Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Gratitude is not an attitude, it is an action.

All of my problems are little problems or luxury problems. Yep, I'm broke. But I'm broke because I have 5 kids getting great educations. And I'm broke because we decided we needed our AC fixed this summer. How can I really complain?

I wish I had a higher trajectory career path. But I find my job very interesting and I enjoy going to work every single day. How can I really complain?

And my job frustrates me sometimes with our glacial pace or change or outright resistance to the changes technology allows us to make. But what great teachers we have where I work. The connections these folks make with children continually amaze me. I continue to work where I work because I want my kids to receive the moral, ethical, athletic and intellectual educations my school provides to them. How can I really complain?

Last night I was cranky with my spouse. No good reason. I just was. How can I really complain?

So what am I going to do about it? Remember, Alex, gratitude is an action.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Make Thinking Visual

Under the column of "things I should use more in my teaching" would be my use of graphic organizers in reading, note-taking, and writing. I don't learn visually and I don't really think spatially, so they've never been a tool I've used. I recognize that some of my students ARE visual learners and thus I should incorporate graphic organizers into my teaching. I've come across a few that I like. The Mindly App is one tool I've come across. Another that I like a lot is the Lucidchart Add-on in google docs. It's a great tool, super easy to use, and immediately embeddable into any google document.

My favorite as of this writing is the elegant Coggle. Coggle creates visually beautiful org charts. It only does one thing, but in a remarkably straightforward way. The organizers it creates all more or less will look the same. Yet, its ease of use and graceful layout make it a powerful tool for the classroom.

Family trees, language derivatives, essay mapping, biology nomenclature hierarchies, history timelines immediately spring to mind as ways a teacher could use this tool.

On the tech side, Coggle lets one embed links and pictures. It allows for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. One can also share a finished Coggle with others both privately and publicly. Students from elementary grades through college age will find this a useful tool.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Skills vs. Content, Brain Rules

I loathe this debate. In many respects, it is false. However, in secondary schools and in prep schools I fear we skew too heavily on the side of content. We teach kids to know large chunks of information, but what do we teach them to do? This debate is an ongoing debate at my school. Good people who care about kids and learning come down on different sides of this debate. To the skills first crowd, I point out that there are ways of knowing that teaching for content promotes. This way of knowing is a skill. It isn't perhaps tangible, but it is real. To proponents of content first, I'd point out that much of what is taught is forgotten.  And if it is not reinforced as John Medina of Brain Rules teaches us, it is forgotten.

We have to teach kids to do things and not just know things. One should manipulate content when doing which is why this is should be a false debate. Sadly, sometimes it isn't.

How does technology fit into this? I see several ways, tech literacy is a skillset that many schools do not teach. Tech literacy should be embedded into instruction. Take a look at the ISTE student standards . One can see these skills can't exist outside content. Content is the vehicle through which one will learn the tech skills. You can't separate them. But we do. On both sides of the debate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Technology and Whistling Vivaldi

I've long been interested in the work Josh Aronson and Claude Steele published on Stereotype Threat. I've also become increasingly interested in incorporating technology into teaching, so much so that it has become my job. Diversity work has been a passion. So has tech 2.0. I've never really combined these interests or thought about them at the same time.

Central to Steele's thesis and data supports it is the idea at some level everyone is susceptible to apprehension stemming from an awareness of a negative stereotype about one's group. I am fortunate to be a straight, cis, white male of some means in the USA and even I am in situations where my status as a white man leads to apprehension. Steele's point is that one does not even need to be consciously aware in the moment of the difference for it to have a caustic effect. Check out his most famous work, Whistling Vivaldi.

What interests me here is does it have a connection to technology? How many slow adapters to technology are victims of stereotype threat.? Do people simply think they can't do it? Again, the most insidious part of stereotype threat is that one doesn't have to be aware of one's own thinking at a conscious level. The thinking is internalized. The way one manages stereotype threat is to emphasize effort not innate talent- a growth mindset, provide for role models, and to reframe the task to minimize situations in which task descriptions trigger self-defeating stereotypes. Thus, how do I reframe my teaching of technology to folks hesitant to embrace it if stereotype threat plays a role in their reticence?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thinking Big, using Skype and Getting Out of the Way

Sometimes when you put kids in charge of their learning and get out of the way, amazing things can happen. Recently. my colleague Gary Nicolai who teaches an International Relations class is studying the growing conflict in the South China Sea, which Gary feels will become the site of the most international tension in the near future and extended future.

One of Gary's students talked to his mother about the project. The Pacific Command, based in Honolulu, is headed by Admiral Harry Harris, four-star admiral. It so happens that this student's uncle is a very close friend of Admiral Harris. The student emailed Admiral Harris who responded immediately and offered information via links and documents and then offered a Skype session with the students.

