Monday, June 24, 2013

My first YouTube video

So I finally finished this video - 

This was kind of a daunting undertaking for me.  I took several hours to do this, not counting the time spent taking the film.  

I only used my iPhone 3G and my MacBook (3 years old).  It wasn't challenging, really.  Just time-consuming.  I'm also not that great at editing for length.  I needed to make some deeper cuts - not all of this needs to be here.  It could have easily been 5 minutes long.  

I like some of the features of using iMovie (the Mac application that I used to edit the film clips from my phone).  But sometimes it feels like all videos made with iMovie look the same.  So, I'll be looking for other tools I can use, perhaps on my home PC.  

As far as the story itself goes, I've been frustrated by the fact that these rabbits (I don't know for sure how many there are) are attacking my plants.  I thought that telling this story - with the gross smells, some of the more vivid and violent details, and the variety of visual details for analysis - would be an interesting and useful text for classroom use.  

I don't know how much money these bunnies have cost me over the past two years, but I know that several of my trees and other plants have been damaged.  I planted the two Hawthorne trees on either side of the house hoping that they would blossom in a few years.  Now, they're ugly little sticks.  And it seems like every time they grow, the bunnies swoop down like some kind of bully and break them down to little sticks again.  

Anyway, it was fun to make the video.  My son enjoyed being the cameraman.  My daughter wanted to play a bigger role in the video, but I wasn't able to work that in.  Maybe next time.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Being a Connected Educator

I've been on a few Twitter chats about this topic, such as #21stedchat, and I think that the topic is relevant here - on a blog - and to most teachers.  I think there is increasing pressure to become "connected" to other teachers because there are so many benefits.

Before we go any further, I need to point out that no one really thinks that teachers cannot be effective if they aren't connected.  I think that there are too many ways to be effective to believe that a teacher couldn't find a way to be a good teacher without it.  And, of course, there were many good teachers before there were connected teachers.  Yet there are so many good ideas - and good people - to connect to, it's much easier to be effective when you can connect and collaborate with others.

I've tweeted about this before - there are several examples, from my own teaching, of how I've made use of ideas from other people on Twitter.  The more I think about it, though, the more I think it matters exactly who you connect to.  Because Twitter is simply a meeting place.  If you aren't meeting enough good people, or don't know where to look, it's like going to a party where you don't know anyone and you're too afraid to introduce yourself to new people.

So where am I getting the best ideas?

I've posted about the #tlap community before, and I think this is a great place to listen and share ideas about teaching.  I created a Google doc with some ideas about my favorite Twitter chats for a department meeting a while ago.  This is a little dated, but also emphasizes a couple of key chats (not including #TLAP, which I discovered more recently).  The master list of Twitter chats - the biggest list of educational Twitter chats I know about - is this one, compiled by Jerry Blumengarten (aka @cybraryman1).  It's huge - it's a nice indicator of exactly how many cool things are going on there.

That takes me to the next point.  Obviously, there are a ton of different Twitter chats and different ways to connect with other educators.  I think that Twitter is the fastest and easiest way for teachers to interact with other teachers.  That's how I've become connected.  But I don't want to merely provide a list of teachers to follow and tell people that they must follow these people.

Why not?  Well, I think that Twitter is a different experience for a lot of people.  One of the reasons that I had so much fun with it from the very beginning was because of two positive experiences I had.  First, I followed Seymour Simon, a moderately well-known children's nonfiction author.  Not only did he follow me back within 24 hours, but he sent me a welcoming message expressing his respect and admiration for teachers.  I've read - and used - much of his work, and that was a big deal for me.  I bragged about that quite a bit, in fact.  The other really positive experience was when Donalyn Miller replied to a few tweets of mine, and followed me.  That was enormously gratifying.  Since then, because of Twitter and #engchat, I have been included in Troy Hicks' most recent book. (Crafting Digital Writing, pages 144 and 145.  I'm also in the index!)

