Monday, July 4, 2016

To ISTE or Not to ISTE, When Work Is Play, and My Tribe Sings Karaoke

I can't ever tell if I'm really good at titling my posts or really bad, but this one pretty near defied my best efforts.  I wrote a couple of "techier" posts on my other blog about my #notatiste experience this year, but as conversations within the #notatiste16 Karaoke Party Voxer Group (it's a real thing, I promise) evolved, we made the group decision to collaboratively blog about what we learned through the days leading up to "The Event".  I must, however, be perfectly clear:  none of us will reveal all of our secrets.  In many ways, the #notatiste16 Karaoke Party Voxer Group is like Vegas -- what happens there stays there (although unlike Vegas, we only gambled with our dignity.) On the other hand, there were some conversations and realizations that we collectively reached that definitely bear mentioning, because being mindful of some of them, I believe, can lead to positive change in the way teachers interact and learn from one another.

In general, the word "karaoke" sparks immediate, powerful reactions as soon as it is mentioned.  Some people love it, others (most people I know) would rather chew on broken glass.  It was at the EdCamp Organizers' Summit that I first became aware that these people I was connecting with professionally, these people I came to refer to as "my tribe" -- passionate educators willing to do just about anything in the name of improving their craft and making education better for our children -- had among them quite a few karaoke aficionados. As karaoke is really my only hobby, I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last 20 or so years singing in odd places. (Think twice before you ever hand me a mic.)  All of a sudden, in the lobby of the conference center, professional networking morphed into spontaneous group songs belted at the tops of our lungs.  I was home.

Then, I heard that Ed Tech Karaoke was an actual THING at ISTE. My tribe. Except I couldn't go to Denver.  It was truly accidental that the idea of a virtual karaoke party connected with #notatiste caught my eye.  Or maybe the universe was trying to unite me with more of my tribe, because we, as a group, almost instantly self-identified as a tribe that would outlive the one night event with relationships enduring. (Yes, the #notatiste Karaoke Party Voxer group is still open for spontaneous bursts of song.)

The theme that emerged from the very start was that the #notatiste Karaoke Party Voxer group was a safe space. Within that space the interactions became more spirited, the "trash talking" commenced, and we all simply felt free to be ourselves without risk of judgement.  (our in-group hashtag was #norulesnoboundaries).  This is something we have known about in regard to our classrooms:  Safety encourages spontaneity and risk-taking.  Now we were experiencing it for ourselves, and so the creativity was unleashed.  Despite the fact that this event had the lowest of the low stakes (let's face it, it's karaoke, no one expects you to really be able to sing) there was increasing chatter among group members about planning (although some of the "stealth planning" didn't become clear until the event was in progress), practice, set lists... (I'm not kidding).  We all were so invested in this event, and the relationships grew from there.  We became a tribe.

The day of the event, several members half-jokingly talked about feeling guilty for spending more time in the Karaoke Party group than with other #notatiste events and activities.  But as the conversation flowed, we realized that the deep connections we were making, the exploration of apps and troubleshooting that was occurring in order to get the party started were all valuable exercises that we could take back to our own classrooms. While it is true that we were talking through the technology to collaboratively solve problems driven by our immediate need (Karaoke Party), we came into the #notatiste space as a whole with the purpose of learning and improving our craft.  I guarantee that, party or not, what we all learned in that group will be applied in our classrooms.

We talk about relationships being key when dealing with our students, but then are critical of ourselves for "taking a break" from work to deepen and grow our professional relationships.  #thingsthatmakeyougohmmm
Toutoule Ntoya described his #notatiste experience as a "whirlwind" -- with all of the possibilities offered, I can only agree:  Ignite sessions, Periscopes of most everything that went on in Denver, Bingo, Twitter was easy to get caught up and forget to breathe.  Additionally, a recurring theme that surfaced both from the #notatiste crew and many who were in Denver was that by far the greatest benefit of participating in ISTE in person or #notatiste was the connections and the people.  Mic drop.  Quality PD doesn't have to be intense and cerebral at all times.

