A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Those who can..." This blogger's dilema

In the next week or so I have a meeting. Normally, I like meetings. I like working collaboratively and like that most meetings have a goal-there is something to be done; a goal or idea to be furthered; a plan to set into motion. When I lived in Topeka, I joked I was the professional meeting goer of our organization. It was not uncommon for me to attend 3-4 meetings a day--my record was 17 meetings in one week.

I usually like meetings, but this one, not so much.

One of the people at this meeting gets under my skin. They are condescending and have been vocal in their dismissal of me and what I do for a living. They like to make 'jokes'--except jokes are funny and and positive supposed to be moments which build up a community or a group. Its funny, I have dealt with parents and colleagues and even family members who act this way and its normally water off a ducks back. Its not even that I really look up to this person; I don't. I've never been sure why this person has the affect they do but ... (cue up vintage Dr. Freud footage at this point).

In my brain, during this meeting, this person will speak derisively of the occupation I love.

In my brain, during this meeting, this person will same something along the lines of:

Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.

I hate that phrase. Its too simplistic and its not true. Well, it is true sometimes, but the majority of teachers are not endemic of this motto. I hate being lumped in one group or another. Its usually negative and almost always harmful to any serious conversation that needs to be had.

So in preparation of the meeting, I have thinking about that phrase. Since my blog is the place I dump my thoughts...

The phrase: 'Those who can, do. Those who can't do, teach.' can be traced to writer H.L.Menken and, before that, George Bernard Shaw, both in the early and mid 20th Century. Shaw wrote a variation of it in Man and Superman (1903) and I think Mencken cribbed it from Shaw.

Why is peeves me: To be honest, I think part of it is that I've seen this axiom be true more that I'd like to admit. Think of the Paul Giamatti character in Sideways or the Allison Janney character in Ten Things I Hate About You or any number of characters on TV today. I haven't seen the movie Bad Teacher and I won't--even though I'm sure at the end Ms. Diaz has a revelation about the career and became the model of model-teacher. Its easy to blame culture for the stereotype, but my profession has people who spend more than their fair share of time and ink and bandwidth complaining about everyone else, rather than acknowledging that there are teachers out there who suck. I'm thinking of the school districts who move around or warehouse bad teachers because the teachers have tenure or connections to the local education association. An interesting movie to watch on the subject is Waiting for Superman. (I talked about the movie in a previous blog post.)

How I might respond:

Possibility Number One: I say nothing. It might be the best option but feels like a cop-out. Ignore and I risk them thinking I agree or even accept the premise. I don't on either count but the best way for a fish to get hooked it to take the bait.

Possibility Number Two: Go all "Taylor Mali" on them. You remember poet Taylor Mali? He is a teacher and a slam poet and here is how I envision my response would be:

While that might feel good, those are Taylor's words and not mine. I have similar stories but Mali's line about Honesty and Asskickings isn't really me. I don't know I could be that confrontational. I also have always struggled with the Mali piece because it feels defensive to me. By even accepting the premise, it feels backed into the corner. I don't think it feels that way to Mali, but I feel that way listening to it, brilliant as it is.

Possibility Number Three: Go Socratic on them. "Wow, that is a strong statement. What makes you say that?" "Do you think all teachers are 'non-doers'?" "What do you think makes a good teacher?" "How would you change the education system to encourage good teaching versus the non-doing place holding you feel is rampant?" Now, normally this would be my go-to position. I like dialogue and I like a healthy give and take...from people whose ideas I am interested in and I generally respect. Strikes on both of those counts.

I'm sure there are other possibilities and I would take them in the comments below. The Quaker phrase I have used over and over again on this blog, "Speak only when you can improve upon the silence" is what my brain is saying at this point. The wisest person I know, my wife (it is true-with the exception partner choice) would counsel me to go with Option One, do not engage. Don't accept the premise...Don't engage ...Don't... The challenge is, I usually only see her wisdom in hindsight.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

For teachers for whom nerd isn't their first language-Step Three: Exlpore


A few days ago I talked about wrestling with how to best integrate technology into my classroom and with what software, hardware, apps, etcetera etcetera. My blog posts have been inspired by a post by the folks at the Committed Sardine and they intern took their ideas from  and article on Edudemic. This is the third installment and, for me has been the most fun.


You' defined what you need and you've done general research on the options out there. (Remember, the Edudemic piece was designed for a more IT crowd, not necessarily an in class teach--I'm liberating their ideas for my own nefarious purposes.)

