Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 30: Be not afraid.....

 Dear Constant Reader, (Yes, I stole it from the master Stephen King, so?)
     Before I begin the final post in the 30-day challenge, I want to give a couple of S/Os first. Thanks to Kirsten for putting the challenge before me while still doing it herself. Words of encouragement from BethJen,  Mr Lynch and Mr Wade were helpful in continuing the long haul of a post every day. Also, a big thanks to those of you who read this journey. While the readership numbers waned towards the end, (Yes, I check the stats!) it was still encouraging to know that someone out there was reading what I wrote. Remember, it is not the quantity but the quality! So thanks!!

I fear not, for I am a teacher.......

    A great man once said, "We have nothing to fear, but fear itself." (Had to throw some history in there....occupational habit!) Fear is a powerful motivator. To be paralyzed into inaction because one is afraid gives strength to a fog, a mist that disappears once you walk through it. FDR was right: fear of the unknown is an illusion. Beyond that fog, that mist is an illusion that your mind created because it is easier to stay back, to feel comfortable and not challenge the imaginary monsters your mind has created. Someone once said:

I have no monsters in my life, just small spiders and stepping in gum. I could have coped with monsters.

That is a great quote: it's the little things, the constant accumulation of little hurdles to get over that are difficult in life.  And even if you had monsters to deal with, facing them head on without the fog of fear clouding your judgement would be the approach to take.

I fear not....
     ....because I will teach every single child that comes into my room regardless of their ability, economic condition, home life or what school they attended the previous year.
     ....because even if I try something new and it completely crashes, I can fix it, no matter what the situation is. (I have seen a teacher teach a biology class on the bleachers during an extended building fire scare. Instant: hero!)
     ....because I have a great set of colleagues around me that I can go to when I don't know how to do something. I even have people in different countries via Twitter that I can count on too when I am stuck for an idea or have a problem.
     ....because no matter what initiative, idea, program or new idea that comes from the State or Federal government I have a building full of people and a great PLN that will help me to see through the fog of fear.
     ....because no matter what, I honestly believe I am surrounded by some of the best students in the world! I know that every teacher says that about their students, but I have been in this profession for over 20 years and I have always maintained that one of main reasons why I still do what I do is due to the students I see on a daily basis.

Every year this is true since 1993. Remember.....you cannot scare me, I am a teacher!!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 29: How I have changed as an educator....

     A lot.

     I could leave that there, because honestly, I have changed sooooooo much as an educator since those days in the early 90s. (Yea, I am old!) Since this is the second last post for the challenge, it might be the longest. Well, maybe. Ha!
     I have always tried  to connect with students because early on I realized that if you make that connection, students will respond and your job will become easier. However, I have now used the available technology like Twitter and this blog to reach out to students in a different way. Sometimes it is difficult to reach all students, so you have to try different ways. Early in my career, it was harder to do this without the technology and so many times you were left with guessing as to what to do. Not that technology and social media are the only answer, but it does make it easier to do. (Just like most things) I feel more connected to my students because of this and in the long run, I believe it has made me connect better with students.
     You know when I reflect back on what I used to do in the classroom years ago, it is almost embarrassing. It's an aspect of teaching that has improved over the years: helping new teachers out and the quality of professional development. Don't get me wrong, there was available help for new teachers when I started, and I was surrounded by some of the best people on the planet, but I almost wish I had what is available today. I think I have become much more in tune with what is good, sound educational practice that is designed to help students. This is not to say that I was willingly not in touch before, but now I have really tried to focus on what is good for students, not what is easy for me. I have prided myself on always trying to find the best for what I do in the classroom, never settling for "good enough." I think what is different for me is I have more tools available and that is good for me.
     I also believe that I have changed by actively seeking to connect my teaching to the world the students will find themselves in someday. I had always related stuff to the world beyond the walls of the classroom, but now I have been a lot more aggressive about it. Everything is more connected now, so again, making that leap and connection is so much easier to do. Smartphones, tablets, personal computers make this job a whole lot easier. I have seen students actually come in relating stories that they saw on the news to the content we are/were discussing in class. I have always talked about the news and how it relates to what we do, but apparently I have gotten better at it.
     I think that is one of the things that has changed about me as an educator: I have such a large "bag of tricks" simply by doing, trying, failing, doing some more, failing a little less and succeeding a little more that I have found some things that work well. I can now augment that with the infusion of technology that the world has graciously given us. I find myself constantly trying to keep up, but I think that is a great thing to have to do. It keeps me out of trouble and on my toes where I should be as an educator.
    One of the biggest ways I have changed as an educator is the slow but sure process of removing myself from the front of the room where all I do is talk talk talk. I have never felt that talking to students was the most effective way of conveying information to students. Yes, I have done that before: talk talk talk. But it always frustrated me that the results were never really what I wanted. Sure some students did well, but not all. I have been trying and trying for years to make this better, to allow the students more choice and to get them more in charge of their own learning. It has not been easy and one of the ways that I have changed is I have had to be persistent, to trouble shoot and to find new ways to make it work. I have seen amazing results and students have responded well to the change. Sure there are students who are not used to this approach, but if I persist and fail and learn, I might just succeed! I have to be what I want my students to be!!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 28: The technology conundrum....

     This is a great prompt. There has never been a time in education where there has been access to so much technology available to teachers: from Google Drive to almost all students having access to a device, even if it is their own. There are so many tools available on line to assist in what teachers do it is sometimes overwhelming. This wonderful time comes with some caution that has always been around since I have started my teaching in 1993: how do use technology without it taking place of the content I am supposed to teach?
     I remember one of my college professors complaining that when teachers showed a movie in a history class that it was Hollywood and not history. So even something simple as showing a movie, which I have done, comes with criticism. Some of my professors concern came from stories of students where teachers would just pop in a movie, regardless of whether the content was relevant or appropriate for the class. I understand that concern. I have seen this too. However, does that mean that you should never show a movie in a history class? I believe the answer to this question is the same answer to any question about what you do in your classroom: it depends on whether or not it supports the curriculum/content. That answer still applies today.
     In there interesting look at the teaching profession in the 1970s, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner argue that what we do in our classroom matters. "The medium is the message" was their thought. In other words, what kind of message are we sending to students if we show movies (much to my professors chagrin) that have no or a weak connection to the content? What kind of message do we send to students if we give notes on an overhead for an entire class period? What kind of message do we send to students if we have them put a few Power Point slides together where they just cut and paste information from the internet? I have always believed that what you do in your classroom should not only be relevant to the lives of your students, but should not stray so far away from the content that students lose sight of the subject. It's about balance.
     Let's be clear here: the content/standards should drive what you do in your classroom. Whether you have a high stakes test attached to the content or not, the standards are the standards and they are what should drive your teaching. I know there is a lot of concern and complaining about the Common Core and the new set of standards contained therein. Standards are standards. Give me anything you want my students to know and I will teach them/it. In that regard, is the uproar over the new standards that big of a deal? Nah. Now I know end result of how the assessment looks like might be a different subject, but the content is the content.
     I believe that technology today is a tool to add to your bag of teaching tricks. However, it again depends on how you use it. Never stray from the content due to the lure of some new piece of technology. You know your content. Use these great tools of technology to simply enhance what you are doing in your classroom. I also believe that it is just as silly to reject wholeheartedly any inclusion of technology thinking it cannot enhance what you already do in your class. It is folly to reject the tools out there under the rationale that it either cannot help you or due to the fact that some other teacher did not use it properly. There is, trust me, something out there that you can use in terms of technology that can help you in your classroom with your content.
     I know that sometimes in education people believe that initiatives come and go and that all you have to do is wait it out and it will pass. However, the integration of technology is not an educational fad. The students are using this in their lives right now. From my experience students are eager to embrace the use of technology. It is everywhere in the world and there is no better way to show students how to use it when they go into the world than your classroom! 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 27: The weekend role....

