Friday, January 17, 2020

The Wagon Has Circled Back

In the fall of 2018, I started my current position as a special education teacher after 11 years of teaching social studies (US History and Government) and a couple of years of other positions as a tech coach, a middle school dean, and a PE teacher.  Learning the ropes of teaching special education was a transition for sure, but at least it was made easier by co-teaching World History and US History.  Last spring, I was approached by my supervisor and asked if I would be interested in co-teaching economics, something that I had mentioned to him previously that I had enjoyed immensely but had never had the opportunity to teach.  Naturally, when asked, I accepted the offer.  

When I was in college, I was one of the lucky ones that declared a major on day one and, for the most part, stuck with it through my five years.  I originally declared secondary education biology as my major with a chemistry minor but changed my mind and switched to social studies as a major and physical education and health as my minor.  

The requirements for the social studies major were a minimum of two classes in history, geography, government and politics, and economics.  I had always loved history, so I most certainly knew that I would be taking more than the minimum number of history classes.  However, I didn't want to take six history classes, I wanted to have a little more variety in my classes to fulfill the requirements. 

As I began to take my required courses in the first couple of years of college, these classes began to shape my passions in social studies.  History was already established and I enrolled in several, including US History survey courses, Western civilization, and a really interesting course titled The Third World, a course that looked at the history of imperialism, colonialism, and the impact of each on various ethnic groups around the world.  I took the minimum courses for geography (physical and human geography) and political science (introduction to political science and American government); while I enjoyed these classes, they really didn't spark a passion similar to what I had for history and what I discovered, a passion for economics. 

Image courtesy of
I took an economics survey class as an elective when I was a senior in high school.  It was in the second half of the year and while I did well in the class and learned a lot, it is not something that I necessarily look back upon and remember a ton about; I was in full-on senioritis mode.  However, my Economics 101 class that I took at Northern Michigan University in the Fall of 2002 really inspired me to become more of a student of economics. 

Maybe it was because the economy was recovering from a recent downturn and it was in the news frequently at the time.  Maybe it was because my professor, Dr. Ferrarini, was a master at explaining economic concepts and did more than simply lecture.  Maybe it was because I had always loved economics but didn't know it.  Whatever the case, that class over 17 years ago really lit a fire under me.

I enrolled the following semester in American Economic History (it did tie back to history, my original passion), which was a survey of United States history with a focus on economics.  For example, rather than analyzing the Civil War by looking at battles, American Economic History looked at the Civil War in terms of money spent by both sides, the impact of government spending and monetary policy on the economy, and how common citizens fared economically during the war.  It was an incredible class and I learned so much (same professor as my Economics 101 class).  I also took my first online course, Macroeconomics (with the same professor, she was one of the best teachers that I ever had), to fulfill my social studies requirements. 

The only reason that I did not take her Microeconomics class was because I did not need a full-time schedule in the semester before student teaching, choosing instead to work full time while finishing up seven credits in social studies education theory, advanced weight lifting, and treatment and care of injuries (the latter two classes to satisfy requirements for my minor). 

When I got my first teaching job, I informed the principal of the school that I was interested in teaching economics.  At the time, economics was not a required class and the school did not offer it.  He encouraged me to submit syllabi for AP Macroeconomics and AP Microeconomics and offer the class as an elective.  Unfortunately, the requisite number of students to create the courses could never be filled as there simply wasn't enough interest from students.  I tried every year for about eight years, to no avail. 

Fast forward to my current teaching position.  Economics is now a required course for graduation.  While a lot of the groundwork for the scope, sequence, and pacing for the course was laid out before my hiring, there are still some bugs to work out.  Some teachers had never taught economics before either and never really took many courses in economics so they are learning the ropes not just in pacing but in content.  Because it is a new class and because the school wants to ensure that students are successful, sections of economics with a co-teacher were created, hence why I am now able to teach economics along with two of my colleagues. 

One of my colleagues that I teach with is an economist by trade, so he is brilliant in economic content.  I have a strong economics background and have a box full of tools in technology, differentiation methods, and ways to reach kids with special needs.  I feel that we are a great team and we are able to share what we are creating with our colleagues in the school.  I have implemented The Fast & The Curious Eduprotocol with Quizizz to introduce and rep economic terminology.  I use Pear Deck to create presentations that students not only consume in class, but they are creating as well, as I use Pear Deck's Drawing slides to have students create demand, supply, and equilibrium curves and graphs during class discussions.  For review, I use Screencastify or Camtasia to record my Pear Deck presentations, voice them over, and ship out the results to YouTube to share with students in Google Classroom as a review or for a way to catch up if a student is absent from class.  Students have also been given the opportunity to use Flipgrid on various concepts, such as a discussion on whether Bitcoin is truly a form of money based on the properties of money.  My colleagues and I are planning to try some other thing as well; I am especially interested in trying the Iron Chef Eduprotocol, hyperdocs, and student screencasting with economic concepts. 

