Ever get stuck on an escalator?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If you have never seen this video, it is worth watching!

Do you know any educators who are stuck on their own escalator? Are you stuck? While this image and video might make us laugh, there are those in education (and to be fair every profession) who are literally stuck in what they do. They are the ones who wait for someone else to set an agenda and make forward progress. They wait for “official” PD opportunities, avoid social media, etc. The sad part is that this has an impact on kids!

How do we help people who are stuck? How do we get them to take ownership for their own learning and not wait for someone to train them on a new teaching strategy? We could throw up our hands and say that there will always be educators like this, but what about those students in the classroom? Don’t all students deserve a rich classroom experience?

Schools can start by creating a culture where self motivated PD is not only encouraged but expected! The big question…What is the best way to foster this culture? I would love your thoughts!

Don Sturm

The kids just trust us!

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This view over the weekend from the driver’s seat of a small white bus (the kids call it the white rhino) while taking my scholastic bowl team to a competition caused me to have a deep thought. The kids just trust us! As I looked in the mirror, every kid was asleep on that REALLY  long ride. This may not sound like a huge surprise, but it got me thinking that they trusted me enough to not give a thought to me driving them. They have never questioned my ability to drive it or my safety record. I thought really hard about this to the point that I was more aware than normal. I looked a little more closely when I had to cross traffic or go through a busy intersection. Teachers and administrators should not take this trust for granted. Plain and simple, we have to keep in mind that students trust us to do what is right!

Most Likely to Succeed

img_1175Wednesday night I had the opportunity to view the educational documentary Most Likely to Succeed. I had read the book a couple of years ago, and the movie was thought provoking. It really forces the viewer to think about how education is currently delivered to students. The movie is not yet available for purchases; instead, you purchase a one-time screening license for $350. The reason for this method of distribution, as stated by the executive producer Ted Dintersmith, is to “force” people to view it in groups and have a discussion about the ideas presented in the movie. While I would love to be able to encourage people to buy/rent the movie, I respect the philosophy behind not releasing it. This movie is really meant to be seen in groups!

I am going to push to have a community viewing for the community where I work to truly generate some conversation about how schools need to change. However, I would like some feedback from those elementary teachers and administrators. How do you see this working at the lower levels? I want to be able to provide specific examples of how the ideas that are present at High Tech High can be implemented in grade schools. It is one thing to say that a high school kid won’t learn the same breadth of content in this new paradigm, but how do kids learn the basics at the lower grades while still experiencing this “new” type of education? Is what is presented in the movie really more for middle and high schools? I have started a Google Doc where people can share their thoughts. Hopefully this is something that could help others who have the same types of questions. Please feel free to share the Doc with others.

 

Don Sturm

The process is important!

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Imagine…students working diligently on a project. They are interacting with each other. Their interest levels are peaked. They are seeking out new information. The teacher is happy, the students are happy, everything is right with the world. Then…the final product is turned in…and it is not very good. What happened? What grade do you as a teacher give to the finished product? You have a rubric that you live and die by, you really have no choice but to give a low grade. The final grade is not what the students expected.

As a former high school history teacher, I can speak first hand about how easy it is to forget the importance of the process of learning. High school teachers especially seem to focus more on the final product than the steps that students followed to produce that product. I am not sure if it is the content heavy nature of high school or the idea that students at this level are ready to be set out into the dog-eat-dog world, but there is a huge focus on final products. Educators, no matter the grade level, need to be sure to place an emphasis on the process rather than the final product.

Don’t get me wrong, at some point the final product needs to count for something. The key for those involved in educating kids is to find a balance of process and product. My biggest issue is that many teachers (myself included) give many one and done type of assignments. Students work for a set amount of time (days to weeks), turn in it in, and wait for a grade. The grade is given and the something new is assigned. The problem…many times the new project involves new skills that haven’t been honed through previous work. This process is repeated over and over throughout a semester or school year.

Wouldn’t it be better to incorporate a set of skills/standards that students would work to master throughout the course or year? In theory, every assignment or long term project would incorporate these skills/standards. This would allow students to use what they learn from each project to hone these skills over a longer period of time. Projects turned in at the end of the course or year would presumably be better than those turned in during the beginning of the year. This is true growth!