A lot depends on what times you are looking at your Twitter stream.  It depends on who you follow (and I recommend following a LOT at first.  You can follow up to 2000 people from the beginning.)  It also depends on who you know.  I would bet that many teachers already know someone on Twitter, and it makes sense to follow that person and check out who that person follows, especially if they have similar interests and goals.  But some of my strongest relationships on Twitter come from the back and forth that occurs during the chats, and I've been given several opportunities to collaborate with teachers on Twitter to create and share resources.  I've shared some of the successes and failures of my teaching experience, and I've received helpful feedback on some of those.  I've offered feedback on other people's ideas, and I've learned a great deal about other people's great ideas and tried some of them.  Here are a few examples of things that I've used in my classroom or personal life because of Twitter:

  • Genius Hour (passion-based learning, where students pursue their own passions during part of the school day or week)
  • the book Wonder
  • Twitter itself, in several different ways
  • Wonderopolis
I'm planning to use more.  Much of the learning and change has occurred in subtle but important ways.  I already removed my "big desk" from my classroom and planned some major changes for next year because of several conversations about Genius Hour and different attitudes toward classroom space.  I'm working on a few more YouTube videos so that I can use a slightly flipped class (a tilted class?).  I was blessed with a chance to write for the Nerdy Book Club (again, because of Twitter), and I'd like to do more like that - and share more like that.  I'm working on a class newsletter, and I have many ways to share that with parents and the world.  

It's really kind of overwhelming when you think about it.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What makes a good fantasy series?

I just finished reading the Beyonders series with Chasing the Prophecy, the third book.  I've also been reading the Harry Potter series to my son for the past few years, and we just started the final book, The Deathly Hallows.  So, I've been thinking a lot about what makes a good fantasy series.

I should point out that I mostly focus on YA and MG fantasy - I do read some grown-up (I don't want to say "adult") fantasy, but not as often.

I've posted elsewhere about the importance of a good "bad guy."  A fantasy series really needs a good villain, more so than most other story types that I can think of.  Voldemort is a good example - he kills anyone and everyone, and he's cruel to his own minions.  He has no friends and doesn't care.  He tortures the other orphans in the orphanage and enjoys it.  He even tries to bully Dumbledore, when Dumbledore shows up to find out if he should be invited to Hogwarts.  And what about Snape?  He really had no reason to kill him except a vague theory.  It was kind of like an experiment - maybe killing Snape would give him mastery of the elder wand, maybe not.

One of the reasons that I enjoy Harry Potter so much, I think, is because Voldemort is so thoroughly and convincingly bad.  Lord of the Rings is a really good fantasy series for a similar reason - Sauron is so overwhelmingly powerful.

Does it work the other way?  Sure - to take a really bad horror movie example, one of the reasons that the movie Squirm is so ridiculous is because evil worms (not even turned into giant monster worms!) are killing people in ridiculous "accidents."

I suppose there are no universal and permanent rules when it comes to something like this.  And I'm thinking about a couple of different series where the evil seems embedded in the "world."  Like Holly Black's Curse Workers series, where the main character is not exactly a nice guy.

There's a lot more to say here - but I need to re-focus and come at this again in a different way.  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Teaching LIke a Pirate

So, a few months ago, I started hearing a lot about this book - Teach like a Pirate - on Twitter.  I decided to check it out, and I got my hands on a copy.  Two days later, I finished reading it.  

This was unprecedented for me.  I had never read a "teacher" book in only two days before.  Usually, it takes at least a week, even during the summer.  Sometimes much longer.  But I found this book to be both readable and short.  Mr. Burgess isn't as engaging and quirky as someone like Tom Romano or Barry Lane, but I still finished his book much faster than those other guys.  

Another surprise?  It was useful.  And not just in a theoretical way.  I know that I enjoy reading books that help me understand instruction or engagement better, but this provided helpful tools for planning engaging instruction that I could use the following day.  

