Showing posts from April, 2015

The worst advice I've ever heard about technology in the classroom

The worst advice I've ever heard about technology in the classroom came out of my own mouth. It went something like "You should do/use/incorporate this because it is great and easy to do."

I don't remember what this was but I do remember the comment from one of my colleagues after I said it a couple of times during a professional development session. She stopped me at one point and asked if she could be perfectly honest with me.

Me: Of course.
Her: "Well, it is probably easy for you but it's not really easy for me."
Me: Yet
Her: "Maybe. But until then, it's even more frustrating that I don't get it when you keep reminding me how easy it should be."
Me: I guess I'll hide this big red "That was easy" button until a later session.

I've tried to avoid the word in any presentation or PD session since.

What I have learned from a year of daily assessments on a deivce

With this year's freshman class required to BYOD, one of the things that I decided to do was to have all of my students do the daily assessments on the devices. I chose to use Socrative because I had already successfully used it for a few quizzes but many review games for almost two years. I committed to try for the entire school year because I figured it would take some time to work everything out and to learn some of the ins and outs.

The process
Each quiz is anywhere from 5 to as many as 10 multiple choice questions. Students start with a blank sheet of paper for the first quiz and I always give an open-ended written question last. While writing that answer on their paper, I format and print results and take a quick peek. Students hand in a quiz with that hand-written answer and it gives me something to put a grade on to hand back the next day.

Creating quiz questions
Initially, it takes a little more time to create each quiz but definitely less time than grading 100+ qu…

Winding down (or finally getting it?) after 27 posts in 27 days

The biggest fear was the lack of time time so I decided to try keep each post short and simple - one thought - in and out. But that is way more difficult than I had imagined.

Seth Godin's post today addressed this situation for me. Perfect timing.

So after 27 posts in 27 days, I'm trying to actually do it as planned this time. It shows I definitely needed the practice.

What is the purpose of a personal public reflection?

There were several reasons I decided to take on the AprilBlogaDay challenge. One of those reasons was my attempt to get over the thought that a blog was basically a written selfie. I kept asking myself - What is the purpose of a personal public reflection?

After discussing the practice in a chat over the weekend, it became clear that this process is more than just a method to flesh out and expand on an idea or thought that has been limited to a scribble on a scrap of paper. The "Publish" button is just a way to finalize that thought for that moment.

I guess I'm just used to seeing the reaction in the faces of the students in the classroom. On Facebook there is a "Thumbs up" button that at least gives an indication that someone's been there but I'm glad those aren't part of this process. Based on my own experience in reading and (not) commenting, the number of comments for most blog posts must be a very low percentage. By writing it out, it will stic…

If April showers bring May flowers, what do April bloggers bring?

The response is definitely not "No comment" and also more blogging.

Several of those who have been participating in the April blog a day challenge (#AprilBlogaDay) put together by Chris Crouch (@the_explicator) got together for a Twitter chat this morning. As I stated near the end of the hour, I don't know if I have been a part of a more productive chat. It was part reflection and part brainstorming, but then also led to a planned future activity that is often missing from professional development.

The group decided to continue blogging (in various degrees of frequency) in the month of May.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!(read in your best ginsu knife commercial voice)

Some have chosen to comment on one blog post a day and post a link to the blog. It should be a great way to share what you are reading to a wider audience and give some needed feedback to many education bloggers.

The hashtag in May becomes more universal - #edBlogaDay. I look forward to continuing to learn and grow…

A formula for a great "working" environment

This post was written in response to two hashtags: #ILoveMySchoolBecause and #AprilBlogaDay

There are several things that come to mind that I truly appreciate about working at DeMatha Catholic High School. While these really just scratch the surface, they are some of the first things that come to mind for this quick reflection.  I had to cut it off somewhere because this prompt was "due" yesterday!

Incredible colleagues
My colleagues and administrators have been intelligent, risk-takers who are willing to share their experience and time. Most importantly, they are great people and its modeled for the students everyday. Our principal often encourages the importance of "play" in education and I see that in the attitudes of teachers and students throughout each day.

