Winds Of Change – Camp #eVillageNWI 2019

Camp eVillage Logo

Back in May, in the midst of working on my presentation for a couple of IDOE Summer of e-Learning Conferences, I shot my district’s Director of Secondary Curriculum (also my former DC who sat in on my interviews) an email with the work in progress. I asked him to take a look and see what I was missing. He gave me some great advice about modeling exactly and explicitly what a Three-Act Math task looks like in the classroom, and he also stated that I should include a nod to the “why” of Three-Act – what’s the research behind it?

So I made sure to include a link and quote up front from Graham Fletcher‘s 2016 NCTM journal article “Modeling With Mathematics Through Three-Act Tasks“.

Who knew I was completely on-trend?


Trend

I’m far from the first to note the evolution of Ed Tech themes. When I first stumbled upon some of the teachers leading the way in integrating tech in the classroom, the trend was tools – how many can we use, what’s new, what’s first, what’s cool.

Gradually the focus has changed to pedagogy – how can we use technology to support teaching and learning? And every session I attended this week that featured tools led with research justifying the lesson design.

It was notable. And, obviously, good. The tech should serve the teaching, not the other way around.


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These ladies are leading the way in pushing math teaching forward in Indiana. Which is pretty damn cool.

The second thing that jumped out at me on Thursday dawned slowly. I spent my first two breakouts in math sessions, one with Denis Sheeran and another led by Emily Bruning and Robin Conti of the Indiana Department of Education.

Sheeran presented on the 1:1 math classroom, using the tools we give our students for something other than $250 pencils or e-worksheets.  His session featured sites like Which One Doesn’t Belong, Would You Rather, Open Middle, Desmos Activity Builder, and hyperdocs.

Things that have been staples of the #MTBoS ever since I’ve been on twitter.

The #eVillage conference is smaller and more rural than my “home” SOEL conference in Hammond. Out of 300 attendees, let’s make a wild guess and say 15% were high school math teachers. That’s 45 of us, who were probably all at at least one of those two Thursday morning sessions. And I saw a lot of knowing nods when Sheeran asked if we were familiar with these tools. In the Middle Of Nowhere, IN.

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The MTBoS has gone mainstream. Which is good. Selfishly, I didn’t feel like such a misfit being in a room with My People. But more importantly, this classroom culture change has taken hold with the rank-and-file in the classroom, far beyond the twitter-famous math teachers I’ve been stanning for so long.

But everything blew up in my mind in the next session, where IDOE reps gave us a status update on the state’s Math Framework.

They led with a Which One Doesn’t Belong, but with a hook. All the numbers came from The New Teacher Project‘s The Opportunity Myth report.

That was kind of eye-opening. Less than half of our students feel a sense of pride about school during the day and basically about one out of every six days on average we are engaging our students with something other than Stand and Deliver & here’s a worksheet.

Not even once a week!

It made me want to keep track in my own classroom next year. But give the IDOE credit. They are trying to turn the battleship around. And I met a bunch of good teachers this week who will be pulling on the steering wheel.

It started with a series of statewide IDOE workshops. My DC attended one last school year and told me when she came back had she known what the content was she’d have taken me along.

It was all #MTBoS/#iteachmath stuff. The stuff I’ve been doing for years. They’ve updated the state website to align various activities with each standard. All Three-Act and NCTM Illuminations and Desmos stuff.

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And I sat there and thought, OK, here we go. Everything that had been considered “fringe” math teaching practices, accessible to only a few well-connected or really brilliant teachers, is now normative. This is the baseline.

The future is gonna be so awesome you guys.

I hope I’m there to see it.


Sometimes I wonder if all the side work, all the googling and twittering and connecting is worth it. I mean seriously, I could stand and deliver and worksheet and quiz myself senseless, and everyone would be happy.

But then, you find your people and you don’t feel so alone.

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I got a book recommendation from the Queen Of Camp eVillage last school year. 

So, she pretty much nailed that one right on the head. I worked #ZamboniLakeSuperior into my preso, which turned out to be kind of prescient. I was able to connect it back to Sheeran’s keynote, so attendees at my session could get a real-life sense of what it looks like.

I’m working my way through Sheeran’s book Instant Relevance.

Sheehan Dedication
I got an autographed copy, you guys.

Three Ways. That’s a Ton Of Snow. The Logo Game. So much of what Sheeran wrote about, I’ve done, in some way, shape or form. Not because I’m so brilliant to think it up myself, but because I’ve been connected with folks online who have taught me to seek out connections outside of class and bring them into class so my students can connect our math back outside our walls.

