Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#WeirdEd Week 33- CUE Rockstar and Conferences

NOTE: Yes, I have presented at two CUE conferences and yes they have my proposals to present at more this summer. This chat is not an hour-long brown nose session so they love me and will let me come back*. I really do love the way Rockstar does things. Trust me, there are easier, less public ways to kiss up.

There are many education conferences out there. Most follow the same format- 60-90 minute sessions crammed  into one-to-three days. Teachers with long, complicated schedules trying to make it to which room at 9:00 and then what room at 10:35 and then that other room after lunch and pretty soon my brain is full and I can’t take one more sit-and-listen session no matter how brilliant the speaker is and I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to implement half of the things I’ve learned.

Here’s where CUE Rockstar comes in. Rockstar is one to three days, but the sessions are extended, normally running 2.5 hours. “Oh good,” you think. “Even MORE time to listen to someone’s face talk at me.” But that is where you are wrong, Mr and Mrs Person Teacher. The session rock star teaches for maybe an hour. MAYBE 90 minutes. Then the rest of the time is for you, the session attendee, to practice, create, and Do The Thing. In the case of one of my Rockstar sessions, I taught the group how to use YouTube’s internal editing program to create easy videos and how they could teach their students to use it too. And then every single person in my session made a YouTube video. With cuts. And edits. And music. And effects. And humor and personality and verve.

I teach you the Google-Fu!
That’s the beauty of CUE Rockstar. Long sessions allow presenters to get in with the attendees and get personal. Long lunches means we all see each other as teachers, not as The All Knowing Presenter and the lowly plebes.

The most fun part, though, happens in the morning.

Before any sessions start there are Shred Sessions. A Shred Session is simple- each presenter has one slide and one/two minutes (depending on which conference you’re at) to make his or her case about why you should come to the session he or she is putting on that day. Boring fails. Dry is unacceptable. I am the King of the Shred Session. In my first one I recited a poem I’d written which described my Using Drive to Unbury your desk. The second day I did no talking, my monster Courson did it all. And the third day, when I was presenting on using Google-Fu, I had a little help from a friend who overdubbed my Shred while I showed off my fauxrate. Shred sessions set the tone and let the conference know this is not your average day of learning.

Rockstar John Wick and I.
This week #WeirdEd is lucky enough to have CUE Rockstar founder Jon Corippo (@jcorippo) here to help us talk about what we really want out of conferences and to give us the run-down on what’s new with Rockstar this summer. #WeirdEdE brothers and sisters, I'm sorry Jon can't make both chats. But the questions are still co-written by him and are still excellent.

To submit to present or to register to attend please visit http://www.cuerockstar.org/

*though, I mean...if it helps…

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

#WeirdEd Week 32- Spirit Fingers

This week is about the Mid-Year Dregs. But that's negative as all hell and that's not what we at #WeirdEd are about. But I was stuck. Dead in the water. Could not get this week going. I haven't had coffee in two days. Two. Days.

And just like last week, moderator extraordinaire Lauren (@LTaylorELA) swooped in to save the day. I DMed her my idea and she said, "We need a pep squad." And she's right. Pep squad is so much better than Mid-Year Dregs.

Fun Fact- Lauren is her school's cheer coach. And I was a cheerleader in college. Yep, my senior year I cheered and stunted. Threw girls high into the sky and caught them. Lifted them by their feet. Did standing back tucks. The whole nine.

Go Tigers!

I'm spotting on the right
So we don't need a chat about how much of a bummer this stretch of the school year is. We need to #WeirdEd it up and through our spirit fingers into the air* and figure out ways to fight through that.

Pull on your spanx, tape up your wrists, and stretch out those hamstrings. It's time to get some cheerleading going up in here.

*spirit fingers = Gold

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Maximum the Hormone and Being a Connected Educator (OR The Student Stuff Exchange Program)

Today I got a surprise in the mail.

