Thoughtful Tech for Students & Teachers

I am on a serious podcast kick. My forty minute to an hour commute affords me ample time to consume almost a podcast a day. Vox editor, Ezra Klein, consistently refers to himself and his guests as “infovores” and while I wouldn’t dare put myself in a class with Ta’Nehisi Coates and Tyler Cowen, I would like to consider myself an infovore too.

Here’s what podcasts I’ve been tuning into lately:

  • S-Town – A strange saga of a small Alabama town and one of its eccentric denizens
  • The Tim Ferriss Show – Work and live smart, but don’t expect to be as successful or productive as Tim Ferriss himself
  • Recode Decode – Tech- and media-centered podcast featuring the incisive Kara Swisher
  • The Ezra Klein Show – The Vox editor interviews fantastically interesting and important thinkers and infovores (my personal favorite podcast)

Last, On Being with Krista Tippett has been a podcast and radio staple for years now. If you don’t know her soothing lilt and curious questioning, you should! Recently I listened to her discussion with Anil Dash, a serial tech entrepreneur turned thought-leader on tech ethics and purpose.

I was ignorant of Dash before listening to the podcast, and found it pleasantly surprising to come across an industry leader asking all the tough reflective questions that seem to go unaddressed each time a new iPhone iOS is released. Dash and Tippett cover the gamut too, including personal tech use and best practices, social media pros and cons, automation, self-driving cars and machine learning.

The whole conversation is worth a listen, but if you are an educator you should listen especially closely to the section where Dash describes his thoughts on how children should engage with technology. Below is a transcript of that section of their conversation:

MS. TIPPETT: So my children are, right now, 18 and 22. And even in those four years, there was such an acceleration. And it was interesting also in terms of the platforms they and their friends use completely shifted.

MR. DASH: Totally different tools. Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: And I’m actually — I find myself being really grateful that I’m not a parenting — we were still in that window where I could say, “No, you will not have an iPhone until you’re 14,” or something, which I just don’t think you can do anymore, right? And so they were already kind of formed before all of the technology entered their lives. And I know it’s changed so much now in the meantime, and you have a 5-year-old. I mean, I wonder how are you thinking about that question.

MR. DASH: We don’t have a very intelligent cultural conversation about how kids engage with technology at all.

MS. TIPPETT: No. No.

MR. DASH: I think…

MS. TIPPETT: It’s like a guinea pig generation.

MR. DASH: Yeah. Well, it’s also — I also think of the concept of “screen time.” When you’re with young kids, you’ve heard this, right? “Do you limit your child’s screen time?” And it’s like, no. I engage

with what he’s specifically doing. I don’t limit his page time. I just choose whether he’s reading a book or a magazine or whether it’s something that’s like a bunch of — he’s 5 years old, so he likes poop jokes. But — how much of that and how much of, like, smart stuff? And so the idea that they’re both on pages and are therefore equivalent is absurd, and yet we talk about screen time that way. I’m like, is he playing chess on the iPad? Or is he watching funny YouTube videos of animals falling over? Which is also awesome, but different.

And so that really — that always sticks with me because I think it’s a very unsophisticated way to look at things, and then we carry that forward. And that’s when they’re very, very young, right? 2, 3, 4, 5. They first start seeing screens. And my son maybe spends 15 minutes a day on the iPad, and he loves it, and that’s all he gets. But that’s always been the rule for him, so it doesn’t matter. And I limit it mostly just because we limit everything. I mean, you just don’t let a 5-year-old do whatever they want, or you end up in hell.

[laughter]

MS. TIPPETT: Are you saying — so, this is a radical idea. You apply the same wisdom you apply to other things to technology?

MR. DASH: Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, well that…

MR. DASH: Well, that’s the thing. It’s part of your life. I think that was the thing. I saw so many parents — and this is not judgment. I don’t judge other parents. Other parents are fine.

MS. TIPPETT: No, we’re all on this frontier, and we’re learning a language.

MR. DASH: But as we’re figuring it out, they treat it as if there is life — they say this — like, “This is real life, and then there’s computer world.” And I’m like, “That’s not the thing. That’s not how their lives are gonna be.” And I think I had an unusual perspective, in that I did start using computers before I was in kindergarten, just as my son has.

And he has way better programing tools. I was like, “Gosh, if I had these things.” He’s got — because we had to do these primitive blocky green graphics on the screen when I was a kid, and he’s got this Star Wars robot that he can go on the iPad and give it programming instructions, and it follows his directions to roll around the living room. And I’m like, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Like, you wait until they go to bed so you can play with it.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: And that’s — no, he’s going to listen to this I bet. So — I don’t do that. I don’t do that.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.

MR. DASH: They were interacting with lots of humans all at once. And it makes me furious because I’m saying they’re being deeply social. It’s not in the mode that you know, but it’s actually better than when they were sitting alone at the diner with a book. And I think there’s been this misunderstanding and this misapprehension about what the tech is doing. It is connecting us to people.

