Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Struggles with Motivation During Quaranteaching

Over the course of nearly a month and a half, I have been teaching from home.  While I would say that I have gotten into a groove at this point, I cannot say that I am used to it or enjoy it.  The days are long, staring at a computer screen is exhausting, and even though I get up and go for a walk or a bike ride, I feel lethargic at the end of the day and do not want to do much of anything.  On top of that, I have a young daughter that doesn't want to participate in the work that her teachers are providing, and my wife and I are struggling to motivate her.  Which brings me to the theme of this post: the struggle with motivation during this time.  I tend to be a highly motivated individual, but I am struggling immensely.  

A typical day in "normal" circumstances consists of waking up to shower, pack lunch, make coffee, and drive 35-40 minutes to school, eating breakfast and drinking the coffee on the way.  I will routinely wake up around 5:30 in order to get to school by 7:00.  Now, my commute is the six steps across the room to my makeshift office that I have set up on a folding table with a surge strip.  The view into the front yard of my parents' place where I have been isolating for the last several weeks is nice, but I don't move around nearly as much or see people like I normally would.  

My average class has about 25-30 students, most of whom are present every other day when I see them on our block schedule.  Quaranteaching has been much different.  In the first week or so, about half of my students would show up for a Google Meet session.  A handful of others would complete a check-in video on Flipgrid so we could interact.  Then a few more would send a quick email or message on Google Classroom.  As time has gone on, those numbers have dipped significantly.  As of this writing, my co-teachers and I will have entire days where no student will log into a Google Meet session.  The number of students checking in on Flipgrid has dropped to about 5 per week, down from the 25-30 that were doing it in the beginning.  Phone calls and emails home go unanswered.  I even have some students that I have not been able to contact during the entire shutdown of 6+ weeks, which really makes me wonder if they are okay.  

Now, before one asks, how have you tried to contact them?  Believe me, I have tried EVERYTHING short of going to their house, which I am not comfortable in doing.  I have called several times, leaving voicemails.  I have emailed.  I have sent text messages.  I have used our student information system, Infinite Campus, to send messages.  I have involved counselors, administrators, student safety professionals, probation officers, and many more.  And even those students that I have had contact with are starting to avoid contact.  

The situation with contact has only gotten worse since my district has rolled out the policy on issuing grades and credit for the semester.  It was determined that students would be assessed on a pass/fail model.  Final exams will be still be administered, but the final can only help a student to pass the class, it cannot hurt their grade (by the way, I 100% agree with this approach on finals).  Basically, if a student is passing, they will earn credit for the class.  If they are failing but get 70% or better on the final, they will pass the class.  But what it boils down to, without specifically saying it, as long as a student was passing going into the shutdown, it will be very hard for them to fail the course.  

Don't get me wrong, I am not in favor of making students complete a standard workload during this crisis, nor am I advocating for failing students if they do not complete the work that is assigned during this time.  I only point this out to emphasize this: students are not motivated to complete work, check-in for attendance, etc. (and who can blame them with so much going on, especially those students that are unsure where their next meal may come from, taking care of siblings, or a host of other things).  The issue now becomes one for me as well, as my motivation is stunted as well.  

There are several things that are sapping my motivation.  The lack of attendance for class meetings is disappointing, especially when I sit for hours on end, available for students, and nobody shows up.  The lack of participation in activities and assignments is disheartening, but again, I understand why one wouldn't do them.  As a school, we have agreed to create common assignments so as not to overwhelm students and provide consistency across the board, so the ability to make creative lessons is hampered; even supplemental activities are discouraged so as not to elicit anxiety over what appears to be a larger workload, even if it is optional.  After sitting for hours in front of the computer each day, it makes me very lethargic and I struggle to want to go for a walk or bike ride; I have to force myself to do these things.  And behind locked inside each day with a full fridge and pantry makes it tough for me to control my diet.  I liken it to telling an alcoholic to go to a bar but not to order a drink, I know eating a lot, especially snack foods, is not good, but if it's there, I struggle to avoid it.  

