The Next Einstein

One of my all-time loves is the game of soccer, so naturally, when I became a high school mathematics teacher, I approached our soccer coach and said I wanted to coach. Up until this year, the boys played in the fall and the girls played in the spring, so I was able to coach both. I volunteered for two years with the boys before being hired as the JV coach when the previous coach stepped down, and started as the JV coach of the girls in my second year teaching.

One year, the girls' squad had a game that was an hour and a half away, so we stopped at a restaurant for dinner on the way home. While waiting in line, one of the freshmen mentioned that she felt she was a genius. She was goofy and from time to time said some interesting things, and she did have a pretty good head on her shoulders. But we all liked to have fun, so I jokingly asked her how to spell "genius."

"G-E-N-I-O-U-S!!! GENIUS!!!" she belted out as proudly as she could. Unfortunately, we had to inform her she was incorrect, and we all had a good laugh. She was slightly embarrassed, but she could take a joke (and really dole them out, too). But she followed this up by saying, "Whatever, you guys! Anyway, I'm going to be the next Einstein!"

Now this is truly a statement that was meant to say that she wanted to do great things, and anyone that puts their minds to it can totally do so. But this statement left me thinking, and I replied, "Why be the next Einstein? Why not be the first Stevens?"

She laughed, but I told her I was serious. Einstein had done his thing. Why follow in his footsteps when she could go off on her own path and forge new ideas for this world like we hadn't seen before. It's the kind of conversation that you love to have with students, but you're never sure if you get through to them or not.

Fast forward a few months, and this student shows up in my classroom with a folded up piece of paper. She drops it on my desk and runs away. I'm unsure about opening the paper, but as I unfold it, I find a photo of Einstein with "The first Stevens" written on it. This is the type of thing that I hang up on the bulletin board by my teacher desk every year along with old photos and notes of thanks from students and parents. These are the pick-me-ups that I need day in and day out, especially with the way education is changing and the frustrations that come with the changes.

It is years later, and I still have that printed out photo. Students ask me why I have photo of Einstein hanging on my board, and I tell them the story about not being the next Einstein, but the first YOU. It's one of those things that students will file in the backs of their brains, and probably won't think about for years, if at all. But I Stevens got it, if at least just for a short time.

I wonder what great thing she is working on that will change this world. I truly hope she does become the first Stevens.


Halfway through Monday of ISTE 2012

Holy cow, what a day it has been here at ISTE. Already I have met Mayim Bialik, received a free TI N-spire CX CAS from Texas Instruments, and rekindled old connections and made new ones, and it's only 2:30 (wait, I haven't eaten since breakfast)!

I started the morning In the Texas Intruments session, as I was invited as a VIP to the session for submitting a question for TV's Blossom/Amy Farrah Fowler (Big Bang Theory) and was wowed by a demonstration from two educators that work extensively with the N-spire in their classes. Jeff Lukens, a math teacher, said it great when he said, "The first thing that you have to look at on a graph is WHAT is being graphed. That is literacy." Talk about really getting it, and how he was able to use the technology to get the hook into his students is definitely a plus. Of course, Dr. Bialik had a better quote in her response to Lukens' question, "How did you get the temperature to go down?" when she said, "Took it out of my armpit." of course, Lukens had mentioned that many of his students will place the probe in all sorts of places to record temperatures just before that.

After getting my picture taken with Mayim, I headed for the vendor floor. My first stop was at the booth of my favorite find from last year, the crew from Desmos, home of the wonderful free online graphing calculator. If you still have not checked them out, do it! They also have take to the many pieces of art that users (mostly students) have created using the calculator, so if you're looking for a way to hook kids on math, look no further. Did I mention it's free? And that CEO Eli Luberoff is one of the most enthusiastic entrepreneurs you'll ever meet, and that I have the privilege of presenting with him and Team Desmos at the Edmodo booth tomorrow?

And speaking of Edmodo, they were my second stop of the morning. I learned my lesson a few years ago that if I want the new Edmodo shirt, I had to stop there early! The booth was packed, and that has to be tantamount to the great service they offer and continue to expand on. Have you been able to explore the apps that they are integrating into groups?

After Edmodo, I zipped across the vendor floor to the booth of one of the tools I have been using the longest. Poll Everywhere has finally come to ISTE! It was great being able to connect with the great people And hear about some of the new ideas they're bringing, including a wonderful way to moderate responses on open text responses. Make sure to ask them about it.

And of course I couldn't forget the amazing people at PartStock Computers. They sell reconditioned PC's as well as HDTV’s, projectors, and other accessories, but being from an Apple district, we haven't been able to give them any business. What's that?! I learned this morning that they have reconditioned MacBooks and iPad 2s (wifi only), so I have some paperwork to pass off to my tech department when I get home!