This is starting to feel too much like a paid endorsement, so let me summarize what I don't like about the book:
  • Many of the strategies suggested focus on delivery of lectures or content.  It often feels like "sage on the stage" paradigm stuff.  
  • Not enough of the book seems to focus on ways to get the students taking control and responsibility.  
  • It sometimes feels like a "one size fits all," "all my kids are the same," "let's teach everyone the same way" thing.  Not always.  
Perhaps these are my biases coming through, as a middle school teacher reading a book written by a high school content-area teacher (Burgess teaches history).  Perhaps these things are there and I'm not seeing or remembering them.  And perhaps these things are not the point of the book, really, so it might not be fair to fault the book for not including everything about everyone.  After all, the book focuses on engagement, and apart from the above, it does so quite well.  

Perhaps the most valuable section, for me, was his discussion of how he encourages his own creative ideas.  I learned a lot from reading about this, and I continued that study beyond the book.  

Some time after reading and enjoying the book, I found the #tlap hashtag and book discussions.  I also found the author participating in these book discussions (as @burgessdave).  I met a lot of great people as I continued to show up for these chats, and I really learned to look forward to this hour of discussion of engaged, passionate teaching with a growing group of dedicated, connected teachers.  

I just finished participating in a very large (hundreds of teachers from all over the country), very productive (almost 2,000 tweets in one hour) chat centered around a book study of this book.  Chicago-area teacher Paul Solarz is moderating this chat - (, and I'm looking forward to participating more.  

I think it's one of the best educational Twitter chats out there, and I encourage everyone who is interested to participate.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Integrating Disciplines in Middle School

Hmmm . . . I thought it was time to post something about how to "cross the line" between subjects in my classroom(s).  This is something that I've wanted to do since I started teaching middle school, and something that I have done in medium-sized and small ways over the years.  I'd like to start planning/playing with ways to do this in larger, more meaningful, and more useful ways next year.  

After all, as I have been telling people, your seventh year of teaching is supposed to be your best year.  And this is going to be my seventh year.

So, I'm going to talk a little about how our school day is set up, and then talk about what I've done to integrate disciplines, and then talk about some other ways to integrate (I hope).

My school is a 6-8 middle school with "teams," in the sense that students are assigned to a small group of teachers from whom they receive all of their "core" instruction in reading, math, science, and social studies.  For example, my 7th graders attend my reading class, my teammate's math class, and then either my social studies class or my teammate's science class.  (We trade science/social studies groups every six weeks.)  There are 20 minutes of "flex" time at the end of the last block class that we use variously for intervention, extended instruction, silent reading, or other related activities.  Then, at the end of the day, students have a "home base" period of forty minutes with a "home base" teacher - usually a core teacher, like me.  

Of course, the students don't spend the entire day with their "team."  The first three periods of the day - in the case of seventh graders - are "exploratories."  All students have gym class during one of those periods.  They attend two other classes that change every trimester (12 weeks).  So, a student might have Technology, Gym, and Art for the first three periods of the day before they come to Reading, Math, and science/social studies.  

This is the gist of the schedule - there are a lot of complications for bilingual or IEP students.  

So, I'm sure you can see where we throw in the "integration."  Typically, we experiment with cross-disciplinary learning in "flex" or "home base" time.  There are two problems with this.  First, all of our bilingual students are in extended bilingual reading/communications class during flex time, so any instruction given during this time will exclude them.  Second, many of our optional music programs (band, orchestra, chorus, and the various offerings within each of these) pull kids out of home base two or sometimes three times a week for practice.  So, often we are missing several members of class during home base.  And those days vary - some students miss four out of five days a week of home base, because they are in band and chorus, for example.  So, no matter how awesome the activity is that we offer, we will not be able to reach all students, except on Friday.  And that's not a very effective amount of instructional time - 40 minutes a week, at the end of the day on Friday.  

We've done a lot of "study skills"-type lessons, and some "learning how to learn" lessons on things like concept-based learning (big ideas, essential questions, facts vs. concepts, etc.).  We've done some technology lessons to help familiarize students with the tools (Garage Band, iMovie, Keynote).  We've also done some basic literacy skills practice with things like summarizing.  We also talk about current events (most often via CNN Student News).  But we tend to shy away from rigorous instruction because so many students are pulled out, and because it sometimes can be perceived as "punishing" students for participating in activities like band, something that I really believe in and want to support.  

