My First 10 Weeks into Edublogs

In my new course Media Maker, using a Pro account, students have each established their own blogs, blog on a weekly basis. These blogs are a combination of responses to class tasks and writing of their own choice. For example, in the last module we completed, students worked on information bases writing projects: they created articles styled after wikipedia entries and Buzzfeed style listicles. So, weekly blogs included reflections on research, summarizing sources and linking reading to the projects they were working to create. Additionally, optional assignment are given to the students where they write product reviews, create photo essays, or conduct and document interviews. All of this writing is put onto the student’s blog.

I’d like to take some time to discuss some of the habits I’ve developed as teacher to manage the use of Edublogs and evaluate some of the strengths and weaknesses I see in Edublogs as a teacher.

Before getting into that, I’ll take a minute to outline my decision to use Edublogs as the primary platform for this class. First, I was looking for something secure and that I had control over as a teacher. Edublogs provides the security to create logins and passwords for those seeking to access these blogs. Thus, it’s easy for parents and peers to be given access, but there’s a layer of difficulty for anyone else. Second, as a teacher with students linked to my class, and the Pro accounts, I have backstage access for control of what students are working on. Here are some examples of where I’ve had to put a degree of influence and control over student work:

  1. Connotation. One student overlooked the directions around blog names provided at the outset, and used the title “How to Make Life Lit.” Because of the connotations around “lit” for students these days, I was able to edit the title, and then send a note to the student on Schoology about my rationale.
  2. Awareness of audience. This second example really brings together a range of blogs and posts from students around the inability of many students to shift language to appropriate contexts. Thus, many students struggle to edit, proofread and shift language so that it’s appropriate to being read by a wide range of audiences on the web. It’s typical for students to write with a lack of using capital letters, to forget apostrophes, to use the lowercase for the first person pronoun.  In some cases, this lack of awareness and ability to apply the rules is so bad, I can just go into the student blog and pull the post. In the best cases, I’ve been able to sit with the student and edit work together to remind and reinforce the rules.
  3. Acceptable and Fair Use. Students are encourage, and really required to use their blogs as a platform for web-based writing. Thus the use of hyperlinks, images, and curated content from the web becomes part of the texts that they must create. However, students often nab photos or other images, but then fail to adequately cite these images. Again, I’m able to get onto a student dashboard, and change the status of posts and pages to draft status until these issues are resolved.

Over the past year, I spent time looking at a variety of other blogging platforms: Medium, Blogger, WordPress. At one point, I considered giving students a choice of platforms, but ultimately decided against such a move. Edublogs gives me something central. And, as I said above, Edublogs provided security that many other platforms cannot give. As part of this, our school internet filters block out WordPress and other blogging sites, often because these platforms contain pornographic content. Because my school has become an Enterprise level Schoology user, I did look at the simplified blog tool that it provides. But, it is highly simplified. For a course where students are blogging as a part of the curriculum, students should have more power and have to grapple with the rich tools that are provided by Edublogs. Still, those looking for an entry platform into student blogging, and who are also using Schoology, would be rewarded by looking into this feature.

Like its parent WordPress, Edublogs has a great deal of control for its users, perhaps too much. And, while I don’t know all nuances, there’s enough that’s super easy to use for teachers and students.

To manage all of this, I’ve developed a few habits. On average, students make a post once a week. It’s easy enough when a post is due, to start to work through the list of students, read their blogs and leave feedback. Blogs are assessed and graded, and I’m able to spot check for student comments, and be on alert for any issues that I discussed above. Students are required to double-post their writing. They post to Edublogs so that their work can be read, but they also post the same assignment to Schoology so that I can mark, edit and comment. This cumbersome for both me and the students.

Edublogs is primarily a blogging tool that has some features that make it useful for a teacher. It’s not a teaching tool and learning management systems that provides high-end blogging features. Trying to manage the blogs for thirty some students is cumbersome and tedious. There’s not a great way to see student blogs. Edublogs could improve its delivery by creating a way to manage individual sections, and within those sections create alphabetical ordering of students. Even better–provide a way to grade those blogs with rubrics and feedback tool that allowed discussion between teacher and student. It would be super nice if there was a level of connectivity between an LMS like Schoology and Edublogs, but what that would look like, I really couldn’t say. At Canandaigua, many in our English department like the way that Schoology and Turnitin connect. Anything to enhance the one-stop-shopping experience.

