Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Day

A day in the life of a TechLead:

  • Email the Bengals to try to connect with a childhood friend who is now on the coaching staff. Seriously. Hoping to reconnect and maybe he can become a friend of the academy.
  • Morning door duty (while blog reading). 
  • Email RenLearn to approve AR and AM purchases for next year.
  • Engage in a 45 minute discussion with our Director of IT and Marketing about use of Facebook and Twitter for the school.
  • Monitor third graders working on Accelerated Math. (I helped kids figure out division/multiplication facts and reading an analog clock.)
  • Work on my Genius Hour presentation for OETC.
  • Monitor second graders working on Accelerated Math. (Don't think I helped much since the teacher was running her store at the same time.)
  • Continue social media conversation via email while watching second graders with AM.
  • Have an email conversation with principal about OneDrive, OneNote, and other Office products. How do we continue to implement these tools in our school? (Oh! Look! She just sent an email to everyone and offered my help uploading files to OneDrive! Nice!)
  • All the while, posted one Facebook message and two tweets for the school. 
  • Recess and lunch duty for 3rd-5th grades.
  • Eat my lunch at my desk. 
  • Let's not forget having a running email conversation with my wife. 
  • Figure out what I'm teaching tomorrow from Common Sense Media
  • Just tweeted this one...
  • #golions discussion, including a lion backdrop for future press release photos. 
  • Looks like we'll be using in 4th grade tomorrow. 
  • Time to post CastleMania pics to Facebook and Twitter.
  • Back to working on my presentation. 
  • Monitor 6th graders on Accelerated Math. (Helped with volume, algebra with adding fractions, and dividing two mixed numbers with one negative)
  • Afternoon hall duty.

It's been interesting to track my activities and conversations throughout the day. One thing I love about my job is my flexibility but also the diversity.  

What do you do during your day? 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

That Kindergarten Magic

To be honest, going to Open Library on Tuesday night wasn't even on my radar. Tuesdays are busy with dance (and our weekly coffee date), dinner, and bedtime.  We couldn't possibly squeeze in Open Library at school...could we?

My wife (and I, if I am honest) had a bit of a panic attack when a nice little form letter came home with our kindergarten daughter. Apparently, she is now enrolled in Scholastic Reading Counts and is required to score 3 points the rest of this year. Three points?!? My kindergartner?!? What?!? It's not that we despise reading. Quite the opposite. We read all the time and take the little one to the public library whenever we can.  But...testing on it? So early?

The irony is not lost on me here. Included in my job is being our school's administrator for Accelerated Reader. I have had my share of getting kids started on the road of test-read-test, including a handful of kindergartners who prove themselves able.

I know enough about AR to realize I can transfer that knowledge to SRC, or so I thought.  Still, my wife was not convinced. She wanted to see the thing in action.  So, we traipsed from dance/coffee to Wendy's for a quickie dinner, then to the school for the monthly Open Library armed with her copy of Mr. Brown can Moo! Can You?. We were one of about 20 families gathered in the library for reading and testing with teachers and administrators milling about with smiles on their faces, helping and encouraging where and when they could.
My daughter had a totally different perspective.  She loves to read, and she has been coming into her own this school year.  No longer does she rely on her parents or her imagination to tell her what's written on the page.  She reads ALL. THE. TIME. and we can often hear her sounding out words that my brain has learned to ignore years ago. (Who reads logos on signs anymore?) It is really is a beautiful thing.

What we saw as an inconvenience she saw as an opportunity.  She was so excited she woke up at 4:00 Tuesday morning.  Yes, I said 4:00 am. She took us in the front door and tried to show us everything in the school.  "Here is the music room, and the gym is down there."  We went into the library and she aced her test! Then we sat and read for a little while.  But she couldn't contain her excitement for long.  "I want to show you the computer lab!" It wasn't enough to glance into the room...she had to show me HER COMPUTER. A quick loop took us past her classroom.

