Sunday, December 09, 2012

2012 Google Teacher Academy - At the Googleplex in Mountain View

This blog post is being typed from 10,000 feet somewhere over California as I fly back to Kansas City after an amazing couple of days at the 2012 Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View.  My head is still spinning at my flight left a couple of hours late due to mechanical issues.  I'm due to get home around 1 AM but I'm excited to be teaching tomorrow and I'm pretty sure that I will still be running on Google adrenaline.  

The last two days at the Googleplex have been specially tailored to geeky teachers and all of the members of this Google Teacher Academy class soaked in every minute.  Several teachers that I consider friends have attended past GTA's and they all told me the same thing - it will be some of the best professional development you have ever experienced and you will meet incredible people.  I have to admit that after hearing that repeatedly that I was almost afraid that it would be almost impossible to live up to the lofty expectations.  In the end as I left today it did not meet those expectations, it exceeded them.

I'm sure that in the coming months I will do some things differently in my classroom as a result of an idea or tool that I learned at GTA and it will impact how I teach in the future.  Tonight while everything is still rattling around in my head I thought I would reflect on a couple of big picture takeaways for me in three areas - 1) Tools, 2) the Google culture, and 3) the GTA network.

1) Tools - I started to title this section "Google Tools" but that really wouldn't be accurate.  We didn't spend all of our time discussing tools exclusive to Google.  Instead we discussed the "best tools" to meet our needs as teachers in our classroom. True, in many cases we focused on Google apps and tools but we also discussed a ton of resources not connected to Google.  We had app slams and discussions where we we are shared what has worked for us and our students.  I have a list of notes that will take me several weeks to process and many new things to try out.  In my application I stated that one of the reasons that I wanted to attend a GTA was to become more proficient using Google apps.  I use quite a few Google apps on a regular basis but I wanted to learn some of the tips and tricks to kick it up a notch and I did, now I just have to remember them and use them on a regular basis.  I recently purchased one of the new Acer Chromebooks and am currently learning how to live more truly in the cloud and there were some great discussions on apps and extensions.  My toolbox definitely got heavier as a result of the GTA.

Next steps for “Tools” - I will take the time to check out all the apps, extensions and scripts.  There is so much out there for me to learn and I plan to present a variety of workshops and PD sessions for my staff about how we can all become more efficient in using these tools.

2) Google Culture - This is probably the thing I was most curious about prior to attending.  I have long been intrigued by Google and the history of the company.  Several years ago I read The Google Story by David Vice and Mark Malseed and I am currently almost 80% done with In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy.  Everyone has heard about the Google culture - the 20% time, the relaxed campus atmosphere, the amazing meals prepared on campus in the Google cafeterias, etc.  I feel extremely lucky to have been chosen for a GTA that was hosted at the Googleplex so that we could experience a little of this culture.  Again, I thought maybe some of this was more urban legend than actual practice but it was all true.  The campus is colorful, playful, visually appealing, accommodating the staff and quite honestly might be one of the most amazing places to work on the planet.  We saw people riding bikes to get from one building to another part of the campus.  People bringing their dogs to work and walking them on the grounds at lunch. Office buildings with bowling alleys, rooms for massages, heated Japanese toilets in the restrooms, tech help stations and every possible feature to help people focus on their job and being creative.  It would truly be a great environment in which to work.  

There is one example of “Googleness” that I will always remember from the past couple of days.  Shortly after receiving our Google Certified Teachers pins we were honored to have a Google executive drop by to say a few words.  Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette visited with us for about a half an hour, describing his role at Google and answering our questions.  He talked about thinking of doing the impossible and attempting only those things which can eventually be scaled to a billion people.  The line that resonated with him was Pichette saying “you must have a healthy disrespect for the impossible”. His time with us was inspiring and served as a pep talk to go out and do great things.

Next steps for “Google Culture” - I want to find more ways to both inspire my students and eliminate barriers to their success.  I can’t provide free unlimited food or corporate perks but I can make my room as inviting as possible and make sure they have all the tools they need to succeed.  I would also really like to implement a type of “20 percent” program in my class to allow my students time to really explore their passions related to history.

