Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is hunger a problem?

Over the past week students in the seventh grade studied the problem of hunger in the world. Below are some of the posters they made to bring awareness. They made mini-presentations to their class.






One group even made a website

Is hunger a problem?

Over the past week students in the seventh grade studied the problem of hunger in the world. Below are some of the posters they made to bring awareness. They made mini-presentations to their class.






One group even made a website

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Should Kids Have Facebook?

My Personal Feeling on Social Media/Facebook and your child

My personal feelings on things like this. Students are growing up where things like facebook and twitter are the norm. This is the world they live in! We need to teach them how to use these tools in a responsible/respectable manner. What I suggest and what I think is a great way is to make this step TOGETHER. Meaning when you feel it be appropriate that they have a facebook,etc (maybe this year/maybe next/maybe later) have the conversation as to WHY she/he wants one and WHAT she/he will do with it. If you feel the answer appropriate then set one up together with their knowledge that you have the password and login. That way you can see what your child is doing and can release them into thie “wild wild west” in a guarded and teachable environment.

I wrote the above from 7/8 grade parents.

When Should Kids Have Facebook?

My Personal Feeling on Social Media/Facebook and your child

My personal feelings on things like this. Students are growing up where things like facebook and twitter are the norm. This is the world they live in! We need to teach them how to use these tools in a responsible/respectable manner. What I suggest and what I think is a great way is to make this step TOGETHER. Meaning when you feel it be appropriate that they have a facebook,etc (maybe this year/maybe next/maybe later) have the conversation as to WHY she/he wants one and WHAT she/he will do with it. If you feel the answer appropriate then set one up together with their knowledge that you have the password and login. That way you can see what your child is doing and can release them into thie “wild wild west” in a guarded and teachable environment.

I wrote the above from 7/8 grade parents.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Collaboration IS a 21st century skill

Watch the video below



No this is not me trying to rep the new Amazon prduct, instead it is a testament to collaboration. Our school has recently started a program to give students more choice in the arts curriculum. Teachers pair with community members to teach a specific genre of art. We have offerings like drama, digital arts, photography, and drawing. Previous to this experiment, our middle schoolers had very limited art choice. I am moderating the digital arts elective with a very passionate parent. One session in and I learned a ton from him.

He works in marketing and explained just how necessary it is to collaborate. Even seemingly simple ads such as the one above can take weeks to develop. You have teams working on the music, you have teams working on the graphic arts, you have teams working on the transitions. And then you have to bring them all together to finalize a great product. He was telling the students how necessary it is to collaborate to be creative. Bouncing ideas off of each other in an autonomous setting leads to innovation. He even said that getting something right the first time is not really getting it right. If you get it right the first time you can not possibly exhaust different viewpoints and opportunities.

If this is what new wave companies are expecting, why do we run schools in total contrast?  I passionately believe that schooling is for more than producing economic agents and effectiveness, but cooperation, teambuilding and collaboration are simply values we want people to have. After reading Daniel Pink's Drive this summer, I am absolutely convinced that we need to shift schooling to meet the true dynamics of creativity. By valuing collaboration we not only make schooling more relevant, we make it more enjoyable, meaningful, and human.

Collaboration IS a 21st century skill

Watch the video below



No this is not me trying to rep the new Amazon prduct, instead it is a testament to collaboration. Our school has recently started a program to give students more choice in the arts curriculum. Teachers pair with community members to teach a specific genre of art. We have offerings like drama, digital arts, photography, and drawing. Previous to this experiment, our middle schoolers had very limited art choice. I am moderating the digital arts elective with a very passionate parent. One session in and I learned a ton from him.

He works in marketing and explained just how necessary it is to collaborate. Even seemingly simple ads such as the one above can take weeks to develop. You have teams working on the music, you have teams working on the graphic arts, you have teams working on the transitions. And then you have to bring them all together to finalize a great product. He was telling the students how necessary it is to collaborate to be creative. Bouncing ideas off of each other in an autonomous setting leads to innovation. He even said that getting something right the first time is not really getting it right. If you get it right the first time you can not possibly exhaust different viewpoints and opportunities.

If this is what new wave companies are expecting, why do we run schools in total contrast?  I passionately believe that schooling is for more than producing economic agents and effectiveness, but cooperation, teambuilding and collaboration are simply values we want people to have. After reading Daniel Pink's Drive this summer, I am absolutely convinced that we need to shift schooling to meet the true dynamics of creativity. By valuing collaboration we not only make schooling more relevant, we make it more enjoyable, meaningful, and human.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Take Care of Yourself

As I have said many times before I love my job. Being a teacher is truly a great calling, a wonderful profession, and an awesome job. In fact, I hate to call it a job. I mean I work quite hard, but to call learning with children a JOB seems almost profane. Yet just because you love what you do doesn't mean you can't over do it. For the last couple weeks I have taken a noticeable absence from the blogger and twitter world mainly because I was over doing it. Even though I value all the knowledge, conversation, learning, and friendship I have acquired through these mediums, I needed a break. I had physically and mentally wore myself out ignoring many of the warning signs my body had thrown at me. Being a Type-1 diabetic it is all the more important for me to listen to my body. I became pretty ill and had to take a number of days off work. Although this killed me, it was for the best and now I am recharged and excited for the rest of the year.