The next morning at breakfast...."Daddy, I didn't get to show you the art room, but it's near the music room.  You just..."
That's when it hit me.  She has that Kindergarten Magic. Everything is new. Everything is fresh. Everything is exciting. New opportunities are being opened up every day.  She loves school and everything about it.

Now, how do we keep that magic alive for 12 more years?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review: Pure Genius

Title: Pure Genius
Author: Don Wettrick (on Twitter)

Pure Genius is a must-read for any teacher who wants to know what life is like "outside the box." Don Wettrick watched Daniel Pink's TED Talk about motivation, which launched his career in the world of innovative teaching. What resulted was his high school Innovation Class.  He took the Genius Hour model many teachers currently use and made it into a full course.  Students are in constant project mode - selecting, researching, collaborating, creating, updating, and presenting - every day of the week. They collaborate with mentors who are experts in their fields and immediately share their findings and projects with the outside world via social media.

This book is great for anyone who uses Genius Hour is in interested in getting started, but it doesn't really stop there.  I, for one, read this book and started to wonder how I could start an Innovation Class in our high school.  (Keep in mind I'm an elementary guy who sometimes masquerades as a middle school teacher. Taking that leap into the high school terrifies me...but an Innovation Class energizes me.)

If you want ideas how to start innovating in your class, see best practices, or hear about great project ideas, here is a wonderful resources for you.  I can't wait to hear how Pure Genius revolutionizes your class.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Final Innovation Projects - January 2015

After a solid week of working two and a half hours a day (plus self-assigned homework) today was the big day. Presentation Day!

Enjoy their projects below...
Remote Control Car by Lucas
Greek/Roman Mythology by Kate
Destiny Classes Video by Cooper, Jacob, and Russell
RAGE by Nathan
Motored Car Video by Will

Each student was given 3-5 minutes to talk about and show off their project.  (The exception would be the group of three. They were given permission to go for 10 minutes.) Overall, I was impressed by what they could accomplish in a short amount of time.

Of course, I have reflections on the whole process.

  • I really wanted to focus on the inquiry model discussed in A More Beautiful Question. When I read about The 5 Whys and the Why-What If-How progression I knew I had a winning way to get students thinking on a different level.  I'm still convinced of that. However, I think the way I went about it didn't spark a lot of higher level thinking or new innovations. I think I just created a need hoop for them to jump through on the way to the project.  I need to reconsider how to make that work in the future. 
  • I used OneNote Class Notebook to run this class. It was a gem. Everything was in one place. All I had to do was open the notebook, and everything I wanted and needed was there.  I didn't have to hunt for emails or remember where the notes were.  Everything was in one notebook. I will definitely use it again.
  • However, I will say that the notebook was easy to manage because I only had 7 students. I think it could feel more cumbersome if I had 20 or more students. 
  • I need to be more proactive checking on student work.  For instance, take the Destiny video made by the three guys.  I originally declined the project because Destiny is a first person shooter game. They assured me it would be just characters and no weapons, so I approved it.  Apparently, we didn't communicate properly.  Their presentation included grenades and other weaponry.  If I was spending more time looking over shoulders I would have seen that before the presentation.  
Overall, it was a great week. There was a lot of learning that happened, and I loved their enthusiasm.  Bring on the next project! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Day 4 - Last Full Work Day

They came in today with an air of enthusiasm.

  • "I brought my motor in!"
  • "I'm frustrated because I don't think my site will be done in time."
  • "Do I send my video to you?"
  • "What kind of motor are you using?"
  • "What is the level of noise I'm allowed to make? I have to try this out, and it might be loud."

I love this kind of talk!  For three days they worked, researched, typed, drew, and kept their focus. You can tell that the projects are coming to a climax.  These students are talking about it, sharing it, and I couldn't be happier. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Innovation Update - Day 3 of J-Term

That was such a non-creative post title.  Sorry about that.

Today is Day 3 of our Innovation Projects. (You can read the nitty gritty of this project here.) I will say that this project started with a few twists and turns from our previous projects.

I'm used to seeing students work on their projects for one class period on Friday.  This has been more intense, with two and a half hours every day!  What that means is as I type this (about an hour into Wednesday) we have a month and a half worth of work smashed into 2+ days.

