27 January 2012

EduCon Philly Day 1

I just finished up my first day at EduCon and I needed to share some of the amazing things that I saw.  I could go on for a very long post, but I want to group everything into three categories.

If you have ever heard Chris Lehmann speak, you know immediately that he is an amazing educator.  But I want to talk about how he runs leads the school.
  • Food
    • There was food and drink everywhere.  I went into one classroom and I would say at least 2/3 of the class had some sort of drink bottle on their desk.  And yet, for some reason, this didn't seem to disrupt the learning that was happening and there wasn't a bug to be seen. (sorry, couldn't help the sarcasm) But what really struck me was lunch.  As we are on our tour, we noticed 6 students sitting and eating in a Spanish classroom and there was no teacher in there supervising them.  The students eat EVERYWHERE--hallways, lunchroom, classrooms, window ledges--you name it, there were students eating there.  The best part about it was the kids had the utmost respect for their environment.  When the lunch was over there wasn't a single piece of trash to be found and I didn't see a custodian anywhere.  Whether they were in the classroom or the hallways, these kids loved their school and it showed.
  • Computers
    • Every student is issued a Mac laptop when entering the school and they must pay an insurance fee ($85) every year to keep it.  Most of the computers were decorated with stickers, drawings, quotes written in Sharpie.  Most schools would freak out if the kids were "damaging" school property, but not this school.  They trust that the students will respect the computers and the students respond.
  • His Office
    • It is not often that I am caught like a deer in the headlights, but this one really threw me.  I was walking passed an office and a student I met called out to me from a conference room in the back.  I noticed a number of students in both the front office and the back conference room (probably 15 or so).  As I walk into the office, Chris Lehmann is sitting at his desk laughing with the kids around him.  That's right, I walked right into the principal's office without realizing it.  I was stunned by the fact that he welcomed me right in as if it was no big deal.  Now, let me mention something else about the office.  Chris' desk is where the secretary should have been and the larger space was used as a place for the students to congregate and eat or get work completed.  Anyone else have a principal like that?
  • Teaching Philosophy
    • Everything is done for the kids.  There was no talk of working within the contractual time.  Everyone put all of themselves into building dynamic classrooms that were student-focused and learning by doing was at the heart.  Students talked just as much as the teachers did and the lessons were engaging.
  • Attitude
    • Everyone smiles.  Everyone wanted to be there, staff and students alike.  Students were helpful because they wanted to be not because they had to be.  Teachers gave up lunch time to sit and converse with visitors because they are passionate about what they do and want to share it with everyone.

  • Passion
    • I need to tell you about Maggie.  I was wearing my infamous neon green tie, and after watching Diana Laufenberg's class, Maggie comes up to me saying how much she loves my tie.  She is going on and on about it and how I have to wear it for the entire weekend.  Later in the day, I am walking through the halls with a friend.  Maggie is about halfway down the hall and starts waving at me the second she saw me.  Then, at the end of the day, Maggie is the student who called out to me from Lehmann's conference room.  She comes running through his office and gives me a big hug right in front of him saying that we are friends now so it is OK to give me a hug.  That's passion.
  • Dedication
    • Every kid we asked questions of stopped whatever they were doing and gave us their full attention.  Most of the kids used their lunch time to collaborate with peers on a variety of projects.  None of the kids seemed stressed about anything they were working on and were eager to share their ideas regardless of what the topic was.  Even in the history class I saw, the teacher encouraged the students to make comments on a New York Times education page about the State of the Union, and she showed that one student in the class had already done it before being asked.  
What makes this school so successful is the fact that the entire school takes on the same mindset.  There is a culture of learning in everything the students do and it permeates into everything and buy in from staff, students and parents.  Every school could be like this if they wanted to and change the culture to make it happen.

26 January 2012

It's happening again

I am a starter.  I rock the boat.  That is who I am and that is what I will always be.

