Thursday, October 31, 2013

Pre-Algebra Teacher?

My principal stuck her head in my office.  "Can you come see me when you get a minute?" I should have known by the look on her face that something was afoot...but I blindly finished the Tweet I was on and followed her to her office.

When I walked out about 20 minutes later, I had another bullet point to add to my resume: pre-algebra teacher.  I was asked to give up my study hall of four students to team-teach pre-algebra alongside the current teacher of the course for an undetermined amount of time.

Now, before you go thinking terrible things about my new-found teaching partner, this wasn't a reflection on her as a teacher, but really a nice big pat on the back.  Let me explain.

I have been exploring the possibility of bringing Accelerated Math to our school for all math courses from kindergarten through calculus.  After yesterday's meeting with a sales rep, the general consensus among our faculty and administration is to move forward with it.  But, my principal is a very smart woman.  (Maybe that's why she got the principal job!) She realizes that -- like any educational technical advancement -- some teachers will jump in with both feet, some will wait and see what happens, and some will budge sometime in the next decade.  What we are doing here is taking a progressively-minded math teacher, pairing her up with the school's Tech Lead (who has nearly two decades of math teaching experience), and creating a team that will make this work well.  Once I have a handle on how to do it right, I can start showing other teachers how the model works.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

I know you're now wondering what Accelerated Math is all about.  AM (created by the same people who created Accelerated Reader) is an individualized math program that can supplement your regular curriculum.  Initial assessments can help teachers identify skills that students have already mastered or need more work on.  In fact, the rep told of a senior she is working with.  The assessment was able to pinpoint 2nd and 5th grade skills this student was missing.  Once these skills are identified, the program automatically generates questions to help work on those skills plus the objectives currently worked on in class.

As it looks now, I'll be working with half the class on the AM piece on class iPads while Marianne works with the other half on direct instruction, then switch students halfway through the period.  Hopefully the combination of AM and the smaller instructional groups will see an increase in student achievement.

And, so as my teaching journey takes another unexpected twist, I'm excited to see where this one will go and the improvements AM will bring to our math program. I'm sure I'll be talking about this more in the future.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Socially Aware Videos

My middle school students just wrapped up a project called Socially Aware Videos.  I selected five social issues and public service announcement videos to match them. Then, students broke into pairs to create their own videos about one of those same five social issues.

Overall, I'm proud of what they were able to create, mostly sitting in the classroom.  Both groups chose bullying as their issue (though one of them combined bullying with social media).  In the future, I may delete that issue from the project for a couple reasons.  One, there is so much talk these days about bullying that I think it wasn't too enlightening.  There are other topics out there that I would like wake them up with (water conservation, adoption, etc.).  Two, recording videos about bullying opens the doors to students enacting bullying situations, which -- trust me -- can lead to issues with parents and administrators.

The first video is actually a series of videos, strung together by a Prezi. Most of those videos were created on Animoto.  Not a bad idea, but I recommended to the students that it would have been better to use iMovie or Capture to create one big video.

The second video was about bullying and social media.  It is created to be like a talk show with an example of cyberbullying through texting.  Nicely done!

What I love about teaching this middle school course is giving them an assignment and watching them tackle it.  They learn the apps and software they want to use and figure things out as they go. While they are learning about social issues, they are really becoming more comfortable with the technology at their fingertips.  It's a great combination!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Educreations Week

I love Educreations! When I was a regular classroom teacher I used it in a couple different subjects so students could demonstrate their learning in a few areas.  Now that I'm a computer teacher, I wanted to bring the same love to the masses.

I thought Educreations Week would be one week, but it turned into two weeks.  I realized anew that students need time to learn new skills and younger ones need lots of time to process step by step instructions.  Every elementary student in my school (K-6) experimented with Educreations and many of them built their first presentations.

Each grade level took on different tasks based on what their teachers wanted or what I felt they could handle.  Some students knew what to do from exposure last year, and some were clueless.  Some needed me to walk through every minute step (multiple times) and some just needed me to say, "Create an Educreations about..."

In general, here are the steps we took.
1.  Decide on your topic.  (We used plants, animals, Native Americans, and something learned in a different class.)
2.  Go to Safari and find pictures to fit your topic.
3.  Save your pictures to the Photo Stream.  (In my younger grades, this was the entire first class period.)
4.  Put your pictures on Educreations.
5.  Record your voice and pen markings.
6.  Share it with classmates.  (This was done different ways.  In some classes, we utilized the AppleTV. In some classes, I had them walk to each other's iPads to view.  In other classes, we took advantage of the fact that they all used the same Educreations account to view other presentations via the Cloud.)

