Bucket Filling

This summer I started reading The Tipping Point.  I didn’t finish it.

This summer I started to listen to The World Is Flat on audiobook.  I didn’t finish it.

This summer I started reading How Full is Your Bucket?.  I finished it.

Oaks, Linda. bucket2.jpg. 2008. Pics4Learning. 18 Aug 2010 <http://pics.tech4learning.com>

Oaks, Linda. bucket2.jpg. 2008. Pics4Learning. 18 Aug 2010

I’ll be the first to admit that I ended last school year on a negative foot.  Without getting too detailed, I declare it was simply the year of a Perfect Storm.  Lots of factors compounded each day, making it harder and harder to be the positive, chipper educator I used to (and wanted to) be.  So this summer, as I sat through one of the worst classes I’ve ever attended, I did find one piece to grab ahold of and investigate further.

In between my graduate professor having us match up with our “elbow partners” to discuss the “most important point” and taking turns reading the subheadings on the book-provided PowerPoint, my professor mentioned Tom Rath’s book, How Full is Your Bucket? The text is built on the simple metaphor of a full bucket equating a fulfilling, positive life.  Each interaction either adds or subtracts a scoop of water into each person’s bucket.  While this is nothing revoluationary, it does help me, the visiual learner, to imagine this image during each interaction.

The book ends with the author challenging readers to spend a week mentally noting the “bucket effect” of each interaction:  Did you just add or subtract to that person’s bucket?  What did they do to your bucket?  What words or tones made it that way.  Can they be changed?

Rath challenges readers to practice a 5:1 “magic ratio” of bucket filling to bucket draining and cites more than enough statistical research to show how this ratio increasing productivity, your pleasure to be around, and even whitens your teeth (just making sure you’re still paying attention).

So as I enter a new year, I’m out of the negativity rut.  And I’m positive about it.

How Full is Your Bucket? is available is several versions including a cute children’s book and an educator’s edition.  It’s an incredibly quick read and offers supplemental website access.

Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees?

During one of those insanely early (probably 10:00AM) classes somewhere around my junior year of college, one of my education professors passed out paper applications for ASCD and explained (Charlie-Brown-teacher-style) the value in preservice teachers belonging to professional organizations.  Sure, she explained the many benefits of a subscription to the organization’s magazine Educational Leadership (as if we all needed a little more late-night reading material), but we all saw through the smoke and acknowledged the fact that “Two-year member of ASCD” would look just dandy on a future resume.

Or would it?

I’d like to look at two points.  1) Does belonging to a professional organization necessarily make a stronger educator?  2) In the age of the Twittersphere, blogs, and wikis, are professional organizations still the tool to use to measure one’s commitment to personal professional (oxymoron?) development?

1)  As I start to think long-term about my professional career (redundant?), I realize that there are a few steps that I need to take now to help me out in the future.  One day, I hope to be sitting across the table from an interview panel for a building principal position.  What happens, then, when the superintendent says, “Ryan, please give us some evidence of your belonging to some education-related professional organizations?”  If the interview was tomorrow, there’d be silence.  I’ll admit it – I don’t belong to any.  Sure, I joined ASCD for a year or so back in college, but the membership renewal probably came and well, being a senior in college…I may or may not have had a few other things on my mind.  Since then, I’ve received a healthy serving of mail and email offers from NCSS, NCTE, NCTM (give me a break, I’m not even licensed in math!), NEA, and of course, my old friends at ASCD.  To each I have politely thought, “If I had the money…,” and relocated it to the recycling bin.

So what if I hadn’t?  What if I re-budgeted the needed registration fees and I said to that superintendent, “I have been an active member of NCSS for four years, NCTE for six years, the NEA for four years, and ASCD for seven years.”  Would the superintendent hand me a contract and say, “Oh, well he’s qualified!”  What exactly does it mean to be a member of a professional organization? Technically speaking, it only means that you have paid the fees and filled out the paperwork.  Typically, one can also assume that the member has received opportunities in her/his inbox for discounted PD and maybe a pretty monthly organization magazine or two in the mail.

