Monday, July 25, 2016

Poking at PokemonEDU

In a teaming-up of such power not seen since the Great Avengers/X-Men crossover of 2012 (check it), #totallyrossome and #WeirdEd have joined forces to bring you one Mega-Sized chat. #TotallyRossome (Tues at 9 edt) and #WeirdEd (Weds 7pst) are covering the same topic from different angles, with different questions, BUT if you come to both chats then there might be special bonus Easter Eggs and other digital goodies. See Ross’s blog here.

Stop us if this sounds familiar-

New thing comes out.
It gets super popular.
Adults get ahold of it.
Adults ruin it.

Don’t think that happens? Then you’re too young to remember the MySpace Migration of ‘08 and aren’t paying attention to the Facebook Hemorrhage of ‘16. You’re also not paying attention to the latest Brand New Awesome Thing- Pokemon Go.

Before we start in, let’s make something clear- this is not to cut on our friends, people we respect and admire, who are edufying Pokemon Go. But it is to say Come On. Does everything fun need to be brought into the classroom? Everything? Pokemon Go?

Minecraft has been brought in, and successfully. Minecraft is making Big Money off teachers now, and for good reason. The kids love it, people have figured out how to use it in the classroom, and oh so many conferences sessions have been birthed. Minecraft went from being a toy, a game, to a successful education tool.

Will Pokemon Go follow the same formula? Let’s ignore for a moment the inherent creepiness of a classful of students logging in to a server to announce their locations to whoever wants to be watching and tracking. I mean, our phones are all ready Big Brother anyway, right? We’ve accepted that.

How flexible is the program? You can’t really build out on it yet, you’ve got to build within the system. I assume the game devs are taking note of the rush by teachers to get on the train and have begun building a Pokemon GoEdu server. I would be. They can see the Minecraft team swimming Scrooge McDuck-style in education money.

But beyond that- Can’t something be a toy? Honest question. The argument, and we can already hear it, is “But Doug and Ross, kids today* are so distracted. We need every advantage we can get!” Possibly you may also argue, “They’re using it anyway, we might as well have them use it in class.” This is also known as the Cool-Dad-Who-Lets-the-Kids-Drink-At-Your-House gambit. (Sidebar: Don’t be that dad - because legality and poor taste.)

To go one step further- what about experiences that aren’t school-related? By gamifying and eduforming everything Kids Today™ are into, are we taking away from the free exploration and play that comes from those things? I’m of two minds on this- Yes it would be cool for a student to go home, pull out his phone, open Pokemon Go, and think of my class. On the other hand, as a kid do you want to associate everything on your phone with school? Not as a teacher, stop thinking like a teacher. Think like a ten-year old. A ten-year old who doesn’t love school but loves Pokemon Go. This goes one of two ways, doesn’t it? They realize that school can be fun because Pokemon Go is school, and that’s fun. Or they realize that now they’re overlaying school even onto the game they really liked. I’m not an advocate for “turn your brain off” media. That’s how we get crap movies like the NINJA TURTLES reboots and ID4:2. Think critically about all the media you consume, movies, music, tv, books, and- yes- video games. This comes from someone currently addicted to Overwatch. I’m still thinking about it. I’m still learning and learning how to learn. That doesn’t mean I want it in my classroom. I want it at home, to relax.

As a (nominal) adult I’m loathe to admit it, but adults kinda suck about adopting the hip new thing. Kids are built to evolve and overtake us. I kind of want them to have their game. If I played it I’d want to have it. Not for teaching, I turn plenty of things into teaching tools. But for me. With a game I can let part of my brain float and make connections while the pretty lights and colors distract the other parts.

Such a rush to capitalize. Complain all you want about companies taking advantage of educators, but don’t then hold the door open for them.

*”kids today”. Ugh. Stop.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ghostbusters and Childhoods

a #WeirdEd week 112 overview

Childhoods are precious things. Some of us cling to them for as long as possible [waves from behind giant Gipsy Danger action figure] while others run from them or try to forget them. You're rarely ambivalent about your childhood.

