Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What If?

My name is John and I am a teacher.

Questions to Ponder
  • What if Public Education were to become extinct by the year 2050?
  • What if my students did not need me to learn?
  • What purpose would I then serve?
In an effort to plant seeds among my fellow colleagues I frequently share interesting Web2.0 videos, articles, or blog posts via email. I have also been known to print off articles and place them on the tables in the staff room. Last week I emailed Will Richardson's blog post Meet the New Story Same as the Old Story to a colleague and below is the response I received. I asked the individual if it was OK to share and was granted permission.

In a discussion... last night we mulled over local BOE's and how long they will last. He opened my eyes by indicating that by 2050 there will probably be no public education. There may be no need to worry about boards of education and contracts because the entire industry may be eliminated due to its lack of function and ability to meet the needs of the next generation. It is not that the end is coming, it is already here in some ways. We will be absorbed, passed, or fossilized by the speed, adaptability and usefulness of a plugged IN digital native form of education. The tar is already around our ankles and rather than get out of the pit we wax poetic about the difficulties of our occupational existence and sulk about the obstacles we face. The proof he used to illustrate his point was college online courses. Nearly every University has entire curricula that can attain a degree without setting foot in a classroom. Ten years ago we were skeptical of these degrees. Today they are an expectation. Neural interface is here. By 2050 we may not be able to distinguish between the operation of a computer interface and the workings of a human brain. What if your students didn't need you to learn? What purpose do you serve?

I vote to get out of the pit!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Charlie Rose interviews Malcolm Gladwell

Charlie interviews Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, Blink, and the Tipping Point. I highlighted a few of the key points of this enlightening conversation about the elements involved for someone to achieve success.

4:15 ~ "How long does it take to be good at something?"

Expertise is only reached after 10,000 hours of practice which roughly translates to 10 years. The first in a cohort to reach 10,000 hours has a huge advantage.

6:00 ~ "Deliberate practice. Focused, intensive practice with an eye to zeroing in on your failures. Constantly thinking about what I am not doing well and why I am not doing it well."

7:52 ~ "How do we help people achieve their potential?"

You give them opportunities to work harder. Kipp Academies, charter school, extend the school day, extend the school year through the summer, have school start at 7-6 p.m., and open on Saturday's. For kids that want to work harder will be given that opportunity.

9:50 ~ "That slight is of incalculable importance... that slight is the added psychological ingredient."

11:22 ~ "...it is all because I wanted it more, I worked harder, I focused more, I sacrificed more, and more importantly I had a deep passion for the thing...they never loose it, and it is their best friend, their very best friend..."

13:00 ~ "there's a huge difference in performance between Asian kids and Western kids on Math tests. They are not genetically better at it. They work harder. Patterns of agricultural practice.

"If a culture engages in that kind of intensive work for 1500 years it doesn't go away."

26:00 ~ "Meaningful work is one of the most important things we can impart on children. Meaningful work is autonomous, that is to say where no one is looking over your shoulder. Work that is complex that occupies your mind. Work where there is a relationship between effort and reward. For everything you put in you get something out..."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What's In Your Toolbox?

Let's consider the tools for a moment.

I know there is a seemingly endless sea of Web 2.0 tools but the ones listed below are the tools that I use pretty regularly, both personally and professionally. Honestly, I find myself getting lost in it all from time to time, but I am a work in progress. Here's the thing, I think once you learn how to use one tool really well your capacity to figure out others becomes much easier. The trick for me was to figure out authentic reasons for me to use them and then determine ways to leverage it as a way to learn or stay connected.

How can I make these tools work for me instead of against me?

Because I have several ADHD qualities many of these tools are a total distraction to me while I work. I am not speaking so much during the school day but after school when I begin grading papers or planning for the next UbD Unit. I might have YouTube videos playing, chatting with family and friends, or uploading photos to my Flickr account, and it forces me to be meta-cognitive so I can make effective decisions that will maximize my time on task.

How can I use some of these tools within my classroom?

I am to the point where I know there will be a different tool designed tomorrow that will out date the ones of today and I am o.k. with that. I think that if I am to keep up that I just need to jump in at some point, get comfortable with constant change, and enjoy the ride.

So, look out below...ahhhh...splash!

Google Reader ~This for me is the first place I go to after I triage my email. Honestly, I don't really have the time to go find all the really great work that is being done out in the edublogsphere so I try to subscribe to a variety of folks that keep me up to speed with what is going on.

Delicious ~ The tool of choice for me! If you do not have a Delicious account, stop reading and go get one today, right now...see ya. It's a way to save all your bookmarks online and organize them according to tags that you assign plus a great deal more.

Twitter ~ The micro-blog that keeps me in the circle of the know...I am more of an observer of what is going on than a contributor. I do contribute from time to time by sharing links to great resources or interesting articles.

Facebook ~ This is the one tool that connects me to just about everyone I know ~ family, old friends, colleagues from work, and friends I have made online all use Facebook.

Blogmeister ~ The blog interface I use for my fifth graders.

ePals ~ my students and I have used this as a great way to make email pen pals all around the world. I have also used this on an individual basis to speak with other educators around the world to gain a deeper perspective of the educational systems outside of America.

