Think Like an Innovator

Innovation. I remember the first time I heard that word, I was at Epcot at WDW back in middle school. They had this building and inside were “innovations” for the future. I remember nerding out at all the technology. (That’s the best part of vacation with your family, you can be your geeky self and not have to try to be cool.) I remember my mom explaining to me that innovation meant to take what someone has already invented and make it better. That stuck with me. Mostly because the stuff was so state of the art cool!

In education innovation is a word I have been hearing a lot when discussing STEM and makers. I love it. I love the idea of students looking at our world and want to improve what they see. That’s exactly what school should be, preparing kids for now, teaching them how world changing these critical thinking skills for a changing world are.

So where do we start? I was talking to a friend the other day. He’s not an educator but an amazing thinker. He works for one of the largest companies in my state and was telling me about a contest they had. The CEO asked people to submit ideas for innovative ideas that the company would be using by 2020. We laughed at how it became a suggestion box and crazy ideas people had. We then started talking about design thinking and where to start when thinking innovatively. I confessed to him my idea for a big project for my class, the one I mentioned last post (Nope still not ready to reveal yet.) and he took the ideas I had and push me to think deeper. Ideas already in my head got bigger and better. The project in my mind was completely transforming as we talked.

Our conversation kept coming back to “what is the problem?” I was reminded how when you are just trying to make things better, it’s not really innovative because you get stuck on what’s already there. But when you start asking the question “what’s the problem?” you start looking at and thinking about things differently. You start trying to solve the problem instead of adding to what we already have.

Now as I’m looking to this school year, which starts Wednesday, I’m reflecting on what I did last year. But instead of saying “that didn’t work, I’ll add this to it or I’ll just do this instead” I’m looking at “what was the problem students had ___?” and start thinking about how to solve the problem. I hope as I go through the school year and lessons aren’t working I’ll do the same. Those of you in admin roles, I hope when something isn’t living up to expectations in your school, go backwards, what’s the problem and what’s the best route to solve it.

Also, teachers in classrooms, take the time to have students think of ideas to solve problems. Teach them best practices for questioning to find the “problem.” Have these discussions with them, get the thinking process going. It’s not only important for us to think innovatively, but to teach students to be innovators.

Where Are You Making?

So my job is changing again this year. And again this year it wasn’t by my choice. That makes it difficult. Having to plan something that you didn’t get a choice on can really mess with your creativity. We know this, as teachers, we see it every day in our classroom. Luckily, my change is to a subject I do feel very passionate about. So I have that going for me.

Next year I’ll be teaching middle school STEM. If you are someone who flows me on twitter or read my blog on occasion you probably know this is a huge passion of mine. STEM, MakerSpaces are something I see as game changing in education. But every time I sit down to write my curriculum (yes I have no curriculum -nor money- for my new class) I start feeling kind of hypocritical. And there is something that really starts to bother me.

All summer I have presented, written, or had conference calls about how to use STEM across the curriculum. The focus on how to not make it separate, but how to blend it with what you are already doing. So when I start writing my curriculum as a separate “subject” I start getting frustrated about how hypocritical I am being. I’m separating the STEM thinking from math and science classes.

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The more I reflect on this, the more I wonder if STEM classes and MakerSpaces are our way in education of taking something great and “doing it wrong.” I’ve been thinking a lot about MakerSpaces and wondering if making them something different than part of the typical classroom is negating the whole purpose. When I speak of STEM and MakerSpaces I tell teachers these are so important because students can see “why” they need the problem solving skills, how science affects us everyday, and it answers the questions of “when am I really going to use that?” that are often used in math class. You see, using STEM as part of those, as well as other subjects, shows the students the “why” and “how” behind using these skills as well as increasing understanding. If we have a STEM or MakerSpace class, we are still keeping them separate. We aren’t allowing them to take the skills of the subjects we are teaching and adding that real world experience to it. It is just “play” or “create” time. While, yes, they are using those science, math, engineering, tech, and design skills it is not organically becoming part of the learning that is already taking place.