One of the buildings in my district recently received an ARRA Title II-D 21st Century Learning Environment Technology Grant (I think that’s the full name?).   One of the many benefits of the grant is the addition of a technology coach to the receiving school’s staff.  In appendix E of the grant specifications, they list both the requirements and desirable qualifications for the technology coach.  Microsoft Word - Round 2 ARRA Title II-D RFP2_16 - Powered by Google DocsOne of the desirable qualifications is for the candidate to have, “Current and past membership in professional organizations (e.g., instructional technology organizations – ASCD, Phi Kappa Gamma, NCTM or OCTM, SECO, OCTELA)….”  Where, in that requirement, is evidence of authentic professional development?

2)  Make no mistake, I get a healthy dose of professional development in the form of readings, dialoge, and exposure to innovation.  Mine even comes daily.  The development of my professional learning network (PLN) using primarily Twitter (Follow me @mrmalany) has increased my exposure to the education world exponentially!  I can get daily, customized online “newspapers” from paper.li and twittertim.es filled with up-to-date articles, videos, screencasts, wikis, forums, and podcasts tailored to specific components of the educational community that interest me.   I can participate in (or just monitor) weekly #edchat sessions and am looking forward to upcoming #elemchat sessions starting this Thursday.  Although all of these collaboration networks to free, up-to-date, individualized, and are made up of some of the strongest educators from around the world, they still aren’t held in as high regard as paying annual dues to an “official” professional organization.  Maybe they should be.

Take this away:

My guess is that I am likely to fire up the registration pages of some of the real professional organizations and type in my credit card number sometime in the near future.  When the day comes that I am actually sitting across from a superintendent, I’ll have the answer she or he wants.  And I’m sure I will get some development from these organization.  But to that, I’ll be sure to add my two cents about the unique gains my PLN has given me.  It’s priceless.  And when I’m interviewing teacher candidates for my building: bonus points on the hiring rubric if your resume’s contact info includes an “@”!

No Pronoun Days

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes we have to spice up our delivery of…well…boring content.  Although the historian jury is still out on the accuracy of what we teach about feudalism, my good friends in Columbus still tell me to teach it and threaten that it may appear on an 8th grade social studies achievement test (should the test ever resurface).  So I teach feudalism.

feudalism_4

Before

Feudalism is based on relationships between different groups of people.  So we spend calorie after calorieprocessing these relationships and dissecting the roles of kings, lords, vassals, and peasants.  The students are able to convert the first image on the IWB to the second through oral and written explanations.  By the end, they master it.

Feudalism Explained.mov

Students' Work After

Before we reach that point, however, I find my highest students getting bored with the repetition and are no longer getting anything out of the slightly-varied explanations.  And thus was born, No Pronoun Day.

Need a blast-from-the-past pronoun review?

The idea is really quite simple.  Instead of my students demonstrating their mastery with, “He gives him some land.  Then he hires him to protect the castle from him.  But he doesn’t do this for free so he…,” I watch as even my highest students methodically and meticulously draw arrows and explain, “The king gives the lord some land.  Then the lord hires the vassal to protect the castle from the vikings. But the knight doesn’t do this for free so the lord…”  See the difference?  But that only authentically engages one of the 31 students.  So I added this kink: when the explainer slips up and uses a pronoun, the audience has permission to rudely yell, “Who’s [pronoun]?!”  It looks something like this:

High student brags to table about how easy this challenge will be – gets called on and goes to IWB.

High student: Here’s how feudalism works.  The king owns lots of land and marries the queen.  The king gives some of the land to the king’s friend, a lord.  The lord needs help protecting his cas…

Class: WHO’S HIS?!

High student is frustrated (the good kind) and asks for a second attempt.

High student: Again, feudalism works like this.  The king owns a whole bunch land and marries the queen.  The king has a friend, a lord, and the king gives some of the king’s land to the lord.  The lord needs help protecting the lord’s castle from the vikings because they ar….

Class: WHO’S THEY?!

High student sits down, flustered (again, the good kind) and low student who has been actively watching/listening goes to the IWB.

Low student: Here’s feudalism.  The king has a bunch of land…”

Low student explains feudalism perfectly and “gets past” the high student’s point in our feudalism narrative.  Self-esteem is raised, objectives are met.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Simon Says

Over the next few weeks, I hope to tackle a few of the blog “drafts” that I’ve started throughout the school year, but just haven’t had the time to sit down and finish them.  After some of those “good teaching days,” I’d pull up my TeachToYearn dashboard, type in a few words to help me remember the day’s reflections, and save it as a draft.  Now to undraft! Dedraft? Whatever.