The reason I am writing this post, is just to remind everyone not to overdo it. Pay attention to your body. We are all so lucky to do what we love and often times we push ourselves because we love what we do so much. Don't forget to take some time for yourself. Take a breather once and awhile. Learning to relax without the twitter stream is not the worst thing in the world. Yoga, meditation, prayer, and exercise have all been helpful giving me some me time in the past. Find something non-education related to help you relax and make sure you keep healthy. It is for the best in the end.

And glad to be back....

Take Care of Yourself

As I have said many times before I love my job. Being a teacher is truly a great calling, a wonderful profession, and an awesome job. In fact, I hate to call it a job. I mean I work quite hard, but to call learning with children a JOB seems almost profane. Yet just because you love what you do doesn't mean you can't over do it. For the last couple weeks I have taken a noticeable absence from the blogger and twitter world mainly because I was over doing it. Even though I value all the knowledge, conversation, learning, and friendship I have acquired through these mediums, I needed a break. I had physically and mentally wore myself out ignoring many of the warning signs my body had thrown at me. Being a Type-1 diabetic it is all the more important for me to listen to my body. I became pretty ill and had to take a number of days off work. Although this killed me, it was for the best and now I am recharged and excited for the rest of the year.

The reason I am writing this post, is just to remind everyone not to overdo it. Pay attention to your body. We are all so lucky to do what we love and often times we push ourselves because we love what we do so much. Don't forget to take some time for yourself. Take a breather once and awhile. Learning to relax without the twitter stream is not the worst thing in the world. Yoga, meditation, prayer, and exercise have all been helpful giving me some me time in the past. Find something non-education related to help you relax and make sure you keep healthy. It is for the best in the end.

And glad to be back....

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Forget the Clever Title: My Edcamp Experience

Last Saturday I made the precipitous voyage across the San Mateo Bridge to attend my first ever edcamp.  Truthfully speaking, I though I was an experienced edcamper because of the bevy of blogs I read on the subject and the numerous events I followed via hashtags. But like so many other things in life you really have to be there to get the aura the event produced. To put it simply, an edcamp is the apex of authentic learning. It is completely free, completely voluntary, completely democratic, and completely invigorating. You show up and figure out what you are going to learn. People volunteer to lead sessions and discussions, while participants chose where they want to spend their time. It is really a neat concept and the attendees just ooze passion.




Initially, I was excited to learn practical tips and cutting-edge technology. As the day progressed, I found myself enjoying the theoretically sessions and the ensuing conversations they produced. This was part of the beauty of the day. How many conferences lend themselves to conversations like this? Another cool part of the day was meeting some of the people I converse with on Twitter every day. Relationships develop on Twitter and when you meet people in person, those become tangible. 

The day was so energizing, so exciting. Why isn't more of education like this? There is no reason why more professional and curriculum development can't occur organically in this manner. Nor does this need to be restricted to education. I met a relator who runs a similar conference and a technology consultant who believes in this model. People themselves can create so much! I also think we can do things like this with our students. Imagine a day when students are leading each other!!!!




Some of the sessions


Below are brief discussions of the sessions I attended (I also was able to follow other sessions via Twitter, but will leave that for others)

Session1: Rules for Revolutionaries @Patrix47
He shared two books for disruptive thinking: Disrupt and Rules for Revolutionaries. Although not an educator, he is concerned with some of the narrow thinking that is the norm in the ed reform. He also gave a brief guideline for disruption.
1. Personalize  
2. Show Problem
3. Insight, Idea
4. Opportunity, Idea for Change
5. Solution
6. Ra, Ra slide
7. what you will get
8. ethos (text)
He also stressed how disruption has purpose and is emotional.

Session 2: Truth - What is It? @classroomtools (Bill Chapman)
It was really neat to get a chance to meet and chat with Bill. Bill is a retired educator and someone I talk to nearly everyday on Twitter. He gave a wonderful philosophical discussion on seeing things from multiple perspectives and analyzing sources. Here is the outline he made for his session.

Session 3: Raising Good Digital Citizens @visionsbyvicky
This was a 45 minute conversation on how we define and teach digital citizenship. There was no presentation and really no path for the conversation. It was just a place where people could talk about the issues, successes, and questions we had about learning in the 21st century. It was fabulous as it was free-flowing. It seemed more like a conversation amongst staff, than professional development. It was great to learn from others in this way.

Session 4: QR Codes & Other Cell Phone Applications @alicekeeler
Although I knew much of the information that was discussed in the session, the conversation allowed me to better apply it to my classroom. It was also a small session so I was able to easily throw ideas around with other educators. Some of us were experienced with this technology, while other were just starting. But that was what made it good. Questions were being asked, questions were being answered and learning was everywhere.

Session 5: Socratic Seminars by @Ron_Peck
Once again I got the opportunity to meet somebody I interact with on Twitter. Ron Peck is a leader in the #sschat on Mondays. He drove all the way from Southern Oregon to exchange ideas. I really enjoyed this because Ron gave me a quick primer on Socratic Seminars via a wikipage and tweets almost a year ago. In this session, I was able to expand on a strategy that I like using but need more practice in implementation.