There's always a surprise on the vendor floor, too, so I was happy to run into ChromaGen, a company that Helps those of us with dyslexia and color deficiencies. And an even bigger surprise was how interested so many other attendees were in learning about them.

I've made it about halfway through the vendor floor, and I'll be doubling back to revisit all of these booths and better learn about others that I missed in the next two days. I highly recommend that everyone that can either stops by the booths for these companies or visit their sites to learn more about them. They're all on twitter, too, so you can connect with them that way, too!

For now, it's time to refuel with some food, and remind myself that I'm only halfway through the day!


ISTE 2012: San Diego

Today is the beginning of the real ISTE 2012 experience for me, even though I have been following the #ISTE12 hashtag on twitter for weeks already, and I've connected with many ISTE attendees already in airports and all around San Diego. This is, by far, the busiest and most beneficial week of the year for me on both a professional and personal level.

Allow me to explain. This morning, I browsed through the conference program (thank goodness for the new iPad app!) and have put 74 different sessions in my planner. I figure I might make six is those sessions, but I will go back and find everything I can about the other sessions online after returning home. This does not include any of the pay or pre-register sessions, as I don't need to pay the extra cash or reserve a spot I may not use when someone else might really want to be in that sesson. I'll find info about them, too.

But, basically, my ISTE plan is as follows:

1. Begin by going through the conference program and highlight all of the sessions I want to attend.
2. Almost totally ignore my conference planner as the conference progresses for all of the following reasons below.
3. Learn something new in the opening keynote that makes me want to further explore that concept.
4. Connect with old friends all throughout the conference, at receptions, at lunches, at dinners, on the conference floor, via twitter, etc.
5. Connect with new friends all throughout the conference, at receptions, at lunches, at dinners, on the conference floor, via twitter, etc.
6. Spend way too much time on the exhibit floor connecting with exhibitors and learning about the new things they are bringing to education and how I can utilize the ideas in my classroom.
7. Have my submitted question answered by Mayim Bialik at her session Monday at 8:30 AM after it was selected by Texas Instruments to be asked.
8. Co-present with Desmos at the Edmodo booth Tuesday at 11 AM on the integration of their online graphing calculator to Edmodo Apps.
9. Participate in a new learning experience that pops up on a whim.
10. (Before and after the conference) Exploree San Diego and all that it has to offer. I have already toured the USS Midway, and I plan on hitting a beach before leaving.

By the end of this week, my non-educator friends will be fed up with my twitter and Facebook feeds being filled with way too much from ISTE, much of which they often state that they have no idea what I'm talking about. On the other hand, my educator friends that could not make it will ask for more. To both groups, I wish I could give you what you want, but you'll have to settle for what I give you.

But here's to another week that goes by way too fast with way too much information. Here's to a week of furthering my craft as a teacher (what's that about summers off?) that will continue the whole way into the school year with preparation and reflection as I try out new things.

And as the week winds down, I'll begin trying to figure out how I can gets to San Antonio for ISTE 2013.


My Loved One - A Student Showcase

Today at PETE&C was the student showcase, and I saw one where the students just blew me away. The project itself wasn't all that exceptional. It was a good project, but one that I had seen variations on before. But it's never been the technology or the end product that ever truly amazed me anyway. What caught my attention was the students that were presenting. These students wanted to share what they did. They were proud of the fact that they could talk about what it meant to storyboard, create a voiceover, and edit a video. They talked about how they were preserving their family's history for the future. They compared some of the hardships their loved ones went through with what they are seeing in their lives. And these were elementary students. Boy do I wish I were in that school district! When it all boils down, we need to remember why we attend a conference like this. Yes, it helps us to build our own knowledge base and expand our PLNs. But why do we do that? For our students. Which is why it amazes me that every year, the student showcase only receives a small portion of the overall attendees. We need to let those kids know that we care what they are accomplishing, and inviting them to present is the first step. But we need to go and listen and encourage and appreciate what they are bringing: enthusiasm, engagement, and new ideas. So next time you attend a conference or have the opportunity to allow students to share, do it. You won't be disappointed. And to the students from Blue Bell Elementary, thank you. You made my conference!


PETE&C 2012

Check out the Cover It Live below to follow along with the goings-ons at PETE&C 2012!


The Cell Phone Questions

If you have stumbled upon my randomly-updated blog, then you have most likely come around to hear of some of the things I have to say about the usage of cell phones in the classroom. Out of the group leaning that way, many will have stumbled due to a project that is assigned to them for graduate school, and while I absolutely love the program that said school is using, I am disappointed that they have given a project of such low order thinking in a program that is supposed to promote higher order thinking skills. I have mentioned this to a few of the people that I know that are professors in the program, but still, the project has not changed.