I know I can’t fix this for me. I was asked to teach the class. I am looking forward to it, I’ve decided there will be a lot of play and have a pretty exciting project coming (more as the year progresses, so stay tuned) Yes, I will be emphasizing the science and math curriculum as we build and create this year. But to the rest of you, especially classroom teachers, librarians, and tech coaches, if you have these MakerSpaces in your library or school figure out a way to make it part of all classes. Use these spaces and materials as part of your lessons. We have to stop separating STEM if we really want to make an impact on student learning. So don’t assume others will teach STEM for you, it will not make the difference that we need in our society that way. My former principal used to say “every teacher is a reading teacher,” for our students to make a real impact on our world, every teacher needs to be a STE(A)M teacher as well.

Lastly, I have been sitting on this post for about a week now and the lovely Rafranz Davis wrote this blog post today “The Undefined MakerSpace” about a part that I couldn’t figure how to add to this. I wanted to add how not only are we keeping STEM/MakerSpaces separate but we are limiting them to specific “making.” So I took out the parts I wrote about that, now the post flows much smoother, and she does a perfect job saying exactly what I was thinking, so no need for me to repeat it, now go read her post!! Definitely worth your time.

photo credit: Chris Devers via photopin cc
 

Are You a Connected Educator or a Connected Person?

So this post is one that has been on my mind for about a week now. Today I was having a conversation on Voxer, an extremely inappropriate conversation to be exact with a group of girls, well professional educators. (If you know me personally, you are probably not surprised and can probably guess that I started it.) This conversation gave me the laughs that I needed to get through the day. Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of post about how we can use Voxer as a professional development tool. I’m sure a lot of awesome ideas has come from conversations there. Just like on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and Pinterest. We are so connected and we are so passionate, we flock to social media to connect with others like us.

But here is my worry, are we too connected, are we too serious? I remember years ago when Twitter was new. People didn’t have 10,000 followers because there weren’t 10,000 people out there. It felt like one big Voxer where we could bounce around ideas in a small and safe environment. Back then I would make a joke or off the wall comment and get DM’s from people saying that it was a place for learning and if I wanted to be taken seriously I needed to tone it down. Yeah, whatever. I’m going to be me so move along, please. But I would worry about those people. I would worry about their passion overcoming their lives. I also worried that they were missing out on a huge part of social media – the social part. We see a new platform and immediately think we have to use it for professional purposes, because that is what is expected of us as social media experts, that is great, but we need to remember that we need a break from work sometimes.

Try not to use social media as a place for only seriousness. Think back to when you were in school, you did not learn as much from the teachers who never shared anything personal about themselves. You learned from study groups with whom you became friends and learned about the interest of those in the group. I’m sure college was not all studying and classes, there was time for fun. So when you are using social media, don’t forget there is fun to be had. Don’t forget to turn off social media and be present with those around you in person. Don’t get obsessed with your profession. Your job is not who you are. Your job should not take up more time than time with your loved ones. Your job should not come before your health, I hate to hear colleagues put off doctor visits because of work. Stop doing that. It is not fair to you nor your family. I hear so often of my coworkers and my PLN going through depression and anxiety (myself included) and I worry if a lot of it is because we don’t turn our jobs off. Being connected keeps it on longer than we have in the past. We have to remember to live life. To laugh. To make friends, not just colleagues, friends we can laugh and cry with.

My challenge to you, chose one social media platform this month and use it for YOU. Either for entertainment or to connect with others on a personal level. Choose one, instagram, Pinterest, Facebook (that one is hard for me because so many of my friends are my PLN), a chat app whether Voxer, WhatsApp, Messenger, heck Snap Chat if you want, something you have wanted to try for FUN. Don’t feel bad about it. Don’t get sucked into work on it. When I joined Pinterest (over 3 years ago) I promised myself it would be for ME. I promised I would never use it for education. Now I do follow a few educators on it, but if I click on the links, I save them to bookmarks not to my boards. I always giggle when I see an educator follows me there because unless they like cupcakes, pretty fonts, and shoes they are going to be very disappointed. So find your place for you to be you. You are everything that makes up you, not just your profession.

