education

Germany Blogposts

2014-06-23 08.31.21I was fortunate enough to spend roughly 9 days traveling throughout Germany with 34 other amazing North Carolina educators as we studied the German education system.  The trip was sponsored by The Center for International Understanding (@GlobalCIU), and they did a great job of putting together an exhausting but incredibly informative trip.  I learned so much about what the German education system has to offer its students, teachers, and communities.  The next few blogposts are dedicated to what I learned in Germany – both red flags and achievements.

Just a few highlights…

~We heard many times that Germany could not depend on itself to produce much due to its lack of renewable resources.  The energy sources are just not available in their country to produce at a high volume unless they depended on an alternate source.  This meant that the German education system prided itself on helping students think creatively and independently to solve this issue.  Their renewable resources are the minds of their people.

~Some students have the opportunity to work directly with companies like Siemens and participate in a company internship along with their regular class studies.  In a nutshell, they went to school at work and went to work at school.  Companies like Siemens spends billions of dollars on their education department to allow for students to apply what they know.  When asked, “what is their monetary return on this huge financial investment?,” the director of the Siemens Educational Department replied, “our future.”

~In Baden-Württemberg, Germany, which is a federal state similar in population size to North Carolina, the spending budget for education is $40 billion.  Do I even need to mention how much North Carolina spends? (this year’s proposal is around $8 billion)

~Germany has an entire branch of their educational system dedicated to helping students develop a tradecraft.  What a novel idea?  However, their system isn’t perfect, and I will explain in later posts.

~Germany values conservative teaching methods and pedagogy.

~”Handlungskompetenz” is a common buzz word throughout many German schools that means having a well-rounded competence of a variety of skills.  This concept applies to students and teachers.

~Personal responsibility is huge in Germany. You are expected to rise to the occassion, and if you don’t, then you suffer the consequences.  This idea is noticeable throughout all of Germany, but I want to visit what this looked like in schools.

Needless to say, I have a lot to write…stay tuned!

Common Curriculum Lesson Planner

Are you tired of plan books? Sick of word documents? Tired of 3 inch binders?  Common Curriculum takes all the frustration of lesson planning away.

If you aren’t amazed by the potential of CommonCurriculum.com after watching the video, then watch it again!

Here is just an abbreviated list of what is possible in Common Curriculum:

More Homework Meme

So I’ve been given homework to complete on my own blog.  Who does that?  This guy does that!  But it’s okay…I’ve been meaning to get back to this blog, but life happens.  The goal of this homework is to share a little bit about myself. In order to finish my homework, I have to complete three different tasks, but I changed task #3.

The first task?  Share 11 random facts about me that you don’t know:

  1. I went to Grimsley High School in Greensboro, NC.  Their mascot was the Whirlie, which was originally the Whirlie Bird. Lamest mascot in athletics…period.
  2. I’m a smelly guy.  Not that I physically smell, but I have a hyper-sensitive nose.  My family would tell you that it’s obsessive, but if it stinks, I will febreeze the mess out of it.  If my clothes smell funny, I will wash them immediately.  My wife has embraced it.
  3. I’ve been to Europe twice (lucky guy…I know).  I’ve visited London, Paris (twice), Munich, Rome, Berlin, and Vienna (that’s in Austria).  I would move to Rome tomorrow.
  4. Growing up, I thought I was going to be a minister, and then I discovered education.  Every now and then I think about going to seminary, and then something awesome happens in a classroom.
  5. Halloween is my favorite holiday.  What other day of the year is it okay to scare anyone and binge eat candy?
  6. My wife’s grandparents lived just around the corner from me growing up.  I used to cut through their yard without them knowing to reach a neighborhood playground.  My wife’s high school and my high school were in the same conference and we both played sports and had friends who played sports.  My wife’s parents went to the same high school as me.  My wife and I never met until we both attended NC State.
  7. My grandfather taught at T.C. Williams High School, the school from Remember the Titans. #strongside #leftside
  8. I have a huge sweet tooth.  Right now I’m diggin’ Sour Patch Berries candy.
  9. I hated all roller coasters as a kid.  Just got the courage to ride them when I was in college.  My parents took us to Six Flags over Atlanta and I rode the Superman roller coaster.  So the courage is there, but now I get unbearable motion sickness.  I passed out before the ride was over.  Now I take dramamine before I get on rides so I have a tendency to fall asleep standing up in the long lines.  It’s tough to be Luke Miles at theme parks.
  10. I have always wanted to act, and I also have a secret affinity for musicals (seen a lot and like most of them).
  11. My family says I make this one particular sound (like a grumbling laugh, which is a cross between Bane and Santa).  Apparently, I make it all the time, but I have no idea what they are talking about.

