It’s All Over but the Connections!

Buncee_CreationSo I am sitting here in Chicago’s Union Station waiting for the train to take me home from ISTE 2018. All I want to do is sleep, but I thought I would start the reflection process. Let me start by saying…WOW! As a first timer, ISTE was very overwhelming. Being someone who likes being in social situations and unfamiliar places, it is good for me to feel overwhelmed. It helps me to see how others view the world. I see why introverted personality types feel exhausted after being in social situations.

I have to admit that I was a little concerned after getting to McCormick Place on Saturday. There didn’t seem to be much open and things were crowded. Sunday wasn’t much better. The lines for sessions were over the top! People getting in line an hour and a half early for a one-hour session were common. There wasn’t much in the way of food. Complaining was common amongst participants.

Sound like a negative experience? Not at all! Prior to the conference, I got a lot of advice that connections at ISTE were the best part of the conference experience. That advice was SPOT on…my connections made ISTE amazing! Being able to see and talk with educators that I hadn’t met face to face was amazing. Hanging out with Dan Kreiness, Louis Soper, Sarah Fromholder, Jennifer Ledford, Christie Cate, Amy Storer, and SO many others was simply awesome. Those connections that we had forged over Voxer and Twitter transferred to the real world quite nicely. Many educators with whom I work say that they don’t like social media because of all the negativity or the time that it takes to make connections. ISTE made me further convinced that social media can be a positive, life-changing experience and it is well worth the time that I have put into it.

One other aspect that I was excited about was the opportunity to meet those educator “rock stars” who have written the books and blog posts that I spend much of my free time reading. Again, what a great experience. Every rock star that I met was a real, down to earth person who cares about education as a profession as much as I do. I have been BookSnapping since the beginning but had never met Tara Martin face to face. I don’t read the same since I started BookSnapping…my mind is awhirl with images and emojis! She was just as awesome and personable as she has been to me over social media. The energetic, thoughtful Jennifer Casa-Todd who has spoken my language in terms of the value of social media for students recognized me and gave me a big hug just like a regular person! What can I say about Dr. Sarah Thomas? Edumatch was my first experience on Voxer and my education life hasn’t been the same since. I had “met” her over a couple of Google Hangouts, but I got to meet her for real at the EduMatch Meetup. Such a great person. Sarah your passion for education and educators is much appreciated by many…I hope you realize the impact you have had on so many of us.

I do plan on attending other ISTE conferences, but what hit home about this one is the power of being a connected educator. My goal will continue to be to get my teachers involved in social media in some way. It is truly the connections that matter!

Don Sturm

One Week to #ISTE18

As a first timer, OVERWHELMED is the word going through my head right now. I have been to many conferences, but ISTE is by far the biggest. There is just so much to do and not enough time or human energy to be able to do it all in the Saturday to Wednesday time frame! I have read blog posts, followed hashtags, and joined the ISTE Voxer group all in the hopes of gaining some degree of comfort before stepping foot in Chicago next Saturday. The one thing I might have going for me is the fact that I have been to Chicago many times (I only live 2 1/2 hours away) so I don’t have the added stress of trying to figure out what I need to see outside of the conference.

What I am most looking forward to at ISTE is simply furthering the connections that I have fostered through social media. For me this is exciting! Many of the people that I have grown to know over the last two years will be there as well. Unless you have a strong PLN it might be hard to imagine what this group of people has given me professionally. They have been a sounding board, they have challenged my thinking, they have pushed back on ideas, but most of all, they have been there anytime that I have needed them. While social media has come under fire for its negative influence on society, my experiences have been the complete opposite!

I have one week left to put the “finishing” touches on my game plan to try to make the most of my time in Chicago. You can bet that I will be sharing photos (I’ll have my flat PLN ready to go) and Tweets about the experience.

Many thanks to my Voxer group peeps…#Edumatch, #Edumatch2, #4OCFPLN, #LetThemSpeak

I should also give a shout out to my roommate for the week Dan Kreiness.