Play “Simon Says…”  Sounds simply, doesn’t it?  Last year, I taught seventh grade social studies.  I was always so proud of these 12 and 13 year olds for digging in their proverbial heals to master some fairly abstract concepts such as class systems, productive resources, democracy, and republic as they learned contributions and locations from civilizations whose names they couldn’t really pronounce.  Despite by best efforts (read: four trillion calories burned) to keep their pubescent minds focused on world history, sometimes I just had to mix it up a bit.

So one Tuesday in early May, we played “Simon Says…”  I’m pretty sure Simon Says, Marco Polo, and Heads Up-Seven Up are the only three games in the world that literally require no rule explanations.  They must cover those three in the neonatal units.  Anyhow.  It was one of those days were seventh graders seemed to have forgotten the daily (yeah, daily) routine/procedure of enter-the-room-silently-while-looking-at-the-IWB-to-get-instructions (I remember them doing it once one day in late August.). Moving for a more directive approach, I exclaimed, “Simon says grab your journal and answer the question on the board!”  Suddenly the clouds parted, a pair of doves fluttered through the opened door, and angels appeared humming, “Kum-bay-ya.”  The kids started working!

The wheels were in motion.  The remainder of the day was filled with, “Simon says take out last night’s homework,” and, “Simon says Rachael go to the SMARTboard and explain yesterday’s notes.”  Heck and darn…they did it all.  And when I’d forget the obligatory preface, even the class’s most unengaged students would perk up to let me know, “SIMON DIDN’T SAY!”  I’ll take that.

Netflix Wasn’t the Answer

netflix

Image Courtesy: Netflix Media Center

For years, I’d receive my bi-monthly mailing from my friends at Netflix trying to convince me that I should sign up for a free trial offer.  And for years, each envelope was wasted postage on Netflix’s end.  They all ended up in the trash.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend about movies when he mentioned that Netflix “instant streaming” can now be streamed through my Wii console.  I went home and signed up for my trial.

Several weeks in, I thought I was on to the new sliced bread.  I used Netflix at school to stream “Scooby Doo: Where’s My Mummy” during a study hall day when no one had homework. (Fear not, it fit my Egypt standards.) After staying up way past my bedtime watching my first episode of “24” one night, I was able to stream the whole first season one weekend on the Wii.  I spent a manly Saturday afternoon with “No Country for Old Men.”  And I spent a date night with “Yes Man” and Elizabeth.

I was convinced that my ten bucks a month investment in Netflix had revolutionized the way I watched movies. Past tense.

Tonight, Elizabeth suggested we watch, “Office Space,” as she had never seen it and had heard several of our friends quote it recently.  After I picked my jaw off the floor, I immediately reached for the Wiimote to start the streaming.  I searched, and searched, and searched. (Note: the Netflix Wii interface is a disaster when searching for a specific movie!)  No Wii streaming.  No browser streaming.  Netflix fail.

I jumped in the truck and headed to Family Video to spend my $1.07 to get the flick for five nights.  I got to thinkin’.

And here comes the parallel.  We have to remember, as educators, that there’s no cure-all.  There’s no one method, one book, one lesson, one approach, one theory, one path to student success.  We’re dealing with dynamic, independent, breathing creatures.  God put a pretty complex mind in each one of them that despite the newest research and approaches, we still know very little about.

As I transition into my new position as a 5th grade language arts and social studies teacher, I’m getting hit from several directions (both from self-seeking and mandated programs from my district) about the way to teach.  There isn’t one.  Netflix wasn’t the answer.  Teaching takes learning…and I don’t mean on the students’ part.  If we want to touch dynamic students, we must be dynamic teachers.  “Lifelong learner” shouldn’t be something we put on resumes and cover letters.  It should be a checkbox on administrators’ interview form.

It Just Looks Good!

