Friday, September 19, 2014

Day 3437

On my first day at West back in 1996, I wrote on the board “5,700 work days until retirement”.       I thought it was funny at the time and it became a nice running joke for many years both with my students as well as my peers as they approached their retirement.     A number of years ago, the count came down as it became apparent the magic number of “30 Years” no longer guaranteed retirement…………

While I am not sure how many days I have left to teach……… I do know that today, day 3,437, will be my last as a Wolverine.

Teaching in “limbo” for the last couple of weeks has left me a lot of time to think back on everything that has impacted me professionally and personally while at West……….and what is very apparent is that I need to say “Thank You” to so many people before I leave……….

First is Pat Sansone.    Pat taught me how to design curriculum for students with special needs. The principles she taught, I have used essentially every day for nearly twenty years.

To so many colleagues including (but not limited to) Lisa Rettler, Steve Marineau, Mary Kay Hammes and Nadine Krueger who modeled for me a work ethic that every day mattered and “mailing it in” was simply not acceptable.

To Dale Van Keuren……..Thanks for showing me the power of PLCing and pushing me to try new things.    

To David Towers for believing in me and empowering me to become a leader in this building.

To all the coordinators and instructional coaches that I have worked with the last few years…….Jill Davis, Stephanie Blue, Brian Yearling and Laura Ryan.     Thanks for your positive attitudes, encouragement, and “proof-reading” abilities.     I will take aspects of each of your leadership styles into my new roll! (Will you guys still proof-read?)

Thanks to all my students (okay, not all, but most)........especially my WHAPers.    The energy, work ethic and love you showed me in the classroom made these past twenty years fly by and enriched me in ways that money could not (though it would be nice to know if it could……..)

There are three current staff members who I need to say special thanks to as well………..

To Fred Jonas……….Thanks for modeling for me not only how to teach with passion, but how to stand up and speak out when you feel strongly about something.     I am thrilled to have been your tag-team partner for the last twelve years.      Its a shame we will not be able to "team up" next year......

To Bob Willis………..Thanks for showing me how to listen to others when they speak and how to temper my words before I do (something I still need to work on A LOT).      When I grow up, I hope to be like you.   You are a true “zen master” and everyone who works with you realizes they are a better person for having been able to.

To Mark Anderson……Thanks for your friendship these past ten years.     I sit in amazement at how quickly the creative juices flow through you and how effectively you channel these ideas into your classroom.     The absolute toughest part of leaving West was knowing we would not be able to spend time together every day.

I also have West to thank for giving me the greatest thing I have going for me. During my second year of teaching, I meet my wife, Mary, who was a newly hired speech-pathologist. She invited me to an IEP meeting and I invited her to a Billy Joel concert. The rest is history. Thanks for your love, support and encouragement to take this risk!

If you made it this far……. “thank you” as well for caring enough to read what I had to say!   

Finally, I want to wish the best of luck to Court and Katie, both of whom will be taking parts of my schedule.    I hope that this career gives you half the enjoyment it has given me……...if it does, you will both will have incredible careers!

This whole process has been an emotional roller-coaster and the well wishes I have been given have been very humbling.   It is hard to say good-bye……... to a place that has been, and still is, filled with so many wonderful friends and memories……...which is probably why I am still rambling on……….So here goes…..

Come Monday........Day 1

Monday, September 15, 2014

PBL and Google 20% Time........In My Classroom

Better late than never!       This blog post was actually first drafted back in June...........

I know in my last post I promised to talk about Padlet.    However, my son ended up getting sick the week my students worked on it, so I can't directly comment much on how the students found it to use, so that post will have to wait until next school year..........

So, in my final blog post reflecting on technology in my classroom from this past year I thought I would share my observations on using Google's 20% in my classroom.........

The concept of 20% time comes from Google allowing their employees to spend one day of each work week developing a project that they feel has merit for the company.    From this investment came Gmail and Google Maps.

At the beginning of the school year, my PLC decided to give the concept of 20% time a shot.     For the most part we just "jumped in "......taking a risk......something that is encouraged by our administration.

When the final products were submitted at the end of the first semester, I think it was safe to say that both the students and the teachers were underwhelmed.

Believing in the concept, but wanting to see higher quality finished products, I sat down and reflected on what needed to be done to "fix" our project.

I felt that the following errors were made:
  1. To much time was given to the students.
  2. Too few check points were required throughout the semester
  3. There was not enough framework provided in order to ensure student success

I decided to try to design a project that addressed all of these perceived shortcomings that at the same time combined many of the skills that we had been working on throughout the course of the year.

I started by deciding that all students will create a webpage using Google Sites.    To try and create additional "buy in" I created a scenario to guide the project, which can be found HERE.

Throughout the course of the year, we had spent a lot of time focusing on skills.    The skills ranged from writing (thesis statements and argument development) to 21st Century Technology Skills (Padlet, Dipity, Thinglink, YouTube Editor, etc) to developing the skills of a historian (making inferences, point of view).    

I was hoping that I could create a project that encompassed all of these skills.  To achieve this, I created a list of requirements.   Among the requirements were.......

  1. Students had to choose a historical question to study.   (I had final approval for the question)
  2. Students had to write a thesis statement to answer their question per class requirements.
  3. Students would create a webpage using Google Sites that they could design as they saw fit as long as it contained all of the requirements of the project.
  4. To show their understanding of point-of-view, students had to present at least two different interpretations of their topic.
  5. To show the skill of inferencing, each website had to contain at least five links to resources that related to their topic that they felt someone who enjoyed their website may want to visit.
  6. To show their mastery of 21st Century Skills, they had to seamlessly embed four forms of digital media into their site.   One of these forms of media had to be something that they found on their own.
  7. Finally, they had to present their website to me in a ten minute role play situation based on the scenario that was provided to them.
Earlier today I watched the last of the ninety presentations.......HURRAY!   I did three before and after school each day since the middle of May.........

While not all students created masterpieces, the results were profoundly better than first semester!   The best of the students can be seen in these sample pages........

While the quality of the work was much better, there still are some things I would like to improve on for next year........

Among my goals for the summer/next school year will be to.......

     1.  Remember that as I am teaching the SKILLS that are embedded into each unit, I need to more 
     explicitly state the skill I am teaching.  Then, when the students are asked to perform the skills on 
     their project later in the year they more clearly will know what I am referring to.

     2.  How can I keep the entire class on PACE throughout the semester, so pieces of the project 
     aren't forgotten, dismissed or ignored because they run out of time at the end of the semester?  

     3.  How can I build in multiple ONE-ON-ONE meeting times with students throughout the 
     semester so I can give them quality feedback on their keep their work to ensure they remain 
     focused on their question and thesis?

     4.  How can I improve teaching the skill of ANALYSIS?

     5.  How do I teach SEAMLESS integration of technology?
All are tough questions........

Fortunately I have a couple of months in order to try and solve them!