Does that make sense? If you follow me, congratulations. I’m not sure I follow myself sometimes. But bear with me.

I know for sure I need to keep reading, keep tweeting, keep sharing, keep going to conferences, keep learning. Keep bringing what I learn to my building and my department. Some of my colleagues are down with it, some aren’t. Some folks have their own thing they are trying to share with me. I should pay attention to that too.

Honestly, I spent a little time Thursday basking in a sense of smug “told you guys” satisfaction. But I also felt even more like I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle.

“So, tell me, do you believe in a zone, or a man-to-man defense?”

You’ve been in that meeting, too, huh?

I don’t know if my style is gonna win any state championships. But I do know it is the best way to teach for kids. Which in the end is really what we’re here for, right?

I’ve always kind of dug the way the leaves on the trees turn their backs when a storm is coming. The outflow of a storm brings winds and a temperature drop that is unmistakable. You don’t need to be a Ph.D. in physics to tell when change in the weather is coming.

Just gotta pay attention to the wind.

And then maybe bring in the patio chairs, because the stuff is about to start flying.

 

One-Man Book Club: Every Tool’s A Hammer

“Making” is the flavor of the month. And if you follow folks like Josh Stumpenhorst you know it’s seeping into schools far beyond STEM spaces into creative spaces. In really, really cool ways.

The famous saying goes “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” My corollary is: Every book is a teacher book. I guess in a less flippant way, I’m always open to learning something about what I do, regardless of the source.

No really, I mean it.

But I read a lot. Probably too much. Some of it ends up impacting my practice, some not. I long ago left behind the section-by-section, textbook driven method of teaching for a more engaging, student-centered model championed by my online PLN. That kind of makes me a “maker” I guess, whether I’d use that term for myself or not.

I’ve never considered myself a Creative Teacher™ although that term is subjective too.

But now, a day short of finishing my 16th year, it’s what I do. I wouldn’t go back. It’s a tough sell in a very traditional building, but I’m down for life.


I found kind of a kindred spirit last week when I swung by the library and picked up Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage. Of course I knew him from Mythbusters. I didn’t know a lot of his background as a creative person tho.

So when he busted out a Matrix – inspired outfit for a shoot near where some of the movie scenes took place, it was the culmination of a life – long interest and a comfortable fit. The knowing nods from the crew confirmed it.Savage Matrix

Tracing his journey, Savage notes that there are places that will feed your soul, and places that will drag you down. Sometimes you just have to learn what you can in a place, and move on to a less toxic environment.

But he did some of best work when surrounded by like-minded people.


So what does any of this look like in a classroom? Do you have to be 3D printing your own custom-designed mobile device stand? You can, of course, but maker mentality sometimes has more to do with designing (lessons, classroom layout, Canvas pages) than with crafting a tangible “thing”. I mean, what does a standing ladder rack have to do with teaching?

Ladder Rack

Savage has a term for it: First-Order Retrievability. He built this rack so he could see all of his hand tools at a glance, instead of having to dig through a drawer to find just the right tool. The classroom equivalent is assessing what tools I need on the daily, and making sure they are accessible with a minimum of search. Dry-erase markers, Ladibug doc cam, pen, pencil, handouts, passes? I knew a teacher in my first year who wore an actual toolbelt in class, with markers and calculator and eraser and passes all stowed neatly away.

My other takeaways:

 

  • Lists

Oh my goodness did we connect here.  Actually Mrs. Dull is the Queen of Lists, so it’s not a new concept for me. We both make lists to help us organize our work, but for slightly different reasons. I’m old enough to worry about being forgetful, so my list-making started on the last day of a school term – a list of everything that needed to be done to post grades, and everything that needed to be done to set myself up for the start of the next term. I didn’t want to walk out the door only to remember something vitally important in the midst of the evening rush on the Borman.

Next up was tackling the flow of Thanksgiving dinner. A list of everything I planned to serve, in the order I needed to start it, so that everything could go on the table at once.

Then Adam Savage introduced me to checkboxes.

And yeah, I’m kinda hooked.

