A Homecoming, Sort Of

South Shore E-Learning Logo

At the closing session of the South Shore E-Learning Conference in Hammond I bumped into one of my tech coaches from my current school. She led a contingent from our building, but I never had a chance to say hi until the last 20 minutes of the second day of the conference. I told her, “I’m not ignoring you. But these are the days every summer when I get to hang with my Hammond friends.”

Sometimes, you need to be around your people. It’s good for the soul.


It’s Year Four of the conference, part of the Indiana Department of Education’s Summer of E-Learning series. (Prior year reflections: 2016, 2017, 2018)

And after this trash fire of a year, I needed this one like a starving man needs a cheeseburger. Honestly I was hoping we might be able to lift each other up. It’s been a rough year in the HMD. Three closings and attrition due to retirement didn’t come close to accounting for all of the 150 teaching positions that needed to be cut. RIF decisions were made based on evaluation scores. To the cynic, every single teacher in the district was at the mercy of their administrator. I overheard one teacher say “I hope National Board Certification counts for something”.

I mean, Jesus. Literally heartbreaking.

But here they were, giving up two days of their summer to learn and improve. Admittedly, there are enticements. The lunches are awesome. The organizing committee keeps outdoing itself for the social. And for the fourth straight year the keynotes were top-shelf. Plus, this:

The team couldn’t set up the venue until after the Morton High School graduation ceremony had been completed. So there they were, starting at 10 pm (a mere 9 hours before breakfast would be served) getting everything ready to go.

My dad worked 40 years at Inland Steel. I can dig that level of work ethic.


I took a different approach to documenting my learning this time around. I can’t remember which of my people suggested it first, but somebody pointed out that instead of tweeting our thoughts from each session (limited reach, 280-character max), maybe we would all get more benefit if we could find a way to share our session notes with each other. We bounced around ideas like a shared Google Doc, then Chevin Stone suggested making a Google Form that we could share far and wide so all of our group could submit notes to one central source. Perfect!

Like 36 seconds later she had the form put together and we started to dish out the link. I’m super-excited to see what everyone learned. I still tweeted a bit from each session but I took notes like I was taking notes for friends and I think that is going to pay off in the long run.

So, about those sessions: there are always decisions to make. Good sessions going head-to-head. But in the end I pulled the trigger on a couple that I think are going to benefit my students in the long run: Ken Shelton‘s Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy, and former Hammond High student Angelica Rodriguez returning to her hometown to speak on Being A Latina In Tech.

I’ll always remember that session for the way three of the attendees started networking and sharing resources for their students to support what Ms. Rodriguez had described as ways to open up pathways for current students. I wish I would have written some of them down in my notes, but I was too busy just listening. That’s always what I’ve appreciated about the South Shore Conference. It’s an opportunity for teachers to share and be heard. The big-name keynotes are awesome and inspiring, but I love when classroom-teacher firepower is on full display.


I’ll be pretty honest. Most years the “theme” for my reflection on #SSeLearn develops organically. I know what I’m going to write before I pull out of the parking lot in Hessville. This year tho (totally on-brand for 2018-2019) the ideas were just floating around unformed in my head. All the way down the Borman I was trying to get a grip on what I had learned. This post has mostly been stream-of-consciousness until I figured it out.

What tipped me off was waking up this morning with an inordinately large number of Twitter notifications on my phone. When I see that I always briefly think “Oh crap, what did I do?” (I’ll always be that kid who gets nervous when he gets called to the principal’s office).

So I took a look. And most of those notifications were my Hammond friends giving each other props for their presentations and wishing each other well for the summer. And my purpose for being at the conference this year became crystal clear. I was meant to learn about and see other people’s struggles, and how they battled to overcome obstacles. And supported each other.

Students who were told by college professors they would “never become engineers”. Students who were told by guidance counselors that the advanced courses they were trying to enroll in “weren’t for students like you”. Students who were told their meticulously researched paper including multiple primary sources did not align with the assignment because it didn’t match what was in the textbook. Men who would wear the uniform of the armed forces of the United States of America in battle, who could never rise above a certain rank because of the color of their skin, who would come back home to face discrimination and racism.  Teachers who knew their school was going to close at the end of the year or knew they were out of a job on June 4 and still went to work every day kicking ass and taking names for their students, right up until the very last bell.

And still, here they are.

That tweet up there with my goals? Check and check. It was good to be home. I saw some old friends.

And I learned.

 

 

 

It’s Their World

“Mr. Dull, why don’t you play our music?”

