Thursday, September 13, 2012

4 Lessons for Teachers at Bruce Springsteen Concert

   Photo from

I went to the Bruce Springsteen concert last weekend in Chicago.  It was an unreal concert!     As I was thinking about the show the next day I thought about the professionalism that Bruce Springsteen demonstrated throughout the night.  I thought about what makes him (maybe the best at the live show) SO good.  What makes a Bruce Springsteen concert different from any other that you might see?  It wasn’t long before I was taking that list and trying to figure out how I might incorporate those traits into my classroom.

Here is what I came up with:

1.      They’re here give them all you got!
What Bruce did – He gave to the crowd for three hours and twenty minutes.  He gave us the music that we already love.  He also gave us new stuff that we will love, if for no other reason than the experience of hearing it live.  His energy is unreal and contagious.  You cannot be passive in that audience because he drags you in.  He does this with his passion for his music and for performing. 

What I learned – The students come into that room everyday wanting and needing energy.  They would love to match the teacher’s energy and passion if they can see and feel it.  As we design lessons and activities we should keep this in mind.  I am not saying they have to be entertained.  I am saying they need the teacher to model enthusiasm for learning.  You could put a person with no connection or understanding of Bruce Springsteen or his music in that stadium and they would be drawn in by the energy. 

2.      Make sure they get it!
What Bruce did – He played and he played and he played.  I am sure there are a few hardcore fans that left saying, “darn he didn’t play this or that.”  Those would be rare.  He played them all (the ones we love!)  There were moments in the show when I thought he would wind down and come back for an encore.  That never happened; he just kept on playing until we got them all!

What I learned (thought) – Some people in that audience might have heard their favorite song in the first 15 minutes.  I am certain they stayed and enjoyed many of their “next favorite songs.”  Some fans may have had to wait for their song.    It is a stretch but - differentiation.  Some of our kids get it early and we provide them with depth and enrichment.  Other kids need the whole three hour show and more.  There was no end time for Bruce he played until he played them all.  Working with kids requires that mindset.

3.      If it rains keep playing, but get in the rain with them!
What Bruce did – I saw him at Wrigley field on September 8, 2012, and it poured.  Some fans were lucky enough to be under the grandstand.  I was on the field.  Nobody left.  Bruce had plenty of cover on the stage.  He played up the fact we were soaked.  He made it feel like this was a special occasion.  And he came out on the stage’s catwalks and he played in the rain.  He was out there with us.

What I learned – Sometimes your lesson or the content is the last thing on your class’ mind.  Whether it is Homecoming week or the day of an assembly they might have distractions.  If, as teachers, we acknowledge the distraction, if we can tap into that enthusiasm and redirect it you might end up with something special. 

4.      Show them you’re gratitude for their commitment!What Bruce did – He was the last guy off the stage.  I thought that was pretty cool.  He thanked everyone in his band and he stayed out there until it was pretty clear the crowd was moving toward the exits.  He appreciated their support and maybe even their effort.

What I learned – It is easy to think that learning and school is the kids’ job.  I think given their choice many would choose differently.  It is a small gesture to show kids that you appreciate their effort.  We talk about praise a lot in education.  I think that generally that is relegated to correct answers.  I think that thanking the whole class for their effort might go further than a “good job class.”  I have been trying it this week.  I know it isn't hurting the respect and rapport in my room.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pre-Flipping: The Steps I took to Start Flipping US History

This picture is from the last week of summer break; my last days before attempting something new in my classroom.

I am not quite sure why we had a gymnastics unit in junior high PE.  I am sure there was a good reason.  I really did not like it.  I wanted to play basketball or dodge ball or some game I knew and understood.  Gymnastics was way outside of my comfort zone.  I can still remember waiting in line for my turn to attempt a cartwheel or a handstand; knowing I was never going to do it right.  I was very anxious and when it was my turn, I tried.  

This summer was a lot like standing in that line for me.  I had dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about the education buzz - Flipping the Class.  I followed the #flipclass twitter hashtag religiously.  I read the articles being posted and the Blogs I could find.  I bought and read the Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams book. All of this was very overwhelming.  There is a lot of good stuff out there and I learned a lot from many teachers and administrators.  Most of what I found was Math and Science related -  I was going to be flipping a US History classroom.  

