Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Perfect mix - challenging ideas clearly, engagingly and simply explained leaving the reader with a sense of pride at our scientists’ discoveries and accomplishments (Yes, Einstein definitely was a badass), a sense of humility in trying to wrap one’s mind around the sheer expansiveness of space and the multitudes of molecules, and a sense of wonder at what may be yet to come. Perspective. It’s in this book!

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Means...Online Courses!

Each summer since 2009 I've had the privilege to lead an online course for teachers through Xavier University about using technology to differentiate and personalize instruction for learners.  My favorite part of facilitating and online course is how much I learn as a result of the discussions held about fundamental ideas around learning with participants.  One would think that technology has changed so much since the class began that the class would have gone through extensive changes in terms of content, but what I'm proud of is that the basic tenets of the class have NOT changed.  While tools have come and gone, and the uses of technology continue to evolve as more becomes possible, the emphasis of our course is on how to take advantage of technology to become stronger teachers and to help students to become better learners.  Sure, some of the arguments change - from "should we allow graphing calculators?" to "should we allow cell phones in the classroom?"  Teachers are a conservative lot, by and large, as they should be in some respects. They have a large and awesome responsibility to help all students in their classrooms learn, but they also have a responsibility to keep students safe and technology use often pushes the boundaries of what students have access to and in recent studies, how they interact with others.  But for those who can see past the dangers into the possibility and actually, have an understanding of the charge to help students navigate online tools in a safe and appropriate way, using technology helps us to expand beyond the four walls of our classrooms to become authentic creators of content and contributors to the larger body of knowledge that exists.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mindsets Are For High-Achievers

This excerpt is from an interview of Carol Dweck by Jo Boaler, author of Mathematical Mindsets and several other volumes designed to help teachers work more productively with students in math.  I think it speaks to the population I work with in my classroom and that many of us have had experience with as teachers.

“Some people may think that mindsets are just for lower-achieving kids who don't think they're good learners. But we have seen untold numbers of high-achieving kids who are crippled with anxiety that a struggle may mean they're not perfect, not adequate. Less than an A is the end of the world. Not getting into the right school is the end of the world. They are not focused on growth and learning. They are not joyful in their learning. They are not seeing into the future and making themselves that person they want to be. It's just that every A, every test score is the ultimate judgment of who they are and what they're worth. And a growth mindset can help them in conjunction with values and a sense of a larger purpose, can help them out of that place. Because we are stunting the development of many of our most promising students by making them feel that the meaning of their life is wrapped up in the grades and test scores.

If these ideas interest you, please consider reading Mathematical Mindsets and/or taking the Mathematical Mindset online course.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Megalomania for Teachers - All the Grandeur; Some of the Delusions

As I have watched too many talented colleagues crumble under the crucible of the anti-intellectualism & anti-professionalism movement in education, I have decided that what teachers need is a super-power. Don't get me wrong - many of my colleagues already exercise a variety of superpowers every day  -the power to make the mysteries of life and learning accessible to kindergarteners, the power to make teenagers care and, dare I say, enthusiastic about solving World Issues or discovering new frontiers of microcosmic complexity.  These amazing powers are what have carried the belief that public education is a worthwhile and noble endeavor.  Alas, dear friends, it seems that it is only those educators with superhuman  abilities left who believe this value and we are an endangered species.

So, what we need is a different kind of superpower.  One that allows us to not only have endless empathy for our students while requiring excellence, not only to be patient listeners and serve as the heroes from time to time when our students are in crises.  We need a superpower that allows us to address our Kryptonite - the need for our educational system to be held to the same standard we hold ourselves - and turn that weakness into our strength.  

I realize that in the superhero origin stories that exist, it doesn't work that way.  Clark Kent did not just wake up and decide he wanted to fly and whoomp, there it was.  His unique powers were a combination of genetics and circumstance and environment.  My superpower actually does include elements of these things. Only through the pain we suffer from attempting to implement government mandated changes to our system, with fidelity, while still staying true to serving our students, will this power be awakened in all of us.

