Thursday, October 3, 2013

Appy Hour - Fri, 10/4: Communication Channels #edtech #edchat

[Originally posted on my Appy Hour blog]
I thought I'd share my broadcast channels that I am currently utilizing this year. My main, functional channels are:
Feel free to visit my Tech page for more detailed info on how I use each (and forgive me, I did not include a Twitter update...bad tech guy moment).

One main attraction of Weebly is the ability to create blog pages anywhere you'd like. Blog pages deal with posts, and posts let you categorize things. Users can easily select the tag, and hence the content, they want to view.

I maintain one for each of my classes, and post classwork and homework daily. You can enter some basic HTML (link links to handouts) in the description field. I see great possibilities for students adding their CCSD Gmail accounts to their phones and customizing notifications, etc. If only they would listen...

I use to broadcast news and class info. I use a nifty website called IFTTT to take any calendar event I create and automatically tweet it. Additionally, when you publish your blog post on Weebly, you can cross-post to Twitter.

A great tool to keep students/parents informed of things. I remind my students of graded class work, updates or changes, etc. The phone app makes this super easy and convenient to use.

Here's an example of how this all comes together:
  • I told my students earlier this week that I would no longer be providing them with grade updates in class. 
  • If they want to know their average, they need to see me in extra help. Or...(surprise) log on to the portal.
  • I will inform them when I update the grades; it is up to them to take the responsibility to follow up and see that's changed (if anything)
  • Parents have access to the same channels, so they can stay in the same loop, if they choose. I plan to send a mass parent email this weekend ahead of progress reports (too soon!) explaining all of this to them.
I see it as a nudge in the "right" direction.

Come to the Writing Center tomorrow after the Pep Rally to discuss what lines of communication you use with students and parents. Or, bring other questions.

Keep tech'ing!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gmail: Organizing and Sorting (#edtech)

[Originally posted on the Appy Hour Blog]

Hey all. Here's the understatement of the week: we get a lot of email.

The issue I have with this near-constant barrage of information is how to sort and process it all. I have tried a number of methods and am always fine-tuning how I "use" my inbox (perhaps to my detriment).

David Allen wrote a book called Getting Things Done. In this book, he outlines a "process" to use to organize your life. Regarding email, he gives us the phrase "inbox zero" - meaning there are no new messages in your inbox. (Gasp!)

He does not say you need to be "done" with all of your emails; rather, he insists that you need to set time aside each day to "file" the barrage of emails into doable categories. Your inbox may be clear, but you have a series of other folders that contain your "next steps." These folders could be "Read and review," "Archives," "Do now," etc.

Fortunately, Gmail provides very flexible inbox solutions. You can modify how Gmail handles your incoming messages, possibly automating those daily, repetitive actions you take each day (i.e. you can file the Daily Announcements automatically in an "Announcements" folder so you can read them later).

Here are some links (from the Google Help Center) to help you along your path to getting things done (NB: GTD is the shortened version, typically appearing in phrases like "My Gmail GTD solution," should you care to Google it). You can view the main Gmail help page here (I've only highlighted a few of the many topics it covers).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Appy Hour Blog - "weekly" tech updates for the staff

I am serving as tech liaison for the second year in a row, and I am really trying to step up my game, so to speak. I started using appointment slots on Google calendar so staff and/or students can reserve Tech Help time. And, since I have a flex-schedule, I teach "period 9." So my tech-spiration for the year: a weekly opportunity for staff to get free PD. So began Appy Hour - from 2-3 on Fridays.

We're only a few weeks in, but I've held workshops on our SMS, eSchoolData, and blasted out reference material for Google apps. This week, I plan to offer a gmail workshop. Attendance has been low, but I love the idea of being able to share good practices (not sure if they qualify for best yet). I also love being able to be there for staff - if we plan to push edtech tools like GAFE, we need to model those practical uses. We need to be the mentor to our colleagues, much like we are with our students.

I an including these weekly professional development opportunities as part of my Google Certified Trainer application.

I also plan to cross-post on both blogs, in the hopes that the posts will reach a wider audience.

Here is the Appy Hour blog page... feel free to peruse my site and leave feedback (anywhere) - I've been working hard on it and would love to see where I can improve.

Keep on tech-ing.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My #edtech palette to start the year

I think I finally got a handle on how I intend to begin this year in terms of my core educational technology.

I am quickly falling love with how much power this free website creator has. I was drawn to the site because of the blog page capability and the RSS feed - I still need to play with how I can "hack" (i.e. customize) my way through things. Favorite inspirational moment: placing 5 RSS feeds of world newspapers side by side for an at-a-glance look at world headlines.

Common Curriculum
For lesson planning. They made some major upgrades to their software offerings. My two faves: linking individual lessons to unit plans, and the ability to insert a file from Google Drive. Put that together with the ability to display your plans as a webpage (and link it to Weebly), and you have a powerful moment of transparency and accessibility to your teaching.

Google Apps
We are a GAFE district, and I am enjoying my life in the cloud. The ability to share breaks down so many borders; I am no longer the broker of information... now I can share in the learning with the kids. New ideas for this year: use a student info form to collect student info (obvious), and to make student folders for eventual online submission, and add them to a class contact list (to make it all the more easier to share more things with them).

My new find for the summer: I no longer feel the need to try to code this functionality - the folks over at Socrative have done it. I plan to use this for all my objective w quizzes this year. It allows students to answer with their devices (we are a BYOT district), gives them instant feedback, and can generate a score report that gets emailed to you. Solid.

