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.

 

 

 

Go-Tos

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Chicago sunset, from the beach at Ogden Dunes. Photo cred: me.

I pulled into the downtown parking lot of a church that offers a community dinner one night a month. Our parish rotates thru making and serving the dinner twice a year. The lot features a pair of high-quality basketball hoops at either end (Indiana, right?). Another parishioner looked at the hoops, and then at my son and I walking across the lot and said, “I wish I had a basketball in my trunk.”

I mentioned that I remembered reading once (maybe in this book) that one of Indiana’s most renowned players, a prep, college, and NBA star, used to keep a ball and a pair of basketball shoes in his trunk. That way, if he ever happened upon a good pickup game while he was out and about, he could suit up and play.

Apparently that’s not as unusual as it sounds, at least according to Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated:

I began playing pickup ball when I was in grade school and continued throughout high school and college. When I got a car, I kept a basketball and hightops in the trunk so I’d always be prepared if I happened upon a game.

— Chris Ballard, “Pickup-Basketball Artist“, Experience Life, April 2014.

My friend and fellow parishioner admitted he actually keeps a fishing pole in his car all the time.

Me, it’s a beach bag 24/7:

 

That way, I’m ready at the drop of a hat. Usually the payoff is an incredible sunset, but sometimes it’s the spring break afternoon with a chair, a drink, and a good book. Or, treating visiting family to an impromptu day with water and sand and sun and a few thousand of our closest friends.


All this inspired a late-summer-vacation thought: What are my go-tos in the classroom? What’s in my “go bag“?

Honestly, it’s all stolen. Go here if you’re looking for incredible math ideas. I wrote a few years ago about how Themed Bellringers (another, uh, “borrowed” idea) was finally paying dividends halfway thru the year.

But all this stuff has to come from somewhere. And, it needs to be planned for intentionally. My beach bag has a blanket, sunscreen, bug spray, a soccer ball, a football, and I keep 3-4 beach chairs in the trunk. The essentials. Same thing the year I was a travelling teacher, pushing a cart from room to room every day all year. I dug a plastic bin out of the garage, and used it to keep my daily needs – whiteboard & Vis-a-vis markers, pen/pencil, hall passes, paper clips, page protectors containing my roster/seating chart, handouts for the day, post-its, a couple of other things, all in one place.

So what’s the story this year? There are a couple of things floating around in my head. First, the Algebra Lab class I’ll be teaching. It’s an extra block of support for our struggling freshmen.

Speaking of support, one of my online teacher friends had a laundry list of awesome suggestions for ways to keep that class from turning into an unofficial (and unhelpful) study hall:

All of those activities/concepts are designed to get students thinking about math and talking about math and reasoning their way thru problems. That’s going to be the focus of the year, and I want to establish that culture starting on Day One. My job is to match up the activities with the Algebra 1 curriculum map, so that each week we take a deeper dive into the topic they’re working on with their Algebra 1 teacher.

And: the occasional opportunity to play.

Second, EduProtocols have been bouncing around my TL for the last 8 months or so. The book is sitting in my cart at Amazon waiting for a payday. The authors, Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo, are generous with sharing their tools and I think this might be the next step in my evolution as a teacher in a 1:1 classroom:

(Oh, BTW, that’s “Fast and the Curious”. Sometimes my brain and fingers struggle to get synched up).

That tweet was me processing a video convo between Jon Corippo, Cate Tolnai, and Matt Miller from the CUECraft Ditch Summit. It’s a pop-up summer PD program running the week of July 25-29.

The guests definitely got my attention when they started talking about ways to engage students in a 1:1 classroom and cut down on the piles of (let’s be honest, kinda worthless, meaningless) papers to grade/provide feedback. Another Miller collaborator, Alice Keeler, is fond of saying anything that can be graded by a computer, should be. I know what she means. There is definitely a need for students to get in some reps with the skills we teach, but there is also (here in the 21st Century) plenty of ways to provide engaging opportunities for students to learn, collaborate, create, present, and get feedback, all in one class period, all without their teacher popping a vein.

That sounds like a class I’d go to.

