Thursday, July 02, 2015

Day 2 - Exploring the Library at Mount Vernon

A little work at the library

Today was my first formal day as a Life Guard Teacher Fellow at Mount Vernon. The focus for the day was getting familiar with the resources at the Fred W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.

My first meeting of the day was with Mary Thompson. Mary is a research historian at Mount Vernon and I had a meeting with her to discuss my project on creating archaeology lesson plan for middle school classrooms.  She provided me with a couple of ideas on some real world situations that I could use later as I develop my lesson.  One of interesting portions of my discussion with Mary was discovering that Washington had bison here at Mount Vernon at the time of his death and at one point thought that he could use bison as draft animals. 

After lunch I had a tour of the Fred W. Smith Library for the Study of George Washington with Sarah Myers.  I had an abbreviated tour last September when I attended the Missouri Teachers Weekend but this tour was much more extensive. The Rare Books and Manuscripts were amazing including the original Rembrandt Peale portrait of Washington and books which belonged to Washington.


Peale portrait of Washington in Rare Books and Manuscripts Room

In the vault with books from Washington's private collection from Mount Vernon

Sarah also explained to me the procedures for accessing different resources located both physically in the library as well as the databases which are accessible only while at the library.  The library also has a very nice copier which allows for easy coping of books.

Copier for easily making scans of books

My final meeting of the day was with Allison Wickens, Vice President for Education at Mount Vernon, to discuss how the meetings throughout the day went and discussion about my lesson plan and potential meetings with other staff and researchers here at Mount Vernon.

Overall it was a great day becoming familiar with the multitude of material and resources available to me while I am here as a fellow.  I have a good plan in place and am ready to start exploring archaeology from a hand on approach.  

In in the evening was fortunate enough to meet up with the Fryer family - Wes, Shelly and Rachel - for dinner in Alexandria.  I have known Wes for a long time and I consider him to be one of my ed tech yodas.  Wes lives in Oklahoma and was visiting DC after a stop at ISTE in Philadelphia last week.  Crazy that both of us midwesterners have to go to DC to meet up and have dinner! I had a great time and was so happy to be able to see the Fryer family.


Exploring old town Alexandria with the Fryer family

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Day 1 - Mount Vernon Teacher Fellowship


Hello.  Today is the first day of my 2015 Mount Vernon Life Guard Teacher Fellowship if you consider the "travel day" to be the first day.  The first official day of my fellowship begins tomorrow. This afternoon I flew in from Kansas City on a pretty non-district flight - they way they all should be right?! I have been fortunate to visit Washington DC for many events over the past 10 years and when I am flying alone I always try to get the window seat.  The views coming into DC never get old to me.  Today my biggest thrill came from flying over a place I recently read about by chance.  Last week I finished David McCullough's "The Wright Brothers" (great read by the way) and he describes the accident Orville Wright had in 1908 flying at Fort Myer just outside DC.  Orville's passenger that day was Lt. Thomas Selfridge.  He encountered a problem with the propeller and crashed to the ground - Orville was hurt pretty bad and Selfridge died - the first fatality in aviation history.  It took place next to Arlington Cemetery (where Selfridge is buried today) and as we flew directly over I was struck by the act of flying over the site in a jet plane and considering myself extremely safe.

Upon arriving at Mount Vernon I checked into the DeVos House, a residence built next to the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.  It is an amazing residence to host scholars who are working on projects at the library.  I feel honored to be able to call it home for the next several weeks.  I will check to see if I can share pictures in a later blog post.  It is very nice and as I type this I am sitting in a beautiful screened in porch off the residence with a gorgeous view of some woods.


Tonight's work area
After dinner I walked a little on the estate grounds and took some pictures of the gardens - both upper and lower.  The gardens are one of my favorite parts of the estate and I highly recommend reading the newly published "The General in the Garden" edited by Susan P. Schoelwer if you have an interest in this subject. I took some pictures as the light started to fade away, a couple of videos and some photospheres.


