It’s time to get back to writing this blog. It’s taken me some time, but I want to get this blog back on the regular trajectory. What’s the topic de jour? It is what everyone else is talking about, it’s DISTANCE LEARNING. It’s here, and it looks like it’s here to stay. I am seeing it from several different slides of the coin and I have a lot of thoughts
I currently work for Tynker which is an Educational Technology company that is perfectly suited for these times. In my humble opinion, we are the perfect mix of curriculum that makes implementation for a teacher easy and gives students an opportunity to make and create with what they have from home. It also doesn’t hurt that students are using a future-ready skill (coding) to do that making. It really is a great platform for teachers to continue to student learning even when they can’t be right next to them.
I am lucky enough to work for a company that was in a place to grant a license to schools that were affected by COVID-19. We had no idea how far it would reach when we officially started the program in early March, but the response has been more then we could ever imagine with over 10,000 grant applications. My job at Tynker is to support teachers, so let’s just say it’s been a bit busy on my end. I feel like I am on right there with many of you on the front line, but I am just not in the classroom fully.
Being on the front line, I also see both the triumph and the struggle. I know many teachers just weren’t ready for this, but I also know the effort they are putting in to make things work. I see it every day both from all of my own children’s teachers and the teachers I am supporting. It makes me proud to be just a small part of this community. We have seen teachers go fully online in a matter of days. We have seen schools and districts move within days to close the equity gap with devices and hot spots. Schools are still provisioning lunches. Ed Tech companies have stepped up to the plate to support. There is truly no community like it.
I have seen the struggles too though. I have a first-grade son who it’s incredibly difficult to get started at school. I have seen the lack of organization from some teachers which can easily make things confusing. The difference in workloads and assignments has also been fascinating. While those struggles are there (with plenty more) I can’t be mad at teachers. They have stepped up to the plate in an impossible time with little training, little coaching, and essentially flying by the seat of their pants. I think the question to ask all of them though is, “How are you going to improve things over the summer?” Distance learning is not going away, and this summer is going to be where the rubber hits the road.
I think there are a whole lot of things that can make distance learning better. I think the irony is that I am at home supporting thousands of teachers yet I am not supporting my own kid’s teachers at the moment. Hopefully, this blog and the ones in the next couple of weeks might help.
Student creation is about more than just creating to create. You should want to create for a purpose. You should want to create for understanding and meaning. You should want to create to make the world a better place, and it all starts by building a scenario for the creation. Scenarios should always be your starting place.
What do I mean by that? I see student projects all the time that are “just create something about the topic.” That topic could be anything, but what the teacher is going to get is always the same: bad power points and bad videos. What if you actually made them create for an audience? What if you made them solve a real-world problem? You could get more than just bad tech tools with regurgitated information.
To me, this takes me back to my days in the Social Studies classroom. In Social Studies, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of just having kids do a presentation to regurgitate information You have seen them a million times. They tend to have bad backgrounds, arguably plagiarized text, and images that just look weird. I thought there had to be more, and what I came to is that there had to be a scenario to create to. Instead of just giving them a topic, I gave them an audience. I put them in the history. They had to critically think like the people they were studying and like they were there.
Does this sound hard? Well, it isn’t. There are thousands of scenarios you could use in any topic, but I found one that was always a good starting place if I got stuck: The United Nations. Think about it, they have a hand in everything. They work with plenty of data to tie math in. They are worried about the planet which ties in Science, and they are involved in politics which ties in Social Studies. With ELA, you can adapt grammar and writing projects to almost anything. It means you can have all four CORE subjects covered in one audience.
The UN has even made it easier. They have published a set of 17 goals that they have for the planet by 2030. These are a great starting place! It sums up the world's problems beautifully and gives you a great place for kids to start solving them. There is also a massive teaching community around them, so you don’t even have to create all of the activities yourself!
