Monday, May 23, 2011

Creating Video Games in the Classroom

Video games have a very basic component that I believe is very interesting to look at from an educational standpoint. The very essence of most video games stipulates that you cannot move on to the next level or stage until you have attained mastery of the current one. In other words, you cannot move on to "level 2" until you have finished "level 1". In order to pass level 1 you have to demonstrate all the necessary skills that the creator deems necessary.

If you look at it from that angle, there are some very clear positives. The ability to make sure basic skills are met before proceeding is important to many subjects. It also allows for a certain level of personalization, as you are not confined by what the rest of the class is doing.

What worries me to some extent is that one person (the teacher or company) could design games that would be as constricting as textbooks. Sure they would be a bit more fun, but does it really deviate from the finish the chapter and answer questions model?  Once you've answered the questions you can move on and are deemed to have a certain level of mastery. Video games can certainly be dynamic and interactive learning tools, but do they really allow students to take control of their learning? I really don't have the answer. Maybe and maybe not.

But what if the students design the video games themselves? They would have to creatively design a system that ensures mastery to move on. Not only does that mean they have to have conceptual understanding of the material, they have to actively design levels that build upon the knowledge they learned or are learning.

Besides middle school history, I teach one period of seventh grade Writing and English. It is always a challenge to make things like thesis statements, prepositions, and phrases come alive and be relative. Last week, I designed a lesson where students had to develop a small game to teach their friends the difference between adjective and adverb phrases. Usually students use something like youtube, jeopardy labs, or powerpoint to design a game. This time the students taught me about a website called Sploder.

Sploder.com is a free website that allows people to develop basic and unique web-based video games. It is extremely easy to use and allows for students to own the process of design. Many students designed games which called for other students to correctly answer questions to move on. If they got it right they proceed in the game. If it was wrong they had to go back. Others had the answer lead them down a path. Enough wrong answers and they would be lost in tunnels and other things. In between questions, the games often called for users to  fight off villains and conquer other obstacles. In brief, it is pretty cool stuff. 

One of my students games


A couple great things are happening here. First, students are active creators using 21st century technology and thinking. Second, they have to design levels that work with their understanding of the material. If they are working with a partner this means they are constantly talking about how they can insert adverb and adjectives phrases into the game. This leads to a learning that is much more authentic than textbook problems. Finally, the students have a product that other students can play and learn from. If you have 15 groups making a game then you have 15 different ways for students to learn and practice.

This also calls for teachers to be constantly moving around the classroom to make sure the different games and levels are built upon correct answers and thinking. I believe that this is another positive because it calls for formative assessment that is built upon conversation rather than bubbling in answers on a quiz. So video games in the classroom pose some interesting questions, but I think if students design them it can be a deeply educational tool full of authentic learning.

Creating Video Games in the Classroom

Video games have a very basic component that I believe is very interesting to look at from an educational standpoint. The very essence of most video games stipulates that you cannot move on to the next level or stage until you have attained mastery of the current one. In other words, you cannot move on to "level 2" until you have finished "level 1". In order to pass level 1 you have to demonstrate all the necessary skills that the creator deems necessary.

If you look at it from that angle, there are some very clear positives. The ability to make sure basic skills are met before proceeding is important to many subjects. It also allows for a certain level of personalization, as you are not confined by what the rest of the class is doing.

What worries me to some extent is that one person (the teacher or company) could design games that would be as constricting as textbooks. Sure they would be a bit more fun, but does it really deviate from the finish the chapter and answer questions model?  Once you've answered the questions you can move on and are deemed to have a certain level of mastery. Video games can certainly be dynamic and interactive learning tools, but do they really allow students to take control of their learning? I really don't have the answer. Maybe and maybe not.

But what if the students design the video games themselves? They would have to creatively design a system that ensures mastery to move on. Not only does that mean they have to have conceptual understanding of the material, they have to actively design levels that build upon the knowledge they learned or are learning.

Besides middle school history, I teach one period of seventh grade Writing and English. It is always a challenge to make things like thesis statements, prepositions, and phrases come alive and be relative. Last week, I designed a lesson where students had to develop a small game to teach their friends the difference between adjective and adverb phrases. Usually students use something like youtube, jeopardy labs, or powerpoint to design a game. This time the students taught me about a website called Sploder.

Sploder.com is a free website that allows people to develop basic and unique web-based video games. It is extremely easy to use and allows for students to own the process of design. Many students designed games which called for other students to correctly answer questions to move on. If they got it right they proceed in the game. If it was wrong they had to go back. Others had the answer lead them down a path. Enough wrong answers and they would be lost in tunnels and other things. In between questions, the games often called for users to  fight off villains and conquer other obstacles. In brief, it is pretty cool stuff. 

