Oh THERE You Are…

After a 7 month hiatus from blogging, I am back!

Things I have learned since I’ve been gone:

1) Having a baby daughter is by far the most awesome yet scariest thing that can ever happen to a man.  I love her dearly, and we have had a blast these past 10 months – she is my world and I wouldn’t change that for anything. She is our first and to say having a baby changes your life is an understatement.  Sleepless nights, dirty diapers, giggles and now a lot of crawling – it is truly been a blessing of an experience.

2) Mid-major colleges are awesome – I flew to Boise State for my Masters in Educational Technology and spent 2 nights out there.  Gorgeous campus, gorgeous town and a fantastic graduation ceremony.  Having graduated from Michigan State I had never been to a smaller school before.  While I will bleed green and white forever, 20 minutes in Boise made me realize that I could have been a Bronco too and been happy.

3) Apparently I cannot quit going to school.  In August I joined a cohort at National Louis University for a Type 75 administrative certificate – just in case a door opens in the future – I will be ready to step through it.

4) Common Core is a lot like waking up with the flu/needing to throw-up – you can fight it all you want but eventually its going to happen after you do it you feel better.  I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely on-board at first but after doing some reading and research and seeing that if it is done right it actually gives the teacher more autonomy and focuses on skill development I am hooked.

5) I have found a new passion for writing in the classroom.  After getting away from it for awhile for reasons that I still don’t fully understand I approached this semester with the emphasis on writing with my seniors.  Using Kelly Gallagher’s book Write Like This, I am redesigning the process in which we approach writing in Honors Government class.  So far, so good and I will keep you posted.

I have learned a lot more since the last time I blogged, but as referenced in #1, I have a baby daughter and on top of being the most adorable thing on the planet she also wears me out so I am signing off and heading to bed.  I promise to visit more often.  Until next time – go forth and do good things.


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5 Things I Learned Running FedEx Days In Class

Inspired by the Daniel Pink video below, and wanting in part to see how my high school honors seniors would react to such a project, I embarked on a high school version of “FedEx Days”.  The assignment? Simple: learn about something that interests you and pertains to government and share your learning with the class.  The only requirements on the assignment is that presentations must be between 2-4 minutes and include some type of visual/artistic represenation/presentation.  As an added incentive, students created “superalitives” for their class that they would vote on (e.g. most interesting, most creative, etc.)

Here are the 5 things I learned:

5) All students want freedom in the classroom – but many don’t know what to do with it once they have it.

What I found interesting about the project is that as I was talking about it the students were excited to get some freedom about the topic, and excited not to have to do anything from a textbook, etc. but when I said “Ok…now go create….” nearly every single one froze out of fear and or confusion about what to do next.  It was as if they wanted me to take them by the hand and lead them through another project.  Anytime a student said “I don’t know what to cover….” I responded with “What are you passionate about or interested in? Tell us about it…”  To students who are used to jumping through hoops and pleasing teachers, all of a sudden creating something seemed incredibly hard and or confusing.   Their audience was their peers, there was no grade given, only the honor of having one of the superlatives bestowed upon you was at stake.  Many students were definitely out of their comfort zone – and I thought that was a good thing. I often wonder if this confusion comes from years of schooling where they are expected to jump through hoops and just please teachers.

4) When given the freedom – some students develop outstanding presentations and teach their peers great things.

I had no idea there was a huge conspiracy theory centered around the Denver International Airport, (link is not my students work) nor did I know how concerned many of my students actually were about student loan debt. We had a student from Australia give us a crash course in Australian government – the kids were totally engaged to what she was saying.  Some students took it upon themselves to learn how to create a Prezi for their presentations. (Our Education System Prezi/Illegal Downloading Prezi)  Some definitely rose to the occasion and those who were in those classes definitely benefited from their presentations. 