What is my proposal?  I am thinking we need to "take back" the concept of megalomania and rework it for the benefit of those educators in need.  Wikipedia says "Megalomania is a psychopathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power, relevance, omnipotence, and by inflated self-esteem.[1] Historically it was used as an old name for narcissistic personality disorder prior to the latter's first use by Heinz Kohut in 1968, and is used today as a non-clinical equivalent.[2][3]" (stop snarking right now about my demand for more intellectualism and using Wikipedia as a source - crowdsourcing information collection and distribution which incorporates peer review IS FABULOUS).  

Now at this point, I am quickly approaching the TL;DR portion of this rant, and may have convinced you of only two things - that the writer of this blog is definitely a narcissist (as she refers to herself in third person) in the classical, if not in the clinical sense, and that a psycopathological condition does not really sound like a good thing to promote in our society.  Hang with me - Megalomaniacs as delusional fantasy fans, understand the power of suspension of disbelief - just like any fan of a great action movie. 

One of the symptoms of Teacher SuperHeroes is that they quickly become disillusioned.  This disillusionment can be caused by many factors - the inability to secure resources needed to provide education and a positive learning environment for our students; the endless list of initiatives we are asked to implement, many of which we have seen before/are counter to what is BEST for our students/get in the way of providing quality learning and personal development experiences for the young people we feel strongly committed to.  This argument of what causes GREAT teachers to leave the profession has been discussed and proven elsewhere.  It has left me worried about the professional lifespans of my colleagues who are thinking and reflective practitioners - and WHO will be left in classrooms to lead our nation's youth into democratic citizenship?  

This disillusionment is a growing plague, my fellow SuperTeachers - it can lead to depression, a feeling that one's life no longer makes a difference, that we are small cogs in the Big Wheel of educational restructuring.  So what's a SuperHero to do?  Take ownership in a system which forbids it, believe in yourself as Change Agent of Awesomeness. Develop a SuperEgo as your superpower to help defend against disillusionment and to keep you where you belong - in the classroom, fighting the most important fight of all, each and every day.  Join me as we consider what megalomania has to offer in terms of becoming a better leader, advocate, teacher, citizen and person.

My Megalomaniac Manifesto is just beginning, my fellow SuperHeroes.  As we know, sometimes, saving the world can get in the way of other important events and tasks.  I've provided a list of topics to get us started.  Marco?

What is a SuperTeacher and where can I sign up?
Why is Education problematic (and overuse of capitalization is intentional)?
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Making Megalomania Work for You
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Facing a New Day
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Effecting Change
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Working in Teams
The Megalomaniac's Guide to Mentoring

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Clockwork Angel

Clockwork Angel
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting take on a "prequel" series to Clare's earlier series, These Mortal Instruments. I liked the steampunk angle and the heavy take on the setting in Victorian London. Good female protagonist who doesn't wait to get rescued, though she often gets help from some mysterious friends, the Shadowhunters. In the volumes of fantasy novels for teens focusing on supernatural creatures, at least this one is relatively well-written and has an interesting plot. Readers who like this book might enjoy the Sally Lockhart series even more - written by fantasy favorite Phillip Pullman - another series with a strong female protagonist set in Victorian London, though more mystery than fantasy.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Communicating & Connecting with Social Media

My head is still spinning from 3 days' worth of sessions at Solution Tree's AuthorSpeak in Indianapolis this past week. I will be posting my thoughts and reactions to the sessions I attended in hopes I can pay homage to the fantastic author-presenters I saw and as a way to connect those educators who were unable to attend to some of the information and resources.

