Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Bringing TED Talks Into My Classroom

     Who doesn't love a good TED Talk.  Something compelling about TED Talks is how they are able to weave in life lessons through the power of story.  This summer, I really got into TED Talks, and having conversations with Evan Robb about them got ideas churning in my head.
      This summer, I ultimately decided that I wanted my students in my "Cougar Focus" class to deliver TED Talks.  Cougar Focus is a micro block that our school has where students build on their skills in Math and English.  My English Cougar Focus is filled with some incredible students that I taught last year, and I knew would be willing to play along with this idea I had.
       So how did I do it?  Hopefully these steps will be helpful!

1. Watch Some TED Talks - Almost none of my students knew what I TED Talk was when this journey began.  So I started by showing them lots of different TED Talks.  I started with humorous ones to help hook them and steadily moved to others.
The Agony of Trying to Unsubscribe
Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator
Dare To Disagree
How To Order Pizza Like A Lawyer
Every Kid Needs A Champion

2. Reflect On Each TED Talk - After watching each video, I would ask the student what was the life lesson?  What story or stories did the person use to teach this lesson?  Were there things you liked about the talk?  Were there things you didn't like about the talk?

3. Pick A Life Lesson - I had my students spend some time picking three life lessons they could give a TED Talk on.  Then I asked them to narrow it down to one.  I have my students sitting in groups, so if they were struggling to narrow the scope, I told them to ask group members to help them choose.

4. Pick A Story - Give students time to think about a story to help teach that life lesson.

5. Give Students Time - Some would say it is a big risk giving students almost a month (I see them twice a week for thirty-five minutes) to work on this.  And I would say they are right.  There are some students that I have to constantly remind to get back on task.  However, I firmly believe this risk is worth the reward.  I have been amazed by some of the drafts I have seen.  If I had rushed this assignment, I doubt the Talks would be as good as I believe they will be.

6. Get A Red Dot - When I told students I would be ordering a red circle carpet like the ones they use in TED Talks, the students got a real sense of how seriously I was taking this, and they started to buy into it more as well.  It wasn't that we were doing something "like" a TED Talk.  We are DOING TED Talks!

7. Reserve The Auditorium - Yeah... I still need to do this #procrastination + #busyness.  But giving them a space to really have that feeling that what they are doing is important is powerful.

8. Let Your Students Shine - After all the learning and practice, schedule students to give their TED Talks and let the class celebrate each student at the end!

    I am very excited about what the TED Talks have in store for our class.  I am incredibly proud of the work my students have done, and I cannot wait to listen to their talks!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Apps Day -- My First Few Days of School

    To say I was excited for the start of this school year when I left in June is a massive understatement.  I went home June 8th, 2018 knowing that when my students came back to school we would be in the first year of our 1:1 initiative.  Every child would be getting a chromebook.  WOW!  My summer was filled with thinking of ideas and planning some preliminary lessons for school (oh but don't teachers get summer off?).

    One of the strategies that I learned more about over the Spring and Summer is hyperdocs.  I find it to be an intriguing tool to use at different times to provide for robust differentiation.  I also know that there were going to be some essential apps I would want my students know, so that we could start innovating sooner rather than later.  After some thoughts, I decided to combine hyperdocs and apps into what I was going to call "Apps Day."  However it didn't take long in my planning before I realized this would take longer than a single block for students to complete (considering how much I wanted to front load).  Following the design of the hyperdocs, I got in touch with my instructional technology resource teacher, Pat Hausammann to review it and give me some suggestions.  He gave me some tips, offered to help teach it with me, and then spent the last few days of summer relaxing with my wife.

    Even though we were nervous about how the 1:1 initiative would start, I was cautiously optimistic that the bandwidth of the school would not be an issue, and most of the students would have their Chrombooks by the third day of school.  Optimism paid off!  The only "bump" in the road was this past Monday when some student accounts were not properly synced (network error).  Fortunately, the brilliance of Pat helped me figure out how to help reconnect Chromebooks.

    Apps Day began after my first day with my A Day and B Day classes.  I started by introducing the concept and strategy of a hyperdoc,  Pat helped clarify some questions about it, and then we set the students loose.  The apps I wanted my students to know were Canva, Powtoon, Screencastify, Flipgrid, and GSuite (GSuite had its own hyperdoc that I titled GSweet).  I will say that it took multiple reminders for students to insert information into the hyperdocs (which at moments tried my patience), but it was overall a huge success!