     Since I am sitting here drinking coffee, in my sweats with no socks while writing this gives you some idea of what role the weekend/holiday/summer plays in my teaching. It is a time to relax and rest, but you still do work here and there, but it's a relaxed mode. Time to think, to reflect. (Ha!) People who don't teach have a hard time fathoming that there is simply not enough time during the day to get done what needs to get done. With the movement towards blended and on line learning (Which I think is a good thing!) there is going to be a definite shift in how teachers do their work. But I think with all of the tools available, it will make the work easier.
     There is no doubt that the weekend and holidays (even if we include the summer) help me to relax and be with family, enjoy my interests, and not take the day at 48 minutes at a time. My biggest problem sometimes is thinking too much about what I am doing in the classroom and not stepping away for a little bit to not think and allow the sub-conscience to process what I am thinking about. So don't think to actually think. It is like the shower phenomenon....most people will tell you they do their best thinking in the shower where they are not really trying to think. Just lather, rinse, repeat.
     I think it is important, especially for new teachers, to make sure to set aside time for yourself. Teaching is one profession I think that can be all consuming where you lose yourself in what you are doing. Little things here and there can help you to avoid burnout. Don't forget yourself and the things you like to do that are not school related: treat yourself to a dinner out; go see a movie; meet with friends and family; go for a walk; listen to the music you like; read for pleasure!! I always thought that reading for pleasure during the school year was too hard to do given the amount I have to read for school. But, it really is something that is quite helpful. I love to read and this type of reading takes your mind off of thinking too much about the other reading you have to do.
     The weekends and holidays truly help to make for better teaching. One of the untaught aspects of teacher training is helping new teachers to still have a little bit of their lives that doesn't disappear when they step into the classroom. Most, if not all, teachers go into the profession to help others, to make a contribution to the future of this great nation. However, it can be easy to get lost in that. I would say to new or potentially new teachers to save some time for you! You can still make a great impact and keep yourself you!  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 26: 3 Go to sites

     We live in a wonderful age where there is so much information out there that, like the students, sometimes as a teacher it can be overwhelming. Where do I look? How do I find what I need amongst all the great information out there??? Here are my go to sites when I need something:

1. Twitter: There is no place on the planet where questions can be asked and then answered in literally under a minute. If you build up your PLN for education on Twitter, then you will realize just like people looking towards the stars: you are not alone! Once you start reciprocating too, then the amount of information and great ideas going back and forth is crazy. But it's a good crazy. In the last 2 years I have had more of my teaching influenced by my friends on Twitter than at any other point in my career. And for someone with 20+ years in, that says a lot. Remember folks, Twitter is not just a place to post selfies and following your favorite celebrities, it is also a place to connect and get help from a global audience of friends and followers! #tweeton

2. Teach Thought: The fact that I am oh so close to finishing this challenge, this gauntlet, by Teach Thought has no bearing on having them on my list. (okay, maybe a little! ;)) But there is sooooo much on their site from Apps to Learning and Teaching that it is a great place to start when looking for resources and help. The fact that there are so many other educators on this site only adds to not only my PLN on Twitter, but it also expands the pool of people I can go to when I am stuck for ideas or need some feedback. If you would have told me a month ago that I would be 5 days away from blogging every day given how busy the beginning of the year is, I would have told you that you are crazy! But this has been really really good for me. Why? It has made me think about what I am doing and put fingers to keyboard to illuminate it. I may include this as a part of my growth plan too: reflecting on learning. Anytime you have the ability to explain and justify what you are doing, the better off you are as a teacher. No pressure. No evaluation, just simple introspection.

3. Free Tech! Are you kidding me??? Have you seen what Richard Byrne has put together on this blogger site? Unbelievable amount of great tech stuff you can use in your classroom. The best part? It's all FREE. That's right. FREE! Why wouldn't I use it? I just finished a 3 1/2 page annotated list of great websites that students can use to present their 20 Time project with and many of the ideas came from Richard's site. There are Google tips and he doesn't ignore the Android market either alongside the iPad/App world too. It is not simply a list of resources, there are ideas on how to incorporate them too into what you already do. This is a great help because it gives you the tools but also the ideas on how to use those tools as well. I have just started to dig through this treasure trove of tech information and I am really glad that Richard keeps this up to date and posts often. Check it out!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 25: Student collaboration

     To get your students to collaborate, you first have to set the environment up to make that happen. While this is true of any collaboration, it is especially true for students in a learning environment. They are not used to this type of process in a school. Sure sure. They are used to group work where maybe two people do all the work and the others do nothing and everyone gets the same grade. No, true collaboration is a shared process where everyone comes together to share ideas and to solve a problem. So, what does this look like in a classroom? Here are my thoughts...
     First how you arrange the room is a simple start. I also think it sends a message to students. Traditional rows and rows of desks, while practical, tells students that the teacher is the only one that is delivering the material and talking to their peers is frowned upon. When you simply arrange them in such a manner that it makes it easier for students to talk to one another, (groups of four or five) then they get the idea that it is not only okay to talk to each other, but that perhaps this will be the focus of the class in general.
     Collaboration not only requires a face to face approach, but I also think the addition of technology can make a huge difference in collaboration. Having students all have a device makes life easier. I love that our district is headed towards becoming a one to one school with students all having the same device that they can take home. It's great to have a set of Chromebooks to work with, but when they can take it home and it's theirs to use, that makes a huge difference. There are so many digital tools for students to collaborate together that they don't even have to be in the same room while they are doing it!
     For example, Google Drive is a great way for students to continue the process of collaboration while they are at home or after school. I love Google by the way so if I gush, please forgive my company crush. If you don't know Google allows the students to work on the same document at the same time even when they are not together in school. They can see each other editing the document and can even chat on the side while working. I have seen them do this in class and it was great to see the collaboration back and forth. I have seen them divide tasks, share ideas and make changes as a group. In an ideal world, you would see more of this but with more student-motivated desire rather than a compliance with teacher assignments.
     In an ideal situation, students would want to take the collaboration beyond the classroom and be motivated to use other means of collaboration like Twitter, Facebook, and other social media like they do when making plans for the weekend. They would even begin to collaborate with people in the outside world to get feedback and help on whatever they are working on. Think about when you collaborate with your colleagues and how that makes you want to do more of that. Can you imagine having students want this as well? The would be awesome....

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 24: Learning Trend

     There is A LOT going on in education right now. Some of it not so good, some of it swawesome (sweet + awesome) While it is difficult to narrow it down to one trend that captures my attention, there is one that am I doing right now that  has caught me attention that I would like to investigate and expand more. That trend is the movement towards project based learning or PBL.
      Part of my interest is due to the 20 Time Project that I have been doing for the past 2 years. I think this form of authentic learning has even more relevance in the face of the push for testing, testing, testing, testing and more testing. Did I say we test like a lot? But for the longest time I think educators thought that authentic learning and standardized testing are polar opposites. I have never really believed that students learn well by "teaching to the test." Not that I have completely ignored the fact that my students have a test to prepare for, but I certainly have never made it the only focus of what we do in class. So how does project based learning fit into the world of testing? Well.....
     Sometimes I think what educators forget in the world of high stakes testing is the impact that this shift has had on the students. Trust me I have had many conversations with students about testing. They don't like it any better than we do as professionals. So, why not venture out of that comfort zone and try something like project based learning, where the students have more choice, more freedom and more interest than a classroom focused solely on testing? To me, it's teaching them what they need to know for that high stakes test without them really knowing it. (Shhh....don't tell them!) If you do it right, plan it out, you can still meet all the criteria that testing demands. I truly believe that as educators, we have more capacity to change to any situation that anyone throws at us, we just have to get that "comfort monkey" off our back. Once we do that, there is enough talent and brilliance to make anything work.
     One of the shifts in this new round of testing is the emphasis on students being able to produce something, to be given a problem that they have to solve given a set of parameters. Isn't that what PBL is all about? Shift the role of the teacher from the sage to the guide? You set the guidelines (Again, aligned with whatever standards are given to you), make sure the students understand the goal, give them the tools and turn them loose. They need to practice all of the skills that are expected of them. What better way to do this than with you helping them? Isn't that what we are supposed to do? Isn't this "teaching like the test?" (See what I did there??) Model what they are suppose to be doing on the high stakes test so when they get to it, they are like "Pffft....I got this!"
     Finally, there has never, ever in the history of teaching been a better time to dive into PBL right now. Are you serious? Technology? Devices? Wifi? What are you waiting for??? Don't tell me you don't have time. If it is worth it, then it's worth the time. Work smarter not harder y'all!! I started small with 20 Time and now have plans to expand it more and more. Now in all fairness I teach a class that lends itself to the PBL style (Contemporary World Issues) but I believe anything can be adapted to this model. Math. English. Science. Anything. The key is finding out how. And there you are covered: others are doing it. Connect. Get in touch. For goodness sake: Google it! It's what the kids do! So go ahead: baby step it. Just a little. Try a project instead of a test. Play around with it. Talk to colleagues. Join twitter and find out what others are doing. The time is right. Banish comfort and stretch yourself! I can always help too, ya know!

Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.

Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.

People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
---The Done Manifesto  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 23: Community Involvement in Learning

     This has been one area of my teaching that has always been a bit lacking. It is hard to make connections with the community when you are stressed about trying to get through the content. I know that is not the best excuse, but when you have to make decisions about what is going to help students out, some good things fall by the side of the road. I always felt if given the right conditions, including the community into the classroom would be an easy and welcomed fit, I just was not really sure how to make it meaningful for students. Enter the 20 Time Project!!
     The 20 Time Project came about because I wanted students to complete a semester long project that would allow them some freedom within guidelines. I had read about it on line and dove into the project a few years ago. I made a mess of it at first, got better and now feel that we are truly humming right along. Before I continue, let me briefly (if that is all possible for me) to explain the project. 20 Time was born out of companies like Google that would allow their engineers one day a week (20% of their time) to work on anything they wanted to as long as it was related to Google. This gave us such great tools as Gmail, Goole Earth and Sky and many other great Google products. The idea of radical autonomy with some general guidelines was then adopted into the classroom and education inspired by writers and speakers like Daniel Pink. It was a way to allow students to do something rather than just sit and soak up information. They had to produce something at the end, ie a TED Talk style presentation. So I ran with it and two years later here we are.
     So as my little 20 time project has evolved, I have included another class to the mix, Contemporary World Issues (not just AP American Government and Politics). This class is perfect for this kind of project as it really is not the traditional multiple choice test type class. It really lends itself to the project based learning. 20 time is PBL. So, I made it a goal for me personally this year to have the students branch out and make contact with someone beyond the walls of school. I really had no idea what this was going to look like or how this was going to work, (Shhh.....don't tell anyone!) but I did it anyhow. I think sometimes we get so scared and caught up in not messing up as teachers that we do not venture out of our safe zone and that prevents us from growing as educators. Just do it! Find a way to make it work! Show the students it's okay to have something totally flop and then make adjustments to make it work. Isn't that life?
     Things have gone far far better than I have anticipated with connecting to the community so far. I have students connecting with the local government in Lake County, Ohio; major automakers like Toyota and Ford; agencies like the UN and NASA; police departments all throughout the nation from Los Angeles to New York; major companies like Google, BP, and IBM; and many others. I even had a student attend a conference on her topic and she took 6 pages of notes. Seriously?!!  This has only been in the first 5 weeks of school!! The best part is how the students have reacted to this connection. One company refused to answer any questions from the students about their project. The students called them and they hung up after a brief conversation. I told them to try someone else. I also told them that this happens sometimes and to not take it personally. The best thing I have seen is a student who almost bounced out of her seat with excitement when a company emailed her back about her project. (And it had legitimate answers to questions! Score!!!)
     This kind of connection to the community and the real world was exactly what I was looking for! I am seriously amazed at how easy it has been (especially when you admittedly aren't sure what you are doing!! Ha!) for students to make contact. Although I have to credit them, they have really ran with it and been a lot more persistent than some adults I know. So S/O to my students for working this part like a BOSS! Boom! I don't know where to expand this too, maybe just refine it and make it better, but I do have one ambitious thought. What if I could actually bring some of these people in to be interviewed by the groups? Since most students have different projects (although some are similar) I don't know if this would be too complicated. Hmmm......time to ponder that......

Monday, September 22, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 22: My PLN.....

     I have many PLNs! I have the one that is scheduled at my school during the last period of the day. This one is new this year as I switched subjects that I teach. More on that in a minute. The second PLN I have is the one I have built over the last year and a half on Twitter. If you are a teacher and reading this, are you on Twitter? If not, why the !O#(#&&@(#$ not? I will explain the awesomeness that is my PLN on Twitter in a minute. Third, I have a PLN that really never meets and walks around randomly in my building. Wait. What? I guess I should start with this last one as it is the most confusing of the 3.
     We began the process of creating collaborative groups based on subject matter taught about 8 years ago in my building. While this has been a valuable tool for improving the instruction in that content area,  it also had another side effect that was unexpected. What happened is teachers who wanted to collaborate out of necessity or just simple curiosity began having conversations in the lunch room, the mail room, in the halls, and just whenever it was possible. That is why this PLN is out roaming the halls. You just never know when it will pop up. However, as fleeting as it may appear, there have been many great ideas born out of this style of collaboration. Follow up conversations or emails have yielded tremendous ideas like the Stamp and Sticker Reward Program, the Student Tracking idea and many others too numerous to mention. This "parking lot" style allows me to flush ideas out and also give other teachers ideas that had not thought of before. Never underestimate the power of simple conversations......
     My second PLN is the formal one set up by the district years ago. I was in the same US History PLN for years until we shifted government to the junior year this year to have our curriculum match the State model since they were going to end of course exams. While this new PLN is not necessary based on a common subject, there are some themes that have been wonderfully helpful. For example, this new PLN is only myself and another teacher. But we both teach AP courses and those subjects have been too hard to try to match together. (A lot of singleton courses) This for me has been a wonderful change as I have always felt alone in my AP class even though some of the other teachers and I have talked in passing. This is a lot more formal. It has given me new hope and inspiration for a class that is more challenging than people think. We both have classes (AP Euro and AP American Government) that have students in it that are taking their first AP course in their high school career. So one thing we came up with is to 2-3 times a week write formative questions on the board that are AP style questions so the first time they see a question like this is not the day of the AP test in May! We can work through their thought process and fix any errors in thinking. We have only met 4 times, so I am excited to see what the rest of the year brings.
     My Twitter PLN: the greatest group of dedicated and inspiring teachers on the planet. Period. They save my sanity and my love for teaching almost on a daily basis. I truly love you guys. All of you! If I have a question or need something, I get an answer almost instantly from not only all over the country, but the world as well. The best thing? I love to share back: the more you do, the more you get back in return. I have been in so many #edchats that the discussions have literally changed what I do and how I approach my teaching. From 20 Time projects to standards based grading and project based learning, I have had more epiphanies in the last 2 years than in the past 19 years of my career. If you are not on Twitter, why aren't you? 140 characters does not take up that much time! It could be in between classes or during lunch. Get involved! Give a shout out to students! Get a following and follow back! Join an #edchat and expand that network of great educators beyond the people in your building. I 100% guarantee you won't regret it. I have not. Not for a single second.

"This is where I will stand
And here is where I will stay until my last breath
Until my dying day"
---Boysetsfire, Never Said

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 21: My hobbies and interests....

     One of the best ways to build good relationships with your students is to open up a little to them by showing them that you are actually a person! Haha. I know that sounds silly but I think if you are genuine with your students, showing them that learning isn't a "me vs you"  mentality. There are so many points throughout the day during those "in-between" times that present themselves at different points during the year. While there is no exact recipe for how to build relationships with students, here is what I do to incorporate my hobbies/interests into the classroom:

     Every morning you can hear music emanating out of C-210 at MHS. Yea it's me. I need a little extra boost in the AM (6:30 am is waaaay too early) as the caffeine is starting to kick in. I have a wide variety of musical interests from classical to punk music. I think some students appreciate it and I have had many a conversation with students about bands and what music they like too. I have even had students ask if I could play music while they are working on something in class. To avoid any arguments, I usually pick something that has no lyrics like Ratatat, Fatboy Slim, or Blue Man Group. They may complain, but I know they are into it when you walk around and see students tapping their feet or pencil. I also believe that lyrics are too distracting and if you play the music low enough it is not overpowering them when they are trying to concentrate.
     I am constantly quoting movies in class where it fits. Not all the students "get it" but those that due usually get a little chuckle out of it. The quotes always (okay usually!) fit with what we are doing, so for me it's a win-win. Relationship building with humor. Sprinkle in a little bit of content and you have a great way to interact with students. A few years ago, some of my AP American Government students were curious about the movies I kept quoting in class. They wanted me to make a movie list of ones I would recommend to watch or that I quote. (I watch a lot of movies so it was an ever expanding list) If I can find where I have it saved, maybe I will post it here.
      I have many hobbies like reading, video games, soccer, and fishing that I have used in discussions with students in a multitude of ways. It is amazing the way a student's demeanor changes when they realize you have something in common. I know that sounds silly, but anything you can do to show the students you are not the enemy to their learning, the easier it will be to push them or help them when that is needed. I also think that since I have a wide array of things I do when not in school, that it's easier not to exclude anyone in my class. If I was only interested in sports let's say, there are students who are not athletic. So would students perceive that I would treat the athletic students differently (ie better) if that is all I talked about? Remember, perception can be reality if you do not open up to all of your students you could be in for a long year. 
     If I could give one piece of advice to new teachers it would be this: if you put yourself into your teaching and allow students to see you how you want to see them, as a person, then much of the other academic stuff will be easier to accomplish when students can relate to you.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 20: Curating student work....

