Friday, December 20, 2013

Critical Thinking from the Classroom to the Job Site

Of my most valued skills that I learned in my undergraduate studies at Occidental College, the most important was to think critically.  I learned to do this in the classroom, in conversations with professors, in my own studies, on the football field, and dealing with my schoolmates.
What is critical thinking?  I think of it, in it's most basic sense, as problem solving, the analysis of the problem, the searching for a solution, and the decision on the course of action, and the implementation of the solution.
I always ask my students "how" and "why" questions in order to get them to think critically as to how and why things happened in the past, how and why they're happening now, and how and why they may happen in the future.  I don't want them to tell me what, when, or where.
They always ask me if my AP US History class is a "names and dates class."  I invariably give them a resounding "NO!"  I use an especially deep voice for emphasis.  In history, we have to understand, analyze and explain, not just regurgitate "facts."  I always get snickers when I tell them we have a four letter word that begins with "F" and that word is, "fact."
We need to dig deeper and gain as good of an understanding as we can in order to gain anything from a study of history or any of the social sciences.
As a teacher, I'd like my students to be great critical thinkers.  I would like them to know the answers to questions like, "How did the cotton gin transform the cotton industry and affect the growth of slavery?" or "Was the Civil War inevitable?  If so, why?  If not, why not?"  In our projects, we are forever having to solve problems, create solutions, and communicate the results of the process.  In fact, we can use rubrics to judge the critical thinking involved in a project like this one from the Buck Institute for Education, Critical Thinking.  Another way of thinking about critical thinking is moving higher on Bloom's Taxonomy and getting toward analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
So, back to critical thinking and how it moves from the classroom to the job site.  I ran into a great little series of videos from Soomo Publishing the other day.  Soomo are the people who put out the great US history videos, "Too Late to Apologize" and "Bad Romance."  If you're a US history teacher, you should definitely use those videos in your class!  Soomo is a publishing house that builds online textbooks and other educational resources.  The videos I liked are as follows, "Critical Thinking on the Job," "Critical Thinking on the Job: Problems,"  and "Critical Thinking on the Job: Decisions."  These videos follow three men on their jobs, one is a mechanic, one is a restauranteur, and one is a sound technician.  I love this series for two main reasons, they follow people who are constantly running into and solving problems, and none of these jobs require higher degrees.  They require training and experience, but no PhD.
The workers seem to enjoy their jobs, but are constantly thinking on their feet and solving problems.  They each have their own processes to reach their solutions, but they each know what they are, and they each use them to discover the root of each issue and then figure out a way to come up with an answer to their question.
Lately in my Econ/Gov classes, I have been asking my students to build personal budgets and then balance them.  They were also asked to develop a tax plan for a fictitious country.  In each case the students were posed a series of questions and problems they were asked to answer and solve and they all grappled differently with developing their answers and solutions and many more times than once, I told them my standard mantra, "If you don't learn anything more in this class than how to answer this question, you will be fine in the future."
No my classes are not "names and dates classes!"  They're critical thinking classes.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Criticism and Judgement How and Why

Last week I got a thoughtful article from The New York Times via Twitter, Giving Feedback That Works.  It was aimed at business people who evaluate and give feedback to their underlings.  The writer, Tony Schwartz, did a great job of highlighting the concerns about the vulnerability of the recipient as well as the idea of whether the employee goes into fight or flight mode, and finally how the focus of the feedback views the criticism. He also explained how an evaluator can overcome these obstacles.  As a teacher and a coach, I tell my students and players that my job is to judge them and help them get better, which is one place where this excellent article fell short.
Schwartz wrote about how criticism can make people feel vulnerable as they're being told of the their shortcomings and how this may make them either push back against the critique or move away from it, fight or flight.  He also wrote of the perhaps diametrically opposed viewpoint of the employee toward the judgement being handed down upon them.  All of these hurdles can be taken down by thoughtful evaluators.
However, one main issue that wasn't addressed was the motivation behind the judgement and criticism and that is to help the recipient get better.  If both the judge and judged agree and trust in the idea that the goal is improved performance, many of Schwartz' issues can be easily overcome.  However, the evaluator needs to make sure that the employee or student or player never forgets that improvement is always the goal and that individual betterment will help the business, class, or team as well as the individual.
In the end, is the goal improvement?  If so, we need to make sure that the employee, student, or player knows that first and foremost upfront.  This takes consistent and regular effort toward building a positive relationship between the boss and employee, teacher and student, player and coach.  We also need to make sure that the recipient is clear that both parties know that criticism is hard to receive, but that both parties are invested in helping the person get better and moving beyond the criticism.  Finally, we need to make sure that both parties see the issue from as close to the same perspective as possible.  If that's the case, then the critique is much more likely to be received in the best possible attitude for improvement and that's why we're making the judgement and giving the feedback in the first place, right?  We can work our way through the minefield of obstacles in the effort to give feedback and help the employee, student, or player get better, which in the end is everybody's goal.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We Need Problem Solvers! (Students, Fellow Teachers, and Myself Included)

Last week I toured the Midwest and ended up in Phoenix as I gave a series of seminars to teachers on how to use technology better in social studies classrooms.  One of the main themes I wanted the teachers to follow was the need to help our students and ourselves learn to solve problems.
Early in the session, I showed the teachers the following video on Learned Helplessness (after the opening ad).  Once upon a time, I had learned the concept of learned helplessness, but this advertisement gave me a completely new view on the concept and galvanized my desire to help our students and ourselves avoid such absurd and in reality not so absurd situations.
Over the course of the week, I gave a series of uneven presentations and got a series of uneven evaluations from the teachers.  How could I avoid this inconsistency?  How could I solve this problem?  No sooner had I posed the question of how to develop problem solvers, than I faced it myself.
Just as I had been trained in schools, through my experience in private enterprise and years on the football field, I realized I needed to analyze the problem and break it into its component parts.  I realized  that I needed to put myself into the shoes of the teachers who attended my sessions and view myself from their perspectives.  What were they looking to learn and was I delivering that?  How were my points being delivered and received?  Were my points clear and concise and delivered sharply?  Was I overdoing one aspect and underdoing another more desired aspect?
My analysis forced me to reflect on my structure and delivery, as well as the underlying tenets and beliefs inherent in my seminar
I walked myself through the different aspects of my presentations and realized that I needed to clarify the structure and delivery of my content.  I needed to strengthen my transitions, while also explicitly introducing and closing the points I wanted to make.  I also needed to add more interaction between the teachers and the concepts I wanted them to examine.  I needed to move through my points more sharply and more quickly and explicitly to keep the teachers on point as well helping them learn more concepts.
My presentations will be better and the teachers will learn and think more while taking more away with them as my structure, transitions, and points will be clearer.
As I had posed a question to the teachers, I posed it to myself.  The teachers, students, and I will all benefit from the result.  In the end, I believe it is this cycle of problem solving and constant improvement through reflection and analysis that is the bedrock of good teaching and I felt good to be a part of that process.  We will all learn how to get ourselves off the escalator!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Minarets, Mariposa, Yosemite, Wawona, North Fork Field Trip and More

