Share Your Story

You have a story inside you that you need to tell. More importantly, you have a story inside of you that is meaningful and will help people. It’s true for you and it is true for your students & co-workers as well. I’m begging you to be brave and share it.

As a teacher I realized that depositing a story inside the brain of a student is nowhere near as powerful as allowing students to tell their own. It may take a while to give them the confidence, and it may take a while for them to feel that people will listen to the story that they share, but once they do, it transforms the classroom. Once they have a story to share, they need way to get it out to the world, to construct a process to connect them to their audience.

How students choose to connect varies a lot. Some make movies. Some want to write children’s books. In recent years I saw a rise in the number of students who wanted to create songs to tell their stories. It all depends on their intended audience and how they can best be reached.

For the past decade or so, the way I share my story, and hear other people’s stories is through blogs. (And twitter and Instagram, but that’s a different post.)

If you look closely you can tell how long a person has been blogging by what platform they are using. Each blogging platform has had its day. New platforms come, new platforms go and they each have their day.

7 or eight years ago Blogger was a very popular choice. That’s where my first attempts attempts at professional writing began. At the same time, I regularly used “Posterous Spaces” for class projects. I learned a valuable lesson when Posterous Spaces and their innovative posting and sharing abilities, died a horrible death. I lost quite a bit of my best work as a teacher, including the EPIC “Assessing Holocaust Responsibility” project that started my collaboration with Greg Kulowiec.

Ultimately I moved on to WordPress, a site that I felt was more powerful in sharing and connecting my writing to the world. It is still the main landing pad for my writing. But that said, new products arise and my eyes wander. Lately I am infatuated with Medium for the simplicity of the service and the wide range of writing that is published there. For a moment, just a moment, I considered packing up and moving my blog to Medium.

Fortunately, I found a great tool that allows me to use both of these services, maintaining the tools, followers and connections that I built in WordPress with all of the things that I love about simple, qualities of Medium.

When my students began blogging in class, someone would inevitably lose their work when writing directly into the website. As a rule, I told my classes to do their writing into a Google Doc. It allowed them to proofread and prevented students from prematurely clicking publish before they had a product they were proud of. I still follow that advice. (Especially since when I hit publish, my writing is automatically shared to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin.)

Using the WordPress.com for Google Docs add on in Google Docs, I can quickly upload my finished writing from a Doc to WordPress where it is saved as a draft. Then after looking it over, simply hit publish to share it with the world. It transfers formatting flawlessly and works well with embedded images.

Once an article is posted to WordPress, (or any other blogging portal), I use the simple Medium Import Tool to bring the work over to my Medium account.

This is another efficient tool, that in addition to bringing in links and photos, also credits the site where your work was originally published.

I am writing in a comfortable space that is efficient and protects my work, then publishing to a hub location that is prepared to share the finished product to an audience across social media and leveraging tools that streamline and simplify that process.

So how are you telling your story? Where can I go to hear it? What tools are you using to share it? Your story is too important to keep to yourself. Share your story.

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Sometimes I Fail

We do new things exactly because they force us to grow. That is what this post is about. The details of my process aren’t really what matters. What does matter is that I tried something new and was horrible at it, but as a result I learned a lot. If I have to wait until I am an expert to start creating, I will never create anything.

So if you don’t want to read through my struggle, stop here, but go out and try new things. Make your mistakes and get better in the process. Say yes to challenges where you might fail. Say yes to adventures when they present themselves.

There is a list of my lessons learned at the bottom that you might want to take a look at.

As part of a current project, I am building a podcast (more on that later). The plan involves conducting interviews with former students to discuss how prepared they were for the work that they currently do and the challenges that they face. It’s something that I have been thinking about for a long time. Bursting with energy for the project, I dove into creating the first episode.

I created the script, bought a quality microphone and arranged my first interview with a former student who is doing some really innovative work. The conversation was thought provoking and inspirational. I was eager to share it with the world so I rushed home and got to work.

That’s when reality hit me. I don’t know very much about podcasting just yet.

For example, my excellent microphone has a variety of settings. I chose the correct one, but positioned us incorrectly in relation to the microphone. This left the sound of my voice very clear, but hers as a distant whisper. Instead I captured the echoing sound of passing vehicles and people on the street nearby. Technology manuals today often do a good job of simplifying for the reader. That doesn’t mean that things are simple. Lesson learned. Understand your equipment.