Probably one of the biggest hurdles to this type of thinking is the nature of grades in our education system. The belief that everything that students complete has to be graded and then recorded is pervasive in our society. Parents have to have something to see in the gradebook…don’t they?? This expectation is then carried over to assignments. If students complete and turn in an assignment, it is easy for a teacher to just look at that final piece of work and, in turn, the learning process is almost completely discounted. And…if the work is all done at home, there is really no effective way to assess the learning process. Thus, the push by some educators to do away with homework. While I am not suggesting that there is no place for homework, I do think that this makes a final grade almost always reliant on the final product and not the process.

How to implement this is the million dollar question! One thought gaining traction is to use more of a standards based grading system. This type of grading system allows students to work on standards that will be mastered over time. In this type of classroom, students are always assessed based upon their best work. I am currently working with a high school ELA teacher on this type of grading system. It is worth noting that this is being done within a traditional grading system, but grades do not appear until midterm and final report cards. This is what George Couros might describe as innovating within the box. As students work to meet standards, their best attempt is recorded. This is direct attempt to balance process and final product. Final products are always being assessed, but there is a focus on continual growth. The focus is on process.

The challenge for teachers is to at least be aware that the learning process is important. This awareness will hopefully lead to some discussions about how to assess the process and not just the product. It is also important to stress this idea to all involved in the education process: students, parents, administrators, and school board members. When showcasing work…focus on the process that was followed and the learning that resulted. Don’t always feel like you have to showcase the final video or presentation to others. In fact, don’t lead with the finished product, lead with process!

Don Sturm

Why I Do What I Do!

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Officially, my job title is technology integration specialist. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? I help people integrate technology into their teaching! My job is a little messier than the title suggests. A typical day may include any one or many of the following:



  • answering emails from teachers, students, and parents.
  • purchasing and pushing out apps to 2000+ devices.
  • locating lost iPads.
  • explaining the benefits of using ____ app or service.
  • troubleshooting problems with iPads.
  • defending the use of technology in the classroom.
  • attending meetings about technology.
  • visiting other schools to look at their technology.
  • working on Smart Boards, Macs, and PCs.
  • helping to manage the web filter and Google Admin. console.
  • visiting classrooms.
  • recording tutorial videos.
  • updating Google Classrooms to share information with teachers and students.
  • planning professional development activities, both online and inperson.
  • talking to sales reps.


I don’t list all of these to have people feel sorry for me, only to show that there is no real consistency to what I do everyday. There is not one of those jobs on the list that I hate doing, but there are those that I prefer more than others. I should mention at this point that I truly love my job. Sure there are times that I feel (frustrated, stressed, overworked, under-appreciated), but hey…that’s what it means to be involved in education!

Though to be completely honest, I want my position to focus more on discussions of how to best teach kids and less on most of the jobs listed above. If those discussions involve technology…great, but right now the focus seems to be more on the technology and less on the pedagogy behind it. As a result, those who are uncomfortable with technology see me as someone who wants to add something to their already full plate. Some of this is my fault, some of it is the fault of teachers and administrators, and some of it is no one’s fault. Schools are messy places filled with people who are pressed for time! Thankfully, there are those teachers and administrators in my district who I can count on to recharge my batteries when I need it. These are the people with whom I can always count on having a good discussion about growth mindset, Makerspaces, Breakout EDU, Twitter, etc. I’ll share two recent examples that exemplify why I do what I do everyday!

One of the hardest parts of leaving the classroom was leaving a co-teaching situation that I had been a part of for twelve years. Courtney (@CAEddleman) and I had MANY conversations about how to best teach kids, not just how fast we could move through content. It seemed that we were never satisfied with how we were doing things. Moving to this new position meant that I wasn’t going to be able to have those day to day conversations. A couple of months ago, after having read a couple of books about standards based grading, I asked her if she would be interested in trying this approach with her 12th grade expository writing class. We sat down and talked through what this change might look like and, in the end, she decided to give it a try this semester. She also became excited about the idea of Breakout EDU and has worked on incorporating this into her classroom as well as helping me present it to the faculty as a whole. Courtney has created a classroom environment where students are experiencing their teacher being excited to try new things!  Making big changes in how she teaches content seems to have renewed her excitement for teaching and in doing what is best for kids. To hear her say, “I can’t wait to see what the kids do with this” is why I do what I do everyday!