So, even though I am starting out somewhat ranting, please know that this is meant as constructive criticism. So, let's start with what I see as issues to a project that states "Find a teacher that has used cell phones in class and ask them questions about the following things." These questions will be posted below. In 2008, I would say that this would be a very beneficial course of action to follow, as the use of cell phones was so new, there was nearly nobody doing it. I received a ton of inspiration from Liz Kolb when I saw her at NECC in San Antonio (NECC is the old name for the ISTE Conference), and I dove right in. I started using Poll Everywhere with one of my classes, and the kids were so enthralled by having a reason to follow the rules that they immediately turned their phones off and put them away so they wouldn't have them confiscated for accidentally having them ring in class. They now had a reason to follow the rules, so I went to my principal to ask for permission to use cell phones in my classroom (the old "ask for forgiveness" routine). So, if this idea has been around for over three years, why are we still asking questions about starting to use them in schools?

Now, I know that there are still many schools out there with a zero tolerance policy. In my classroom, my policy is, "If you're getting all of your work done, then why would I care if you send a quick text message? It's a lot less disturbing than yelling across the room!" Yet many are still shocked that I would allow such a thing, but you know what? This is the world our students are living in and need to prepare for. They need to learn how to balance all of the different tools they have available and to properly utilize them to be productive. When I see a kid texting in class (and getting all of their work done), I often have a short conversation with them about ways they can use the device more productively by challenging them in new ways. For each student it's different, and they each get a different idea from our discussions. If a student is just on their mobile device (cell phone, iPad, iPod, etc.) and not being productive, they first get a warning, then the device is confiscated. A privilege has been abused, and a consequence handed out. So I'm not just that teacher that allows free use of the devices. And in my flipped classroom, it's a privilege that works out pretty well.

So we are now in a time where we aren't just talking about cell phones, but mobile devices. So the fact that this project is still only asking about cell phones is disappointing to me. Why aren't all mobile devices included? And why is it still a low-level project? I have had hundreds of emails from students in the same program ask the same questions, and I often am bombarded by twenty or so emails all within 3 days. Having to answer the same questions over and over is monotonous on my end, and I am sure that the instructors have seen the same answers over and over. I feel bad that there are times in the year that I do not have time to respond due to other obligations, and some students are left searching out other avenues. I have suggested that I could to a short recorded video for the program and answer the questions that way, or even have a time mutually set up to do a synchronous web interview or webinar, but alas, this university (again, I am not bad mouthing the university. I really, really do like what they offer, and recommend the program to many) has not agreed.

So, I do want to help spread the word of integrating cell phones and mobile devices in the classroom. I also want to be able to keep my sanity and not have time for anything else. I also want to prove a point that a new higher-order thinking project needs to be designed in place of the current one to provide a better educational opportunity for these graduate students, and, in turn, their students. These graduate students are tasked with "interviewing" me through email. Well, I am going to respond to all of the questions I get from this program here in this post. If you have questions beyond these and have a genuine interest for integrating mobile devices into your classroom, I will respond. Just be patient. I am a full time teacher, and my students and duties do still come first, but I will get around to further questions.

So, here are some of the most common questions I receive.

