Thursday, September 26, 2013

If You're Not Reflecting, You're Not Trying

Without question, one of the most important things I do as an educator is reflect. I'm always amazed when I talk to other educators and ask them about their reflection process and many do not have a set way of doing things. Many say they just tweak on the fly and look at it before the teach it again. That process just terrifies me.

It took me many years to figure this out, but reflection during and after lessons, sessions, presentations, etc. is crucial if I want to continue to grow as a professional. Everything I do is under constant scrutiny because I want to be better. Being better requires reflection and I challenge people to argue otherwise. 

The next step after reflection is making changes where they are needed. Just thinking about what you have done does not mean anything if you do not take action. If something is broke, fix it. If something is not working, do something completely new. Education is a constantly changing creature and our lessons need to evolve with the rest of education to ensure that we are doing what is best for our students. Reflection and change are crucial parts in the process of providing the best education for the students in front of us. 

Please, do not tell me there is not enough time. I'm tired of hearing it. We are all busy. We have friends, families, lives, etc. That doesn't mean we shirk our responsibility to become better at our jobs. Reflection and change is how we can be better. Standing pat because everything seems to be "working just fine" is a lame excuse for not changing. I'm not saying just change everything because change is great. I'm saying take a look at what you do and change what needs to be changed. 

Change will never be easy. I hate change to some degree, but I hate not being the best at my job even more. The day I stop reflecting is the day I stop trying to be the best teacher I can. 

Our students, parents, principals, superintendents and everyone else involved in eduction expect teachers to give their very best every day in the classroom. That might not be possible, but we need to try. If we fail, we fail nobly in an effort to be the best. 

Take some time this year and reflect on your profession and see where you can make some meaningful changes for you and for the students. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The 500th Post Post #edchat

Well, I've made it this far. This is my 500th post and it is hard to even know where to begin. I have met some of the most amazing people because of this blog. It has been place that has connected me with some of the smartest people in the world and I get to call them friends now.

I have gone from a nerdy guy in my classroom doing silly projects in class, to a nerdy guy doing silly presentations around the country about the silly projects I do in class. I've never felt I've deserved the attention or the awards I've won for what I do here or in the classroom because there are so many amazing teachers out there working long hours and late nights.

Some of the best teaching moments in my life have come from my connections made writing this blog. My Epic Romeo and Juliet Project and My Epic Evernote Project have changed the way I view myself as a teacher and teaching overall. Starting my 20 Time project this year has given me a boost of energy because there is nothing better than being in a room full of students buzzing with creativity. Every Friday has been the best day of the week so far and it's not because the weekend is coming.

My advice to those starting a blog or thinking about starting one is simply this, "To thine own self be true." I've tired really hard to follow this idea from my buddy Polonius. I've been off the mark time to time, but it is always easy to go back and be me if I get off track.

To all of you out there that keep coming back, thank you for all of your support. I hope I can keep providing you with meaningful posts and an occasional chuckle. With that in mind, here is a bunny with a pancake on its head.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Not About You

"It's worked for the past ten years. Why change it now?"

I think many of us have  heard this statement from colleagues over the years and I hope it drives you as batty as it drives me. For all of the teachers out there that refuse to update their lessons because they seem to "work", I have this to say, "It's not about you".

I have many lessons that have worked well and others that have worked great. However, I'm constantly changing, updating or tweaking my lessons because I believe that I need to be preparing students, not for today, but for tomorrow. My lessons need to reflect the skill sets my students will need years from now in college and in the job market. They do not need the exact same skills I was trained in when I was in high school and not the exact same skills I was using with my students 10, or even 5, years ago. 

One of the most time consuming aspects of my teaching career of late has been reflection. I think it is also the most valuable thing I spend my time on during the school year. I look at lessons after they are completed and decide whether or not the lesson itself is still meeting the goals and if the tools I use are still relevant to me and the students. If I do not like the answers I get from my reflection, it is back to the drawing board. This might be a tweak or a complete overhaul. I never know until I dive back into the lesson and move things around. 

While this can be a time consuming part of my year, I can feel assured that my lessons are always the best lessons I am offering my students that year and the next.