One of my students games


A couple great things are happening here. First, students are active creators using 21st century technology and thinking. Second, they have to design levels that work with their understanding of the material. If they are working with a partner this means they are constantly talking about how they can insert adverb and adjectives phrases into the game. This leads to a learning that is much more authentic than textbook problems. Finally, the students have a product that other students can play and learn from. If you have 15 groups making a game then you have 15 different ways for students to learn and practice.

This also calls for teachers to be constantly moving around the classroom to make sure the different games and levels are built upon correct answers and thinking. I believe that this is another positive because it calls for formative assessment that is built upon conversation rather than bubbling in answers on a quiz. So video games in the classroom pose some interesting questions, but I think if students design them it can be a deeply educational tool full of authentic learning.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Our Innovation Day

A Puppet Show
Video Game Design
Break Dancing
BBQ Ribs
A 3D Minnie Mouse made of candy
A wood reconstruction of the Twin Towers
Stop-motion video
Comic Books
Three-Layered Cakes
Scrapbooking
History of the CIA
Photography
Sports Tutorials
Horror Movies
Golden Gate Bridge Models
Story Writing
Archaeology and Architecture
Battle Scenes
Singing
Documentaries
Model Making
Painting
Sketching


After this list ask yourself two questions


Are these learned in traditional schools and classrooms?
Are these interesting and engaging topics for kids?

Unfortunately, a yes answer for both questions would be hard to come by. Surely, students find these topics interesting and engaging, but school is usually not a sanctuary for such creativity and thought. My school aimed to change that yesterday as we hosted our first ever Innovation Day. Innovation Day, an idea I borrowed and tweaked from Josh Stupenhorst, was meant to allow students the ability to foster passion, creativity, and enjoyment from learning. Students developed their own unique projects based on ANYTHING they wanted. The goal was for them to learn and hopefully create something unique. This was not a day of competition nor conformity, it was a day of excitement. The above list was a simple snapshot of some of the things our students studied and/or created. It was simply a magical day. The type of day that reminds us why kids are such precious creatures. They have an amazing fascination and curiosity of the world that came to the surface as they worked on their crazy projects.





And while the day was not perfect, the end results and pride the students displayed in their work left me speechless. Below are a few notes I took away from the experience:


Everybody can learn: When students are completely engaged in what they are studying and see value in it, students WILL step up to the plate. Teachers often complain that students are unmotivated or unable to learn. But maybe we should take a closer look at the task at hand. Do students see a value in it? Is it worth their time? Does it give them autonomy and a chance to work with others in a non-competitive environment?




Behavior problems were a non-issue: As I proposed the idea to my faculty a couple of months ago, some teachers were fearful that students would run around and abuse the freedom they were given. I promised them that if we actually gave them freedom and not the facade of it, we would not have to worry about it. Thus was the case. We had some students get frustrated because things were not going right, but a valuable lesson was gleaned as failure was seen as a component of innovation.



Students want to help one another: Once grades are removed, collaboration flourishes. Every time I looked around the school, students were their own teachers. As students were grouped by interest type and not levels, they enjoyed working on each other's ideas. Students would stop what they were doing to help a friend. Students would also stop to help somebody they didn't know. Students were proud of their peers. It broke down barriers and cliques. It exposed learning as a very social activity instead of a passive bore fest.





Teachers do not need to know everything: I was mainly helping tech students and I could barely help them as they designed video games, Sketch-up, or produced movies. Rather than the "know-it all" on the stage, I was a problem-solver who helped students help themselves. We were co-learners and nobody seemed to mind. Other teachers shared similar experiences.





Administration and faculty matters: The students would not have had this wonderful opportunity if my administration and fellow staff members spurned my idea. Although I had the idea to bring this to my school, it was a team effort. Without the support of the whole school, a day like this doesn't happen. Furthermore, the fellow teachers needed to keep the integrity of innovation day by really ceding control to students.





Learning does not fit into subject: You need math for video game design. You need to know statistics to figure out where  your "hot spot" is on the basketball court. Google Sketch-up is a lesson in geometry. To develop a movie on any subject you need language skills. Model building can take into account physics. Cooking is a giant chemistry experiment. A comic book takes art and writing skills. Why do we pigeon-hole subjects?





The process is more important than the product: Some of the projects went off without a hitch. Many others needed to be changed on the fly. Other more ambitious ideas needed to be adapted to the resources or time period we had. Many students saw their ideas evolve and change over the course of the day. A realization of the process of learning is important for metacognition.