Teachers feel this to a greater extent than most because we're direct influences in other people's childhoods. We're in the narrative in a way few other adults are. Everyone has a teacher they look back on with happy memories and a teacher that makes them subconsciously grind their teeth and look for a clock to watch.

Childhoods are precious, and we know that because we hold them every day.

Which brings me to GHOSTBUSTERS. For those of you who aren't paying attention because you have lives or families or interests that don't intersect with mine, there's a new crew busting ghosts in theaters and they're *gasp* all women! Yes, not three men and a token woman (though there is token diversity still being handed out), but all four of them are girl humans! Like, four female leads in a major Hollywood motion picture! I know, right?

If you're smart when you saw this news you thought, "Huh, good for them," and, "Please don't suck." Not "Please don't suck because eww girls," but, "Please don't suck because I hate reboots and I'm tired of them being soulless cash-grabs. Please just be funny." We were in luck, director Paul Feig cast four very funny women- Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. Feig himself is hit or miss but SPY, his take on spy movies with McCarthy, Jude Law, and Jason Statham, is drop dead hilarious, so we know he's got the chops. Full disclosure- this movie is out but I have two little ones and I don't know when I'm ever going to get to see it, so I don't know how funny/good it is to me, but reviews are good.

Here's the thing- GHOSTBUSTERS has been getting a ridiculous amount of hate online. Angry, misogynist, racist GhostBros have filled the intertubes with their vile spew. Rather than go into it here I want you to stop and read this article by Devin Faraci, who runs birth.movies.death, a website you should immediately bookmark if you care about movies or good writing or well-moderated comment sections that are the opposite of cesspools. He goes into the awful better than I will and deeper than I need to for our purposes. I'm younger than he is so the movie didn't hit me in quite the same way, but I do love it for all its faults. "Yes it's true, this man has no dick," will make me laugh on my deathbed.*

In brief the GhostBros diapers are twisted because this remake is, "ruining their childhoods" though really it's more like, "Ewww, there's girls in my thing I like and one of them is even black!" Not hyperbole. Actress Leslie Jones was straight up abused off of twitter a few nights ago.

I bring all this up because I want to talk about our childhoods and how school did/didn't ruin them. I'm tying it to GHOSTBUSTERS because 1) you can't deny it works seeing what we're seeing and 2) if you weren't aware of the awful surrounding the new movie you should be because the abuse of women and people of color online is real and, like it or not, some of our kids are probably in the mobs. Digital citizenship isn't just a book subtitle- it's a real thing we really have to teach with real examples and brutal honesty.

How did you view school? How was your childhood? How do those two things intersect? Are you a teacher because of a teacher or in spite of one? Little of both, maybe. Were things in school really better "back in the day"? I know how I feel about that. I think we often wear rose-colored glasses looking back. it's hard to remember things you liked as a kid and see them with honest adult eyes. In the easiest example, think about your top five favorite movies as a child. I'll bet you anything at least three of those are pretty terrible if you watched them now. Be honest. Especially if you grew up when I did, in the 80s, a lot of our media sucked and existed to sell toys. I had alllll the He-Man toys, even the castle. That cartoon was the bomb. Except let's think about it- one, the show was called He-Man. This is literally the laziest title for anything ever. He-Man. Wow. An adult human got paid American cash money to come up with that. Two, the animation was terrible. Voices were laid over the wrong characters. Lip flaps never match the words. The colors were wonky and inconsistent. It's bad all over.

But I LOVED it. And that's ok. You're supposed to love bad stuff. I liked good stuff too. The Disney renaissance was kicking in so I grew up with THE LITTLE MERMAID and ALADDIN in theaters instead of ARISTOCATS.

The GhostBros clung needlessly and harmfully to their childhoods (as a disguise for racism and misogyny) and made the internet and some actresses lives a much worse place. Do teachers cling to our own ideas of when School Was Better?** Was it? We also love love love to talk about how nothing has changed since we were in school so we need to revolutionize it with this idea that's been in schools if we only did a little historical research. Or maybe lots has changed with the advent of the internet and teachers aren't falling in line to catch up fast enough and they're like doctors using leeches. I get confused sometimes. It's always WAY A LOT of one way or another though.