So, I’ll order the book. It will be my last “teacher read” of the summer. Anything I can use, I will. Then I’ll pack my teacher Go Bag. Intentionally.

 

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.

Image result for thinking gif
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?

 

One-Man Book Club: Teach Like A Pirate

“Are we ready to start full speed?” Dave Burgess keynoting Day One of the South Shore e-Learning conference in Hammond, IN, June 6, 2018.

Yeah, I know. 2012 was a long time ago. Doing a One-Man Book Club post on Teach Like A Pirate is like live-tweeting an episode of The Office I’m watching on Netflix. But it’s what I’m reading right now and the thoughts are spilling out of my head onto my screen, and for many of my colleagues at the South Shore e-Learning Conference it was their first exposure to this loud, crazy SoCal guy. I wanted to watch the show through their prism, and the experience stirred up some memories.

Dave Burgess keynoted a conference I presented at last week. Leading up to the two-day event I went to the library and got his book. Even though I’d seen him outline his TLAP philosophy with Matt Miller on the 2016 Virtual Summit, I was pretty psyched to get the In-Person experience. I still wanted to read the words in black and white.

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Image via Goodreads.

(Burgess runs at like 7000 rpm. My laid-back Vegas kids used to tell me I talked too fast. If they were in a room trying to listen to the Teach Like A Pirate keynote their heads would have exploded. Having read the book was like having built-in subtitles for the presentation. 10/10 would recommend.)


 

I just finished my 15th year of teaching. I was a pretty by-the-book guy at the beginning. Things have changed since those early years, thanks in part to a lot of reading, a lot of connecting, a lot of trial-and-error. And error. And error. Let’s just say I’ve been trying to get better for a while. Reading Teach Like A Pirate, my mind snapped. I recalled a long-ago online conversation I had with Matt Vaudrey, co-author of Classroom Chef.

If you’ve read the book or seen the TLAP preso, you know what started my reverie. The Six Words.

TLAP 2

“It’s Easy For You. You’re Creative.”

TLAP 3

I remember struggling with classes that weren’t buying what I was selling. I remember spending prep time and after-school time searching for activities and lessons that would get my students’ attention. I remember being amazed at what my fellow math teachers were rolling out to their students. Everything I found online was brilliant and clever and creative. I remember thinking, “there’s no way I could come up with stuff like that on my own.” I remember falling flat on my face many a time.

But I remember having success just often enough to keep trying. Which is good, because as one of my favorite UNLV professors used to say, teaching is like being a performer. And you have to nail 900 shows a year.

All these years down the line I should point out, she never told us how tough the audience would be for those 900 shows. Or that they’d be able to tune us out with a tiny little computer they’d all carry in their pockets.

As Burgess says: “Would your kids be there if they didn’t have to be? Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?” I felt like I had to work harder than anyone else because before I could teach my kids anything, I needed to make them want to show up for my class. I used to tell them, “someday I’ll be that old, bitter teacher who hands out a worksheet then goes to read the paper with my feet up on my desk. But today ain’t gonna be that day.”


 

 

 

I’m not a pirate. Not a good one, anyway. But I’m down with Lesson Design. Which, it turns out, once you get past the bandanna and earring, and the grilling analogies, is what “Teaching Like A Pirate” is all about. Intentional lesson design, every time.

I’ve got a certificate on my classroom wall from ETS. It’s a Certificate of Excellence for my score on the Math Praxis exam. Me and a couple of my UNLV classmates studied hard for that test. The semester of student teaching we met three times a week after school at a coffeeshop/bookstore near where we all taught in Vegas to work through problems from the study guide. But the State of Nevada also requires a passing score on the Pedagogy test for licensing. Ugh. That one is not as easy. My idea of lesson planning as a pre-service teacher was limited to:

  1. Check the section in the textbook
  2. Select example problems
  3. Select guided practice problems
  4. Select homework problems
  5. Rinse, repeat

That’s all. And on the Praxis or in the classroom, it wasn’t good enough.