What also makes the struggle even more intense is the process of moving.  I have known for months that I was going to be moving at the end of the school year.  The lease at my apartment is up in June and my family and I cannot continue to live in a 900 square foot apartment.  What was uncertain was where we would be moving.  As my wife completed the requirements for her graduate program, it became apparent that the opportunities for her were more abundant in our previous school district in Las Vegas, as well as the desire to move back to the city we called home for 13 years.  So as the pandemic began to set in, it became more difficult to find work and housing from a distance.  However, both my wife and me were able to interview via video for jobs in Las Vegas and we have both accepted jobs!  We are very excited about that!  But as of this writing, we still have not found a house and the pandemic is making it very hard to get in contact with realtors and landlords, and some landlords, because of the economic impact of the pandemic, have been requiring double security deposits, making it even harder to find a place and adding to the stress of our impending move.  I know we will find something, but it still doesn't ease my mind as the days go by.  

I know the pandemic will eventually end.  I know that we will be stronger as a profession and as communities as a result of this horrific turn of events.  I know that I am damn good educator and that my students appreciate the work that I do.  I know that I am surrounded by colleagues and people within my professional network that are working extremely hard and are going through some of the same struggles as me.  What I also know is that it helps to be able to vent sometimes and that is exactly what this post has become.  If you are still reading at this point, thank you for allowing me to let loose and relieve some stress that I am experiencing.  Thank you for your support and if you need to vent, I am available to be an ear for you to do so.  Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep your head up; we will get through this together! 

Until next time... 






Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wins & Challenges of Remote Learning & Teaching

At this point, I am about one month into working from home, brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak that has shuttered schools, businesses, and in general, life for nearly all people in the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world.  If you are reading this, I am sure you have been working from home in some fashion for the past few weeks as well.  It's been quite the learning experience, from video conferences with my students and colleagues, countless numbers of emails sent and received, and hours upon hours of time spent on the phone.  Needless to say, sleep comes easily each night after the long and exhausting days, more tiring than a traditional day at school.

Infographic courtesy of
https://bluesyemre.com/2020/04/07/10-ways-to-secure-zoom-infographic/
Throughout this time, there have been a number of challenges, but a number of victories as well.  And while it has been a learning curve to get through some of the challenges, the wins most certainly outweigh those challenges.  And while a lot of those challenges have been highlighted in the media, it's important to recognize that wins that have come throughout this process, especially when a challenge has presented a learning opportunity.

Connecting with students over distance has been a challenge.  Tools like Google Meet and Zoom have become common vocabulary for nearly every teacher.  And in the beginning, both of these tools took off as teachers and students everywhere were meeting with one another.  However, it didn't take long for the first challenges to present themselves, especially "Zoombombing," which I predict to be on the list of words in the running for the Merriam-Webster Word of the Year.

While several instances of stories where teachers' sessions on Zoom and Google Meet were "hacked" and people were posting inappropriate images, saying things of an inappropriate nature, etc., and students having the ability to access sessions before or after the teacher has attended the session, the biggest issue was the lack of security features in effect.  However, while these were legitimate concerns, several wins have come from these challenges.  Zoom and Google both have boosted their security features that allow for teachers to have more control over meetings, such as the ability to turn on a waiting room, password protect meetings, and remove any users that are behaving inappropriately.  Google has integrated Meet with Google Classroom that prevents students from accessing a session before the teacher and cannot rejoin after the teacher has left.  Eric Curts of Ctrl Alt Achieve highlights this new integration in a great post, Google Meet is now integrated in Google Classroom! and Joe Marquez highlights some great Chrome extensions for Google Meet in his 5 Best Chrome Extensions for Google Meet in Education video.

And speaking of video conferencing tools, who else has had the challenge of making consistent contact with students?  My school is requiring the following in regards to availability, two-way communication, and attendance for students:

  • For each class period, teachers must be available online via Zoom or Google Meet for one hour
  • Students' attendance will be tracked by two-way communication with teachers, which can be through video conference, phone, text, email, messaging through Google Classroom or Hangouts, or another form (I also post an "attendance" topic in Flipgrid that students can use to check-in)
  • Students are required to check-in for attendance at least once a week
  • Any student that is not checking in and is in danger of failing the class must be contacted by teachers (my students with IEPs have a different standard, I am required to make contact with students each day)
To say it has been a struggle to have students show up for video chats, respond to emails or phone calls, etc. is a gross understatement.  It has been even harder to get in contact with parents/guardians.  And ultimately, I get it.  This is a tough time.  Students are dealing with a lot of things that they shouldn't need to, such as taking care of siblings while parents continue to work, sharing devices and Internet (if they have access to either of those things) and most likely going a little stir crazy staying indoors for days on end.  

