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    Get Off of My Cloud

    Friday, December 31st, 2010
    ladder in the sky

    photo via Flickr by megan_hippie

    I was sick and tired, fed up with this

    And decided to take a drive downtown

    It was so very quiet and peaceful

    There was nobody, not a soul around

    I laid myself out, I was so tired and I started to dream

    In the morning the parking tickets were just like

    A flag stuck on my window screen

    (M. Jagger/K. Richards)

    Having an entire week off can be dangerous.  You find that you have time to catch-up on the news (depressing), articles you’ve neglected (there are quite a few Supermen/women in our schools, no need to wait for them) and seek out answers to lingering questions (more depressing).  I loved teaching. I love teaching.  I’m sad that I may never teach again, no matter how much I yell for the obstacles to,”Get Off My Cloud!”

    I was recently reminded how much I enjoyed teaching when I got the chance to do a 30 minute lesson with 5th graders in Hawaii.  It was a great experience.  Travel being crazy I didn’t have time to investigate what it would look like if I went back teaching, I just filed it away as something to look into sometime.  Sometime was this week.  The local district here, North Shore 112, has a position open for a Middle School Science Teacher.  Curious, I looked into the job.  Looked awesome.  Working with 7th and 8th grades. It’s a whopping 2 miles from my house.  I know the district staff.  It gave me hope that I’d be able to teach again some day.  Then I had to go and look at the salary schedule.  Even if they counted my years with Discovery, I could never afford to go back to the classroom.  At least not in the foreseeable future.

    People will say that you don’t go into teaching to make money and that’s partly true.  I’m sure my educator friends would agree that if the pay checks stopped, they’d have to seek work elsewhere.  Just a fact of life that you have to pay the bills.  If  I took the teaching position here I’d actually get to see my family, no travel, and I’d be doing something I love.  Unfortunately my home would go into foreclosure and I’d probably have to declare bankruptcy. I would take a pay cut to go back, because it isn’t all about the money, but I can’t handle a 50% cut. I’d bet almost no one with kids and mortgage could.  I really wish more than a formula was used to calculate teacher salaries.  My experience over the last 6 years is just that, x = 6.  Degrees = y.

    Congratulations Mr. Bryant, we can offer you z salary. We know it’s a 50% pay cut, but you’ll get back to the level you are at now in about 20 years.  See it right here on the pay scale. Yes, we know the worst teacher in the district, the one who gave up on teaching 5 years ago is making more than the best teacher in the district, but we have this scale.  Isn’t it cool.  It means I don’t have to negotiate salaries like every single other sector in the world.    Sorry, that angered me when I was teaching.

    Until the system drastically changes I and I’d guess many others wishing to return to the teaching profession, are locked out.  Financially unable to make the switch.  So, with a new year ahead of us I pray and hope the future holds the answers to these problems and that those of us reaching for our dreams, grab them in 2011.

    Reversing a Reversal

    Friday, August 13th, 2010

    The Chicago River was reversed in 1900.  Today, there are groups that would like to see the river return to its original path.  This virtual field-trip was designed to introduce students to the Chicago River, highlight its history and provide background information on the reversal.  Starting at my home in Highland Park, I’m not currently in the classroom, I introduce the reversal and the project at hand using a website called Wix.  Although the Wix site does not show in the above Google Earth embed, it is integrated into the KML file that may easily be loaded into the full Google Earth software.  Wix allows for the easy creation of a tiny website, a widget, that can then be embedded into Google Earth.  This makes for easy formating and multimedia integration, without all the coding.

    Using Wix throughout the project, I included links to outside sources as well as audio explanations.  Progressing from my home, the next stop on the trip just happens to be in front of our Discovery offices in downtown Chicago, Fort Dearborn.  No Fort there today, just a plaque, but this stop will provide students with a historical perspective of the river.  Skipping ahead in time and down the river, the next stop is actually a path tracing the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The Canal, built to redirect the flow of the river into the Mississippi Basin, starts just south of downtown and stretches 28 miles southwest.

    The next stop on our trip, takes us back north to an area of the river just out of downtown.  Here in the heart of an industrial zone, wildlife is abundant on the river.  I personally made this trip down the river to observe firsthand the conditions. I was surprised to see several species of fish and birds. It was actually peaceful even-though  you’re in the heart of the third largest city in the country. That said, I wouldn’t drink the water.  There are definite pollution problems. Students are linked to different websites dealing with the Chicago River ecology.

    The final stop of our  field trip used to be the final stop of the Chicago River, the locks at Navy Pier.  Here students are given a quick spot assessment using the Discovery Education streaming Quiz Builder.  Embedded in the quiz are additional articles and video segments related to the Chicago River.