After the EdCamp Organizers' Summit in April, there was a lot of discussion in the EduMatch Voxer group about how overwhelming the intensity of some conferences can be, and the need to step back periodically and reflect, process, connect with others, simply take some quiet time, rather than simply hopping from session to session for 7-8 hours straight.  Simply put, social activities like the #notatiste Karaoke Party have just as much value as the time spent in sessions.  We need these times and activities to recharge and to deepen the relationships that we form during our professional activities. ISTE or Not to ISTE?  For me, the verdict is still out, but I've always known that work is at its finest when it is most like play, and now that I have found my karaoke-singing tribe, all is right with the world.

So my challenge to you is:  Go out and find your tribe, and make time to PLAY. #noguilt

Please visit the following blogs to read more about the #notatiste2016 Karaoke Party

Makisha Rogers:  #notatiste Karaoke and Why it Rocks
Toutoule Ntoya
Cynthia Day:  notatiste Karaoke
Dene Gaines
Dan Kreiness
Barbara Cotter

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

EdCamp Organizer Summit

Wow is the word!

I first became enamored of the EdCamp movement about five years ago when I started on Twitter. (Funny how so many of my journeys began when I discovered Twitter!)  I subsequently found numerous articles in education magazines and blogs detailing this exciting, grass-roots professional development movement by teachers for teachers.  The "unconference", it seemed, could revolutionize and personalize PD in a way I had not previously experienced.

It was not until the fall of 2014 that I was able to attend a semi-local EdCamp -- EdCampUNY in Queensbury, NY.  What a fantastic experience!  Coincidentally, I met Rachel Murat, a social studies teacher from Maine Endwell with whom I had previously connected on Twitter.  One of the greatest things I have found about connecting with professionals in the virtual world is how strong the instant connections are once we meet face to face (IRL).  I also connected with Christina Luce from Liverpool, and the three of us were part of the organizing force behind the first EdCampCNY in July 2014.

Less than a month later, Christina contacted me to collaborate on the second EdCampCNY.  There was a funding opportunity that was too good to pass up, so we jumped on it.  A few kinks in the machine later, we successfully ran the second small but sincere EdCampCNY.  I was hooked!

When the EdCamp Foundation sent out word about the first Organizer Summits, I jumped at the chance to reach the next level of learning.  I was not disappointed.  Truly, the experience and subsequent fallout were more than I could have anticipated.  I periodically checked the RSVP list, just to make sure I wasn't dreaming some of the names I saw (Adam Bellow!!!).  But after the weekend summit, I finally learned that one of the greatest parts of EdCamp is that no matter how well known any attendee might be, no matter how much of a rockstar, no matter how many Twitter followers, how many books published, at EdCamp, we are all equals.  Part of the EdCamp philosophy is "check your ego at the door", which is an easy platitude to spout, but which was truly demonstrated at every step of the summit.

I met some great people right away at the opening session, despite my normal discomfort in groups of people who are unfamiliar to me.  Once we broke into sessions I immediately connected with Fran Siracusa, who I mentioned two posts ago (which was only three days ago...some kind of record for me, I think, so I must make note of it!).  My discussions with Fran in the session about Global/Virtual EdCamps convinced me to (re)download Voxer onto my phone.  She added me to the EdCamp Virtual Voxer Group.  The group is currently inactive, because EdCamp Voxer is not until July, but my mind is officially BLOWN by the idea of a virtual EdCamp!