Mount Vernon - the mansion
Mount Vernon - View of of the Potomac from the mansion
Mount Vernon - Lower Garden
In front of the mansion I did a quick Google Hangout with the family back home.  The girls were excited to see the mansion and view of the Potomac.  I plan on doing quite a few Google Hangouts with them to share as much as possible.  In the future we'll be bringing the whole family out here for an extended vacation.

Tomorrow is a big day.  I have meetings with a variety of individuals from the library and I will learn more about utilizing the most extensive collection of research on the life of George Washington.  I will try to post articles and share photos/videos of as much as possible. Thanks for visiting the blog.



Tonight after dinner I walked through the gardens on the estate and took a couple of videos. 

Mount Vernon's lower garden

Step over apple trees at lower garden

Mount Vernon's upper garden



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

St Joseph School District EdWeek Resources

Today I am presenting at St. Joseph School District's EdWeek. I'll be giving a keynote and a couple of break out / discussion sessions.

The hashtag for today's learning is #SJSDEdWeek

You can find the resources and links here.

Check out this great notesketch of my keynote by Mandi Tolen ( @TTmomTT on Twitter



The local newspaper also had coverage of the workshop - link.

The St. Joseph School District created a video highlight of the day.  Thanks!



Thanks so much for inviting me to spend a day with you St. Joseph School District. I had a great time working with everyone.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Apply for Ancestry K-12 Education Grant


I recently applied for an educational grant from Ancestry and wanted to share this opportunity with anyone who would also benefit from this opportunity.

Ancestry is currently offering a year of access to it's research to United States K-12 teachers in public and private schools.



I recently applied and have been accepted but my access does not begin until July 1.  I plan to update how we are using this tool in researching family history in the fall of 2015.

Apply for an Ancestry Educational Grant here.

Previous Trips to Mount Vernon

This post is part of my blog reflecting on my experiences this summer in the Mount Vernon Life Guard Teacher Fellowship program. My blog specifically devoted to the Mount Vernon experience can be found here.

My first trip to Mount Vernon was in the summer of 2006.  My wife and I were in Washington DC and spent a day at the estate.  Getting there was memorable - we took the Metro as far south as we could go and then got on a bus to take us to Mount Vernon.  Instead of getting on the express bus to Mount Vernon we got on the regular bus which made about 30 stops on the way there.  We laugh about it now but it was a long ride.

We both loved the day we spent at Mount Vernon.  My wife also has a history education degree and we proudly wear the "history geek" badge. We really liked the gardens and the working farm. Washington's 16 sided barn was probably my favorite feature of the estate.  


Photo by Eric Langhorst
I have also found it interesting that once you visit a historical site you often find yourself motivated to read more about the history of the site or the person.  This was definitely true after my first visit to Mount Vernon.  I read a couple more books on Washington, incorporated some of the information from our trip in my lesson plans the next year and knew that someday I would visit again.

My second opportunity to see Mount Vernon was a participant in the 2010 Gilder Lehrman Summer Institute.  The Gilder Lehrman summer institutes are amazing and this was no exception.  I was one of a group of teachers from around the country who listened to speakers, took tours of the grounds and had amazing access to everything the estate had to offer. During this visit I was able to tour the mill and the distillery for the first time.  While we were there Mount Vernon began selling the first whiskey from the new distillery and there was considerable media coverage surrounding it.  This second trip again renewed my interest in Mount Vernon and when I had the opportunity I would read books on Washington.  In preparation for the workshop I read His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J Ellis and also purchased a couple of smaller books on Washington's agricultural interests, George Washington's Gristmill by Dennis Pogue and Esther White and George Washington Pioneer Farmer by Alan Fusonie. I also read Adopted Son by David Clary following my second visit which described the relationship between Washington and Lafayette.

The third opportunity to spend time at the estate was in September of 2014 as a participant of the Mount Vernon Missouri Teachers' Weekend.  The Missouri Teachers' weekend began in 2013 as a workshop to enable teachers from Missouri the opportunity to visit and learn at Mount Vernon over the course of several days.  The experience is provided through the generosity of Paul M. Shatz and Deane Lee Shatz.