Technorati ~ I get a bit frustrated with this tool. I am pretty sure my blog is sync'ed up with technorati but I have had some technical difficulties with this. Basically, after you get a blog up and running you would claim it within Technorati and it then becomes part of this blog search engine. There are over 1.5 million blogs registered with this service and seems to be one of the first go to places for folks when searching blogs.

Friendfeed ~ another way to stay up to date with all those you want to keep up with.

StumbleUpon ~ a neat way to spend 5-10 minutes.

LinkedIn ~ I have setup an account but that is about as far I have gone with this. Perhaps this will come in handy if I ever need it for future contacts or future professional adventures.

PBwiki and Wikispaces ~ I have never really used a wiki with others but it has proven to be a nice way for me to organize a few class projects and other professional work that I have done.

Blackboard ~ the website of choice in our District.

Flickr ~ I have a Flickr account and upload many photos there but I need to spend more time with this to be able to take advantage of all that Flickr has to offer.

Flickr Storm ~ a nice place to search through photos that can be used through a Creative Commons License.

Video 2 and Video 3 produced by David Jakes

~ I find photobucket much easier to use than Flickr. There are many preloaded bells and whistles like remixes and slideshows that can be made very easily.

Last fm ~ A social network for music lovers...aren't we all lovers of music? I use it but again I am not taking full advantage of all it has to offer.

YouTube/TeacherTube ~ Love it ~ I have given up television for YouTube. Music videos, how to instruction, old comedy stand ups, inspirational videos...the list for me is endless. I have an account and have started adding videos to my "Favorites." I have recently discovered "Playlist" feature. Type in John Mayer then click Playlist and you will get preloaded lists of videos of John Mayer...too cool.

GMail ~ I know GMail is loaded with features but honestly I just haven't taken the time to play around with all that it can do to fully appreciate it. I do love the chat feature built in and sometimes it's the only way my wife can get ahold of me while at work.

Google Doc's ~ I no longer have Microsoft Word and completely use Doc's. Not having Word posses a problem when I try to open a link that is a Word Doc. but otherwise Google Doc's does just fine.

Google Notebook ~ recently been working on some research for a side job I have been working on and have absolutely fallen in love with Notebook and the share feature that makes all my notes into a link to share with others. Too cool.

Google Calendar ~ calendars frustrate me...I have way too many and I have tried to consolidate and go completely digital last year and it failed miserably. This year I have a little green calendar notebook I use, the calendar loaded on my Mac, and Google Calendar. Do you know what? They don't all match either...still working on this one.

Feedburner ~ it tells me I have 7 people subscribing to this blog. If you are one, "Hello there, thanks for subscribing."

Google Maps/Earth ~ I have a couple projects on the back burner that I would like to work out with our ePals but otherwise it's just a really cool tool that my son and I love to spend time on.

Upload ~ after I create a little song using GarageBand, upload allows me to "upload" that which in turn creates a weblink to the uploaded song so I can then share with others.

iTunes ~ Love it! I download podcasts, songs, and spend a a good deal of time on iTunesU poking around for teacher related material. I have recently discovered MIT and their OpenCourseWare program and will probably be spending more time there than iTunes.

Ning ~
I have recently been asked by our ELA Committee at school to find a tool that we could use in our small group where we could share our thinking online about the book that we are reading. The Ning has fit that purpose nicely.

Skype a video conferencing program that is free and allows you to chat, send files, or use a web cam to talk with folks. A nice way to stay connected with friends and family.

UStream ~ this for me has been a way for me to save and organize my guitar licks that I discover while playing. I will pick up my guitar for 1o minutes and come up with a really cool chord progression or lick that I don't want to forget and so I fire up Ustream and record myself so I won't forget it.

Jott ~ when I have an idea or something I don't want to forget I jott myself and an email is sent with my recorded voice to help me remember. I am all about writing down To Do lists, ideas, great words, phrases, or anything that catches my attention. When I write it down my mind is now free to think of other more creative ideas and solutions to problems. Jott helps me achieve this goal.

Ultimately, I consider myself a work in progress and I am just trying to keep up, or better yet simply stay in the "circle of those who know," which I guess we are calling our Personal Learning Network.

What tools do you use?

John ~
husband, dad, teacher, learner

Friday, December 19, 2008

Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

A business man, after a long and tiring day, is sitting on the Metro ready for the lengthy southbound ride home when another gentlemen and his three young children enter and take a seat. The slow and mundane ride continues and within a few moments the three children are up and running around being incredibly loud and obnoxious. The business man, exhausted from his long day, looks at the father waiting for him to discipline his children but nothing is said.

The annoyed man restrains from saying anything to the neglectful father hoping that someone else on the Metro ride will. Several minutes pass and the children are still being disruptive and so he finally turns around in his seat and aggressively says, "excuse me sir your children are disrupting every one's ride here, could you please tell them to take their seats?" The father responds somewhat dazed and confused and gently says, "ahh, sure...you're right, I'm sorry. We've just left the hospital - their mother has just died and I guess they are not quite sure how to deal with the loss yet. To be honest, neither am I. I am not really sure what I am going to do now."