Forget the Clever Title: My Edcamp Experience

Last Saturday I made the precipitous voyage across the San Mateo Bridge to attend my first ever edcamp.  Truthfully speaking, I though I was an experienced edcamper because of the bevy of blogs I read on the subject and the numerous events I followed via hashtags. But like so many other things in life you really have to be there to get the aura the event produced. To put it simply, an edcamp is the apex of authentic learning. It is completely free, completely voluntary, completely democratic, and completely invigorating. You show up and figure out what you are going to learn. People volunteer to lead sessions and discussions, while participants chose where they want to spend their time. It is really a neat concept and the attendees just ooze passion.




Initially, I was excited to learn practical tips and cutting-edge technology. As the day progressed, I found myself enjoying the theoretically sessions and the ensuing conversations they produced. This was part of the beauty of the day. How many conferences lend themselves to conversations like this? Another cool part of the day was meeting some of the people I converse with on Twitter every day. Relationships develop on Twitter and when you meet people in person, those become tangible. 

The day was so energizing, so exciting. Why isn't more of education like this? There is no reason why more professional and curriculum development can't occur organically in this manner. Nor does this need to be restricted to education. I met a relator who runs a similar conference and a technology consultant who believes in this model. People themselves can create so much! I also think we can do things like this with our students. Imagine a day when students are leading each other!!!!

Some of the sessions


Below are brief discussions of the sessions I attended (I also was able to follow other sessions via Twitter, but will leave that for others)

Session1: Rules for Revolutionaries @Patrix47
He shared two books for disruptive thinking: Disrupt and Rules for Revolutionaries. Although not an educator, he is concerned with some of the narrow thinking that is the norm in the ed reform. He also gave a brief guideline for disruption.
1. Personalize  
2. Show Problem
3. Insight, Idea
4. Opportunity, Idea for Change
5. Solution
6. Ra, Ra slide
7. what you will get
8. ethos (text)
He also stressed how disruption has purpose and is emotional.

Session 2: Truth - What is It? @classroomtools (Bill Chapman)
It was really neat to get a chance to meet and chat with Bill. Bill is a retired educator and someone I talk to nearly everyday on Twitter. He gave a wonderful philosophical discussion on seeing things from multiple perspectives and analyzing sources. Here is the outline he made for his session.

Session 3: Raising Good Digital Citizens @visionsbyvicky
This was a 45 minute conversation on how we define and teach digital citizenship. There was no presentation and really no path for the conversation. It was just a place where people could talk about the issues, successes, and questions we had about learning in the 21st century. It was fabulous as it was free-flowing. It seemed more like a conversation amongst staff, than professional development. It was great to learn from others in this way.

Session 4: QR Codes & Other Cell Phone Applications @alicekeeler
Although I knew much of the information that was discussed in the session, the conversation allowed me to better apply it to my classroom. It was also a small session so I was able to easily throw ideas around with other educators. Some of us were experienced with this technology, while other were just starting. But that was what made it good. Questions were being asked, questions were being answered and learning was everywhere.

Session 5: Socratic Seminars by @Ron_Peck
Once again I got the opportunity to meet somebody I interact with on Twitter. Ron Peck is a leader in the #sschat on Mondays. He drove all the way from Southern Oregon to exchange ideas. I really enjoyed this because Ron gave me a quick primer on Socratic Seminars via a wikipage and tweets almost a year ago. In this session, I was able to expand on a strategy that I like using but need more practice in implementation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Looking Back to Go Forward


Sure, its was the first day of school, but I don't need to speak too much about that. Josh Stumpenhorst explained my vision of the first day in an excellent post entitled, "I Blew It". On the first day, I mostly talk with the kids, find out about them, have them visit with friends, and start building community. Forget schedules, rules, stress, etc.

Instead, I wanted to write a bit about how last year informed my vision for this year. Teaching, as much as any profession, calls for reflection, innovation, and creativity. One of the many ways I reflect is by writing this blog. It is invaluable in that sense. Another important way of reflecting is (insert crazy idea here) by asking the students for their thoughts. I have my students fill out an evaluation form of me at the end of the year. Many responses are open-ended and I allow for anonymity by creating a google form (this also helps gather data for quick reference). Students are blunt, honest, and really helpful in their honesty. Some are funny-- apparently I elongate my "s" and tell bad jokes. Others are heart-warming--"This was the best year ever" or "I wouldn't change anything". Still others reveal areas for improvement. By looking closely at them I noticed areas where I succeeding, while also noting places for improvement. Here are some student comments and my reflection for those areas.


Pluses: Projects(PBL) and creativity
"i enjoyed the freedom and the way he teaches, we didn't feel like we had to think about grades so we were more creative on projects and got better grades. Also he was the first teacher to really teacher trust us and tell us that no matter what grade you got or if you got an award or not you still tried and thats all that matters."

"I loved how you gave us freedom when we did projects.  Even though I didn't use class time wisely sometimes, I was able to get to work really hard without someone telling me what to do, which is a huge accomplishment-- because I get really distracted easily."
 

"I enjoyed all of the interesting and creative projects that we did. Working with friends and being able to show our creativity was a great way for us to learn."

"I enjoyed all the internet projects and the freedom you gave us. I also enjoyed how you didn't stress grades and wanted more learning."

"The creativity and that we were able to help each other on things."

Pluses: Innovation Day
 "MORE TIME FOR INNOVATION DAY!!!! WE ONLY HAD LIKE 4 HRS!!!!!!!! WE NEEDED MORE TIME!!!!!!!!!"

