It’s that time of year again. The arbitrary beginning when we feel extra bold that we can develop a new habit for an entire year. My sarcasm is clear but it’s only to emphasize a remixed structure that both my wife and myself have found much more useful and appropriate.
Instead of new years resolution, we do 24 x 30 day challenges (2 per monthly cycle). Each month has a positive and a negative. In short each month we have a theme of Do ______ and Don’t _______.
“Hey dad, am I going to be a genius when I grow up?”
I remember asking this way too many times as a kid, always wondering about what things will turn into. My dad had the perfect comeback.
“Of course, you’ll be whatever kind of genius you want to be.”
The youth in me didn’t understand my dad’s wisdom. He answered me, but that felt like a general answer. Kind of.
Educators and professionals everywhere talk about pursuing interests, passions, developing your interests. Some talk about #20time, #geniushour, or whatever structure encourages the pursuit of understanding and problem solving. My dad was doing this before it was popular. And it drove me nuts.
Somehow my father was able to get his children (older sister, myself, and younger brother) to fall into a self directed question and answer session. He started by posing notices and wonderings in objects around us, then as soon as we offered our own questions he knew we were baited. “That’s a great question.” The moment of triumph over coming up with something of value was followed by a challenge. As soon as we asked for the answer to our curiosities, my dad simply said, “Go look it up, see what you can find out.”
I used to hate this, but now I plan to submit my own children to the same process.
— Inland Empire EdChat (@ieedchat) June 27, 2016
What do I do for DIY learning? First I ask questions. Lots of them. If you ask my wife, I ask too many. Questions are important. They are the driving force to learning. When we talk about access to information for the current generation I think we need to also look at access to questions, and the art of questioning. One of my favorite sites that encourages the generation of questions is 101qs.com.
Maybe I’m not exactly answering the #ieedchat prompt, how do I DIY, but somehow there seems to be wisdom in if you’re not asking enough questions, you’re not really growing anyway. Think back and ask yourself, what queries have you had today?
PS: my dad has done volunteer gigs as Santa Claus, and he gets a kick out of waving to kids and reminding them to be on the nice list.
— Inland Empire EdChat (@ieedchat) June 13, 2016
This has been a really tough prompt for me. I feel uncomfortable. There hasn’t been a lot of hate in my life, and tragedy doesn’t stick with me for as long as it seems to with others.
First, let me address the last statement. Tragedy exists, and our awareness of it is higher than it ever was, I think. But I feel uncomfortable because for me sometimes it almost feels like the media has done to tragedy what Facebook has done to friends. It saddens me to hear about unnecessary death and destruction in the world, but I also don’t often have a contextual relationship with the victims in these situations. That lack of relationship is actually what I think the problem is with hate in the first place.
When I think of the classroom, and unnecessary pain or victimization, I remember a very specific day, my third year of teaching. I’m walking by a girl and notice her whisper to another student. I’m still learning what to filter and what to take note of as a teacher. Some actions require guidance, and many do not. I don’t remember what was said in the whisper, but I remember writing it off as innocent and non-disruptive. Somehow another girl didn’t filter it the same way.
Amy: “What’d you call me b*tch?! You don’t have to whisper. Say it to my face. Let’s go.”
Brianna: “Who do you think you are, b*tch. I’m not afraid of you.”
Amy: “I ain’t afraid of you. Right now, let’s go”
That all happened in a maybe 2 seconds. Somehow I hit the right button in my response.
Me, sternly: “Amy, why are you yelling? I bet you don’t even know what Brianna said. You assumed something but you attacked without even knowing. And you, Brianna, I don’t get why you’re yelling either. Amy, ask Brianna what she said. No yelling.
Amy: “What’d you say about me?”
Brianna: “Nothing. Not about you. It’s other stuff.”
Brianna became a little embarrassed at this point as her whispers were now almost public knowledge.
Amy: “Then why’d you yell?!”
Me: “Amy, not like that.”
They softened their stature a little, shoulders dropped, and faces relaxed.
Brianna: “You yelled at me. I guessed you were coming at me.”