The business man turned back around in his seat and didn't say a word for the remainder of the trip.

How do you think the business man felt after finding out such news? Do you believe he had changed his way of thinking toward the father and his three motherless children?

My question is what will it take for the System of Education to experience a swift and dramatic change in thinking in order to prepare students for this Century?

After I read Will Richardson's, Meet the New Story, Same as the Old Story I let out a big sigh, and then thought of my own children. Will goes on to say:

"...is it any wonder that we've stopped dreaming of what can be? Of all the teachers I've had the privilege of speaking and working with in the last few years, I doubt that many of them can even now really dream of a different way, one that celebrates learning and connections and independence in the ways that many of those networked classrooms we see. They might be able to visualize it, but I don't think many see it as a potential reality in their classrooms, in their schools. There are too many reasons why it can't happen. Too many obstacles. Too little vision. (I would be happy to be proven wrong, btw.)"

Then Richardson goes on to quote Ira Socol:

"It is time to stop hiding and start dreaming. It is time to reject what we are doing now: hell, that's easy, we know it does not work. And it is time to reject all the "tinkering around the edges" which wastes our energy and accomplishes nothing. We have to say no to everything that is not sufficiently transformative, which does not change what education is, and put all of our energies into ideas which will transform."

I think one major obstacle that we all face is an ingrained way of thinking, and collectively we will need to experience a paradigm shift, like the business man and the motherless children, if real change will occur. There are far too many people comfortable with the status quo, far too many people that don't completely understand the magnitude of our time (myself included), and I am guessing that until the pressure on the outside becomes greater than the resistance on the inside this shift in thinking will not occur on the massive scale that is needed. Hence the grassroots movement that we are seeing within the edublogsphere and the rally call that Richardson puts out there:

"So, we'll have to continue changing one parent at a time, one teacher at a time, one classroom at a time, one school at a time, connecting the good works and finding a wider and wider audience for the conversation. And we have to continue to create that compelling new reality of what's possible, post by post, tweet by tweet. And, we have to continue to dream it."

I respect this call to duty and accept the challenge but it sounds more like Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Follow the Leader

Chris Lehmann, Principal for Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, has an amazing thought provoking presentation called School 2.0: Progressive Pedagogy in the 21st Century that can be found here and here.

Run time is about an hour but take a breath, click play, and hold on because Chris passionately delivers his message succinctly without a second waisted.

Stream videos at Ustream

Chris' Notes on his Wiki
Live Back Channel Chat
UStream of Audience Feedback

See What Others Have Said
Lisa Huff
Jill Elfering
Wes Fryer
Chris Lehmann

My Own Thoughts
Chris is our lighthouse, our fence post, and our point man as we navigate through uncharted territories. He is blazing a path for others to follow.

While watching, I was reminded of the final scenes in the movie Patriot with Mel Gibson. Chris would be the one to grab the American Flag, push his way to the top of the grassy knoll, and wave it for others to see despite the risks involved. In that scene, the troops are being beaten down badly but its only after the courage, vision, and passion of one man that turns things around.

If there is a leader among us...we will follow.

I know, I know, we are all leaders right? Sure. To some degree this is true but I think even Seth Godin would agree that within the dynamics of any group there is an individual who stands out among the rest, a visionary, an intelligent and balanced soul that ignites the passions of those around him.

Follow the Leader

Alright, that's it for me...I am going to go reread John Dewey now.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

I have thoroughly enjoyed Seth Godin's book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

This book is filled with a plethora of thoughtful ideas on how the world has a shortage of leaders and how we all have the power to lead. He goes on to argue that leadership is the best marketing tactic for any organization. Leaders make a rucous. Leaders can come from the bottom.

"How was your day?" He asks and explores the idea that those who like their jobs are doing the best work, making the greatest impact, and changing the most. Those that like their jobs the most are changing the way they see the world and changing the world itself by challenging the status quo. He suggests that one person, just one person can make a huge difference.

Here is a corresponding Question and Answer eBook that was designed by a group of volunteers.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Through What Lens Do You See the World?

Ok, here it is...at least the way I see it.

I would imagine that when a carpenter looks at all the world he sees a nail, and when a mathematician stops to look he may see the world in numbers, patterns, and algorithms. What lens does the elementary teacher see through?

My first hip shot reaction to such a question would be the "literacy lens." We teach students, ultimately, to be literate. Right? It is the central theme around all that we do and is integrated heavily within every single subject we teach. If students are not literate than most likely they are struggling in our building.

This is not to say that we are not teaching Math or Science or Social Studies because of course we are. However, even in Math, at least at the fifth grade level, there is a tremendous amount of "literacy" involved with problem solving and developing written responses to solutions.

So what then is the definition of "literacy?" What does it mean to be literate, especially in the 21st Century?

Literacy according to NCTE:
Twenty-first century readers and writers need to:
- Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
- Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
- Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
- Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
- Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
- Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

"...Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies - are multiple, dynamic, and malleable."

Here lies the lens at which I see the world ~ a complex idea of literacy in our day and age.