3) GTA Network - One thing that really impressed me about the other 60 or so participants is the amount of interaction that took place before the GTA event.  Literally within hours of receiving our invitations to GTA people were communicating via Twitter and creating Google docs to organize hotel reservations and transportation.  We created circles on Google+ and had video hangouts with our team members and lead learners to get to know everyone.  By the time we met in Mountain View we already "knew" each other and had laid the foundation for a network.  Many of us stayed in the same hotel, freely shared rides in rental cars and continued our geeky conversations late into the evening over our beverage of choice.  Call it what you like - friendship, community, etc. - but it is really a network of people that we can e-mail or tweet in the coming months when we get stuck and are looking for an answer.  I think it also extends beyond just our class and we have all adding significantly to our personal learning network as a result of the previous two days.  We are all required to come up with an action plan - I will try to blog specifically about my action plan at a later date - and we will stay in contact to help each other as we complete our plans.  As a side note, hasn't the introduction of social media been a great gift to teachers?  I used to go to a conference and have great conversations with someone but then have very little contact with them after the conference because we didn't live in the same area.  Today we add people to our Twitter lists and keep in touch, extending the conversations.

Next steps for “Networking” - The great thing about social media is that the interaction among the teachers at the Google Teacher Academy will only continue.  In fact, we are still sharing tools and asking questions of each other on Twitter.  With tools like Google Hangouts we can get together and collaborate at any time.  We are all writing and working on actions plans to carry out after the GTA and knowing we can bounce ideas and suggestions off each other will help.

That is about all that I can process tonight.  I will try to post more specific tips and applications of what I learned in the coming weeks.  Christmas break might be a great time to decompress and work with the tools. It was an amazing couple of days and I want to thank Google and all the coordinators and lead learners that made it possible.  I appreciate all the behind the scenes things you have to do to facilitate a conference with 60 teachers. Everything was so smooth and they treated us with respect and professionalism.  Right now I'm still up in the air somewhere over the Midwest but in about seven hours I will be back in my classroom and as a result of the past two days at the Google Teacher Academy I think I will be a better teacher.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Watching the Curiosity Rover Landing With Friends on Twitter

Sunday night I talked myself into staying up for the live coverage of the Curiosity rover landing on Mars.  I was up watching the Olympics anyway so why not stay up until 1:00 AM to see a little history.

I started up my Twitter feed and started watching the tweets about Curiosity.  Some were using the #NASAsocial hashtag and others were sharing links to websites with videos and information about the rover.  Some were commenting on the hairstyles of the engineers in the JPL - it was sort of like watching it with a group of friends at a local bar.

A tweet came across mentioning watching it live on the NASA app so I downloaded it on my iPad and started watching the broadcast live while I followed Twitter on my phone. It was educational.  It was historic. It was fun.

I know a lot of people that don't get Twitter.  My dad is one of them.  I have tried to explain it to him and he has tried to understand but he still doesn't really see how it is productive.  I was one of those people before I jumped in about 5 years ago and it started to click with me.  It doesn't really bother me when other don't get Twitter.  In fact, a part of me thinks it might be better if everyone doesn't get it because it would probably be less productive in some ways. 

For me, however, this little network of people that I talk with on Twitter and share ideas with does matter to me.  It means a lot to me and it has changed the way I think and experience things.  I watched a historic event on Sunday that I could have watched by myself but instead watched with others and it was a richer experience on Twitter.

After all the cheering and high fives at JPL calmed down, a tweet came across my Twitter feed.  I'm sorry that I didn't favorite it at the time but I thought about it a lot as I finally went off to bed for the night.  Someone said that it was interesting to see the difference in Facebook and Twitter.  During the Curiosity landing their Facebook feed was crickets and their Twitter feed was a party, hopping with comments and information.  I thought about that comment a lot since.  Twitter is something different. I'm sure that Twitter will exist in a completely different form two years from now so it's not about the tool but it is about how we are using the tools to share.  

