Saturday, November 12, 2016

I'll write my way out...

I’m weak. I’m starting off today saying that because I let stuff knock me down. On the reg, almost as habit, I let stuff take me off of the path. Admitting that isn’t fun, intellectually, I believe that vulnerability is a strength. So often, though, I find it emotionally painful.


In September, I started finding a good rhythm. I was writing each week, I felt like I was getting a good response to my blogs. I was Hamiltoning - writing like I’m running out of time. Then, as I was getting ready to attend EdCamp Tampa Bay, a big stupid hurricane set its sights on my town. It was a weekend of stress, of worry, of tears. A lot of my town was under water. My street was under water, and although my apartment is a second floor in an old house with no real downstairs, I had no idea what I’d be going back to. Amazingly, wonderfully, I got out without a lick of damage. So many others weren’t so fortunate. When Hamilton’s island was devastated by a hurricane, he wrote his way out. Me? Nope. There was a little bit of helping out in the community, a lot of going about the business of getting back to normal life.

Did that involve writing? Nope! I started getting out on the road for more long bike rides. And of course, like anything that takes work and thought, when bicycling got in the way of my traditional writing time, I put off the writing. “I’ll try to get it in later,” I thought. Later never came, though. Week after week, I overpacked and overscheduled my life and didn’t find time to write.

The lead up to election day didn’t help. My feelings about it all shoved so much out of the spotlight of my attention, and I didn’t write. I know that just like it was for Hamilton, writing is a way for me to save myself. I find that mixing equal parts of laughing with friends, exercise, creation and writing seem to keep me on the evenest keel. The exercise was there, and the laughter, but man, did I let myself get distracted. It’s funny when you know that something’s good for you, often it’s something you really enjoy and value, and yet still, you don’t touch it.

And that leads us to this week. The election, which I thought was going to all be a horrible memory in the rearview mirror yielded results that have, again, knocked me down. I’m honestly horrified. I had somebody say to me, “You haven’t seen what he’s done yet, give him a chance…” Yeah, uh huh. Pretty much the same script as in 2008, but with the roles changed. It’s not that I don’t want to see a Trump presidency because of all of the things he’s been accused of, or that he’s had attributed to him. I mean, those don’t make me happy, but that’s just gravy. For me, it starts with the platform that he ran on, even more worrying now that he’s proposed his first hundred days goals. I’ve generally been happy with what the president has accomplished in the face of an obstructionist congress. Mr. Trump’s intention of overturning progress that matters to me is very upsetting. I’m upset with his views on immigration, I’m upset with his picking a running mate that believes that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.” I’m upset with the fact that the things he says are embarrassing to me as an educator and as an American.

But here’s the thing, although there’s a solidly political paragraph in the middle of this post, that’s not what this is about. This is about the fact that another thing has knocked me down. I don’t want to respond to “something not going my way” (thanks, Facebook people...) with despair and inaction. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like arguing or disagreeing with someone when I have strong feelings, and yet, I wanna be the person who takes action. I want to be the person who handles disappointment, fear, and despair with bravery, grace, and kindness. I want to be the person who stands up against things that are wrong, stands up for the maligned and marginalized. I want to be the person who does something productive to help. And so, I realize at times like this, what I need to do is write.

When I write, I understand my feelings better, I focus better, and I find my way forward. And that’s what I need to do. So, back on track, kid. Get there, stay there. Share your voice, share your successes, share your struggles. We are not alone when we struggle, there are so many of us. You may be weak, but we all are. The real strength is in getting back up without losing who you are. Keep your head up and get writing.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

I Have Magic Powers (and So Do You)

Several years ago, maybe before I started using the Internet Nom de Clique MagicPantsJones, I was teaching two summer camps at my school. Fortunately, for my procrastinatory butt, it was in my classroom, a couple of weeks after school got out. This meant that I didn't have to pack everything up as quickly as normal. One of the camps involved taking things apart and making imaginary robots. It was fun and silly and very, very messy. There were screws, wires, and circuit boards everywhere. The day before camp got out, another teacher walked by my room, wide eyed, and said, "You're never getting out of here." "I'll be out on time," I answered, "I have magic powers." What happened in the next day wasn't some sort of Harry Potter spell, or even some mystical hokum. It was will. I'd declared something, and I did it. With the help of my campers, we took responsibility for the glorious devastation we'd created, and we made quick work of it in a short time on our last day. This, all to the surprise of my friend, who said, "I never thought you'd make it, but you did!"