They both paused here. Didn’t say anything for what felt like a full minute but was probably more like 5 seconds.
Amy: “Mr. B, why don’t other teachers do that.”
Me: “Do what Amy?”
Amy: “Talk to us like people. Not like trash to throw out of class.”
This is the moment where my understanding of students as humans, and how often teachers, students, and many other groups forget that people are human and should be treated as such. The challenge I noticed in reaching an understanding of how to treat your peers, with kindness and with sympathy, is that it takes time, honesty, and human interaction to get there.
So what do I do in a classroom when tragedy takes place on the other side of the country/world? Sadly there’s not much conversation regarding that incident so far away. My discomfort with the topic is that I don’t know the people, and I struggle with talking about them with context, information, or getting to know the situation. But, it is always a good reminder that if we take a minute to get know each other, hate will often dissipate quickly as if it were never there. This isn’t to say that everyone will naturally get along, but it is to say that learning more about people and their background often makes it hard to hold them in contempt. Another imbalance I feel with this perspective is the presence of justice, and what does it mean to truly balance social justices. That’s also uncomfortable for me to write about, and probably the real reason it took me so long to write this.
Amy and Brianna got along for the rest of year, probably better than the average relationships of most of my students.
A lot has happened this year. As the year closes it’s challenging to sum up the events that have happened. New baby (Emerson), work site (HHS), job (Tech TOSA), and tons more.
One thing that has stood out to me came from an audiobook I listened to on my morning commute not too long ago, Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. For those of you that haven’t heard of the book, it’s a history of the development of Pixar as told by its current President, Edwin Catmull.
There’s a metaphor in the book that keeps coming back to me. It had to do with a handle and a suitcase. Take a minute and do your own quick read on the excerpt. To add some context Catmull is talking about his struggle with catch-phrases, and sentence fragment philosophies that lose meaning when the story behind them isn’t present. He and other leaders in his company push some great core values, but noticed that the actual value in these was getting lost because people were only latching onto the punchline handle and not appreciating the story suitcase that gave it so much value.
The world of education is ever changing, and educators are kings and queens of acronyms, and catchy, quick-fix like methods and programs. If I’ve learned nothing else as an educator it’s that the programs that stick, the change that takes hold, has a lot more to do with the suitcase and the stories behind the punchline. The staff and students that I’ve witnessed true growth in didn’t happen because of a magical pill overnight. It happens when the narrative builds over time, and then is summarized into a package you can carry.
Look back at the last 10 months. Share some wisdom that stands out to you with the #IEedchat family (tweets/blog posts welcome).
— Inland Empire EdChat (@ieedchat) May 30, 2016
So my nugget for the #IEedchat #Slowchat prompt this week is this:
TOSAs working with staff, teachers working with students, parents working with kids: change takes time, build the narrative, then look for a handle to grab onto and carry the change with you.
Wake up, shower, get dressed, coffee, and give the dog a treat.
Just got off the phone with math department chair asking me to check up on a teacher whose students say there’s trouble connecting with the online resources for a textbook, now I’m driving to work. Today I’m listening to How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg on my Scribd app. Sometimes I catch up on Voxer chats if I’m not listening to a book. Scribd is slightly less expensive than audible books (it used to be unlimited for $9/month subscription and now it’s $9/audiobook). I love it, so long as I can find a good book. If you’re looking for a good book to check out I suggest both Make It Stick and Switch. My commute is not too long, but the parents dropping off students can slow things down quite a bit with our one way in/out route.
I’m kicking myself because I’m pretty sure I mentioned to a teacher that I would meet them during first period prep to follow up on a question. For the life of me I can’t remember. Normally my calendaring skills are better than this. While walking around I drop in on a teacher that had asked for help during first period the day before but I happened to be off campus for that day. When I got there, the teacher had already figured out how to update the links for his online material so that this semester’s students would have access. Gave a high five and good job and went on my way to check in on the peer tech tutors.