Just because a lesson "works" does not mean it is the best lesson for that topic. Their are many lessons that can "work" just fine, but there are others out there that could have a great and longer lasting impact on the students if the time is taken to review them and look for alternatives. We all want lessons that are great for our kids and are not too time consuming on the teacher's end. Some of the best things we do as educators takes time and lesson planning and reflection is no different. 

As you go through your school year, please take the time and look at your lessons and ask whether or not this is the best lesson for this topic. In the end, it is not about you right now, it is about the students and what they need years from now. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Graphic Novels (Comics) = Literature #NerdyCast

Here is a new #NerdyCast where I talk about the importance of Graphic Novels (Comics) in the classroom. I even give some suggestions on great books to start with if you are interested in learning more. Thanks for watching and I hope you subscribe so you can see some of the fun stuff I have planned for down the road.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Give a student an inch... #GP20Time

...and they will blow your mind.

It has been a couple of weeks since I introduced 20 Time to my students and their parents and I just wanted to share with your some of the ideas they have started to explore for their projects.

Learning Russian
Painting a mural in downtown Detroit
Starting a charity that does arts and crafts with children in hospitals
Building a car from scratch
Publish a book
Write a symphony 
Swim to Canada for Charity
Organize a 5K
Meet a new person every single day and document it with photos
Do something that scares them every single day and document the results
Run a marathon for the first time

These are just a handful of ideas students are tossing around. Some students are nervous about finding a project, but they love the idea that I have made failure an option. I stressed that I wanted them to go big or go home and many are taking that to heart. Honors students tend not to take risks because most seem to be wired to get the A and move on. The students have started to embrace the idea that they can try something completely new and see what they can learn. 

20 Time Friday is the best way for me to end my week. The kids just have a buzz about them as they explore their ideas and talk to others about their plans. I'm really excited about how the rest of this year is going to unfold. These kids are about to change the world and I get to be along for the ride. 


Monday, September 16, 2013

Making a Difference #edchat

The start of the school year is two weeks old and it has been a doozy. My schedule has changed multiple times with a new set of students in my class one week after school started and two days before back to school night with the parents. I've done my best to provide the best environment for my students, but it was tough not to feel run down and a sense of doom if this was how the school year was going to be like for me. When things were at their worst, I received this text from a former student.

It was as if my bas vibes were sent across the universe and straight to this student. This was the pick me up that I needed and gave me the boost of energy. There will be days that I hate being a teacher, but I will always love teaching. I think that is the one thing I need to remind myself when things in the "Teacher World" get crazy. Teaching is exhilarating and awesome. I have a chance to make an impact on students in ways that I will not realize until much later in life. 

For all of you out there that might behaving a rough start of the school year, remember that you are making a difference in the lives of so many different students. You might not see any results until years later, but do not let the small things get in your way of making an impact on the lives of the people that matter most each day at school. 

Have a great week!


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reminding Students with @Evernote #edchat

I'm always looking for ways to better communicate with students and keep them up to date with what we are doing in class. One of the ways I'm going to do this is by using the Reminder feature on Evernote. It is a great way for students to remember what they need to do before they head home for the school day. Here is how I set it up.

1. I share specific notebooks with students that they join. These notebooks are assignments, handouts, notes, etc.

2. I tell students they can download Evernote for their phone if they choose to receive reminders. They download Evernote and turn notifications on for their device.

3. I create notes in the notebooks I want students to access. When I create the note, I set a reminder for the day and time I want the students to receive the reminder.

I always set the reminder for my students for the end of the school day. 

4. When the time comes, a notification will appear on their phone at 3:05 reminding the of the homework for the day. 

5. I can review all of my reminders in the notebook and check them off when they have been completed. 

This is a simple way for me to send another reminder to my students that they have something to do before they go home. I look to do some other things with the reminders as well. I can pass along messages of encouragement in notebooks and set a timer for their reminder. I can set long term notifications for projects to help them stay organized. I'm sure there are many more ways I can use reminders to help my students. Leave any ideas you might have in the comment section. 



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Change Your Perspective #EdChat

The school year is starting for educators and students across the country and I wanted to write a post about something I intend to do this year and I hope other will join me. I need to change my perspective. 