Since that day, I've used the line again, and it works each time. If I just go about as normal, the results are normal, too. But there's something special about declaring extraordinary ability before taking on an extraordinary task. You could (should, even?) argue that what I'm talking about here is psychological, not magic. And as a mature education professional, my response to that is, "Yeah, so?" The definition of magic is influencing events by using supernatural or mysterious forces. Let's toss supernatural into someone else's bin for now. I don't want to dabble in that. But mysterious, that's a pretty broad word, especially when you consider psychology. For what we know of the brain, of personality, of how a lump of fat, water, and nerve cells seems to be the cockpit of our humanity, I think that mysterious is a pretty appropriate word. If you then extend that to talk about actions, emotions, and personal practices that yield irregular and extraordinary results, I think we can argue that we are certainly talking about a kind of magic. Most of us use this magic every day.

The Underpants Gnomes had been stealing peoples' underpants. Now if they could
only figure out the middle step, they'd profit.
I want to explore the nature of this. Some things that we do yield extraordinary results, but we understand why, they're totally explainable. But some things, we can only explain in abstract terms. Love, Music, and Humor, for example, are golden in my book. We can talk about, write about, and analyze them, but they act in life like a multiplier does in a video game. You level up faster, you last longer, you earn more points when these powers are engaged. We've all got them, and we only partially know why they work. For the greater part, when people write about them, they're writing about the response to them, or the construction. But what's the middle part? That's the magic. It's the thing that we don't fully understand, the mysterious forces, that yields extraordinary results. It's the question mark in this diagram above from South Park.

In upcoming posts, I'll explore how different Magic Powers work in the classroom. Maybe if we can all harness a little more of our Magic, we can do more amazing things with our students. In the meantime, feel free to add Magic that you think of below, or maybe argue with me and tell me that I'm a naive doofus!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dumb Things Are Important


I think you're pretty neat. Thank you for stopping by.

So dumb things... If you wanna take the title as a complaint, you'll have a lot of ammunition to prove your point. In the education world, there are a lot of dumb rules and contradictory policies from the classroom level all the way up to the education policy makers. The problem, for me with this line of thinking is it's not what I do well. I mean, yeah, I can complain, and I can point fingers, but I'm not good at railing against things effectively. I'm much better at talking about the things that make me happy. When I start focusing on the negatives too much, I tend to swerve headfirst into them, and then I miss all of the good stuff. This doesn't stop me from cursing things that are terrible, it's just that I don't know how to fix the bad, so I focus on making the good.

And for me, just as much as the things that we all know are good, I believe that there's a lot of really great Dumb stuff that makes life so much better. Because this is my space to go all, "Blah blah blah," about education, this is about how important it is to do Dumb stuff in the classroom.

To keep everyone together, I'm using Dumb to describe things that seem pointless, are often silly, sometimes distracting, and occasionally a waste of time. A lot of people can certainly get behind silly, but pointless doesn't usually have buyers in the education marketplace. Distractions and wastes of time are things that we're supposed to minimize and ferret out.

But maybe they're not?

Every day, when I take attendance, I play a game with the student names. I pick something (this is not a specific rule or plan, it's always spontaneous) to modify their names. Initially, this was something I did to amuse myself while doing a dull, daily task, but the kids enjoy it, too. Some days I rename them as animals (or vegetables, fruits, cars, countries) with the same first letter as their name. I've flipped the gender of their names, called them out like a basketball announcer, used bad foreign accents to pronounce their names, pronounced their names backward, given them royal titles, I try to vary this a lot so it doesn't get boring. When I'm having trouble thinking of something, I call them out by their middle names.

As a practice, you could say that there's a purpose here - it's creating fun, it's making the kids laugh, it's creating a positive mood, but other than that, there's nothing. And that's the beautiful thing about being deliberately Dumb - it clears the palate. It's game playing that stretches out our brains while acting as a release valve from all of the super important stuff we're supposed to be doing.