 

  • Loose Tolerance

“Every maker needs to give themselves the space to screw up in the pursuit of perfecting a new skill or in learning something they’ve never tried before.” That sounds a little bit like the Teach Like A Pirate mantra, or maybe a quote from Julie Reulbach’s “You Are Enough” address to a group of math teachers. And that’s definitely part of it. Savage talks about how book learning and hands-on learning are both necessary – “Doing puts the kind of knowledge in your body that can only be gained by an iterative process”.

To Savage, this means giving yourself cushion with material. If the dress you are trying to make calls for four yards of fabric, buy eight or twelve. If you are making dinner for 20, buy enough to make 25. There’s room for screw-ups that way. In the classroom, maybe that means piloting some new tech on a low-key Friday with your students before you invite your admin to come watch you roll it out live.

Or being willing to be bad at Three-Act Math enough times to get good at it.

 

  • Use Cardboard

If you’ve got any familiarity at all with Adam Savage, you have probably guessed that he was that kid who saw a spaceship or a racecar or a knight in shining armor when he happened across a cardboard refrigerator box out on the curb. As a professional maker now he swears by cardboard as his “material of choice” for any kind of mock-up.  The concept goes hand-in-hand with loose tolerance. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton says the laptop is his “cardboard”. It gives him room to mess up. He went from animating & storyboarding to writing for Pixar. And that’s a little intimidating. But Joss Whedon gave him some advice: translate the movie you see in your head onto the page:

Cardboard

“I can be messy” seems like a pretty good teacher motto, since the best lessons rarely are on point from the first iteration. Class Motto since I learned to teach different: Be messy. Tweak it and try it again. Keep what works and throw out the rest.

 

  • Super-secret special tools

To Adam Savage, there is a class of tool you cannot buy – it can only be gifted to you by someone more experienced than you. As he says, “you must be lifted up to it by your maker community, by your collaborators and coworkers and clients.” A good idea, tool, or technique spreads through a shop with lightning speed. He tells how he crafted a dozen mini radar dishes for a set in Space Cowboys in a fraction of the time it would take to glue plastic strips together – it involved a acrylic and a laser cutter and a wooden bowl and a heat lamp.

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He said: “By the end of the day most of my coworkers made it past my desk to take a look at this new technique and figure out how they could incorporate it into their repertoire.”

I’m on a mini-crusade these days to find a way for the learning that happens at summer conferences to come back to my building in August. I’ve been pushing for a way for the teachers who present or attend to share what they’ve taught or learned with their colleagues. And on a wider scale, I can learn something from every teacher in my department, and probably from every teacher in all the rest of the departments. How do we carve out time to make that happen? I don’t know. But I bet you it would set the world on fire.

 

  • And, Oh, yeah, Sweep up your shop every day

Or as I like to say, I’m not leaving on Friday until I’m set up for Monday.


So what does “the maker mentality” look like for a teacher? Well, specifically for me as a teacher? I’ll cede the floor again to Adam Savage:

“…the deeper I got into the writing, the more wary I became of speaking from a position of authority because my talent lies not in my mastery of individual skills, at which I’m almost universally mediocre, rather in the combination of those skills into a toolbox of problem-solving that serves me in every area of my life.”

I’m not sure I’d sit on a chair that I built, but I put together a pretty wicked pot of gumbo for when we invited the bishop of the Diocese of Gary for dinner last Mardi Gras day. And I think I’ve gathered enough tools and techniques to create some learning opportunities in my classroom. Some of them were even kind of memorable. I got an email over the weekend from a student who found something she wanted to share with me, and with my classes next year:

And yeah, I’m definitely in favor of letting my kids help me fill my toolkit. They know me better than I know myself sometimes.

Matching Their Pace

 

We anticipated having to make pacing changes when we detracked Algebra 2 this year. Planned for it as a team all throughout last year, in fact.

But knowing it’s coming, and adjusting pace to match my students is two different things. My track 2 friends are grating at having to slow down and re-teach more often than they are used to. Meanwhile, I’ve been able to hit the throttle and open up the engines already, coming from a track 3 background.

Everyone on my team is veteran though. We’re staying on our toes, ready to call an audible in class based on our students’ needs.

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This week we wrapped up our foundations module with a day of solving word problems with algebra. I use the flipped class model, and as we reviewed notes at the start of class,  my students let me know right from the jump they did not feel real confident in their abilities: “How did you do that? Like, I don’t even know where to start!”

So we took a minute. Walked through an example from the notes, decoding the text, marking important information. But what my students really wanted to know was, how do you write an equation from all that mess?