1. Does your school currently have a policy on cell phone use?Our policy states that all mobile devices should be turned off and out of sight unless given permission to use in class by the teacher for educational purposes. As I allow a pretty lenient use of the devices in my class (as stated above), I consider being able to be more productive while multitasking to be a very educational purpose, as that is a 21st Century Skill our students will all need when they move beyond high school. 
2. How long has this policy been in place?I think it changed sometime in 2009. I was actually a rule-breaker when I first used cell phones with my students to gather evidence of their learning by utilizing Poll Everywhere. The policy was that all phones needed to be turned off and out of sight during all school hours. Period. But I knew my students all had them, so why not utilize them in a more effective way? After piloting, I approached my principal for permission, or, if things took a turn against what I did, for forgiveness. 
3. What are the consequences for students who abuse the policy?We are to confiscate the device and take it to the office to be held there for one week. A student may have a parent come to the office to retrieve the device in exchange for serving time in a Saturday detention. I am not a big fan of this policy, as we don't take away a student's voice box if they speak out of turn, but I really don't have many issues where I have to enforce the policy either. And when I do have to enforce it, it's usually pretty warranted, and does lead to an educational discussion with most of the students affected. 
4. How did parents react to the use of cell phones in the classroom?My students' parents were ecstatic! It used to be that they were paying large sums of money for students to be social and to entertain themselves with the devices. Now, for that same price, not only are they being social and entertained, but they are being productive (and learning how to be more productive)! Who isn't happy about getting more bang for their bucks? On top of that, parents can receive updates through text messaging services (used to use TextMarks, now use Celly) including assignments and notices about upcoming assessments. 
5. What do you do for students that do not have their own cell phone or text messaging plan?Luckily for us, we were part of a grant program known as Classrooms for the Future (CFF) that provided technology and instructional support for our core secondary classrooms, so there is a computer cart in my classroom that students have access to. Any service that I have used with cell phones can be accessed on those computers, or students could share their cell phones. If there was an issue of recording audio, often a computer or land-line could be used in place of a cell phone. I always make sure to say, "If you don't have your cell phone today..." instead of, "If you don't have a cell phone..." as I don't want to point out that a student may not have this all-important piece of social status (flair), and it seems as if they just kept it at home, in their locker, or they could choose to state that they don't have one. 
6. Could you briefly describe a project your students completed utilizing cell phones?The project itself really had nothing to do with cell phones other than for delivery. I wanted my students to have a better understanding of quadratic equations, so they researched a way that quadratics could be applied to something they enjoyed. As research commenced, students narrowed down their topics, and some even learned about some higher level mathematics that they would not see in the classroom setting that school year. One student dabbled into Calculus years early, another moved into some Physics, all through the gateway of quadratics. A few years earlier, I would have had students write a report on their findings. Instead, students wrote a script, submitted it, discussed it with me, did more research and experiments, revised, and resubmitted, all before the cell phone came into play. Once the script was approved, students recorded the script through a phone call using a service known as Yodio and the project was done. See my class wiki for the projects. There are so many different services out there now that allow for recording like this, and be aware that you might find a service you like one day that might be gone the next or charge you for use.
So, in the end, this wasn't a cell phone project. It was just a project that integrated cell phones. As the students knew they'd be using cell phones, they were excited about the project. By connecting to something in their own lives, they were even more excited. So here is my higher-order project assignment for you: What can you do in your classroom to better reach your kids, where integrating mobile devices is not the purpose of the project, but a way to enhance it.
So for all of you that are here just for your graduate course, here are the answers to the questions you were probably going to ask. For those that were unable to benefit from my knowledge prior to this post, I am sorry I couldn't help. As educators yourself, I am sure you understand how precious time is for me. And for anyone who wants to know more, feel free to contact me! Maybe we could have a full conversation on twitter, via Skype, over email, or even face-to-face.


Another First Day

It's hard to believe that I have just completed my ninth first day of school as a teacher and twenty-seventh first day of school overall. The first day has always been a whirlwind for me, and it never feels as if there is enough time to do that which I had planned. Some periods I met for less than 30 minutes, another met for the full 42 minutes, and I saw my 9th period kids for all of 3 minutes. I often wish that we had a different set up for our first day, but when all is said and done, there really isn't much you can do different from what we are doing with what we need to do. In the end, it's just a matter of dealing with what's given.

And, of course, that is the problem I am facing this year. As of today, there will be 178 student enrollments (some students come 2-3 times a day) that roll through my classroom on even days and 161 on odd days (my study hall numbers vary), and I am wondering how I will meet the needs for each of these students. Each of these kids is going to have a different need that I must meet and adjust for. How will I be able to do this?

Luckily, working in a flipped classroom will make up for some of the necessary adjustments. Students will have a choice in how to receive the information to apply to the content. They could view a podcast where they can see problems and hear me talk about the topics. They could work through the slides for the podcast without the audio and try to figure out the steps and create reasons why those steps work. They could take the notesheet and work on filling it in by trying things out and verifying it afterwards. This is a process that worked quite well with my Integrated Math 2 students last year, and I'm curious to see how it works not only with my Geometry students, but in classes that are as large as they are. The big question is will I be able to assist the students that need it in class, or will I not be able to get around to them? Will they step up and collaborate as I envision they will? Time will tell.

In order to deal with both the sizes of my classes and the potential for collaborative learning, I've adjusted the way my classroom is set up. No longer will I arrange in rows and columns, but instead in clusters that allow for students to better work together with those around them and allow for me to move around the space. I had used a very similar configuration last year, and it lent itself quite well to work in the classroom.

The next question is how do I adjust for assessment (or should I even do so)? I would love to be able to trust my students so that they do not borrow work and answers from each other and truly see what they know and don't know, but we all know high school kids, and the temptation to look at another's paper is something that is difficult to overcome. I don't have the time to adjust desks for every assessment, and different classes will be assessed on different days, so how do I account for this issue without driving myself crazy?