Saturday, November 26, 2016

Attempting "Real World Learning"

So, forced into facing my fears and reservations by a class assignment, I dipped my toes into the “real world” learning ideas.  I know many would criticize my baby steps, but for me, just getting started was a big challenge. (See my question-laden blog post for proof!)  I grabbed several
“mini” projects as my entry points.  I would say I have mediocre feelings about my results, but a lot more ideas of how to make it better next time.

Dabbling - Short applications/extensions, Geometry
My very first forays were quite short, but I wanted to get started before I lost my drive.  I had two different tasks asking students to go apply geometric knowledge to real situations.  In one activity, I asked students to find a picture in nature and use a drawing app to label parallel lines and angles.  In a second activity, I asked students to find an ad and apply conditional logic to it.

While I really like these assignments, and I think I will use them again.  I definitely didn’t provide the feedback I could have and I did not have students reflect or connect this knowledge to the more traditional work we do.  However, it was a start.  I think these two activities actually connect stronger to the unit ELOs, so I will be working to strengthen them into more meaningful learning opportunities.

Project 1-Similarity in the real world, Geometry unit additions

I opened my geometry unit on similarity with an activity exploring the scale factor relationship of phi in our facial features.  I also connected the concept of phi to the golden rectangle and Fibonacci sequence.  While these are not directly related to ELOs, I felt that if I got students more interested in the relationships, they could connect to the course work more.  The Fibonacci sequence is discussed in later math courses, so an early introduction and different application now might make their next encounter more meaningful.  I closed the unit with a nature application video about the golden ratio and a discussion of non-typical math careers, like web designers and fish hatchery technicians.

Based on my student survey, the students liked the facial features activity, but didn’t entirely connect it to the learning we were doing.  I did have them jot some notes after the activity, but I did not collect these.

I know I rushed the career piece.  I was worried about time, and I spent too much time “telling” instead of letting students discover and explore.  I think a course-long exploration of math careers could be a nice addition and not take too much time from coursework.  Perhaps exploring 1-2 careers each unit or pursuing research into career areas of interest would be the direction I would take this in the future.

Project 2-Content area reading in Math class

As part of our Content Literacy standards and our building goal, I have tried to implement content reading (nonfiction) into my credit recovery math class.  As an English teacher, you would think this would be easy, but several unique problems present themselves.  First, students compartmentalize their learning and have been very resistant to “reading in math, I have an English class for that.”  I am working on the buy-in of nonfiction and critical literacy.  Second, time is a factor.  In a self-paced, credit recovery course, the students resent anything that takes away from their work time (even though they often waste time).  Again, getting the buy-in is crucial.  Lastly, the actual implementation and skill work is challenging.  Many of these students struggle not only with math but also with reading.  I am using Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies as a resource, but it is slow-going.  It is also challenging to find engaging articles at an appropriate reading level.  
I was very excited about my first article, but in hindsight, I did not anticipate the resistance I would get and should have set the activity up differently.  For the second article I provided candy motivation, so I will have a hard time topping that and I am not sure how effectively students “read” the article either.   It will be a work in progress.

All in all, I would say I have taken very small baby steps, and I will continue to look for places where application is appropriate.  I still have deep concerns about the balance of additions and keeping activities as “real” as possible.  Yet, if we don’t continually examine what we are teaching, how we are teaching it, and why we are teaching it, we aren’t doing our jobs.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Struggling with Real World Learning

“Real World Learning”...not a phrase that I get excited about.  The concept of bringing a “real” element into mathematics classrooms is an idea I have always struggled with.  My struggles lay in a couple areas:  1-I am not an applied mathematician, so creating a quality project is very hard for me, 2-I struggle with finding “real” applications for the limited math skills kids have, and 3-time is always a premium.

But, before I even get to my reasons, I often don’t even know what “real world” it PBL? Is it a large, encompassing project? Is it dumping traditional assessments for a project?  Does it go so far as to question traditional course divisions, like Algebra & Geometry, for a more holistic approach?  Can something this potentially fluid be used as a common assessment?  Can you guarantee the integrity of the learning?  I always worry about preparing kids for the next thing--whether that is the next course, ACT, or a career.  Does a “real world” experience create deep enough learning (just as conversely does “traditional” learning) to be worthwhile?  Why does education always seem to be an all-or-nothing endeavor?  Is there some sort of balance that can be reached?