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I didn’t really have a good answer for him. At that time in my career I was already a big fan of the strategic use of music in the classroom, either as a backdrop for study/classwork/test-taking, or as a way to set a mood in passing time or at the outset of class. Pandora was my go-to: Jack Johnson or Dinner Soul in the morning, Chili Peppers or Anberlin in the afternoon. Great stuff for me and say, half the kids in the room. But I was definitely missing a connection with my young black men. And one day, one guy leveraged our relationship to call me out on it.

Motown & LL Cool J & Run-DMC & the Beasties (the stuff that was part of my mix in high school and college and as a young adult) might as well been stuff his grandpa listens to. So I knew that was out.

The best I could do was Today’s Hits.

I don’t think that’s what he meant.


friday meme
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I’ve had a Friday Playlist for years, as a string of youtube videos. Just silliness: Never Gonna Give You Up, Party In The USA, Can’t Touch This, that kind of thing. We went all in this year with a Spotify playlist and everything.

A lot of that stuff was on there ironically, which is fine. I have kind of a reputation as That Playful Teacher, so I’ll own it. Here, have some Taylor Swift and Fresh Prince while we’re at it. We set a mood, but I also caught the occasional cringe as Rebecca Black did her thing.

But every good thing comes to an end. At least they were gentle about it.

make more playlists

So, what do you do with that? A few years ago my answer would have been “nothing”.

“We should make a playlist”. Huh. Just the day before, the topic came up in a twitter chat I participate in every Thursday. OK, I’ll bite. I can take a hint. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

So they gave me a mountain of suggestions and I spent a Saturday morning vetting lyrics and videos for class-appropriateness (sorry, Travis Scott and Sheck Wes…) and built a playlist. Two, actually. One for Friday Mood, and one to run while they work.

I’m not sure I’ve got the sequence quite right, but that’s not really up to me. The order isn’t really what matters, the content is.

Can’t let them down now, right? I’m in. And just in case I was tempted to push the project back, already they were asking me yesterday if the new playlist was ready. I had to fess up – my Thursdays are a little overscheduled and I had not made the playlist. Yet. But I also did not play the Rebecca Black mix. It was, shall we say, conspicuous by its absence. Gonna roll the new playlist out this week and see what happens.

I have no idea how it will be received. If nothing else, It will be “their music”. And all these years later, my student in that Intro to Engineering class will get his answer. It took me a minute, and it turns out all I really had to do was ask. It would have been better if I had figured this out back then, tho.

Because as the late, great Stuart Scott used to say, “It’s their world, we’re just living in it.”

 

Scarred for Life

indiana 105 cancellations snip
This has got to be Indiana 105‘s most popular page. Especially at this time of year.

It started at 9:30 am.

“Do you think they’ll let us out early today?”

“I mean, for real, Mr. Dull, come look at the radar. Look at the timing on this freezing rain.” (The kids are realizing benefits of a 1:1 environment they had never previously anticipated. What can I say, they are curious and smart. Which are good qualities in a high school student, right?)

The longing built throughout the day, from a “late bus” cancellation announcement, then no PM Vocational classes, and finally the news they had all been waiting for:

School closing at 12:30.

It was totally the right call, BTW. The roads were a mess.

Firefighters in southwest Michigan (on I-94 not far from our favorite summer weekend spot) displayed how dangerous the roads were there:

No one was happier about the closing than my athletes, who got a one-day reprieve from after-school workouts and practices. Which I get. They put in more than their time, daily.

Then last night, sitting with my freshman as he stared at notes on exponential growth and decay for an algebra lesson:

“Do you think they’ll close school tomorrow? Because then I wouldn’t have to do this tonight.”

You’re in luck, kid:

I like a surprise day off as much as the next guy, but man, I wonder how we made teenagers so miserable about school. And I wonder how to fix that.

I mean, we are all trying. Check out the #INeLearn tag from last week’s chat (moderated by the great Matt Miller). One of the best-attended chats of the school year focused on ways to marry engaging content with rigorous instruction:

(Archive here).

My district hosted an unconference earlier this month to share and learn:

There is a lot of cool stuff happening in my building. Not everybody shouts it from the rooftops, but I hear about it in casual conversations with my colleagues. I think because I have a reputation as “that connected teacher” they feel a little more open in sharing their adventures with me, which I think is really cool. Risk-taking is definitely contagious. The feedback loop is powerful. Makes me want to keep looking for new hooks too. I may take part of my day today to play around with this a little bit:

But still I get reports from students who are underwhelmed, with me and with their other teachers. And maybe that is just the natural state of a 16-year-old. Maybe they wouldn’t tell us if they enjoyed our classes even if it was true. Maybe we wrung the joy of learning out of them a long time ago. Maybe they are scarred for life by school.