However, while this has been a struggle, I have seen some amazing things from students during this time as well.  One of my students has taken the extra time to learn how to tie balloon animals and filmed herself tying a giraffe in a video on Flipgrid.  Another student has been trying to learn how to play bass guitar and shares the new riffs they have been working on in video chats.  Another student shared some of her drawings that she has been working on, and as a person that can barely draw stick figures, her work is quite impressive! Ultimately, education is about more than the standards and the books and this has been a great time to showcase the skills that students are working on that typically would not be addressed in the regular environment.  It's been awesome to see how kids are growing and making the best of this time away from school.  

Seeing this view of Mount Shasta on my
bike rides and walks never gets old!
Another challenge has been taking care of myself during this time.  When it was announced that everything was going to be shut down, I was visiting my parents who live about 3 hours away from me.  Knowing that I would be working from home, my wife would be working to finish externship hours for her degree program from home, and our daughter would be completing school work from home, we decided to stay with my parents.  Their house has a large backyard, the street is very quiet and gives my kids the ability to play in the yard and ride their bikes and my mother can help us out with the kids while we work.  While I appreciate everything that my parents have done to help during this time, it has been very hard to watch what I eat, get a consistent schedule for exercise established, and limit the beers that I consume (not that I am drinking several on a nightly basis, but beer consumption has increased since the lockdown, partially from virtual happy hours and partially from the mental toll of the lockdown).  

However, since I now know that this is going to be the norm for the remainder of the school year, I am starting to make a conscious effort to do the following:
  • Go for several daily walks and/or bike rides, especially during the workday to break up the screentime
  • Drink more water! It is amazing how much better one feels when hydrated!
  • Limit my food intake after dinner, something that was hard to do with the supply of junk food and leftovers of my mother's cooking in the first few weeks of quarantining with my family
  • Visit the Happy Feed app and document three things that made a positive impact on me each day (Happy Feed is a journaling app, check it out in the App Store or Google Play Store)
  • Interact with people via text, phone call, or video chat (how were the virtual happy hours not a thing prior to this?)
I know that you, the reader, have experienced a myriad of challenges and wins over the past weeks.  Take some time to reflect on those, what you have learned during this time, and how you are going to apply what you have learned to your teaching once we get through this, hopefully, sooner than later. 

And I want to thank John VanDusen & John Wells for their thoughts on challenges and wins.  While writing this, I posted a Flipgrid topic asking for thoughts and both Johns came through with their thoughts.  If you would like to share your thought and see their responses, please visit https://flipgrid.com/31df78e2 and submit your own thoughts!

Until next time... 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Distance Learning Communication

A grocery store in the Soviet Union in 1990, which was common during the
latter years of the USSR, but has become a common scene during the last few
weeks in the United States.  Image courtesy of
https://medium.com/vantage/the-visual-politics-of-empty-shelves-b2d487f3784d
I am a big fan of apocalyptic entertainment, whether its books, graphic novels, television shows, movies, you name it.  While the world's current situation is far from something that is straight up out of The Walking Dead, the signs of the apocalypse are around us, or so it seems.  Store shelves are picked over with essentials like water, toilet paper, paper towel, and various foodstuffs hard to come by.  Hand sanitizer is nearly impossible to get and sites like eBay are shutting down listings for it that are attempting to sell it for price gouging markups.   People have been ordered to stay in their homes, only leaving to get groceries, visit the doctor, or other absolutely necessary tasks.  

Schools around the country are shut down, some states even announcing that they will return in the fall.  Other states are closing for a few weeks, hoping to resume when governments deem it to be safe to reopen.  In the meantime, teachers have demonstrated just how resourceful they can be by putting together lessons and activities on short notice and getting them to their students through a variety of means.  But the one aspect of teaching that many of us possibly took for granted before the outbreak of COVID-19 was the ability to communicate with our students, face to face, on a daily or almost daily basis.  So now what do teachers do?  

The obvious ones are phone and email.  Making a call home to check in on students or writing a brief message is an easy way to stay in contact.  But what does one do when they aren't comfortable calling from their personal phone (if you dial *67, then the phone number, you can block your phone number from appearing on the recipients' caller ID)?  What about students that don't know how to log into their email or parents that don't have an email address?  Here are a few tools that could possibly come in handy during these trying times to instill some sense of normalcy in keeping in touch with students.  