I should back up.

I have become obsessed with bands that are not English-speaking. Music is one of those art forms that language can transcend. Sure, it's nice knowing what the words are but well done vocals are also an instrument. They can convey emotion and power and beauty and be completely wordless. It's not so different going from that to a language you don't speak.

I'm also a giant headbanger and if there's one thing I know, it's that metal is universal. Jello Biafra once said that if you visited the most remote tribe in the most remote mountain range in the world they would still have a thriving death metal scene.

Naturally, Japan has a killer heavy metal scene, and thanks to the interwebs I'm able to experience it. Through YouTube I've found some pretty awesome bands, but none struck me like Maximum the Hormone did. This video (which I'll embed at the bottom of the post too) is such an inspiring piece of strange that I needed to know more. I watched a bunch of their stuff. They are great. Unique sound, good look, great videos, killer riffs, and did I mention unique? Right up my headbanging alley.

To the Amazons!

It was there I discovered the awful truth. Amazon does not always have everything. MtH had to be imported, they have no distribution in what the guys on Top Gear call, "the colonies." All of their stuff is really expensive, and no mp3 downloads. There was no legal*, reasonable, cost-effective way to get my hands on some awesome Japanese shredding. Fail and sadness abounds.

But wait! Those of you who have read my book might know what's coming next. I have a friend who lives in Japan. We went to college together and now he teaches out there (see, this post is related to teaching, and it gets better). When I taught in Hawaii our classes were pen pals. His kids would write in Japanese to mine, he'd translate and mail both letters, and my kids would do their best to write back also in Japanese. No, I didn't teach it to them, I don't know it. They'd try to piecemeal it. "Well, the letter says, 'My favorite sport is soccer' and his teacher wrote 'soccer' over this character so that's probably the character for soccer. So I'll try to draw that in my letter back." Real cute, real fun, real cultural learning opportunities.

Jason still lives in Japan, now with his wife and brand new baby. I Facebooked him, we chatted, and I asked for a favor. Could he pretty please hook me up with some Maximum the Hormone? And today it came. Very exciting for music nerd me because while I have a few non-English albums (Rammstein, Babymetal, Gojira) I have the American releases of them. Which means different album art, everything translated, etc.

Not this! This, which according to Amazon is called "Yoshuu Fukushuu", is impossible for me to read! It's all in characters! And it's a special edition disc so it came with a manga that I assume is written by the band but might just be about the band or maybe just about the guitar player, I'm not 100% sure. And I can't read a word of it. Sure, the lyrics have maybe half a dozen English words scattered through, but that's certainly not helpful. And I don't care. How awesome is it to own music that is purely and obviously a culture not my own? I get to be metal and worldly at the same time.

Plus, how cool is it that I own an album that, when ripped to my hard drive and played through my media player, displays like this:

Very cool. That's how cool.
"Surely," you are thinking. "Surely you didn't just write a whole thing about a metal import on your teacher blog and justify it because another teacher bought it for you?" Remember, this isn't even an album review! I haven't had the chance to digest it yet! It's the story of getting an album. And yes, there's more to this.

We call ourselves connected teachers, but what does that mean? Chatting on twitter? That's a start. It can only be a start. It's 140 characters at a time and yes, sometimes there is a lot of brilliant and awesome and funny in those 140, but it's still a small amount of information. It's rarely a complex amount of information because that requires nested tweets and chains and becomes a pain and confusing. Depth, connection, requires more time and effort than that. Twitter can only be a start. The exchange must go beyond that which is easy.