And there’s so much attention paid — and with good reason — to the bullying and the other things, the cyber bullying and all those. A general rule of thumb is anything that begins with “cyber” is a lie. Like, if you say “cyber bullying” or “cyber crime,” it was probably — that’s one of those rare areas where they — it’s a behavior that existed before, and the “cyber” is not the issue. So children being unkind to each other…

MS. TIPPETT: Right. So nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.

MR. DASH: Right. And so being able to integrate it — now it can be worse because of the network effects. It can be amplified by the immediacy and the fact that it happens in your home. But the principles can carry across. And it has to be an integrated conversation, and that’s the key. It’s like, how much time do you limit your child talking to their friends? I don’t care if it’s on the phone, on the computer on messaging, in real life, in person, out in public, whatever it is. If you have a set of rules, they apply across these things. But that demands a literacy and a fluency that I think takes a serious investment in time and understanding your child’s context. And that’s the hard part.

A few key takeaways:
  • Screen time versus quality time on technology is the tech equivalent of blended learning versus traditional learning. We get tripped up thinking too much about the amount of screen time or the specific innovative model of learning, and forget that quality is key no matter what we’re talking about. I have always thought that I would limit the screen time of my own children, and I probably still will, but now I’ll remind myself that the important thing is the quality of time spent on a screen or in the neighborhood, and both can be positive for children.
  • “Nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.” However, the tech affect can amplify an experience in certain ways.
  • Mr. Dash: “But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

    I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.”

    This whole section gives me pause, because I’m not a digital native, nor do I desire to be. I want to leverage technology to serve me as a human, not the other way around, and maybe, just maybe, help create a technology that serves HUMAN learning, not machine learning. This leads me to bifurcate my life between the virtual, online world and the “real world”. While I realize that these two worlds are already indistinguishable in many respects, and I recognize that Dash’s son’s generation, the generation of my 2nd grade students, are going to see tech as a fully integrated part of life, I’m not yet comfortable with that. And I don’t know what this means for me as a teacher and ed tech user.

    Please let me know your thoughts on this tech educator dilemma if you can relate. And, if you know of any great and compelling education podcasts out there, please do share!

McCleary & the WA Ed Funding Debate

So both House Democrats and Senate Republicans have released their proposed budgets for the 2017-19 biennium, including $44.6 billion and $43 billion respectively for K-12 education funding. At this point I’m not sure I can add much to the conversation and debate over fully funding public education in Washington State, and hopefully, ending $100,000 per day contempt of court fine the WA Supreme Court is levying against the legislature for not meeting its “paramount” duty as ruled in the 2012 McCleary Decision. However, I can pass along a couple of resources for informing yourself and then reaching out to your local legislator, along with a couple other key House and Senate players.

First, check out this Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with the Seattle Times Education Lab reporters. This is a great primer for anyone trying to figure out how our complex education funding system works in Washington State.

Next, you can take action in multple ways:

  1. The Washington Education Association (full disclosure, I’m a member) has a great tool for easily contacting your representatives in the WA State legislator. Simply enter in your address and tailor your message and BOOM you have lobbied your local reps on an issue that matters to you.   Action WEA Link
  2. If you want to go a step further here is the message I’m sending to a few linchpin legislators and their contact info:

As an educator, I support Gov. Jay Inslee’s K-12 budget plan. Please pass a state budget that increases state funding for K-12 public education and fully supports our hardworking teachers and students.
If increased property taxes in the Seattle area are required for those increases, that’s okay with me. If a per pupil funding model turns out to be better than the current Staff Allocation Model, that’s okay with me too.

I strongly oppose the following parts of the proposed Senate bill:
1) Elimination of voter-approved I-1351 to reduce class sizes.
2) Elimination of voter-approved I-732 to provide Cost of Living Allowances for teachers.
3) The lowering of teacher certification requirements, we need more prepared teachers, not less.
4) Drastic cuts to the amount that local municipalities can levy to fund their local school districts. Thank you for postponing the “Levy Cliff”. 

And thank you for your consideration of these important issues.                                                                            

Dino Rossi           360-786-7672    Dino.Rossi@leg.wa.gov

Steve Litzow        360-786-7641    Steve.Litzow@leg.wa.gov

 

 

Teach-Now in Korea

This article originally appeared in the November issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here.

The Teacher Certification Debate

In America, there are two debates going on about teacher preparation programs; one is happening in the media, among education policy experts and at the highest levels of education administration. The other is happening around kitchen tables in the homes of career-changers, and in coffee shops with college graduates and undergrads, who are interested in becoming a teacher. Both debates are concerned with the structure, quality and quantity of preparation needed to sustain an effective teaching career in U.S. schools in the 21st Century. However, the latter debate also includes concerns about the costs associated with taking a year or two off from making money and instead taking on the prohibitive costs (read: student loan debt) of getting a teacher certification from a traditional school of education.

