Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kids Get Perspective on Leadership

Our first full day of the Blue Ribbon BOLT program was all about perspective.  We asked students to consider how people of differing perspectives might look as community/global issues.

Example 1: Scientists

We started the day with the Disney YES Properties of Motion program in the Magic Kingdom.  Kids learned about how gravity, inertia, centripetal force, hydraulics, and pneumonics all play a role in what make rides and roller coasters fun.
Disney YES guide Rick has the kids help him demonstrate pneumonic valves.
We got to ride Space Mountain twice before the park even opened to the public to learn about potential and kinetic energy.  Then we check out Buzz Lightyear to learn about how hydraulic valves create a different effect in moving attractions than pneumonic valves.
The kids pose with Zerg after the Buzz Lightyear ride.
Finally, they rode Thunder Mountain to feel centripetal force around those tight curves and while being thrown up and down. Throughout the process, Disney YES professional Rick reminded the kids that scientists use the scientific method to:

  • Observe
  • Hypothesize
  • Experiment
  • Record
  • Conclude
After making our way through Magic Kingdon, we carried that through to our BOLT session in the afternoon.

Example 2: BOLT

Our session started with the kids brainstorming something they could improve in their school, church, or community when they go home after this amazing week. Then we talked about the importance of learning about the issue before coming up with a solution. Just like the scientists who observe before they hypothesize, leaders should learn all the facts before proposing a solution.
Source: Oxfam
The facilitators and I took on the roles of various groups in students' communities who they could learn from and who might be able to offer them help in tie future.


After a great day of roller coaster learning and planning for real life back home, the kids are ready for more tomorrow! Check back for the details and their words on leadership.
Meeting the Fire Chief on Main Street.

They each got to sound the siren!
See ya tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kids Voice Their Thoughts on Leadership

I have the privilege of working with 24 young leaders this week in Walt Disney World as part of the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Student Leadership Institute.  These leaders are from Alabama, Illinois, North Carolina, and many other states all over the country.  I have no doubt that, with their combined talents, they will create something powerful to bring home to their communities.

As part of our short kick-off session this evening each young leader defined what the word leadership means to him/her.

The result is this powerful podcast.

Click that link, download from Google, listen, and have hope for our future when these young leaders are taking action and making positive change.

I encourage you to leave comments below for them and check back here each evening this week for more of their phenomenal work!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The More I Let Go, the More I Get Back

Five of my freshmen and sophomores chose to spend their third day of summer break in school with me.

It wasn't our school, but it was a high school.
They weren't the students, they were the teachers.

We collaborated in person and from home on a Google Doc to design an experiential workshop for the CPS Educational Excellence Institute in which teachers heard why they preferred to learn and produce unique media based projects with their mobile devices.  On the right side of the screenshot of our initial brainstorm you can see that all of us were editing and creating on the same document.  I found that the more I let them drive the content, the more detailed the list became.

The result was this presentation, which we also created collaboratively using Google Drive.
Click here to see the whole presentation!

During the actual event, in addition to explaining the reasons they liked a paperless history class this year and demonstrating some of their favorite tools, they also interacted with attendees via backchannel.  Click here to check out the TodaysMeet. Here's a taste:

I bet you can't definitively decide exactly which backchannel participants are the teenagers and which are the professional educators. I wish I had taken pictures of them.  They were amazing.  Once I just got out of their way, the session became more engaging and interesting for everyone in the room.

This is only my third time presenting alongside my students.  (The first was in December 2013 and the second was in April 2014.)  Each time it has been a different group of students so that as many of them as possible can have a voice in education policy. Each time I have let go a bit more and given the students a higher level of control over how they want to structure their message and deliver it.  The presentations have become less about my classroom and more about their learning.

As I attend more conferences this summer I've noticed many administrators, "thought leaders", and teachers talking about putting students first, but there are no students present.  If students are really the number one consideration, shouldn't their perspective be more at the forefront of education conferences?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Ultimate Web

A web is made up of interconnected strands. The strands are somewhat strong on their own, but together they are capable of much more. For example, if one strand breaks, the others can bear the extra stress for a while until it is repaired. If several strands are broken, though, the entire web is at risk.