    I was incredibly impressed by how hard my students worked considering that just days before they were sitting on beaches, playing Fortnite, and texting to their hearts' galore!  They continued to work hard, asked questions, and worked to produce some really cool products.  Even with a day where the wifi was out of whack, we were still able to do some amazing things.  Truth be told, I could not have done this without Pat's help, because I found myself all over the room answering questions about apps, fixing Chromebook errors, and more.  Nevertheless, the perseverance and work by students over the past few days will serve us all well as we embark on a new innovative journey!

    While this App Day was very successful for me, it is not the only example of innovation at my middle school.  Our Library & Media Specialist has used Aurasma to create an incredible VR experience for student-library orientation.  One of our English teachers is utilizing CoSpaces to create amazing narratives.  A science teacher is using Seesaw to promote student voice and display student work.  Other teachers are using Flipgrid for student responses.  Math teachers are using Desmos and other math apps.  We know that technology is not the only tool.  However, we also know that our students will need to be familiar with technology in their futures, so we want to equip them for then. We will continue to use blended learning to provide our students with a cutting-edge education.  We teach future presidents, business executives, plumbers, astronauts, chefs, teachers, mechanics, stylists, writers, and positions we do not even know about yet!  I am incredibly excited for where this year will take us!

Are you interested in the resource for the first Apps Day Hyperdoc?  Here you go!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What On Earth Does #waledchat Mean?

I have had people asking me a lot on Twitter and other social media about what #waledchat means.  It's a great question!  It also reminds me that there are a lot of new people in the chat, who I was not connected with when the concept was first developed.  So let me explain! :)

  If you would have told me last year that I would be active on Twitter and running a podcast on teaching, I would have laughed and said, "Yeah right!"

    However, one of the benefits of working at a school where Evan Robb is your principal, is that he sees potential in us that we do not necessarily believe.  I have always loved public speaking (I did debate and went to nationals for FLBA in high school), but as I got involved on Twitter and saw these titans of education -- contributing ideas to education -- I questioned myself.  "What do I have to offer this infinite world of internet knowledge?"  That was my response when Evan came down to the cafeteria during lunch and said I should consider starting a podcast.

    Evan was quick to say that I had a lot to offer, and it would be a great opportunity to share with others the ups and downs, the wins and losses, as a middle school history teacher.  Then like a flipping a switch, I started to get all of these ideas.  I went home, downloaded the Podbean app, and got made a short intro episode explaining the purpose of the podcast.  It wasn't hard to think of the name... Wins And Losses.

    I really appreciated the support I got for the podcast.  It does not get thousands (or even hundreds) of downloads, but the people who listen to it, are always so kind and willing to talk with me about it.  I found this podcast to be a great source of reflection.  I stopped looking at losses as a roadblock, and instead saw them as a challenge to be overcome to create new wins.  I learned the importance of celebrating wins.  Podcasting helped make me a more positive teacher.

    As 2017 started to wind down, I wanted to expand.  In college, I wrote a blog on different historical theories and events.  It was read pretty prominently in circles of historians -- my professor would tell me after coming back from conferences that other historians would ask him about the blog.  I wanted to try out blogging in education.  Hence, we now have the Wins and Losses blog you are reading here.  I wanted to write a blog, because I know sometimes people are in a rush, and I wanted to be able to provide education tips to people that could get to them quickly.

   While all this occurred, I had been actively participating in Twitter Chats.  There is something absolutely amazing about being able to talk to teachers, administrators, specialists, consultants, etc., from around the world.  As December started, I wanted to start my own chat, but I had to consider what I wanted the theme to be.  It did not take long for me to go back to my roots... Wins And Losses.  After looking at Twitter schedules, I found a time that worked well, and did not have any active chats yet (Thursdays at 9pm ET).  I contacted someone at Fiverr to make the logo, and then announced January 26th, I announced the creation of a Wins and Losses Ed Chat which would be called #waledchat.  We had our first one on February 1st.
    The central theme around #waledchat is reflection.  If you notice, the questions always ask about triumphs and frustrations.  They ask how you can overcome your frustrations to turn them into victories.  I believe that reflection is like eating birthday cake, it is better when you have people with you for the experience.  I was amazed when I saw people on February 1st signing in from all over the country and Canada.  I have since been humbled every Thursday.  There are days when I feel overwhelmed, and every time I go into #waledchat I am filled with joy.