Jason sent me an album. That's all he did. I asked a friend for a favor and he came through. But he's a friend from college who I might not have reconnected with. Except our classes were pen pals before and will hopefully be again (I'm currently class pen pals with David Jones in Great Britain. I like international pen pals. It's good for the kids). Jason and I are talking about parenting, him being brand new and me being fairly new. Eventually we'll talk about our classes again. I'm going to go in to school and tell my kids an edited version of this story which will be a trick because, with the booklet being a manga, there's a lot of art I can't show them. But I can show them some. I can show them another language written how it's done in real life on a real thing that they could hold (but won't because ohhhboy some of the art). My kids will see the real power of the internet, and of connection, and of friendship. It's only a CD. But it took my friend, whom I remain friends with because we are both teachers, time and effort and yen to get it to me. Could I have ordered it off amazon for the same cost? In the end, yeah. But then I wouldn't get an envelope covered in Japanese characters. I wouldn't get to talk to my friend.

Make the world outside your doors real any way you can. Every year I bust out the New Zealand money I had left over at the end of our honeymoon, and the Canadian loonies and toonies I have from my trips to the Great White Hockey Rink. make the world real in non-academic ways. Show them all the cool stuff (yes, money is way cool) that makes other places real. YouTube videos and Scholastic News articles are fine and a start.

Like twitter. A start. You have Aussie friends and Kiwi Friends and English friends. Some of you multilingual teachers have French friends or Spanish friends. Hook each other up. Yes, GHO and Skype in. But also send gifts and realia back and forth in a Student Stuff Exchange Program. The world is shrinking by the day, but that doesn't make it real to a ten year old. Stuff in a ten year old's hand makes it real.

Ok, now I'm going to embed the video. I beg you to watch it even if you don't like metal. Turn it down if you can't stand the sounds. The reason I want you to watch it is because it's weird and insane and your brain needs to bend like this sometimes. (Do No Show This In Class)

*Yes, legal. Don't steal good things. Steal all the One Direction and Coldplay and Nickleback and whatever other quickserve soulless rubbish you want. Cut in to their sales so they go away. But good stuff? Buy good stuff. Vote with your wallet.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Seating Experiment Week 1- Getting Comfy

For Part One Follow The Link

Change was in the air. On the floor. In my class.


After no school Monday (teacher work day, yay report cards) and Tuesday (Veterans Day) I finally go to see how my seating experiment would play out in real life. Would the kids who were so excited about sitting on the floor enjoy it as much as they thought? Would my one standing girl stay standing? Would I feel like I was looming and teaching down at them? How many will forget a pillow? Will this post be as popular as the first one? What the hell was that NASA guy in the shirt thinking?

I had a few things in mind going in to this week. I wouldn't make immediate changes unless I absolutely had to. Not to punish the kids for their choice or to teach them a lesson about making up their minds, but because of course sitting on the ground will be uncomfortable at first. Of course it's going to feel weird. We talked about this as a group. It will take your bodies some time to adjust. You're going to have to relearn how to sit. You're going to find out that pillow might not be as fluffy as you think it is.

And for the most part the kids were good about it. No complaints, which was a welcome minor surprise. Not that they are a whiny group it's just that you never know who is going to start complaining about what sometimes. They were really good sports about it. I think a lot of that stemmed from the seating being different. Which is the point.

I did have one boy almost immediately ask to stand instead of be on the floor. He couldn't get comfortable at all even with his pillow. His desk was the first I changed. I'm not going to be a punk about it.

And that, my friends, is the most important thing I had to remember this week: This is an experiment. I don't know how it's going to go. I don't know how they will react. Which means I need to be extra-patient with student decision-making. This realization echoed into the rest of my teaching. It was a good reminder. They are children. Sometimes they don't know because they don't know. Their experience levels are tiny. My job is to help them level up.

It was also fun to watch them adapt to the new environment and see how they worked. I had to change what few How You Work rules I do have (not that I have many, but turns out there were one or two times I caught myself). Check out the pictures.

Use the wall for back support. Great idea.

Use each other for back support. Great idea that only lasted
through this work session.

Ok, that's just clever right there.

