Monday, November 4, 2019

Joker Through the Lens of Education

Keaton as Batman confronting Nicholson's Joker (1989)
Image courtesy of https://yhoo.it/2Cf0IDg 
Ever since I was a little kid, I have always loved Batman.  I was 8 years old when Michael Keaton graced the big screen as Batman, with Jack Nicholson as an amazing Joker.  And who could forget the stellar soundtrack by Danny Elfman and multiple masterpieces from Prince (to this day, Batdance and Trust are two of my favorite Prince tracks)?  And while the origin story for Batman is relatively common knowledge, with a young Bruce Wayne growing up to avenge the murder of his parents as the Dark Knight, the story behind the Joker isn't as well known.  So to say that I was excited when a Joker origin story movie was going to be released is an understatement.  What I didn't realize though was how watching Joaquin Phoenix play this iconic character would make so many connections to my career as an educator.  

Disclaimer: A recent episode of The Soundtrack Show covered Danny Elfman and his roots before becoming the acclaimed film score composer that he is today before another episode that covered his music in Batman.  Check them out wherever you get your podcasts.  And while I will do my best not to provide any spoilers of Joker, I will be making references to events in the film, so if you have not seen it yet, this is your warning!  

Arthur helping his sick mother, Penny
Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/34vHNjo
Arthur Fleck, Phoenix's character that eventually morphs into and becomes the Joker, conjured up multiple potential images of students that we see every day.  As the story about Arthur unfolds, many factors that explain his eccentric behavior, odd mannerisms, and melancholic demeanor are revealed.  And we would be remiss to dismiss the physical and verbal abuse that Arthur suffers as a result of his perceived "freak" or "weirdo" existence.  On top of all of this, Arthur, as a nearly middle-aged man, still lives with his mother, who he as a loving and devoted son, takes care of, as she is in poor health. 

Trying to make a living as a clown advertising a going out of business sale, Arthur is accosted by a group of teenagers who mock him, take his sign and run away through the busy streets of Gotham.  Arthur gives chase, eventually catching up to the teenagers in an alley where they break the sign over his head and savagely beat him before running away and leaving Arthur to fend for himself.  The beating is so severe that Arthur is convinced by a colleague that he should start carrying a weapon to protect himself, a choice that eventually costs Arthur his job when the gun falls out while he is performing at a children's hospital. 

While this kind of bullying is not nearly as prevalent as it once was, there are still students that are bullied to the point that they see no other way out than to protect themselves.  Often times, these are the students, like Arthur, that are the "outcasts" that don't have a circle of friends and are susceptible to severe bullying.  Arthur had no intention of ever using the weapon, it was just meant as a means to protect his ability to make a living.  That is, until his encounter with three more bullies on the subway shortly after losing his job for the incident at the hospital.  Many students are just like this, never intending harm by carrying a weapon, but are suspended/expelled for possession of a weapon (and zero tolerance laws regarding weapons are something that makes my blood boil, I'll save my wrath here), or worse, they end up using the weapon when the bullying becomes too much. 

Phoenix fully evolved from Arthur Fleck to the Joker
Image courtesy of https://lat.ms/2qljw0V
Several times throughout the film, the scene cuts to Arthur sitting in the office of a social worker.  While the worker attempts to get Arthur to talk about his feelings and struggles, Arthur doesn't reveal much and asks about his medications that he gets through the city office.  Eventually, the social worker reveals that the city has cut her office's funding and that she and Arthur will no longer be able to have their weekly chats and that he will not be able to get his medicine.  It's no surprise that from this point forward, Arthur spirals further away from stability and commits some horrific crimes. 

I am fortunate to work at a school that has six counselors and a team of four safe school professionals.  Students at my school have several people that they can turn to, on top of the caring staff of teachers, if they have concerns, are feeling bullied, or if they have suicidal thoughts.  Unfortunately, like Arthur's situation in the movie, many schools and communities do not have the resources to assist students.  But diagnoses of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and many other instances of mental illness are becoming more common.  If students are unable to access counselors or social workers at school, issues with mental illness can become worse.  And these same students often do not have healthcare coverage in which to access services outside of school either. 

And how did Arthur come to have these issues in the first place?  Initially, you are led to believe that it is because he grew up without a father, then finding out that his father is Thomas Wayne who in order to protect his reputation as a Gotham City billionaire, has been ignoring his mother's pleas for years for help. However, it is revealed that Arthur was in fact adopted by his mother, and was then abused by his mother's boyfriend for years before she was eventually committed to a mental hospital.  It's no wonder that Arthur struggled as an adult with such a terrible upbringing. 

Many of our students come to school from similar situations.  They come from single-parent homes that are struggling to make ends meet.  They come from homes with abusive parent figures.  Some have parents that are in prison.  And while not all students that come from tough homes have a tough time at school and in life, these situations certainly do not help children to thrive. 

Be your students Batman!
Image courtesy of http://bit.ly/2NhjNLm
If Todd Phillips, director and co-writer of Joker, was looking to produce a film that was a political and social commentary, he hit the nail on the head.  As educators, we see so many Arthur Flecks in our classes on a daily basis.  Through our hard work, our compassion, our empathy, and our awareness, we will reach more Arthurs and steer them toward a life of success, not a life of the Joker where his childhood, his mental illness, and the constant bullying eventually lead him to become a cold-blooded criminal that terrorizes Gotham City.  And while it is unfair to say that students that come from a similar background are going to become criminals, I would feel better knowing that I have done all that I can for my students instead of risking it. 

Until next time... 

Monday, October 21, 2019

If I Don't Make It... To #FallCUE

Live performing perhaps my
favorite from their catalog,
"White, Discussion"
The alarm clock was set for 5:35 AM.  As I looked at the clock one last time, it was 12:53.  The blare of the clock would start yelling at me in just under five hours.  I dropped the needle on the record, turned down the volume to just above audible and put my head on the pillow.  As I drifted off, a faint ringing in my ears of the show a couple of hours prior competed with the guitar riffs and falsetto vocals of Raine Maida and escorted me to dreamland.  As the alarm roused me from slumber a few hours later, I groggily jumped into the shower, threw on a hat, grabbed a bottle of Coke Zero, and headed out into the crisp 30-degree darkness of Sunday morning to get into the car for the drive over the Sierra Nevada.  

Much to the delight of
especially the ladies in
attendance, Bush frontman
Gavin Rossdale walks the
crowd while performing
"Little Things".
The Fall CUE conference kicked off in Rancho Cordova on Saturday morning, but I wasn't there for the festivities.  While the drive from Reno to the conference was only about 2 hours and I easily could have gone, my priorities were different.  Months prior, a concert that I could say that I had waited 25 years for was announced for Saturday night.  In celebration of the 25th anniversary of their debut album, Sixteen Stone, Bush announced the ALTimate tour, a tour that would bring Live, a band celebrating the 25th anniversary of their most successful album, Throwing Copper, and Our Lady Peace, celebrating 25 years of their debut, Naveed, to Reno as one of the stops.  With my teen years in the mid and late 1990s, this was a show that I would be devastated to miss, especially because I never had the opportunity to see Bush or Live (I saw Our Lady Peace in 2009, and they were hard to see as their tour schedule rarely brought them to the US).  