I’m not going to write about the benefits of blogging with students. There’s a ton of material, resources, groups and others who have written on this topic. One cool thing that’s happen, and actually happened almost immediately when we turned on the blogs was the power it gave to students in the room. Right away, a bunch of my students–mostly gamers–started blogging about games that they were playing, writing reviews of these games, and posting follow-up comments on each other’s blogs. They continue, even now, 10 weeks into the course, to go beyond regular assignments (sometimes in place of them) to keep up these habits. This spoke to me about the power of student blogging to give students a voice and entryway into the discourse communities they want to be part of engaging in conversations with.

Still, there are some places I still need to explore. I realize that in describing the issues that I’ve been working with in this classroom over the past ten weeks, I’ve also stumbled across several issues of the politics of the classroom: Should a teacher be able to exercise control over student blogs and remove content from what they’ve created? What is the value of students creating texts in which they are essentially curating content of the web.

NYSCATE 2016–What I’ll Be Up to…

Going into NYSCATE for the third time, I’m complete primed for an in-depth learning experience where I learn far more than I can ever use. In my first two years, I left my opening sessions with more technology to explore than I knew what to do with.

As much as this is about the technology, I don’t want to lose sight of what it’s really: building that PLN, and finding ways to make what I do with students better. I hopefully with  walk away with more stuff for PBL, collaboration, modification and redefinition in SAMR.

So, I’m super-charging my devices, making sure my mobile hot-spot can get me past some funky, convention center WiFi, and ready to use this time effectively. Here’s some of the sessions I hope to hit.

Sunday:

I’m registered for the hands-on session on Top Tech.

12:30 Sessions:

Blending, Flipping, Mixing

Digcit Certification

Formative Assessment

Participatory Learning

Collaboration Across Districts

Students Videos & Animation

1:00 Google Expedition Open House

1:45 Sessions:

Symbaloo

Guiding Students on Inquiry

3:00 Sessions:

Access to Text

Creativity & Design Thinking

Game-based Learning

Monday

8:00 Sessions:

Breakout Edu

Flip Blended Inquiry with Google Forms

Interactive Inquiries

Paper Extinction and the rise of E-Portfolios

10:45

App Smack Down

Google Classroom Worksheets

3:45

Editing Video on a Chromebook

Blogging 101

Tuesday

8:00

Google Apps Tips & Tricks

App Smackdown

Classroom Makerspace

Additional Features of Drive and Docs

Multi-course classroom

10:30

Breakout Edu

Tools for the Modern Classroom

11:00

Genius Hour PBL

Google Sites with 2 Bald Dudes

 

Building Innovative Schools

For innovation to exist, according to George Courous, the development has to be new and better.  The innovator’s mindset is that we can develop the thinking that creates new and better ideas.  

Since watching the IMMOOC Week Two podcast, I’ve been thinking about the importance of defining what “better” means. In my class, I would feel like I was being innovative if I could increase the number of students engaging in the items from the list below.

One of the things that I wanted was for “better” to be measurable. Here are some aspects that I would like to be able to document, measure and then start to work towards:

  • The amount of time students spend on task.
  • The number of students asking questions as well as changing the the kinds of questions they ask.
  • More students creating texts based more on their choice.
  • More students creating multimodal texts based on their choice.
  • More students moving into greater depth of knowledge experiences.

Last week, I suggested that we can’t innovate if we are measuring with rubrics; however, it’s important to also know if what we’re doing is actually working. In essence, it’s developing some data to observe.  

However, there’s some other aspects to what I’d like to see as “better,” but I don’t think that we can find a way to measure it. For example, if I was working on the above, I’d like to see the students feeling happier and more excited. And, I’d also like to see that the students can transfer more. If they could take the skills and developing intelligence and apply it in other contexts.

Review of the Questions and Embodying the Mindset

It seemed to me in the reading of this chapter, that the questions place teachers directly into having an innovative mindset because we have to be empathetic and reflective to find answers. Moreover, for us to really answer these questions we have to step outside of ourselves as teachers, and critically look at what we’re doing, and be ready to change.

Mainly, those questions ask us question our practice through the eyes of those we teach.

One of my favorite questions, however, comes from the end of Chapter 2 and is in the questions for discussion: If you were to start a school from scratch, what would it look like?