Photo by Eric Langhorst
The unique characteristic of this third visit was my opportunity to visit the new Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, opened almost exactly a year earlier.  We had our lectures in the beautiful David M. Rubenstein Hall and had incredible tours of the estate.  The staff was generous with their time and we had high quality scholars on Washington providing lectures.

The four days spent at Mount Vernon and experiencing the new library sparked my desire to apply for a 2015 Mount Vernon Life Guard Teacher Fellowship.  Access to the library, the expertise of the staff and ability to stay at the estate will provide me a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about Washington and create a resource that teachers can use in their classrooms.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Welcome to My Summer at Mount Vernon

Hello.  This summer I will be enjoying an opportunity of a life lifetime as a Mount Vernon Life Guard Teacher Fellow.  I will be a scholar in residence at Mount Vernon for much of the month of July and I couldn't be more excited.

You can learn more about the Mount Vernon Life Guard Teacher Fellowship program here and read more about the proposals of the six selected scholars here.


Screen capture from Mount Vernon website
I will be blogging to reflect and share both the experience of preparing for and participating in the Life Guard Fellowship.  My goal is to include reflections, pictures, videos, links, etc relating to the experience. I will be posting many of these entries here on my general blog "Speaking of History" and a separate blog named "Learning at Mount Vernon" .  I welcome you to join me on this journey and please let me know if you have any questions.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Photo - Discovery Middle School


Discovery Middle School - Liberty, Missouri on May 11, 2015
Nexus 6 with Snapseed Filter

Monday, May 11, 2015

Recovering From a Tornado and Social Media

I was a new college graduate in the summer of 1994, looking for a social studies teaching position that might also include a head boys basketball coaching job.  In June I had a couple of offers and choose Silver Lake Public Schools, a consolidated school district in south central Nebraska.  The high school was in Roseland, Nebraska - population roughly 250 people.  Little did I know that this small community will be my home for the next five years. As the only social studies teacher in the district I had seven preps a day and coached a little of everything.  This community became my family and I still keep in touch with many of the teachers I taught with and some of my former students are currently raising their families in Roseland.

I was sitting on my couch around 5:30 on May 6th, browsing through some Facebook posts on my phone and I saw a video posted entitled "Tornado in Roseland". Then I started to see other Facebook posts describing a tornado that had taken aim on Roseland and basically went right through town.  I searched "Roseland tornado" on Twitter and started seeing more posts about the damage.  Over the past several days I have followed the reports from friends on Facebook and donated to the relief fund through the United Way. You can help Roseland recover from the tornado by contributing to the United Way here.



Social media has changed the world in which we live in so many ways, recovering from the devastating impact of nature no exception. Through pictures and posts I have been following familiar names describing their heartbreak and the work which seems daunting right now.

The city of Roseland has their own Facebook account.  I liked it quite a while ago because it has updates on things happening in town - mostly community events and announcements.  This week it has become a distribution hub of information about the clean up but it has also become something more.  The Roseland Facebook account asked for community members to write about their experiences with the tornado.  Where they were, how they raced for cover, what it was like during the tornado and how they are dealing with the aftermath.  The accounts are detailed and as I read them I notice names and mentally visualize the areas on town they are describing.  These accounts are interesting and the Roseland website is also collecting them and posting them on the town website.  


The tornado has impacted the entire community.  Anyone who has ever lived in a community of 250 people understands how close everyone is a town is and how everyone pulls together to help out.  I am intrigued by the collection of these stories as a part of the recovery process.  It keeps those of us that have ties to Roseland connected regardless of where we now live in the world.  As a history teacher this intrigues me because just a couple of days after the tornado all of these experiences are being recorded and shared while it is still fresh in everyone's mind.  There is surely something cathartic about recording these moments but it will also be such a treasure to a historian in the future who will be seeking information on how the community of Roseland was impacted by the events of an afternoon in May of 2015.  

Friday, May 08, 2015

What Helped Me Finish My Dissertation - Eating the Elephant One Bite at a Time

Last week I accomplished a goal that I had been working toward for the past six years - 2,304 days to be exact but who's counting?! I completed my doctoral program - Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership from Walden University. There were many times during those six years that I didn't think I would finish. In fact, I gave up twice - each time for about two days before jumping back in again.