It was really neat for me have evidence that students started to think of themselves as learners who worked together to develop ideas and passions. Undoubtedly, this was great news for me to hear. Although some students commented that it shouldn't always be group, most enjoyed this style of learning. For students that enjoy more individual work I will try to give them more opportunities for that. The more I develop my projects, even better learning will ensue. 

Negatives: My grading policies


"Grade your students and and not tell kids grades arent important to you or else people will not try as much"  same student

"how you didn't care that much for grades. Didn't help as a teacher!"

As many of you know, I am not a big fan of grades in general, but specifically I am not a fan of how we currently determine grades in most schools. My answer to this was to give student's a lot of freedom to grade their own work, while downplaying their importance. I appreciated this honesty because I realized I needed a new system. One that allowed for autonomy (I think this helped with them valuing learning), yet offered more of a structure. I read about the 3P system and will be trying it this year.

Negative: Lax on "Discipline"
"It might be helpful to not be as laid back in the future"

"I get annoyed that the second person always gets caught. It is really unfair to everybody"

"Noticing the 'drama' in the class would help prevent a lot of the issue we had."

Once again I don't think I was clear enough to my students about why I was "lax". I do not believe in the punitive aspect of regular classroom management. But as my students told me this, I realized I needed to express my philosophy better and make it tangible. Over the summer,  I read Discipline that Restores and have developed a non-punitive system that allows for restorative justice and peacemaking.


In summary,  without this ability to reflect and ask my students about their feelings, I might not have had the insight to make the changes and improvements I did. Now they all might not work, but the only way to get better is to try, to reflect, and repair understanding. This is real learning anyway. A final observation is how this all relates to assessment. The best insight somebody can get is authentic feedback. Student comments and reaction helped me change practices. If they would have given me a general letter grade, I wouldn't have had the specificity needed to make progress. But yet, we continue to assess students meaninglessly with letter grades in the name of high standards? 



Looking Back to Go Forward


Sure, its was the first day of school, but I don't need to speak too much about that. Josh Stumpenhorst explained my vision of the first day in an excellent post entitled, "I Blew It". On the first day, I mostly talk with the kids, find out about them, have them visit with friends, and start building community. Forget schedules, rules, stress, etc.

Instead, I wanted to write a bit about how last year informed my vision for this year. Teaching, as much as any profession, calls for reflection, innovation, and creativity. One of the many ways I reflect is by writing this blog. It is invaluable in that sense. Another important way of reflecting is (insert crazy idea here) by asking the students for their thoughts. I have my students fill out an evaluation form of me at the end of the year. Many responses are open-ended and I allow for anonymity by creating a google form (this also helps gather data for quick reference). Students are blunt, honest, and really helpful in their honesty. Some are funny-- apparently I elongate my "s" and tell bad jokes. Others are heart-warming--"This was the best year ever" or "I wouldn't change anything". Still others reveal areas for improvement. By looking closely at them I noticed areas where I succeeding, while also noting places for improvement. Here are some student comments and my reflection for those areas.


Pluses: Projects(PBL) and creativity
"i enjoyed the freedom and the way he teaches, we didn't feel like we had to think about grades so we were more creative on projects and got better grades. Also he was the first teacher to really teacher trust us and tell us that no matter what grade you got or if you got an award or not you still tried and thats all that matters."

"I loved how you gave us freedom when we did projects.  Even though I didn't use class time wisely sometimes, I was able to get to work really hard without someone telling me what to do, which is a huge accomplishment-- because I get really distracted easily."
 

"I enjoyed all of the interesting and creative projects that we did. Working with friends and being able to show our creativity was a great way for us to learn."

"I enjoyed all the internet projects and the freedom you gave us. I also enjoyed how you didn't stress grades and wanted more learning."

"The creativity and that we were able to help each other on things."

Pluses: Innovation Day
 "MORE TIME FOR INNOVATION DAY!!!! WE ONLY HAD LIKE 4 HRS!!!!!!!! WE NEEDED MORE TIME!!!!!!!!!"

It was really neat for me have evidence that students started to think of themselves as learners who worked together to develop ideas and passions. Undoubtedly, this was great news for me to hear. Although some students commented that it shouldn't always be group, most enjoyed this style of learning. For students that enjoy more individual work I will try to give them more opportunities for that. The more I develop my projects, even better learning will ensue. 

Negatives: My grading policies


"Grade your students and and not tell kids grades arent important to you or else people will not try as much"  same student

"how you didn't care that much for grades. Didn't help as a teacher!"

As many of you know, I am not a big fan of grades in general, but specifically I am not a fan of how we currently determine grades in most schools. My answer to this was to give student's a lot of freedom to grade their own work, while downplaying their importance. I appreciated this honesty because I realized I needed a new system. One that allowed for autonomy (I think this helped with them valuing learning), yet offered more of a structure. I read about the 3P system and will be trying it this year.

Negative: Lax on "Discipline"
"It might be helpful to not be as laid back in the future"

"I get annoyed that the second person always gets caught. It is really unfair to everybody"

"Noticing the 'drama' in the class would help prevent a lot of the issue we had."

Once again I don't think I was clear enough to my students about why I was "lax". I do not believe in the punitive aspect of regular classroom management. But as my students told me this, I realized I needed to express my philosophy better and make it tangible. Over the summer,  I read Discipline that Restores and have developed a non-punitive system that allows for restorative justice and peacemaking.