Once I realized that I had a problem I set out to fix it. I dove into a platform that I know well and used it to try to clean up the mess. Using GarageBand, I cut the interview into separate tracks so that I could raise the volume of her voice.

However, doing so also raised the volume of the ambient noise, resulting in a hideous buzz! Which required me to learn about the mixing board. I was able to reduce the buzz and make the track audible, but now my voice was clear and her’s sounded like it was on a radio in the 1920’s.

After a few hours of that, with audio that was still not podcast quality. I went to Google to find a fix. I discovered a tool called AUDACITY that while it has its faults has a suite of sound editing tools that are amazing. One of them allows you to eliminate background noise in a sound clip. I set to work. I had to start over from the original recording though, and had to re-cut the audio to adjust the volume…again.

At this point it was 3 am.  I had to acknowledge that the I would never save the interview. It just wouldn’t work. Heartbroken, I realized that I would have to redo it if I ever wanted to publish it in the podcast. The message in the interview was lost to poor sound quality and I couldn’t fix it no matter how hard I tried.

But looking back, I’m not sure how I ever would have learned so much about audio and sound editing if I had not made the simple error. The sound quality serve as a creative limit that forced me to learn and grow.

I’ll include the final audio here for those of you who made it through to the end of this story, and for me so that one day I can look back on it and compare it to future work that goes better.

Podcast Attempt Number 1

So as a note to my future self, here is what I learned:

  1. Dive in. Stop worrying. Even though it may not work out, the work, the process and the learning are all worth it. Swallow your pride.
  2. Your inner perfectionist is often your greatest enemy when it comes to creativity and productivity. For me, I realize that I need to accept the imperfections in what I create. Otherwise I leave things unfinished and forgotten.
  3. Know your tools. Really know them. This is where things started going south. I bought a good microphone, it is a technical tool and I need to have a technical understanding of it.
  4. Tools that are easy, often contain technical limits that are the result of that simplicity. GarageBand is great because it can be learned quickly, but as I became more technically knowledgeable, it reached a wall created by that same simplicity.
  5. Audacity is a go to audio tool. I’m glad I found it.

 

Get Out of Your Own Way

Looking back on 25 years of classroom teaching, I can say that the greatest changes that I made to my classroom practice began in 2006, when I had a principal that pulled me aside and told me that I should really push the limits and rethink my classroom. What she actually told me was, “Some teachers I feel need me to guide them to change. I think I can help you best by getting out of your way.”  I had a green light, blank check, clearance from the tower.

But in retrospect, at this point where I had the institutional barriers to change removed, I built my own.

I was teaching full inclusion Special Ed US history in a room where ⅓ of the students had IEP, ED, BD plans. I had confidently volunteered to teach the class, saying that I knew exactly what I would do. Which was a combination of wishful thinking and bravado. My cooperating SPED teacher (who was amazing) and I were eager to try new things and started of the year by rethinking homework, due dates and tests. We implemented test retakes and test corrections. I read books, talked to my principal regularly and had a clear vision of what I wanted to do.

But in every instance, I created obstacles and limits on these changes that prevented my classroom from moving forward.

I limited who could do test corrections and how often any one person could do them. (If these processes are learning, why would I limit their chances to continue to learn?)

I was flexible on turning in work, but I limited how often I was flexible and I still imposed harsh penalties for timeliness. (If I identify a hard working student, capable of learning but who needs more time to do so, why would I make time a key continuing factor in their grades?)

I changed classroom activities to be more student centered, but I still maintained dominion over what those activities were. In the back of my head, my current mantra “Choose the destination, not the path” was forming but I was still creating narrow, singular paths to the learning objective. (So long as they arrive at the objective, how concerned am I really about the path that gets them there?)

In hindsight I think there were many reasons for holding back. I was certainly concerned about other teachers. It was my first year at a brand new school.

I was very aware of how parents saw what I was doing, and concerned about helping them to understand and see value in what I was doing. I felt an uneasiness each time we used cell phones in class, secretly set up a wifi network, or threw away the textbook.

