Monday, October 24, 2016

Well THAT Didn't Work
Because I think I have all the time in the world, I started a new blog that I'll be moderating and occasionally contributing to (unless it goes over like a lead balloon, then I have a new blog that'll be collecting digital dust in my blogger dashboard).

Rather than explain it here, why don't you just go there and read about the idea? I'll probably make this the topic for #WeirdEd Week 126 too.

Monday, October 17, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 125- Post-Debate Decompression

This Weds marks the third and thankfully final presidential debate. It's scheduled to run from 6:00pm to 7:30pm pst. This means it runs a half hour into our normally scheduled #WeirdEd time. Because I feel like a well-informed populace electing the president is of importance, I'm pushing the first half hour of our edchat and instead it'll only be a half-hour, from 7:30pst-8:00pst. Even if they don't talk about education a presidential debate is still educational, and we, as educators, should treat it as such.

I don't think this last debate will change any minds. The internet tried to make a hero/joke out of undecided voter and red sweater enthusiast Ken Bone, when instead we should have been spinning around asking him how he could possibly still be unsure at this point in the game. Justifiably, we've all collectively forgotten about him now. Still, his turn at fame does help explain how some of the population took their eye off the ball long enough to let the vulgar talking yam (credit to Charles P Pierce for that) get this far.

Still, even though most all of us have made up our minds one way or another, watching the debate makes us part of the national conversation. You can go on about how individual votes don't matter (the first election I cared about was Bush2 v Gore, so if anyone should feel that was it's my age group), or how you hate both candidates, or how you wish Dr Stein or that other guy who won't win got to be more involved in the process, but the debate gives one of the candidates a chance to verbalize her ideas and the other a chance to make mouth noises with his face until you want to chew the arm off your couch. This is important. Even if they don't mention education, and don't expect a deep conversation about that, no one wants that conversation except us*, watching a debate is educational. I've got fifth graders who pay attention. They know it's important.

The chat will be a chance to decompress. I will be on an airplane flying to Regina, Canada to deliver the opening and closing keynote and the SMYA conference, so my partner in crime Shawna Briseno will be moderating the half hour. There will be no questions. It'll be open forum to talk about what the two candidates talk about. Respectfully. We can do that even if they (read: he) can't.

*oof, I wrote that back in January. This election season will never end

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 124- Books

This week's post is written by longtime partner-in-crime and regular #WeirdEd co-moderator Shawna Briseno.

Books are my life.  Have been for as long as I can remember.  Actually the written word in any form.  As a somewhat shy child I would lose myself in the stories I surrounded myself with.  Now that I’m older but not necessarily wiser, it still holds true.  They are my escape, my opportunity to imagine myself in another world and another life.  And as a teacher?  I’m constantly searching for books I can share with my kids.  I want books that will make them laugh as well as make them cry.  I want books that will teach them life lessons and let them walk in another person’s shoes.  And even though I have my own personal list of tried and true favorites, I’m always on the lookout for new ones to add to my collection.  So let’s  help each other out.  What books do you like to share with your kids?  What books do you go to when you want to impart words of wisdom?  Because stories are magic.  And who doesn’t need a little, or a lot, of magic in their lives?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Teacher's Home Is Their Classtle

Some may say that I have delusions of grandeur. An out of control ego.

Nothing of the sort.

I just want to remake my world in mine own image is all.

This isn't technically true (though it makes for a fun lede). I am more interested in remaking the world in the way that best suits my students. My world, our world, is the classroom we share. It's where we spend most of our day, our home base, our home. Certainly feels like I live there sometimes. It's where I expect my students to learn and be comfortable and form a community. Yet it's trapped within certain constraints. I can't make it physically larger, the walls are pretty stuck. I can't do anything about the built-in storage space. I can't knock a wall out for another window. I have so little control about so much with regards to the learning space of my students.

Yet, I have taken as much control over it as I can. I should preface this with the note that I have a very open-minded principal who trusts that there's a method to my madness and who allows my foolishness to take place in her school. She doesn't have to and I'm sure there are many reading this who don't have such a forgiving environment. This is my fourth school over my eleven year career and I think it's the first one where I'd have been allowed to go this whole hog. Maybe in Hawaii, where I spent most of my six years in a portable so far from the office students would need a snack and a water bottle to take up a note. I also want to note that I didn't ask permission to do any of this. I don't know if that makes me a bad role model for other teachers or not, but I do a lot based on the belief that it will be better for the kids, they'll be enthusiastic about it and it'll positively impact their learning. If my changes accomplish those two things, I figure it's harder for even the most stick-in-the-mud administrator to make me change it back. But I don't know your admin, maybe s/he's more stuck in the mud than most. Still, give over my email, I'm happy to chat. Why not?