Thanks to everyone who shared the moment with me as we all cheered a rover touching down over 350 million miles away and the men and women who made it all happen.  It was something I'll remember for a long time and it reaffirmed my belief in the power of Twitter.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

My Six Goals for the 2012/13 School Year

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post at the start of the school year with several of the goals that I wanted to focus on during the upcoming year.  I'm doing the same this year as we turn the calendar over to August and the first day of school is less than two weeks away.  The first day for Liberty School District students is August 15th.  I think it helps to write down your goals, it adds a dimension of responsibility.  I could probably come up with a list of about 100 goals but these were the first six which came to mind as I sat down to write this post.  This will be my 19th year in the classroom and I want it to be the best ever!

1) Learn names of students quickly

This is a huge one for me and those that teach with me and know me are aware that I struggle with names.  I appreciate the power that occurs when you see a student in the hall and call out their name to tell them good morning.  I struggle with this often and it is not just students, I also struggle with remembering the names of adults and coworkers.  In the past I have taken pictures of students on the first day and made flashcards but it hasn't made a huge difference in my ability to remember names.  Last year I had around 170 students and this year I will likely  have about the same or more.  I am open to any tips that other teachers have used in the past to help with similar problems.

2) Reduce the amount of paper used in my classroom

I don't think it is realistic for me to go 100% paperless since we are not a 1-1 school and I can't guarantee that my students will have online access at home.  I do think that I can be a little smarter about making copies for my students and what is important enough to print a copy in the first place.  I think I can identify times when I can print a class copy of 30 and reuse them throughout the day in each period instead of giving each student a copy.  I have also played with the idea of asking students if they would rather not have me give them a printed copy and instead e-mail them a copy or just make sure there is a digital copy on our class website.  I don't have data on the amount of paper I have used in the past but will try to keep track this year and see how much we use.

3) Connect my students with outside experts on regular basis

I am a big fan of using video chats in the classroom like Google Hangouts and Video Skype and over the past five years have used this resource in my classroom with authors, other classes and museums.  I want to really step it up this year though and make it so that it is more of a common event in our classroom. I think the power to connect with outside experts for free is underutilized and is something I want to do more of this year.

4) Include contents of entire unit online

I try to post a copy of all our resources, assessments and links on our classroom webpage so that students can access it 24/7.  This is also very helpful to the special education teachers and paras that I work with so they can access it.  I also receive e-mails from teachers throughout the year asking for copies of notes, lessons and handouts via the webpage. I'm pretty good about getting all these things posted but there are times it doesn't happen 100% of the time.  This year I want to try and get closer, if not reach, that 100% mark.

5) Transform my iPad into my take home computer

For the past several years when I pack up to leave school for home, I throw a way over filled backpack over my shoulder and then I pack up my full size laptop and carry that home as well.  Many nights it is probably at least 30 pounds of stuff that I drag home. This is ridiculous and it needs to stop.  This year I hope to leave my laptop at school unless there is a special project that uses a program I can only use on that device.  I have had an iPad for about a year and half and I use it a lot at home but mostly as my "couch computer" - check a little e-mail, catch up on Twitter, read some news or watch a YouTube video.  I have tried to really adapt to typing on the touch screen but I guess in that regard I am still a child of the 80's.  I recently bought a wireless keyboard to make it easier for me to type more and so far I've been really happy with it. I'm using it right now in fact.  So this year I hope to just bring home my iPad and a light backpack most nights.

6) Work more efficiently, work smarter

I tend to take on too much and try to do too many things.  This year I will try to focus on doing the best I can in the classroom but being more efficient about it. One of the pitfalls of teaching is that there is always more to do and if you try to do everything you will go crazy.  I want to find ways this year to be more efficient with my time. There are some things I can have my students do in class which will eliminate me from spending an hour or two doing the same thing.  The important aspect of this is not doing less, but rather doing the same or more in less time by being smarter about how I use my time.  I need to devote a little of my time in the afternoon to working out and taking care of myself physically.  

These are my goals for the 2012/13 school year.  Will I accomplish some of them or all of them?  I don't know if I don't have a goal I'll never know.  I will try to give myself a grade on each of these areas during the winter break.  