When I completed my course work in the summer of 2011 I thought that the difficult part was behind me.  I naively thought, "I think I'll be able to really get after the dissertation since it I really like my topic (social studies teachers' use of Twitter)". But my problem would not be the topic. Instead my biggest obstacles ending up being time management and the mental hurdle of trying to tackle to the most comprehensive writing project of my life.



I like to read. I enjoy research. I truly wanted to finish this degree but for years finishing the dissertation was like a 1000 pound gorilla on my back.  It was always there and I seemed to be making so little progress.  I read books on tips for finishing your dissertation. I talked to friends who had completed their doctorate. Some things worked and some things didn't.  I think that finding what works as you write your dissertation is a very individualized process but I thought I would share some of the things that helped me in hopes that be sharing them it might help someone else. I do not consider myself an expert in any way. In fact I think that the fact that I did struggle might make these tips more applicable to someone else who is searching for ways to fight through some of the same issues.

You Need a First Draft Before You Can Have a Final Draft

I like to write. I've had numerous articles published over the years and I typically enjoy the process of writing.  I typically make revisions to my work but generally when I write I try to spend a lot of time on my first draft to make it as good as possible.  I guess I would rather spend more time on the first draft instead of a lot time on the back end revising.  That is not the best strategy to employ when writing your dissertation.  There would be long time periods without a draft submitted my chair.  She told me that when I did send her a new section it was typically really good but that if I dialed back my personal expectations for each section I would able to submit more and then we could work on the edits and suggestions.  It all made sense to me, it was just hard for me to do.  I started to make a lot more progress once I abandoned the desire to write really well on the first draft and just write.  I have told my broadcasting students when they are first writing their feature scripts to just "vomit out the words" and then clean them up later (I do teach at a middle school so gross and graphic analogies work well with my clientele).

Keeping a Journal

While working on my dissertation I kept a journal, not as a source to keep all of my information and citations since much of that was electronic in nature and on my computer, but rather to keep myself on pace and remind myself of things I needed to accomplish.  I love keeping journals - Moleskin and Field Notes are my favorites - so early on in the process I bought a black Moleskin classic notebook and when I filled that up my wife bought me a red Moleskin classic notebook as a Christmas gift last year.  Every time that I sat down to work on my doctorate, regardless of how much time I spent, I wrote down what I was working on that day.  A noticed a big jump in productivity when I started writing down a goal for each day in my journal. It didn't have to be a huge goal - it could be as simple as taking notes on a journal article or two - but writing a goal down in my journal really helped me focus.




I also used my journal as a place to celebrate successes and milestones.  I would draw a little doodle here and there to help mark accomplishments and I also added stickers to my notebook.  One of my favorite places to work was Caribou Coffee and they give you a little sticker to put on top of your cup instead of drink stoppers.  I would always ask for these little stickers - they have a ton of different sayings, graphics and designs - and then I would place them in my notebook.  It was just a fun way for me to add some color and personality to this journal that I carried around with me everywhere. 

Now that my dissertation is finished I'm glad that I have these journals to go back and look at as a reminder of the work I accomplished on my study, when it happened and where I was when I worked on it. There are the "behind the scenes" story of my doctoral journey. Years from now I will probably look at these notebooks more often than rereading my dissertation.

Eating the Elephant

One of the toughest challenges for me mentally was overcoming the concept that I had this enormous project to work on each day.  The weight of having this 200 page document as a final goal was suffocating.  At some point I saw a tweet or a Facebook post that said, "When eating an elephant, just take one bite at a time." For some reason that really resonated with me that day and it became sort of my mantra during the rest of the process.  All I could focus on was what I was doing to do THAT DAY to get closer to my goal. The speed at which I was moving forward wasn't as important as the fact that I needed to keep moving each day.  Once I started to focus on the little things I found that eventually the big things would take care of themselves.