Over the past ten days, I’ve thought about this. Our schools aren’t really laid out for innovation. In my school, most of the hallways are an off-white, industrial color that make everything look the same (it’s actually changing as we have students who are painting murals on the walls). Our classrooms have an industrial feel. Rows of desks and chairs. A teacher’s desk, more often than not located somewhere front-and-center. The floors are pretty much the same color as the walls and are a hard linoleum. There’s obligatory Smartboard and projector. These layouts invite a teacher-centric, delivery, knowledge transfer model approach to lessons. Even when the teacher breaks the row and builds a circle of desks, the teacher is still very much at the center. I’m guessing that most classrooms around in the country, in public schools, look like this.

In our department, with the knowledge that Chromebooks are coming to be part of a 1-to-1 program, we’ve started to talk about removing the furniture and getting new stuff–modular seating, cafe tables and chairs, places to work individually. We’re going to try to create some classrooms that allow for collaboration, comfortable work spaces, small-group meetings. Many of us with a new classroom set up and full-time access to technology hope to create classes that invite learning models that have students creating their own knowledge, making decisions about how to display their learning, and working with others to do so.

However, as I write this, I’m looking back to my copy of the Innovator’s Mindset, and see that question, “Would I want to be a student in my own classroom?” And, I’m realizing that we’ve forgotten to bring in any students to the discussion to get their perspective and ideas. How would I build a school from scratch, well, I have a lot of ideas, but they’re mine.

What if the question we asked was, “If students were going to build a school from scratch, both its physical structure and curricular requirements, what would it look like?” What would kids want in a school? What could we build that would make them want to come?

Furthermore, if I were to construct the curriculum of an innovative school, I would want students to be at the center of the planning. I would like them to think about what the school day would look like, what the content of courses would be, what the outcomes of the school would be, who the teachers were and how they would teach.

One way that we can be innovative in our teaching is to let students make decisions influence the direction of our schools and classrooms.

Take Web Reading to the Next Level with Docentedu

Here’s the scenario, I’m at home reading my favorite Sunday morning newspaper on my Chromebook, and I come across an article that fits perfectly with the unit we’re currently studying. Pretty exciting, right, to find a current event that connects with the novel we’re talking about? Then, I start to consider the workflow. I’ve got to get a hard copy of this, and then I’ll need to make sure that I get into work early to make the copies I need. Hope no one jams the machine before I can get at it. Oh, and I’ll also need to write some questions and get those typed up and make copies of those for everyone.

Too much work!

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But, there’s a solution.

I want to make a plug for a great tool that’s helped integrate technology with my reading instruction. For about a year now, I’ve been using a Chrome extension called Docentedu. (Full discloser, I am an Docentedu ambassador, but not just because I get to put the badge on the bottom of my blog, but because I sincerely love this product.)

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This tool allows me to embed questions into any web-based text. Below, you can see a screenshot of what this looks like both before and after the Docentedu extension is enabled.

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Once students are logged into Chrome, logged into Docentedu and installed the extension, they can easily access the class you’ve created, see the docents, and then get to work reading, and answering questions. It’s great that you can set open-ended questions as well as multiple choice. Like working in Google Docs, Docentedu automatically saves the answers to the questions for the students and aggregates responses for you to mark.

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When the reading and questions have been completed, it’s easy to go into your teacher account and mark in a variety of ways. You can mark responses by student or by question. Because you set the answer to the multiple choice questions, those responses are automatically marked for you.

After the questions are marked, it’s possible to download a CSV file of student scores. I love this feature as it allows me to see a class average and to see how students did with the reading.

Because you can add your own notes to the webpage as well as embed videos from Youtube, using Docentedu creates a one-stop shopping for students. Recently, my IB English 11 students read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and I used Docentedu as the tool for this reading. I found a decent copy of the essay on-line, then embedded the pre-reading activities at the top of the webpage–these included a Youtube video by another English teacher doing a background lecture to Swift and some notes of my own to help establish the socio-cultural context of the essay. I was also able to share this with a member of my department who specialized in Irish literature. He was able to help me craft my questions and add something to the background that helped students with this challenging piece of writing.

I did something similar in my “Media Maker” class with Tony Hawk’s “This I Believe” essay. I was able to embedded videos of him skating, as well as pre-reading questions for the students to hook them and activate personal and prior knowledge.