While the videos with photos were fun, I actually loved the student-created pictures.  Kids drew pyramids and they drew Native American homes.  It was great to see the things they made!  I also had one student talk about hearts.  He found a heart picture and kept changing the size of it to make it look like it was thumping.

Overall, it was very instruction-heavy with me creating tons of example presentations, but it was so much fun!  Now, my hope is that the students will take this new-found knowledge back to their regular teachers and beg to make Educreations videos to demonstrate learning!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Next Up...


Yesterday, we ended one Innovation Project and today we started a new one.  The guys (I have only 4 students in my class, and they are all boys) have been asking me about doing a group project. So, today I gave them the chance to discuss it.  

We started off with a class discussion. They were all interested in the possibility, but there were concerns about group dynamics and such a large percentage of the grade being a group project.  (20% of class time = 20% of the grade) I loved how one student put it. "Working together would be more like real life."  I could not have said it better myself!

Finally they asked to be able to talk about it without me, and I joyfully stepped aside. 

They sat in a corner and brainstormed....

The conversation was all over the place.  
  • Let's do a zombie MineCraft.
  • Let's make a horror movie!
  • Let's make Pop Tart guns. (Or maybe I didn't hear that one right.)
  • Let's not do a group project.
  • Let's break into two groups. 
  • No, there's not enough technology in that project.
  • Last year, someone made a...
I generally just sat in the back of the room and listened.  Once in a while I'd throw out a thought and watched them deal with it.  

The end product sounds really cool!

They are going to create a MineCraft version of Kings Island (our local amusement park). Keep in mind that Mine Craft is blocked at our school, so they knowingly committed to doing extra homework for me. They talked about Skyping each other from  home to discuss things and I mentioned using Google Maps for a flyover view of the amusement park. Apparently, they are going to make the rides work, and they plan on taking me on a "rollercoaster" for the final presentation.  

Now, I have no idea what the end product will actually look like, but this has potential to be my absolutely favorite Innovation Project so far!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Innovation Day!

My middle school Tools for Tech class wrapped up their Innovation Projects yesterday. Since this is a technology course, the only major stipulation is that there needed to be a tech angle to the project.

Overall, I liked their projects.  I had two music creators (GarageBand and Dubstep), one pixel art drawer, and one web designer.  Their final projects were good.  Good music. Nice graphics.  It was good for 7th and 8th grade work.

I loved that my GarageBand guy put together a Prezi for his presentation and included an Animoto video of his song.  My pixel art student did a great job of combining web building with his artwork.   There was some good work out there!

However, there is always room for improvement...

  • I was discouraged that two of my four students "turned in" edit versions of their projects, not something published.  As you'll see on the links below, you'll have a hard time observing their work.
  • We signed contracts at the beginning, but I think they forgot to check the contracts before they finalized things.  

You can find the projects below.  I'd love any feedback you have for me!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jessica, the Kona Queen

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered.

It’s a hot, sweaty day. You long for something cool and tasty -- a few minutes of bliss for your mouth. Then, you hear it.  In fact, you hear it well before you see it. And your mouth waters, and you long for it.  You reach into your pocket, dig out some cash, and flag the truck down.  It’s shaved ice time!

Then again, if your ice cream truck looks and sounds like may find refreshment in your own freezer instead.

Kona Ice is a locally created shaved ice company which is growing by leaps and bounds all across the country. While the bright and clean truck with a penguin donning a Hawaiian shirt and playing Caribbean tunes is advertising in itself, Jessica Ross has been busily working behind a camera and computer for three years to help tell the Kona story.

Jessica was in my sixth grade class in the previous millennium (1998-1999). As I try to type this paragraph, I’m struggling to remember details about Jessica the sixth grader. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but let’s face it.  We all do.  Jessica’s class was one of my absolute favorites of all time. We had tons of fun while learning a lot. I do remember Jess as a lover of all things basketball. We also had another Jessica R. in that class, which caused some confusion issues along the way.  