Learning can't get any richer. Gary didn't have to do a thing except get them started. No, we all won't have links to Admiral Harris. But Gary's student didn't even know he had a link to Admiral Harris. Nor would he have known if Gary didn't let the kids lead.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bulbapp.com as portfolio builder

    An ongoing task of mine is to implement  portfolios into the 7th grade at my school. I've recently discovered bulbapp.com.


    1. Visually crisp and pleasing
    2. Easy to navigate
    3. Even easier to use.
    4. Free
    1. Doesn't work well with Google (this is a minus for me as I work at a GAFE school.)
    2. Thus, it doesn't let one insert, as does google sites, all sorts of things from google drive.
    1. When the year ends - and the students want to move their portfolio content out of bulb - how do they do this?
    2. Can people download my content that I place on bulbapp?
If any of my couple dozen regular readers know, give me a response. Also, let me know if you have used bulbapp.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

On Listening

“There's a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G.K. Chesterton

This resonates with me today.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Epic Citadel Project

This assignment really showed me technology's potential for making my classroom a more dynamic place. Yet, though this project had "bells and whistles", a real "wow" factor, it also had the fundamentals of good Language Arts teaching. Students were immersed in this large, final creative writing project. We used the app, Epic Citadel as a focus. This frankly beautiful app allowed the children to roam an amazingly detailed and rich fantasy setting. What I liked about this app is that there are no characters, challenges or distractions; it is purely just a world waiting to be explored. The potential this left for creative thinking was significant. Plot and character development became central to the teaching in the unit. Students used BookCreator to publish their finished stories. They used iMovie to make introductions for their stories. 
Click the link to see some of the finished work. http://fcsepiccitadel.blogspot.com/. Below is one of the many fine finished projects. Folks at +St George  seem to have discovered this about the same time I did last year. I give full credit for the idea to Tim Parkinson's Blog

Monday, November 9, 2015

On Presentation Tools #3- 3 important points.

I may or may not take a hiatus before continuing this thread of web-based presentation tools.
Before I do, I want to mention Prezi- this is likely the most common of the tools I will share.

More importantly, I want to highlight three important points about these tools.

  1. There is nothing to download. (Though on an iPad, Magisto is an app)
  2. They are accessible to view on any device that accesses the web.
  3. Did I say, free?  (Mostly true. Sometimes there will be pro and premium versions that do cost somy money.

Free Presentation Tools Post #2. Magisto

Magisto lets one make short (or longer with pro and premium versions) of videos and pictures. It is a quick and easy tool to use with real professional looking results. Below are some highlights of a trip to Ireland 9 years ago. It looks pretty good. And my goodness, my kids have grown. 

Say No to PowerPoint !

Too harsh? Okay, okay, I'll concede that a PowerPoint once in awhile does no great harm. Yet, there are so many ways to make more engaging presentations using free, cloud-based tools. Access to the Microsoft office suite is no longer a given with students today.

Over the next few blogposts, I'm going to highlight cloud-based presentation tools. Today, I share with you emaze.com. Check out the one I made below for my history class. It is visually impressive, super easy to make, cloud-based and FREE! You can easily embed it in a blog and/or share a link to via email. I can see this being a powerful tool for teachers of younger students who have to give frequent classroom updates. While content ultimately is what matters, a Wow Factor, always creates a good first impression.

For teachers of older students, this tool and the tools like it I will blog about it the upcoming days should replace the NOT FREE and more mundane PowerPoint.
Powered by emaze

Friday, November 6, 2015

On Asking the Right Questions/ Take an Inventory of Your Tests

Most teachers agree that higher order thinking skills are more important than just recall and comprehension. Do you agree that historical thinking is more important than remembering facts? Do you think mathmatical thinking is more important than simply memorizing formulae? If so, I encourage you to take an inventory of the tests you give your students. What are your questions? If your questions are of the  "What did, when did, who did" variety, then you are targeting recall. Wiggins tells us what we assess is what we value. If we primarily assess for recall, then that is what we value. The questions on the posters below made by the Historical Thinking Project are getting at a different kind of knowing.

Many teachers have test banks of assessments given over the years. Go through those questions. It might be a sobering but very useful process.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Using iMovie Instead of a Newsletter.

   I made this movie last year to explain to parents what was going on in class. Sometimes, actually letting parents see what we are doing is so much more powerful than writing about it.
   It took a little extra effort to make this than to compose a letter, but not too much more. Give it a try! Jump in, the water's warm.
    Also, the video explains the powerful learning practice of Literature Circles, first invented in the early 80's, but became more well known by the mid-90's. If you want to promote active learning in a lower or middle school reading or social studies program, give literature circles a try.
   For more information about Lit Circles, click here to see the book I used to help set them up.

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