My love of economics was sparked nearly two decades ago.  Not having the opportunity to teach economics did not diminish my passion for the subject.  In fact, I tried to incorporate as many economic concepts and discussions as I could into my content, regardless of the class that  I was teaching for the last 15 years.  I am so happy that the proverbial wagon has circled back to me, allowing me to jump on and not just ride shotgun, but to hold the reins and steer the horses too!  If you are an economics teacher, I would love to hear about some ways that you make this fascinating subject exciting for your students.  Share out your thoughts on social media! I look forward to collaborating! 

Until next time...

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Closing of a Decade: 2010-2019

I opened my laptop, not so patiently waiting as the bootup process ensued, first with the Microsoft Vista logo, then the black screen with the hourglass, before my desktop image and, slowly, items saved to my desktop, appeared.  This process took about two minutes before I was able to open up Mozilla Firefox for a quick check of my email and Facebook, then proceeded to open Microsoft Word to write a few lesson plans before creating a presentation for class in PowerPoint.

While this story may still be applicable to some today, a lot has changed since 2010.  Windows Vista has given way to Windows 10 after several other iterations of Windows.  My laptop is much faster, if I'm even using my laptop, as I am more likely to be using a Chromebook, iPad, or my phone, all of which either didn't exist or were in their early stages in 2010.  I have shifted to using Google Chrome for my web browser instead of Firefox and while Office has introduced a web-based version of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc., I rarely use them as I have embraced the Google suite of tools like Docs, Slides, and Sheets.

So much has changed in the last decade. And yes, I get that there is a debate whether 2020 is the start of a new decade.  Some will argue that this is the start, while others will state that the new decade doesn't start until 2021.  According to Wikipedia, technically, the decade does not start until 2021.  However, the article also states that "the frequently used method to refer to decades is to group years based on their shared tens digit, such as the nineteen-sixties (1960s)."  It also states that any set of ten years can be referred to as a decade., such as 1996-2005, the years in which I started high school and finished college.  That said, in my opinion, the debate on when the new decade starts is completely up to personal preference, much like what you like on your fries (I like salt and malt vinegar, ranch, or barbeque sauce, but if a place has poutine, that takes fries over the top!).
This is a great way to eat fries!
Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Regardless of your thoughts on when the next decade begins, I wanted to take a look at three key things that have dramatically changed in the last decade and perhaps make a prediction at what may change in the next ten years, for society as a whole and for me as a professional.

Social Media
While it had been around for a few years in 2010, social media was still an aspect of our lives that hadn't fully taken command.  Facebook was the most popular platform, along with Twitter.  Instagram was in its infancy, Snapchat was yet to debut, and MySpace was beginning to slowly lose its base after a few years of social media dominance.  While social media had a strong presence and was beginning to have more of an impact on education, the greatest impact of social media was yet to come.

I was slow to embrace social media.  I didn't create a MySpace account until about 2008 and shut it down shortly after creating my Facebook account in 2010.  Twitter did not enter my life until 2015, and as of this writing, I have only been on Instagram for about six months.  As for other platforms, I do not have intentions of creating accounts, I am content with my current social media usage.

In the beginning, much like others, I used social media to connect with family and friends.  I didn't see it as a platform for other things.  But over the course of the last few years, that has shifted significantly for me and the general social media user.  We now use social media to meet new people, connect with others on common interests, connect with celebrities, athletes, musicians, and others that were once distant to the average person, and many people rely on social media for their news, alerts, and other things.

I see social media continuing to grow, but I also see many of the issues with social media, especially misinformation, continuing to grow.  Social media companies need to be better about rooting out misinformation and hatred toward individuals while protecting free speech.  Social media should bring people together, not polarize people and divide us further.  In ten years, I hope that we are more unified, not separating ourselves like cliques in a high school cafeteria. 

What a time for choice in regards to devices!  In 2010, we had laptops and early smartphones.  And I didn't jump on the smartphone train until 2012.  I was slow to embrace a smartphone and slow to realize the potential power of the smartphone; I was content with my laptop.  We also had the first generation iPad that was a gamechanger on many levels. 