Frankly, Monday and Tuesday were boring for me. The students were focused on their work with very little interaction. The only real conversation was from the group of three boys who are working on a project together. Even they were pretty quiet.  However, the projects are starting to take shape and students are starting to share.

Take the boys in the picture below. (It's not the best picture, but I tried to be stealthy.) The two boys on our right -- Will and Lucas -- are working on similar projects, remote control cars/robots.  They have been watching videos of other similar projects and comparing notes on their creations. The boy on our left is Nathan. He is creating his own video game on YoYo Games. As Will and Lucas compared their notes, Nathan shoved his laptop in front of Will. Next thing you know, Will is playing Nathan's game.  Pure Genius!

This is J-Term. We have students all over this school and our community doing really fun stuff.  We have classes playing Ultimate Frisbee and basketball, cooking, doing service projects, volunteering at a cat shelter -- fun and not mentally taxing activities.  Then, we have us.  Slaving in front of computers, learning quietly, and creating. I almost feel guilty, but I remember these kids signed up for it... and it is the class of their choice.  However, take this group of guys hanging out in the back of the room. They are working on creating a gaming video together.  They. Assigned. Themselves. Homework.

This young lady has been in constant work mode all week, creating her own web site about Greek mythology.  So, what did she do? Went out and got honest to goodness books (made out of paper, no less) to learn the mythology needed for her site.

I am excited about the learning going on in this room this week.

I'm also experimenting with OneNote Classroom Notebook, and I'm pleased with the results so far. I gave each student a section called "Workspace" which is exactly what it sounds like. I figured it would go largely untouched, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Nathan actually stash his ponderings there. I got to see the characters he created on Paint and some of the plans he had for for his plot.  For some unknown reason he deleted his work after one day, but -- well -- it is his work. 

In retrospect I wish I had included a rubric section for each student in their notebook.  I could have made an Excel spreadsheet that kept them updated on their scores each day. I'll definitely include that in the future.

Overall, I'm pleased with the direction this round of projects is heading and can't wait to see the final products on Friday.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I Bought a Suit

Two days before Christmas, I walked into a well-known national department store. I had two missions: buy a suit and get out quickly. I went in shortly after the store opened to beat the crowds, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the employees more than doubled the customers when I went in. 

  • I was never greeted when I walked in the door.
  • No one asked me if they could help me.
  • I had to go find someone to help me find the right size.
  • The employee who "helped" me was less than enthusiastic about measuring me and only took one measurement.
  • I was left to traipse across the store multiple times to find my size.
I almost walked out, but I really needed a suit and the sale was a good sale. I finally got a fit I thought looked good and walked out to the cash register.  My "helper" said it looked perfect and I bought it. (Later in the day, I tried it on for my wife who told me how ridiculously large it was on me. I took it back.)

With all the lousy customer service running around that day, I was amused by these signs on just about all the mirrors. 

I took my new suit, hopped in the car, and drove across the street to Kroger. I have always been impressed with the customer service at Kroger. I remember grocery shopping on Fourth of July with my 5 year old, stressed out.  I took my list to a worker with a few things I couldn't find. He walked me to each item, and I went home happy.  December 23rd was even better.  They had people walking around the store with bright (ugly) yellow shirts that said something like, "Can't find it? Ask me." I almost took a picture of these people but didn't want to appear to be some weirdo.

Two stores. Same message. Different outcome.  Is it metaphorical that in one store the message is on a mirror and in the other store the message is on a T-shirt.  Does the burden fall on the person you are looking at to help you with your questions? 

As a teacher, I am in the customer service industry. It is my job to help these kids in my room learn and achieve. All too often I have taken the laissez faire attitude adopted by the department store.  "You know where to find me. If you need help, I'm here." It's not terrible to put the burden of learning on the student.  After all, grit builds character. Wisdom comes through trials.  However, there's something to be said for the teacher who is actively walking around looking for students who need help.  A friendly face, a welcoming smile, and an occasional "How can I help you?" goes a long long way. 