Authentic pride and success is priceless: Students felt proud of what they did and what they accomplished. This success didn't depend on someone else's definition. Success wasn't defined by the grade received or accolades won. Instead, it was a sense of worth at completing what was important to them. This sort of intrinsic satisfaction must be duplicated.




Gender roles were slightly bent: Surely I would have liked to see more male bakers and females techies, but I think there was a start. Students felt compelled to study something that they wanted. We had some females study science related activities while males painted and drew. I think the more innovation days, the more likely students will step out of comfort zones and try something that would be considered "girly" or "manly"



This is how learning can be: There was a simple shift that happened yesterday. Kids WANTED to come to school. They were having fun and learning at the same time. This can happen. The more we push ourselves to do days like this, more students and parents will push for change. They are just looking for people to lead.




***If you are inspired to do this at your school/class I have a blog on some of the planning.

Our Innovation Day

A Puppet Show
Video Game Design
Break Dancing
BBQ Ribs
A 3D Minnie Mouse made of candy
A wood reconstruction of the Twin Towers
Stop-motion video
Comic Books
Three-Layered Cakes
Scrapbooking
History of the CIA
Photography
Sports Tutorials
Horror Movies
Golden Gate Bridge Models
Story Writing
Archaeology and Architecture
Battle Scenes
Singing
Documentaries
Model Making
Painting
Sketching


After this list ask yourself two questions


Are these learned in traditional schools and classrooms?
Are these interesting and engaging topics for kids?

Unfortunately, a yes answer for both questions would be hard to come by. Surely, students find these topics interesting and engaging, but school is usually not a sanctuary for such creativity and thought. My school aimed to change that yesterday as we hosted our first ever Innovation Day. Innovation Day, an idea I borrowed and tweaked from Josh Stupenhorst, was meant to allow students the ability to foster passion, creativity, and enjoyment from learning. Students developed their own unique projects based on ANYTHING they wanted. The goal was for them to learn and hopefully create something unique. This was not a day of competition nor conformity, it was a day of excitement. The above list was a simple snapshot of some of the things our students studied and/or created. It was simply a magical day. The type of day that reminds us why kids are such precious creatures. They have an amazing fascination and curiosity of the world that came to the surface as they worked on their crazy projects.





And while the day was not perfect, the end results and pride the students displayed in their work left me speechless. Below are a few notes I took away from the experience:


Everybody can learn: When students are completely engaged in what they are studying and see value in it, students WILL step up to the plate. Teachers often complain that students are unmotivated or unable to learn. But maybe we should take a closer look at the task at hand. Do students see a value in it? Is it worth their time? Does it give them autonomy and a chance to work with others in a non-competitive environment?




Behavior problems were a non-issue: As I proposed the idea to my faculty a couple of months ago, some teachers were fearful that students would run around and abuse the freedom they were given. I promised them that if we actually gave them freedom and not the facade of it, we would not have to worry about it. Thus was the case. We had some students get frustrated because things were not going right, but a valuable lesson was gleaned as failure was seen as a component of innovation.



Students want to help one another: Once grades are removed, collaboration flourishes. Every time I looked around the school, students were their own teachers. As students were grouped by interest type and not levels, they enjoyed working on each other's ideas. Students would stop what they were doing to help a friend. Students would also stop to help somebody they didn't know. Students were proud of their peers. It broke down barriers and cliques. It exposed learning as a very social activity instead of a passive bore fest.





Teachers do not need to know everything: I was mainly helping tech students and I could barely help them as they designed video games, Sketch-up, or produced movies. Rather than the "know-it all" on the stage, I was a problem-solver who helped students help themselves. We were co-learners and nobody seemed to mind. Other teachers shared similar experiences.





Administration and faculty matters: The students would not have had this wonderful opportunity if my administration and fellow staff members spurned my idea. Although I had the idea to bring this to my school, it was a team effort. Without the support of the whole school, a day like this doesn't happen. Furthermore, the fellow teachers needed to keep the integrity of innovation day by really ceding control to students.





Learning does not fit into subject: You need math for video game design. You need to know statistics to figure out where  your "hot spot" is on the basketball court. Google Sketch-up is a lesson in geometry. To develop a movie on any subject you need language skills. Model building can take into account physics. Cooking is a giant chemistry experiment. A comic book takes art and writing skills. Why do we pigeon-hole subjects?





The process is more important than the product: Some of the projects went off without a hitch. Many others needed to be changed on the fly. Other more ambitious ideas needed to be adapted to the resources or time period we had. Many students saw their ideas evolve and change over the course of the day. A realization of the process of learning is important for metacognition.





Authentic pride and success is priceless: Students felt proud of what they did and what they accomplished. This success didn't depend on someone else's definition. Success wasn't defined by the grade received or accolades won. Instead, it was a sense of worth at completing what was important to them. This sort of intrinsic satisfaction must be duplicated.