Do you have a goal for the upcoming school year?  If you do please share with a comment to this post.  Thanks.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jefferson and Monticello Wallpaper

I recently spent a great week at Monticello working with the educational staff on developing some online curriculum.  During my stay I took a ton of pictures.  Today I worked with some of my favorite pictures and added some quotes by Jefferson to make a variety of 8" x 10" wallpapers.

Enjoy and please share if you like.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jefferson's Portable Ivory Notebooks

I like gadgets.  I'm typing this on my iPad, have my cell phone in my pocket and am never far from my digital camera.  I imagine that if Jefferson lived in modern times he would probably be a gadget guy as well with so much information at his fingertips.

The new thing that I learned this past week about Jefferson which I found most fascinating was the portable notebooks he used to write down short notes.  Jefferson keep detailed notebooks on items such as his buildings, the weather, his plants, etc. but he did not carry around all of these books with him during the day.  Instead, he carried a small notebook made of small pieces of ivory.

Jefferson's ivory notebooks - Monticello Visitor Center - July 2012

These portable notebooks were tiny but folded out like a deck of cards. Jefferson wrote notes on the ivory with a pencil and then transferred the notes to his more permanent record books at home.  He would wipe the pencil marks off the ivory and start with a clear notebook the next day.

The visitors center at Monticello has two of these ivory notebooks from Jefferson on display and I have included a picture with this post.

I find these very interesting and inquired about any replica notebooks that could be purchased.  No one knew of any replicas but Jacqueline Langholtz, a member of the Monticello education staff, told me they once created replicas for the learning center and suggested that use old piano keys to make a replica.  I think I will try to make a replica of the notebooks this summer to use in my class.  If anyone has about 5 or 6 old piano keys let me know and will incorporate them in my project.

Link : Official Monticello Website reference to the ivory notebooks

Link : Library of Congress - Picture of ivory notebooks

Link : Reference to Ben Franklin possibly using similar notebooks

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jefferson's Garden

Jefferson's garden at Monticello - July 2012

Note : You can see all of the pictures I took during my visit to Monticello here at the set I have posted on Flickr.

During my week at Monticello one of the things I enjoyed most was seeing  Jefferson's garden and learning a little more about his approach to gardening.

The mere sight of Jefferson's 1000 foot long garden at Monticello is impressive.  The garden has been painstakingly reconstructed on the same site and is currently growing the same vegetables.  I enjoyed walking through and seeing many of the same items we know grow in our own small family garden.

Jefferson is sometimes given erroneous credit for single handedly introducing certain vegetables to the United States, like the tomato. He did, however, help to advocate for increased popularity of some vegetables which were not common in the United States at the time.  His garden at time would have definitely been a "revolutionary garden".

Sea Kale in Jefferson's garden at Monticello - July 2012

As you walk the garden it is impossible to not be touched by the beauty of the surroundings.  The garden is built on the side of the mountain upon which Jefferson built Monticello with an amazing view looking out over the valley and the towering big mountain of Montalto keeping watch.

In addition to the garden, Jefferson also surrounded himself with beautiful flower beds and trees.  The flower beds surrounding the house have a wide variety of species.  He also had systems created to collect rainwater runoff to help water his plants.

Jefferson's flower beds at Monticello - July 2012

Jefferson's flower beds at Monticello - July 2012

If you visit Monticello I would recommend the garden tour.  It was a very informative 45 minute tour and I learned a lot about Jefferson's involvement with plants on the grounds.  I wanted to read up on the garden when I returned home so I purchased the book "A Rich Spot of Earth" by Peter Hatch.  Hatch has been the gardener at Monticello since 1977.  I highly recommend this book if you want to learn more about this topic.  It is both a coffee table book with incredible photography and informative read with historical perspective and background on the types of vegetables grown.  This book is a must if you have an interest in Jefferson's garden.

As I walked around Monticello last week I found myself thinking about how Jefferson would like use to remember him today if we could only focus on one of his talents.  Would he like us to think of him as the one who crafted our most important document?  Would he want us to think of him as an architect first as we wait for hours to take a tour of his 200+ year old house?  Is he most proud of his contributions as a gardener?  What of his ability to adapt and implement the inventions around him in an attempt to create a more comfortable and efficient life?  I personally think his answer might vary from day to day but last week as I walked around his grounds I thought first of his ability to create a tranquil and beautiful place on this "rich spot of earth".