So be a connected educator, but don’t be an obsessed educator. Use your connections to make deeper friendships based on silliness or hobbies not just on education. Be a person, not a just teacher or parent, be you! Hi, I’m Amanda Countryman Dykes, I love baking, creating art of any kind, and have an addiction to shoes. I am a parent to 2 brilliant yet hilarious kids and a spoiled rotten dog. I’m an educator who has a passion for seeing technology used correctly and while being invisible in every classroom. I’m a connected educator who learns how to be better at what I do every day. That’s who I am. Not just a middle school teacher. You are so much more than your job. Kids of America (or whatever country you serve in) deserve leaders who know themselves first. Be YOU first. Isn’t that what we tell the our students every day?! Take your own advice. Enjoy the good things in life as well as what is going on around us. Lastly, I’d love to hear what platform you used for more than seriousness this month!

Where Do You Go From the Soap Box?

So it happened. Now what? When we push for things for years and all of a sudden it starts to become the norm, what are our next steps? Do we move on to something else “new” or still stand on the “soap box.” Or are there other options? I think there are other options and that is where I will head next.

Let me explain what the heck I am talking about. Five (almost 6!) years ago I joined Twitter. It took me about 4 or 5 months to really catch on but once I did my teaching and learning changed forever. Since then I have been on a mission to teach others about the power of being a connected educator. It has been a long road, I can remember doing a session on using twitter at a conference and only 10 people showed up. Even worse, one of the 10 was a principal in my district that called my principal to complain I was telling people to meet strangers online. I remember my first ISTE and clicking on the hashtag #ISTE10 and knowing every single person posting in the search. Not so much anymore. It is the norm for districts to have “chats” and have leaders online connecting with others. I read a report from Twitter the other day that educators make up the largest group on twitter (once I find that link, I forgot to bookmark, I’ll post it), we are to that point that we have preached about for years. But now what? I really miss that intimate space I used to have on twitter but I like that education is moving forward quickly.

Another soap box I have been on for about two years now is STE(a)M and Makerspaces. I wrote this post in March 2013 about the need of these in school and how this will get STEM into the schools and classrooms. While at ISTE this year, Makers and STEM were the key words I heard over and over. Last year I had to search for sessions on these topics and this year I had to decide which one I wanted to go to. It is fantastic. I am so excited and relived that this is something that others are now seeing the importance of. I love hearing how others are using this across the curriculum, something I have been talking to teachers about all spring and summer.

So what now? My two big soap boxes are no longer needed. What I have been pushing for and have worked so hard to get the word out on is now the norm. Where do I, and the so many others like you who have been pushing for things we know are essential to education go from here? No where. We are still the experts. We are no longer just passionate about this, we are experts. So now we need to take that expertise and guide the others. We know where it leads, they are just putting their toes in and wading around. We need to be their tour guides. We need to give advice, hold their hand, listen. We need to learn from those who are new. We need to tell others we are here for them when they do mess up or need that advice. So often I worry about those that are only a year or two into social media and have jumped to “twitter fame.” Without connections, it will fizzle out pretty quickly, I have seen it several times. We should be there supporting and connecting with them before that happens. We also need to keep moving forward. technology and social media are changing every day. Those of us on Twitter 4 or more years ago have seen this, those of us who had people look at us like we are crazy for pushing “making” in an everyday classroom understand pushback. Lets use those leadership skills as well as our knowledge of this for moving forward.

I don’t know what the next ‘soap box’ will be and I may be too tired to jump on, but wow it is incredible to see that soap box I was on so long is no longer that, it is now the ground floor with everyone else. It is awesome that movements that my friends/colleagues and I have have pushed for so long be something that is accepted and popular. Gives me hope that when something is right, it will work if we keep believing in it. And if not, we all learned something from Google Wave, right?

Hope y’all are having a fantastic summer!

Summer is for Reflection and Relaxing

So I’ve been out of school for a week now and I’ve been wanting to write a post to reflect on this year over the last two weeks but I’ve been so busy that it has yet to happen. And then there is the deal of when I start one in my head its either too much or not enough to make a whole post on. So I’m going back to what I did at midpoint of the school year, a top 10 list of what I’ve learned the last week of school and the first week of summer break. I’ll try to keep it short, I’ll try. Here goes :

10. Relaxing is not laziness.
Last week I had so much to do but I took the time Monday to have a long lunch with my daughter then on Wednesday I got my “hair did” which was much needed. Both times I felt like I needed to work or picked up my phone to work. Luckily I stopped myself. We need breaks. We need to stop and enjoy the life we have.