The other example relates to the conversations with the junior high principal Lee Hoffman (@HoffmanLee) about the possibility of a Makerspace and/or STEM lab in his school. These conversations, which have also included visits to other schools, have generated a lot of discussion about pedagogy that have been deep and focused on what is best for kids. Should the 7th grade experience be more “scripted” than the 8th grade? What modules do we want/need to include? How much should it focus on future career possibilities? What kind of teacher is needed for this type of experience? Discussions like these get me geeked up and excited about the possibilities! To see this principal talk about how awesome this type of change is going to be is why I do what I do everyday!

These are not the only two examples of conversations that I have had with teachers and administrators, but they don’t happen as often as I would like. From here on out, my goal is to make these types of discussions the rule rather than the exception. I am not naive enough to think that all of those aspects of my job listed above will disappear, but we have to create opportunities for deeper pedagogical discussions among teachers, administrators, students, and parents. This is how we will make schools better. This is why I decided to leave the classroom after 23 years. This is why I do what I do.

Don Sturm

Don’t be a Goob!

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What’s a goob? We all probably know at least one! You might even have another name for them. They are the negative ones who can and do ruin the possibility of something good just by their comments and reactions. They are the elephant in the room. If you aren’t a goob, you might get trapped in their web of negativity. You start to become goob like! If you are a goob, please stop because you are ruining it for others. Hmmm…the more I think about it, there probably aren’t many goobs reading this blog post 🙂

I write this post with the thought that we can’t just ignore this elephant in the room. Change is needed in schools and we can’t afford to let a small group (hopefully) of people distract us from sharing and implementing these necessary improvements. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not talking about the teachers or administrators who have legitimate disagreements with specific improvements. We need a variety of research based opinions on our quest for a better education system! Goobs are those who will fight anything that is different just simply because…not because of any research.

It is uncomfortable to face the goob and, as a result, many times we just simply try to ignore them. I want to suggest a different approach. Why not talk about the goob, not as an individual, but as a group? What if we acknowledge the elephant in the room? The best outcome would see the goob change and be an open and a willing participant in the improvement process.  The worst case scenario would be that they do not change their minds and start to grumble to themselves, but at least they won’t poison the proverbial watering hole! What if school districts used a hashtag like #dontbeagoob as a way of putting them on notice that we won’t allow the goobs to bring others down? Planning a different kind of professional development activity? Use this new hashtag along with the “legitimate” ones to silence the goobs. Would this acknowledgment of the elephant in the room help to change the culture of a school? I don’t know, but I am willing to try it and see what happens.

Don Sturm

Choices, Choices, Choices

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Today started as a normal weekend morning…get up, drink some coffee, look at Twitter, read a few blogs. The blogs I read always make me think, but my problem is that I can’t stop thinking about them. What I really thought (and thought, and thought) about this morning was how two very different blogs were actually related. The first  blog I read was by Starr Sackstein and focused on the idea that students don’t really know how to make choices because others regularly make decisions for them.

“Children start out naturally curious, asking a lot of questions and engaging with their environment as soon as they are aware of it and have the ability to do so. Then they enter the school systems and almost immediately have that autonomy taken away. It’s a slow, insidious process that systematically strips students of their ability to understand their own interests in academic or even purely passionate way, especially as it pertains to school.”

The next blog I read was by  Kenneth McKee. While his main focus was how instructional coaches can build relationships, one suggestion was to provide teachers a menu of services that instructional coaches can provide. This menu “forces” teachers to pick from a limited list of services. I assume that Kenneth’s decision to provide a menu stems from the fact that not providing any choices would be overwhelming to teachers. I should point out that he did include an “other” choice.

What these two blogs share is the idea that choices are something that many in the field of education have trouble making.  Why is that? Is it because both students and teachers are conditioned to having choice made for them by others? Is it a societal thing? Are we just presented with so many choices in our daily life that we actually like it when others make decisions for us? Does having someone else make decisions for us lessen our responsibility for the final outcome?