If I set aside the questions, the first challenge is personal.  I love mathematics because of its beauty and theory.  I have never cared or needed to know why it mattered or where it could be used.  I find the theories and manipulations of numbers, figures, and variables to be intriguing and beautiful.  Yet, I know very few of my students view factoring or proving trig identities in that same light.  I have always tried to “sell” math based on critical thinking, problem solving, perseverance, and college requirements.  I know the big applications and I can talk to them in general, but as far as real application, I do not have those skills or understandings.  This makes me feel very uncomfortable when “real world learning” comes up; I do not feel I know enough to do it well.

Even when I have tried to put aside my own feelings of inadequacy and implement “real” work--I come up short.  Application problems are forced and contrived; students do not see these as real work.  They are just another set of problems to be completed.  I have tried applications where we got into it, and I realized the kids didn’t have enough mathematics to understand and complete the task; this is a frustrating moment for everyone.  Or, once I have adjusted the concepts enough to be accessible, the application is so watered down that it no longer feels real.  Often these projects feel like add-ons instead of integrated elements which then undermines the project.

The last issue is often the biggest one - time.  Every instructional decision a teacher makes has to be based on a cost-benefit analysis.  Adding something means something else must go--teachers always have to weigh the benefits of the learning to be gained with the time it is going to take and what might have to be cut.  I struggle with adding these “projects” because I have never felt the learning in projects is deep or real; it rarely feels transferable.  My department currently has strong common curriculum and assessments, so working in something new or different is challenging because I have to cover my ELOs and give the common assessments.

I am not opposed to changing or adding elements to my classroom, but I have to be sure that it is for the right reasons and the right additions to be good for kids.  Teachers always have to take calculated risks to grow both as teachers and provide the best learning opportunities for kids.  With our world changing so rapidly, it makes it so much harder to try to decide what kids will need to learn.  

Education is often all about the fad and the buzz words of the moments.  Some of these trends have staying power, some do not.  However, my path has always been to incorporate elements that work for me and my students and evolving out practices that no longer work.  I have never been a baby-out-with-the-bathwater teacher.  My entry point is to show kids the applications of scale factor in art and professions.  I hope to pique their curiosity about how math works in the real world and expose them to non-typical math careers.  This is a balance to the very structured curriculum my department shares.  I feel I can take time to do some extra work here and not compromise students’ time to complete the mastery work which has been proven to improve understanding.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Getting Real

“Real world application” -- the three words I seriously dread as an educator.  I am a learner who did what I was told because I was told, and I honestly enjoyed the academia.  I did not need (nor care) when or why I had to learn something.  As a result, I feel woefully inadequate, especially as a math teacher, to create “real world” scenarios and lessons.  However, I understand some students truly need these frames in order to engage in learning.  

As an English teacher, I always felt comfortable creating (and justifying) lessons as pertinent and important for all students.  However, math has always been harder.  I struggle because it isn’t my strength, and I struggle with how to find meaningful activities within students’ skill sets.  In recent years, more material has become available, but it is still a struggle to find the right activities.  

Math is a pervasive subject, despite what many people think, yet the kinds of math all people do every day isn’t directly what we teach (per the standards) in high school.  In looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” only 4 careers appear under “math.”  Carpentry, sales, engineering, and farming are not listed, and I know these careers are math-heavy which makes the data a bit misleading.  The website predicts 28% growth in mathematics careers, especially data handling.  The one thing all these careers do have in common, and the direction I believe math is heading, is more focused on inquiry and problem-solving.  We will still be teaching geometry and algebra, but within those concepts, I hope to see more focus on the broader skills needed for many careers.  When I look through the lists of most desired skills as published by National Association of Colleges and Employers and the American Management Association, I see math as a critical practice field for developing all the top skills:  critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and communication.  If we work to change even our practice of teaching to focus on these skills and math as a means to gain them,  we will still be preparing our students well for the future.

One concern with “real world” problems is that we could actually make things worse by creating contrived and/or overly-simplified problems.  Just using a real set of data doesn’t necessarily make the learning authentic, which is what I think we really mean when we say “real world.”  For example, in his article posted on NCTE in 2014, Matt Felton notes the classic candy in a bag problem as being real but not authentic.  As he suggests, this could provide a stepping stone or concrete example of a concept, but being able to generalize knowledge and learning is a well-documented problem for students.  While being “real” this example still asks students to generalize the learning to future situations which they may or may not be able to do, so by including this example have we really done a better job teaching?  Felton goes on to suggest a more “authentic” approach, such as asking students how unequal is wealth distribution in the US?  I would go one step further and ask why that matters or how it could be fixed or what implications this has on society? (But that might be the English teacher in me talking in math class!)