Ever since Alan November came to our school I have delved into the world of technology. Probably more out of curiosity than anything else, but I discovered that the world outside of our classrooms are changing dramatically and maybe just maybe, if all we do is teach our kids to be able to read and write that it might not be enough.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Professional Growth

It was the third and final round of interviewing for the elementary teaching position, and I wanted desperately to make a strong first impression with the Superintendent. My sweaty palms and stuffy suit did not make this any easier, but all of my Marine Corps training came flooding to my frontal lobe as I entered his office. In my mind I kept repeating, "make eye contact, speak with confidence, and don't sit until he does."

We talked. Within minutes I was relaxed and the casual conversation that he was directing was about "my story" while he was diligently taking notes and genuinely seeking to understand.

As the conversation ensued he showed me a picture of Gordon's Ladder. It was the first time I had ever seen this and I didn't really grasp the full meaning of what it meant to be Unconsciously Unskilled or Unconsciously Skilled. That was five years ago and I still to the day continue to gain a deeper understanding of what Gordon's Ladder truly means.

To frame this conversation, let's put Gordon's Ladder in the context of the professional growth of teachers. The idea of continuous improvement reminds me of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development where we are able to achieve in part because of our more able peers. Being continuous however, suggests that we never truly reach a destination, there is never a moment where we can lean back on the two legs of our chair, hands woven behind our heads, and our feet propped up on the desk and say, "ahh, I've made it."

So let's for a moment focus on the bottom rung of Gordon's Ladder, Unconsciously Unskilled. This suggests that there are areas in our professional lives that are not improving and we do not even realize it. But through careful and diligent reflection we can begin to uncover those areas in our profession where we are unskilled.

In this moment of meta-cognition we would then shift into being Consciously Unskilled; we are now aware of that with which we do not know. We are then left with the opportunity to make changes and continue up the ladder towards being Consciously Skilled. In time, with continuous improvement being the goal, we would reach that place on Gordon's Ladder where we become Unconsciously Skilled, using the knowledge we have achieved in a manner that is fluid and dynamic and happens effortlessly.

Being Unconsciously Skilled seems to me like the psychological concept of Flow according to Csikszentmihalyi.

Compare Gordon's Ladder to the Social Technographic Ladder. Here lies yet another continuum of professional growth that requires a set of goals, reflection, and collegial support to begin to climb this ladder.

  • Are you aware of what you are unskilled at?
  • Are your students aware of what they are unskilled at?
  • What are you unconsciously skilled at?
  • What are your students unconsciously unskilled at?
  • Where would you place yourself on the Social Technographic Ladder?
  • How will you spend your available time to continue your professional growth on these ladders?
  • How will you empower your students to climb these ladders?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pieces to the Puzzle

Here is my attempt at trying to piece some of the "stuff" rolling around in my head.

Point #1
Consider for a moment David Warlick's Converging Conditions.
  • Unpredictable Future
  • Info-Savvy Students
  • New Information Landscape
Point #2
Now take some time to ponder the National Educational Technology Standards and Performance Indicators for Teachers.
  1. Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity.
  2. Design and Develop Digital-Age Learning Experiences and Assessments.
  3. Model Digital-Age Work and Learning
  4. Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsibility
  5. Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership
Point #3
Let's sprinkle in a little of the NCTE Definition of 21st-CenturyLiteracies into this conversation.

Point #4
As a final component to this equation, take a moment to let this quote from Lucy Calkins work its way into your consideration:

"The problem is that if our teaching is to be an art, we need an organizing vision that brings together all of these separate components into something graceful and vital and significant. It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art, but the selection, balance, coherence and design of those ideas."

Calkins, Lucy. The Art of Teaching Reading. New York: Longman, 2001.

OK you 21st-Century Teachers, now take a deep breath, reread if necessary, and begin planning. Ugh!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Birth of a Poem

There I was at approximately 7:45p.m. and decided to tackle my paperwork a bit early before the kids actually made their way to bed. I carefully placed each item in its proper location on our wooden kitchen table. Laptop to the right for recording grades and twittering while I work, ungraded pile of student work directly to its left, and the completed pile just under that. Of course, my hazelnut flavored cup-o-joe was close by as well as the charging iPod.


Just as my work area was prepped and ready, my four year old son suddenly dove into the kitchen with his "Thomas the Tank Engine" Laptop and promptly joined me at the table. It wasn't long until he made his way to my welcoming lap when we read through a writing assignment one of my students had completed. The writing by the way was very good and filled with wonderful descriptive phrases that led Gavin and I down the road to great conversations.

Fast forwarding the scene a bit, Gavin felt so inspired by the writing that it led him to place his pencil to paper where he began to create his very own "Halloween poem to display at his school."

Ghosts, Witches,
and Kids
Trick or Treat
in the city
and vampires
all the kids
are trick or treating
all the kids
dressing up for

This was an amazing moment for me to witness this story literally come alive. Gavin was filled with an intense sense of urgency to finish the poem despite the fact that bedtime was quickly approaching and there was simply no stopping that train.

From a teacher's perspective there is so much that I can speak to. For instance, Gavin had an authentic audience that he was writing for, his school. For this reason it drove him to do his very best work that he wanted to desperately share with others. He was able to draw from his previous experiences which allowed him to tap into his language and knew what his message was going to be. He had his topic and then knew what genre would fit his apparent need at the time, poetry.