The Ross Family is a one of those families that we have come to love over the years.  I also taught Jessica’s younger sister Catherine, and worked alongside her dad for a number of years. And… Jess is currently 6 places ahead of me in our fantasy football team. When we adopted our daughter from South Korea, the Ross Family insisted on taking us out to dinner to get to know our new bundle of joy.  That’s one of the joys of teaching in a small private school for years.  You get to know families and make them part of yours.  (Disclaimer: I’m not sure of the last time I actually laid eyes on a Ross. That’s one of the yucky things about quitting a small private school and teaching at another.  You miss out on seeing old friends.)

Jessica graduated from high school with the goal of learning videography and creating movie trailers.  Unfortunately for her, the recession hit about the time she graduated from college making job hunting difficult.  Either she found a job somewhat related to her field only to be laid off or found a job unrelated to her field that paid the bills.  Regardless, she was still looking for just the right thing.

One day in church, she happened to bump into the Founder and CEO of Kona who asked her to do some freelance work.  Later it turned into a full-time job offer, and Jessica was in her niche.  She is now the Director of Media with a company that was recently named #1 New Franchise in Entrepreneur Magazine with two other media specialists working for her.

While I knew about Jessica’s love of videography, I remember the first time I discovered her video work online.  The video below is of Belle Histoire, a local band which -- at the time -- featured two of my former students. Jane is the singer and Aaron is playing guitar. Jess filmed and edited the video, and I just thought it was so cool having three of my former students’ work online like this.

Nightmares | Belle Histoire from Jessica Ross/Sep 8th Productions on Vimeo.

Along the way, I bumped into a few other cool videos.  I really enjoyed this one, though I only met the bride-to-be once… at Jess’ graduation party, no less.

Save The Date: Bryan & Fran from Jessica Ross/Sep 8th Productions on Vimeo.

And here is my daughter’s favorite.  She frequently will ask to see “the ice cream video.”

Jessica, who also puts her technology skills to use at her church volunteering on their social media team, once dreamed of releasing a movie on the silver screen.  It’s funny though as kids grow into adults, sometimes goals change.  For Jess, that goal has mellowed and she’d love to raise a family. She didn’t say this, but I wonder if some of this stems from reflecting back on her own upbringing.  Raised in a family that loves her dearly, always deeply involved in church, and attending a school that at times is more like family can instill values in you that you want to pass along to little ones.  

She wanted me to put this paragraph in the post.  While it’s addressed to teachers from my former school, hopefully the same can be said for how you teach your students.
I would like to make a statement to all teachers, if you’re okay with that. I was really excited when I received this e-mail from you because I’ve always felt like I’ve never been given the opportunity to truly thank ALL of the teachers I’ve had through the years. I was never more appreciative of Calvary than after I had graduated. I was never more aware of the intentions of my teachers at Calvary than after I was gone. I wish I had the foresight and knowledge to have truly appreciated my teachers while I was there, but such is youth. Every teacher I had cared about my brain, my soul, and my heart. Not many students can say that about their education. I knew that the staff and faculty at Calvary truly cared about me as a person and as a student and I cherish the time I spent under their teaching. I’m proud to say I graduated from Calvary because of each and every one of you. I could not have asked for a better foundation on which to stand to start adulthood. Thank you for investing in me. Thank you for caring. Thank you for teaching me – not only about academics, but also about life. Thank you for viewing this as a ministry and not just a job. Your sacrifice does not go unnoticed and your influence is far greater than you could possibly imagine or will probably ever know. So, thank you.

Jessica remembers very little about the academics in my class, which is OK with me.  My grandmother died early that school year.  I found out during my lunch break and was devastated.  I had to make it through the afternoon and still do my job well. Then it was a flight home to Pennsylvania for the funeral.  Later that year, Jessica’s grandfather died.  I still remember the phone call from her dad.  Jessica tells me that by watching me deal with my grandmother’s death, she didn’t feel alone.  “I think I was struck by how transparent you were with us. You’ve had numerous students talk about you apologizing to the class, but I’ll be honest, I don’t remember that story. I do remember you being genuine with us and like I said, transparent – in a good way, of course. But I never doubted you were being real with us, and I do remember appreciating that. “  

The fact that Jess makes videos of kids eating shaved ice is not a big deal to me.  What is cool is that she has been unleashed to use her creative skills and technology talents to tell a story bigger than sugar-induced shaved ice. She has taken a music truck and helped to market it into an entrepreneurial phenomenon.  