I recently wrote a post about my newest classroom endeavor. I am bringing 20 Time to my classroom and I cannot wait to share all of the amazing things my students will be doing. Part of making 20 Time possible in my classes was finding 35 days in  my curriculum to carve out so my students could work every Friday and have a week to present their projects in June. I thought this was going to be a daunting task. I felt that I had already stripped my curriculum to the bare bones and everything in there HAD to be taught. I was way off. 

Artsy Alcatraz #edutour <NP>

I approached this task with one simple question, "Is _____ creating a better learner?" Instead of looking at curriculum as something I needed to cover, I wanted to focus on the lesson plans I had created and ask that question for every single day I had planned. I had to change my perspective. By asking that question, I was able to carve out half of the days I needed pretty easily. I quickly removed a movie and a project that were interesting, but were not creating a better learner. I then had some tough decisions as I looked at areas of my curriculum that I liked, but I found to be redundant. I parted with some lessons I truly loved, but knew didn't add anything new to the conversation. 

After over an hour of pouring over my lessons, I was able to find the days I needed and I was very happy with my slimmed down curriculum. I felt I was still covering everything that was important and that my students would gain more from the 20 Time than doing another project focusing on the same concept taught twice or three times. My change in perspective was required to create a stronger curriculum for my students and provide them an opportunity to become better learners as they explore their projects. 

I invite all of you to change your perspective and ask, "Is ______ creating a better learner?"

Have a great school year!


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Connections: Take Your Own #EduTour

I've been dreading this post for a while. Trying to sum up all of my thoughts on the EduTour does not seem like something I can do in a post. There were so many great things that I could write about, I would hate to leave anything out. With school starting today, this post seem to be a bit easier for me. Something cleared up and I felt like I had something to say. 

The goal of the EduTour was to get out and meet people. I wanted to have conversations with people I would never have a chance to talk to face to face. In this aspect, the EduTour was a huge success. I was able to meet people and talk to them. I learned some new things and had a great time talking. 

However, there was more to the trip than I realized. I didn't just meet people and talk to them, I made meaningful connections. I was able to hear about the problems that others face in their classrooms and engage them in problem solving. I connected with people in a way that is not possible online. Online is a great place to start a conversation, but face to face takes it to a whole other level. 

This level of connection was something that was a pleasant surprise. I have these great connections with people from Detroit to San Francisco. There are people I can now turn to when I have questions or need some support. I would not trade this experience for anything in the world. These connections will make me a better person and a better educator. 

Another great part of the EduTour was the fact that people were following us using social media. It was a great way for friends, new and old, to support Tim and I as we drove across the country. We were sent funny messages, pictures, music suggestions and other bits of information to keep us occupied during long stretches in the car. Social Media allowed us to stay connected with the amazing  people we have met over the years and that made the trip a little more special. 

It would be awesome if every educator could jump in the car with the best buddy and drive around the country. There is so much to learn outside of our comfort zone if we get up and go. I propose a challenge to all of the educators out there; take an EduTour of your school or district. 

Find a way to take a visit across your school or your district and connect with teachers in other departments and buildings. Your EduTour can be done over the course of the school year and you can make wonderful connections with educators right around the corner. These are the connections that can help you grow as a teacher and create stronger learning environments for your students. We often forget that there are experts down the hallway that we could learn amazing things from if we take the time to say hello and listen to what they have to teacher. 

For this school year, I challenge you to create your own EduTour in your building or district and share what you learned with the rest of us. Have a great year and I can't wait to learn from you. 

Enjoy these pictures from the EduTour


Monday, September 2, 2013

You Are Not Alone #edchat

The first day of school is starting for many of us on Tuesday and I wanted to share some important information with all of the new teachers, veteran teachers and everyone else int he world of education: You are not alone.

Schedules are going to get busy, assignments are going to pile up and life is going to get silly. It is crucial to know that you do not have to walk alone on this wild ride. Reach out to another teacher, call a friend or just speak to your loved ones. The best way to stay focused is to rely on the friends and family that have helped you through so much this year.

If you do have you act together as we move through the school year, then please look out for others that might be barely treading water. Sometimes it is tough to ask for help and it takes a good person to recognize that look and offer a hand.

This can be the best school year in the entire world for you and the students and the best way to accomplish this is to remember that you are not alone.

Have a great school year everyone and let me know if you need anything.

Easier to Read Version: