Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What I Learned this Week 8/20-8/26

I ended last week's post with my struggle to tie a bow tie.  As the picture above shows, I was able to accomplish this task, but it took a great deal of struggle.  Struggle however is good.  That struggle lead to one of those incredible light bulb moments, the ones that I loved to see my students experience when I was in the classroom, and it came from such a minor change in my learning approach.

Initially I started my quest to tie a bow tie the way any tech savy 21st century educator would, I search Google "How to Tie a Bow Tie".  That lead me to the following video:

It was good, and seemed simple enough, but as I followed along, I never ended with a bow, I ended with, well a mess... I am not sure what the problem was, if it was the accent of the teacher, the angle at which the video was shot, or my own incompetence (most likely) in attempting to tie the tie.  One problem I had was that my only feedback came at the end, when the tie was in neither a bow, nor actually tied.

So, I did what any normal learner would do, I found another video:

This one was slightly better.  The angle seemed different, I liked the cheery disposition of the person tying the tie, but the biggest change came when you came to the step that requires you to create the second part of the bow by pushing it through a loop that you have created.  Fast forward to the :59 second mark of the video, and you can see the first step towards my light bulb moment.  At this point, the teacher folds the front part of the tie in half, and allows the learner to see the loop that has been created in the back to push the tie back through.  With this information, I now had a better idea of where my next step would go, but alas, this only resulted in me being able to create a knot, but not a bow.

My third attempt, was better still.  I moved away from video, to a visual only approach. My first attempt was with a step by step drawing of how to tie a bow tie:

Taken from:
This was better, because I could see each step as I went, but I still could not get the bow to appear.  I thought that maybe if I had words to go with the visual, then I would be able to figure out where I was going wrong.  So I turned to another image:
This was the best yet, as I could read along step by step.  With renewed gusto I attacked the problem at hand and proceeded to tie my bow tie...except I didn't.  I still could not quite get the movement in step 5 in the drawing right.  When I would fold the tie over and then up, I could not get the bow to correctly fold back through the loop, but at least I was on the right track.  Then looking very closely at the directions, and I saw in tiny print above the first step the following language:
Practice first by tying the bow tie on a leg. Once you get the idea, tie it around your neck
So I followed the directions more closely.  I sat down, stopped looking in the mirror, and tied it around my leg.  After the first attempt, the light bulb came on.  There were two things that I needed to do differently.  The first was to make sure that I was putting the folded end back through the loop (see step 6 above).  The second was to stop looking in the mirror when I got to that step, as the reverse image was causing me to put the end back through the front of the tie, and to not put the folded end in first.

As I prepared to again try to tie the bow tie around my neck, I wondered why the experts on the videos, did not give this simple tip to their viewers.  As I pondered this more, I realized that for them tying a bow tie was second nature, they had forgotten the early struggle and thought that by showing us how to tie the tie around their necks their viewers would simply get it.

I got up and in my first attempt, I was able to finally tie a bow tie, after only 1 hour.  I then realized that my brilliant plan to then slip it over my neck would not work, and I went to bed with trepidation that in the morning I would not be able to replicate my success and all my efforts would be for naught.

So what did I learn from my bow tie experience.  First and foremost I learned yet again that struggle is not bad and that figuring things our for yourself is a very rewarding experience.  That during the struggle the key was not only to not give up, but to analyze my mistakes and think reflect with each attempt what I could try differently, or what information I could find to add to my attempts.

At the same time, I also realized the importance of having someone that I could ask questions of and guide me.  My struggle would not have been nearly as long if I could have had a live expert beside me, giving me solid feedback so that I could more quickly learn from my mistakes and get to that moment of triumph.

It makes me wonder, as we attempt to educate our students on a daily basis in subjects that are new and foreign to them, how can we use our expert knowledge to give them a better picture of how they can succeed.  More importantly, when we give them assignments to work on by themselves, what little tips, like tying the bow tie on your leg first, might we forget because we know our subject too well?

Things I Learned in the Classroom:
  • Vernal=Spring.  I had always assumed this given the vernal equinox, but did not think about the fact that it does not mean spring, but rather of or connected to spring.
  • You can add up the energy within an ecosystems food pyramid (energy being derived from eating plants and animals below you in the pyramid ala Mufasa's explanation to Simba) to determine if the ecosystem can support those animals and plants.
  • Any 3D shape that is flattened (in geometry) is called a net.
Things I Learned Students are Learning:
  • I learned 2 step equations, for example 2G + 7G =15 would be solved by combining the like terms to get 9G=15 and then dividing both sides by 9 to solve for G.
  • You can use cold spoon to get rid of a hickie (not really sure if this worked based on the evidence on the students neck-ewwww)
  • I learned about scarcity (unlimited wants/needs but limited resources) from a county commissioner and that economics is the study of scarcity.
Things I Read that Impacted Me:

Lots of good reading items this week, some with direct application to the classroom, others just fun and quirky.  Let's start with helpful classroom tools.
  • As we head towards parent teacher conferences, I found this post by Richard Byrne on creating a choice eliminator for Google Forms to be helpful.  It shows you how to create a form that automatically eliminates a choice, for example a meeting time, when someone selects that choice.  I thought it would be a great help in setting up parent appointments via an email to those parents you most want to see, but can't seem to ever reach by phone.
  • Richard Byrne also provided a helpful list of 5 Tools Students Can Use to Keep Track of Assignments.  My personal favorite is Dayboard which I installed on my school computer.  Every time I open a new tab-think how many our students open daily-it shows me the top 5 tasks I need to accomplish that day.
  • The final Richard Byrne post was How to Quickly Create Vocabulary Lists from a Document.  I thought this would be useful for all teachers when they give students close reading assignments from the web as an added way to add some vocabulary work to the close reading work.
  • Of particular interest to me was this article from KQED's MindShift on whether it is better for students to take notes digitally or with pen and paper.  The results the article points to are certainly enlightening. 
  • Finally, two quirky articles.  The first from Fast Company on how the signage in cities are an architectural road map to past eras and history.  Be sure to watch the embedded video, it really adds to the article.  The second from the New York Times on Giga-Coasters.  These are roller coasters that have a drop between 300 and 399 feet.  The article is unique in the way it is formatted.  Make sure to watch the videos, as you can almost feel yourself going through the coaster.  Here is my favorite:

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What I Learned this Week 8/13-8/19

Sometimes learning comes easily, sometimes it is much harder.  The larger question when I think about my learning this week is where does my comfort zone for learning lie, and how can I push myself to expand it.  Let me explain.  This week I started an Ed x course through The Smithsonian Institute titled The Rise of Superheroes and their Impact on Pop Culture.

The course offers students three options for their study of this topic.  The history track, the creative track, and the combination track. The choice of which option to pursue is up to the individual learner.  Within the history track students will study a historical era and the superheroes of that era with a final task of discussing how a particular superhero of the student's choice evolved from myth and through time.  Within the creative track, the student will create a new superhero and over the weeks develop a villain,  a setting, story, and finally design and illustrate a scene.  The combination track has the student do both assignments each week.

My difficulty came in choosing which track I would pursue.  If I chose the history track I would be working in an area that I was very comfortable with, using methods of inquiry and writing that I had done before.  If I chose the creative track, I would be exploring a side of myself that I  use, but not in the context that I would be asked to work.  Particularly the ability to draw characters.  Despite the fact that I could use a character generator, draw stick figures, or use images from the internet, I was very uneasy about pursuing this learning.  It was well outside my comfort zone, and it would push me academically in ways that I had not been before.
Ultimately, I chose to audit the history track and pursue the creative track, despite my nervousness about this type of study and stretch myself to learn new skills, despite my misgivings about my success because this is the type of learning I want my students to pursue as they go through not only school but life.

In the course of my studies this week I was able to learn that most superheros are based on ancient myths, that among my classmates Batman (my favorite) was their favorite superhero, that their favorite villain was the Joker (mine is Lex Luther), that if my classmates could have any super power it would be teleportation (mine would be the ability to fly because I am afraid of it and I don't).

For my first assignment I searched for Gods and Goddesses that focused on learning or wisdom as I wanted to design a character that would inspire others to learn and grow.  My research uncovered two gods and one goddess that I was intrigued by: Coeus a Greek wisdom god, Snotra a Norse wisdom goddess, and Thoth the Egyptian author of the Book of the Dead who is the god that is the master of time, mathematics, astronomy, reading, writing, and arithmetic.  The choice came down to the fact that this god had a picture, while the others did not.

Unfortunately, I did not learn what UCT time was until after I tried to turn in my superhero slide only to learn that 23:00 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which was 7:00 PM Eastern time. Thus, there seem to be even simpler lessons to be learned in the midst of my broader learning experience.

Things I learned visiting classes this week:

  1. Stages originally were set on a slope or hill that tilted downward towards the audience.  Thus the term moving downstage, related to going downhill or towards the audience.  Upstage referring to moving up the hill or away from the audience.
  2. You can use Google to convert currencies.  I realize this might seem obvious, but I had been using which was my primary source for this information when I taught Econ.
  3. Language acquisition takes 5-7 years in total.  Social language develops faster than academic language second and takes longer.
Things I learned from students this week:

  1. Junior year is hard.
  2. Psychology the whole Chapter 1
  3. Adhesive tape uses moisture to stick. 
  4. In English class we read a poem about the Native Americans and how they had their land stolen.
  5. We watched an inspiring story about an wrestler who had MS and lost every match, but persevered and finally won.
What I read this week that taught me something new:

  1. Converse gym shoes originally made entirely from rubber to keep the wearers feet dry and sand free on the beach.  The article From Converse to Kanye: See the Rise of Sneaker Culture from 1917 to Now in Fast Company gives a brief history of sneakers, including my daughters favorite-Chuck Taylors.
  2. Edutopia features classrooms designed by teachers on a budget in their article Tips for Creating Wow-Worthy Learning Spaces gives teachers 6 simple areas of design (flexibility, belonging, interaction, attention, neat, and concentration) to consider as they think of reworking their learning space including videos of teacher rooms. 
  3. Ed Bates, writing in SmartBlog on Education, gave out Classroom Management Tips and Tricks for the start of the school year.  His focus on establishing consistent procedures and expectations for students helps to create a classroom that encourages learners to learn.  
One last thing I learned, how to tie a bow tie, but you will have to wait until tomorrow morning to see that :). 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What I Learned this Week-August 5-12

Last Wednesday we began our transition at PHS to both a balanced calendar and from a 5 period a day trimester schedule to an 8 period day semester schedule.  The adjustment in everyone's equilibrium continues to be an ongoing learning process as staff members adjust to an entirely different pacing of classes, students adjust to more coursework due to the increased volume of classes, and I adjust to trying to figure out what period we are in on a daily basis, plus the shortened time between classes to visit classrooms and see students. All in all, it has been a smooth transition though.

As part of my thoughts on a new year, I wanted to step up to an article I had read earlier this summer in which educators were challenged to make their learning visible.  The article, which I have subsequently lost in my Pocket archive, made me really think about my role as an educator who has a passion for learning, and helping others to learn as well.
At roughly that same time, I happened upon my blog and realized that it had been nearly a year since I had written anything.  A year in which lots of learning occurred and the sharing of links happened on twitter, but the internal processes, and the growth I made from that reading stayed hidden and unshared with a wider audience.  Something that goes against my very core as a learner.

Finally, I put all of the ideas together while reading Edutech Musings Blog written by my twitter friend Chris Fancher formely of Manor New Tech in Texas, now an instructional coach at Decker Middle School in Manor.  Each week Chris has a post titled Things that Peaked my Interest this Week in which he lists some of his favorite readings and videos of the week.  I like reading this, and usually save 3-4 of the articles for me to read at a later time.  But it lacks an insight into what Chris is learning from these articles, and how he is growing.  Something that he does so well in his other posts.  

All of these sources made me I want to model a weekly post about what I was learning along the lines of what our Assistant Principal, Kyle Coffman, does with his weekly Friday Flash email that highlights comments from students as they answer his question: "Tell me something good" as well as information about literacy, a passion of his, and staff/student/school accomplishments.   Thus I hit upon What I Learned this Week Wednesday.  Each week it will be my goal to highlight things that I have learned while visiting classrooms, talking to students, and reading from a variety of sources.  This weeks list includes:

What I Learned in Class this Week:

  1. Ragtime was a pre-1900s music sensation.  As a history teacher I am somewhat embarrassed that I did not know this already.  
  2. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy sleep on the floor so that their beds are always perfectly made in the morning, and thus they can save a few minutes for extra sleep.  
  3. If you give a teenager a card that says-Get the ingredients you need and make Rice Krispy snacks-what you end up with is nowhere as good as when you give them more detailed directions.
What I learned from Students this Week (all entries are quotes from students who were asked, "what did you learn this week"):
  1. I am really liking building trades we learned how to find the height of a building without going up it.
  2. I learned 127 medical terms, my favorite is rhinoplasty which is surgery to the nose.
  3. I learned trying to graduate early is kinda scary, but over the last 2 years I've learned when times are rough you just need to push through it.
  4. I learned about a new business in Plymouth-The Potters Pad where you can go paint your own pottery.
What I Read this Week that Taught me Something New (Truth disclosure, this first set are items from over the summer as well as this week):
  1. I learned that the simple nudge of a text message can help students learn more by reminding them to do their homework.  The article from KQED's MindShift titled "Can Text Messages and Interventions Nudge Students Through School" so inspired me that tomorrow we are meeting with the students who our guidance department has identified at most at risk to have them sign up for a Remind course so that our Director of Guidance and I can send nightly reminders for students to do their homework.
  2. On a related note, I learned their is a web based app called Whats Due that will automatically send students due date reminders to their iOS (Apple) and Android devices.
  3. Finally, from Fast Company, I learned that changing your reading habits can have health benefits.  The article titled "How Changing Your Reading Habits can Transform Your Health" showed how reading can change your perspective on life and gives you a renewed understanding of yourself.  This renewed understanding can help to make you more resilient in the face of challenges.  Additionally, reading for pleasure, can reduce stress, lower your chance of suffering from depression, and even help stave off dementia.  The ways to change your reading were to: Read what interests you, and not what you think you should read, Find 30 minutes a week to read, Create a challenge for yourself, and to Not stick with a book your not enjoying. 

Image from