Case in point: my own path as a teacher has been varied and circuitous because I was most interested in gaining actual experience in the classroom over acquiring more formal theoretical knowledge in grad school. And I found many opportunities in my own community and around the world to get into the classroom, develop a style and a toolkit of my own and grow immediately as a professional. Adding to my uneasiness about grad school was the fact that I was debt free when I finished my undergraduate studies and vehemently wanted to stay that way.

Furthermore, I knew many alums of the many prestigious teacher prep programs at the local universities while working as paraprofessional in a Seattle public school. Many of those teachers told me that the experience I was gaining in the classroom as a teacher’s aide was preparing me as much as or more than a formal Master’s In Teaching program would by itself. I felt frustrated by the limbo between having the relevant experience and lacking a flexible, affordable and high-quality path to teacher certification. It turns out I had to come to Korea to discover the answer to my teacher prep woes!

We should not forget Martin Haberman’s research showing that long-serving “star” teachers are often from low-income backgrounds, have graduated from non-elite colleges, or are people of faith. Others, like Alex Caputo-Pearl, have somewhat radical politics. What makes these nontraditional teachers special is that they are mission-driven to help struggling students succeed, and they are enthusiastic about holding all children to high intellectual standards. Those are the attributes teacher preparation programs should seek.
-Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession

Teach-Now, Literally

Emily Feistritzer worked for the U.S. Department of Education studying alternative-route teacher certification programs across the country. After 30 years as a preeminent expert on the subject, she decided to create a program which addressed the holes and inadequacies that she saw in many alternative-route teacher prep programs. Thus, Teach-Now was born; a rigorous, practical and affordable teacher certification program aimed at “preparing tomorrow’s teachers for tomorrow’s learners in tomorrow’s world”.

Apart from the student-teaching portion of the program, the Teach-Now classes and coursework are completed fully online. Assignments, readings, teaching videos, discussions, and professor interaction are all facilitated via the Teach-Now online learning platform which is similar to those of EdX and Coursera. Small cohorts of 15 or fewer teacher candidates and their module instructor meet weekly online, in real time, using the AdobeConnect video conferencing program. Lectures, discussions, flash collaboration mini-projects and analysis of exemplary teaching videos happen in the VC’s (virtual class) by the cohort members and their instructor who could be many thousands of miles apart. In fact, my cohort consisted of three English teachers in three different Korean provinces, five international school teachers in three different provinces of China, an American school teacher’s aide in Germany, and a paraprofessional working in an Arizona charter school.

Teach-Now relies on open source readings and resources from the web, as opposed to expensive textbooks. The resources range from podcasts about Lev Vygotsky and the importance of play in learning, Rick Wormeli YouTube videos on differentiation, and, of course, the writings of John Dewey on progressive teaching methods.  

Where the Teach-Now program really excels and differentiates itself, thanks to Ms. Feistritzer’s vision, is in the hands-on experience teacher candidates get with valuable education technology tools. Assignments ask teacher candidates to analyze and dissect the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in an electronic mind map, create an academic data infographic, collaborate on a debate about blended learning via Voicethread, participate in an ed policy Twitter chat or develop a Pinterest board rich with lesson plan ideas. All individual and group writing assignments are completed, shared and submitted in Google Docs.

The final module or unit of the Teach-Now program is in the mold of a traditional student-teaching practicum in which teacher candidates need to complete 250 hours of in-class instruction in their subject area or grade level of certification. Similarly to traditional student-teaching models, teacher candidates need an experienced mentor teacher to support, observe and evaluate the candidate’s performance. What is different with Teach-Now, is that you also record a class once a week, upload the video to your Google Drive, share it with your instructor and cohort-mates, receive notes on your performance and discuss it at the weekly VC. This professional development method is precisely what the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project calls for in order to better identify and develop the best teachers and teaching strategies.

 

My Experience with Teach-Now in Korea

I had a wonderful experience completing the Teach-Now program from here in Yeosu. The opportunity to achieve my goal of becoming a certificated elementary teacher while living and working abroad, and not going into serious debt, has been a huge gift for which I am grateful. However, there were a few key factors which made the experience possible, as well as a truly rigorous and meaningful preparation that was flexible enough to work with my unique teaching situation. Keep these in mind if you are reading this and are interested in the program.  

First, I had some great cohort-mates who were located in similar time zones in East Asia. They were serious professionals with years of teaching experience before joining the Teach-Now program. I learned a lot from them and received a lot of valuable feedback on my teaching as well.

