What Do We Remember?

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The saying “we will never forget” is burned into the legacy of my generation.  We went to bed in one world, and woke up in the next.  Everything changed.  I was half asleep, just waking up for my second week of classes when my roommate’s dad called and woke me up.  I can still picture the phone we had in our room, turning on the TV, so many details from that morning are etched into my memory.

I also remember a friend on my hall, new from India, who we stood by to protect.  He found himself feeling unsafe in public, not because he was doing anything wrong, not because he was a Muslim (he wasn’t), but because he was brown skinned.  We all made sure we went with him whenever he had to go somewhere.  He didn’t travel around alone for nearly a month.  I also remember the interesting, powerful conversations I had with another hall mate and friend, Adnan.  He was both Muslim and Pakistani, and one of the nicest, most peaceful, intelligent men I have ever met.  I also remember the helpers.  A whole college full of kids that made their way to the nearest hospital to donate blood while waiting to find out if Flight 93 was heading toward nearby 3 Mile Island.  The auditorium full of young people sharing uplifting stories, or the friend I hadn’t met, who lost his mom in the towers.  I remember so much of those days.

Fast forward 16 years.  What I remember and associate most with September 11th isn’t terror, isn’t the horrific change in the world that took place on that day, but the story of one man, Joseph Tomasello.  He wasn’t a first responder, though I have a good story about one of them too.  He was a helper. Called to duty by his country to help sort through the debris and rubble.  He was given inadequate safety supplies, but he worked tireless hours to help clean and sort through the mess.  He is the person I now think of most, that I remember most.  Mr. Tomasello has since passed from a years long battle with cancers he gained while working in the rubble of the World Trade Center buildings.  The most memorable thing I remember is asking him, “Do you ever regret that you did it? Do you wish you had said no? You wouldn’t have cancer now.” he looked at me and said, “I will never regret my service to my country, nor to the people who suffered during that day.  Do I wish I had better gear? Sure. But if you are asking if I would have not gone knowing what the outcome would be? No. I would go every time.”

I am always in awe of his conviction to helping others.  This is the legacy we must remember.  We won’t forget the many images that those planes burned into our minds. If I never saw the films again, I would still be able to picture it clearly.  But what we must truly remember, is the spirit of the promise of America. Together we can do great things. Our nation has forgotten all that we hold dear only 16 years after that fateful day.  People like Joseph Tomasello deserve better, and so do we all.

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Innovation & “The Box”

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Educators often say that innovation and creativity are born by thinking outside of the box.  There is a prevailing argument that increasing constraints on people will limit their ability to innovate and be creative.  This argument is wrong.  What? How can we be innovative if we are “boxed in”.  Surely we must think outside of the box to be creative.  Wrong.  The box is what forces our creativity.  For people who don’t push innovation, the box becomes the grave of their creativity.  But, for people who value creativity and innovation the box is an inspiration.  The needs combined with constraints can bring out the most creativity.  Being creative without constraints is unrealistic.  In the best of situations, we always have some constraints.  Success in innovation isn’t about taking off all the shackles and learning to fly.  Instead it is about learning to use what is available to you to create, identify ways to mitigate the limitations, and use the box to help you reach previously unattainable goals.  The next time you are frustrated by constraints, feeling boxed in.  Remember, the box is your launching pad to innovation.  Take your constraints and find a new path forward.

Shifting Gears

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I haven’t done as much summer reading this year as in the past.  In part because I am working on so many projects and writing myself.  Also, because I wasn’t sure where to start.  There are so many great books to read and so little time.  I chose to start with this one.  Shift This! I first chose this because Joy Kirr is amazing and I have tremendous respect for all that she has done and shared.  Secondly I chose it for a very specific purpose.  I want to move the needle.  After a year working with staff and students in my current position, I want to start finding ways to help teachers shift to more innovative practices that provide students with more direction over their learning.

 

This book is perfect.  It has been years since I took many of the first steps to create a more students directed classroom.  I get frequent reminders when delivering professional development that the “easy steps” I often describe are sometimes in a completely different language.  This book has been a great reminder of ways to shift teaching and learning in the classroom.