My online PLN pretty much lives in my head these days. Now it’s time to lean on my people, in class, on the fly. I brought a little Jon Corippo (and his nachos analogy) with me as we talked making dinner. The Protein – Veggie – Starch framework that we all follow when plating up dinner. Could we look for a model that fits the information in the word problem?

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So lets break it down. I showed how we went from concrete to abstract with a verbal model template and an algebraic model over the top.

Then I offered a choice – we could do some pencil/paper math (I had a short practice set ready to go), or we could try… something different. I had tipped them to three-act math in the video notes for the section. What if we did that for real, in class, right now?

Let’s roll. Let’s do Social Math.

So on to the Taco Cart.

Taco Cart Snip

I knew we were on to something when they called out pythagorean theorem unprompted to calculate Ben’s walking distance. And then started doing the math. We compared methods as students determined walking time (some were very formal, writing out d = rt, showing work, doing dimensional analysis (!) and canceling units. Others were a little more back-of-the-envelope, insisting they could just divide (Why?).

We had math fights and we had people working together and we had people laying math on top of their common sense and we had a big reveal.

‘Cuz, you know, students cheer while watching a video in class, like, every day, right?

And: we had students leaving my classroom that day feeling like they were pretty good at math.

So that was cool.


In my first five years of teaching, I’d have never done that. I wouldn’t have known enough to change gears completely. I didn’t have the tools, or the experience. We’d have done more stand & deliver examples (Including me asking them afterwards “Does that make sense?”, and them nodding back at me, lying), more review pages, more me talking.

I’m glad somewhere along the line I learned a better way. The experience to recognize my students need and to recognize the right tool at the right time, its just priceless. They did all the work to figure out if Ben or Dan would get tacos first. I just sat back and watched the magic happen. OK, I asked a question or two along the way, but you know what I’m saying.

We talked recognizing patterns today during the notes review. I told them once you crack the code, algebra is pretty much all angel choirs singing and duckies and bunnies and rainbows and unicorns.

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OK, maybe not really.

But It’s pretty damn sweet when you get to watch students realize they can do things they didn’t think they could do.


 

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: Ditch That Homework (Part II)

(Part I here)

“As you will find… there is often a number of solutions to any given problem.”


 

Alice Keeler and Matt Miller propose an alternate solution to the problem of homework. In their book Ditch That Homework, they lay out their reasons for making a change:

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Via Alice Keeler

I’d bet that anyone who has taught for any time at all would be hard-pressed to argue against these points. So, OK, parents, teachers, students all have their issues with homework, but can we really just walk into class tomorrow and go “No homework tonight! Or, ever!” and not change anything else?

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Ditching the textbook isn’t an act, it’s a state of mind. Same with Ditching Homework. It’s not “OK kids, snapchat each other and scroll your Twitter feeds for 45 minutes. See ya tomorrow!” We’re talking about a philosophy, a mindset, of redesigning everything in the service of teaching and learning. To quote the authors:

“If we want to develop well-rounded human beings, higher quality assignments are a step in the right direction.”

My school is going 1:1 this year. There’s no better time to make the move to a full-on student-centered classroom, making use of technology and good pedagogy to eliminate traditional drill-and-kill homework.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean my students will never practice math. They’ve made it quite clear to me that they need reps to learn the skills in Algebra II. I just want to make the most of our time together in class, in school, to give them as much support in that effort as I can.


 

I committed to reading this book as a skeptic. I wanted Miller & Keeler to sell me. That lasted like a day. Less that 24 hours after I started reading, I’m sitting in the waiting room at my son’s doctor all nodding my head and going “yep” every two minutes.

The Why wasn’t an issue, as I addressed in Part I. I was (and am) way more interested in the How. Miller suggests easing into Ditching Homework, a bit at a time, and the next thing you know, it’s gone. But I want to be able to be up front with my students and their parents about what I’m doing. And that means having my strategies in place on Day One.

Parent communication is big with Miller & Keeler. They recognize that parents can be your best friend when they’re on your side. And you want them on your side. The authors went to the extreme of creating a Parent/Guardian Contact Log in Google Sheets for readers to use. Nice touch.


 

So what’s the secret? Miller & Keeler ask teachers to build relationships with students and parents, leverage brain science, encourage students to own their own learning, and to commit to giving timely and useful feedback. In other words, I already have the pieces in place. I just need to use the right tools in the right order at the right time.