9. Reflection is important.
Don’t just end the year thinking “that was good” or “that sucked.” Look back through the year, what worked, what didn’t. You can’t grow without reflection. Use data in that reflection. No matter what I reflected on I didn’t feel like I was successful this year. But when putting together the evidence of my end of year professional plan we have to do here in AL I saw data and I saw my successes.

8. You are not the failure you think you are. And when you do fail, learn from it, then share the knowledge.
Friday night I saw the movie “Mom’s Night Out.” The whole point was a mom going through all the stresses that women, especially southern women who have to smile and not have moments and be perfect 24/7, go though. This past year I have gone through a lot in my classroom. I’ve never felt like such a failure in my life. Usually I wouldn’t care. The last two years have really taken a lot out of me. I’ve lost all my confidence in myself as a teacher. It hurts. I’ve never had insecurities like I have and I let that control me sometimes. But in all of this, I looked at the data I kept up with throughout the year and saw what worked. I’ve taken that and tried to share this with y’all. Half of my PBL presentation last week was on “what I did wrong and how I changed it.” Why let others make your same mistakes?! I also learned others outside your situation see you a lot different. Being nominated for a Bammy floored me. I still don’t think I deserve that nomination but wow can I say humbled?!

7. You are your soul not your body.
Whether you’re like me fighting health issues or you have everyday physical insecurities, that is not what defines you. Changes have to be made to keep your body healthy but never let them stop you.

6. Social media can destroy faster than it builds.
I saw this first hand this week. I everyday is just part of our story, so we need to keep writing it when we’ve been torn down, so chin up. But please everyone, think before you post. Think about everyone affected. Never use the “I’m not naming names” comment but give enough details that everyone can guess. Just don’t. Think.

5. Yes, we are all entitled to a bad day, but keep it to yourself.
One bad day, one “having a moment,” one lashing out can destroy everything you’ve worked for. I have no advice for when it has happened but when you have insecurities or hurt, keep it to yourself until you have calmed down. You can’t take it back. You can only apologize so much. But damage is done. And that hurt is worse than anything else. One day can destroy the most important thing in yout life. Also, on the flip side, if someone hurts you on that bad day, be forgiving.

4. Don’t be just a presentor.
Many of you that read my blog go to conferences and present. When you do, take the time to meet people who are in your sessions. Make sessions have time for people to get to know those around them. Met some pretty cool people that I learned so much from in my sessions at #AETC2014 last week. I met a STEM teacher from a private alternative school who drove his hydrogen modified car hits students built to the conference. Totally learned so much from him. Met so many more through emails and tweets. Relationships are our key to learning, y’all.

3.  Establish an “Ask don’t tell” policy.
Changes have to be made. As a teacher or a principal, when those changes effect your students or teachers, ask their opinion. Even if you have made the decision and nothing will change your mind, run in by those people involved. That’s the difference between a leader and a boss. Just that little action can make people feel like they matter.

2. Your passions should become more.
Looking over my resume the other day (I’m still looking for a tech specialist job, know of any? I can’t move but I can travel ;), my mom and I noticed that I had the word passion in there a there times. But she said this “I know these are your passions, but look where you did _ and _, these more than passions, you’re an expert at this. They are now your expertise.” Wow that struck me. Yeah I guess so. It is easier to “brag” that we are passionate than experts. I look at the passion based learning movement, that’s what it’s doing, taking kids passions and not only are these passions making our world a better place, it’s giving them experience to be experts in something they love.

1. It’s about process not product.
When I talk about PBL my big focus is on letting teachers know it’s about the process not the product. I learned my own lesson this year. I feel like writing my own curriculum while teaching the class and trying something new was my own PBL. But here I am, focusing on products. Not the amazing process I went through. Isn’t that what life really is? This whole process. We don’t really have much of a product in the end, just what we leave behind.

So over the past few days I’ve been reflecting. This is just some of it. Have an amazing summer. Reflect and relax!

I’m Sorry for My Hypocrisy

A lot is going on in my head right now. It was a busy weekend, mostly due to EdcampBham Saturday. It’s my favorite weekend, but usually my most stressful. This year due to some health issues and the craziness of this past school year I vowed to not be stressed. Luckily we had new teammates as well as the team we have had in the past that pulled off an amazing event. This year, with my vote to stay worry free, I was more “present” for the day.