In summary,  without this ability to reflect and ask my students about their feelings, I might not have had the insight to make the changes and improvements I did. Now they all might not work, but the only way to get better is to try, to reflect, and repair understanding. This is real learning anyway. A final observation is how this all relates to assessment. The best insight somebody can get is authentic feedback. Student comments and reaction helped me change practices. If they would have given me a general letter grade, I wouldn't have had the specificity needed to make progress. But yet, we continue to assess students meaninglessly with letter grades in the name of high standards? 



Monday, August 22, 2011

My Summer Reads

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent most of my summer traveling. As a result of my traveling adventures, I spent a lot of time on buses, cars, and airplanes. In addition, I had minimal access to television and computers. Reading is one of my major hobbies and this summer provided a massive amount of time to read various genres. Below is a quick review of the books I read this summer.

Education Books

Punished by Rewards Alfie Kohn

I have to admit I finished it before summer started, but I will still include it here. Although a tad "academic" in writing style, it is an invaluable guide to somebody who really wants to understand motivation. It illuminates how entrenched "behaviorism" is in our culture and how damaging it effects can be.

Drive Daniel Pink

"When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does." Simply put, this is what Mr. Pink so elegantly describes in a very readable, rather short book. Although he focuses on business, much of the research he cites and the outcomes he deduces are applicable to education. To me, this is an absolute must read, especially since so many of my business sector friends fail to understand motivation.

Discipline that Restores Roxanne Claassen and Ron Classen

Looking for a classroom management system that restores, fixes long-term behavior, and builds trust rather than relying on controlling, relationship-destroying punitive measures? If so, I invite you to check out this book. Although I did not agree with everything in this book, it provides a wonderful framework for instituting restorative justice in the classroom. "Trust grows when agreements are made and kept" is a central thesis of this book. 

The Homework Myth  Alfie Kohn

Once again, Mr. Kohn presents evidence that challenges conventional wisdom. In a read much less "academic" than Punished by Rewards, Kohn rips apart the so-called "scholarly" evidence for  homework. While making a strong argument against the effectiveness of homework, he also raises a bigger question- Why do we allow for so many ineffective and unproven trends in education?

Other non-fiction

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Neil Postman
Bill Chapman (@classroomtools) suggested this book for a book chat with members of #sschat. While I didn't think I would find this book enjoyable, my opinion quickly changed. Unbelievably thought-provocating and brilliantly argued, Postman believed that television would essential dumb down America. Written in 1985, some of his predictions turned out to be scarily true. One of his central points is that we don't need to fear an Orwellian world, but rather a Huxlian vision.

Immigrants and the Right to Stay Joseph Carens
For people that know me, immigration reform is extremely important to me. In this brief book, Carens asks a number of university professors to give a short essay on the aforementioned title. Although slanting left, there is balance in viewpoints and some passionate views are illuminated by rational arguments. If this is a topic you find compelling, take a few days to read this short companion.


Fiction

Marcelo in the Real World Francisco Stork
Fabulous! Our English teacher gave this as a summer reading book to 8th graders. It deals with many mature topics and will engage readers in high school or adulthood. The main character is an 18-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. A summer job takes him out of his comfort zone and into the "real world", where he sees the cruel reality that can mark everyday life, especially in the upper echelons of society. One of the best young adult fiction books I have every read you will find yourself deep in philosophical thought


Golden Bull by Majorie Crowley
One of my goals this summer was to do some reading/learning about Mesopotamia. This book does a good job of presenting life in Mesopotamia. While I found this book enjoyable and I think it would help students relate to the time period, it is probably too simple of a read for students in high school.

The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
This book lives up to the hype. A real page-turner, I am currently reading the second one. Just give in and read it yourself.

The Epic of Gilgamesh Penguin Classics
As I mentioned earlier, learning about Mesopotamia was a goal of mine this summer. If one is to refresh their memory about Mesopotamia, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a definite starting point. I read it in college but didn't appreciate the beauty of the story. I also recommend the Penguin Classics version because the beginning included a ton of history and gave some truly remarkable background information.


One Hundred Days of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I always try to read a book or two like this for every modern book I pick up. While I am not a literary snob, I try to familiarize myself with major works like this. Although the story itself was confusing and dense, the writing proved so beautiful I kept reading. The genre of magic surrealism takes such imagination and creativity it leaves me awestruck. All I could think about while I was reading this was how much more jaw-dropping it must be in its original language. Also how cool would it be to combine a story like Gilgamesh with the magical surrealism of a Marquez.


My Summer Reads

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent most of my summer traveling. As a result of my traveling adventures, I spent a lot of time on buses, cars, and airplanes. In addition, I had minimal access to television and computers. Reading is one of my major hobbies and this summer provided a massive amount of time to read various genres. Below is a quick review of the books I read this summer.

Education Books

Punished by Rewards Alfie Kohn

I have to admit I finished it before summer started, but I will still include it here. Although a tad "academic" in writing style, it is an invaluable guide to somebody who really wants to understand motivation. It illuminates how entrenched "behaviorism" is in our culture and how damaging it effects can be.

Drive Daniel Pink

"When it comes to motivation, there’s a gap between what science knows and what business does." Simply put, this is what Mr. Pink so elegantly describes in a very readable, rather short book. Although he focuses on business, much of the research he cites and the outcomes he deduces are applicable to education. To me, this is an absolute must read, especially since so many of my business sector friends fail to understand motivation.