Closing out the night
with "Comedown"
The show was everything that I expected and more.  Our Lady Peace opened, playing favorites like Clumsy, Superman's Dead, Innocent, Somewhere Out There, and closing with one of my personal favorites, Starseed.  Live was great as well, churning out I Alone, White, Discussion, Pain Lies on the Riverside, a stellar version of The Rollings Stones' Paint It Black, and closing out with Lightning Crashes.  Then Bush closed the night out, opening with Machinehead, a few songs from their upcoming album, then classics like Little Things, Glycerine, The Chemicals Between Us, Everything Zen, and closing out with Comedown.  My voice was a little hoarse after the 3 and a half hours of nearly nonstop rock that defined my high school and college years, but that wasn't even the highlight of the night!

Jason Pierce, Steve Mazur,
Duncan Coutts, Mary,
 Raine Maida, and I 
Of the three bands, Our Lady Peace is by far my favorite.  They are the least well known of the three and many people do not know the group when I talk about them.  That's not the reason why I love them so much, but I do enjoy a lot of bands that aren't as well known.  OLP, as they are also known, is big in their native Canada but only in a few pockets of the United States.  To say I was most excited to see them is an understatement and most people in attendance at the show appreciated their set, but were not nearly as vocal or singing along like my wife, Mary, and I.  In the day or so leading up to the show, my wife participated in a contest in an Our Lady Peace Facebook group.  When it was all said and done, she won a signed copy of their album, Clumsy, that she would be able to pick up at a meet and greet after their set!  

Had to listen to it,
 but this is going into a frame!

As soon as their set was complete, Mary and I left our seats and nearly sprinted to the meet and greet area, happy to see that we were the first ones there!  We not-so-patiently waited for about 15 minutes for the band and chatted with a few others that jumped in line with albums, posters, and shirts to have signed.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Raine, Duncan, Steve, and Jason made their way through the crowd and settled in at the table.  We walked up to the table and introduced ourselves, took a couple of quick pictures and asked about the album.  The band themselves had been running the promotion and were excited that Mary had participated.  They told us that it would be a few minutes but if we would wait nearby, they would get the album.  We waited for about 20 minutes, Mary got her copy of the album and we chatted with them for a few more minutes (Steve, the guitarist, is originally from Michigan and is a big Tigers fan like me, so we chatted about our mutual love for the team and mutual agony over their patch of rough seasons as of late).  In the words of Mary, it was a dream come true to meet one of our favorites bands, one that has had such an impact on both of us over the past 25 years.  

Which brings me back to the early wakeup on Sunday morning.  My ears were no longer ringing, but I was EXHAUSTED!  However, the drive was relatively short and I was excited to get my learn on, see a great keynote, and catch up with a few friends.  So with the GPS set and albums from each other the previous night's bands lined up, I got onto the 80 and set out for Rancho Cordova.  

Maggie Elliot made me take a picture before I was
fully awake... even though this was 3 hours into the day!
Minus a stretch near Truckee and Donner Summit where it was really foggy, I made great time in light traffic.  I pulled into Cordova High School in time for the sticker swap.  I had stickers to swap, but outside of dropping a few of mine on a table and getting a couple of new ones, I didn't have much of an opportunity to swap stickers.  Several people asked me where I had been on Saturday and I spent time explaining that I had been at the concert the night before.  Minutes later, I worked my way to the theater to see Eddie Campos deliver a great keynote about his experiences as a math educator and how CUE and the CUE family has made him a better educator and how he can now make math fun, not the anxiety builder that it is for so many people.  

Before the conference, I had done some research on the sessions and built a schedule.  However, I did not do a great job of reading for whom the sessions were built.  My first session was a great session on tools for special education teachers... if you are elementary.  I sat there for about 15 minutes reviewing some great tools before I realized that the tools were not going to shift to high school.  Luckily, I had a backup plan: a session on universal design for learning (UDL).  

UDL is something that I had heard of but honestly did not know much about.  Even after walking into the session nearly 20 minutes late, I was able to gain a better understanding of UDL and how I can implement UDL into my classroom.  I really like how UDL breaks down lesson design into three things: engagement (the why), representation (the what), and action and expression (the how).  To dive deeper into the basics of UDL, we were given some time to explore a variety of resources, then we were paired up with another attendee in two circles where we each had 30 seconds to share something that stood out to us.  After we each had a chance to share, we shifted to another person and shared again, and shared a third time with another person (I'll be doing this with students in my classes very soon!).  And the presenters, Kristina Allison and Trisha Sanchez, built a Padlet where attendees could add resources for helping others implement UDL.  Check out their website for more information on UDL and the shared resources! 

To the left, a news story without
Mercury Reader.  This is the same story
with Mercury Reader!
This is a great story about
rural Nevada counties getting
a grant to put wi-fi on busses.
Check it out here!
The next session that I attended was another geared toward closing the accessibility gaps for students with special needs.  Shannon Tabaldo (of the My Tech Toolbelt podcast) and Amanda Johnston presented a variety of tools for accessibility.  Many of the tools were ones in which I was already aware of or that I am using with my students, however, my goal is to always learn at least one new thing from a session and this session did not disappoint.  While voice typing, the Explore button in Google, screencasting, closed captioning, Google Keep and Grammarly are already part of my repertoire, I was really excited to learn about Mercury Reader.  This Chrome extension takes webpages and eliminates all of the extras like ads, spam, and other items not related to the text.  A great example is an article on a news website.  Not only does it open the text in a "quieter" window, but it also allows users to change the font style and size and share it out to a Kindle! There are a lot of distractions on the Internet and Mercury Reader allows students to read without those distractions.  I loved it so much that I installed it for my personal Google profile in addition to my school profile!

After lunch, I headed to a session on social-emotional learning (SEL) hosted by Dr. Todd Schmidt.  His session highlighted a lot of the research behind the importance of incorporating SEL into schools, such as decreased incidents of behavioral issues, bullying, and other issues and different ways he has incorporated SEL into his school as the principal.  Perhaps my favorite thing that he did was two-fold: when it was time notify students and their families which teacher they would have for the school year, each teacher in the school wrote a handwritten postcard for each student and mailed them home, but included on the postcard was a link to a Flipgrid video where the teacher introduced themself (if they chose to do so) and gave a tour of their classroom for students, easing the anxiety of wondering who their teacher was going to be and what their classroom was going to look like.  Dr. Schmidt stated that since incorporating this "hack", he did not get any phone calls from concerned parents regarding their child's teacher.  I also enjoyed his story about hosting a national play day event at his school but inviting parents to come to school and bring games, participate in events with students, and make it more of a community event instead of simply a school event.  I so enjoyed his session that afterward, I introduced myself (while we have interacted on Twitter previously, we had never met in person) and asked if he would like to share his story on The BeerEDU Podcast.  He readily agreed, especially since he has interacted with my partner, Ben Dickson, through various leadership chats on Twitter.  Look for an episode of The BeerEDU Podcast in the near future featuring Todd!