Before using any of these tools, be sure to consult with your supervisor or district technology director.  Policies on the use of these tools will vary from district to district and you don't want to violate any of your school or district acceptable use policies.  

Image courtesy of classdojo.com
Class Dojo: Used by many teachers as a way to communicate with families, provide positive reinforcement to students, and share news, videos, and images of the happenings of the (typically) elementary classroom, Class Dojo is a wonderful communication tool.  It is free to set up, parents can receive messages through the app that can be downloaded, via text, and via email.  Messages sent to the teacher go only to the teacher, not to the entire class and parents/guardians.  To learn more about Class Dojo, go to www.classdojo.com!

Image courtesy of help.remind.com
Remind: Similar to Class Dojo is Remind.  This is a tool that allows teachers to communicate with students and families via text message.  Teachers do not share their personal phone number, all conversations are saved, and it allows teachers to share links, images, and files with students and families.  While I haven't used Remind in a while, it was a great tool for me to communicate with my classes and even better when I was the advisor for my school's ski and snowboard club.  Not only does it allow teachers to send messages through text, but users can also download the Remind app and send and receive messages through the app or by email if they choose not to use their phone number.  For more information, go to www.remind.com.

Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, or Other Learning Management Systems:  Prior to the current situation, many educators may not have realized the potential for communication through their system for distributing classrooms assignments and materials.  Classrooms, Teams, Canvas, Schoology, and others are great tools for providing students with videos, audio, files from Google or Microsoft, and much more, but they also have a variety of ways to communicate with students.  I am more familiar with Google Classroom, but I can assume that others have a similar method of communication.  You can post announcements in Classroom that will reach students when they login, comment on posts, and tag students to answer questions that will notify them through their email account.  If you school has Gmail activated for students, you can email them directly from Google Classroom without having to create a message in Gmail.  Don't want to message or email all students?  You can select specific students!  And if you have parent emails connected to student accounts, you can have summaries sent to parents and email them from Classroom!

Flipgrid: I have mentioned Flipgrid in this blog on a number of occasions.  Flipgrid is a great tool to give students a choice in demonstrating their learning by allowing them to create videos, but especially now, it is a great communication and social-emotional learning tool!  Instead of posting assignments for students in a more traditional method, have students submit their assignments as videos.  But because we are not interacting with students on a daily basis as usual and because they are stuck at home like the rest of us, it's a good idea to check in with them and allow them to interact with one another and you, the teacher, via video! Don't make it about an assignment, just make it about connecting with one another!  And I want to know how YOU are doing! Check out my Flipgrid below or head over to https://flipgrid.com/6faf7c76.  And learn more about this great program at https://www.flipgrid.com



Image courtesy of meet.google.com
Google Meet/Hangouts:  If you are on a personal Google account, you have access to Google Hangouts, a video, audio, and text conferencing tool.  Business and education accounts have a similar program referred to as Google Meet.  The major difference between the two is that Meet has expanded capacity, allowing for users to meet with more people in a video chat.  The other difference is that while Hangouts has more of a simple video chat, Meet can be scheduled and allow for users to enter the video via phone call in addition to the meeting link.  Teachers can schedule Meet on Google Calendar, they can copy meeting information and post it in Google Classroom, or they can email meeting information to colleagues, students, and family.  In addition to the video and audio feature, Meet allows for users to type questions and comments in the chatbox within a meeting.  The only major downfalls that I have come across are that users can mute one another, remove one another, and the meeting will remain open even after the "leader" has left.  

Image courtesy of zoom.us/education
Zoom: Similar to Google Meet, Zoom is a video conferencing tool.  A more secure alternative, it allows meetings hosts to set a password for the meeting and once the host ends the meeting, it cannot be accessed.  It features many of the same things as Meet, with video, audio, and chat available for users through a desktop version or through the Zoom app.  Typically, meetings are limited to 40 minutes, but in the current situation of the world, Zoom has waived the 40 minute limit for educator email accounts, essentially giving teachers a free upgrade to their pro account.  Because meetings can be more secure through Zoom, my school has chosen to use it for meetings that include confidential information, such as IEPs.  Check out https://zoom.us/education for more information and to set up your free educator account.  