My changes started two years ago. I wrote about it here, so here's the short version- I was having a rough year and so were my kids. We needed to mix things up and I was willing to try anything. So I took the legs off almost all the desks, the ones I didn't I either left the same or raised up as high as they would go. I went to Goodwill and bought pillows and built my first Donors Choose to get beanbag chairs, wobble stools, and backjack chairs. And it worked. My kids loved it, it totally changed the environment in my class. It made the flexibility I was seeking in their attitudes physical.

That was my last year at that school. After getting hired at my new (and current) school, the first thing I did was modify the desks. I think I even told my principal that would be Classroom Design- Step One during my interview. Hey, you want to stand out? Tell your potential boss you're going to take the school's stuff apart. I told her this because a) it was the truth b) I wanted to see how she'd react and c) it worked last year and I wanted to brag on that, because that's what you (I) do in interviews if you (I) want the job.

There's nothing like watching students and parents come into the new man teacher's classroom and watching them absorb the long blue hair, the weird desks, and the lack of normal chairs all at once. And that's before they notice the puppets.

To supplement my own supply of alternative seating, I allow students to bring in their own. Seating rules are simple- If it's a community seat it changes students every day. I don't track who has what when because I don't want extra paperwork, so we run on the honor system. If it became a problem each seat would get a check-in form. The community aspect of the classroom is stressed hard and, much like the seating makes my expectations of student flexibility and comfort physical, it also brings the sharing community expectations into the real world. If students bring in their own chairs they may not share. That is theirs from home, their parents paid for it, their parents are allowing them to bring it to school, they may not share. This is how I avoid having angry parents in our classroom complaining that so-in-so broke their kid's chair and now they better pay for it.

So that's desks and seating sorted. But that still wasn't enough. I wanted more change. How else can I modify this static box in which I teach and we learn to better fit our needs? With a TV, of course. This is where I sound spoiled- When we moved from Hawaii to Medford, OR the moving company we used was run by the Yellow M&M if he was a real person, and he hired M&M minis with the care to match their size to do the actual moving. So our very nice flatscreen TV arrived in Medford broken. My mom and step-dad were just about to buy a new TV, so they lent us their old one. Once we moved from Medford to where we are now in Portland we bought ourselves our own TV. And, rather than give my mom back hers, I stole it and hung it up in my room.
Classroom flatscreen

Yay, Chromecast! Now showing YouTube videos and movies is so much easier. The screen is too small to cast Documents or Slides with text to if I want everyone to see, I still need to plug into the projector for that, but it makes my life so much easier. Plus, I can cast from my phone, so when we're playing music during worktime that's me casting Spotify through the class TV. I didn't ask to hang a TV up in my room. I brought it in, along with the mounting supplies, found the custodian, and asked him if either he could do it or if I could borrow a drill so I could. He's cool beans so he did it.

I have a wall with holes in it above my sink. I hate it. It's ugly and the wood is hard enough that
staples bend rather than penetrate. Last year I covered it with butcher paper and planned to do something with it, but never actually did. When I got to school this year I found two of the teachers I work with painting their's. One was painting the Milky Way and the other a cloudscape. Of course! Wife loves painting. She brought the Weirdlings in for a few hours during two of the set up days and painted my wall. We went with cityscape at night. It looks cool, and when you look at a cityscape at night you should immediately think about superheroes. Why? I don't know, but I do so you should too. I didn't know if I was going to do anything with superheroes on it, but at least it looked cool. When my student teacher, Veronica, came in and told me she needed to do a project with the class where they talked about who they are, I told her about my superhero idea, and together we built an assignment where the kids drew themselves as superheroes and wrote a thing about why they choose the powerset they choose. Veronica laminated the drawing and now we have a Wall O Heroes in our room. An ugly, hated piece of my room is now an original, personalized display place for a fun assignment.
Check the sliding whiteboards hiding storage