To close out my day, I walked into a session, but I wasn't feeling it, so about five minutes in, I left and headed over to the common area of the school's campus.  I was meeting up with a couple of friends after sessions were done so I figured I would relax for about an hour.  I had a great conversation with a couple of people and Kristina Mattis and Bill Selek had me come on to CUE Live to talk about my (limited) Fall CUE experience and to share a little bit about my upcoming book.  After a couple of quick conversations with Rebekah Remkiewicz, Ryan O'Donnell, and Tom Covington (plus I had a gift of some local Reno beer that I had promised Tom), I got in the car, had a quick pit stop for food, then headed home.  Between the long day on Saturday with the show and the great day of learning, I was in bed and asleep by about 8:30.  And even though I got a solid 9 hours of sleep, it was still tough getting up for school on Monday!  

Whenever I write a blog post, strangely, I name it first.  This time, I wanted to tie the concert and the conference together in the title.  One of Our Lady Peace's early songs is one titled 4 AM and one of the lines of the chorus is, "If I don't make it, know that I've loved you all along."  I felt that it was very fitting to the weekend because I love my CUE family and getting to spend days learning and interacting with so many dedicated educators.  Had I not made it to Fall CUE at all, I still would have learned a ton just from following the hashtag during and after the event.  So if you were at Fall CUE, whether we spoke or not, whether we have known each other for years or if we have never met, just like OLP says, I've loved you all along! 

As for the song, it's more about an estranged father and son, but that line really stuck with me while writing this post, check out this video for the song!

Until next time... 






Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Sliding Down the Sierra Nevada to #FallCUE

It's that glorious time of the year once again: fall!  Perhaps you prefer to refer to the season as autumn.  Regardless, this is my favorite time of year.  Crisp mornings call for my favorite article of clothing, the hooded sweatshirt.  Especially crisp mornings call for a beanie, a toque, a winter cap or hat, whichever your preferred nomenclature (I personally am a beanie or toque kind of a guy). The leaves are changing colors and dropping to the ground.  College football season is in full swing (so are the pros, but I have my reasons for not caring about pro football), and hockey season, my favorite, is in its early few games.  Then there are the fall foods, especially soups, stews, roasted meats, and if you fancy it, just about anything pumpkin (I like pumpkin and I like pumpkin spice in moderation, a little bit of that spice goes a LONG way!).  But what fall also brings is one of my favorite events of the year, Fall CUE!  

Late-night Wing Stop with Jason,
Ben, & Martin at FallCUE 2018!
I didn't attend my first Fall CUE until 2016.  At the time, I was a learning strategist and technology coordinator and my principal gave me a budget to fly from Las Vegas to Oakland, rent a car, check into a hotel, and attend the conference in American Canyon, just outside of Napa, California.  It was there that I met a lot of the people that I had been interacting with on social media for over a year or more, people like Ryan O'Donnell, Ann Kozma, Laurie Wong Roberts, Tom Covington, Michael Jephcott, and many more.  It was there that Jon Corippo taught me how to present like a rockstar and Dave Burgess taught me how to teach like a pirate, and Edward Simoneau taught me how to be an effective instructional coach.  I wrote a post about it three years ago and shared what I had learned on that weekend titled Fall CUE 2016: Reflection & Review (unfortunately, the pictures that I embedded no longer show up, I have switched email accounts since I began this blog and the images must have been tied to that account that no longer exists).

More fun and games from Fall CUE 2018!
I missed Fall CUE in 2017 during my transition from administration back to the classroom.  On top of that, I was in the middle of planning my move to Reno, even though I didn't realize that it was going to be Reno at that point, as my wife hadn't been accepted to any schools yet.  But I made the return to Fall CUE last year and even presented.  And while the American Canyon location was amazing and a relatively short drive from Reno at about 3 hours, I am really happy that it is even closer to me this year in Rancho Cordova, just outside of Sacramento.    While I originally would have only needed a room for one night since I would have driven the hour and 45 minutes on Saturday morning, some special circumstances are limiting me to only one day.

A few months ago after I had registered for the conference, a concert for the ages (at least to me) was announced in Reno.  The ALTimate Tour featuring Bush and Live with special guests Our Lady Peace was announced for Saturday, October 19.  I saw Our Lady Peace about 10 years ago poolside at the Rio Las Vegas, and a free show to boot!  OLP is one of my favorite bands of all time and I have been itching to see them ever since, but they rarely tour America and when they do, they usually stick to cities near the Canadian border or only got to a few select large cities.  As for Bush and Live, I have never seen either one.  Live's Throwing Copper album was one of the first CDs I ever purchased and Bush's Sixteen Stone wasn't far behind.  Going to concerts was a rarity for me growing up in my small town of Alpena, Michigan; I didn't go to my first show that wasn't a country act at the county fair until the summer before my junior year (Third Eye Blind and Eve 6, and 3EB is going to be in Reno at the end of November, I may need to get to that one too!).  So whenever Bush and Live toured, I wasn't able to go.  I told myself when this tour was announced that there wasn't going to be anything that would stop me from going!

#CUEBald in all of its glory withTom, myself, and Matt
My plan shifted from heading down Saturday morning and staying Saturday night to drive down Saturday, head back to Reno for the show, then head back down on Sunday morning for the rest of the conference.  But as I began to write this post, I got a call from my parents that they would be coming to Reno for the weekend.  Since they only live about 3 hours away, normally I would say, "I'll see you in a couple of weeks" as we see each other at least a couple of times a month.  However, when they told me that they were coming over this weekend because they would be leaving for a couple of weeks for Hawai'i, I decided that I would stick around on Saturday to hang out with them.  So now I am only going to be going down for the Sunday.

I have a limited number of
 round yellow sticker...
I built a schedule for Saturday, but since I will not be going, my focus has certainly shifted to Sunday.  I will be leaving my house in Reno early to get there, but I cannot miss the Sticker Swap at 8:00 AM!  The first one last year was a lot of fun and there was a slight underestimation as to how successful and popular it was going to be.  The Spring CUE swap was more organized, so I expect this one to be awesome, and of course, I will have some of my sticker swag to share, from my standard Anderson EdTech stickers and buttons to some colorful ones, and some BeerEDU Podcast stickers, buttons, and more!

I cannot miss the keynote on Sunday morning, a man that has become a good friend over the years, Ed Campos, the de facto leader of the Orange Sauce Mafia and the #CUETangClan.  And in his words, the beneficiary of several hundred Twitter followers as a result of his handle, @edcampOSjr, closely resembling the account for the EdCamp Foundation, @EdcampUSA.  Eddie is an eloquent, engaging, and entertaining dude, so I have no doubt that his keynote is going to be absolutely epic. 

After the keynote, I have narrowed down my choices for sessions to ones geared toward special education, universal design for learning (UDL), social-emotional learning (SEL), and self-care.  I am always looking for more ways to reach my students, especially those on my caseload and in my classes with special needs and there are several sessions on Sunday that are exactly what I am looking for.  I am looking forward to learning about techniques to bridge the achievement gap, make education more accessible for my students, all while learning to better address students' emotional needs, as well as take care of myself in the process. 