Another facet of this real-world application dilemma is what will constitute “real world” (and meaningful) for our students?  It is well-documented that 50-70% of the jobs our students will hold do not even exist, so to what context do we even address problems?  Maybe this isn’t the issue, but knowing how hard it is for students to generalize and then wondering if my “great” real world problem will even be relevant in 2 years is a bit daunting.

In looking into “real world math,” many of the tasks lean toward a project-based learning frame.  This is a great frame, but not currently one that is compatible with our system, or even standards.  Our courses are tightly aligned to the state standards, and we try to prepare students for college entrance exams and state assessments.  PBL takes a significant amount of time, and I wonder how teachers are able to guarantee that standards are covered if students are truly following their passions.  While we shouldn’t look for or accept roadblocks, we do have to live within the rules (even while we try to change them).  If I am responsible to teach a certain set of standards, I must balance that with “add-ons.”  When there is only so much time, additions must be carefully considered-adding more to an already full course can undermine any good that could come from the addition because students are overwhelmed.

All the concerns aside, two good resourcesI found that I plan to try to use this year are Illuminations ( and NRICH (  While maybe not the perfect answer to including more authentic math, I think it is a good step to engage students in the process and understanding of math--to move away from drill and kill and completely abstracted math work.  I hope to expand on these tasks as I determine which ones resonate best with students and connect the learning.  In looking at the NRICH site, I already created a list of not only potential ideas for different math courses, I also found many that would lend themselves to paired readings.  This creates both that authenticity and relevance and reinforces content area reading skills.

American Management Association.  (2012).  Critical skills survey.  Retrieved from
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015, 17 December). Math occupations. Retrieved from
Felton, M. (2014, 7 July). Mathematics and the real world.  National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  Retrieved from:
National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2015, November 8). Job Outlook 2016: Attributes Employers Want to See on New College Graduates' Resumes.  Retrieved from

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Genius Hour Reflected

Genius? Hardly…after spending all summer working on in-depth research on rethinking math instruction, I still feel I have more questions than answers.  While my genius project is technically not finished, since I haven’t implemented it, I feel a bit premature to reflect on the process.  In trying to consider it “complete,” I actually feel a bit unsatisfied by the process because I haven’t been able to put it into motion.  I feel a bit like I am in limbo, but September will be here before we know it, and then I can truly see then if my work has been worth it.

Reflecting on my personal experience going through this genius hour process is a mixed bag.  Overall, I felt the process was very natural and what I would typically do in researching a major change in my classroom, yet I felt a bit constrained by the formality of it as an “assignment.”  For myself, I would not formalize some of my early work in favor of spending more time on the real elements.  But, that is the essential classroom problem-create a real scenario, yet we still have to track progress and see evidence of learning.  I think for my students, this is a key killer of a project—too much perceived “busy” work and not enough “real” work.  So the teacher is stuck-we need checks along the way to monitor and provide feedback, yet those same elements might be holding students back.  It feels like a tight rope-you want to turn kids loose and let them be completely free, yet they are still kids, so they need safety nets and guidance.  Getting student buy in and being judicious and careful about checkpoints is something I will be very mindful of in the future.

As far as my own learning and the project itself-I am hopeful.  I have always wanted to incorporate deeper learning problems in my geometry course, but I didn’t move forward on it because I couldn’t find the “right” problems.  In working on this project, I forced myself to let go of the idea of a “perfect” problem and sought out good problems.  I realized I was hoping for some magical single problem to encompass an entire unit’s objectives; I wanted this overarching problem to provide a frame.  I still think that might be possible for some areas, but I need to start working with deeper problems and let the evolution take me to the bigger scenario, not wait for the bigger scenario to even start.  Start small, go fast.  I have been letting my desire for perfection stop my progress.

I still have a lot of loose ends as to the actual implementation-I need to pick a definite path as I begin to design my lessons more in depth this fall.  This is just part of the process for me—build something even with the gray areas and run with it, tweaking as I go.  I feel pretty good about my initial ideas for implementing the ELO cover sheet, but in working with my department, other ideas have surfaced that I need to consider.  I also want to do a better break down and correlation of the ELOs to the mastery quizzes and guided notes.  I want a repeat, consistent message about learning targets and skills.  Some implementation may also be changed when I decide how I will deliver instruction-lecture, blended, or flipped.  Making one or two changes in a classroom design can have huge domino effect on other elements, so all factors have to be considered.  Then, the best laid plans can be thrown amuck by the reality of kids and teaching-being flexible and resilient are teaching necessities, especially when implementing change.