    Yes #walechat stands for Wins And Losses Ed Chat, but it also means so much more to me.  It means time where I get to meet and grow with some of my favorite people.  It is a time for me to be vulnerable and share my shortcomings, and have people to encourage me to not give up!  It is a real honor to have so many people choose to spend thirty minutes of their Thursday night with me in reflection.  #waledchat feels like more than your typical ed chat to me.  It feels like family.  And as #waledchat continues to grow, I am so thankful for the #waledchat faithful who work to make sure new people feel welcome.

    I am excited to see what happens next.  See you Thursday!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Take Time For Rest

    As I sit at the dining room, completely sun-burnt, at the beach house in Stone Harbor, New Jersey where my wife's family spends a week each summer, I came to a realization...  This may be the first real week of rest I have taken.  Sure I was in Disney last week, but it took until Wednesday for me to delete the Twitter app off my phone for the week so that I would intentionally take a break from professional learning.

     While I have been on summer vacation, I have been designing basic outlines for units as I prepare to teach a class I have never taught before.  I have researched ideas to bring more innovation to my seventh graders.  I have presented at a conference and my division's administration meeting, and I have been working to help with scheduling a new initiative at my school.  All this occurred as I continued to film Edusations, prepare for #waledchat, and podcast, and work on my master's degree.
While I LOVE all of these things, I was beginning to feel exhausted.  I felt my enthusiasm zapped like a kid at the end of a sugar rush.
     I had to remind myself of something my mentor at Messiah College told me... "Phil, you've got to rest and take time for yourself."  Don't get me wrong, I have not forgotten those words, I tweet them to teachers feeling burned out on a regular basis, but what I was not doing was applying those ideas to myself.  That will change this week as I carve out time for myself and my family.  I'd also like to provide some ways that I intend to rest heading into the summer -- to help others like me who like to have applicable strategies beyond the "Just go rest" responses.

1. Pinterest Day - This is a tradition my wife and I started last year.  It may also be my favorite one.  On Pinterest Day, my wife and I each pick one meal from Pinterest that we personally want to make and then compromise on the others.  So we have a breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert inspired from Pinterest.  We will sit down and watch Harry Potter movies, and enjoy some delicious food!

2. Swimming With The Strunks - My parents have a pool, so try to make it up to Philadelphia a few times during the summer to go and take a relaxing swim with my family.

3. Netflix - LB and I save watching The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl for summer.  It is a fun way to relax during the day.

4. Write - I have wanted to write a book for a long time.  Even if it does not get published, I would love to be able to have created an original story.  I have been mulling over the idea for a SciFi book for a long time, and just outlined it in the Spring.  I would really like to begin to write some chapters of it.

5. Sleep In - I have not done much sleeping in during the summer, I would like to fix that.  Even at Disney, we were up before the crack of dawn so that we could get at the park at opening and we would not leave until closing (yes our Fitbit scores were amazing, and the pain in my feet were very real).

6. Date Nights! - My wife and I love the city of Winchester.  There are so many incredible places to visit, and to eat at!  We'd like to drive around and try some new places in the Winchester area.

7. Time with Friends - I am blessed with incredible friends from church and work in the area.  My small group has not met together in a few weeks because of the summer softball league, but I'd like to  get together and do something fun with them!  Likewise, my friends from work are absolutely incredible, and I would love to catch up on how the first month of summer has been.  One of my friends had his second daughter turn one, another friend went to Belize, another went on a cruise, and a host of other things.

Taking time to rest and recharge is essential for us as educators.  If we don't take that time to rest we are like a cup with a hole at the top and the bottom.  Hopefully, some of my strategies can help you think of what works best to recharge you!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Overcoming Negative People

My principal has a quote that he uses a lot...

"Positive people attract positive people, negative people attract negative people.  Negative people who think they are positive and are attracting negative people need to lookin the mirror."

I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the quote this year.  I think that if we want to do our jobs as educators well, we have to go beyond the natural inclinations of negativity and instead we must intentionally opt to pursue positive paths.

As I have chosen the road of positivity, I have found myself continuing to be surrounded by other optimists.  People who see the best in students.  People who are excited to go to school.  People who are excited to spend time with each other.

However, that does not mean I have magically been able to convert all the negative people I am around into positive people.  There are still dwindling pockets of negativity, hiding behind the claim of rationalism that continue to try to hold on to old ways.  They believe that positive people have no sense on reality, or are simply being "fake."