Freedom + Support
Since my first days at DeMatha I have been given the freedom to choose much of the content and approach that best works with my teaching style and my students. Along with that freedom has a…

Transparency is not a four letter word

A few days ago, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price went on a profanity laced tirade with a reporter about the amount of information he released about an injured player. His main point centered around how that information could be a help to his team because he knew it could hurt his team by giving opponents information that may alter their game plan.  How much information should be revealed to the press and what information is really necessary? 
His concern was basically about transparency and social media has made everything transparent.
But just because the information is easily shared does that mean we are entitled to it?
Within the last 5-10 years, social media and the Internet have made a long-time isolated profession of teaching much more open and transparent. In the past, we taught in "our" classrooms and worked with "our" students and were very protective of both. It wasn't practical or possible to get information out very often. So we worked with them ove…

One more thing we need to stop pretending in education

This only puts me at five so I am allowed to add it! (see yesterday's post).

#5 We need to stop pretending that if students can Google it, they do not need to know it.

If I tell my doctor a symptom and then he/she Googles it, the next symptom I will ask him/her to Google will be "extreme concern."

There are things our students should know about our discipline which will allow them to think about it creatively. Without that foundation, they will not be able to move any further in their thinking or be able to creatively put together ideas from other areas of interest.

It's one of our jobs to know what that foundation may be and help students understand it and how to build upon it. It's in the learning of that material that we get to be as creative and innovative as our ideas will allow.

So yes, there will be many times when I ask my students a question that they could possible Google and get the answer. It's the follow up question, the one that puts that idea or…

4 things we have to stop pretending in education

There are five listed here for my April Blog a Day post (#22) but the last one is too personal to be part of the main list.

#1 We know the future we are preparing students for
Yes, there are a lot of changes in education and technology recently but we can't today and never really have been able to. But, if we make students the best learners and people that they can be and give them a solid and varied foundation, they will have the tools and attitude to handle and create their own future, whatever it may be. I think that's always been the case.

#2 New teaching method __________ is the only/best way to go
Fill in the blank with any of the latest. This is a tricky one for me because by no means am I saying that it can't work. As a matter of fact, I may have tried it or may be doing that very thing. I definitely don't want to quell any enthusiasm or knock down a good idea without giving it a go. It's the words "only" or "best" that get me because ever…

Can a question be the answer?

Freshman quote of the day:

Me to class: Reminder - you are finishing To Kill a Mockingbird tonight.

Student: To the end?

It's interesting how some questions show puzzlement AND complete understanding at the same time.

To Kill a Mockingbird becomes To Kill a Mojo

We are currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird in my classes. This is the 24th consecutive year I have "taught" this novel and each year I hope to learn from previous years and improve on the experience for my students.

Today we were discussing the end of the trial and the inevitable verdict given the racism of the town. Even though Atticus didn't win the Tom Robinson case, Tom's family and friends show their appreciation for what he did by standing in respect when he exits the courtroom and leaving food on his back door step the next morning.

My focus of the novel has always been on Atticus and what my students can learn from his example. This part allows me to ask questions that leads students to examine the "If you're not first, you're last" mentality, why Atticus deserved their respect, and why they showed it the way they did.

The discussion in one of my classes went something like this:

"I bet the food was all full of ants."
"No w…

The biggest issue I've had with tech in the classroom is ...

... the curiosity and ease that led you to read this.
In our digital world, diversive curiosity is constantly stimulated by ever-present streams of texts, tweets, etc. that stimulate our hunger for novelty.  In the process, our capacity for the slow, difficult, and frustrating process of gathering knowledge may be deteriorating. - Ian Leslie in Curious
That process may include a class discussion and conversation, students going to a text to find a relevant passage, or even making a correction to their own work to solve a problem. That's not something I want to see deteriorating in my classroom.
Easy and constant distraction is the biggest negative factor in using technology in my classroom. I've heard the same from colleagues as well. It took one new faculty member less than one semester to go from a computer savvy technology-in-the-classroom enthusiast to a "near luddite." 
That's totally understandable.  Technology in the classroom, with its hidden screens and plet…

One small step to elevate the profession

What is one small step I am willing to do to elevate the profession?

Based on the number of readers I am getting, it's not these blogs posts! Replacing "small" with "minuscule" (is there a word that means something even smaller?) may be more appropriate in that case.

But that's not why I'm doing this I keep telling myself. Therefore, after almost three weeks of posts, I've realized that I am basically the guy walking down the street talking to himself (the one without the phone sticking out of his ear) and I am fine with that.