Discipline that Restores Roxanne Claassen and Ron Classen

Looking for a classroom management system that restores, fixes long-term behavior, and builds trust rather than relying on controlling, relationship-destroying punitive measures? If so, I invite you to check out this book. Although I did not agree with everything in this book, it provides a wonderful framework for instituting restorative justice in the classroom. "Trust grows when agreements are made and kept" is a central thesis of this book. 

The Homework Myth  Alfie Kohn

Once again, Mr. Kohn presents evidence that challenges conventional wisdom. In a read much less "academic" than Punished by Rewards, Kohn rips apart the so-called "scholarly" evidence for  homework. While making a strong argument against the effectiveness of homework, he also raises a bigger question- Why do we allow for so many ineffective and unproven trends in education?

Other non-fiction

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Neil Postman
Bill Chapman (@classroomtools) suggested this book for a book chat with members of #sschat. While I didn't think I would find this book enjoyable, my opinion quickly changed. Unbelievably thought-provocating and brilliantly argued, Postman believed that television would essential dumb down America. Written in 1985, some of his predictions turned out to be scarily true. One of his central points is that we don't need to fear an Orwellian world, but rather a Huxlian vision.

Immigrants and the Right to Stay Joseph Carens
For people that know me, immigration reform is extremely important to me. In this brief book, Carens asks a number of university professors to give a short essay on the aforementioned title. Although slanting left, there is balance in viewpoints and some passionate views are illuminated by rational arguments. If this is a topic you find compelling, take a few days to read this short companion.


Fiction

Marcelo in the Real World Francisco Stork
Fabulous! Our English teacher gave this as a summer reading book to 8th graders. It deals with many mature topics and will engage readers in high school or adulthood. The main character is an 18-year-old boy on the autism spectrum. A summer job takes him out of his comfort zone and into the "real world", where he sees the cruel reality that can mark everyday life, especially in the upper echelons of society. One of the best young adult fiction books I have every read you will find yourself deep in philosophical thought


Golden Bull by Majorie Crowley
One of my goals this summer was to do some reading/learning about Mesopotamia. This book does a good job of presenting life in Mesopotamia. While I found this book enjoyable and I think it would help students relate to the time period, it is probably too simple of a read for students in high school.

The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins
This book lives up to the hype. A real page-turner, I am currently reading the second one. Just give in and read it yourself.

The Epic of Gilgamesh Penguin Classics
As I mentioned earlier, learning about Mesopotamia was a goal of mine this summer. If one is to refresh their memory about Mesopotamia, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a definite starting point. I read it in college but didn't appreciate the beauty of the story. I also recommend the Penguin Classics version because the beginning included a ton of history and gave some truly remarkable background information.


One Hundred Days of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I always try to read a book or two like this for every modern book I pick up. While I am not a literary snob, I try to familiarize myself with major works like this. Although the story itself was confusing and dense, the writing proved so beautiful I kept reading. The genre of magic surrealism takes such imagination and creativity it leaves me awestruck. All I could think about while I was reading this was how much more jaw-dropping it must be in its original language. Also how cool would it be to combine a story like Gilgamesh with the magical surrealism of a Marquez.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

(End of) Summer Loving

I spent the summer away from my blog as I was doing some traveling. I had a chance to do some volunteer teaching in Quito, Ecuador and rural Mississippi. These two opportunities allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and provided me with some truly amazing experiences. Whether it was practicing Spanish, learning new cultures, or meeting new people the learning was plentiful. The learning of my summer was quite different than what I do on a normal basis. I didn't have a lot of time to read blogs, practice new technology, or exchange ideas with my PLN. But I did experience the world and its people. This is something that the teaching profession allows for and I feel that as you connect around the globe wirelessly on a daily basis, it is invaluable to connect around the globe personally. Also my anecdotes and pictures will help humanize many of the issues and idea we discuss in my classes.

I also think that the new experiences with many different students will make me a better teacher. As I dealt with various cultures and personalities, I realized how important personal relationships are to making connections. But all my travels and fun are coming to an end and I can't wait to get back to my classroom. Below are just a few pictures from my many travels (I also drove across the United States with some buddies at the end of my break).

I wish everybody a wonderful start to the year.




Waterfalls in Ecuador




Teaching English in the markets




Field Trip in Okolona, MS




Downtown Okolona, MS




Bobsledding in Park City, Utah




Next to Josh Gibson at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City

(End of) Summer Loving

I spent the summer away from my blog as I was doing some traveling. I had a chance to do some volunteer teaching in Quito, Ecuador and rural Mississippi. These two opportunities allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and provided me with some truly amazing experiences. Whether it was practicing Spanish, learning new cultures, or meeting new people the learning was plentiful. The learning of my summer was quite different than what I do on a normal basis. I didn't have a lot of time to read blogs, practice new technology, or exchange ideas with my PLN. But I did experience the world and its people. This is something that the teaching profession allows for and I feel that as you connect around the globe wirelessly on a daily basis, it is invaluable to connect around the globe personally. Also my anecdotes and pictures will help humanize many of the issues and idea we discuss in my classes.

I also think that the new experiences with many different students will make me a better teacher. As I dealt with various cultures and personalities, I realized how important personal relationships are to making connections. But all my travels and fun are coming to an end and I can't wait to get back to my classroom. Below are just a few pictures from my many travels (I also drove across the United States with some buddies at the end of my break).