Alignment--does the app match how "you" do things and your level of comfort with technology?

Last summer I participated in an online seminar and one of the presenters did amazing things with Google Earth using the layering tools. I loved the idea and so tried to replicate in my classroom--it was one of my best fails. I'm comforatable with technology but didn't have the bakground or the time to master it for my students (I am playing with it again this summer--hope springs eternal!)

Support--How well does the app play in the sandbox?

I've said this before on here, as an educator, I am something of a Dr. Frankenstein. A piece from here and a piece from there. For me, I need to be able to use a piece of something without being tied to all of it. For some of you, a plug and play is just your cup of tea. This is the time to find out.

Engagement-Do your charges ask for more?

When I teach exploration and colonization, I have used clips from Colonial House, a PBS 'reality show" where a couple dozen people are given a little training on how the people of Plimoth would have lived and then sent to an uninhabited portion of Maine to try their hand at it. On the PBS website, there is an interactive history quiz, Would You Have Survived in the Colony. The player makes decision as a the governor of the colony and at the end of the game, you are told what the colonists fate would have been under your leadership. I had intended it as an in class exercise, but I have had kids spend an evening playing the game, researching the best boats, the best ways to manage a crew, hygiene, and religious considerations of the era.  It is consistently a hit and draws them in in a way a straight lecture couldn't.

Data/Accessibility-Does the app realize its all about ME?

This particular metric is designed for the IT crowd. The in-class parallel might be: how easy is the app to navigate? How many windows before you get what you need? Can you access it from multiple computers using the same passcode? Several cool apps don't work for me based on the way they've set up the application, website, ...

Cost-To paraphrase the ATT commercials, "Free is better." or ..."What's an budget?"

We are all living the dream of highly paid, uber financially supported edumacation programs so money isn't an issue. Right?

Fit--Finally, is the app a good fit for teacher, student and parent?

The fourth step in the process suggested by Edudemic is "Select" but it is solely focused on IT so I'm not going to write about it. The in-class corollary is partnering with administration and IT either preemptively or during the forgiveness getting stage.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Pile of Benjamins

I had some time to kill between a couple meetings and watched the Discovery Channel's The Secret Life of Money. It was interesting.

It talks about the history of money, it talked about the future of money and it also featured an artist I had never heard of who uses his 'art' (counterfeit money) and tries to exchange it for things like shirts and ice cream cones. His goal is to raise questions about why this or that has 'value.' Kinda interesting to think about.

It also featured the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in DC. It is one of the places in DC I have never visited but would like to. Teaching Economics without talking about money is like teaching American History and not talking about George Washington. I went on their website and it answered a question I've had but never really thought to ask. Why did all the other bills get a makeover but the $1? Than answer is here.

At the Federal Reserve in Kansas City, visitors are given a bag of money--shredded but ... If I make a few trips this summer, me and my students could play with out money. That would be a teachable moment. Hmmm.

If anyone else has some thoughts on teaching money...COMMENT!!!! I would love to hear your thoughts.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Civil War Washington Teaching Fellowship--Reboot

In the last post, I talked about the Civil War Washington Teaching Fellowship. This mini-post is a set of links to previous posts about my week with them last summer. There are easily the same number of posts I don't offer links to so, if you are up for some exploring....

Walking in the steps of grieving father at Oak Hill Cemetery

When memories aren't allowed, let the house speak for you

Prepare. Experience. Reflect.

How long do you let kids marinate in an uncomfortable discussion?

Furnished with ideas, not objects

Sleeping in the president's deathbed

Wichita Connection #2

At Ford's Theater

I was asked by the kids which spot had the most meaning and I'll close with a link to that post. My attraction to these types of  location are all over this blog, like here, here and here. I don't think of them the way otehrs do, I see them as flashpoints for rememberance, reflection and vision for the future. History is a way of looking at the past in order to chart a course toward the future--these places encapsulate that idea.

How Sleep the Brave

"On this site in 1897 nothing happened." and other CCWTF thoughts.

I'm am preparing for a webinar with the new Civil War Washington Teaching Fellows today and it has me waxing nostalgic. I thought I would offer a top ten five six list to them for their edification.

5. Wear comfortable shoes...

All the coordinators from the different sites are all apparently seasoned Olympic calibre marathon runners and are unaware that some of us are less agile. ;)Walking tours and house tours and the Bataan march that is the steps up to Douglass' house. These tour are going to  give you boat loads of pictures and notes and you will use so much of it in your classrooms, but really...where is the Segway flatland tour/pubcrawl?

