Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 45- Magic

Teaching is magic.

No, this isn't the Harry Potter #WeirdEd. We're going to get to that, I promise. But not tonight.

Magic is all tricks and slight of hand. My three favorite magicians, four really, are Ricky Jay, The Amazing Jonathan, and Penn & Teller.

Ricky Jay is a master slight of hand magician. He is the most skilled card manipulator in the world. Someday soon take an hour and watch this video. It's family friendly and will blow your mind. Everything from the ease with which he does the impossible to his perfect patter inspires me

The Amazing Jonathan is a completely different kind of magician. Where Ricky makes everything look ease Johnathan goes for laughs. His tricks go wrong. He claims the reason he went into comedy is because he was never a good magician, but by not doing his tricks well he pulls off tricks perfectly. He's barely a magician and the guys on either side of him on this list would probably kill me for putting him here. I don't care, he's hilarious and the Windex joke is one of my favorite gags. Language warning goes here.

And then there's Penn & Teller. The most famous bay boys of magic. The big noisy one and the small quiet one. The ones who have absolutely no regard for any of the rules of magic, and barely any regard for the rules of society. They are brilliantly talented, amazingly funny, and brutally honest.  And I could post their videos all day, but I won't. One here, and one at the end. The one here explains how much they don't care about the rules of magic. And the one at the end is a trick you'll never figure out.

Teaching is magic. Teaching is misdirection and showmanship. Teaching is practicing a skill until it becomes second nature. Not only are we manipulating the audience's expectations, but we are also subverting it to gain their attention. Often the audience sees us as a kind of magician. This isn't exactly the goal, we don't want our kids to think we know what we know because magic. But Penn & Teller show us that it doesn't matter if we know it's a trick or not. The joy is in the trick itself.

Think again about the cups and balls trick in the first video. Ricky Jay shows us a few ways that exact same trick has been done over the centuries. Think about some of the skills we are teaching in class. These are not new skills, no matter how much rhetoric we hear about training kids for the 21st century. Critical thinking skills haven't actually changed, just what we're thinking about, the way we're absorbing data and the amount of it that we're absorbing has changed.

Think about how entertaining all three of these videos were, for different ways. Some teachers might be drier, closer to Ricky Jay. Some of us might be a little more insane, like Jonathan. And some of us might be sneering at the system while working within it to make our own points, like Penn & Teller. Seriously, find some of their talks from The Amazing Meetings, where they (Penn) talk about truth and magic. It's great stuff. And you don't even have to agree with everything he says. You probably shouldn't.

Let's talk about teaching and about magic. Let's have some fun.

Now watch this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 44- Commercials

We're always being sold something. It's part of existing as a human now. It's been part of existing as a human for as long as we realized Grog might be better at growing carrots and Ook might be better at catching rabbits and hey why don't we share? The mechanism of selling products has changed somewhat over the years. No longer does Jon Stewart stop in the middle of his show (Jon, I mention you because I'm dying to be on The Daily Show before you leave please call me) to talk to us about dog food the way Johnny Carson used to have to do. Now we have to watch the first five seconds of an ad and then quick fast click  SKIP AD before we can watch the funny YouTube video of the cat falling off the windowsill. Or sometimes the ads are unskippable! Then we have to waste 15 precious seconds, fifteen seconds of life that we will never get back, before we get to that darn grumpy cat, what's he so grumpy about now? Oh, ads on YouTube. Huh, that's meta.
Teachers are always being sold things. We need to be acutely aware of this. How many meetings have you sat in that sounded like a PD when they were described to you but halfway through you realize, "Wait a minute, is this a sales pitch? Are you about to tell us we should buy your computer thing? Because I've been sold to before, that's why I have that timeshare in Oklahoma I never visit, and this sounds very much like that." Then you turn to your grade level team member to scoff about it and they look at you like this:

Yeah. We've been there.
Tonight's #WeirdEd is going to be in the form of ads. Sell us on your answers. You need to come up with catchphrases. What will get the attention of the mob quickly and efficiently? We're not talking edumemes. Those aren't catchy enough. It needs to be more catchy and simpler. Now is your chance to be Don Draper*.

*note: the character of Don Draper is not actually a human you should aspire to be like and anyone telling you differently doesn't understand the show

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 43- Vaccines

I'm not going to tackle whether or not vaccines cause autism or any of the other claims of the anti-vax community. Why would I? Facts is facts and willful ignorance should not be encouraged or given much audience.

However, it's a great in for a chat about education. About government intervention and spreading ideas and preventing their spread. It's a good topic for hard questions like what would you do if you knew an unvaccinated child was in your class? What if you had a newborn at home? It's a good topic for talking about globalization. It's a good topic for, as @AGoTeach suggested, talking about Newton's Third Law. Without googling, I'm pretty confident that's the one about time travel being possible if you fly backwards around the Earth fast enough.

I asked my school secretary what our policy on vaccines for students was and this is her response:

"We do ask for the vaccination record when they enroll, but by the Oregon Law, we must allow them to enroll without any documentation.  When it comes to the "exclusion date", mid February, we will exclude a student if they can't provide documentation that they are either current or up to date with their vaccinations. If a parent wants to opt out of vaccinating their child, they can no longer just sign the opt out waiver, they must take some training online and provide us with a certificate of proof of the training, or they must have a doctor's note stating that their child can not be immunized for a particular reason. Hope this helps."