Second, my Korean co-teacher at my elementary school in Yeosu is a wonderful, progressive teacher with nearly two decades of experience in the classroom as a homeroom teacher, head teacher, English teacher and low-level administrator. Despite her years of experience in Korea, she was eager to learn from my American-style teacher preparation and therefore allowed me to experiment with some distinctly Western-style teaching methods in our English classroom.

Last, I teach a few extra classes on my own, without a co-teacher and without a curriculum. This also allowed me huge amounts of freedom during the practicum especially, but also during the academic modules. I used those free form classes to complete an assignment or put into action an emphasized teaching method.

If you do not have these elements; solid cohort-mates in your time zone, a great Korean co-teacher and some flexibility in your teaching schedule, then you may need to think twice before applying to Teach-Now. Otherwise, go for it!

  

Teach-Now in the News:

Teach-Now as a great alternative-route certification option for military spouses abroad.

Teach-Now program revolutionizes teacher preparation.

Education researcher moves into the certification business.

On Twitter you can follow Teach-Now @teachnowprogram or via #tncohort.

Ed Reading: A Review of the New A.P. U.S. History Framework

lendol

Lendol Calder, professor of History at Augustana College, leading thinker and writer on the teaching of History, member of my exclusive Club PLN and family friend, has published an excellent op-ed on the new College Board curriculum framework and test for A.P. U.S. History courses (APUSH). The piece was published in The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, for which I’m certain you have a subscription. And if you do not, consider yourself judged!

In any case, before committing to an elementary education career, I was quite interested, as are most meandering History majors, in teaching social studies and history on the secondary level. Dr. Calder provided some guidance, pointing me in the direction of Bruce Lesh, the Stanford History Education Group, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg and many other good authorities on teaching History who are listed here. In addition, I have collected some of my own social studies and history resources, my list on Twitter, my Google Drive folder and a subscription to the Gilder Lehrman newsletter. In spite of the lamentably limited opportunity to teach social studies on the primary level, my interest has not waned. I am determined to stay current on the best thinking and best practices in the field so that when the opportunity or instructional hours present themselves, I’ll be ready.

Below is a collection of notes and quotes from Dr. Calder’s piece, The Kids Are (Going To Be) Alright. Please keep in mind that I have very little context and expertise from which to judge Dr. Calder’s assessment of the new APUSH framework. I have not taught A.P. U.S. History, nor have I done a deep dive of the new standards. I did take A.P. U.S. by the venerable Dean C. Brink at Roosevelt High School in Seattle. And I did well enough on the APUSH test to earn college credit, which I used to save me some coin without regret. I am also biased towards agreeing with Dr. Calder. So, take my notes for what they are worth; a superficial exploration of a teaching interest.
The APUSH Kids Are (Going To Be) Alright

Dr. Calder starts out by making clear just how much the new APUSH framework has been politicized. And to be fair, unlike science (or maybe just like science), history has always been inherently political.

On the right:

The APUSH framework has been denounced by the Republican National Committee. It has been censured by school boards in Colorado, Nebraska, and North Carolina. APUSH has been threatened with defunding by lawmakers in Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee. Channeling the spirit of Nikita Khrushchev, conservatives believe the College Board’s history test makers are powerful and dangerous.

On the assumed left:

I’ve listened to professors questioning whether the new APUSH will deepen students’ knowledge or just put a College Board stamp of approval on continued ignorance…..There will be professors who say the test makers havespoiled everything,” deemphasizing content knowledge in order to promote mushy ‘thinking skills.’

I guess it takes the current lightning rod issue in education, namely testing, to have Americans up in arms over a subject we infamously ignore; history.

And if you don’t think there can be serious consequences for teachers and students when the politics of the culture wars enter the classroom, think again. Let me remind you of the most recent major U.S. curriculum scandal that grabbed headlines around the world; the banning of Tuscon’s Mexican-American Studies program. Check out Al Madrigal lampooning the ban for The Daily Show here.

In any case, Dr. Calder does not dismiss the APUSH concerns of either conservatives or liberals. Instead, he advocates for acknowledgement and engagement on the part of APUSH defenders, like himself.

The concerns of conservative critics should be welcomed and addressed. And especially in two places, I submit….

Many conservatives like to think of themselves as the party of reasoned deliberation as opposed to the Left’s alleged preference for indoctrination through political correctness. This means that by their own logic, conservatives have nothing to fear from a multi- perspectival history classroom, so long as the teacher doesnt put her thumb on the scale….

The answer – I should say, an answer – to concerns about how to bring coherence tothe APUSH course is to teach the conflicts.

To be coherent, courses need Big Questions. (emphasis added)

For Dr. Calder, the “Big Questions” in regards to the new APUSH framework are the following:

Are the revisions to AP History really changes for the better?

Will the new expectations of the exam make a difference in how teachers teach the course?
And can the new APUSH curriculum survive politicization in the rough and tumble of the culture wars?

