Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chapter 12: Bodily Functions on Audioboom

Donors Choose Unboxing and Testing Video

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

#WeirdEdWeek 41: Snow You Didn't

Rumor has it the east coast is under, from what I can tell from twitter, six miles of snow. Last night Facebook and Instagram also went down. What I'm saying is in five years expect big class sizes, east coast kinder teachers!

Snow anyway, we are going to talk about snow this week on #WeirdEd. There's snow doubt about it, snow is on everyone's mind. Snow what else could we talk about this week but the white, the puffy, the cold, the snow.

I don't snow if your snow this, but the news told people to stock up on water before SnowMyGod 2015 hit. I'll say that again in case you don't snow what I'm trying to say.

They told people to stock up on water. Because of snow. You know, just in case people can't get to a water source. Because of all the snow. Snow kidding, right?

I want you all to snow that I do take these kinds of weather emergencies seriously. I lived in Hawaii and once a year the whole island chain would brace and panic for a tsunami because of an earthquake off the coast of Mexico. There never was a tsunami on Oahu while I was there. Big Island got rocked pretty good once though. Snow well.

Snow plays a major feature in one of the most popular children's movies of the last decade: Jack Frost. I mean Frozen. Come on, you snow I didn't really mean Jack Frost. That came out in 1998. Frozen is either a great movie, a bad movie, or it's just ok. I'm not sure. I change my mind every time I watch it or think about it. I think I like it. Mostly.

Snow is something I can't stand. I never want to be around snow. I don't want to step in it or smell it or drive in it or be any closer to it than I'm legally allowed to be to Chris Evans. Snow sucks. it's cold and wet and you have to wear a ton of clothes to be comfortable in it. You snow what sucks? Wearing a ton of clothes.

"Snowly cow!" you must be thinking. "How can you possibly write an education chat about snow?" You forget that I am the mad genius behind the Narwhal chat.

Snow yeah, let's do this.

Harnessing the TeacherTwitter Brain

I am not the first person in line to sing the praises of The Twitterz from the rooftops. I don't have to be, plenty of teachers have made their entire accounts towards that end. That does not mean, however, that I am anti-twitter. I like twitter quite a bit. It's a powerful, valuable tool. It's not the alpha and the omega of PD, but it sure is nifty when harnessed correctly.

I am not, and this will come as not surprise to anyone paying attention, shy. I'm not shy about my opinions, my methods, or my attitude. If you had 150 words to describe me you would never approach shy. Your fingers would never hover doubtingly over the s and h keys.

What Twitter can be very good for is most easily used by teachers who are not shy. Creators who have no problems with putting something out there in the world to be read, commented upon, shared, and potentially laughed at, mocked, and held up as an example of why you're not such hot stuff. This doesn't mean we don't worry about those things happening, we just don't let those worries stop us.

Twitter is the perfect place for Hey, check out my stuff people. There's a bunch of people right there, a click away from checking out your stuff. Be it rubbish or not, people will click on your stuff. They like clicking on stuff. Clicking is like breathing. It fills a hole. It must. Why else would Buzzfeed still exist?

Yesterday I wrote a project for my class about the California Gold Rush. We are fourth graders, we read a story about it that was pretty good but didn't delve as deeply as I would have liked, and we had a four-day week coming up. This is the Perfect Project Storm. I stretch a one week story into a two week story and use the second week to let my kids dig deep into gold mining. (Get it?)

Once the project was written I thought to myself, "I bet there are interesting ideas I haven't thought of for this project all over twitter. I should ask." So I made the Doc sharable with commenting rights through a link, wrote several drafts of the perfect tweet, and put it into the world.

Immediately the Doc was populated with Anonymous Capybaras, Anonymous Mice, Anonymous Nyan Cats, and Anonymous Chupacabras. Feedback flooded in, all of it wonderful and helpful. All of it making my project better for my kids. I added parts, clarified sections, tweaked, massaged, and finessed wording. I got ideas for bonus portions, next level thinking strategies,and ways to make it friendlier to my lower and ELD kids (those are not the same populations, just to clarify).