What I can do is share and collaborate with colleagues, both at DeMatha and those I am in contact with through social media. I've learned an incredible amount (this is where an adjective for a really, really large number would come in handy) from my colleagues through the years. But helping them requires getting to know them well enough so that I know what they are doing and how they are doing it. Otherwise it is too hit or…

Are effective lessons like stories and as easy as 124?

There may be much teachers can learn from storytelling to help us in the classroom.
"When the story contains a surprise, the preceding events will be remembered better than when it contains no surprise." - Hoeken and van Vliet Hoeken and van Vliet explain that this probably happens because the surprise forces the reader to reassess their representation of the story. In doing so, the reader is playing the events over again in their mind and going through the process which helps in remembering them better.

Daniel Willingham stressed the effectiveness of creating lessons that tell a story in Why Students Don't Like School because people tend to remember stories. It's certainly not easy to do this for every lesson but I've tried to think about it each time I've put something together.

In doing so, one thing that I tend to do is create lessons which have a surprise in the beginning to create a "hook" which I hope leads to curiosity and even engagement. B…

The only thing I may ever be an expert on is how much I don't know

As it turns out, that's been a very liberating realization.

After a few years of teaching I hit a comfort zone that put me in cruise control. Things were going well. Why change it up? Courses changed and content was altered so it always remained interesting but how much was I paying attention to my students at my educational 55 MPH pace?

In the past several years, I've read much, continued to discuss education with colleagues, and connected with many people outside my building through social media. The reading has added ideas while the social media has lead to a continuous conversation about ideas from those readings and the discussions themselves.

The net cast by social media has helped fill in a few gaps along the way. It has also created much wider gaps that have lead to the search for further reading and to reach out for further discussion.

The unexpected consequence of gathering knowledge from colleagues both in my building and beyond the walls has lead me to constantly a…

Square peg reply, round hole answer

The simple act of committing to an answer makes the students more engaged and more curious about the outcome. - Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick This makes so much sense and I've seen it play out in the classroom time and time again. It works well because students have a personal stake in the outcome of the discussion. Students ARE more engaged but the problem I've found is that many of them only channel their input and thoughts in the one direction of the answer they had put down. 
"Square peg, round hole" becomes my mantra.  "It didn't work on the little table when you were two, even with the little plastic hammer. And it doesn't work now." Student response: "It worked when I used a real hammer." Me (in my best Moe voice): "Why I outta."
How do I get them to be more open minded during these admittedly more engaging discussions?
Will they consider other answers if theirs is not worth any points anyway?  If it's not worth…

Passion Project(s)

Often when I am making dinner (and probably participating in #engchat or #edchat or writing an AprilBlogaDay post at the same time), there are several pots/pans going at once and the preparation may even include outside trips to the grill. Usually I can pull it off with hardly a scathed tater tot but the timing of each item's completion isn't always perfect. I get the same busy feeling about my many "passion projects" that I am working on at any given time. 
Here are just a few that I have been mulling over recently:
Creating a "template" for getting some course lessons online for students. The trick has been to find a platform, put together the content (media and text), and include enough interactivity to help learning happen. Create a study app to help students with focused practice on the base content they need to learn to be successful. I'm not a firm believer in the "If they can Google it, they don't need to learn it" movement. There a…

Why I teach - Part 1

When I tell people that I teach, the conversation sometimes gets around to the concerned question about how I handle teaching the same thing year after year. Like daily routines and life (or probably more so), I tell them that every day, even every class, is different. With 20+ personalities having 20+ different types of days in each class, it's a guarantee.

For instance, my students have read To Kill a Mockingbird each of the 24 years I've been teaching. I learned a while ago that I have not seen or heard it all.

For instance, here is what would qualify as yesterday's Student Quiz Answer of the Day:

The question: According to Miss Maudie, why is it a sin to kill a mockingbird?

The "real" answer: Because they don't do any harm to anyone. They only do good by providing beautiful music for us to listen to.

Student's answer: Because all they're doing is dropping next level beats for us.

Points awarded and a fresh perspective on a classic text.

This entry is su…

The streak is over!

Although I'd gotten one #AprilBlogaDay post in just under the wire, I had not missed a one-a-day deadline.

Until now (yesterday, really).

Neither the missed deadline nor the 11-day streak leading up to it is really THAT significant. It's only 11 days and it's completely voluntary. That's what I keep telling myself anyway. But it still bothers me a little and that's what is significant.

