Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 67- Group Work

Post by Christina Torres, Lane Floyd, Katlyn Bennett, Liz Hoppe, and Stacey Hughes

5 strangers, 3 days, one google doc, one #WeirdEd Wednesday. It sounds like a reality show, right? This is what happens when @weirdteacher tweets and you choose to respond.

#WeirdEd tweet.png

It was a blind challenge and we were all willing to take a risk;  ready to give "something," even though we had no clue what that might be. Soon, a message came, and we all stared down a google doc with the instructions to create a blog post and 6 questions for a twitter chat…

For Stacey (@StaceyHughes077), the first thought was- there's NO WAY I can do this. She’s new to Twitter and claims to barely know how to use a hashtag. She had said yes before her rational mind had time to realize that she had invited the adventure!  The box was opened, now the only thing left to do was to step out of it and embrace the process with complete strangers.

The truth is, the end of July feels kind of like the “hump day” of summer. For example, Liz (@hoppeteacher)  is  just getting used to relaxing, back from vacations, and she’s now on the tipping point between “relax more” and “start thinking of school”.  Her kids want to play board games and go to the pool, so she’s not in a “deep educational talk” place, but her mind is starting to plan and dream. Katlyn (@MrsBennettELA) is having a similar experience as she splits time between preparing for a 2-week vacation and planning PD for pre-service week. This makes a chat topic tough.  It needs to be “summer light”, but still  worth the time of discussing.

Some of us have moderated twitter chats before, but never with people we didn’t know, and without a specific topic or purpose in mind. This time, it was all done in reverse- you’re hosting a chat and writing a blog post, NOW decide everything else. Here’s where we meet the “backwards” chat format. A jeopardy style twitter chat that provides all the answers and lets the participants respond with questions. Google Doc collaboration was perfect as the five of us shared our unique ideas and gradually wove them together into one product. We each found our role, idea generator, editor, facilitator, and made it work.This experiment clearly demonstrates that an online PLN isn’t limited to discussion for collaboration-- you can create collaboratively, too!

The idea of 5 Twitter strangers being thrown into a Google Doc and coming out 3 days later with a Twitter chat and a blog post is evidence of this:  when you are open to a new challenge, and remember that growth mindset word of YET--- you can do things you would only imagine!

Monday, July 20, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 66- Be a People

I really want to do a chat on the Supreme Court decision that makes marriage simply marriage. It's an important topic and something we should celebrate.

And I can't think of a way to approach it in a chat right now. We've had the discussion a few times here at #WeirdEd, it's always been great, and it would be great again. But it might be back patting. I can't find a new way to throw that ball.

In fact, this week especially, I'm having a hard time finding ways to throw anything new and education related. I think I know why- Summer Break is freaking long. And at some point, without fresh ideas flowing in from day-to-day with the kids (you know, the reason for the job) it gets hard to have conversations. Even though it might not seem like it, a lot of #WeirdEd comes from my classroom. It's about the kids, and the kids inspire most of what I want to talk about. But the only kids I'm around right now are my own and, as adorable as they are, they aren't fertile ground for an edchat. Until I write one about parenting which I just talked myself into just now while you watch and which will probably happen in the next few weeks.

I'm seeing it all over twitter too and I honestly believe we're all feeling the lack of Kid. Conversations are more circular than normal. Chats feel more repetitive. Fights are getting picked more often over smaller and smaller things. Some arguments are completely warranted, but some are starting to feel like ways to fill a long evening of PD On Tap.

I don't want #WeirdEd to get repetitive and expected and cliche. I'm worried it already is a little and I spend more time than maybe I ought to trying to come up with a way to break the format.

A friend asked why I don't just take the week off then, put the chat on hold until I have a better idea. But I feel, and I might be wrong, that #WeirdEd is one of those places people come to on Weds night looking for fun, looking for something, and taking that away is wrong. I'm trying not to make the chat sound like more than it is, but it is something to some of us. It's something we need. I need. Taking a week off due to lazy just isn't an option for me.

So this week will be a Human chat. We've done something similar once before. I want to get to know all of you better. I want us to get to know each other. Sometimes we have hard chats. Sometimes we have super goofy ones. This one will be a bunch of people sitting in a room, making those little horseshoes of friends and acquaintances, chatting over beer and chips, trying not to check your phone or the TV too often. Tonight is not an edchat. It's just a chat. If teaching comes up then it comes up and you pursue it. But it's not a goal. Tonight I want us to decompress, get to know one another, make new friends. Bring a friend. Let's have a nice night.