Let's get out of the classroom!  Let's go see local US history!  Let's go see the local native history and the local settler history and the Gold Rush history in one day!
That's what we said last year and it was great and this year was better.
First, we had a driving question-- How does this trip and the history I learn affect me and my understanding of history locally and nationally?
Second, I had a better understanding of how the trip would go.
Third, we had a documenter who will take our experiences and put them to video.
Finally, we set out to build a Teaching with Historical Places lesson plan.  The National Park Service has a great set of teaching resources centered around the National Register of Historical Places.  When I first came across these lessons, I looked for Yosemite and found there were none for one of the oldest National Parks in the United States.  We are going to use our experiences and other web resources to build a lesson for our field trip so other teachers and students can benefit and learn like we did even if they learn nowhere 
We left school at about 8:45 and got to the Mariposa Court House at about 9:45 and we toured the oldest continuously used courthouse west of the Rockies.  From there we headed over to the Mariposa Museum and History Center for a one hour tour of the exhibits illustrating Gold Rush and settler history and John C Fremont inside the museum.  After that, we drove up the Merced River to the Yosemite Museum and got there right about Noon.  We spent about an hour and a half checking out the great exhibits illustrating Yosemite's Native history as well as the geological and natural history of the Valley in the Visitor's Center.  Last year we took a stroll through the Valley with a great self-guided tour, but it was raining and time was running short, so we headed up the hill to Wawona and the Pioneer History Center.  We toured the houses of the 1800's and early 1900's to gain a better understanding of what the settlers went through back in the day.  From there we headed down to North Fork and the Sierra Mono Museum.  We got there just after 4:00, which meant the museum was closed, but we took the great self-guided path behind the museum to see how the Monos viewed and used the local plant life.  After about a half hour, we got back in the cars and drove back to Minarets where we arrived at 5:00 on the dot!
Beyond getting out of the classroom and getting home on time, why was this a beneficial day?  
On the most basic level, we were able to gain a better understand the geography of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite.  In eight hours of driving and touring we went from about 1500 feet in elevation at Minarets to about 2200 feet in Mariposa to 4000 feet in Yosemite Valley over 8000 as we climbed out of the Valley back to about 4000 in Wawona to about 2500 in North Fork.  
We also gained an understand of the distance of our drive.  We travelled about 170 miles in about four hours of driving.  One leg of our drive from Yosemite Valley to Wawona took us about 45 minutes, but would have taken us eight hours if we'd taken a horse-drawn wagon like the one we saw on display in Wawona.
We also saw a glimpse of the reality of our ancestors both Native and settler.  We saw the tools, the dwellings, and the clothing that our predecessors used.  We learned that they were busy just doing the day to day chores that kept them living.  We have a better understanding of who they were and what they did.  
On all of these levels, we will dive much more deeply as we build our lesson plan and as we move forward in US History.  We will reach back to our experiences and compare them to how people lived in different place and at different times.  Now we have much more than just our own experiences to compare our history to.
I hope this experience will give my students a better idea of how their ancestors lived and how that affected how history unfolded as to who was elected president and what were the issues of the day.  We also hope to be able to help others from across the world do the same with our lesson plan.  Keep your eyes open for it!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Twitter, Rural Schools, and PLN's

How do I get help when I'm the only teacher in my school who teaches my classes or subject?  How can I help others and share ideas when no one else in my school teaches what I teach?  The answer is Twitter!
I have two other social studies teachers in my school and as much as I love working with them and sharing resources, they don't teach the classes I teach.  When I'm looking for new ideas, I have to look outside my school and this is why Twitter is so helpful.  Also, when I find something really helpful, I can return the favor through Twitter.
My wife is in the same boat, but she's new to Twitter.  She has had great Professional Learning Networks at her old schools, but now she's on her own.
My advice to her basically mirrors a previous blog post I made, How and Why I've Grown to Love Twitter.  She needs to start in a direction she understands and can see what she's getting from Twitter.  For instance, I liked Twitter as a newsfeed from major news outlets that provided me with a steady stream of topical current events subjects.  Since then, my understanding and use of Twitter has grown exponentially.
Here's a helpful link I found last week on Twitter, of all places, Seven Ways to Get More Out of Twitter.  I like most of the suggestions, but I always hesitate when I see the subject of followers or following others.  I feel that you can have too many accounts to follow and can get inundated with tweets that you'll never have time to read, but at the same time, as you get to know Twitter better, there are all sorts of ways to find what you want in your tweets or out in the Twittersphere.
I have found that the bottom line with Twitter involves checking it regularly, but not obsessively.  I spend 10-15 minutes every morning checking my Tweet Box and I also look into some of my best sources and see what they have tweeted since I last checked, but then I get on to whatever I'm working on.  Later in the day, I may go back and search more particularly for a specific answer to a question I have.
I also have found that you get what you give.  When you join in a conversation and/or share a resource, you will find more and better Tweeps (people on Twitter) to follow who will have all sorts of different ideas, perspectives, and resources of their own.
In the last year, I have started slowly on Twitter and have since embraced it, but only lately have I begun to see how as a rural teacher, Twitter has become a lifeline toward the outside world.  I can interact with other likeminded teachers, who are geographically isolated, but connected through Twitter.
Are you a rural teacher, who uses or would like to use Twitter?  If so, let me know how it's going.
Here are a few Twitter resources and guides:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Two Great Tools in the Last Two Days

In the last two days I've come upon two different tools.  The first, the Google Cultural Institute, I had come across before and liked, but not like I like it now after seeing the Eiffel Tower collection.  I got the tip from Richard Byrnes' always good Free Tech 4 Teachers.  These collections are awesome.  The Eiffel Tower's views from the top are great if you've ever been to Paris or ever want to go.  The old plans and drawings along with the history of the contest that created it are great.  The British Museum Collection is awesome as well!  Have fun with the Google Cultural Institute
The other tool I came across is potentially a game changer for me.  If it works like it says it does, it's what I've been waiting for.  The tool is Touchcast.  It's an interactive video maker and viewer for the iPad.  There is a very helful review here in the The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).  If you have iPads in your classroom, Touchcast could transform your classroom.  If you don't like me, you can use it for make your own quick but high res videos with all sorts of gadgets built in.  Touchcast calls them vapps and if they are as easy to build in as they are to use in the sample videos, they'll be great.  Take a look at their promo video and read the TUAW review and take it for a test drive.  It's free.  I'm going to play with it this Summer and I'll let you know how it goes.  Let me know what you find out.  Have fun!

How do we know our students?

We have a group of students in our classrooms.  Who are they?  How do we get to know them and continue to know them?
How do we get started?
We all have icebreakers, but do they do more than break the ice?  Ice breaking is important as we want students to begin to feel comfortable, but if we don't begin getting to know our students from the outset of our class, we're going to lose valuable time that will need to be recovered later.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we used Google Earth at the summer program I'm working at to break the ice and learn who the students are as they come from all over the world.  We had them say their names and hometowns and then I plugged their hometowns into Google Earth and we watched the globe turn until it settled on their hometown.  From there they had to tell us their school and something about their school or neighborhood.  Within about 20 minutes, we had traveled the globe and saw where the kids were from and learned something about them and their homes.  We didn't need to break the ice.  The ice had been broken as all the students had spoken to the entire class and had shared something about their homes and we also knew all their names and had some context in which to place them.
In my psychology class at Minarets, we have students present "collages" from the second day on.  They have to create a visual with a number of images that "represent" themselves and then they have two minutes to "present" themselves in front of the class.  This collage project is something I have used for at least 15 years from before the time of technology.  The students explain themselves, have to use visuals to do that, and they have to get up in front of the class and talk about all sorts of different subjects that they don't normally talk about in class.  I make sure that I stay intentionally vague on the assignment and there is no rubric.  I merely say that I'm looking for effort.  I want them to produce their "own" project and with any effort, it should be an easy A.  From the beginning, we've started psychology with the focus on the students.  They have started from their own perspective and we go from there.  However, from a "get to know" perspective.  I have a ton of information to work with as I find a way to teach them.
In my economics/government classes, our students are assigned to complete an interview project.  They are asked to complete the following assignment, Interview Project

Once again, we get to know some of the student's life context right from the start of the class and each student presents something from their life that connects to the class.  Obviously, it's not as intimate as the collage project, but the focus is on the student and the student's perspective is where each student starts.
This is how I start my "regular lane" classes and I do similar, but more academically taxing intro projects in my AP Econ/Government and AP US History classes.  I'll get into those tomorrow.
How do you start your classes in a manner that helps you learn who your students are?  Let me know.  I'd love to hear about you start your classes.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What Makes a Great Student?!?