But: what if they’re not? And what if we as teachers keep taking chances, keep trying to do more than hand out worksheets?

I bet you we’d set the whole damn world on fire. And how I’d love to see it burn.

Everything Crumbles

Homer and Entropy
From Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam Jr.

“No matter how perfect the thing, from the moment it’s created it begins to be destroyed.”

It reminds me of a line my sainted mother was famous for repeating: “From the moment we are born, we begin to die”.

Or maybe the admonition of the ages: memento mori.

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But that second definition speaks to me as a teacher: “gradual decline into disorder”.

Maybe it’s the time of the year, but in my building there’s definitely a lot of folks on edge. The weekly online threats of school violence probably have something to do with it. It also doesn’t help that due to ongoing construction we still have 1000 cars trying to get into the parking lot thru the one remaining entrance every morning, but still: I know I definitely feel less like I’ve got things locked down this year compared to years past.

A presenter (maybe an administrator of some type? Not sure…) once told the staff at one of my schools “what gets monitored gets done”. I don’t really remember if she was speaking of staff or students, but it applies to all of us for sure. Why do you think we all slow down when we see a cop parked on the side of the road?

Our teacher evaluation tool is set up with this concept in mind. Two-thirds of the points come from evidence of ongoing planning, consistent parent contact, and collaboration with colleagues, they type of things we are expected to do all year. Only a tiny sliver is made up of actual classroom teaching. As one of my math teacher colleagues likes to say: “even the worst teacher can pull it together and look reasonably competent for two days out of the year.” There is an incentive to do the foundational work that goes into effective teaching. “What gets monitored gets done.”


Part of the low-level anxiety I’m feeling is due to parenting a freshman in my building. I have a throw-away line I use for some of my kids: “obsessive Skyward checkers” – that student that is in the online gradebook daily, making sure everything turned in is posted, and checking on the hour over the weekend to see if a quiz grade is entered in yet.

Yeah, I am now officially That Dad. If Skyward charged me an access fee I’d be broke. But I’ve got a first-year student trying to find his way at a very competitive school, who maybe is not the most organized 14-year-old on the planet. It’s pretty much my job to help him stay on top of things. Skyward and Canvas are the go-tos.

I’m not sure my extreme oversight is working. It would probably help if I was more consistent with it. He survived the first nine weeks by the hair of his chinny chin chin. I’ve extracted a promise that we won’t do that again. Plus, the spectre of athletic ineligibility is a powerful motivator.

I mean, he’s still got to learn the words to the school song, right?

I’m pulling out all the stops as I try to reteach him algebra while he does his geometry work. If it works for my students, it’ll probably work for my son. That’s my theory anyway. And that’s what Desmos is for.

 

It’s just one of those things – we’re going to have to sit together every night to keep his geometry experience from spinning into chaos. Nobody likes to feel that they are being micromanaged, but sometimes that’s part of teaching or coaching – checking in and benchmarking every single day. It’s easy to get complacent. He buckled down on a geometry daily quiz retake and the flipped notes tonight. He really didn’t want to do the notes, but he did them anyway. Probably because I was sitting next to him and encouraged him.

But that fleeting success was pretty rare. I’m not a drill sergeant. I can’t make anyone do anything. Never have been able to. My kids, or anyone else’s. And I’m sure that’s where part of the current stress is coming from. I know for a fact I’ve got some classroom things I’ve got to tighten up. Kids do their thing. We try to get them to do our thing. With varying levels of success. But if we don’t try, they won’t try.

And that’s a recipe for disaster. Or at least a gradual decline into disorder.

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One-Man Book Club: The EduProtocol Field Guide

I hang around online with a group of runners who call themselves the Sub-30 Club. It’s a group started by University of Florida professor and Runner’s World writer Ted Spiker. Every now and then he’ll throw out a new challenge to himself and invite group members to join in. A couple of years ago it was the 100-day Burpee Challenge. Insanity.

I completed it, by the way.

Sub 30 Burpee props

So the other day, looking to make a breakthrough in his training, Ted was curious about a set number of burpees for time. Like, say, 25. And the race was on.

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My baseline. For comparison, one of my local Sub-30 runner friends knocked his out in like 70 seconds, and he’s trying to get under a minute.

Ugh. I’m not good. How did that happen? I mean, I know how that happened, but, damn.

Numbers Never Lie.

It’s good to get a check on yourself from time to time. But then, what do you do with that? I know where I want to go. How do I get there?

Let’s make a plan.


 

Sixteen years. You’d think I’d have this “Start of the School Year” thing nailed by now. But every year I want to get better.