Where is your offer of help - the mirror or your shirt? 

Suit Update:
I normally ignore the online survey on my receipts, but I couldn't resist this one.  I wrote a scathing review of my customer service.  Not surprisingly, a manager called me, apologizing profusely. I was surprised that she mailed me a $25 gift card to smooth things over.  While this is great, I would rather hit the nail on the head the first time rather than try to woo an angered customer back.

The day after the suit fiasco, we went to Men's Wearhouse, had excellent service (two people working with little ol' me!) and bought a beautiful suit! 

J-Term, Genius Hour, and OneNote

Welcome back to school!  My school traditionally kicks off the new semester with a week of J-Term for our middle and high school students, and I've been given the chance to teach one of these classes. Since my middle school tech class was cancelled this year, this is a great opportunity to dive back into my beloved Innovation Projects.  

I'm sitting in a room with seven middle schoolers as they ponder their projects for the week.  More on their projects in a bit. While I'm excited to see what they can create this week, I'm also excited to use a new toy -- OneNote Class Notebooks. I blogged about this tool before Christmas, and we were able to get it set up in time for this J-Term class. Here is how things are set up...

  • There is content library which all students can see but not edit. Here is where I created my "handouts" full of instructions and examples.  The whole course is laid out there for them -- proposals, daily updates, presentation, and rubric.
  • Each student has his/her own section that only the two of us can view and/or edit. There are tabs within those sections for proposal, homework, and work space. 
This project will be a bit different than the ones I've hosted in the past.  Those projects have been spread out over a marking period - one class a week.  This project will be compressed into one week of 5 two and a half hour long sessions.  The amount of time on task will be much greater (roughly 300 minutes more) but the amount of time between sessions will be much smaller.  That will result in less time thinking instead of doing and less out of class time working on the project.  It will be interesting to see what happens. 

This fall I read A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, and I'm trying to incorporate his research into this project. This book wasn't necessarily written to the Genius Hour community, but it's all about inquiry as a teaching and business model -- something us Genius Hour teachers get all nerdy about.  

I required students to use the 5 Whys for their proposals.  See my example to them below. 

My 5 Why Conversation: 
  • I am passionate about orphan care.    
  • Why are you passionate about orphan care?  
  • As an adoptive dad, I have had my eyes opened to the plight of orphans.   
  • Why is this such a big deal?  
  • There are an estimated 153 orphans in the world today. That's a big deal.   
  • Why should I care?  
  • James 1:27 makes it clear that God cares about widows and orphans, and I should too.   
  • Why does God care about widows and orphans?  
  • God always seems to cheer for the underdogs.   
  • Why haven't I pondered this more?   

I would like to plan a yard sale to benefit Show Hope, an organization committed to helping orphans find a forever home.  Since this class is only one week long, I will not be able to host the yard sale during class. Instead, I will focus my class time in planning the event. I will need to find a location and date for the yard sale.  I plan to make a Weebly web site to raise awareness of the need and ask my friends and family for donations.  I will then email, Facebook, and tweet that link out to anyone who may be able to help.  As donations roll in, I will add pictures to my web site.  I will also need to be in contact with Show Hope to see how to make the financial donation happen. For Friday's presentation, I will show a page or two of my web site, talk about why I am passionate about orphan care, and plead with my classmates to help.  
I am also requiring them to use the Why-What If-How? format for their daily updates.  See my example below. 

Why would someone donate to my yard sale?  What if I interviewed an adoptive family for my web site?  How would I do that?  It looks like I just created homework for myself. Or... I could send an email to that family in my church that adopted that boy from Ethiopia.  I probably should use my best grammar and ask nicely.   
And now, on to their projects...

  • Kate is creating a website about Greek Mythology.
  • Nathan is creating his own old-school video game.
  • Will is making a motored Lego car.
  • Lucas is creating a robot to grab his Kindle when he doesn't want to get off the couch.
  • Cooper, Jacob, and Russell are working on making a video about their favorite game, Destiny
Stay tuned for updates.  This thing will be over quick.