So as I make the trek from Reno to Truckee and Donner Pass, then slide down the 80 to the northern reaches of the Central Valley, I'll be looking forward to the day of learning with my CUE family and taking what I learn back to my school on Monday.  If you are going to be at Fall CUE, I would love to say hello, pick your brain for a bit, exchange some stickers, maybe take a picture, and make the connections that Fall CUE and other events have given me for the last several years.  Expect another post after the conference with my reflections and connections. 

Until next time... 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

#ToTheEdgeEDU: The Fruition of an Idea

Writing has always been something that I have enjoyed.  I can remember being a little kid and "writing books", creating them out of paper and cardboard.  My artistic skills were limited at best, but I could always get a story down on paper.  As I grew older, book reports, research papers, and essays were something that I never really dreaded.  And while I have always been a good test taker as well, I would much rather write an extensive paper for an assessment rather than a 100 question multiple-choice test.  At some point, I don't remember exactly when, I told myself that someday, I would write a book.

A couple of years ago, an idea came into my mind about what I could write about. The idea was born out of this blog that I have been plugging away at for nearly four years.  My initial thought was, "Why don't I compile my blog posts, maybe clean them up a little bit, and publish an anthology of my blog posts?" I quickly dismissed the idea because if somebody can just go to www.andersonedtech.net, why would they bother to buy a copy of a book when they could get everything for free?  I decided that any idea that I would have needed to be an original idea.   So the idea of writing anything for publication was put on the back burner for the time being.

Fast forward to the fall of 2017.  I helped put together the Silver State Technology Conference with my CUE-Nevada colleagues (an incredible group of educators and leaders, I am a lucky man to be able to get to work with them on a regular basis).  At this conference, a gentleman by the name of Dr. Randall Sampson was there.  Over the course of the two days of the conference, we learned a lot about each other, including how we had both played college football for the same head coach, Doug Sams, just at different times and at different universities (Randall played at Fairmont State in West Virginia while I played at Northern Michigan University).  I also had the opportunity to pick his brain about the writing and publication process of his book, Welcome to the Grind! How Educators Achieve Exponential Results.  During our conversations, I mentioned to him how I wanted to write a book, but how I had moved on from my original idea and was working on another idea that was more of a memoir of my experiences in education.  Randall told me to keep in touch and to share my ideas with him and that he would do whatever he could to assist me in the process in the future.

I had set one of my goals for 2017 as writing a book.  It didn't happen.  I set that goal again for 2018, and again, it didn't happen.  It wasn't that I didn't want to, obviously, but finding the time to do it was tough, not to mention some career and personal issues that I was experiencing throughout that time and a move from Las Vegas to Reno.  This year when I thought about my goals, I decided that 2019 was probably not going to be the time to write a book either, so I didn't even address it.  I figured that once I met some other goals and settled into a better routine, I would be able to set aside time to write.

At CUE19 in Palm Springs, I saw Randall yet again, and like always, it was a blast hanging out with him and talking about anything and everything.  The subject of my book came up, to which I responded that I had refined my idea and now I just needed to find time to write it.  I also saw Sarah Thomas, the founder of Edumatch and their publishing wing, Edumatch Publishing.  I mentioned to her that I had been tossing about an idea but still hadn't written anything, but she told me to keep in touch because she liked the idea that I had and that she would love to look into it further once I had refined it and began the writing process.

However, the person that probably had the biggest influence on me at CUE19 regarding writing a book was Brent Coley.  Brent had recently published his book, Stories of EDUInfluence.  At various points throughout the weekend, I asked him a few questions about his process and the publishing process and got some really great info, but I need to know more.  So I contacted Brent via Voxer and asked if we could do a video chat for a few minutes so I could pick his brain about everything.  Because Brent is one of the most giving and gracious people on the planet, not only did he agree, but he took over an hour out of a Saturday to answer every question that I had about everything.  It was at this point in late March that I decided to get going with my outline and start writing my book.

My first step was to outline the premise of my book and how I wanted to set it up.  I turned to my tried and true friend, Google Keep, to get the process going.  I created a note that had ideas for my title, a basic outline, themes and potential titles for chapters, and other ideas.  Then, I dove in. I opened up a new Google Doc, created a header and footer that simply said, "DRAFT" in big, bold letters, and started typing.  I didn't set aside specific times to write, I wrote when I had time and when I had the itch to write.  I didn't have a specific thing I wanted to write each time.  Sometimes I would write for five minutes, sometimes I would write for an hour.  Either way, over the course of about two months, I got about three or four chapters written, or in the case of my document, about 60 pages in a standard 12 point font, double spaced.

Very early on, I realized that my book was going to be a first-person story.  However, since I am most likely not that interesting of a person, I knew that it was going to need to be more than an autobiography.  There had to be a theme that tied people back to their careers in education, even if I could tell a compelling story.  I decided that the theme of my book was going to be a story of times in which I have been a risktaker in my life and the results of those experiences.  This wasn't going to be simply a story of my successes, I needed to tell the tough stories as well and deep dive into times where my risks made me fall on my face and look and feel rather foolish.  And without giving too much away, there were going to be some stories and risks that were going to be very hard to write about and were going to conjure up some demons and feelings that were hard to cope with at the time and revisiting in order to get them down into words.  But I knew that if I was going to write a compelling story that was going to inspire people to become risk-takers themselves, I knew I was going to need to dig deep into the depths of my soul.

In late May, I submitted my idea and what I had for a draft to EduMatch Publishing.  I explained my vision for the book, my intended audience of educators, the book's format, etc., and received a response back that the publishing team would review my proposal and get back with me soon.  A few days later, I got my response: they were interested in my idea, but there were a few things that I needed to address in my draft before they would make a decision.  A few edits and additions, I resubmitted my draft and "forgot about it", finishing off my school year, getting into the groove of the first few weeks of summer vacation, and pecking away at the draft a little bit more when I made time to write.  I figured the best thing to do was not to worry about any decision on my draft but to try to avoid thinking about it and hope for the best.

Just after the 4th of July, I received a message from the publisher's panel that was reviewing my proposal.  After careful consideration, the team decided that they liked my idea enough to offer me a publishing contract!  To say that I was stunned and ecstatic is an understatement.  But what it also did was give me some motivation to finish my draft.  I likened the contract offer to the finish line of a race.  If you go out for a run with no set goal or distance in mind, you may not have the motivation to try very hard to achieve a personal distance or speed record.  However, with a set distance in mind, such as a half marathon (a distance that I have personally run on a few occasions), it gives you something to shoot for and the motivation to strive for personal bests.  The book contract was my finish line.  Now I had reason to set aside time to write on a regular basis, not just "when I felt like it" or "when an idea came into my head."

Over the course of the next week and a half, I made time every day to write.  Sometimes it was early in the morning.  Sometimes, it was afternoon.  Sometimes, it was into the night hours.  Or in one case, it was ALL NIGHT! One Saturday evening, I was struggling to fall asleep, so I got out of bed around 10:30 and got behind my keyboard with the intention of writing for a bit, hopefully, to tire myself out and get back to bed.  The next thing I knew, it was about 4:30 AM! Knowing I had somewhere to be at 8:30, four hours later, I put on some coffee and went for a quick walk, determined to write for the next few hours since sleep at that juncture was going to be almost pointless.  It was during this writing session that I wrote the most difficult chapter of the book.  It makes me wonder how that chapter would have turned out had I written it at another time or had broken up the writing into several sessions instead of the marathon all-night session in which it was written.