Imagine this scenario:

You put a blank piece of a paper in front of a 12 or 13 year old child and ask her/him to create an illustration that represents her/him.  A collage, a diagram, maybe a map?  Surely they’ll include a person or two (your more advanced drawers may even go beyond The Stick Man).  They may even add a little shadow or dimension. Nevertheless, unless, by chance, you happen to be working with a future Van Gogh, the resulting illustration may be refrigerator-worthy at best.

And that’s where Web 2.0 come into play.  I contend the following:  Students (and adults for that matter) enjoy profile, document, and media creation using Web 2.0 apps because it just looks good.

Students are able to create content that is neat, organized, and makes the creator appear as an artist!  Take, for example, a recent project my students worked on.  They used an internal, open source social network called elgg to create “fake”Greek Projects_ Zeusprofiles of historic Greek figures or Greek mythology characters.  The students entered “about me” info, made up contact details, explained their location, predicted “interests,” etc.  When they were finished, they “friended” me so that I can see their profiles.  The old-school alternative? “Make a poster about your Greek character.”  I’m going to predict the latter assignment’s product to be sloppier, harder to share, and I’ll go as far as predicting: boring.

Another example.

When we studied Buddhism and Hinduism and I gave the students lots of options for presenting their group’s topic, an overwhelming majority chose someBuddhism Presentaion. _ text, images, music, video | Glogster sort of Web 2.0 app.  One of my Buddhism groups chose Glogster to make what I call, “virtual posters.”  Just as if I placed construction paper and a tub of markers in front of the group, they planned, designed, and created a canvas of content to share with others.  Their canvas, however, had animations, cheesy graphics, roll-over sounds effects, embedded videos, etc.  They took their traditional (and by ‘traditional,’ I of course mean, ‘boring’) methods of conveying information to the next level.  It didn’t matter who had better handwriting or if they ruler lines were straight or even if the marker they’re using started to run out of ink halfway through the third bubble letter!  Taking their content to the web provided a cleaner, more manageable and collaboration-friendly working environment.

My seventh graders are early in this process.  Unfortunately, they’re not used to expressing themselves academically with digital media.  I’ll admit it: they get caught up in the process and the content suffers.  For now, I’ll let that go from time to time.

Next year it looks like my building will have some “guided study halls.”  Maybe I can teach a Web 2.0 class?

Goodbye User Accounts

A couple things have happened over the last couple weeks that have me thinking.  It all started with the all-too-common news that more cuts were coming our way in the district.  Long story, short: if May’s levy doesn’t pass, our district’s technology department, consisting of a technology administrator and a recently-added technology assistant, will lose the latter of the two positions.  As our technology administrator cautioned the Board of Education at the March meeting, the loss of this position will force him to make drastic cuts within the technology hardware, support, and programs that are currently offered.  One such “program” is the fact that each student in our district (2,000ish K-12) has her/his own student account/login on our MacOS district server.  This allows students to login, configure settings (desktop pictures seems to be the favorite pastime of the month), store photos and documents, and personalize Dashboard widgets.

About the same time, the stars aligned and district’s technology assistant delivered six IBM Ubuntu-running ThinkPads to my classroom.  This was in addition to the two that I already had in my classroom.  I also have two iPod Touches (one school-owned, one personal), my MacBook Pro, and two OS X eMacs, an OS X Intel iMac, and six Ubuntu-running thin-clients (old, gutted iMacs).  In short, quite the hodgepodge! I’m proud to say that students leave my classroom experienced in multiple platforms!

On the iPods and “new” ThinkPads, the students aren’t able to access their user accounts (sure, they can FTP to them from their student dashboard page, but who really does that?).  Despite that flaw, I was able to setup an entire two-day lesson.  Here’s how it went:

Students were in groups of three with each group assigned to a machine/device.  They were given a guiding WebQuest packet (note: to all of you die-hard WebQuesters, I’m sorry, but I often break the traditional mold of what a true “WebQuest” is supposed to be!).  They accessed the appropriate

Ancient Rome WebQuest Answer Form

links on my classroom website and completed the assignment.  They then transfered their responses a Google form I has setup using GoogleDocs.  Each group submitted their responses and it made for easy grading.  The lesson turned out to produce some great exposure, educational dialoge (often arguing over and defending answers) between students, and great formative assessment for me before our final unit test.  Oh, and the kids enjoyed it.

