Inspired this week by Katie McFarland’s (@Katiemc827) #slc2016 Maker Challenge, and reading George Couros’ (@gcourcos) The Innovator’s Mindset, I arrived at a major brainstorm, which I’m calling #edmakercamp.

As 21st century educators, we read educational books, create Professional Learning Networks through social media such as Twitter and Pinterest, we attend workshops, we read blogs by other educators who reflect on their practice, we attend edcamps. We spend a great deal of time collecting data and information on educational practice, it becomes and kind of research where we hope that one day we can put it into practice.

Sometimes we do actually find the time to integrate that stuff into our classrooms. We write curriculum in the summer. We spend August creating a new unit. Often, we find ourselves saying, “When I have time.” We spend a Saturdays and evenings writing new lessons or making activities that evolve from our research. But, it’s not easy.

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I’m making a call for “#edmakercamp,” and here’s the idea. Pull together a group of your educational besties–those teachers who you work well with, but who will also hold all members of the group accountable for actually doing work and creating. Then, go find a work space–perhaps some classrooms, a computer lab. However, try to get away from it all and find a place for a retreat, a place where everyone can work without interruption. Fill it with laptops, cameras, paper, markers, scanners. Fill it with maker items. Stock it with everything teachers need to create for a day.

Then, fill it with teachers and administrators who are looking to make.

At #edmakercamp, the purpose is to take all the stuff you’ve been reading and learning about with education, and do the stuff you’ve been looking to do.

If you’re in need of time to think about your practice and want to grow through self-reflection, spend time writing and then blogging. Been wanting to make some Schoology resource pages for your department, do it. Looking to retool that unit on “Revolutions” in your Global class. Looking to implement the PBL in the first semester of your IB Biology class, use #edmakercamp to do it.

It’s not a research and learn time. It’s a time to put those thinkings and ideas, and to create the stuff to implement, so in the next day, weeks, months, next school year, you can pull it out and use it.

Use the group. In bringing people together, spend the first part of your edmakercamp to share, discuss. Get ideas out. What are people going to work on. What will be each campers outcome at the end of the day. Use the first part of your time to get the gears primed for work.

But then, stop the talk, and move into work time, and work as a group to be focused. Commit to quiet work time. If you’re working in groups, great, but be focused and assign someone to keep the group on task. You may need to create quiet spaces and semi-quiet spaces. Have all participants decide on a how long this block of time will be, say “We’re going to make for the next two hours.” Set a timer. Then, at the end of the block, come out of it, grab some snacks, share and discuss. Talk about what you made. After a brief rest, back into work time. 

Bring to your #edmakercamp some people who aren’t making. Bring some helpers. Some people who can scan items, take pictures. If you need a video file converted, that person can do it. This role could be played by a couple of tech-savy students, or a media specialist who sacrifices his or her work time for the benefit of the campers.

We need time as educators to not only read about innovation, but also time to prepare for those innovations and to create the materials that will be put into practice. We need to give ourselves time to reflect through our blogs and share those innovations with our networks.

Infographics, Synthesis and Informational Writing

As part of my FYC, English 101 class, my students read a wide range of sources, provided by me, about the industrial food system. We’re reading Pollan, Schlosser, Moss to name a few.

Once we’re through some preliminary discussion, which happens both in writing and as part of full-class discussion, it’s time for some assessment. I want to know what they’re thinking, and how they see these sources in conversation.

This year, as part of a formative assessment in reading and synthesis assignment, I’m having my kids create info-graphics to meet these needs. This is the assignment I came up with:

Infographic Rubric

I took a couple of weeks to design this and it owes a great debt to the work on Kathy Schrock’s webpage. Anyone who is thinking about working with infographics or is currently work with them, should check our her page. There’s almost too much there.


What I Left NYSCATE Thinking

I went to NYSCATE thinking I’d get great information on the best new apps, web tools and information on innovative LMS systems, technology roll outs for the uninitiated.
Instead, the conference spoke to a theme that’s been running through my mind over this school year: How do I make a classroom that fosters a culture of both independent and collaborative learning preparing students for the 21st century? And really, how do I continue to evolve as an educator after almost 20 years in the classroom?
Here are some of my walk-away points from this year’s conference:
1. Ask kids what problems they want to solve and not what they want to become. This came out of Jamie Casap’s key note on Monday afternoon. By asking students what problems they want to solve, we encourage auto-didactic thinking and practices. When we ask kids what they want to become, we ask them who they want to work for, and really, we turn them into consumer and commodities.
2. The technology really doesn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong! I’m still a proponent of 1:1 integration, adopting LMS systems, full access to a range of social media for students. However, I’m reminded that technology isn’t going to fix the issues we have. Yes, it will stream line our classrooms, help with collaboration, ease assessment and grading practices. But, it won’t fix the lack of creativity we extend to our students, the lack of autonomy we give. If we don’t use it well, then it will only make more rigid our systems of standardization.
3. There are lots of new apps, web-based tools, Google hacks that I can’t wait to try. I’m not trying them until I have a bigger picture in place.
I’m thinking now about the kinds of cultures I want to create, the kind of teacher I want to be for my students, the kind of teacher leader I can be to my colleagues. As part of a District Technology Committee and a subcommittee on adoption of an LMS, there’s a lot of exciting work ahead.

