Category Archives: Uncategorized

Falling Flat on My Growth Mindset

As in any profession, education is full of trends. When I started teaching, it was all about multiple intelligences and Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning. Risking showing my age, I still find a lot of validity in both. In the same way, the last few years have been all about growth mindset. As Carol Dweck states, “In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence….they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.” Part of this is trying new things, failing and being open to learning from those shortcomings. I preach this almost daily in my classes. “You’re not there YET, but you’ll get there if you keep working.” I mean I am ALL in. Well, at least I thought I was. When it comes to having a growth mindset with my own failures, I suck.

Last week, CapCUE hosted our annual Techfest. I say “our” because I am an active member and a director on the board. Besides helping to plan, arriving at 6am to set up, as well as working throughout the day, I thought it would be a great place to try out a new session I’ve been working on: “Creating Book Clubs that are Figuratively Lit and Literally Awesome.” I am very passionate about implementing choice reading groups in my class, and this summer I decided to put together a presentation to share that passion. Apparently passion doesn’t always make a good session.

Some things were out of my control: the projector went out just before I begun, so the great staff at Rocklin High School found me a different room. However, most issues were my own doing. Being flustered, I left my wireless clicker behind, along with a box full of books I planned to use for my opening activity: Book Speed Dating. Consequently, I ran out of the room and returned panting, holding a heavy box of books. Instead of just moving on, I decided to go down with my self inflicted sinking ship and still try the activity. Of course, with so much time lost, I had to rush through the activity and subsequent slides. Continuing, information spewed out of my mouth choppy and disorganized like a teenage boy on a first date.

They say the smartest person in the room IS the room and that was certainly the case for me. If it weren’t for my attendees asking questions and sharing their experiences, I’m afraid the whole session would have been a complete disaster.

Now for MY growth mindset. In the room was one of my friends, someone I consider a mentor and have learned so much from, both as a leader and a person, Josh Harris. When I saw him later at lunch, I was embarrassed, but knew he’d give it to me straight. I had to ask. I knew I couldn’t just ignore what had happened. Growth Mindset, I whispered to myself. Learn something from this. Don’t pretend it wasn’t a crime scene.

“Josh, tell me how I can improve…”

Is Google Spying on your Child?

I spend a good portion of my time these days doing homework, not blogging like I’d like. Recently, I had the opportunity to research and write a paper on a subject that fascinates me: is Google Apps for Education safe for students at school? I must say, in diving deeper into the subject, I was growing more skeptical. I certainly see the fear some may have. In the end, though, my optimistic nature took over. I tend to lean toward naivety rather than armageddon. You can all laugh at me later when, funded by corporations, singularity occurs, robots become self aware and the world implodes. Deal?

Here’s the paper I wrote arguing that Google has the best intentions and parents needn’t worry:

“Almost one-third of all students—elementary through high school—already use school-issued digital devices, and many of these devices present a serious risk to student privacy. They collect far more information on kids than is necessary, store this information indefinitely, and sometimes even upload it to the cloud automatically. In short, they’re spying on students—and school districts, which often provide inadequate privacy policies (or no privacy policy at all), are helping them” (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2016). This statement on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website could cause any parent to march down to his child’s school and demand some answers. This is exactly what happened a few months ago in Roseville, California. Jeff, a parent of a fourth grader, made fervent objections to his daughter using Google Apps for Education. This got the attention of not just the district, but national news. Electronic Frontier Foundation has since filed a claim with the Federal Trade Commission. The question becomes, does this argument hold any merit? In short, where there has been a bit of a learning curve integrating technology safely in the classroom, including adopting Google Apps, parents can be assured that their child’s privacy is not at risk.