4. Take notes...
I know, you are officially on summer vacation ... but as you walk the city of Georgetown or listen to the tour guide at the US Capitol (the best tour I've ever had of the site, BTW), or listen to a speech at the Douglass house, or are in a class session...something is going to be said that you'll want to remember back home. I use my notes from CWWTF quite a bit this year. The depth and insights you're going to walk away are invaluable. Make sure you have a place to capture them.

3. Give yourself time to process...

I referred to my time in DC as the equivalent of drinking from a fire hose. I'm blessed that I can say that of a number of the seminars, classes, fellowships I've attended. The CWWTF fire truck was on full blast all week and I needed time to process. I have found keeping a blog is a great way for me to process and often find myself going back to old posts and finding new ideas that just needed fleshing out. If not a blog, get a journal or something that you can use.

2. Pray to the roommate gods....
You are going to meet some of the coolest teachers and you'll become fast friends. CWWTF is in some ways a master class. Listen to them and learn from them. Perhaps the most important person is going to be your room mate. Now Jake at Ford's is a nice guy but, from my experience, is terrible at matching roommates. Depending on your faith tradition, light candles, fire up a smudgepot, paint a red circle in the middle of the room, whatever you need to do. The only negative part of my experience was my room mate--how did that guys even get selected! He came to classes unprepared, never once asked a question or offered an insight and I would talk about his hygiene but he was from Oklahoma so I really didn't have high hopes for that anyway. (After all this, James, I suppose that when we meet up this summer I'm buying lunch?!)

1. Think about how you take the experience back to your kids...
If you are like me, you spend a lot of your summer reworking your curriculum for the next school year. I wish I could explain to non-teachers how much prep really goes into good teaching. As you are processing and collaborating with the other fellows, keep a running list of things you want to bring back. I found that, a week or two after I'm back, when the 'tyranny of the urgent' returns, I forget. That may be just me. A great trick suggested a few years ago was to create a running list while you're there of ideas to play with or content to add. If I'm not intentional, then I remember it a day before I need it and, well, that means it ain't gonna happen.
And finally... Bring a friend...
There is absolutely no reason for this thought other than these Flat Stanley pictures were burning a hole in my pocket. (shhh, some of them aren't even from CWWTF)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

For teachers for whom nerd isn't their first language-Step Two: Research

Okay, I'm hoping this will be more interactive...
This is the second of four posts on a blog entry from 21st Century Fluency and Edudemic.

Step one was to define what your needs are. What are your goals? How tech savvy are you? Your students?

Step two is to research what is out there. Now, the article from Edudemic is focused on school level programs (RevolutionK12, Gooru, or EdisonLearning, for example). I'm not the 'deciderer' on stuff like that so will defer to the IT professionals. The research I'm wrestling with is what apps to bring into the classroom. That is where the interactive part of this comes in.

Many of ya'll are further down the technology rabbit hole than me and I would love to what works in your classroom or office and what doesn't. To that end, I'm asking for comments. I'm going to start the ball rolling with a few I use in the classroom...what do you use:

I am going to use Edmodo more next year than I ever have. The folks at Ford's Theater want to use it for the fellowship program. I'm still playing around with it but ...

Skype, FaceTime or some other video conferencing software
Last year was the first year I video conferenced and it was a hit. I have been compiling a list of people, organizations, other classes we could totally work with.

I really like using Prezi. Think of it as Powerpoint but, instead of going from slide to slide, there is only one slide and it moves you around it.

I have a Weebly account but don't really use it. It feels like the same as Edmodo. Would love to hear someone who uses and loves Weebly talk about it. Some teachers here love Glogster, but I haven't used it other than to play with it.

Ok, so now the ball is in your court. WHAT APPS DO YOU USE?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

For teachers for whom nerd isn't their first language-Step One: Define

One of the blogs I read regularly is from 21st Century Fluency. It is a collection of articles they have gathered from their research on education and the digital generation as well as their own thoughts and ideas on how to best teach a new generation of students.

This article, via Edudemic, does something I haven't seen out there: a rubic for slecting digital content. There is so much out there and if nerd isn't your first language and you don't have time to explore everything, finding content can be overwhelming. The infographic is extremely helpful.