Steven Universe
I recently bought an afro wig - not as a practice of cultutral appropriation, that's tacky and insensitive - but because I was looking into putting together a Steven Universe Halloween costume. Unfortunately, when I tried it on, it looked stupid on me. So of course, I did the only thing you should do with such an item. No, I didn't take it back to Target, I stuffed it with old t-shirts, and used zip ties to close it up. A little hot glue, some googly eyes, and now we have a classroom friend named Reynaldo who hides in a different spot each day. I'm sure that I could have my students write stories about Reynaldo (where does he come from, what does he do when we're not there, what does he eat (fingers! stay away from his mouth!)), there's no real point. He's fun. It's a dumb game to play. Where's Reynaldo today? Did anyone find Reynaldo yet?

Andrew wrote about Reynaldo on his Seesaw Journal
Okay, again, maybe there is a purpose here. Shared experiences create culture. Building memories together - especially silly ones - creates bonds between people that last a lifetime. We look back at the times in life when we laughed. Mapping out your life and relationships with memories of laughter is a powerful and positive way to reflect. Okay, so maybe I'm helping my students with that, and maybe I'm even showing them how to create those parts in their own lives. But seriously, we're just being Dumb!

Another thing that Dumb play does for kids is to free them to be more open, more confident that they're in a safe space. On Friday, when we clicked 'Today's Event,' in Classcraft, it said that the player (student) with the lowest XP got to choose a song  for the Gamemaster (me) to sing. This had some really cool aspects to it. First of all, the student with the lowest number of Experience Points is the kid who's struggling to play the game of our classroom the most. Maybe it's someone who doesn't have a good record of taking up opportunity, maybe it's someone who's always a little behind. Either way, it's a cool way of drawing in a student who could be doing better. Next, having a kid pick the song is great because our music overlap isn't strong. I'm in my early forties, they're eight. Chances are that it's gonna be a song I've never heard before. The song that got picked was Fight Song (which I'd heard enough watching the Democratic Convention this summer). That led to the best part of all - Fight Song, an anthem of empowerment - doesn't fit with my voice at all. I'm not a very skillful singer to begin with, but I knew I couldn't nail it without being a buffoon. Opportunities for buffoonery are important for teachers. They humanize you. They teach your kids that respect works better when it comes from liking and caring about someone than when it's just fulfilling an expectation based on hierarchy. They teach students that it's okay to look silly if you're all in on the joke. Also - they give the kids a chance to laugh their butts off, and that's really important.

The last thing I want to share is Stupid Homework. On Friday afternoons, we brainstorm until we come up with something that sounds really stupid. That Really Stupid Thing becomes their homework. We've only done it twice, but so far, we've had a good time. The first one happened organically. I was joking around with them at dismissal, and said that we had homework for the weekend (Awwwwww). I wanted them to do something stupid that wasn't dangerous and wouldn't get them in trouble. That day's brainstorming session came up with: Put whipped cream or shaving cream around your mouth and run around yelling, "I have rabies!" Do that and send me a video, and I'll give you a ton of gold in Classcraft, I told them. We only got a couple, but it cracked everyone up on Monday. This weekend's stupidity is pretty simple - wear an outfit of mom or dad's clothes and take a picture. It's nothing too extravagant or ridiculous, but it's something that'll make the kids (and hopefully their parents) laugh, and make them excited to come back to school on Monday.

Investing a little time in being Dumb with your students is powerful. It builds culture. It scrubs stress from your classroom. It aids creative thinking. Really, being Dumb intentionally is a game. The rules don't always make sense, but that's okay because the points aren't important. It's not about winning or losing, it's about laughing. And THAT is why Dumb things are important.

Now go be Dumb in your space!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Genius Hour Is Back for the New Year!

After two successful years of cool Genius Hour projects, I let a lot of factors drag me down last year. Sadly, I was never able to get any sort of Genius Hour off the ground. This year, I've returned to being way more active about building a positive, love-based culture in my classroom, and making Genius Hour a priority in that culture is important to me.