Image courtesy of voice.google.com
Google Voice:  Many of us rely on the phone to communicate with families, however, many, including me, are not comfortable using our personal phones to communicate, not wanting to give out our personal number.  This is where Google Voice comes into play! With Voice, you can create a phone number to use through the desktop platform or the iOS or Android app, make phone calls, and send text messages.  You can choose to receive calls and texts in the app only or have them forwarded to your phone without giving your personal number away.  If you miss a call, callers can leave you a voicemail and you can get an email notification of the missed call/voicemail.  You may have trouble connecting at first since many do not answer calls from numbers they do not recognize but it can be better than the alternative of using your personal number or using *67 to mask your number.  Learn more at voice.google.com.  

These are extremely trying times and we are all learning as we go.  These tools only scratch the surface of what is available out there to stay connected with our students and their families.  I would love to hear what you are using, so feel free to comment on this post or tweet me! Stay safe, stay healthy, and take care of your families!

Until next time... 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

#ToTheEdgeEDU: Now Available!

Over the course of the past year, I have been working on perhaps one of the most mindblowing things in my life: I wrote a book!  For over four years, I have been writing this blog and on average, I have posted about once every two weeks or so.  Sometimes, I have posted five or six times in a month, then there have been stints of several weeks where I haven't been able to write a post.  The bottomline: I love to write and my passion for writing is one of the reasons why I wrote a book.  So, what is this book that I speak of? 

In March of 2019, I took an idea that I had been stewing about for a while and with the encouragement and assistance from a handful of amazing people, I created a document that would eventually become my book.  I wrote a blog post titled #ToTheEdgeEDU: The Fruition of an Idea in October 2019 that highlighted the influences, the shaping of my idea, and my writing process more; check it out for more! 

The basic premise of my book is this: throughout my life, I have taken a variety of risks, big and small, with consequences amazing and horrific, and I have learned a great deal from those risks that have shaped me into the person and educator that I am today.  While the book is a memoir of my life, it is much more than that: it is an opportunity for me to analyze the risks that I have taken, glean what I have learned from those risks and how they have affected and shaped me with the goal of inspiring others to become risk-takers themselves. 

I wrote the book through the lens of an educator and it is certainly geared towards educators in general.  However, I believe that my book can be an inspiration to a wider audience.  I especially believe that it would be beneficial for high school students to read.  High schoolers are at a point in their lives where they need to start making decisions that can have an impact on their lives for decades to come.  Many people at that age are afraid to make various decisions, fearing the consequences.  My story is one where not only do I address my frame of mind as a high schooler, but I analyze the various risks that I took during that time and the ramifications of those decisions.

The book was released on March 7, 2020.  It is available through Amazon (print and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (print and Nook), as well as in bulk orders through my publisher, Edumatch Publishing.  You can also learn more about the book and ways to connect with me through the book's website, www.totheedgeedu.com.  And as always, you can connect with me via Twitter, Instagram, and I have also created a Facebook page for the book!  If you read it, please share your thoughts with me and your PLN using #ToTheEdgeEDU and I would love a review on Amazon so others can find the book. 

There are so many people to thank for their support through this process.
I have included many in the book itself.  I cannot begin to thank everybody, but know that if you are reading this and read the book, you are one of those in which I want to express my sincerest gratitude!  If I can have an impact on one reader, I feel that I have accomplished my goal!  And thank you to Adam Juarez for your booksnaps and your support of #ToTheEdgeEDU! 

Until next time...



It's Time for #SpringCUE 2020!

With the month of March comes many things. Trees are beginning to bud, temperatures are creeping up, the sun is sticking around longer each day, and one of my favorite things, baseball, is back and ramping up for the regular season!  But perhaps one of the best things about March for me and for many others is the annual sojourn to Palm Springs, California for three days of learning, connecting, and shenanigans at Spring CUE!  This year, for the most part, promises to be as amazing or even better than years past.  But why "for the most part?"
Image courtesy of cue.org.

Over the past few months, unless you were holed up in a remote cave somewhere in the Sierra Nevada, you have been inundated almost non-stop with news, information, and emergency declarations about Covid-19, or the coronavirus.  As the virus has spread from China to other areas of the world, more and more governments and organizations have been employing a variety of tactics to stop the spread of the virus.  Now that there have been confirmed cases in the United States, these tactics are starting to take effect. 

Sporting events have been postponed, canceled, or played before empty arenas.  Concerts and conventions have also been canceled.  People have made runs on stores, stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer, water, and toilet paper.  The stock market has tanked in recent days and there are signs that prices on various goods, especially gasoline, or going to plummet as demand falls (and with oil, a large supply release from Saudi Arabia has also contributed to the dip in prices). As of this writing, there have been less than one thousand confirmed cases in the United States, but the fear of a mass epidemic has certainly gripped the nation and the world.  