The old APUSH model was based on coverage. Teachers were asked to generically introduce huge amounts of U.S. History dates, names, places, factoids and concepts. The complaints from students, secondary teachers and higher ed professors abound about the old “coverage” methodology. In fact, Dr. Calder and his History department colleagues at Augustana College do not accept APUSH test credits because of their founded concerns about the quality and meaningfulness of such a secondary history education.  

Thus, Dr. Calder seems to almost imply that nearly any change would’ve been a good change for the APUSH course and test. Nevertheless, he makes a strong case for the new APUSH framework, that it is not just any old change, but a thoughtful and meaningful one. The new framework drops the coverage model, picks up some research-based learning methods, encourages historical thinking, and gives a nod to what history professors expect of incoming high school graduates.

In the old course, history was one fact after another, a list of subjects to be familiar with. The new APUSH presents history as a murky domain of knowledge in which protocols and habits of mind are necessary to distinguish sense from nonsense and know anything about the past at all. The old test smelled like remember-ology. The new test measures how good one is with the intellectual discipline of history.

Dr. Calder thinks that the new methods and expectations for the APUSH will net serious results, not in small part because secondary social studies teachers are leading the push to improve history pedagogy. The bottom up reform from secondary to higher ed is reinvigorating history instruction in a new generation of academic historians and will, Dr. Calder argues, “work its way out and up to improve history education at all levels.” Indeed, even where history instruction is in need of serious professional development, the new APUSH framework simultaneously provides the guide and the incentive for stepping up to that challenge.

Last, Dr. Calder addresses the political sustainability of the new APUSH framework, a question which is extremely difficult to guess at in our current partisan political climate, but has some history to draw from.

Pushback from conservatives alarmed by the revised APUSH program triggers unpleasant memories of the mid-1990s “history wars.” When in 1994 Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch urged federal funding for voluntary national history standards, she called on UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools to draft and circulate the proposed standards. In January 1995, after weeks of furious debate among historians, policy elites, and media commentators, the United States Senate voted 99–1 to reject the UCLA standards for presenting “a disproportionately pessimistic and misrepresentative picture of the American past.” No one wants to go there again.

But Dr. Calder doesn’t want the debate about what historical themes are important for us to learn in school, what meanings can be drawn from significant historical events, which historical events are, in fact, significant, and what patterns or continuity can be gleaned from a broad historical perspective. This is precisely why he advocates for engagement with both conservatives worried about anti-Americanism and history academics worried about instructional rigor. Both those debates revolve around what it is in U.S. History that is vital for us to know and think critically about. Thus, Dr. Calder point about teaching the debates.

…as in previous chapters of America’s history wars, disagreements over the new APUSH emerge from fundamental differences people have about the nature and purposes of history. These differences are not easily reconciled. Thus, our primary task as scholars, teachers, and citizens should, arguably, be to nurture the vibrancy of a dialogue that properly crosses ideologies, moralities, and pedagogies.

This call to arms of sorts, for history academics and secondary teachers, is so completely in line with Dr. Calder’s most salient point about how people learn best. There is a wonderful coherence between his point about teaching the debates and getting students to “do” history in order to learn it.

At least conservatives begin with a truth: that ideas matter, that the stories people tell have consequences. But defenders of coverage begin with a falsehood: that facts can be stored in the head like furniture in an attic, there to be pulled down some day when a situation calls for it. But that’s not how memory works. We remember what we do on a regular basis. If we want students to know who did what when, we must ask them to do something with that knowledge again and again.

Learning the relevant history of a past debate made current, or that never was settled, such is the nature of nearly all our culture wars debates, this is a compelling way to engage students in the doing of history.

______________________________________________________________

The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era / Volume 14 / Issue 03 / July 2015, pp 433-440

Part II: Skype in the Classroom

This article originally appeared in the September issue of BiBimBap magazine, an online journal for EFL teachers in Jeollanamdo, South Korea. You can view the ISSUU version here.

In Part I of the this series I outlined the resources, methods and potential best practices for leveraging one kind of information and communication technology in the classroom – Skype Education. In Part II of this series I’d like to share with you my experience using Skype in two of my 6th grade ESL classrooms, one being a recorded video exchange over a couple months and the other a live video class session.  

Whether or not the Skype VOIP service is best for keeping in touch with your friends and family back home is debatable, but there is no doubt that their service offers the richest platform for teachers trying to connect classrooms across the world. And remember, if you have a simple webcam, a monitor and a broadband internet connection in your classroom, like most of us do, you are one simple download away from getting started.