First and foremost, Google is not personally tracking your child. More than 50 million teachers and students are using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), especially now with the inexpensive Chromebook making technology accessible for schools. According to Futuresource Consulting, a researching firm that tracks school technology purchases, in 2012 Chromebooks made up less than one percent of all laptops in schools. Their latest data shows that Chromebooks account for 51% of sales to schools (Petersen, 2015). On a Chromebook, students are forced to use Google Apps. This presents a huge concern for parents like Jeff who believe Google is tracking their child. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) staff attorney, Nate Cardozo believes, “Despite publicly promising not to, Google mines students’ browsing data and other information, and uses it for the company’s own purposes. Minors shouldn’t be tracked or used as guinea pigs, with their data treated as a profit centre” (Gibbs, 2015). Cardozo and the EFF insist that the data Google is collecting will be used to target students with ads. However, this is not true. While Google admits to tracking user use, the purposes are not to collect private information. On Google’s blog it states, “The GAFE Core Services— Gmail, Calendar, Classroom, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Contacts, Groups, Vault and Hangouts — are the heart of Google’s educational offering to schools. Students’ personal data in these Core Services is only used to provide the services themselves, so students can do things like communicate using email and collaborate on assignments using Google Docs. There are no ads in these Core Services, and student data in these services is not used for advertising purposes” (Google Apps for Education, 2015) The GAFE suite has never had ads, nor will it ever, we are assured. Google is committed to transparency of their use of data and the protection of student privacy. The collection of information is simply to make the user’s experience more effective and productive.

In addition, Chrome Sync data is not used to target ads to individual students. One of the best features of Chrome is the convenience of being able to move from one device to another, syncing information like browsing history, bookmarks and passwords by simply logging into your Chrome account. This feature called Chrome Sync is under fire by EFF.  EFF claims that this is dangerous for children. When a child is at home or uses other sites like Youtube, Maps and Google News at school, their data can be collected for ad use. These sites are not considered part of the GAFE suite and contain ads. Citing Chrome Sync as a privacy violation, Google also addressed this on its blog. It states, “Personally-identifiable Chrome Sync data in GAFE accounts is only used to power features in Chrome for that person, for example allowing students to access their own browsing data and settings, securely, across devices. In addition, our systems compile data aggregated from millions of users of Chrome Sync and, after completely removing information about individual users, we use this data to holistically improve the services we provide. For example if data shows that millions of people are visiting a webpage that is broken, that site would be moved lower in the search results. This is not connected to any specific person nor is it used to analyze student behaviors” (Google, 2015). Again, Google holds true to their task of simply gathering data to improve student experiences when using Google products. Of course, in trying to put student’s first, they also recognized that not all consumers (teachers or students) would find this explanation enough. Therefore, the company reiterates that districts can turn Chrome Sync off or choose what apps to sync. Google has given so much of the GAFE control at the school district level, understanding that the needs of all students are not the same. Districts can control the use of additional Google consumer services, like Blogger, Youtube and Maps if they desire. Giving the district administrators control strengthens Google’s commitment to the integrity of student education.

Furthermore, the gaps in student privacy legislation are closing. Another real concern is not just with Google. There are so many apps and providers working with GAFE that privacy has become an issue. Khaliah Barnes, an associate director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center believes, “Students are not getting the kind of security and privacy protection they deserve” (Petersen, 2015). The laws written in the 1970’s do not require parental approval for vendors for whom school districts choose to do business. This is a bit tricky when it comes to online data. A 2013 study showed that 95% of districts relied on an online cloud service, but only a quarter of those actually informed parents. Even worse, fewer than a quarter of service agreements included what student information the district was disclosing and less than 7% restricted vendors from selling or marketing data about students. In an age of an abundance of digital information, this is really disturbing. Most parents at GAFE districts were never asked for permission, nor were they even told the school was converting. This is disconcerting and alarming to any parent, especially ones like Jeff, who are deeply concerned for the protection of privacy. However, according to an analysis by the Data Quality Campaign, in 2014, 28 student data privacy laws were signed into law across 20 states. According to edweek.org, in California, the Student Online Personal Information Protection Act, or SOPIPA, (SB 1177) “Prohibits operators of online educational services from selling student data and using such information to target advertising to students or to “amass a profile” on students for a non-educational purpose. The law also requires online service providers to maintain adequate security procedures and to delete student information at the request of a school or district” (Herold, 2014). This is considered one of the strictest laws passed nationwide. Therefore, even another online vendor other than Google has to abide by the rules of not collecting student information for non educational purposes, as well as delete student information when it is no longer needed. In California, another law put into effect in 2014 was AB 1594. The bill puts stricter regulations on contracts with vendors and what information they are allowed to obtain and disseminate. According to Joni Lupovitz, vice president of policy for Common Sense Media, a site dedicated to the education and advocacy of safe technology, “Together, it’s really a landmark regulatory scheme. The whole idea is not to stop education technology; the idea is to create a trusted online environment so kids can just be kids and focus on learning”(Roscorla, 2014). Both of these were a leap in the right direction for the privacy of our children.