The second task? Answer the questions given to me by that guy I mentioned above.

  1. If you could teach anywhere in the world (other than your current location), where would it be? As I stated in #3 above, I would move to Rome tomorrow.  I’m sure I could get a job teaching over there…if not…that’s okay.  I wouldn’t stress too much about because…come on…it’s Rome.
  2. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Green Lantern?  Why? Is this even a fair question? Absolutely..all the time…every day…BATMAN! All the others have super powers.  Batman gives all other regular joes (like you and me) a little bit of hope that we may be able to do what no other human can do.
  3. What is your favorite comedy movie of all time? Life of Brian…absolutely hilarious, and I watched it with my minister.
  4. Would you rather have the super power of invisibility or flying? Invisibility would be cool especially if you are able to walk through walls when you are invisible.  I get pretty bad motion sickness (see #9 above) so I doubt flying would be the best thing for me.
  5. If you could drink milkshakes with any person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be? Real – President Abraham Lincoln, Fictional – President Abraham Lincoln, the Vampire Slayer
  6. Favorite dipping sauce? Chick-fil-A Barbecue Sauce
  7. What one quality is your greatest asset? My sense of humor gets me around pretty well.  I like to think that having an adaptable sense of humor allows me to socialize with just about anyone.
  8. Put in order of most awesome to least: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, The Lone Ranger, Walker Texas Ranger, Galaxy Rangers, Army Rangers. Walker Texas Ranger (I put him first because I know we all know what would happen to me if I didn’t #chucknorris), Might Morphin Power Rangers (really I think they should be first, but don’t tell Chuck Norris), Army Rangers, The Lone Ranger (movie was lame), Galaxy Rangers (who?)
  9. What is the best way to reduce the number of school shootings in the United States? I think a combination between gun laws, more efficient school security, raising awareness for mental health, and prayer would take us a long way to helping us with this problem.  It’s one of the saddest stories I read in the news way too often.
  10. What mobile app do you use the most often? Twitter, Chrome, and Calendar are all tied at the top
  11. On a scale of 1 to 10, how dope do you dance The Robot? Been dancing the ‘bot since 1995 so an 8…pretty dope.

Since I started this homework, I was tagged by another colleague (this gal!) therefore I am changing the third task.  So I’m going to do a little something unorthodox with this homework.  Instead of passing the blogpost to other bloggers, I am going to answer her 11 questions as well since the majority of bloggers I follow have been tagged for this homework and many of them have completed it.  I’m sorry for breaking the chain, but I hope you enjoy the extra answers.

  1. What is the one biggest challenge you face in the classroom that has a solution? I am actually no longer in the classroom, but one of the biggest challenges I face as an Instructional Technology Facilitator is convincing teachers to work with me.  They are really pressed for time to get through the curriculum so fitting me in is a little tough, but I have a few leads 🙂
  2. What character from a book, movie, or television are you most like and how so? I’ve been told that I remind people of Luke Wilson…it could just be the name.
  3. What’s something other people really seem to like that you think is either totally pointless or a waste of time? My teammate for life, Sarah Baker, will kill me for this, but I just can’t get into Yoga despite being surrounded by yogies for much of my life.  I’m going to try again in 2014 (it’s my New Year’s Resolution) because I know it’s good for centering, de-stressing, and many other things.
  4. Are you a “dog person” or a “cat person”? Dog person all the way.
  5. If you could time travel to any time period in history for one week, when would you choose and why? As I stated above, I would love to spend a week with Abraham Lincoln.
  6. Favorite type of candy? See random fact #8
  7. If you could live forever, would you? Why/why not? Absolutely not.  Knowing that my time on Earth is limited and out of my hands, motivates me to positively contribute to the all the circles I run in.
  8. In which House would The Sorting Hat have placed you at Hogwarts? Feel free to use this Sorting Hat QuizHufflepuff – 12, Ravenclaw – 12, Gryffindor – 11, Slytherin – 7
  9. On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about sushi? If 1 is the worst, then I’m a 1.  If 10 is the worst, then I’m a 10.
  10. What’s your favorite tech tool for the classroom? The new I’m going to try out is Touchcast.
  11. You’ve just received an unexpected $5,000. What would you do with it? Buy something cool for my wife and myself, and then I would save the rest.