One tactic presented in the book is the “in-class flip”. By making use of a learning management system such as Google Classroom or Canvas, teachers can publish a playlist of tutorial videos that students can use to get up to speed. By using Screencast-O-Matic or Screencastify, teachers can actually record their own notes in video form to include in the playlist. Thus teachers can use tech to provide a support for struggling students. Combined with intentionally created groups, students can use the resources at hand to help themselves while the teacher makes the rounds to provide assistance and feedback.

As an added bonus, the teacher gets a chance to sit with every student, albeit briefly, every day. Instant relationship-building opportunity.

In my experience, by using intentional student groups, teachers can also make use of the “You Do – Y’All Do – We Do” method of lesson design. Students are given a chance to work individually, then meet in small group to compare work and push the ball forward, then the teacher convenes the whole group for additional notes, as needed.

I think this is the lynchpin that makes the whole thing work. Turning a 50 minute class inside out: more student talk and student work, less of students sitting passively while the teacher fills the air with words.


 

Another tool the authors recommend for building relationships with students is using a “student survey”. A great example is the Teacher Report Card used by Matt Vaudrey (link to copy for your Drive here). Students are brutally honest (you may have noticed this). But it’s worthwhile knowing how your students think your class could be better (most of us are our own worst critic, but sometimes we don’t see things as others see them), and then using acting on those suggestions. I’ve done it via Google Form and as a class discussion. It was totally, totally worth it.


 

I’m as addicted to my phone as anyone else. When I want to sit and concentrate on a task, such as reading, I’ll put my phone in another room. Yet still, as I was reading Ditch That Homework the other night, Mrs. Dull caught me in the midst of a deep thought, lost across the room. Her question, “what are you thinking about?” was legit. I was making a deep connection between an Alice Keeler anecdote and events in my own teaching career. Had I waited until finishing this book to ponder, that immediate hook would have evaporated.

Keeler & Miller recommend using what we know about brain science to improve our students’ learning. As an example, what I did in the anecdote above is an example of “retrieval”. I stopped reading, and made a cognitive connection. What does this look like in class? Could be Think-Pair-Share with a shoulder partner, the “Y’All Do” portion of the lesson intro where students share out what they’ve discovered with their group, a summary question or statement as part of Cornell Notes or an exit ticket, or a spiral review. Restating the information helps cement the learning.

The authors are also large fans of movement – using physical activity to stimulate thinking. This could be an Instagram stroll where students seek out “math in the real world”, snap it, and describe what they see in the caption. Maybe include a class hashtag? With one of my most challenging algebra I classes, I would occasionally instigate a 5-minute dance party at the outset of class before taking a quiz. That was a tough one to explain to my dean as he walked into my classroom while I pounded out a beat on a table while ten of my students were rapping and dancing around the perimeter of the room. To his credit, he got it. He knew what I was trying to do by letting students blow off some steam.

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The chapters “Ditch Those Habits (cited above)” and “Ditch That Remediation” alone are probably worth the cost of the book.

Keeler points out that “Ditch That Remediation” is the longest chapter in the book.  Here’s where the rubber meets the road as far as helping students own their learning through improved study skills, research skills, and critical thinking skills.

If you handed me a pile of cash and told me to spend it in one place for my former district, I would have walked the money to the offices of AVID. It was 2000 miles, and I’m not even kidding. The program was in place at my first school, and it was worth twice whatever we paid for it. When I had students coming to my class before school ,after school, at lunch, asking for help… I thought “No big deal. Of course, all students are like this”. Nope. My next 13 years of teaching disabused me of that notion. The kids in the program learned study skills, including Cornell Notes and how to get help from teachers outside of class. The improvement for my AVID kids vs. the rest of my enrollment was noticeable.

In addition to note-taking skills, we can offer students a chance to create, either by expressing what they’ve learned in a new way such as a video, e-book, or electronic poster; or by creating questions about what they’ve learned. An example of that from my classes is DIY Kahoot. After learning how to make good distractors for a multiple-choice exercise, students groups made their own Kahoot questions for a chapter on graphing linear functions. I gathered up the questions, made a Kahoot, and we played the game the next day in class. As I said at the time: “Are my Track 3 kids learning Algebra? They’re trying, which is what I ask. Are we having fun? Oh, hell yeah.”

Probably the biggest challenge for most teachers is offering opportunities for critical thinking. We take the math word problems labeled “real-world” and hand them to the students like we’re doing them a favor. Keeler points out that most textbook word problems are very formulaic. “Follow these steps and you’ll get an answer”. Bad. If you’ve seen Dan Meyer’s TED Talk “Math Class Needs A Makeover” you know what she’s talking about.

