Review Blues

Education

It’s that time of year again. We have come to the end of our history content and now we are knee deep in the process of reviewing everything all over again. What about this time of year fills me with such dread? Why is it that I enjoy my job all year to get to the end and feel so differently?

The first thing is that the end is near and everyone is looking ahead. Summer is so much fun. Students and teachers alike are ready to be done and free to do anything but be in school. I wish I could say that this doesn’t apply to me, but it does. My patience is running thin for particular students and I am ready for an extended break to recharge my batteries. I wouldn’t necessarily call this an excuse, but more a reality at the end of the school year. I wouldn’t call it human nature, I would call it a part of the life cycle of the school year. The question is, could this be different next year? I’m not sure.

The second thing is that there is state testing involved in the stress of the season. I do not talk about the test, and I don’t want my students to be stressed about a test. Does that mean there is zero stress? No. I am a duck riding on the surface of the water…everything looks calm, but the duck’s feet are kicking wildly under the water. My caffeine intake tends to skyrocket, I’m shorter with students than I need to be, and I feel like I’m always tired. Could this be different? Sure.

I’m trying to be proactive this year. I’ve started taking evening walks now that the weather is cooperating. I’m reminding myself of a mantra a previous principle had “Choose your attitude.” I cannot control the students in my class, but I can control how I act and how I respond to the students in my classroom. No matter what, I need to be a positive influence on the students in my classroom and continue to push them to the finish line.

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Glitter Bombs and Education

Education

I laughed hysterically watching would be thieves getting covered in glitter and fart spray. If you are not sure what I am talking about, there is a Youtube video making the rounds on the internet showing a gentleman taking revenge on some package thieves. He is an engineer and was able to create a package that took video, uploaded it to the cloud, tracked the package via GPS, flung glitter, and sprayed fart spray on a few people who stole packages off of front porches.

While the sinful side of me took joy watching payback unfold right before my eyes, I also reflected on the learning process that took place on the video and whether my students are walking a similar process in my class.

He started with an idea of what he wanted. In science class this would be called “forming a hypothesis” but we usually call it “making an educated guess” in history class. He decided what the goal was for his project. He wanted a package that did very specific things. In my classroom I do not think I use prediction as well as I could. Making an educated guess at events that might happen next is a skill that is developed over time. While not a “testable skill” it is a skill that students will need to develop in their lives to understand the possible consequences for actions.

Next, he used his resources to collect materials that accomplished the goals he set out for. I noticed at this point that while he does play to his strengths as an engineer, he did employ some help to accomplish his goals. He constructed something that looked like it would accomplish the goal of payback.

He used his knowledge in building the product to test his goals. He methodically tested each element (the GPS, the camera, the motor for the spinner, etc.) to make sure it did exactly what he wanted it to. He did not include a lot of this footage in the final video, but I would guess there was a bit of trial an error in a machine this complicated.

Lastly he put his product into the real world to see what it could do…and it was spectacular.

My reflections on this process are:

  • Do I allow my students to come up with good ideas and put them to the test? This would be difficult in a history classroom, but I think it would be good for my kids
  • Do I use real world application enough? Again, difficult in a history classroom, but I think it is possible during certain units of study.

Teacher Culture

Education

I am now in month two of my third school of my teaching career.  The thing that I am noticing the most when it comes to changing schools is that there is a lot of culture at school.  There are teacher cultures, student cultures, administration cultures, parent cultures, etc.  It boggles my mind how many cultural shifts I have had to deal with in this early part of the school year.

During teacher inservice days, I was almost overcome with all the teacher cultural differences in my new school.  Many of the faculty at my new school had been there for a decade or more and new the culture inside and out.  They new the families that were coming, the types of kids by neighborhood, and could predict how certain students would interact before the school year started.  In a way, I was envious of them and I wished I could rush the acculturation I am now beginning to experience.  As I have reflected on this phenomenon, I have realized that I do not need to completely adopt the new culture of the school, but use my own culture to add a new flavor to the already established culture of my school.  I do not need to be a clone of the person before me or my teaching partner on the other team.  I was hired to be me.

The culture that is normally talked about in teacher circles is the student culture.  I know a lot of teachers pining to work at any of a number of certain schools because the kids act a certain way.  What I have found is that the issues that are found with middle school kids transcend what school they go to.  Meaning that the problems that we find with middle school kids are the same no matter what school they go to.  The difference is how they are manifested and how the students are dealing with it.  Understanding the school’s response to these issues is fascinating to me.

As I have taught my sixth graders (when I have taught sixth grade), is that culture is something that is difficult to explain until you are outside of it.  Once I leave the great state of Texas it is plain to see I am in a completely different culture.  Same with changing school.  I never knew how plugged into the culture of my last school I was until I left.

