Tuesday, January 26, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 92- If You Give a Weirdo an EdChat

If you give a weirdo and edchat, he's gonna want it to be the best.
And if he wants it to be the best, he's gonna try to break some rules.
And if he tries to break some rules some will go better than others.
And if some go better than others that's going to make him want to keep pushing and challenging the friends who come to play.
And if friends come to play that'll make the edchat a lot of fun.
And if the edchat is a lot of fun it'll be the best.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond (people always forget to give love to illustrators, don't do that), is the Wife's favorite children's book. Before she became a stay-at-home mom to the Weirdlings she was a pre-k special ed teacher and she read it all the time. Now she and I trade off reading it to the Weirdlings because we love it and they love it. It's a perfect example of an incredibly simple concept taken to logical extremes. It's a book that makes authors pull their hair out because they should have though of it.

It's also a great cause and effect lesson. Like, bring it out in class to teach the concept. Why not? Have kids write other things the mouse could have done instead of what the mouse did. As long as it works within the cause ad effect rules let them run with it. See how one small change brings the whole thing to a completely different place. Go crazy.

This week I'll posit various, "If you ___ a ___ a ___..." questions and I want to see where we go. I'd link all the questions together but I think that will become too unwieldy and hurt conversation. Maybe as I'm writing the questions (blog always comes first so I know what we're talking about before I start) I'll figure out a way to domino every Q together.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Kids Coding Kids

"Don't treat kids like robots, " is pretty sound advice.

Well phooey to that, I say. I really do. I say, "Phooey!" And on a regular basis too. You should try it. No matter how upset you are one good, "Phooey!" will clear your system out.

Today I treated my kids like robots. Like sprites. Like programs.

Like programmers.

Practicing coding on the computer is great. It's where they'll actually be coding, so it makes sense to practice there. However, anything that can be done on the computer can be done off it if you're creative enough. I do not take credit for this idea, I'm 90% sure Sam Patterson gave it to me. I had my kids code each other.

Set up was simple and fast, both lovely things for a teacher to hear. I grabbed four packets of colored construction paper. We cleared out desks to the edges of the room, something we do regularly so the kids are fast and safe with it. I told them, "You will now code each other!" Cue excited twittering. I explain that they will lay out colored papers in an order of their choosing. They must decide what each color means. Does it mean Forward Two? Jump? Moo? Spin? They will lay out their program and then run it with themselves as the bot or sprite. Then we'll switch and try each others.

This whole thing was done very quickly. Introduction to clean up took 25 minutes. I pushed them to get it done quickly. The program was not to be complicated. Space was limited.

Like most things, the most valuable lesson was in the mistakes. Students would set two blocks next to each other, a Moo Block and a Spin Block for example. When you landed there you'd moo and spin. But because they'd forgotten to include another piece of code directing the student-bot to move forward or back after mooing and spinning the program ended prematurely.

Kids were moving. Kids were coding. Kids were problem solving. Kids were cooperating and communicating.

Naturally Courson and I made a video of the whole thing as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 91- The Princess Bride

It seems incredibly unlikely that we haven't done a Princess Bride chat in 90 weeks. So very very unlikely. It's practically, what's the word I'm looking for...unthinkable* that we haven't done this movie yet.

So this week we shall dive into shrieking eel-infested waters, plan a wedding, kill a bride, and blame someone else for it. This week is all about love and danger and swordplay and giants and death and pain and, maybe, some kissing stuff. This chat will be tasteless (some might say it always is) and odorless (some might say that's never true). The only thing we might not talking about is the Dread Pirate Roberts because that's someone else's gig. I guess we could talk about the new Dread Pirate Roberts though.

The Princess Bride is ripe for teaching. There's vocabulary quizzes, critical thinking, and high stakes tests. Someone is writing an academic paper on a subject near and dear to his heart, and someone else is a great scholar of a very specific art form. In fact, to make this blog more challenging I typed it with my left hand.

How does one test The Machine? What an amazing Maker project. At least he had help. Did the extra finger get in the way? How did Miracle Max learn to make miracles? Did anyone want a peanut?

Think about what a polymath Wesley was. He was only on the pirate ship for five years and in that time he because a swordsman of such a caliber as to defeat a man who had been studying for twenty. Think about how his love carried him up the Cliffs of Insanity after sailing all night, and how it keeps him alive after 50 years of his life were sucked from him. He learns by trial and error in the Fire Swamp, but immediately learns from both mistakes. Think of the ways he saves him own life. Sure he's strong and learned and clever, but what saves his life first? Manners. He says, "Please." Dude was the total package.

Should we mention how ineffectual Buttercup is? We could She's pretty stereotypical for a story of this type. She watches Wesley get chewed on for a real long time and only hits the ROUS when it comes after her. She doesn't have any agency other than that. You could say she tries to take her own fate into her hands at the end when she decides to end it all, but even that she mocks an old man with first in what could be seen as a cry for help, please stop me, I'm telling you my plan. Don't be that teacher. Be Wesley.