Parking Your Writing on a Hill

At one point of frustration in the dissertation writing process I read several blog posts and articles on tips for writing your dissertation (very similar to this one!).  One of the articles mentioned always "parking your writing on a hill".  Once I started devoting time each day to working on my dissertation I found myself sitting down each day for an hour or so and then spending a considerable amount of time wondering what I should do next.  It was difficult to jump in right away and flip on the "dissertation switch".  Parking your writing on the hill refers to always ending your work at a point so that the next step is there and ready for you when you return.  It is a little like sitting down to eat a meal and stopping right before you are completely full.  When I parked my writing on a hill it was always clear where I should pick up the next time I sat down to work. I tried to always write what my next step would be in my journal so when I sat down next time it was already waiting for me.

Stealing Time

I wanted to try and work on my dissertation in a way that would not take away time from my family as well as allow me to continue to work and do a good job on my primary job as a middle school teacher.  I think almost everyone working on their dissertation has this issue in some capacity. It has been my observation that most people working on their doctorate are not the type to have a lot of "extra" time on their hands.  For a while I tried working late at night after the girls went to bed.  This worked some nights and others I basically fell asleep while trying to work on research.  For a couple of weeks I tried getting up at around 4 AM and working for several hours until heading off to my job as a middle school teacher.  This might work for some but I soon realized that was not going to work for me. 

One time of day that worked for me was devoting at least an hour in the afternoon once the school day was done before heading home to the family.  Sometimes meetings and other events cut into this time but I tried to make it work as often as humanly possible.  Down the stretch my favorite time to work was early in the mornings on Saturday and Sunday.  I found that if I got up and arrived at the Caribou Coffee shop at 5 AM when they opened, I would work until 8 AM or 9 AM and get some quality hours of work in before heading home to the family and the activities we had going on that day.  I felt good about starting my day by getting some work accomplished and instead of the hour or two a day that I was able to sneak during the week, I could get 3 or 4 hours of uninterrupted work in at a time.

Know Your Doctoral Program

The process of writing your dissertation and the process to gaining approval is complex at any institution.  In the early stages I was confused and did not really understand the steps that were in front of me and as a result probably wasn't as efficient with my time.  As I advanced in the program I spent more time getting familiar with the steps of the program, the time frames for review processes, what to expect at certain phases, etc. I asked my committee chair a lot of questions and made it a priority to understand what steps and tasks would be required of me in the future as my dissertation advanced.  I think taking time to understand the doctoral process for your program is important and in the end saves you time and effort.

Importance of Having a Good Committee Chair

This is a topic I have discussed with several friends who have earned their doctorate or are working on their doctorate.  In my opinion, having a supportive committee chair is a very important part of a successful doctoral journey. I was very fortunate to have a very supportive and helpful committee chair.  In my program I was assigned my chair, in other program students may have more voice in the process but I can only speak from my own experience.  At the start of my writing my dissertation I had trouble making progress.  My chair never gave up on me but also didn't nag me about getting work done.  She was supportive and helpful and when I did finally dig in to work on my research she was responsive and helpful at each turn. We often had Google Hangout visits about my progress and it also allowed me to ask questions.  Some of my friends have had their committee chair leave the institution in the middle of their work or have had issues with their chair not responding to questions.  I had neither of these issues and I always felt as though my chair was their to support and help me in this process.  It can be very scary for someone who has never gone through this process and it is critical to have a chair you can trust and learn from as you complete your research.

Maximize the Technology Available

I have marveled at the ways in which I has able to utilize technology during the dissertation process from accessing research articles, finding information, analyzing/coding data and managing citations. I honestly cannot imagine the difference in the amount of work necessary to do these tasks prior to the age of the Internet. I have told people that I think people who earned their degree prior to the Internet should have a special star next to their degree to denote they did it "the hard way".  Learning to master the tools now available is mandatory for the sanity of any researcher.

Perhaps the most important tool I learned to incorporate during my research was Zotero.  Zotero is a free, open source reference management system maintained by the Center for History and New Media of George Mason University. In can't image how many hours Zotero saved me in terms of saving, organizing and citing resources.  I won't go into a full tutorial here but if you are doing any research this is a tool that you MUST check out.