I eventually stumbled across Dan Meyer and the greater MTBoS and started to get an idea of teaching with the end in mind. It’s a concept that Bill Hanlon of the Southern Nevada RPDP introduced to us. It was a unit design tactic he called BAM, but it applied equally to lesson design. Later on I was exposed to Desmos, and then Hyperdocs. All tools for designing lessons from the ground up, thinking deeply about what questions to ask, what I wanted my students to ponder, what tools and resources they would need.

I’ve claimed as a class motto for years, “You want better answers? Ask better questions.” Turns out I have common ground with Burgess there too.

TLAP 4

Then Burgess goes on to include a section with literally hundreds of questions a teacher can ask when planning a lesson, questions that can spark creativity and create hooks to student engagement. Pretty much everyone I know can take two or three or six of these questions and create something incredible in their classroom. Without a single trip to Goodwill.


 

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It turns out that once you get past the pirate persona there is a seriously good teacher who is passionate about not just punching a clock, but in creating learning experiences for his students. And Teach Like A Pirate makes clear that there is no secret sauce, except for a willingness to take chances, to accept failure as part of learning, and to recognize that nothing great comes easy.

TLAP 1

I don’t know about greatness. I’m still trying, still learning. I doubt I’ll ever have a “guest speaker”. But we sing and dance a lot in my classes, get up and move around. Use visual hooks. Stick crazy memes and GIFs in my slide deck. Try new things. Shift on the fly when it’s called for.

Maybe I’m not such a bad pirate after all.

Leyahs Card

 

You Do You

What kind of education conference did I attend this week? Well, one keynote speaker managed to work “Bless your heart…” and a Pusha T v. Drake reference into the same hourlong presentation. Literally, something for everybody.

(Side Note #1: Now keep in mind: you can say “bless you” like “thank you” and that’s one thing, but there’s no mistaking the meaning behind “bless your heart”.)

Via Bless Your Heart, Tramp: And Other Southern Endearments by Celia Rivenbark

(Side Note #2: “You do you” is the rough equivalent outside the South. Sounds like it should be a good thing, often kind of a sideways putdown. But not as clear-cut. Sometimes it’s just, “yeah, cool, man, go ahead, do your thing.” Which is fine.)


In a time when you can be anyone, reinvent yourself over and over, authenticity is a rare commodity.

As an example, the first-year NHL franchise Vegas Golden Knights are unabashedly Vegas – the pre-game show, the social media presence, the community outreach. Given a chance to build their brand from the ground up, they picked a 21st century combo of local flavor and connectedness.

Image result for vegas golden knights las vegas sign
Image via NHL.com

 

As I process the two days, I’m rolling around those keynotes, and teacher growth, and the idea of authenticity.

So, those SSeLearn keynotes – Dave Burgess & Josh Stumpenhorst. A little bit of contrast in style: Bombast and Thoughtfulness. The Pirate and The Teacher Of The Year.

There’s some blowback out there in the online educommunity regarding TLAP – like, do I need all this costume stuff, and do I have to be that loud?

Only if that’s “you”. Because kids can smell fake a mile away. But if Dave’s methods hit home, there’s nothing wrong with amping up the enthusiasm in your classroom.

If Dave Burgess is a Tony Robbins disciple, Josh Stumpenhorst comes from the Daniel Pink school. He believes there are things that motivate students, and those things are probably not what you’d guess. Especially if you were trained up with behavior charts and an emphasis on grades. And when you sit with him and listen, you just know he’s right.

The keynotes were great. Inspiring. And as for the breakouts, I really appreciate the teachers who took time to craft a session, to share what they’d found with us. The vast majority of the presenters at #SSeLearn were regular classroom teachers, sharing like they’d share in the faculty cafeteria or in a department meeting, just amplified to a larger audience.

At South Shore, teachers had a chance to figure out who they are, to get help with tools that can help them on the journey, and how to connect with people who have been there.

Teachers had 200 sessions from which to choose, giving them the opportunity to build their own brand from the ground up, to reinvent themselves, to “do you”. Cool thing was, I sat with Catholic school high school teachers from Illinois, kindergarten teachers from Hammond, tech coaches from Porter county, all in the same day. Sometimes all in the same room. Diverse people, diverse needs, and based on the feedback I read, everybody got at least something they could use out of the two days.