The question for many has been, "Will Spring CUE continue, even as other events throughout California and the rest of the country are put off?"  Again, as of this writing, the event is still on.  CUE has been urging extra caution for the event, such as avoiding physical interactions with attendees like handshakes and hugs, washing thoroughly and carrying hand sanitizer, and staying home if you feel sick.  However, many people have already announced that due to restrictions from their schools and districts, they will not be attending the event this year.  And CUE has even gone as far as stating that if a person cannot attend, they will be able to redeem their registration for another CUE event within the next three years!  

I for one will still be attending the event.  I look forward to this event every year, I have not had any directives issued toward me about attending or not attending, and I have a lot of things on my agenda for the three days of the conference.

Image courtesy of cue.org.  
First will be a live recording of The BeerEDU Podcast on Thursday, March 19 at 3:00 PM.  This will be an extension of the Meet the Podcasters event (more on that in a moment).  While my partner, Ben Dickson, will not be there, he is planning to join remotely. Those that are walking by can stop and introduce themselves and chat with us about their conference experience and what they are taking away from the conference.  And we will have various podcast swag to give away!

Then on Friday morning, I will be back in the "booth" to record another episode, this time with my friend Joe Marquez and The Podcast by Sons of Technology.  Like the Thursday recording, those that are passing by can chat with us about what they are doing to buck the status quo and take risks in their teaching. 

Image courtesy of cue.org. 
After we are done recording, perhaps the event I am most excited for, Meet the Authors, will take place in the exhibit hall!  When planning the final details on To The Edge: Successes & Failures Through Risk-Taking, I expressed that I wanted the book to be released prior to Spring CUE so I had a great opportunity to share my story with the world.  I will have a limited number of copies of the book for sale at the event and will also have stickers!  So come by the exhibit hall on Friday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM, grab a copy of the book and learn more about my story and the stories of the other great authors that will be there!

After a quick break, I'll be back in the exhibit hall for Meet the Podcasters.  Like Meet the Authors, this one will give attendees an opportunity to mingle with some of their favorite shows, talk a little bit about some of the technical aspects of podcasting, and of course, there will be swag from most, if not all, of the shows that are there!  There may even be an opportunity to arrange to be a guest on some of your favorite shows!

Find me during the conference to purchase
a copy of #ToTheEdgeEDU! I have stickers...
Then lastly, literally lastly, I will be presenting a session to close out the conference.  At 3:30 on Saturday, Joe and I will be presenting a session called Changing the World by Building a Brand.  This session will cover the importance of branding for students and educators and some of the various ways that you can build a brand and start making a presence online and in your community.

Because of the hectic schedule that I have on my agenda, my opportunities for sessions are very limited.  Many of the events that I am a part of overlap sessions, so I would miss a great deal of the material presented.  However, I have been looking at the schedule and there are a ton of great sessions, not to mention other awesome events, such as CUE Boom (an event that I opened in 2019), the Kids CUE Boom, LeRoy's Big Idea, and the many keynote speakers sprinkled throughout the conference.  Then it's getting to see all of those that have become friends over the years.  Between sessions, over coffee in the morning, over beers at night, it's going to be great to see so many awesome people that are passionate about teaching!   And then meeting new people, some of which I have interacted with virtually and those that I have never had a connection, building up my PLN even further!

If you are going to be Spring CUE, I look forward to seeing you!  If not, be sure to follow #SpringCUE and #NotatCUE over the course of the conference and get your learn on remotely!

Until next time...  

Thursday, February 27, 2020

DIY Professional Development

In my last post, What Educators Can Learn From Punk Rock, I talked about how punk rock can truly be an inspiration to educators by bringing passion, questioning the status quo, and much more.  Since that post, as I mentioned at the end of it, I have found a crew of people on social media that I didn't even know existed: other educators, like myself, that love punk rock and want to incorporate aspects of punk culture into teaching.  So if you aren't already, follow Mike Earnshaw (@mearnshaw158) and Josh Buckley (@JoshRBuckley) and their podcast, the Punk Rock Classrooms Podcast (@punkclassrooms, #punkrockclassrooms) on all of the podcasting apps.  