The most practical information were the nuts and bolts posts and blogs I read.  That is, not why you do it , but actually how you do it.  I spent the better part of July creating accounts, trying out web tools, figuring out why they were good or not for me, and then repeating.  I looked at iPad apps, free web tools, pay web tools, cameras, etc.    This was time consuming but fun and in the end an excellent use of that time.  Had I been trying to go through the “how to” right now I do not think the why I want to would matter – the logistics of flipping have to be IN PLACE prior to the first day.  By in place I mean researched, tested, piloted, practiced, and reviewed.

A teacher intending to flip their class has to have already wrestled with the why.  

… And then they have to figure out:

  1. What I have been calling the Here/Home cycle.  What is it that students will do HERE (at school) today and what will they be doing HOME (at home/Starbucks/library/bus/etc) later today?
  2. What do I want to deliver to my students for the HOME portion?  Videos, screencasts, voicethreads, discussion boards, etc.
  3. How much of what I want to do will require the students to learn a whole new skill set?  I have to teach that!
  4. How will I record?  Where will I record?  What will I use to record?
  5. Where will I post?  Why there?
  6. How am I going to troubleshoot the snags?  No Internet at home.  Slow connection.  “I couldn’t get it to load.”
  7. What are the victories?
  8. What have I gained by flipping and how am I using it?
  9. Is the course better because of the flip???

Here is a link to my first Flipped “Homework”

These last few items I am still coming to discover.  I have been asking my students for a lot of feedback informally in class and on anonymous google forms.  Almost all of them are liking the concept.  They feel like they’re getting “taught” three times rather than one, which I found interesting.  And they are teaching me a lot about Flipping a class.

When I get a bit further along into this I will share more about the students feedback, my process, and successes and setbacks.  For now, the simplest lesson I am learning, is that it takes a lot of time to plan those meaningful in class enrichment and higher order activities that flipping encourages.  So I am off to create one of those.

Comments to this post are very welcome!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Flipping US History Class - Step 1

I am writing this during final exams week.  

For me Final Exams week has always been one of the most productive weeks of the school year.  While the students are busily taking a 90 minute exam I am proctoring and working.  It is during that closing time of the semester or school year that my mind, thoughts, and action drift to the future or at least the next semester.  I can usually be found with a copy of the textbook, materials I have used in the past, old calendars, and my favorite piece - the calendar with dates yet to come. 
If I am planning for the second semester I usually gaze up at the students taking the exam and think specifically about them.  What I have learned about them as individuals and as a group.  What is it that has worked well and what could be better?  Invariably, however, I fall into an educational trap!  I start looking a lot more at what I have done in the past.  By the end of the exam period or finals week I have created a very similar calendar to the one I used last year or maybe even three years ago.  But, I am a good teacher!  If it has worked in the past surely it will work again!  Even as I think it, I have the ping of hypocrisy in my heart.  I don’t just want to be good – I want to be innovative, cutting edge, and doing right by these (and future) kids.
My inspiration in education passed away last summer.  His name was Gerry Boevers and he was innovative and doing right by his kids.  I had the great fortune of student teaching under Gerry in the fall of 1997 at Niles West High School in Skokie, IL.  What impressed me most about Gerry was that despite having been in the same classroom since about the time of the JFK assassination he was really up to speed.  He kept everything!  What amazed and inspired me was how little of what he had kept that he actually used.  There was some great stuff there in one of the seven 4-drawer file cabinets along the wall.   
Gerry let me take copies of everything.  He did, however, have a piece of advice – don’t just update the date, update the assignment.  He taught me a lot about teaching and education but the idea of not resting on the good stuff you have created has been a continuing goal in my teaching career.  It is hard for me to know for sure but I think Gerry would be flipping his classroom in the next few years.  I know for sure he would have read about the benefits, drawbacks, and philosophy behind the movement.  And so I have.
Now here I sit looking at the blank calendar.  Only this time I do not have the old binder, the old calendar, or any of my go to assignments.  I am starting with the blank calendar, a copy of the US History course standards and targets, the textbook, and - well fear!
What I am going to do over the course of the next few months is Flip my US History class for next year.  Over the course of this journey I am going to document the curriculum adaptation process, the calendaring, the creation of Videos (Vodcatsts) and other at home “work,” the creation of engaging and informative learning in class activities, and finally data and anecdotes during the implementation process.  This idea is exciting and daunting.  It is inspiring me but also making me very anxious.  I am going to give this my best shot.
I have tried my best to learn as much as I could this past year about technology in the classroom, Webtools, Google Apps for education, and their usefulness in a Flipped classroom. 
I surely invite comments and suggestions on this Blog from those that have tried and succeeded or are trying this for the first time as well.  
Here we go!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Twitter the Best PD going!