    Chicago River Virtual Field-Trip KML File

    Trending to Learn

    Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

    Time to time here at Discovery we are asked for odd pieces of information: fingerprints, headshots, resumes (thought I had the job already), bios, etc…  One such request came in a few weeks ago and it had to do with goals.  The request wanted us to, in a few sentences, state our goal as an educator.  I’ve done this before of course.  I think we even had to do this back in one of my college education foundations courses, but so much has changed since then.  I came up with the below goal.

    To perpetuate systemic pedagogy change across curriculum areas.  Moving instruction to a student centered, authentic framework that prepares our youth to be thoughtful, passionate, kind and wise citizens.

    I can’t take full credit for this.  Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and author of the blog Practical Theory, sold me on the “thoughtful, passionate, kind and wise” section.  Chris’ blog is one of several that I read as part of my own professional development.   Being a former science teacher, Chris’ practical approach synced with my concept of how science should be taught.

    There are several classroom teachers that I follow, but the two I read most often are Vicki Davis, CoolCatTeacher, and Dan Meyer, dy/dan.  Each have a different take on what we should be doing in the classroom.   Both allow me to stretch my thinking.   Vicki is constantly on the lookout for tools and resources that help with proven instructional strategies.  Dan Meyer’s blog, dy/dan, if you couldn’t tell by the name, hits you from a math perspective.  Dan, up until recently, taught high school math, but is now pursuing his doctorate at Stanford.   what I love about Dan is that his posts really make me stop and think.  That and he and I share a passion for educational design and film making.

    Beyond the realm of educators, I follow several other blogs that provide a great deal of information relevant to my current position with Discovery.  Web Worker Daily, is one such blog that doesn’t focus on education, but has provided tons of tips and tricks that have made my job a lot easier.  In addition, Science Roll keeps me up-to-date on the latest and greatest science centered web2.0 resources.

    The before mentioned are just a few of the blogs I follow.  As you can tell from the below stats, I don’t read every post and several of my top ten I didn’t mention here.  Keeping up with all these blogs can be a chore unless you have a unified place for them all.  I use Google Reader to organize every blog I follow.   It provides stats, like what you see below, so you can see who you are actually learning from.

    Danger! Please BAN!

    Friday, July 30th, 2010

    Science literacy.  Should really just be literacy, but we’ve not quite made that bold a move yet. Elaborate communication is the most important component of  disciplined inquiry.  Glogster provides an easy resource for students to communicate core knowledge, providing a depth not available in a simple print format.  Glogster gives students the option to include multi-media.  For example students may upload a song describing water contaminants. They could add a video on acid rain, or images depicting fish kills.  The glog could link to other class glogs or other sites so more information may be presented.

    A glog is simply another tool available for students to build a story.  The story may be concise or an open dialogue.  The point is that the glog provides more avenues for students to communicate, beyond text.  These avenues open venues for storytelling, fostering creativity.  In the classroom, a glog provides an easy tool to offer creativity along with transparency, giving the option to publish content created.

    In the glog example below, the story told depicts a dangerous substance: dihydrogen monoxide.  Pulling in images, links, audio, video and lesson, the glog provides the teacher a creative means to distribute a lesson, with resources.  In reality, the lesson is not on dihydrogen monoxide, but on the importance of science literacy.  Dihydrogen monoxide, or water, is essential for life, yet of course is the major component of acid rain.  People drown every year and water is used to cool nuclear power plants.  Take a look at the below glog and let me know what you think.

    A Social Education

    Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

    Look! Up on your screen! It’s Facebook. It’s Twitter. It’s IM. Nope, it’s Edmodo. The look in feel of the before mentioned three, Edmodo was built from the ground up as a social platform for educators and students.

    I only really used Edmodo extensively last week while with a group of educators as part of Discovery’s Summer Institute. If you use Facebook for status updates, you’ll feel right at home with Edmodo. The look and feel is almost exactly like Facebook, except you just won’t see updates for that guy you haven’t seen since the third grade. A controlled and closed environment, Edmodo allows students to collaborate and communicate safely in manner they are used to. You as a teacher can provide connections, in the form of groups, to other classrooms across the hall or on the other side of the globe.

    I did a quick screencast below, highlighting some of the features.

    Saving the best for last, Edmodo has a lovely price-tag, it’s FREE.