With the wealthy of great readings in the public domain, and our school going to a 1-to-1 technology integration with Chromebooks, this tool will be essential. Also, I think we’ve moved passed the age where there wasn’t always great content to read on the web and with major media outlets. Certainly, in this day and age, there’s so much great writing and content on the web. In “Media Maker” we’re only looking at web-based texts and writing and creation intended to be read online. When I am reading in print, and find something I might like to read with my students, I jump on the web, find the text and save it in my Docentedu account. 

Similarly, because we’re an enterprise level Schoology school, I can create pages in my class, and use Docentedu on these pages. It’s a great way to leverage the power of two different tools in one package. Also, we use a number of databases through our library for student research, Docentedu has worked great for getting students to interact with the articles there. I’ve done this with model essays that I want my students to grade. 

The one-stop shopping is important to me, because I find that students get confused when they have to go multiple locations on the web as part of an assignment. I would prefer to create a hyperdoc that keep students on one page and interact with all of the content that I put there.

To be honest, I haven’t worked with the annotation tool or the discussion feature. It’s a goal of mine this semester to work with those features. However, for the uninitiated, that those features are there is enough.

Last year, working for the first time with docent, some struggles and learning curves. It’s important to do the first couple of docents with students. Don’t simply assign them. My students have no idea what extensions are and were completely lost. I needed to take them through he process. Also, our network at school has this issue where the extensions, once installed, break when moving from computer to computer. Kids need to know how to install and uninstall connections. And, kids need to work in Chrome. That’s a habit that I have to beat into them as we move forward. Won’t be such a problem when were all working on Chromebooks in the near future.

Skip the Sunday night dread and panic of what you’ll be doing in class on Monday, and check out Docentedu today.

Is There a Rubric for that?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when we’re talking about educational philosophy. We’re charged with the daunting task of educating students in heady stuff: character education, Common Core standards, digital citizenship, critical thinking.

We’re challenging ourselves to be innovative as well.

On top of it, the educational system isn’t really designed to be innovative, to encourage or reward innovation from its students and its teachers, or to allow for it in the hallways of public schools. What’s a teacher to do?

The purposes of education, originally were utilitarian–keep kids off the streets and out of the factories and mines. If we can’t put them to work at such a young age, and they’ll resort to savagery on the streets left to their own devices, we should put them into schools where they’ll spend some time learning things that we need them to learn to be functioning member of society: to read a little, some numbers, perhaps the start of the trade. And, because your family was probably in the factory or mines, then you had to learn things that couldn’t be taught at home: some basic work in carpentry or machinery, some basic homemaker skills.

Today, while we don’t look at it in the same terms, the ends of the educational system, in its traditional forms are much the same. We still use schools as a physical space to care for children while their parents cannot because of work. We believe there is a certain amount of material that they need to be competent in to be functioning members of society.

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However, everyone recognizes that the system isn’t working. And, the debate is why? Some will blame teachers. Some will say we need to have more rigorous standards. Some will say we need to change the entire system by placing more authority and power into the hands of those that the system is designed to serve: children.

It’s this last perspective that I’ve become the most intrigued with and that I think has the most accurate reasons why our kids are undermotivated, our schools underperforming, and our teachers feeling burned out and disgruntled and underappreciated.

Our purposes in education should be to connect students to their capacity to learn, to create a citizenry of empathetic, driven learners who want to design

I’m not saying anything new here. I’m synthesizing the reading of blogs and books and discussions and TED Talks. People who pay attention to educational conversations will recognize the threads.

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So, how am I trying to innovate?

I make no claims as to the authenticity of my innovations. First, I wondered, is there a rubric for innovation? Can I quantify my moves towards it? Then, I figured, if there’s a rubric for it, it’s not really innovation? Second, do I just pay good lip service towards innovation, and am I really doing it.

However, here are something that I think that I’ve done in the past several weeks to shift things back to students and to put them into the position as learners.

 

  1. I’m no longer reading directions to students. Instead, I’m pointing or repointing kids to resources where they can find the information. I’m giving space to time to read and process directions.
  2. I’m no longer answering any questions where I’ve written the answer on a handout, hyperdocument or place where students can find it in resource.
  3. I’ve stopped answering questions that can be found through a Google search, or can be found in the Help Menu of a web-based resource. For example, here’s a conversation I had early last week:

Student: “How do you change the margins?”