I think that's my base for the year. And I'm pretty damn excited about it. Yeah!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Google guffaws (#edtech #GAFE)

So...I get to serve as tech liaison again this year, so I decided to use google calendar's appointment slots to set up tech appointments. Admin asked me to speak for five minutes at the first faculty meeting to explain some of the tech, etc. 

So...I get up to do my spiel, I click the link for my calendar to show staff how to reserve a slot, and I see my tech help slots in gray. 

And then, in pink, we all see my AP's calendar events. Soccer practice, nail appointments, etc. She jumps up shouting "that's my calendar!" And runs to hide the browser window, and we all got a good laugh. No harm, no foul. 

But a word to the future: if someone is
logged in with their account...

Happy back to school everyone!

Monday, August 19, 2013

DRAFT: My letter to parents/students explaining my goals / philosophy for the 2013-14 school year

Hello fellow educators. I have been publishing a letter to parents/students for the past few years that explains my goals and philosophy for the year. I'm not sure how many people actually read it, but it is important to me to model what I ask of my students: in this case, open and honest reflection (not to mention publishing it for the world to see).

I would love some feedback in the comments section (or @acelini)...I fear I get too "political" in the beginning, and I do not want to offend anyone (I am not ashamed of my feelings, but I am trying to be "fair and balanced").

Thanks in advance!

Dear Students and Parents of the 2013-14 school year: 

Education is at an interesting crossroads right now: we are increasing the rigor of teaching and learning by implementing things like the Common Core State Standards (CCSS); we are also feeling the strain of that implementation and the initial results that are being reported. It seems that the current “ed reform” has good intentions at heart, but is experiencing difficulty with the practical reality of day-to-day teaching. One fear I have is that students are being forgotten in this shuffle - I believe that students are more than a test a score, and learning is more than a test. It’s easy to lose sight of the small, daily matters while looking at the big picture. 

With that in mind, I believe it is our job to strike a balance here. Yes, students need to be prepared for these new standards and assessments, but they also need to feel what it means to enjoy learning, that moment when you “get it” and you love it. I intend to incorporate both of these “strands” while teaching this year. (For context: given current state rules and district decisions, none of my students this year will be taking the new assessments.)

I one core belief that is central to my teaching and to myself: Respect. Everything flows from this. 

In addition, I have three areas I am focusing on this year:
  • Choice
  • Context
  • Collaboration
All humans want some say/governance over the moments in their lives. I hope to engage the students by giving them more choice in what/how they learn (and what/how I teach). I consider myself an honest and reflective educator, and I care deeply about my students’ experience in my class. I am open to new ideas (or variations on my ideas) - after all, the students are doing the learning, and they need an environment conducive to that. Choice is a powerful change agent.

In order for students to engage with and in their learning, it needs to be “real.” In order for it to be real, we need to view students as people, not data points. And people have emotions, concerns, problems, and solutions. One hope I have is that my students will be able to connect these human elements with the literature we will examine throughout the course of the year. To do so, they need to understand the context in which the work was composed.

We have entered an age where collaboration is both accessible and, perhaps, a more effective learning tool. Teachers are told to prepare students for the future, for college and careers. How many of those careers require an individual to work by him/herself? This world is moved by people working together, so why not infuse that skill into the classroom? I hope to craft more collaborative learning experiences this year; I believe students will retain more by working together. (I will still be assessing students individually, as that is how they will be scored on their school and state assessments.)

Finally, communication is an essential piece that ties all of this together. I maintain an online class calendar that is open to the world. We review it daily in class; feel free to look through it and ask any questions. I post updates on Twitter and through an optional service called Remind101 - you can follow me or sign up for the text message updates. Finally, if you ever need to check in, I’m just an email away.

I hope this year will be a positive experience for your child (and you).

Anthony Celini

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Summer "break"

Hello world (again). 

It's been a bit of a crazy summer, and I have been absent from most of my professional educational endeavors, both on twitter, and here, on my blog. 

I had big plans for this summer break, from flipping my classroom to reinventing my assessment strategies. 

And then a different break occurred - our sewer line. Again. 

It's amazing how life throws the curveballs at you, eh?

The long and short of it is that the house is functional and my family and I still love each other. 

I am now trying to ease back to my online resources, trying to contribute once again to this community I so value.  

For the record: my pops and I did ALL the labor required to fix the line, including digging a hole six-foot deep and busting out 1,000 lbs of concrete (only to put a new 1,000 lbs back in once the pipe was fixed). I'm still working on the "finishing" - I lost July. But, we saved thousands of dollars. 

My pops posing (eerie) 

The new connection (6 1/2 down).

The concrete step we demoed (and then refilled).

Can you imagine if this happened during the school year? Oy. 

Here's to getting back on track!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Packing for #RallyJune8 - Join @NYSUT tomorrow and support #education #1u

As the year closes, with all of the grading and record-keeping and proctoring, what are my wife and I doing? Packing the car for a day trip to Albany. Why? Because it's important.

Tomorrow @NYSUT is sponsoring a Rally to Fight for the Future of Public Education (#RallyJune8). I feel it is both my professional and personal obligation to attend. Most importantly, I want my two young sons to see what a group of passionate and empowered people can do.

For the record, my 2-year old, Sam, will be wearing a shirt that reads "Invest in me, not the test." And Nate, the 3-month old, will be sporting: "I trust teachers." Both shirts were hand-drawn by my wife, Amy (no pics yet...they are "heat-setting" in the dryer as I type).