    Creatively Sticky

    Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

    Creativity.  Post-it notes at some point became the goto tool whenever some said, “Let’s have a creative brainstorm!”  “Brainstorm!” sounds too much like an ice-cream head-ache run amok.  I’d much rather map out my thoughts, make connections and build off those connections.  The Speak Up 2007 report confirms that students (45%), teachers and parents would like more avenues to communicate and create, utilizing multiple devices and various types of media.   Welcome Mindmeister.  Saver of sticky paper and defroster of brains.

    The below Mindmeister map provides an over of a project on immigration.  This representation allows students to visually see connections between ideas they generate and even plan how they’ll create.  Add in links to video, embedding of images and the ability to do this right from a mobile phone and you’ve got a powerful tool. In addition, Mindmeister provides the ability for students to collaborate during a creative session; allowing multiple users to add to the mind map for synchronous and asynchronous idea generation. If that’s not enough, Mindmeister even allows those text addicted to Text their thoughts whenever creativity strikes.

    Reflection on Media-Infused Presentation

    Friday, July 16th, 2010

    If I had better sense I would have chosen a less complex concept.  Photosynthesis is even hard to say, but I’m glad I worked on this concept.  I tried three different presentation tools, before I settled on Apple’s Keynote.  I first started to work in, then went to Prezi, then to PowerPoint, none fit my specific needs like Keynote.  PowerPoint came closest, but still didn’t have the options I wanted for the presentation to be a student resource as well as appropriate for the teacher.

    In reference to Howard Gardner’s four components of synthesis, the media-infused presentation provides a starting point for the student to build of his or her prior knowledge and construct knowledge about photosynthesis.  The presentation itself would be only one of the tasks I’d assign my class.  However, it’d be used as a reference throughout the other tasks assigned.

    As a resource for students, the media-infused project presents the content with video, audio and graphic representations.  The video and audio components may be reviewed at each student’s own pace, allowing them to pause when necessary and reflect on the information given.  Something they are unable to do during a traditional lecture.  In addition, the resources provided may be used by the students to construct their own presentation, with almost all of the video segments selected having editable rights.

    As a teacher resource, I chose Keynote specifically for its easy ability t0 pause video content.  The reactions that take place during photosynthesis are very complex and providing the ability to pause the video to discuss the content is crucial.   The non-linear aspect allows the teacher to create a single presentation, yet have it customized for each class.  If students in a certain class already have a good understanding of the big picture of photosynthesis, then the teacher can move directly into the reactions.


    Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

    When putting together my thoughts for this weeks post, I kept thinking about the project I just completed for the EDIM Project Based Learning class. I find it hard to think of a better strategy.

    Much of what Howard Gardner refers to, especially those higher order thinking skills like synthesis, can be accomplished in the Project Based framework. The guiding questions and associated tasks may also be tweaked to address multiple learning styles, incorporating many digital resources.

    The below example represents a team project completed for the Project Based Learning course. If I were in the classroom this is the framework I would use to deploy multiple strategies, utilizing digital tools and resources.

    Click to view the Immigration Project.

    Beautiful Minds

    Saturday, July 10th, 2010

    John Forbes Nash, Jr won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994. The title of this post, along with the before mentioned may have just triggered prior knowledge. You may recall the movie depicting his life, an image of Russell Crowe may pop up. Facts may then start to build around this revelation; the Academy Awards for the film, the paranoid schizophrenia or maybe even the Nash Equilibrium. This movie had wonderful content built around a dramatic story line that hooked us from the beginning. Really, who could have guessed that we would be so interested in an Economics professor. So what happened here? How did they hook us on a topic many would see as dry?

    Gardner, in “Five Minds for the Future” gives a variety of ways teachers may diversify their classroom instruction with stories or storytelling in my view being one of the most powerful strategies. Storytelling actually can and probably should encompass many of the other ideas conveyed by Gardner: digital stories, debate, role play, etc… So, knowing that storytelling is a viable strategy and that it may encompass other means by which to present content, how did they get people excited about an Economics professor?

    If you took more than one public speaking/communications class as part of your education major, please raise your hand. This is something I’ve asked at almost every presentation I’ve given in the last five years. Ninety-nine per cent of the time one person will raise their hand. I took one public speaking class as did most that are reading this post. We missed out on what every communications and marketing major is taught; how to hook people with a concise message, then get them to act on that message. Sound familiar? Beautiful minds enter our nation’s classrooms each year and educators are tasked to concisely distribute knowledge in 180 days or less. The movie “A Beautiful Mind” grabbed our attention, conveyed the necessary content and got us to act by: crying (the pen scene got me), paying money to see the movie or maybe even sparking someone’s interest in economics (I read the book). How did they do this?