Recorded Skype Exchange

I mentioned in Part I of the series that I had made a connection with a teacher in Florida and a teacher in an American school in northern China. As it turned out, the exchange with the classroom in Florida just did not work out because of a combination of factors; the learning objectives of that classroom teacher and scheduling difficulties. I have come to think that this is the norm when seeking out a Skype in the Classroom partner across the country or across the world. I probably contacted close to ten teachers via the Skype Education platform in my initial search to find a partner teacher whose goals for the Skype exchange and schedule would work with mine. To date, I have successfully collaborated with two of those ten initial teacher contacts. Keep this in mind! Put a lot of hooks in the water and be patient if your schedule doesn’t immediately align with the first teacher that responds to you.

Nevertheless, I did successfully devise a #MysterySkype plan with the 5th grade teacher in an American school outside of Beijing. Ms. Hart’s homeroom class schedule and my schedule teaching five 6th grade English classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays did not initially mesh well, particularly because I had one deserving high-level, hardworking and outgoing 6th grade class in mind for this initial foray into a Skype exchange. Thus, instead of a live lesson, we settled on a recorded weekly video exchange over the course of a few months.

Since we both taught ESL students, we first established a geography-themed vocabulary list to review with the students in preparation of the #MysterySkype questions to come.  It included words like hemisphere, equator, prime meridian, province, and the cardinal directions. I also prepared a Powerpoint presenting the whole idea and purpose of the #MysterySkype game and showing them how the exchange would work with a sample recording on Skype. My co-teacher translated all and fielded many questions in Korean. Our goal was to have all the students fully understanding the process and intention of the activity so that they could focus on the language and not be confused by the strange new activity that was definitely not from the curriculum.

During April, May and June, Ms. Hart’s class and my specially selected 6th grade class went back and forth asking increasingly specific geographic questions in a race to figure out who lived where first. We started with, “Do you live in the northern hemisphere?” and ended with, “Do you live outside of Beijing in the Heibei province?”

In each successive round of question and answer I chose two new students to work with me to craft an answer to the other class’ question along with crafting our own new question for our mystery friends in China. We worked together at lunch time, where I would sometimes have them write the response on a whiteboard to read during the recording, or we would just practice the question and answer repeatedly until they felt confident they had it down pat. Then we recorded the video message on Skype with me leading and introducing the students. We would watch it once through together to assure clear speech and audio, send it on to Ms. Hart’s and then waited for their response. In the last five minutes of every class I would show Ms. Hart’s class’ latest video and it was always highly anticipated. My 6th grade class and their homeroom teacher resoundingly loved the exchange!

Live Skype

I also mentioned in Part I that I had a plan to do a #MysterySkype class with a 6th grade teacher in Hobart, Tasmania. After much scheduling and rescheduling, we finally connected our classes in mid June, this time with a different, yet no less competent, 6th grade class of mine.

Mr. Fitzpatrick’s class was a group of native English speaking Australian 6th graders. Therefore, I requested that Mr. Fitzpatrick’s class ask us questions about our location and limit my ESL 6th graders to simply responding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to their geography questions. I was admittedly nervous about asking my students to create ever more specific location questions in response to the Hobart students’ answers in real-time in a live Skype session. Instead, I limited my students participation to primarily English listening comprehension as opposed to production. In addition, I leaned heavily on my enthusiastic co-teacher to keep all the students in the loop in Korean regarding the questions being posed.

I did ask a small group of higher level English speakers to prepare a show and tell presentation on Korean culture. The small group and I worked together to prepare a presentation on hanbok, ddeok, the danso flute and janggu drum. They practiced their English presentation three or four times for me before the live version.

The class was an absolute hit and went off without any problems except for, of course, a technical difficulty. Mr. Fitzpatrick and I did not test our VOIP connection on Skype before the actual class. Thus we were left scrambling to fix an unknown connection issue, then a mysterious microphone problem, and had to hang up multiple times until the connection magically strengthened and the audio righted itself via restart. It was frustrating and would have crushed the students and I if it didn’t eventually work out. So my big advice is to run a test Skype video call from the classroom computer you will use during the live session. Otherwise, happy Skypeing!  

PD Video Annotation: EQ & the Yale RULER

Yale RULER Tool

Marc Brackett

Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Presidential Inauguration Symposia

“Emotional Intelligence: From Theory to Everyday Practice”

Annotation:

Minute 4:05 – A plus 5 rating means that this is the most amazing day of your life. While a minus 5 rating means you should probably be somewhere else and not listening to this lecture!

Minute 5:45 – Brackett asks the audience members who rated themselves in the yellow and green, “Is this the reality of your everyday life” and seemed to get a mixed response. Good question to gauge your students upon meeting them.

Minute 5:52 – Brackett asks the audience, after they have self-assesed their emotional state based on the RULER tool, to identify the word that best describes their current emotion, good or bad. “Over fifty percent of the room was challenged to find the best word.”

Minute 7:55 – Brackett asks the audience how many people drink wine in order to illustrate his point that healthy expression and description of emotion takes practice and a learned vocabulary. “There are underlying reasons why we feel the way we do and labeling them is important.”