I am a department chair at my school.  This means that I teach two classes and supervise the department during the other hours of my day.  This year, due to a spike in enrollment, I taught two sections of AP US History.  I will not get into the details of the year but I will speak briefly about the impact the AP course has had on me the last 3 weeks!

I would classify myself as a Twitter newbie when it comes to using the medium for professional purposes.  That usefulness was relayed to me at the Teaching the iGeneration workshop I attended earlier this semester.  Since then I have been managing multiple streams with pertinent hashtags, following dozens of Ed. leaders, teachers, and bloggers, writing a bit (and posting it), and dabbling in Twitter chats (which I still have not fully figured out!).

Then....BOOM! (a couple people I follow use this as they Retweet great stuff, I love it!)  The AP crunch hit me and it hit me hard.  I found myself reviewing with groups of students, preparing review activities, planning a pre-AP test breakfast...etc.  I would gaze at the pinned Hootsuite tab on my Chrome and make a decision, can't now!  I would open the iPad to check email and the FlipBoard app seemed to be begging to be opened.  I passed.

Here is what I learned during this 8 day hiatus.

1. I can walk away for a while, it is possible.

2. I did not miss the devices or the technology or the bells and whistles.  I missed the advice, conversations, links to pertinent articles, reassurance, and the professional connectedness

3. I do not want to disconnect for a stretch like that again.

The reason is that Twitter has introduced me to an ongoing conference, a non-stop workshop, and an ongoing PLC meeting.  It allows me to come and go and to grab what I need.  I get to eavesdrop on some meaningful conversations that are often directly related to questions we are asking at our school.  I was beginning to develop what I can only assume is some Twitter confidence to start posting more myself.  I was beginning to leverage the # and tried a scheduled chat (#edchat).  I have missed the professional gratification and development the last few days.

As I look to next school year I know I am going to schedule in "Twitter" time on a daily basis.  One year ago I would have laughed at that.  To take 15-20 minutes each day to check the feeds and streams and line up articles and blogs to read later is Professional time well spent.  So, while I missed the Twitter PD over the past few days I have learned its usefulness and my need to incorporate it meaningfully into my daily routine and plan.  Best PD going!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Spinning Plates - EdTech as a Dilemma?

Teachers have a lot “in the air” at any given time.

Having a conversation with a teacher about embedding meaningful technology skills in their classes/lessons can cause some of their “plates” to wobble!  I get that!  I get it as both a school leader and as a teacher.  For me, this begs the question, how can I safely relay the benefits and importance of tech skills to teachers with so much in the air?

I will not get into which plates are the largest or which plates if allowed to crash will make the biggest mess, but I think there probably is room for that conversation.  Instead, I would like to focus on “chewable pieces” - one at a time.  In a previous post I wrote about how modeling technology can demonstrate and introduce new ideas and resources to tech hesitant teachers.  I really believe this is useful.  It can be effective at showing a teacher a cool site or a slick app.  However, this may not necessarily translate into use.

I have come to realize that technology comes kind of naturally to me.  I am no expert (by no means)!  But, I do pick up on tech stuff pretty quickly and I am not afraid to try.  Technology does not make me uncomfortable.  I have tried, adopted, discarded, forgot, remembered, and forgot again about a lot of cool stuff I have seen.  I am OK with that.  Not everyone is.  Technology can be intimidating and can be viewed as an optional plate that I am not putting on a stick because I have too much in the air as it is.