Meyer famously promotes a style of lesson design known as Three-act Math. The idea is to ratchet up the Depth Of Knowledge (DOK) of our work in class. As Keeler says, “note-taking is DOK 0“. How do we give our students a chance to think critically?

DOK Infographic
Alice Keeler calls DOK a “Bloom’s Taxonomy for critical thinking.”

The series of themed bellringers I used the last couple of years lived in DOK 3, where students were making claims, explaining their thinking, and justifying their answers.

My last big takeaway is the idea of students “owning their learning”. I’m reminded of a student in my first year of teaching whose IEP allowed him to decide when he was done with homework. If I assigned 30 problems and he felt like he got it after doing 5, well then, he was done, and I was to accept that as complete.

If that sounds unfair, it’s been awhile since you sat in front of an insanely long algebra problem set.

In a relatively early light-bulb moment, I backed off of homework for my algebra classes a few years into my career. I’d assign 10-15 problems, enough for them (and me) to know if they “got it”. I wasn’t trying to kill ’em with math. Overall, it was a good move. The ones that understood the skill didn’t have to spend an hour on needless repetition, and the ones that didn’t grasp the skill weren’t gonna try all the problems anyway.

Is there a chance my students are mature enough to know when they’re done, and to know when they need more practice? Yeah. Is there a chance they’ll blow it all off and do nothing? Yep. It’s worth giving them the opportunity to try it out. All of us scraped a knee and an elbow up before we got good at riding a bike.

My hope is that MyMathLab can provide opportunities for extension & differentiation. I can make a self-paced, self checking assignment, put it in my students’ queue, with instructions to work on it until they are confident in their skills.

This as much as anything sums up the “Ditch That Homework” ethos: students own their own learning. They get help when they need it in class, have an opportunity to do engaging, meaningful activities in class, and understand the math skills at a deep level. And isn’t that what we wanted “homework” to do in the first place?


 

So in unpacking Ditch That Homework, I see from my own 14 years in the classroom that I have the tools in place to be able to re-invent my classroom with my students in mind. The addition of on-demand laptop/chromebook use means we can make use of Desmos or Excel or a Google search at the drop of a hat. And that I can build in the meaningful activities that used to require reserving a computer cart from the library (hit-or-miss proposition sometimes).

I love teaching. I don’t love how I ran my class sometimes. If you think endless worksheets and multiple choice tests make students miserable, check on their teachers sometimes. This is a much more enjoyable way to do school.

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I’m sold.

It Is…. Alive!

Subtitle: Making A Franken-Teacher, One Piece At A Time.

Image in the Public Domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Nobody asked me, but if you want my Mt. Rushmore of Broadcasting, here it is:

Harry Caray. Pat Foley. Wayne Larrivee. Scott Ferrall.

These were the guys I loved to listen to as a sports fan, and as a young broadcaster. Caray and Foley are members of the Broadcast Wing of the Halls of Fame for their respective sports, Larrivee will be an HOFer too, and Farrell, well, he’s Farrell. Nobody worth his credential intentionally tries to copy another broadcaster’s style. It would sound phony and fake and derivative. But I’d be lying if I said these guys haven’t seeped into my consciousness. Listen to me call a game sometime, you’ll hear a little bit of each sprinkled in my style.

Last week I was keeping a eye on the #INeLearn twitter chat while doing my prep work for my football broadcast the next night. Truly, I was trying to prioritize my time and just follow along with the brilliant Indiana teachers who hang out together and share ideas on Thursday nights. Mrs. Dull already thinks I have an unhealthy addiction to Teacher Twitter.

She’s probably right.

So the subject last week was “Leading and Reflecting”, and the topic turned to blogs.

I don’t think I had given the answer to this question a lot of thought before, but with the chips on the table, there it was. Then I sat back and thought for a minute (latent beer/music hipster BS coming next….) wait a minute. Doesn’t everybody already know these guys (and girl)? I mean, shouldn’t I bring something new and fresh to the table?  Then: wait another minute. Like 4% of the Internet is on Twitter. I don’t know what percent of teachers read blogs about their practice, but based on my experience it’s probably not a huge number. So maybe people do need to know this group of teachers. I sure did.

So: Why those five?