What makes a great student?  Would we know one when we saw one?  I think back through my years of teaching and I can see in my mind's eye a bunch of great students.  I loved working with most of those kids, but some I didn't like at all.
What connects them?  Is there anything?
Motivation?  Motivation certainly helps, but some weren't motivated when I first met them and they caught the fire eventually.
As I start to try to gather commonalities I find more dissimilarities.  Hmmm!  What makes a great student?
Once again, I think back to my former students and I think of my very best and as soon as I do, I can think of another great student I've worked with who doesn't fit that mold at all.
Maybe I'm coming at it from the wrong angle.  Maybe it's a matter of how a student becomes great.  How does a student become great?
Now I'm starting to realize that I'm chasing my tail.  I'm not going to catch this one.  Why not?
It doesn't take long to realize that in some ways the original question is absurd.
Is there a single GREAT student?  How do we know?
Do we need to know?
How about if we teach the students working with us, great or not?  What if we develop relationships with all of them in a way that we get the most out of whoever is in the room with us?
Does that mean that all students are great?  Wait!  Am I back chasing my tail?  Here we go again?
No, let's go back to the students who are in the room with us.  These kids are our task.  Great or not great, they are our task.  We need to help them learn.  What does it take?  That's the question.
How can we teach the students in the room with us?  It's not who is great or not, it's how do we learn who these people are?  It's how do we learn how they learn?
We've got to do this quickly, because we need to learn how to help them learn.  How do we do this?  What do you think?  I'd like to hear them.  I have some ideas, which I'll get into tomorrow...

Friday, July 12, 2013

More Infographics! I can't get enough of them!

Before you read anything, you need to see this infographic--13 Reasons Your Brain Craves Infographics.  If that one doesn't work really well, here is the static version--13 Reasons Your Brain Craves Infographics.  Thank you edudemic!  They Tweeted and blogged the static version with the link to the mega-HTML and interactive version (click on the hypertext citations!).  Wow, on so many levels!
Please let me say it again, I love infographics.  More importantly, the kids love infographics.
What a well-cited infographic on infographics!  (Can I use the term "infographic" more often?)
Let's get to why these visuals are so good and helpful for my high school learners.  First off, I will certainly use this in my psychology classes as it gets to the core of what we call visual capture and the dominance of vision over our other senses.  The best example of visual capture is a movie theater where we "see" the voices coming from the mouths on the screen, but they're actually coming from the speakers all around us.  We also remember what we see better than what we hear.
I will also use this infographic to help my students build better presentations.  If they want us to be better engaged when they get to the front of the class, they better use good visuals.
I'm going to use it in my professional development seminars when I teach teachers for the same reason.  If our teachers want our students to learn and remember better...
Don't forget the great citations.  (Yes, I'm a history teacher at heart!)  Citations can be used and they don't mess up the visuals!  There's proof for our students.  You can show them this visual and show them how well it's been cited and there are no more arguments against citations in presentations.
My main caveat with infographics is that they're often not well-cited.  My first move after finding an infographic is to go to the bottom to find the source and then the citations, if there are any.  I've used many with my students to point out the pitfalls of weak sources and overly strong perspectives and opinions.  The visual examples of bad citations are so easily found, I don't need to create a link to one. Here's another great way to teach citations, too!
If you want to find infographics, I usually just Google the term I'm looking for with a comma and "infographic" and I've found all sorts of great visuals.  For example, I'm teaching the Mathematics of Money at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth at UC Santa Cruz this summer, so I just went to Google and searched "supply and demand, infographic"and clicked on images and got these search results.  Wow, I'm going to use this one on the Supply and Demand of Oil this morning to follow up on our lesson yesterday on the other issues beyond supply and demand regarding inflation and then I'm going to use another on the Federal Reserve.  Once again, all I did was search, "federal reserve, infographic" in images and I got a gem that I'll use this afternoon with some guiding questions and I'll definitely use it again a number of times this year in my US history, econ and government classes.
A quick search yielded a treasure trove of resources that I'll use for years.
Before I sign off, let me explain that I still am very text based, but I intersperse infographics to appeal to our visual learners and also keep my class fresh and I also have 5-10 guiding questions to be answered for every infographic I use, just as I do with my reading passages.  As I said before in my previous blog post, Infographics Create Better Writers, the students are forced to create their own sentences!
Like I said, I love infographics!  What do you think?

Monday, July 8, 2013

What makes an excellent teacher?

On Friday, I got a great Twitter link through Edudemic regarding "How To Extend The Reach Of Excellent Teachers."  I knowingly nodded my head and agreed pretty much across the board to all the points made in the infographic, but then I didn't find what they felt made an "excellent" teacher.  What ARE the qualities that make an excellent teacher?  Of course, this got me thinking...
I thought about what happened when I walked into a great classroom or when I met a great teacher, how did I know I was in the presence of an excellent teacher?
I thought about when I was teaching at my very best, what made me good?
How did I know?
I began brainstorming.  I asked my wife, Katie, who is an excellent teacher.  We thought of all the great teachers we had seen and experienced and met.  What are their common qualities?
We came up with the following partial list of qualities:

  • clear, consistent expectations
  • clear, consistent communication
  • excitement and enthusiasm
  • warm, welcoming environment
  • understanding the students' perspectives and empathizing with their situations
  • flexibility
  • excellence within their field of expertise
  • unyielding push to see his/her students succeed

I dug into the infographic and followed my search to Opportunity Culture and Public Impact who had created the study that had fueled the infographic.  They have great ideas of how to use great teachers, but once again did little to identify them.
I surfed and searched the internet.  I found some good articles from different sources. "What makes a great teacher" was one.  Bill Gates has spent lots of his hard-earned money and written on this subject including this Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post.  Lots of people and articles articulated a desire for great and excellent teachers, but few explained what that meant.
I still didn't see what I thought was a clear understanding of what made an excellent teacher until I stumbled upon a presentation from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine.  Dr. Jamie Johnston quoted former Supreme Court Justice Stewart Potter (on a totally different subject) as he said, "I know it when I see it…" regarding good teaching.  Dr. Johnston also refreshingly listed what he thought made a great teacher, but he also alluded to the slipperiness involved in this identification.
Katie and I discussed the usual questions of quantifying these qualities, but there is a definite understanding of when one is in the presence of a great teacher.
One of the outstanding aspects to Dr. Johnston's presentation was his listing of great teachers by name.  I'll never forget going into Nancy Grippo's classroom during my first year as a teacher.  She was one of my mentors.  She glided around the class seemingly effortlessly.  She handled all sorts of questions and issues as if she'd done it a million times before.  She exuded a smooth feeling of absolute control.  It was amazing.  I knew it when I saw it and I was in my first year.  It was clear.
With that said, should I add control to my list?  Or should I add overall classroom direction to the list?  This is part of the slipperiness.  Where do we stop?  We could keep going for a long time.
From there, how do we make sure we get, retain, and reward great teachers?  Sure we know they're effective and their effectiveness can be extended, but do we really know what an excellent teacher is?  Or more importantly, do the people who make the hiring and budgeting decisions know what an excellent teacher is?
What do you think?  What makes an excellent teacher?  Do the planners know?  If not, how can we teach them?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Google Earth as a Great Ice Breaker/Name Learner

