Sunday, June 30, 2013

Faith, Family, and Taking Breaks

As my wife would say, I probably spend way too much time on my computer. I'm usually reading some article, working on a project, playing Words with Friends, or reading tweets.  I consider myself adept with technology, and I certainly want to stay that way. Constant engagement and learning are things I enjoy and ways to keep me sharp. However, I understand I need to take a step back at times and do other things.

We had a death in the family this past week. My grandma, who was a constant in my life growing up, left this earth. While hearing all of this and heading back to my hometown for the funeral, I was reminded about my faith. This is an area I have neglected recently, and know I need to spend more time on. I don't like the fact that an event like this reminds me of the truly important things, but we all need reminders every now and again.  It was great to spend time with extended family. The best part of all of this was the disc golfing I was able to do with my three siblings and parents. Since we all live spread across Wisconsin, gatherings with all six of us are few and far between these days, so it certainly was a special moment.

Piggy backing off of that was a planned weekend for my parents to visit. Due to the events of the week, they came on Saturday instead of Friday. No matter, it was still an awesome time. We ate great food (Redddd Robin - Yum!), played a nice round of disc golf, and laughed a lot! Today, we took in a fun Class-A baseball game, and then they were on their way.

During this time, I only checked my phone a few times and never even turned on my computer. Just because my job and my life's calling involve technology doesn't mean that I need to live and breathe that every day. Time needs to be made for faith. Time needs to be made for family. At the end of the day, these are the only things that really matter. This weekend energized me and has me excited to take on the next challenge. My faith and family brought me to where I am today, and I owe everything to those aspects of my life.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My First Go With a Google Hangout On Air

Something crazy happened last week.  I spend a crazy amount of time on twitter, maybe more than a human should. The sheer amount of ideas and information exchanged is unmatched anywhere else, and I hate to miss it. My bookmarks are overflowing.  Anyways, I was just doing my thing, watching twitter. Then, this #notatiste tag showed up. Now, admittedly, I had only recently heard of ISTE, so I wasn't exactly broken up over not being there. Obviously, as someone passionate about technology integration in education, it would be great to go. However, things turned out well.

This #notatiste tag, originally meant to be some kind of pity party, I suppose, turned into a movement. It was a place where educators were coming together, sharing their ideas, and taking their conversations further than the 140 characters twitter allows. No, it wasn't the same as being able to meet up in person, but this event brought us together.

Now, I would consider myself an introvert. I can be very socially awkward and I'm not great at instigating human interaction with people I don't know. But this passionate group of educators inspired me - I wanted to have deeper conversations with them.  So I did something very out of character - I decided to organize a video chat (Google Hangout) with people I've never met before in person. I was elated by the response - we had the maximum amount of participants, as well as a few others who watched the live feed.

Twitter has really changed me as a person and an educator. I know I'll be better, and I want to be better because of the networking I've done there. To communicate with so many people so frequently who are passionate about their students keeps me invigorated. It is like the camp high that won't go away! So, feel free to watch any or all of our conversation about tech integration. I'll continue to work on my moderating skills, I promise!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Dream Deferred

"What Happens to a Dream Deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over
like syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load?
Or does it explode?"
Langston Hughes "A Dream Deferred"

By now we all know our fate about the Google Teacher Academy. Over 200 brave educators poured their hearts into videos and applications, spending hundreds of hours over the last month to get a shot at one of the best professional development opportunities out there, not to mention the honorable title of "Google Certified Teacher." Only 50 could make it. I was one of the 150 who did not.

This is where Mr. Langston Hughes comes in. I consider myself ambitious. My unabashed goal in my career is to be the best educator that ever lived. Sure, big lofty goal, but why not aim high?  I set my sights on the Google Teacher Academy as a "mini-dream" that would be a great boon early in my career to my over goal. But it did not happen. The dream was, to be completely original and boring, deferred. It has to wait. So what happens to this dream, this ambition to be the best? Because I had a set back, does it stink? Explode? Fester? Feel Heavy?  I think it really could be all of the above. 

It hurts to lose. In my personal life, I lost a lot at baseball, struck out socially in school, and bobbled my way through a lot of job applications. I've failed a lot. But that is what drives me. It is a chip on my shoulder. Not an attitude, but a voice in my head telling me I need to work harder, do more, push ahead. They might be more talented, have more experience, whatever. I can outwork them. I have to. 

So what happens to a dream deferred? Mine burns within, waiting to be quenched the only way it can - by reaching my goals. What about you?

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Final Details on the Personalization Experiment.

As the year winds down, my experiment in creating a personalized Computer Applications class came to an end. Almost every student was gracious enough to fill out a reflection/course evaluation at the end, and they provided some excellent feedback!

The Good

Starting with what went well, I like using numbers to back up my case. Here is a summary of the students' thoughts on this course as a preference over other styles:

Rougly 2/3rds of all students preferred learning this way, while almost the other third thought it was okay and could be better. Having complete support would be awesome, and it is those two that didn't enjoy it that will drive me the most. However, getting 14 students to prefer this type of class given the amount of work they ended up doing makes me feel good.

I also made some adjustments to the assessment at the end.  There were 50 required standards, with another 25 "Challenge Standards" that were extra and weren't required. In addition, if students brought up a skill they could show, I would occasionally add "Choice Standards" to the list. Because of a shorter term and end of the year stuff taking up days, I ended up grading based on 47 standards.  Out of 26 students, 17 had A's, with many of those over and above the required amount of standards completed. 5 students had either a D or an F. The average amount of standards completed per student was 43, good enough for an A-.  Compared to a typical term, I had a lot more C's, D's, and F's than I've had in the past. However, I feel very confident that because each student needed to prove mastery of the material and put it on a Google site, what they did they will certainly retain more than in the past.

Needs Improvement

The feedback was generally positive, with a few great comments such as the answer of "not working" to things they liked about the class, and "working" to things they liked the least. However, the comment that will keep me driving to improve this course and make myself better overall was "For you to listen to your students and help them first hand not walk away for them to figure it out by themselves."   That comment really hit me. I do believe this this format gave me more time to interact and help students one on one. I think a lot of the struggles came from students not wanting to watch the instruction tutorials, and instead were relying on what they thought they knew, and on me. I clearly wanted to instill a sense of self-learning and motivation in my students. However, I also need to be more sensitive, and make students feel helped when they need it. This student was clearly not served well by me, and this will serve as a great reminder of how hard I still need to work to be great.


I could go all day about this class and what I learned. Students offered great suggestions for future improvement. Especially important will be two things - 1:  group activities to mix things up, and 2: constant changing and updating of my teaching tutorials and class requirements. After running this class personalized, I can't go back. I know the students that struggled/didn't like the format would have been even more disenfranchised in the previous model. However, this is still very much a work in progress. A more structured approach does need to be implemented for the students that need it. This course will improve. It will get better. Students will benefit greatly from this class model. These things I know to be true. Can't wait to see how version two goes in the fall!