For the first session my friend, Tom Murray, signed us up to do a session on professional development. He had done this session in the past so he knew where to start. If you have ever met Tom, he had a huge happy personality so it only took minutes for him to take over the session so I mostly stepped back, made a few comments and let it all soak in.  We had the group discuss what is wrong with traditional PD. We got the answers we expected: sit and get and no follow through and support afterwards. They then discussed new ideas in PD and pretended to be head of a school and made a PD plan. It was a fantastic session that wasn’t a gripefest but became an ideafest. OK so hold this thought on this session because I’m coming back to it. Promise.

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Also this weekend, I made a video to go with an article for THE Journal I was interviewed for. If you know me, you know that I can get up on a stage of 1000s and I don’t get nervous and love it. But me and my southern accent on video is enough to make me a wreck. But the video was on a topic I thought was pretty important, so I agreed to it. The article was on using interactive white boards in BYOD classrooms. I focused mostly on ClassFlow and it’s benefits in the BYOD classroom. I answered this question “How do you manage a classroom with all those devices and the whiteboard being used all at once?” So as I’m recording my video I’m discussing teachers rolls have to change, etc (actually recording a million times), I had a sinking feeling in my gut and started thinking about that session I did at edcamp earlier that day.

I’m a hypocrite. You see I’m the “tech rep” at my school. I’m in charge of the technology PD there. We are also a BYOD district. We were not until around  November, tech reps were to inform the teachers and send home permission slips with each student. It was a hard transition in middle of the year. But I did just that. Then wondered why not many students took advantage of this and why teachers who are constantly complaining about lack of tech did not either.

Now I know why, it is all my fault. I can make excuses, I am teaching a new PBL tech course 5 times a day to 125 kids where I’m writing the curriculum as I go, I also teach one science class everyday. I also have 2 kids of my own who have a pretty active afternoon schedule. But excuses aren’t acceptable. When student learning is at stake I can’t make them. The central office never offered us (yes us because I would attend, even if I know this stuff bc I need to pass it on) training and even if they did its hard to expect teachers to drive to the district office 30 minutes away and it’s intimidating to some. I knew this and so I should have stopped up in my building. I should have found someone to cover my classes or stayed after school and net with every single teacher. At least those who were interested in using tech in their class. I know they don’t want more PD but I could’ve done something to get them there.

Few weeks ago I wondered why my district and school was not embracing BYOD like districts I read about in blogs and articles. Well it’s my fault. No one (ME, not pointing fingers here I’m taking the blame) said hey here is where to start, here is a new, free, product that can help. I never modeled for them. Seriously even if you are a techy, the idea of sending kids loose on cell phones and tablets is pretty scary. You’re entire job changes and we (I) expect teachers to jump on that. What the heck is wrong with me? 

The problem is when you are BYOD and do it correctly, it is more student centered and students actually are more engaged. We need that. We should want that. But without walking teachers through their role changes, how can we expect that. Think about how many (usually boring sit and get) PD sessions we have just for new textbook or new standards. BYOD is a new textbook, heck it almost replaces them. Why was this over looked?

So to all of my coworkers apologize. I did you wrong. I cheated your students out of learning.  To those who attended our PD session Saturday, I apologize for being a hypocrite. I just became one of those who do PD and you think “they have no clue what is like in a real classroom.” One of those in the session is a coworker of mine, I’m surprised he didn’t call me out. I’m glad now Tom was Tom and had the room’s attention so I didn’t put my foot too far in my mouth. I apologize to y’all, my readers, because y’all know how passionate I can be about PD yet I’m apparently just fooling y’all. But thank you for taking the time to read my blog and putting up with my struggles. I do have a plan for coming next year, hope I will get to put it into place. I will make the time. I have to, learning is at stake.

It’s a Struggle

Rigor. I hate that word. Reminds me of dead bodies. It has been a pretty popular word in education lately, especially since Common Core. It is a word many aren’t sure of the meaning. It’s definition is kind of the opposite of what kids endure on a regular basis. But even as much as I hate the word, I completely agree the idea behind it not only needs to be present in every classroom, but is something we cannot have STEM or any kind of advanced learning without.