Minute 10:50 – Bracket puts the essential practical question to the audience: “What’s your strategy?” Meaning, in order to try and regulate your emotions and keep them somewhere in the yellow or green sections of the RULER tool, what mental or physical strategies do you deliberately employ?

I would be a rich man if I had a nickel for every time I heard a teacher ask a student who is struggling with an academic problem, “What’s your strategy?” This is well-known language in most classrooms, however, is it used when talking about student emotions, and the behavioral consequences of those emotions?

Minute 11:20 – An audience member answers that her strategy is to focus on the positive, a very general and subjective mental strategy for regulating emotions. In response Bracket refocuses the question and narrows the goal of the strategies to just regulating emotions during his lecture, for the next 40 minutes or so, no more. An audience member says they will remember to breath (specific and possibly helpful), but another audience member says “Pay attention.” Brackett questions this as an effective and specific emotional regulation strategy because it does not actually define the mental and physical acts that are contained within paying attention to a speaker.

Minute 14:00 – Historically, the idea of emotional intelligence was considered impossible or an oxymoron. Reason and emotion are antithetical.

Minute 15:30 – “We know that when we are feeling anxious it is hard to concentrate…Think about what its like to be a child who is being bullied in school….When your brain is focused on dealing with very strong unpleasant emotions, how can it be available for learning? On the positive side, if you are going on vacation next weekend, it is hard to focus on your work the week before.”

Minute 16:30 – Bracket begins to talk about how emotions make the grading of student work a subjective task for teachers. Ninety percent of teachers did not think their emotions affected their grading of student work. We are not conscious or aware of this emotionally-caused bias. This is just one example from education.

Minute 19:10 – Peter Salovey and Jack Mayer are the fathers of emotional intelligence research. There were two initial ideas about EQ; first, that some people would be gifted at employing effective strategies in regulating emotion while others would not be so. Second, that there would be a way to measure and define EQ as a special mental ability that could positively affect people’s lives.

Minute 20:40 – What is EQ? Yale RULER Definition:

R ecognizing emotions in self and others.

U nderstanding the causes and consequences of emotions.

L abeling emotions accurately.

E xpressing emotions appropriately.

R egulating emotions effectively.

Minute 23:00 – Understanding the causes and consequences of emotions, when extrapolating this part of the RULER definition of EQ, Brackett explains how teachers need to know that when grading in the yellow you might find a student essay to be better than it is (expansive and generous), while you are in the red or blue you will be more critical (pessimistic, contracted).

“So we know that our emotions are constantly affecting our thinking and judgment.” And, importantly, this goes beyond grading to actual teacher-student interactions which can easily be negatively affected by either the teacher’s or the student’s emotions.

Minute 23:50 – “It is not realistic to be happy all the time.” So Brackett explains how the different quadrants of the RULER EQ tool lend themselves to different writing exercises:

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Minute 26:20 – All emotions can be useful depending on what you do with it. The red can be nasty but, “if you convert it to passion, now you have a difference.”

Minute 29:38 – Brackett asks the audience a very important question after defining jealousy as being a dynamic in a relationship, whereas envy is simply a material desire. The question is, “Why would I want a teacher or student to know the difference between jealousy and envy?” The short answer is that there will be different corresponding strategies when dealing with jealousy and envy, it is important to distinguish.

Minute 32:20 – Brackett asks two very simple and very obvious questions about the regulation of emotions that emphasize its importance:

  1. How many of you would like to have more strategies to regulate your emotions?
  2. How many of you wish the people you live with would have more strategies to regulate their emotions?

Minute 34:00 – Emotion regulation is usually thought of in terms of negative feeling avoidance or coping. And sometimes we talk about how to generate positive emotions. But Brackett begins to talk about “emotional maintenance” here, “dream stealers”, how you maintain “flow” despite distractions or haters, as opposed to generating that state.

36:30 – Self-assessment of your own EQ is unreliable, along with assessments from people around you. Emotional ability-based assessments are the most reliable and in the developing stages at Yale. “Asking people, ‘How good are you at regulating your emotions?’ just doesn’t have any validity.”

Minute 38:20 – Brackett generalizes research results of studies done on young adolescent students with higher emotional intelligence:

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Minute 39:30 – Brackett tells a sad illustrative story from his own laugh about how taking the GRE’s immediately following the passing of his mother adversely affected his ability to focus and do his best on the test. His results had little do with his cognitive ability or studying habits, and everything to do with his emotional state at the time. “What I hope happens is that people understand the nuances. That some people feel anxiety when taking tests. That people are at a place in their life where they are not capable of doing complex problem solving because of outside influences on their emotions.”