Over dinner, I met two other fantastic educators with whom I am extraordinarily grateful to be connected.  Margaret Sisler, a tech coach out of Virginia whose sketchnotes gave a fantastic summary of the sessions she attended:

The connection that I made that so far has had just an overwhelming impact and exponentially increased my professional connections is Sarah Thomas.  What an educational powerhouse in such a humble and human individual. Sarah is the creator of EduMatch which, although billed as an "Educational Matchmaker" has absolutely nothing to do with dating.  (No, really.)  Here's the thinglink image to really demonstrate the reach of EduMatch:

So, having just rejoined the Voxer world, I started with the EduMatch Voxer group.  Holy Active Batman!  Easily I receive 150 Voxes a day.  It is very easy to fall behind, but the conversations are so interesting, and unlike Twitter, known as a microblog, most of the exchanges on Voxer are what I might call micropodcasts, because they are voice recordings.  That is not to say that texting isn't an option, because there are members who prefer to text, or there are simply times when it makes more sense.  Images are shared as well.

The snowball effect certainly happened here.  One of our threads in the EduMatch Voxer group let me to request being added to the Snapchat! Oh Snap! Voxer group on using Snapchat in the classroom.  Because clearly I needed another tech tool to become obsessed with.  Or not.  But there it is.

And then Sarah posted a list of Voxer groups for educators.  Did I start this post by saying Wow is the word?  To make a long story short, I am now a member of the following groups:  Connected Educators, Breakout Edu Chit Chat, #satchat Voxer, Gamification in Edu, Seulement Français, and Solamente Español. Oh wait, I forgot Genius Hour, Makerspaces, PBL, and 20% Time. Now none of these groups is as active as EduMatch, but the connections are valuable nonetheless.

And that's just the first EduMatch tool. The reach of the potential connections is endless. Truly. This is the tip of an enormous iceberg. Also the end of this post, because there are so many more things that need their own posts to be fully explained. Can I get another one in before the weekend?

What are your EdCamp experiences? If you haven't yet attended one, what's stopping you?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Did I Really Wait This Long to Get on My Soapbox?

Those who travel in the relatively insulated circles of World Language teachers in New York State might know that in the past couple of years a focus of my presentations has been bringing World Language into the STEM world.  It is something I am very passionate about. The underpinning of my argument is that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are all well and good, but none of the ideas that spring from these disciplines can be expressed without language.  Meanwhile, with technology bringing the world into our personal and professional spaces, learning a second, third, and/or fourth language is not only beneficial, but critical to global citizenship in the 21st century.

To that end, I have been on my soapbox taking advantage of opportunities to present and share my views in as many venues as possible.  I was lucky enough to be selected as a 2016 NECTFL Mead Fellow, and my project is based on connecting level 1 and 2 curricula in French and Spanish with Earth Science and Algebra 1 curricula.  This is extremely exciting for me, because it is giving me the chance to put into action something that has primarily been philosophical up to this point.

When we had our group meeting with the three Mead fellows, our mentors, and prior Mead fellows, it was strongly recommended to me that I do a school visit to an immersion school to get a better sense of how content can be taught in the Target Language, because that is the approach I wanted to take with the integration of language and content.  Due to the efforts of Mead Chair Amanda Seewald, I was able to visit the William C. Lewis Dual Language Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware.

I first visited a third grade math class.  I was blown away!  The teacher was a native speaker who spoke at conversational speed.  The student materials were all in Spanish, and the students were all speaking Spanish.  Culture was integrated in the word problems, and the students "policed" each other if they lapsed into English at any point.

The science class I found particularly fascinating.  The unit was based on the life cycle of a plant.  Class started with a children's book about the life cycle of a squash.  Then students who had not finished a writing assignment (all in Spanish) on the life cycle of an apple tree were allowed to finish that, while other students worked on a new project that extended their learning about the life cycle of a squash.

It was truly fascinating and inspiring to see students learning language and content in this way.  I left with my head exploding with ideas, and more direction for my project work.  More than ever I believe that this type of program is necessary to teach our children to be global citizens and to adequately prepare them for the world they will graduate into.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

What Does It Mean to Go "Glocal"?