Over the next few days, I am going to process this for myself. If ya'll wnt to join me...cool beans. First, the article:

The Committed Sardine--Teacher's Guide to Choosing Digital Content

Step one is DEFINE
  • Instructional Use-do you want it to help you teach or help student's practice?
  • Teacher Engagement-how skilled are you as a digital citizen?
  • Student Population-how skilled are your students as digital citizens?
Instructional Use:
Sometimes a new tool, Google Earth, for example is a just toy to play with or another map to show the students. And that is alright if that was your goal. But Google Earth can do more than just that and its up to me as a teacher to decide how I want to use it.
I like the distinction between instruction and practice. I use Google Earth in my class but I've never used it as part of an assignment...hmmm...I have no real reason why other than I had never really thought of using beyond instruction.

Teacher Engagement:
I'm still wrapping my brain on this one, to be honest. An article from the creators of the rubic outlined in Edudemic is here. My first run at it is that it asks the question: how much the teacher wants to control the content or let the content provider control what the students see and the work they are assigned. I've started thinking about it in the same way we think about textbooks; is the book and its worksheets/tests/supplimentary materials THE Source or is it one of several sources you Franeknstein together to create a lesson. I'm a Dr. Frankenstein so I would want content I can tinker with and use in my way.

Student Population:
This one kinda surprised me. I assume my students have better digital skills than me and the writer's point is that that is a bad assumption to make. How do you assess how well a student navigates the intraweb thingy? I need to work on this.

Monday, June 3, 2013

"A taste of what I learned" ... rancid or not

First, thanks to Brett Clark's blog Education Dreamer for posting this video. Watch this video and then come back...I'll wait.

Welcome back ...

The program is called the Independent Project and it works like this:

Sort term questions--
Monday-Students begin by asking themselves: What is a question are you are curious about.
  • You spend the week exploring that question
  • The difference between this approach and a lot of other classwork is: "You actually want to know the answer."
Friday-You make a formal presentation on your findings. The week they filmed, the subjects included:
  • Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
  • John Muir
  • Why a wing generated lift.
In addition to the weekly projects, there is Individual Endeavor-
Learn to do something you are interested in:
  • play an instrument
  • writing a book or collection of poems
  • research topics like education and environment
The expectation is there will be a mastery of skills

The last portion of the curriculum is Collective Endeavor, a group project designed to produce social impact and make a difference which also teaches collaboration skills

Some of the take aways from the video:
  • Allows them to become completely invested...not every human being through the same gate.
  • whats the role of the teacher...who decides good work? ... according to the  administrator
  • Their questions get me thinking ... said the science teacher.
  • Accommodates different types of leanings--strong and learning different
  • Freed to focus on their own curiosity--they work harder when its their own idea
  • Learning becomes a group activity--every day
I like the story of the student who studied Crime and Punishment but didn't feel mastery during ther presentation. Instead of filing it away and moving on ... he took another swing at until HE felt like he had a handle onf Dostoesky. Impressive.

The program is in its second test drive and it many are intrigued by the idea of spontaneous learning. It does raise some questions:
  • What can students teach themselves?
  • What is the role of the teacher?
This quote is from one the teachers they interviewed and he sums up my thoughts exactly.

"The the power of a young mind is pretty impressive...one they are so resilient, two they are extremely creative, three they are fearless, they will try everything. So, the qualities I think many many teenagers have go really well with the program; which would make sense since it was created by a teenager."

Something serenditious happened while I was writing this blog. Somehow (an I have no idea how it happened) but I inadvertently started playing the following video I posted a few days ago by Sir. Ken Robinson. Hmmmm...maybe the gods are conspiring....

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Living and growing in the classrooms we aspire to have.

Living and growing in the classrooms we aspire to have.

The blog link is from a friend from PA. I met Chad when we both attended the Stratford Hall-Monticello program in 2008. The program no longer exists, which is a shame, focused on Revolutionary Leadership. We spent ten days of our three weeks at Stratford Hall, the home of the Lee family, which includes two signers of the  Declaration  of Independence and  Robert E. Lee. Four days were spent at Williamsburg, Yorktown  an Jamestown and one week and Monticello.
I like this post because Chad holds himself accountable.We can blame  parents, administrators and Common Core, but that's just whining if we don't  look at  our own practices as well.
Another thing I like about his post is the idea of play. Tony Wagner  in his book Creating Innovators, spends  a lot  of time on play and it has been something I have been reflecting on of late.