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Last week I had a meeting and in that meeting it was brought up that a complaint (which I have had a lot of this year and it’s something I’m not used to) a parent had about my class is that the student was struggling and the parent did not want the kid to struggle. It has really stuck in my mind and I had been researching (because that is all I have done this year), thinking, and trying to play out in my head about learning and struggles.

I have written before about failure and it’s importance when learning, but the struggles are not something I have evert stopped and thought about.

I feel like I need to point this out to give you a background on my class -

1. I teach technology elective and there has been a lot of discourse over whether an elective should be an easy A class. I wish I did not have to give grades here so we could focus on the learning.
2. My class is really not that hard. Yes the technology is mostly something new, but it is not hard stuff. I have actually made sure that I could find 2nd and 3rd graders who have done the same.
3. This is my first year teaching the class. I had 2 weeks to prepare for it. I have had to write my curriculum as I teach it. I have re-written this said curriculum as I have seen what works and/or researched methods, which is probably at 100 times now.
4. This class is 90% PBL using authentic assessment.
5. Classwork grades are mostly based on kids successfully completing small portions of the projects by deadlines (give or take a few days). Classwork must be 20% of grade says my district higher ups.
6. Finished projects are graded on a huge spectrum from the research to the correct use of tech, not on just being pretty. This assessment grade is 70% of the grade.
7. This is the first time my students have had any experience with PBL.

Ok back to the post. Struggle. I love science and math. Struggle comes with science and math. The entire scientific method has to have struggle to even work. There must be variables, testing, and going back to test again. That is not a do ‘without thinking’ task. But are struggle and rigor the same thing? When I look up rigor is almost always defined as the depth of understanding, questioning, and application. So maybe these words are not synonymous. But I can’t help but think that you can’t have rigor if something is simple. It takes searching and testing for answers or to see if it works. To me that is a struggle. It is not something that is easy.  If you can do something the first time, did you really learn from it? If you can memorize it, are you learning it?

I read this article a while back and it has stuck with me. The title alone is “The More You Struggle with New Information, the More Likely You Are to Learn It.” It goes on the say that struggle is an essential part of learning. If that is correct, when we teach students to learn through rote memorization, are we helping or hurting? While searching for answers on this I came across this article from NPR about struggle in a Chinese classroom. It talks about a student who does not understand a math activity and the teacher makes him go to the board and do it in front of the classroom, and then talks about the class cheering for the student when he gets it right. No I would never do that in my classroom and I worry often if classrooms from the East are lacking in creativity but it has a point. The student had determination and then had a huge sense of accomplishment when he was done.

Look at sports. I love sports. I love watching. I was a cheerleading coach for years (yes it is a sport). My 8 year old daughter spends 5 hours a week in gymnastics class.  If she didn’t struggle, then she would not have to go but for an hour a week. I still know every motion to the “UCA All Star” cheerleading dance I learned in 10th grade. It was so hard and I was 2 years younger than the other girls trying out, I practiced more for that dance because I could not get it. (I did eventually and I made All Stars that camp.) But because of that struggle, it stuck with me. I was a better cheerleader for it. I’m a Bama football fan, if you know who Nick Saban is, I really don’t need to draw a parallel here.

But with all of this said, struggle cannot be the only factor and rigor does not mean hard. You can’t give extra work and make it harder and call it rigor. Struggle needs to just be a part of it. There needs to be fun. There needs to be student centered motivation. There needs to be the problem solving aspect. There needs to be some passion. It is just a part of the whole. Just like the PBL lesson it self, there has to be many parts to make a whole in the end. Without each part, the learning goals are not really met. I don’t know if I am hitting each part with every lesson. I try.

This school year I’m learning. I’m struggling. I have never struggled with curriculum before. I’ve never struggled with teaching the way I have this year. BUT I know I have learned so much. I know what works with PBL and middle school kids. I know what does not work as well. I hope my sharing with y’all these “struggles” I am learning from are helping y’all in some way. Someone called me an “expert” in PBL the other day and I laughed because I have had as many failures as successes this year. You should see my private journal! Ouch! But I looked back on a PD session I was asked to give last summer on PBL, if I gave it again tomorrow, not much would be the same. There is a huge difference between having that text book knowledge of something you did 2 or 3 times a quarter and something you do everyday. I knew what PBL was, how to do it, etc, but now my knowledge is so much deeper and clearer.