I sincerely hope people who care (and who can) spread the word - we will not let this moment in history pass us by without raising our collective voices to the powers that be and saying, in one, unified voice: "We care. We are one voice. United."

I hope to see you in Albany.

[Tweets and pics to follow!]

#TEDxCHSNED: A reflection

Last Friday (5/31/13), I spoke at a TEDx event at my high school. This event was organized by two juniors at the school, and consisted of a blend of students and teachers and administrators speaking over the course of an almost 3-hour time frame. The theme was "Education and Inspiration."

I was incredibly impressed that all speakers not only stuck to the theme so well, but overlapped each other so well. I mean, to the point of repeating words and phrases (we had not seen/heard the other speeches until "go time").

I was the second speaker after our guest speaker, Dr. Arnold Dodge. My speech was title "Time to Fail." I have included my presentation, for your viewing pleasure (though it won't make too much sense without the audio). I have also included my written speech below, which I ditched two minutes before I went on. I managed to hit most of my talking points (I think), but ended up ad-libbing a bit.

After my speech ended, I attempted to live tweet the rest of the night. I created a Storify post to attempt to capture the tweets.

Finally, I am still trying to track down a link to the video of the event. Evidently, TED has a whole process that needs to occur before they choose to stream our event (once I find out, I will update the post with the link). My one hope for a webcam stream died - the webcam "recorded" but did not broadcast....oh well.

All in all, it was a wonderful opportunity to spend a night with like-minded people. And, most importantly, the students' voices rang out loudly and clearly. It was SO refreshing to hear the students echo the concerns that so many educators share.

[My prepared speech]

I realize the potential irony of a high school teacher titling his talk "Time to Fail." But I'd like to delve into some "big" ideas in the little time I have, so let's start with semantics. We currently operate inside a system which stresses success, right? The point of teaching is to transmit information and context, right? And we need to know how well the material was taught and how well the students learned it, so we assess them constantly, right?
Now, there are some problematic words in there. Success is the first one. Teaching, learning, assessing are others. Who defines these terms? I mean, we have a general acknowledgement that the next generation of Americans needs to receive certain knowledge. Those kids need to be presented with the skills and ideas to make it in this crazy world once they leave the safety net of high school. And if they make it, they've succeeded. Right?
What does that success look like? Is it earning the Ivy League diploma? Is it landing the big paycheck? Buying the big house? Or is it being happy with what you have? Is it the joy of helping others first? Is it working together to create a better world?
Success is defined differently by different people. Most, though, would agree that success is an improvement on your previous state, an increase in your proverbial coffers. And failure is the opposite. It is everything success is not. It isn't pretty. It's shameful. It's to be avoided at all cost. It's where no one wants to be (or wants to stay).
As a teacher, some argue my job is to make each child pass and be successful. After all, we can't leave any child behind in this race to the top. And, for the record, a race implies a winner. A winner implies a loser. And a loser has failed. The loser is a failure. Right?
As a society, we plan to ensure that every child is not failing. How? High stakes testing. Because that seems to be the only method by which we can ensure that each child is being judged in an equitable manner. And the tests are never wrong. Right?
Here's what I see every day: an inability to use that tested knowledge. I mean, they got a 93 on the test, so that means they learned something. Right? 
We are creating a generation of students who are being zombified by schools - the very place where the exact opposite is supposed to occur. A culture of testing means a culture of knowing. Not learning. You know something for a bit, and then you forget it (the day after the test). What you learn is that knowledge is temporary and fleeting, useful for the short term, and then to be discarded. You memorize and forget. You try and should succeed. Every child deserves get an A (which, by definition, destroys the value of the A). Is that the lesson we want to teach? 
Learning is one of the biggest joys in my life; it's the reason I am here today. But how do you teach inspiration?
Let's start by changing our attitudes and beliefs about failing. Here's another way to look at the word FAIL: First Attempt in Learning.  And what about SUCCESS: becoming a reflective, lifelong learner. 
You can look to the books (or Google) for how many successful people were once considered failures. The list is long. And impressive. Einstein, Jordan, Winfrey, Jobs…
What do these people have in common? What traits do they share? What is it about their journey that is inspirational?
Well, for one, they did not see failure as a finality - they saw it as an opportunity. Failure was just that - an attempt at success that did not work. But they did not stop there. They used that failure as a checkpoint, a signpost, a directional marker. Failure was simply a step in eventual success. And sometimes, it takes a lot of steps to succeed.
So how do we teach the young generation to be comfortable with failure? How do we teach them to deal with the adversity we know they will encounter in their lives? Do we put it off for as long as possible? Do we shelter them from consequence? Do we forgive them their inadequacies? 
Or: do we embrace it? Do we recognize that learning is a process and learning to deal with failure is an essential part of that process? Do we let the kids experience being wrong…and then give them the tools to be right? How can we, as a community, carve out the precious time needed to allow our students to fail. 
I'm certainly not the first to think of this, but I am currently struggling with this concept in my own reflective practice as an educator. How do I best meet the needs of my students? Well, to work through my failures. I will try anything in the classroom to see if it works. If it doesn't, I work to see why. I want to understand the moment of weakness, and then turn it to strength. I try to be open about this with my students as well, so they can see that learning isn't easy, it isn't pretty, and it doesn't always manifest itself in an A, B, C, or D. There is something more genuine about learning that simply cannot be measured by a non-stop battery of high-stakes tests. 
I want my students to be comfortable with failure. I want them to deal with adversity and hardship in their learning. I want them to have grit and character when they graduate. And they will never learn to do this if we don't let them. I have a zen saying on a magnet on my fridge: "Leap, and the net will appear." Learning can indeed be a leap of faith - the learner trusts the teacher to guide him or her through those unknown waters. Let's teach our learners to be comfortable with  jumping into the void and discovering something new. 
Spoken word artist Suli Breaks said "If education is the key, then school is the lock." This paradox scares me. I don't want my students' experience of learning to be one of barriers and rigid definitions. School should function as the great leveler, allowing ALL students the chance to develop a burning passion for learning. Instead, they get burned out and they tune out. And we continue to churn them out, one a replica of the next. Students always ask me for an answer. I usually say, "I don't know. Answers are boring. They end conversations."
Let's shift our focus and our perspective a bit, and allow our students to succeed, by giving them the time to fail. Let them find the problems in this world, and then let them work on the solutions. Let them be uncomfortable with a new piece of knowledge, and then watch them grow as they figure out how it fits into their world view. Let's teach them that the answer to number 42 is not always "C." Let's teach them to never stop asking why and why not. 
For if we don't, I fear that we, as a school and as a community, have failed our children.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Collaboration begins with "we": A response to @NMHS_Principal (#edchat #TLILHRIC)