3) “Being Creative” means many different things to many different students

I had students write lyrics to the song “Imagine” by the Beatles about life without government and then come perform that song in front of her class (she declined to be recorded, but I really wish I could show it to you all).  Students painted – outraged over SOPA/PIPA, student loans, and taxes.  Students showed pictures and created Glogsters about their topic.  This was interesting to see because how often do we just restrict our students demonstration of their knowledge to teacher friendly assessments and not assessments that engage our students?

2) Students still sometimes need expectations/standards

While I have raved about some of the great things that were produced – not all that was produced was stellar.  I struggled with this one during the week of presentations and came back to the fact that I never really defined “excellence” for them when it came to presentations – I just said “go create”.  Reflecting upon the week, I think I will give them some examples of  “excellence” when it comes to making presentations and pushing themselves to do their best.  Its a topic we give lip service too sometimes in school, but what does it mean? There is an expectation of excellence at Google when they do their 20% time, and the thought is if they don’t produce they lose their job – which for all intents and purposes is an incentive.  If they didn’t produce for the class, or produced a crap presentation other than the negative judgement of their peers, there is no consequences for producing sub-par work.

1) This was a blast – and we are doing it again next year

Once they realized they were truly free the kids had a blast with this for the most part.  They were like puppies with the cage left open – as they ventured out and saw they were free many of them took advantage of that and ran around (metaphorically) to some awesome places.  We are definitely doing this again next year with the “excellence” component/expectation added into it.  (It will be interesting to see next year when I tell them “I expect excellence” but do not grade anything what will happen). 

My hope is that this idea spreads to other teachers in the school so students have more “puppy” experiences in other classes with some freedom to just create.

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10 Things I Learned at ICE 2012

3 days of learning and networking are done and we have loaded up the sled dogs thanks to some new snow we are getting and are making our way home from a great weekend at ICE 2012! Here are 10 things I have learned this week at ICE:

10) If you do not let your students create in your class you are doing them and their learning a great disservice. I struggle sometimes to do this in my AP Economics class because I am tied to the AP curriculum – this week has motivated me to seek new ways for my students to create while still learn College Board curriculum.

9) We as teachers need to model appropriate mobile device etiquette both inside and outside our classrooms. We are educators looking to promote the use of technology by our students and in our profession – those of you who were playing Bejeweled Blitz or Words With Friends on your iPads or iPhones would be ticked off if your students were doing it in your class so you probably shouldn’t be doing it during the keynotes in the morning.

8) Those longjohns they served in the morning at Pheasant Run Resort were the best. Especially the vanilla ones. Like heaven on a plate.

7) The best sessions I attended were the ones where I didn’t just sit and listen but I interacted with those around me. Jon Orech’s session on Thursday and Dan Rezac’s session today were great because I didn’t just learn from one person, I learned from a ton of people.

6) I get “Twitter-Envy”. I had Twitter open all weekend and would follow the #ICE12 throughout the day – sometimes when I ended up in a less than engaging presentation I would get envious of those tweeting about how awesome their session is.

5) That penguin is one popular dude! They had “Get Your Picture With the Penguin” set up at the PLN plaza, and there was ALWAYS a line to get your picture taken with the penguin. Sadly the penguin and I never connected. Does he have a Twitter account?

4) The EdTech community is starting to feel more like home. I wrote about this yesterday a bit but it is worth repeating. This was the first year where I really knew quite a few people and it was great to connect with them again and make new connections as well. Whereas I felt like a total outsider on my first ICE a few years back, this time I felt like I was coming back to a family.

3) Cellphones still seem to be taboo. While I presented on this once again, I think we were the only (or one of two) presentation on using the power of cellphones in your classroom. We had good attendance at our presentation but I am still confused as to why it is such a taboo topic for schools to address. The kids have them in their pockets, we might as well use them for learning.

2) It was nice to go 3 days and hear the terms “collaborating” and “creating” when it comes to students in our classroom rather than “standards based testing” and “Making AYP”. It was like a breath of fresh (but snowy) air!