On Wednesday, we spent some time thinking about what we care about to kick-start our personal passion projects for the year. Some of my students had done Genius Hour in previous classes. When they saw it on our day's agenda, some were excited. One boy told me he wasn't sure what his project would be, and already had anxiety over it. At this point, I was Captain "Slow Down!" I don't want you even thinking about projects yet, I told them. My big worry if kids are starting with a project is that they'll get bogged down with ideas of what's possible, what's doable, and what's "easy enough" or "too hard." 

We sat down, I told them that I wanted them to sit quietly on the floor for a few minutes. "While you're here," I told them, "I want you to think about the things that totally make you come alive, (don't shout it out!), the things get you so charged that you shut out the world when you thinking about/seeing/learning about them.*" I waited a minute and it was the quietest moment of the week. "Once you've found something, and thought about your feelings for a while, please go to your seat and write or draw on the first page of your Genius Hour notebook about the thing that excites you." A few kids got up. It wasn't a mad rush like it usually is in a third grade classroom. It was still quiet. Kids slowly migrated to their seats. Occasionally, someone piped up with a, "Can I....?" to which the answer was always, "Yes!"

When we reassembled on the carpet, the sharing was a lot of fun, and showed a range of thinking styles. Some of the kids talked about ideas, some of them talked about things, and some talked about people. I don't even want to begin talking about work yet, but you could see the zygotes of some projects already forming. Three moments really stood out to me. The first was a boy who said that Lego excites him. I've had that before, but when he broke down the reasons why Lego is important to him, it was clear that the statement, "Lego excites me," was a thesis that he'd written an alternative paper on, full to the brim with diagrams and support. The second moment was personal, and me putting it down here is absolutely self serving. My shyest girl, the one who I'm always afraid that I'll break her because my outward personality is so big in class, and hers seems so delicate, wrote a list of things that give her life. The third thing was, "and more than anything, my teacher makes me feel alive and excited, my class, too." That bowled me over for a moment, and reminded me how important the trust she's placed in me is. The final one that stuck with me was a sweet, friendly boy who clearly lacks confidence in his voice. He said he didn't want to read it, he was too embarrassed. I asked if I could look at it. He handed it to me, and I was in love. It was too good, I asked if I could please read it. He squirmed, I said, "K, this is too good, can I please read the first sentence? Can I summarize it?" He finally agreed, and I told the kids that he wanted to help schools and kids that don't have as much as ours does. One of the girls gasped and said, "Oh my gosh!" in a tone that put it perfectly, as if to say how can you be shy about such a nice thing? He still was a bit sheepish, but he's gonna come around. A heart that big needs to be fed and encouraged. It's exactly what we need. 

I can't wait to see what the kids learn as they explore ideas, as they learn. I can't wait to see what projects they do. I'm so excited to not only water their gardens, but to show them how to water their own gardens of love and excitement for learning this year.

I modified this introduction from Angela Maiers' fantastic book, Liberating Genius. You could use this book as a fantastic road map if you've never (or never successfully) done Genius Hour with your students. While I don't need it for that, I'll definitely keep it in the glove box as a guidebook.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

In which I jump feet first into Classcraft

Over the summer I attended EdCamp Magic in Orlando, FL. During the door prize section of the day, my pal Amber (@edtechamber - follow her, she's full of good) won a Premium Subscription to Classcraft, a service that she didn't need in her position. So quickly, I adopted the not-as-subtle-as-it-thinks-it-is "share the treats, please?" pose that my dog gets when I open the cupboard. When she asked me if I wanted it, I was all yes.

Classcraft is kind of like Class Dojo meets Dungeons and Dragons. It has more of a story to it, and more of a collaborative feel, as students work together in teams. 