Despite the drawback of implementation, summer is a great time to really throw yourself into something in-depth which is the heart of a genius project.  I do feel I have done that, and no matter what the final form is, I do believe the changes I will make are in the best interest of the learning of my students, and I think as I share my successes, failures, and questions with my department, my ideas will be stronger with their input and insights and my students' learning better.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Rethinking Mathematics Instruction

Throughout my teaching career I have seen so many students enter my high school math classes with a firm belief in their ability (or lack thereof) to do math.  I can’t count the number of parents who have sat down at conferences and opened with, “Well, I wasn’t any good at math, so it makes sense my child struggles.”  I have always been saddened by this attitude and felt the negative self-fulfilling prophecy was undermining students’ learning.  I tried in vague and individual ways to address this, but never took it to a formalized, systematic level to maximize the impact.

I have also always struggled with the apathy many students feel toward mathematics.  It is often something “to get through” on their way to something bigger and better.  I think part of this is how students have felt about mathematics, but I also believe it is about the disconnect of classroom mathematics to the real world.  While I have always felt my mathematical Achilles heel is practical application, I know my students need it both to engage deeply with the content and to improve their attitudes and overall learning.  Again, I wanted to make changes, but never felt successful in my attempts.

After reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success (2007), I found myself nodding a lot and agreeing with her research.  I had always felt many of her findings, but never really articulated them.  However, I still didn’t really see the immediate application to my math concerns.  I was just stronger in my beliefs but no closer to a significant change in my classroom.  However, when I read Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets (2016), I began to see ways to change my instruction to be explicit and systematic about improving my students’ learning and attitudes about mathematics.
One key moment for me was when Boaler described how math is perceived as a performance subject with right and wrong answers.  This was a stop-point for me-it made so much sense to me but I had never thought of math in that way.  Yet, I believe this perception is the key to addressing both of my concerns.  If I can turn math back into a collaborative, logical, inquiry experience with multiple paths to solutions, I might be able to change some of my students’ minds and re-open doors for their future that they felt were closed because they “weren’t any good in math.”

This was the moment where I finally saw some tangible ideas that showed me how the changes I wanted to make might look and gave me some ideas how those changes could truly impact learning.  This is where my genius hour project finally took shape.  I hope to create inquiry tasks for each unit in order to cultivate more positive attitudes about mathematics and deepen the learning of the concepts.   I have several articles and research studies to read on deep learning that I hope will also give me ideas and insight into how to improve my instruction.

I still worry about my own lack of knowledge with real world applications, but I am willing to set that aside to move forward.  I have decided that I have been willing to incorporate technologies that I didn’t fully feel comfortable with and learned along with the students, so this will be the same.  I can’t ask my students to be uncomfortable and take risks if I am not willing to do so myself and model it openly.  Standford University’s will be one source I turn to for ideas, as well as the wealth of teaching ideas available on

The additional element in all this research and change is a new look at grading and assessment.  After attending the three day FIRST institute conference this summer which focused on grading and assessment, I believe we have to look different at how, when, and why we assess kids.  Boaler also addresses this assessment issue as being overwhelmingly negative and not motivating for most students.  Our math department has made some change in assessment by moving to mastery with retesting options and clearly identified standards, yet students still equate the scale scores with a letter grade.  I hope to work with my department on ways to continue to move away from scores which demotivate and move toward constructive feedback.  I could envision a system where students track their own progress through the objectives and control their own paths to learning.  After a summative exam, I want students to reflect on their learning process and progress.  I think so many of our students consider themselves powerless in education-they have fixed mindsets about what they can do (and have done) to improve their learning.  If they are empowered to choose learning paths on their own, they may begin to see their own success as a direct outcome.  However, I need to always be sure to emphasize growth and progress or this will all just be another grade chase with no real change beyond some superficial elements.

I am still struggling with the exact “product” of my genius hour project.  I have two or three different ideas that I want to implement, so I need to decide if I am going to phase in the changes (measuring success as I go) or if I am going to make a major, multi-faceted change.  As I start to work out the actual details, I think the best plan will appear.  I also will be sitting down with my department to talk about what they plan to do in response to Boaler’s book as we read it at as a summer book study.  We may choose a department approach that will address some of my ideas which will improve impact both in scope and design (more heads are better than 1!)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Creating an engaging classroom and motivating students are top concerns for most educators.  They are topics of blogs, PD sessions, books, and staff lunch tables.  My question has always been what happens between those beautiful elementary years when students are curious and excited to learn and my high school classroom where compliance, apathy, and grade chasing rule the day?
I believe a few things are at play.  One-we have “taught” students who is “good” at school and who isn’t.  The current system values such a narrow band of learning that by high school, many students are disenfranchised and have a fixed mindset about what they can and cannot do.  Two-our curriculum and assessments are often disengaged from any tangible, real application or skill students see as relevant.