1) We have a ton of EdTech talent right here in Illinois. I was blown away by some of the things people are doing using technology to help push the learning in and OUT of the classroom. There is a lot of good stuff happening in EdTech around this neck of the woods and I am thrilled to be a part of the network to be able to learn from some outstanding people.

Thanks to all who made ICE 2012 happen. This conference always seems to come at the right time for me and really helps me get out of what I like to call “my February rut” that I slip into from year to year. I am definitely looking forward to next year!

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ICE 2012 Day 2 – Becoming Revolutionary

Today was my second day at ICE – here are some thoughts on the day

1) The keynote by Peter Reynolds was inspiring – while the jist of it was “make your mark” I especially liked his quote that “changing is doing something different – innovation requires you to be revolutionary…” which is pretty fitting to where I am right now – do I want to just change things for my students or do I want to do something revolutionary for them? I know which direction I want to take them – but how do I make it revolutionary? I have kept coming back to that question all day.

2) In keeping with my goals of going to less “tools” based presentation and more “learning” based presentations I went to my first session of the day.  Any Jon Orech presentation is easily worth the price of admission to the entire conference and this one was no different – Jon talked about setting the table for achievement.  It was a great discussion about how to use technology to support learning and some of the pitfalls that EdTech falls into – specifically with using tools to use tools.  It wasn’t just a sit and get – we had the chance to talk to each other about some of the thought provoking question Jon posed.  This was a helpful step in becoming revolutionary – like I said worth the price of admission.

3) It was great to network with old friends and make new connections.  This was the first year at ICE where I felt like I belonged because I knew a few people – it was kind of a cool feeling for me.

4) E-pubs seem to be the wave of the future right now and it is great to see students creating some great work and being able to share it out – I am hoping to do a session on how we are doing this at Grayslake Central next year (in forming a partnership with our feeder district and letting our HS kids create texts for our feeder schools).  Not sure if that counts as revolutionary – but its a step in the ride direction.

I am looking forward to tomorrow and finding more fuel for my quest to not just change what I do in my class but to become revolutionary.

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Edmodo as a Virtual Substitute

So as I mentioned in the previous post, I am out of school for 3 days while I attend the ICE Conference in St. Charles, Illinois.

Three days out of a classroom for most people usually means the learning stops and the movies begin, and admittedly I was one of those people (a teacher can get a pretty good vacation in while showing Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!)  Ever since I switched my classes over to Edmodo the learning can continue while I am gone, and I can still have contact with my students if questions/problems arise.

I wrote alot about Edmodo back in this post a few years back and I am now beginning to truly harness the power of what this tool can do.  As I mentioned, I am gone for three days, but I am able to send my students to the computer lab, have them log on to Edmodo, watch the lesson I uploaded on to TeacherTube which I embed on Edmodo and then complete the project or questions that demonstrates a deeper understanding of the lesson.  They can upload that formative assessment back to me and I can check to see if they got the main concepts of the lesson.  Today students have been contacting me via Direct Message if they have questions, or they are just posting the questions on the Facebook style page for the class that Edmodo create and helping each other (THAT has been awesome to see!)

Without Edmodo I would probably waste good instructional time with meaningless busy work/movie while I am off getting some good professional development – however with Edmodo the students continue to get the instruction they need, I am able to help them as needed, and I can still evaluate their progress in learning as the week continues.  While it is not exactly the same as being there, it is also not 3 wasted days of instructional time watching a meaningless movie (much to the disappointment of some of my students…).

Edmodo is already great for student engagement with the curriculum, helping each other, and allowing for learning to happen outside the classroom – but now that I have discovered how easy it is to use as a virtual substitute I am really glad I starting using it with my classes.


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ICE – Day 1

Starting today, I am spending the next 3 days at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference (or ICE as it is known).  I plan on posting some thoughts and reflections on the days here over the next few days.