Just like going sub-3:00 for 25 burpees, “Wanting to get better” and “the concrete steps to getting better” are two different things.

That’s where EduProtocols come in.

I first heard the term when Jon Corippo guested with Matt Miller on the 2017 Ditch That Textbook Virtual summit. He was talking “The Fast and the Curious” and “Iron Chef” and definitely got my attention.

I got the gist of it. It sounded like a routine, or a habit of quality lesson design. Eventually, after hearing Corippo again and reading a variety of stuff and checking out some slide decks inspired by his work, I got the implementation piece: “EduProtocols” is how Corippo and Marlena Hebern refer to the idea of a “shell” activity that is student-centered and can hold any content.

It sounds right up my alley. So I stuck the book in my Amazon cart, waited for payday to hit, and pushed “buy”. (Full disclosure: I don’t have any affiliate links. When I link a book on here it goes to Goodreads. I’m not trying to sell anything and I don’t make a cent. Just sharing my thoughts on stuff I read. So click away.)

EduProtocols
The EduProtocol Field Guide by Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo.

The authors are up-front right from the jump: It’s not a “read cover-to-cover” kind of book. Unless you want it to be. Then you do you. Otherwise, take what you need now, come back for more later. Good strategy. But I had like two weeks till the start of school when the book hit my mailbox and I definitely wanted to wedge some of my plans into the EduProtocol shell.

The book starts with about a dozen “Smart Start” protocols that are designed as ways to start the year (or a new semester). Some are familiar such as the Frayer framework, or a paper airplane design challenge. All are designed to create a culture in your class, and offer tweaks for younger grades. As far as I’m concerned, it’s “The First Days Of School” for the 21st century.

(The interview embedded above is part of the CUE Craft Ditch Summit and goes away after August 10. Sorry.)

The following chapters outline EduProtocols that have a familiar design such as the Great American Race or Cyber Sandwich. My math people who are familiar with the Three-Act Task will find a chapter contributed by John Stevens, co-author of The Classroom Chef. The common thread in all of them is the 4 Cs and the use of technology in service of learning. Many of the ideas themselves are not new (go google “Iron Chef” and “jigsaw”) but in particular for teachers in a 1:1 classroom who are trying to get more student-centered, these protocols will bring about that “lightbulb” moment when pondering your lesson designs.

4Cs Throwdown
Hey, adults can have that “ah-hah” moment too. Corippo and Hebern drop the 4 Cs on a group of principals in the book. Hilarity ensues.

As an added guide, each section includes a list of Academic Goals and Teacher Big Ideas to help match up activities with learning outcomes. And Marlena Hebern has helpfully loaded some templates onto her website. It’s a gold mine. Your kids can be Iron Chef-ing or Cyber Sandwich-ing tomorrow.

I know for me, it always helps to have a planning partner, a sherpa who has been up the mountain to help me find my pathway to accomplish the goals I have for a class or a year.

Over the summer, one of my go-to members of my PLN tweeted at me that the book was definitely worth the money. She wasn’t lying. These EduProtocols will be part of my lesson design toolbox for a long time.


Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

One-Man Book Club: Room 24

I kinda stumbled across my latest summer read. Because sometimes the driver don’t pick the car, the car pick the driver.

Mrs. Dull facilitates the middle school youth ministry at our parish. Last weekend I was riffling thru a stack of EDGE curriculum boxes, looking for something else, and there it was.

Room 24
Image via Goodreads.

I was not familiar with the book at all, but I am familiar with the author, Katie Prejean McGrady. I follow her on twitter and think pretty highly of her (which makes me a member of a not-so-exclusive club):

Room 24 Number 4

So in a split-second decision, I added it to my summer reading list. Helps that it’s a quick read at 138 pages. She’s pretty up-front that it’s not a “teacher book” but as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you are a teacher, every book is a Teacher Book.

Prejean is that teacher who absolutely loves her subject area. Now before you click away because she’s a theology teacher, her travails apply equally if you teach Algebra or World History or Literature. We fall in love with our subject and then wonder why our kids think we’re weird. And this book hit home because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic.

She relates the story of deciding on a major during a study-abroad semester in Rome (with the help of a trusted advisor)

Room 24 Number 1

She found that doesn’t always mean that her students will instantly love her content. In fact, many times the opposite was true. On the positive, she works hard (with some stumbles along the way) to build a relationship with her students, and she does it by being her authentic self. Teaching at her alma mater (and using the same textbook from her student days), she took a Ditch That Textbook approach to theology class. That allows for some flexibility when her 14-year-olds come to class with a stack of questions – thus the genesis of the days known as “Stump Miss Prejean”.