The chat will probably not be as heavy as this post became. But who knows? Hopefully no one gets slimed.

*You're allowed to curse in a teaching blog if you're quoting a movie. I checked the regulations.

**I want to note that at this point I could turn this easily to a "Are we trying to Make Teaching Great Again" thing about Trump but I don't want to because he's going to get his own chat at some point and with the RNC happening right now we need a break from him.

Monday, July 11, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 111- The Panel Predicament

Anyway who's followed #WeirdEd knows I want to shake up the current state of edchat. The problem is there's only so many ways I can see to do it. We're over a hundred chats in on this hashtag and we've been pretty standard with the Q1/A1 format. I've mixed it up some, had people write questions for answers, formed random teams to write the chat (that was fun, maybe I'll do that again next week), done Make a Thing chats in Google Docs. But in the end it always comes back to Q1/A1. It's that or do it freer with just a topic like #edchat does snoringly and #InnoEd used to do strongly. I haven't done much of that, to think of it. I like questions, they keep us focused on the task at hand. And even the open ones like #edchat have moderators asking questions to keep the chat moving, they just don't cop to it or write it out beforehand. 

Tonight is another experiment- a panel. Yes a panel like you'd see at ComiCon or a teaching conference. Rather than me ask the group questions, I thought we'd try switching it up and have the group ask questions to a small panel, in this case myself and Lauren Taylor and Shawna Briseno, the two #WeirdEd co-moderators. 

The immediate concern when I thought of this, and it was repeated when I floated the idea on twitter, is this makes the moderators the Bringers Of Knowledge. That's never been #WeirdEd's way. I rarely answer the questions that I write because I don't want the people who come to the chat to think there are right answers. There aren't, but like it or not if the moderator answers the questions he writes thats how those answers are read. If there are right answers it's not a chat- it's a quiz. 

So how to get around that? We use our answers as a jumping off point for a discussion. I (because I'm still the moderator) will ask someone to ask us a question. That means that I need you to start thinking of questions now. I'm not going to start a Google Doc or a Form for you to write them down because I don't want to see them. I want you to think of some questions, I'll tweet "Who has Q1?" You'll respond that you do, I'll pick you, and away we go. Lauren, Shawna, and I answer your question and then we turn the question over to the floor. More importantly, we turn our answers over to the floor. I'm not looking for you to fight us, but some disagreement or digging, some push-back would be cool. Treat the three of us not as experts, but as people who want to be questioned. 

So, the flow of the chat will be Q to Shawna, Lauren, and I. We each answer. Then everyone responds either to our answers or to the question itself. 

I have no idea if this will work. It might catch fire, fall over, then sink into the swamp. 

But isn't that more interesting than the same old thing?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Da Squish and the Speech Pathologist- A Squish Sees an Expert Update

In May I wrote a post about how my youngest son was being evaluated for a language disorder or delay and what that taught me about being on the other side of the IEP table. That post got some good traction and a lot of people have reached out to me in various ways to let me know how it helped them think about their own teaching practice, or to express how happy they were that I was being open about something that might embarrass some people. Even more have been asking how he's been doing since I wrote the post.

He's doing great. The initial diagnosis was that he had a delay in both expressive and receptive language and they would begin treatment as soon as possible for it. Because we started the process fairly late his first session was right at the end of the school year. Then, because the speech path doing our home visits is a school district employee, there was a break. Everyone gets summer break. Unlike me, she only got three weeks. That's because by law there can't be an interruption of more than three weeks in special education services. So he had one home visit while I was working, then three weeks off, and now they are becoming more regular.

I didn't get to see the first visit, I had to be teaching. But I was getting regular updates from my wife during it. Not that I'd check texts during class time. I looked at lunch. I swear. I mean, would you be checking texts from your wife about your son's special education home visit while your students were independently working on projects around the room? Exactly. She let me know that the speech path, who we'd met during the eval, was just as nice as we remembered, and that both boys were friendly and helpful. Weirdling One, the older one, perhaps a little too helpful. He's basically a Labrador and wants to be everyone's friend and let's play and look at me and oh I'll help brother with this puzzle and and and and. My wife had to give him a Very Important Job in his room to keep him busy so Squish and the lady could focus on one another.