So far, the best use of this time has often been some kind of "study hall," where teachers have the flexibility to work with students who need a little extra help.  We've also experimented a little with peer tutoring during this time, though the pull-out programs often limit our human resources and have limited our effectiveness with this program.  This is something that we really want to develop more, regardless of other initiatives.  It's a really cool idea, and many students have expressed an interest in being tutors.  (Though often very few seem interested in being tutored.)

So, what are some ways that we can combine disciplines better?

We've started teaching reading strategies in science and social studies classes.  For example, I teach annotating strategies and assign annotation in social studies class.  It helps students deal with the abstract ideas in our economics curriculum, and it helps me see their thinking more clearly as they are trying to make sense out of the text.  This often slows us down, but I think we are getting better results from a slower, more methodical approach with unfamiliar, abstract ideas like the "invisible hand."  (I try not to call it that - with so many language learners, metaphorical terms can really be misleading.  There is no giant hand that directs markets.)

Two (related) big ideas that seem appropriate here are project-based learning and genius hour or 20% time (also called Google time).  The former focuses on larger, multi-disciplinary projects through which students are learning as they work, and applying the learning to a larger context, as they would in a real project outside of school.  The latter is based on a business practice at Google, where employees are given a significant chunk of their work time to pursue their own "pet projects" that they care about, then present those projects to managers.  The idea is that students will be much more engaged - and learn much more - if they choose the topic and are given adequate time, tools, and support to learn about it.  

I've pledged to try Genius Hour again this year, and I hope to work on several projects over the course of the year.  I'd also like to give students much more time and more opportunity to share and collaborate on these projects.  

Are there other, medium-sized ways to work across disciplines?

I think the "academic" or "study skills" approach is valid, but that it shouldn't be merely limited to the "home base" or "flex" time we have at the end of the day.  We have common academic vocabulary lessons, focusing on words like "specific" that are useful in almost all disciplines.  This is a good way of synergizing, and helpful for students and teachers.  Looking for opportunities like this can really be helpful.  I taught a lesson on brainstorming, for example, during home base.  This type of thing can really be helpful in several classes.  Research skills can really help, as can note-taking.  

So, I think the answer is to look for medium and large-scale chances to integrate.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Using verse novels in the classroom

I don't know how much attention these things are getting anymore.  I think the trend has slowed a bit, but it doesn't seem like it was that long ago that YA/MG novels in verse, like Crank by Ellen Hopkins or Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, were getting a lot of attention from teachers and students alike.  (And of course, Love that Dog is a classic of this type, though it's probably young for most of my seventh graders.)

I enjoy books written in verse, and not just because they are often quick reads (although that is a major selling point).  I enjoy poetry, of course, and reading a verse novel is a nice blend of two of my favorite things (though I could probably read a bit more poetry these days).  

This format also fits novels about emotional struggle and loss very well, and many of the best verse novels I've read are about trauma.  Shark Girl, probably the first YA novel that I read that was written in verse, is about a young woman whose arm is bitten off by a shark.  This is traumatic enough, but she is also an accomplished young artist who doesn't think she can pursue her dream anymore.  That combination - physical suffering and potential loss of identity - became a resonant, emotionally-dense narrative that I was able to read in less than two hours.  

I haven't read every verse novel that I've heard of.  I read Crank and was disappointed.  It wasn't as searing as I had hoped, and felt predictable.  Here's a short list of my favorite verse novels:

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanha Lai
Shark Girl by Kelley Bingham
All the Lovely Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy
By the River by Steven Herrick

There are a lot of other great titles on a list I found here, in case you want to look for more.  The titles above I have read and enjoyed.

The best part about novels in verse is that they can be very motivating for struggling readers.  I've had success using Shark Girl, Out of the Dust, and All the Broken Pieces in the classroom.  Kids might be tempted to read them too quickly, though, so they have to be reminded to pay attention and listen for things that don't sound right, or that might be misleading or confusing.  