Minute 40:45 – Brackett reviews the results of research on classrooms where teachers demonstrate qualities of higher emotional intelligence, like bringing students into the learning process, using less cynicism or sarcasm, etc:

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Minute 44:05 – Brackett talks about how emotional intelligence develops:

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“Every parent should know about these skills.” And so should every teacher working with young students. “If you are creative, you are going to fail a lot, and you need those emotional strategies to deal with the failure and not give up.” If you agree with Sir Ken Robinson that the most important aspect of an education is to cultivate creativity, then this is a profound discovery for educators, teachers and parents.

Minute 47:47 – Brackett begins to discuss the establishment of emotional intelligence rules. He confirms that everyone loves to break rules and emphasizes intentionally creating an ideal environment in school.

Minute 49:40 – He talks about awareness of emotional triggers and the use of Meta-Moments to recognize and regulate the emotional triggers:

Yale Meta-Moment

What does your best self look like? Define that, remember it, hold on to it and then strategize depending upon that aspirational self image! “You never regret being your best self. You always regret being unregulated.”

Minute 54:15 – “We train everyone with a face.” Superintendent, parents, school secretary, teachers, etc. RULER theory of change:

Minute 59:00 – Brackett finishes the lecture by introducing us to Garreth, a student Brackett met while creating an emotional intelligence lab school in England. Garreth was bullied in elementary school and then arrived at this middle school where all students and faculty had been trained on emotional intelligence and it had a completely different environment for him. Brackett tells this heartwarming story of how this work and this EQ awareness can change a student’s life, open them up, build confidence and reveal their cognitive and creative talents.

More Yale Ruler info:

Bellevue Schools teach emotional smarts to help boost academic success. – The Seattle Times

Emotions Matter – Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Ed Reading Weekly: Google EDU, student data privacy, & school funding

Notes on the edSurge interview with Jaime Casap and Jonathan Rochelle. On Edtech Equity and the Future of Google EDU.

  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Nobody on the consumer products side was thinking about education.”
  • Jonathan Rochelle, “Teachers have always been using it, but not because it was built for education.”
  • Jaime Casap, “Ed tech has to be easy to use, manageable, to scale, it has to be invisible and these guys (Google Drive products) are trying to be invisible.”
  • Mary Jo Madda, “Really Google Expeditions is really just improving on the cool things teachers were already doing in the classroom with Google Maps.”
  • The importance of feedback from teachers, Jonathan Rochelle “There is no education classroom that is perfect, it is constant iteration and innovation.” Jaime Casap, “The feedback button has a bad rap with technology…what actually happens to that feedback…Here the Classroom team is actually reading this line of feedback and I always encourage teachers to use that feedback button.”
  • The future of GoogleEDU and ads on GoogleEDU tools, “Search and information are part of education. A lot of these things that students would be doing, they are already doing. Gmail, for example. ” Ads….
  • “Education levels the playing field. Information is education. And teachers taking information and converting it into intelligence…and I think that the web and internet is how (Google) helps to level the playing field”.

NO CHILD LEFT UN-MINED? STUDENT PRIVACY AT RISK IN THE AGE OF BIG DATA

This is a really important issue if the field of education is going to take full advantage of the learning powers of the internet, mobile devices and emerging technologies in general. As an educator who has managed intimate academic and personal data on students in a public school, I know that the well-intentioned push to use data and technology to help students learn can easily push aside privacy and security safeguards for students and families.

Every educator and parent should be aware of the pledges many companies make regarding the collection and use of student data if they voluntarily sign on to the Student Privacy Pledge. In addition, the US Department of Education has created a preliminary set of requirements and best practices around student data use that can be found here.

I am impressed by ed tech companies like Clever that can simultaneously make technology more accessible and more manageable for teachers and students in schools, while also assuring privacy and security of student data. But administrators, teachers, and parents need to keep an eye on the ever changing user agreements of such apps and tech tools. This article really emphasized the importance of district tech directors and school administrators doing their due diligence and actually reading the privacy policies of the ed tech apps used in their schools. Just another thing to add to the plate of overburdened principals, right?!

If you want to read more about the legislative solutions that are being proposed for this student data issue and also let your Congressman know how you feel, get the Countable app and browse through the education bills they have listed there.

How School Districts Seal Their Students Into Poverty

We all know that how schools are funded play a big role in the disparate student outcomes we have in America between racial groups and socio-economic levels. It can be difficult to understand how these often times complex funding mechanisms work, and even harder to visualize them.

Well, this week the folks at CityLab introduced me to the new ed policy center, EdBuild, which has created an interactive map of school districts and the percentage of students living in poverty in each of them. The smart folks at CityLab do a great job of breaking down some of the startling discoveries that can be made by looking at this data across the country, but just by browsing on my own my former district (Seattle, WA) and my prospective future district (Portland, OR), I can start to see my way to an explanation of disparate resources, student test scores and the overall reputations of those districts.