Flowers at Monticello - July 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Teaching Jefferson - Reflecting on Monticello

Background : I applied last year for a Barringer Research Fellowship to study Thomas Jefferson at Monticello for two weeks this summer.  my research proposal included researching Jefferson and creating a Twitter feed in which followers could learn a little bit about him each day of the year through links, quotes, pictures,videos, etc. I was contacted by the educational staff at Monticello and they asked me if instead I would participate in a week long teacher forum they were conducting to help in the development of new online teacher resources for Monticello.  It sounded like a unique opportunity to mix history and technology so I jumped at the chance.  I worked with the Monticello educational staff and teachers from different parts of the county with a variety of connections to Monticello on July 8-12, 2012.

Jefferson's Monticello - July 12, 2012

“The boisterous sea of liberty is never without a wave”.
- Thomas Jefferson

One of my personal struggles as a teacher is finding the time to prioritize the manner in which I teach U.S. history.  There are so many people, events and topics which I have enjoyed learning about and gathered resources to teach. I am challenged each year to negotiate the pace of my school year to accommodate them all.  

This week I have been fortunate enough to spend an entire week at Monticello working with the educational staff here as well as fellow teachers from different parts of the country.  We have had access to numerous resources and experts.  To borrow an often used phrase, it has been a lot like trying to get a drink from a firehouse.  I always enjoy listening to someone who has devoted a large portion of their life to the study of one topic.  You can almost see the passion ooze from their pores as they present and share. This week we have listened to scholars and researchers share their depth of understanding on Jefferson, an individual who I believe is probably one of the more intriguing and complex personalities of the founding era.

At the conclusion of workshops such as this - periods of time where I am afforded the luxury of experiencing history on a deeper level - my biggest hurdle also provides an exhilarating opportunity. How do I synthesize all this information into a condensed version which we help my 8th grade students understand this individual and the broader context of the time in which he lived?

It would not be difficult for me to devote an entire month to the study of Jefferson for there is truly that amount of compelling and engaging content available.  But reality forces me to realistically utilize about five days specifically on Jefferson, roughly 250 minutes.  

As the week here at Monticello progressed, I tried to identify several major themes that I would like my students to learn about Jefferson.  My Jefferson themes include: innovation, politics, role in western expansion, and complexity.

Gardens at Monticello - July 12, 2012

I think one of the most powerful and currently relevant aspects of Jefferson's personality is his ability to innovate.  I truly believe that the course of our nation's history in this century will be determined by our ability, or inability, to innovate.  Jefferson is often thought of as an inventor but as the Monticello curator told us in one of our lectures this week, he only truly invented one item in his life - a specifically designed plow.  What he was brilliant at was the ability to use and modify things to fit his needs. Let's be honest, very few of us will ever invent something like Twitter,  but many of us will become successful in learning how to use something like Twitter to met our needs.  I am currently half way through the Steve Jobs biography and I have found it very interesting that on multiple occasions during my time at Monticello someone has made a comparison between Jefferson and Jobs.  I think sharing with students the ways in which Jefferson was an innovator is not only "cool", but also demonstrates to students the power of design and adapt the items around you to best fit your needs.

We discuss the contributions of Jefferson politically when we study the American Revolution, but I typically also discuss the importance of Jefferson taking office as a member of a different political party and the accomplishments / tribulations of his presidency.  If I had to select one big picture message that I hope my students grasp from our discussion of Jefferson politically, specifically in terms of his contributions writing the Declaration of Independence, it would be the understanding that he utilized the writings and philosophies of many other individuals.  I think the importance of this is similar to the importance of understanding that he was more of an adapter than an inventor.  Jefferson was obviously an incredibly gifted and talented individual - I always use JFK's quote about Jefferson dining alone in the White House - but if we only hold him up as this amazing, one in a billion type of super intellectual I think we are missing a huge opportunity to teach our students that often times great ideas are truly built upon the shoulders of giants.  Teaching about Jefferson's research on the great political philosophers of history is an opportunity to again demonstrate to our students the importance of research, reading and scholarship. I also like to show students his rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. If Jefferson can survive a little editing, I think we all can from time to time.