It also reminded me that I want to provide a major shift in professional development for educators.  I want to create opportunities where teachers can understand the why, how, and WHO behind making shifts in their practices.  I see all three components as crucial.  We surely need to start with WHY.  Shifting practices should be done with a purpose.  Identifying that purpose ought to be the catalyst for any real change.  HOW should guide us in clear, achievable steps.  Getting teachers started in making changes can be a challenge.  Teaching is difficult.  It gets fast and furious, so changes need to be easy to make (like the one’s in SHIFT THIS!)  Finally and often underrated is the WHO of making changes.  Making changes requires support.  You need to find those who have been there before, hopefully recently, and build relationships with them that will provide you with support.  Without the WHY, HOW, and WHO making changes can often fall short and creating real shifts in instruction becomes much more difficult to achieve.

Three Days in #rOxnard

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Why do they call it Rockstar? This past week I had the amazing opportunity to travel across the country to Oxnard, California to find out.  CUE has been doing amazing work over the past few years.  They are working to create improvement across the region in education.  When I had the opportunity to be faculty with CUE, I was thrilled to be able to do it.  The first day was travel and getting to meet faculty in beautiful suburban Las Angeles. I was fortunate to have my TOR16 Google Innovator Academy friend Nancy Minicozzi pick me up at the airport and bring me up along the scenic coast to Oxnard.   Arriving at Rio Vista Middle School and getting to meet the faculty was fantastic.  I met some people I didn’t know (even on social media) and others I had met before.  The faculty at rOxnard (CUE Rockstar Oxnard) were some truly gifted and remarkable educators with so much to offer.

The first day was filled with excitement.  The Superhero theme led me to the inspired shred session where I threw down my cape and told the audience to be brave superheroes cape or not! We don’t need capes, we need every day educators doing amazing things. (Side note: when trying to tear off my cape the velcro got stuck and I basically just choked myself before pulling it over my head.)

My first session on creating digital breakouts was received with mixed results. I tried to break this down for people into it’s most basic form and then build it back up to the amazing.  I had a game for them to play (The Hero’s Journey) which you can try.  Many people loved the breakout concept, but I was initially a little disappointed with how few games were created.  I did spend a lot of great time working with people on Google Sites and Google Forms and that made up for my initial frustrations.  I decided to adjust my session for the next day to be more like how I would teach a class of kids. While I was at dinner with a few other faculty I saw a notification on Twitter from an attendee of one of my sessions (George Carganilla)  had made a breakout game as a reflection of his journey at rOxnard to that point.  It was the high point of what was an fun and exciting day.

The next day I revamped my class. Rather than give lots of work time at the end, we did things step by step.  I was determined to make sure every teacher in the session had a YouTube channel and created a video.  I think I was pretty close.  I learned a lot from that session.  First, remember to present like a teacher.  It can be so easy to tell people all they need to know, but it is important for people to create while they have support.  When you give them as much information as you have on a topic, they need it in shorter bursts (just like kids). At times I have forgotten to do this because you fall into what people expect.  The next was how catchy Frozen still can be. More importantly, how underutilized YouTube is in education.Screenshot 2017-07-14 at 11.53.11 AM.png

By the end of the day nearly every teacher had made their own video. I also had a few teachers take it to the next level and incorporate things they learned or did with green screening, slow motion effects, and filters and again shared their awesome creations with me ( great video by Michelle Voelker).  It was awesome.  During that time I also spoke with a few elementary teachers in their 20th+ years.  They talked about how they had grown and learned in the past two years. How they had been throwing away tons of things they didn’t need/use anymore and working to be more engaging with their students (which was why they were there).  They were my biggest inspiration.  Those teachers reminded me that we can change cultures.  They reminded me that no matter how long someone is in the profession, they can still see the excitement and benefit of learning new things.  They (along with all the teachers that came to learn ways to enhance their practice) were the true Rockstars in rOxnard.

I spent three great days in rOxnard. I was inspired by the people and loved the connections built with the faculty.  My biggest regret was that I could not attend any of their amazing sessions.  Great things from David Platt, Heidi Baynes, Cori Orlando, Lisa Nowakowski, Kat Goyette, and more made me wish I could have attended so many sessions! Regardless, going to CUE Rock Star (rOxnard) was an amazing experience.  I have so much more to reflect upon in my own Hero’s Journey.