Now I see that these were excuses that I made, because there we little to no actual instances where any of these fears were made real.

If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice knowing what I know today, it would be “Get out of your own way.” I knew what I wanted, I was on the right path, yet I kept building roadblocks. Often, (but certainly not always) institutional roadblocks were perceived, but disappeared as my resolve to change grew stronger. What really held me back was me and my perception of how big of a leap I could take.

What are the changes that you believe you need to make? How are you limiting your own ability to achieve them? What personal roadblocks could you remove today?

Get out of your own way.

Building Your Classroom Campfire

Choosing the tools that you use in a classroom is an important part of building the environment you hope to create. Just as teachers arrange desks and invest time in bulletin boards to create physical spaces, tech tools contribute to the digital space of a classroom.

My first principal once told me that you can learn a lot about a teacher just by looking at their classroom. I took that to heart and always tried to build a space that served my mission. I remember looking back on the wonder that was my 5th grade teacher. I can’t remember everything that I learned that year, but I loved walking into that room.

I think we can learn a lot about a teacher from the digital spaces that they create.

So I have been thinking…are we as careful about the way we are constructing our digital classroom? Do we vet the choices that we are making about digital learning spaces as heavily as we do those of our physical spaces, not just in terms of what they accomplish in terms of tasks but also in terms of them as a space that students inhabit? Are we concerned if they are warm and welcoming places as much as we are when students walk into our physical classes on day one?

Some time ago I started thinking of the classroom as a campfire. The campfire is a place where after a long day, people come together, get to know each other, celebrate and share experiences. Campfires draw people in and value sharing. Then, invariably they lead people to stare into the fire and reflect. I won’t belabor the analogy here, but there is a lot about seeing the classroom as a campfire that works. (Though I am temp

ted to point out that I have never been to a campfire gathering built on a lecture format.)

Another facet of the “Classroom Campfire” is “What kind of fire do you need to accomplish your task.” Smores, cookout or bonfire, large group or small, you need to plan a fire that serves your mission. Choose wisely and build the right campfire. Tools are no different.

Classroom tools are not neutral, they complete a task but they also have a feel and make statements about what is important. Some LMS tools are sterile and cold while completing a task

well and making it easier for teachers to organize and distribute work. Some web tools are fun, but limit a classes ability to share reflect and return to the work later on. Some tools are powerful but are hard to get familiar (high cost of admission but the show is great.) None of these things are necessarily a problem, if you are constructing a digital classroom space thoughtfully keeping in mind the sum total effect that these tools have on the kids.

Are your students operating in a digital classroom space that is as carefully constructed as the physical space that you create for them? Are you proud of the digital space that you have created?

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

 

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

This post was originally published on  Daily Genius you can check it out by following the link above.

Whether you call it “fake news”, “misinformation” or the more innocuous “spin,” and whether you see this as an entirely new problem or the continuation of an already existing problem (think “War of the Worlds,” “Yellow Journalism” and “Dewey Defeats Truman”), one thing is clear: there is a powerful and pressing need to prepare our youth to make sense of the constant flow of media information that they consume everyday.

As teachers, we need to be aware of how students are consuming their information.  Recent studies have shown that 69% of Americans get their news from Facebook, while other research suggests that social media such as Snapchat and Twitter are how millennials are staying up to date with current events.  Yet a study from Stanford University suggests that a majority of young Americans cannot accurately identify what content on a web page is news and what is advertising or paid content.

Have we as teachers moved to adjust how we instruct our students to evaluate information as the sources for that information have changed? This isn’t always easy, especially since the trends in social media are fluid and changing.   While there is no one silver bullet website that can resolve this issue, many helpful resources exist. Here are a few to help you get started in constructing your curriculum.

5 Tools to Help Evaluate Sources in a World of Fake News

The Stanford History Group: The Stanford History Group is well known to history teachers. Recently, they published an executive summary entitled EVALUATING INFORMATION: THE CORNERSTONE OF CIVIC ONLINE REASONING.  It provides a summary of the research they conducted in 2015-16 and includes samples activities geared towards middle and high school students designed to teach students to evaluate articles, comment sections, News on Social media, and website reliability.  It is a must read for teachers at any level.  The sample activities will have you thinking.

Allsides:  Allsides allows readers to evaluate the bias of news articles collected from across online news sites. The site also features the ability for readers rate news sources and individual articles as LEFT or RIGHT leaning. Students can explore the overall ratings of sites or choose articles specifically from one perspective or another.  The site is great for making comparisons of topics from several sites.

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Politifact:  Politifact is the Pulitzer prize winning fact checking website created by the Tampa Bay Times.  It uses a “Truth-O-Meter” to rate the accuracy of politicians and parties.  During last year’s election, Politifact live tweeted during debates, quickly evaluating statements and statistics.  It was a helpful tool for class discussions. The site allows you to search for topics or individual politicians.  For each rating, the site offers an explanation of how they arrived at their conclusion.

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Factcheck.org is a project from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  In addition to evaluating the truthfulness of political statements, Factcheck has a viral spiral feature that addresses internet rumors, a SciCheck page that evaluates scientific claims, and an “Ask Us” feature that allows questions to be submitted for fact checking.

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Google Custom Search: If you can’t find the tools that work best for you, you can make your own.  Google Custom search allows you to select and curate websites that will be searched by your students.  Classes can create a standard for what sites they will use for a lesson or for research assignments and then add them to their custom search if it is determined that they meet the standard. This allows the class to be active and engaged in building a collection of trusted sources.   Individual students can construct a search engine for their projects, allowing them to go back and search sources again as their research evolves.   Teachers can save a variety of different searches which can be shared with students or embedded in websites.

It should be noted that Snopes.com is missing from the list above. The site has been evaluating online news, stories, and urban legends since the 1990’s. I omitted it not because it lacks any value but because while it is useful, it is so compelling that when I take students there they can sometimes get lost down the rabbit hole.

However you are preparing your students, one thing is clear — it is critical that we, as educators, consider how our students are accessing the news and information and how we can help them actively process all that is pushed to them through social media throughout the day.

eSchool News Top 14 Trailblazing Educators on Twitter

I am proud to have been named to the eSchool News Top 14 Trailblazing Educators on Twitter.  In reflecting on my years on Twitter, I can’t help but think of all the passionate educators that I have met along the way while sharing our learning. Years of rethinking education have shown me that while there is much to do, the schools of America are full of the best kind of people.

San Diego Innovation Summit Keynote

While I have not been good about posting to this blog in the last year, I have still stayed very busy traveling and presenting.  Last week I delivered a keynote at the San Diego Innovation Summit titled “Behind the Science of Innovation: 
Bringing About Significant Positive Change.”  Co presenting with Beth Holland, our goal was to look at the actual science and research behind innovative teaching.  We look at what the research says and what the implications are for teachers in the age of information.

 

The Life Cycle of Student Work

What is the life cycle of student work in your class? Does it look like this?

Screenshot 2015-05-27 21.04.08

When was the last time that a student ran into your class eager to go through a pile of student work? It is my fervant belief that important work does not end up in piles. If we want to increase the importance and validity of student work we need to extend it’s life cycle and allow individual learning to be shared, with the class, the school and the community.

There are any number of ways that this can be done. Where bulletin boards used to showcase classwork temporarily, now it is possible for classes to document their entire learning process over the course of the year and for teachers to save work from one year to the next.

Screenshot 2015-05-27 22.16.08

Imagine the power of such archives to show growth and share the incredible work being done in a school.  Imagine the message that it sends to your students to value their work in this way.  Whether through blogs, social media websites or just through an LMS, the is great power in offering what your classwork to the world.

Screenshot 2015-05-27 22.16.35

So what are you doing to Extend the Life Cycle of the work done in your classroom?

p.s. Below is a video I made that explains a simple way to share all of an entire classes work with one simple link.

A Year without One-to-One via EdTechResearcher

This post originally appeared May 3rd, 2015 as a guest post on the EdTechResearcher blog. Many thanks to Justing Reich for the opportunity.  

Today’s guest post comes from Shawn McCusker, a teacher who moved from a 1:1 laptop environment to a new school with fewer technology resources. An innovator in 1:1 classroom implementation and the creation of online learning communities, Shawn is a teacher and Social Studies Department Chair at Libertyville High School (IL).