Education leaders and tech savvy colleagues - these teachers need you!  BUT!!!  They do not need you to show them everything you know now and just skim over “the” how you got there.  What they need is the realization that many great tech strategies they could be using have levels of expertise.  AND it is ok to be a novice.  My friend and colleague Sean (@busedcrev) talk often about what we call  NERD-O-METER.  There is ,seemingly, someone who can always show you a tip or trick to a site, service, app, etc. that you did not know, cool!  Take stock of where the teacher you’re working with is on the NERD-O-METER and start there.  Indoctrinate them with A site, AN app, or A network.  And show them the simplest way to use it.  

Then when they start to hit walls, and surely WE do, show them how to further use it by advancing a level.  If they do not ask questions - ask them how it is going.  If they hit a wall and quit bring them back.  Help get the tech plate going WITH them.  

Tech in the classroom can be intimidating.  Tech hesitant teachers DO have a lot in the air and they’re aware of how tech savvy their students are.  Why cross that line - the kids know how to use it (right?).  

There are so many reasons we need to be embedding practical, useful, and pointed tech skills in schools.  Getting one teacher at a time to come along even one step at a time = victories.  The plates are spinning - but in education nobody said we have to keep them all going ALONE!  If you’re reading this you are likely a tech minded educator or ed. leader.  Go find someone and teach them something new, simple, and practical.  Get their tech plate in the air!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Assessing the Vulnerability

Teachers like to know the answers!

I imagine that if you're reading this post you are one or work with teachers.  And I also guess you think this is true as well.  I have known this since I was old enough to wonder what exactly was in that teacher’s edition.  I’m a teacher and I like to know the answers.  Some of the most frustrating moments in a teacher (newer and veteran alike) is being asked a question by a student and NOT knowing the answer.  What did (do) you do.  I believe it is such a pivotal moment in a teacher’s career when they can admit, in front of students, that they do not know.

Boy is it a different story in front of colleagues and other educational professionals.  One need only think back to the most recent PD workshop they’ve attended.  This room full of educators become the nervous nellie sin the classroom.  These people who surely have a swagger and confidence in their classroom suddenly become introverted - non-participants.  I attribute this so much to a vulnerability most teachers have about themselves, their classroom, their practices, etc.

I recently retweeted an article on the younger generation’s willingness to “look dumb.”  That is not innate to most educational professionals.  The area I have seen this vulnerability the most is in conversations with teachers about assessments.  When discussing formative vs summative assessments I get the uncomfortable seat shift from some teachers.  We have a conversation about assessments and their vulnerability will not allow them to ask the question they want to: what is the difference.  

Younger teachers, fresh out of ed training, can define them but usually are still developing their practice.  More veteran teachers more often than not are practicing sound assessment but cannot necessarily define the difference between formative and summative.

School leaders want their teachers to be executing sound assessment practices in their classrooms.  A leader who might say, “They do not even know what formative assessment is.” needs to be sure that is true in practice.  You may find that you have a veteran teacher continuously assessing her students in a formative way and using that feedback to structure her next lesson.  She also might not know that is called formative assessment.

I learned this lesson the easy way.  I observed a great lesson with a high quality embedded formative assessment that worked perfectly.  The teacher talked to me in the post conference about how she needed to revisit a topic because they weren’t quite there.  I commented on this being a MODEL example of useful formative assessment.  ---- SEAT SHIFT-----  Vulnerability!  “She doesn’t even know what formative assessment is!”

Yeah - yeah she does!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Technology and Leadership - Modeling the "Cool"

Teaching the iGeneration is a workshop where teachers and administrators sat together – vulnerable to the new technologies that our students mastered long before us.  For this particular workshop this is as it should be.  Tech initiatives that are top down are doomed to struggle, if not fail, in my opinion.  The learning curve is too steep and the price is too high – literally.  In my last post I referred to the Teaching the iGeneration workshop and its ability to Help… your students (or yourself professionally more on this later) work and learn collaboratively…” 

I am finally getting around to "the more on this later" piece.  As a school begins to define its direction technologically – Google Apps for Education, 1 to 1 initiatives, Tech infrastructure, cell phone policies, BYO Devices/Technology – training their staff on this proposed new reality is really important.  This is true to ensure that teachers can leverage the technology efficiently AND how to put it to good use for their students.  This is where leadership is vital.