Districts are also following suit. They are wising up and not staying ignorant on who has their student data and for what purpose. In Roseville, every vendor is required to fill out a vendor compliance agreement, answering specifically to AB 1594 and agreeing to not violate the privacy of the students through sharing any information, including passwords, names and birthdays. (See Appendix). Instead of using student names as identifiers in email and logins, the district is moving to using student identification numbers. Laura Assem, the Chief Technology Officer in Roseville, stated that it is vital students cannot be found online by their names. Removing the use of names is a logical step. As Assem stated, “Unfortunately, technology advances faster than legislation, but you can’t remove technology from education because it’s an accelerator” (Petersen 2015). Districts are recognizing their shortcomings with keeping kids safe, but the benefits of using technology in the classroom are still worth being patient.

GAFE provides students with an experience in the classroom and at home that has not only invigorated learning, but is preparing our students for a 21st Century world. Of course, with every new step we take in technology, there seems to be a concern. However, we must understand the benefits of using technology clearly outweigh even the most minor uncertainty. A study conducted by Adam Schoenbart, an educator in New York who surveyed his own staff and students in 2014, the early stages of GAFE implementation at his site, found that most students and teachers found the use of GAFE had a positive impact on student learning. Of those surveyed, 65% of teachers saw a difference and 60% of students. These were just in the first years of implementation. One district in north Texas, the Arlington Independent School District (AISD) believes that by using GAFE, their collaboration as teachers improved greatly with shared Google Docs. They also improved access to technology for students across socioeconomic levels. A school district in Buffalo, New York, Amherst Central School cites Google Apps for providing individual learning opportunities (Google for Education, 2015). The testimonials seem to be plentiful on Google’s blog. More than anything, providing inexpensive ways for all students to access the internet, create content and collaborate with peers and mentors is inarguably the best option for schools.

As far as the opposition goes, there will always be those that let fear rule fact. They will argue that Google is simply lying to us; that they are storing our children’s information for use in ways we can’t even imagine. However, there is absolutely no merit to that argument. There are those that fear a security breach where our children’s information will be stolen. Unfortunately, in a digital age, that is always a valid concern, but not one that can be specifically applied to Google Apps for Education. Your Social Security number could be stolen from any of a number of secure servers by a gifted hacker. It is the risk we live with in a digital world. Understandably, prior to 2014, the laws were outdated, and companies, like Google could have used student information for profit gain in advertising or some other form. The thing is, there is no evidence it did. Rest assured though, school districts and legislatures are paying attention now. Those gaps are closing and our children are safer than ever. As we move our students to 21st Century skills, we are also moving their privacy to 21st Century security. So, let your kid check his email, work on his Slide presentation and collaborate with his buddy on a Google Doc. He’s safe. As far as dealing with the ones who still object, the Roseville father, Jeff, has come to an agreement with the district. His daughter has been issued a Macbook where she uses the internet and creates Word documents and Power Points without signing into her Google account. She is missing out on the collaborative piece, but sometimes districts have to do what’s best for every child, even if that means simply appeasing a parent.