John Krouskoff, the Director of Instructional Technology for my district, won the Pioneer Award for 2013. Eric Sheniger (@NMHS_principal) delivered the morning keynote. I attended the conference (#TLILHRIC) to both support John and to hear Mr. Sheniger speak (I have followed him on Twitter for a while).

Mr. Sheniger's presentation was about harnessing the power of social media in a school/district. I was impressed by Mr. Sheniger's attitude and accomplishments - much of what he said rang true with my own recent thoughts about changing the educational paradigm.

His most salient point? Social media is about communication, conversation, and collaboration. He made many references to the fact that he would not be able to do what he does without the help of others, most especially his PLN.

Near the end of his presentation, though, he used an example that rubbed me the wrong way. In fact, I was, and am, offended. He was discussing attitudes against using social media in the classroom, and mentioned the common complaint from teachers: if they are allowed to use their phones they will spend the period texting. This is not a new complaint to forward-thinking tech-educators.

But... he finished the example with: "you know why that kid is texting? Because he's bored. Why is he bored? Your lesson plan stinks!"

I was stunned. Of course, the Twitterverse picked it up, and he got the expected RTs with cries of "Amen!" amended.

I reacted with my own tweet, and this started a back and forth between Mr. Sheniger and myself. Being in the minority (the room was made up of admins and tech directors), I had to share my displeasure. And 140 characters was not enough space to do so.

What if the lens were shifted?

You know why that kid is bored? Because...
  • your principal never leaves her office and has no sense of how her school is being run. That stinks!
  • the PD that teachers needed to implement CCSS was washed away in creating pre-assessments for APPR. That stinks!
  • there is no clear vision coming out of central office and each teacher fends for himself. That stinks!
  • there is no curriculum map available. That stinks!
  • the governor creates any number of unfunded mandates that limit the district's and the community's decision making power. That stinks!
  • parents enable their children and reward them for not doing the right thing. That stinks!
  • politicians who have a twenty-year memory of what school used to be like are lured by the sweet sound of publisher's coins filing their coffers. That stinks!
  • public education is turning into a test-taking machine, and only the correct, bubbled answer is of short-term interest. That stinks!
  • students are "hard-wired" to react and respond to the constant and consistent buzz in their pockets. That stinks!
  • teachers and administrators both are being asked to do a hell of a lot more with a hell of a lot less. That stinks!

Shall I go on?

My response to Mr. Sheniger is this: the system is broken. We all acknowledge that. And some of us are racking our brains for solutions. But it is a system comprised of all of us. We all own a piece of the successes and the failures of this system we are a part of.

Why was that kid texting? Maybe he was bored. Maybe the lesson was not engaging. Maybe his mom was texting about a pick-up time. Maybe he smoked pot two periods ago behind the school. Maybe he just doesn't care.


Maybe he was actively engaged in the lesson, texting a friend about the link being displayed on the projector. Maybe he started a backchannel on Twitter to discuss an inspired tangent from the lesson. Maybe he wasn't texting...maybe he was doing something we educators haven't figured out yet.

Mr. Sheniger: I truly do not believe you intended any disrespect. Perhaps I am over-reacting to your tone. Please hear me: I respect your intentions. I share your passion. I, too, want to influence change for the better. But don't tread on the teachers - we are but one piece of this very complex dance.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

#Frameworks for Learning and Teaching

This is a request for material and ideas.

What I have come to find in my 10th year of teaching is that, although I am continually reflecting and revising my practice, I feel I have lost sight of the connecting threads. I feel lost in a maze of activity, but without the guiding structure of a solid, logical, educationally sound framework.

One problem I have is obvious: my district has not provided me with these tools (hence, this post).

A second is more clear to my #PLN: I have found the most valuable PD on and through Twitter.

In the absence of an "official" dogma to follow, I am turning to my PLN for help: what frameworks do you use? What frameworks codify "good teaching" and "good practice"? What are the best practices out there?

Perhaps an example will help: my District uses Danielson's framework for classroom observations. I was observed last week for the second time in six years (the observation went well). In this time, I have never been provided with PD on HOW I would be observed, nor was I provided with information about WHY Danielson's ideas are sound.

