Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Attending an Edu Conference With my Students Changed Everything

Tessa and Melanie talk about how apps
like Evernote and Google Drive make
organization and collaboration so
much easier for them.
Our students make us laugh, drive us crazy, and inspire us to better ourselves.  They shouldn't just be the reason we teach, they should be a part of the teaching.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to present at MassCUE with 6 of my current and former students.  Watching them present was a proud moment, but it wasn't my favorite moment of the conference.  I knew they would blow the presentation out of the water. I knew they had prepared well and that their session attendees would learn something.  The BEST part of my day was watching them experience, learn, and network because of the unofficial opportunities the conference creates.


My students had met members of the Burlington High School Help Desk via Google Hangout a couple of times thanks to the vision and urging of Jennifer Scheffer.  Meeting face to face, talking tech, and planning for future brilliance took their networking experience to a whole new level.  They were buzzing with excitement as they shared hot chocolate and ideas.


When the Rockets Help Desk crew decided to go to Reshan Richards' session on his vision and creation of Explain Everything, they didn't find seats and sit politely to listen. The found some carpet on the back wall and played around with the app as they listened to his ideas about learning and creating.  For them, experiencing a workshop as an edtech conference is about more than receiving information.  They needed to create their own understanding as it was happening.

Connecting with the Experts

After listening to Reshan Richards and trying out his tool, the girls were excited and ready to build something new.  They wanted to talk with him and arrange for more time to pick his brain.  I encouraged them to walk from the back wall up to the front.  They introduced themselves, told him why they love Explain Everything, and asked if he would be willing to do a Google Hangout so they could carry on the conversation. He said, "Yes!" and even gave them Explain Everything t-shirts.  They are so eager to build a relationship with this influential and visionary educator in a real and authentic way.  I can't imagine how far this will take them.

The kids are chomping at the bit to go to another conference.  So my new mission is to connect them with conferences and opportunities to share their ideas and create new ideas with educators and experts.

I can't wait to see what they do.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Teaching Technique: The 1 Minute Throwdown

History teachers know that lessons on exciting events are easy.  It's teaching the philosophies behind those events, the intangibles, that is tough.  I needed a quick engaging plan to help the kids learn the material without watching them glaze over before my eyes.

This time I was teaching the 19th century ideologies that influenced the European Revolutions of 1830 and 1848: conservatism, liberalism, nationalism.  My plan was for the kids to come up with their best 1 minute presentation and go head-to-head with one another to find out who could best explain their ideology while entertaining their audience. Classmates would vote for the winners.

Day 1

  1. Define the word ideology and give students resources that describe the three 19th century ideologies.
  2. There are 3 ideologies in this instance, so I divided the class up into 6 groups: 2 groups per ideology.
  3. Groups read the resources and come up with an accurate, teacher-approved answer to the essential question: What were the major political ideologies of 19th century Europe and how did they influence social and political action?

Day 2

  1. Groups review their notes from Day 1 and start planning their 1 minute presentation for the throwdown.
  2. Once a plan is in place, groups show me their scripts, images, props, and sketches so I can ensure that everything is historically accurate.  
  3. The 1 minute presentation must be recorded, saved, and ready for the throwdown before students leave class.

Day 3

  1. Throwdown Day!
  2. Groups perform/play their 1 minute project.
  3. The rest of the class tries to arrive at a definition of the ideology.  This definition is approved or edited by the performing groups.
  4. The class votes for the best 1 minute projects!
1 minute projects that resulted varied from Common Craft style videos, to live skits, to appsmashed projects that blew my socks off.  Here were our winners from today:






Click here to watch an appsmashed video made with ChatterPix and Videolicious.


My students demonstrate their learning by posting reflective and informative blog posts using Blogger.  Here is the assignment for posting on this lesson.

While this lesson might not be considered "fun" from a teenage perspective, it definitely had them laughing and trash-talking a bit. They had a stake in producing a high quality result because they knew they would show it to classmates and compete.  They also liked that they have a lot of choice over what the final product would be.  Over ten different apps were used by the groups, and some used no apps at all to put together their live skit performances.  This teaching method could be used to help kids learn about political parties, economic concepts, constitutional principles, and lots of other intangible but essential concepts that are part of history.  Give it a shot and have fun!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Student Connect -> Teacher Connect

Some educators from my amazing PLN from #BFC530 created an off-shoot group called Student Connect. We have a Voxer group that allows our students to leave messages for one another from across the country.  Lisa's 11th and 12th graders in Pennsylvania can talk to my 9th and 10th graders in Massachusetts can talk to Scott's 7th graders in New Jersey can talk to Sarah's 7th and 8th graders in Georgia can talk to Becca's K through 5 students in Texas.

We come up with the question for each day and the kids talk to each other about their answers.  They LOVE listening to voices of kids from all around the country thank to Voxer.  They laughed together when eating waffles was mentioned as a fun weekend activity.  They shook their heads together when the stress of the PSATs was mentioned.  One of my sophomores said, "It's nice to know they're the same as us."

Day 1 Question: What do all kids want every teacher to know?

Becca used a table as a surface for kids to write their answers. I decided to do the same after she gave me the idea!

Day 1 Responses:

Here are the responses from classrooms all around the country and from students as young as 5 and as old as 18.

Lack of sleep was a major theme.

Day 2 Question: Happy Friday! What are you looking forward to this weekend?

Day 2 Responses:

Sleep appears again! Boy, these kids are stressed.

In a post from earlier this school year I wrote about how my students have a common wish for all their teachers: Get to know us!

This message came through loud and clear once again.  They also want us to understand what part of their crazy schedules they value the most.  They are overbooked, overtaxed, and seriously lacking sleep.  At the same time, they want time to focus on the things they are passionate about.

In fact, in a one-on-one meeting with a 10th grader I had this afternoon, she vented about how stressed out she was and about how all the adults in her life expect a full commitment to school/sports/arts/etc.  Her statements was, "I get commitment but I don't get obsession."

That certainly made sense to me.

I don't want this new addition to my classes to be another project to pile on top. Instead I want it to be something that makes kids feel like there are others out there who understand how they feel.

I can't wait to hear more from my students and my friends' students from all around the country.  When they hear each other speaking they feel connected, and when I see them getting excited about this new unofficial project of ours, I feel more connected to them. One sophomore said to me. "I like walking into your room, seeing the question on your desk, and writing my ideas before we get started with class."  That sweet spot, where we all feel like someone is listening to our voice, that's where the learning happens.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Paperless Love

I was honored to be invited by Dr. Will Deyamport, III to write a post with my students about our experience with a paperless classroom.  The link is below.  Please read and comment! Thanks Dr. Will!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Massachusetts Classroom Gets Global

How global is Massachusetts?  Well, the infographic below might be helpful.  But, the real question we need to ask is: How global are Massachusetts classrooms that are preparing Massachusetts students?
See more statistics on global education around the United States at Mapping the Nation
I'm just at the beginning stages of this new pedagogy of global learning. I wish I'd arrived at it sooner.  Last week my sophomores had a 45 minute video chat with the expert historians Jamie and Darren at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England.

After studying the evolution of textile machinery, they got to see a prototype Arkwright Water Frame live via Google Hangout.

They learned about urbanization, the health of women factory workers, Luddite protests, and the enslavement of orphan children.

After being part of an international chat, my students wrote about what they learned and how it was different than typical classroom experiences.

Kate said:
I did learn a lot because I was interested in the topic and could interact with the person who was teaching. I liked that we could see him actually touch the machines and turn them on so it could be demonstrated the way it worked [sic]. The only thing that was bad when how the sound and picture were getting delayed. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

Cassie talked about everything she learned, including the horrible treatment of orphans:
The mill owners didn't care very much about the conditions of their workers and fatalities because they just cared about their profits. They even used orphans as workers so they wouldn't have to pay them.  All they had to do was feed them and give them a place to sleep.

Perhaps Alisyn said it best:
This was a very memorable event, and a few months from now I will remember this unique opportunity and the information about the factories much more than I would have remembered it if we had just copied notes or listened to a lecture. .. The experience got us engaged in the information, and I would definitely want to do this with other experts on different topics throughout the year.

My new challenge as a teacher is to keep my students connected to the outside world. If I'm preparing them for a global workforce, they must be learning globally now. Real life doesn't happen inside the 4 walls of a classroom.

...Not to mention that I couldn't help but get caught up in the fun myself.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The World is Our Classroom

During the school year of 2013-2014 I had a goal of helping my students understand the power of their mobile devices when it comes to learning.  I achieved this, in part, by going paperless in my classroom and asking students to demonstrate learning through multimedia products instead of tests.  Inspired by Sylvia Tolisano's session at BLC14 in Boston, one of my personal and professional goals during the 2014-2015 school year is to show students that the best learning happens when we leverage all of the resources available to us.  While I might be their history teacher, I'm usually not the person with the most expertise available. In fact, the world is available to my students.  They just have to tap into it.

This week my students will be meeting and talking with Jamie, an Explainer at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England.
Jamie from MOSI Manchester.
My sophomores have worked hard to learn the proper terminology and the social and economic impact of industrialization in preparation for the chat.  I'll be sure to post soon about how it went and about the kids' reactions.

Our next unit covers the revolutions for independence in Central and South America in the early 1800s.  The beginning of the unit focuses on the system to racism and the intentional divisions that were created and perpetuated in Central and South American colonial socio-economic systems.

Casta system from Museo Nacional del Virreinato
A pyramid many history teachers use in an effort to simplify the system when teaching it.

After using a few revolutions as case studies (usually Haiti, Mexico, and Brazil) the students get the chance to analyze some of the compelling art that has been inspired by that tumultuous and sometimes bloody era.
The History of Mexico (a portion) by Diego Rivera 1931

Hidalgo and National Independence by Jose Clemente Orozco 1937-38
If you know of an expert, historian, or museum educator who could talk with my students about their research and experience I would be grateful.  I'm working hard to connect my students directly with the experts, and to cut out the middle man (me).

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.