 

Appendix : https://goo.gl/ZOe0ka

 

References

California Protects Student Data Privacy with Two Bills. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.govtech.com/education/California-Protects-Student-Data-Privacy-with-Two-Bills-.html

Gibbs, S. (2015, December 02). Google accused of spying on students in FTC privacy complaint. Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/dec/02/google-eff-ftc-privacy-chromebook-gmail-spying-students

Google for Education:. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/amherst-central-schools/

Google for Education:. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/case-studies/arlington-independent-school-district/

Google for Education: The facts about student data privacy in Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://googleforeducation.blogspot.com.au/2015/12/the-facts-about-student-data-privacy-in.html?m=1

Google for Education: Tools schools can trust. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.google.com/edu/trust/#has-google-signed-the-student-privacy-ledge

Peterson, Andrea. (2015, December 28). Google is tracking students as it sells more products to schools, privacy advocates warn. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2015/12/28/google-is-tracking-students-as-it-sells-more-products-to-schools-privacy-advocates-warn/

The Schoenblog. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from http://www.aschoenbart.com/2016/02/gafe-impact-report-part-3-summary-of.html

Student Privacy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from https://www.eff.org/issues/student-privacy/

Because I Can’t Resist (or Say No), The 1,2,3,4,5 Challenge

If you spend anytime with me, you know my kryptonite: the direct question. “Will you….” No hesitation, “Yes.” I was challenged by Trisha to write a blog post, so here it is:

 

  1. What has been your one biggest struggle during this school year?

Hands down I will say time. I started a master’s program this year, as well as started taking on more gigs of presenting at conferences and teaching workshops. As any sane person can imagine, making time to create fabulous lessons has suffered. I often find myself flying by the seat of my pants. Of course, I’ve learned a lot about myself in the process.

  1. Share two accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with my students. It’s funny, all the flying by the seat of my pants has actually made me relax a bit more in the classroom. I’m not so uptight about following my plans. Instead, I find myself giving far more one on one time to individuals. We have more conversations, and I feel like I’m meeting their needs better than I have in the past. I know them as people. When the structure falls apart, the human emerges. It’s pretty awesome.
  • The relationships I’ve fostered with other educators. From my coworkers at my site and in my district, to my PLN on Twitter and Voxer to my cohorts in my master’s program, I am surrounded by amazing people. I’ve managed to collaborate on so many levels and learned so much from these incredible individuals. Plus, I’ve formed friendships that have already proven valuable, and I will cherish for years to come. I feel darn lucky!
  1. What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
  • First, I want my students to not notice I’ve left the room. I want them to be so engaged in their own learning, that I am not needed. I seriously can’t wait to start Genius Hour in the next few weeks!
  • Second, I want to get a handle on where I’m going. Next year will be a big year for me doing my Action Research project for my masters, but I still feel I’m floundering as to what I really want to accomplish. This tends to be a common theme with me. I want to do everything, but have such a hard time narrowing my focus. I’m working on it.
  • Lastly, I just want to survive. Taking three classes this semester, along with all the other extra hats I wear, has been exhausting. I miss my family, even though they’re in the other room as I work away on homework. I’m looking forward to when my classes end in May.  Then I can turn my attention to my students, too. Being the only 8th grade language arts teacher at my school, I’m not only very involved in the end of the year activities for my kiddos, it’s also a very emotional time for me. They are my babies and sending them to high school always wrecks me.
  1. Give four reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.
  • The KIDS. I couldn’t imagine not hanging out with these guys on a daily basis.
  • The opportunity to constantly improve. I think it’s a rare job that allows you to simply stop what you’re doing, change direction or start all over when things aren’t working. I love that about my day. I’ll teach the same thing five different ways sometimes, just to see what works better.
  • My colleagues. I’m surrounded everyday by people who love their job. I know I’m lucky. Very lucky. Who can say that?
  • The chance to be a goofball. The one thing I love about my job is that I get to dance at a rally, wear silly outfits, compete in a pie eating contest, and during a lesson, throw myself on the ground in a gesture of dramatic despair. It’s all in a day in middle school.
  1. Which five people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions.