The day two keynoter dropped me a line to thank me for some of the tweets I sent out during his preso. Which was kinda cool.

Josh is more my style by the way. During his keynote he referenced innovation day at his school, calling it “a thing we’ve been doing for the last 11 years” and shared some photos and stories of student learning that had happened as a result. What he doesn’t talk about was how large a role (note: a Very Large Role) he had in launching Innovation Day at his school, and in helping other schools kick off their own editions. He’s an author and speaker and, oh yeah, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year who got take a photo with the President of the United States, but when you sit in on his session he’ll tell you he’s a librarian and a dad and a husband and a runner who has found out some things about teaching and learning, and wants to share them.

Being chill is so cool.

I don’t need to be twitter famous. I don’t need a million followers (although I like big round numbers as much as the next guy.) I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin, I’ve learned to listen more than I talk, and to offer help when I can but also to accept help when its offered. Which makes the South Shore conference way more than a chance to re-connect with teacher friends from my old district. It’s a chance to keep working at being me.

The South Shore conference has grown in three years from a one-day event for 300 or so School City of Hammond teachers to a stop on the statewide Summer of eLearning schedule with more than 1000 people in attendance. It only gets better from here.

As you might have guessed, I’m not the only one who feels that way. Ryan Eckert, an elementary school principal in Crown Point, was inspired to start a twitter chat to keep the learning going. The turnout on the first night was fantastic and the conversations led to further connections and sharing of resources. Share and support. That’s what we do.

So, my fellow #SSeLearn learners, you do you. Our kids are gonna reap the benefits.

 

P.S. Mad props to the team that launched this awesome event and keeps it flying year after year:

My Summer Vacation

Fight!

If you know anything about Twitter, you know you don’t have to spend much time there before stumbling into a spirited back-and-forth. Two conversations dominate my timeline these days:

  1. How I spent my summer“: reading a stack of teacher books vs. sitting on the beach
  2. What exactly are we doing here?“: the traditional math stack of Algebra through Calculus vs. Burn It Down. Like: Why Algebra II? Is Calculus every student’s Mt. Everest?

(Actually, those convos take place online every year at this time, but just like the first time the sunset inches past 8 pm, they catch my attention every time).

Futurist/marketer/author/blogger Seth Godin weighed in on the topic the other day on his blog:

“What would a year of hands-on truth-finding do for a class of freshman? What mathematical and vocational doors would it open?

Every day we spend teaching hand factoring of binomials to non-math majors is another day we raise mathematically illiterate kids. What are we waiting for?”

— Seth Godin, “More Better Math“, May 30, 2018

Since I changed schools and started teaching Algebra II to mostly non-college-bound students two years ago, well, I wonder if all my kids time is best spent on these topics. They vote with their brain cells and their focus of attention during most of the spring semester, that is for sure. My Algebra II finals sucked. Like, way worse than I expected. Nothing like anticipating the final day of school, then encountering a stack of tests that make you want to start a bonfire. In the middle of the classroom.

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Via Tenor

My colleagues in Track 3 also had low scores overall, so I’m not alone, but still…

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Avg: 44%. There were two actual scores of 0/50.

Sometimes I have long thoughts about whether I’m doing this right. Which, well, thinking about that qualifies as a good use of reflective teacher time over the summer.


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Specifically, I have several questions:

  1. We’re detracking – what’s gonna happen to this group next year when everything gets faster and more in-depth?
  2. How do I hook the ones who were utterly disinterested?
  3. How do I hook the ones who don’t care if they fail because they’ll “just retake it in summer school or credit recovery”?
  4. How do I hook the ones with a really insufficient math foundation?
  5. How do I hook the ones who are used to playing the game of school and putting the right squiggles on a piece of paper for a letter grade?
  6. How do I get them to think….

 

I don’t have answers. I mean, if I did, I’d share, right?

I do have a lot of time to ponder the questions. Preferably while sitting on a beach or reading a book. Educational or otherwise.

Meanwhile, I’m just gonna hold on to a couple things from this year for a minute.

Because my summer vacation is here.