Gender roles were slightly bent: Surely I would have liked to see more male bakers and females techies, but I think there was a start. Students felt compelled to study something that they wanted. We had some females study science related activities while males painted and drew. I think the more innovation days, the more likely students will step out of comfort zones and try something that would be considered "girly" or "manly"



This is how learning can be: There was a simple shift that happened yesterday. Kids WANTED to come to school. They were having fun and learning at the same time. This can happen. The more we push ourselves to do days like this, more students and parents will push for change. They are just looking for people to lead.




***If you are inspired to do this at your school/class I have a blog on some of the planning.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Does Traditional Schooling Limit Options

My 8th grade United States History class is currently putting together a Civil War museum. They picked a specific area (spies, diseases, strategies, weapons, minorities) and studied the topic in both the American Civil War and another civil war of their choosing. In addition, they made a piece of original art to express the subject. I did this because the California standards stop at Reconstruction, but students always ask about modern history. While many other teachers say this class has quit, I can't get them to leave each period. They love the project and have been working furiously for a couple weeks now. I think a lot of it has to do with the autonomy and freedom they have been given.

One team wanted to build an Andriod app to use as part of their exhibit. I told the person working on this that I would help as much as I could, but it would be a giant learning process for me too. On his own, the student looked into building this app and downloaded all the appropriate software to start writing JAVA code. When he explained all he had done on his own, I was speechless. This student is in 8th grade and taught himself how to code. He got stuck the other day in class and we sat down together to brainstorm a solution. As we learned from our mistakes, the two of us figured out how to write code for a very basic Android app. We did this through online tutorials and videos (this open source learning could be a post in itself). Although all we did was write text on the app, I was proud of how much this student taught me and how gifted he was with this technology. Surely, this student has a future in computer engineering or technology.

Has curriculum changed much? (Via Yale's Digital Commons)

But then I got to thinking. Although this student is brilliant, his "marks" (makes me shiver just mentioning) indicate he is only average to above average. While he can teach adults high level tech, he gets B's in history, english, and math. As he progresses through middle and high school he will be judged on the merits of his grades in these classes.  Let's just say this student applies to a university to go onto computer engineering. Because we limit school to a very specific (some would say outdated list of subjects), his chances of studying computer engineering will hinge on how he does on subjects relatively unrelated to technology. Granted, I think all students should be well rounded and have a basic competency in all subjects, but have we changed the curriculum to address the changes in the modern world? Do we desperately hold on to material that may be outdated? Do we limit student's future options because we concentrate so much on subjects that may not always be transferable to future innovation? The system worked well for me because I did well in reading and writing classes and continued to take these in college. I had a bevy of options as I studied political science and history. But are options open for students who may not excel in traditional areas but could be successful in these "new" subjects.

Does Traditional Schooling Limit Options

My 8th grade United States History class is currently putting together a Civil War museum. They picked a specific area (spies, diseases, strategies, weapons, minorities) and studied the topic in both the American Civil War and another civil war of their choosing. In addition, they made a piece of original art to express the subject. I did this because the California standards stop at Reconstruction, but students always ask about modern history. While many other teachers say this class has quit, I can't get them to leave each period. They love the project and have been working furiously for a couple weeks now. I think a lot of it has to do with the autonomy and freedom they have been given.

One team wanted to build an Andriod app to use as part of their exhibit. I told the person working on this that I would help as much as I could, but it would be a giant learning process for me too. On his own, the student looked into building this app and downloaded all the appropriate software to start writing JAVA code. When he explained all he had done on his own, I was speechless. This student is in 8th grade and taught himself how to code. He got stuck the other day in class and we sat down together to brainstorm a solution. As we learned from our mistakes, the two of us figured out how to write code for a very basic Android app. We did this through online tutorials and videos (this open source learning could be a post in itself). Although all we did was write text on the app, I was proud of how much this student taught me and how gifted he was with this technology. Surely, this student has a future in computer engineering or technology.