As students decided they weren't fans of the floor I allowed requests for changes to be made. If a kid wanted to try standing they would wait for the proper time (aka- when I'm not teaching) and ask nicely. I'd throw a sticky note on the desk so I wouldn't forget then at lunch or recess I'd make the switch. Putting legs on is easy and quick. The only time it takes any real time is the three kids who ended up requesting (after trying the other options) going back to regular seating. That means I need to count the holes so the desk is a reasonable seating height again. Making it tall is easy.

As of right now I've got three traditional desk heights, nine standing desks, and fourteen floor desks. I expect the number of standing desks to drop next week, It's a great idea but not for everyone.

As for me, I don't feel like I'm looming yet. I really like the change both visually and physically. I'm glad I'm doing it. Honestly, one of my challenges is not leaping on to student desks because it would be so easy now. Not to say I haven't, but not nearly as much as I want to. I even adjusted one of the desks I use (yeah, I have a main desk and then my front of house computer desk) as high as it'll go so I have a standing desk too.

A visit to Goodwill yielded four pillows
for those without

I've thought about following in the footsteps of Jess Lifshitz (@JessLifTeach) going to Donor's Choose route to fund alternative seating. She's fully funded but you should still read her blog about it. I'd still really love some balance balls seats and wiggle stools. I'm not sure if it's for me or not yet. Honestly, one of the things holding me back is that if you want to give me money I'd much rather you just buy my book.

I'll write another update next Friday and we'll see where my kids and I are then.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

#WeirdEd Week 31- Narwhal

 Last week's #WeirdEd was amazing. A smart moderator would take that popularity and momentum and parlay it into another Big Important Topic*. A smart moderator would see the credibility having a NASA engineer on gained his chat and write more of that, because the audience gained from that single chat would love more of that.
But that's so not what #WeirdEd is. #WeirdEd is my baby. It's the anti-chat. Our format might be the same as many other chats but that is where the similarities end. #WeirdEd should be a chat that people who take edchats way too seriously scoff at. #WeirdEd should turn some people off. I'm fine with that. At some point being too Big Tent means losing all connection to reality and specificity and the real audience. I love our ability to tackle all sorts of subjects, from serious to ridiculous. I love that all of you come play with me when I want to take us to Mars or Ferguson.
But #WeirdEd is founded on being goofy. Making education fun and silly and, well, weird. We are at a place in the school year where everything is looking bleak and long and tough. Classrooms are dragging. Students are dragging. Chats are dragging. It's time to mix things up. It's time to challenge ourselves.
I need a challenge.
How does a moderator challenge him/herself? By picking the dopiest topic possible and figuring out how to make it work in an educational context. I love the challenge. #WeirdEdE moderator Lauren (@LTaylorELA) tossed off what might have been a joke when we were talking about this week's chat. "Narwhals."

Narwhals. Narwhals have nothing to do with education. There is no obvious connection a normal person could draw from the narwhal to the classroom which makes it a perfect #WeirdEd topic. What a fun writing game for me! What a fun thought game for you. There will be no obvious answers this week. Bumper sticker edutweets will be impossible because no one (as far as I know) has ever tried to make narwhals an educational topic.
How well will this go? I have no idea. This might be the #WeirdEd that crashes and burns. I might be skewered on my own horn**. But I know if I can generate good questions the #WeirdEd family will bring your A game and give answers that surprise everyone.
Let's do this.

*seriously, this week was going to be Military Families and School, which is a Big Important Topic I want to do, and is even timely with Veteran's Day, but when I sat down to write it I had nothing. It'll happen, just not today.

**I know it's a tooth. It looks like a horn. It's a horn.

(BTW- You can buy that amazing Shark v Narwhal thing at the top for me for my birthday here)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Took Your Chair- An Experiment in Seating

I needed a change.

My kids needed a change.