As this school year has started to pick up, my kids and I are really enjoying it so far. Rather than writing in order, and getting all organize-y, I'm just gonna throw out some things that pop into my head as I think about how things have worked in class:
  • One of the things I like is that like Class Dojo, we've been able to tailor consequences and rewards to our class needs. The kids brainstormed what they wanted to count to make class run smoothly. Student voice works nicely with Classcraft
  • The team structure allows encourages students to help each other. They gain experience points for being helpful. Additionally, when you get into trouble, a student on your team can help you out of trouble. This gets you back on track, builds strong team bonds, and gives experience points to your helpful teammate (so they can level up faster). 
  • Another compulsion to be helpful: If one of your teammates causes enough problems to lose all of their hit points, they "fall in battle." The offending teammate has to complete a task to refresh their hit points, but additionally, everyone on the team loses ten hit points. 
  • One of the add ons that I've used with Classcraft is in the consequence section. When you fall in battle, you may have to memorize and recite a poem for the class, you may be asked to bring a treat in (I stress that singing, dancing, or joke telling count as treats just as much as cookies or candy), or you may be asked to copy a text. If the student has to copy a text, they get our school's mission statement to copy. It's not terribly long, and there's choice here: I allow students to choose how many times to recopy it. I award ten refreshed hit points for each time the student has recopied the mission. 
  • Random Events: One thing in the game that kids love (and love to hate!) is the presence of random events. If I tell them it's time for a random event, some get all happy, while others moan, "Noooooooo!" I press the button, and we learn that all healers just got 200 experience points (a cheer goes up!), or all the warriors just lost 20 hit points (sad faces and moans!). Every time, some kids ask for another, and others, again, say, "No, no, no!" The engagement is awesome.
  • One piece of classroom management I've always had trouble with is noise. I'm pretty easy going most of the time, but when it gets too noisy and I need it quiet for a moment, I have difficulty reining it in. With Classcraft, I've added in some outside sound effects and danger to warn them of noise. I found a dungeon soundboard online (shoutout, Tabletop Audio!). When it gets a little too noisy, I hit the Growl button (volume on LOUD), my eyes get really big, and I say, "Oh no, I think we're traveling past some Orcs (or dragons, or some other beasties)!" and the kids quiet down. If that doesn't work, I hit the Roar button on the soundboard, and then the Random Team button on Classcraft, "Oh no, the Magical Mountains just got attacked by a band of Orcs!" I roll a die and add on that they each took that much damage. It works, and it's fun, even when we get hit.
  • My kids love getting their work done early. "Can I go on Classcraft?" they like to see how close they are to leveling up, or to using class earned gold to buy new armor. 
  • Because we have the Premium version, I'm able to create Quests to review content, and then we can go on the quest as a class by battling a creature. One thing I'd like to see, though, is the ability to assign the quest to individuals. Wouldn't it be cool to use the quests as online quizzes? Fingers crossed that I just don't understand that function, or that it's coming...
  • There's also a Classroom Content Library that you can add readings to, but I haven't played with that yet. 
I'm sure there's much more I could go on about, but my brain is dwindling from a lack of movement. Clearly, we're loving Classcraft. (My AP said, "My only question, who's having more fun, you or the kids" I smiled and said, "Yes," because we're all enjoying the heck out of it so far!)  Now, if you have cool Classcraft ideas, share them below! If you have questions, share them in comments.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

It's been a while, I know, I'm sorry.


It's you.

I like you.

Oh, who am I kidding, I love you. You are pretty great.

So here's the thing, it's been a long time, Too long. For some time, things were taxing, then they were busy in delightful ways, and then all of a sudden, even though I had things to talk about, I was out of the habit. When you fall off, what do you do? Get back up. So here I am, getting up. I'll share pictures and ideas soon. It'll be fun. Right now, I'm gonna jet, but I just wanted to say hi.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Play, Baby, PLAY!

The second half of the month has been very much about Global School Play Day(it's on February 3, sign up here!) for me. As a hype man (my designation) for the big-hearted project, I've been participating in chats about the importance of play in the classroom. I'm not about to change course here. We could muddy our hands complaining about all of the things that keep us from letting our kids be kids, but we'd be here all day.

We need play for discovery. We build understanding, relationships, social skills, and so many other things through play. We also need play as a release valve. Whether we're pushing our students to listen, take notes, engage, create, or just regurgitate (I say, "I hope not," but we all know that it still happens too much!), all work and no play makes Jack into a jerk. Or a mess. And what if Jack or Jill are one of those magical sponge kids who soaks up whatever you toss at 'em? We love those kids, and they get it. They love learning, they get the growth mindset. They know that the effort grows their skill. They deserve that release most of all. Because, because, because we kinda sneer at recreation these days. Sure, we love it, but during work time, we don't throw our respect at our laid back friends. We throw it at the hard workers. Split off the prefix with a hyphen, and re-look at the word:


Isn't learning about breaking down old misunderstandings, and re-creating our view of the world in a more powerful, more correct, more understanding way?