Room 24 Number 3

That Musical Cue is right up my alley, BTW. And “Stump Miss Prejean” is a brilliant way to honor student voice and curiosity while staying true to the curriculum and schedule.


 

Litany of Humility, in musical form, via Matt Maher:

Prejean is confident, and quick on her feet, but not every moment in class works out as well as “Stump Miss Prejean”. She relates a moment when she learned a harsh lesson in humility, driving her to resurrect a prayer devotion, the Litany of Humility:

Litany-of-Humility-
Image via His Mercy Is New

 

Earlier in her career, in her pride, she drove a student not only out of her class but out of the school altogether. That tale hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a student transfer out of my class after three quarters this year. Her style and my style just didn’t mesh. I felt bad that she wasn’t getting what she needed from me in my class, but privately I thought to myself, “Oh well, her loss. Let her go photomath all her homework in some other teacher’s class, and fail the final.”

Nice, huh? What a condescending, passive-aggressive jerk I am sometimes. She used to like math, get pretty good grades (as her mom told me) for most of her school career, and I probably poisoned math for her for life. When I read this from Room 24, I saw myself:

 

Room 24 Number 2

Yikes. Like Sully watching himself scare on video.


 

I’m constantly torn between “My Way Is Best” and “What Could I Have Done Different For Her?

Or is it best that she found a teacher that fit her better? I know intuitively that giving students a chance to discover is the best way for them to learn, and that in the world they will walk into they need critical thinking skills more than ever. I’ve picked up so much awesomeness from the #MTBoS that I can’t imagine teaching any other way.

So how do I stand my ground, doing what I know is best, without being a jerk about it?

I mean, true, we are the content area experts, and the pedagogy experts in the room. That’s why they pay us the big bucks, right?

Two of my classes this school year are Algebra I Lab, a second block of algebra for our struggling freshmen. (My people, by the way). When the class was pitched to me, it was with the expectation that I would break out everything I’ve learned about creating a student-centered classroom, with Desmos Activities and WODB and Three-Act Math and everything.

I’m looking forward to it. But I’m reminded in Room 24 that my students come stamped with an invisible “Handle With Care” instruction. And that going into the year a healthy dose of humility for myself might be a good starting point.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver Me Jesus….

 

Flipped Learning

INDOE eLearning Definition
Connecting learners to one another and supporting new learning models for schools. It’s what the Indiana Department of Education’s Department of e-Learning does. Let’s Go…

Just finished up my second Summer of eLearning conference since school wrapped up. This week it was with somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 teachers and administrators thinking around those stated purposes of the IDOE’s Department of e-Learning at #eVillageNWI at Washington Township High School outside Valparaiso.  It was my first time attending this conference that is right in my backyard.

Both days broke sunny and warm. They are really big fans of #StrawberryWater there.

Also, dancing.

In other words, they work hard, they play hard, and they stay hydrated. That’s a good combination for June.


I presented on curating e-Learning day activities. Several local districts are already using eDays to make up snow days, and my district will join them next school year. While popular, it seems no one has quite got it right, everyone is trying to get better, and there are a lot of moving parts. This sounds like a good topic for a lot of smart teachers from different districts to talk about. Especially if it leads to more conversation later, back in their building, with their people.

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Via GIPHY

One of my in-class catchphrases is “there’s a lot of firepower in this room from the neck up.” Truth. There’s really no point in me being the only one in the room talking and thinking on this subject, so I designed the preso so that the attendees would have ample time to group up and hash things out with each other. Then use the last few minutes for sharing out.

It was a diverse group, classroom teachers and administrators from across subjects and grade levels. So although my experience is at the secondary level (math, specifically), the attendees quickly dialed in on their experiences and their students’ needs.

It was awesome.

I had back-to-back presentations the last two sessions of the day. Now, adults are not that different than kids, especially when it’s close to quitting time. What I saw on Thursday at 2:30 was… notable.

When we debriefed at the end of my last session, the awesomeness came spilling out. And it kept going. It was time to head to the closing session (door prizes!) and they were still sharing thoughts.

I learned so much in that 15 minutes, and caught as much as I could in a quick twitter thread when I got home.

  1. Practice ahead of time seems like the critical factor, above all else, for the overall success of e-Learning Days.

We spend so much time building routines in our classrooms, then a snow day turns into a wildcard. What if we practiced eDays until they became routine? Logging in to sites, checking Canvas for directions, submitting work online, contacting teachers thru email or a Google Hangout. For teachers, recording a video with instructions, walking students thru the steps for the expectations for the day. The teachers I listened to told the group they thought that was super-important, to the point where one teacher said she makes every Monday a mock eDay in her classroom.