Has curriculum changed much? (Via Yale's Digital Commons)

But then I got to thinking. Although this student is brilliant, his "marks" (makes me shiver just mentioning) indicate he is only average to above average. While he can teach adults high level tech, he gets B's in history, english, and math. As he progresses through middle and high school he will be judged on the merits of his grades in these classes.  Let's just say this student applies to a university to go onto computer engineering. Because we limit school to a very specific (some would say outdated list of subjects), his chances of studying computer engineering will hinge on how he does on subjects relatively unrelated to technology. Granted, I think all students should be well rounded and have a basic competency in all subjects, but have we changed the curriculum to address the changes in the modern world? Do we desperately hold on to material that may be outdated? Do we limit student's future options because we concentrate so much on subjects that may not always be transferable to future innovation? The system worked well for me because I did well in reading and writing classes and continued to take these in college. I had a bevy of options as I studied political science and history. But are options open for students who may not excel in traditional areas but could be successful in these "new" subjects.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Planning our Innovation Day

On March 4, I read a blog post by Josh Stumpenhorst titled Innovation Day. Josh's idea of Innovation Day aimed to give students complete autonomy and choice, so that passion and creativity would be at the heart of learning. The beauty of Innovation Day was that students were given complete autonomy to design a school day to match their interests. For some people this was building, while for others this was playing music. While a handful of students spent the day writing, others spent it producing dance. The end result was total student investment, innovation, and a true recognition of the whole child.

After reading the post, I was instantly inspired. Why couldn't we do this at my school? Without thinking I emailed the post to my staff. The body of the email read something like "could we?" The faculty jumped on and my amazing principal gave me the go ahead to plan it. I immediately contacted Josh via Twitter and he gave me some tips and some of the forms he used. One of the things I truly appreciate is that Josh did not give me a ton of specifics. He was more than helpful, but you could tell he also knew that my school's take on Innovation Day would be different than his. At first some of the staff was a little hesitant with the lack of structure, but as we started to plan the anticipation grew.

We gave ourselves about two months of leeway to plan and organize the event. We let the students in on it early on and gave them some time to think about what THEY wanted to do on Innovation Day. We then gave them a simple plan sheet to sort out their thinking and put some thoughts on paper. It also gave us an opportunity to help divide students into general interest areas. These general interest groups were created:

PRESS TEAM      SCIENCE       HISTORY     SPORTS/ACTING      SCULPTING/BUILDING
WRITING/COMIC BOOKS      PAINTING/DRAWING    PHOTOGRAPHY/FASHION
TECHNOLOGY   BBQ    COOKING/BAKING   MUSIC

After figuring out what students wanted to do, we had to make sure all projects would be feasible. The hardest issue was cooking and baking. We put a blast out to the community and asked for ovens to cook some of the food related items. We also had volunteers sign up to shuttle food from said homes to school. These are just some of the issues we had to attack together as a faculty to put this event on. What this process has shown us is that we can really work together to make something great for the kids.

All this planning is about to pay off. Innovation Day for my school is May 17, Tuesday. Students will be filming, painting, sculpting, acting, writing, and cooking. They are beyond excited. They constantly bring it up and talk about it. I am sure the day will bring craziness, but I hope we can capture student passion and continue to excite students. There will be a total shift on May 17--students will wake up WANTING to come to school. If this idea of student autonomy works, we have exciting plans for next year. We are thinking of having students select art interest groups and give them thirty minutes to an hour a week to develop that interest. It could be painting, it could be acting, it could be digital design. This really pumps me up. Some of the eighth graders are already complaining that they have to leave when we are making all these cool changes. My hope is that one day all schools embrace this type of learning. 

As one student put it, "Innovation Day is only one day". She is right, but the hope is that with this success more and more school days will be truly innovative.

I will let you know how the day goes

Planning our Innovation Day

On March 4, I read a blog post by Josh Stumpenhorst titled Innovation Day. Josh's idea of Innovation Day aimed to give students complete autonomy and choice, so that passion and creativity would be at the heart of learning. The beauty of Innovation Day was that students were given complete autonomy to design a school day to match their interests. For some people this was building, while for others this was playing music. While a handful of students spent the day writing, others spent it producing dance. The end result was total student investment, innovation, and a true recognition of the whole child.

After reading the post, I was instantly inspired. Why couldn't we do this at my school? Without thinking I emailed the post to my staff. The body of the email read something like "could we?" The faculty jumped on and my amazing principal gave me the go ahead to plan it. I immediately contacted Josh via Twitter and he gave me some tips and some of the forms he used. One of the things I truly appreciate is that Josh did not give me a ton of specifics. He was more than helpful, but you could tell he also knew that my school's take on Innovation Day would be different than his. At first some of the staff was a little hesitant with the lack of structure, but as we started to plan the anticipation grew.

We gave ourselves about two months of leeway to plan and organize the event. We let the students in on it early on and gave them some time to think about what THEY wanted to do on Innovation Day. We then gave them a simple plan sheet to sort out their thinking and put some thoughts on paper. It also gave us an opportunity to help divide students into general interest areas. These general interest groups were created:

PRESS TEAM      SCIENCE       HISTORY     SPORTS/ACTING      SCULPTING/BUILDING
WRITING/COMIC BOOKS      PAINTING/DRAWING    PHOTOGRAPHY/FASHION
TECHNOLOGY   BBQ    COOKING/BAKING   MUSIC

After figuring out what students wanted to do, we had to make sure all projects would be feasible. The hardest issue was cooking and baking. We put a blast out to the community and asked for ovens to cook some of the food related items. We also had volunteers sign up to shuttle food from said homes to school. These are just some of the issues we had to attack together as a faculty to put this event on. What this process has shown us is that we can really work together to make something great for the kids.