Podcast #4 – Online Learning vs. The Traditional Classroom

Listen to Podcast #4

Transcript:

As a traditional 8th grade SS teacher by day and an online graduate student by night, I have first hand experience in the ongoing debate of online classes vs. traditional classes.  I have been convinced that online education is the way to go, and then I live, see, and experience the benefits of traditional classes and I’m back on the fence again.  For the sake of discussion, I see a lot of value in both, and I think more than anything it depends on the student and how they lean.  With a great teacher, a traditional classroom for most students is irreplaceable.

Obviously, there is a lot of value in online education.  Online classes provide a unique opportunity that traditional classes do not.  For example, students can access the material at any time.  In online environments, students can work more at their own pace and have much more time to accomplish various tasks.  Various learning styles can be incorporated into the online curriculum so that many students can be successful at the same activity because they are allowed to demonstrate what they learned in a variety of different ways.  The activities have to be student-centered in online learning.  Also, since students are accessing materials using their own computer more often than not resources are not an issue when teaching and learning.  Students can collaborate in unique ways that are more closely related to 21st century workforce skills.  Students can communicate in ways that are more similar to the communication skills needed to succeed in an ever-connected world.

However, even with all of the pedagogical benefits of online learning, as a current classroom teacher I see and experience so many non-educational benefits of the traditional classroom that I have yet to experience as a student in online environments.  Traditional classrooms – with good teachers – instill students with passion, interests, relationship skills, and a host of other attributes that students need in order to be contributors to our society.  I consider these skills and emotions to be a part of the hidden curriculum of traditional education.  For example, teachers teach students to be organized, confident, passionate, compassionate, etc. or at least we try to.  You would be hard pressed to find those skills taught in just about online environment.

Not too mention, students learn to communicate face to face.  They learn how to read one another and know how to respond and act.  They learn how to troubleshoot social situations.  In traditional classrooms, students learn to cope, prioritize, organize, and succeed.  Sure they can experience some of these things in online environments, but it’s not the same.  Seeing a teacher show how proud they are of a student is not as meaningful as reading comments in an online grade book.  Working with other students face to face and physically getting your hands dirty in a chemistry lab is not the same as simulating a lab in a Google Hangout. 

You see online learning does have a long lasting and much needed place in education.  Students benefit greatly in online learning environments and they need to learn those skills, but nothing will be able to replace the intangibles learned in the classroom. 

Just wait…

My school is ready.  The students love ’em.  The teachers are hungry for ’em.  The administration thinks we need ’em. The PTA is buying ’em.  iPads are here.  My school is slowing moving to a tablet-enriched environment.  Sure…we only have 30 iPads and still hundreds of laptops and computers, but we made the switch.  I was in on the conversation.  I helped make the decision.  Heck…I was the loudest voice of moving towards tablets for student use.  So we did.  Our tech team and principal set down, and we hashed out a plan to buy 30 iPads, 30 cases, a charging station, cart, and macbook pro.  This is the biggest decision – both financially and pedagogically – that I have made (and possibly the entire tech team has made) for my school on behalf of students and staff.

So now what?

We wait…we learn…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

The deal was too good too pass up.  We had time-restricted money to spend and the choice was iPads or laptops.  But I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared about the decision we made.  So many times we purchase the next hot item because it’s cool, but we have no idea how to use it or worse yet we have great ideas but are afraid to put in the up-front work.  I’m nervous that these iPads will be just that or teachers will see them as a cure or quick fix.  You see I have done my research, and my team did their research.  We really do believe that tablet computing has a strong place in middle school education.  We see how well it can be integrated into a new common core curriculum full of documents, images, resources, etc.  We see how well it can used to enhance a 21st century classroom that simply lacks resources other than textbooks and 4 desktops.  My team believes that tablet computing can be our answer to moving towards a 1:1 environment.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

As the resident tech guru at my school, I preach to my colleagues and administrators that just acquiring technology such as iPads, clickers, laptops, or smart boards does not instantly improve classroom instruction.  Just like hiring teachers does not mean they will be good teachers.  Lecturing using a projector and lecturing using iPads where students can flip through the slides is exactly the same.  Technology integration is an artform just as project-based learning and flipping the classroom are artforms.  You cannot just add in iPads and expect magic to happen.  Learning will not improve unless you are prepared to put in a little TLC.

So now what?