I think it is important for my students to appreciate the impact Jefferson had on our home state of Missouri as a result of his policy and personal beliefs pertaining to western expansion. As a Missouri resident I see the impact of Jefferson on a daily basis.  The land on which I live and teach is of course part of the Louisiana Purchase and when I visit our state capital I drive to Jefferson City.  The Corps of Discovery is also strongly intertwined in our local history since the expedition traveled through our county.  Beyond the political aspects of western expansion, I also feel I owe Jefferson a debt of gratitude for the passion he shared in regards to western expansion.  Jefferson helped create a buzz and a sense of urgency about exploring and claiming the west.  As someone who has lived their entire life in the flyover states, that passion brings me a little closer to Jefferson.  Virginia will always own Jefferson but I feel a connection to him as a Missourian as well.

The contradictions in Jefferson's life make him a complicated individual to teach students but it also provides a powerful lesson.  I have found that students in my classroom today like their history to be wrapped up in a nice, tidy package that they can grasp so that they can understand it and move on.  We know that history doesn't work that way.  History is messy and complicated.  Jefferson's life is a great illustration of how no one is perfect in everyone's eyes and no one can be easily defined.  I don't think that Jefferson is unique in this regard, complexities can be found in the lives of all of the Founding Fathers, but I think Jefferson's life is an interesting case in which to discuss some of these issues.

Jefferson statue on University of Virginia campus

My challenge now as I leave Monticello with a thousand ideas bouncing around inside my head is to cultivate them down to several activities that will teach my students about Jefferson in the context of those four themes.  This is a part of my profession that I love but it is also a challenge, especially in today's age of technology which provides so many directions that it is difficult sometimes to weed out what best meets your needs.  I will spend some time this summer to formulate some Jefferson lessons and when I do I will share them on this blog.

I would like to thank the Monticello education staff for an absolutely amazing week of learning, discussing and sharing.  I am afraid if I start naming names I will leave someone out.  Their staff made all of us feel so welcome and I never felt as if I was invading their turf, rather I felt as if I was being welcomed to experience the work they enjoy and for which they have so much passion.  The other participating teachers that I shared the week with are equally  incredible.  We shared ideas and talked about our profession in a way that is becoming increasing rare in education and I appreciated the opportunity.  There is just something special about discussing the founding fathers while enjoying a good meal.  The week helped my charge my batteries and get me excited about my next chance to teach Jefferson and for that I thank everyone who made it possible.

View from Montalto - the big mountain overlooking Monticello

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Podcast #215 - "Watching" the State of the Union Through the Eyes of Twitter

Today's podcast is sort of a rambling (consider yourself warned) about how I watched my Twitter feed about the State of the Union Address last night before I listened to it on my own.  Viewing events like debates, speeches and sporting events is definitely different when you are commenting and watching it live on Twitter.  What does this say about us socially?  Do you watch live events with your phone or i-Pad in one hand commenting to Twitter?  Please listen to the podcast and then leave a quick comment.

Direct link : Speaking of History Podcast #215 "Watching the State of the Union Address Through the Eyes of Twitter" - MP3 file (9 minutes)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Podcast #214 - Antique Radio Time Machine

Hello.  Today's podcast is part do-it-yourself, part technology.  I discuss how in a couple of minutes we took our family antique cabinet radio from the 1930's and soon had it playing Glenn Miller big ban music and reports from D-Day.  

Direct link : Speaking of History Podcast #214 - Antique Radio Time Machine - MP3

Links from podcast:

Old World Radio - great site to download original music, comedy shows and dramas

Montgomery Ward Airline 62-215 Radio - 1935

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Podcast #213 - I'm Back

Hello. It has been 535 days since my last podcast but I'm back.  I really enjoy podcasting and it is my hope to rejuvenate the post here in 2012.  I have been busy the past 2 years working on my doctorate and that time that I used to spend on the podcast has largely been consumed by doctorate work.  I am now finished with my course work and am writing my dissertation.  Today's podcast is a short recap of what has been happening in the past two years and my desire to get back on track.  Thanks for listening.