From a parental perspective I am just so thankful to be a dad and I am touched each and everyday by this wonderful gift. Right now I am really just trying to enjoy these days that I still get to carry them to bed, and help them brush their teeth, and to be able to spin them around through the air while they are in my arms. I absolutely treasure each moment I can hold my kids in my arms because I know it won't be long before I am teaching them how to drive and help them decide on which college to choose.

This was certainly one of those defining moments for me as a dad and honestly I am still trying to find the right words that explains the fact that my eyes are filling up with tears while I am actually writing this. At any rate, if you have read this far I thank you for your time.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Memoir Monday

I have recently been enjoying a blog by Ruth Ayres and Stacey Shubitz called Two Writing Teachers, who have designed a section within their blog called Memoir Monday. Their challenge is to "bloggers from all backgrounds (not just teachers!) a chance to reflect on something from the past. Each writer creates a memoir-like post by writing with precision about an event or a person and how it changed them as a person."

Here is my attempt at Memoir Monday with a piece titled, Family Matters.

Thinking back through the years the only hardships I experienced was that I lived the typical routine life; a middle class boy in a middle class town in a middle class home with middle class values. My parents both developed these traditions by working themselves out of severe childhood poverty and wanted so much to give my sister and I the life they never had.

These values were first challenged the night we lost our home and all of our belongings to a tragic fire. There is something very surreal at the tender age of 12 to suddenly loose everything, to be standing at the location where your home once was, to be standing among the black ashes and rubble that use to be your bedroom.

That starless night, we came home to an endless sea of emergency lights and my first thought was that something happened to our elderly neighbor. It was only after getting closer to the scene that I suddenly realized the horrible truth. I stood at the edge of the smoldering ashes of what used to be our home, heaving tears from my eyes and wondering, “What are we going to do now?”

It was at this moment that my father, who was crying as well, held our family together in his arms and found the strength to comfort us all. “It’s OK, everything that is important is right here, right now, in my arms,” he said. Hearing those words gave different reason for my tears to fall.

Over time, we rebuilt our home and all the material things were replaced and life fell back into the typical middle class routine, but something was different. Not only did I loose my home that night but my childhood as well. I felt older and somehow more confident and comfortable knowing that no matter what happens I will always have the unconditional love of my family. To me there is nothing more important than this.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Taking a Hatchet to My Aggregator

Tonight I took a hatchet to my G-Reader and deleted many RSS feeds that I simply have not given any attention to lately. This was really long overdue. There was a slight sense of guilt that was associated with this process but then again Google Reader is part of the network that can and will change as needed. So, the guilty feeling is gone and I am now on the look out for other intermediate elementary teachers that are blogging to build the G-Reader back up.

I have recently added the following bloggers in the good ole aggregator that seem to focus heavily on intermediate elementary issues:

Lisa's Lingo by Lisa Parisi
A fifth grade teacher that I had been following on twitter for awhile but for some reason I did not have her blog or her Delicious feed in my Google Reader.

Creating Life Long Learners by Matthew Needleman
"Creating Lifelong Learners is a blog which aims to offer practical tips for elementary teachers in teaching language arts, valuing students and their cultures, appealing to different learning modalities, and integrating technology in the curriculum."

Two Writing Teachers by Ruth Ayers and Stacey Shubitz
"Good teaching is good teaching. Too often we get caught up in what’s happening in our own classroom walls or in the faculty lounge of our own school building. This blog is a place that erases all of those barriers and focuses simply on teaching kids to write and catching minds in the midst..."

Angela Maiers
"I am proud of my 20-year career in education, especially the years I spent as a classroom teacher. I am currently working as an independent consultant dedicated and committed to helping DOE’s, schools, districts and teachers reach their goals in literacy and literacy education."

The challenge with this type of social network is that I feel I take much more than I give. Anyone else feel this way too?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Eternal Fall

There is something majestic about this time of year with the continuous collage of colors that gently roll over the New England hills, where hot coffee tastes a bit better, where smooth jazz seems to strum the heartstrings, and warm sweaters feels oh so right. I love it and could easily live out the rest of my days in eternal fall.

This morning my kids and I stepped out of the house away from the t.v., computers, and even books just to spend some time gettin' dirty and enjoying the great outdoors. Unfortunately, my days during the week are hectic and my weekends can be pretty crazy as well working a second jobby job, but today was all about the kids.

As much as I enjoy the constant hustle and bustle that technology brings and teaching 21st Century Skills there is still something in me that hungers for tranquility and a place where there are no signs of civilization. Let me tell ya, I think it is getting pretty hard these days to find such a place. When was the last time you were outside at night and could not see any other lights around, whether it be from another house or a town or a city?

I long for the endless sea of brilliant sparkling stars in the depths of the sweet autumn night sky. I guess this is from my Henry David Thoreau influence.

Oh, by the way, we are getting a Smart Board in our fifth grade classroom.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Info Influx

I have a confession to make...I rarely, I mean rarely get through the unread links in my Google Reader account. However, I usually find myself going through the Delicious links first and today I zeroed in on Will Richardson's.