Marvel vs. History

Education

I’m a history kind of guy.  I enjoy the stories and the characters unfolding.  I like cause and effect relationships.  I especially love tactics and battle plans.  I believe that the majority of the kids sitting in my class are less enthusiastic about these parts of history than I am.  In the same way, I am in for any Marvel movie they make.  I’m easily entertained by comic book movies and I love seeing the bigger story come together into movies like Infinity War.  As I reflected on this movie breaking all kinds of records, I think there are some lessons to be learned for history teachers.

  1. Every detail does not matter.  If Marvel gave us every detail in the Infinity War movies, they would be twice as long or more.  Most people do not have the attention span to hear about everything…like where are certain characters, why did they make every choice they did, how did certain scenes come together.  In the same way, maybe my love of history doesn’t need to be evident when I teach on a topic.  Give the main ideas and important details, but leave out how the dress of the Texas soldiers may have helped lead to a victory.
  2. Characters can be more important than their story.  Thanos is a character that is very important to Infinity War.  His daughter Gamora is in a handful of other movies, but her character is not someone I root for.  There is a very tense scene between the two of them and because Thanos is more compelling of a character I rooted for him in that scene.  Same thing in history applies.  There are compelling reasons for each side of a story, so use that to your advantage.  Maybe use an analogy that helps us understand the struggle of Stephen F. Austin to agree to a revolution.  Pull on some heart strings occasionally and help students understand a character’s motivation.
  3. Give people a reason to care.  The bigger issue in the Marvel movies is the build to Thanos gaining all of the infinity stones, so I care about all of the little things that happen along the way.  I’m going to try and give the bigger picture up front next year in the hopes that my students will be able to put the magnitude of what is going on in context.  Maybe if we talk about the dream of Texas’ independence up front the kids will better understand why certain battles matter so much.

Education Speak

Education

The vocabulary you have and fluency that you speak with in large part determine how educated you come off to others around you.  In any industry there is a particular vocabulary that you need to be understood by your peers.  Education is notorious for having a steep learning curve to understand the vernacular.

It almost seems like we’re trying to manufacture educational lingo to make ourselves feel smarter.  It’s a good thing that I really learned the skill of context clues growing up because otherwise I would have no idea what more learned educators are talking about.  I’m all for making sure that people understand what you’re saying by using vocabulary to your advantage, but let’s not get silly.

At the same time there seems to be a weird merging of business vocabulary and educational lingo.  As if it weren’t difficult enough to parse through the acronyms in the education world, now I have to start learning the hybrid business-education dialect as well.

In My Own Head

Education

This time of year is always the time where I start to get nervous.  Not because of a test coming up or because of a specific unit.  I get nervous that I’m doing things wrong.  As I reflect on this, it’s funny because I know I’m going out of my way to do the right thing and teach my students the correct way.

I think some of this is because I feel like I’m becoming stagnant in the technology I’m utilizing in the classroom.  I want to be on the forefront of technology on my campus, but that is tough to do.  I’m going to rework my lesson plans in the next few weeks to take some risks using technologies.  Some that I’ve heard of, but haven’t utilized are Exploros and GoFormative.  I’m also going to spend some time looking into other things I can use and try them out.

I think I’m also letting good be the enemy of perfect.  Our district has moved to listing learning targets in very specific ways.  I’m still adapting to this new way of communicating the point of the lesson to my students and it’s a learning process.  Hopefully through trial and error I’ll be able to learn how to do this better as a teacher.

Next week my goal is to post how I utilized at least three new technologies in the classroom and my experience with them.  Stay tuned for more on this.

Sickness As An Educator

Education

I’ve never felt more like I live in a petri dish than this school year.  With all sorts of news articles swirling around the nation about the Flu epidemic and people dying because of the Flu, I stood firm on my long held belief that the Flu shot was worthless…either I was going to get it or not.

I had this belief because the majority of my life I’ve never had the flu, and I also can’t remember getting a flu shot before I had kids (dang my fatherly guilt).  I went through the motions when my kids were little out of family solidarity and because it was “free” through my insurance.  I almost mocked others that seemed to get the flu every year because I never did.  Then I got the flu.

I won’t say it was terrible, the two cases of pneumonia I’ve had were far worse, but there is something about being quarantined off in both your personal and professional life that is somehow shocking.  I didn’t see my kids for almost three days and that was more difficult than I had imagined.  I used my time at home to catch up on some less-than-important media consumption and purging the illness from everything I touched with bleach and lysol.

When I came back to school, the kids were so happy to see me (for the most part).  Subs are necessary, but stressful to both teacher and student.  After that small euphoria was over, I then had to pick up the pieces of a classroom that had lost my expectations of both work and behavior.  Neither side was pleased with the return of the teacher once the welcome back was over.

My hubris and defying the flu is over.  My class’ joy to have me back is over.  Now learning can begin again.

Presentations

Education

One could say that my job is nothing but presentations, and that might be the case.  That being said, I got asked by my curriculum higher-ups to present at a conference right at the beginning of the summer.  I decided to partner with a co-worker and we decided right off the bat to make our presentation all that it could be.