We wait…we study…we plan…we create…we wait…

There’s no reason to rush into this.  It’s a marriage.  Technology isn’t going anywhere, and tablet computing has proven it’s place in society and in the classroom.  That’s why it’s important to wait, learn, study, plan, create, and wait.  Our students have to wait for their teachers to be ready to use the iPads.  As a staff, we have to study and put in the time to know what it means to teach in a 1:1 environment and use tablets as effective vehicles of learning.  Our administration team has to plan for the direction we are moving as a school.  Tablets in the classroom are very different from laptops and smarts boards and we need an instructional plan.   As a tech team, we have to create appropriate and meaningful staff development to help our staff feel ready to use iPads effectively and with minimal setbacks.  As a school, we have to wait.  It’s important to wait to make sure we have 100% buy-in.  It’s important to wait to ensure we use the iPads to the best of our abilities and to benefit our students in the best ways.  It’s important to wait, study, plan, and create so that we can teach.

WordPress – Why It’s More than Just Web 2.0

Ever since my college days, I have been an avid user of WordPress.  Some might say I am a WordPress fanboy.  I currently host my personal blog on WordPress (the one you are reading).  Trust me…any avid reader of my blog knows that I have experimented with multiple hosting solutions for this blog, but I always come back to WordPress.  It’s the best solution out there in my opinion.

In addition to my own personal use, I have been using WordPress at my school for the past 3 years.  About 3 years ago, a colleague – who I have seemed to mention a lot lately – came to me about the idea of using WordPress Mu to host our school website and provide websites to teachers and students.  Prior to that conversation, my colleague and I recently attended NCTIES and listened to @samandjt give a talk about how he had launched WordPress Mu at his school and his teachers, students, and parents were reaping the benefits.  Needless to say, when @mrscienceteach approached me about piloting WordPress Mu at our school, I was hooked.

Since WordPress Mu was incredibly successful, WordPress Mu is no longer a separate WordPress project and they dropped the Mu.  The same process is now referred to as Multisite or MS.  I believe that WordPress is one of the many tools (like most other blogging platforms) that students should have a basic of understanding of by the time they leave school.  In the past, Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were the three main tools we taught students, but now teachers should be showing their students multiple creative tools such as WordPress to help students showcase what they have learned and how they have applied it.

At my school, we currently use WordPress as a our homepage as well as for teacher websites.  Of course, there are a few teachers who are resistant to WordPress and continue to use other website tools like SchoolNotes, but those that have bought in love it.  The Multisite or Network Admin feature allows me the ability to troubleshoot any problems that may arise for any teacher as well as post any upcoming news, major events, or announcements that our community needs to know.  The troubleshooting feature takes the fear away from teachers trying new things within WordPress without the fear of breaking it since I am there to help.

However, the part that I love the most is the collaboration component of WordPress.  With the ability to embed videos, pictures, polls, etc. into WordPress posts and pages, students can access tons of information without ever leaving my website.  For most of my posts and pages, I allow students to comment on the items I have posted creating a threaded discussion about whatever we are learning in class.  Commenting on my website has allowed me, as a teacher, to see the different stages of learning for my students and catch their “ah-ha” moments when they are discussing whatever I have posted related to class.  We have a geometry teacher who is using WordPress as a discussion board to work through theorems.  We have other teachers holding discussions on civic and government issues.  Other teachers use the commenting features as a way for students to ask questions.

Off and on for the past 2 years, we have dabbled with the idea of WordPress portfolios for student work.  While the portfolio aspect of WordPress has died down due to teacher turnover recently, the portfolio concept is not something I’m giving up on just yet.  The key to the portfolios is to have the students create a WordPress blog during their 6th grade year as a place to share, comment, and archive their work throughout the year.  Then when they move onto 7th and 8th grade, they continue to use the blog creating a portfolio of their work over the course of their middle school experience.  The portfolio component of WordPress is a great way for students, parents, and teachers to see the evolution of learning as the students moved from 6th grade to 8th grade.  At the end of the 8th grade year, if students want to keep their portfolio going, we can export the file and put it on a flash drive for them.  Then they can create their own WordPress blog and upload the file to keep their portfolio going into high school.

All in all, I think WordPress is one of the best tools out there that a school can utilize to enhance communication, improve website layout, create teacher websites, and create students portfolios.  It’s time for schools to begin looking past the flashy web 2.0 tools like Glogster and Prezi and begin to use tools like WordPress and Edmodo that improve the community and greater good of school.  Sure Glogster and Prezi are cool and useful, but in reality, they are showy presentation tools that do not do much more than that.  If schools begin using innovative tools that incorporate collaboration, scaffolding, communication, presentation, etc., students will be much more equipped to succeed outside of our classrooms both digitally and personally.