the future. The one problem? They had never experienced the QFT either. So we walked through the process - slowly. 

The result (from two of my classes) follows. Considering they are 7th graders and it is early in the year, I'm pretty happy with their questions. See for yourself (the categories are mine and were done after I collected them):

1. What is empathy?
2.How was the term “empathy” created?
3.Where did empathy originate?
4.Why do humans feel empathy?
5.Why is empathy so important?
6.Do a LOT of people show empathy?
7.Does this mean that empathy makes you a better person, or not?
8.Is it easy to express empathy?
9.Why is empathy often described as “feeling sorry?”
10.How do we know if someone is expressing empathy?
11. What are the reasons we show empathy?
12.Do animals show empathy?
13.Why do we as human species feel empathy at all?
14.What is the difference between empathy and reason?
15.What is the difference between empathy and pity?
16.Why is empathy so complicated?
17.Why does empathy make a big difference in who we are?
18.Why is it important for people to have empathy?
19.How is empathy different from person to person?
20When does empathy between two people fracture?
21.When does empathy hinder someone?
22.Why is empathy an IB Learner Profile Trait?

1. Who is Seth Godin?
2. What caused Seth Godin to write this?
3. What did Seth Godin want us to learn from this?
4. Why should we be empathetic towards people who are “stupid” or “evil.”
5. Is violence ever the answer?
6. What should the “useful answer” be?
7. Why do people hate people?
8. Why is accusing someone rarely the answer?
9. Why can’t everyone be honest?

1. Why is sympathy easier to show than empathy?
2. Is empathy worse or better than sympathy?
3. How many people don’t know the difference between empathy and sympathy?
4. What happens when you combine empathy and sympathy?
Many of these questions are closed and can be answered quickly with a little help from Google. But there are some very open questions as well. I like several of them.  For example, the one about whether empathy makes you a better person.

We will be exploring these questions over the next few weeks. Some of the questions may never get totally answered. But I have a feeling these students are on the path to becoming great design thinkers. And that gives them a swinging chance at being a great person. That's my personal goal in every class I teach -> Have I helped my students become better citizens of the world? I'll keep you posted. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Putting Together a Design Class in a IB World School (Part 2)

Screen Capture from - https://goo.gl/VoUfRT
[NOTE: Originally written a week ago]
"So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you." Willy Wonka.

 Right now I'm feeling like a cross between the Scarecrow ( giving directions in OZ) and Willy Wonka these days. One minute I'm heading one direction and the next I'm heading in a completely opposite direction. But, the bottom line is that, wherever I end up heading needs to be a direction that helps our students and our school. I can live with that.

A long time ago (yesterday) I wrote the first part of this group of posts. At that time (yesterday) I felt like I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel - the tunnel of planning what my class would look like this year. Evidently the light I was seeing was a warning sign that said "Detour Ahead."
It now looks like my focus needs to be around the word Community. What does it mean to be a part of a community:   The classroom community, Our school community, Our "local community," and the world community?

The first project, that I will be doing with my science teacher neighbor, will now focus on my helping my teaching community. We will do the Rube Goldberg Machine because of the teacher's needs to teach certain concepts like momentum and speed.  We will build because of the need to have visual representations of the science concepts they will be learning. We will be doing all of the other components of the project so that everyone in my classroom community understands the parts of the design process.

For the school community I will be making sure that my students are learning the IB concepts at the MYP level. This will build on their years of learning these concepts at the PYP level. And throughout this unit, and the rest of the year, I will be referencing how our learning impacts (and is impacted by) the local and international communities.

It will be a time for me to join the Meridian World School community as well.  Let the school year begin!

[END NOTE: Stopping here. This was to have gone out last week. It's time to start writing the next post. School started today. And we are rolling! Come join my community. ]