I can’t wait to talk with you all in person.

Don

Are Final Exams Still Relevant??

I want to start by saying I am really not trying to make people mad…I only want to make them reflect on something that has been a part of education for generations–Final Exams. A Facebook friend and colleague posted this picture that aptly describes the feeling that her two kids (both in high school) have about final exams. I simply want to ask the question, do final exams still hold relevance in our education system? If so, what is your reasoning? If not, what can be done in place of them?

Many schools are working hard to change what it means for students to be educated. There is a push for more student-centered instruction. Getting students to create rather than consume is the goal for many teachers and schools. The district in which I work has 1:1 iPads in hopes of helping to make education more relevant for this generation of students. Can you really give a final exam on one day that captures the essence of this type of “new” classroom? Does a multiple choice, fill in the blank, true/false test effectively capture what students are learning in your class?  If you have this “new” type of classroom and then proceed to give a test that can quickly be graded on a scantron machine, is that a valid test? These are questions that I think we need to seriously ponder moving forward.

Why do we give finals? Is it to prepare students for college? Is it because that is what has always been done? Do we really know why we give finals? If the answer to the first question is yes, do we know that colleges still give finals the way that we were used to taking? Is our primary goal to give students experience that will benefit them in college? Is a high school final really comparable to a college final? There are so many questions, but have we thought through the answers or do we just fall back on the fact that it has always been done this way and it would be a pain to change it?

How much should a final exam be worth? In my district, finals count for 20% of the semester grade. By my simplistic calculations, the seventy-five minute exam is .017% of the total amount of time spent in a semester class. Should that percentage of time spent testing equate to 20% of a final semester grade considering each day counts for .011%?

Policies for taking final exams vary widely from district to district. Some have policies based on grade point average, some offer a choice, and some base it on attendance. Again, each one of these begs many questions. If you are a district that requires a certain grade point average, is there a sound reason for that number? What if a student is truly doing the best that they can do but still fall short of the required grade point average? If a choice is offered to students, do they know the advantages and disadvantages for and against taking finals? Are parents aware of the choice? Do attendance policies encourage students to come to school when they are I’ll to avoid having to take finals?

There are more questions in this post than answers. My point is simple, does your school/district know why they give finals? The one thing I will definitively say is that the response should not be that we have always done it so why change. I also think it is unacceptable to make current students do something that we all had to suffer through because that’s just how it is.

My 100 Word Challenge

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As I was following my morning ritual of listening to my Voxer groups on the drive to work, I came across a challenge that started with Jessie Boyce and spread to fellow Voxer members Justin Schleider and Dene Gainey. The challenge…answer the question ‘Why do you love teaching?’ in 100 words, no more no less. Here is my 100 word challenge. A big sorry goes out to all the ELA teachers who will notice that there is a mix of present and past tense. This comes from the fact that I am no longer in the classroom, though I still consider myself a teacher.

Mrs. Holt, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Dyroff…these are the people who inspired me to teach, but I love teaching because of the kids. This sounds like the typical teacher answer, but I truly enjoy young people. I never knew what I would get each and every day that I walked into the classroom; it was never boring! Don’t get me wrong…there were hard days, but there was nothing like the satisfaction of seeing interest, engagement, and understanding from a class of students. Having students come back years later to say that they enjoyed my class also kept me going.

I would highly recommend that you take the challenge. It is not as easy as it looks!

Don Sturm

Morning Routine

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Though I have many unfinished posts in my draft section, it has been awhile since I have hit publish. Here goes my latest! I am fairly active on Twitter and my morning ritual is to Tweet out a quote on a background made with Buncee. Simple right?

Over the last couple of weeks I have had a few colleagues ask me about the purpose of this ritual. Their inquiries into my practice tend to be fairly nice and pleasant, though I sense the underlying feeling is that my morning routine is sort of a waste of time. I want to provide a little insight as to why I do what I do. Ultimately, I do it for no one other than myself. I post it publicly because that is what I preach to other teachers and students. Put your stuff out there! Create rather than consume! It just MIGHT resonate with someone else but, if not, I am ok with that as well.