 

2.  Accommodations for students with IEPs require a lot of our time and attention before rollout.

As one teacher pointed out, you can’t just modify an online assignment the “traditional” way. If students skip questions, those questions will be marked wrong in a Canvas quiz or Flubaroo-graded Google Form or on MyMathLab. Plus, with the option to scramble questions, question numbers won’t correspond for every student. We need to make accommodations for extra time, when time was already a major concern.

 

3.  If we’re going to ask students to use a website or app at home, we better have introduced it in class beforehand.

A survey of students in my building indicated about 40% of students “sometimes” or “most times” needed help using an app or website that had been part of an assignment in class. The teachers in my sessions were adamant that dropping a new tool on students at home was a recipe for student frustration, meaning the eDay work would not get done. Goes back to building routines, and lesson #1 above.

 

4. Anything that makes the students’ job at home easier will pay big dividends.

One teacher said that when she sets up her Canvas page for her elementary-aged kids on eDays, she makes a colorful, graphic “flow chart” with links to each assignment (you can talk amongst yourselves if this qualifies as a “hyperdoc”, but let’s not quibble over small details. It’s clever, and effective.) My high school students will have to navigate their Canvas dashboard to find all their assignments, but maybe I could provide them a template they could use to collect all their assignments, then prioritize them on a checklist.

 

5. Sometimes it’s OK to leave a session with more questions than answers, especially if that leads to a fruitful conversation back in their building, with their planning group.

I was hopeful that would be the outcome of the sessions. I told them up front that I don’t have all the answers, that if they were expecting me to walk off the mountaintop with all the eDay secrets etched on stone tablets, that they were in the wrong room. That was super-empowering. So much sharing and so much learning happened in the small group discussions in the last third of the session time, that I know everybody has at least one big thing they can take back to their building and say hey, here’s something we need to consider doing with eDays this year. As always, 30 brains are better than one. I know the tech coaches and central office admins have been rolling around all the issues surrounding e-Learning days in my district when they roll out next year. I’m hopeful they’ll take into consideration what my groups shared out as well.

 

       6. I’m sure some of my attendees were wondering what’s with all the dancing at this conference.

Since I chaperoned a trip to the Motown Museum this April, we kicked things off (after lunch and all, got to get moving before we get learning) with the Temptations Walk. This photo was after the fact, but we had 35 teachers and administrators dancing in a classroom.


 

All these considerations are in addition to the things we talked about during the presentation such as appropriate length of time for assignments, and what types of assignments will work well on an eDay, or how to adjust for our students who have wifi issues or who have to take care of other family members on a day off of school.

There’s obviously work to do here, at an individual level, and as grade-level, building or district groups.

But if I have one everlasting takeaway from eVillage, it’s that I learned. Not just in the sessions I attended. I expected that. After all, there were some outstanding presenters over the two days. I agonized over choices during the same time period on both days. But the bigger story is how much I learned from the teachers and administrators who attended my sessions. I knew they were smart, committed learners. Hell, they willingly spent two beautiful June days inside at an e-learning conference. But it reinforced for me the value of a student-centered classroom.

The teacher became the student. I’d call that “flipped learning” in the best possible sense.

And my eVillageNWI people: Thanks. I’ll see you all again next June. Keep the strawberry water on tap, huh?

 

Leadership And Humility

There is much to be said for making a principled stand, especially in hostile territory.

There’s also much to be said for considering the possibility you might be missing something.

 

Basketball officiating is a rough job. In my state we’ve had a spate of veterans hang up the whistle recently, with not quite enough youngins coming up behind them. And that’s no surprise: bad pay, no home games, no appreciative crowds, not only is everyone your enemy, but everyone thinks they can do your job better than you. And God help you if you are indecisive or easily intimidated.

I’ve heard stories of young officials in their first-ever game handing out a technical foul to a veteran coach just to prove that they can’t be pushed around. Word travels fast. Every official has to earn his cred, with players, fans and coaches. The visuals are a big piece of that.

Friday night in an intense, fast-paced, physical game, I saw a relatively young official stand his ground on a game-changing call. It turns out, based on video, he was exactly…. wrong.

That was a last-second shot in overtime by Valparaiso to win a game on the road. Only problem was, the shot came after the buzzer. Shouldn’t have counted. I had the play-by-play call on the game, and that’s how I described it in real time on the air. I was as stunned as the Merrillville fans and coaches when the official emphatically signaled the basket good.