I also did a lot of work with my data in Google Sheets and Google Docs.  I transcribed the interviews I conducted for my research into Google Docs. While coding the transcripts I had 11 themes that I was tracking.  I used different colors to represent different themes in the interviews and this made it easier to visually sort out and organize the themes among different participants.  I also created unique hashtags for each participant and specific mentions so that I could do a quick search for that particular hashtag later.  Typically it was a # and a two letter code so when I did a search it showed me quickly where it was in the transcript and not confuse it with any of the text of the interview. Having some of my data on Google Drive also provided me a cloud backup that was protected by passwords.



Love Your Research Topic

Selecting your research topic is obviously a critical part of your doctoral process.  You will be working with this topic for hours and hours, month after month so you should select a topic which can hold your personal interest.  My dissertation topic, how social studies teachers collaborate using Twitter, is a topic that I both felt comfortable with and enjoyed learning about during research. I also had to approach my research topic by stepping back and looking at the issue from different perspectives.  I cannot image working as many hours as I did on a topic that did not hold my interest. Select a topic you believe you will be be comfortable thinking about while you are driving in the car, waiting in line at the grocery store and while falling asleep at night.

One thing I enjoyed about my research topic is that it is relatively new. During the two and half years that I wrote my dissertation there was a lot of research published on teachers using Twitter, social media in education and the power of educators working collaboratively online.  I think having a topic with some current day relevance is a plus and helps maintain fresh perspectives.

Find a Happy Place to Write/Work

I tried working in a variety of places - home, school, the library, coffee shops, etc.  At different points in the process I worked at all of these and the each have advantages and disadvantages. I typically found that if I was at home there were just too many things to keep me off track.  I would want to go start a load of laundry, go check on one of the girls, etc. My classroom at school had plenty of space, a quality WiFi connection but just like at home - there was also something that I could be working on instead of my dissertation.  

I found that going to the public library - and we have some AWESOME libraries in my community - or a coffee shop worked well for me.  I know what you are thinking - isn't it really expensive to get a $5 mocha every time you want to work on your dissertation? I often went to the Caribou Coffee here in Liberty which is connected to a connivence store.  They have a great place to work, consistent available wifi and some great wooden tables where I could spread out some of my materials. Sometimes I would get a mocha but a lot of times I would just get a $75 soda from the connivence store and get to work.  I was in a lot and the staff didn't have a problem with me not getting a mocha every time I was in - I was in enough and my wife loves coffee so I would often bring one home to her after working.  I even mentioned the Caribou Coffee in Liberty in the acknowledgements of my dissertation.




Value of a Supportive Family

My final tip is perhaps the biggest.  When I saw family I mean everyone around you who supports you - your family, your work family, etc. I cannot express how helpful and supportive my wife was during this process. When I started my doctoral coursework our daughters were one and six years old.  Working on your doctoral for most of us is an "extra" thing that we do in addition to our regular job and our responsibilities to our family. She always let me go work on my dissertation in the evenings and on weekends while taking on more work at home. She listened to me talk about super exciting topics on car trips like the theory of communities of practice and how I should code my qualitative data from the transcripts.  I honestly feel as though this is something that we accomplished together.  My daughters were also great.  I had to miss some time on the weekends that I would have rather spend hanging out instead of writing but they also celebrated with me every time we reached a milestone.  We all went out as a family after the final section was sent in for approval and instead of eating a meal we just had a bunch of desserts at a restaurant.  One of the best feelings once it was over was my 7 year old asking if she could now call me "Dr. Dad".

I hope that some of what I learned during my dissertation process will help someone else.  It was a long and difficult process for me but I feel as if I learned a lot about myself in the process and it does feel great to finally reach the finish line.  Good luck and remember to eat your elephant one bite a time.

Here is a link to my finished dissertation : Social Studies Teachers' Use of Twitter and #edchats to Collaborate

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Winner of the WD My Cloud Giveaway

Thanks to everyone who submitted their name for my WD My Cloud giveaway. I had 34 names submitted, used an online random number generator which selected #8. The name listed as #8 on my list was Scott Heeke.

Congratulations Scott.  WD will be sending you your very own WD My Cloud drive.