Significant in that it shows that I have started to make the process part of a daily routine, maybe soon to be a habit. It's what I started this for in the first place. It's the good kind of bothered that leads to keeping on a task even when there is a bump in the road.

Minds Online covers much more than Teaching Effectively with Technology

There are a couple of books I recently finished and had planned to write about by using quotes as prompts for short blog posts. AprilBlogaDay has given me the opportunity and motivation to do so and I did include a few quotes in some earlier posts. Today's prompt gives me chance to write about one of those in general and gives me fodder for another post later this month if I hit a writing roadblock. I may also be bending the prompt to suit my purposes (What's new?) because it centers on what I am reading now so I'll mention that I am currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my class. It did write about Atticus Finch in an earlier post and tried to connect it in some way to technology in the classroom. 
It was the subtitle, Teaching Effectively with Technology of Minds Online by Michelle Miller that intrigued me enough to order the book. I have created a couple of online “courses” for students but they are way more like digital file cabinets than online classrooms for …

There's still time

One thing I did not try this school year that I want to.

The question/prompt for this installment of #AprilBlogaDay implies that it is still a possibility even though the school year is almost over. Therefore, that eliminates a looong list of items that are written on scraps of paper in various places. Thankfully, that removes plenty of guilt and angst for me.

What remains are a couple of possibilities …

... a short structured daily writing exercise, based on the current reading, that leads to the completion of an essay without the students staying up late the previous night typing frantically until the minimum page number is met. It might even make some sense.

… have the students do more of the in class out loud reading.

… create more opportunities for voice for those students who don’t raise their hands every day.

With just over six weeks remaining, I’ve got a shot at these.

A few things I would tell my beginning teacher-self

We are in the process of cleaning out our basement, which has been accumulating “treasures” for almost twenty-five years. Trying to recall what I was thinking by saving some of that stuff is about as easy as trying to figure out what I was thinking as a new teacher back at the same time.

The basement has taken months, many trips up and down the stairs, and is still ongoing. After spending much less time but maybe with similar success in searching for “treasures,” here are a few things I would tell my beginning teacher-self:
Take good notes. Anytime you can - during class, immediately after class, or even set aside some time at the end of each day to reflect on what worked and what didn’t.Organize those notes! Make sure you do them in some way that you can easily refer to them when you need to. Take the notes out for each unit at least a week before you begin to give the new ideas time to be incorporated. When you do get a good system. please share it with me because I am still looking …

How should we foster question asking instead of answer getting?

What fosters any type of questioning? Curiosity.
What is the answer? Who actually knows the answer? What is the question? What’s for dinner? What's tomorrow's #AprilBlogaDay topic? What’s the silver bullet in education? Why do we have to learn this?
Curiosity is a response to an information gap: between what we know and what we want to know. - Ian Leslie in Curious
So much of a teacher’s time is spent trying to get students to care about the material. We do that by trying to make it relevant, interesting, entertaining, or important. Our enthusiasm doesn’t always work and it’s frustrating.
If I want my students to ask questions, I need to peak their curiosity about the material. Like a good movie trailer, it gives enough to get them interested but leaves key gaps.
One thing I can do more for my students is to get them to ask questions of themselves - from questions about their own learning and efforts to why a character in a novel would do such a thing.
The way to do that may not b…

Insight and autonomy work very well together

During my first few years of teaching, several of my colleagues (most notably Pat Smith, Mike Hibbs, and Dan McMahon) were extremely instrumental in helping me over daily bumps in the road. They shared syllabi, notes, and advice that came from years of experience.

A common exchange that would happen in the hall between classes, more than daily, would start with me asking one of them, “What do you do with ____________?” I had read something they had suggested I use in class but was certain I didn't have enough to keep things going for an entire class period.

In just a couple of minutes, whoever I was asking would mention several key moments and what was so significant about them. The word significant was never stated but came to be understood as it relates to what may be important or interesting or surprising to teenage boys. They had the experience and practice and had seen it work.

What worked so well for me was that they were basically breaking down each lesson to its core and the…

Practices to end in education

There are two practices I’d like to see “die” in education and both are simply a matter of wording.

The first: When people put down the "S" in SAMR. All letters in SAMR are important. Too often, I’ve seen statements putting down someone’s use of technology “only” as a substitution.

It has to start somewhere for each teacher. Sometimes, that’s the first step and other times it leads on to much more. That first step builds confidence and starts setting the stage for further advances.