The official was roundly criticized online for missing the call. And it’s true. He blew the call. Thing is, he called what he saw. His right arm went up (signaling shot attempt) as the player pulls the trigger on the shot. Once it went in, he had no choice but to call it good. Technically speaking, in the heat of a game, he did everything right. Some folks thought he was being too emphatic with the “shot good” signal, but that’s part of having control over the game.

But…

Did he know he was wrong as the ball was in the air? Is it possible he recognized he was wrong as he walked off the court? Could he have asked for a consult with the other two officials? Could one of the other officials come to him and said, hey, I saw it different? In a case where there is no video replay, did any of these guys have a better look in real time, conclusive enough to overturn it?

I honestly do not know what is protocol there, who initiates a consult between officials. Each official has a responsibility for a section of the floor, and the official responsible for the shot made the call. The place would have gone up for grabs if they waved it off. But at least they would have got the call right. And that’s not nothing.


 

Image result for out of control classroom
Image via fbfuedguide.com

Teachers, especially new teachers, fight that same battle to earn cred with their students. An out-of-control classroom is not a fun place to be. And I say this from experience. For 50 minutes a day, 180 days a year, with those 30 or 100 or 180 kids, I have to be in control, undeniably and without question.

So I make my lesson plans, and execute them, and adjust on the fly where needed, but I am the boss. The pushback from kids is to be expected. Of course they don’t like the way I teach. I’m mean. I’m not like the teacher they had last year. They can’t learn in here. The grading system isn’t fair. And and and and and and and.

Every teacher, rookie or veteran knows: If you don’t exude confidence, they’ll eat you alive. They don’t need an explanation for every little thing. All that does is drag out the conversation for half the class period, decimating your plan for the day. Again, speaking from experience here.

But….

What if they’re right? What if they do need me to teach a different way? Am I confident enough, and do I care enough, to get the call right?


When I was doing rotating critical thinking bellringers last year, my students begged for more time in class to do practice sets. They didn’t see the value in estimating, or deciding which one didn’t belong, or pondering which of two options they’d rather select. I stood my ground, adamant that the process of thinking about these things would benefit them at some point in the future. They just knew they needed to be able to regurgitate math info on a quiz for a grade to graduate. We eventually settled on an uneasy truce when we needed to plow thru like 23 sections in the last 29 instructional days.

But what if they needed more reps and more 1 on 1 time? Would a more traditional classroom have been better? Would that make me a more effective leader of instruction in my classroom? All I know is I went to school on myself at the semester break and decided to flip my instruction. I gathered up some info from my online PLN and teachers in my building, and ran it by my department chair. Did I make the right decision? Like the referee in that basketball game, there’s no video replay. Unlike him, no one is plastering video of my classroom errors all over Twitter.

That’s a judgment call I’m going to have to be humble enough to make myself.

Melancholy Christmas

 

If Charlie Brown lived in 2017, he’d probably have a “Melancholy Christmas” playlist on his Spotify.

I feel you, my dude.

Christmas is a complicated time just in general, between cultural expectations, family obligations, tenuous finances stretched thin, and the darkness that envelops the world 15 hours a day. It’s pretty easy to get shrouded in gloom.

Then there’s Christmastime at school.

Sometimes, both in one day. And by “sometimes” I mean every day.

I had exactly that pillar to post experience Friday. My Introduction to Engineering Design classes are working on a long-term project known as Ballandia gifted to me by my department chair.

The object is to create a 2-foot square world made of found materials, a mashup of Rube Goldberg and Roller Coaster, in which a ping-pong ball will travel for 45 seconds. It’s not super-complicated but it is a lot of work, and there’s no template. Trial and error is the foundational concept. Students build their own design from the base up, meaning for a lot of my kids they are being pushed way out of their comfort zone.

But when they nail it, hitting all the criteria and constraints of the job, oh is it ever joyous:

Like, how often is there a fist pump and a “Yesss!” in my class?

But, like Ralphie Parker recalled,

“Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

OK, that’s a bit overdramatic. But the euphoria doesn’t last long. In any season. We’re in the homestretch in Algebra II, learning the last few topics of the semester before finals, meaning a) it’s the hardest math we’ve done all year, and b) my students are distracted and unmotivated.

I know better than to try to stand and deliver at this time of year, and there’s no better way to get a student hooked in than by creating an opportunity for them to discover a concept by trial and error.

We did a polynomial function discovery activity (via Jon Orr) in Desmos, giving students a chance to scale up prior knowledge, extending a pattern from quadratic to cubic, and theoretically beyond. Not ideal, but considering the time constraints, it had potential to get us all what we wanted and/or needed from the day.

