Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kids Speak: Good Teacher v. GREAT Teacher

The curriculum I teach might be history, but teaching is about a heck of a lot more than curriculum.  More than anything else, building a real relationship with students is what facilitates learning.  In case I needed a reminder, my newest students for the 2014-2015 school year did a great job talking about those meaningful relationships with teachers in their first blog post of the year.

On the first day of school we watched a video in which a series of teachers and administrators talked about the hard fact that every child deserves a great teacher.  As part of their first blog post I asked students to talk about teachers they've had in the past that have been "great" and to give reasons.  Here are some of their awesome answers:

A great teacher must also be compassionate so they take outside factors into consideration. For example. if a student is having a rough time at home the teacher understands and makes necessary adjustments to help through that issue.

One specific thing that you could do for me this year is to really get to know me.  I really appreciate it when a teacher is very understanding with me and knows who I am. I have survived a lot and it is so welcoming when a teacher shows support for his or her student because the student feels appreciated.

Some qualities that a great teacher has are humor, kindness, patience, and being able to relate to students.

Sure, some kids mentioned that great teachers assign very little homework, or that great teachers crack jokes all the time.  But what they really want is for a teacher to make their homework meaningful, manageable, and worth their precious over-scheduled time.  And for teachers to understand that humor goes a long way to building that real relationship.  After reading through all 116 posts from title to final punctuation, one particular piece of media embedded into one particular post stood out as the common theme among all students.  So, I tweeted it out.
Clearly the educators in my PLN agree.  With 77 retweets and 45 favorites to date, it is the most far-reaching tweet I've ever posted in my 5 and a half years on Twitter.

While building this kind of relationship with some students is easy, it is harder with others.  And, how can one person build a real relationship with 116 different individual struggling teenagers after seeing each of them for only 55 minutes a day for 180 days?  This year I'm experimenting with a new idea.
I didn't just post the idea to Twitter, I sent home an email to parents. Here's the excerpt:


I even put it up nice and big on Monday's class agenda and announced my intentions to the kids in all 5 of my classes.  Before we jumped into the day's lesson on museum exhibits from the Industrial Revolution, I talked with the kids about my hopes for these meetings.



It won't be easy, but after tweeting it out to my PLN, emailing it home to all parents, announcing it to my students, and now posting it publicly to my blog -- I'm committed and I will hold myself accountable.  I know that a relationship can't be built with 4 meetings a year, but at least these meetings can be the start of a real conversation.  If even one or two of the 2014-2015 #gallagherhistory crew scores me among "great" teachers, it will have been worth it for sure.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Creating a Place for Students to Create

Public education is changing.  But change is slow when new programs, ideas, or teaching methods don't fit into existing structures.

Last spring I proposed a Student Help Desk program for our high school.  My hope was for students to have the opportunity to create tutorials that would help teachers and students integrate BYOD more smoothly and successfully at our school.  See, I don't believe in tech for tech's sake.  But our students are already bringing incredibly powerful smartphones and tablets to school, so why not teach them to leverage that power to enhance their academic experience?  BYOD can help students:

This is how professionals are getting things done, so why shouldn't our students be working this way in the classroom as preparation for their professional lives as adults?

The problem is that this idea - having students create the school programming without a highly structured curriculum already in place - doesn't fit into a public school where teachers and students are told they have to meet standards and follow frameworks.  It also did not fit nicely into our schedule or our academic departments. It isn't really a business class and I'm a history teacher.  Science? Nope.  Health and Wellness? Nope.  At first it was a tough sell.

Thanks to some supportive and forward-thinking allies, after several drafts this is the proposal that was accepted:

8-1-14 RMHS SHD Pilot Proposal.pdf


Rockets Help Desk started meeting the second day of school and, based on an early teacher request, the kids settled on their first tutorial topic: digital note keeping in Evernote.