When I was a young teacher, I was terrible at learning my students' names.  It actually took me weeks to learn their names.  Finally, after a couple of years, I realized that not only did I not know my students' names, some of them didn't know each other's names.  Something had to change.  I had to stop referring to my students by something other than their names!  I had to figure out some way to learn their names faster!
As killing at least two birds with one stone is one of my favorite strategies and sayings, we began playing games to get both the students and me learning everybody's names on the first day.  We have very effectively gotten on the same page very quickly ever since.  Check!
Now, I'm at CTY Santa Cruz and we have an intense three weeks together and I have no time to waste learning names and hitting the ground running.  We have an absolutely diverse group from all sorts of backgrounds and places in the world.  To take advantage of that great fact, we hit the ground running with Google Earth.
One of my favorite aspects to Google Earth is the fact that when we move from one location to another, we don't instantly "jump" there, we quickly travel the globe to get there.  So, we started with me.  I showed the students where North Fork is and where my house is and where my school is down the road in O'Neals.  Then, we saw where Vania, our TA is from in Lima, Peru.  I plugged in Lima and soon we were moving south and east until we had moved from the golden foothills of the California Sierra Nevada in O'Neals, CA to the metropolis of South America just down from the Andes in Lima!  So, that's cool, but what about the names?
From there we had each student tell us his/her name and where he/she lived and we were soon moving north, south, east, and west as we traveled to Asia to the Bay Area to Seattle to Arizona to Mexico, back to Asia, back to Mexico and back to the USA all over the globe!  Each student had to tell us his/her name, what grade they were entering, what their school was, and something fun or interesting about their town, school, or neighborhood.
Within twenty minutes, each student had introduced him/herself, had shown us his/her hometown, and told us something about him/herself with great visual assistance.  Without realizing it, they had all presented themselves to the class and had done it confidently and well!  Better than all of that, we all knew something fundamental about each other and had a context for everybody.  And we all knew everybody's names!  In the first 20 minutes!  Yippee!  No name game.  Can you tell I was fired up?  I was!
Thank you Google Earth!  We had broken the ice and learned each other's names!  I look like I can learn names quickly and I did it in an engaging manner.  Do you have an ice breaker/name learner that uses tech?  If so, what is it?  I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Return of the Lecture?!?

Seeing the lightbulb go on over students' heads, seeing the spark of recognition and clarity in a student's eye are some of the main reasons why I love teaching.  I am returning to the lecture to more regularly see that light bulb, that spark, that clarity.
Lectures done wrong can be worse than bad.  They can drain the energy out of a room and dull an exciting topic into nothing.  That's not where I'm going.
Also, don't get me wrong, if you were to drop into my classroom on a given day, the chances of seeing an old school standard lecture would be zero.
Over the last couple of years, I have given maybe a handful of lectures but I have heard a rising chorus of student voices asking for more lectures.  Why?  Many students weren't fully "getting" some of the concepts as we weren't gaining closure on those concepts.  Many of the more advanced and more motivated students were getting the concepts, but often many others were gaining just a glimmer of understanding, but the concepts weren't coming fully clear and some students were just missing the ideas completely.  We need to get more students to understand the content better.  It's a pretty clear goal, right?
I have been trying to get the students to discover the information on their own, but many either didn't know how to truly discover the ideas or if they found the concepts, they didn't fully understand what to do with them.  We definitely are going to work on helping the students get better at researching and discovering their concepts on their own and help them apply their new knowledge.
At the same time though, the lecture is going to make a return, but you still won't see a standard lecture in my classroom.  I had been seeing this lack of closure and had moved to more verbal question and answer time especially in my AP classes and my psych classes, but still with a Socratic approach some students were not quite getting it.  Hmmm...  I was getting closer, but not fully there.
I decided to rethink the lecture.  This is when I ran into "10, 20, 30" as a guide.  The idea comes from Guy Kawasaki who says presenters should only use 10 slides, speak for only 20 minutes, and use only 30 point font.  What a simple and clear set of guidelines!  (Of course, I am teaching these ideas to my students to help them become better presenters!)
For my purposes, I try to keep it to 10, 10, 30.  I make sure to use no more than 10 slides and try to keep the total time to 10 minutes (I rarely get there!).  Usually, with the interaction that I encourage, we go longer than 10 minutes, but the goal is to keep it as short as possible.
The most important of the three numbers is 30 with as little text as possible and I always push to have some sort of visual on each slide as many students will remember the photo, painting, graph, or cartoon better than the text that explains it.
Another great benefit of my new, short lectures is the limited amount of prep time for my spare presentations.  With the push for interaction with my students and the limited amount of information being put on my slides, the presos have come together much faster than my long and highly detailed old school Powerpoints I used to use and labor over in the past.  I have been pleasantly surprised.
I am looking forward to moving back toward lectures as I feel this will help some students gain a better understanding while still allowing plenty of room for the students to discover the concepts for themselves.  I feel these types of lectures fit very well with the idea of teacher as guide which I have always felt was my role in the classrooms.
What have you found in your classroom?  Do you "lecture?"  If so, how does it compare to what I have laid out here?  Please let me know what you think.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Project Based Learning Helps Make the Abstract Relevant

As I've written in the last few days, I am teaching at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at UC Santa Cruz for the next few weeks.  I am going to meet a group of kids from all over the United States and across the world who are going to be in my Mathematics of Money in which they will learn the mathematical basis for economics and personal finance for this three week session.  They don't know me and have just met each other.  They are going to be in eighth, ninth, and tenth grade.  On the surface, they have very little connection to the class content or to each other.  How do we get them to understand what we want them to learn?
We're going to use Project Based Learning (PBL) with the students as individuals and in groups to connect the students to the content and to each other.  I am lucky as Elizabeth Andrews has built us an excellent standard curriculum that creates a common class at all of CTY's different sites.  I am also lucky as I've built a strong background in PBL over the last 10 years starting at the Krause Center for Innovation at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA.  When I looked at Elizabeth's curriculum last year, I could see very quickly how good it was.  All I had to do was put the projects into motion and guide the students through them and we'd be good to go.
Of course it wasn't that simple.  As a typical teacher, I had to make changes!  Why can't I just leave well enough alone?
What I did was take Elizabeth's curriculum and put it into Google Docs and I have my students create blogs on Google Sites where they post their projects so their parents can see them at home.  We do much of the course work with literally hands on classwork, but we also go to the computer lab every day and get our work done on our projects on our blogs.  The combination has worked great.
We have the students create three projects which they will present to their classmates.  They begin with an interview project in which they ask three people over 30 about their financial experiences and report their findings back to the class.  We get everybody in front of the class and break the ice and talk finances in the first week.
From there we get more sophisticated with their personal budget project as the students have to build two hypothetical budgets, one for the first year after they graduate college or get out on their own and one for ten years later.  We have the students look at all the different financial issues they have to deal with and how they'll change over time.  Once again, the kids have to present their findings to the class.
Finally, the students group together to build businesses which will produce a product that will be sold to their peers for in-class money.  They have to sell stock to raise money, they have to produce a business plan, test market their product, buy the components of their product, sell their product, and finally deal with the profits or losses.  As with the other projects, they have to present their findings to their peers.
As with all projects, I don't really know how the final products will look.  I have a good idea, but I don't know for sure and neither do the students.  I want the projects to be individual, but also to help the students understand a set range of skills and concepts.  My job is to make sure the students have enough information to build their project, but not so much that the products come from the same cookie cutter.  I also have to guide the different students along their own paths to reach their final product.
If you have questions about where you can learn more about PBL and see other examples of great projects, take a look at the Buck Institute for Education in Marin County, CA.  I have been very impressed by the breadth and width of the PBL resources they have produced.
In the end, we can get students who have no direct connection to the content to understand what we want them to learn.  I have had a number of students at CTY and my home school tell me that they had no idea of what we were doing when we started, but were so glad we had done it by the time we had finished as they began to see these concepts would have direct consequences for them as they grew up and moved out into their own lives.  Isn't that what teaching's all about?
Let me know if you'd like more information about these projects or projects I use in other classes.  Also, I'd love to hear about your pet projects.  Please tell me about them!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Zero Indifference at The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth

Normally this blog posts Monday through Friday, but there were no posts on Thursday and Friday and now there's a post on Saturday.  What's up?
I am now at UC Santa Cruz preparing to teach the Mathematics of Money for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY).  I traveled on Thursday and tied up loose ends that day.  I made sure the sprinklers and timers were working as we were expecting a strong heat wave (which has delivered).  I cut a wine barrel in half for planters and made sure that the chicken coop won't fall over while I'm gone.
Yesterday involved orientation for the instructors, TA's, and RA's.  With the word "talented" in its title, CTY is focused on gifted students, who are mainly economically well off, but there is a large number of scholarship students, which provides a wide variety of economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds.
My favorite aspect to CTY is the insistence of Zero Indifference toward bullying or harassment.  I'm not sure of the genesis of the term "Zero Indifference," but the term and approach are used by both the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network among others.
In my mind, the idea of Zero Indifference is clearest when it is seen relative to zero tolerance.  The idea is that of greater vigilance and consistent intervention in situations where there could possibly be a possibility of bullying or harassment.  According to the ADL website,  "Although there is no one right way to intervene, consistent intervention is key to establishing a school environment where all students feel safe and respected."  The idea is to make sure the seeds of bullying and harassment find no fertile ground by the constant vigilance and intervention.
The CTY Zero Indifference program ties very closely into its honor code which is based on both academic and social honor.  From the introduction to CTY's honor code, "CTY’s summer programs provide a unique opportunity for intellectually curious people from diverse backgrounds to come together in pursuit of academic challenges and growth, within a supportive community built on respect, responsibility, and trust." From the moment the students arrive at CTY, they are educated in both the honor code and Zero Indifference.  In fact, the students are exposed to the honor code at least before they ever set foot on the different campuses.
CTY's students come from across the country and across the world and at UCSC they range from 12 to 16 years old.  As I mentioned before, they are also from all sorts of economic, social, and ethnic backgrounds and are here for three weeks and thus need to be able to feel fully comfortable from the outset so they can hit the ground running and keep running academically and socially and get the most from their time at CTY.
There is absolute clarity from the start as to what is acceptable and what is not.  The staff and students go through a number of workshops with roleplaying to drive home the idea of how the students and staff are expected to treat each other.  In my experience at CTY both codes work excellently, but as with the students, it's not perfect.  However, Zero Indifference sets a very accepting and inclusive tone from start to finish.
We broached this idea of Zero Indifference at my home school last year and are going to put it out again this year and see how it works in a standard high school.  I will let you know how the students and staff buy in and how it works in general.  Have you used ideas and programs like this at your school?  If so, how did it work and how effective was it?  Please let me know.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Google Docs Create Instant Assessment and Evaluation

I think really good teaching occurs when assessment and evaluation take place as soon as possible and when it's not overly burdensome on the teacher.  I've used Google Docs to handle both issues.  As I tell my students, "It's always good to kill two birds with the same stone."
My best example of instant evaluation takes place during presentations.  I create a template of an evaluation form and have it set up to fill out as the student presents.  I basically take notes and make comments during the presentations.
Here is an example of my presenter eval form--APUSH Final Presentation Presenter Eval Form.
I have built it to mirror the rubric we use for our presentations, which is here--Presenter Rubric.
The idea is to give the students a detailed assessment and evaluation of the different criteria under which they have been judged.  Once they have finished presenting and the next student is getting set up, I finish filling out the form and share it with the student so he/she has an evaluation while the presentation is still ringing in his/her head.  If the students have questions, they can ask when the presentations are over for the day or at the end of class.  I also make sure that I make the rounds at the start of the next class period and have the students pull up the evaluation to make sure he/she has read it and that it makes sense.
Here is an example of a finished eval form--Finished APUSH Final Presentation Presenter Eval Form.
Another benefit I've found with this system is that the kids know unequivocally that I have paid attention to exactly what they were presenting and they know exactly how I felt about it.
As always, feel free to copy these forms and use them as you need!
What do you think?  Do you have other ways of instant evaluation?  If so, I'd like to hear about them.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Edmodo--Sharing the Digital File Cabinet, but Better!

I'll admit it.  I still have a file cabinet.  Yes, in that sense, I'm a stereotypical teacher.  I have files in a file cabinet and I rarely look at them.
"But, I have them," I argue!  "They must count for something!  I spent all that time compiling them.  I HAVE to keep them!"
Whew!  Now, I feel better.  I got that off my chest.
However, what about the file cabinet?  It's not going away unless I do something, unless I replace it with something.  What do I do?
I get Edmodo.  That's what I do.  It's my 21st century file cabinet that can be shared with my students, my colleagues, and teachers I see on the road at professional development seminars.  I can organize and reorganize it at the drop of a hat.  I can easily scan my files from my old school file cabinet and make them a part of my Edmodo files (If I don't want to add them to my Edmodo files, maybe I should just throw them away...  It feels good to write those words.  Maybe I actually do that.  Just saying...).
Any time I run into a new and fun or cool resource, I squirrel it away in Edmodo and use it in the appropriate setting.
For me, Edmodo is great for just its folders let alone all the collaboration tools (which are great too, don't get me wrong!).  I have set up my folders to fit my classes and be useful at professional development seminars.  I have links to resources, videos, iPad apps, my assignments, my projects, my rubrics, rubric makers, blogs, how-to resources and anything else I would need in class or in my seminars.  I have organized the folders in a way that I can find everything very quickly whether in front of my class or out on the road.
Another almost equally good aspect is the simplicity of sharing with Edmodo.  If someone wants to see my resources all they have to do is contact me and I can give them the code and they're good to go.  They don't have to borrow a file and return it like the old days.  It's all theirs as soon as they log in.
With that said, if you'd like to use my resources, please contact me on Twitter a@MrKellyIII and I'll take it from there!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Andrew Jackson and the Key to Understanding the Antebellum US

History teachers, who's your favorite president?  Notice, I asked history teachers and I asked for their favorite.  I didn't ask just anybody and I didn't ask for the best or most moral by 21st Century standards.
So who is it?
Mine as the title to this blogpost says is Andrew Jackson and he's a longstanding favorite.  He goes back to my first year teaching US history.  I realized that as a high school student I was a stereotypical teenage boy who, when studying US history, jumped from war to war and focused as little as possible on the interwar years.  I was good in the French and Indian, the American Revolution, and 1812, but there was this "really boring part" from 1815 to 1861 from the end of the War of 1812 to the start of the Civil War.  As my AP US History teacher told me, "You like the blood and guts history."
Fast forward 15 years and as a teacher I saw a huge gap in my curriculum.  Yikes!  I had a textbook and I knew what happened in the time period, but I had no hook.  Jackson provided the hook in a huge way.
Talk about larger than life!  He has as many if not more legends and myths than Lincoln and Washington.  He was an absolute maniac with huge inconsistencies except that he was absolutely devoted to what he thought was best for the United States.  Finally, he also had a hand in and a very polarizing stance on every major issue before the Civil War.  What a gift for a new history teacher!
According to James Parton's biography of Jackson just 15 years after he died,

  • "Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, and without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey his superior. A democratic aristocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint."
Wow, a jumble of contradictions, but better yet, an either-or figure, as in, "you're either with me or against me."  He was a lightning rod for all the major issues of the time.  He never took an equivocal stance, except maybe on slavery and then he owned about 150 in the 1840's.  Hmmm...
Okay, let's take a look at the issues and then you'll know why Jackson is my favorite.