     I have always tried to get students to share their work with not only me but other students as well. With a class full of 30 students, just the logistics became really difficult and I was a bit frustrated really never knowing quite how to do it. Then little cracks started to appear and I began to find a few ways to change my approach. Then a revolution came and it really helped me to re-think how I approach this problem. But first.....the slow creep of those cracks..
     A few years back the State had a great two year program to include literacy consultants for districts to train teachers using Marzano strategies in their classroom. It was a series of training sessions in house that had teachers learn and then create strategies for their classroom. I got to know the person who was the consultant and she kind of roped me into taking the training sessions. Trust me, it was the best thing I could have done. I have always felt that I did things naturally that fit into the Marzano model, but really never formally thought about it. Through this training I learned and began to implement using groups in a different way for students to not only share but also display their work to each other. I began to dub it Wolski Group Work: you may collaborate together, but everyone in the group had to do the work. So students started to display their work and share in smaller groups. Then I began to get them to share with the rest of the class but always found that students listening were not really paying attention and it was hard to get their input. Slowly a revolution started to happen....
     Due to changes in curriculum for other departments, our revision of our curriculum in Social Studies was delayed a few years to make adjustments for the district. While this was happening, the district got Google accounts for both the students and staff and we were very fortunate enough to get two carts with 30 Chromebooks a piece for our department. I began to mess around with all of the fun stuff on Google Drive a year prior but now since the students had their own account, I could now start to incorporate this into my lessons and daily use. I began to have students not only sharing their work via Google Drive put also having them display it to each other, even if it was on the Chromebook in a one on one fashion. Students could now share their work via the Smartboard too! I have now began to branch out even further by having students share their work with the world.
     One of the ways that I have done this sharing with the world is the 20 Time project. All my classes are now doing this starting this year. Students now generate an essential question based on the content and have to produce, at the end of the semester, a 3-5 minute TED Talk style presentation to teachers and administrators. Not only is this displaying their work, but it is also makes them answer questions about their project too. They even do a "pitch proposal" to a group of admin and teachers at the beginning of the project. Finally, one of my personal goals for this project is for students to connect their project to the outside world. This has gone amazingly well and I cannot wait until they present them this year. More info about that is here on my 20 Time Project Blog

Friday, September 19, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 19: 3 Powerful tools for student reflection.....

   I almost did not respond to this tonight. I just got home from the football game and I am beat. It's Friday and the week beat me up. (Doesn't it always?) But I have so many days under my belt and I have worked so hard to complete the challenge, that I am going to do this one now. You have to have persistence, not allowing the situation or excuses to dictate your dedication. Rub some dirt on it and move on. Oooo rah!
     One tool that I like to use for students is Socrative. I used it a little last year but really started to use it this year more often. It is an on line formative tool that allows you to make a variety of questions that students can get immediate feedback as they are taking it and also allows you to collect data for each student. I like to do these after a lesson or two to see where the kids are in terms of understanding. I also like to go through each question to allow students to think about their thinking. (A little meta cognition never hurt anyone!) It's quick it's easy and you can track a lot of data very easily.
     A second tool is Kaizena. I love this tool. It is an online program that allows you to put comments on documents created in Google Drive. While you could argue that this is as much of a tool for me as it is for the students, it still allows students to reflect on what they have learned. This is a wonderful way to add comments to documents and then students can read them. I like being able to have students read these comments and then reflect on what they could have done better. I am thinking of moving towards having discussions with students once the comments are read and see if they understand what they did wrong. I know this takes time, but I think it will be worth it.
     The third tool I like to use is, ironically two blogging tools: Kidblog and Pro Boards. While Pro Boards is more of a forum, they both do a great job of getting students to reflect on their learning. I like to post essential questions that they can respond to, and here's the best part: other students can post comments on other students comments. While at first this made me nervous that they would say something inappropriate to each other but I have been pleasantly surprised. Most students have been very mature and have not attempted to make fun of anyone in the class. I have seen some great comments on their essential questions. I also have the students work on a semester long project and we use the blog a lot for it. The students posted their essential question and I as well as the other students were able to make suggestions on how to improve their essential questions. This was very productive and some great questions came out of that. I am trying to have the students use it more to reflect on what they are doing on their projects but I just started working with these so I have to do a better job of making them use it. I would love for them to find how much doing this is benefiting me.

Okay folks, night!  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reflective Teaching Day 18: Teaching philosophy: Training Jedis

Teaching is like training a Jedi

 "You must unlearn what you have learned."

Luke: "I can't believe it."
Yoda: "That is why you fail."

"Truly wonderful the mind of a child is."

     Yea. I went with Star Wars. But it fits. Whether it's teaching a young teen like Anakin or a slightly older Luke, teaching is dealing with teens who have the power within them, but are not in control yet and don't know how to use them properly. What I usually do is read today's prompt in the am when I get out of bed and then to think about it as the day goes on. The longer I thought about this particular prompt, the more my answer seemed to make more and more sense. 
     There is always two sides to the force: the light side of Yoda and the Dark Side of Darth Vader. So I feel that I am fighting against the Dark Side: whether it represents ignorance or students taking the easy way out (which Luke tries to do on Dagoba) and not pushing themselves to try harder, to dive into the deeper end of the pool.
     While Yoda talks in such a way that might confuse students today "You must unlearn what you have learned" his approach is one that I believe teachers should embrace: using questions and inquiry rather than direct instruction all the time. Teachers shouldn't allow students to say "I'll try it." As a teacher, you should use the retort of Yoda: "Do or do not, there is no try." Just do it! Don't say you are going to try, because implicit in that word is that you might fail. We need to encourage students to do, not just try. Also, showing students how to learn, not just telling them, is exactly what Yoda does. So while his word choice might be confusing, his approach and method are not. 
     I have always found the approach to teaching Jedis to harness their power both a body and mind dualism approach. Sure Jedis have amazing physical skills, but they also have very powerful mental abilities too. "These aren't the droids you are looking for." However, those powers are untapped and potentially dangerous. (See Anakin Skywalker who starts good and turns into Vader) While none of our students are potential dangerous with the knowledge they could be taught, I still believe that left untapped, that lack of potential is something we should not see.  Unlike the Jedi who only choose to teach a select few, every young padawan that walks into my room has that potential. My job and any school's job is to find out how to tap into that potential.
     While I don't want every single kid to leave my classroom and turn into a teacher, I still want them to use that knowledge in one form or another to help others. Padawans turn into Jedis who then can pass that knowledge on by becoming a teacher to others. Think about that potential: having our students passing on (paying forward) the tapped into potential that we awoke in them to others. Isn't that the goal of education?

Mind what you have learned. Save you it can ----Yoda 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 17: Most challenging issue in education today