I wish everybody a wonderful start to the year.

Waterfalls in Ecuador

Teaching English in the markets

Field Trip in Okolona, MS

Downtown Okolona, MS

Bobsledding in Park City, Utah

Next to Josh Gibson at the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City

Friday, July 8, 2011

Teaching Empathy

Compassion and empathy are two things I value very dearly in life. In fact, I think they are some of the most important things we should be teaching and modeling for our students. Yet they are very different. Read the following definitions below (gleaned from Dictionary.com)


Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow FOR another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
 
Empathy:  the intellectual identification WITH or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.



The two capped words speak volumes to the difference. While it is crucial to think compassionately, it is essential to practice empathy. Compassion is a much more passive activity. It is a feeling for somebody, a recognition of one's struggles. Yes this may affect decision making and lead to action, but it is not as powerful as empathy. Empathy calls for people to actually try and experience the feelings and thoughts of a particular person or group. The best way of putting this is walking a mile in their shoes. Empathy is a call to intimately place yourself in the mind and heart of another person. If this is really done, it has the unmistakable ability to foster action and critical thought to complex problems.  Thus, it is one of the reasons I think it is necessary to teach for empathy. To better prepare our future leaders to confront issues we can't even comprehend, I want empathy to be at the forefront of their thoughts and actions. This may be idealistic, but yet it makes me hopeful and excited. A world full of empathetic people and leaders is a world in which change is not possible, it is expected.

Teaching Empathy

Compassion and empathy are two things I value very dearly in life. In fact, I think they are some of the most important things we should be teaching and modeling for our students. Yet they are very different. Read the following definitions below (gleaned from Dictionary.com)


Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow FOR another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
 
Empathy:  the intellectual identification WITH or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.



The two capped words speak volumes to the difference. While it is crucial to think compassionately, it is essential to practice empathy. Compassion is a much more passive activity. It is a feeling for somebody, a recognition of one's struggles. Yes this may affect decision making and lead to action, but it is not as powerful as empathy. Empathy calls for people to actually try and experience the feelings and thoughts of a particular person or group. The best way of putting this is walking a mile in their shoes. Empathy is a call to intimately place yourself in the mind and heart of another person. If this is really done, it has the unmistakable ability to foster action and critical thought to complex problems.  Thus, it is one of the reasons I think it is necessary to teach for empathy. To better prepare our future leaders to confront issues we can't even comprehend, I want empathy to be at the forefront of their thoughts and actions. This may be idealistic, but yet it makes me hopeful and excited. A world full of empathetic people and leaders is a world in which change is not possible, it is expected.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Is a Time to Grow and Try New Things


I have not posted in about ten days because I took an extended trip to rural Mississippi. Through some previous service experience, I got hooked up with a group who provides after school programs and community support for a small town in Mississippi called Okolona. Okolona has been through some tough times and the educational opportunities have traditionally been unequal. But that is not what this post is about. For my time there, I saw amazing people committed to giving young people the best opportunities available. It was a welcoming community full of love and humility. The kids were wonderful and really loved interacting with people from across the country.  The program was made up of about 40 kids split into three groups depending on age.  Essentially, students, grades 1-8, were divided into three classes. I provided some computer skills development for all classes and also helped chaperone various activities like fishing. It was truly a magical experience for me and reinforced/strengthened some of the views I have about teaching/learning. Here are a few points I took away from the experience. 




1)   It really is all about relationships


This is a view that has taken shape for me over the last year. I want to give a lot of credit to George Couros who so passionately blogs about this and constantly relays its importance. This is not something I was taught in any credential or master’s program, but it has proved tantamount for my success. I was only with the kids for a few days. That means it was essential to build rapport from the start. Regardless of where they are from, kids want to know you care. You don’t do this by asking their grades from the last marking session or for their favorite subject in school. You build relationships by genuinely getting to know them. What are their real likes/dislikes? What are their dreams/passions? If you show an authentic interest in them, it is amazing how quickly they will open up. This is what builds a classroom. Real relationships nourish growth and are a prerequisite for a classroom built on trust, collaboration, and respect.




2)   Kids like to learn


Throughout my time there, I heard things like, “I can’t believe I am learning this” or  “Check out what I am doing”. The program was not about grades or “discipline” or test scores. Students were not competing against each other for marks or class ranks. Young people were learning simply because they enjoyed the process. Basic things like Animoto and Diigo opened up students to researching and showcasing their learning. I firmly believe we are wired this way. Humans like challenges and have an innate drive to better themselves. If we provide the proper structures and systems there is no need to pry kids or promise rewards.




3)   We really learn more from them


I had lots of reflection time over the past few days and I read something that said, “Helping somebody comes from a position of inequity, serving somebody comes from a relationship of equals.” This really struck me. Too often we think of teachers as people who command and conquer, who assert their authority and knowledge from up above. When we acknowledge ourselves as co-learners, great things happen. I honestly learned so much from them. I learned different ways to do math problems (I don’t teach math at all) and the students gave me fishing pointers (it had been years). Additionally, they taught me all about their culture and sports teams. Generally, they just taught me how to love life, even when circumstances are not ideal. If you go into teaching with the attitude that you will not learn from your students, you will miss out.