The collective Twitter TeacherBrain improved the learning my students will be doing this week. You made my project better.

But what a risk!

Yes, I'm confident. Yes, I know I'm a good teacher and I knew the project as I had written it was solid. Still, I'm not The Best and there are some amazing teachers on twitter. What if I shared it and people started poking holes in it? Pointing out flaws. Making the Impostor Syndrome that many, if not all, of us feel come into the light. What if I ended up curled up on my couch clutching my two week old, sobbing, and looking for jobs in a warehouse somewhere so as to limit my human interaction as much as possible? What if I'm wrong about how strong this assignment feels and everyone finds out?

Obviously that didn't happen. But I think those thoughts go through the minds of many teachers when they think about sharing drafts and ideas of student projects. Some of you right now have a small pit in the middle of your stomach just imagining sharing a project.

Share it anyway! Teachers are amazing. Here's what really happened because I shared my Gold Rush Project (Holy crap, a list right after I mocked lists! Oh, cruel irony!):

  • It got better, which means possible student learning got better
  • I got to meet more teachers and learn how wonderfully smart you are
  • Some teachers will steal my project and make it their own
  • I feel better about the project and about the world of education
  • Some teachers were inspired by my sharing and will share their own work, which means learning will ripple and we will all learn more
Be brave and share more than your successes and failures and thoughts. Share your actual work so that we may steal it and be better for it. Share it so we may help you and be better for it. Did I take everyone's suggestions? No. Even though I got a lot of good ideas and comments some did not fit my overall goal or my class. I still have those ideas in my back pocket for next time. For another lesson.

Share. Sharing is caring. Sharing makes us better. Sharing makes us stronger. Sharing builds up the profession. Trust your instincts and ideas, be you a brand new baby teacher or an experienced teacher who remembers when social media was finding a note in a glass bottle on the beach. Because remember,

Friday, January 23, 2015

Seating via Donors Choose Part One

Last week my wonderful friends and family fully funded my first, but probably not last, Donors Choose project. The project stemmed from my need to change the look and feel of my classroom seating arrangements. How does how my kids are sitting impact how they are learning? What ways can I take control of my class and make it something the kids have never seen? How can I get their bodies involved with their learning and actually do something with my belief that the more active their bodies are, the more active their brains are?

It began with the link above. Taking the legs off the desks. Make them sit on the floor or stand. This quickly evolved as students realized what they did or did not like about being on the floor. Pillows were bought, legs were added, adjustments and learning happened. I was happy but not satisfied.* The experiment even caused a 5th grade teacher in my school to take the legs off his desks. Reports are good from his class.

Then I saw what my wonderful friend, Jess Liftshtiz, was doing with her seating. She had gone to Donors Choose, a website I was familiar with but not deeply, created a shopping list, and crowd-funded a whole room full of new seating options for her class. I had to get on this.

Unfortunately, this bug bit me right before the holiday season and Donors Choose shuts down the amazon portion of their ordering at that time because amazon is so slammed with holiday orders. I waited. I bided my time. I bought myself a Gaiam chair.

Short Gaiam Chair review: I really like it. I think it's comfortable, I like how it forces me to sit. And my lower back has been sore all week. That's to be expected, the new seating position engages the core more. I come from athletics and sore is good. If you want to try a Gaiam ball come to my classroom and I'll let you sit on it.

Once the holiday border of January 5th passed I jumped on Donors Choose, hammered out a project proposal, sent it away, fixed the parts they didn't like when they responded to my proposal, and resent it. Once approved I posted it on Facebook (a place I hadn't been since Micheal Brown was murdered and I realized that if I wanted to keep some old friends I shouldn't be on Facebook), my book's Facebook page, and on twitter. I cranked out a blog post explaining the purpose of the Donors Choose, and settled in to wait.

I did not have to wait long. You guys are GOOD and caring and amazing. It funded in a day. 24 hours. I was shocked. I'm still shocked. The generosity of teachers, friends, and family is wonderful.