Travis Phelps @TravisPhelps80

Cate Tolnai @CateTolnai

Brandon Blom @brandonkblom

Josh Harris @EdTechSpec

Ryan Poulsen @ryanpoulsen79

Why I Don’t Cook and Other Things I learned at Fall CUE

I’m a decent cook. I have even been known to fix a few dishes worthy of the finest of palates, but I really don’t enjoy it. On the other hand, my husband loves it. He watches cooking shows, researches perfect ways to make roux and dreams about chiffonading. So, a few years ago, I relinquished all meal making duties to him. I realized I was missing one main ingredient:  passion.

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Our CapCUE shirts say it all. Photo by CateTolnai

This weekend was my first Fall CUE conference: a huge community of educators learning and sharing ways to enhance student experiences through technology, but also passion.  It would take me days to convey all that I learned. The practical takeaways are countless, but what resonates with me more are the philosophical and inspirational pieces.

Teach Students to Tell Stories: I got the opportunity to sit in the theater and listen to Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee talk about telling the stories of people on the fringe, who are hopeful and resilient, despite their perils. Sharing these with students can bring a layer to their lives incomparable to a conventional textbook. And getting kids to tell stories…wow!

Be a Rockstar in Your Classroom: Now I could listen to Jon Corippo preach for hours on lesson design. Apparently, I’m not the only one. I sat on the floor to listen to practical ways to engage my students, but also ways to change how I think as a teacher. Bottom line: empower your kids. We have to stop being content delivery systems. We need to be coaches because a coach helps you do something you cannot do yourself. Ah, I wish Corippo ran the world. CSL6JJEVEAA0MKy

Make Each Day an Adventure: David Theriault‘s keynote was on point and beautiful. He reminded us that learning should be sticky, it should be memorable, that your classroom needs to be an adventure. Why would a student want to learn another way?

If your student can Google it, why are you standing in the front of the room talking about it? Spoken by one of my dear friends, Trisha Sanchez, in her SAMR workshop, I was struck. Duh. Of course. We need to change the way we teach for our audience. This generation needs something else.

We are a Family of Educators: More than a community, people that feel passionately about innovation, student engagement and change tend to flock together. But with that they are stronger. Of course, there’s also a fair amount of fun.

That’s where you spend your time. Where you feel the passion. This is why we give up our weekends. This is how we fill up our cups to walk back into our classrooms on Monday ready to share the communal goblet. Cheers to my family!

 

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photos by Ryan O’Donnell

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Positive Shows for Young Fans

I was introduced to Frank Turner in 2008, shortly after his first full length album, Love Ire and Song was released. The minute I heard “Substitute” I was hooked. And not in an “I need a cup of coffee every morning,” sort of way, I mean in an “I need an intravenous drip to roll around at my side” kind of way.

My first Turner show was at the Fillmore in San Francisco, September 2009. He was the opening, opening, opening band for The Gaslight Anthem. My husband and I planned for this one months out. We got tickets and a hotel room. We even asked my parents to drive down from Idaho to watch our kids. At the time my daughter was six and my son was four. The show was just Turner and his guitar singing to a small crowd of people, but I was there in the front, singing and dancing along to every song. Loudly. It was incredible. My husband and I even managed to accost him coming out of the bathroom later to fawn over him. A brilliant night.

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It’s now been six years since that night and Mr. Turner has since put out four more highly successful records. My attendance at his shows are now in the double digits, one even at that same venue two years ago in San Francisco, which he managed to sell out as the headliner. But this post is not about me, it’s about the little girl who has grown up drenched in the poetry of Turner’s music.

My daughter is now 12 and in middle school. Having worked with middle school kids for over 20 years, I am very aware of their search for identity. The lessons, though, that we’ve been preaching as parents still surface. As a little girl, she begged for Turner’s music in the car, sang along with every lyric, (carefully omitting certain words), and danced along side me. She has since found her own loves in the musical pop world of teenagedom, but still she pilfers my Turner shirts, and loads his music on her Spotify playlists. So, when I heard he was coming to Sacramento, I couldn’t wait to take her.