Source: geograph

This giant rock, Earth, and all the people sitting on it make up the ultimate web.  Although the Internet, the other "web", is a big part of what connects us, it is really just a part of the greater global web. Other strands that make up our global web include food supply, environmental health, trade and economics, and energy. In order for our global web to remain strong, all people on Earth need access to all of these things and more.
Source: Global Energy Network Institute
If our students are to grow into adults who can understand and contribute to the strength of the global web, we must be sure that they are global citizens who have a firm grasp of the concept of the interconnectedness of the web.

Global Citizenship  

A global citizen has the following qualities:
  • an understanding of basic definitions of all elements that make up the global web (i.e. food supply, energy, environmental health, communication, transportation, etc.);
  • the ability to explain how each of the elements influences the others;
  • the desire to learn about and gain an appreciation for cultures, religions, traditions, and languages that are unfamiliar;
  • the perseverance needed to make meaningful change that starts small but has the potential to grow into large scale systems that are better than the ones currently in place.
This video from The Story of Stuff really inspired me to craft my definition of global citizenship in this way.

I like how The Story of Stuff makes a distinction between "more" and "better". This is an important lesson that we need to teach our children and to remind ourselves about now and then.

Global Interconnectedness

Since global citizens are aware of the web and all its elements, they are able to see the connections and interdependence that is a part of this "Ultimate Web".  This interconnectedness has both benefits and drawbacks.

The greatest opportunity this presents is quick, even instant, access to information. There are so many ways for a person to gain an education as a result of the interconnected web.  This education can be formal and traditional in a classroom while forming relationships with classmates and teachers in a brick and mortar school. At the same time, it is supplemented with more information relationships created through social networks and media.  We are educated about causes and have the opportunity to donate to them through websites like GoFundMe. At the same time, we are able to check for the legitimacy of these causes and other instantly available information through resources like FactCheck and Snopes.  The most notable recent example of instant information making a real impact is the social media grassroots effort that caused the Arab Spring to bubble over starting in 2011.  I know that my education and world view is more global than my parents' generation, and I often wonder if man-made political borders will hold much meaning at all to my own children as they navigate toward adulthood.

The greatest obstacle we have to overcome in this interconnected world is grappling with the reality that we have very little privacy and that any decision we make about our own lives will have an impact on many others. We can no longer make arguments like "it's my life" and "it's my body" when making big life-changing choices.  I'm not saying that we have lost the right to free choice and free will.  I'm just saying that our decisions have a broader impact than just ourselves and our families. As OxFam suggests, we should go through at least a basic 3 step process in the graphic below since our connections with the global community, that "Ultimate Web" will be affected.  This is true of governments, corporations, international treaty organizations, and any other group with power.
Source: OxFam

Educator Responsibility

We, the educators, need to teach our students about the "Ultimate Web" and all of the elements that make it up. A great way to illustrate this is through some of the free lessons available at Facing the Future.  If you scroll down to the Free Previews area, my favorite is Lesson 4: Making Global Connections.

Then we need to teach them about all of the potential perspectives on each element. Depending on one's life experience, economic standing, access to resources, and social mindset a particular global issue might take on a different meaning.  A very simple activity to help children understand the concept of perspective from the Ohio Department of Education can be found at CRETE Conflict Resolution Education. The activity is quick and effective - a great ice breaker.

The next step is to encourage them to work through that 3 step process from OxFam so that they can be true global citizens with the motivation to create change.  Among the many rich resources from the Primary Source Global Education Online Resource Guide, my favorite for promoting student action is YouThink!. It is a blog where young activists can share their ideas and experiences as change-makers.  Rather than pushing our students toward causes that we are passionate about, which has a certain value, these blog entries show how real people like our students took an idea and turned it into action. My hope would be to inspire my students to develop their own passions and turn them into actions.