As of this writing, I do not have a release date for the book.  It has made it through its first round of edits and it is currently in the focus group state where a handful of people have read through the draft and will provide feedback on what they like, what they believe can be improved, and what really stood out to them in the draft.  From here, I'll make a few more edits before it moves on to the official editor.  In the meantime, other details are getting attention, such as cover design, my bio for the back cover, design of the script, and other items that one typically doesn't give too much thought to when looking at a book.

What I will reveal is that my working title for the book is To The Edge: Successes & Failures Through Risk-Taking.  My goal is that those that read my book will analyze my life story and glean inspiration to take risks that perhaps they wouldn't have taken before.  If I can inspire one person to try something crazy, then my words have done their job.  So in the coming weeks and months, watch for my story to be released through Edumatch Publishing.  Following my social media feeds (@AndersonEdTech on Twitter, @andersonedtech on Instagram, and my book Instagram, @totheedgeedu, plus #ToTheEdgeEDU) will be the best way to stay up to date on the book's progress.  I cannot wait to share this story with you!

Until next time...






Sunday, October 6, 2019

Clearing My Plate, Figuratively & Literally

We don't get many nights out, but we did manage to
sneak away for a while the night before my birthday!
I am a busy man.  For as long as I can remember, I have always been a busy man.  I thrive on routine and love to rise to challenges, personally and professionally.  Never have I been busier in my life than I am currently.  On top of my position as a special education teacher, I also teach government two nights a week to students working to earn their adult education high school diploma, I work with my district's technology office to provide training to teachers one night a week, then I have my two podcasts, this blog, and a host of other things.  On top of that, my principal asked if I would co-teach another class last spring for a prep buyout, so I extended my school day by an hour and a half to a nine-hour day instead of the typical seven and a half.  All of this along with being a husband and a father.  While I love being busy, the grind has become really crazy this year and about 6 weeks into the new year, there aren't any signs of slowing down.  

Part of the busy can be contributed to my wife's graduate program.  While she isn't taking as many classes this semester, she is conducting her clinical hours and it has taken some getting used to over the past few weeks.  Before, we were able to split pick up duty for the kids a lot easier, but her hours have made it more of a challenge.  On top of that, the kids are getting older so they are starting to get involved in various activities.  My daughter is part of a cheerleading club with the University of Nevada cheerleaders where she practices with them and gets to cheer at select football, basketball, soccer, and volleyball games.  However, my wife and I both realize that it's only for another 8 months until she graduates and this part of the crazy will be over and we can establish a better routine for our family.  

I am so incredibly proud of my wife and all of this is going be worth it when she is done.  We joke that once she is working again and is pulling in a paycheck that we can start buying name brand groceries again!  I also joke that I am going to take a year off and do nothing but fish, but I know that will never happen!

Ultimately, in order to relieve some of the busy, I had to evaluate what I have been doing.  Different aspects of my life have been sacrificed as a result of my busy, so I took a long look at everything and made some decisions to scale back or completely eliminate some things.  These decisions were made easily but in the long run, I think I am going to better off.

While I love to present at conferences and learn from the great people I meet, I realized that I need to spend more time at home on weekends.  In past years from late August until early November, I have been at an event nearly every weekend.  This year, I have scaled back significantly.  I decided to select only events in which I was directly involved and/or committed to already or have brought me great benefit in the past.  That said, I have narrowed down my conferences to five events instead of the nearly double-digit events that I have typically done in a school year in the past.  Most of the reason is the time and stress factor, but also monetarily, being I am the sole income earner in my house and I plan to go to ISTE for the first time next summer.

At my last CUE-Nevada event as a board member,
I raffled off a copy of my upcoming book. Angela
Barnett was the lucky winner and will be one of
the first to get a copy in a few months!

Since the fall of 2015, I have served on the board of directors for CUE-Nevada, first as a board member then elected as vice president in 2016 and again in 2018.  As an all-volunteer organization, I worked with a dedicated team to grow the organization and provide educators from Nevada and beyond with high-quality professional development opportunities.  The hours are long and especially when an event is approaching, it can be stressful.  That's why as of September 30, I resigned from my role as vice president with the organization.  The commitment to CUE-Nevada was something that I could not continue to promise, and the organization deserves somebody that can be fully committed.  I look back fondly on the time I spent as a board member and the relationships I forged with my fellow board members and the educators that attended our events.  While I am no longer a CUE-Nevada board member, it doesn't mean that I won't be involved; it just means that I won't be part of the planning side of the organization.

Another thing that has suffered has been this blog.  While I love to get a post out every week or two, as of this writing, it has been nearly a month and a half since I last posted.  It doesn't mean that I have run out of ideas and have stopped writing though.  I currently have four other posts created in Blogger that I have started (when I have an idea for a post, I try to create it and at least put down some bullet points so I can revisit later).  Some of it is because of my busy schedule as of late and some of it has been redirecting my writing focus to edits on my book as they come in.  Because I write these for pleasure, I don't feel a commitment to write all of the time, but at the same time, I really do need to make time to write as it is a form of therapy for me.  So while I am scaling back a bit in my posting schedule, I am looking to set aside time on weekend mornings to write so I don't completely get away from it.

While clearing out some clutter, I found these Wakelet shirts.
They are a size smaller than my current size, so I'm
hoping to fit into them in the next few months!
And while I have been trying to trim away nonessential activities in my life, I have also been committed to trimming away at my food intake.  Various health ailments like high cholesterol and diabetes run in my family, so I have been seeing a doctor regularly for the past few years to monitor my vitals.  As expected, my cholesterol is elevated, but for now, my blood pressure, blood sugar, and other stats are in good shape.  However, I am carrying more weight than I really should be and a recent doctor's appointment put me on alert.  My doctor directed me to commit to a meal plan that involves lean meats and vegetables and limit to eliminate all wheat and rice products.  I most certainly have my struggles to avoid bread, rice and rice noodles (I've only had two bowls of pho in the last 4 months, I used to be a several bowls a month eater of that delectable Vietnamese staple), but so far, it is paying off and I have lost about 15 pounds.  I have made goals for weight loss before, but it was more of a vanity goal before; this time, it's about extending my life and avoiding the health issues so many in my family have been stricken with.

In a sense, I have been trying to clear my plate, figuratively with everything that I have committed myself to, and literally, eating less to achieve a healthier body weight and vitals.  Perhaps you are in a similar situation.  I encourage you to take a hard look at your commitments and make the tough decisions to commit to less, learn to say no so you aren't stretching yourself so thin, and if you are looking to lose a few pounds, whether it's to improve your vitals or look better for a vacation or something, know that I am here to support you in your journey!

Until next time...


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Podcast on a Budget Part II

About a year ago, my friend Ben Dickson and I launched The BeerEDU Podcast.  We didn't know whether it was going to something that was going to take off,  if anybody was going to listen, or frankly, if we were going to enjoy doing the show.  Fast forward to now and our show has far exceeded our expectations!  While not on the same level as Serial or The Joe Rogan Podcast in terms of listenership, we feel that we reach a decent-sized audience and we have a lot of fun recording it and meeting people from all over the nation (and even the world, we have had guests from Canada) and listening to their stories and passions. 