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We got there early, planted ourselves in the front and waited. “I’ve never been this close to a stage before, mom.” Well, she’s never gone to Turner show with me. When Turner burst into his first set, I watched her watch others, especially me. When I exploded in dance, throwing my arms in the air and belting lyrics, she was right there with me, mimicking my excited behavior.

This show had everything a young fan could want: crowd surfing, hand clapping, audience participation. At one point Turner even made the entire venue sit down, so we could jump up synchronously at the perfect point. It was crazy, sitting on a dirty floor, smashed next to sweaty people, but we all did it.  The smiles radiating from my daughter’s face made this by far my favorite Turner show.

We stuck around to meet him after, wanting her to have that experience. Turner is one of the nicest musicians you’ll ever meet, always gracious to his fans. We could tell how tired he was, but still he took the time to let us snap photos and chat for a bit.

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My love for live music is something I’m proud to pass on to my daughter, but more than anything, I know I’ve found my front row dancing partner.

Why I MADE my kids go to Germany

The first time I went to Germany I was seven years old. I spent it mostly with family, our sightseeing limited to areas close to relatives. Even growing up with a German mother, it was still a culture shock. I mean I was used to butter on my ham sandwiches, and the language was at least familiar. But the first time someone gave me a glass of water, I took a huge sip and spit it out. Who drinks water with bubbles in it? I longed for peanut butter and cartoons in English. Of course, I fell in love with the ice cream.

I have since been to Germany many times, at least four before I left my parents’ house. As a parent now, I know how truly lucky I was. I know my mom just wanted to visit “home” and take he family with her, but it gave me so much more as a person. I longed to introduce this experience to my children. So, I told my husband it was time. He tried to persuade me at first, thinking a nice beach in Hawaii or a grand camping trip to Yellowstone would be a better idea, but he gave in easily. I’d like to think it was my charm. Nonetheless, I’m so glad he did. This is why I’m glad I drug my 10 and 12-year-old across the globe.

What I think they learned:

  • Not speaking the language is scary. I think this is a hard concept for kids or anyone who doesn’t travel to get. Living in California, we encounter people everyday who learned English after their native tongue. We are often not very patient with second language learners. Watching my kids experience this is humbling. Of course, I speak a fair amount of German and most Germans speak perfect English, but my kids were still very confused and frustrated with being on the outside. I think they are far more empathetic now of people who are not native English speakers. By the end, though, they had picked up words and phrases and were even ordering things off menus. They have never been interested in learning German before. That’s all changed. They see the world beyond their fences.
  • People eat different foods. This is one of those things my kids know but didn’t really get. Again, we live in California. We can get anything. We have plenty of diverse food, but it’s all still Americanized. I mean, you can still get chicken nuggets. Germany was a great introduction for them. The food isn’t drastically different, but there were times they were forced to try something new. Now, my kids are pretty picky eaters, and without batting an eye, they did it. No complaining. I was blown away. My daughter didn’t even spit out the Sprudel when she first took a sip. Just asked for water without bubbles. My kids rarely try new things at home. By the way, my daughter now eats butter and ham sandwiches. She can’t get enough.
  • The world is still small. Despite the differences, they also noticed how similar things were. Kids their age love TV, video games, YouTube and playing soccer. Despite the language barrier, my cousin’s kids and my kids communicated and played just fine. They all even watched Harry Potter in German. There are McDonald’s in most big towns, people walk around texting on their iPhones, and you can buy a Laker hat at any sporting goods store. The world is linked now in ways I didn’t experience when I was seven.

By the end of the trip, my kids were happy to come home, but I know I gave them something incredibly important in this experience. And if nothing else, we had ice cream every day. That, they already miss.

 

Genius Hour: Part 1

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a research assignment, ever. Three weeks ago I introduced Genius Hour to my 8th graders, a concept made famous by Google, where 20% of work time is spent on a project of the employee’s choosing. It’s become a bit of a phenomenon in the educational world with teachers who recognize that choice motivates students. For my class, this means working every Friday until June, approximately 12 weeks. At first, my students were confused, maybe a bit dumbfounded. “We can do anything?”