The peer tech tutor (PTT) program is new this year and we are figuring it out as we go. In general the site instructional technology coach is in charge of these students, but it is more like an office TA than an actual course. Still the students are guided in learning about hardware, software, communication skills, and digital citizenship such that they can go out and help other students and teachers on request. Currently I oversee 27 of these students throughout the day, about triple what I had last semester. When meeting up with these students I inform them of their portfolio due at the end of the semester, most focusing on the 4 areas I mentioned earlier with a fifth dimension of their own personal choosing. We also chat about their first official assignment: learning about Google sites. This is actually meant to prepare them for a classroom activity support helping others students build portfolios with Google sites next Wednesday. After checking in with the PTTs I run over to check in with the teacher whose students were struggling with connecting to the online resources. I gave a couple of tips and mentioned how I would redirect the students as needed. So far – two periods down and two problems solved.
As we are changing from second period to third, I’m reading email from a teacher asking for help with getting a student and parent to gain access to the district app by getting some code. I didn’t know how to get the code for the student because I don’t login as a student. I share this with the PTTs when they walk in and one jumped in with confidence showing exactly how it’s done. Teachable moment. I mention to the PTT that this is a chance for her to show skill in two focus areas: software and communication. She drafts the email with screenshots and replies to the teacher’s request for help. Three periods, three major problems solved.
Screencasts are a great way to show others steps and procedures for setting up things on a computer or website. One thing we have to be careful with is student or teacher information included in the video that may need to be private. A fellow instructional technology coach made a video, but I couldn’t share it because it had IDs and teacher info all over. A quick search online and 5 minutes later, I learned how to use blurring boxes with Camtasia to turn the video into something shareable with others. Over the next hour or so I check in with PTTs, finishing the video editing, and close one other problem with a counselor working with Google calendar.
I’ll be the first to admit that when a teacher asks for support/help/planning/guidance with something to do with instruction and/or technology I have to learn a little bit extra myself about half the time. A teacher wants to use Google sites for student portfolios. I know of this thing called SiteMaestro that could help, but never actually bothered to look into it. So I did. It’s amazing. You should go check it out yourself. The punchline is that it pushes out a copy of template site to a roster of students from a spreadsheet, then you can use that master spreadsheet to manage all the sites as needed.
I check in with the teacher on what she wants for the template for the students and inform her that I will have students in the classroom to guide and support the students in building their portfolios. When I check my watch I gasp and excuse myself so that I can make it across town for a 1:00 meeting at a middle school in preparation for our upcoming edcamp.
Eating in the car as I drive. Catching up on Voxer.
I join a group of other leads who are putting together the edcamp hosted by our district. We have most of the big details already worked out but this meetup is to try and figure out on site where things should go, what paths attendees will walk, and where do we need signs and people for the actual event. Everything went really well and we are all pumped for edcampPerris. If you are reading this, and you’re in reasonable distance to Perris, CA, and you’re free on Feb 6th, you have no reason not to be there.
At this point, I could return to my school site, sit in student pick-up traffic, say goodbye for the weekend, then turn around and go home, or…… I could go bug the assistant of director of technology from my district. Shane is just one of many awesome people that I get to call a coworker. I love that he embraces my crazy ideas, often making them more reality than fantasy. He couldn’t keep track of my ideas so we created a shared spreadsheet for them. He titled it “Jed’s Hair-brained Schemes.”
It’s fitting. One such scheme is we are currently piloting a self hosted blogging setup using the wordpress.org platform and our own servers. It works, but it needs improvement. This idea came from teachers wanting to get their students to write more and continue that writing throughout high school. There are challenges and security issues with expecting, requiring, or even suggesting that students create a blog for a class from a third-party site, on third-party servers, with third-party policies. After talking through this and 3-4 other schemes that needed attention from the sheet, my wife sent me a text (and I replied).
Time to go home.
My day jumps around a lot. One BIG thing that I do most days but didn’t do this day is meetup with 1-2 teachers that I work with every week in a coaching fellowship. It’s one of my favorite things to be able to work closely with teachers, focus on student learning, and do some really cool stuff. I hope to share more of that in future posts. I’m glad to get back on this horse, writing. I’m also glad to be a part of this awesome group called the #MTBoS. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go take a peak and let’s talk about it after.
