Friday, November 3, 2017

Hour of Code is coming...

Fill in the blank… “_________ trains you to think critically about things; it trains you on problem-solving; it forces you to express yourself logically.”  If you're anything like me, you immediately thought about the subject(s) you teach or a lesson that you recently finished or maybe one that you are passionate about.

Coding is how Apple CEO Tim Cook "filled in the blank" in an interview this week.  He goes on to further suggest that coding will be as useful as any other second language.  I know…hidden agenda by a tech giant.  Apple is making it's iPhone X available for sale.  But is it about that?  Or is this another example of forward-thinking?   Look at the picture below.  An Apple TV.  From....wait for it...1994!  The modern-day Apple TV didn't go mainstream until 2007.  (See the video) 

Apple TV/Video System circa. 1994

To be clear, this has nothing to do with Apple.  Or the Apple TV.  Or a PC or a Chromebook, or any piece of technology hardware.  So why are Mr. Cook and the seemingly infinite number of others (Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Sal Khan, Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Reid Hoffman, Meg Whitman, Steve Case, etc. , etc.) talking about teaching kids to code?  It has everything to do with preparing our kids for a world that is being created before our eyes...and we often don't even realize it.  You might be as surprised as I was when that Apple TV box appeared in the tech department's offices.  I had no idea that existed in 1994.  Let alone that the District owned at least one.  When I was getting ready to graduate from high school that year, the Apple TV was not what was being touted all over the media.  This was...

OJ Simpson White Ford Bornco
OJ Simpson in a White Ford Bronco (1994)
We have to realize that we have an opportunity " prepare all students to reach their greatest potential...".  A mission? Sure.  A responsibility?  Yes.  AND we GET to prepare students for THEIR future.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  DAY.  Whether we teach math or social studies or Spanish or physical education or ANY other subject, our first priority is to teach students for their future.  Not OUR current reality.  

Consider finding a way to step outside your normal practice to incorporate coding into your classes in December.  It doesn't matter what you teach, what your comfort level with technology is, or that content must be covered.  Teaching critical thinking and problem-solving and logic application transcends all of our subjects.  It is applicable to EVERY SINGLE STUDENT.  And always will be.

The "Hour of Code" takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week in December (this year December 4-10).  Check out these resources...I have no doubt there is something for everyone.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Allowing the Community to Speak Up to effect change

Every team, at some point, draws a line in the sand. Some even draw that line in concrete. It represents a point at which they've had enough of the current or past and are moving forward. That's tough. For so many, the comfort zone is just that, comfortable. Do the same thing, year in and year out, because that's what they know. To change requires a physical and intellectual investment of time and resources. It also requires knowledge. Teams have to know what they want to accomplish and how those around them feel about where the organization is and where they want to go.

In the fall of 2016, at the Red Lion Area School District we used the Speak Up survey by Project Tomorrow to empower the students, parents, & community to have a voice and impact the direction of the District.  The survey results clearly indicated a need and desire to move to a District-wide blended learning environment.

You see, 81% of our community said they wanted something other than a "traditional classroom", yet 79% of our teachers provided this type of environment. Is there a disconnect? And what about our students...? was clear to our team that something needed to change?

What if we did nothing to change the way that we meet the needs of our students?

Without the use of the Speak Up survey, we wouldn't have seen our needs so clearly. We've now embarked on a journey of Digital Conversion in the Red Lion Area School District that will ensure that students will have access to the tools and classroom environments.

At times this has been a challenging process. We have made a few messes, and refocused our efforts. We are truly excited about the the next several months of growth...

Come learn more about our journey and the future by joining me from 9:00 - 9:45 am on June 28 at ISTE 2017 during the Leadership Playground.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

If not us, who? If not now, when?

It is abundantly obvious that our classrooms are different today than they were yesterday.  With the sometimes overwhelming amount of resources that the internet provides, we MUST have conversations with our students about digital literacy & citizenship.  In a Rasmussen study done last year on digital literacy, about 37% of millennials (that's 18-34 year olds) said they find the internet "scary". Approximately the same amount said they don't feel safe online.  Those numbers are GREATER than any other demographic group.

What does that mean for us as educators?  We have a responsibility to teach our students about the POSITIVE avenues the internet affords them.  We just have to.  Our current students are going to have a Google search of their name performed when applying to jobs, colleges and universities.  This Forbes article “5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years“ (which is already 5 years old) highlights that point.  Fellow educator and author of the Innovator's Mindset, George Couros, goes further and suggests there are "3 Things Students Should Have Before They Leave High School".
Image by @gcouros

So, how are WE going to achieve that?  I know, it's something else that I'm suggesting you add to your plate. Another "thing" to squeeze into your already packed day.  Is that really something we should be teaching?  Does digital literacy and citizenship really have to start in Kindergarten? 1st grade? 2nd grade? 7th grade? 10th grade?