Me: “Why don’t you look in the help menu?”

Students: “What’s that?”

Me: “Here, I’ll show you how to access it”

  1. I’ve stopped answer questions that other students in the class know the answer to. For example, in my Media Maker class, I’m having the students learn about QR codes as a way of sharing their blogs. I shared some resources and let them go at it. But about ten minutes into class the following discussion occurred:

“Mr. Pedzich, can you show me how to do these QR codes?”

I turned to the class, and said, “Who’s got the QR codes down?” Several hands went up, and I said, “Ok! Go see them.”  

  1. I’m recording direct instruction as screencasts (as fast as I can. I’m not always able to keep up with the technology integration as fast as I need to). When there are readings, I’m giving them time to read, to use Docentedu as a way to do close reading and answer text-based questions, and then focusing lessons on application.  

 

As I think about some of these small moves, part of me is motivated and dedicated to continue. And, part of me is sad. Should it be innovative that we give kids time to work towards and to explore their own interests and passions? Should it be innovative that teachers blog and share their experiences and build connections? Should it be innovative that we have students share their thinking, their writing in the classroom and that classrooms are breeding grounds of self-expression?

Beyond this, I’m thinking big too. In a later unit in my English 101 class, we do informational writing. I want my students to create blogs that will inform people about issues important to them, to use social media to promote those blogs, to create connections between their blogs to develop their own PLNs, to create media that can go on those blogs to help further the information sharing. I want them to be assessed not only on the quality of their writing, but also the reach of their connections and sharing, and the depth of what they’re learning about the issues.

Also, a couple of department members and I are in discussion about new furniture. We’d like to throw out the rows of desks and chairs. Fill spaces with modular furniture, cafe style seating.

In the IMMOOC, we’re all inspired to action by what Couros and Burgess are having us do, but wouldn’t it be great if we had a culture of learning where such radical notions weren’t radical but part of the common vernacular and practice?

 

What We Did? First Full Week

Here’s some of the cool stuff we did in the first full week.

One of my favorite lessons of the year comes when I introduce the writing process to my English 101 students by creating with Playdoh. Here are some pics from the pencil holders they create with the stuff.

I first came across this lesson almost 20 years ago, and I did it for a while. When I started teaching freshman composition to high school upper classmen, I knew that I had to bring it back. In a over-tested culture where students learn to write for examinations, I knew I needed a way to have students engage in the steps to the writing process, and pull in diverse learners while doing it. This is a lesson that works.

Taking a quick tangent here, I have a tentative plan to do a 1/2 day design thinking workshop for all of my students in the fall to teach them the design thinking process over the course of the afternoon and then to build aspects of the process into the course content.

In Media Maker, students have begun to create their blogs and are starting to write about topics that they’ll be following in the first five weeks of the semester. A few students have already started to write beyond the requirements of the class and are starting review of favorite games and systems. Using help from Eric Bateman, the librarian, we took pictures of students and are getting ready to use the pictures to create a school wide bulletin board of our work, and QR codes to link pictures with the work were doing. Tomorrow, we’re learning some photoshop basics to get those pictures ready for publication.

As I’ve written about in the past, IB is going to be focused on satire in the first five weeks. I’ve flipped a satire lesson–around the techniques of satire. This was paired with Margaret Atwood’s short story “Rape Fantasies,” and were starting their own blogs to share developing thinking on the Atwood’s novel A Handmaid’s Tale.

Given that it was the first full week of school, the Friday after a late night at Open House, I was dreading the last two periods of the day. However, with the IB students having blogged before class, and having read each other’s blogs, students came fired-up for discussion.

Moving to online writing with two class, and approximately 30 students, I’ve been challenged to see how to follow student work. Certainly Edublogs is a great platform to use to have students publish writing and media to the web, but it is also a cumbersome tool for use as a teacher in attempting to follow, moderate, comment, and look at what students are producing. When we were analog, it was picking up a notebook and turning to the right page. Now we have to find the content, follow links. I’d love suggestions from fellow educators on work flow management when students are blogging.

