31 December 2013

My 2013 Reflection

I had 2 professional goals for 2013.

  1. Reach 10,000 Tweets
  2. Do 1 audacious thing
Well, I fell way short of #1.  My goal in 2012 was to increase my tweets from 2500 to 5000 and I beat that easily so I wanted to try and double my number of tweets in 2013.  Even though I didn't hit my mark, I did increase the number of tweets I made to nearly 4000.  

The second goal on my list, on the other hand, I crushed.  You can read about why I chose this goal here.  Being the over achiever that I am, I didn't do 1 goal, I did THREE!

  • Audacious Goal #1--Be the number 1 fundraising team at Relay for Life.
    • Relay for Life has an event in my district every year, but the students from my school never really participated.  Two years ago, one student got 10 of his friends to join him and they fundraised over $1000 together.  So for the 2013, we wanted to get more of our school involved.  Through mostly word of mouth, 90 students signed up.  Since we were extremely disorganized, fundraising really only happened in the second half of April and all of May.  But, in the end we brought in over $20,000!!!  We were the #1 fundraising group at Relay representing 20% of the total for the event even though we were less than 15% of the people there.
  • Audacious Goal #2--Pilot a TED Ed Club
    • So this wasn't supposed to be a goal.  There were no TED Ed Clubs prior to July so I had no intentions of ever starting one.  But the opportunity came up and I jumped at it.  We were one of 25 TED Ed Clubs from around the world this summer.  We continued the pilot through the fall being one of only 150 clubs.  Our application has been submitted to TED to be a full club, allowing us to publish all of our work and use the TED logo in everything we do.  I never knew that I wanted to be a TED Ed Club advisor until I became one.  You can read about some of our work here.
  • Audacious Goal #3--Own a pair of Google Glass
    • When I saw the announcement of Google Glass back in the spring, I said to myself that I needed to own a pair no matter what the cost.  When the application to own a pair was sent out I applied, but I missed the original deadline by a few hours.  Fast forward 6 months and the invitation email was in my inbox.  I have only scratched the surface in December with what I am going to do with these, but I know it will be huge.  Google Glass will definitely be part of my professional goals in 2014.
I have some tentative goals in mind for 2014, but I am going to wait a day or two more before I make them official.

28 December 2013

Challenge Accepted!!

Mr. Brett Clark has given me a Blogging Challenge.  I didn't want to get into the whole process because it is becoming very much an altered form of a chain letter.  However, I do not want to let my friend down (I mean, he did let me live in his basement).  Unfortunately, in my last post, I decided to do many of the things in the challenge so I am only left with the 11 questions that were asked of me:

11 Questions From Brett:
1) What is the most rewarding professional experience you've ever had?  I am very fortunate that I have had many of these over the years.  I have yearbooks with comments from students expressing their gratitude and colleagues that I have been friends with for my entire career despite having changed schools several times.  But, I think one that will always stick out in my mind will be the AP Chemistry student I had in my first year who earned a 9 for her marking period grade.  She barely passed her senior year of HS.  After working for a few years at a Barnes and Noble, she realized she was wasting her life.  She went to community college, then transferred to Rutgers.  She is currently finishing her Masters in Biochemistry.  When she started her MA, she messaged me on Facebook to tell me about everything that happened to her since HS.  She said that one of the reasons she chose biochemistry was because of how much my AP Chemistry class had helped her in college.  She is the perfect example of why not everyone is meant to go to college right after high school and how some people just need time to find themselves.  
2) If you were made the emperor of education, what would be the first 3 things you would change?  First, I would do away with the term "Emperor of Education."  It implies that one person's opinion is more important than everyone else's.  Second, standardized tests that involve scantrons and one right answer would be replaced with meaningful tasks to measure understanding and true learning.  Third, I think more schools need to adopt the academy model of education similar to what you find in Magnet and vocational programs.  Programs that are designed to train you with particular skills.  There would still be a "general studies" program, but gone would be 'home ec' and 'foods' to be replaced with culinary arts.  Those wanting to become engineers would take mechanics classes, electrical design, and team building.  Those not wanting to go to college would do apprenticeships and study to pass their licensing exams in whatever area they choose.  Schools need to find ways to tailor the academic offerings to the students instead of a 'one size fits most' mentality.
3) What was the last book you read for fun? for work?  I always reading several books at a time.  Currently, I am listening to (35 min commute) Ape House by Sara Gruen, reading In The Woods by Tana French, and Flipping 2.0 by, well, a bunch of awesome people.
4) Who is your favorite director? (If you say Brett Ratner or Michael Bay, I may unfollow you.) Steven Spielberg.  But, I was just having a discussion on Facebook about what an amazing director Michael Bay.  He may not produce Oscar worth films, but you cannot deny both his an Ratner's gift for turning our childhood fantasies into reality.
5) If you could be on any TV show, what show would you want to be on?  Big Bang Theory.  I would fit in so well there.
6) Paperback, hardback, or eBooks?  As much as I am in favor of digital textbooks, I cannot read for long periods of time on a digital device.  I love the feel of hardcover books; reminds me of my mom who always felt like reading hardcovers was a status symbol (even though hers almost always came from the library).  In the end I always wait until paperback for a good book.
7) Who's your favorite celebrity to follow on twitter?  I only follow 2 celebrities on Twitter:  Steve Martin and Alton Brown.  Alton Brown's tweets are hilarious because he writes his tweets on post-its. sticks it to the computer monitor under the tweet he is responding to, then takes a picture and tweets that.  
8) How close or far away are you right now from where you thought you would be at this point in your life when you were a kid?  I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 8 (got ya beat Clark!).  Mrs. Platt in 2nd grade is who inspired me.  So I am exactly where I wanted to be.  The adult version wants more, though.
9) What's the most embarrassing hair style you've ever had?  When I was in HS, I used to comb my hair across and it produced this wave effect.  When my hair got too long the wave was more tsunami size.  I definitely have pictures around, but I don't want my students who read this blog to see them.
10) I always loved how baseball players have a song they walk up to when they bat. What song would you pick?  Wait and Bleed by Slipknot.
11) What's your favorite browser and how many tabs do you have open? (I'm really looking for affirmation that I'm not the only one with an addiction to tabs.)  I am Mr. Google (currently on a Chromebook) so it is only Chrome for me.  I have 5 tabs open.  I have an unconscious thing about groups of 5.  My wife, on the other hand, is a tab junkie.  She doesn't close anything, not even programs she is no longer using.  Her phone will easily have 30-40 tabs open and her computer will have the same.

Now, if you want to participate, feel free.  You can answer the 11 questions Brett asked of me, the 11 questions that I stole in my previous post, or the 11 that I have below.  If you do decide to do the Blogger's HW, please leave a comment with a link to your post.  Thanks for reading and sharing!

11 Questions for You:
1.  If you were going to get a tattoo, what would it be and where on your body would you put it?
2.  You find a old, tarnished lamp on the beach.  You rub it and a Genie pops out.  What's the 2nd thing you ask for? Don't forget about the 3 rules of wish giving
3.  What is your favorite TED Talk?
4.  Puppies:  cute or ugly? (please include a picture as part of your defense)
5.  Deep Dish or NY Style?
6.  If you could be an educator anywhere in the world (besides where you currently live), where would it be and why?
7.  What is the best blog post you have ever read or written?
8.  What piece of technology do schools need to use or use better?
9.  What one politically correct term should be banned?
10.  How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop?
11.  What's the coolest thing about science you have ever learned?  (thank you to my wife for suggesting this one)

23 December 2013

A Blogger's HW

I have not been reflective enough this school year; at least not here and not in a formal manner.  A random tweet came up about The Homework Meme.  While I am not interested in participating in the actual meme (still not sure what a meme really is and why they are so popular), I thought some of the topics would make for an interesting blog post.  Also, it would give me the kick in the butt I need to write more.