There are likely many other factors, but I think we could address, system-wide, these two factors, dramatic changes would be seen.  If students were taught and coached with growth mindset philosophies, given opportunities to have successful failure and learn through a variety of paths, by high school we might see more resilient, open-minded learners, ready for the challenging course work of the 21st century.  We could foster the types of critical thinking we all say we want in our classes but are frustrated when it doesn’t happen.  We could move from (re)teaching basics (which are important) and repetitive topics to deeper thinking, application, critical tasks in each content area.  If we can change the way we assess students and report on those assessments, I think we will be one giant leap forward in changing our students’ perceptions and experiences in school.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a purist in many ways.  I think all students should be exposed to some ideas like Shakespeare, economics, mathematics, and chemistry.  I think self-direction and autonomy are great, but if you have parented a toddler, you know that kids like what is familiar.  If left to their own devices, chicken nuggets would be the main stay of most toddlers’ diets.  As parents, it is our obligation to expose our children to new experiences, even when they don’t like it or think they want it.  Often, that one forced bite of something new (which they would not do willingly) becomes next week’s favorite food.  Maybe it’s the 12th bite that gets them, or maybe they never acquire a taste for broccoli, but the point is we must push them beyond their comfort zone.  Put them on the bike, promise to hold on, knowing we will break that promise for their own good.

I think education is the same.  We should absolutely honor and encourage students’ interests and talents, but we also have an obligation to open new doors to them, introduce them to new skills and topics, even if they might not “willingly” choose them.  I had no idea as a HS student that I would end up as a teacher.  I took classes I liked and did well in because it made me feel good about myself and steered clear (when I could) of those that I didn’t like and struggled with because who likes that feeling?  I think this is part of our disengagement problem, students and our system have created fixed mindsets and roles for students which have closed doors.  We do not encourage curiosity and open-mindedness, risk-taking and exploration.  Will anyone every TRULY need Shakespeare?  (No, unless you are English teacher J).  Does that mean reading his work is an archaic tradition which has no merit in today’s world?  No.  Yet, some students will approach it with the mindset “I won’t ever need this.”  We need to change both the way we teach these concepts and the attitudes students bring to the content.  We don’t know what kids will or won’t need in their future because the world is changing too rapidly.  We need to foster a love of learning because we do know they will have to be able to keep up with rapid change.  We need to foster critical thinking because in a world of too much information, they will need to be able to filter and sort through the rubbish to find the golden nuggets.  We need to cultivate open-mindedness to look beyond the familiar and comfortable because that is where the true answers for our world’s problems are going to be found.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Reflections on "Reluctant Learners"

If we're not talking technology these days, we are talking about engagement and reluctant learners.  In a district twitter chat #byronedchat April 6, my colleague @nposh2117 challenged the group by asking us to define reluctant learners.  A great discussion ensued, but it left me thinking about those kids for the next few days.

I think education has fallen into a bad habit of trying to label a broad set of behaviors because people believe if you can label it, you can clearly "fix" it.  Several great colleagues chimed in offering their interpretations:  
@RockyChat3 aptly defined a reluctant learner as "someone who doesn't move thru a prescribed curriculum as expected...which is an awful def."
@JanelleGroehler offered "Ss who has difficulty or doesn't have confidence in their skills or knowledge in engaging in the curric."

The Twitter conversation moved to a more difficult conversation of our expectations, as teachers and as a system.  Real challenges were posed as to what role conformity plays in our perceptions of "reluctance" and if conformance is really the goal.  Do "good" students conform to our expectations and "bad" students not?  Or is our goal to help the students learn by meeting them where they are?