If we want our students to make positive change in a world that is really the "Ultimate Web", we need to teach them what the web is made of, how their decisions have an impact on the integrity of the web, and what they can do to make it stronger.

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Note to Fellow Educators on End-of-Year Stress

The end of the school year for a high school teacher is crunch time. We are:

  • reading piles of research papers, 
  • correcting last-minute make up work, 
  • completing our own professional evaluations, 
  • designing, reviewing for, administering, and grading final exams, 
  • trying to make sure all 125 of our students are going to finish the year with happy feeling of accomplishment, 
  • cleaning and packing our classrooms, 
  • and juggling our own lives and families at the same time.

Under this crush, it is easy to succumb of the overwhelming stress and feel deflated at the end of the year.  My recommendation to you, my fellow educator, is remember to stop and notice the little signs that you've done a great job.  Over the past few days a few little things have reminded me why I do this job and why it is sooooo worth it. I share them with you, not intending to brag, but to remind you not to miss these same signs as they present themselves to you during the last hot days of school.

A Note From a Parent

A Quick Thank You From a Graduating Senior You Had in Class 3 Years Ago

A Surprise at the End of a Final Assignment 

Jane wrote:
Strangely, this is my final blog post of this year! Weird, very weird. However, I am excited to come back and revisit this page some day in the future and see all of my work chronicled forever. I hope that this blog shows an improvement in not only writing, but my history analysis skills. Thank you for a great year Mrs. Gallagher! And check out her blog at

Little Messages Left on Your Classroom Whiteboard

My G block class was into hashtags :)

I'm no more beloved than any other educator. We, as a group, tend to give our students and colleagues a lot of credit without taking the time to notice our own accomplishments.  So, as the year closes, be sure to take a few minutes to really notice all of the ways your colleagues, students, and their families are saying thank you.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Going Paperless... Is It Good for Students?

Author Note: Please check out a more thorough version of this post on EdSurge posted on June 26. Thanks!

As I close in on the final weeks of the school year, I'm always buried in research papers, projects, and data. But I can't help but be slightly nostalgic for that sweet spot about a month into the school year.  It is then that I don't feel the rush to grade by a hard deadline, I've had a little time to get to know my students on both an academic and personal level, and I have plenty of room to experiment a bit with content and instruction.

It was at this point in late September/early October of 2013 that I decided to take the plunge and go completely paperless.  This was certainly a personal and professional challenge for myself, but now that I look back, did it have a beneficial impact on student learning?

Because if it didn't, none of it was worthwhile.
A little paperless artwork on my classroom whiteboard courtesy of some sophomores.

As part of some end-of-year reflecting and some planning for next year, I asked my students if they would be willing to write short reflections on how our paperless BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) model has affected their learning.  This is what they said:

They Realized Their Phones Are Powerful Tools for Learning

"The use of technology is getting more and more popular, but what are we really using it for? When you look down at anyone's phone or iPad, you'll most likely see messages and social media. With such an amazing invention, we should expand what we can use these devices for, and bringing education into it is a great idea."

"BYOD hasn't been utilized as originally intended, but with Mrs. Gallagher's teaching methods, I feel as if we are reaching the intended purpose."

They Feel More Organized

"After spending a year in a paperless classroom, I've realized that taking notes and doing activities on iPads is a cleaner and more organized way of learning. It's nice because all your work is right there in the click of a button; there's no need for endlessly looking for a paper in an overfilled binder."

"I now have the ability to digitally store my notes in "the cloud" and have my notes accessible to me wherever I go, making organization much easier for me."

They Feel More Connected With Their Classmates

"This class has helped me immensely, getting through to my peers with the use of technology and sharing my thoughts and ideas. I know it is not the greatest thing to be hidden behind a computer screen, but through the use of new forms of communication with technology, I feel that I have gotten more comfortable with my classmates and can speak freely in front of them. We utilize programs such as backchannel and Google Drive to collaborate with other kids, making projects and presenting much easier."