Unfortunately, many teachers don't like my methods.  They like to feel safe and secure, and people who cause change seriously disrupt that.

I have seen much success through my methods.  This doesn't mean my way is the right way, just a different way.  What bothers me, and what sparked this post, is the teacher who feels the need to attack my methods.

You don't have to like what I do.
You don't even have to like me.
But I'm not the enemy.

Listen to what I have to say with an open mind.  Maybe you try something new, maybe you don't.  But, let's, at least, work together to build something that works for both of us.  Something that is better than either of us could have created alone.

Is it too much to ask? 

16 January 2012

Everything I needed to know about Leadership I learned from Ami James

One of my guilty pleasures is watching tattoo shows.  It started with National Geographic's Taboo series about tattooing in other cultures and then spread to Miami Ink on TLC.  I think my obsession comes from the fact that it is absolutely amazing how detailed these artists can make their drawings considering they are making it under the skin.  Ami James was one of the owners of the Miami Ink studio and is now on his own show called NY Ink.

Ami, hands down, is the worst leader I have ever seen.  Let me list off some of his leadership traits:
  1. He has a violent temper that can erupt at a moment's notice.
  2. He swears to make a point and puts people down during every argument.
  3. He does not try to foster young talent.
  4. He dumps his problems on his employees.
  5. He hires his friends, then treats them like his employees, but wants them to keep acting like his friends.
  6. He expects people to just do whatever he says because he is the "boss."
I think that's a pretty good start.  When you read the post title you probably thought I was going to show you a great leader, someone to aspire to.  Sorry to disappoint.  But, what I have learned over the years is it is almost easier to learn from the worst than it is from the best because you can stop doing something wrong, but sometimes it is hard to mimic the positive traits in others.

I want to talk about #3 for a moment because I feel this is Ami's worst trait.  He hired a woman (Jessica) to serve as his shop manager.  Now, typically a title like that means she is in charge of all areas of the shop and has authority over other members in the shop, but not the artists.  Jessica has a MBA and used to work as an executive in a bank.  She has expressed a desire to learn to tattoo and is actually a talented artist.  However, every time she tries to learn more, she is sent back to her "box" to deal with appointments and clients.  Jessica also has a temper and every time this happens she argues, complains and has a terrible attitude with everyone she interacts with.  Ami regularly complains about having too much work and not enough time to get back to Miami to see his family; this would be the perfect opportunity for him to train someone to take some of the workload off of him as well as reduce some of the hostility that flies around the shop.

Ami's shops are successful because of the fact that he is on TV and manages to get some of the best artists in the business.  He succeeds in spite of his failures as a boss.  Most schools (actually no school) would not survive under this type of management style.  School leaders need to hold themselves to a higher standard and be the leader they want to see in others.  Teachers need to remember to do the same because you don't need a title to be a leader.  If you want those around you to work hard and dare to fail, then you must do the same.

Walk the Talk!

10 January 2012

My students as producers

Tonight's #edchat topic was about how to convert students from consumers to producers.  While many of the suggestions were great in theory, the main problem is the educators that are on Twitter represent a very small minority in the education world.  Too often we are combating long ingrained preconceptions of what is expected of both the teacher and student in the classroom.  It is tough to get students to become producers of learning when they have spent the last 10 or 11 years having barely or never done it.

So, with this in mind, I would like to share what my learners produced recently.  In a previous post, I talked about how instead of a test in the Atomic Theory unit I decided to let the students demonstrate their understanding of the objectives through a formal assessment.  I gave them about 2 weeks to do it and got some interesting results.  Most of the students created some sort of test (one even used the same fonts I used on a previous test so it looked like something I would actually hand out), and a couple did some research projects.  But the ones who really went outside the box are the ones I would like to share below.

The first started as a music video and kind of dissolved into just their own song.