I responded that night, and still believe, that this term is applied to a wide variety of kids for a wide variety of reasons-too wide to "fix" with a single solution, even one as temptingly neat and tidy as to just "increase engagement."  I see kids who are "reluctant" for so many reasons that to label them all the same is a tragic dis-service.  In twenty years of teaching, I have seen "reluctance" in:
  • students with high intelligence
  • students with low self-esteem
  • students with learning disabilities
  • students with bad home situations
  • students with personal issues
  • students who cannot see their futures
  • students who hate school, the subject, me, or some combination thereof
  • students. period.
I believe in being proactive in all things, and reaching students is no different.  I don't want to respond to behaviors or performances after the fact and respond only to the symptom, not the cause.  I truly believe the key to reaching all learners is through relationships.  Once solid relationships are built, then keys to the real causes of a student's "reluctance" can be uncovered and only then can real solutions be sought.  It may be as simple as needing encouragement, a different why, a different presentation, or a whole new structure.  

We can't treat these kids all the same, there is no magic method, system, or technology to "cure" them, especially since many of them don't need "curing" at all.  They need teachers and administrators who care about students as individuals, who are willing to engage with students in dialogue about their learning, and who will take risks to ensure learning for every student.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Focus on Kids

My last couple blogs have been focused on my learning and struggles to improve my transparency and become connected.  This week, I'd like to shift back to kids (way more my comfort zone!) and update my genius hour project progress.

The project:
I am very proud and excited about this project.  I am teaching this course (Science Fiction elective) for the first time, and I completely reworked the curriculum this summer.  My project is two-fold.  After reading a few shorter selections of sci-fi, I had student choose an area of interest (passion) to research.  The only parameter is that it had to relate to sci-fi, but that really means anything since sci-fi has such broad applications and appeal.  After the research and presentations, students are going to write their own sci-fi short stories.  They can use their research in their stories or they can draw on the "experts" in the room to help with the “science” in their stories.

I had several checkpoints with students during the research process:  topic proposal, rough draft outline, 1-1 conferencing in the lab, and small group coaching on public speaking and visual aids.  I have had many moments of being very nervous about what will (or more will not) happen, but at each juncture, the students surprised me.  Their topics were diverse and interesting, and they were invested in the work.

I confess I wasn't sure on the "genius/passion" part of the project initially.  I felt maybe the kids had just picked topics just to pick them.  But, during the small group public speaking coaching sessions, I actually saw the "passion" moments happen.  Several students were clearly nervous and unprepared, but when I started to ask them about their slides and project, they would hit on subject and just begin talking, deeply, smoothly, passionately about their subjects.   They forgot they were "presenting" and just spoke from the heart. It was tangible and amazing.  It confirmed my commitment to this project.

One additional twist I threw at the students was that I planned to live-stream their presentations.  This set off a flurry of panic and apprehension, much more than I had anticipated.  It offered a great opportunity to talk frankly with the kids about how most of them were not really motivated by what their teachers thought, but if they had a real audience, they cared more.  They didn't like it, but they agreed.

Once presentations started, again (as always) the kids amazed me.  I had worried my time limit (10-15 minutes) was too long, yet almost every student made time easily.  I have shared the links with parents, and I know a few created accounts and watched their child’s performance.

Concerns & Adjustments:
I had a plan to use a spreadsheet to track sources and daily work progress that I did not follow through on implementing.  I think this (in some form) would be a good addition, and I will look to add this next time.  I also had initially planned that students would turn in a formal outline of their presentation; I also let this go by the wayside.  I worried the kids had too much on their plates; however, after seeing their presentations, I think this would have helped a few of the weaker presentations become stronger.

I admit the pressure and expectation that I felt when I posted the upcoming live stream events and saw that event get retweeted out was extremely scary.  Yet, it all went smoothly, and I believe it to be a successful learning moment for myself and my students.

As with any new project, I made a list of “Do” and “Don’t” for next time.  In fact, I have passed the course on to be taught by a colleague this quarter, and I have shared my perspectives with her.  She will put her twist on them, and this strength in sharing will ultimately make the project even better.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


I am a recovering workaholic, with strong relapse tendencies.  I like to be in control and project confidence and competence.  This "transparent & connected" educator flies in the face of these traits.

I am struggling.  And yes, it took me a week to write that simple sentence and even consider posting it.  January marked the beginning of my 20th year in education, and I find the tasks and prospects of "connected educator" among the most daunting of my career.  Melodramatic? Maybe, but coming from a very real place.

I have been fortunate to have amazing mentors and colleagues on my educational journey, and I have spent my career relying heavily and successfully on trusted people I've known--people who I know, whose work I could see, whose difference I could feel.  It is a mind-shift to look to strangers for advice and learning, people I do not know, people whose impact I can't see and feel, people based on a photo and profile.  We work in a relationship-centered career, and I am no different than my kids when it comes to connected with people.  I am not sure how to find and make those deep connections online and in blips of 144 characters.