These can even be used for coding scenarios, and Tynker has done just that. Check out the Hour of Code projects based on the SDG's at https://www.tynker.com/hour-of-code/
Let's take a few minutes to talk about my new favorite maker tool. It's got the two things that I think are the ultimate keys: accessibility and high ceiling. It's cheap, and you can code it in both Block and Python. What device is it? It’s micro:bit.
This device is the little mini-computer that could! A micro:bit has several aspects to it including an LED panel you can code, buttons, sensors, and edge connectors that can be used to add things like lights and motors. You can create your own robots, games, and even a scientific instrument or two. The ceiling is incredibly high because it can be the brains for almost anything!
It’s also an incredible way to learn coding. Kids can build and create anything, and they get to program it to do the function that they want. The coding on the device is also incredibly accessible. With both block coding resources and Python resources, you can have elementary school students make with it, but you can also take it into high school with Python. There aren’t that many devices that can cross over like that
I am fortunate to work with a company that even takes that micro:bit accessibility a step further. Sometimes it’s hard to teach kids everything they need for a mini-computer. You might want them to create, but you might not know where to start. Tynker has courses to fix that problem. We have both a micro:bit block course and a Micropython course that teach kids all the aspects of the micro:bit. They build projects to learn how to use the sensors, led’s, buttons, and edge connectors with the goal being to learn the functions well enough to build their own project. We have even simplified code deployment to make it easy no matter what device you have.
What can you build? The possibilities are endless. You could build robots, rc cars, scientific instruments, and much, much more. The ability to add accessories with the edge connector ensures that you can build almost anything you want. Isn't that what making is all about?
This blog is for my friend the Social Studies teacher. Many times your the red-headed stepchild of the core content group, but if we can take anything from the current state of affairs, you are so important. You might be the last ones to get new standards, but you are going to be the first ones that kids actually use coming straight out of high school.
This isn't to say the others aren't important, but think of the first ways someone can participate in the greater society. It's things like registering to vote, registering for selective service, and getting into the federal student loans program. All of them are things that may need advocacy, and we have to teach our students to advocate and participate.
No matter what you believe with the current state of the US government the abundantly clear thing is that we need to do an even better job of teaching civics. The impeachment inquiry is s a perfect example of this. It's clear that many Americans don't fully understand that process, and that lack of understanding is helping both sides manipulate both the process and messaging with it.
We are constantly hearing a lot about the process. The thing to understand though is that the process right now is like a grand jury. It's about finding enough evidence to see if you can take it to trial, but because it's already being tried in the public conscious people think that things should look like a full trial. That's the not the way things are laid out in the constitution, yet many Americans don't realize that. It allows both sides to manipulate the message to benefit their point of view.
We hear the argument of fake news and bias all the time. In reality, it's there on both sides of the argument. The problem we are all having is that we aren't teaching civics well enough which makes it almost impossible for folks to decipher what is real and fake. We have to keep up that fight because in an age of endless media, knowing civics is the only thing that will let you know what is real and true.
We are getting to a point where teaching civics is going to be the only thing that saves us. The old saying ignorance is bliss does not apply here. If you don't know how things work you just can't decipher through the noise.
Civics Teachers: Keep up the fight! You don't know how important you are!
So last week was all about academics and colleges. The blog for this week is all about athletics. The NCAA needs some changes. I have seen the need for change at every level; first as an athlete, then as a high school coach, and now as a parent. Is change likely, no, but we can always hold out hope.
I have a daughter who is interested in playing a sport that's going to require her to be on a club team to make her high school team. That's crazy, right? There's a whole lot of money involved there, but it's also the place that she would have to go to be seen by colleges. It's crazy to me that we have to think about that in seventh grade. The problem is that if I don't, it's highly likely we are putting her in a place where she won't make her high school team. I have to keep up with the Jones, or my daughter may not get where she wants to be. As a parent, I feel like I have to try and help her do that, even though I may need to give them both an arm and a leg.