Here are a list of qualifications we wanted for our presentation:

  • We want our presentation to be practical.  We both agreed that there is nothing worse at a conference than not leaving with something you can use in the classroom.  We want our presentation to be chalk full of things people can use tomorrow in the classroom.  This is a bit of a challenge because we are predicting that we will be presenting to mostly administrators.  Our plan is to offer them a variety of usable practices so that they can introduce something that their faculty can use.
  • We want our presentation to appeal to a wide audience.  Neither of us want to give ideas that can’t be used by multiple grades and all kinds of different classrooms.  We want to offer some non-tech options, some slight tech options, and some ideas for technology professionals.  We understand that not everyone in education is tech-savvy or even tech-proficient, so we want to offer a ton of possibilities.
  • We want to model technology use in the classroom.  We want to show people how easy it is to use technology and do it in a meaningful way.  I hope to communicate that technology doesn’t have to be scary…even if you fail sometimes or it fails sometimes.
  • We want to give people who come to our session time to work.  At least part of our presentation will be time for the attendees to work and brainstorm ways to use what they’ve learned immediately.  We all know the feeling of getting a bunch of great information and not using it immediately.  Often when this happens, I completely forget how I’m going to use it…if I remember it at all.

This is clearly not a comprehensive list, but it’s what we came up with to use for this summer.  I’m excited to add this presentation to my list of accomplishments.  I’m sure you’ll see this being talked about here again soon.

The Little Things

Education

Coming back to school after winter break is a time that can’t be explained to people not in education.  Everyone is tired, there are new clothes a-plenty, and we all feel (somewhat) rested and rejuvenated.  I’m also making some little changes in my classroom to see what happens.

  1. I’m structuring my classroom to minimize negative interactions.  After some reflection I noticed that I was having an increasing number of negative interactions with my students.  Most of this was because there was ambiguity of what the students were supposed to be doing and any given time.  To remedy this, I’m making sure that my expectations for my students are presented clearly before we get into anything.  I’m also making sure that I’m reinforcing positive behavior and putting kids in a place that they can succeed where they are.  Changing seating charts and changing my delivery of lessons slightly are part of this plan of mine.  I’ve only had two days worth of school so far, but so far it’s working well.
  2. I’ve decided to have fun no matter what.  An old principal of mine used to always say “choose your attitude.” I found that at the end of last semester I was not choosing the best attitude I could have.  I’m going to do the best I can to choose my attitude daily and laugh a lot more this semester than I did last semester (which was quite a bit).
  3. I want to help people more than look out for myself.  I’ve been known, at times, to hunker down and concentrate solely on what I need and what matters to me.  This next semester I want to make sure that I’m helping out others as much as I can.  Even if that is changing my reactions to things, changing the way I speak to people, or rolling up my shirt sleeves and helping people get things done.

The bottom line is that I want to be a better person than I am today.  I don’t think that I’m a bad person, but I want to make sure that I’m always pushing myself to be better in new more difficult ways.

Certified Educator Here

Education

There are three main tech-related companies that school districts tend to lean on: Microsoft, Google, and Apple.  Depending on your personal preference, you may prefer one over the other.  I personally am an “Apple-guy” followed by a “Google-guy”.  I use Microsoft for certain things, but that’s mostly a district level mandate than a personal preference.  Each of these companies also has an educator wing that hopes to train teaches and district personnel about how to implement their software/hardware in the classroom.  I’m knee deep in evaluating these programs and I’m not sure how much further I’ll continue.

A little background on me first, I’m an Eagle Scout and I love checking tasks off of lists.  When my district offered digital “badges” for using certain technologies I tried to get them all.  When I hear that technology companies want me to get a badge/certificate from them, I automatically have an impulse to get these them done whether I need to or not.

I originally started the quest for educator cadges with Google.  Google Certified Educator is a title I’ve held for the past few years.  Basically it means you have a good working knowledge of the Google Suite (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.) and have a good working knowledge of using them in the classroom.  I’ve gone through both iterations of this process and if technology is your thing as a teacher there’s no reason you shouldn’t do this.  It will cost you $30 total to become a Level 1 & 2 certified educator and about 10 hours total.  This is all assuming you have a decent knowledge of all these products (your mileage may vary).

I’m not preparing to take the Google Certified Trainer course to take this to the next level.  It’s another $15 and some more training courses.  I’m already doing a lot of district level training for the social studies department, so this seems natural to me.  There’s another level that seems more nebulous to me (Google Certified Innovator) that I might look into some time, but not right now.

I’ve always been aware of the Apple Certified Educator program, but the process seemed too daunting when I used Apple products in the classroom, so I passed on it.  I’m going to look it up soon.  Yesterday, I looked at the Microsoft Program and I’m intrigued and frustrated at the same time.  It’s a badge based system (which I like), but it seems to just drop you into the program without much help (which I don’t like).  I’ll mess around with it some more, but if I can’t figure it out after a few sittings I’ll probably pass.

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