It seems that those who have been in a school setting for a long period of time are conditioned to do what others have told/ask us to do. The student is “told” what to read, write, draw, etc. While most teachers are probably not told how to teach, many are told what to teach as well as how long to teach (fill in the blank). We need to start consciously moving toward allowing/expecting students and teachers to make more choices. Making choices is a life skill? If you always have people making decisions for you, how will you ever learn to make them on your own? It would seem wise to allow students the ability to practice in a safe environment like school rather having have to make those choices out in the “real world” without the necessary skills to weigh options, which is necessary for any well thought out decision.

Building in more choice in our schools is imperative. Teachers will need to decide what areas choice can be provided to the student. For example, many schools have a set curriculum outlining what books must be read. If you are in a school like this, the choice may be focused around how the understanding of the book will be shown. When I was a classroom teacher, my colleague and I would provide four or five different modes that could be used for presentations. Students would randomly be assigned to one of these modes. The next project would involve jigsawing students so that there was at least one representative of each mode in the new group. These groups would then choose which mode was best for the new project.  Eventually students could use any mode that they thought would best meet the requirements of the assignment. This was our way of providing some guidance to students on how to make good choices.

Approaching the issue of choice with teachers is a bit more challenging. When presented with so many choices of how and what to teach, and ultimately assess, it is very easy for teachers to choose the way that it has always been done. This is the “safest” choice and requires the least amount of work. The life of a teacher can be a very demanding one. As a result, when trying to reduce workload, the easiest choice is sometimes seen as the “best” choice. Having access to instructional coaches is one way of helping. These coaches can and should start by providing some options from which the teacher can choose. Doing this will hopefully open doors for the teacher to feel comfortable exploring other ways of presenting and assessing their students.

Choice must become more a part of the education process. It allows both students and teachers to feel more of a sense of ownership.  This feeling of ownership has the potential to lead to great things within the education setting. What can you do to encourage more choice?

Don Sturm

There is no time!

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Time is on my side.

Rolling Stones

Don’t you wish these song lyrics were true? Wouldn’t (fill in the blank) be better if I just had more time! Personally I could generate a LONG list of words to fill in that blank. The problem with this way of thinking is that you will NEVER have more time. Time will never been on our side. There needs to be more focus on what we do with our time rather than thinking about what would be possible with more time.

From a professional standpoint, time is what is needed to read about new research and ways of teaching, observe other teachers, reflect on your teaching practices, and on and on and on. I would argue that you need to step back and figure out how you can build in time for those professional aspects that are important. If you aren’t happy with how your students are responding to how you grade and/or teach, you NEED to take time to figure out what can be done differently. Think about the cycle if you don’t. You teach a unit…your students don’t seem to be enjoying it…you get frustrated…they test over the unit…the grades aren’t great…the students take 2 seconds to look over comments that you took hours making…you start the next unit upset… and the cycle continues. Imagine doing this for years! You must find the time to change things up.

But how? I wish I had an easy answer to this question, but it boils down to what many have told me, “you will make time for things that are important.” I say this not trying to offend or upset anyone, but it is true. It has been true for me, and I think it is true for everyone. If you want to lose weight, you’ll find the time. If you want to spend more time with your family, you’ll find the time. If you want to reconnect with your significant other, you’ll find the time. The same goes for your professional life. If it is important you MUST find the time or you will burnout and get frustrated. Neither of these are good for you, your students, your district, or your family!

Look at what/how you teach and ask yourself what you would most want to change. Pick up a book that helps offer alternatives and take the time to read it. Jump on Twitter and follow people who have fresh ideas. Search for blogs from teachers who have new ideas and are willing to share their experiences. Your first reaction will be that you don’t have time…make time! For years I have read every night before I go to bed. Most nights I was reading material that I could use to help make my classroom a better place. If you choose to read books, the reading list doesn’t have to be research heavy. In fact, I would recommend that your reading list include books that will help to inspire you to be a better teacher, not put you to sleep! This is my way of making a little time for professional growth.

Don Sturm

Recommended books:

Culture Shaming…it has to stop!