Be More Than a Brand

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Social media has offered the opportunity for every individual to create their own brand in a much larger world.  Rather than having a community identity, we have the opportunity to have a global one.  I have read about, talked about, and seen the importance of branding.  Creating a brand is something I have done myself, I had worked on creating for my school, and I continue to do through my various social media platforms.  Branding has its benefits in both the school community and in the larger world, but what is the cost of our branding?

At this point each of us who actively participate in Social media networks are taking part in creating our brand.  We do so wittingly or not.  Everything we say, post, like, or share says a little about how we are and what we value.  Our brand is carved in the echoes of messages, 140 characters at a time.  What we present to the world is how we are judged.  It is important to be conscious of this fact.  It is important not only to understand it, but to leverage it when we can.  The more conscious we are, however, of our facade, the more likely we are to start disengaging from what made social media a meaningful outlet for many of us, personal connections.  At the end of the day, social media was built with the premise of creating social experiences for a wider world.  As more people grow ever conscious of their branding through the use of social media, I am starting to see less personal connections being made.  Many people would rather protect their image, protect their brand, than have a meaningful discussion.

I know my social media is seen.  I know it reflects on who people think I am.  That is why I maintain a constant.  In using social media, I am myself.  Each post, tweet, or share represents a little piece of who I really am.  If you were to meet me in person, those posts are similar to the person you get.  I am happy to share, open to discussing, frequently ask questions, make mistakes, have a love/hate relationship with auto-correct, make jokes, do lots of different things, and love to help other people.  I can be very silly, but always eager to tackle serious conversations.  I am curious and tend to ask questions.  If you read through my feeds, this is what you will hopefully see.  I don’t tend to worry much about my social media brand, because I am myself.  Yes I am mindful of what I put out into the world, but I am also honest.  You will not see a false mask, but the whole human being.  While many people will gloss over themselves to present the perfect image, I honestly feel that does all of us a disservice.  Greatness doesn’t come from being a perfect brand, it comes from being much more.

As the concept of branding continues to spread, and rightly so, keep in mind your purpose.  My purpose is to develop great personal connections to people around the world.  I seek an opportunity to learn from them, to find mentors, to be a mentor, and ultimately be more. You can do social media, do branding and still be something so much more than a brand.  You can be yourself.

 

Learning in a Virtual World

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Over the past few weeks I have both introduced my students to, and spent a significant amount of time working with my students in Virtual Reality using CoSpaces. CoSpaces has allowed me and my students to learn together in a new way.  Creating in three dimensions presents its own challenges.  Seeing, imagining, and creating a  virtual world in three dimensions enabled me to rethink what our students can do to demonstrate their learning.

Part of this came from my longtime desire to create a VR Breakout Edu game.  While I did create one (Who Moved EdCampNJ) I am still not quite at my goal of making the game independent of anything other than the virtual reality format.  While working to create this, and testing some other fun creations out with my students using CoSpaces I had some amazing experiences.  I gave my classes some basic instructions on how to create using the program and how the block coding work.  Then with some very simple guidelines (ie: demonstrate figurative language, create a chain reaction like a Rube Goldberg machine to launch a rocket) they made the concepts their own.  Not only did I get some incredible responeses, their creativity and story telling ability shined.  During this time my classes inspired me with their ability to use the VR platform and some basic block code to create a story  I was also impressed with the suggestions they were making to improve the program.  On the other side, I was incredibly impressed with how CoSpaces has made those adjustments.  Within weeks and sometimes days of suggestions that either came from me, or my students, the company had created some new variations that made the program even better.

I wanted to post some of their incredible creations for others to see, but I didn’t want to post students’ full names on Twitter.  I can however, leave the links here without having their names posted. So I am going to link a few fantastic creations.  When my students realized they were able to create in a real, virtual reality environment, many were extremely excited.  Some of them even went on to create other things to share with me beyond their assignments.  I am loving the way they have taken to creating within the program and I am excited to see how they share their knowledge with others through creating in VR.