Those who follow me on twitter (@TheWeirdTeacher) know that I've been having more trouble than normal this year. Yes, this is the time for the Mid Year Slump (aka The October Blues, aka ISN'T IT CHRISTMAS YET/IT'S ALREADY NOVEMBER HOLY CRAP) so mayhap that's all I'm feeling.
But it really isn't. This is a hard year. I've got the lowest class I've ever had and I have the data (test and anecdotal) to prove it. We are struggling academically and sometimes that means my bag o' tricks doesn't work as well because many of them depend on the kids having better listening/direction following/comprehension/responsibility/responsibility skills. Yes, I can adjust the fun and games. Yes, I'm teaching them all of those things. But still, certain adjustments mean there has been head-into-the-tree moments. We are ok sometimes but we're also having waaaaay too many Let's Correct This Group Behavior conversations. Much more than I normally have to do. All the student factors, the chemical mix of the classroom, is challenging my relationship building like never before. I welcome challenge, I can handle it, but I could really do with maybe just a smidgen less? A touch?

On top of that there have been...frustrations with my district and my school. Very few of us work in a district we are 100% happy with and what kind of a moron would I be to take to the internet with specific complaints about the way things are run? So let's leave it at I like my principal very much and I feel bad that she has so much on her plate and so little help from those directly above and directly below her. But administration problems become teacher problems and so big rock frustrations up above crash down on my little sand castle all the time.

I react to problems with aggression and change. I'm not good at passive. I must affect my environment. I have to find ways, even small ways, to take control. If I had more money there would be a new tattoo from this school year. This is why my hair is blue. It's one of the reasons why I don't live in Hawaii any more. It's why Courson teaches so much and my tiny dragon Spark teaches the mandated section of the day I dislike the most. I find ways to make problems my own.

Seating has been an issue. I have a very talkative bunch. They made me make good on a threat to put them in rows a few weeks ago. In rows! I hate hate hate rows. They are antithetical to everything I do in my room. But the kids needed to know Mr. Robertson meant even this promise. We got our groups back but still we have constant off task and talking.

Last night I was a peripheral part of a twitter conversation where Shawna (@nolagirlfromtx and part-time #WeirdEdE moderator) was talking about the inventive ways she has her kids seated. I don't remember if she brought this specific thing up or if she was talking about using balance balls and it got me thinking of things I could do, but in the end I decided I was done with chairs in my class. At least for a while.

Today I went in and I gave my kids three choices, which they were allowed to chose individually. No peer pressure, I don't need the whole class to be exactly the same.

Choice A- No change. They stay in their desks exactly as the desk is now.

Choice B- Standing desk. I raise the desk up as high as it will go and the majority of the student's day will be spent standing and working. If I were able to adjust the teacher desk I have (no, I'm not getting rid of it, I need it) this is what I'd do to it. I will allow the students who chose this to have a chair for rests. I'm not a monster. That's Courson.

Choice C- On the floor. I take the legs completely off the desk and the student sits on the floor sans chair. I will allow the student to bring in a small pillow to sit on because otherwise their bottoms will come off.

I had a sample of the standing and floor choices and every student cycled past them as a test run, having a few minutes to see how working that way felt. Then I went around the room and took note of who wanted what type of desk. How it turned out was only surprising in one respect-
They all went low. Except one. One girl chose a standing desk. After I got everyone's choice I went back to her and said, "I'm fine with you being the only one standing. I want you to be comfortable. But I will let you know that you are the only one. So if that's going to make you feel uncomfortable you can change your mind." To her credit she stuck to her choice. She didn't even hesitate. Will she change her mind after a day? We'll see. But she did not allow passive peer pressure to sway her. I love that.

I adjusted all the desks after school today (Friday). Monday is a no student teacher work day.
Tuesday is a no student holiday for Veteran's Day. Which means I need to wait four days to even begin the actual experiment. I'm very excited. The students are very excited. I have no idea how this will work at all. It might fail completely. I told the kids that some of them might be ending up with their legs back on Thursday afternoon. But probably not. I'll give it at least three days before I do anything drastic. I'll give it more. Because I want it to work. I want this to mix things up and wake them up and get their attention. I want it to mess up my routine and get me thinking in new ways.