While preparing for the observation, I spent a lot of time reading through Danielson's words, and I came to realize two things: it is incredibly overwhelming to try to digest that in a one-week period and, it made sense. It actually fits together and provides a common ground to discuss teaching.

Now, I am not claiming it is the best method, but it is the one we have decided to use, it is the one our APPR will utilize next year, and it is one book I will study this summer.

What else? I plan to study this summer to figure out this common core implementation (again, no PD from the district). What else is out there that I should be aware of?

I'd love to find out "big picture" resources (like Danielson and Common Core) and "small" picture resources that pertain to HS English (like Kelly Gallagher's Write Like This or Carol Jago's With Rigor For All)

Please leave a comment below or send a tweet to @acelini. Let's keep this conversation alive and well and share what we know.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Big Data...Big Concerns.

Lindsey Own (@LindseyOwn) posted an interesting read titled "How Big Corporate Marketing Analytics Can Disrupt Education - Crazy, Right?" - totally worth checking out. Here is my comment on her post, cross-posted here for reference.

This is one of those crossroads moments for me as an educator and tech enthusiast - I see so much potential in how tech can be applied to actually increase student and teacher learning and, I believe, change how we learn (in terms of both how we learn and how we structure learning). And then my department tells me today that in two years, the infamous and almost existent PARCCs will be administered in NYS to 9th, 10th, AND 11th grade ELA. That, and they will be given in two sittings: a three-day and a two-day (not full days, but double the length-wish of the current Regents exam). I hear this, and I have to ask myself if this a best practice to collect this data. I say no, there has to be a better way, a way we can use tech to give standardized formative assessments often, with real and lasting feedback for both student and teacher. shift the funding away from the pockets of the test-maker and use it to provide the test-taker (i.e. the students) with a viable way to create their learning. The politicians are sorely misled here.

I love the concept of using "big data"in my practice, and I hope that the right people get their voices heard soon.

On a related tangent, I found out about this tool at the Harvard Future of Learning session in 2011, but haven't followed up on it yet. Has anyone had experience with Disco tests ( I remember being blown away by the idea of using multiple, small, frequent standardized tests that provided real time data.

Cultural Reference of the Week: #SheRatchet

My students have been throwing this term around class lately: "ratchet." Being an English teacher and naturally curious, I asked my students for the context of the term. As they say, ask and ye shall receive.

I went from this (half serious):

To this:

With an additional this, thrown in for flavor:

(I, of course, found much more context with this)

I find it very interesting how the "slang" spreads and shifts its context. I teach in an relatively-affluent suburban area, one in which you are not likely to see that sort of behavior/attitude in the local drug store. Yet it appears in the school.

I completely understand how adolescents adopt pop culture references and adapt them to their own living (witness my own experience twenty years back with Grunge - double flannels for life!). What I still don't understand, though, is the adoption of the "gangsta" mentality in suburbia.

I'm no historian, but I assume that the roots of the hip-hip would came from a group of musicians that were experiencing a really tough life. That idea, of course, got bastardized once it became popular. Now, it seems, my students live such an "easy life" that they feel the need to toughen up by "living" a "ghetto" life (I can assure you, there is no ghetto in Clarkstown). The phrases "fake tough" and "phony brave" come to mind (from Full Metal Jacket).

I've seen the baggy pants, the abundance of tattoos, and the rise of "girl fights" happen at my school, and I need to ask - where do they go from here. Is the "ghetto phase" something to be expected these days? Do we idealize a "lifestyle" that emphasizes easy money, easy girls, and easy solutions (bang)? Is this some insane bastardization of the American Dream?

Or is this yet another iteration of the vapidity that seems to be oozing out of high schools today? What do we teach that is lasting? That is enduring? That is meaningful?

To come full-circle: the ratchet conversation continued into my extra help session, where a student working on the literary magazine (and certainly NOT the person who would use the word ratchet), told me that it's just a derivation of the word "wretched."

I'm not sure if she's right, but it is a bit scary that one of the kids' go-to phrases is, simply stated, wretched. Is that some subliminal expression of their psyche?

(P.S. A: I realize they don't use it that way and B: totally reading into it. But hey, that's what I do.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

My comments on #NYSED 's survey on the new #APPR

I received am email from NYSED asking for feedback on the new APPR process. Most of the questions were standard fare, but the last one was open-ended commentary. I took the opportunity to rant/vent, and had the presence of mind to copy my comment before I hit submit.

Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:
The new APPR makes sense in theory. In theory, we should all be collecting data about our practice and our students, and using that data to improve our teaching and their learning. However, in practice, making a change this massive, and without any organization from the state, will create an organizational nightmare. For instance: the talk regarding the pre-assessment for the SLOs is to give an incredibly difficult exam on content the students have not learned yet (with the expectation that they will do poorly on it). Then, after you spend the year teaching that content, they should shine and show outstanding growth. Jobs saved! 

This is a ridiculous predicament you (NYSED) have put us (teachers) in. Why should anyone take the pre-assessment seriously, knowing the the objective is failure. The students are aware of this as well - what will their motivation be? And how does that bode for the start of a school year: let me set the tone for the year of failure. Not education. Not improvement. But pre-planned and intentional failure. From a socio-emotional perspective, that is suicide. 

