Tag Archives: #sschat

Building the New

On my busiest and most stressful days I like to remind myself that my life is a compilation of my past choices.  You don’t make choices in your life just once. You choose and then with each and every day that passes you choose again and again the things that matter, make you happy, and are worthy of your time.  So I remind myself that I get to choose EVERY DAY. The alternative to this (for me) is seeing only the obligations and requirements before you. When I get in this mindset, I tend to get frustrated by all of the immediate WANTS that I can’t have because of all of the MUSTS on my to-do list.

Last year at about this time I decided it was time for a new challenge. I’d been offered several jobs over the previous year that while interesting, were not the right fit for me or my family, or weren’t the direction I wanted to go.   So I sat down with my wife and we talked about what the right job would look like. I was really worried (afraid even) about how a move would unsettle the many pieces of my life that were in balance; being present for my wife & kids, teaching and the classroom, traveling and presenting at conferences, my consulting work, writing and publishing, all of the pieces of life that go together to give each day meaning.

Shortly thereafter I applied and was hired to be a Social Studies Department Chair.  This year has been about adapting to that role, getting to know the people in my department, getting to know the school and community and working to reconstruct a strong classroom and course curriculum.  Surprisingly the hardest part of this was rebuilding my classroom because I had so many ideas about what I wanted that new experience to be like for my students.  You have to surrender the comfort of habit to build something new and ambitious.

The upside to the change has been the growth that comes with challenging yourself and the opportunity to help others grow as teachers. That is what I have loved about twitter from the very start (back in the wonderful early days of #sschat) and my favorite part about working with teachers across the country. There is no better feeling than hearing what passionate teachers or students want to accomplish and then helping them to get there.   Despite the challenges, actually more BECAUSE of the challenges,  I’m loving the job, and I’m glad I made the leap for all that I have learned.  I have gained so much and I feel i’m in a place where I have much to offer.

While the actual jobs skills are important, the most important things that I learned were about what is and is not important to me.  Crisis makes you prioritize and clarify.  I have an idea of where I want to go now, and what I have to do to get there. My vision for the next few years is taking shape.  That is exciting, and it is what led me to make the change in the first place.

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One of the things that I put aside in order to find balance was writing, both articles and for this blog. In hindsight I think that was a mistake.  The time I spend writing has always helped me to sharpen my thoughts and serves as an outlet, something that I now see would have been welcome this semester. Rather than taking my time, I think it would have been a welcome opportunity for expression.

So I’ll be adding a new interest to the topics on Go Where You Grow; Leadership. It’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about.  Not leading so much as the type of leader I want to be, which I find is not so much the “authoritarian” as it is the “Grower in Chief.” I also intend to be better about posting what Amy Burvall (@AmyBurvall) calls  a #Rawthought. I have always been a big fan of incomplete posts about unsolved problems that feed the thought process but I’ve not been good about posting my own.

That said, here is a thought to complete this post.  Despite the risks and challenges of this year, and despite the time and difficulty involved, I feel I’m in a better place, with a better vision of my future and where I’m g(r)o(w)ing.

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The Textbook is Dead, Long Live the Textbook! What 1:1 is doing to Traditional Classroom Resources.

Yep I said it. The days of the traditional textbook are over.  The moment I brought devices into a classroom the textbook fell from its revered place as a THE respectable source of information and was revealed for what it is, a simplified and incomplete narrative of the past.

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Teachers need to accept some blame for the fact that textbooks ever had this status in the first place.  While we brought in primary resources, we necessarily relied on the textbook because of its convenience.  We overstated the accuracy, thoroughness and status of the textbook because its structure gave us comfort and a place to turn when we were absent.  We basked in the glory of being able to provide historical facts beyond the book.  This made us seem really smart. The enticing worksheets that came packaged with the text provided neat questions and a structure that was perfectly mirrored in the text.  Our students grew comfortable with this and while we all knew that it should be different, and though we often did make great lessons that spat upon the folly of the worksheet, at some point, we found our way back.

My Matrix, Red Pill moment came last year. It started with a lesson called “Fact Checking Your Text Book.” The assignment was exactly that. Use the Internet to check the facts, see what is missing, look for bias, and assign a grade to a passage from your book.  It looked like this.

I expected students to find some problems but overall I just hoped they would at least give the textbook a good deep reading.  Yet my class found our textbook, a book that to this day I think is a good textbook, to be riddled with problems.  As groups presented, our unit became a discussion of bias, perspective and viewpoint.  It was amazing.