The second: Less use of “THE” and more use of “A.” Each new idea is touted as THE one. Everything else is pretty much useless and has been done since the 1900’s.

Each new idea is A new one in the toolbox of many. Learn it. Understand it. Try to use it if it works for you and your students. Add it to your arsenal but don’t forget the foundation it is built upon.

Birdman, Garcia Marquez, and Hype

One of my all-time favorite stories from one of my favorite authors is "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Here is a link to the text online). It seems appropriate to remember this story on the first Easter since Marquez's death last year and even more so after all the acclaim and attention that the movie "Birdman" has received. That movie appeared to be inspired by Marquez's work.

It's a story in which an old man with wings appears and creates an unintentional stir which generates income, doubters, and proponents. Finally, authorities become involved, both spiritual and otherwise, and it becomes almost impossible to live up to the hype.

While I had no intention to connect this to anything else, I will anyway.

Whatever it is, can the latest new education idea (or 21st century packaging of an old one) survive the ebb and flow that usually comes with it?

Even if it doesn’t, just like the Marquez story, it will probably still leav…

Surf's up and it's time to Hang Ten/Tech

After reading Seth Godin’s recent blog post about the difficulties of surfing I couldn’t help but notice a connection to that and incorporating tech in the classroom.

The hard part is learning the technology and risking the waves on the way out for something you're not sure how to do, what kid of balance you'll need, and if the conditions will lead to anything happening.

It’s difficult and intimidating to get out beyond the breaks. The waves look much bigger when you are out in the surf with a board than they do standing safely on the shore.

Once you get beyond that point you’ve really only put yourself in a position to surf and several possible scenarios could take place.

The attempt, like the surf, may fall flat and just not work out. In these cases (which are few) I have found that students are very forgiving and appreciate the effort. This is also true if the tech fails. It happens ("SHARK!") but not as often as feared and students are just as disappointed and don&#…

How a distrust in technology can lead to better writing/editing

Me talking to microphone on tablet: "You start with baby steps." Speech-to-text result: "You big fat idiot."
It is much more common for me to use speech to text dictation recently because it is so easy to do on my phone and tablet. It's usually for one sentence notes or to do list items and not longer writings such as this because it's not what I'm used to. Although, I am using it for this writing and find it, honestly, a somewhat awkward process.
But I'm an old dog and that doesn't mean my students aren't going to take advantage of it. In their doing so I have seen one advantage to the process. They seem to have a mistrust in the voice recognition working perfectly and have more confidence in their typing skills. 
The result? They go back and read over their "writing" a little more carefully, making sure it transcribed everything correctly.
Not a bad thing at all, especially if the alternative is the awkwardness of the situation where …

Is Education a Puzzle or a Mystery?

"A puzzle is something that commands our curiosity until we have solved it. A mystery, by contrast, never stops inviting inquiry." - Ian Leslie, Curious
There is a solid sense of satisfaction in placing the last piece of a puzzle (I may argue that the second to last piece provides a little more because it is the last one that involves some semblance of challenge).

Rarely does that sense of completeness happen in teaching.

An approach to all aspects of teaching as a puzzle is bound to lead to frustration. Although it is possible that it may work for areas like seat assignments, syllabi, and even some content.

But ("Biggest little word in the English language." - Buck Offutt) there are many aspects of the day to day and even class to class interactions in teaching that will always be a mystery.

Accepting the invitation for inquiry into that mystery is what good teachers continually and
willingly do.

"FREE BEER" is Part of My Problem

You are most likely reading this because of a curiosity created by a tweet and that's what good headlines do.

The problem for me with Twitter is that I may see hundreds of these headlines a day. Some, but not all, are irresistible and that can lead my curiosity down many, many very short paths.

It's like browsing the magazine rack at a fine book store - it's an almost unavoidable lure but probably doesn't lead to the most productive visit.

Ian Leslie in his excellent book Curious distinguishes between two types of curiosity.

One he describes as follows: "Deeper, more disciplined, and effortful type of curiosity is called epistemic curiosity. It is hard work; it involves sustained cognitive effort."

The second, he explains, leads to a more negative outcome: "In our digital world, diversive curiosity is constantly stimulated by ever-present streams of texts, emails, tweets, etc. that stimulate our hunger for novelty.  In the process, our capacity for the sl…