In my leadership role (Department Chair) I talk to teachers all the time about modeling and providing exemplars for their students.  As I listened to Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) last week in Dallas he discussed the collaborative learning opportunities we could provide our students by utilizing tools like Google docs, Diigo, Voicethread, etc. As a teacher he energized me but just as quickly as Department Chair he challenged me.  MODELING!  The practical classroom application of many of the ideas we discussed were to get students thinking, writing, talking, and working collaboratively.  I want to do that with my classes!  I’d like a lot of teachers to want to do that with their classes!

My goal is to use some of these applications, as Ferriter suggests, in my role as Department Chair with the teachers.  Many of the strategies we talked about were cool and new – new in that I had never seen them before!  If I can share one of these ideas every few weeks through normal communication and departmental “stuff” I can then have follow up conversations on how this site could also be used with kids. 

If it is not clear I would encourage you, if you’re so inclined, to attend Teaching the iGeneration very worthwhile!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Teaching the iGeneration

It is mid morning of day 2 at the Teaching the iGeneration workshop in Dallas, TX.  Day 1 was fast paced and filled with great Ed Tech information.  Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) is an engaging presenter with a wealth of resources and knowledge.  His presentation style is really cool in that we, the participants, are working hands on with the tips, tools, and ideas he is sharing with us.  What I am really enjoying about the workshop is that - at its core - it is about quality teaching first.  This is so what I was hoping for!

The idea that technology can be a useful and powerful tool in the classroom is widely accepted.  I like to think that I am pretty competent when it comes to new technology.  One lesson that I learned yesterday is that technology is faster than me!  It likely always will be.  I am also pretty sure that when it comes to using technology most of my students are also probably faster than me.  And that is OK!  But, my students are likely not maximizing connecting what they know about technology with how they are learning.  This is the area I want to target as their teacher - making their "toy" a component of their learning.

Buy Bill Ferriter's Book and attend his workshop if you're interested in...

1. Learning about or more about Twitter and other new Social Learning tools

  • I felt pretty comfortable with Twitter coming in and in the first hour of the workshop my knowledge and ability to leverage information on Twitter increased significantly.

2. Helping your students (or yourself professionally more on this later) work and learn collaboratively utilizing the web and in a way that mimics what they already do regularly in their social world.

3.  Dialoguing with other like minded motivated professionals about teaching AND technology.

Break is over the afternoon promises to good as we will begin working on a Unit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Motivation to Learn - EdTech

I read something Mark Cuban wrote recently that said you can easily find your passion within what you do by what you value with your time.  Since reading that I have been very aware of my time management.  Not that I changed anything, rather, I was just keeping a mental clock on what I valued with my time.  Lesson planning and grading are what they are.  In the other time, when seeking professional fulfillment or development I turned to tech devices and articles, blogs, tweets etc about how technology is impacting and will continue impact (exponentially) the kids we get in our classrooms and how they expect to learn.

There is, naturally, a guarded approach as to how to best incorporate technology in the classroom.  We all ask prospective teachers the technology question in their interview - but what really do we hope to hear as an answer.  What I've been reading and learning seems to suggest that most of those (us) asking the question wouldn't know the best answers even if we did hear them.  I am currently reading The Connected Educator By Sheryl Nussbaum Beach (@snbeach) and Lani Ritter Hall (@lannihall).  This book starts out with a simple yet profound truth - most kids have to "unplug" when they come to school.  Our realm (the schoolhouse) is a place our students have to live a secret life one of lap texts, Internet filters, and "on vibrate."

I am really looking forward to learning some methodology for letting our kids plug in at school.  How do we let them connect at school the way they are connecting in the "real word?"  The information I am reading seems to be pointing to one truth with many approaches, practices, and answers - and that is the World has changed technologically and schools need to.  As much as we stress the necessary skills that we believe our students need in their tool belts for their futures - Core subject skills like Math and Literacy - there is a technological world in which they live now and it is becoming increasingly more complex.  As educators we need to prepare them for this world too by teaching them sound 21st century skills.  As easily as a student can get lost in the text of a classic novel they can get lost in this cyber world that exists.

I cannot wait to meet with other educators attending the Teaching the iGeneration workshop in Dallas this week.  I am curious if I am asking the right questions and who out there has started to answer these questions.

I hope to update this Blog from the conference - we'll see!