The last couple of weeks have been very exciting for me from a standpoint of connections that have just sort of erupted with very serendipitous timing.  Several (I think) years ago, I crossed cyberpaths with Fran Siracusa, co-founder of Calliope Global and global learning revolutionary.  I found her work intriguing, but (as with so many things) her name got shuffled into the Twitterstream, and my projects and priorities continued their constant shift.  Last December, we reconnected, and she was very helpful directing me to resources for my first Mystery Skype session.  She connected me to her Virtual Postcard Project on Padlet, but again, the timing just wasn't quite ripe for collaboration.  Fast forward to this April (yes, it's still April), when I got an invitation from Fran to attend a webinar with an organization called Matone de Chiwit to attend a webinar. I accepted the invitation because after reading about the organization, I was intrigued.  The larger concept is to bring water to regions of the world (Matone means "drops" in Swahili, de means "of" in Spanish, Chiwit means "life" in Thai) where water scarcity is a growing concern.  The webinar was also very conveniently scheduled at a time when I was to be available...that is until a flat tire delayed me, and I missed the first half.  Fortunately, the second half, due to the dedication, passion, and presence of Matone de Chiwit's founder and Executive Director Karishma Bhagani drew me in, and I reached out to Fran and Karishma to try to schedule a webinar with her, to further promote her cause.

April 18 Fran invited me to join Our Blue Earth -- a Google Community she created.

Our Blue Earth is described as follows:

 "This Earth Day 2016, under the focus of WATER, we promote individual investigations, global discussion/collaboration, & a call to action."

Although my priorities are constantly in flux, and I am forever starting new projects, I like to think that the "good stuff" never gets totally lost, it just hides in the depths of my cluttered brain waiting to be drawn out by the right connection.  So it is with the global (and glocal -- yes, I'm getting to that) impact of water.  I tell everyone who will listen that one of my favorite professional development experiences all year (and I do not say that lightly, as I am an admitted PD junkie) is the International Studies Summer Institute put on by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University.  The topic of the 2013 ISSI was The Cultural Geography of Water.  It was in preparation for this institute that I first watched the movie También la Lluvia, a dramatization of events of the Water Wars in Bolivia in 1999-2000.

So lightning struck, and I threw together over the weekend numerous resources on the impact of mining on water supply contamination, video campaigns promoting water conservation, and (most importantly) was able to schedule the webinar with Karishma.

Karishma, with Fran's help, has been promoting her organization through a series of webinars with schools, encouraging the students she meets virtually to assist in her marketing campaign, and most recently, an informational webinar with students and faculty at NYU.

On a recent trip to NYC, after our webinar with Karishma, I had the opportunity to meet her in person and chat more in depth about her project. She was even more impressive in person!  I am anxious to see her project develop from the ground up, and very hopeful to be a part of it!

So while we are acting LOCALLY, we are and will be making a global impact:  Going Glocal!

The overarching message for students and educators is that we all can make a difference, perhaps even a major and significant difference, even by acting only in our...Realm Of Control.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Growth Mindset and Humans v. Dogs

This past summer I read Carol Dweck's book Mindset.  I found it not only to be incredibly beneficial as a teacher, but applicable to my own life.  When I think about how many challenges I have approached with a fixed mindset, thereby setting myself up for failure, I marvel at the fact that I was able to become a productive functioning adult at all!

In my classroom, student goalsetting has been something I have been moving from the back burner to the forefront and everywhere in between for the last 5 years or so.  This year I formalized it as one of my professional goals.  Mondays in my classroom are "Motivational Mondays".  I start class by giving students a prompt in the form of a quote or short video clip.  Then, in Google Classroom, students respond (in English, my purpose is metacognition and goalsetting, not TL acquisition) to 1-3 questions connecting the prompt to their goals and action steps to reach those goals in my class.