I only have three rules for our GH project:

  1. You can research it
  2. You can blog about it
  3. You can do a presentation on it

Week 1: The YES Day

My students were still a bit confused on our first Friday. Each time I’d circulate the room, a student would stop me, “Can I do–” “Yes.” It was pretty amazing watching their fingers fly on the Chromebooks, searching for various topics. Still, though, some had no idea where to even begin. I just kept asking, “What do you want to know?”

Week 2: Life Ring

By the next week, most were super excited to continue their research. But definetly not all. I could see the ones drifting off task. I had to give a few stern warnings:  “If you waste 20% of my instruction time, I will give you an alternative assignment.” This extinguished the fires right away. However, I still saw a few flounders. It was time for the life ring. I shared with them a list I had been compiling from various sources of possible Genius Hour projects. Just seeing the possibilities, those who felt they were drowning were able to come up for air. I wouldn’t have done this in the beginning, because I truly believe in the power of discovery, but some kids just needed a helping hand.

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Pitch Day: Where the light bulb begins to flicker

Today was pitch day. Students had to get up in front of their peers and give a 30 second pitch on their idea. They had to state their guiding question, explain what they would research, then how they would present in June. After, the other students were encouraged to ask questions and give advice. What a powerful process. Students were able to hear each other’s ideas and learn ways to improve their own process. Plus, I got to hear all the topics. From learning to buy and sell stocks, to practicing different techniques of shooting a basketball properly, to the effects of smoking, to why the brain reacts to music, the topics are not only incredibly varied, they are INTERESTING! So much better than if I would have assigned a topic.

Friday we continue researching. Fridays are truly the best day of the week.

The Mosh Pit in Petaluma

If you’ve ever been to a punk rock show, you know the front is reserved for the few passionate individuals who are so into the music they feel the need to share it with others: hard and with full force, slamming into you, pummeling you into the next person. Sometimes it leaves you with bruises, but mostly it’s the craziest thing you’ll ever experience. You leave the show giggling, exhausted and yearning for more. This is how I feel about CUE Rockstar Teacher Camps (minus the bruises). I walked away from Petaluma this weekend so inspired, so enthusiastic, and counting the days until the next one: (141 days until CUE Rockstar Tahoe).

Why every educator should go to a CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp:

1. Start Time: The morning starts at 9:30. That alone should make you happy, not to be up at the crack of dawn on your days off. This also allows for a few “late night” sessions the night before. For some reason Rockstars are always held in close proximity to places to get delicious libations. Crazy.

2. The Format: There are only two sessions a day and normally the same sessions are taught in the morning and afternoon. This eases FOMO (fear of missing out), although I still suffered this weekend. I need Hermione Granger’s Time Turner. The sessions are also two hours long which allows you time to learn, play and actually figure out how to implement when you return to real life.

3. Lunch: Although the food is usually amazing, this is not the reason to give up your free time, beg for the money, (or shell out the fee yourself), and attend. Lunch is two hours, which seems long, but it is a magical experience. There is usually a session on something relevant in the cafeteria as you’re eating, (like using Twitter to grow as an educator and tell your story), but mostly you talk. A lot. To other educators. I learn so much just being in the room with fellow teachers and administrators who are fervent about student learning. So often we forget how powerful that can be.

4. The Faculty:  Although they will claim they are no experts, don’t let them fool you. They are incredible educators and presenters. Their passion for teaching students, as well as sharing their knowledge with others makes them the most inspiring individuals you’ll meet. They are all volunteers that give up their time and WANT to be there. They believe in sharing tools and innovation to create student achievement. They are pure punk rock. Just being in the room with them, makes me want to be more. That’s how I want to spend a weekend.