One major aspect of punk culture is a DIY attitude.  Whether it is fixing up a denim jack with patches fastened on with safety pins, making your own tapes and album liner notes to hand out at shows (definitely a 90s things), or setting up your gear for the show, punks know how to do it themselves.  And as educators, we should all be experts in DIY culture as well since we need to improvise many things with slim budgets and a lack of resources.  Another aspect of teaching that should incorporate a strong DIY attitude is professional development.  If you are reading this, you most likely already have that attitude, but hear me out...

Are you getting much from a mandatory professional development day
on a regular basis?  
Think of the last time that you attended a school or district mandatory training.  Was it interesting?  Was it engaging?  Did you leave that training with new ideas that you could immediately implement in your classroom?  The answer to these questions, in my experience, has been a resounding "NO." Most of the required trainings that I have attended in my career as an educator have reiterated points that we already know (my personal favorite, the 7-hour lecture by an "expert" about how lecture doesn't work for our students), reviewed procedural mandates that are already emphasized regularly, or some other topic that has most attendees disengaged.  Or, knowing ahead of time how excruciating the day will most likely be, many teachers simply do not attend by arranging for doctors appointments, taking a personal day, or "coming down sick" the night before or morning of the training. 

While you may not have much control over those mandatory professional development days, you can most certainly control your professional development in other aspects.  You are reading this and you most likely are reading other educational blogs, perhaps even writing your own.  You are probably engaged in social media as a professional and listening to podcasts.  Are you engaging in meaningful conversations and planning with your colleagues?  Are you attending local events hosted by educational groups?  Are you going to large events like ISTE, Spring CUE, or other regional and national conferences?  Are you connecting with educators outside of your school or district?  If you aren't you are missing an opportunity to take ownership of your professional development. 

When you immerse yourself in some or all of the items above, you are giving yourself the choice in what you want to learn more about.  When you make the choice, you are not fed something that you most likely know or will not engage with during the training.  And if you choose to read something, listen to something, or attend something and don't like it, you have the choice to move on to something else. 

Now don't get me wrong, there are times when the mandatory trainings are very important.  You should not tune out in a meeting that is introducing a new school or district policy.  You should pay attention during the test security meetings so you know what not to do when proctoring a high stakes test (opinions on testing, while valid, definitely for another time).  But if you have been in education for any amount of time, you have most likely sat in many trainings where they simply did not speak to you. 

So, are you ready to embrace a DIY attitude and take control of your professional development?  Are you ready to rely on yourself to learn rather than whatever is thrown at your on those mandatory days?  I know you are!  Find some blogs and podcasts (and even better, write and create your own and share!), connect with other educators on social media, find some local events to attend, and every now and then, pony up some cash and go to a big event outside of your area, or see if your school or district will pay to send you to something; the worst that can happen, if you ask, is that they say no!

Image courtesy of
https://genius.com/7-seconds-slogan-on-a-shirt-lyrics
In closing, while I was writing this post, I was listening to 7Seconds' Leave a Light On album, positive hardcore punk from Reno, Nevada, the city in which I live (and a group that my podcast partner, Ben, used to see frequently and even play with occasionally when he was playing in punk bands).  The third track on the album is a song called "Slogan On A Shirt" and it really spoke to me while I was getting these thoughts down.  The lyrics that really jumped are as follows:

We've got our PMA (positive mental attitude)
We gotta spread this sh** around
And make it more than just a slogan on a shirt

Simply put, wake up each day, find something good, share it with the world, and own it; don't just let it be words.  

Until next time... 

Friday, January 24, 2020

What Educators Can Learn From Punk Rock

I only took one photo at the show, the backdrop behind the stage prior to
Pennywise coming out to play.  However, I got quite the haul at the
merch booth; two of the albums were signed by the band!
I recently got to see a band that has been heavy on my playlists for the last 25 years or so, Pennywise.  Hailing from Hermosa Beach, California, Pennywise is a punk band that named themselves after the evil clown from Stephen King's "IT" and they have been cited by many bands as a musical influence.  I had never had the opportunity to see Pennywise previously and even after playing, touring, and releasing albums for over 30 years, the show was one that I will not forget for a long time.  The energy was through the roof and while they did not play many of the favorites that I hoped would be part of the setlist, every song was one that I was singing along to and many conjured up memories of days gone by.