I conceived this blog series while sitting in church.  We were in the middle of a series of messages about building into people. At the time, Jess was planning a trip around a good chunk of the country, videoing various Kona Ice franchises.  Kona gives away scads of money to charities, and the goal was to retell these great stories. And in the process of creating fun videos and helping to sell shaved ice, Jess is also helping to give back to communities across the country.  Below is the video they created to show how Kona Flavors their World.

So, the next time you see a Kona Ice video, know that there were teachers who had a part in the really cool young lady who created that video.

By the way, you can view more of Jess’ videos at her Vimeo page and the Kona Ice YouTube Channel.

Pictures of Modern Day Jess:

Pictures of Yesteryear Jess:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Are We Creating Warehouse Wage Slaves?

Raise your hand if you prefer doing your Christmas shopping online rather than in brick and mortar stores.  My wife works retail, selling clothes and gear at our local Eddie Bauer store. Like all stores, Holiday is their busiest time of year.  Personally, I try to avoid all stores between Thanksgiving and New Years.  I don't enjoy the traffic or the grumpy crowds as we all spread "Christmas cheer" with our friends and family.  Enter online shopping, and all that grumpiness goes away! I can hit up Amazon in my jammies on the couch and never get grouchy, but there is a dark side.

Not long ago, an article came across my Twitter feed that intrigued me.  It has nothing to do with education, but it's so applicable to education nonetheless. The writer went undercover working in an online store warehouse as a picker. The job was horrible! Reaching high to grab some items, crouching low to snag others.  The book section had such intense static electricity that every time she reached for a book she got a painful jolt.

Each picker is given a scanner which tells her the next assignment.  It tells the picker what to get, what section to find it in, which shelf, and other information...including how many seconds it should take to get there.  This required speed walking or running across the warehouse to get to the next item.

Within days her body was screaming in pain from these ten hour work days with no concern from her bosses about work conditions.  In fact, she got in trouble with her supervisors when she was behind on her quota.  The supervisors were constantly pushing pickers to move faster, faster, faster.  Nothing they did was good enough!  At roughly 60% of her quota she was still getting reminders to speed up, while other pickers admired her for how fast she moved.

One man she met somehow was working at 120% of his quota.  She asked him if there was any incentive to working that fast. Not really, once in a while he'd get a $15 gift card or something like that.

The writer didn't last long, just a few days really.  The work conditions were so terrible, her pain was so intense, and the setting was so depressing that she walked off after being shocked 500 times in one morning.

And, now I'm thinking I need to get into my car and drive to stores to buy Christmas presents for my family.
How on earth does this apply to our schools?

Would your students relate to the pickers at these massive warehouses?  They sit at desks that are not ergonomically designed, and we expect them to stay seated all day.  They do mindless work that is meaningless to the them.  We expect them to work, work, work, and they get in trouble if their product is not up to snuff.  How many of our students would walk out the door if they had the choice?

What's the solution? I'm not convinced there is a silver bullet that will make everything better.  At some point we need to realize that school means kids need to sit quietly and listen to learn essential concepts and skills -- even if they seem pointless at the time.  However, there are some things we can fix.

I like the Genius Hour model.  Students have a chance to get up and move around. They work on something meaningful to them... and we trick them into learning something too.

Students can be encouraged to do better while showing them we care, and we can give them incentives when they do better.

How would you solve the "Warehouse Wage Slave" problem? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

What Makes a Good Teacher?

Have you ever wondered what long-term impact you make as a teacher?  What will your students remember years from now when they look back on the time they spend with you?

As you may know, I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by highlighting former students and how they are living extraordinarily.  While I've had a sense of what they were doing in life through social media or face-to-face interaction, it's been lots of fun catching up with them digging into their adult lives. I've also enjoyed hearing their reflections on a year spent with me as their teacher.

The answers I am receiving are not what I might have expected.  I thought I would get something like, "I learned the value of hard work by all the nasty assignments you gave me." Or maybe, "I enjoyed using computers in your class, and now I'm inspired to use them all the time."  I didn't even get to hear, "I'll never forget that creative assignment we did on..."

While there were occasional references to something learned through an assignment or project, most of the responses so far have dealt with me as a person. "You apologized when you made a mistake." "You took us out to eat as a reward." "You were transparent with us."

I'm certain these students learned something from me. I've taught a lot of lessons on fractions and sentences, decimals and paragraphs.  I've walked through my weight in Country Reports and have taught my way through A Father's Promise 29 times. I can quote Psalm 139:1-14 nearly flawlessly because I've heard it more times than I can count. We've researched the Holocaust and the Japanese-American Internment together.  These kids walk away from me learning facts, concepts, and skills...but that's not what they remember.