GSPD is important as a kick start. Sure, it's a nice break if you've been working your students until their fingertips are raw. And you can leave it there. You don't have to be a big picture thinker. But know that's all it will ever be is a break, unless you look at it not as the moment but the movement (apologies to Lin Manuel Miranda). Infuse Play into your classroom. Playful lessons are nice, but if your kids give you forty five minutes of real attention, engagement, or work, give them fifteen minutes to their own energy, creativity, or whatever their recharge is. Some will need to bounce around like idiots, some will need to talktalktalktalktalkt, some will need to find a quiet corner and retreat. Let them. You will all be better for it. 

And now the extension...

Because HECK, if we're working our kids too hard, if we're asking a lot more of them at younger ages, if we're wondering why so many keep blowing it on assignments and tests, shouldn't we be asking that about the whole system? I've often taken the lead from my principal in relation to my students. The ways my best principals have worked with my colleagues and me as an educational team have taught me so much about organizational structure. And through my career, I've applied that learning to my students. It's an analogous relationship. In the best schools, a principal is a caring and interested manager who wants to empower her/his teachers. Shouldn't that be true of teachers, too? I think so.

And now, I'm proposing that the relationship works under the commutative property. It works backward and forward. All of this play is so incredibly important for our students, and guess what? It's so incredibly true for teachers, too. With all of the pressure (to say nothing of the pay) of this career, play and recreation are crucial to us as well. Covey would have us sharpen our saws. He's right. Again, recreation is re-creation. We can't be innovative, big-hearted, gorgeous souls leading children to greatness if we're mentally and emotionally swamped. 

My pal Jennifer Williams and I have put on one Teacher Play Date event to bring play and learning together for teachers. We have plans for more because there aren't enough people operating the release valve on this profession. We (this is the bigger we, not just Jen and me) need to infuse this profession with Play, fun, and re-creation at every level, from kindergarten, to high school, to the teacher's lounge, to the office, to the school board. For the power to truly work, it needs to be surrounding the whole dang game. It needs to be done on the reg, not just on special occasions. 

So let's do it. The work of learning is crucial to our country, to our world. But if we're doing it joylessly, doing it without silliness, fun, play, and re-creation, maybe we're just building a factory world. That's not the world I want to live in. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Hug Project

Last Friday, I wrote a bit about my hug project at FETC.

Like I said before, this started out being silly, felt really embarrassing along the way, and eventually led to me feeling so much love and connection with amazing teachers and edtech professionals. It really is a dumb thing to walk around with a sign bearing your name saying, "I hugged ________". It feels a little (a lot) self centered, narcissistic, you name it. And again, it's embarrassing asking people if they'll hug you and take the picture.

It was easier asking a stranger or a new friend to take the picture than a long time friend. As the week went on, however, the act of taking the picture was downright celebratory.

In the end, it's really changed my thoughts on hugging and human contact. I've always been a hugger, but I realize now, how much power there is in a squeeze. Going forward from here, I'm aiming to hug my way through ST4T and ISTE, both in June, and see where this can take me. I've got 38 photos in this set, should have more like 60 based on the people I saw at FETC. I wish I had gotten them all, and won't make the mistake of not asking in the future.

And as I think of this project, my novelty brain starts going. Does this turn into a writing project? A podcast? I'm not sure, but I know that I don't want the connection to time out, and that means I need to keep hugging.

Friday, January 15, 2016

In Which I Meet an Astronaut and Devolve into Self-Parody...

Good morning, and hello, Adventurekateers!

Since I last wrote, FETC has been an exciting, inspiring, tiring whirlwind.

When I arrived yesterday, I was looking to get together with my friend Jen Williams to talk about ideas and recharge my daily energy stores. I get my recharge from talking, from excitement, and from novelty. For a person like me, Jen is an amazing connection. I don't know if I know anyone more positive, more enthusiastic, more "yes" about ideas and awesomeness than Jen.