I don't want to pick an ideological fight. I'm not going to shy away from a question or two about it because these are real things that really impact us in our real classrooms. And I expect, like always, the #WeirdEd family to be respectful of all viewpoints. However, I'm not going to pretend I'm neutral. Welcome to the chat, where I'm rarely subtle on the big issues we tackle.

We can once again show how smart w are together, how we can make edchats so much more than they sometimes are. How no topic is off limits and hard topics approached respectfully and openly can yield learning that yes, can be taking directly from twitter into the classroom. An edchat doesn't have to be explicitly about Teaching to be about teaching. This is another experiment to prove that hypothesis. Thank you for coming to play.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Gold Rush Projects: Crowd Sourced Lesson, Student-Driven Project

It started here. I wrote a project. I posted the link on twitter. TeacherTwitter made my project better.

Now I'd like to share the fruits of our labor.

It went pretty much as I expected. I grouped the students according to predisposition. Who are the natural leaders, who are the artists, who is going to need the whip cracked? I don't mean I'm boxing my kids in. I don't grab them by the shoulders and proclaim for all to hear, "Thou art the Leader! Go forth!" But we all know groups need an engine and some kids have a bigger natural engine than others. Someone needs to kickstart the group when things are dragging. They all can draw, but there are some who love to draw. They all can research, but some will be better at guiding the others to relevant information. I try to create teams that have both flexibility and strength. The chemical composition of my class makes this difficult, but I did pretty well. Which means I helped them do pretty well.

The students were allowed two small reading books about the gold rush and pioneer days, a library book about the life of miners that was too much to read in one sitting but gave good in-depth information. They had the story that we read in our reading books which started this whole thing. And they had the interwebs, based off safesearchkids.com, my preferred kid search engine.

Are the results fantastic? No. Like most student projects they range from pretty good to oh no, where do you think you found that? Sometimes in the same project. There are flashes of creativity and insight. There's also a lot of, "Wow, I didn't spend enough time helping them understand how much gold is and was worth so they just pulled numbers out of their butts." To be honest, I was more concerned with the process of mining than the hard facts of currency conversion, so I'm letting the number fudging slide. Yes, they could have looked it up. But it wasn't explicitly on my list of things to know. The process and life of stuff was more important.

Someone, I don't know who, suggested Youblisher as a way to make the booklets digital. I did that today and it worked pretty well. I didn't crop the .pdf s so there's some white space where the scanner assured me, "No no, these are 8 1/2 x 11 pages. I promise. Stop fiddling with the controls, I got this." I didn't have time to fight with the computer and this is a first time, so I'm happy.

Lauren Taylor (@LTaylorELA) suggested audioboom for a different project and I decided rather than deal with video, this time we'd make radio interviews. Easier, quicker, less editing.

Below are the links to the group results. Each group has a link to their Youblisher, which is the booklet, and the audioboom, which is the interview. Like I said, I'm happy. Some I'm downright impressed. Feedback was and continues to be on-going and next time their products will be better. This was a first for us this year. Always looking for growth.

I want to thank everyone again for their help making the project better than I conceived it to be.
Gold Rush

Group One

Group Two
Youblisher (not done yet)

Group Three
Youblisher (not done yet)

Group Four

Group Five

Group Six

Group Seven

Group Eight

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 42- Make a Thing

Last week I wrote about Harnessing the TeacherTwitter Brain. I'd rather you click on the link and read the full thing, but the short and sweet version is we have a ton of smart people at our disposal on twitter and we should be open and trusting enough to work together to plan and prepare. And that's hard to do. It's hard to have faith in your own ideas, your own lessons, and it's hard to be open and vulnerable to other teachers you respect.

After posting that William Chamberlain (@wmchamberlain who you probably already follow but if you don't you should) shared this Doc with me. It's a group-written poetry piece that lives shared on Drive that anyone can edit and add to at any time. He said they used to do stuff like that all the time.

I love this.

So I'm stealing it.

Tonight during #WeirdEd (7PST) and #WeirdEdE (7EST) a link to a Doc will be shared. Very little of the chat is going to take place on twitter. I'll be checking in on twitter and trying to pull in more people, but I won't be asking questions and taking answers.

This is your chance, our chance, to build a lesson or two or five. To say, "Hey, I've got a story about the gold rush coming up, anyone have any ideas?" And then we gather together to build something cool.

The Docs will be completely open. Anyone with the link can add. The Big Goal here is that we build a few totally new and original lessons or projects together tat anyone can take and manipulate to their own ends. Bring ideas that have worked for you before, but let's grow and add as well. You were going to spend the hour with us anyway, let's use that hour to better our planning and our prep and our students' learning opportunities.

Or use the hour to talk on the Doc. Stake out a page and have a conversation. Play around. If you add to the Doc throw your name on it at the top. Add it to your Drive.

Let's make a Thing.


You made a ton of things!
#WeirdEdE Doc
#WeirdEd Doc