If life is easy, we do not learn from experience. We would not be able to take that experience when harder things come our way. We have to find a way to give our students these experiences. We have to find a way to do it while encouraging as well. We have to celebrate the successes that come from that struggle. I think that part is forgotten. I have had so many successes in my classroom this year, but no one calls the principal about those or send me an email about how awesome their child’s website is. I know how that feels, so I know I have the goal of always pointing out the success that comes from the struggle with my students. Just like the story of the classroom in China, they celebrated when he got it. A “good job on ___” can go such a long way. The struggle cannot be the finish, just the path to get there. That means I have a finish line this year, right?

More links I like about rigor and learning through struggle:
Rigor: What Does It Really Mean?
Thoughts on the Meaning of Rigor
We Learn and Grow Through Struggle
Rigor Redefined

What is a Great Teacher?

So this question has been plaguing me over the last few months. We all strive to be the best at what we do. But what I get stuck on is what is the best?  What makes a teacher successful/great/etc?

Are the most successful teachers ones who’s kids make A’s and B’s?  Grades suck.  I hate them. I wish I could just write a letter saying “Your kid did all that was asked, followed the criteria, and understood the material” or “You child never turned in any work or attempted to do anything other than argue in class. He seemed to understand the concepts but I have no way to prove it.” But like them or not I have to give them. So are those teachers whose majority of students make perfect grades better than those who have grades across the spectrum? Is a whole class of A’s good or too easy and not pushing the students?  We learn more through struggle, right?  So is this good? Or on the flip side, if kids have low grades because of lack effort, is that a reflection of the teacher?  What if the district has a grading scale that puts too much emphasis on assessments or benchmarks? I bet if I gave worksheets, had kids read from book and gave tests on it, my kids would make A’s. You wanted your kid in that class?

Are they the teachers who are nominated for awards? Or national board certified?  Do these things make you a better teacher. Maybe at some point. I just know people who I think “Why are you here? You hate kids.” but they have that certification. Does that teacher in your school who gets nominated every year as TOTY that much better than you?  And if so are they helping others to be as great as they seemed to be?

Are they the ones who are good at self promotion online? Those social media “stars” (insert sarcasm there) that tweet in every chat available. Those that tell everyone they are the best. Are they better?  Are they any different than teachers not online everyday who seem to rock?

How do we measure if we rock or suck?  By parent emails?  What those parents are saying about the teacher at the ballpark? By behavior of students that we have no control of 23 hours of the day?  By how much time they put into what they do?  Is it pedagogy?  Because if you are doing blooms correctly and hitting higher learning skills, kids aren’t going to always make A’s. Is it how much their students actually learn, not based on grades?  I read something the other day that when summed up said that as long as you care for the kids and loved them, it didn’t matter if they learned content. Does that really make you a better teacher? That’s kind of a scary thought. Is it the teacher always using technology with students VS the teacher who only turns on computer to check email and post grades? Is one better because preparing kids for their world or is one better because kids still learn the content?

I have no idea the answer to this. It is been driving me crazy. I just want to be the best at my job but I’m none of those. My kids don’t have all A’s. I just want them to finish something and turn it in so I can grade it some days. I just want them to learn, and OMG at what they have learned this year, but that isn’t good enough, to be great, is it? I don’t have any awards. I’m not a national board certified teacher. I tweet out my blog post but I get very embarrassed when I need to self promote, I have a panic attack writing bios and resumes because feel weird bragging. If parent emails suggest, I suck. Behavior has driven me nuts this year. Not usually an issue for me. Disrespect when you try to show respect us hard. Pedagogy is a strong point for me. But being PBL class this year has caused most of the hate mail and kids never experiencing it not to make A’s. So I know I am using really good pedagogy, but I’m so close to just giving them all A’s and letting them play games all class so I won’t be measured as a failure. I used tech, but who knows. And I really do care for my kids, even that 1% I smile when they aren’t there because I know no one will hijack my class.