Okay, the meat  of the post (for real).  I made a HUGE observation during each of my six classes.  The students who were on iPods, my laptop, or the ThinkPads were hard at work a good four or five minutes before the students logging on to the MacOS machines!  Seriously.  As each group went to their respective macine/device, some students only had to open the lid of the laptop and the browser was ready to go with the first website!  The other groups faced a variety of hurdles before their screen displayed anything educational.  These included forgotten passwords, misspelled usernames, students “locked out” because they forgot to logout somewhere else on the network or the last machine they were on had crashed, startup applications (at some point, many of the students have set iCal to open upon startup), etc.  Okay, now they’re logged in.  Next came group discussion over which browser to use, Safari or Firefox.  When Firefox won, there was the wait while the app checked for plugin updates, gave errors about past sessions, and restored tabs from said sessions.  MEANWHILE, their classmates who didn’t face user accounts were already adding Roman numerals and watching embedded presentations about gladiators.

The moral of the story:  Let’s dump the user accounts!  I certainly realize that from a managerial point-of-view, their are some essential components to user accounts that make them ideal for a school setting.  These include tracking/monitoring activity, storing usernames and passwords in the browser, setting bookmarks, and probably many others that tech administrators require.  That being said, my job is to teach.  Watching half my class become engaged in the content a full five minutes faster than the other half is enough of a selling point for me! With my students completing more and more word processing and presentation design using [online-stored] GoogleDocs, a personalized Documents folder on a student-account is quickly becoming obsolete!  With the elimination of our computer class next year (again, cuts), students no longer have a class dedicated to photo, video, or audio management and won’t be needing dedicated server space to house that content.

I love the idea of user accounts.  I love each child having a unique username.  I love the idea of students personalizing their computing experience with themes, desktop pictures, widgets, etc.  I love the idea of students securely storing their personal content.  But unfortunately, I also love the idea of time-on-task. Let’s maximize it.

eTech Session Notes: Cellphones and Mobile Technologies

MY THOUGHTS IN CAPS

Rick Abbott, KHS Principal is introducing Ryan.

Ryan is giving his background information.  Ran out of handouts so directing people to his site.  Explaining the backchanneling methods (cell phones, Twitter hashtag (#rc).

Giving the background of KCS: 750 student machines, etc.

Introducing polleverywhere.com.  Showing people how to subscribe to his polleverywhere account and testing it by asking about the teaching positions of the audience.

SEEMED TO WORK PRETTY WELL.  INTERESTING THAT RYAN REALIZED THE POLL DIDN’T REFLECT THE WHOLE AUDIENCE (AS NOT EVERYONE IN THE ROOM HAS A DEVICE), JUST AS I FEAR MOBILE COMPUTING IN THE CLASSROOM (NOT ALL KIDS WILL HAVE DEVICES).

Talking about the history of computing.  AH, THE MEMORIES OF A MAC CLASSIC AND AN APPLE 2+.

Showing a quote from Western Union stating that there was no future need for a landline telephone.

Transitioning now to modern mobile devices (netbooks, iPod Touch, iPhone, Nokia N900, and game systems (PSP/DSi).  Now Apple’s iPad, HP Slate, and Archos 5 Internet tablet with Android enter the market.

Showing data to show number of iPod Touches found on network registry per buildings in Kenton City Schools.  I’M NOT SURPRISED TO SEE THAT SEVERAL STUDENTS HAVE IPODS.  WE SEE THEM BEFORE AND AFTER SCHOOL EACH DAY.

Ryan shared that a huge percentage of students in even elementary have cell phones and texting plans.  BUT WHAT ABOUT THE 5% WHO DON’T HAVE THE CELLS?  WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO HAVE CELLS AND THEY’RE PREPAY AND NO TEXTING PLANS?  HOW DO THESE PLAY INTO MOBILE COMPUTING IN THE CLASSROOM?

Ryan’s famous quote: “Every time you open the lid to a laptop, it creates a wall, or a barrier, between the teacher and the student.”

Discussing that he sees many high school kids texting in front of the school before school starts and wants to harness this “downtime” for OGT review.

Discussing that the number of cell phones are on the rise and we, as educators, need to take advantage of this growth rate.