Having someone come into your home is a strange thing. I've never done a home visit, not in ten years of teaching. I would if I had to, but it feels like a strange invasion of privacy, a mixing of two worlds. I'm opening to hearing reasons why home visits are great, I'm not against them. This has to be done as home visits. I'm fine with that. She wants Squish to be comfortable and it makes things as easy as possible on us. Easy aside from the massive clean that happens the morning before a visit. I joked on twitter today that the only reason we have people over is so we have motivation to clean. We live with two tiny hurricanes, but all the cars and Lego were put away (read: mostly, some were shoved into the kids' room) when she arrived. It was nice to have the house clean for that hour.

I got to be home for a lesson today and it was fun to watch someone else work. The speech path (I keep calling her that and I'm pretty sure that's what she is, she might be a speech therapist) is incredibly friendly and conversational, and naturally she's great with the kids. She brought a bag of toys, some puzzles, and a few books, sat on the floor, and got right to work. Da Squish, while not as over-the-top demonstrative as his brother, is a friendly kid who loves most people. He greeted her at the door, he might have licked the window, I'm not sure, and happily bounced to the living room with her.

She started with the puzzle- a bunch of animal shapes. She'd pull an animal out, say the animal, put the piece next to her mouth and say it again, always waiting for him to repeat, which he didn't do. Then let him try to put the piece in the puzzle, which his brother did for him until I asked him to stop. After that they read a book about parts of the body, again with her waiting for him to respond or echo. He wasn't really feeling that either.  But there's progress.

We've been working on signing with him because communication is important, and signing is a bridge and eases his frustration. He can sign "more" and "milk" (two very important signs his mom is tired of seeing), and also "eat", "all done", and "please". When asked he can point at his toes, eyes, nose, hair, ears, and mouth. He's starting to verbalize things but no words are really sticking. He repeats "mama" and "dada" but doesn't seem to associate them with us yet. My wife talks about remembering how she felt the first time Weirdling One said, "Love you" on his own and how she knows she'll get that exact same feeling as soon as Squish looks at her and says, "Mama". He loves dogs and shouts, "Da!" at them, but he also says the same thing when he wants a naked dance party. Yes, these happen in our house. Diaper changes are often interrupted by him scooting away, running to our Amazon Echo, and shouting "Da! Da!" (Dance! Dance!) at her until "Shake It Off" blasts through the house. I'm never going to be able to post a good video of him dancing because there's always fat, tiny, naked butt in it. But trust me, he's got moves. He will also grab a finger and pull us where he wants us to go, which counts as communication and is a huge improvement over where he was a few months ago- crying as we played 20 Questions until we figured out what he wanted.

Expert Lady thinks, and we agree, that he's only a few months delayed right now. Delay is a hopeful word. It means he can make progress and catch up if we work hard with him, which we've been doing. I don't know if he'll enter kindergarten with an IEP, that's still years away. And I don't care either way. If he does I'll know that he'll be entering a system I trust because I work in it and because I've been watching it work with him and us. If he doesn't then I'll know the system my own students are in works hard for them. I've worked in a four schools across three states in my career, I've seen good and bad special education teachers, and I know where we are now is on the high side. Which makes me happy for my students and makes it easier to talk to parents.

I understand that in the grand scheme of possibilities a language delay like this is a small thing. But to a parent any small thing is a big thing. And again, being on this end of the special education lessons, watching someone else teach my kid, hearing words like "diagnosis" and "delay" be said about my child gives me more empathy and understanding when I work with my students and their parents. We don't need to personally experience something in order to empathize with someone. We also can't deny that the personal experience impacts us in ways sympathetic empathy cannot.

Squish has another lesson next week, then a week off, then weekly lessons. I can't wait to keep watching him grow and learn.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Hamilton and Education

I am not standing still, I am lying in wait.