I'd like to offer some tips in overcoming these realms of negativity.

1. Be Positive To Them:  I am sure it seems obvious, but instead of fighting fire with fire.... fight fire with water.  Positivity is life-giving.  A smile or "hello" goes further than you think.  Being positive to them does not mean to always sing of sunshines and rainbows, it means to also show them how you choose positivity in the face of negativity.

2. Be Intentional With Them:  Continue to reach out to them.  Some negative people have never had a consistent positive person in their life, and you could be that person that shows it to them.  Ask them how their day is and actually stop to listen.

3. Invite Them To Things:  Similar to being consistent, invite them to spend time with your positive friend group.  Positivity can be infectious.  Invite them to go out to a restaurant, see a game, come to a potluck.  All these things will give negative people a genuine, authentic opportunity to see positive people.

4. Challenge Them:  I do not think it is out of the question to call negativity in to question.  Gently ask them about why they would make a certain negative comment.  Challenge their negative view of something with all the positive things you see.  It has taken me a long time to get to this point, but I have found that more often than not that the darkness is vastly outweighed by the light!

5. Leave:  This is a tough one.  Sometimes you simply need to walk away from the person. If your car breaks, you'll take it to the mechanic, but if you have to take it to the mechanic every month, eventually you are going to sell it.  If a negative person refuses to change their ways, they are going to weigh you down.  They are going to break your transmission and engine of positivity.  They are going to take away one of the most powerful tools you have to reach your students.  You simply cannot allow that to happen.  Since you are a positive person, it will hurt.  However, you will find other positive people to help you get through this challenge.

These are some of my tips.  Hopefully you'll find them useful.  Remember, it is a temptation to be negative because it is originally easier.  Our students deserve better.  Choose positivity.  As you continue to choose positivity you will find it becomes easier option when faced with future challenges.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Thanks to DisruptedTV for Sharing JWMS's Story!

When Evan Robb (@ERobbPrincipal) approached me about discussing the new initiative that our school is doing, I was thrilled with the opportunity.  Thanks to the folks at DisruptedTV for helping us share our story!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Becoming An EDTech Fan

    Truth be told, I never thought I would be known as a "technology enthusiast" when it came to the classroom.  I thought I would be known more for my content knowledge.  However, as I began to interview for positions and received my first teaching job as a long-term sub for one semester, my department chair and principal said that my aptitude with technology was a significant factor.
     Then this past year, I have been spending more and more time finding new edtech tools.  Nights are spent scouring the web and learning how to use new pieces of technology to meet the needs of my students.  I moved beyond what was comfortable for me in exchange for what was best for students.  I am not perfect, but I am continually hopeful that I am growing.  Here is how I did it and how you can too!

1. I met with my ITRT/Tech Coach
My principal had our team connect with our Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT) on a monthly basis to teach us all more about technology.  The apps he showed were way more relevant than a simple slideshow.  It helped me find ways to have students create authentic products.

2. I watched and talked with other teachers
There are a lot of innovative teachers at my school.  They are consistently looking for cutting edge ways to develop our students as learners.  Conversations during my planning and after school with some of these teachers about how they were using some of their tech tools helped spark ideas for me.

3. I reached out to others in chats
Twitter really has changed the way I teach and that applies to edtech as well.  Seeing how other educators across the globe use technology to transform learning is inspiring.  They expose me with new tech tools and also some older ones that I had forgotten about.

4. I made it work for my students and me 
A fork will not transport birthday cake to my mouth, my brain has to tell my body to move the fork toward my mouth so I can enjoy its heavenly goodness.  You don't use a screwdriver for a nail.  One of the realizations I had with edtech is that there is not a single tool to solve all issues.  There are some who believe that technology will replace teachers.  I think they forget that tech is only a tool.  A powerful, transformative tool, but again just a tool.  It is the job of the teacher to apply that tool to promote student learning.  This means that if I saw how someone was using a tool, sometimes I would try to copy how they did it.  Most of the time, reflection helped me think of how to make it work for my students.

     I've been honored how people on Twitter have made me feel like edtech expert, but the reality is I am an edtech neophyte.  I am learning the ropes, but am incredibly excited along each step of the way.  As my division moves towards 1:1 next year, I am thrilled to utilize the tools of edtech more frequently.
   Our students will be using technology in their futures.  If you are not an edtech fan yet, consider  exploring this component of education.  It will be good not only for you, but for the long game of your students!