There has been a lot of talk about reforming the NCAA to benefit the athlete today. Just recently, California passed a law that gives athletes the ability to benefit from their likeness. That's a slippery slope. While the NCAA is a huge business, there won't be enough to go around to make that process very fair or equal. It's easy to be the Quarterback at Alabama and profit, but what if you are the Volleyball player at that same school? Those sports don't tend to be very lucrative and the group that will let you make money off of your standing as an athlete is very niche. I think there are some ways to reform that process and I include it below, but I also include 4 other things that will make a real difference.
1) Take Club Teams Out of It
I don't necessarily have a problem with club teams as a whole. I think getting extra practice is not a bad thing, but the NCAA can make one small change that lets every kid have a chance to be successful. They need to force NCAA coaches to recruit from high schools.
We want athletics to be about learning life lessons, and we have worked our selves into a place where they learn a lesson that isn't positive: obtaining your dreams is infinitely harder the less affluent you are. Club teams are ridiculously expensive, and unless it's a sport with a lot of potential money in the future, the cost is going to be incurred by the parent. The sports that have that potential money in the future (like men's basketball) have
This is especially prevalent in sports where the “sponsorship money” just isn't there. Think about where the state champions in sports like baseball, volleyball, soccer, and swimming are in your state. I can guess with almost certainty that they come from affluent urban areas, and there is a reason for that.
Those kids are playing a crazy number of games on traveling club teams, and that gap is just going to keep growing as the NCAA loosens rules on recruiting for club events. Parents will do it because they want kids to play at the level and they dream of having the crazy cost of college paid for. It's a matter of weighing your options
Do you know what sport has the smallest amount of this and the most parity? It's actually football. College coaches still have to recruit from high schools because playing that many games in a contact sport just isn't feasible. It's the sport where the gap between the have and have nots is the smallest, but the scary thing is the rise of 7 on 7 tournaments and special camps may be changing that. The NCAA can head that off by simply making coaches recruit from high schools. Maybe they can do that for every sport.
2. Spending caps
One of the scariest things that is happening to the sport today is that the financial gap between certain programs is starting to trickle up to colleges. It's always been there in high schools as the parents of affluent schools can make their programs whatever it hey want, but now it's trickling up even more to college athletics and the effects can be a little scary
Take college football as an example. There is a reason Alabama, Clemson, and others are winning. They are spending folks under the table. Their coaches have ridiculous salaries, their facilities are insane, and they have extra staff that isn't necessarily what others have across the board.
Why if the NCAA put a spending cap in place? The NBA and NFL have them and their parity could never be better. MLB doesn't and the big teams dominant. If the NCAA had spending caps it would improve parity, and it would also redirect funds to actually educating kids which makes us all better.
3. Get the shoe and apparel companies to cool it
Again, the money tap is open and it's hurting the sport. The shoe/apparel companies are in a mad rush to get every team they can to sign up, and that money means they can dictate what they want. The scary thing is it keeps trickling down to high schools.
I have seen a growing number of high schools in the past couple of years take money from shoe companies, and I honestly don't blame them. They get better deals on uniforms and apparel. It brings brand value. The problem is though, is it's continuing to add to the haves and have not mentality of society. No apparel company is going to put its name on a high school that has a poor reputation. They want a nice suburban school.
You can also see the influence they have over the major money sports. Football and Basketball both have apparel money pouring into them, they want that next major star to start with them from a young age, and they are doing anything they can to make that happen. They also know those suburban kids they are sponsoring at a suburban high school are much more likely to have the affluence that it takes to be future customers. Is that really fair?
The NCAA can curb all of that. I am not saying that they have to end it. Just curb it. Put some restrictions in place on what Universities can do with the shoe companies. Restrict how coaches recruit from their events. What they do, tends to trickle down.
4. Paying athletes (Sort of)
There are lots of conversations going on around paying college athletes, but that is an incredibly slippery slope. It's easy to say pay Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama because the university is already making a killing off of him, but how do you pay that swimmer at the same University where there is very little money coming in?
I think the key is to walk a really fine line. You need to give them the chance to make money off their likeness, but there also needs to be rules to keep outside influence out, to prevent the shady agents, friends, and keep away the other hanger ones. These are kids and the NCAA must protect them.