This year, my classes equipped with iPads, I set out to create other lesson frameworks that would also generate a discussion in class and if possible get students excited about digging deep and experiencing history.

I wanted to start by letting the students look for sources on a topic and then discuss how good they thought those topics were. I had no rubric or framework so I asked students to rank them 0-5.  Students worked in groups to discuss what was a good source and what was not.  I was impressed by how they are savvier than we give them credit for.  The assignment looked like this.  The students eventually found and evaluated over 250 sources.  But they needed an anchor. When set loose they had nothing to build upon or out from.

My next framework grew out of that last assignment.  We outlined the textbook and then researched online to do “Historical First Aid.”  We included what was left out.  We gave breadth to what was simplified and we expanded on value judgments that the book made.  The Topic was Good Emperors and Bad Emperors during the Roman Empire.  We set out to give it the paddles and breathe life into it.

By this point in the year I had started to struggle with how to unify all of the varied learning that takes places when students are researching and pulling together sources that I am not entirely familiar with.  I needed to get control, or at least enough control to bring the lesson together and drive home a point.

My solution was to have each group of students work together to create a thesis statement that summed up their overall impression of the topic.  It was a serendipitous stumble into success.  Students shared the grade they had given the book and discussed the discrepancies that existed between them and the sources they had found.  Then they finished the presentation by writing their thesis statement on the board.  As the bell rang we had our 6 thesis statements and a better sense that the history of the Roman Emperors is bigger than the one page of the book could effectively contain.  It looked like this.

My next framework was “Textbook Smackdown.”  Using copies of old textbooks I put them into direct competition.  Students collaborated to summarize two versions of an event.  Then they debated which was better.  They said things like, “how could we know?” But they had already started to revert to their past research activities and were checking facts.  Choosing the winner was not always easy. The books were selective in the narrative they told and they weren’t typically “wrong.” They often just took different paths through the events.  Sometimes they chose to focus on a different part of set of events.  Other times they chose to focus on different themes.  Ranks were given but it wasn’t always easy.

Students were getting their hands dirty doing real research. They were elevating events from the 2D versions in their books to something closer to the 3D reality.  They used the textbook as a launching point.

And then it hit me like a brick to the face.  Despite my assault, the textbook was still just as much a part of my class as it used to be.  I had smashed the pedestal and knocked it to the ground and gotten in a few good shots. It pages were tattered but it was there no less.

So the textbook is dead.  Companies may try to keep it alive for a bit longer.  They can animate it and insert video, create web links and interactivity, much like they did with pictures and graphs in the late 90’s, but even that will not place it where it once was.  We simply have too much access to too many sources and too many facts.  The world has changed and we can’t go back.

But long live the textbook. In its pages lie beautiful examples of how the age of information is changing the world and I will use them to show just how much we have moved on.  In a way these activities have been therapy for my classes, a transition that demonstrates clearly that they can move on and move beyond.

If a textbook is ever elevated and put upon a pedestal in my class again, I can assure you that it will be because my students have written it themselves.

Footnote A: Further activities are planned.  One I also plan an activity to compare historical versions of events and if possible regional versions that will reveal values in what they choose and choose not to address. Another activity will have the class aggregating the information from a collection of 8 textbooks.  Oh how they do reflect the decades in which they were written. Finally this year, I want to have my students create their own textbook chapter.  If I can pull this off and they can use resources to create their own, then truly and finally, the “Age of the Textbook” will be over. 

Footnote B: My humblest apologies to any of the many textbook producers who may have read through to this point. You performed a public service and took on a difficult task.  You deserve more credit than you will likely get. It was your work after all that created in me a deep love for history. But like the whalers who’s oil lit our country’s lamps through the early years of our nation, shift (and petroleum) happens.  (Ironically, I never learned enough to make that analogy make sense from a textbook. There was no room for it.) 

 

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A Call for More Blogging

When I first became active on Twitter I would have put the odds that I would ever Blog solidly at Zero.  I had no desire to put work out there for criticism, nor did I feel that it was my place to share what I was doing in the classroom as if it was a standard to be achieved.  I simply wanted no part.Fast forward a few years and now I find blogging to be a powerful part on my own professional development. The thought process in organizing a post and the thinking that goes into sharing it helps me to organize future lessons and review others that I have taught.  Sometimes when I am teaching a lesson that I wouldn’t share, I ask myself “why not?” and then try to make it so.  It tends to elevate my work.