I'm also surprised to find several lists of "verse novels" include House on Mango Street.  I love this book, and I love teaching this book, but I suppose I never thought of it as a "verse novel."  It's very poetic, but I'm not sure that I buy into that - it's hard to "see" the poetry here, and opening that door makes the distinction much harder to make.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Some notes from Larry Ferlazzo's SELF-DRIVEN LEARNING

I picked up a copy of this book not too long ago, and I've been slowly making my way through it.  It seems like Mr. Ferlazzo has done a lot of homework on motivation and engagement, and he has a lot of psychology research to support his explanations of how to motivate kids.

Some of what he talks about is familiar to me, but here are some things (and the interesting names for them) that I've already learned:

- the Progress Principle - people are very motivated by seeing themselves grow or make progress toward a goal.

- the Zeigarnik Effect - once people start something, they tend to want to finish it.

- the Hawthorne Effect - people do better and work harder when they think they are being watched, and also that people will work hard to do better at something if they feel they are an important part of something (and not hard at all when they don't think they are an important part)

- the Losada line - positive feelings have a big impact on learning and retention, but criticism/negative feedback, though necessary, can counteract positive feelings.  The Losada Line is the optimum balance of positive comments and negative feedback or criticism - about three positive comments or interactions for every one criticism.

Those are some of the most interesting for me.  I was also surprised at how much of a positive effect that "gratitude letters" - letters about what students are thankful for - can have on so many things.  (Something I'm going to try next year.)

I like correlating this book with Dweck's MINDSET, so I'll try to keep updating and looking for connections.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Carol Dweck's MINDSET - So Far . . .

Several people at my school are reading this book this summer, and I was given a copy by an administrator to look through over the summer.  So, I decided to read through it a bit. 

I should also point out that I hope to participate in Justin Staub's Mindset summer book study.  You can find out more on his blog here.  I don't remember what Twitter chat this spark came from, but I jumped on it.  I love book groups, especially book groups with cool smart people conducted via Twitter so I don't have to leave the couch to contribute.  And, of course, it doesn't hurt that I already have a copy of the book and planned to read it already.  

I just spent some time reading through the first several chapters, and I'm kind of ambiguous at this point.  I thought I would work through some of these mixed-up reactions in this post.  

I suppose I'm having two simultaneous reactions to Dweck's brilliant and powerful ideas:
  1. Oh my goodness, this book is about me!  I'm the recovering (I hope) Fixed Mindset dude!
  2. This book is organized poorly.  I feel like I'm reading the same thing over and over again, like I didn't understand it the first time.  
I don't mean to try to take anything away from Dweck.  This is great stuff - I had already heard of the distinction and made the personal connection, but her examples so often reference details that seem to apply to me (like, for example, being extremely competitive and frustrated in a chemistry class in college as a pre-med major).  And, of course, that distinction (between the "growth" mindset and the "fixed" mindset) is so powerful and so relevant to teaching - and the fixed mindset is so dangerously common - that this is a very important book.  

But I struggled through several of the chapters, asking myself, "Didn't she already explain this?  Didn't I already read this?"  It feels like she's repeating herself.  (It feels like she's repeating herself.  It feels . .)

I'll keep reading - I finally made it to the chapter about sports and the fixed/growth mindset, something that I think is really interesting.  I hope it doesn't feel quite so redundant.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Video and Literacy (and Shakespeare!)

Hmm . . .

So I thought I would post some questions for further reflection.  I've been thinking a lot about the best way to use video to support traditional literacy instruction in my 7th grade classroom.  I suppose the short answer is kind of a dodge - "it depends on what your instructional goals are, and who your kids are."  I don't want to dodge an important question like that, because I firmly believe that video has an important place in literacy instruction today.  But I know that most students will not learn everything they need to learn if they just watch video, even with excellent instruction to go with it.  