Besides relationships, thinking about taking in information in broad-strokes is also different for me.  I am a more "search and destroy" information seeker.  I head out on a specific mission, with a specific goal, and I search (usually relentlessly) until I find what I need right now.  This new perspective asks me to take in information in broader strokes, in a "I might need this someday" approach.  Admittedly, I am a bit more drawn to this side of connecting, but in the next breath it is extremely overwhelming because you cannot take everything in.  Choices must be made, limits drawn.  So where? When? and By what criteria can I choose?

Don't get me wrong, I am willing to take risks I believe in, risks I believe are good for kids.  I am passionate about giving my students the best opportunities and learning experience I can.  However, we all have a finite amount of time, and in that time we have to fit an endless list of to do items:  plan, grade, analyze data, write/revise curriculum, innovate our classrooms, attend meetings, be a parent, spouse, friend, child, sibling...Where does the time to connect happen?  What is worth giving up to add this in?  I want a value-add for my time, and I don't want social media to overtake my life.  In everything I choose to do, I always commit (or not) based on a direct impact to my classroom.

So the journey continues-change is uncomfortable, and unless we are willing to live in the discomfort, we can't continue the journey.  It all isn't about how I find a path or meaning in this new aspect of education.  It's about the fact that I will put myself out there, push my limits and comforts, and be better simply for that fact.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Transparency is scary...Many of us have heard the public speaking advice to "Just imagine the audience in their underwear."  I feel like I am living that, except I am the only one in my underwear and everyone is staring.

Don't get me wrong, I actually am among the few who enjoy public speaking, and I have done large presentation on my classroom, innovations, and teaching experiences.  But, it has always been an after-the-fact, in-hindsight, results-known, all-things-in-control setting...which is definitely not this connected, transparent educator model I am exploring.  I have always considered myself a Go Big or Go Home Girl, and I have taken big risks in my classroom, but other than my colleagues and my (supportive) administrator-no one was looking.  If it didn't go well, I could privately lick my wounds, regroup, and try again. 

In putting myself "out there, in the moment," I feel a pressure to perform (and succeed).  This model calls for a public accountability for my plans and my students' learning.  It is a significant cultural (and maybe generational) shift to allow and encourage people to watch my learning unfold in the moment, live and unedited.

It has taken me a week to work up the nerve to complete this blog.  I have had a draft sitting, ready and waiting, but I was judging and critiquing myself-Do I have anything to really say? Is it going well? Am I failing?  Am I ready to share regardless?  

So an update on my Genius Hour project:

Day 1-As I made my introductions to my juniors and seniors, I was rewarded with bored, reluctant faces about the prospects of a typical, staid research project in yet another English class.  As I worked to garner interest by describing how they had (almost) total choice in topic and direction, a few faces lit up and even the most resentful soften to at least "it could be worse." However, when I got to the presentation part and mentioned "live streaming" I faced total panic and disbelief.  I was suddenly bombarded with questions and worries and, frankly, pure teen fear.  Again, loud and clear confirmation that audience matters.  I had raised the stakes, put them on the public stage, accountable for their own learning.  What was just going to be another mundane task for them suddenly became so much more.  The students actually asked me why I would do that to them, so I frankly told them that I knew many of them didn't really care and weren’t motivated what I thought, so I was going to give them an audience they did care about, and despite their anxiety, many of them acknowledged the truth in this.  I also assured them I would provide the support they needed to be successful presenters, and now instead of a "lesson" in public speaking, they were happy to know they would be given knowledge and skills to be successful, in large part because it suddenly mattered.

Day 2-I sent the kids off Day 1 with the homework to have a topic idea or two for class the next day.  Frankly, I felt they were not engaged and was worried about what they would or would not have for topics.  As usual, they surprised me with varied, original, and meaningful topics, ranging from technology in the ag industry to loss of family values because of social media to time travel and black holes.  I was reminded that often the biggest obstacle in a student's path is the teacher-we need to lay a path then simply get out of the way.

Days 3-8-Topic proposals and research are now in full swing and taking shape nicely.  They are engaged and looking for experts to contact.  They are drafting outlines and beginning to ask about presentation formats.  Rough drafts of outlines are due in a couple days, so I will have a better view of how they are all progressing.  I know not all of them are fully committed, but since they are working in their own areas of interest, I know my engagement and commitment are higher than without that choice or the presentation audience. 