I'm seriously concerned about teaching to them like this. In seats I'm teaching down, but not too much. Now I'll be teaching way down at them. I don't know if I'll like that. I don't know how that will change my instruction delivery. 
view from the floor
But at least it's something new. It's different. As I was taking apart the desks four teachers came in to talk about teaching stuff or ask Drive questions and all of them a) thought I was preparing to teach a unit on Japan and b) thought it was an interesting idea. In my perfect world this isn't my solution, balance balls are. But I don't have those funds. So I'll try this first.

In a week or two I'll write another blog checking in with progress, student reactions, and my own feeling about this new set up. But for now I'm excited.

Change is good.
Follow-up Number 1
Donors Choose Follow-Up

Saturday, November 1, 2014

#WeirdEd Week 30- Bobak Ferdowsi, Space, NASA, and Mars!

I have to be honest, I'm kind of freaking out here. Like many people I pulled myself away from the Olympics to watch the Curiosity land on Mars in August of 2012. Thanks to the interwebs I was able to get a live feed from inside mission control and experience the landing in a way that was possible during no other landing. I saw realtime data, lightspeed delayed Mars data, and a dude at a computer with...a mohawk? A NASA engineer with a painted mohawk? And, like thousands of other people, I immediately became a fan of the guy known simply as Mohawk Guy. Here was someone I could relate to. Not to say I'm as smart as he is, not even a little, but here's a guy who takes Science and Cool and mashes them together in an interesting engaging way. Like landing a car on Mars wasn't cool enough, one of the guys doing it looked like he thought it was as fun as I thought it was. A man after my own weird heart.
Reaction after the Seven Minutes of Terror and a safe Touchdown
Bobak Ferdowsi, the Mohawk Guy, quickly became a star in his own right, including getting a shout-out from the president. He did tons of interviews and made science cool and exciting for the masses. What a great hook for a science lesson or a space lesson! Want to get your kids' attention? Just put up a picture of Bobak and say "Rocket Scientist" (close enough) and they will be on board with whatever you have to say.
A few months ago I got a wild hair to ask Bobak to help with #WeirdEd one week. He's on twitter, he probably won't answer, but it couldn't hurt to ask. I noticed he was active one night and sent him a tweet explaining #WeirdEd and asking for his help (not easy in 140). He DMed me back (no, he wasn't following me. He saw the tweet, followed long enough to DM me, then unfollowed) that he was interested and to email him more information.
I've never been through more drafts of an email.
We began an email back-and-forth, trying to figure out the best time for him to come on and talk with teachers and the best way to run the chat. I didn't want to do an hour-long Q&A because that's too unfocused and splintered and not what #WeirdEd is about. And I didn't want him to just ask us questions for an hour either because that isn't the best use of access to such an incredible mind. So we're compromising.
There will be three mostly traditional #WeirdEd question, asked by Bobak (@tweetsoutloud), and then we'll turn it over to you all to ask him questions. His specialties are, obviously, space, science, and engineering, and I think getting a look at education from someone who has been through a few different education systems (check his wiki, no I won't link to a wiki) will be invaluable to us all.
I know I can count on the #WeirdEd family to come up with some amazing questions. Let's impress Bobak with what kind of teachers we all are and what good hands our future NASA engineers are in.

My #WeirdEdE brothers and sisters- I'm sorry, but I can't ask him to do two chats. That feels like stretching his goodwill. Instead, #WeirdEdE will have three planned questions and I encourage you all to stay up late and join us at #WeirdEd.

If you need more reason to come, or aren't sure he is right for the chat, or want to know more about him personally, he went on Chris Hardwick's (@nerdist) All Star Celebrity Bowling YouTube show, and you should check that out below.(warning- video contains some language and many dick jokes)