Why I Believe Every Educator Should Graduate With a PLN

This is a thank you letter to my PLN. Once again like so many times before I am reminded by the power and beauty of my PLN. I call it my PLN because it is a relationship that has been constructed over time to improve my teaching, my educational perspectives, my outlook on life, and how to be a better person.

My PLN is a group of educators from all over the world who support me and I support them(hence the picture above…does anyone even recognize these anymore?). They are people who I don’t see in person very often and many not at all. Despite not having much face to face communication, I am able to call them friends. Great friends. A support circle to help me through ideas I don’t understand, connections to improve education and the learning of students, support when I need a mental boost, and just a shoulder to lay my head on when I feel deflated, frustrated, confused, not very helpful, and just don’t feel like I have much left to offer.

These past two weeks I have had to call on my PLN several times more than I would like to admit and more than I would like to ask for help. Without a blink of an eye, my PLN pulled through, provided support, did work when their lives were already busy, and helped me help myself and others in need.

When I was sipping my coffee and thinking about how everything has come together the last few weeks I could not help but smile and be eternally grateful for the people I have met, connected, and networked with over the years to have such an amazing group of educators and friends on my side.

This feeling made me think about many things. One thing that is always on my mind is how to build a new school that actually meets the needs of students and educators in a way that just feels right to everyone. While I don’t have that answer……yet, I do know that one thing missing in college prep for educators is requiring them to develop a PLN before they graduate. I do believe that while in college for 4-5 years part of the educator portfolio should be proof that an PLN has been created so they have a support system in place of their own creation when they enter the classroom for the first time. This should be a mandate. With the power of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Voxer, email, and YouTube there is simply zero excuse to not have a PLN constructed and actively engaged before any educator steps foot in the door of their own classroom.

Let me explain why I think this is so important by breaking down my last two weeks.

PLN Support #1: I am helping operate a debate project on the American Revolution. During this process leading up to recording the first speakers this week we had a few classes drop out. It was not a big deal. After a crazy set of circumstances we had another teacher drop and with that left us with over 180 students and 60 teams empty with nobody to debate. I put out a plea asking for any teachers to possibly jump in and help last minute. Within 48 hours I had two teachers who I have never met before or worked with in my life step in and make things happen to allow students to learn, develop their skills, and not be let down. Because of my PLN who read the plea and then went to their schools to connect with other educators we now have a debate of over 800 students pushing their thinking and learning to new levels. We also have educators building their own PLN through this debate sharing resources, teaching ideas, and learning together. Without my PLN, this debate fails and a lot of students lose out on a quality learning opportunity.

PLN Support #2: I have a former student who has created an infographic. The message is a good one and powerful considering it is coming from the perspective of a student. She asked me to help spread the message for her because she wanted it to go beyond her friends and family. So far, in under 24 hours her message has spread far and wide with the help of my PLN. In 12 hours she already had over 2500 impressions on Twitter. The beauty is not in the numbers, but in the fact that these amazing educators and people are helping a student embrace her voice because she has something powerful to say.

Here it is in case you are curious(feel free to share and spread!)

Can u help spread this message for a Ss of mine? @firechloe1 pic.twitter.com/p4iLFnH4v6

— Aaron Maurer (@coffeechugbooks) October 31, 2015

PLN Support #3: Earlier this week it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did! I was a bit in the grumpy pants mode and feeling like nothing would turn out well. I reached to my Voxer group and asked for positive stories happening in their classrooms and schools. With the positive stories shared and some positive messages shared on Facebook, my mindset changed and without any coincidence things started improving. Sometimes we just need a pick me up.

PLN #4: This goes under the radar and is not celebrated enough. The real power of my PLN is that they challenge my thinking. A few phone calls, a few emails, some hangouts, and some other exchanges I have had many of my PLN challenge my thinking. They question my thoughts, they push back, they challenge, they make me really think about what I am saying. This is the power. If everyone agreed 100% of the time we would never learn. These challenges make me go back and think. My wife is the best at this as she always throws important zingers my way. My PLN is open and honest and that is what I appreciate more than anything.

In closing, I think there should a push to make PLN development a requirement of the student teaching portfolio. There should be a push to help every single educator develop a PLN(even the ones who refuse to have anything to do with social media). The payoff is so worth it and every single day I feel like I am saying thank you to someone in my PLN network.

Now, I am off to work with some of my friends who are trying to help me work through some glitches.

What about you? How has your PLN helped you?