  • Indian relations--Jackson made his military name as an Indian fighter.  His brutally driven Tennessee Volunteers helped wipe out Native resistance in the then-Southwest of Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi.  His most famous example was the terribly bloody and vengeful Battle of Horseshoe Bend.  Through his actions and reactions the unbelievable depravity and violence of the Indian Wars come crystal clear.  The costs of American expansion also come brutally clear.  Ironically, Jackson raised a Creek orphan he had found on a battlefield as his own son.
  • Trail of Tears--Jackson disobeyed a Supreme Court ruling and kicked the "Civilized Tribes" (The Cherokee had a written Constitution based on the US Constitution) out of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi so cotton planters could take the land and expand cotton production.  It was a clear continuation of the Indian Wars with a little less violence although approximately 4000 Native men, women, and children died on the journey.
  • War Hero--Jackson's forces luckily won the Battle of New Orleans and he took to the road and toured the country and openly proclaimed himself "The Hero of New Orleans."  He basically started campaigning for the presidency 13 years before he won the office and rode the wave of new American nationalism.
  • Expansion--Jackson had been on the crest of the wave of settlers who moved across the Appalachian Mountains in the late 1700's and helped establish the State of Tennessee.  He knew what it meant to be on the frontier and almost pathologically distrusted the East Coast and the big cities there.
  • Banking and Finance--Jackson almost single-handedly destroyed the Bank of the United States in a delayed reaction to the Panic of 1819 and helped set up the Panic of 1837 and many succeeding panics in the process.  He unwittingly and ironically created the need for the Federal Reserve Bank.
  • Sectionalism, States' Rights, and Slavery--On this one Jackson is most slippery.  The surface issue had to do with tariffs, but the real issues were sectionalism, states' rights, and slavery and the South's and John C Calhoun's fear that slavery would be limited or could eventually be abolished.  Jackson also wanted to assert the power of the federal government over the individual states or collections of states.  This battle in the late 1820's and early 1830's set the ball rolling for the compromise battles and didn't solve the issue of slavery, but merely kicked it further down the road and heightened sectional tensions setting the stage for the horrific Civil War.
  • Rivalries--Henry Clay and John C Calhoun were fellow southerners and Clay was also a fellow westerner, but the three huge personalities were too much for one country and their constant sniping and backbiting added elements of personal drama to the already intense issues being debated among the three.
So, there you go!  These are just a sampling of the issues Jackson had his hand in.  If you know his stances on theses issues and the stances of his adversaries and why they took those stances, you will have a very clear understanding of the issues and a much clearer view of the United States during the Antebellum Years.  The coming of the Civil War will not come as much of a surprise after wading through all the blood guts of what was a relatively peaceful period.  There are all sorts of great projects to put into play during this era.  We'll get to those in a later blogpost.
Finally, with all that said, Jackson is my favorite president, but he's by far not the best, but the most polarizing and sometimes one of the worst.  He did this history teacher a great favor by helping me understanding a very complex and tumultuous period.  After understanding him, I was much more able to help my students learn about the "Jacksonian Era."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Google Certified Teacher Process Reflected Importance of Relationships in the Use of New Tools

The other day I was fortunate enough to be named a Google Certified Teacher.  I had applied twice before only to be rejected.  I very seriously considered not applying this time around, but I reconsidered when I began to more deeply review where I had been the last two years, let alone the last 15.
I realized that since I had moved to Minarets I had begun to find the right balance between new tools and old arts and that what I had begun to do was use the new tools to help learn who my students are and help them understand why they are in school.
Here is a link to my video, "Motivation and Learning Begin with Trust."
I used my video to help illustrate what I had learned since I moved to a 1:1 laptop classroom environment.
Whenever I had interviewed for jobs in the past, often I had been asked about the three R's, rigor, relevance, and relationships.  I had always felt that rigor and relevance were almost unspoken as they were why we were in school.  However, I had always put special emphasis on relationship as I had seen as a student and a teacher that when a relationship had been forged between the teacher and learner, any trouble getting through the rigor and relevance could almost always be overcome through the personal bond that had been created.
I always feel that trust is the bedrock of a strong relationship.  My latest, best example is illustrated by the creator of the "My Soundtrack" from my video.  Angry Girl, I'll call her, and I butted heads when we first worked together two years ago.  She didn't like me and I didn't like her because she didn't like me.  However, she did her work, ALWAYS.  She ALWAYS did it well, but she was an "angry girl" and I didn't know why she resisted me.  I tried to get her to understand that she could do it better, but she didn't want to listen to me.
She and I began to realize that neither was going to give.  She was going to continue to do good work and I was going to continue to evaluate her work and keep suggesting ways she could do better.  About halfway through our first year together we began to see what was going on and began to trust each other because we had realized that we weren't going to back down.
How was this relationship different because it's 2013?  We had used all sorts of great tools to truly individualize our learning and I had seen my student in many different lights and situations.  She had written her quick writes into her blog from internet articles and infographics.  She had created all sorts of different multimedia presentations to illustrate her ideas in US history, economics, government, and psychology.  She and I had also talked many times about her work and how I had evaluated it and how she felt about it.  Through all those different paths, we realized that we could trust each other to continue being the people we were and any time we ran into issues with the rigor or relevance we leaned on our trust and worked our way through the issues.
In the end, had I not been selected a Google Certified Teacher, I realized that I had gained through the reflective experience and that I had begun to develop a balance between the new tools and the old arts and I was looking to further advance my abilities in both areas.  I also realized anew how much I love guiding learners in that it's a constant process, but I also saw that I was not just using new tools, because they were new.  I was using new tools to advance the ancient art of guiding learners into new realms and that's truly awesome!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How and Why I've Grown to Love Twitter... #TwitterLove!