He bookmarked an article from the School Library Journal titled Now Embeddable: Google Books! by Joyce Valenza and boy did I have a time with this. As I do with the nifty Web2.0 gadgets I come across, I was trying to see how I can make this new Google Book embeddable feature work in Our Wiki, unfortunately I had no luck.

So, I was bouncing back and forth from Google's Operating System Blog to the School Library Journal and back and forth between my blog, Our Wiki, and my classblogmeister account to try to get this feature to work. There must have been 10 tabs open at the top of my Firefox browser as I was trying to manage the madness.

I was to prevail in time, but oh did it take time. Here's the thing, it takes me an ungodly amount of time to figure this Web2.0 "stuff" out and because of this I rarely get through my G-Reader. I have also come to realize that this is OK...it's the network that I have created and the information isn't going anywhere. So if it's needed I can surely search through and find the information that I am looking for.

Here lies another aspect of what I am figuring out about myself. The obvious part: There are only a certain number of minutes in a day and I have to be as strategic with them as possible. For me, it always come down to this question: "How am I going to help my children and my students manage the massive influx of information and be as effective as possible about the choices they make and how they decide to spend their time if I am not able to model this for them?" The good ole lead by example...I guess this is the Marine in me.

So I have opened the flood gates and allowed myself to be subjected to the blast of the blogosphere so that I can learn how to not only stay afloat but to learn how to truly leverage this for myself. So at any rate, it took me a good chunk of the day to figure out how to embed Google Books into wikispaces and I am still working at it. I was able to embed books here in Blogger.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Writing Momentum

The first couple weeks of the new school year seems to be going very well with this group of fifth graders. I am strategically and energetically setting up the routine for our Reading and Writing Workshop and already finding much success.

Teaching reading and writing is most definitely an art form and I think to do it well, really well, the teacher has to let go of some control. We are not painting by numbers but rather helping students believe and live their lives like readers and writers. I think the first part in empowering students to think like this is to give them the opportunities to read and write about things they are passionate about.

Perhaps they may not be passionate writers at first, but I can tell you that after a couple days of sharing out what they have written for the day, everyone wants to have the chance to read their favorite section to the entire class. The momentum is definitely in my favor right now, the key is to keep it going. So, the challenge I have been thinking about is, "How am I going to sustain this writing momentum?"

Actually, I already know the answer...I think.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Little Steps

Ok, so I have been thinking about my presentation to my students' parents during our first Curriculum Night, which is scheduled for the end of September. Last years power point presentation was a spectacular Non Example of how to utilize power point and so I am now in the process of a complete overhaul.

Last Year's PowerPoint: In the famous words of Leelefever, "booo..."

Curriculum Night 2007
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

This Year's Presentation that I will speak to:

Curriculum Night 2008(Ppt)
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

Here's the thing. I am attempting to build a bridge between myself and the parents. So of course, I do spend some time introducing myself and this year, my attempt was to simply use photos that I will speak to in order to achieve this goal. I guess you can say these are little steps towards Digital Storytelling.

Then, instead of blasting my audience with a ton of text on each slide I only use a short phrase or word that will help prompt me as to what I will speak about. However, I still feel as though the parents may want to take notes or jot questions or concerns down along the way so, I designed another presentation/handout that is text driven that will correspond with my verbal presentation.

I think this is a small step, hopefully in the right direction. I did spend 3 or 4 nights putting this together after all of the family went to bed, which is OK. Working through this project did allow me the opportunity to focus on the essential points that I want to speak to. In the end I will be able to chalk this up as another learning experience in the digital landscape.

Here is the corresponding handout that the parents will have during my presentation:

There are a few glitches in this presentation such as 2008 showing up twice on the title slide and a few hyperlinks that are not accessible and I am not sure why.
Curriculum Night Ppt
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where Will You Be In Two Years?

This was me two years ago.

This is me today.

Where will I be two years from now?

Images from flickr user Courosa: http://www.flickr.com/photos/courosa/

Friday, August 22, 2008

Is This Too Good To Be True?

What instructional strategy helps promote active learning and deep processing of information?

What instructional strategy will improve reading comprehension, communication skills, promote Habits of Mind, and build a community of learners?

What instructional strategy will combat apathy, engage instead of enrage, provide choice, allow for creativity, and strum the heart strings of all students?

Interestingly enough it has nothing to do with technology - the answer to the questions above is:

Socratic Seminar

Socratic Seminar by definition is an authentic dialogue centered around an essential or content essential question.

Let's break that down a bit and sort through the language here.

Dialogue by Definition:
Dialogue is not a discussion and it's the exact opposite of a debate. According to Daniel Yankelovich, dialogue has three distinctive features that differentiate it from a discussion or other forms of talk. They are:

1. Equality and the absence of coercive influences.
2. Listening with empathy.

3. Bringing assumptions into the open.

Senge suggests that the "practice of dialogue consists of a free flow of meaning between people, where the group accesses a pool of common understanding such that the whole organizes the parts. What is promised is that dialogue can enable people to go beyond their individual understanding by exploring issues from different perspectives, suspending assumptions, and communicating freely."

Now for a bit more of the abstract...the essential questions.