Watching a Simpsons episode citing the need to manage cell phones.

More statistics on cell phones/voice/texting.

Explaining www.k7.net.  This is a free service that gives you a number out of Washington state (206).  Gives you a voicemail that you can give to others.  SOUNDS A LOT LIKE GOOGLE VOICE TO ME, ALTHOUGH LESS FEATURES.

Showing www.YouMail.com which allows for visual voicemail, customized greetings, and voicemail retrieval from phone, email, and web.

Showing GoogleVoice and calling it “the Cadillac of voicemails”.

Showing www.drop.io which will save audio/video recordings.  Allows for conference calls.

Discussing now the question, “Why text?”

Showing TextMarks.com which allows for one to many, one to one, and many to many communications.

Discussing Twitter and using it for KCS for delays, announcements, and football scores.  Many clients available for it.

Discussing Google’s SMS searching (466453)

Discussing using MMS to send media messages to users.

Discussing that a huge number of novels in Japan were written on a cell phone.  Ryan uses his iPod Touch.  Uses Evernote. YES, I’M A BIG FAN!

Quick overview of the use of Podcasts. Notes that you don’t need an iPod.

Many sites now have mobile versions of their sites (m.facebook.com).

Now discusses the challenges/concerns about mobile device computing in education.  Costs, off-task students, filtering, inappropriate communications, teacher and student training, etc.

Finishes with another Simpsons clip.

GOOD PRESENTATION – SEVERAL GOOD SITES SHARED AND WAYS TO USE THEM IN THE CLASSROOM.  NOW TO GET BOARD APPROVAL!

Sometimes they just want to be kids…

Last year, I was trying desperately to avoid the all-too-common Day Before Christmas Break Christmas Puzzle Worksheet Day in my seventh grade social studies, English, and reading classes.

I had been working with my English and reading students to use context clues to identify unknown words for the past several weeks and the afternoon before the last day, I came up with my idea!

Borrowing my school’s new video camera, I headed home to put this together:

Along with the video, each student group had a packet of the lyrics to the poem (which we watched twice) with several words (nestled, coursers, peddler, droll, etc.) underlined.  On a separate paper, the students had to come up with their own definitions or synonyms of the words.

Want to know the craziest thing?  THEY LOVED IT! Make no mistake…there was plenty of giggling at this glimpse into their teacher’s personal world (“Nice PJs, Mr. Malany!”  “Is that your house?!”).  I’ll take it.  They loved being read to!  They loved expression.  They loved getting to feel like they were seven or eight instead of the social pressures that come with having to appear twelve or thirteen (going on sixteen)!  They wanted to watch it over and over.

It made me feel a little guilty for not making it even more dramatic (Read: It took like six different takes for me to start the camera, read without messing up, stop the camera, then watch the footage only to see that the darn auto-focus was freaking out with the lights on the tree).  Be the time I was had an acceptable video, I was done adding much expression!

Nothing revolutionary here.  Just a reminder that kids like being kids from time to time.  I showed the video again this year to my students (of course, they thought I made it especially for them) and they still loved it.  Read to kids.  Parents, teachers, all those who get the chance: read to kids.  They might not get it anywhere else.

Backchanneling in the Classroom?

I was first introduced to public speaking backchanneling when I attended a session by my district’s technology coordinator, Ryan Collins, at eTech Ohio’s 2009 conference.  During the session, he used several different backchanneling methods (I don’t remember the specific services.) to relatively instantly gather background information about his audience.  Additionally, he was able to provide a medium that the participants were able to submit questions or reflect on comments he has made during the presentation.  Essentially, it was instant (and silent!) collaboration.

The thing I noticed most about this, was that all of the participants in the backchanneling process had to be completely engaged in the presentation.  That’s what I strive for EVERYDAY with EACH of my students.  Admittedly, the extent of engagement in my classroom is all too often listen-to-what-I’m-saying-and-write-it-in-your-notes.  Bleh.

So that’s where the idea of students backchanneling to me (I’m not sure if I used the verbiage correctly there) during lessons comes in.  Has anyone used this successfully?  What services are available?  Which are better than others?  How can one student backchanneling be beneficial to all my students?  Are there some hidden benefits here for absent students to utilize?  Other thoughts or advice?