 The first session I want to share is around the book Communicating & Connecting with Social Media by authors Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal), Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and Jason Ramsden(@raventech). I almost skipped this presentation. I consider myself to be reasonably well along the technology uses spectrum in personal, professional and instructional uses of technology.  I figured I needed to see presentations that pushed or challenged my thinking rather than going to one that I knew I was going to agree with everything said.  But I kept heading back to this choice, in no small part because I was curious to see some of my twitter heroes in person.  As it turns out, the session was interesting, challenging and gave me some new great ideas for ways our school and district should be promoting their image.

About Twitter
This session focused mainly on professional uses of social media in education; for learning, sharing and getting the positive word out on our work and our schools.  I have been using Twitter for over a year but seem to go through bouts of furious tweeting followed by droughts of nothingness for sometimes months at a time, depending on how crazy my schedule at school is - and honestly, when DOES the school year slow down?  It doesn't.

Think of the 17-year locust - on a smaller scale, my contributions and consumption of social media goes through more famine than feast.  What I liked about the presentation were the concrete ways in which social media can contribute to our learning, why building learning networks and communities outside of our own schools is so important and the message that if we don't promote our own good news, someone else is going to do it for us and probably in a negative light - to get control of our  message, we have to have a message out there (#ihtech; IHMSHeybruch).

The beauty of social media is that it "redistributes" expertise - the voice is truly with the collective rather than in single traditional forces of media. This should be an empowerment - to every educator - to get the positive things that are happening in your classroom each day out to parents, community members and other educators.  Thanks to the model set by some amazing voices for educational reform, I plan to be a more "balanced" contributor to the cyber and concrete worlds we now inhabit.  Plus, you have to love that typing in less than 140 characters at once makes it feasible to contribute on a regular basis.  What will you do to be a positive change agent in your school, community and twitterverse?

Check out the book by Bill, Eric and Jason for more great ideas on how to use social media to broaden your PLN.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Vote that Teachers Go Away.... attend professional conferences, that is...

Dollars for professional development, like for all other things in our schools, are evaporating.  Getting support, permission and hopefully  funding to attend a conference is becoming more challenging, especially if the conference is farther afield.  There is a movement to rely on in-house expertise to lead professional development and a move away from bringing experts to schools or allowing teachers to travel to see presentations.  I get it - we need to rethink the old ways of doing business.  I am a huge supporter of developing teachers as leaders in all areas of school management.  But where do teacher leaders get their training and ideas from?  What are the advantages to sending not just individuals,  but teams of teachers, to a professional conference?

Professional conferences do have an important place in building capacity, for teacher leaders and also in building relationships between members of teams. If we hope to encourage teachers to be more reflective, scholarly and research oriented concerning their own practice, then we need to provide opportunities to allow teachers to learn from other practitioners and scholars. Conferences can provide time and space to think about learning and to plan ways to incorporate that learning into action in the classroom.  Conferences can give a great injection of new ideas and strategies. If we truly want to take advantage of conference learning, however, we need to be sending groups of teachers as teams.  Allowing teams of teachers to travel together to attend conferences can create an environment of sharing and collaboration around all the great ideas learned.  As we articulate our learning to others, we clarify our own ideas and become more likely to put what we have learned into practice. At the same time, we might convince our colleagues that these are good ideas for them to also incorporate into their own classrooms.  Do teams who travel together, stay together?  It is true that colleagues to spend time together outside of work are more likely to work longer and harder to collaborate inside of work.  I propose that this could be an additional benefit to allowing teachers to attend conferences in teams.  By sending a team rather than an individual, more sessions can be seen, and more information can be shared with the staff or other teachers.  A group may als be more likely to discuss different ways of disseminating their learning to others and may be able to reach more staff members back at their site than an individual teacher.

Conferences are expensive and it makes sense for teachers and schools to be choosy about the types of professional conferences they attend based on goals and needs of the school, district, department and/or grade level.  The payoff can be beyond just new learning for individual practitioners. If we treat conferences as a PLC learning opportunity, then we can increase teacher learning, improve bonds between PLC members, improve the chances of information being shared in a meaningful way with the rest of the school/district,  and increase the likelihood that the new learning translates into classroom practice.