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Blogging: Why It Matters To Develop The Student Brand

A lesson for students

Two weeks ago I stepped into the 7th grade language arts classroom to help two teachers and their students out with some ideas about blogging. I had a blast connecting with students and sharing my very limited knowledge about blogging and publishing our voice.

For the lesson I did not give a “how to” presentation. Instead I decided to shift to the bigger picture of branding and publishing our voices. I wanted them to realize that everything they do online is building their brand from Instagram to Vine to the school blog posts they will be writing. Many do not realize the reach, the impact, and paths they are creating by what they share. I wanted to help them see that school assignments posted to the world wide web builds their brand, builds their voice, and is one more step for them to determine how they want to be viewed.

I made a recording of my lesson by using Mix. I also downloaded the video and posted to YouTube as well. When I made the recording I had a serious head cold so I apologize if I sound a little drab.

Anytime I discuss, present, or teach about writing and publishing work I always spend time reading one of the best books about writing.

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 5.53.45 AM

Everybody Writes by Ann Handley is a book that has highlight after highlight, rehighlights, and notes in the margins from years of use. I use this book a half of dozen times each year.

And I also use and reference another writing book that is a staple for any educator.

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Reinventing Writing by Vicki Davis is another book where I read over and over again throughout the school year. This comes from a teacher who is in the classroom teaching and writing from experience. It covers just about everything an educator needs when it comes to writing with students today.

If you have questions, further ideas, and/or any critique/feedback please let me know. Feel free to use. If you would like a copy of the slides or anything mentioned, then just let me know.

I am curious about what ideas you share with your students? How do you help them realize the importance of the published work they create? What techniques have you found to helpful to help them understand?

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Educators – Please Stop and Think About This for a Minute

Life is good. Don’t waste these days of beauty and wonder.

These were the thoughts I had when I was in Chicago for a two day MIE Training. After watching the sun rise over the river on my walk to the Microsoft office my mind was in a good place to start the day. I thought that I needed to share this positive mindset with everyone in a blog post. As I continued to walk I kept thinking about what I would say to have an impact. And then…..

While I was thinking about this topic, reality hit me.

This feeling is not always the case for every student that walks through our doors. Unfortunately, life is not good for everyone and rarely do they get to see days of beauty and wonder.

As educators it is easy to lose sight of these moments because of the universal constraints and stresses that almost every single teacher across the nation can relate to:

  • We often get caught up in the little minor details of work.
  • We need new textbooks or materials
  • We stress about what standards to teach, how to teach them, which ones are more important than others
  • Are we getting enough prep time?
  • Why is every kid not turning in their rote memorization homework
  • We need more time
  • We need more money
  • We need more technology
  • We need more technology that works
  • Where is the wifi?

The list goes on and on……

There have been so many things happening this school year that I just had to stop and pause.

Not just pause, but I had to STOP

When I stopped I had to recheck my ego and my stresses. When I did this I realized many things. The things I get worked up about such as the purpose of education and why we does the education system continue this endless cycle of reform instead of transform is really not as important as I would like to believe. It does not mean that I give up on these ideas because I believe they need to be addressed.

But I have to pause sometimes.

I have to STOP

And I realize that none of this matters. It really doesn’t. Not without something being addressed first.

The reason these things don’t matter is that they are all the “next” layers to a foundation layer that is even more important. The first fundamental layer to education and life and teaching is often not addressed because it is hard. It has not been addressed because it is often ignored or denied, time is not devoted to the topic, and resources continue to be taken away.

This foundational layer is ensuring that each and every child feels cared for and nurtured in their educational setting.

My wife says it best as she posted this the other day

There have been quite a few instances this last 2 weeks that have served as a reminder to me that the kids sitting in our classrooms have lives away from school. These lives have problems just like we have as adults. So, no matter how great of a lesson you have planned with that perfect select and sequence technique or the perfect launch…what really matters is that our students know that we care about them. Our curriculum is important but not as near as important as how we make the kids feel in our classrooms!

What are we doing to ensure that our students……ALL of our students(even the ones that drive us batshit crazy) know that we care about them? Maybe even more importantly, do we even care for all of them? This is the first mental check that we need to cover. What does our classroom culture look and feel like? Do we say hi to each student? Do we reach out in simple ways? I am not asking or suggesting we meet 1:1 with every single kid, but I do believe we can connect with each student in some capacity each and every day.

We can be the beauty and wonder in the lives of our kids for 8 hours each day when the rest of their 16 hours contains none of it or very little.