Essential Questions
  • Have no right answers
  • are open ended
  • require you to take a stand
  • require higher level thought processes
  • universal
  • divergent
  • require introspection
  • involve meta-cognition
  • are thought provoking
  • are haunting
Examples of Essential Questions
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Are leaders made?
  • Are we really free?
  • What is truth?
If you have never experienced a Socratic Seminar it is incredibly enlightening. In an effort to gain a true meaning of the power of such a strategy we actually practiced during the Socratic Seminar Workshop I was a part of. The group took some time to read through a short poem by Maya Angelou called Song for the Old Ones, which I was not familiar with.

The inner and outer circles were formed. The inner circle participated in the "dialogue" while the outer circle listened and took notes using a graphic organizer that was handed out. After 15 minutes of great dialogue the outer circle took the time to report our observations. Then we reversed roles and I had the grand opportunity to be sitting in the inner circle.

Here I am now entering the dialogue after 15 minutes of already intense intellectual questioning and reasoning from the first group...what depth could we possibly add? Low and behold the second inner circle was able to take the dialogue in another direction, go deeper in our understanding of the poem, and the group as a whole felt as if we knew the poem so much better after this session.

Honestly, this was a fantastic experience and worth the price of admission. I am hooked and will frame this in a way where I can make effective use of this strategy at a fifth grade level. Oh, sure there will have to be a great deal of back work and explicit teaching to really get to a point where the kids are going "deep."

I wonder though as we see more and more people, kids especially, text messaging and spending their days in the virtual world if this puts the art of reading body language, the art of conversation, or in this case the art of dialogue in serious jeopardy? This strategy requires students to make eye contact, restrain impulsivity, and find the right moment to interject. Socratic Seminar puts the human touch so much into play where we can see the face and read the body. This strategy forces us to pause and ponder and wonder and continue to ask questions where ultimately there may be no answers.

Further Reading:

Lambright, Leslie. "Creating a Dialogue. Socratic Seminars and Educational Reform." Community College Journal Feb/Mar 1995: page 30-34.

Metzger, Margaret. "Teaching Reading Beyond the Plot." Phi Delta Kappan v80 1998.

Tredway, Lynda. "Socratic Seminars: Engaging Students in Intellectual Discourse." Educational Leadership September 1995: page 65.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Understanding by Design ~ Stage 3

I don't think Father Sarducci has experience with Understanding by Design where his goal was on those Enduring Understandings.

Best Designs for Learning
In our third and final day at the UbD workshop we were asked to think back on our personal experiences as a learner either inside or outside the classroom and describe the characteristics that made the lesson engaging.

1. What was the most well designed learning experience you have encountered as a learner?
2. What features of the task made the learning engaging, effective, or enduring?

The catch however is you cannot focus on the teachers style or your personal interests.

My List of Engaging Learning Experiences (in no particular order)
  • time to "play"
  • immediate feedback
  • expectations were clear
  • support along the way
  • There was a sense that I was able to accomplish the task
  • Choice
  • Authentic
  • Hands-On

I twittered this question "What do you think makes a lesson engaging for students?" and Jeff Lewis, a fourth grade teacher from Colorado responded:

So I ask you, what else would you include in the list for engaging learning experiences?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Understanding by Design ~ Stage 2

Day 2
Understanding by Design

We walked into this Entrance Task and the conversation ensued

Do grades predict level of understanding?

My thoughts: First of all, assessment has to match what was taught and the students learning style should really be taken into consideration. There should be as many different types of assessments to be able to gather as much evidence as possible to show that student learning and understanding has taken place.

Stage 2 of UbD ~ Determine Acceptable Evidence

In order to make the determination that a deep understanding of the "content" has taken place we as educators need to have a "photo album" of assessments rather than a snap shot. A huge focus in today's workshop was the design of a Performance Task and a corresponding rubric. Before we even jump in this stage however let's take a moment to reflect on this idea of "understanding" and what this really means.

What is Understanding? ~ Understanding is revealed or uncovered when students are able to transfer their learning through authentic applications. Read here to see how wikipedia has framed the definition of understanding.

Revealed or uncovered are two words that are screaming at me because when I think of myself as a learner its during those "ah ha" moments through conversations or contemplations where my understanding is indeed revealed. I get it...but this is no easy task to accomplish in a classroom. What are the conditions necessary to provide students with these "ah ha" moments of understanding?

UbD has designed the Six Facets of Understanding which help shape the construction of an authentic Performance Task.

Facet 1 ~ Explanation
Facet 2 ~ Interpretation
Facet 3 ~ Application

Facet 4 ~ Perspective

Facet 5 ~ Empathy

Facet 6 ~ Self Knowledge

Unlike Blooms Taxonomy, the 6 Facets of Understanding do not follow an increased progression of difficulty. They can be used equally as a way to begin to recognize if the learner understands and has thoughtfully considered the questions. The 6 Facets provide a way of providing evidence of a deeper level of understanding as well as helping teachers craft meaningful assessments to determine if the desired level of understanding has taken place. This is really a challenging way to design a unit and has pushed my own level of thinking. I find myself asking the "big questions" constantly during today's work

UbD has hooked me because the entire focus has been to take kids to that deep level of understanding that can be transferred and utilized outside of the particular content it is being presented in. Designing Performance Tasks are not easy but such an important piece to this process.