1.  Share 11 Random Facts About Myself
  • I have been in 2 movies.  I was at a Mets game with my father and grandmother and they filmed the crowd to use in a scene for Three Men and a Little Lady.  Then a few years ago, I was visiting family in Pittsburgh and while at a Pirates game, they were filming a scene for Abduction with Taylor Lautner.  We were half a section over from the filming and saw him.  If you slow the movie down, you can see an extremely blurry view of us.
  • I once drove from NJ to Vegas in 41 hours.
  • As of this posting, I am one of only three people in NJ with Google Glass and the only educator in the state.
  • Despite my occupation and what everyone thinks about me, I have a serious fear of talking in front of a large group of people.
  • My first three part-time jobs all went bankrupt within a year of me quitting.
  • One of my many summer job experiences included working in a butcher shop.  Learned a lot that summer!
  • You can find my name on Wikipedia.
  • I name all of my cars.  It is something I picked up from my childhood best friend.  Penelope, Clarise, JoJo, Portia have been mine while Amy and Sadie have been my wife's.
  • I have a hard time creating lists that contain more than 5 things on them.
  • I could say chocolate before I could say mommy.
  • If I could meet anyone it would be my sons in 30 years to see what they are like when they are my age now.

2.  11 Questions from The Homework Meme
  • If you weren't in education, what would you do instead?
    • I am fascinated by pyrotechnics and fireworks.  I think it stems from my love of science and chemistry, but it is also because they are so amazing.  It is a controlled explosion that produces wonder and awe.  How could you not love them?
  • Pencil or Pen?
    • I was raised in school to always use pens.  If it is not neon, I won't pick it up.  But, I lean toward pencils now.
  • Last Book You Read
    • I am currently in the middle of Ape House by Sara Gruen.  Her previous book is Water for Elephants.  It is pretty good so far, but I am hoping it gets a little better in the middle like Water for Elephants did.
  • Guilty Pleasure
    • Twizzlers.  I bought a 4.5 lb bag at Hershey Park this summer and ate it myself.  I would have eaten it that day, but my wife wouldn't let me.  I actually ate a 1lb bag while watching a movie and made myself sick.
  • Has tech made your life easier or harder?
    • Yes, but in many ways I have had to work so much harder because of it.  But, overall, I can't imagine my life without it.
  • If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
    • It is all worth it.
  • What is your favorite blog to read?
    • There are several that I really enjoy and several that I like to read because I always learn something new and several that I read for both reasons.  I would hate to say there is one that is my favorite so I linked three here.
  • Would you ever wear orange pants?
    • Hell's no.  But I do have a pair of orange socks with black dots.
  • What is the one thing you hope to do in the future?
    • I want to win an award.  I was watching the #EduBros Award show and was thinking that I want to be nominated for something next year.  
  • Favorite thing to do on a Friday night
    • Watch Grimm.  Love that show!!
I tend to write in pieces.  This post took 7 days to put together.  I promise to make a better effort in 2014.

15 December 2013

Being a Google Glass Explorer

I have been obsessed with Google Glass since I first saw this video on YouTube.  I showed it to my Honors class at the time and said that if I was given the chance to buy one I wouldn't hesitate.  The original pilot for Glass included only industry leaders and companies looking to design apps for the device (now called Glassware).  About 6 months ago, I saw a tweet announcing that they were looking for additional Google Glass Explorers for the second phase of the pilot.  I don't know how I forgot to follow the link, but by the time I remembered, I literally missed the application deadline by less than 6 hours.  I submitted an application anyway and got a very nice email telling me that the deadline had passed, but they would be happy to keep me in mind.

Fast forward to this past Monday.  I open Gmail to find an email from Google Glass telling me I had been accepted into the 3rd pilot and I had 7 days to decide if I wanted to pay the large price tag for one of the devices.  The longest part of the decision making process was figuring out which color I wanted (of the 5 colors, only Tangerine and Sky Blue were left).  I literally ran across the hall to a colleague and asked her to help me make a life-altering decision.  And Tangerine it was!

I ordered the Glass on Monday at 12:30pm EST.  Received an email that my order was being processed about 3 hours later, and another email at 3:30am Tuesday saying they were shipped UPS.  Then came the email at 9:30am THAT SAME DAY saying that UPS tried to deliver them, but I wasn't home.  By 5pm I had the device in my hand.

It's been nearly 2 weeks and I love them.  There are some problems that I will go into in a different post.  I want to talk about some of the projects I am getting involved in to really impact education.