So what makes a good teacher?  What makes a sucky teacher? I wish I knew. I’m kind of good at doing what I’m supposed to, but I don’t know what that is anymore. I just want my kids to learn. And learn stuff they can use for a life time. But that may not be successful. What do you think? How would you classify great teachers?

A Connection Via a Sea Star

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So it started with this little guy yesterday. We were on the beach enjoying spring break and I ran my son back to the house. When I returned to the beach my daughter brought me this. As someone on instagram pointed, what happens when you breed a starfish with a snake. As the day went on, hundreds start washing up on the beach.  They were such unique creatures I took as many pictures and videos as I could. I took this video and posted to Instagram (from there to Twitter and Facebook).

From there I got tweets and replies asking what they were. In the mean time I’m on Google looking for these starfish. I tried Google Goggles, at least 30 different search terms, using every Boolean trick in the book, and I find nothing.

Meteorologist Jason Simpson, who used to be in Birmingham but has since moved to Huntsville, retweeted and posted to his Facebook page asking if anyone knew what they were. A lot were telling him brittle stars. Now it’s been a long time since I took island ecology (I got to take that in the Bahamas for my biology credit, can’t beat that class) but I do remember the difference between brittles and starfish had to do with rows of legs and the eyes at end of legs. But I looked it up just to make sure. When looking it up I came across this blog about starfish. Well all kinds of echinodermata, it’s called EchinoBlog. Looked on the blog for a moment and didn’t see my sea star.

After hours of searching I had to stop and be Mom. This morning I went back to looking. Tried new searches. I kept coming across the EchinoBlog. So I go to the site and see that the author, Christopher Mah, has a Twitter account. Thought I’d take a chance and tweet him the picture. Less than an hour later he sends me this link. The starfish is a banded sea star.

You see I’ve spent my life at the beach, I’ve taken classes about sea life, I teach earth science, and I teach kids how to Google things but I still had no idea. I’m not A starfish expert. I don’t accept not knowing something, I get obsessed with finding answers. But I was overwhelmed by not finding. If someone had tweeted me a question about edtech I’m sure if I didn’t know the answer I could find it quickly. I’m an expert in that field. Just like Christopher Mah is a starfish expert.

Sometimes we send our students out into the world wide web with just a few Google skills (which are so important). We forget that connecting them with experts could start a dialogue and learning can go even deeper. Often we are so afraid of social media we don’t forget the positives that can come with it. They need to learn to look for blogs from experts and use the “contact” section to connect.

Sometimes we need reminders of things we already know and this was a reminder for me.  Below I’ve listed some links I have bookmarked in the past and haven’t thought about looking back up. Use connections and teach kids how to make connections wisely for learning.

Connecting Experts To Your Classroom

Skype in the Classroom

Sparking Student Interest in STEM By Bringing Industry Experts into the Classroom

How To Redefine Your Classroom By Connecting Students

Kindergarten Tweets with Weather Experts

Find Someone Else to Blame, Leave Barbie Out of It.

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Dear media,
Stop blaming Barbie for girls feeling like they don’t have choices for careers. Apparently we are out news stories. But let me ask, how often do you feature women doing remarkable things in their field? Or have women as your head meteorologist? We can blame schools who give 2 electives “choir for the girls.” We can blame parents. How often do moms come home from work talking about what they did that day? Their successes and failures? If you are a stay-at-home mom do you take your children to see you work with charities and make a difference in your community? Do you take your daughter to the mall more than museums? What do you watch on TV, princesses AND shows about animals? Do you praise their intelligence as much as beauty?  Look at your facebook posts.  I just asked my son what a scientist looked like. He said “a girl or boy in a lab coat.”

Barbie is not a problem. Definitely not the problem. I’m a huge Barbie collector. I have a ’84 Peaches and Cream still in  box. But I also have astronaut, Air Force, and President Barbie. She’s a successful single woman.   She has a new book “I can be a Computer Scientist.” I teach science and tech every day in heels and dresses, just like Barbie. Who cares if I’m girly in pink if I’m smart and successful. I’d wear tiara everyday if I could but I could read the html of this page at same time. My most successful technology students are drop dead gorgeous girls. Who cares if their Legos are pink if they can out build you. Leave Barbie out of this.

Rant done. Going back to breakfast and my favorite Barbie cup.