When we first began recording, our setup was simple: we used a laptop (sometimes my Windows PC, sometimes my Chromebook), a Blue Ice Snowball microphone, and Soundtrap.  In fact, not long after our show went live, I published a blog post titled Podcast on a Budget to highlight the tools that we were using to produce our show.  Some things have changed since those early episodes, such as the length of the show, we have incorporated guests to join the conversation, and have implemented some more advanced tools into the mix to improve our show.  Let's take a look at some of the tools that we use that may cost a little more money but are still feasible for those looking to podcast on a budget.  

Before, it did not matter what device Ben and I would record from, as Soundtrap was accessible on any device.  However, what we discovered when we tried to record remotely for the first time was that while live recording when we were miles apart was possible in Soundtrap, it was very hard to get everything in sync and we struggled.  We decided that if we were to record remotely, we had to try a different program.  This is where a program that I had received as a presenter gift from a Google Summit a few years ago came into play:  Camtasia.  

I understand that the creator said it's a soft G,
but I'm not going to argue with the Jedi Master! 
As a thank you for presenting at a summit, I was given a license to TechSmith's SnagIt and Camtasia.  SnagIt is a program in which you can take screenshots, record short videos and create GIFs (with a hard G 😛😀😁).  Camtasia is a video creation program that is similar to iMovie, but accessible on PCs and, in my opinion, more robust and easier to use.  SnagIt is something that I used on a regular basis when creating content for my classes, presentations for conferences, and much more.  However, Camtasia was something that I only had dabbled with a few times, creating a few short videos for class.  I was more familiar with WeVideo, but when looking at that, I didn't see how I would be able to record remotely with Ben.  Camtasia looked like a great way to record my screen while Ben and I (and eventually guests) chatted via video.  If any edits needed to be made, Camtasia allowed tons of way to edit the recordings.  After everything was done, I would be able to extract the audio from the video and save it to upload into Anchor, the program we decided to use to publish the podcast.

Since that day that Soundtrap "failed" us (Soundtrap is a great program, it simply wasn't right for what we were trying to do; the music for our podcast was created in Soundtrap and it's great for a lot of other things), Google Hangouts and Camtasia have been our method of recording madness.  Ben and I and our guest will arrange our time to meet, join the Hangout link and I record the session through Camtasia, making any edits and adding in our music before exporting the audio.  When we were using Soundtrap, it was a free program, and my license of Camtasia was also free, but I was given the license.  If you want to buy Camtasia, it is $249 for a license, plus an extra $49 to guarantee the next release.  However, an educator can buy it for $169 plus $42.25 for the next release.  You aren't required to buy the release, but it is nice when TechSmith releases new updates.    While the price may seem a bit steep, I cannot say enough good things about the things you can do with Camtasia and the ease of use.  While I don't record a lot of videos, it does a fantastic job of video creation (I created my Google Certified Trainer video in Camtasia).

The Blue Yeti in midnight blue
I have also since upgraded my microphone for recording.  When we began the podcast, I would use a Blue Ice Snowball microphone, a very good and very affordable microphone that did the job very well.  But as great as recordings sounded through the Snowball, I kept hearing from numerous individuals that Blue's Yeti microphone was even better.  So I invested!  And I was not disappointed! The Yeti has four different recording settings:

  1. Stereo: records sounds from the front and the sides
  2. Cardioid: records sounds from the front of the microphone only (this is the setting that I use when recording on my own)
  3. Omnidirectional: records sounds from all directions (great for recording with multiple people around a table)
  4. Bidirectional: records sounds from the front and the back of the microphone (great for one-on-one speaking with another person sitting across from you)
In addition to the various settings (the Snowball only offers stereo recording), there are many other features of the Yeti.  It has a headphone jack so you can hear yourself when you speak and you can run the computer's sound through your headphones as well (great when recording via video chat!).  The gain knob allows you to sit further away from the mic and still have it pick up your voice clearly and record your voice at a higher volume.  There is also a volume knob for the headphones.  But perhaps my favorite feature it the mute button.  This comes in handy if you need to cough, if there is a lot of background noise, or if any other unexpected sounds are present in your recording environment.  You simply press the button and the microphone stops picking up sound.  The microphone is a little bulky, but not so much that you can't take it with you.  Plus, you can remove the mic from the stand if you have a microphone boom. 

If you are a beginning podcaster or you are trying to podcast in your classroom with students, this may be too much of an investment.  There are definitely great products available for recording and editing that are much cheaper.  In fact, especially when recording with students, built-in microphones on Chromebooks, iPads, and other devices will do the trick.  Someday, I would love to have a room dedicated to podcasting in my home with a professional mixing board, microphone, etc., but for now, both The BeerEDU Podcast and The Podcast by Sons of Technology sound good (in my opinion) with the equipment that we have been using.  Someday when Stitcher or NPR calls us to produce our shows, perhaps we will upgrade!  

Podcasting is a great way for you and your students to share your voice and it is becoming easier each day.  Share your recordings to the world!  Exchange ideas with other podcasters on recording!  And expose your students to the wonderful world of podcasting, both as producers and as consumers!  

Until next time...

Jake Miller, the #edugif guy, host of the EduDuctTape Podcast,
host of jakemiller.net, and overall cool dude knows what's up...
(Sorry, I had to take one more swipe!)  






Sunday, August 11, 2019

Rainbows & Unicorns It Is Not!

Two things: this is exactly my opinion of social media at times
lately and I love giphy.com! You can find ANYTHING there!
Social media has been a life-changing phenomenon for me as a professional.  Without (mainly) Twitter, Facebook, and more recently, Instagram, I am not sure where I would be at this point in my career.  I have learned so much from so many people, many of whom have become great friends, and have found an outlet of positivity for educators when traditional media, internet trolls, and people in our communities have bashed education and educators for far too long.  However, over the past few weeks, I have begun to notice something: social media has morphed into something else and I do not like the direction that it has taken.  

Internet trolls thrive on anonymity.  By sitting behind a screen, trolls believe they can say whatever they want without consequence, oftentimes things that they would never say to somebody's face.  And many trolls doing only to get a rise out of people, trying to bait people into a conversation so they can continue to humiliate and antagonize people.  I don't engage trolls, and most of the time I block them if I see them, even when I am not their intended target (come to think of it, I can't think of a time in recent memory where I was the target of a troll, thankfully).  I also do not engage online in political, religious, or debate on current events, even with those that I know because it is not worth the hassle when (not if) it turns ugly.  I would rather focus my energies on the positives and scroll onward in my feed.  

While my Twitter account is normally a positive place, as my list of those I follow is all educators save for about 10 sports teams and a comedy podcast that I listen to, lately, my feed has not been immune to troll-like behavior and belittlement by others.  What I have noticed in recent months is that civil discussion about topics in education is becoming more of a virtual shouting match, or even a group of people "ganging up" on somebody when they express an opinion.  For example's sake, let's say that somebody tweets an idea about taking steps to reduce homework in their classes this year.  Rather than encouraging the person, sharing ideas on how to do so, etc., individuals will often attack the person, pointing out that reducing homework is not enough, that anything but zero homework is unacceptable.  Now, instead of motivated by their goal of reducing homework, now this person feels deflated because of the vicious attacks by the social media saviors of education and humanity. 