Now my room is complete. Except not really. I added the small white board you can see in the above picture to my back wall for more writing space (the whole front of the room is whiteboard, and I've got sliding halfwall whiteboards on the wall opposite the TV wall with storage behind them), but that really wasn't enough for me. I had two big pieces of butcher paper up along my back wall with MATH and LANGUAGE ARTS diecut labels. And I never really used them as bulletin boards or a place to display student work. A lot of our final products can't be hung on the walls like that anyway.  After a conversation with Jon Corippo, who was preparing his CUE Classroom Cribs camp, I realized that what I'd been wanting was more whiteboard space back there. I want kids moving. I want all the space to be usable. I have a front of the classroom because that's the direction my projector points, but my kids should have freedom. Just like with my seating. Just like with my assignment choices. But whiteboards are expensive, so I went looking for cheaper alternatives. It was my wife who, through the power of her Google-fu, discovered that galvanized steel sheets can be written on with dry erase markers (side note- so can classroom desks. My kids use their desks as whiteboards all the time). They are also cheap, at under $10 for a 2ft x 3ft sheet. We went to Lowe's and bought five, plus screws. Again I showed up at school and asked my custodian for his drill and again he came through like a champ and did it for me. Again I did not ask my principal first if I could put more holes in my walls.

I love my silver boards. (Principal is cool with them too.) They look cool, and they do exactly what I wanted them to do. In fact, I want more. As soon as I can financially justify it I'm going to buy at least five more sheets. More for the back wall and there's some space on a side and front wall that could use it. I also started more regularly using my big window as a student work space.

Yeah, it's kind of hard to see if the sun is just right, but the kids get a kick out of writing on the window. They clamor to do math. They're excited to do the work and display the work. And that means when I stop the work and have them return to their seats we're surrounded by work. Which is pretty freaking cool.

I'm not saying you should go out and buy balance balls and take the legs off your desks and hit up Lowe's for some steel sheets. That's not what I want you to take from this post. What I want you to take is that I saw potential in my space, in the world of my students, and I took steps to exploit that potential. I am trying to remake my classroom in a way that will best suit my kids and the community we are creating together. This will never be done. My room will forever evolve in steps big and small. Once I get more sheets I might be done changing things this year. Unless I see a need or get a bee in my bonnet.

Find ways to own your space. Brick walls, no admin faith, tight constraints, find a way. Make your room yours and your students'. That's why it's called Classroom Design. Because it's an art. My classroom doesn't look like anyone else's. But, piece by piece, it's starting to look like mine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

It's the Quiet Ones...

This wonderful post is a great piece I'm happy to host on my blog and a #WeirdEd Week 123 blog post. It's by Mari Venturino, who wrote and will be co-moderating this week's chat (Weds 7pst) as well.

Trends in education focus on buzzword categories of students: English Learners, special education, homeless/foster youth, gifted, etc. If we’re not analyzing data, then we’re busy talking about getting students to collaborate and work together more. What happens when a student doesn’t prefer to work with a group? What happens when a student is an introvert?

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, discusses how western culture has made a shift from the “culture of character” to the “culture of personality” where extroversion is dominant, and introversion is considered inferior. She names this the Extrovert Ideal, defined as "the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight." [Ed. Note- *waves*] These are the values we intentionally and unintentionally translate to our classrooms, schools, and workplaces.

The biggest misconception about introverts is they have less to say. In reality, the major difference between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts prefer to process the world externally via social interactions, while introverts process the world internally via quiet thinking. Introverts have just as much to say as extroverts, but won’t readily speak it out loud.

In social situations, there may be extroverts who will not wait for others to speak, and overpower the quieter voices. We call these steamrollers. In any sort of collaborative grouping, an overpowering person can be dangerous for the group’s process and rapport. Helping these extroverts identify when they tend to steamroll is just as important as empowering the introverts to advocate for their own needs.

Many introverts, such as myself, can be “functional extroverts” for short periods of time. If you’ve met me in real life, you might not automatically know I’m an introvert--especially if I’m at an edtech conference. However, after I get home, I need plenty of time to decompress. This is a learned skill that took time to develop.

In our classrooms, we value students who are collaborative and vocal. It seems that we’re condemned as “bad teachers” (gasp) if we don’t have our students constantly working together. After auditing my own classroom, I see how many of my lessons that the voices of my extroverts, and leave my introverts quiet and alone. I’ve been more intentional to build in opportunities for both introverts and extroverts to shine.

So with this being said, how do we provide our introverts with an authentic voice in our classroom and world?

PS. Not sure where you lie on the introvert-extrovert continuum? Take this free Myers-Briggs Type Indicator quiz to find out.