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I want you to stop and think back to when you were growing up. That time when your parents and society as a whole saw you as a contributing member of society. That time when you were respected for your thoughts. That time when your culture was praised for having a beneficial contribution to the world. Are you seeing my point? I am assuming that most were thinking…yeah I wish that’s how it was. Instead we were told that our music, magazines, video games, friends, activities just weren’t what they were in the good ol’ days. I am fairly certain this has happened since the dawn of time, but it has never been productive to the current generation. It makes the current generation defensive and isn’t very productive. Think back again, when your parents told you your music was stupid, you instantly stopped listening to it, right? Not me (nor most of you I suspect),  I played it even louder to try to prove a point.  I like to call this nostalgia for the “better” times as culture shaming, and it really needs to stop.

If we truly want to help this generation of young people navigate the world, we need to at least try to understand the world in which they are living. Notice I didn’t say we need to completely embrace it, but we owe them the respect of at least trying to get it. Those in education like to throw out quotes like the cup is half-full, but we do that on our terms. We need to look at our students’ lives and see the cup as half-full. I hear so many teachers and parents say that the hyper connected lives of students is problematic. They never play outside, they are lazy, they are hooked to their phone, they don’t know how to have face-to-face conversations. I would bet that this connectedness actually allows them to have more “social” experiences than we ever did. Growing up, my friends were those people on my block who led basically the same type of life as that of my family. Many youth today have “friends” all over the U.S. and maybe the world. We can argue about the nature of the word friend, but there is a much broader social interaction available to the younger generation than ever before. Many use social media as a way to get out of the bubble that is their family and community.  Yes…social media can be used for nefarious things, but  let’s not just assume that is how students are using it. I would highly recommend that you read It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by Danah Boyd. This will make you look at teens and social media in a different light!

So as educators and parents what is the opposite of culture shaming? I like the term culture curiosity. Curiosity doesn’t mean 100% acceptance, but it does mean a willingness to try to understand. I think that is what young people crave, a willingness for adults to understand and respect them. I have tried to gain a better understanding of SnapChat to get a sense of what students see in the platform.  Maybe trying SnapChat will help you as a teacher to understand what makes your students tick. How can you leverage this platform (or others like it) to help students learn (see below)? You may think it is weird and useless, but just remember how you felt when you were culture shamed. The best option is for teachers to try to figure out how to incorporate those aspects of student culture and use them as a hook for student engagement and empowerment. Isn’t having a deep impact on students why you got involved in education?

Don Sturm

**I need to give a shout out to Tara M Martin (@TaraMartinEDU) for her “invention” of the #BookSnaps. These #BookSnaps are one of the reasons that I used SnapChat in this blog post. Obviously there are other aspects of student culture that can be explored, but SnapChat is one of the “in” things right now! #BookSnaps allow the user to interact with a text by using a photo of a page as well as images/emojis/drawings. It is a great way to make learning visible. I have included a couple of examples in case you aren’t familiar. As a side note, SnapChat does not have to be used to create #BookSnaps. Take a look at Tara’s Youtube playlist for other ideas.  

How do I change what I do??

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Innovation is not about the stuff; it is a way of thinking.

George Couros

In my role as a technology integration specialist, I hear many teachers complain that they don’t know how to plan innovative lessons or that they don’t have the time to plan new lessons. One of the most common requests is for specific examples of lessons that “qualify” as innovative. It would be virtually impossible for me to provide specific examples for all of the grade levels and subjects. The classroom teacher really needs to be the one taking the concept of change and innovation (whether with technology or not) and apply ideas to either the grade level or subject matter. I think the most effective change is change that is intrinsically motivated. If you want to change the way that you teach, it is much easier to find the time that will be needed to make these changes. The steps below will hopefully help to solidify the process that can be used to design engaging and innovative lessons. By the way, I don’t think these steps need to happen in any particular order. Use any of them as a starting point for making your classroom an exciting learning space!



1. Take a look at what you teach and ask..

  • What lessons bore me?
  • What do I get excited about that doesn’t seem to transfer to students?
  • What lessons don’t seem to engage students anymore?
  • What lessons do students consistently say doesn’t apply to them?

These questions should help you to identify those lessons that are a perfect starting point for change. This is how I methodically set out changing what I did when I was in the classroom. Don’t try to tackle everything at once or there is no doubt that you will be overwhelmed. I found that once I started to get into the mindset of change, it got easier. Planning the first few new lessons was way harder than lesson 20+.