But my goals changed when I got to the Press Room. I wanted to check in, hit the floor, and find Jen, my emotional cup of coffee this week. The first person I ran into, though was my pal Shauna, who reminded me that astronaut Leland Melvin was doing a Q&A in about fifteen minutes. The little kid in me was shouting, "What? A real astronaut? Maaaaaaan!" I've been rewatching 30 Rock lately as a palate cleanser after Making a Murderer, and all I could think was, "I'm gonna get to meet Astronaut Mike Dexter. Take that, Liz Lemon!"

And then Mr. Melvin took to the podium, and I loved his message. He spoke out in favor of  STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) over STEM, which clearly doesn't prioritize the Arts. He made the point that we need to make sure that students need to have a strong foundation in reading and math skills. Speaking a common language of words and numbers is necessary to work and problem solve as a community. But what I loved most is what happened next.

One questioner asked him about how we save African American boys, as they are struggling (I can't remember the exact words, this is a paraphrase). I'm sure Mr. Melvin has received tone deaf questions like that before, because he was so unflinching in shutting down the premise. He said (again, please note the lack of quotation marks, I was not recording) that the question wasn't the right one. A goal-less future is not just a problem for America's black boys, but for any child who lives in disenfranchisement. Whether we're talking about the urban poor, or kids in a rural environment, if you're a child who doesn't see inspiration, who doesn't have high standards, who goes to school in a building that is an oppressive environment, you're going to have problems reaching for greater goals.

As the same gentleman asked a follow up, Mr. Melvin pointed out that the idea of "putting a man on the moon," left out half of the population. We live in a (needlessly) male dominated world, and leaving women and girls out of our goals is unfair to them, and unfair to us as a world. He went on to thank teachers as the inspiration leaders of their students, and all I could think was, it's so much easier to work to inspire students when we have inspiration leaders of our own.

As he was leaving, I asked to shake his hand, and he offered to stand for a selfie as well. I don't know what it is about shaking hands with, and hugging inspiring people, but I do know that we talk about connection and connectedness a lot in the online teaching world. This week, I've come to realize how important it is to have that physical connection with people that are important to us.

On Tuesday, I half-jokingly made a sign that said, "I hugged @MagicPantsJones at #FETC!" Shauna took a look at it, and told me she'd make a nicer one for me. I took a couple of photos with it, but overall, I was embarrassed of myself for what? Was this too self-promote-y? Probably. Was it too silly? Maybe. as it missing the point of being at FETC? Perhaps. I didn't take the photo with everyone, though, because I felt kind of dumb. Then I got a tweet from my friend Bonnie Olson asking me why she didn't get to take a picture after hugging. And then I felt dumb. What's my word for the year? Yeah, Lean-In. In my case, that's being my ridiculous self. I told her we'd do it when I see her next (I hope you're still here, Bonnie!).

But I was still awkward about it until the fantastic #FLedChat session hosted by #FLedChat moderators. Early on, Jerry Swiatek called me out, "I've seen you every day, how come you haven't taken a hug photo with me, Sean?" And the floodgates opened. As I write this, I'm realizing how much - again - physically connecting with people is important to me. Am I going to become the Leo Buscaglia of EdTech? There are worse fates. And for the rest of the day, it was hugging! Old friends, new friends, perfect strangers, how energized I felt after each hug.

My #FETC Hugging Project has been ridiculous, a little embarrassing, and most of all, incredible. I have friends who are new to FETC, and they're soaking up classroom ideas, techniques, and tools. I have other friends who are nailing the swag game on the Expo floor. These are things I've done in the past, and they're so awesome when you're doing them. But for me, this year, FETC has been about connection, and it's been the best year for me yet! (Look out ISTE, I'm coming for my hugs).

And I'll leave you with a picture of one of the most powerful huggers I know, one of my first PLN hugs ever, Tammy Neil and I, post hug.

Guiding Prinicples

This is not all that's needed
It doesn't happen enough.
Needs to be scalable.
IE Kids, Teachers, Admin? yes, especially!