Donors Choose, for their part, are nothing if not efficient. The project funded and they sent in my orders to amazon and Kaplan. Amazon is also nothing if not efficient and the two items I ordered from there, KORe Wobble Stools, were boxed and on their way to me immediately, if not sooner. Amazon has psychics working for them. That's the only way they ship so quickly.

Pictured: Amazon's shipping department

The stools arrived late yesterday. My students were able to watch me unpack them and assemble them, a process that took all of three seconds. Then I sent them away. This is what we call in the business a "tease". They came in this morning excited about school not only because they have me for a teacher (which is very exciting, I know because I tell them it is), but because newness is exciting.

The reviews so far, after one day, are positive. The stools will move randomly through the class. I expect some to like them less than others, which is why I ordered a variety of things from Donors Choose. Those things should be here next week.

Next week, once everything is here and under the students, I'll write another update in the Seating Saga. Meanwhile, my kids are happy with their Wobble stools, their brains are active, and their bodies are moving.

*Note: I'm never satisfied. Satisfaction equals death of growth.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 40- The State of the Weird

My fellow weird teachers, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

No wait...

My fellow weird teachers, there comes a time in every young boy's life when he notices the fairer sex.



God no!

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

Wrong document. Hold on...

My fellow weird teachers, in the past forty weeks we have come a long way. Hard conversations have been had, as well as the most ridiculous conversations any teachers have ever had about teaching. We've been silly, we've been challenged, we've been more honest than I think many people thought possible in 140 characters. Bonds have been forged, ideas developed, stolen, and shared. #WeirdEd has grown into a formidable chat.

And still this isn't enough. We can do more. We must do more. The state of our Weird is strong, but still it can be stronger. Weirder. More weird. More Weirder.

I vow, as your Weird Teacher in Chief, to do more to be sure that #WeirdEd continues to grow and reflect the views of not only me, but many of the weird teachers in the world who are not me, but are just as weird in their own wonderful ways. There have been topics we have not touched, and they will be. I recognize that while I strive to make my weird both broad and deep I have blind spots both culturally and educationally and I will do what needs to be done to light those places. I will continue to reach out into the interwebs to find people with interesting things to say and weird things to teach us which we can then take to our children.

#WeirdEd will be as much about ourselves as teachers as it is about our students. #WeirdEd will be a bastion for safe conversation about difficult topics and also a bounce house of absolute nuttiness.

The state of our Weird is open and welcoming. Many have come to our shores over these past 40 weeks not knowing what to expect. Drawn by our neon flashing hashtag in the cold sea of similarity they lurk, unsure of what to expect. One by one they join and before they know it they realize that they do not need to be converted because the conversion happened long ago. They belong here with us.

Tonight's chat is about the state of our classrooms, the promises we make to ourselves and our schools and our students and the way we move forward.

Thank you. Shatner bless you, and Shatner bless the #WeirdEd family.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Donors Choose- Get My Kids Cool Seating

You all did it! Thank you so much!

As anyone who follows this blog or my classroom knows, I've been experimenting with various seating arrangements for my classroom. Changing desk heights, having students bring pillows, and letting them test however they want is a start, but I've been wanting to do more.

Jess Liftshitz (@JessLifTeach) turned me on to using Donors Choose to get more seating options for my kids like she did with hers. (This is turning into a link-heavy post, ain't it?) I wasn't sure at first. I don't like asking people for money, and I expressed that to her. She agreed and said that was her biggest hurdle, but in the end it's not about getting money for ourselves, it's about getting money to help our classrooms and our students. That is an idea I can get behind. This kind of micro-funding can be amazingly beneficial if used right. It's not Kickstarter, donors aren't getting anything in return except the feeling that they helped a teacher and his/her kids do something/get something cool.