All this planning is about to pay off. Innovation Day for my school is May 17, Tuesday. Students will be filming, painting, sculpting, acting, writing, and cooking. They are beyond excited. They constantly bring it up and talk about it. I am sure the day will bring craziness, but I hope we can capture student passion and continue to excite students. There will be a total shift on May 17--students will wake up WANTING to come to school. If this idea of student autonomy works, we have exciting plans for next year. We are thinking of having students select art interest groups and give them thirty minutes to an hour a week to develop that interest. It could be painting, it could be acting, it could be digital design. This really pumps me up. Some of the eighth graders are already complaining that they have to leave when we are making all these cool changes. My hope is that one day all schools embrace this type of learning. 

As one student put it, "Innovation Day is only one day". She is right, but the hope is that with this success more and more school days will be truly innovative.

I will let you know how the day goes

Sunday, May 8, 2011

One of my proudest days


Today was a special day for me. The University of California, Santa Barbara Club Baseball Team qualified for its first WorldSeries. Why do I care? I care because not only was I a player, but also because I was a co-founder just four years ago.

This day is the culmination of passion, leadership, and relationship. Although it may not have a direct link to teaching, it says a lot about learning.  It says a lot about investment in others and your impact on countless people.

I was a pretty good high school baseball player who received quite a few honors and awards during my senior season. Unfortunately, I am also 5’9’’ and 150 pounds. No matter how good I was, playing college ball was going to be quite a long shot. I had some small school offers and could have played junior college baseball, but I decided to go to a large four-year school and give up baseball.

It just so happened that my freshman (and current) roommate shared the same 5’9’’, 150-pound frame and was similarly addicted to baseball.  We hated that we had to give it up and wondered why there was not a club sport for baseball. We were dumbfounded that a large school did not have what amounted to a JV baseball team.

My roommate and I


By our sophomore year, we couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore. My roommate and I joined the local beer league and were quickly drafted to the last place team. That team was a joke, but we slowly met some other guys who wanted to keep playing at a high level.

Junior year we grabbed those guys, sent out a facebook message, and had a meeting about starting a club baseball team. We had exactly nine guys at that meeting, but we went for it. We started practicing a few times a week and were able to schedule games against a few colleges here and there. Although we never had more than 15 guys on the team, were able to finish with a winning record and were excited to join the official National Club Baseball Association for our senior season.

Tryouts rolled around for our senior season and we had over 60 guys sign-up. My roommate and I were thrust into picking, organizing, and maintaining a serious baseball team made of our peers. We selected our team and were faced with structuring a budget (maxing out our credit cards), praying for fields, hoping for umpires, and yearning for success.  Our selected team of 30 college kids put a blind faith in us and was ready to sacrifice countless hours for fundraising, practice, traveling, and sleeping on floors to make this thing a success.

No matter the quagmire we put ourselves into that year (and there were many) we seemed to escape by the sheer will and passion of the group. We had an uncanny trust in each other and knew that it would work out. We traveled across the country on pennies. We played schools like Northwestern, Missouri, and Colorado in a spring training tournament in Florida. We competed against teams like Weber State and Utah State in a tournament in Nevada. We even managed to win our league and qualify for regionals in our first year.  In fact, we ended the regular season ranked #16 in the nation. It was my first step into real leadership and I learned that passion, problem solving, and an ability to learn and listen to people would lead to success. It changed my life and had a profound impact on the person I am today. 

The first official year at a tournament in Florida


The week before the regional tournament in San Diego, CA I found myself in the Internal Care Unit. I had found out that I was a type-1 diabetic and was in a full-blown diabetic coma. I was a college-level athlete who had unknowingly been playing all year with diabetes and it finally took its toll. I was beyond sick but the team stopped by on the way to regionals to check-in and they legitimately cared for my health. I realized that my roommate and I had created something way beyond baseball; we created a group who would be friends forever.

Although I vowed I would play in that regional, I simply could not. I had to ride the bench for the most important series of the year. A young freshman took my place and as well as he played we could not pull out the win. As sad as we were to see that season end, we were more proud of the team and relationships that we had formed. Our passion had turned into something more than we could have ever imagined.