     Wow there could be many things I write about today: the Common Core (yea or nay); the influence of politics on the educational process; testing, testing, testing; the push for college for all; Bill and Melinda Gates in education; digital learning; social media. However, when I began to think about this topic, something else struck me and I can boil it down to one single word: comfort.
     This single word I believe is one of the biggest challenges in education today. It is related to all other concerns I have listed. What I mean by comfort is the tendency in the education world for teachers to stay in their comfort zone, stay comfortable and cease to grow. It is an easy trap to fall into too. It creeps up on you and before you know it, you are in a rut, shunning the possibility of being uncomfortable, unwilling to challenge yourself to stretch, to move into a growth mindset. SALY: Same as last year. It is so attractive too: you are used to it, you know the material, and you have, after a while, worked out all of the kinks. But have you evaluated it to see if it is effective? Have you made any adjustments to it at all? Did you try to approach from a different angle? While I don't believe change for the sake of change is good, I also believe that if you are not being reflective (See what I did there? See??) in your teaching then you are too comfortable. Get out of that zone, try something and fail. It's okay. I firmly believe that failing in that manner vastly improves your ability to teach. How else are you supposed to learn? From doing the same thing over and over and over again? That doesn't seem to make sense.
     Educational reforms come and go. The "do this and everything will get better" models are all lined up around the corner waiting to take a dip into the educational world. Politicians, business leaders, and everyone else who thinks they have a solution to our educational problem offer advice on what to do. However, instead of looking outside, we need to look inside. The reason everyone is critical of teaching in general is too many of us for too long have been driving that comfort zone. We just were using the lather, rinse, repeat cycle over and over again. I am not, I repeat NOT saying that you change everything you do from year to year. However, you have to make sure it's effective and reaching as many students as humanly possible. Be critical of yourself first. Don't force outside influences to mandate what you do in your classroom! You have the power!!! Don't relinquish that power for comfort.
    Here is the great news: it is never too late to move into the growth mindset. I don't care if it is your 29th year or your first. In the past 5 years I have been very fortunate to have forced myself out of that zone of comfort out of my connection to other educators (too many to list here) via social media like Twitter and in conversations in my PLCs within and without my department. I firmly believe that if we took this growth mindset as a challenge to ignore the impulse towards saying statements like "I don't have time for that" or "that will never work because..." the things we could accomplish would rid the perception for the need for outside consulting. So my advice to you is this:

1. Jump out of that rut of comfort you have put yourself into and go beyond!
2. Make a mess. An awful mess. Learn from it, fix it and try it again and make another mess. Repeat.
3. Gently nudge your colleagues out of their rut and challenge them to do something that they maybe would not do. Kirsten, Jen THANKS!
4. Show your students that it's okay to do #2 above. They could learn from that too!!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 16: A Teacher with Superpowers? Oh man.....

     I want to preface this post with this: If I were ever granted a superpower, even in the classroom setting, I would still only use my power for good not evil. The second thing is this: this is a tough one for me. I love superheros and I think all adults who work with kids should wear a cape, but the traditional model of leaping tall buildings in a single bound or spinning webs or even having all the great tech tools like Batman. Hmm.....wait a minute, can you imagine a teacher-like Bat Signal? Now that would rock!!! A huge W in the skies of Mentor, Ohio would be funny. Check that. The skies in South Euclid....
     There can be only one!!! Quote from which movie? Anyone? Anyone? Highlander. Classic movie about immortals that can only die from a beheading and who occasionally fight each other. However, in the end when there are only two highlanders left, the last highlander standing gets the ability to hear what others are thinking. I know I know I don't want to hear what the students are thinking all the time, but if used wisely, this might aide me tremendously in the classroom.
     First off, I would have to have the ability to turn this power to hear others thoughts on and off at will and be able to control it quite well or I don't really want it. I would have to practice it so I could turn it on or off quickly or simply tune it out. This fact is key. One of biggest problems I have always had, especially teaching students history, is how to think historically. Remember, it's an unnatural act for many students. I have tried and tried and I don't know if after 21 years I have made a difference on this issue. I have tried scaffolding and modeling the behavior (demo my thinking, etc) students still have a difficult time with thinking this way. Many of these historical skills apply to other subjects and life as well! 
     If I had the ability to hear others thoughts, I could use it to help the students navigate the thought process and help them to see their flaws in thinking and how to guide them in the right direction. Thinking critically, asking the right questions, supporting thoughts with evidence are difficult skills to teach. If I could briefly "hear" the process as its going on, it might be easier to improve the process. As I am typing this, I realize how creepy this power would be and I wouldn't want to have everyone have it, but teaching these things takes a lot of time and practice. Can you imagine what a classroom would look like if there was a way to improve upon the skills that we all wish students had? I know all of us are fighting that fight, pushing students to use the skills to be critical thinkers, et al, but anything, even a superpower like this, that could help would make reaching ALL students a lot easier to do. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflective Teaching Day 15: 3 Things I am good at as an educator

     Everyone is good at something. Everyone. The key is to find out what that something is, work at it and become even better. I have a few things I think I do well in, teaching is one of them. It comes natural to me. I am by no means perfect at it, but I have learned a lot over the time in the classroom and here are 3 things I have done well with...

1. Building Relationships: One of the most crucial aspects of teaching young people is the ability to connect with students in a meaningful way that helps to build trust and assists in the learning process. Remember, teaching is just as much an art form as it is a science. So building relationships with students is difficult to put into a formula. However, one piece of advice that I was given about this job in general is this: passion and compassion. I believe that if students see your passion for what you do in your class on a daily basis, they know you care about what you are doing. Nothing sends the wrong message more than sitting behind your desk for most of the year handing out worksheets that gets a red check when you "grade" it. How are students supposed to get excited about learning from a piece of paper that has no connection to their world? When you make your lessons dynamic and demonstrate your passion through what your students are doing, that transfers to your students. As teachers, we cannot control a lot of things in our students' lives, but showing compassion about those lives is crucial. A little understanding and flexibility goes a long way. I am not saying to be a total pushover, but realizing that students have lives outside the school walls is important to them too. Tap into that. Strike up a conversation about something you notice they have an interest in. Just don't hand out a student survey without actually having non-school related conversations with students. Share something about yourself. Put yourself out there. Allow students to get to know you too. Remember, building a relationship is a two way street. You would be surprised how far that will take you. One final thought on this: do whatever it takes to know your students names. I don't care how you do it, just do it! Say hi to them in the hallway. Buy them a lunch or a drink when they are standing behind you in the lunch line. It becomes difficult to show your passion and compassion towards students when it's been a semester and you still don't know everyone's names. I have been blessed with the gift to know 150 students within the first month of school. Not sure how I do it, but I do. I believe this, along with many other little tips and tricks helps to build a good relationship with your students.

2. Wait, half my class is gone and the network is down?: Another aspect of teaching that is so vital to this profession is the ability to adjust. Just like that. All that time you spent on that great lesson and it comes crashing down. Now what? Give up? Read out of the book? You have to make adjustments at the snap of a finger. A lot of this comes with experience: you just learn how to fix stuff as it breaks. And oh, it will break! It will be a mess. As a great person and a wonderful educator once told me, it's going to be a mess and it's okay! Roll with it and learn to fix it! Thanks Joy Kirr !! I think I have always been able to adjust (I just got better as I got older) because I really never was satisfied with doing the same thing over an over again. I was always tweaking lessons and trying to find another way to make it work. Now that then creates more work for me. As I have often said, "I will retire the day I perfect this thing called teaching." Rigidity and teaching do not mix well. I guess this "thinking on your feet" is one of those art type skills that again I have been blessed with. If there would be one thing I would teach at Wolski Teaching School is akin to the Marine motto of "Improvise Adapt Overcome".

3. Relevance: I guess sometimes I am no better than a student sitting in a desk who is handed work to do and says "Why are we doing this?" I hate handing students materials that are not interesting and relevant at the same time. Maybe I am just a bit selfish. I tell the students that I don't want to do something that is boring or from the textbook publisher. I want them to see the relevance of history or government in their lives. Why wouldn't I? I know history has a rep for being boring and nothing more than facts. Again, having passion for your subject matter makes it easier to teach. I love sharing my love for history and government with students. I once had a student who told me (happens a lot) that history is boring and it never changes. But luck (I wasn't trying to prove them wrong....well maybe!) would have it that an article came out a week later explaining how the colonists at Jamestown might have resorted to cannibalism because they found human remains in the garbage pit with human teeth and bite marks in them. I told her about this and said (which is true) that history is people, it's arguable, it's opinion supported by fact. Sometimes, new evidence is found that changes forever how we think about a subject. Government is the easiest class to make relevant to their lives. Rather than just current events games on Friday, how about use the news on a daily basis or make sure to connect something in the world to each unit?  So much material out there it's just finding the right story.

     I might do other things well, but these 3 really make doing what I do for a living more enjoyable and interesting.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 14: What is feedback and how do you give it to students.....