Students have so much baggage today. Broken families, socioeconomic hardships, lack of mentors and models in their life, missing strong male AND female leaders, stress to perform at high levels, stress from nobody caring, being hungry, being lonely whether parents are not around because they left OR because they work all the time, trying to fit in with the school climate, the emotions and adolescent nature of growing up in a society where we expect more adult like things from our youth at younger ages, and more.

I am not just talking about the extreme cases of students that we have. I am talking about each and every child. Children that are the quiet ones that sit and are obedient. The natural leaders that we all depend on that deal with the stress of this label to adhere to the adult expectations and then fitting in with their peers. Each child. It does not take much for a student to have a really bad day. We forget that little things like answering a question wrong in class can have a devastating effect on a child.

As much as it is easy to get caught up in grades, midterms, mindless education paperwork, and whatever else puts our undies in a bunch, we cannot forget to stop and pause. Pause and think about if we are doing the most fundamental thing possible which is making sure each kid knows someone cares for them.

One of our most important aspects to our jobs as educators is to make sure all of our students feel like worthy human beings.

Are you doing this?

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Don’t forget to chart your journey

On October 11, 2009 I made my very first YouTube appearance. This morning I was looking for something on my channel and after going down the rabbit hole of YouTube I ended up on my very first video. It is weird watching yourself. It is weird to see where you were mentally as a person in the past.

At the time I was nervous to post a video of myself. I don’t think we were quite to the brink where it was no longer a big deal to take a selfie or make a video of yourself. I pulled up my old blog just to grab the context for what I was doing/teaching when this video came out.

Clearly, I had an agenda of being a book reviewer. My blog was loaded with YA reviews for a solid 2.5 years. Actually, this was the primary purpose of the blog for why it was started. It is crazy to see how it has evolved over time as I find my voice, shift what I view as important, and the goals I have for myself. As I write this about my blog I am currently clearing out the Nerd Factory of books. So far I have donated 150 YA books to the public library. Many are brand new or only read once. What a complete reversal of times as now I mostly only read non-fiction.

Watching the video I see a timid person scared of a video recorder. Reading the comments further proves the point.

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But the fundamental difference is that I went for it. I gave it a try and I have not given up. As of this morning I have made 531 videos on my YouTube channel. 500 are bad and not worthy, but I am learning. Each day I learn. Each video I learn. The goal is not popularity, but sharing ideas that I think are important. It does not matter if they have 25 views or 25,000. I have videos all over the board in terms of popularity.

I encourage you to do the same. You don’t have to make a video. But I challenge you to go for it. The question, “What if I ……….” should be changed to, “I can’t believe I……..!”

Make it happen. You might just like the result.

I mean without starting with that one simple video, I would have never reached a pinnacle like doing the Cosby Show dance(by the way this is what I was trying to mimic). Just listen to my tone of my voice. The confidence has grown in that short span of less than a year. I had a different presence to the camera.

What are you doing? What are going for? Let me know. I would love to hear the stories.

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What We Know and What We Do are NOT the Same

In schools and in any situation where we work with youth to help them develop the skills necessary to function in life there is a glitch in the system. The glitch is moving from what we know they should be able to do and moving away from sticking the current modes of operation.

Recently, my son had an open note test. First, congratulations to the teacher for making this happen. Finally, a chance where students realized that simply memorizing facts is not the answer to demonstrating how “smart” you are. Congratulations for making the students use skills needed in this Google aged era where textbook information is readily available day and night.

When my son brought the test home I noticed he missed two in the matching section. I was floored to be honest. How could he miss these? I mean, he had the book right there to use during the test. Needless to say, I was not happy(yes, you can challenge my parenting all you want). I talked to him about it and he was not sure what happened. I honestly believe him because had he known the problem then the problem would not have happened.

“If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know. If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know.” — R.D. Laing

I let this go.

The next week my son had to do some “research” for our robotics team. I coach a First LEGO League team. We told the students to go home and research all they could about a trash item. I sat down with my son and showed him a few things on how to search. I then watched him process the information. I was once again floored.

He had no idea how to make sense of the article.

Now, my son is intelligent. He is a very bright young man that I love more and more every single day, but I was watching before my very eyes a need for educational reform.  A change in education that I need to be part of and need to work on how I teach myself.

When my son was viewing the screen here is what he did.

