Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Paralyzed By Technology #edchat

As I have worked with teachers over the years, I have come across one common problem that many teachers deal with when looking at technology. It's this idea that all new tech tools must be integrated immediately or they have failed as a teacher. As they look over the long list of available tools, they become paralyzed because they are overwhelmed.

I always make sure to tell all educators that technology is about baby steps. As "techy" teacher, it appears that I have used every tool to the full extent from the very first day I started using the Internet. What teachers do not see are the many many tools I have used incorrectly or the tools that just didn't fit my instructional style. There is a vast wasteland littered with remains of programs that I was excited about, tried, and then realized were not for me or my students. I learned to focus on what was working and use it well.

After some time with a tool and feeling like I have mastered it, I would explore a new tool. I took baby steps with all of the tools I have ever used. At the end of the year, I evaluate the tools and decide if it will stick around. Either way, I look to add a new one for the start of the next school year.

As a connected educator, I see tons of great new tools shared on a regular basis and I have to fight the urge to try and use them immediately. If I want to do it right, I need to take my time, learn how to use a tool and think out who it fits into my classroom.

Friar Laurence said it best in Romeo and Juliet "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast"

I encourage teachers out there to find one new tool to explore, have fun trying it out in class and then reflect on its use at the end of the year. When you are done, look for another one for the next school year. Over time, teachers will no longer be paralyzed by technology and will become the "techy" teacher in their building.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#TEDxGPSHS Video Collection #edchat

Here are the TEDxGrossePointeSouthHS videos. There was a problem uploading one of them, but that should be corrected soon. I did place all of them in a Playlist if you want to save all of them for later. I will never be able to fully express how proud I am of these students and all of the students that made this event possible. Please leave a comment on the videos if you have a minute. It would mean so much to the students. Thanks for all of your support. I wouldn't have been able to do all of this without it. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Am I a Failure? #edchat

Today is the last day of school. I've packed up my things and I've entered all of my grades. I watched an amazing group of students graduate yesterday and I'm sitting at my desk wondering whether or not this year was a success.

I took the time to read all of my student reflection pieces on my class and 20 Time. There were plenty of kids that told me how much they loved the class and how blogging actually helped them become better writers. Others said 20 Time helped them find what mattered to them and they think all students should have do 20 Time at some points. They offered great suggestions to fine tune 20 Time for future students and wanted to see it continue. These comments were very nice and they made me smile. However, they were not all positive.

There were students that were very honest about how much they did not like 20 Time. They thought that the entire project was nice in theory, but just a tremendous waste of time. They would have rather spent their time doing more reading, analysis and other literature related lessons to better prepare them for their AP Lang class next year. A couple even said they felt unprepared for next year. These comments shook me to the core.

I strive to make sure that I reach every student and that every single one of them feel like they are in an environment that supports them in learning. For me, 20 Time was the best project for that because it gave the students the power to control what they wanted to explore. How could I fail at giving students the choice to explore their interests? In implementing 20 Time I had to make cuts in the curriculum. I trimmed fat that was not required and cut out assignments that I felt were nice, but redundant. By doing this, did I hurt my students for next year?

I understand that the perfect lesson is my white whale. In a group of 90, is it acceptable to have 15 that did not like the lesson at all be the deciding factor as to whether or not I bring a lesson back? How valuable is student feedback? I know it is important, but how much weight should it have in making decisions like this?

Some will tell me that 20 Time was a huge success and hosting a TEDx event is a great accomplishment. I'm very proud of TEDxGPSHS and the work my students did for 20 Time, but it bothers me to think that there are students that left my class feeling like I did not do my job. Maybe I need some more time removed from these year defining events and think more about what 20 Time, not only meant for my students, but meant for me. I'm just left with one question that will keep me busy this summer,

By not reaching all of my students, am I a failure?

Here is one thing that made me feel like a winner. 

This is a present from a graduating student. She made this as a thank you for being supportive of her art and her academic pursuits during her time at school. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

An Open Letter to My HAL Students #MRPHAL

Dear students,

I tried to sum up the year in the last few minutes of the exam and I sounded like a moron. I had everything so well thought out and I just rambled and bumbled my way thorough an incoherent sting of sentences. So, I thought I would do what I do best and write a few thoughts.

Above everything else, I want to make sure you know that I am so very proud of everything you have accomplished this year. I'm not just talking about 20 Time or TEDx, I'm talking about everything you have done this year. You have grown as writers and thinkers in an educational setting, but you have also grown as individuals. One of the best parts of this job is watching young adults mature and take the next step in their lives. While you may have stumbled along the way, all of you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and were ready to take the next step. No matter what life threw at you, you were ready for the challenge. Never think you cannot do anything you want. All of you have the capacity for greatness, you just have to be willing to step up and show the world.