In 2006, my principal called me into her office and asked about rumors that I had been using student phones in class. It was my first year at the school, so I hesitated before acknowledging that I had. Her next reaction surprised me: she gave me free reign to use them as much as possible so long as I shared the results. She felt that we could not hold back the coming tide of technology from our classrooms. As it was just a matter of time before the ban on mobile devices in schools would end, so began my journey with mobile technology in the classroom.

Last year, after teaching for two years in a 1:1 iPad classroom, I accepted a position at a school that had not yet made the move to 1:1. Though plans were in the works to do so, for one year, my students would not have devices. While much technology would still be readily accessible in the form of carts and labs, using it in class would be more incidental and not a daily occurrence.

After a year of planning lessons without the daily presence of student devices, here are the differences that I have faced and what I look forward to in the coming year.

1. Greater Student Control of Content
I quickly realized that once my students were in possession of devices, the lecture format that had comprised a good portion of my teaching would never be the same. When students CAN fact check what you say, they do. This was difficult until I realized that it was exactly what I wanted them to do; fact check a narrative. Rather than fearing the commentary, I constructed class around it. Soon, most of the content that we discussed came from student contributions rather than my notes or the textbook. In discussions, when an unknown arose, it became a class norm for students to fill the void.

With limited access to technology, classroom resources are frequently provided by the teacher and unknowns are often left for the teacher to resolve. While incorporating student contributed content can be a priority, the timeliness and volume can’t compare when students do not have devices. Even with the greatest level of care and professionalism, this represents a filter on class content. Next year, I will prioritize the creation of a classroom that is once again fueled by sources, ideas and concepts generated by the students.

2. Multiple Perspectives and More Than One Correct Answer
When all of the world’s knowledge is available, it can be hard to reach a single conclusion. Though initially a struggle, I ultimately came to believe that the debates to construct and defend such arguments made for outstanding learning. These lessons were far more dynamic, engaging and social than previous ones. The activities allowed students to understand the way that others constructed their ideas and regularly required them to articulate their positions.

3. Dynamic Projects
The nature of class work is different without technology. More often than not, completed work is collected and exists in piles of paper. It is then graded and returned.

In technology rich classrooms, the variety of tools allows students to select the medium which best conveys their idea. Because of the unique nature of the work, these class products generated energy and commentary. Students were more excited to share what they had made and more eager to consume the work of their classmates. In fact, my new policy is that I will not assign work that I am not interested in grading. This year, without these tools available in class, it has been a challenge.

4. Feedback
One eye opening realization was the speed and volume of feedback in a 1:1 classroom. With devices, delivering feedback to students became more efficient and timely because once I posted a comment online my students were alerted and able to respond. There was no need to wait for class work to be physically handed back.

Much more powerful, however, was the volume of student feedback that was shared as my comments became just one of many. I found it helpful to construct my feedback by referring to the thoughtful comments that classmates had shared which established the class norms to define quality. This year, I have been hungry for those thoughts, and they have been harder to harvest. I regularly use Exit Slips and methods like “Fist or Five,” but I am eager to recreate the depth of commentary and to once again have the rich feedback that helps me generate more meaningful learning.

5. Student Centered Learning
The ability to add content, an environment that allowed for students to defend their interpretation of information, and dynamic student constructed projects moved students to the center of learning. It was not long before I felt comfortable asking students to help me construct learning objectives and design complete units. For example, my unit on World War II transformed into an NCAA style research tournament presided over by a jury of seniors. I would never have planned such an activity by myself, but it was highly effective and meaningful for the class.

Having technology available for a day or several days can help to move students to the center of learning, but giving them possession of those tools makes truly transformative student centered learning a reality. I am eager for the opportunity to once again harness these powerful tools for learning on a daily basis.

How to Transform Teaching with Tablets

I was proud to be included in an article in this month’s Educational Leadership.    Reading this made had me thinking about how to make my new curriculum better this year.  A friend once told me that it takes 5 years to get your class back up to speed if you change schools.  I have no intention of taking that long.

May 2015 | Volume 72 | Number 8
Teaching with Mobile Tech Pages 18-23

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may15/vol72/num08/How-to-Transform-Teaching-with-Tablets.aspx