I’ve been off. For a long time. But I’m coming back with lots to tell. Firstly let’s do a then & now to summarize a fews items.
I wanted to get back to working with people, in classrooms, so I applied for and was chosen to work at Heritage High School as an instructional technology teacher. It feels good to be a regular on a campus. I get to hear, “hi Mr. Butler” again. I missed that. I’m working in depth with a handful of teachers, running some side projects with digital citizenship and social media, and showing teachers ninja moves with ed tech. A couple of those teachers I work closely with have been starting to use Desmos, particularly the activity builder content.
My wife and I are expecting a child on valentine’s day. We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, and honestly I’m not sure if I’m biased one way or the other. People keep asking us if we’ve at least got a name. Some have encouraged to follow the J-trend from our families. My name is Jed, and I have an older sister (Julia) and a younger brother (Jake). Both of my brothers-in-law are J’s (Justin and James), and my nephews are Jace and Jayden. I think we’ve about exhausted it, so we’re aiming for something from the other 25 letters from the english alphabet.
For those that don’t recognize it, the image is from Son of Flubber, the follow-up of Disney’s Absent Minded Professor. Friends and family sometimes listen to what I say and they imagine this guy in the picture, conjuring up crazy experiments for the classroom. In my position as a coach, I’ve lost the opportunity to use my own classroom as a lab, but the alternative is actually turning out to be awesome. After some convincing, the teachers that I work with volunteer to host my experiments. I’ve been able to see students use Google drawings and slideshows to improve vocabulary in a Spanish classroom by personalizing the content, 3 ELA teachers are piloting a new internal blogging system that utilizes the open platform from wordpress.org, help support the video production course in establishing a daily news show, desmos activities in math classrooms, and building a digital citizenship program for the freshmen foundations courses. The assistant director in my district now shares a workflow spreadsheet with me entitled “Jed’s Hair-Brained Schemes”.
With all this excitement, I still want to do some old favorites – so I have plans for two big math + tech series, both housed over at transformulas.org.
- I love transformations, and I see how it builds a backbone for secondary math in today’s classroom. I need to share this conversation with others. So I’m writing about it over the next while (let “while” be somewhere between 6 months and a year; I really have no idea of the time line)
- Desmos Activity builder is awesome. I need to push myself to use it more. (Others should too). I want to dive into lesson (re)design playing in the desmos platform. No set goal here, but more a desire to build.
The best thing I get to do in my job is: I get to learn from so many people. I love connecting with others who are passionate about learning. I would walk outside my door to my neighbors and share an idea or ask what ideas they’ve had lately. In my previous years I’d be working with at most a group of 6ish teachers. There would be more than that in the department, but I usually worked with those that welcomed collaboration. Now I serve 60+ teachers for @puhsd, participate in twitter communities like the #MTBoS, and share with other educators at local CUE regional connferences, GAFEsummits and edcamps. I also get to lead others as faculty for CUErockstar events this upcoming summer. Getting to learn from others is my favorite thing from all this. I always take away more than I bring into these experiences, and I love it. I used to do things like this before, but now it’s part of my job to find, articulate and share these resources. It’s not just something I do on my lunch or morning break. Sharing with others often leads them toward a similar experience of joy with learning as well.
If I had to pick a favorite teacher, I’d have to say it was my dad.
My dad encouraged everyone to
- serve a need if you see it (even if it’s not your responsibility)
- get your hands dirty, (he used to call me and my brother ‘elbow grease’)
- realize that you have strengths and intelligence, no matter your background
- maintain a clean and organized space
- ask questions, but don’t try his patience
I’d say that I’ve grown to be quite similar in my own teaching and learning style with one major exception. My dad often commented to me, “I don’t know how you can have patience for all those rugrats in the classroom. I’d go to jail for knockin’ one of them up the head.”
I don’t think he would actually hit a student, but his point of having patience for so many teenagers is valid. They’re trying to balance hormones with academics, not that easy. This patience that I gained for working with teenagers came from my second (equally) favorite teacher, my mom.