Our only true concern was that after we left it would end. We had underestimated the group we had created and left behind. The team did not end, it just kept getting better. We still go watch them and they still call us when things happen. And even though we only really know a handful of players now, there is still a deep connection there.

Last year the team was three outs away from winning regionals and advancing to the World Series. This year, they did it. That kid who replaced me three years ago is now the manager and had nine rbis in the championship game today. The freshmen that were there when we were struggling to create a team, are now seniors. They knew they had to call us first. It is a beautiful thing to see something that was created on a whim, turn out to be so successful.

 I am filled with pride and realize why I teach today. I teach because I have a passion for education just like I have a passion for baseball. The team that we created gives young men a chance to keep that passion for four more years. The team is a place to develop leadership skills, to build relationships, and most importantly to have fun. This team idea is what I try to maintain in my classroom. I may never know the impact I have on people, but today it was tangible. I heard the screams, shouts, and pure joy of success. I am still smiling….

My teammates and I at graduation

One of my proudest days


Today was a special day for me. The University of California, Santa Barbara Club Baseball Team qualified for its first WorldSeries. Why do I care? I care because not only was I a player, but also because I was a co-founder just four years ago.

This day is the culmination of passion, leadership, and relationship. Although it may not have a direct link to teaching, it says a lot about learning.  It says a lot about investment in others and your impact on countless people.

I was a pretty good high school baseball player who received quite a few honors and awards during my senior season. Unfortunately, I am also 5’9’’ and 150 pounds. No matter how good I was, playing college ball was going to be quite a long shot. I had some small school offers and could have played junior college baseball, but I decided to go to a large four-year school and give up baseball.

It just so happened that my freshman (and current) roommate shared the same 5’9’’, 150-pound frame and was similarly addicted to baseball.  We hated that we had to give it up and wondered why there was not a club sport for baseball. We were dumbfounded that a large school did not have what amounted to a JV baseball team.

My roommate and I


By our sophomore year, we couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore. My roommate and I joined the local beer league and were quickly drafted to the last place team. That team was a joke, but we slowly met some other guys who wanted to keep playing at a high level.

Junior year we grabbed those guys, sent out a facebook message, and had a meeting about starting a club baseball team. We had exactly nine guys at that meeting, but we went for it. We started practicing a few times a week and were able to schedule games against a few colleges here and there. Although we never had more than 15 guys on the team, were able to finish with a winning record and were excited to join the official National Club Baseball Association for our senior season.

Tryouts rolled around for our senior season and we had over 60 guys sign-up. My roommate and I were thrust into picking, organizing, and maintaining a serious baseball team made of our peers. We selected our team and were faced with structuring a budget (maxing out our credit cards), praying for fields, hoping for umpires, and yearning for success.  Our selected team of 30 college kids put a blind faith in us and was ready to sacrifice countless hours for fundraising, practice, traveling, and sleeping on floors to make this thing a success.

No matter the quagmire we put ourselves into that year (and there were many) we seemed to escape by the sheer will and passion of the group. We had an uncanny trust in each other and knew that it would work out. We traveled across the country on pennies. We played schools like Northwestern, Missouri, and Colorado in a spring training tournament in Florida. We competed against teams like Weber State and Utah State in a tournament in Nevada. We even managed to win our league and qualify for regionals in our first year.  In fact, we ended the regular season ranked #16 in the nation. It was my first step into real leadership and I learned that passion, problem solving, and an ability to learn and listen to people would lead to success. It changed my life and had a profound impact on the person I am today. 

The first official year at a tournament in Florida


The week before the regional tournament in San Diego, CA I found myself in the Internal Care Unit. I had found out that I was a type-1 diabetic and was in a full-blown diabetic coma. I was a college-level athlete who had unknowingly been playing all year with diabetes and it finally took its toll. I was beyond sick but the team stopped by on the way to regionals to check-in and they legitimately cared for my health. I realized that my roommate and I had created something way beyond baseball; we created a group who would be friends forever.

Although I vowed I would play in that regional, I simply could not. I had to ride the bench for the most important series of the year. A young freshman took my place and as well as he played we could not pull out the win. As sad as we were to see that season end, we were more proud of the team and relationships that we had formed. Our passion had turned into something more than we could have ever imagined.

Our only true concern was that after we left it would end. We had underestimated the group we had created and left behind. The team did not end, it just kept getting better. We still go watch them and they still call us when things happen. And even though we only really know a handful of players now, there is still a deep connection there.

Last year the team was three outs away from winning regionals and advancing to the World Series. This year, they did it. That kid who replaced me three years ago is now the manager and had nine rbis in the championship game today. The freshmen that were there when we were struggling to create a team, are now seniors. They knew they had to call us first. It is a beautiful thing to see something that was created on a whim, turn out to be so successful.