Some got it. Most didn’t. Crud. Only some unintentional student humor saved the day:

Maybe I needed more time for them to explore. Maybe I needed to re-engage prior knowledge better first. Maybe a page of practice problems and traditional notes would have been better for this group of kids and this topic.

But it’s plain as day: They just want out. That two weeks of sleeping in is so close. I’ve avoided a “Christmas Break Countdown”, except for making note of the days remaining to outline our schedule for review days and Final Exams. But the light is growing dim.

I know we’re not supposed to count the days. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think our kids aren’t counting.

Bob Knight, for all his faults, was a master of understanding human nature. He famously pushed his players right up to the breaking point multiple times during a season, always knowing exactly the right moment to pull back and sneak in a break.

That’s the challenge for teachers at this time of the year. I’m tempted to drive all-out until Finals Week. (“You guys, we have to cover this material. Its on The Final!”) I know better. We build in Friday Fun all year long. The trick is to recognize when my students need a cutback day, to create the opportunities for learning that fit their needs. Notes, practice sets, Desmos, games, everything.

Maybe the trick (in teaching, and in navigating Christmastime in general) is to manage expectations, be cool with Less-Than-Perfect, to prioritize, and to make a plan in advance.

Because it’s a long December. In every sense of the word.

 

Let’s Try That Again, Shall We?

I wrote earlier this year about our new department policy weighting test/quiz scores as 75% of a student’s math grade.

We decided as a group if assessments were gonna be that high-stakes, we would need to offer remediation and re-take opportunities. Everyone was given free rein to design their own remediation plan, and most of us modeled ours after the school’s Extended Term program where students who grade out at 53% – 59% can work after school to remediate skills and show mastery with an online program. The payoff is a 60% D-minus for the quarter.

On Open House night I told parents about the new policy, and my plans to offer remediation. They all nodded that retakes were a fair way to balance the need for a performance-based grade with the opportunity to show mastery at a later date. We walked through the math: a 50% test/quiz average and 100% on the daily work (turning in practice sets, participating in Desmos activities and Three-Act Math, attempting all review work) would average out to a passing grade (D-minus) for the quarter.

I launched my remediation efforts after a Unit Two quiz. Only about a dozen students took advantage, and of those, roughly half had already done pretty well on the quiz. Those are the kids who wanted to bump a C to a B.  The kids with an F-minus-minus, who needed a 50% to have a prayer of passing the term? Ghosts. So it’s still a work in progress.

My plan shakes out like this:

I’m late to the party, as usual, but it turns out, I’m doing it right. Want proof? Check out an article by Matthew Beyranevand at medium.com that’s been making the rounds of my timeline:

View at Medium.com

I was doing this on the fly. I just stumbled into this plan trying to do the right thing for my students, but according to this infographic, I’m right on target:

Image via medium.com.

I think this is what you call the fruits of hanging out with the right teachers online.


So: self-assessment time. How are things going so far? Well, I still only get a dozen or so kids in for remediation and retakes. I’m not sure it’s the right dozen, but the ones who come to me leave with a better understanding of the math we’re doing. So there’s that.

Remediation Roster Snip

Looking at the long game: the opportunity to retake quizzes keeps my students in the game. Nobody is so far in a hole after a low quiz score that they can’t climb out. Nobody is punished for an off-day, or for not learning as fast as someone else in the class.

Bigger picture, in my classes the quiz struggles are intertwined with poor study habits and a weak math foundation. Until I fix those things my kids will always have struggles come assessment time.

We are raising the bar of expectations at my school. That’s not gonna change. I can’t let my kids drown. That’s not gonna change.

Then what support am I providing to my struggling students?

Everything but the kitchen sink. My Canvas page for each lesson includes the slides I use for notes in class (including embedded videos of the example problems), so students can go back any time to see the examples worked out.

There’s also links to math help pages such as Purplemath and Virtual Nerd, and a video of me doing my notes as well as a selection of other videos on the same topic. And every teacher in my building is required to keep office hours (we call it “Flex Time”) for students to come to us for face-to-face help.

One person I showed this bounty smirked, “is that a golden platter you serve everything up on, or just silver?” I know. It sounds like overkill. Like we are babying a bunch of teeangers who are old enough to drive and work and make lots of important decisions. But my students need the support. I don’t know how many of them ever use any of these resources. Not many, based on the hits counter at youtube. But the alternative is to sit back and let them fail. They might fail anyway. But not because I sat on the sidelines and let it happen.

I think Teddy Roosevelt hit it on the head:

TR Moment of Decision
Via lifehack.

I’ve had that quote behind my desk for probably 10 years. I’ve done lots of right things, and lots of wrong things. I know for sure in this case, the worst thing I could do is nothing.