As I pondered these thoughts, I turned to my high school study hall (with all of two students in it at the moment) and asked them, "What makes a good teacher?"  A senior girl immediately responded, "They have to be relatable."  Now, relatable isn't really a word, but the concept is pretty clear.  If you cannot relate to the student, if the student can't relate to you, you're not going to be an effective teacher.

And I pondered more and turned to Facebook.  I asked my Facebook friends to tell me what made their favorite teacher so good.  Twenty-one people responded with all sorts of answers.  They ranged from former students in their 20s to grandparents and everything in between. Since the question was open-ended, there were all sorts of answers, but the answers were very interesting.  An overwhelming eleven people mentioned something about caring about students.  Only five people said anything about subject matter, whether being passionate about the content or fairly teaching the content on the test. (See below for the actual conversation.)

It's easy to be wrapped up in content and objectives and standards.  There are schedules to keep and standardized tests to survive. We have lesson plans to write and papers to grade. And, don't forget discipline issues and best practices. These are all important aspects to being a good teacher.  But if these things define who we are as teachers, we've missed our calling.

In A Father's Promise, the class novel I taught for 15 years, Rudi's dad is quoted as saying, "People, Rudi. People are more important than things."  When we realize that we teach children or teenagers, not a particular subject area, we get the horse before the cart again.  When we can relate to these kids, they know we care... and the subjects we teach may begin to be meaningful to them as well.

I don't pretend to be the best teacher in the world, nor would I say that every student walked away from my class feeling like I was in their corner.  However, I hope that all this pondering will help me take a moment in class tomorrow to listen to my students' lives and let them know they are important to me.

How will your students know you love them?

Here is my Facebook question and all the answers, with personal identifiers deleted.
Random question for you. What makes a good teacher? (Don't go naming great teachers or lousy teachers. Just think about your favorite teacher of all time. What made that teacher great?) Thanks!

  •  Genuine interest in the student that's specifically communicated to the student by the teacher, and not implied by occupation or left to assumption. Students don't automatically assume you care about them just because you're the teacher,

  •  Someone who took the time to be human, too. To talk about life and share life wisdom, too.

  •  Making the subject fun! Also, allowing students to ask questions without fear of feeling stupid.

  •  I agree with the genuine interest- also, not trying to fit everything into a pat answer- hearing what the question is and answering it appropriately-speaking TO the students not AT them- sharing experiences with them, enjoying them- not embarrassing the students....

  • Knew me inside and out, pushed through my stubbornness, made me laugh, challenged me, and didn't allow me to settle for mediocrity.

  • Patience. 

    Something I'm running low on today...

  •  They were absolutely in love with the subject they taught and inspired a love in me. They had fun teaching me.

  •  He took the time know who I was, and had great passion in sharing his knowledge with us!

  •  Craig Dunlap! Lol

  •  "A kick in the tail and a hug." A teacher that shows their students how much they care about them but also pushes them to do their best.

  •  Someone who makes the subject come "alive"; their love for the subject is obvious and infectious.

  •  Friendly and consistent with all students

  •  The ones who let you try something a little beyond your reach, and then gave you the chance to recover when you failed.

  • My best teacher made it fun and did fun special projects (which I happen to like), like making a song, etc.

  •  Teachers that don't try to trick you with the test. Tell me I need to know a b c and then ask me a b c on the test. Humor goes a long way for me. And lastly, give me context for what you are teaching me. Help me understand why It's good to learn what you are teaching.

  •  She always believed in me!!! She started the day with a Bible story(my 2nd grade teacher in a public school, back when you could still do that), & she always let us know that God loved each one of us & had a plan for us!! I never heard her raise her vo...See More

  •  Ones that set high expectations and demand the best from each student. Those not well liked by students, until the students are out in the work world and realize the teacher had their best interest in mind.

  •  Someone who quietly commanded the respect of his students, made us respect ourselves, wasn't interested in being cool, and made learning interesting. When you got an A, you knew you earned it.

  •  he told me the truth of the life i was about to face not just once but took several classes mapping things out for us.

  •  Taking the time to really connect with students! Two of my favorite teachers went out of their way to do that for me, even though one hadn't been my teacher for several years. I remember those talks and weekly prayer meetings even today and it still means so much!

  •  Look in a mirror