While the Shift had a digital keyboard, the best part for me
was the hidden manual keyboard.  But I eventually was able
to embrace a device without the keyboard that I had relied on.
My first smartphone was an HTC Evo Shift.  Even though I finally got that first smartphone, I couldn't let go of the full keyboard.  The Shift had a screen that, well, shifted away from the main body of the phone to reveal a keyboard for texting, social media, etc. I refused to get an iPhone because they didn't have the keyboard.  But when I was due for an upgrade, I decided to "shift" to an iPhone and see what the fuss was all about.  Not only did I love my first iPhone and realize that I did not need a full keyboard, but that first iPhone began a trend of me becoming less reliant on my laptop. 

Schools saw the potential of the new choices in devices as well.  My school had iPad carts that you could check out, students had iPod touches and smartphones that were accessible to WiFi, and with the rise of Google Apps for Education (now GSuite), the first Chromebooks were born.  But for some reason, many schools, at least where I was, were hesitant to embrace Chromebooks.  The general idea was that it would be hard to connect to the network and security would be an issue as well.  However, once those issues were resolved, many schools began to scoop up Chromebooks by the hundreds.  A former colleague of mine even went as far as installing Chrome OS on some old laptops to make them useful again.  I even have an old personal laptop that I "turned into a Chromebook" with an open-source version of Chromium as a backup.  Then there are smart devices like the Apple Watch, FitBit, and others that are commonplace. 

Each week, it seems that updates are made to iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, Chromebooks,  traditional laptops and other devices that take them to another level that didn't seem possible a year ago, let alone a decade ago.  What will the next decade bring?  It's hard to make that prediction.  With 5G networks coming, connectivity is going to be even faster and more accessible than ever.  Devices are becoming more compact and powerful.  While the traditional laptop is something that will still be around in 2030, it may become the VCR of the DVD era: there will still be a demand, but prices will be higher than now because companies won't want to make them, much like trying to find a VCR now. 

Tools & Methods of Teaching
Along with the development of technology that is more accessible to educators and students came digital tools that enhanced and streamlined lesson planning, execution, and learning.  The dawn of 2010 was a time when Microsoft Office was my go-to tool where I would create activities in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel and I used a primitive teacher website that was provided by my school district.  But as the decade moved along, my teaching transformed into something that is unrecognizable compared to then.  Not only has technology changed my teaching, but my philosophies on a lot of things, such as worksheets and homework, has changed dramatically as well. 

While I could identify a plethora of things that changed my teaching and my mindset, the three that really had the biggest impact on me were Google Apps for Education (GAFE, now GSuite), Socrative, and CUE. 

In 2013, my school was selected as a pilot school for Google.  I immediately embraced it, even if it was as simple as converting my Microsoft files to Google and ditching my flash drive for Google Drive.  But I grew along with the Google suite as I learned more creative ways to use the tools, attended events like EdTech Team Google Summits, and grew my PLN in my district and through social media to be more innovative.  Now I am a Google Certifed Educator, Level 1 & 2, as well as a Google Certified Trainer, striving to learn more and be more innovative every day. 

Socrative was the first third-party digital tool that I embraced.  While I haven't used Socrative in a long time. I was one of the first digital quiz and response tools that I used with my students.  Eventually, it opened the door to other interactive tools like Kahoot!, Quizizz, Quizlet, Flipgrid and more.  While I would have eventually discovered other tools anyway, I give Socrative a lot of credit in helping shape the educator that I am now. 

And lastly, discovering CUE has been career-changing for me.  It all started with free registration and membership to a CUE Rockstar event in 2015 where I met Brian Briggs and got to know my colleague Steven New more.  Now, I have been to Spring CUE every year since, Fall CUE on three occasions, numerous affiliate events, I served on the board of CUE of Nevada for nearly four years, and can call dozens of people from throughout Nevada, California, and beyond as friends.  CUE has inspired me to try all sorts of things and is partly responsible for inspiring me to write my book that will be out in 2020!  I cannot thank CUE enough!

In the next decade, I'm not even going to try to predict.  So many things are happening on a weekly basis that some of the great things that were are using now may be obsolete in a year (not to say that Socrative is obsolete, but I haven't used it in about four years, and another great tool that I used to use, TodaysMeet, is no longer in existence).  I'm excited to see what's to come in the next few months, years, and the decade!

With the closing of this year and decade, my social media feeds have been flush with reflections from a variety of people.  It's been awesome reading these reflections, as it has brought about more reflections on my behalf.  Here's to the end of a decade and an even more successful one in front of us, the 2020s!