If not US, who?  It's easy to say that it should belong to someone else.  Or that our colleagues will "cover" that next year.  That parents or guardians should be teaching these things to their children. Do we pass the buck so quickly on common courtesy and manners too?

If not NOW, when? Can we afford to wait any longer?  Does it get better if we "kick the can down the road"? Would we stop teaching reading comprehension now if we knew that we were changing the curriculum for next year? The technology of today's Kindergarten students' lives is the LEAST advanced that they will ever use.  Think about that.  The tools and resources that they are using are only going to get BETTER.

Think about how we can flip the narrative for our students so they are learning about HOW to make a positive impact and that they are able to BE safe and responsible while online.  What can we do to create environments like this and this so that our students use digital resources for positive and productive outcomes?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Does Pokemon Go have a place in our classrooms?

By now, you are either caught up in the craze of Pokemon Go or you are completely annoyed with it. As of a few days ago, there have been 75 million+ downloads of the app.  Players are ALL OVER THE PLACE....searching for these "monsters", setting lures to attract Pokemon, "battling" in gyms, and hitting Pokestops for some recovery and resources.  Players can easily be spotted - walking around, pointing their phones up, down, all around and occasionally stopping to interact with their device.  You can often see players congregating in places they might not normally be "hanging out."  Just swing by the square in your town in the'll see.

I recently came across this tweet from a couple of educators that I highly respect. (@alicekeeler@Catlin_Tucker)

It made me think very differently about this game. I immediately thought about Dr. Harry Wong's First Days of School and the quote, " The most important day of a person's education is the first day of school, not Graduation Day."  What will the first day of school look like to my own children, to the students in our schools.

So I wonder, how many of our students, many of whom will begrudgingly return to school in less than a month, are excited to play this game each day?  We can easily say that the game has no educational value, that people are even more "attached" to their devices, there is even less socialization when people are behind screens, yada, yada, yada.  Let's not continue to spew the negative and think about how this can be a positive impact on our classrooms as students return.  Students want to learn, most just don't want to learn the way that you did.  Good teachers find ways to differentiate the classroom to accommodate learning styles.  How can we make that connection to reach our students?

1. Connect & Collaborate - Have you played the game?  No?  What's stopping you?  Oh it's not "your kind of thing."  So how do you plan to make a connection with students when they return this year?  One of the greatest ways to reach students is to find ways to connect learning with things that will resonate with them.  Saying, "You'll need this information some day" is just as poor and educational strategy today as it was many years ago when I sat in a Trigonometry & College Algebra class knowing that I was going to become a social studies teacher.  I found no relevance.

2.  Move - "Sit and get" classrooms are so 1950.  Many of us are well aware of the research surrounding movement in the classroom.  This game forces players to get up and go somewhere.  What kind of activities can you design to get your students up and moving in the classroom and throughout the school?  Around the school?  Outside the school?  Many players are asking, where can we explore next?  What is it that you can do to have students asking the same question?  

3.  Learn & grow with each other - "I'm not good with technology" is no longer an acceptable phrase in the world of education today.  We have to get over that and continue to learn and grow and use modern tools in our classrooms. Perhaps playing the game in class might not be acceptable. How about using it as a conversation starter prior to an activity?  What about using it to learn about augmented reality along with your students?  It there something that you have seen other educators doing that you can learn.  Ask your students to learn WITH you.  Looking for a more engaging formative assessment tool?  Heard a colleague talking about Kahoot!?  Ask the students if they have ever used it.  Want students to publish their writing online?  Never set up and used a blog? Ask the students to learn WITH you.

As we return to school, don't just think about the design of your bulletin boards, the name tags on student desks, the color of the folders that students will get.  Start to think about how you can "hack" into the activities that they are doing this summer and all year long.  I could go on and on...but you'll have to excuse me while I go try to find an Aerodactyl.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

As a principal, I have a lot more in common with entrepreneurs than I thought

A friend of mine passed along some notes he took while he was doing some research. He is an entrepreneur.  A business owner.  His notes were a collection of things he was reading about success among other entrepreneurs.  There are several points highlighting things that successful entrepreneurs have in common.  As I've read them a number of times, I can't help but think that several of his points apply to education (in particular school leaders).

1. Consistency - perhaps the toughest of all of these points.  It's easy to get distracted by "things" in a day, month, year.  The management side of an administrator's role often forces us to redirect away from the things we should be doing.  The key is that we have to schedule the important things and not allow the necessary to disrupt us.