It means that the athletes should be able to hold a job, they should be able to get an appearance fee for going to a car dealership, and they should be able to make money off YouTube content. They should not, however, be able to just get paid for their skills. There has to be a transaction of some service. They have to do some type of work to actually get the money. Having to do something will teach them better lessons for the real world, and isn't that what the NCAA is supposed to be.
5. Improve Real-World Training
The goal with NCAA athletes should not be to get to the pros. It needs to be to get out into the real world and make a difference. Athletics teaches all kinds of lessons about life, yet the NCAA doesn't require any expansion on that.
Schools do things like teaching their players about financial, literacy, the law, and making a difference in the community individually. The NCAA can make a huge difference by just making that a requirement. They could require pieces of training that really set these kids up, and they can even go as far as making something like community service an eligibility requirement.
Getting those kids to have a huge heart to help people will make a huge difference in our world. No matter what sport they play, some people look up to them. Maybe the NCAA can help us build that type of community
The blog this week is all about failure. It's something we all hate, but in the end, it makes us better. It also means we have to take the time to give a person enough space to make sure they can recover and improve from that fall. It's going to happen, so why not use it as a learning experience rather than a judging experience.
The idea for this blog really started with my beloved Florida State Seminoles. I did not go to school there, but they have always been my team. Both my parents were graduates, and the only reason I did not go, there was simply because I was not good enough to play there.
If you have not seen, they are failing. They have a new coach, Willie Taggart, who is in his second year, and it's easily the hardest to watch Florida State team that I have ever seen. Folks are calling for Willie to get fired.
I know college sports are a ruthless game but is this fair to him? He has not had time to implement his ideas fully. He has not had time to fail and learn from it. He has not had time to take what he learned and apply it for the better. He might have experience, but each new set of people and places brings its own challenges.
Being the educator I am, that lack of rope Willie is getting led me back to both education and my own career. I think we as both a society and in this education field that we have all chosen, don't let folks fail enough. We judge people by their failures when really we should judge them by their progress. You can tell the real winners by the ones who do everything they can to not fail the same way twice.
Is there a place that shows this more than in the education field? If you are or were in the classroom, think back to your first days in the classroom. Where you good at what you do? I know I wasn't. I sucked. I had a great student teaching year, and I thought I could just conquer it. My first year was alot of failing though.
I did not want to fail. I was not satisfied with being bad or just average. I tried to make things better continually, and those little improvements got me to a point where I was somewhat (are we ever fully?) satisfied after ten years. Yes, it took 10 years.
Teaching is a hard profession, yet right now, we judge people based on data and numbers. If we keep doing that, we are going to continue to drive educators out of the field. Educators should be judged on their ability to improve. If they have that want to, they will be fine. They may need a little guidance (that's what a good administrator does), but they will eventually get there.
Students are the exact same way. We repeatedly give them numbers and data that signify if they are good or bad. Why do we do that? Think about the student who regularly gets those bad marks. It's easy for them to fall in the trap of not believing and not caring. Why can't we have a system that lets them know they made a mistake or got something wrong, and then allows them to fix it. We need to let them grow, not take away their spirit.
This is something that even society needs to take hold of. Unless someone is super well trained, they are going to do a lot of failing at first. If they have the right drive that won't happen for long, though. They will learn from their mistakes and try new things. We need to give everyone the ability to do that.
Let's change society. Failure isn't a bad thing. It only becomes bad if you don't have the drive to change it. We should remember that we deal with both students and teachers.
Google is taking over education. The Chromebook is everywhere, and so many students now have access to Drive. The collaborative features, ease of use, and availability make Google products a favorite of lots of teachers. It's also a favorite of administrators because it's so simple to manage.
What can you do to take it to another level, though? Sometimes it's all about the little things, and that's what this blog is all about. These are five little tips and tricks that will take your Google game up a level.