      This is one area of my teaching that I have been really working on over the last five years or so. This partially started because I was frustrated with students who could answer a multiple choice question or even a matching question, but then could not master the more complicated short answer or essay. I needed a way to check this before I gave the test. The other reason is the district began to move towards having common formative assessments as a means for students and teachers to get and give feedback. So the discussions and reading and training began. The road it took me down was truly an eye opening experience for me.
     Feedback should not be given only on a final assessment like a test or an essay. By then, it is too late. Yes, it is crucial that students receive that feedback on that summative assessment, but if that's the only time you are giving it, then that is not the best thing for student learning and for you as a teacher. Feedback is crucial all throughout the learning process. Feedback can be as simple as a half sheet of paper with a simple question. Students answer and you read and respond. Feedback can be a simple question on the Smartboard and students raise their hand. Then go through it as a class and have someone explain why they thought the answer was what they chose. One challenge in giving students feedback is to make it timely and meaningful.
     I have always struggled with finding a way to give feedback in a timely fashion. When you have 150 students, giving immediate feedback can be daunting. Even a simple question on a half sheet can take a long time to read and put comments on, even if it's one comment per sheet. And if you are trying this 2-3 times a week like a good feedback regiment should, that equals 450 half sheets. Oh boy! I firmly believe that feedback done right is one of the best ways for students to learn. It allows you to correct and guide before the students are assessed. I just had to think of a way to do it quicker and more effective. So here is the direction I am heading to improve upon my student feedback.
     First, I want to thank all my #sblchat friends on Twitter for great suggestions on how to implement the use of standards based grading. One of the hallmarks of using SBG is teacher feedback to students. I have been given great ideas on how to make feedback more meaningful and timely. The other factor that is making feedback more timely and meaningful is the inclusion of tech into my classroom. This opens a wide array of digital tools to allow students to receive feedback. Socrative and Infuse Learning are two great digital formative tools that give students immediate feedback and allows me to collect data that I can use immediately once the students are done. We can go over it in class to see their right/wrong answers and examine the question. I have started this especially in my AP American Government class (S/O to my #apgovlove students!!) where they leave in December and I won't see them before the test in May. This is ambitious but I am going to do it anyways. I will have the students use Socrative to take quizzes on each unit (as many as I can) so they not only get feedback, but I can collect the data and use the textbook self guided on line resources to customize a review for each student! Crazy? Too ambitious? Probably. I am going to do it anyways. Go big or go home right?
     Another way that I am trying to improve my feeback to students is the use of Google Classroom. I know I keep mentioning that, but I love the assignment set up and the ability of students to turn stuff in and then correct it. I can put comments on not only each students individual assignment, but then on their stream feed as well. They can read the comments, I get an update via email that the comment has been "resolved" and I can then re-adjust the grade. Google is great for feedback in that way. Also, for some of the longer essays, I am going to continue to use Kaizena to give feedback on longer essays or writing for all classes. It syncs well with anything on your GDrive account, the interface is easy to use, and there was a great update over the summer to make it even better. I highly recommend it.
     Blogs and forums. I had used these in the past but really never in a feedback type fashion. Two sites I like are Kidblog and Proboards. They both allow you to post a questions and not only can you give faster feedback, you can set it up so just the other students in the class can see AND make comments on their peers. This is great way to foster peer to peer feedback that you can monitor. I got the great idea for this from Mark Barnes book Role Reversal. He has a ton of wonderful ideas on how to give good feedback. The other great tip is simple: rearrange your room so you are not the focus, the students are. I have made my room more open so I can walk around and give suggestions and thoughts as the students are working. They can help each other out and it does foster more one on one conversations, many of which are in the form of feedback. It has been a great way to improve on helping students to learn that their learning is important, before they get to that summative assessment at the end of the unit. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 13: My top edtech tools......

     I use technology a lot in my life so why wouldn't I adopt it into my classroom? One of the impediments to teachers using tech in their classroom is they don't use it on their own in their daily lives. I understand that everyone has a their own comfort level when it comes to tech, but students need to know how to use tech, no matter what form it comes in and no matter what their comfort level is too. This is the world that we live in and if we are not preparing students for their future and the world they are going into, then who will? But remember, not all students are as comfortable and familiar as I am (or you are, constant reader!) so you have to be flexible and willing to work around problems or issues. So, if a student wants a hard copy of something digital, print one. This is no different than teaching without tech. Be ready for anything!!

So, here are my top tech tools that I use in descending order:

Twitter: I started using this tool last year not only as a PD tool (Best. Idea. Ever!) but also a way to engage students with the world around them. I tweet news stories, this blog too, S/O to students for doing good things, and class reminders. Students can ask questions and get help. I love to take events like the State of the Union address and live tweet it with some humor so students become engaged, but learn at the same time. This is how I approach my class as a whole. But now, students are doing this at home or where ever they are at that moment. It's simple and does not really take a lot of time (140 characters!). Once you start using Twitter and see the value for both you and your students, the phrase "I don't have time for that" won't be in your vocabulary at all. #maketime My goal this year is for my students to use Twitter to reach out to the world beyond them and connect to someone or something that is related to the classroom. Tweet the president? A CEO of Google? Why not?

Chromebooks: For what I use them for, these wonderful tech tools are amazing! Research, sharing stuff on Google Drive* (*See next point!) I started using these last year and since the district bought more sets, I use them every single day. Yes there are days where we blend stuff: students using paper and books and the Chromebooks, but we use them. With the growing amount of tools available on line (not all of them are good, tread carefully) and with the ever expanding Google into education, the Chromebooks are just a natural progression into my class. The district applied for and received a grant which in part gives every student a MacBook next year. While these laptops are slightly different than what I am using this year, it is a great leap for my classroom. Now if a student forgets their MacBook (it will happen) I have a back up plan: grab a Chromebook from the cart. I just have to adjust to the OS of Mac and what is available. I can still use Drive, but finding all of the great stuff that Apple has to offer is a good problem to have.

Google Drive: There is nothing that I have come across in the last 10 years that has impacted my teaching more than using Google Drive. The organization. The sharing with both students and teachers (even those outside my building). The Apps. Oh the Apps! I have not even really searched the full range of what is out there in terms of Apps. I discover new ones every day! And now.....Google has upped their game with creating the new Google Classroom. It synches with your Drive account, you can add classes based on your groups (in your contacts), you can assign work on the classroom site and students can turn in and have it graded. This is the best thing ever. Not only does it make a copy for each student, but probably the best feature is how you grade it. You can customize the points and students see their assignment. Here's the best part: they can re-do the assignments based on the comments that you can not only put on the document, but also on the assignment on their "Stream" on the classroom site. It shows up on your drive as being redone. If you are looking to use standards based grading or you want to have your students master assignments, this is perfect! The great thing is Google is always looking for feedback and is constantly reinventing things and adding new features so what the future holds is exciting to think about. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 12: How I see my teaching changing in 5 years....

     I already see my teaching changing and changing for the better. There is so much going on in education right now some challenging and some really beneficial to students. This is how I see it changing what I do in my classroom....
     Technology: I have always tried to incorporate something into the classroom with technology. It amazes me what is available today: from having a device in every student's hand to the availability of on line tools and things like Google Drive. Our district is moving to a 1 to 1 environment with every student having a MacBook. This has profound implications for what I do in my room on a daily basis. I believe these implications are a good thing. I think many resist these changes thinking that technology is a cover all solution for education. Remember, technology does not replace good teaching or the teacher. It was never meant to at all. Technology is like the sriracha sauce on well pretty much anything: it enhances what was already there. Just like anything in education it is how you use it. What are you having your students do? Is it content related? Or are they just playing? Is there depth to what they are doing? Does it challenge and expand their world? All of these considerations are questions that have to be answered. But the possibilities are limitless. The challenge for teachers and the education field in general are to make it work and to navigate the inevitable field of glitches and problems. There are many of them, but overall if it makes what you do easier and is still relevant, robust and related to content, why wouldn't I dive right in??? Students use technology and their world is full of it everywhere. Maybe we should have some adults who are trained to demonstrate how things work show them how to use this technology. Oh yea....that's US! So take a risk. Try something using technology. Roll with the mess that will follow. (The mess will come...it's okay)
     Thinking and Doing: While there are a million complaints against the standardization of education and things like the Common Core, I believe that standards are standards. Give me a list of things you want my students to know and I will knock it out no problem. I have to admit I like the move away from multiple choice questions and a shift towards critical thinking and having students do something, create something on the standardized assessment. As long as the assessments are written well and not written to be graded easier or completed in a shorter period of time, then bring it on! I would love to see a variety of different assessments all related to the same standards but done differently. If we should do that in the classroom, why can't the State come up with a set of common assessments that vary and force students to demonstrate their learning in different ways??? That would be ideal, but maybe a pipe dream. It's okay to dream, isn't it?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 11: My favorite part of the day.....

It's the in between times.....

When I saw this prompt this morning, it really made me think of what is the favorite part. So I have come up with what I call the in between times: short little interaction times with students and staff that are not necessarily the structured part of the school day.