Punk music most certainly has a reputation.  The "I don't care" attitude.  The anti-establishment sentiments.  Mohawks, leather, spikes, torn clothing.  Lyrics that are purposely offensive and shocking to most people.  Heavy guitars, bass, and drums in short bursts, with songs usually only lasting about two minutes.  While I have never embraced the "punk look" necessarily, the heavy sound and the message of many songs has been something that I have either agreed with or found comical since I was a preteen (while some may find them offensive and some of it is definitely NSFW, check out the lyrics to Shut Up Already by NOFX or 21st Century Digital Boy by Bad Religion for a couple of songs with funny lyrics).  As for political songs that punk bands (or any band for that matter) have put out, it really depends on the issue; if a song sounds good but I disagree with a message, I'll still listen to it.  

Now the question is this: what does my love for punk music and punk's reputation have to do with my career as an educator and how can punk make me and others better educators?  I want to highlight three major ideas to hopefully enlighten you, the reader, how punk can be an inspiration to our professional lives.  

Pennywise is a band that has always wrote songs with a positive, uplifting message behind them.  Their 1997 release, Full Circle, had many songs that had an anti-suicide message, songs that were written after their bass player, Jason Thirsk, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after years of problems with alcohol abuse.  Lyrics from songs like Wouldn't It Be Nice, It's Up to Me, Fight Til You Die, Broken, Straight Ahead, Badge of Pride, Keep Moving On, Live While You Can, and many more all highlight how one should never give up, take risks, work hard, and never take any day for granted.  We as educators should embrace the can-do spirit of these songs and instill that same spirit in our students.  These messages should also encourage one to take risks and try new things with lessons, technology, building relationships, etc.  

Pennywise also has many songs that play into the anti-establishment reputation of punk.  Many songs' lyrics question how free we really are as a people, encourages one to question authority and contemplates decisions that people have made and how those decisions have affected those people and their families and friends.  Vices, I Won't Have It, Society, American Dream, Land of the Free? and one definitely NSFW, F*ck Authority, are all great examples of the punk mantra of "sticking it to the man."  Now, please don't take this as me promoting and condoning blatant defiance of laws or authority figures, far from it.  However, in our professional lives and politically, we must be able to question things and have a civil discussion if we are to do what's best for ourselves, our students, and our society.  And we must be able to model this for our students to show them the way to disagree and discuss. 

Passion is probably what most epitomizes Pennywise and many other punk bands.  Punk bands put all of their energy into their music.  Punk shows are exactly that, a show; it's more than watching a band on the stage, it's about an experience of watching that passion bleed from the stage, the passion of those there to see the bands, and passion of those that love the music and movement of punk coming together as one.  While watching Jim, Fletcher, Randy, and Byron on stage, I was in awe of a group of men in their mid-50s still jumping around and having fun like they were in their teens.  Passion like this should be displayed in our classrooms on a daily basis (this is also one of the main tenets of Teach Like a PIRATE by Dave Burgess). 

I haven't even gotten into the multitude of other bands that have been influential to me and how their messages can have a positive impact on me and you as educators.  For as crass as they can be, bands like NOFX, Guttermouth, and the Sex Pistols embody passion and encourage one to question.  The Bouncing Souls, Rancid, Face to Face, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, and many more tend to be a little less controversial to the layman listener, but still exhibit the passion, positivity, and defiance that makes punk so great.  However, do you need to be a fan of punk to embrace a punk mentality?  Absolutely not!  Like one that falls down in the pit, the pit stops and picks them up, so if you aren't into punk, you're still accepted!

As I close this out, I would be remiss if I didn't thank Shannon Sheldon, a colleague of mine from my teaching days in Las Vegas.  I mentioned on Twitter that I was in the process of writing this post and she asked if I had heard the Punk Rock Classrooms Podcast.  This show, hosted by Michael Earnshaw and Josh Buckley, is a must listen!  These gentlemen share their experiences as punk rockers and educators and focus on a variety of ways that punk can be a positive influence on your practice.  Basically, they host a podcast that goes into a deeper dive of what my writing this time around is all about.  Many of my ideas here are featured on their show and I look forward to catching up on all of their episodes. 

I have listed a few of my favorite punk bands throughout this writing, I encourage you to find some of them on your favorite streaming service and give them a listen.  I also encourage you to bring more of a punk mentality to your teaching, I know that I am going to!

Until next time... 




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 https://www.nmu.edu/newlogo/
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...