    Sixty-Million Dollars. Sylvia Nasar. Ron Howard. Russel Crowe. Jennifer Connelly. Christopher Plummer. Ed Harris. My guess is that you don’t have an award winning author (Sylvia Nasar), director (Ron Howard) and actors (Russel Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris) at your disposal. Doubtful sixty-million is sitting around too. What you do have are beautiful minds. A class full of them that, through the use of proper guiding strategies and a few digital tools, can take otherwise dry content and turn it into a wonderful story.

    In “A Beautiful Mind“, Ron Howard took raw text from Sylvia Nasar‘s biography and turned it into a cinematic presentation. Sylvia Nasar took raw facts and through analysis, synthesis and interpretation, wrote an award winning biography about John Forbes Nash, Jr. Sylvia Nasar constructed core knowledge about a topic, something we ask our students to do, utilizing higher order thinking skills. So instead of asking students to simply read and repeat what they’ve read about a concept, ask them to write a story about it. Not just a story, but a screenplay. Once that task is complete, ask them to story board a movie on the subject, then produce a 60 – 120 second short on the concept. They’ll have a deeper understanding of the concept and a set of skills that may translate into an actual career.

    Sound like too much? If you’d approached me in 2001, when “A Beautiful Mind” came out and about the same time Mark Prensky wrote the now famous article about Digital-Natives and Digital Immigrants, I would have said your crazy. Today, with programs like iMovie, Movie Maker, Adobe Premiere and Final Cut so cheap, it’s easier than ever to produce high quality movies. Digital provides even more during the planning process, with Google Docs providing a great location for collaboration on script, storyboards and planning documents at absolutely no cost. Sites like Discovery Education streaming and Flickr can provide huge amounts of raw footage and imagery at little to no cost. Lastly, world-wide distribution of the final product used to require the right studio, now a quick upload can make your story accessible to the world via, youtube, glogster, a blog or your own classroom website.

    Never forget that beautiful minds are in your classrooms, even-though they may not always do beautiful things. What are your thoughts on using digital storytelling as a means to provide a variety of avenues to the topics you’re tasked to deliver? What are some of the barriers that may stand in your way? If this is a strategy you’ve implemented, what worked and what didn’t?

    Tuesday Night Fights: Waves vs. Particles

    Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

    Although I’m no longer a classroom teacher, I decided to pretend for this post.  I thought about a topic that used to scare me a little.  You know, a topic you as a teacher may be a little uncomfortable teaching.  I remember quite a few, but selected a concept in physics that is rather abstract: the duality of light.  Light can be described as both a particle and a wave, just not easily.  I mean you can flat out say it,“Class, trust me, it’s made of particles and waves.” However, when I taught this, I struggled to provide classroom tasks for deeper understanding.   If jumping back into a classroom this fall, what would I do differently?

    This video segment, from Discovery Education streaming, provides rich content in a concise and humorous format students are familiar with.  In addition, the video provides graphical representations and debate, all things Howard Gardner points out in Five Minds for the Future and we’ve been discussing as a class.  A great  and quick introduction to the subject matter at hand.

    Even the pretend students that will walk into my pretend classroom in the fall will have some prior knowledge of light.  Lets build on that.  Pulling the video from Discovery Education streaming, you may notice that it has “editable rights”.  This mean my students and I may transform the video to fit our needs.  In the case here, I need to shorten the already relatively short clip, down to the first 41 seconds.  These first few seconds will then be used in a web2.0 site called voicethread.  Voicethread provides a collaborative space for my students to share their knowledge of light.

    Building off the knowledge shared using voicethread, students will then be tasked with researching, summarizing, analyzing and presenting the evidence supporting light as waves and light as particles. They be using Mindmeister, a graphical organizing program.  In teams, students will be provided a small portion of the video segment highlighting a theory; particle or wave.  Using Mindmeister, they will organize facts around each theory and build connections that ultimately unify the two.

    Now that my students have built a strong base of knowledge about the concept, the next task will require them to gain a deep understanding of the topic by producing their own story on the duality of light.  Using the audio from the video segment, students will rewrite the script from their own point of view.  A great tool to use for this is Google Docs.  Students can each be assigned small segments to transcribe and then rewrite.

    Once a script is completed, students will produce a digital story using the raw footage from the above video segment.  As I mentioned earlier, this video is “editable”, one of several reasons I picked this video.  Another reason I picked this video is it’s use of rough edited cartoons.  This makes replacing the video narration with my students’ a breeze.  The final version will look professional and can been done using free software like Windows MovieMaker or Apple’s iMovie.  If students want to create their own video from scratch, they can get a similar effect, used the professional video, by using Blabberize.  This free site will allow students to create their own talking heads.