And remember, if the cops show up because we're getting too loud it was all Nathan Stevens' doing. We're just passing through.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 65- Le Tour

Co-written by guest moderator- Dan Wuori (@DWuori) of Velo News

The Tour de France is one of the most arduous sporting events in the world. At 2,200 miles, the race is a three-week gut check that tests every aspect of a road cyclist’s skillset - from the time trial (in which teams or individual riders race against the clock), to brutal mountain climbs, to flatter sprint stages (“flat” being relative for cycling superhumans).

To the untrained eye, cycling seems like an individual event. But, much like teaching and learning, it’s deceptively heavy on teamwork.

Like geese flying in formation, cyclists take advantage of aerodynamics - with teams working to keep protected riders tucked safely in the slipstream of workhorse teammates (known as “domestiques.”) By drafting behind their peers, it is estimated that team leaders expend up to 30% less energy, enabling them to preserve their energy for the moments where it matters most.

Like other high-functioning teams, cycling squads are comprised by riders who bring diverse specialties to the table. There are time trialists, who are experts at putting their heads down and burning rubber over a long distance, climbers whose wispy physiques enable them to float up ridiculous grades, sprinters, who preserve energy in the peloton (a large group of riders) until the end of a stage, where they explode toward the finish at unimaginable speeds, and domestiques, carrying food and drink for team leaders, pulling (creating a draft line) the sprinter along, and guarding the team from attack. As a cyclist grows and gets better s/he can move from domestique to leadership positions. Personally, I prefer to be a descender.*

The parallels to teaching and learning become more obvious the closer we look at this sport. As in diverse, classroom learning communities, the entire group benefits from the strengths and specialties of individual members. Echoing Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, protected riders take advantage of the scaffolding provided by peers to accomplish more than they could on their own.

The hills and valleys of Le Tour also echo the emotional ups and downs of a school year. Specialization within a team can be overlaid with veteran and rookie teachers, teachers who are better at certain subjects, and teachers who might get more performance-enhanced through special professional development** than others.

Cyclists train hard for months to even survive this event. Do teachers need survival training? How can we prepare to be prepared for the year? Even veteran riders do months of legwork (get it?) to get through, and many have their own routines and superstitions. The teams have support teams, chase cars carrying food, water, and tires. Everyone is ready to carry their teammates up the hill, and most of the team is built to get one guy near the front so he can do his job in the final sprint. A cycling team subverts individual fame and recognition in favor of lifting the best, strongest rider to a good finish while still themselves performing above what could be considered normal for any human’s threshold for pain and suffering.

*lame cycling joke alert

*yeah, like I was getting through this without making a doping crack

This video will give you a look at what team members, including the support car, do, and how bonkers cycling really is.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 64- JAWS

JAWS is probably my favorite movie of all time. It's a perfect experience, expertly crafted, detailed, and shot. JAWS created the summer blockbuster and is the opening salvo of every Why Steven Spielberg is the Greatest American Filmmaker Ever debate. Every time I watch it I catch something new, I enjoy it a little more. I just had the chance to see it in the theaters for the 40th anniversary re-release and there's nothing like that experience. I saw it on the big screen in Hawaii and it was magic. This time might have even been better because seated right behind me was a dad and two teenagers. I could hear the kids reacting to the movie the whole time and afterwards asked if they'd ever seen it before. They hadn't. Their first time with the shark was on the big screen and it played for them like it played for people for the last 40 years. They loved it. It was then I decided I'm going to make a focused effort to not let either of my boys see JAWS until the 50th anniversary in ten years. By then Weirdling One will be twelve and a half and Weirdling Two will be ten. Just about perfect ages to see it for the first time. And they will see it in theaters. I want to watch them watch it. I'm stupid excited about this.

But what does JAWS have to do with teaching? If you know anything about the movie you know one of the reasons it works so well is the shark, Bruce*, almost never worked at all. (Side Note: Don't tell me the shark looks fake. Marty was wrong, the shark looks incredible. Watch it again.) The three Bruces were constantly failing and Spielberg needed his movie to be perfect so there was nothing but challenges. The first half of the movie, the half on land, went fairly well. Shooting on land is easy. But Spielberg insisted on shooting his second half on the open sea, too young to know that's a terrible idea. Problems plagued the shoot, causing delays and work arounds. Richard Dryfuss famously quipped Martha's Vineyard echoed with radios crackling, "The shark is not working. Repeat- the shark is not working." So why does the movie work?