To dig a little deeper into this, I thought I would talk a little more about my current summer teaching assignment.  I'm teaching a "summer school" for students who are currently part of our bilingual program.  I'm not teaching students who speak only Spanish or another language.  Most of my students will (hopefully) soon be transitioning to "mainstream" instruction entirely in English, and are in the later stages of our "tiered" program.  So, while they might speak Spanish at home with parents, they can converse in English and are moderately capable in academic English in all four of the language domains.  But there are often "gaps" - gaps in background knowledge, or often a struggle to use an appropriate word to express a specific idea.  Typical struggles of English language learners.  

(I'm not doing this justice, I know.  I don't want to spend a lot of time describing things that many other people know better than me.  Let's just acknowledge that these students are not 100% comfortable in academic English and move on.)

Since these students lack background knowledge in a lot of academic areas, video is a nice way to "frontload" the learning - to help students develop an understanding of a topic based on images and audio, so that they can apply the language they already know and be better able to understand.  For example, showing students a video that illustrates Newton's laws can help them understand the principles involved, but also can help prepare them to explain them.  

My district has asked us to teach Shakespeare.  Yes, that's right - Shakespeare.  It's not as bad as it sounds.  Actually, for a Shakespeare nut like me, it's a good thing.  With a narrow focus, modified texts, and lots of support, it can actually be pretty cool.  Many of Shakespeare's stories are familiar to students, and there are tons of resources available about topics as diverse as Elizabethan views on medicine to graphic novel biographies to picture book adaptations of almost all of the major plays.  It's quite possible to spend three or four weeks teaching only a single play, using multiple versions, and to still not quite cover everything that could be covered.  

That finally brings us to the question I have.  What's the best way to tie this to video?  I'll put a link to the BBC animated version of the play that I've decided to focus on.

It's a pretty cool version.  It's short, the puppets are creepy and interesting at the same time, the voices are fairly clear and professional-sounding, there is a narrator but enough chunks of actual text to make it both challenging and accessible - it's a great video.  

With my middle-school language-learners, should they see this video before they read a shortened, simplified version of the play?  Or should they watch it after they read it?  Or should it be something in between - watch a little, read a little, or perhaps read one version, watch this, then read another version?  

My initial thoughts are that students might even need a little help understanding this version of the story, and some pre-teaching of characters and an overview of the basic plot would help.  I think, though, that returning to the text after watching the video will help them get more from the text.  The experience of reading the text - even the simplified text - will be easier and more fruitful if it occurs when students have already seen this video.  

But then what about this video?

Or what about something like this?

Hmm. . . the fact that there is a recent, big-budget adaptation with big stars and a world-class lead, further complicates this issue.  Should I be teaching this version?  Perhaps in chunks?

Which, among other reasons, is why I'm talking about questions and not answers.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My Summer Reading Goals

I've been thinking about some kind of "process" post about what I'm doing as a summer reader - I'm a firm believer in writing about process, since I don't think I'll ever have a "finished" statement about things like teaching writing or conducting effective research (or teaching others to do so).  So, in that spirit, I thought I would write about my thinking about my summer reading goals, as they stand, right now.  Instead of waiting for them to be "finished."  Because even the goals are being revised, as we speak.  

So, here are some of my personal summer reading objectives:
  1. Read around several key professional (education) topics, such as 
    1. Engagement, when and why it occurs, how to improve/increase it in the classroom
    2. Teaching writing
    3. Teaching reading
    4. Non-traditional or "outside-the-box" teaching methods that encourage engagement and learning
    5. Best practice or most-effective methods of teaching 
  2. Read 50 "kid" books (YA and MG)
  3. Blog usefully about most of what I read
  4. Tweet about all of the above
  5. Synthesize/synergize all of the above as much as possible
I'm only three books toward Goal 2, but I've never read that many.  My highest achievement thus far has been 32, and that was with a little "cheating" (like reading a lot of Babymouse books).  I hope that my blogs have been useful so far, but not many posts lately have been about my summer reading.  I hope to work on that.  I am trying to average about one post a day, though, and that's a lot of fun.  