Add in an INCREASE in tests, which equates to a DECREASE in available teaching time, and Gov Cuomo's tax cap, where will teachers have the time to teach. When will administrators, who are already strapped for time today, have time to administer? How will districts afford more unfunded state mandates? By cutting teaching staff? Because that will improve education, right? Larger classes, more preps, less time. Sounds like a party. 

In theory, this all makes (some) sense. In reality, it will destroy education for a good long while. Has anyone at NYSED considered what the fallout will be? What will teaching and, more importantly, learning look like once the proverbial dust has settled?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A (first) day in the life...

My second son, Nathaniel (or Nathan or Nate) just turned one - day, that is. Waking up this morning (?) in the hospital reminded me of a few things that seem to get lost in the daily fast life.

- Don't forget the simple things. They are beautiful and awesome too.

- Patience is an important part of life.

- Slow down, appreciate THIS moment, as it will be gone shortly.

- Just love, and be loved in return. (I know - total Moulin Rouge paraphrase).

To close, another song lyric. This one comes from my older son's playlist.:

"All that I need
Is a song in my heart,
Food in my belly,
And love in my family."

I love you, family.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Trendy: #CuttingForBieber. Wait...what?

So. I currently teach a senior level semester class called Struggles of Humanity, and we currently focus on dystopian fiction. The semester just began a few weeks back and, after some intro material ("Harrison Bergeron"), I am ready to jump into the first main novel, Huxley's Brave New World (that has such people in it).

I began yesterday with the foreword to Neil postman's book, Amusing Ourselves To Death. In it, he mentions " man's infinite appetite for distractions." As hoped, the students made the leap to today's ultimate distractions, social media. Then the bell rang.

Today I begin with a word web: " social media is..." The students in period 4 came up with the following web:

The discussion began slowly, but started top heat up when I asked how many followers Justin Bieber has on Twitter (side note - it just made my night the Bieber is not in my autocorrect). A change washes over the class. Cell phone are out. Tweets are being read. Someone shouts out "34.3 million."

Now the discussion shifted to the value of JB's tweets (we were clearly on the entertainment value on social media). There was one about slapping the drummer from the black keys. Great tweet JB. Thanks.
Then one student shifted the discussion again. Picking up on the trends aspect of social media, he mentioned #CuttingForBieber Here's a sample:

MIKE KLEFF (@KOOLAIDKLEFF) tweeted at 4:01 PM on Mon, Jan 07, 2013:
No hope left for the youth “@Kellydu851: IT HURTS BUT I DO IT FOR MY JUSTIN :(((
#CuttingForBieber #CutForBieber”
I guess I've been living under my PLN rock, but this trend from a  month ago gave me pause. Evidently, JB admitted to smoking pot and his legions decided to cut themselves to make him stop.
A number of students hadn't heard of it, so, naturally, they looked it up. I'm not sure what image they found, but it started with giggles (muscular, " cut" men in skimpy clothes), to awkward gaps, to one girl retching.

And we encounter a teachable moment.

I stopped the discussion to ask them to really examine what happened here: obsessed fans took their disappointment on a celebrity's actions out on their own bodies. And then published it. And then received validation as it tended. And then inspired the " copycats" to express their disdain. And the Twitter cycle continues.

I went further. I posited that the extreme, hyperbolic connection we potentially have to anyone in the world has backfired; the increase in possible connection has resulted in an impossible disconnect. So much so that children have gone numb from the lack of human (read: face-to-face) connection, and must resort to the entirely visceral act of slicing their bodies open to feel again.

This may not be new thought to all of you (I am a child of the nineties... Grunge for life), but the class feel truly silent. They felt it. Until one of the jocks just said "shit." Which brought the class back to laughter. He followed up, in all sincerity, with " that was too heavy. I needed to get back to normal."
I feel that they felt it. I am happy they did.

But will they be able to connect #CuttingForBieber with the social inadequacies of Huxley's World State? Will they be able to see that, with constant access to pleasure, the pain goes away, but when the pain leaves, you are left numb. Unfeeling.

Can they see how horrifying a thought that is?

==== UPDATE ====
As an update (I know... How can you update an unpublished post?), I did some research and discovered that this was a hoax. Looks like the teachable moment gets extended tomorrow... here's my question for the class: just because the tweeter could do this, should he? What does this say about the power of social media and the lack of human connection (empathy is one of my themes of the class)? How can someone take a serious medical condition and satirize it

#SocialMedia attribute web

Here is a word web I made with my seniors today in preparation for brave new world. The effects of technology on society and such...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

#SocialMedia experiment: Twitter as #backchannel (#edchat #engchat)

A few ideas came together over breakfast this past Saturday, and my wife, Amy, gets the credit for being the catalyst. Pulling from my own experience backchanneling, my trip to Educon 2.5, and the possibility of sheer boredom in my class for one week, I decided to mash it all together and see what would happen. Amy was the lightbulb.

Rather than continue the search for "the answers," I realized that I had to step up and experiment  The worst that could happen was that it bombed and I would lose 45 minutes of "test prep." (Golly gee...NO!). So, I did it. Here's how it went.