4)   Hugs counts


I will be honest, I am not a touchy, feely guy (not that there is anything wrong with that) or teacher. For as much as I like my students, I also like to keep a firm perimeter against my person. Usually handshakes and high fives are the ways I show affection. These kids had so much love to give; they would run up and hug you. It made me somewhat uncomfortable at first, but I realized this was their way of showing acceptance and importance. I am not saying you have to hug students, but much like the “relationships matter” section of this post, allow students to understand you matter to them and also have love to give.


5)   Bottom line, experiences like this make me a better teacher 


As I said before, I will take away more from the time I spent there than any kid I taught. I stepped out of my comfort zone and experienced a new way of life, from a completely different part of the country (San Francisco and Mississippi share just a few dissimilarities and have some divergent views about the world). There were different learning styles and different attitudes. This helped me experiment with my craft and encouraged me to try new things out. It is always a good thing to examine your teaching practices with those of other people. I had the opportunity to do so. It then gave me a whole new perspective to reflect from. Simply stated, it also just changed things up a bit. Checking new things out often gives you new energy to return to your home base so to speak.  Although I believe that most kids have the same basic needs and wants, different people go about things with different methods. The things I learned will no doubt help me when I return to the classroom. My students will also see pictures and learn from my experiences. I will show them my human side. This was my vacation and I have pictures and stories to share with them.

In closing, I always advocate trying something new because it provides an opportunity to learn, grow, and be challenged. These are all things humans desire voraciously.

Summer Is a Time to Grow and Try New Things


I have not posted in about ten days because I took an extended trip to rural Mississippi. Through some previous service experience, I got hooked up with a group who provides after school programs and community support for a small town in Mississippi called Okolona. Okolona has been through some tough times and the educational opportunities have traditionally been unequal. But that is not what this post is about. For my time there, I saw amazing people committed to giving young people the best opportunities available. It was a welcoming community full of love and humility. The kids were wonderful and really loved interacting with people from across the country.  The program was made up of about 40 kids split into three groups depending on age.  Essentially, students, grades 1-8, were divided into three classes. I provided some computer skills development for all classes and also helped chaperone various activities like fishing. It was truly a magical experience for me and reinforced/strengthened some of the views I have about teaching/learning. Here are a few points I took away from the experience. 




1)   It really is all about relationships


This is a view that has taken shape for me over the last year. I want to give a lot of credit to George Couros who so passionately blogs about this and constantly relays its importance. This is not something I was taught in any credential or master’s program, but it has proved tantamount for my success. I was only with the kids for a few days. That means it was essential to build rapport from the start. Regardless of where they are from, kids want to know you care. You don’t do this by asking their grades from the last marking session or for their favorite subject in school. You build relationships by genuinely getting to know them. What are their real likes/dislikes? What are their dreams/passions? If you show an authentic interest in them, it is amazing how quickly they will open up. This is what builds a classroom. Real relationships nourish growth and are a prerequisite for a classroom built on trust, collaboration, and respect.




2)   Kids like to learn


Throughout my time there, I heard things like, “I can’t believe I am learning this” or  “Check out what I am doing”. The program was not about grades or “discipline” or test scores. Students were not competing against each other for marks or class ranks. Young people were learning simply because they enjoyed the process. Basic things like Animoto and Diigo opened up students to researching and showcasing their learning. I firmly believe we are wired this way. Humans like challenges and have an innate drive to better themselves. If we provide the proper structures and systems there is no need to pry kids or promise rewards.




3)   We really learn more from them


I had lots of reflection time over the past few days and I read something that said, “Helping somebody comes from a position of inequity, serving somebody comes from a relationship of equals.” This really struck me. Too often we think of teachers as people who command and conquer, who assert their authority and knowledge from up above. When we acknowledge ourselves as co-learners, great things happen. I honestly learned so much from them. I learned different ways to do math problems (I don’t teach math at all) and the students gave me fishing pointers (it had been years). Additionally, they taught me all about their culture and sports teams. Generally, they just taught me how to love life, even when circumstances are not ideal. If you go into teaching with the attitude that you will not learn from your students, you will miss out.



4)   Hugs counts


I will be honest, I am not a touchy, feely guy (not that there is anything wrong with that) or teacher. For as much as I like my students, I also like to keep a firm perimeter against my person. Usually handshakes and high fives are the ways I show affection. These kids had so much love to give; they would run up and hug you. It made me somewhat uncomfortable at first, but I realized this was their way of showing acceptance and importance. I am not saying you have to hug students, but much like the “relationships matter” section of this post, allow students to understand you matter to them and also have love to give.


5)   Bottom line, experiences like this make me a better teacher 


As I said before, I will take away more from the time I spent there than any kid I taught. I stepped out of my comfort zone and experienced a new way of life, from a completely different part of the country (San Francisco and Mississippi share just a few dissimilarities and have some divergent views about the world). There were different learning styles and different attitudes. This helped me experiment with my craft and encouraged me to try new things out. It is always a good thing to examine your teaching practices with those of other people. I had the opportunity to do so. It then gave me a whole new perspective to reflect from. Simply stated, it also just changed things up a bit. Checking new things out often gives you new energy to return to your home base so to speak.  Although I believe that most kids have the same basic needs and wants, different people go about things with different methods. The things I learned will no doubt help me when I return to the classroom. My students will also see pictures and learn from my experiences. I will show them my human side. This was my vacation and I have pictures and stories to share with them.

In closing, I always advocate trying something new because it provides an opportunity to learn, grow, and be challenged. These are all things humans desire voraciously.