Click the screenshot to see the students' first public tutorial.
We still don't really fit into any of those public school categories.  I'm still teaching my 5 history classes and am facilitating Rockets Help Desk instead of a traditional duty (like lunch or hall monitor).  Even though the students are working hard and are producing authentic products that are meant to help their school community, they aren't getting credit... just yet.  They are choosing to use directed study time, traditionally used by students to help with the crush of homework, to build something new for our school.  Also, we don't really have a home yet. We are operating out of the library media center for now, a great central location in the school.  But don't have our own computers or a guaranteed quiet space for recording audio and video.  For now, the kids are using my laptop and their own BYOD devices to make it work.  It is working, though! We are making it work together.

I'm hoping to support the kids by publicizing their work via Twitter and through an in-house e-newsletter so that teachers and students at our school can benefit.  As the year goes on I'm hoping to hand over more and more control of Rockets Help Desk to the kids.  My early members, Julia and Megan, can become mentors for students we recruit in the future.  Over time we can grow into a program that helps students and teachers communicate about how we can learn best together.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five Strategies for #EdTech Success in the New School Year

Check out my latest article in EdSurge for these tested and proven strategies.  I've used them myself! Thanks so much for reading.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Set-Up Students for #EdTech Success in Week 1

Here's my plan to set up my students for the content, collaboration, and creativity that technology will allow in our (ironically) history classroom:

Day 1: Inform Students and Parents

  • It will all start when I show students this video from November Learning to spell out my mission: give them to tools to be doers.

  • Next I'll let students know that every final creation they produce will be published to the world, not just to me. They need to make it relevant and interesting. More importantly, it needs to be something they are proud to connect with their name online.
  • Of course, I'll send home electronic and paper notices (the first and last paper notice of the year) to parents to let them know the same information and to assure them that they will have full access to all of their child's class materials and work in real time.  Grade data will also be available online, but with password protection.
  • Sharing my own published work with both parents and students is essential. The goal is to let them know I walk the talk. I'll encourage them to check in on my blog, Twitter feed, LinkedIn or any other social network contributions I make. I have been and will be modeling the power of publishing to the world.

Day 2: Start Publishing

  • Once again, I'll show students my blog. It's meant to model and encourage kids to share their learning with the world, too.
  • Students will start a new blog or share the URL of their existing blog with me. I'll provide only minimal suggestions and resources needed to do this but no step-by-step instructions.  Then, I'll watch to see how they cope. Do they turn to me? Each other? Their phones? How do they accomplish the task? Once I've seen how they already know how to use technology, I will know where we will be starting together. These blogs will be the central location for publishing their final creations and I'll subscribe using Feedly.
  • Before leaving, the kids will start to write a one paragraph reflection of their experience in class. What did they already know about blogs? Did they already have one? Was the process of creating one and getting it up and running fun? Frustrating?  If necessary they can finish up at home.

Day 3: Problem Solving

  • They will get started on important web literacy activities from resources like a Google a Day to teach them how to search and problem solve together using the boundless resources available online.  I think I might even make a Google a Day into a contest between 5 teams of students in each class.
  • When the teams have all done their thing, I'll ask how many of them noticed this little helpful pop-up:
Click here to see it for yourself!

  • Tonight their post will be about the struggles and thrills of the competition. They will write what they learned about working together, about their own strengths when combined with their classmates strengths. They will write about what they learned of how to really harness the power of the information available online.

Days 4 & 5: Apply

  • Now that they've learned that the web and their classmates are powerful resources, we will really dive into our curriculum. I'll give each student one of 5 a document excerpts. They'll have to find out which classmates have the same documents and then work together to do the sourcing using just their newly found skills and their mobile devices.
  • Each group will carry out the sourcing, create a quick presentation, share it with the class. Together we will look for commonalities between the sources and see if we can develop an essential question for the unit. I suspect this process will take 2 class periods, but I wouldn't be surprised if they end up working on it overnight even without an explicit assignment for me, since they will be accountable to their group mates and classmates in the end.
Check out SHEG for more resources.

  • A blog post following this will include their presentation, either embedded or in the form of images, and a reflection of what they learned about the history and significance of the primary sources by going through this process.

By the end of our first week... 

students will have learned that they are in charge of their learning, they are powerful enough to find out anything they want to know, they can work together to solve problems, they will have created something new and important about a historical document, and published their creation to the world.

By the end of our first week... 

I will have read three separate writings from each of my 125 students. I will know how they are feeling about their first history classes, about investigating historical evidence, and about creating and publishing to the world.  More importantly, I will have read their writing and seen their creations. This is just the beginning of the incredible skills they'll build this year. (So exciting I can barely stand it.)

Not bad for week 1, right?

How will you set your students up for #EdTech success?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Are These Really "Atrocities"?

Chris Jordan is a photographer and artist making bold statements with images.

At about the 7 minute 30 second mark he calls the statistics surrounding prescription drug consumption, imprisonment, and breast augmentation surgeries "atrocities" in our culture. Is he right?  Since I teach teenage girls and see their daily struggles (not to mention that I vividly remember my own), the stats on breast augmentation surgeries for women under the age of 21, and given as a gift for high school graduation.... well, I'm not sure what to say.

Once we have gotten past our first five days and students have set up their initial tech, critical research, and analysis skills; I'd really love to dive into history with these images of today's statistics.  The lesson is that we have arrived at this place because of our history.  My job is to teach kids the history and to help them understand how it affected the present.  Their job is to help create change that will move us in a positive direction.  The people who came before us were not bad, but they were not aware the way we are.

School is meant to create better people who can think about the world's problems in new ways. We educators should not be indoctrinating a method of thinking. We should be inviting kids to create new ways of thinking.  I saw this last week on the iSchool Initiative tour bus and it really sets the mission of modern education:


How do we help our children understand that we and they are tasked with shifting our culture?  How do we get them to think in terms of "better" instead of "more"?

For more of Jordan's powerful work please visit his blog at Running the Numbers and Running the Numbers IIExperience the images. Read the corresponding statistic and click to see the picture zoom in or out to give you a true sense of the numbers.

Note: This post was inspired by coursework from Primary Source, Inc.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Leaders Communicate, Plan, and Act Together

During our final day of the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Student Leadership Institute, BOLT students learned about the importance of communication, planning, and working with others. A leader does not have to be the smartest person in the room, just the person that can recognize others' talents and figure out how those talents will help everyone reach their goals.

On Thursday afternoon one of our last activities, facilitated by Christian Huizenga, was aimed at teaching the kids to communicate and plan before attacking a problem.  Their hands were tied together with yarn and then intertwined with someone else. They had to find a way out.

We kicked off Friday morning with MouseQuest in Epcot.  Continuing the theme of thinking and acting together, students worked in groups of 6-7 to solve clues, find answers, complete tasks, and answer challenges all morning. They had to take on roles within their groups based on their strengths.

We celebrated with a group picture in front of Spaceship Earth.
After returning to the Grand Floridian Conference Center the kids got a chance to learn about the way technology can make communication and problem-solving as a group even better through the iSchool Initiative and their tour bus on the #DLRTour.  Our hope is that students will bring these ideas back home and use the power of the mobile devices they already own in school to amplify their academic experiences.


BOLT Middle School Facilitators Johnny Calder & Jason Fulmer on the iSchool bus.

Finally, Friday afternoon closed with our BOLT student leaders learning from the former Commander in Chief what being a leader is all about.


President Bush's message to the kids about being true to themselves and to the people who love them will certainly serve them well as they embark on their leadership journeys after returning home from BOLT in Disney World.  (To read more about our guest, click here!) He even took the time for group and individual pictures.

After a brief awards ceremony our time with the future leaders of BOLT was over. I'm looking forward to hearing from all of them about how they are deploying their visions of leadership in their schools, churches, and communities and I hope to see many of them again next year in Disney World at the 2015 BRSOE Summer Leadership Institute.  Amazingly, I've already heard from one student who conquered a fear she's had for a while before she event left Walt Disney World. I know she, and all of the other students I worked with this week, are destined for greatness!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Student Leaders & the American Spirit

Our BOLT student leaders embarked on a new adventure with the YES program in the Magic Kingdom this morning.  They visited the Hall of Presidents and learned about how leaders have helped shaped the American Spirit.  Four core sources of the American Spirit were the focus:
  • optimism
  • determination
  • rugged individualism
  • courage
After a day full of investigations, brainstorming, and creating, I put together this video about their latest ideas of leadership.