Today I spend a full day some of my colleagues at an Illini Cloud sponsored event with the Meteri group about Data Driven Decision Making (or D3M) as it was called on my sticker.  It was a day devoted to spending time taking about the data we have, the data we need, and how to make decisions based off of that.  Most of the day was spent talking about aligning our curriculum to standards, etc. and how to evaluate the data to better student learning.

While the presentation was good, I was frustrated because most of the day was spent talking about the need to give kids tests to measure performance, placement etc.  The frustrating thing to me was that formative assessments that were project based or more authentic were given gentle lip service and passed over.  Look, I know we need to use standards based testing, I get that – but there are other ways than just multiple choice tests.  I wish we could have learned more about how to measure project based/authentic assessment – I believe a lot of schools are headed that direction or would be headed that direction if they could understand how to capture and evaluate data from those assessments.

There was a section about social emotional learning (hard to evaluate that on a scantron!), which was really interesting because it talked about what makes students engaged.  From my experience its not multiple choice tests but relevant and rigorous curriculum (with an emphasis on the RELEVANT!). One of the presenters glazed over the concept of the flipped classroom and dismissed it as “not so good…” but didn’t give a reason why.  For me, I would rather flip the classroom and engage my students when I have them in my class with meaningful and enriching activites and let them have access to the lecture or information on demand whenever they want via YouTube/podcast/etc.

I have to admit, it was a bit of a rough start for ICE for me today.  There were some bright patches like the discussions that occured while sitting around a table with 8 technology-minded colleagues from my district.  It was great to have 8 colleagues at ICE from our district – I remember when it used to just be me and my LMS.  The desire to learn technology is spreading and that is definitely a good thing.

Tomorrow, I present on  using smartphones in the classroom to enhance learning. Friday I am just an observer and have a goal going to sessions on changing how learning occurs in the classroom and not going to sessions just based on tools (ironic I know because I am presenting on tools tomorrow).  I’m excited to see what the rest of the week brings.

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PBL – A follow up

So the project with the websites went pretty well, however this being my first experience in PBL, it was a definite learning experience for both me and the kids. Here are a few things I learned.
1) Authentic assessment motivates them – especially when negative feedback is given. We had the Lake County Republicans assess the student sites based upon a rubric that the students created. When I said I wasn’t grading them, the degree of intensity seemed to shift up a bit in the class – I am going to chalk that up to relevance. When one of the websites was harshly criticized for being inaccurate (which it was) and more than slightly biased (which it was), the feedback wasn’t met with apathy but instead a sense of shame/embarrassment for each other that an outside person thought this lowly of their work. A definite learning experience for the students to be sure (this class in particular wasn’t organized nor did they put a lot of effort in to the project at first – we compromised after the feedback and gave them a 2nd chance to re-submit which they did.

2) Student motivated learning isn’t always learning.  Admittedly I let the pendulum swing too far the other way on this one – in that I gave them very little direct instruction but instead made them come up with some questions that they wanted to have answered.  I revised my plan about halfway through and made sure they found out some other answers as well (such as the difference between a primary and a general election, etc.) I learned that direct instruction is ok from time to time as long as it fans the flames of the students’ curiosity and gets them asking deeper questions.  Lesson learned for next semester.

3) My students don’t like freedom.  Ok, well they do like freedom, but they don’t know what to do with it in schools.  When I said, “ok…create” the excitement of freedom quickly turned into sheer terror because they were responsible for the end product that I wasn’t going to hold their hands through it.  For as much as they wanted freedom in school – when they got it they certainly didn’t know what to do with it.  They adjusted as the project moved on.

4) I enjoy being the guide on the side and letting the students figure problems out.  That was a side of teaching I had yet to experience until last month.

It truly was a learning experience for both teacher and student! I look forward to revising those plans next year and making the lesson even stronger.  Off to ICE 2012 to learn about new tools and new ways to learn.

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