I like to be in the hallway in between class periods (see....in between!). I do this not because I have to, but because those 5 minute bursts are the best time to interact with students in a non-teacher kind of way. There is no pressure there, no "I am the teacher" and "you are the student" kind of pressure or dichotomy. I can see students that I had last year, joke with students and if my presence helps to make the building a friendly or safer environment, well then bonus points! It is a great way to start a class by interacting in a positive way with students before they enter the classroom too. Even a simple hello can help break the ice and build that rapport with students that is so key in teaching. I also use it as a way to remember their names too. I know some do a handshake but I prefer a fist bump, high five or a bow. (Even AP seniors still respond to that!) I always felt that this kind of interaction was so productive that it is silly that we do that at the door and then revert to the teacher--student dichotomy once you pass the threshold of the door. What would your class look like if you could have this back and forth, easy going, non-threatening conversation with the actual material in class? I think I have found a way to bring that to the classroom.
     After reading Mark Barnes great book Role Reversal, I realized that I have been slowly taking myself from in front of the classroom and moving towards the model he has described in his book. Less me, more them. Semester long project. More direct and meaningful feedback. Those conversations at the door and in the hallway were now appearing in my classroom about content. Sure. Sure. Some of the conversations were about video games or zombies, but always with the end goal of starting and improving that relationship with students. Now those in between times were happening daily every period in all of my classes. I was having those in between conversations with every student in my class every day in all five classes. I was unbelievably tired. My legs hurt. I never sat down. I was logged out of Infinite Campus because I had not been active on the computer for more than 60 minutes. What was going on here?
     Those in between moments became my teaching. I have had more one on one conversations in the past 4 weeks than I had ALL of last year. (Not afraid to admit that) Yes there are days when I am tired and don't want to do that in between time for class, but I do. I force myself to do it. I have seen excellent work so far. All five classes have done some amazing work with their 20 Time semester long project. We have our pitch proposals tomorrow and I am excited to see the feedback the students get. I know my students better so far at this point too. Is it perfect? No. Can I make improvements? Certainly. But even after 20 years I am amazed at what I don't know. Or better, maybe I have known much of the benefit of the in between time with students but was unable to organize it and make it work in a classroom setting. Maybe I am headed in that direction. So now my favorite part of the day is now every single minute in the classroom. 48 minutes worth 5 times a day. The period flies by and we have great conversations.

***A side note: my pod seating arrangement has sustained the movement of 8 classes a day for 4 weeks and has NOT been messed up hardly at all. It is the ONLY arrangement I have made in 20 years that has not turned to chaos in less than a week. Hmmmm.......***

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 10: Sharing....

      Sharing is caring. That's what some purple dinosaur said once. I was looking forward to this post, as it is kind of a fun one. Well.....here goes:

Share 5 Random Facts about Yourself

1. I have four toes on my left foot. I was born that way. No it does not make me a better swimmer and yes, I hate flip flops....half my foot falls off!!! (Mandels it is!)

2. My wife and I got married in the Great Smokey Mountains and a black bear showed up to the rehearsal dinner wanting some BBQ. You should have seen people run. It was funny.

3. I love video games. I have played them since the Atari and the Commodore 64. (Gotta love Zork) Yes I have an Xbox One and NO you cannot have my gamertag.

4. I have a dog named Sammie. He is a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier who has hair not fur (I am allergic). He thinks he is a person. Most. Spoiled. Dog. Ever! (He is lucky that he's adorable)

5. I read voraciously. Right now I am reading the second compendium of the Walking Dead. I hope I am not ruining anything for October.

Share 4 Things from Your Bucket List

1. I want to attend a English Premier League soccer game in England.

2. I want to  go on an investigation searching for Sasquatch.

3. I want to visit New Zealand, Australia and Japan. (Hey if I am out that way, I am hitting ALL 3!!)

4. Visit the Bialowieza Primeval Forest in Poland. It is one of the oldest in the world.

Share 3 Things You Hope For This Year

1. I hope that my students in Contemporary World Issues like the class (new prep) and learn something as well. I want to build that up as a class.

2. Both of my children (Gavin 12 and Lily 15) have a good school year. Both are in new buildings (junior high and high school respectively) and it's an adjustment for them.

3. I hope that Boysetsfire, one of my favorite punk bands, does a US tour that is longer than 5 gigs in Philadelphia.

Share 2 Things That Have Made You Laugh or Cry as an Educator

I think I will start with the laugh first. The tear-jerker cry was one of the more difficult things I have had to deal with as a teacher. But let's laugh first....

The Laugh: I started my career at Shore Junior High School. (S/O to my Shore peeps!) It's a middle school now but was a 7-9 building when I taught there from '93-'97. (Yes, I am old) I was teaching World Geography to 7th graders and we were studying Japan. I thought it would be a good idea to have them read an article about how different Japanese schools are compared to the one they were sitting in at the moment. The article said that teachers in Japan (at the time) were allowed to hit students, and routinely did so. Much of the time the teachers in Japan would hit students for things like being slow to leave the class for a fire drill. So I told them, "Imagine me going up and down the rows from the first row hitting students in the back of the head. Whack. Whack. Imagine what fear that would instill." So I am walking around pretending to hit students and saying whack! as I go. Just then, a pass comes in from the main office for a student. Without thinking I say, "Hey you interrupted my whacking!" I had 7th graders. What was I thinking? The whole room lost it in laughter and then I lost them. New guy on the block mistake. From that point forward, I was cautious in my word choice.

The Cry: Teaching is about relationships. Creating them with students, understanding where they come from, what they like, etc. As I have said before, when you build those relationships and understand them as people, it is amazing what they will do for you. A few years back at the high school a student was added to my class by a counselor that I know pretty well. She talked to me about Buford (name changed) because she knew me well enough to know that I could adjust to his home life (which was beyond not good....he was living with a family friend) I have to admit, it was difficult to adjust but in building that relationship with Buford, I was able to keep him on track and get him to pass my US History class as a junior so he could graduate the following year. The school year ended and we parted ways. What I did not realize about Buford is his long struggle to stay clean from the use of drugs. While I vacation, I received a text from a friend that he had overdosed on heroin just a few days prior. I was floored. I had never had a student pass away like that and certainly not one that I had worked so closely with one on one. I cried that night. It took me several days of staring at the ocean to recover and I still have a picture of him in my desk drawer as a reminder. I don't know why it hit me so hard, but it did. Rather than discouraging me, it reminds me that no matter what, you have to continue to try, to reach students at all costs. It has an impact you just might not see it.

Share 1 Thing You Wish More People Knew About You

1. I investigate the paranormal.....(I will leave that hanging there....) 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 9: My biggest accomplishment....

     Blink blink blink......I stare at the cursor and to be honest, I don't know how to answer this one. When you have been doing something for 21 years it's hard to pick one thing that stands out. There have been little victories here and there. For example, one year I received one of the few awards as a teacher that I value....the Student's Choice Award. I just think that awards for teachers is nebulous and confusing. I do what I do and accolades are nice but this is my passion. Very few awards can come close to a thank you letter/note from a student, a kind word from a parent, a visit from a former student, or even a Tweet from a student that shows that what you did in the classroom has made an impact on them. I also was very fortunate enough to attend the National Council for the Social Studies annual conference in San Diego. (S/O to Tracey Coleman for making that happen!) That conference gave me more inspiration and drive than any other conference to date.
     I view teaching as a long haul endeavor. You are looking at both the trees and forest at the same time. Sometimes it is difficult to see the forest, because you are too busy with the immediate concern of the trees: I have tests to grade, lessons to plan and students to engage. But the details bog you down and you forget that many of your students leave your classroom better students, aye, better people because of what you have done. Most of the time, you will not see that. Many students do not say anything or perhaps do not even realize the impact you have made on them until years later. Research shows that the frontal lobe of teens that impacts decision making does not fully develop until  they are 25 or 26. So if you have them when they are 15 or 16, that impact may take quite a while to develop or to be realized.
     One of the greatest pieces of advice someone gave me about teaching is to keep a Why? folder. Fill it full of notes, emails, student evaluations and the like so when you have one of those days where you lose sight of the forest, you can be reminded of the things that help you to see it in the midst of the trees. The day to day grind can make the best of us lose sight of why we are here. Do not let it! You are making an impact it is just hard to see sometimes......


Monday, September 8, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 8: What is in My Desk Drawer and What You Can Infer....