The process I use to get and post the quote is the most important part of the ritual. It starts with thinking about what is important to me on that particular day. Monday might find me thinking about happiness, while Wednesday might be a growth mindset kind of day. Once I have my topic I set out to find the perfect quote. I read over a lot of them as well as trying to “verify” that the quote can be attributed to the person who is being claimed to have stated it. Sometimes I even to do some background reading on the person. This practice has lead to me reading book(s) by the person after finding out more about them. Laszlo Bock is a perfect example. I found a quote by him (see below) and ended up reading Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. Definitely worth a read!

If you’re comfortable with the amount of freedom you’ve given your employees, you haven’t gone far enough. –Laszlo Bock

My next task is to use Buncee to add a background and/or images. Here again, there is more to this than just picking the first image that comes to mind. I add, take away, add again, delete, etc. until I find the perfect visual to go with the quote. The wonderful thing about Buncee is the huge number of visual elements that can be pulled in to make just the right impression. All that is left is to post it for the world to see…or at least my followers!

So what makes this routine mean something to me? Simple…my brain is working and making connections. In my role as a technology integration specialist I preach that classrooms/teachers/students need to be doing more of this. I am trying to set the example that what I am doing has purpose if for no other reason than it makes my brain think and make connections. The quote and philosophy behind each image sticks with me because of the process, not the number of retweets or likes it receives. Just think of the possibilities if your students could be given more options to create products that were meaningful to them!

Simple right? Not by a long shot!

Here is a link to my Buncee Board where I have started to collect my quotes.

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Forging New Paths

PathIt has been awhile since my last blog post, but now that the 2016-2017 school year is over it is time to think about next year. Summer is the time that teachers relax and regroup from the previous school year, but for many it is also the time to reflect on their teaching practice. I would argue that many times this is the only time when true reflection occurs. During the year we are often pulled in so many directions that is challenging to have meaningful and deep reflection. This post is meant to get you thinking about next year!

Think about the times that you have walked through the woods. Most of the time is probably spent walking the worn path. While this might be done because of posted rules, many times it is done out of sheer convenience. Why wouldn’t you take a path that has already been forged? Think of all the difficulties of going off of that path. There are sticker bushes waiting to grab you. There is poison ivy all over. How will I know where I am going? People will think I am weird. Yes, all of those things could happen, but think about the possibilities waiting to be experienced off that path. When you take the worn path you are seeing and experiencing what others want you to see and experience. It is probable that the path offers the least resistance around an obstacle that lies ahead. Maybe the obstacle is worth admiring, not skirting around. Going off path might be challenging, but that is what makes it fun. You will see things that others have not.

Education is similar to that worn path in the woods. We do things the way that they have always been done because that is what is easiest or most convenient. Does this sound familiar…The way that I teach (fill in the blank) has to be done that way because that’s just how it is done. Economists use a term called path dependency to describe why people do what they do. Path dependency is simply the idea that past practice (history) dictates what we continue to do even if there might be new and better alternatives available. It is the worn path in the woods.  There are advantages of that worn path in education. We know where we are going. We know how long it will take us. We know the obstacles that will be encountered. But…what are you and your students missing out on by being path dependent? There will be no way of knowing until you try.

My challenge to you is to try to walk off the path next school year. How can this be done? Read…there are all types of books written about ways that you can step out of the normal routine. These books don’t have to be purely subject specific. Jump onto social media and follow others who are stepping, or have stepped, off of the path. Pick their brains about what works and what doesn’t work. If you are one who wants to remain on the path, don’t stop others from going off course. This will be challenging for those schools that are departmentalized by subject or grade level because there is THE WAY that curriculum has to be taught. If you have someone who wants to try something new…LET THEM. If that teacher won’t be able to give the quiz on the same day as every other teacher because of this new way, the world will not come to an end. An even better alternative…agree to follow them as they step off the path. This type of action will be the only way that you will know if there is something better out there.

The transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden because he was tired of living life according to habit. He went into the woods to “live deliberately.” This is probably the familiar part of the story. What is important to know is that he left the woods, at least partly, because he saw himself falling into the same rut day after day. Don’t fall into a rut where all you do is take the path that has been forged for you.

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so, with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity.”

Henry David Thoreau

Walden

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Sometimes you just have to try it!

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I am probably dating myself with this image, but I think Mikey can teach us a lesson…Sometimes you just have to try it! When considering the Week 4 blog challenge, the graphic “5 Ways to Lay the Foundation for Innovation” by George Couros resonates with me in my role as a technology integration specialist. Attachment-1

I should mention that I am not a huge fan of that title because it seems to work against the first point in the graphic-Powerful learning first, technology second. I really see my role as more of an instructional coach, but I digress…point number four is my focus! The quest for educators who are in my position, no matter the title, is to get teachers to just try things. They may or may not like them, but they have to give new ideas and methods a try or they will never know. Sort of like trying brussel sprouts for the first time! With this in mind, I try to create learning situations where educators really have no choice but to try these new ideas. A couple of recent examples in my district come to mind.

The district administration team in my district was willing to let me run with an Edcamp style inservice in March. There were no administrators who were completely against the idea (at least I don’t think so), but there were some who were hesitant about trying this new idea. You can imagine the concerns:

  • What if there are no experts in the room?
  • What if  we don’t have enough ideas?
  • How do we ensure that everyone is where they are supposed to be?
  • Vote with your feet…ummm…what if teachers just leave?

I wish there were only four concerns, but the point…they said let’s do it, we did, and people liked it!  There was nervousness from teachers on the day of the event, but generally the above concerns did not come to fruition. We had more than enough ideas to fill forty-five session slots and administrators just trusted that teachers would be where they were supposed to be! Surveying the participants after the event allowed them to share the good and bad of the event, but what we found overall is that people liked the format. The response to the very last question (graphic below) almost brought a tear to my eye! The survey “required” some type of response on the positives and negatives, but in the end, teachers would do it again! I cannot tell you the number of teachers who have emailed and stopped me in the hallways to say that they were pleasantly surprised because they were not looking forward to it, but in the end enjoyed it. More specifically, a P.E. teacher stopped me and said that normal inservice topics don’t seem to apply to them, but the Edcamp style was different. Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 11.00.36 AM

Another example of creating meaningful learning experiences involves conducting a Mystery Hangout for an elementary building in my district. The building principal (@kate_wyman ) asked me to conduct one with her staff. This principal is very open to new, innovative ideas and she wanted her staff to experience it. After finding a willing and experienced Mystery Hangout school (thanks to@MindySouthin Farmington, Missouri, we conducted one at the March faculty meeting. The teachers seemed to enjoy it at the time, but the best part was the video message I received the next day from a 6th grade teacher (@theresescifres ) and class who had just set one up. That teacher went to school, put out a call on the Google+ Community (Connected Classroom Workshop) that I had suggested, and set one up the day after that faculty meeting! The principal also sent me an email saying that one other teacher had scheduled one, and two other teachers were interested. Again, that almost brings a tear to my eye.

Specifically, these two experiences make me see the power of creating meaningful experiences rather than just telling teachers about them. I can honestly say that too often time constraints have caused me to rely on just telling teachers about the innovative “stuff” that they can be doing rather than actually creating those opportunities that allow them to experience the possibilities. My next goal is to create an experience that proves the power of connecting on social media. If I can get teachers and administrators to experience the benefits of Twitter or Voxer (my new favorite…look me up @dsturm823), I think they will find that they do like it and that those experiences can lead to richer classroom experiences for their students or staff.

Don Sturm