 

 

Schoology: The First Two Weeks

I was inspired to write this post after reading Rich Colosi’s blog article, “Six Tips for Starting Your Schoology Course.” For those who are new to using a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Schoology, you’ll find his tips on getting your classes set up and running helpful. Also, people should read Dylan Rodger’s blog, which offers solid ways that units can be organized. You may find it helpful to read these article before continuing into this post.

This is at least my third year starting with an LMS; however, it’s a first for me to be a paid subscriber and to have the full Enterprise version of Schoology with the capability to be used by all students and teachers at Canandaigua Academy. While the set up of my classes wasn’t impacted by this, the results long-term impacts of this integration building wide are, for me,

I’ve found that setting up my classes in Schoology isn’t a whole lot different from the moves that I make when setting up a regular classroom. It takes some planning foresight, logical organization, and a committment to creating working long-term program.

Here are some things that I do:

  1. Build it and they will come. It’s important that when bringing students to an LMS, there has to be content there for them to work with, and there’s purpose for why students are there. Make sure you have either a calendar populated, folders with course content in them, even if it’s as repository system, an assignment to turn in, a quiz to take, a discussion to contribute to.

Without it, where’s the rationale for using the tool. So, it means that the teacher needs to have  some reasons to use Schoology. What I recommend is to pick one way that you can use it, do it, and then add other purposes as the year goes on.

2. Like what Colossi suggests, organize by folders and create a numbering system. Can’t agree more. However, content is organized, work to give students a guide. When I go into Schoology the first time with my students, we open the folder for the first unit, I direct them to the first page in the folder. It’s a unit plan or outline to follow, and each item in the unit is given a task, goal or quest number. See below:

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Each of these items is then linked to the assignment, video, link that they need to accomplish. What I’ve found is that students can independently move through the tasks, I can assist where necessary, as well as give target dates on where they should be in the module, and spend class time in conferences with students. An ordering system like this also makes it easy for kids who weren’t in class to figure out what they need to accomplish.

While I don’t share it here with students, simply to try to keep it streamlined, I have each of these tasks linked to a Common Core standard.

3. No substitutions. One of my fears when starting to use a LMS was that students would have problems with the technology or wouldn’t be able to find materials, or that they just wouldn’t work. When students came to me and said, ” I couldn’t find this,” or “It didn’t work,” I was pretty accommodating and took things in paper, made extra paper copies, and allowed excuses.

As I’ve grown more comfortable, I’ve stopped that enabling. Once it’s made clear that this is the mode by which business will be conducted, these problems disappear. Teachers shouldn’t have to apologize for their planning, how they give resources, or the integration of technology into the classroom. Additionally, at all levels we need to stop rationalizing, privileging and normalizing the idea that “Computers don’t like me.”

4. Model. With the above in mind, I realized that anything I wanted to do in Schoology, I had to teach and model. Once I showed them how to submit an assignment, I knew they could do it, and then there were no excuses. We do this with other things, so why not with this? Link students with the Schoology help menu, which is rich in resources for how to do things. Teaching students to use help menus is a valuable skill in terms of self-reliance in a 21st century world.

5. Reward. In trying to gamify the first module in one of my courses, I reward students with 24 hour extensions for completing groups of tasks, which I call levels. This has been an inexpensive means to reinforce routines, procedures and tools that we’ll be using. Kids want the small tokens I give them and the badges I developed. Schoology let me monitor and keep this system organized.

My strategy in working with cool new tools and strategies has always been to jump in and see what happens. After the class ends, assess the fall-out and then make it better. If you take this approach, and you’re jumping into Schoology, just keep going, building, and making it better for you and your students.

For those who move with more caution, then, consider the above, and then just start, go slow, figure out how it will work for you.

Either way, keep going and making the classroom better for you and your students.

 

On Joining the #IMMOOC

A scene from Friday morning:

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We were all riding a little high at the end of a hot first week of school. Kids were glad to be back. My plans were rolling out pretty smoothly: I had gotten two classes started on creating blogs, one class had started on a gamified, self-paced learning module.

I was in my classroom at the beginning of the day, greeting kids as they filed in, and I pulled out my phone, dropped it into my selfie-stick, and started snapping some picks of my class. That’s when I heard the kids:

“Is that a selfie-stick?”

“Does he have a self-stick?”

“Is he periscoping?” I was.

The students were flabbergasted that I would do such a thing. That I would take pictures of our community. That I would have a selfie-stick. That I would use technology to share the vibrant spirit of the first week.