As I showed this video this afternoon:

it occurred to me that this was at least the third Motivational Monday video this year I have shown starring a dog. Now, at first glance, who cares?  Dogs are cute, like cat videos, dog videos can certainly be a youtube time suck, it's a fun way to burn a minute and a half of class on a dreary (snowy) April Monday, but why is this blogworthy?

What I believe often gets in the way of a growth mindset is learned behavior and learned beliefs.  I don't believe we are born with a fixed mindset, rather our mindsets become fixed over time due to a variety of environmental factors -- if we are not in environments that cultivate and nurture a growth mindset.  Willow, the dog in the above video, doesn't  worry if the humans watching her will make fun of her leaf-pile antics.  She doesn't worry what will happen if she can't find the ball.  The consequences of failure are utterly irrelevant to Willow, and no matter how difficult the task was, she was ready to start over again as soon as she found the ball. 

How freeing that would be to not be burdened with a lifetime of fixed mindset baggage to overcome!

But we all come from a place that is nearly as purely free of the tethers of a fixed mindset.

Think back to your childhood, and try to remember a time before you felt embarrassed, ashamed, fearful, or otherwise inhibited about trying something new or about taking a risk.  Think about a young child you know.  Their ability to trust without hesitation makes them remarkably resilient and enables them to try, try again, even to the point where the adults around them are ready to drop.  

Perhaps one of the keys to a growth mindset is to access that place we all come from, before fear and self-consciousness, and embrace that inner child who isn't afraid to fall down.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Change Is in the Air

Well, here we are again, and I have again failed to meet my personal goal of consistently posting to this blog.  But I'm back for now, much has happened in both my personal and professional life, and change, indeed, is in the air.

2016 brought the end of an 11 year personal relationship, as well as some exciting and challenging professional opportunities, most of them beyond the walls of the buildings where I teach, and this in turn has brought some surprising challenges within the walls of the buildings where I teach.

A significant part of my ongoing professional journey has been my headfirst plunge into social media about five years ago via Twitter and edubloggers. The ability to find 24/7 professional discourse on any topic in education has been invaluable in my professional growth and development.  From the start I was vocal in my participation in Twitter chats; I commented on blogs, and just generally added my voice to the others out there, whether they were newbies like I used to be or respected educators like Tom Whitby or Ira Socol, both of whom I have conversed with on Twitter.  In fact, not only have I conversed with these heavy hitters, but I have challenged statements they have made, questioned their ideas, and engaged them in contentious exchanges -- all in the name of learning, reflecting, and improving my craft.

For personal reasons, I kept my social media use to Twitter and blogs, and avoided Facebook for years.  It is perhaps for this reason that although I effectively grew my PLN with colleagues around the globe, I stayed under the radar with my local colleagues.

Shortly before the first of the year I joined the rest of the civilized world and became active on Facebook.  It started as an experiment for myself to see if I could maintain a social media account for purely social purposes.  I lasted 8 days.  Truthfully no one, myself included, believed I could manage to keep work out of it, and we were all right.  It started with a blog post that came up on my feed, and I couldn't help but respond.  I knew then that I was doomed.  But the other side of the coin was that there are so many of my colleagues -- particularly World Language teachers -- who are much more active on Facebook than on Twitter, that it just made sense to open a new avenue of connectivity.

So my professional posts on Facebook, like my Tweets and blog comments, are honest, straightforward, and made in the spirit of opening and encouraging professional dialogue.  In that same spirit, I welcome opposing opinions and enjoy having my views respectfully challenged, because whether or not my opinion changes, it allows further opportunity to examine my own beliefs and their validity.

Unfortunately, I am discovering that not everyone feels that professional discourse is desirable.  I have been on the receiving end of several complaints about postings over the last month, and I am truly perplexed and saddened.  These complaints are anonymous, and I am only told that they are coming from "multiple departments".  It is very disappointing that professionals would respond to a colleague with whom they disagree in this way rather than addressing the issue directly.  I have now spent several weeks in an uncomfortable atmosphere, not knowing who to trust, having been told that I'm "being watched".  It isn't the administration, because they have been nothing but supportive, but that doesn't help when the anonymous complaints keep coming, and I have no intention of accepting a muzzle.