Opening Revolutions

For the past several years, I’ve started my first day of classes with a simple focused, free writing exercise: What are you passionate about?

This year, I made a switch.

For the first week of school, I’ve decided to focus solely on academics. In my freshman composition class, we’re looking at concepts of rhetorical situation, inquiry and writing process. In my IB English class, we’re looking at the evolution of the depicition of war and soliders in films from WWII onward.

I was worried about this change. I certainly don’t feel like I learned anything personal about my students. Instead, I privileged their intellectual and academic selves, and perhaps, learned more about what they would actually bring to our class: their ability to speak lucidly about a subject, their ability to talk to one another and not just the teacher. Also, I wanted to respect the introvert, those students who would be threatened by personal sharing on the first day.

My move, I thought, was a kind of heresy. For almost twenty years, I did some kind of get to know you activity. Most English teachers I know, or have read about, do something similar. It seems common pedagogical practice in the ELA classroom. Yesterday, walking around the building, I heard people starting Faulkner, teaching parts of speech, getting going on readings that would lead to synthesis essays. Heresy? I wasn’t being burned at the stake.

I’ll get back to my personal free-writes next week, for sure. Don’t despair that student, student interest, student passion needto find other rooms. They’ll be back next week with a secure academic disclurse in place.

Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

“Together they were going to heighten consciousness by dumbing down an already dangerously dumb constituency”

Mother’s Milk

Edward St. Aubyn

Last week, I read an insightful piece in the August issue of Rolling Stone by Janet Reitman about suspected Boston Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev. Reitman tells a compelling story about Tsarnaev from his adolescents in Boston and his shift to radicalism in the facing of failing American dreams.

Many of you may have seen the controversy that emerged in in July regarding the cover which depicts Tasrnaev as youthful, child-like, and innocent. The general cry from the public was that Rolling Stone committed an insensitive act that insulted the families and the loss of life that occurred in April in Boston. On seeing this controversy on the local news, I immediately went to the store and tried to get a copy both because I wanted to read the piece but also because I wanted to defend Rolling Stone for their freedom to make such a decision with some of my money. I couldn’t find it in the Canandaigua Wegman’s. If they made a decision to pull the issue, they certainly kept it quiet.

This piece isn’t about what’s in the article beyond what I’ve written just above. I would encourage people to go read it to find out. It’s to say thank you to its Reitman, the magazine for opening my world a little more. It’s to say thanks for the children in the community who Reitman interviews and who made the choice to speak up to give us insights about their friend who is now accused of crimes and may very well lose his life for it.

While so much of today’s journalism and media is meant to please its readership. And what so many people seem to do is find the media outlet that best adheres with their world views. I’m certainly guilty of this—I read the New York Times and the New Yorker, but wouldn’t be caught dead with The New Republic. I listen to NPR but know that I’ve died and am consigned to the third circle of the Inferno if Fox News is on the TV. Kudos to Rolling Stone and its cover photograph for making the kind of thought provoking choice that asks its readership to reexamine their perception of an individual that the public has deemed guilty before the trial.

To my teaching friends and colleagues, I would recommend it as a compelling piece of journalism, storytelling, and a piece that would be nicely paired with a reading of Death of a Salesman or Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

The loss of life and of limb, heath and well-being is not something to treat with lightly. Our sense of national security, our deepest anxieties about the loss of security, these are things which we must acknowledge. But they are nothing when we lose our humanity, which means that we need to remember and acknowledge that our killers and our villains were once children, brothers and sons, students and friends. There can too often be in our culture a cult of compassion in which we attempt to say because this verges on insulting someone’s loss and tarnishes personal tragedy we cannot touch it. Or, as Edward St. Aubyn says in describing two of his characters, they “corrupted each other with the extravagance of their good intentions.” But this kind of thinking is a cult, because it both narrows and radicalizes what is right. While it’s intentions are humane, it block us from that humanity as well.