For me it's when the head and the heart have been inspired despite an enthusiastic teacher or love for a particular topic but a genuine interest in the task at hand...Good stuff.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Understanding by Design ~ Stage 1

"To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination." Gotta love Stephen Covey and those 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Today was the first of a three day workshop, Understanding by Design, that our District is providing during the off time of our summer months. I walked to the top floor and into our Staff Development room with my laptop over my shoulder and received Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins Professional Development Workbook and a neatly organized three ring binder to boot. I was joined at my table by our new principal and fellow fifth grade teacher for the day and was honored to have the opportunity to work with both.

UbD (which is just a lot easier to type) is a unit model that uses content as a vehicle for higher order thinking, and according to Jay McTighe, "UbD is a way of thinking, not a program."

Basically, there is a three stage planning process that really is backward to much of my planning in the past.

Stage 1: Identify the Desired Results
Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence
Stage 3: Create a Learning Plan

Today's main focus was Stage 1, Identify Desired Results, and the workshop was setup in such a way to scaffold our thinking through these first few steps. Our group quickly chose Government as our topic and began our brainstorming session on what the Factual Knowledge and Discrete Skills were at a fifth grade level.

UbD's main premise seems to be enabling students to go deep deep in their thinking by the teachers developing Essential Questions and Understandings that guide the lessons of the content that can then be transferred among other disciplines. Examples of Essential Questions could be:
  • Why is it important to have rights?
  • How is an individual responsible to himself or herself and others?

Examples of Understanding could be:
  • Citizens have rights and responsibilities in a Democracy
  • Democracy provides for the opportunity to have have different perspectives
  • Democracy functions as an effective system when there is order

What I find fascinating with Essential Questions and Understanding like this is that they can be applied in so many settings and are simply not limited to the study of government. They can be applied to a classroom community, personal citizenship, any club or organization, church, or even on sports teams.

What led our group to identify these essential questions and understandings about our topic of government was a set of very specific questions that I have listed below.
  • Why study government? So what?
  • What makes the study of government universal?
  • If the unit on government is a story, what's the moral of the story?
  • What's the Big Idea implied in the skill or process of government?
  • What larger concepts, issue, or problem underlies government?
  • What couldn't we do if we didn't understand government?
  • How is government used and applied in the larger world?
  • What is a real-world insight about government?
  • What is the value of studying government?
Take a moment and look at the questions above as a way for you to gauge the lessons you are already teaching. Wherever you see the word government insert the particular concept you are teaching. These questions bring to light what it is we really want the children to be able to walk away with after a lesson or unit of study.

It's the meat and potatoes of the learning that touches the head and the heart.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Tasty Nuggets

Things that Make You Go Hmmm

1. Louis Landon ~ piano player that I stumbed upon while digging through UStream. Fantastic and great to work to.

2. Scribd ~ wonderful little Web2.0 tool that converts common documents into embeddable files and much more.

3. Conversion Blogging ~ Yaro Starak blogger extraordinaire

4. Powers of 10 ~ Youtube video that makes you feel very small.

5. Mygazines ~ browse through and read magazines... for free. Hmm? Sounds fishy to me but I was able to read this months Macworld.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Humbling Experience

Over the last couple of months I have had the distinct honor to be hired as a consultant for Alpha House Publishers to begin to assist them in marketing their books using the tools available online. This grand opportunity has stretched my experience beyond measure and has allowed me to have but a glimpse into a different side of business outside the four walls of a classroom

Probably one of the most unique experiences thus far was like a scene out Peter Senge's book, The Fifth Discpline. The Executive Editor of this Publishing House led a collaborative brainstorming session with her authors to begin to design and construct a Mission Statement.

It was quite humbling to be able to sit with them at the table and witness this organizations values being laid out and discussed among all stake holders. I was asked to sit in and I took notes during this session and about 5 minutes into the conversation I had one of those magical moments of clarity where I knew I was experiencing something very special and very unique.

The Authors and the Executive Editor were willing to open themselves up briefly to good ole fashion dialogue, and they reached a point where each member sitting at the table, contributed a portion of their values and ideals that will ultimately help this Publishing House develop their identity.

Here are but a few quotes that came out during this "brainstorming" session:
  • caring about the process as well as the product
  • we are truly writing from an international perspective...world is interconnected and the issues cannot be divided by borders.
  • we have a shared responsibility as a human race and we express this in a practical way through our books.
  • we are allowed to make valued judgements
  • we are writing with integrity
  • I want to be aware of who you are as a whole person
  • words are powerful tools for change at many levels...sometimes at less obvious levels.
  • connection between the page and someone in ways you would have never predicted or thought about.
  • This Publishing House is a tool in the service of other people.

This was the first of many discussions I am sure, but right from the start I was able to witness an exchange of ideas among employees and employer, which to me is simply fantastic. I believe that the Executive Editor understands the value of a learning organization with a "shared vision" and seems to have naturally begun to embed these values.

I leave you with a fitting quote from Peter Senge:

When you ask people about what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part
of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit.

(Senge 1990: 13)