There is an easy way to fix that, especially for Word. Start by clicking the settings wheel in the top right, and then check off the box that converts everything into a Google Doc. As soon as that's checked off, every time you upload a Word Doc, it will automatically switch to a Google Doc. For Slides and Sheets, you will need to upload first and then hit the button that says convert to the corresponding Google product
If you use Google Classroom, this trick is a MUST. It makes the workflow in Google Classroom so much easier. If you don't use Google Classroom, it's still a great thing. It allows you easy sharing and collaboration. You can easily share it just by changing the last word in the URL from edit to copy
There are great educational tools in there like WeVideo, Kami, Pear Deck, and more. You might also find that tool that lets you do that one thing you have always wanted. The overall beauty though is that if it's in Drive, it makes the Classroom connection easy!
It all comes down to adding multiple-choice questions and sections. At the bottom of each multiple-choice question, there are three dots in the bottom right corner that you go to section based on a response. Sections are basically new pages. It allows you to send students to one page if they get the question right, and a different one if they get the get the question wrong.
It allows you to add a video or a different question if they get it wrong. Where it really can be great, though is that you can insert a live URL to take kids anywhere on the internet. You can do things like adding a HyperDoc link that asks students to complete an activity if they get it wrong. It means the possibilities are endless.
An excellent resource for this is Eric Curt's site which can be found HERE.
I don't typically like writing about politics, especially since the politics of today's world are so toxic, but I think this week is an exception. U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson announced his retirement this week, and I want to tell you about an educational experience I had with him that changed my life. We get so tied down to what's going in our class, that sometimes we forget how much an experience matters. Hopefully, this post will show you why.
My family has known Senator Isakson since the early '80s. My mom was in Junior League with the Senator's wife, and we have been following his political career since he was a Georgia State Representative. In 2003, I had the honor of being selected as one of his summer interns in Washington, D.C. At the time, I saw this more as something fun, but as I reflect now, the effect it has had on my life is incredibly profound.
When I went to Washington in the summer of 2003, Senator Isakson was a representative that was running for U.S. Senate. It meant that most of my job as an intern came down to giving folks capitol tours. It used to be that people could move across the capitol freely, but since the attacks of September 11th, it requires having a staffer (either a tour guide or intern) with you. Since Senator Isakson was running for Senate at the time, it meant he could never turn these down, and it meant they fell to me.
The experience of leading these tours set me up incredibly well for my future. At the time, I only had one semester left to get my degree in Social Studies education. By touring the capitol each day, I was getting to experience one of the things I would teach about for the next ten years. I was able to take groups into the galleries of both houses of Congress, and literally sit there and watch them work. I developed stories that I used with my students for years. It was learning by experience, but it wasn't the only great thing about it.
While I knew of Senator Isakson and I had met him a few times, I had never really talked with him. This internship gave me a chance to, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that he is just a great person. Think about that for a second. In today's toxic political environment, I know from experience that I can trust in the humanity of one of Georgia's only two Senators. Can you say that about your votes? If we all could say that, would we be in the political climate that we have today? I may not always agree with the Senator's stand on the issues, but just knowing him personally made it the most comfortable vote I ever cast.
I can also say this experience changed my life in a very profound way. I met my wife while I was an intern for the Senator. She was interning at the same time for a farm lobbyist group, and we actually met on a bus. We spent the entire summer together, seeing the sites, and now we have four kids. It all came off an educational experience.
If you are in a classroom, you may not be able to offer trips to D.C. or meeting a future spouse. You can, however, facilitate an experience that changes a kids life. You could have the next broadway star sitting in your classroom, and your field trip to the theater is what sparked that curiosity. It could be bringing in a career day speaker whose ideas were so profound that one of your students changed that career path. It could be setting up kids with local internships that turn into future jobs. You never really know, so trying new things is what can make an incredible difference.
I think as teachers, we get tied up too much into content, and we don't stop and take a look at the things that really matter. We in this field to prepare kids for the future, and we never know what they will really use. Why not give them the experience that lets them make a better decision?