  1. He wanted to click on images right away in Google. I asked him why and he said it would be easier to find information through a chart or an image that was interesting. Information overload
  2. When I told him no to that idea and showed him how to read under the link title, he clicked the article. The first thing he did was scroll at a furious pace. He did not read a word. He was once again looking for images. Information Overload
  3. He had no clue how to process what he was reading. He was clueless how to take information to form an argument with all the distractions on the page. The page was too busy and just messed with his mind thinking it was too hard to do the task. Information overload!
  4. He was distracted by all that the internet has to offer. Information overload

What are we doing in schools to help with this? I have witnessed over the years packets and packets of fill in the blank, worksheets catered to specific items, and finding answers that have no meaning nor show any comprehension of the reading. I have witnessed zero/minimal teaching taking place teaching students how to process information. We simply tell them to “research”. No wonder kids hate it. What does this word mean? What do we do? How do we do it? Do we give students time in class to practice? Do we give them time in class to read online instead of a textbook with a packet? Quizzing my kids for a test and they know the “correct” answer to the study guide, but when pressed to explain why or the reasons for the answer they have no idea. The common response is often, “I don’t know dad, my teacher told me to write these words down and that is what I did!”

Watching my son mix up words in a textbook and not know how to research made me realize that we have not shifted our practices much. We know students need to be able to do these things. I doubt anyone would disagree. However, how many of us have changed our approach? I know I was caught red handed as a coach to robotics that I have not adapted my teaching(and I also know as a teacher I did the same). We often assume they know how to do these things. I think we assume that WE as educators know how to do these things. I would take it a step further and say that we as educators need to be taught how to teach these skills before we are expected to teach students. The transition from myself as a student to adult has also seen the transition from limited knowledge of what the local library contained in the card index to any information I want when I want it. I know as a parent I still expect old school techniques to appear in the backpacks of my kids because that is what I am used to. I know as a parent I sometimes just want that fill in the blank(even though there is zero learning taking place) because it is easy to get it done.

But, we are just wasting precious time to not prepare these students for independent skill development if we don’t teach and nurture these skills.

I know that we know what we need to do to help students, but the question is why don’t we change our own practice to make it happen?

It reminds me of a quote from Jack Welch,

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, then end is near.”

My solution?

1. Move into action. I will be creating lessons and videos helping student learn how to conduct research for robotics. We have already shifted our method of robotic problem solving from just talking about ideas to following the computational thinking process.

2. I will be doing my own research and creating tutorials and tips to help those who don’t have time to do it all. Teaching is already too busy to think about adding one more thing.

 

We owe it to ourselves and we it owe it to our students.

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YEOT: Fall 2015 Lab 1 – Building Structures Design Challenge

The fall semester of Young Engineers of Today has officially kicked off. Students have started with webinars learning about bridge and structure designs and what goes into actually building various designs. Every two weeks we host a lab where students come to the classroom after school and they learn how to apply the knowledge and actually make and construct through a hands on environment.

The first lab is designed to do challenge their thinking based on the webinar in addition to helping them learn to work together, share ideas, understand that things not working is not failure, but learning, and have some fun along the way.

Instead of typing up every step of the lab this semester I am trying something different. I have created an Office Mix where I share the lab, the materials, and explain the reasons behind everything. I hope this helps other educators learn how to copy the ideas. I hope it helps parents see the learning taking place. I hope that it inspires others to share the great things they are doing.


 

Enjoy and I would love any and all feedback

Here is a link to the Office Mix

If you would like to watch it on YouTube


 

Here are the materials for the actual project build I used

K’NEX Intro to Structures

Duct Tape

Pipe Cleaners

Masking Tape

Paperclips

Flexible Straws

Computer Paper


 

And I wish I had this kit so if you want to buy me one

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The problem with education is that

we spend most of our time doing this as an education system in this nation

 

At what point do we stop trying to place a square peg in a round hole and move into action. Instead of meeting to meet to talk about how to meet and what to meet about we create an action plan and DO SOMETHING

As Toby Keith sings(though the intent was not about education)

 

I was getting kinda tired
Of her endless chatter
Nothing I could say
Ever seemed to matter

 

I respect all who are DOING and acting up their IDEAS instead of sitting around and just talking about what SHOULD be done. You are of the minority and for that I thank  you.

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SuperBetter: A Review and Request to Read This!

Do you struggle with completing the things you want to get done, but just cannot quite make it happen?

Do you wish you could find a book that not only contains quality information, but will move you into action?

Are you ready to power up and make the changes needed in your life, work, family, and personal goals?

If you answer yes to any of these questions like I did, then it is time that you buy this book or track it down and give it a read.

About a month ago I had the opportunity to read this book before being released. After reading the book, making many highlights, taking notes, and figuring out ways to implement the ideas into action into my own life, I finally think it is time to write-up a review.

The book releases Tuesday, September 15th and this should be a book that you get your hands on.