When Twitter started to take off, I reacted against it.  The transient, flippant nature of the tweets I saw had absolutely no place in a classroom.  So when Twitter began to make inroads in education, I thought, "No way!"
However after about a year of playing with Twitter, I have grown to truly love and embrace it in education and in the classroom.
First off, if you're new to Twitter, I strongly suggest you check out this infographic, How to Twitter and maybe watch this great YouTube video by Erin Klein (@KleinErin) Twitter for Teachers.  Now you have a basic overview of what Twitter is and how teachers can use it.  If you're not new to Twitter, these are great resources for teaching teachers, colleagues, and students about Twitter.
Back to the how and why I came to love Twitter.
I started with Twitter as a newsfeed.  I began following news sources like The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle and Wall Street Journal as I had heard that Google Reader was going away.  I got all sorts of articles and videos for current events, which I used almost everyday in class.
Then I began following educational blogs like Edudemic (@Edudemic) and Free Tech 4 Teachers (@rmbyrne) which gave me more school tools and reasons why I could or should use them.
I also started to use Twitter in the classroom.  I would have my AP US History students distill their introductory paragraphs down to 140 characters to get to the core of their ideas and see how quickly and simply they could express their complex ideas.  They were really impressed by how much that helped their writing.  I also would have my students tweet me when I was out of the classroom working as a professional developer and I would show their tweets to the teachers I was teaching.  Sometimes I would have students answer a question and give a Starburst to the first 10 who tweeted the correct answer.  The kids loved it.  At the very least, my students knew what Twitter was and how it worked.
From there, I was looking to connect with other teachers as the listservs I had been using for years had gone away.  My Personal Learning Network (PLN) had begun to whither.  In the last few weeks, that void has begun to be filled as I, once again, applied to be a Google Certified Teacher (GCT).  As I was applying, I realized that Twitter could be a PLN in itself as well as a newsfeed.  All of a sudden, my view of Twitter had radically changed.  I was swapping ideas with intense and motivated teachers from all over.  It's been great.
In the last 18 hours, since I was accepted to be a GCT, my Twitter account has changed radically.  All of a sudden, I have way more teachers as followers and am following so many more teachers, I know the exchange of ideas is going to explode.  My PLN has taken off!
Now, I make a point of checking Twitter at the start of each morning to see what breaking news took place overnight, if there are new school toys and ideas out there, and if any new perspectives have been put out.  I make it a point to respond or retweet or favorite at least something I come across in my browsing.  I've also realized that I'll never get everything that comes through my account and that that's OK.
I'm also thinking of creating a personal account to stay in touch with family and far flung friends, but that's probably for another blog post...
So, because it's great as a newsfeed and it makes following blogs so much easier and it's allowed my PLN to grow greatly, I love Twitter.
You can follow me at @MrKellyIII, which is something I could not and would not say a year ago!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blogs, Blogs Everywhere in a 1-1 Environment--With Design Lessons Learned Too!

Workflow and how students turn in work are issues that need to be dealt up front with in a 1-1 environment.  In my first year, the students turned their work in via email and I was inundated with messages!  Sometimes the students turned in three or four messages per period and they didn't always follow my naming conventions, so until I opened the message, I didn't know what I was getting.  As you can imagine, it was a mess.
My solution was to have the students create their own blogs, create a new blog post for every class, and link all their work to their blog.  Sometimes, the students would write their work or take their notes directly into their blogs.  Either way, there was one location for all their work, which was a win-win for both of us.  The students had no question where their work was for any reviews and I knew exactly where their work was when it came time to grade it.
My district is a Google district, so we used Google Sites and they were a very simple solution.  After the kids had created their sites they customized their looks.  Sometimes the looks were elegant, unique to the student, and helpful as seen below:

Other blogs helped students learn design lessons as seen below!
The design lessons were an unintended bonus, but the fact that each of my 175+ students created their own blog and understood the issues in maintaining a blog everyday where they posted and wrote their work, was definitely intended lessons in communication in the digital age.  
The kids learned the following lessons:
  1. their posts needed to be created everyday
  2. naming conventions needed to be followed
  3. all work needed to be posted to be graded
  4. posts from absences needed to be clearly identified
  5. missing or late work also needed to be clearly identified.
Students were given weekly blog grades and were judged on whether they had done all of the above.  Soon, most of the students were getting an easy A for their blogs each week!
I just needed to create a page with each blog for each class on it and grading got relatively easy.
With some minor tweaking, I am looking forward to using blogs again this year as the tool my students will use to turn in their work.
How do your students turn in their work in a 1-1 environment and how did that work for you?  If you're just starting in a 1-1 situation, how do you plan to deal with work?  Please let me know!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

3D/Virtual World History Apps for iPads

If this is where free educational apps for social studies are going, the future is going to be literally awesome!
I'm talking about three apps created by and one by the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology.  When using these four apps I have been amazed by the ability of technology to transport me across the world and through time.  Every time I have demonstrated these for teachers, they have been equally amazed.
Let's start with the Dome of the Rock 3D Tour, which takes us virtually where non-Muslims can not go, into the shrine on top of the Temple Mount in the heart of Jerusalem.  The tour can be run on autopilot or it can be controlled by the viewer to look in and around the Dome in any direction.  The visuals and colors are truly stunning and for a freshman world history student who has never been to the Middle East.  The same holds for the other two apps, The Western Wall 3D Tour and Holy Sepulchre 3D Tour from
The tours can be used as an activity through the autopilot mode or the user can control it through the specific stops on the tour to answer questions or make observations as they progress through the holy sites. does a great job of handling the holy sites of the three religions with equal enthusiasm.  I was initially skeptical that one of the three would get preferential treatment, but from what I could tell, the tours were created evenhandedly.
These three apps are also available from the website for desktop use.  There are also a number of other tours throughout Jerusalem available at
One caveat about is that the apps require that the user register through Facebook or through  The tours are worth jumping through these hoops.
I strongly suggest if you are a world history teacher that you get these apps and use them with your students.  If you know a world history teacher, please suggest it to them.
Tour of the Nile took some figuring out, but once I "got it," it was amazing.   After I downloaded the app it didn't do anything.  After some researching, I realized that I needed to go to the Petrie's website and download the A-R Markers on to my desktop.  Once I did that, turned on the 3D camera, and pointed my iPad camera toward my laptop's screen, the objects jumped off my screen and could be turned and flipped over and I could click on them to get historical information about the objects.  It was awesome!  I can't wait to show my budding Egyptologist seven year old son.  He's going to love it and I know world history students will love it too!
Have fun with the apps and let me know what you think.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Picturing America--A Great US History (Visual History) Resource

Picturing America is a website resource for a visual program by the same name.  In 2007, the NEH produced a series of large classroom visuals that are durable and easily hung on classroom walls.  In fact, my classroom is mainly decorated with Picturing America visuals.  Most of the visuals are paintings, but there are all sorts of works of art, tools, clothing, and architecture.  The website works best with the actual visuals, but is so well done that with just with the resources off the website, it's really helpful.  Each visual has a set of background resource links as well as a set of the artist or creator's inspirations and biography.
My classes create a quick review project, where each student chooses a visual and has to explain the creator's background and inspiration and how they played a role in the creation of the visual.  Then, they have to explain the significance of the visual and why it was significant.  It's a great way to bring visual learning into US history.
Picturing America was also created in collaboration with Edsitement, which is a huge source of social studies resources, but is so huge that it will require its own blog entry.  Take a look if you want and we'll come back to it soon, Edsitement.

My Favorite Blogs

Whenever I present at a professional development seminar, the first resource I point teachers toward is the amazing blog, Free Tech 4 Teachers, as it is my absolute favorite blog for at least three main reasons.  First off, it produces a treasure trove of digital teaching resources and the resources are always tested and annotated by Richard Byrne, the blog's writer, who is an experienced teacher and presenter.   The second reason is the daily flow of resources.  During the work week, there are multiple resources presented on his blog everyday.  There is always something new!  I am always amazed by the amount and quality of the work he does as he is very straightforward and extremely helpful.  Finally, everything he rates and reviews is free!  In the last couple of years, he has made the move to iPad and Android Apps with iPad Apps for Schools and Android 4 Schools.Take a look and see for yourself!
Another great blog is edudemic.  As with Free Tech 4 Teachers, there are tons of resources which are rated and reviewed, but there is also a very strong angle toward the how and why of pedagogy and prevailing and new theories regarding tech in school.  There are lots of tools and lots of information on how and why to use them.  The flow of resources and ed tech articles is constant and very well written and researched.  Check this one out too, it's great!
I follow both on Twitter and I find myself adding resources to my edmodo folders almost everyday.  If you don't have these blogs on your radar screen, you should do so soon!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Infographics Create Better Writers