 I am filled with pride and realize why I teach today. I teach because I have a passion for education just like I have a passion for baseball. The team that we created gives young men a chance to keep that passion for four more years. The team is a place to develop leadership skills, to build relationships, and most importantly to have fun. This team idea is what I try to maintain in my classroom. I may never know the impact I have on people, but today it was tangible. I heard the screams, shouts, and pure joy of success. I am still smiling….

My teammates and I at graduation

Friday, May 6, 2011

What works for us, might not work for them

Us humans are a very stubborn species. We get tunnel-vision, we get stuck on ideas, we feel the need to be "in control",  we need to be right. I could go on and on here, but I think it is clear enough. We like doing things our own way.

This is just one reason why teaching and learning can be so difficult. For too long, teachers have communicated messages like "it is my way or the highway" or  "this is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship."  Teachers have been known to desperately hold on to their way of doing things. Therefore, to be successful in any given class you best conform to that teacher's way. Students, on the other hand, may have a whole different way of learning. This is becoming more and more true as our students' expertise and comfort level with technology rises.

This is why I believe it is so important to stay up to date on technology. To students, technology integration is second nature. This is how they grew up and were raised. They think of uses for technology that I can't imagine or fathom. Learning to them is a totally different experience than what it was for me.

And yet, I can't tell you how many times I don't use something just because it doesn't work for me. Or the opposite occurs as I stick on to some new edtech tool that simply isn't working for my students. For example, I don't get Prezi and every time I try to sit down and get better, I get bored an move on. It is a tool that didn't come to me, so I didn't pass it on to my students. What a mistake! A few months ago, I mentioned it to a student and now a large majority of my students use it and kick but with it.

Another example is Twitter. I love twitter and it has changed my professional life. I have pushed students to use it, but it hasn't taken off. Undeterred by this lack of success, I kept pounding that circle shape into that square hole. I set up hashtags for projects and hoped hoped hoped that they would use with research. I talked to my students and found out that they don't use twitter because they like Google Buzz. Well Google Buzz has some of the same qualities of Twitter, so let's try that to share resources.

The bottom line is that what works for us may not work for our students. What works for our students may not work for us. But if we both are open, communicate, and remain flexible we can always adapt to make things best for us all. That means we need to learn from one another and not be afraid to change. These are exciting times in education. We have tools to address individualized learning. We have tools to connect classrooms globally. We have tools to make learning ubiquitous with everyday life. The best thing we can do is realize that if we push "our way" over that of another and are unrelenting, we may miss some cool new things.

What works for us, might not work for them

Us humans are a very stubborn species. We get tunnel-vision, we get stuck on ideas, we feel the need to be "in control",  we need to be right. I could go on and on here, but I think it is clear enough. We like doing things our own way.

This is just one reason why teaching and learning can be so difficult. For too long, teachers have communicated messages like "it is my way or the highway" or  "this is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship."  Teachers have been known to desperately hold on to their way of doing things. Therefore, to be successful in any given class you best conform to that teacher's way. Students, on the other hand, may have a whole different way of learning. This is becoming more and more true as our students' expertise and comfort level with technology rises.

This is why I believe it is so important to stay up to date on technology. To students, technology integration is second nature. This is how they grew up and were raised. They think of uses for technology that I can't imagine or fathom. Learning to them is a totally different experience than what it was for me.

And yet, I can't tell you how many times I don't use something just because it doesn't work for me. Or the opposite occurs as I stick on to some new edtech tool that simply isn't working for my students. For example, I don't get Prezi and every time I try to sit down and get better, I get bored an move on. It is a tool that didn't come to me, so I didn't pass it on to my students. What a mistake! A few months ago, I mentioned it to a student and now a large majority of my students use it and kick but with it.

Another example is Twitter. I love twitter and it has changed my professional life. I have pushed students to use it, but it hasn't taken off. Undeterred by this lack of success, I kept pounding that circle shape into that square hole. I set up hashtags for projects and hoped hoped hoped that they would use with research. I talked to my students and found out that they don't use twitter because they like Google Buzz. Well Google Buzz has some of the same qualities of Twitter, so let's try that to share resources.

The bottom line is that what works for us may not work for our students. What works for our students may not work for us. But if we both are open, communicate, and remain flexible we can always adapt to make things best for us all. That means we need to learn from one another and not be afraid to change. These are exciting times in education. We have tools to address individualized learning. We have tools to connect classrooms globally. We have tools to make learning ubiquitous with everyday life. The best thing we can do is realize that if we push "our way" over that of another and are unrelenting, we may miss some cool new things.