The Context:
  • My juniors will be taking the Regents in June. 
  • 2nd semester means we turn our attention towards more explicit and specific test prep (ugh)
  • They pretty much bombed the previous Critical Lens essay
    • The essay on the Regents exam asks students to interpret a quote and then use that interpretation as a guide to analyze two works of literature (for all the non-NY'ers)
The Plan:
  • Prep students on how to use Twitter as a backchannel
  • Discussion time. 
    • I modified the Socratic Seminar idea - my wife calls it the Fishbowl (no idea if that is an "official" name - I'm new to utilizing seminar discussions in my class). 
    • Split the class of 30 into 3 groups of 10. 
    • Group 1 sits in the center (in the fishbowl) and discuss a quote (I grade their contributions to the discussion); Groups 2 & 3 sit in the outer ring and take notes, either on paper (not everyone has a Twitter account) or on Twitter (using #MrC11R)
    • Display stream using on projector
  • Handouts:
The Fishbowl

In Action:
For the first run through, my co-teacher and I split the moderating duties: Heather dealt with the verbal discussion in the fishbowl; I dealt with the virtual discussion on Twitter. The second time, I was flying solo. Combine that with a chatty class at the end of the day, and you get chaos. It was exhausting. two class periods (45 minutes each), the students generated 270 tweets*. Full disclosure: I haven't read through the list, and I know for a fact there are some off-topic tweets, but given their reluctance to Tweet FOR school (as opposed to good 'ole IN school) on Monday, I am kind of proud that they did what they did. I participated with them as well, tweeting questions and comments throughout.

* NB: I removed the students' usernames from the published list to maintain their privacy.

This was an interesting experience for me. My department chair did a 10 minute pop-in and sent a congratulatory email. I spoke to one student in extra help, and he said he didn't like it. I feel that the reactions can go either way, and I am curious to see what the students write in their reflections tomorrow. I am most concerned with the educational value of the exercise (see my previous post on tech for tech's sake) - if the students do not feel like this was a benefit, then it needs modification. I am willing to do this again, as I believe in the value of it. It just needs to have the kinks worked out.

Two things jumped out at me: one was the physical reality of 10 students talking at once. It just got loud and chaotic. One solution is to cut the numbers in half - instead of 10 students for 10 minutes, do 2 groups of 5 students for 5 minutes. This might create a more focused atmosphere.

The second realization was the tech (yup): this was the first time that some students had ever used twitter, and it was the first time that "experienced" users used the tool in this manner (scroll through the list to see friends in other classes reacting to the flood of tweets that came out of my classroom - I was laughing).

I'd be curious to see if anyone A) has read this far and B) has used a similar activity. I need help structuring the activity before I can do it again.

The classroom - ready for fishbowl.

This pic accompanies the next post..

Friday, February 1, 2013

Reflection gone wrong (?)

I had an interesting moment of "introspection" the other day: I asked my departing seniors to complete a course evaluation on the last day of the semester (last Friday). I asked them questions in two categories: course content (curriculum) and technology usage. I made the evaluation anonymous and asked them to be forthright, but not mean.

 I do this after each of my classes, as I believe that there will be some useful feedback buried among the "you're the worst teacher ever" and the "I hate reading" comments (I teach high school English). There is always an honest nugget of takeaway buried in there. And so I found my nugget, after sifting through the useless (for me) vents. It said two things:

  • "This course has great potential but was not deployed the right way"  and
  • "You used technology for technology's sake, not to help me learn"
Both are valid comments, and my immediate reaction was "Who said this?" Then I stepped back and realized that anonymity makes identification impossible, and that, since I asked for the anonymous truth, I needed to accept it for what it was.

This, of course, is totally unsatisfying from an emotional standpoint.

The "I hate yous" always sting, but I have learned to take them for what they are - the vents of adolescents who use the cloak of anonymity to "talk back" to the teacher. As soon as I read those comments, I thought back to the students that had struggled in the class. I tried to put faces and names to the "I hate yous," and then gave the exercise up - we can't reach them all, and I knew the handful that did not have a "positive" experience (i.e. the subject of a future post: the girl who plagiarized and could not see that she made a mistake). 

However, the dilemma became more urgent when I could not identify the speaker of the above two bullets - I felt a sudden urge and need to know WHO said those things. I craved context. I started searching for order amongst the unknown.

On one level, it doesn't matter who wrote it, as the comments were valid and gave me pause and a chance to reflect. On the other hand, I wanted to seek out that commenter and ask him/her those bigger questions of Why/How I could improve. Needless to say, I gave the exercise, but not the ideas, up. 

It was an odd moment to have, though, in my 10th year of this gig. I am always amazed at how honest students can be, and am equally dismayed that they feel the need to couch that honesty in anonymity. How do we create a more open culture of reflection - if students could share more freely (and appropriately), would teachers listen?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ah, #EduCon - thank you.

I feel that this will be the first of many decompressions of this year's EduCon at the Science Leadership Academy (#SLA).

My mind is on overdrive.

But I feel the need to capture this, and start the sifting process.

It was wonderful to be around so many like-minded people. You all renewed my faith and my hope that change is possible.

It's hard to keep a fire burning by yourself. You all helped spark the embers; you reignited the burning passion to make thing better.

Although I still struggle with the full nature of this idea, I love that Chris Lehman phrased this change as a narrative. We all can play an important role in this story, and it is a tale that must be shouted from any mountaintop or anthill we can find.

We are connected. Whatever the means, we have the means to find the end.

Ideas are bulletproof. Let's thicken our hides and stop hiding - it's time to take this thing and run. To paraphrase Nat Turner: we are what we've been waiting for.

We must stay active and tell this story to anyone who will, and more importantly those who won't, listen.

Thank you, EduCon.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

EduCon! I've arrived...