Dailyinfographic can be a high school social studies teacher's best friend, but beware.  A new infographic is published every day, so there is always something new to use in the classroom, but it's not really meant for teachers as there are all sorts of infographics covering all sorts of topics.  For instance as of this writing, the last couple of infographics are about beer, which I love, but I don't spend much time talking about in my classes for obvious reasons.  However in my psychology class, I have used infographics on the effects of alcohol and marijuana, which were extremely helpful in understanding states of consciousness.
How to Twitter is one of my favorites for all sorts of reasons as it covers Twitter from start to finish for beginners and experts and is chock full of useful information.
Increasingly infographics can be found all over the internet, but also beware as they come from all sorts of different sources with some being very reputable and others not so reputable.  (Can you see a possible lesson on evaluating sources  and information literacy here???)
From the above examples, you can see some of the range of infographics, but how do they help create better writers?
I believe that students should write everyday as they need to keep working on organizing and expressing their ideas, however, many students on the internet can find something close to an answer in text and then paraphrase or worse, copy and paste their answers.  With infographics very rarely presenting information in a sentence, the students have to create their answers in sentences from the information in the visual or bullet points.  As I started using more infographics, the students' writing got exponentially richer and many students reported that they liked looking at the visuals more than a block of text.  We were killing two birds with the same stone.  While the students were forced to write better and for themselves, many also WANTED to write about the content.  
The two main tools I use with infographics are focused "how" and "why" questions and clear and constantly referenced rubrics.  With those we can use infographics to help create better writers.
What do you think?

The NEW Student-Built Psych Class

This last year I got to teach psychology for the first time in a long time.  Most of the students and I had a great time to the point where I had a core of students asking if they could take a "psych 2" class.  Hmmm.  That was a great idea, but at first I couldn't see it happening as I'm not a psych expert and we didn't have enough students to make up a whole new section of a new class.  I told the kids that we needed to keep talking and keep thinking as I would love to create a new class of psych at a different level.  
After lots of back and forth with the students and our administrators we came up with a new hybrid.  Seven students are going to be AP Psych students as they are going to be prepared to take the AP Psych test, but they are going to be what we call Special Project Coordinators (SPC's) as we don't have an AP Psych class.  The students are going to build the AP Psych class.  We've found a MOOC we are going to use as our "textbook" and we are going to build a curriculum that we'll use in the regular psych class and at an AP level.
The students are going to trade off with different responsibilities for each unit we build while also keeping up with their progress in the MOOC.  Throughout the year, they are going to build iBooks to keep as their individual textbooks which they can keep and I can use and cannibalize for current and future students.
Our units are going to be truly multimedia.  We are going to set a regular length of each unit and in each unit there will be text to use a resource alongside infographics that will be taken from the web as well as built by the students.  We will have exercises and experiments the students will test and conduct to keep the class as interactive as we can make it.  We will also have different videos like feature length movies that have particular relevance to the current unit's concepts.  For example, we'll use "The King's Speech" when we cover therapy.  The students will watch the movies and create guiding questions for future students to use.  Each unit will also have a Simpsons episode complete with guiding questions along with other popular TV shows and documentaries.  The students will also build interactive and multimedia powerpoint presentations which will cover all the relevant concepts for each unit.  Finally, we'll also build short conceptual videos to supplement what we find elsewhere. 
As the teacher/guide, I'll create rubrics with the students to allow them to understand the standard to which they'll be held from the outset, but the most important standard will be the judgement of their fellow SPC's.  As the students collaborate to complete the units, their peers are going to be the people they'll most want to support and please
With the efforts of seven motivated students and an experienced teacher to guide them, we're hoping to learn a ton, create some deep and engaging curriculum, get the kids some college credit, and have a great educational experience.  Check back to see how we progress!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Games in Econ and Government

I love playing games!  I'm a football coach and I love the fact that I get to have the best seat in the house on Friday nights to watch the games.  I love watching football games because there is so much to be learned by watching others play the game.
How does this translate into the Econ/Gov classroom?
First off in both my AP and regular level econ and gov, I combine the classes and intersperse the units.  That way, we can constantly call on both content areas to engage the students.  Neither gets stale or "last semester."  We can always use both for current events, but most importantly, we can constantly interrelate the two disciplines and show how they work together and off each other.
My two favorite game sites are iCivics and Spent.  They bring the issues home in ways kids who play games can understand.  What's even better is that they bring the issues home to students who don't play games too!
iCivics was founded by Sandra Day O'Connor and has at least 20 games and a ton of resources like lesson plans beyond the games.  The kids love the games and will play and play and play until they get the game.  Oh, they also learn something about government and civics, too.  Talk about a win-win!
Spent was sponsored by the Urban Ministries of Durham (NC) and is extremely effective at illustrating the stark choices the working poor have to make every day and every month.  It works for the students on a number of levels including illustrating scarcity, but more importantly giving a glimpse into the lives of millions of Americans who go to work everyday.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Great Government Project Resource--Civic Action Project

At the California Council for the Social Studies convention in Burlingame this Spring, I ran into the Civic Action Project.   I then piloted it with a few groups of my 12th grade government students and it was absolutely great.
The resources are tremendous and the people from the Civic Action Project (CAP) were extremely responsive and regularly run very straightforward and helpful webinars, which got me off and running.
The idea is to connect students to real issues in their communities, schools, or towns.   From there we train them in what is policy, how it is made, and how it can be affected by citizens and then turn them loose to make public policy.  The goal is for students to understand how to take civic action and how to make change.  If they can actually change policy, that's great, but in the end, they will know the process that average citizens like themselves can follow to make their communities better.
In my classes, we ended up with seven groups who followed the dropout rates in innercity and high poverty schools and came up with all sorts of solutions to help keep kids in school.  One group even based their solutions on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and made sure kids had enough to eat and were safe and then had activities to help foster a feeling of belongingness!
Like I said, the resources are comprehensive and the people are very helpful.  With just a bit of uploading to Google Docs, I was able to consolidate all the brainstorming and notetaking forms and readings online on my classroom blog.
I can't wait to roll it out with all my government students this fall.  Please let me know if you have any questions or need any help getting started.  I'd be glad to help point you in the right direction.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Post-Google Teacher Academy Chicago 2013 Application...

Wow, I just posted my Google Teacher Academy (GTA) video to YouTube and sent in my application!  Now it's time to get to blogging for real.  School's over and the app has been sent.
Now, what?
Well, first off I'm going to go through the end of the year and review the good and the bad.  Like this blog, the GTA process got me to take a hard look at what is good in my classroom and what needs improvement.  So, over the next few weeks, I'm going to highlight what practices that worked and why and how and why the clunkers clunked.
As I am a AP US History (APUSH), AP Econ/AP Gov (APEG), Econ/Gov (EG), and psychology teacher, I've got a lot of material to review...
Starting with my senior AP Econ/Gov (APEG) students, their final projects were awesome.  After two years of intense AP work from APUSH forward, they had learned a ton of concepts and all sorts of heavy duty study skills and their final projects were absolutely excellent.  They were all completely different.  As a teacher and mentor, I wanted to give them all a big class hug and I'm not a big hugger.  I even got a little teary eyed as one by one they went up and presented their unique view on what they had learned.  It was the ideal capstone to their project based career.  They needed minimal direction and they all delivered in spades!  They had come so far from those literally wide eyed juniors who started APUSH with the question, "This guy really wants us to read all of this and then write about it?  What is he thinking?"
Like I said, they were wide eyed!  Now, they're gone.  All trained up and turned loose on the world!  The cycle starts anew.  Here we go again.