  The first words that come to mind is: controlled chaos. I took a picture to show you what I mean: it's messy but somewhat organized. I know where everything is I just don't like the "it has to be neat all the time mentality." A brief story might help to make this point....
     My college room in both my dorm and then my Frat house was a mess. And when I say that, I mean Katrina level of a mess. (x10) My roommate my junior year was a little neater than I was but viewed me as a bit of a freak. He actually did a test. He had people come into the room (again Katrina style mess) and told me to find me to find my East Asian History notepad (legal pad....yellow....holla). I found it in literally 5 seconds. Everyone was amazed. He would always ask "How do you do that?" That is simply how my brain works. It can appear unorganized and chaotic, but to me it's not.
     With that in mind, sometimes my classroom itself can appear to be a bit chaotic and unorganized, desks in pods and the appearance of no direct instruction. But stay longer than 5 minutes and one realizes that at some points the class is directly addressed, and sometimes they are working in groups or alone and I am always mobile, always asking questions, rarely sitting down. This is a new approach for me and for the students, especially AP Gov students. I really want to get more peer to peer conversations and discussions before we discuss as a class and that is a mindset shift for anyone, let alone a high school student.
     Okay you can clearly tell that this is a teacher's desk with the various clips (paper and otherwise) and just the shear variety of writing utensils. There are highlighters, markers, pens and pencils. You can see some pass slips and even the back side of our Media Center green passes as well. Calculators, hole punch, scissors and even some staples are laying about. However, I know where almost all of that stuff is and in my wanderings can find what you need just like my roommate in college.
     People have tried and continue to try to organize this drawer, but since it has been around me for such a long time, it just wants to have the Wolski style chaos that inevitably it returns to. But I can still find what you need.....

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 7: Most inspirational colleague

     This is going to be a difficult post for me. I have many people that have inspired me throughout my 20 years of teaching. To narrow this to one person is hard and I have a list of like 1,000 people that could be included in this post. So who do I choose? I am going to have to think about this one.....

(Time passes......)

(Time passes......)

(Time passes......)

     I think I know who I am going to write about. However, I want to say that many of you who are reading this could be the people I write about. I don't want anyone to feel left out. You know who you are!! Yvonne Allen was an English teacher that was at Mentor High School when I moved up after 4 years at Shore. I have posted on my the History Blog Circle here that teaching thinking and writing can be difficult. Yvonne set me on that path and really challenged me to think about how I am approaching the teaching of history. She taught me to tell the story, have students truly argue a position and to not forget that history is people, so history is messy. (Her quote....great one!)
     One of the other areas that Yvonne helped to inspire me is to teach my students to be critical of any information they come across. When she was teaching, Yvonne had a class called American Experience that she co-taught with Lisa Ford. It was a combo English-History class that really pushed the students to think across disciplines and to analyze the material presented to them in both a literature but also a historical way. While I did not have the pleasure of teaching that class, I was in constant conversations with both Yvonne and Lisa about what they were doing and I even helped them during a free period on projects as having 60 + students was difficult for just 2 teachers. Much of what they were doing is very familiar today: they were collaborating, but across subject matter. They were teaching reading and writing across disciplines. They were blending by adding technology to their class. These are things we do now, but were not back then.
     I believed then, and I still do now, that this type of inspiration and collaboration, is the best thing any teacher can do. We now have so many more tools available to use today that did not exist then. However, the desire, the drive to want to collaborate was born out of sheer necessity and then turned into a habit that even if I wasn't in a formal PLC, I would be PLCing (if there is such a word) anyways with some of the great people around me thanks to Yvonne and Lisa too. See I told you I would probably sneak in more than one person!! To all those who have and will continue to inspire me a million thanks would never be enough. So, I will continue to share and help where and when I can. Pay it forward

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Reflective Teacher Day 6: What does a good mentor "do''?

     I view the job of a mentor the same as a teacher of students, but a little different. Mentors are supposed to help their newbie teachers navigate their first year. If you have ever had a student teacher, it's kind of like that, but again, different. I was fortunate enough to have @mr_bschnides as a student teacher. He was great and it was a great experience because it makes you truly think about what you are doing, a reflection. A mentor teacher takes that student teaching experience and allows the mentee to be 100% on their own, in their own classroom.
     As a mentor, your job is to check on the mentee, asking them how it's going. and answer any questions they have about this thing called teaching. There is so much that you have to learn as you do in this field. No education class can teach you what to do in every scenario. For example, what do you do when you have a great lesson planned using technology and the computers won't work or the internet goes down?? You have to adjust. Quickly. So as a mentor teacher, you have to make sure your mentee can adjust and does not fall apart when these situations arise.
     However, like most things in teaching doing your job as a mentor right, is a subtle dance between being too tight or too loose. In one extreme, you completely ignore your mentee, never checking on them and they wind up going to someone else. Trust me, everyone needs advice and help those first couple of years. Heck, I still need feedback from my colleagues now. (Hence why I am doing this, right?) On the other side of that coin is too much control and contact. New teachers, like student teachers, need to spread their wings and venture out of the nest on their own. They need to try. Fail. Try again. I view a mentee as someone who needs to learn when they need help and when they can figure it out on their own. This is what we do with students: we structure class so they learn how to do something with scaffolds, and then we take those supports away and they do on their own.
     The ultimate goal is to have the mentee gain support in their first few years and then learn to want to collaborate with their colleagues on their own, not to shut their door and forget that there is a building full of people that can help them grow in their profession.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Reflective Teaching Day 5: Post a Pic of Classroom

C-210 at MHS

What I see....
     I like the arrangement of the desks....I call them pods. Amazingly, after 3 weeks the desks have stayed put and really have not moved. Any other configuration I have tried, the desks get messed up and it gets annoying to fix them every day. Maybe the openness of the room makes it easier for the students to move in and out of the room. I do have another teacher in the room (S/O to Mrs. Frei) and she has full classes. I thought that since I have fewer students this year, the arrangement stayed put with fewer bodies in and out. I have noticed though that with this change in arrangement of the seats has also changed the way I teach the class: more of them, less of me. I never sit down. Moving from pod to pod to make sure students are understanding what we are doing and then discussing as an entire class.
     The map. (swoon) My old map was ripped and not up to date (Still had the Soviet Union....historical but not good for talking about today) I love that students look at it, use it and even ask me questions about many different things around the world. I also like that if I wanted to, I could use a dry erase marker to write on it and it erases easy. The map does a great job of providing an easy visual and it gives the students perspective on topics we discuss, even if it is about the US. Love the map! (Sing the Dora song....)
     I love the addition of the fans. I know. I know. It really does not "cool" the room down, but the movement of air helps....a lot. Even if it is only the perception of coolness, it's still coolness. (Perception is reality?)
     As a high school teacher, I have always tried to figure out what to do with the bulletin boards in my room. I am not a fan of the "Hang in There" motivational posters as I think they can come across as kinda cheesy. I began to try a unit in US History last year using Standards Based Learning/Grading. The tic tac toe board near the door was idea hatched by my #sblchat friends (S/O to Rik Rowe! @WHSRowe) You have different activities that correspond to the scale you have created for that learning goal. An example is HERE! Somehow I have to find a good way to do this again with my AP Gov class or Contemporary World Issues class. Both have standards, but as semester classes and with the AP grind of material, I am not sure how to even tackle that idea. Future project!!

What I would like to see that I don't see.....
     1. A graffiti wall.....good for brainstorming ideas, class writing assignments with a thesis, or just notes to remember.
     2. Desks that move easier. I feel like the stationary desks make it a little harder to mix the groups up so students can move their materials easier. Yes they can just move, but in a full classroom, that might not work as smoothly as just re-arranging the desks quickly. I wouldn't mind experimenting with softer seats too.
     3. Pipe dream: a live Twitter feed that makes sounds on a new mention. How much more interactive would class be if you could live Tweet to the president or a prime minister and have them respond? That would be pretty awesome.....
    4. Pipe dream #2: I want a DJ. One that understands the content as well as I do and when students are working, he/she could play something appropriate to that content. And for drum rolls for jokes during class. Can you imagine...."DJ Frank.....take us out...."
     5. Better lighting. The florescent lights are hard on the eyes. I know the daylight or whatever they are called lights are a bit pricey but they last longer and make it easier on students who sit all day in the glow of the florescent lights.
     6. You cannot see it but it would be grand...cooler air!!