And, while I was just trying to have some fun and to capture a little of the good feeling of the first week at Canandaigua Academy, and perhaps be slightly innovative, now that I think about it, I wonder. Should any of those thing be so shocking to students that they’d see them as novel?

Anyways, the bell rang, and we got busy with the classroom business.

Then, I got a retweet. Dave Burgess and George Couros were putting together a MOOC on Couros’ The Innovator’s Mindset. A book that inspired me this summer and fueled much of the philosophies I’m working to advance my practice. I read it as I was thinking about writing an end of the first week of school blog post, and something to dovetail with my last post: Innovation for Innovation’s Sake.

I’m excited to join the #IMMOOC. I’m hoping it will build my PLN, continue to develop my ideas around innovation, keep me honest about innovating and making and blogging as we move through the next couple of months. What a gift at the end of the first week of school.

Innovation for Innovation’s Sake

It was a great summer for writing, blogging, remaking course materials, getting ready to adopt new paradigms. I felt like I couldn’t fully let go of summer without acknowledging that, and trying to put a cap on it with a final blog post. I felt like maybe I needed to put down some goals, but then, I’m realizing that I really hate sharing goals publically. More on this below.

I left the school year, like many teachers, ready for a break. But there was something more to it than that. I had been feeling a bored, unchallenged, and not really sure what I wanted to do professionally. I’m sitting on the doorstep of twenty years of teaching, and I was asking myself questions like, What should I do for the second half of my career? Is it time to go back to school? Time to consider pursuing administrative certification? Do I need to go teach Middle School for a while? What am I really doing here? How can I keep going, perhaps for 10 or 15 more years?

And, I asked many of these questions with a great deal of trepidation. I was asking what I needed to change about myself. Change, evolution and personal growth all get good lip service particularly in the educational world. People say, What are your goals this year? How are you going to grow? Yet, we don’t have any systems in place to really enact this. I imagine that like myself, many of you keep files of old lessons, unit plans, binders of course materials. Many teachers started their years by opening files to access that first unit of the school year. Deep inside, there’s that caution: Why change what isn’t broken? Why change for the sake of change? Or, if you’re going to change something you better have a good reason!

Some of these fears, questions and doubts were reflected in Starr Sackstein’s blog for Education Weekly, “Twitter Chats Can Build Collaboration for Systemic Change.” In her blog, she draws on results of mid-career educators and their fears and doubts about their career. Please go read it here.

There are even more deeply embedded aspects of our culture and institutions that prevent change. Last week during a curriculum writing session, I suggested several ideas about changing the school day, teacher assignments, and compensation of teacher time. At each one, I heard, “The union won’t like that.”

So, inside, while I wanted to find a new direction, I was fearing change.

Even as I asked myself these questions, I still felt like I had a lot I wanted to accomplish. I knew there was more I could do for others and for myself as a person.

Still, all of this was a bit vague and shadowy. So, I was having a Dante, beginning of the Divine Comedy kind of moments.

One of the things I spent time watching this summer on Netflix (next to Stranger Things) was the second season of their show Chef’s Table, and the new iteration of the show, which focuses on France. The most powerful episode for me comes in episode 1 of season 2, focusing on Grant Achatz. In this episode, Achatz describes his need for creativity as an important part of his work, and especially for sustaining himself over the years. He’s continually reinventing recipes, his restaurant, his food, and his delivery. It’s through these changes that he finds energy and passion for his work. This theme of change and creativity is very much present in the French Chef’s Table. Go watch!

Watching this show set a path for my summer. Listening to these chefs spoke directly to me. Their thinking about their craft echoed my own. I heard my own needs to create, to innovate, to be original. When they spoke about changing, I heard a permission to do away with the old and change, not simply for the sake of change, but to change because for many people, creative, inventive revolution is necessary to feel inspired and to keep moving.

These two vocations have much in common. I can see this across so much of my practice. When I have three sections of a class and have to teach the third section the same lesson that I’ve already taught two times, I would always change it. I couldn’t do it the same way. My files, both paper and electronic, are cluttered with variations of lessons from year to year, or add-ons to units where I had a new and different idea (see my post on blowing up my IB class). Without realizing it, I’ve been reinventing and creating throughout my career, but perhaps not always cognizant of why.