So I'm asking please for some help getting my kids some niftiness. I recently got myself a Gaiam Ball chair and it's awesome. My kids need this kind of awesome. My Donors Choose project has beanbag chairs, loungers, Hokki stools, Kore WOBBLE chairs, back jack anywhere chairs, and teacher cubes. If my project funds the seating options in my class will explode. Kids will be engaging their bodies when they engage their minds and research says those two things play very well together.

Please give any little bit so my current class and my future classes can have the chance to not sit in ugly plastic chairs. My kids will love you for it, and so will their teacher.

Just follow the link. Or this link. It's the same link. And, as a special added awesomeness, if you are donating before Jan 24 please enter the code SPARK during checkout and Donors Choose will match your donation dollar for dollar. Get my project funded fast and get my kids some new seating choices. Imagine how much you would have loved your classroom to have something like this. Heck, imagine how great it would be to have something besides a chair to sit in now.

Thank you  for reading, sharing, and (hopefully) donating.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 39- Labor and Delivery

How I'm writing
My new son was born Monday night. This means I'm not writing a regular #WeirdEd. But I'm also not cancelling the chat. I'm going to give you a topic and not moderate very closely or ask Q1, Q2, Q3. Going to let it run. Try to keep the conversation on topic.

Let's talk about labor and delivery and how it relates to school and teaching. I think it could be a really interesting compare and contrast with how you plan things, the types of technology you use, how much help you get, what you do with an aide? Do you reflect and change a lot of things? Do you read up a bunch on how other people do it and plan according to that? How much should it hurt? There's lots of places to go. Be creative. Be weird.

That's pretty much all the guidance you get this week. Have fun. I'll be at #WeirdEd but who knows how active I'll be during it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 38- What If

Let's get this out of the way:

Yes, I completely picked this topic because of the annoying, shrill, over-the-top, hyperbolic hashtag storm that was directed at Sec of Education Arne Duncan because he posted one tweet that fatefully began with the words, "What if". What followed was a mass of #WhatIf tweets that ranged from good ideas and interesting thoughts to things the Secretary of Education has zero control over. Things his boss has zero control over.

Am I defending Arne Duncan with this topic? No. He doesn't need my defense. I don't think he's the greatest guy but I also don't think he's Lord Business. Can't we please be moderate about this? If you think Arne Duncan is destroying education then you have no sense of history at all. If you think having a teacher as Sec of Ed will magically solve all our problems you also have no sense of history. And if you think sending the guy nominally in charge of education for the United States a billion angry tweets will somehow change something then you might need to reevaluate the power of social media. It's a strong tool, but I'm not sure it's that strong.

"But Doug," you say, "We are spreading our message to people who might not hear it." Sometimes hashtag activism works, when coupled with, you know, actual activism. I love #BlackLivesMatter and #YesAllWomen. These are movements that have a base and an argument and history and need to be spread. #WhatIf quickly became a parody of itself and I, and I consider myself pretty invested in the state of education in the country, quickly tired of seeing it in my feed. Who new was seeing this? What were they learning? That teachers are angry and want change and want Arne Duncan to resign or be fired or resign then thrown on a fire? Something about a meme and a derpy picture of him?

Come on. We can use twitter for good. We can. But we can also abuse it to the point of being ignored thoroughly by the people we are trying to reach. Let's say I was trying to make a point at you. Would you listen better if I reasoned out my thoughts clearly and without too much hyperbole? Or should I and all of my friends shout every kind of scenario we can think of at you for three days? What if at some point we decided, "If he heard us he heard us." What if we left twitter and did other kinds of activism that the majority of the population, who are not on twitter, could see?

And no I don't mean post it on Facebook too.

So what if #WeirdEdgot a little silly tonight? What if we mixed our hyperbole with questions deeper than they sound? What if rather than shouting at the social media aid who normally runs the account of someone too busy to run his own we had an actual conversation? 

"The Book With No Pictures" by BJ Novak Read by Yours Truly

My friend Coach Adair (@TheCoachAdair) sent my class the wonderful book, The Book With No Pictures. Watch as I read it to my students for the first time and they die laughing.