#MSchat 7-25-13 First Days of School

Even though it is July and for many our first student days of school are not until September: We chatted tonight about the preparation and planning for the first days of school. The conversation can be found by following the link below in the #mschat Storify account.

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Why Connect as an educator?

I am often asked my by my peers in teaching, “Why Connect?” I can always refer them to Ainissa Ramirez’s great post about “Smashing Silos“.  I can talk about how I felt “on an island” when I started teaching. I feel the best way to explain why an educator should be connected is by modeling the process and showing what can occur when connected.

Having been on twitter for a little over a year and half, I have started following/connecting with many wonderful educators. Last August at the urging of my friends at Engaging Educators, I started a middle school chat #mschat. As I began to get my feet wet as a connected educator, I found a friendly place where educators openly share, give positive advice and collaborate. It was so much more than I had imagined. It gives you the choice to participate or lurk. To be actively involved in the community or just visit from time to time. No one judging you based on activity, just a large group of friends meeting you where you are in your participation and skill. In many ways similar to how our classrooms should be. 

Today, it all clicked: Working in Michigan I have had the great opportunity to attend a few  of Nicholas Provenzano’s (The Nerdy Teacher) presentations. On his feed I had noticed he was giving a Keynote Address along with Timothy Gwynn at The Greater Clark Connected Conference. I was thinking how great it must be to attend conferences in the summer and continue learning. Here I am in my PJ’s, making coffee with my 4 year old twins watching morning cartoons. Then I noticed a tweet by Jeffery Bradbury, the Keynote was going to be broadcast live by Teacher Cast TV . I had to check it out!! 

Being “Connected” means you are only an internet connection away from learning. No opportunities are missed. You DON’T have to wait for PD that someone thinks you need, YOU FIND PD your students need you to have!! As the organizer, Brett Clark, of #GCCC13 clearly  stated in the opening of the conference, “You challenge yourself to be a better teacher this year than you were last year!”   Timothy Gwynn said it best, “Twitter is the instruction manual to teaching.” Being connected gives you the answers to all of your “HOW TO…” questions as teachers.

Being connected allowed me to be inspired and motivated to return to the classroom with five weeks of summer vacation ahead of me. All in the comfort of my PJs, while sipping coffee with my kids this morning. When someone tells me they don’t have time to be connected! I tell them they don’t have time not to be connected!

If you are still a skeptic, listen to this 11-year explain why being connected is important . (From #GCCC13)


Its about learning ….

All I have been hearing lately in education is about technology. Experts rave about new tools, districts spend money on 1 to 1 programs. Technology companies encourage teachers to earn prestigious titles: _____ Certified Teacher, ______ Distinguished Educator,  _______ STAR Educator, or ____ Ambassador.  None of these are bad things and I commend any teacher that has has worked hard to gain a title, often done to gain access to more resources for their students. As educators we need to shift the focus from just highlighting the use of technology but to how technology helps our students learn, grow and create. Education is about learning not about having cool toys. Technology needs to be infused into lessons so that it seamless. Our students don’t make plans to use their smartphones or computers, they just use them naturally. Similarly to how I used a pencil or a dictionary when I was a student. Teachers need to be conscious about the tool they use and how they tie into their students learning.

This Bloom’s chart from www.classroom-aid.com is one of many found on the web that show how technology tools connect to our students’ learning. Highly-effective teachers use technology, but they remember it is not about the tools that were used to learn but about the outcomes. When you read blogs, articles or go to a conference: look for statements that discuss products and learning outcomes from the use of a tool. After hearing about the learning then focus on learning how to use the tools in your classroom.  Too often teachers focus on how to use a tool and fail to think about how it will help their students learn. Education is about learning not getting to play with the cool tools.

Many districts jump on the technology band-wagon, hoping it is the silver bullet for education. Buying computers for 1:1 programs or hiring “Technology Coaches”. 1:1 programs might be a good way to go but often teacher training is over looked. Just because it is in the classroom does not mean it is used correctly! 1:1 needs to be done slowly with a focus on student outcomes not tools used. “Tech Coach” title seems odd to me. Do we only want someone to come in and show how to use tools? Or someone to come in to show how the tools can help improve learning? Instructional coach seems like the proper title and takes the focus away from the tool used. Instructional coaches would then help infuse the technology into teachers learning targets.

With the ever-changing list of technology tools it can be hard but just remember to:

Vacation School Lessons #vsl

When you hear the word “vacation” many imagines come to mind: beaches, fine dining, airplanes, boats, etc. Is learning something that comes to mind when vacation is mentioned? Learning happens all the time, but vacations offer unique learning opportunities. Children are in a new environment, interacting with different people everyday. Vacations are the perfect place for learning.

Depending on how you travel on your vacations, geography and modes of transportation are good themes on vacation. We usually travel by car, my son, loves to read all the licences plates looking for different states he always wonders how far people are traveling. He also asks about all the cities and landmarks we pass. Great learning opportunities if you have the time to talk about them in detail along the way. When we have traveled by plane we have discussed more United States geography and spend time talking about time zones and distances.

I feel better learning happens at your destination. Weather and Climate are natural topics to discuss with children on vacation, especially if you are traveling to a different climate region. Cultures can be a topic on vacation if you are traveling to a region with different cultural climate than where you live. Last year we traveled from Michigan to San Diego and our children loved learning about the region so different from their own. For those of us that are daring, we can also expose our children to awesome new culinary choices. Most vacationers dine out, make bold choices that are different than ones you would make at home.

Of course many vacations are educational by nature, whether you are traveling to Mackinaw Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes or Tahquanmenon Falls (All great spots in Michigan) the purpose is to learn about the location. My children know that trips like these are fun and for learning. They have loved our trips to all of them. Learning about the history of Mackinaw Island or how the falls and dunes formed.

Often on vacation learning can be unintentional. Children learn about SPF for sunscreen and the value of good Aloe Vera lotion if they stay out in the sun to long. Just today by children learned the value of a bowline knot for tubing and how to be a “Good Samaritan” as we helped out a distressed sailboat. Earlier in the week they learned how to bait a hook and catch a fish. This of course lead to me teaching a hands-on lesson on gutting and skinning the fish and later cooking it.

Just remember that the learning happens everywhere. The best learning is hands-on and vacations lead to great new learning experiences, not just for relaxing. (Although that is a good use for vacations too!!)

Give yourself permission to do nothing!

As I sit here up at my family’s lakeside cottage I ask myself, Is doing nothing, something? When my 3 children woke up this morning I asked them what they wanted to do today? My wife response was quicker than the kids, “Nothing!!” Since we spent yesterday cleaning up our property, chipping wood, this was an appropriate answer.

But can you really ever do nothing? If you are sitting on the couch you are still doing something! In fact as I am writing this post, my wife and kids are enjoying the lake. As I reflect back to the school year, my students often responded to the question, What did you do over the weekend? “Nothing”  Is nothing just the quick response by someone who doesn’t want to be held down by plans or just the quick response that requires no thinking?

For me nothing is reflection, unplanned learning and freedom. Nothing allows us to fill our minds and use imagination to do what ever we want! If we set out to do something: say build a dog house or read a book. Well then we have to complete that task or we feel we did not accomplish our “goal” for the day. Nothing gives us permission to do anything or not. No feeling of missing out or lack of accomplishment.

Just remember that when you are done doing “nothing!” to reflect on what you actually did accomplish doing IT!