Tech, yes, please.
Old school play? Heck yeah.
Roots & wings, baby,

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Road to FETC 2016

My weekend prepping for FETC was supposed to be easy. There was some sub planning, some session picking, and hopefully an epic trail ride with a buddy on our mountain bikes. Well. There was an epic trail ride. Planning? Not so much, instead, my head was wrapped around car issues. Then on Monday, it was teaching while getting rides and favors from friends, doing sub plans, and dealing with the (arguably evil) service department at the dealership. Still under warranty doesn’t matter if you have a sleazy dealership.

Anyway: By the time six o’clock rolled around, everything I needed to be done was done, and I was at the curb waiting for friends, waiting for my ride to FETC. And that’s how the whole day went. That’s how everything that worked went. So many of the things that I used for my sub plans were based on work shared by my coworkers. I got rides through the day from four separate people - friends and family. The fact that I have a press pass came from the encouragement of my friend Tammy, who said I should be writing, and that I should apply for credentials.

And I before I write a single word about George Couros’ keynote at the Executive Summit (I’m lying, here’s one word: YES), or talk about how awesome it is to hang out with pals from far away (Hey! to the awesome Shauna Pollock), or before I say much about the Student Publishing workshop led by Stephen Veliz (pretty cool - I’m looking at you,…), I have one big idea that is resonating with me today. I’ll get to the excitement tomorrow, and there’s so much of it. I’ll talk about connections, and toys, and all sorts of new tomorrow. Today, I have one main idea.

For me, the big idea, and the thing that got me here is connection. Local, personal, gorgeous, lovely friends and family (and please, I don’t mean that my circle is made up of models, it’s just that if you look at the realm of possibilities in the universe, happy, sweet, healthy human beings are beautiful) people supported me in so many ways, and do every day. Then, there’s my Twitter friends, my connected educators, an amazing group of empowerers. Without them, my attempts at greatness would be so much smaller! Without these local and global connections, would I be here? No. It’s the people in my life, the relationships, they make me possible. I think this is important as we embark on a week of talking about technology and software - those are the tools, and they’re nice when you need them. But if you really want to innovate, it’s the relationships that are where we need to focus.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Lean In

I was going to write about last year. That's a common New Year's Day blog post, right? Or maybe a resolutions post. But you know what, I can't. I try, but but but looking back bores the heck out of me. I mean, yeah, I can look back a little and assess how something went. But writing about it? Put me to sleep. And the resolutions? Nope. Can't do 'em. More boring. I hate being pigeon-holed, I end up feeling blocked in. There are times I wish that's how my brain worked, but for the most part, I like being novelty driven, and constantly focused on possibilities. I was trying to think of following the #OneWord trend and set a guiding word for the year, and I think I can kind of get on board.
Kind of.
Does a phrase count? Because if a phrase counts, I'm going with "lean-in." And by "lean-in," I mean this: there are a lot of times in any week of teaching that I don't feel like I know what I'm doing (even at seventeen years of teaching). I watch teachers doing things, and I'm not always sure why, and I'm always sure I want to know why. And saying this is not to disparage what other teachers do. It's just to say that as a teacher, I don't always fit in with how we're "supposed to" be teachers.  I also don't think this is a bad thing, and so I'm gonna lean into it.
Got an interest? Lean in. Got a passion? Lean in. Don't just be you. Be YOU. Follow the things that make you you, lean in to your tastes, proclivities, and ideals. Dive down rabbit holes, explore the things that you love most. Yes, there are things that you don't do well that you could be working on, but then again, you probably have some pals (either at your school, in your district, or in your online PLN) that you can lean on for help. And meanwhile, when you go deep on the things that matter to you, you have more to share, as well.
Finally, I believe that things that work for teachers generally apply to students as well. I know that we often feel pressure to have all students succeed, and it often feels like we need to have them all be  successful at everything. But I think that lean-in applies here, too. It's nota that all students need to succeed at everything, it's that they all need to be successful in ways that enrich their lives. Of course, kids all need to have the basics to get by in life, be decent human beings, good citizens, etc. Moreso, they, too, need to lean in, find what makes them them, and push hard in that direction.
Lean in. You don't stand out by doing what everyone else does. You stand out, you make yourself crucial by being the you-est you.