One-Man Book Club: Ditch That Homework (Part I)

“It’s a deal, it’s a contract, it’s an agreement that you, as student and family, make with educational institutions. It’s an agreement in which, for it to be worth it to you, elements must stay balanced.

As in: Not everything the school is going to ask of me is going to great or even valuable. There are going to be irritating aspects of school. But all of that is balanced by what the school experience gives.

Just like the rest of life, right?

So just as in the rest of life, we make constant cost-benefit analyses. Is the good I’m deriving worth the cost I’m paying?”

Amy Welborn, “Homeschooling… Again?!“, 8/7/17

Spending some time today pondering: How would I answer a parent (or a student) asking that same question: “Is the good I’m deriving worth the cost I’m paying?”

School starts in a week, and I’m having long thoughts about grading and homework and how class time is spent and everything. I can do better. I know my grading/points system was out of whack last school year. Many times I knew a student’s letter grade didn’t really reflect his ability to do math.

I have to fix that.

I know there’s a premium on time when classes are 50 minutes long. I want kids thinking and arguing and defending their positions and solving problems and working together and practicing skills and having a chance to ask questions and get feedback on their efforts.

And I’m pretty sure that unless I invent a way to elongate time that I can’t do all those things in one class period.

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Along comes the Dynamic Duo: Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. The question has been around for a while: is homework worth the time and aggravation? Does it encourage learning? Does it increase the educational divide between students of different socio-economic classes? There is much research that at least suggests there is a better way. These two well-known teacher/presenters aim to provide the why and the how for doing things different.

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Image via Goodreads.

I’ve been reading Matt’s blog for years. I read his first book, Ditch That Textbook, around this time last year. I’ve seen videos of Alice pitching her homework theories. To be honest, the Halo Effect is strong around these two. I’m predisposed to read their stuff, punch my fist in the air and shout “Yes”! So I’m intentionally adopting the posture of a skeptic as I read #DitchHW. Playing the Devil’s Advocate. I’m trying hard to punch holes in their argument. I’ve got a tendency to take a new idea and run with it. I want to make sure this one has staying power. To justify putting my teaching money where my mouth is.

But they’re making their case well.

Why Ditch Homework-
Alice Keeler: “But what did they get in return for their investment?”

I don’t know about you, but when I don’t see the value in something I’m asked to do…. I don’t want to do it. That just sounds like the set-up for a power struggle. Even if the research leaned towards homework as a great educational tool, the kids who refuse to do the homework won’t do the learning. And that’s a problem.

Here’s what I saw in my classroom. Pick a year – could be 2003, 2008, 2012, or last May:

  • About 35% of my students legitimately do the homework on their own
  • Another 30-40% copy the work from the students in the first group
  • The rest don’t do homework at all
  • Even when I point out they are getting points just for effort, enough points in a quarter to equal a quiz score
  • They’ll copy homework blatantly in class from a seatmate
  • They’ll snap their homework and text/snapchat it to friends
  • They will see similar problems a week later on a review sheet and look at me like they’ve never seen that type of problem before

Learning has not occurred, people.

On the other hand, the best days for my students are days when there is collaborative work, with students having chances to help each other and to get help and feedback from me.

That sounds like something I’d like to have happen more often.


 

These two really know how to get my attention, that’s for sure:

Reclaiming my time.

So the bait has been set. Time to reel in the catch.

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Miller and Keeler go on to suggest ways for teachers to build relationships with students and parents so that we get buy-in from our two most important stakeholders, offer tips to provide timely and useful feedback, and they examine the brain science of the change-over that will help students own their own learning.

So the Why is in place. We’ll look at the how, and process my takeaways, in Part Two.

 

We Belong

You don’t belong.

Sports teams use it as motivation. (“Nobody believed in us!”)

It’s been fodder for a million Hollywood movies, from Karate Kid (“Love your car, Mrs. LaRusso!”) to Kung Fu Panda.

If you’ve been around the teaching game for a while, you’ve been told: our kids crave connections. They need relationships. No learning can happen until you connect with your kids. They need to know they belong.

I can relate.


 

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Image via nwi.com (source)

Up here in the Region, we’ve got a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. To the point where we fight over which parts of this area qualify to carry the title “Region”.