I am so excited to be attending EduCon 2.5 in Philly. Looking for the real-world inspiration from inspiring educators. I will be keeping a running document of notes (feel free to comment right in the Google Doc) which may turn into future blog posts. I will also be tweeting throughout the weekend. Let the learning begin!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Do Students Learn Differently?

I decided to write this post on Storify, as I wanted to include the original tweets that inspired my thoughts. Due to the large font, though, this is a scroller...sorry about that. 

Here is the link to the Storify post in case the embed code doesn't work.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

My New Gmail #GTD setup

My district recently started a program to enable employees to become Google Apps Qualified. As we (Clarkstown Central School District) are a Google District, this was an exciting chance to learn more about the tools I already use. I jumped at the chance and became part of a group of 21 other colleagues on our quest to become Clarkstown Google Experts (CGEs).

First, I did not know Google offered such extensive training materials for their Apps In Education suite. Second, I did not realize how extensive the tests were. I spent a manic week studying while my son fell asleep in his crib and then running downstairs for an hour of testing. The good news: I managed to pass all six exams and am now Google Apps Qualified (for the next year). The bad news: sleep deprivation.

One immediate takeaway, though, came from the Other Tools module. Specifically, the Labs section.

First, some context: in September, we were still using good 'ole Outlook. In October, we were informed we would be migrating to Gmail (yay!). However, I had never used Gmail as a web-based experience before; I funnel all my email into Apple Mail on my various iDevices. Being naive, I set about to recreate all of my Outlook folders as Gmail labels.

Inbox 1700+.

I realized the futility of attempting to do this with integrity, and eventually archived all the pre-migration emails.

Inbox 1000.

I then decided to shrink the number of labels I used, and created labels for each of my classes (5 in total) and a few other things (To Do, To Grade, Prep, etc.).

Inbox 1000. (ugh.)

Enter the Google training mentioned above, the Gmail search bar, and the QuickLinks lab. Simply put, this Lab allows you to save a search query as a clickable link for quick use later on. More complexly, the Search bar is amazing (I have yet to explore the Advanced Search in it's entirety). This changed my approach to HOW I use Gmail. In other words, the training allowed me to reflect on my process and experience using Gmail.

Here's what I discovered:

  1. I rarely, if ever, clicked on a class label to view those emails.
         Step taken: delete all class labels.
  2. When I did need to reference a previous email, I found myself searching for it.
         Step taken: archive everything...I have thousands of emails and am at 9% of my 25GB limit.
  3. It was more important to label my processes than my descriptions. To rephrase, the English teacher in me decided to label my verbs, not my nouns.
         Step taken: create labels Follow Up, To Grade, Read and Review.
  4. Having a To Do list was not enough, as it grew out of control. I needed a way to sift through it and categorize the To Do items.
         Step taken: Superstars, another Lab item. This allows you to use a variety of stars on an email. I stuck with 4 to keep it simple.
  5. Having immediate access to the categorized To Do list was essential.
         Step taken: QuickLinks. Save each "star" as a QuickLink and immediately sort your "starred" items.
  6. I needed to see my Unread emails first.
        Step taken: Use Priority Inbox with three levels: Unread, starred, everything else.
By redefining my process, I found managing my inbox much easier. As soon as I read a new message, I do one of three things: reply, Archive, or Flag/Star (depending on which device I read the email on). I then "process" my starred items and make sure they have the appropriate star "level." I have the QuickLinks set up in my left sidebar and I can see exactly what I need to.

I'm sure this will be an evolving process, and I welcome that. Reading the material Google has provided has opened my mind to ideas I did not know were possible, and for that I am thankful.

Oh yeah...Inbox: 82. But all accounted for.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Who needs sleep?

So. This weekend was kind of a mess. Friday evening flurry of #LiteraryTunes, red wine, and what I now know was pre-fever.

Friday night: toss, turn, freeze, swear, wonder why I am buried beneath an avalanche of blankets. Not realizing pregnant wife has same symptoms I do.

Saturday: sick. Fever sick. Stomach borderline, stays solid. Wife not so much. Vomiting on and off. 18 month old seemingly not affected, wants to play. Great fun!

Saturday night: pass the F out.

Sunday: wake up feeling exhausted but not sick. Wife still ill, asleep all day. 18 month and me...Play! Fun.

Sunday night: this one gets a timeline all to itself.

7pm: start baby bedtime. Books, crying, lights out. Not so bad.

8pm: discover #21stedchat on Twitter and get sucked in.

9pm: downstairs, decide grading is done for night. Hooray! Early bedtime! Read, lights out.

10pm: Toss, turn, can't sleep. Kung fu fantasies of what I'd do if a burglar broke (complete with a variety of "tough-guy" 911 calls but, alas, lacking any sort of kick-ass soundtrack).

11pm: sick of not sleeping. Brew sleepy time tea (false advertising), grade another 20 1984 essays.

12am: ready to sleep. Nuthin'.

1am: start thinking about Web 2.0 tools. Of course. Briefly consider my unfinished lesson plans. Start composing this post.

2am: everybody was Kung fu fighting. Hoo. Hah.

3am: decide to live "on the wild side" and "in the moment" and download the Blogger app. Baby cries. Awesome. Baby stops. Awesomer.

4am: finish post and try to remember what automatic settings I have on seldomly used blog. Find myself not caring. Wonder if anyone is still reading (and caring). Praying that I have one more free coffee reward at Starbucks.

Prediction for 5am: I will be surprised when the alarm goes off. Bitter irony.

Good(?) night/morning all.