Much of my summer since that late June watching of that episode of Chef’s Table has been focused on creating for myself and getting ready to help my students create in the coming months. Helping students to do this isn’t so much a goal as I new way I hope to move through the classroom spaces I want to make.

Let’s have the best year of innovation ever!

Vermont 100 Race Report-Part 2

 

Author’s note: A draft of this blog post was written in early August and has been sitting in my Google Drive for several weeks, with me tinkering with it every couple of days. I’m posting it now, and it still doesn’t feel done. The center isn’t there, and I don’t have the tone right. However, taking a cue from Anne Bradstreet, this blogger to his post says, It’s time to get out there.

What does it mean to fail and how have we come to see failure as something terrible, catastrophic?

Here’s what happened:

After over twelve hours of running, I came into an aid station called Camp 10 Bear. I was tired, but ready to keep going. However, I hadn’t peed for over six hours, even though I had been drinking regularly. I went to for a medical check because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in the early stage of kidney failure. I got weighed and had my vitals taken. They green lighted me to keep going.

I went to my wife, she helped me change clothes, a new t-shirt, socks. I refueled at the aid station, refilled my pack, said to the volunteer there, as I pointed in a particular direction down the road, “I’m going that way?” to which he replied, “Yep.” And off I went, moving slowly, still munching on a handful of grilled cheese sandwiches.

Forty-five minutes later, after a huge climb, a runner came towards me, yelling, “We’re going the wrong way.” I was off course, on a part of the route that I was supposed to be on, but about 23 miles later. The only thing to do was to turn around, head back to Camp 10 Bear, and see where I was at.

On the way back down, I passed scores of runners coming up the hill, asking if I was okay. All I could say was “I got off route and went the wrong way.” They groaned, vocalizing my pain.

Once back there, completely demoralized and just a few minutes ahead of the cut off, I decided, with tears in my eyes, to drop.

It’s easy in this day and age to seek blame. “It’s not my fault” has become a standard phrase. As you’re reading this, you’re probably saying, the aid station worker gave the wrong directions. However, I firmly believe that in this instance, I’m responsible. I should have known the course better. I should have confirmed before leaving that I was going in the right direction. There are times when circumstances and the larger forces contrive to end our runs and force a decision. This was not one of those times.

In the media, success and failure are at the core of the narrative, especially around sports and athletics. We love the story of triumph after failure, of accomplishment after defeat. We love the come back. The underdog surmounting his or her foes. We don’t often look at failure for what it is, which is the end.

In telling this story over the past month, I try to avoid euphemism as much as possible. I lay it plain–”I went to Vermont, and I failed.” Sometimes I say “epic fail.” But even that I don’t like. I’m not Homer or Milton, and I’m certainly not Achilles or Odysseus. Sometimes failure is small, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing. Sometimes failure is a runner on dirt road watching others keeping going.

When I say that, that I failed in what I set out to do, people twitch. They shake their heads. My dad, kind and good-natured, being fatherly and protecting says, “Most people don’t even think about running 100 miles,” as if to say you did something few others did, isn’t this success? My wife wants to cut me off when I use the word failure. She’ll say, “But you ran more that day than you ever have before.”

To get to the Vermont 100, I had to have a 50 mile qualifier, which for me was the JFK50. I did over 1200 training miles, or what amounts to somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week. The race fee was $180, with another $150 volunteer buy out. I went through three pairs of running sneakers. Most days I’m either up at four to run before work, or I’m going home after work to run before I need to get dinner on the table. I don’t keep track of the boxes of gel, energy bars, bags of electrolyte drink I take in. I also don’t keep track of the other resources I eat up following these goals: tolls on my family, my knees and ankles.

One way to look at it is that all that’s lost, and that I’ll never get it back. Another way to look at it, is to say, the experiences make you stronger. Is it human instinct to find the smallest element of success to hold onto to keep surviving, and thus to perpetuate the self and its genes? Is this the core of biology, destiny, the Darwinian selfish gene?

This is not to say, in my attempt here at the 100, that there will be no other attempts. I will take on this distance again, either in Vermont or someplace else. Success or failure? I’m still not sure, but I’ll try to figure it out as I look to toe the line again.

Author’s note: While this post needs work. It’ll be used as part of a series of model blogs for students in my English 101 and Media Maker classes this fall as a part of writing and media projects student do on reflective writing and storytelling.