Similarly, I have really grown from reading about what others have done in their classes.  I have found inspiration in blogs that I would have laughed at before.  I teach high school, but it is amazing what you can learn from the blogs of elementary teachers.  I teach in the US but I find the blogs of teachers around the world help me to teach viewpoints and opinions without my own patriotic bias. I teach Social Studies but have improved the integration of writing and technology by finding people who have streamlined procedures in their classroom that worked for me.

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So I would like to make this plea for the teachers out there who have hesitated to do so to start a blog.  Share to your level of comfort. Post what inspires you.  Don’t feel obligated to post daily or even weekly.  Your growth can help others to do the same.

The following are two google docs that will help you follow others. Feel free to add to them and find others to follow.  I look forward to hearing your voices.

Education Blog Master List
The #SSchat Blog List

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What is #sschat? I’m glad you asked.

Since I have been a part of #sschat I am frequently asked “What is it that you do?” or “How does this group work?” I love the opportunity to answer these questions because I am so proud of our little “can do” group. The short version of my answer is “We help teachers to get what they need and to make their lives easier.”The long version goes more like this: “#sschat is a collaborative group of social studies teachers who work together to create materials, discuss teaching, integrate technology and problem solve. We learn together and talk about the direction that education is moving, talk to experts, crowdsource materials and share our best lessons. In the last two years a culture of sharing has developed. Imagine if some of the most passionate teachers you know were to get together and share the best materials they have. That’s #sschat.We meet on Twitter every Monday night at 7 pm est. If you would like to join us just follow the hashtag #sschat. New participants are welcome to join the conversation. Some people feel more comfortable just following along with the conversation but that isn’t necessary. Each #sschat is dedicated to a particular topic. and all participants share their thoughts on the topic, relevant links and their experiences. If you would like to get an idea of the topics we discuss, we keep our archives here, on the #sschat Ning website.

We have become well known for our crowdsourcing. Members vote electronically on a specific topic and then during the chat share all of their best resources and methods for teaching that topic. The end result is an incredible compilation of materials. These online crowdsourcing documents are better than any google search because they are teacher tested and honed over years before they are shared. I have heard many times from #sschat participants that before they worried about finding materials to use. Now they struggle with which of the amazing lessons that are shared best meets their needs. Here are are a few examples of crowdsourced topics:Cold War Crowdsource
World War II Crowdsource
Best Tools for Social Studies Teachers

What is truly amazing about #sschat though is the support that is offered on a daily basis. It has grown into a community that goes far beyond our simple one hour chat. It is a constantly available source of answers and advice. There is always a conversation happening. Whether you are a new teacher creating new materials or a master teacher looking to try something new, #sschat can help.

Being apart of this organization has taken my learning to new places. It is the most powerful professional development I have ever experienced.

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Goodbye to Forward into History

Sometimes moving forward means leaving things behind.  In the past two years I have grown so much as a teacher and blogging has been a big part of that.  Writing has helped me to process my goals, my job and my life. I have every intention to continue. But, recently I have felt that I need a fresh start on a new blog, not so narrowly focused on teaching or technology or any one thing. I kept writing blog posts that I did not post because they were outside my current definition of what the blog should be.

So I will reinvent my blog here. It is me. It is what I am learning and where I will grow.  I hope that it will better represent me in my totality rather than any one component, be it father, husband, or teacher. Our growth is like the legs on a table.  If any one part grows too fast or independently of the others, the table becomes unstable.

Here is a link to my past blogs.  http://okimreadytolearn.blogspot.com/

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Reflection on EdCampss

I am fresh back from #edcamppss in Philadelphia.  I am a bit tired, a lot proud, and really energized to make what I have learned tangible in my classroom.    It’s satisfying it was to meet people who are working hard to make their classrooms a better place.  It was surreal to see an event so long in the making become real and to get the other organizers again.

I wish that I had more time to talk to all of the other attendees.  That is the downside to organizing.  You miss many of the chances to stop, chat and know the people beyond a 140 character limit.  This is my one regret from the day.

I must offer my thanks to @nesticos @dontworryteach @becky_ellis_ @irishteach @gregkulowiec and @ron_peck for all they did to make the day happen.  They inspire me beyond what they know.

I want to thank so many of the others who attended, too many to list , for sharing their work and ideas so freely.  Together we make a difference.

I really want to thank @mseideman who was for me the #edcampss rock star.  Her clearly articulated and well thought out ideas were exactly why I go to #edcamp’s .  I will follow here more closely on twitter and I really think she should moderate an #sschat in the future.

I also want to thank @jharaz for sharing a story that makes the working on #sschat and sharing on twitter worthwhile.

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