We’re not Chicago, even though we border the City of Chicago, in the County of Cook, in the State of Illinois.

And we’re definitely not “Indiana“. Best way to prove you’re not “Region” is to wear a “Colts” anything.

So, we don’t belong.

(We wear that like a badge of honor, by the way.)


Indiana Summer of eLearning

For the last 6 years the Indiana Department of Education has put on a series of conferences during June and July known as the “Summer of e-Learning“. My former district, the largest district in Northwest Indiana, and the 11th largest in the state, started thinking it should be able to host one of the 22 conferences last year.

The state had a plan. I’ll paraphrase: You guys are a pretty big district (13,860 students in 2016). Host a conference just for your district. Get your feet wet. Find your keynoters and presenters. Get a facility. Then check back with us. Let us know.

So they did.

After 370 attendees, nationally-recognized speakers, presenters from within the SCH and beyond descended upon Hammond the Monday after school let out, well, what could the IDOE say?

Fast-forward to the Summer of 2017: We’re in the Big Leagues. (And yeah, I know… “we”? I work in a different district now. Teaching in Hammond is the family business. Old habits are hard to break. Sue me.)

Buddy Berry & Christine Pinto keynoted. Almost 600 teachers and administrators registered.

Everybody got something they can use RIGHTNOW.

Alisha Foor and her team put on a whale of a show. Crushed it behind the scenes during 12 months of planning, and knocked it out of the park during two days of awesome learning and sharing experiences.

Yeah. We belong.


 

When I taught in Vegas, my Midwestern-ness stuck out like, well, a flashing neon sign. (“Mr. Dull, why do you wear a sweatshirt and shorts?”) When I taught in the HMD, maybe I was “from there”, but I lived out with the cows and the corn. Now in an exurban district, where everybody’s “from here”, even though I live in the city, I’m still kind of an outsider. I found that out when people here weren’t heartbroken over the Stracks bankruptcy. (Seriously, like I had a tear in my eye when I lined up for lunch today and saw a big tray of Stracks chicken on the table.)

So maybe I don’t belong either.


 

I’ve been stalking hanging out online with a group of math teachers that call themselves the MTBoS (Math-Twitter-Blog-o-sphere). I steal all their best teaching ideas, follow them on twitter and at their blogs, and just in general fanboy a tiny bit too much.

But what can I say, they changed my outlook and strategy on teaching, and probably saved my career.

(No really, that was my presentation title at South Shore e-Learn).

But really, they’ve got superior firepower from the neck up. Way out of my league. I can use their stuff, but I could never make their stuff.

I don’t belong.

But this morning, with a donut balanced on my travel mug/water bottle, and my laptop, well, on my lap, settling for in for the keynote, I open twitter and see this in my mentions:

Shah MTBoS Tweet

(I had posted this in a twitter chat I occasionally hang out in, in response to a question. The #MTBoS hashtag gave it a signal boost).

And, squee.

Here’s the blog page, with about a million other presos linked there. But for reals, for about 20 seconds there, Sam Shah made me feel like a million bucks. Like…

I belonged.


 

If you’ve never seen Christine Pinto, she looks like she’s about 12. Weighs 80 pounds soaking wet. She doesn’t have a commanding stage presence. But she is a lowkey powerhouse. If you listen… oh boy. You’ll learn. One of her main points in her preso is:

And guys, that’s the takeaway from today. We belong. Our kids belong. And it’s our job to give them an opportunity to prove it. In Hammond, they walk their talk. Two of the most powerful sessions I attended were led by students. Buddy Berry’s freshman daughter knocked ’em dead with “A Techy Teens Tools For Teachers”.

But my last session of the conference… oh man:

A 3rd-grader taught about 30 of us how to use Animoto to make book trailers. Had a Google Classroom and a slide deck and everything. Yeah.

She belongs.

I belong.

All of us, on a Tuesday and Wednesday of summer break, when we should have all been laying on a beach somewhere, instead, the Island Of Misfit Toys, we’re all inside an urban high school, learning, together, getting better, for our kids. Kids we won’t see, probably, for like 8 more weeks. Doesn’t matter.

We belong.