Burr, as he is presented in HAMILTON, is a tragic figure. Burr is who I strive to keep my students from being. Think about the potential. He's "brilliant in court, succinct, persuasive." He's "the prodigy of Princeton college." He's "a trust fund baby."*  With all that he's only a footnote of history- the vice president who killed a man in a duel. In the show he's only the second lead because his name isn't the one on the front of the playbill, a strong metaphor for his life next to Alexander Hamilton. But his is the first voice we hear. He's got two of the most affecting songs in the show. He kills the lead.

Yet, who is Aaron Burr? He has no beliefs. He takes no stands. Even after the war he still won't step up. He justifies these things to himself, he sees his actions as prudent. Why not hedge your bets?

A. Burr is so far from who I am and who I want teachers to be it's not even funny. I admit, everyone probably wants to think of themselves as Alexander Hamilton (except those who want to be Lafayette and the many who want to be Angelica Schuyler). What a surprise, you think to yourself. The loudmouth who thinks he throws verbal rocks at mediocrities wants to be A. Ham.  But think about the teachers who are Burr. They know what's right, it's staring them in the face, but they just won't commit. Again, it's hard to fault Burr. Leslie Odom, Jr plays him with such deep humanity that you are forced to understand him. Can we fault teachers who wait?

We tell them the revolution is coming. But for many it's coming again. They've been through The Revolution. You could say that some teachers probably feel like they've been stuck in a revolving revolution their whole careers. Every four years a new trend, a new study, a new something. These teachers have grown a mind for work, not at work. When hiring we’re looking for a mind at work, but that doesn't mean it stays that way. Imagine if the American Revolution had had as many false starts and blind prophets as education has. See some mindsets switch for work work.

What if Hamilton had been a little less self-centered (before you argue think about literally anything the character does, up to and including how he dies), and a little more open. What if when Washington had told Burr to close the door on his way out Hamilton had dropped in a good word? Hamilton didn't just disagree with the other Founders. He straight up picked knock down fights with all of them, including Washington, who he loved. He had no interest in making friends. One of my favorite bits in the whole show is in Right Hand Man when Washington says they're completely outnumbered and Hamilton's solution is, "I know literally three other people, we're good."**

He doesn't make friends. Imagine if he had. Could he have pulled Burr over? At the least he probably wouldn't have been shot by his first friend. He stops being a great collaborator pretty early in the show. Sure, he bonds tight with his First Three, but after that who but Washington? Reaching out to Madison and Jefferson instead of going toe-to-toe might have meant one less paper he had to write, changing the refrain that he ain't never gonna be president now.

We know the Jeffersons in our classrooms. We even know the Samuel Seaburys. How do we treat the Alexanders? The loud motormouth with more gumption than is good for his current level? He’s a harder kid to teach sometimes, but the rewards are so great. Be his Washington and get on his side. And I would be remiss not to mention our Peggys, so easily pushed to the side.

We get caught up in our pursuit of the best teaching strategies sometimes. Could HAMILTON be a warning to us? Or instead of Alexander Hamilton maybe we take our teaching lesson from Eliza. Who doesn't take crap from him, yet forgives and is strong. She carries on his legacy. She starts an orphanage. She tells his story. Is she the teacher, the center between Alexander and Aaron?

During the chat (Weds 7/6 at 7pst) we'll cover more than Ham v Burr. This is a fun show and it'll be a fun chat. I want to talk about neutrality between Bri- no. No, I don't. But I want to talk about sacrifice and choices and Daveed Diggs being incredible and Washington being a model leader and how wonderful King George is. Of course you'll get to share your favorite characters and lines and songs. But there's so much to HAMILTON, it's such a dense work of genius, that it would be overwhelming to try to cover all the themes. I'm sure this is one we'll have to do an Act II of some time in the future.

*or is it "a trust fund, baby"? I love how many double meaning turns of phrase are sprinkled through the play. It's true that his parents left him money.

**first pointed out on twitter by Sunil Patel, who is a great non-teacher follow.