This is the last in a sequence of red flags I have been dodging for the last several years, and it has become clear that it is time for a major change.  Many years ago, during a particularly disappointing PD session, I made the conscious decision that no matter how bad any given PD was, there had to be at least one good takeaway.  That one mental shift has transformed how I experience PD -- particularly PD I do not choose for myself.  That shift has carried over into my work experience as a whole.  Despite any shortcomings I may have felt in my current position, I have gone out of my way to find and/or create opportunities to engage and grow my passion for my work.  That has not always made me popular with my local colleagues, although increasingly it has made me successful in the profession at large.  And I know myself well enough to know that I need to be where I can push myself and continue to do what I believe to be right without being silenced, and without being held back.  Increasingly, I have been getting the sense that I have reached my limits in my current position.  Yes, I understand that negativity is everywhere, there will be jealousy and pettiness wherever I land.  But there is a lot to be said for fresh starts, and I'm ready.  My place is as a teacher leader, not an administrator, so that is not a path I will choose.  But the next stone in my path will be laid in a different direction.  Change is good.

Of course...if my optimism about finding another position proves overblown...but let's not jinx it  ;)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Back again! - Technology and its Place

If I could only get into a more consistent blogging schedule like a REAL blogger, I might not have to post these "I'm back again" posts every couple of years! (sigh...)

But let's face it, teachers are humans too, and there are only so many hours in the day!

So, it's been so long that I actually had to go back through the archived posts and see what I've already written about.  Let's face it, I started this blog in 2011, and in the edtech realm, that's an eternity!  So long, in fact, that this tool has changed names since I started using it years ago.

LessonPaths (formerly Mentormob) is a cloud-based tool used to create playlists of websites, documents, images, and quizzes.  With an available Chrome extension, Lessonpaths makes it easy to gather materials on a specific topic, or for a specific student with the click of a button.

Here's a sample playlist:

Create your own Playlist on LessonPaths!

This particular example is where I keep my "Brain Breaks" for easy access.  Most of them are YouTube videos, which are particularly easy to organize and access with LessonPaths, but the advantage that YouTube playlists don't have, is that I can also add blogposts from other language teachers whose Brain Breaks might need more explanation, so I save the whole page for reference.  I can add links to Google Docs -- my own or others', images, or even create quizzes and articles, although I don't use those features very frequently (read:  at all).

I think of LessonPaths as a simplified internet filing cabinet that is student accessible.  I have playlists for subtopics, cultural points, individual students -- basically whatever comes along that needs quick organization and quick visual access.  Students like that they can move through the steps at their own pace, see what's ahead, and even skip steps that they may not need -- great for differentiation!

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!


Note:  I just realized I posted this to the wrong blog.  :)  So here are some thoughts:

I had my post-observation conference a week or two ago, and my principal commented on his surprise at the fact that I used so little technology (I am 1:1 with Chromebooks this year).  The blog for which I had intended this post, is my techie blog for WL teachers -- geared to a far more specific audience.  I began that blog, as stated above, in 2011, so my affinity for technology is well known in my building and district.  The lesson that he observed was focused on listening skills, and was at the start of a unit.  I made the thoughtful decision to use low-tech formative assessment checks for a couple of reasons:  First, as great as technology is, raised hands are a far simpler and more effective way for me to get instantaneous information about what students are understanding, and who is on task.  Second, as this is our first year with most classes 1:1, many students are struggling with the leap to so much technology all day long.  To that end, I have consciously decided that if I am able to do something as effectively without technology, I will, because

It's about the learning.

So, my apologies for being too quick on the post, and not paying attention to my own blog title, but...

Tell me how you balance high and low tech!