Another thing I am noticing is the number of accounts that have abandoned sharing ideas and interacting with other educators in favor of trying to post "viral" quotes and stances on various issues, especially what I have always referred to as "chair throwing issues".  These are the ones that are controversial and if you watch long enough, eventually, the debate will become so heated that somebody will throw a chair (in our political climate, gun control is definitely one of those, and right to life versus pro-choice is another that has its moments in the spotlight).  Those behind these accounts will post their position or quote and sit back waiting for the likes and shares.  After a while, somebody will comment with their position, sometimes agreeing, sometimes respectfully disagreeing.  At this point, the original poster jumps in and attacks those that are not 100% behind their tweet.  Homework is another great example of this.  

In one such exchange I saw recently on a post regarding a zero homework policy, an AP teacher commented that they assign some reading homework for their class because there is so much material to cover.  Right away, the author of the post and their following ripped this poor teacher for "destroying these students" self-esteem, family time, etc.  I honestly felt terrible for this teacher that simply shared their thoughts and reasons why they assign reading for homework.  I don't know how much reading this teacher assigned, what subject it was, I just saw this person destroyed by strangers when these strangers easily could have sparked a discussion on how to cover material without having to assign students reading to complete at home.  Instead, many people have an all or nothing mentality, where one must agree with 100% of a thought without question, or they are 100% against them.  And unfortunately, many of those guilty of these attacks, whether blatant or passive-aggressively, are the "educelebrities" of social media, those that have a ton of followers and significant influence through their contributions to education, their expertise, and their opinions. 

And while there has been more negativity lately, it doesn't stop there.  There is also an overabundance of the "perfect" classrooms, lessons, etc.  Very rarely do I see people posting about their struggles with something, it's always the polished and beautiful result.  Pinterest inspired classrooms, sketchnotes that no average person would ever be able to create, and handpicked student projects that make one look better flood the streams.  And while I could be sharing more of my failures and struggles, it's rather discouraging when I see things like this because it's something that the average educator now feels that they need to "live up to", myself included.  I have never done much with sketchnoting because of this, even after hearing multiple people say, "it's whatever you make of it, don't worry about how it looks".  But even then, encouraging people to draw their thinking instead of writing it while displaying borderline Da Vincis to the world isn't a great way to inspire others to try sketchnoting. 

And I have to give Ryan O'Donnell a shout out for this next thought: when replying to a message in which several people have been tagged, if it is something that enriches the conversation and moves it forward, by all means, reply to everybody.  However, too often messages are sent to everybody that pertain to only one in the thread (think email reply all).  This can often lead to a series of notifications that are meaningless to many, as they do not apply to anything regarding the original message. 

I get especially irritated by some of the "Follow Friday" or other random tags of people in messages that eventually result in a lot of "irrelevant to my mission of social media" notifications.  I have turned more and more to muting conversations or even individuals as a result of these types of messages overrunning my feed and notifications.  I wholeheartedly agree that we should follow other educators and that we are better when working and communicating together, but must we announce that to every person that we follow, follows us, or we happen to meet at a conference?  A lot of times, I feel like many of these types of posts are simply ploys to gain likes and followers rather than an authentic method of connecting educators to one another. 

And I don't want to come across as some ungrateful jerk, but there are many reasons why I am not on social media. I'm not on social media to be force-fed opinions masqueraded as fact.  I'm not on social media to be attacked or witness others being attacked, especially if trying to participate in civilized discussion.  I'm not on social media to earn followers, likes, retweets, and saccharine-laced messages of how my mere presence or the presence of others somehow makes the world go round.   I appreciate civil discourse, words of encouragement, and opinions so long as they are supported by fact and presented respectfully. 

There is enough negativity on social media, especially outside of the educators that have embraced social media.  I understand that toxicity is like cancer and can spread quickly and easily, that is why it is important for educators to stay positive in the face of negativity.  But at the same time, positivity needs to be authentic and needs to celebrate the struggles as much as the successes.  I know that many are going to have issues with my thoughts here and I welcome you to disagree, respectfully. 

Until next time... 



Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Access for All

Ben & I with Maggie Cox, president-elect of
NACTE prior to our podcasting session
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in two great professional development opportunities, the Nevada Association for Career & Technical Education (NACTE) Conference, and the CUE Leadership Development Institute (LDI).  While my role at NACTE was that of a presenter and as an attendee at CUE LDI, a common theme came about from each event that resonated with me, the idea of equity and access to all that are affected by each organization.  

Months ago, my BeerEDU Podcast partner-in-crime, Ben Dickson, and I submitted a proposal for the NACTE Conference, a session on beginning podcasting, using our show as an example of why podcast, the equipment and software involved, and how educators and students can use podcasting as a way to demonstrate learning, connect with authentic audiences, and have fun at the same time.  After our session was accepted, I was also approached by the coordinator of the conference, Craig Statucki, and asked if I would be willing to participate in a panel session during lunch on one of the days of the conference.  Craig is somebody that I have been connected with and have looked up to for a long time, so without question, not even as to what the topic was going to be for the panel, I agreed. 

One question that came up in our presentation: were we going
to provide beer for the session?  
In our presentation, our attendees asked a lot of great questions on the why, how, and what of podcasting.  While our session was an hour long and mostly informational in format, I wish we could have had longer, perhaps even a three-hour session to help our audience to begin building the beginnings of their podcasts.  And I must give Tom Covington and Michael Jephcott of the TOSAs Talking Tech Podcast a lot of credit, as many items Ben and I presented in our session was provided from episodes of their show.  We even directed attendees to check out Tom and Mike's four-part series on how to start a podcast.  But one of the main points that Ben and I tried to convey and what many attendees asked about was related to access to content for students and choice in assessment, catering to student strengths, as well as a more modern way of communicating with families and the community through podcasting.  While I feel that it was a great session, there are definitely some things to improve upon for later, and Ben and I have already been asked to bring the session back to the regional ACTE conference to be held in Lake Tahoe in the spring of 2020. 

As for the panel, as I had mentioned, I did not know what I would be addressing, so I tracked down Craig after my session to inquire.  He informed me that I would be on the panel with Snehal Bhakta, a friend of mine from my years in Las Vegas and a coordinator of career & technical in the school district, and Dr. Summer Stephens, the superintendent of the Churchill County School District in Northern Nevada.  The topic of the panel would be equity and access to career & technical education for all students.  While I am not an expert on career & technical education, I did work at a CTE school for many years and along with my (limited) experience in special education, I do have strong feelings about access to CTE curriculum for students and schools, so I was very excited to serve on the panel, especially with two people like Snehal and Dr. Stephens that have a lot of experience in CTE and leadership. 

I had never served on a panel prior to this.  It was a bit intimidating to think that I would be put on the spot with questions that I hadn't been presented with prior to the panel, but the topic was something that I was knowledgeable of, passionate about, and I had two other people that I would consider experts along with me to take some of the pressure off.  Once we got going, I had nothing to worry about; in fact, the first question that was presented by the moderator was something that I wanted to answer right away. 