I realized, I was looking at pieces of the teacher I’m trying to be. Again, I didn’t set out to copy anybody. One of my mentor teachers, Rod Vollan at Cimarron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas, used to say that you need to find your “charism” – to figure out your thing as a teacher. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I couldn’t be him. And not in a bad way, just that I had to let my own personality shine through in the classroom.

So maybe some confirmation bias is at play here. I knew the things I thought I needed to do to make this teaching thing work out, and in my travels as I encountered people on the same journey, I tended to gravitate back to their blogs and to adopt their methods. Not that it went all that smoothly at first:

My early attempts at Three-Act Math tasks were kind of rocky. But I’ve gotten better. Due in no small part to the fact that a guy who has ignited NCTM and been featured on Good Morning America and has 41000 twitter followers took time to respond to my tweet with some simple advice.

It was the living definition of a low barrier to entry. It’s Meyer’s teaching style in a nutshell: create perplexity, hit them in the curiosity gland with a question that students beg you to have answered; then let them do the figuring to get the answer. Provide some guidance, and let them find their way.


Not long afterwards, I was co-teaching a class that had a high population of students with IEPs. We decided we needed to be much more student-centered if we were going to have any chance of creating an atmosphere where learning could occur. Fortunately, I had been reading the f(t) blog faithfully for a while. (Suggested sub-title: “From Inside The Powerhouse Mind Of Kate Nowak”). I’d used review methods such as Speed Dating, (see above) and the great Spiky Door Project in geometry, but where things really started to cook is when I started making my own openers for lessons. The inspiration was pure k8. I’d already decided that discovery had to be a huge part of whatever we did, and here was a teacher who had pretty much raised it to an art form, and was reflective about it, to boot.


 

Meyer won instant credibility with me because he taught kids who hate math and hate school. My People. A few years later, I stumbled across a tweet from another guy who probably would find himself right at home if he wandered into my classroom.

Justin Aion is in his third year of blogging every single day about his teaching. Pretty much the Mike Royko of the #MTBoS. When you blog every single day, you can’t hide anything. Your class is an open book. The good and the bad is all right there in front of God and neighborhood. If it’s not, what’s the point of writing it? Here’s a guy who is upfront when everything crashes and burns.

But Aion has learned something that it took me years of frustration to finally figure out: Getting frustrated with teenagers doing teenager things is pretty much part of the job description, but being a jerk back to a 15-year-old is definitely optional. Aion sees his students as human beings first, and treats them that way. Even when they punch every button on the control panel.


 

Turkey Run State Park. Stunningly Beautiful. You really had no idea that part of Indiana looks like this right? Also, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Image via Indiana DNR. http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/images/sp-turkey-banner.jpg

Imagine you are the only world language teacher in your small rural high school. You could punch a clock every day, pick up a textbook, hand out worksheets, and shrug your shoulders.

Or you could knock down some walls. That’s Matt Miller in a nutshell. He blogs at Ditch That Textbook, authored a book of the same name, and presents around the country. With tech tools ubiquitous, Miller saw that he could completely re-imagine the way he taught his class in a way that would engage his students. This always sounded like a fantastic idea to me. I wanted to expand the world for my students, I was just never sure where to start. And not working in a 1:1 technology school, I wasn’t sure I had the tools.  Sometimes, I just need somebody to explain it me like I’m ten years old. With examples.

Plus, he’s a Google Certified Teacher willing to share and help.

Bonus in my book.


The other teacher tagged in that tweet is doing cool things at 1000 mph.

He’s young enough to have a built-in advantage at engaging with his students, but that’s also just his personality. One of my students called me a Man-Child the other day. I think it was supposed to be a compliment. We had just started our Friday Fun with “Friday” and “Never Gonna Give You Up” while they did a Self-Assessment for the week, and I think some of my students still aren’t sure how to take that, coming from someone as, um, old as I am.

So he’s having fun in class, and it spills over into lessons that are so flippin’ cool I swear the kids don’t even know what hit ’em until they look up and found out they learned something.

We did Big Shark in Algebra 1A one day. One of my students actually said, “That’s a big-ass shark.” My finest moment. I was ready to retire on the spot.

So, yeah, the people I hang out with online (some would say “stalk” –  such an ugly term) are having an effect on me. And on my teaching.

Low Barrier To Entry. Discovery. Treating Kids Like Human Beings. Busting Down Walls. Having Fun.

One of these days, I might actually be good at this job. But only because I learn from people who are already good at this job.