Here are a few great CoSpaces creations from 7th and 8th grade students.  Keep in mind the 7th graders had about 20 minutes to learn and create.  The 8th grade had a little over an hour.  This took plenty of trial and error, learning, and creativity from these students.  They not only learned a new tool, but also demonstrated a new concept with a new way to create.  There were plenty of failures, but very few who actually surrendered to it.  In the end I am extremely proud of the great things they did.  There are many more, but here are some samples of their creations.

Figurative Language (7th Grade)

https://cospac.es/4EPP

https://cospac.es/hlfV

8th Grade: Chain Reaction to Launch a Rocket

https://cospac.es/5wUS

https://cospac.es/AhGJ

https://cospac.es/39sW

https://cospac.es/9n4Y

https://cospac.es/4pHv

https://cospac.es/CytB

Moving a Mountain

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Earlier this year I wrote about my shift from my previous district, a very small, K-8 district to one almost 50 times the size.  While I had worked in my previous district for eight years, I had seen lots of positive movement over that time.  Some of it was even brought about by me.  I was hoping that, upon arriving in my new district I would find it significantly ahead of my previous one in many ways.  Instead I found a large mix.  There are people who span the spectrum of development in effective tech use and integration.  No matter where individuals or districts my sit on the spectrum, it has always been my drive to move them in a positive direction. This has been no different since I have arrived in my new district and school.

On Friday the district held a PD Innovation Summit.   The day started off brilliantly with the students from our High School giving us a sneak peak of their upcoming musical, Hair Spray.  They were fantastic and kicked off our day with positive message of acceptance and love.  It was then followed by a fantastic keynote by Rich Kiker.  If you have never heard Rich speak, it is worth your time.  More importantly, it was exactly what our district needed to kick off a day of learning.  Rich shared an incredibly positive message while challenging thinking, asking us all to be better, and pressing our understanding of what teaching is and will be in the future.  I heard many teachers afterward talking about his engaging style, but even more talking about his inspiring message.

I then spent the next 3 hours sharing and teaching about Tourbuilder.  The sessions were my first as an “official” Google Certified Trainer and between my personal feeling and the verbal feedback (still awaiting survey feedback) they were extremely well received.  I had a large variety of people from the district in my sessions so I had to get creative with purpose and application.  A conversation about “these types of days” with another teacher before the event started gave me a strong perspective on how to structure my session.  Unlike so many of the sessions I had given before, these people were forced to be there.  They didn’t necessarily care about building digital tours. It was my job to find a way to provide value for everyone in the room, not just the people who wanted to use it with kids.

The most intriguing reflection however, came from the final session. A small group of teachers that were interested in pushing technology and teaching practices forward in the district.  We spent almost two hours talking about where the district had been, how it had progressed, and the challenges of making progress in a place so big.  We aren’t talking about pushing a car up a mountain, we are talking about pushing the mountain.  Understanding the spectrum was important.  Some teachers were using technology and engaging teaching practices fluently.  Others were writing on the chalkboard around a Smartboard out of fear of breaking it.  This conversation led me to a few simple conclusions about moving the mountain.

  1. Those of us at the bottom can’t push too hard on our own.  Even teacher leaders must be mindful of the way in which we push our peers.  If we don’t push, they won’t move at all.  If we push too hard, they will resist with all they have in them.  We need to provide a constant, gentle nudge in the direction of progress for the majority of people.
  2. Widespread changes will only really take a stronghold in a district when administration is fully bought into the change.  If the district leadership is still content to function in the “old way” without embracing changes, many teachers won’t invest.  While the teacher leaders can make a difference, without those above them, it becomes an incredibly difficult task.
  3. Moving the mountain takes a lot of help.  You need to develop a team of others who share your vision for progress.  Unlike in a small district where one person can move the needle quite a bit, and a small group can make meaningful differences, a large district requires many leaders, all providing their gentle nudge, with a common vision.

The Summit left we with many things to ponder.  The messages that started the day, the new perspective I gained on presenting, and the remarkable open discussion that took place about moving the district forward in the future, all left me a better teacher than before the day began.  That, I can say definitively, was the most useful district PD day that I have been a part of in my career.  While there were minor things I would have changed, I have left with hope.  Not just because I was able to get better, but because I once again believe it is possible to move the mountain.