It was an honor to serve with Snehal Bhakta and Dr. Summer Stephens on this
panel.  I look forward to serving on another panel someday! 
The question related to the importance of offering CTE courses to students.  Right away, I thought about a student that I had nearly 10 years ago that came to me on the first day of school to tell me that while he was going to work very hard, he struggled with reading and writing and English was not his first language.  Ultimately, this student improved his reading and writing skills and passed his proficiency tests (something required for graduation at the time) and graduated with his peers.  His hard work had a lot to do with his achievements, but he was also in a school that offered him courses that he was interested in and would help him to prepare for a career or further education after high school and gave him the motivation to succeed, something that many students that struggle do not have the luxury of having and often times end up giving up and struggling to graduate, or even drop out of school because of their lack of motivation.  The point I tried to convey in the first part of the panel was that if more schools offer a variety of CTE courses, more students could find something that they are passionate about. 

As the panel progressed, my colleagues on the panel brought up some great points about bringing access to CTE for all students.  Topics covered ranged from the funding of CTE programs, encouraging female students to enroll in male-dominated courses like auto mechanics, welding, and computer science, to one of the most intriguing topics, how schools build their schedules around academic and CTE courses to provide access to all students.  I had never thought much about this before, but it made me realize that many schools struggle with this.  Often times, in order to give students a schedule that meets the required courses in which they must enroll, students are excluded from enrolling in their first choice elective courses, which include CTE courses.  Schools must work harder to ensure that students have access to their preferred electives and work to build schedules that allow students to explore their interests.  To piggyback this, I also believe that schools need to work harder at building relationships with "non-traditional" education programs, such as with companies and unions in the community.  Colleges and military branches are always represented at career days, why can't something like a local carpenters union also be represented and come to schools to give presentations?  Perhaps this is the case where you teach, but it is something that I have not seen much of in my career and the schools in which I have taught. 

Prior to the event, Ben and I got on our bikes
along the beach near Asilomar, taking in the sights!
From Lake Tahoe, after a quick stop to run some errands and take care of some things at home, I drove from Reno to Salinas, CA for a night with my friend Ben Cogswell before heading to Pacific Grove for the CUE Leadership Development Institute at the Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds.  LDI is an event I had attended twice previously, missing the 2018 installment, as I was moving to Reno the same weekend of the event.  The purpose of LDI is to bring together members of the various CUE affiliates in California and Nevada to brainstorm ideas on how to make CUE a better organization and give affiliates the opportunity to learn from each other to improve events and connections for those that the organization and affiliates represent.  Like the NACTE Conference session and panel, the theme that I took from LDI was access:  How do we as an organization, and in my case, a leader within CUE-NV, provide access to educators within the State of Nevada and make CUE membership worthwhile?  Between the leaders of CUE as a whole and each individual affiliate, 22 affiliates in all, it was a wonderful opportunity to network with people and share ideas about how to make our affiliates better and offer teachers in our areas high-quality professional development and opportunities to connect with one another. 

Ultimately, whether talking about access to career & technical education curriculum for all students or providing a way to provide professional development to all educators, the takeaway from either is that we must work together to provide students with the best possible education and opportunities to explore their interests.  Choices in electives for students and providing training for educators to be better at their craft is a great start.   I encourage you to ask the tough questions about what we can do to be better for our students. 

Until next time...




Saturday, July 13, 2019

What Team Are You On?

Desmond Howard showing Ohio who is the best in the 1991 meeting in this
storied rivalry.  While the Maize & Blue have had a tough go of it in recent
years, I have a feeling things are about to change! Image courtesy of
https://www.heisman.com/articles/desmond-howard-25th-anniversary-heisman-winner/
Competition is something that has dictated human nature since the beginning of time.  In the beginning, it was about mere survival.  Humans competed with one another for food, for shelter, for protection.  As time went on, competition dictated the successes and failures of nations, of empires.  Today, competition drives so much of the world, as nations compete economically, individuals compete for better jobs, and on a more recreational level, various games, sports, and the rivalries that arise as a result, like the Yankees and Red Sox, Maple Leafs and Canadians, Packers and Bears, and Michigan and Ohio (State, but Michigan fans don't add the rest of the name when referring to the school from the state to the south).

Recently, Pear Deck announced that it was partnering with Microsoft Education to offer its platform for use with PowerPoint Online, something that has been available with Google Slides for some time.  You can check out my post on this announcement, Pear Deck for #MicrosoftEDU, here.  This announcement gave me the opportunity to explore Office365, OneDrive, and other Microsoft apps a little bit further, as I haven't used Microsoft much over the past few years since I started using GSuite for Education apps exclusively.  It also sparked a conversation between me and a handful of others on a recent episode of Sons of Technology: The Podcast about competition between educators and the camps that teachers tend to put themselves into.  Listen to the episode (and subscribe) below or find Sons of Technology wherever you listen to podcasts to check out this conversation and many more.



We all know those people, in fact, we may be those people.  "Forget Microsoft Office365, I'm a Google teacher!"  "Why do you use Nearpod?  Pear Deck is so much better!"  "You're still using Kahoot!?  You know that Quizizz is better, right?"  "I can't believe somebody would buy a phone other than an iPhone, it's light years ahead of anything Android."  You get the picture.  In fact, I have been this guy before, criticizing somebody's preferences over my own.

Over the past couple of years, I have shied away from such criticism.  Who am I to judge somebody based on their personal preferences?  And who am I to judge what a school district provides to its teachers and students?  While I certainly prefer GSuite for Education, it's mostly because it is what I know after the districts I have worked for adopted Google as their platform of choice.  If somebody works in an Office365 district and doesn't have access to Google, I have no place to judge and criticize them.

Why create a divide when we should unite in the name of student
achievement, empowerment, and connectivity! Image courtesy of
https://www.motocms.com/blog/en/microsoft-office-vs-google-docs/
While my shift to a more accepting attitude toward others' preferences was more out of respect for others, it brings about another important point: if something works for you and it is beneficial to student learning, what difference does it make?  We don't need to put ourselves into teams that try to compete against one another when we all have the same goal:  student achievement!

Now, this does not mean that we should support absolutely everything and try to implement every single tool that's available into our classrooms, far from it!  If you like a tool, use it, tell people about it, brag about what it can do for you and your students.  Have constructive debates not about what tool is better, but how each tool can be beneficial.  Try to see all sides and make informed decisions about tools to you, don't just use a tool because a colleague or a company told you to do so.

As for sports though, keep it civil, but keep running your mouths and keep rivalries alive!  I am sorry Randall (Sampson), I love you, but you are a Buckeye fan, so I may be a little bit slower in getting to you if a group of Wolverines has you surrounded.

In closing, one team that I hope you will join will be my book team!  I have been relatively quiet about it, with a few tweets here and there and some mentions occasionally about a book that I have been working on.  As of July 9, 2019, I signed a contract with a publisher on the book that I have been working on for the past few months.  More details will be released as we get closer to a finished product, but I cannot wait to reveal to you what I have been pouring myself into, with the hopes to inspire those that will read my work.

Until next time...