These 2 girls made a scrapbook of information as well as a bundt cake in the shape of an atomic orbital with mini cupcakes for the electron configuration.
This student is an amazing artist and so creative.  This picture doesn't do her work justice.  She laid out all of the information in these mini posters.  I especially like the way she explained electron configurations, in fact I probably will put this on my wall and refer to it next year.
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This student took a spin on the typical Google Search Story and created a video about a conversation between Boron and Carbon on Facebook.  Really clever.

This last group was supposed to do an interpretive dance, but the thought of doing something so daring in front of 24 of their peers scared the stuffing out of them. Instead they created watercolor paintings of the different concepts.

Was it amazing, Earth shattering work? No.  But for their first attempt at formal assessments I was really impressed.  Looking forward to trying this again in the next marking period.

09 January 2012

25 hours in a day

That's pretty much the minimum amount of time I need to get everything done that I am working on. There will be a post about the alternative assessments my students just completed, but I need to grade them first.  So, let me tell you about a little things called the Middletown Web Challenge.

In November, a friend's school ran a 30 Web Tools Challenge in which they posted a different web tool for each day for teachers to try in their classroom.  The objective was to expose teachers to a variety of free tools that could have an immediate, positive impact on learning.  There are so many teachers that want to do more in their classes, but don't have the time or know-how to find the way to improve.  Your colleagues can only provide you so many ideas and once you have been teaching awhile with the same group, you find the ideas begin to dry up.  This is where the web challenge comes in.

My district is on the edge of glory greatness.  For too many years, because of a rotating door of administrators, the teachers have shut their doors to the outside world and things have begun to stagnate.  That does not mean it's bad; in fact I have met some amazing individuals.  The problem is the school is at the point where it needs that small push to get from good to great.

I saw a tweet from Eric Sheninger in December about Digital Learning Day on February 1st.  This initiative from the Obama administration strives to increase the amount of technology being used in schools with the kickoff occurring on DLD.  I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to expose my colleagues to the wonderful world of Web 2.0 Tools that I have been learning about on Twitter for the past 2 years.  I shared the information with a colleague in one of our middle schools and she jumped on board.  Also a web geek, she has been leading a charge to incorporate a number of Google Apps into the MS classes so she thought this was the perfect way to start effecting real change district wide.  We met with our principals and so the Middletown Web Challenge was born.

This was all prior to Winter Break. As we began to build the blog and compile the list of tools we wanted to share, we realized that no one has really told the new superintendent what we were up to.  We scheduled a meeting for last Friday, and after the assistant superintendent heard of our plans, she immediately decided to make this a 6-12 initiative that would now include 3 middle schools and both high schools.  It was decided that a video promo of the project would be filmed to be put on the local TV channel and the district website explaining what we would be doing over the month of February so the community could get involved.  From a short tweet and subsequent email, this idea has grown into a massive district changing program.

I have to tell you that I am unbelievably excited for everything that is happening.  Regardless of how many teachers actually participate, I know that the group of teachers that are working on this project are striving to improve education and doing what's best of student learning.  When I first pitched this to my principal I thought that only my 1 school of 100 staff members would be involved and probably only about 25% of them would actually participate.  Now, this blog idea will be at the core of a movement that could involve 400 educators from grades 6-12.

I highly recommend getting your school involved in some sort of digital learning initiative before the end of the year.  Check out the links I included above for ideas on how your school can get involved.

01 January 2012

My 365 photo challenge

I have been intrigued by the 365 project.  I have been using my phone in the classroom to take pictures of labs and projects my students complete and post them to Flickr so I thought it might be fun to try it.  I have borrowed my dad's ipad2 for the next month so I was using the camera on it to determine what would be my first picture of 2012.  That's when my 4 year old son walked in the room and the light bulb went on.  Why does it have to be MY 365 Project?

So I would like to share with you my 4 year old son's blog:
OK, he's 4 so he is very into superheroes and being an older brother; don't knock the title.  I always look and him and am fascinated by how he sees the world.  This will be a great way to document a year in his life.