And that's our In. Making it work when nothing works. The title character doesn't fully appear for nearly an hour (when he eats the guy in the rowboat and we get to see a leg sink to the sea floor) and we don't get a great look at him until even later, in a reveal that is never going to be topped, including the oft-misquoted line.

The reason that works, by the way, is because it comes on the heels of a great laugh line. That's our first good look at the shark. And by then he's been built up so expertly that he's utterly terrifying. Spielberg is a genius at making you forget things you know**, like sharks can't swim backwards. Who cares? THIS shark can, and he wants Brody to know he's coming.

We can learn a lot from JAWS, both in the making of the movie and in the movie itself. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out and, using the proper amount of #WeirdEd creativity, can be applied to classroom situations. I'm dying to keep writing but I realize I find this more interesting than anyone else, so I'll quickly review the characters in case it comes in handy.

Chief Brody- Martin Brody is the chief of police of Amity, a community with the exact opposite of the level of crime he's used to, having just come from New York. He's married to Ellen Brody, has two children, and is deathly afraid of the water. He kills the shark.

Hooper- Hooper is the young, rich shark expert from the mainland brought in by Brody to help him solve what is, in Brody's cop mind, a murder. Hooper is part comic relief and also set in direct opposite to Quint. Hooper is college smart while Quint is school of hard knocks. Hooper has fancy equipment, Quint has his ancient but well-maintained Orca. In the book Hooper also sleeps with Ellen Brody. He dies in the book, lives in the movie. And he lives because of an accident in filming live sharks.

Quint- Quint is our shark hunter. He's Ahab in this particular tale. He knows the sea better than anyone in Amity and he'll find the shark for three thousand dollars, but he'll catch him and kill him for ten. He might be insane. He also has the best monologue in film history. Watch Dryfuss watch him. Being Ahab, of course he dies.

Mayor Larry Vaughn- Mayor Vaughn is important to our discussion because he's the one most against Brody's plan to close the beach. He keeps them open, getting people killed in the process. But is he a bad guy? His town is a summer town, it lives on summer money. "You scream barracuda, people say, 'What? Huh?' You scream shark, you've got a panic on the Fourth of July." Larry is administration, maybe not happy about all the testing that has to be done but knowing that it's not really under his control.

*named after Spielberg's lawyer and the reason the Great White in FINDING NEMO is named Bruce

**see also the T-Rex pen in JURASSIC PARK. How did the T-Rex get out? We see a few minutes later that it's a 30ft drop on the other side of the wall. Answer- We don't care because Steven Spielberg makes us not care.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 63- Weird Reflections on Chats

I really want to do a chat about the Supreme Court decision and about the JAWS 40th Anniversary. Those are both on my To Do list. And they are both topical and timely for this week. But I want to be a part of those conversations. The former is very important to me and the country so I can't miss it. The latter is about my favorite movie and I need to be there to shout at you about JAWS for an hour. Which means they can't go this week because tonight I'll be on an airplane somewhere above the center of the country flying back from ISTE. Yes, ISTE. Have you heard about ISTE? It hasn't been very big on twitter so I understand if you haven't heard anything about ISTE. #ISTE. #ISTETweets #ImHereAndImTiredOfTalkingAboutISTE

Tonight, since the wonderful Shawna and Lauren will be running the chat, they suggested we look back on previous #WeirdEd chats and reflect. I don't think I'm going to write very many questions. Instead I'm going to guide you to the #WeirdEd archive ( , and I'm going to let you look back on chats that you loved, chats that you missed, chats that you feel like weren't as good as they could have been, and chats that you want us to revisit.

Shawna has also written an introduction for tonight's chat-
"So the #WeirdEd chats have been a thing for over a year now, and it keeps getting better and better.  While we have our share of silly topics, we don’t shy away from more controversial issues.  Because it’s about the kids.  And big things affect kids in all kinds of ways.  As educators, we are in the best possible position to positively affect the lives of kids.  And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.  Or it should be.

Tonight’s #WeirdEd will let us take a look at all the topics we’ve covered, from the seemingly insignificant (candy, anyone?)  to the undeniably serious.  What’s been your favorite chat?  What topic has stuck with you?  And in case you’ve forgotten, refresh your memory by taking  a look at the archives."