5. The Attitude: This is the punk rock mosh pit. The philosophy of Rockstar is that learning is messy. It is sweaty, and it isn’t choreographed.* Things might go wrong. They probably will. But you take the ideas, the tools, the inspiration back to your site the next week and you try. You ignore the bruises because in the end, teaching doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be passionate. And that will reach kids. That’s punk rock. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

I’m putting on my steel-toed Doc Martens and entering the pit. You with me?

*Fun Fact: We tried “choreographed” by following a Youtube video at lunch and dancing to “Uptown Funk”. It was truly more passionate than perfection. 

What’s the Time? Torture Time

I try to have students do a formal, solo, get up in front of the class, (while terrified), speech at least once a trimester. Most think I enjoy watching students sweat as they fumble for their next point, searching the ceiling to see if it might be written up there. I really don’t enjoy watching them squirm. Well maybe a few students, but that’s not my point.

This time, I decided to do something different: Movenote. 10914537_449770148504061_862001878_n

Movenote is a website and Chrome Application that allows you to slidecast, that is upload your slides and record yourself while video narrating. Essentially, students had to record themselves, then show the class. I was so excited to introduce. This would alleviate the stage fright and the searching the ceiling syndrome. Students could try over and over until they got it right.  They’re going to love me for this, right? Wrong. They thought I had reached a new level of cruelty. “Do I have to show it?” “Can’t YOU just watch it?” “Can I leave the room when it’s my turn?” Sigh. I forget they’re in 8th grade sometimes.

I decided to show a few a day. I always take volunteers first. I had a few eager kids wanting to get it over with. To my delight, the presentations were mostly very good. The best part, however, was as the days went on, more kids were eager to show theirs. By the end of the week, most were telling me how much they LOVED it and were so happy not to have to get up and present in front of the whole class. Some still think I’m enjoying their misery.

Things I learned:

  • Most students WILL NOT record in class. It’s way too stressful. Giving students a place to go during class is fine, but many will take hours to get the right take. Most would rather do at home. Since we are not a 1:1 school, though, lots didn’t have access to a working webcam. I gave up an entire week of lunches and made before and after school appointments.
  • Sometimes Movenote is fickle. We found if it won’t load your Google Slides, download as a PDF, then upload. That usually does the trick. Sometimes the site just gets overloaded, too. Give it a few minutes.
  • Often when you pause recording, the slide goes back to the beginning. Just be aware. Most of my kiddos just started over.
  • It’s a pretty basic application, not a lot of bells and whistles, which makes it a great introduction to video presenting. However, I had a student who really wanted to embed a youtube video in her presentation. We just ended up pulling it up in a different tab.
  • Give students time limits for presentations. I have NEVER had a kid give a 15 minute speech in front of the class, but for some reason, I have had students ramble on and on via video.

I really wanted all of my students to have the experience of presenting in video format this trimester. Next trimester I think I’ll give students the choice. I’m guessing quite a few will pick Movenote. Some still enjoy the live audience, though. Most of all, I enjoy watching students escape the torture chamber of public speaking and grow into confident and successful presenters.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Cart

Spending the weekend in Napa is always a good idea. Spending it at a Google Apps for Educators conference is only for the truly lucky. This was my second GAFE and though I was a different educator than when I attended my first, I was chumming for more.

Starting the conference with Jim Sill was nothing short of a treat. He reminded us that learning is dirty. However, we can’t forget to tell our story with our students. These are the things they remember. Oh, and always include sharks. Well, maybe not that last one, but it seems to do the trick.

One of the best parts of these conferences is not only learning, but getting to play and create. I must say, though, that it’s the people I meet that make it worth the time I give up away from my family. The presenters and the other teachers all have great stories to tell, and that’s where learning and inspiration take root.

Listening to our second day keynote presenter, Mark Garrison, talk about making each day an adventure got my brain swimming. It is time to tackle this great white shark of implementing technology at my site. No more dabbling. No more watching the beast terrorize the shore. It is time to call in the big boat. It is time to instigate change. It is time for more than just a couple of Chromebook carts. Next stop: 1:1 Harbor.

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