I also want to thank you for following me in this crazy adventure this year. I'm always trying something new and I am terrible at hiding my excitement for new things. You rolled with the punches, let me fall flat on my face, and made sure I stood back up. There were days when I didn't bring my "A" game and you were more understanding of that than I probably was when you did not have yours. For those that did not take to projects and some of my others lessons, thank you for playing along. You could have made the class difficult and fought me tooth and nail, but you tried and I hope you walked away with something from those projects. I also want to thank you for your honesty. I can only get better when I get honest feedback from you. I want class to be better for the next group of students that sit in your seats and you are the best people to help me do that. I want to thank you for your sassiness. I think a class without a little push back and sass is a boring class. You always brought that and those were my favorite times. Lastly, thank you for the memories. The long conversations, the squirrel shaped student declaration of independence, the struggle for "Dream Team" status, the lib dub battle, the ginger jokes, Jane Gallagher, symbols everywhere or nowhere, "not guilty" verdicts, Utopian societies, blog posts, and so much more will be remembered long after you leave this classroom and this school.

Finally, I want to say good luck. You are all so very talented in your own special ways. Some of you are still looking for those talents, but when you find them, you are going to blow people away with your awesomeness. My door is always open to you for anything you need to talk about and, most importantly, my charging station is always available when your batteries are low. Have a great Summer and I'll see you in the Fall. Until then...Allons-y!

Mr P

TEDxGrossePointeSouthHS Crew

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mathbreakers - An Exciting Way To Approach Math #MathChat

Mathbreakers is launching a Kickstarter campaign and is looking for educators and parents to support this product. If you are interested in getting on board for this cool product, check out this link and share with your friends.

A friend introduced me to Mathbreakers a couple of months back and I was very interested in what I saw. Having always struggled in Math, I'm always open to new ways to teach it. I worry about my son coming home and needing help with this Math homework and I am of no use to him. I would love to break the cycle of bad Math in my house. I think Mathbreakers could do just that. 

I used to play MathBlaster growing up and it did help me get better at Math. Gamification really helped me embrace my dreaded subject when I had down time. I think Mathbreakers can do the same thing. Here is what Mathbreakers is according to their website, 

Mathbreakers is a revolutionary approach to grade-school mathematics. Instead of worksheets, students explore a rich 3-D world full of machines and monsters.

At first glance, it might look like Minecraft, Halo or any other 3-D game -- but in this world, everything is made of numbers. You can pick them up, chop them in half, and throw them around. The basic rule of Mathbreakers is that when two numbers touch, they add together and combine. Based on this simple mechanic, there are a host of challenges to overcome as you explore.

The simplicity of the game is something I love. Let the kids explore and discover Math as they have fun and complete quests. As an adult, I see myself diving in and having fun with my son as we explore this world and do simple Math. 

There is also a system in place that can allow teachers to set up classes and have a dashboard where all of the information on the work students have completed in the game can be stored. Here is an example of that dashboard,

The game is most best for grades 2-5 at the moment, but that will continue to grow as they build the game for users. Level editing is in the future as well, so students and teachers will be able to build their own levels and personalize lessons for their students. The future looks bright for Mathbreakers.

Monday, June 2, 2014

#20Time Thoughts and #TEDxGPSHS #edchat

This site has been pretty quiet the past couple of weeks. I have been very busy watching students give their TED Talks in the hopes of being chosen for TEDxGrossePointeSouthHS. It was not an easy decision, but I was able to narrow down a field of 40 passionate students to 15 speakers. Here is a list of the students speaking and a link to their blogs.

Over the course of this school year, I have just been hanging on day to day as these students went to do amazing things. I've been blessed to watch them struggle and overcome obstacles they thought they would never be able to do. 

I watched a student complete a marathon. 
I watched a student plan a Suicide Prevention Walk and raise over $9K despite early fears that nobody would attend. 
I watched as another student raised over $3K the following weekend for a 5K to benefit children with cancer. 

The list could go on and on about the amazing things I have been able to witness over the course of the school year. I have received praise from parents for 20 Time and I understand why they thank me, but all I did was get out of the way of some passionate students. 

Now, I'm excited to share to the world some of the best ideas that have come from these 20 Time projects. TEDxGPSHS was something I did not intend to do when I started 20 Time this year. I thought it was a long shot, but here we are. The event will be live-streamed, so stay tuned to my Twitter feed on Saturday morning for the link to watch 15 amazing students share their love of learning with the world. 

Thank you to everyone that supported me, but most importantly, supported my students and their whacky adventures in learning and self discovery this year. They needed all of the support they could get and all of you were there to cheer them onward. I'm forever in your debt for that. 

We are almost at the finish line and I can't wait to see what the ending will look like. 

Lauren R sprinting to the finish line to compete her first marathon.