They're Having More Fun... and Learning More!

"The devices have allowed access to new things in class and we are able to use many different apps.  Through the use of devices, students become more intrigued in their learning."

"Activities on iPads and computers are much more fun to do compared to just doing a worksheet for class, and you still get the information in your brain."

"I can honestly say that I have learned more through the use of technology in the classroom."

There are still days when our school's BYOD wifi is unreliable. There are still a few students who reach for paper now and then. All of that is part of the deal in a big high school with students of varying needs. We aren't paper-haters, but we are willing to try something new together to find out if the benefits outweigh the frustrations. It seems the majority of students feel that this is the way they want to learn, so I'll keep at it.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Paperless Rubrics With Skitch

The commitment to go paperless this year has been both exciting and challenging. Surprisingly enough, one of the toughest things to move into the paperless realm has been the department rubric. At our school, and in our state, there is an emphasis on measuring consistency from teacher to teacher and class to class with district determined measures. This means we:
  • choose a common assessment that measures content or skills that we feel are essential for our students;
  • design the assessment and the evaluation collaboratively as a group of educators;
  • read, compare and contrast student work together; and 
  • calibrate our evaluation of student work.
For us, this meant working with document based questions (DBQs).  So how do I take a rubric that was designed for classrooms that use paper and adjust it to a paperless classroom?  Well, here are the steps:

Step 1: Screenshot

On every laptop keyboard there is a 'PrntScrn' button. Locate it. It is your friend. I use mine all the time to create instructions and tutorials for my students.  The first step to paperless rubric is to pull it up so it fills your laptop screen and then screenshot it.

Print Screen buttons from 3 different teacher computers in my hallway.

Don't be alarmed if it looks like nothing is happening when you hit the 'PrntScrn' button, your computer has saved the image of what appears on your screen at that moment on your clipboard.

Step 2: Crop and Clean

I use the Paint program that is build into every Windows machine.  Open Paint and then hit the 'Paste' button. The image of your laptop screen will appear in the Paint window.

Screenshot of  rubric on laptop screen pasted into Paint.

Click the 'Select' button and then draw a clean box around just your rubric. You can keep the toolbars, tabs, and other items that surrounded your rubric outside of the box.

Click 'Crop' to create your clean rubric.

.jpg of rubric after it has been cropped in Paint and saved.

Save your image in whatever format you like. I prefer .jpg.

Good news! The hard part is over!

Step 3: Skitch It

If you haven't already downloaded Skitch, click here and do it. It's free and once you've tried it out you'll be hooked.

Open Skitch. Click 'Skitch' from the top left of the toolbar. Click 'Open' from the dropdown menu.  Then select the .jpg of the rubric you've just created. It will appear in the Skitch window.  You will do this each time you need a new rubric.

Rubric in Skitch.

Next, watch this 3 minute screencast that shows you how to fill out your rubric.

Step 4: Share It

Saving and sharing is the BEST part of paperless rubrics with Skitch.
  • Effortless saving.  Completed rubrics are saved and catalogued on your computer/school network drive. No more lost paperwork!
  • Sync with Evernote. If you use Evernote, the images will sync and can be saved and sorted there. (They do say "Remember Everything" over there at Evernote, don't they?)
  • Easy to email to students instantly. Here is an example of a rubric I filled out during a student group presentation last week. I emailed the students who presented, and seconds after leaving the front of the classroom they had detailed teacher feedback.
Rubric completed with Skitch during live student presentation.

  • Records of student growth. If you use the same rubrics to grade similar work (i.e. one rubric for all DBQs throughout the school year) you will have digital records of their score along with all of the detailed feedback you provided on the rubrics.
If you have a tablet, Skitch is available as an app download. I use it often on the fly during class on my iPad. My students also use it to edit graphs, art, and graphic organizers in class.
Tracking student scores and progress paperlessly has made my life MUCH simpler. Hopefully this inspired you to give it a try.