*no, this is too easy

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 90- Under Pressure

Tonight's blog and chat was written by the wonderful Lauren Taylor
image credit- http://general-abe.deviantart.com/

In loving memory of Bowie, I decided to jam out to one of the greatest songs ever known to man. As Queen and Bowie serenaded me during my commute home on Monday, I was thinking about how much the song  “Under Pressure” encompasses the feelings that I have as a teacher. If my life had a theme song, this would be it. Imagine the Bowie/Queen (NOT VANILLA ICE) bassline beginning as soon as my alarm clock goes off each morning.

So imagine my theme song wakes me up Monday morning. I got to school. I was tired (correction: I am ALWAYS tired), I had gotten ANOTHER email about the testing schedule with some weird acronym in the subject line.This was after I had sat through an hour long meeting listening to yet another Common Core debate, and ESSA something something something. Wait, what’s that again? Something new? Oh. And don’t forget that meaningless PD day coming up.

I constantly feel pressure. Pressure from the bureaucrats. Pressure from testing, data, covering as much content as possible, but don’t forget to do all the things while putting the kids first! This is what many of us teachers are faced with daily. We sit in meetings crunching numbers, analyzing what kids “need” from this data (what happened to just ASKING them what they need?), and we leave thinking “how can I possibly do any more than what I am doing now!?”  But I HAVE to do it because of outcome based education?

Flashback to my terrible Monday...

As I was singing at the top of my lungs choking back the tears from my ugly stress cry, I realized that the song is a metaphor for education. Yes, Queen and Bowie were singing about education (well, in my mind they were).

I remembered reading an article about the video for Under Pressure in Slant magazine a really long time ago, where the video was described as “Exploring the pressure-cooker mentality of a culture willing to wage war against political machines, and at the same time love and have fun.” I had to look up the article to remember that quote exactly, but I was thinking about that while listening to the song and I think it describes teachers perfectly. And it’s in our darkest, most stressful moments that we usually remember why we’re fighting and why we haven’t given up.

Yep. I started teaching because I love my students. And it’s fun. They’re fun. And I know all of you amazing people feel the same way despite feeling like you’re losing your damn minds sometimes.

So I don’t want this chat to turn into a rant, because that would be easy to do (sort of like what this blog post became), but I want it to be a way for us to talk about what we’ve done to prevent ourselves from cracking under pressure. How have we dared to “change our ways of caring about ourselves” and put our students first? Let’s think back to a time before all of the acronyms and standards and numbers and grit (like sandpaper? I don’t even know) and rigor (whatever) made us feel like we were in a pressure-cooker. Let’s talk about having fun. And things we love.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 89- Education Politics

Let's talk politics. 
Great way to end Christmas dinner early, right? But Christmas is over and I have a few questions.
I want to talk expectations. What are we expecting from politicians regarding education this cycle? Remember, pot came up in the Democratic debates before education did. That's where it is on a national scale of importance.
Do I think education is important for politicians to talk about? Sure I do, it's my job. But at the same time I spend a lot of time being irritated that non-teachers are trying to tell me how to do my job. Do you see the imbalance there? I want a presidential nominee to say something about education, but he or she better not say ignorant stuff. Education policy is a wonky thing to talk about. I don't mean wonky as in weird, I mean it in the way pols mean it- policy dense and specific. Obama is a wonky president, dude loves talking policy. But in a debate what kind of questions do we want asked and what kind of answers are we expecting? 
I'm serious here. 
I think I might barely write any questions for this chat because I want to have a conversation about what we want presidents to be able to do in regard to education, what we want them to be able to say, and how versed we expect them to be. 
Should every nominee have their own education plan? Is, "We just implemented ESSA, move along," a good answer? Are we expecting them to say, "Testing and data is awful and we must completely stop them." Obama has basically said that about testing. He's hosted a White House MakerFaire. You think Trump has a thought in his head about education? He probably wants us to stop teaching Muslim students (and probably the girls too). And that's the extent of his plan. Do we need to know Ted Cruz's thoughts on textbooks and science, because I'm pretty sure the dude ain't all that pro-science. Hillary recently made a comment about closing low performing schools and because it's the only thing any of them have said it got to be a 48 hour news cycle thing. Sanders is getting a lot of love but do we know where he stands on Common Core? I bet he'd manage to make his answer about income inequality (which education is a factor in to be sure), because that's a dude who stays on message. Jeb! probably feels ways about education. I assume. He's still running, right?
Anyway, I don't want to get contentious about who's voting for who during the chat. #WeirdEd is always a cool group of people so I think we can disagree and keep it civil. If we can't I could always write a chat about being connected.