My homework in the next few days is going to be feeling out potential audiences and logistics of streaming.  I also want to conference 1:1 with each student in the next two class periods to offer support and give feedback.

After reading "Creative Endurance" by John Spencer @spencerideas, and watching Ewan McIntosh's @ewanmcintosh TedX speech "Problem Finders," I am more determined than ever to push the often apathetic, overly-conditioned, just-tell-me-what's-on-the-test juniors and seniors back into the mindsets of joyous learners from their elementary years...even if I have to feel like I am in my underwear to do it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Embracing Reluctance

The past week has given me some perspective on the tasks I am facing with becoming a connected educator.  As usual, it is the "soft" objectives which often mean the most in our learning journeys.

I realized that the frustration, fear, and overwhelmedness that I am feeling is likely the same as my student feel when I throw them a new challenge or task outside of their comfort zone.  I see them become too overwhelmed to start, too disconnected to see the relevance, too afraid of failure to even try.  I truly feel their pain right now as I have to admit feeling all of those things when trying to figure out how to create and leverage an effective PLN (in addition to keeping the rest of my life on the rails).  So from this moment of empathy and sympathy, I gave myself the same "lecture" I would give my students, perhaps even a little more sternly as I should (and do!) know better.

So pity party aside, I began to focus on my genius hour project and how I can leverage connectedness both as a teacher and facilitator of these projects.  I have a clear vision of what I want and hope the students could do, but getting there is going to be another challenge.  I know from experience that I am walking a tightrope of structure and freedom, requirements and possibilities.  With too little guidance, students will get lost; with too much, I kill the essence of the task.

I initially turned to my comfort zone of internet searching, and while I did find some ideas and guidance, I knew I needed to go beyond comfort and familiarity.  So starting simple, I found the Twitter #geniushour and added it to my TweetDeck.  I also posted a tweet (cry) for help on how to implement genious hour in the high school because so much seems to be geared to elementary and middle school.  The first Thursday of the month is that hashtag's chat, and I think I will give it a try. I just might lurk, I might jump in, but I can honestly say that I am feeling better about the potential of finding a mangeable way to be connected but not be consumed.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reluctantly Connecting

While I have often considered myself a fairly progressive teacher, I will admit this semester's focus on becoming a connected educator is leaving me feeling old and overwhelmed.  As a parent, wife, friend, and teacher, I increasingly find myself feeling stretched too thin on all accounts, and the thought of reaching out and connecting more makes me wonder where the time and energy will come and what will have to be sacrificed (and for what gain?).  I don't mean to be a naysayer on the use of social media and networking because I regularly search and find information I need in the moment, so I am well aware of the wealth of knowledge available.  I think my search will be, as always, to try to find balance in the insanity.
In embracing the transparency of blogging, I want to share a couple of my deep fears and concerns about becoming "connected".  First, I (hard to believe, I know) tend to be a bit more private than those a generation younger than I.  I don't seek nor care about "likes" or followers or contacts.  I have no interest in living my life publically online, and I was raised in a generation of modesty where posting a "look what I am doing" feels very uncomfortable.  I also have a hard time believing that anyone outside my department really cares what I am doing in my room.  Secondly, I believe in disconnecting, heresy as it is.  I worry that all these twitter chats, social networks, and extensions will bleed over and into the precious time I carve out to spend with my family.  As an educator who already brings her work home every night, finding this time has been a career-long struggle and I am not going to give it up readily.  Lastly, it's all pretty overwhelming.  Many years ago I regularly visited an English Ning, and I even collaborated with a teacher in Ohio, but, it became information overload, and I couldn't see a path through it all.  Twitter still feels like an ADHD conversation where I still have to link out to seven different places just to find the full story (versus a 144 character "sound byte"), and sorting through other feeds and blogs just to find a few nuggets makes me question the time spent for the gain.

But, despite the concerns, reservations, and the hives I am developing in anxiety, I will go forward with an open mind.  I ask my students to work outside of their comfort zone every day, and I must do the same.  I ask them to take risks because I can see the end goal that they cannot, so I put my trust in Jen Hegna (@jenhegna) to lead me to a new understanding and appreciation.  I go on because I cannot dismiss something I have not given a fair chance simply because I am uncomfortable.  I believe in transforming education, in creating a better learning experience, and if this is a path to that end, I must go down it.  In the end, I will work to find a balance, to leverage a tool in a way that is meaningful and manageable for me.  Because, truly, isn't that the whole belief of education-to empower people to create meaning as they see fit.