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Showing posts from 2017

We Make Magic Happen

Since I became a teacher I've become less concerned about embarrassing myself. So I'm not afraid to admit that I spent much of last week listening to 90s-era ballads from the likes of Boys II Men and All 4 One. In other words, I've been listening to the music of my high school prom.

The reason for this musical mini-obsession is that my students had their Senior Prom last week. Their excitement filled me with memories of my own time in high school. I relayed this to my friend, mentor, and fellow teacher, Mike, who responded by saying that prom is "The most romantic part of high school." He's exactly right -- not in the "short-term-high-school relationship" sense of "romance" -- but rather, in a magical sense. Prom in particular, and high school in general, feels special because it is special. And it's special not because of some inherent specialness, but because it has been deliberately imbued with meaning by students, school staff, pa…

Coding: The Manual Labor of Digital Learning

When I was in high school, my family didn't have a home computer. It was the late 1990s, and our lack of an at-home desktop wasn't atypical. However, I had one advantage my friends didn't -- my mom was a librarian at our tiny town's tiny library. That meant I got access to the library's computer after hours, and I took regular advantage of the opportunity. More often than not, I would spend weekday evenings working on various personal webpages. The one I remember most was a fan page for the Iowa Barnstormers, an arena football team and my favorite pro sports team as a kid. Of course, I didn't have much in the way of content back then -- the challenge (and the fun) was in building and designing the sites.  At the time, the popular website creation platforms were Angelfire and Geocities. I used both at various points, but I quickly felt restrained by their suites of tools, images, and templates. Thus, I quickly decided I needed to supplement the easy stuff with …

Teaching Kids to Be Wise About Technology

My school is not a 1:1 technology school. Most days, students have access to computers when they need them. Yet, they can't complete every assignment on a computer, nor can a teacher plan for computer access every day.

Thus, there's a sense in which we teach disconnectedness every day simply by requiring that students spend most of their classtime without a computer, tablet, or even (gasp!) smartphone. As a 33-year-old teacher, this doesn't seem strange to me in the school setting. I never had a smartphone when I was in high school, and I did just fine. Yet, in my non-school life, I have streaks where I can't help but check my phone every hour, or half hour, or minute-and-a-half. As I reflected on this over the weekend, I realizee that when I take a student's phone as a consequence of them using the phone in class, it feels like more than a punishment -- it induces miniature withdrawal.

I empathize with my students. Of course, that doesn't change the need to h…

Survival Strategy: Divide and Conquer

One of the nice things about being a journalist -- at least at a daily publication -- is that each day is more or less a clean slate. You get to work, work as hard as you can on a story, and then without fail you complete it no later than, say, 11 p.m. You've got no choice -- the printing press has to run.

Sure, there were plenty of multi-day stories and even long-term projects. However, each day's guiding principle was that you had to get the story by that evening's deadline. In short, your to-do list had a clear expiration date.

As a teacher my to-do list never seems to end.

A colleague told me before the start of the school year that teaching had forced him to become much more organized than he previously had been. As soon as I collected my first assignments I learned what he meant. However, even after I got a grip on keeping assignments in properly labeled folders and grading them in a timely fashion, I still had to find a way to deal with the onslaught of all the litt…

On 'Refrigerators' and Positive Reinforcement

All of us who get into teaching have at least one goal in common. We hope to change the lives of our students through the power of education. We understand that this usually happens silently. We go about our normal routines, doing the best we can every day. And little by little, we hope we are altering the trajectories of our students' lives. We understand that we might never get a "thank you" or any other kind of recognition. But we hope that every once in a while a student will get in touch to say how much they learned from us.

I knew all of that before I got into teaching. What I didn't realize back then was that there would be times when I would know, in the very moment I was acting, that my actions were having a tremendous impact on a student. I didn't think about how, sometimes, it would be written all over my students' faces.

One moment, in particular, comes to mind. I had just given a quiz and my students had done a great job. One of my students who …

First Take: Online Assignments Through Google Docs and Forms

Over the past couple of weeks, I've tested out a pair of Google tools for assignment completion and submission. The results were mixed, but promising. Below are some initial reflections from the experience.

Background Info First off, I should note that my school is not a 1:1 school. We have about 200 students, one computer lab, and three laptop carts. All told, we've got something like 1 computer per 2 students. Also of note, I have a small number of students with no computer/internet access at home. Thus, I have to be careful about assigning computer-based homework. All of that said, I am usually able to utlize a laptop cart any time I need it, so it is typically not a problem to use technology in class.

Assignments I tested out Google tools with two assignments:
9th Grade Global Studies II: Students were asked to look up a Current Events article, read it, and then fill out a Google Form. The form asked students to paste the article URL and then answer four critical thinking an…

Why I Ditched My Backpack

The first time I walked into school as a teacher, all of my belongings were slung over my shoulder in a backpack. I'd dug the backpack out of my closet for the occasion. After all, backpacks are nothing if not the official accessory of school, of education, of youthful exuberance. 
That was five months ago. Back then, I would come home every day with a backpack jammed with folders, a textbook, and my school-issued laptop. I often had a second bag, too. I'd strain my back carrying my bag every day from my door to the car and then from the car to the school door, and then back again. It didn't take long before I started to feel as though maybe I needed to re-think a few things.
For one, I soon realized that all that stuff in my backpack wasn't just weighing me down, it was holding me back. 
Textbooks, after all, are no longer the be-all, end-all of instruction. They're now more of a fallback to be avoided as much as possible.
And that laptop: It's nice and all, …