I think the only goal that needs further explanation, really, is Goal 5.  I hope that it's clear that many of  the topics under Goal 1 overlap (teaching reading in an engaging and effective way, for example).  Regardless of the actual overlap among the books, though, I remain one person, with one classroom.  I'm developing plans to use Genius Hour, for example, which fits 1-4, 1-1, and 1-5 without too much stretching.  It might take some careful design to apply this strategy to 1-2 and 1-3.  Can Genius Hour be used to effectively teach reading and writing?  I think so.  I hope to try, anyway.  

Perhaps I should also clarify "read around."  I don't think that I need to read an entire 500-page book about brain science to learn something from that book, or to use what I learn.  I know from experience that persisting through a difficult and time-consuming book doesn't automatically make that book more useful.  Don't get me wrong - I finish a lot of books - but I no longer feel obliged to finish every book I start, especially when the book is dull, not especially useful, redundant, or covers something I think I already know.  

So the first part of "read around" is not feeling required to finish every book I start reading.  The second part is to start/skim/peruse as many different books about the topic as I can.  Let me give you an example.  Related to the topic of engagement, I am currently reading Self-Driven Learning by Larry Ferlazzo, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, and The Anti-Education Era by James Paul Gee.  I recently finished Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Visible Learning for Teachers by Doug Hattie, and I have copies of Teach Like a Champion, Book Love, Crafting Digital Writing, Notice and Note, The Book Whisperer, and Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning.  I am picking up a copy of Invent to Learn, as well.  

There's no way I'm going to read all of these.  I probably wouldn't want to.  I might finish two or three of these titles this summer.  Finishing 10 professional books in a summer would be an ambitious goal for me.  Pulling chunks from half or more of these books is reasonable.  In fact, I think that reading a little of one book, then a little of another with related ideas, can be more interesting and more useful.  Since I'm the boss of my own learning with this, and since I think this is the best strategy for what I need, based on what resources are available, that's the way I'm going to do it.  

I hope to share some of these weird idea webs soon.  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Teacher Blogs for Summer Reading

Recently, someone suggested during a Twitter chat that we should be spending time reading teacher blogs over the summer, instead of just focusing on books.  I agreed, and I thought it might help if we started talking about blogs we like.  So, here's a list of some blogs that I've either read or discovered and would like to read more often.

Here are some lists and awards for teacher blogs:

Edublog Awards -

Scholastic's Top 20 Teacher Blogs -

We Are Teachers Blog Awards -

Edudemic - 50 Best Teacher Blogs - - 10 Great Teacher Blogs -

Bachelor of Education dot org - Top 30 Teacher Blogs -

Teacher Certification Degrees Dot Com - Top 50 Elementary Teacher Blogs -

Here are some links to individual blogs.  This is a big mix of "famous" faces, and not-so-famous faces, but I think that all of these are worth a read:

Edweek - Teacher Blogs -

Edutopia - Blogs -

Larry Ferlazzo's Blog -

Angela Maier's Blog -

Nicholas Provenzano's Blog -

George Couros's Blog -

Will Richardon's Blog -

Nerdy Book Club -

Donalyn Miller's Blog -

Chris Lehman's Blog -

Sir Ken Robinson's Blog -

Gary Stager's Blog -

Shannon Miller's blog -

Troy Hicks's blog -

Sara Mulhern Gross's Blog -

John Schu's blog -

Colby Sharp's blog -

Judy Arzt's blog -

Paul Oh's blog -

Tom Whitby's blog -

Maria Selke's blog -

Maureen Devlin's blog -

Bernice Homel's blog -

Franki Sibberson's blog -

Teach Mentor Texts blog -

Mindi Rench's Blog -

Wesley Fryer's blog -

I'd love to hear more recommendations.  I can't pretend that I read all of these blogs regularly - many of these I discovered for the first time today.  But I'm hoping to spend some time this summer reading as many of these as I can, and looking for more.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Transitioning to Google Apps for Education

So, my district has made the decision to switch to Google Apps for Education.  I'm excited about the switch, and I've actually already moved to this platform, so I wanted to talk about this a little.  We're not exactly blazing trails here - there are lots of districts who have already been using GAFE for years, including some close to us in Chicagoland - but I think that lots of teachers still don't have this tool, or have it and don't use it, or don't like it, or don't trust it.  