I also tended to have more divergent approaches to problem solving, especially with people. My dad showed elements of this, through MacGyver like rigs to fix something around the house, but when it came to working through people problems his approach tended to be more direct (and not always diplomatic).
So how am I different. I have patience to deal with crazy people in the classroom.
This prompt really threw me. I didn’t want to say something that didn’t ring my own bell. I used to have a philosophy toward lighting a fire within students, especially for the battered world of math. I wanted to have students of all ages look at math and say something else besides, “Yeah, that’s really not my thing.”
I needed something more specific than this. It’s hard for me to define my own place in making the world a better place so I had a conversation with my wife.
“What is it that I do. I know I can rock the classroom. I know I can help other teachers. I feel comfortable with tech and current trends… but so does everyone else I associate with in the #MTBoS.”
“You see things differently than others. People don’t think like you do. You think in pictures. You see connections others wouldn’t naturally see”
This got me thinking…in pictures.
First I saw something like this:
I feel like people often find themselves on one side or the other of this bridge. I’m one of those weird ones that hangs out all over the place. I started putting myself into different places within the picture, with wide and narrow fields of view.
The near sided people see a clear local area, but can’t always see another perspective that’s further away. As long as the far side is ignored, we might as well call it a clear, sunny day. This is almost like a naive clarity.
The far sided people are deep in the fog, and have an even more limited view of things, let alone anything off in the distance. The whole world seems foggy for all they know. Foggy visions may actually be the comfort, with too much clarity causing more of an overwhelming experience.
My wife alluded to how I see things from multiple angles, and I’m often looking for the connecting structures between different sides. I attribute most of this skill to growing up in a family with unique personalities, each with a separate style of communication.
When I look at this bridge I don’t usually see the fog, but more often I project what’s beneath the layers of fog. When I think about the world and all its different people, with all the different perspectives, I have to remind myself to keep looking for such underlying structure.
What does this look like?
In the classroom this could be one student not seeing how another understood a concept differently (or how another student doesn’t understand something that seems so clear to them). This was my strength in the classroom; making connections between the students toward perspective(s) that we could share. In leading small group PLCs within the department I helped multiple voices find their place while still maintaining a common vision that puts the students first.
Now that I’m working with teachers across the district as a TOSA, and interacting with more and more people online through blogs and twitter, these connections are growing like fractals.
This idea of making connections for a wider interconnected view has been my vision for transformulas.org for visual understandings in math. Now I want to add that as a part of the vision for this site too.
As I interact with more people and more perspectives, I want to think about making connections. I want to help everyone see the interconnected structures through the fog.
Cue the cliche/abstract conclusion:
A better world is one where we can appreciate one another’s perspectives, find common structures, and learn more in the process of connections. I want to make that happen.
“I need you to quiet down class.”
“I mean it, we’re going to lose a chance to get to our fun activity at the end if I can’t get your attention.”
“Class can we get the volume down a bit here, I don’t think this is working type conversation.”
We know this doesn’t work. Sometimes we get a routine that gets the attention needed for direction, but it shouldn’t be like an on/off switch. I’ve resorted to the number system, “Alright we’re at like a 6, and we need to be more like a 4.” It kinda worked. Once.
We want students to talk. We want them to be active in their learning. Sometimes it’s just hard to give the students a structure for managing their own talk. One simple classroom management tool I worked on with a teacher was to use a wordless chart, and reference it for what the expected conversations would be like in the classroom. Here it is:
The grey markers are used for what’s our target volume (star) and where are we currently (arrow). The chart includes silent, partner talk / seated, table talk / standing, and all out loud.
Less talk from the teacher makes it harder for students to talk back to a teacher, argue, or escalate in some other way. Using simple cues like this can help structure your students into a productive classroom. If you’d like to get the poster for yourself click the picture and it’ll take you to the Google Draw file. I enlarged the poster using a poster making machine at our student services center. Your district may have something similar.
If you have other ways of managing productive volume in the classroom, please share them in the comments.