2.  Productivity - make it a point to be productive EVERY day.  There is a difference between productive and busy. things; productive...get things done.  There is no badge of honor for being busy.  No award for being early or staying late.  Being productive, simply put, means that we are accomplishing meaningful tasks, not just crossing things off the to do list.
3.  Curiosity - maintain an attitude of curiosity.  Successful entrepreneurs are avidly seeking the "next thing."  How are we in education seeking the "next thing" as well.  It's vital that the leader is on top of the trends and issues in education.  Lead from the front in education.  I've heard a number of colleagues in my PLN refer to themselves as "lead learners."  I'll be honest...I really don't like to be involved in conversations about our craft and not be at least familiar with the terms being discussed.  It makes me uncomfortable.  Do all leaders feel the same way?
4.  "Failure" is part of the process.  How often are we putting ourselves out their to make a difference, change something?  Why don't we do that more?  Is it a fear of failure?  We ask teachers to take risks.  We certainly ask our students to as well.  If we are going to continue to learn, what better way to create a culture in which success is attained through failing first.
5.  Believe - don't attach your belief to the results.  The success will come.  Be confident, build relationships, figure things out (with colleagues or even more importantly a mentor), push forward.  Know that you are meant for great things...not just the status-quo or mediocrity.
6.  Seek optionality - for an entrepreneur, investment with possible significant upside and a very limited downside.  For education leaders, it's important to seek wins.  Covering a class rather than having another staff member rearrange their schedule.  Cleaning the snow off of windshields.  Listening to concerns. Allowing someone to leave a few minutes early to get to their kid's ball game. Throwing the football with a student for 5 minutes in the gym. The best way we can seek optionality in education is to build strong relationships.
As school leaders, we are lot more similar to entrepreneurs than different.  We invest in our students, staff, and community.  How are we going to invest to get the best return?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thank goodness I've changed

Again I had the honor to attend PETE & C this week.  I was challenged by a number of things I heard or saw over the course of a few days.  The Tuesday morning keynote speaker, George Couros (@gcouros), who I've read via blogs and seen speak via video a number of times, asked a question I've asked teachers plenty of times.  I had never asked myself.

Reflecting back on my career as a teacher, I now ask...would I want to be in my own classroom, subjected to me?  The answer is no.  I haven't left a legacy throughout my career as someone that has inspired students.  That's not why I was there early in my career.  Admittedly, I was there to coach after school and have summers off.  Then something changed.  I became passionate.  I found something that I enjoyed.  I was able to take that passion, build upon it, and openly share it with others.  I learned how to use technology in the classroom.  I changed.

Nearly 18 years after I started my career I've realized that I was not an educator during the early years...I was a placeholder.  I was an "adult" that put tape on the floor, around the desk, and said students weren't allowed inside the zone!  Thank goodness I've changed.

Today, in my 6th year as a building administrator I...give high fives and hugs, take selfies with students (and staff), play in the cornhole tournament at lunch, share student and staff success via Instagram & Twitter, keep parents up to date with Remind and Facebook, build a PLN and encourage others to do the same.  I have found ways to make technology work for me.  I tell the story of me as a learner, as a leader.  

I'm proof that people can change.  People must change.  Teachers must change.  As educators, we have to continue to develop ourselves and remain relevant in an ever changing world.

Now, I ask myself the question...Would you want to spend the whole day teaching in my school?Would you want to be subjected to me?  I'm working to make sure that the answer is yes, every day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The grades don't go with them, the learning does.

"At the end of the year, the grades don't go with them...but the learning does."

Recently, at a building meeting, I made this comment. It was meant to be a jumpstarter to conversation among professionals. It challenged some and certainly resonated with others. It meant nothing more than my personal feeling about what we needed to provide our 7th and 8th grade students before they left our building for the high school. I've challenged teachers to think about their instruction in ways that they've never thought about it before. We've worked together to implement more digital-age skills into the curriculum and daily teaching practices. I like the risks that I am seeing some educators take. But is it enough?

This truly came full circle for me yesterday when I heard Heidi Hayes Jacobs (@heidihayesjacob) say "What if we were held accountable to innovation in schools?" YES! Too often we stifle the innovative minds of our students (and our teachers in some cases) because of routine. Assigning a grade at the end of the unit, going from period 1 to period 2, etc., giving a report card at the end of the marking period 1 or 2 or 3 or... This year my wife and I are now able to access our 5th grade son's grades online. Such a bad idea for me...I have found myself more focused on his grades this year than his learning simply because I can use an app to see his grades. I have found myself fall into the trap of asking "How did you do on your test?" rather than "What did you enjoy learning most? Why?"

I'm not necessarily advocating for getting rid of these things, but if we cast aside the focus on grades and earning points (after hearing a group of 8th grade students ask the teacher this afternoon "How many points is this worth?") we truly free our classrooms to focus on teaching and learning and innovation. I look forward to the challenge of leading a building that is free to create and innovate and focus on improving the craft of teaching.

I REALLY look forward to asking my son what is the most interesting thing you read today or what challenged you most in math this week. Those answers don't have a letter grade attached to them.