I have to say at the outset that I started using Gmail several years ago, back when accounts were offered by invitation only.  I heard about the phantom browsing of email data, and how Google would use information from our email to decide what adwords to place on our pages.  I made my peace with that.  This is standard practice with so many sites now that it's almost unnoticeable.  In fact, I've started to appreciate this kind of data collection with sites like Amazon.  I don't always buy the books that Amazon suggests, but I often find copies of these books and learn a great deal from these recommendations.  That never bothered me as much as I thought it would.  And I've rarely had issues with my e-mail account.  It just works.  

From gmail, I began using Google Docs a few years ago.  I enjoyed the simultaneous editing feature, and I really pushed hard for teachers at my school to start using this, even though it wasn't officially sanctioned, for less important work.  I started using Drive only a few months ago, mostly because I had files in too many places and needed somewhere where I could put everything, or at least everything teaching-related.  

Now, my e-mail and calendar data has been migrated to a new Google account managed by my district.  I have uploaded most of my files on my school laptop to my new Google Drive.  And I have tried to focus most of my work on Google Apps.  I try to create new files in Docs instead of Word, and I try to share files with co-workers as much as possible.  

So far, with about three weeks experience using GAFE, here are the things I like:
  • Using the Chrome browser with a Google Apps account feels like I'm finally using the right set of tools for the right job.  They work well together.  Prior to this, I switched back and forth a lot between Safari and Firefox, depending on what I was doing, because sometimes one worked better than the other.  Chrome just seems to work for everything now.  
  • I LOVE the document sharing feature.  I LOVE the simultaneous collaboration.  We have already noticed a big difference with tasks like note-taking during meetings or creating a plan together.  For the most part, this has allowed more people to be involved in large-group tasks.  It has also allowed us to jigsaw (or "divide and conquer") larger tasks into smaller pieces without having to re-assemble from the pieces later.  
  • Docs lacks some features, but it's simple and easy to follow.  There aren't five or six different ways to change your page layout, there's only really one way.  
  • Chrome Apps and the "connect more apps" feature - which are really two different things but are related.  I've added a lot of tools that I don't quite understand yet, but I've been playing around a lot with Voice Comments, some different calculator features, templates, and lots of other tools.  
  • It's kind of silly, but I like the huge amount of fonts available in Docs.  Some of the names are odd (like not in a good way, such as "covered by your grace" - can't tell if it's trying to be ironic or actually making fun of religious zealots), but I like the variety and most of the cheeky names they have.  
  • It's a little overwhelming at first, but there are so many different ways to customize Gmail, and so many different tools, that it's like discovering the Internet over again.  
And, so far, here are the things that I don't like:
  • Random or arbitrary limits on storage, seemingly set only to extract more money from users.  While I know that it will be (or already is?) something that can be modified, why are we given 25 gigabytes for mail but only 5 gigabytes for Drive?  
  • Some files don't work with Drive.  The most noticeable file type right now is Keynote presentations.  I started using Keynote a lot this year, and encouraged my students to do so too. Now, I have 40-50 Keynote presentations that need to be converted to PowerPoint so that they can be shown in Google Slides.  
  • I use a lot of short video, and I would love to be able to upload these files to Drive.  But they take up a lot of space, aren't playable/streamable through our filter at school, and would take a long time to download from Drive even if I chose to upload them all and then download them to play them at school.  
  • Sometimes it seems like Google can be fickle about services they provide.  Rumors swirl about Google Groups disappearing, for example.  Some services are just not offered to GAFE users (like Blogger, for instance). 
I'm sure I'll think of more to say about this as the summer progresses.  I'm going to be helping some fellow teachers learn this new platform this summer, and that will help me think about what I like and don't like.  I'd also like to do a bunch more research on what I can use this for.  I have a couple of Chrome apps that I want to try out for creating animations.  I'm still shaky with Forms, but I've used it a few times to great effect.  And the whole world of Google+ seems really cool - though I'm not sure about all of what it does, and I still feel like I don't know how to navigate through it.