Back at the beginning of August I blogged about how my life would change with the principles in this book(Coffeechug #Superbetter Journey Begins)

A small part of this blog post(which was a bit of a confessional) states

I just finished reading the book SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal  which has been one of the most powerful reads for me personally this year. A review of the book is coming shortly, but the book came at the perfect moment in my life where her research and message connected with me at a deep level. This book is a book we should all read because everyone can gain something from this book no matter who you are, your age, or what you do.

This book has helped me map out a plan to make myself SuperBetter. It is going to help me take care of myself and reach the goals I have not achieved yet. I have many layers to the quests and epic wins I plan on going after, but the first thing is simply fitness.

Without rehashing that whole post I have found a book that actually moved me to action. I have read many high quality books, but often times the ideas float in my mind but never quite make it to the surface where I begin to act on the ideas.

This book is different.

In this blog I will have things coming out soon documenting my soon to be journey as I have been experimenting with some ideas to reach some goals, but in the meantime I encourage you to read the book.

The book itself reads quite smooth. I love the fact that as you read there is a whole website containing every single piece of research used and conducted. I really enjoyed the massive amounts of quests layered into the book to give the reader practice, ideas, and ways to test the waters while reading.

Without giving too much away, here are some of the ideas that really stood out to me. I am not going to discuss them in detail as you should read the book, but I would love to chat about these more if and when you do read.

  • 7 ways of thinking for growth in gaming
  • We need to play with a purpose
  • 1 billion people play digital games for an average of one hour a day
  • “all games teach us to be comfortable with failure, because loss is always a possibility”
  • you are in control of your cognitive resources
  • Theory of Mind
  • motivation alone is far less important to success and willpower than you think
  • when you feel strong and capable you are more likely to use those strengths to help others
  • 21 hours/week of video seems to be the tipping point where things go south
  • games are a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles
  • epic wins
  • goals come and go, but values stay with you

These are just a few of my notes in my notepad where I scribbled so many ideas. I cannot wait to get my hardcopy so I can actually write in the margins and really up my reflection process.

No matter who you are and no matter what you are trying to accomplish I really believe there is something valuable in this book for you. I know the book goes on sale Tuesday, but if you do preorder she is giving away so many goodies. Act fast!

And don’t forget to listen to her speak with Tim Ferriss and my favorite podcast ever.

Jane McGonigal on Getting More Done with Less Stress and The Health Benefits of Gaming 

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Microsoft Innovative Expert: Why YOU Should Apply To Be ONE!

I made a short video explaining why more educators should apply to be a Microsoft Innovative Expert. I wish I could have spoken for 30 minutes, but realize attention spans don’t last that long anymore.

Enjoy and let me know if you have questions.

Here is a link to the video!

Here is the link to apply

 

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Educators: We cannot rest on our laurels!

Reading the latest issue of INC. magazine where they profiled and celebrated the 500 fastest growing private companies, I came to realization that the messages conveyed over and over again can be/should be applied to education. I know as educators we are not companies striving to make money, but we are teams of people striving to changed education to be the most benefit and create the highest yield of return of students learning in our classrooms.

We are of the very few who work hours and hours beyond our work day because there is always more work to be done. We are constantly being pulled in several directions, needing to do more each year, and often times we sit(when we have five minutes) and question how much longer we can sustain.

I believe that educators work harder than almost anyone on earth. However, I do believe we can work more efficiently and effectively if we could just break through the mindset of always doing what has been done.

One of the key takeaways from the magazine was the idea that we cannot rest on our laurels for too long. There are times when we do great things. Amazing things happen. We start to gain a reputation for certain things. This helps us mentally survive this job, but we cannot become stagnate. We must push our own boundaries. We must embrace the next area of unknown and uncertainty. We must continue to push forward to become better. New research shows that teachers can continue to improve and don’t become flatlined after their first 3-5 years like previously thought(DUH!)

What we need are leaders among the teacher ranks. Teachers who share. Teachers who continue to inspire others. This is where I believe the key to growth is vital. Yes, we need strong admin leadership, but at the end of the day admin will not make everyone happy(it really is a thankless job and one I would never want). The strength comes from the teachers. If we can continue to support one another in positive ways, share our own learning, and collectively as teams of professionals improve ourselves, then we will make some amazing learning opportunities come to life.

By doing this we can embrace new possibilities. This prevents us from pointing fingers at others. This places the responsibilities on our own shoulders. We cannot complain because we are in the drivers seat. Really, the things we strive for in our students should be the same things we strive for as educators.

Let’s go make it happen!

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