  1. Broadcasting lab experiments--I have a student on home instruction because of having heart surgery and is going to be out for at least a month.  Since I run a flipped classroom, my lessons are already on YouTube so she doesn't miss any of the material.  But, she is going to miss all of the labs we do.  So, one of her friends in the class is going to wear Glass while performing the lab and do a Google Hangout with her.  Labs are performed on Google Docs so the girl will be able to record results and observations right along with her in-class lab partners.  Connected to this idea, we will also be recording our labs and posting to YouTube.  There will be no missed classes anymore.
  2. Art from start to finish--I can only do so much in my room, so I am expanding to the arts wing.  I saw a post of a 4th grade teacher who had her students wear Glass during their art time, recording the entire process.  Working with several students, we are going to record the entire Art process from initial brain-storming and rough sketches to the final product.  All of the time will be recorded as a video, edited together, and run at triple speed to create a 5 minute video of the entire process.
  3. A concert from the perspective of the band--unless you played an instrument, you have no idea what it's like to actually sit in the band while they are playing.  Working with one of our spring concerts, we are going to have a member from each section of the band wear Glass during their final rehearsals.  All of the videos will be edited together to show what a song looks like from the stage.  Unfortunately, Glass came 1 week too late, otherwise we were going to record the marching band performance from the perspective of the band.
  4. In the show--we have several fundraisers in the spring including Dancing With the Teachers.  I think it would be amazing to live broadcast the performance on YouTube so that those who can't make the performance can still witness everything live.
These are just some of my initial thoughts after a week of use.  My students have been having a blast taking pictures of random things in the classroom using Glass and are fighting for the chance to record their labs.  I can't post pictures of my students so below are some pics I have been taking with Glass.
This was my very first picture using Google Glass.  My sons have been obsessed with it, especially my older (not pictured).  He is a real technology junkie.
Glass has a Translate feature.  The original picture is bottom left.  In the upper right you can see how it translated the text using augmented reality.
We got a couple of inches of snow last week.  I was testing out how fast the camera worked on Glass.  You can see just to the right of the garbage can the snow ball my son was throwing at me.  
Google+ has added some interesting features called Auto Awesome.  The snow effect is caused by that.  On Glass, you can make Vignettes, which is basically a picture within a picture.  I downloaded a holiday theme and added it to the upper corner.
The shimmering lights is another Auto Awesome effect.  Again, I used the Vignette feature.
 I think the best part of the camera is how fast Glass takes a picture.  There are so many times that by the time I get my phone out, open the camera app, the opportunity has passed.  Now I have the picture within seconds.

I will post more about my experiences as they happen.  Big things happening in class this week so another post coming by Friday.

03 December 2013

You know who's awesome?

Ms. Flood is awesome!

My older son qualified for the 1st grade Gifted & Talented program; something both of his parents
participated in.  We were very excited because he earned his place due to his creativity and imaginative problem solving skills. It wasn't test scores nor teacher recommendation, but the traits we value most in our children.

Since the teacher is shared between multiple schools and my wife and I are both educators, we asked for parent-teacher conference outside of the normal scheduled time.  We feel it is very important to meet our children's teachers face-to-face.  Ms. Flood agreed to meet us, but the only available day was a Friday afternoon at 3:30.  +1 in the awesome column for a Friday afternoon conference.

Our conference lasted nearly an hour because my wife and I were fascinated by everything Ms. Flood was saying.  She tells us she threw out the curriculum because it didn't put enough emphasis on things like problem solving skills, collaboration, and creativity.  Right now they are designing their own lunchboxes.  They have to create blueprints, collect materials and physically build the entire thing.  Nothing is "HARD" in her room; everything is a CHALLENGE.  When someone is struggling, she has the other students help instead of the answer always coming from the teacher.  The homework is to analyze things in their own world to see how they can be improved upon and have more creativity added to the design.  These are engineering concepts the teacher is teaching them in FIRST GRADE!  +2 in the awesome column.

I tell Ms. Flood about the science demos I had done that week for my son's class and told her it would be great to partner on something for the entire first grade.  Since she has a background in science (that's right.  An elementary person with a real science degree) she was very eager.  Now we are going to create a STEM challenge night for parents and students that are going to involve a variety of engineering challenges throughout the school to emphasize everything that we both value.

My son has been very lucky in the teachers he has had over the past 2 years.  They are caring and creative educators who always put students first.  I know that won't always happen, but I am glad it has because he really loves going to school every day.