2. Decide what type(s) of changes are necessary to make the lesson better. 

Here is where your subject specific skills come into play. What do students really need to be able to do in terms of both content and skills? Be honest and reflective here. Think outside the box. Remember the saying, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.”

  • What do students really need to know?
  • Do they have to memorize a set of facts or would they be better off researching and finding those facts on their own?
  • Do those facts really need to be committed to memory?
  • Is a lecture or whole group instruction absolutely necessary?

I want to stress again, you have to answer these questions honestly. This honesty will cause you to think about everything that you do and why you do it.  Just a warning…it may be hard to change your thinking, but it will be worth it! Don’t be afraid to challenge the long held beliefs about how school is supposed to look.


3. Look for specific ways to make the changes that you have decided are necessary. 

This is the part of lesson planning that I really enjoyed. Once you know the big picture changes you would like to make, you have to decide what help is needed to actually put your ideas into practice. You have a few options here. While you can rely on professional organizations for your subject and grade level, this is where I think social media can be extremely helpful. Twitter, Facebook, Voxer, and Pinterest are awesome places to help you get specific ideas. Finding and following the right people will give you a plethora of ideas to implement into your lessons.

The other option (if available) is to contact your instructional coach/technology integration specialist/innovation coach for help. Forget technology for a moment, you should be focused on what is needed to make for an engaging experience. If it does involve technology, your comfort level will dictate the help you need. You might think back to a conference you attended and/or professional development experiences for a list of specific apps and programs that will help make the new lessons engaging and rich. You might go to your technology person and share the overall lesson idea and ask for 1:1 help with how to best accomplish your goals. I want to stress that the technology, if any, should not be at the forefront of your thought process at this point; it is about the pedagogy. Technology might play a big role in your new lesson, but I would caution that you not start with an app and figure out what to do with it. This is especially true for those who are just starting to make big changes to their classroom environment. Once you have decided the big picture, it might be a new app and/or service that sparks some ideas, but don’t put the proverbial cart before the horse. Even an app like Explain Everything, while awesome, should be considered only after deciding that students need to take on more of a role in presenting and sharing what they know. The app then becomes the vehicle by which the students show their mastery.


4. Talk, read, and share with others.

This might be the most important step! Teaching is no longer that solitary profession where you enter your classroom, shut the door,  and do your own thing. Let me rephrase that…teaching should NO LONGER be a solitary, lonely profession. When you want to make changes, “talk” with people. Talk with other same grade level teachers, talk with different grade level teachers, talk with teachers who teach a different subject matter, get onto social media…see the pattern here, talk with others. Teaching isn’t just about content anymore! Read whatever you can get your hands on whether it is blogs, articles, or books. All of this talking and reading will lead to ideas. These ideas will lead to more ideas, which will hopefully cause you to want to make more changes. Some will shrug and ask where will they get the time. If you want to truly make changes, you will find the time. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but dedicating even 10-15 minutes a day will help generate ideas.


5. Look around for great ideas!

When I was in the classroom, one of the methods I employed was to think about how everything I saw that was “cool” could be replicated by my students. The important part here is that my students would create! I remember watching a Common Craft video and thinking about how my students could create one…hence History on Paper was born. A language arts colleague shared with me the idea of animated Powerpoint presentations for poems…my students designed a presentation that might play in the lobby of the National Civil Rights Museum. Are you a Tasty fan? Just think about how your students could do something like that with the content that you teach! Everything I experienced became a possibility in the classroom. Did everything work? Nope, but that didn’t stop me from trying new things. The good ones stuck, while the “bad” ones were either dropped or reworked.



There is no question that making changes in the classroom will take time. It will be much more enjoyable to change what you do when it is something that you want and need. You don’t have to change overnight; instead, work to find a few areas where you want to see changes and focus on those. The more that you invest in a new classroom experience for your students, the easier it will get. Hopefully you will find that you enjoy teaching and may even make you remember why you got into profession in the first place. Changes to your classroom will hopefully pay dividends in terms of time. For example, looking at homework differently might lighten your grading load.  Allowing students to choose how they show mastery will no longer mean grading one hundred plus of the same paper! You will still assess, but it might look different than taking home a stack of papers. As the old saying goes, “work smarter not harder.”