Friday, May 30, 2014

Final Innovation Project

Yesterday was my last Tools for Tech class with my middle schoolers.  Since this class won't be happening next year, it may be my last Innovation Project for a while.  I was really proud of these projects.  The kids put in a lot of hard work and turned in some awesome final products.  Please check them out and let me know what you think.

Connor showed us how to earn staffs in Black Ops 2.

Jacob and Cooper created their own MineCraft world and player versus player game. Watch their split screen video as they play against each other!

Daniel, Matthew, and Waite created a video story in which you decide the course of the story.

Kate continued her Revolutionary War Blog from last quarter.
Justin figured out how to fix his Empire State Building on MineCraft, but he didn't share his presentation with the world. Bummer!
Dominic created a web site about Dominque Wilkins.
Drew and Sam created a castle in MineCraft that has a disco room! Sadly, they didn't make their presentation available to share.

Tourism Projects: What is there to do out there?

Here's a fun way to end the semester with my middle school students. I give them a list of the top ten most populated cities in the world and let them pick one.

Their task is to pretend they are travel agents, trying to show us all the great things they can do in that city.  With only about a week to put something together, it's a frantic pace to find the best of the city -- hotels, restaurants, stuff for kids, and such -- and put together a presentation for us.  Not only do they need to create something technological, but there is a non-techie requirement too.  (That mostly took on the form of food, which is always a great idea when I'm in the mix.)

Here are three of the projects that rolled in for us.  I love how these web sites look -- almost like someone took a visual design class when I wasn't looking.

Delhi, India
Mumbai, India
Shanghai, China

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tech ABC

What are the ABCs of Technology? Here are the alphabets my students came up with.




Wrapping Up 20 Years: Advice From an Old Guy

The final curtain went down on our family's first ever dance recital.  Hands hurt from clapping, eyes were moist, and there was an excited buzz about the auditorium. I'd like to tell you that my daughter was the star of the show, but she was merely on stage for about four minutes of a two hour long performance.  However, there were quite a few familiar faces up there with some roles a bit more major than my little one.

"He acts like he doesn't know us when he sees us in public, but I secretly think he likes it when I say hi to him," I explained to my mother-in-law later in the lobby about one such performer. "He was the kinda the class clown back when he was in our classes. But he found drama and everything changed." After a moment of quiet contemplation, I added, "If I knew then what I know now, I would have been a much better teacher 15 or 20 years ago."

Tomorrow is the final school day of my 20th year of teaching. In this year, I have had a blast reconnecting with many of those kids who were dragged kicking and screaming under my tutelage. I've laughed at great memories, been quietly surprised by others, and have grieved missed opportunities.  I wish you heard all the stories, and I still have hopes that some will be told through the summer.

Hats off to the roughly 1000 kids who I have had the blessing to call "one of my kids!" You have made my job a true joy.*

Wrapping this series up, I have some advice to those of you who are still youngins... and maybe to some of you old curmudgeons like me. 

That student is more than what you see in the moment. That behavior you see, that paper you just graded...they are just small (and sometimes inaccurate) pieces of the entire puzzle.

Here's what I learned through these conversations:

  • Find that hidden love of drama (or science or writing or coding) in a kid and try to pull that out.
  • Get to know that child beyond his ability to spell or multiply double digits.
  • Think outside the box. Don't just create a bigger box than the teacher down the hall. Spend so much time outside the box that you sometimes forget where you put the box.
  • Don't get me wrong. Teach those rote skills too because they are the building blocks for something more spectacular.
  • Your relationship with that student does not end when you wish her a wonderful summer. Some might say that is merely the beginning. 
  • If you don't mind me quoting the Bible, here is a great verse to ponder. "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1) Your greatest lesson will be just a clanging cymbal if the kid in the seat doesn't feel your love.

Thanks for following my 20th year journey! It's been an amazing adventure!

*Before I get too sentimental, let me add this footnote. Not every moment has been a true joy. Some of students/parents/colleagues have made my life miserable in the moment.  I figure it's been a fair trade since I've probably added some misery to your life too. In general, the first 20 years of my career have been awesome and I'm hoping the next 20 are even better.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why I Love Twitter (Tweet #7000)

I love getting to collaborate with these people (and others). They teach me new things, challenge my thinking, and even make me laugh. Thanks for making social media awesome for me!

Aside from one dinner at Jimmy John's in Deerfield, OH, I've not met any of these people face to face, but they have been instrumental in my leap into the 21st Century.  Thank you!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Class of 2027?

My daughter graduated from preschool today.

(Deep breath, Daddy. It'll be OK.)

"F is for our pet fish that we kept alive all year."

There she is with her awesome preschool teacher!
As we walked into the auditorium, we were handed a program that proclaimed these kids as the Class of 2027.


I cannot even fathom what education will look like in 2027. With the crazy speed things have changed in the last 5 years, what will things like over the next 13?

Then again, the sad reality is that when she graduates, I'll be a whoppin' 56 years old. Will I have enough senility to keep up with it all? :)

Here's to the Class of 2027!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Guest Speaker: Steve Wellington

After our first two guest speakers (here and here), one of my students came up to me. "You know, my dad could be a guest speaker too." As it turns out, Mr. Wellington lives and works in the tech world, so we had him come in for a visit.

Steve Wellington is Senior Multimedia Producer at Paycor, a company that handles payroll for companies. In fact, they manage my paychecks, so this presentation was very near and dear to my heart. His specific role is to create videos that can be used for external or internal use.  The videos created for clients give information about periodic software updates.  Since people stare at text all day long, it can be helpful to watch a video instead of reading about the updates.  The internal videos tend to be more motivational and fun in nature. He showed us two internal videos, both of them being music videos of your typical cubicle workers having fun together.

In essence, he is the media department at Paycor. This means that he does it all. He will sit in meetings with the creators of the software to boil all update information into something digestible. He will then write the script and create the set and lighting before bringing a coworker to film the video. During the filming process, he is the producer and cameraman. Then, it's time to go back to editing the video before it is finally published.  He explained to the students there is a lot of "butt in chair" time in his job.

Since we already had a video producer come visit us, Steve took a different look at how the job is done.  He took us into the software to show us how the video is put together, using a video he is currently working on. If you have ever created your own video in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, you may be familiar with the different layers in the production process. However, the videos he works on are a bit more complex than what I'm used to from making little family videos.  He was able to go in and show us how the video, speaker's words, background music, and graphics were all different layers.

Mr. Wellington explained to the students that learning never ceases. He didn't stop learning when he got his degrees in Television and Media.  There are constant changes in media, and he needs to stay on top of the game.

As we talked before and after class, I was amazed that we see similar changes and causes for concern in our separate fields.  For instance, there is a huge need for digital courtesy. Your face doesn't always need to be glued to a screen. While times are achanging and people are consuming media differently than us old-timers, we also see that using technology for technology-use sake is not always a best practice.

I always enjoy my chats with Mr. Wellington over the years, and I'm glad he came to share with the class!

Oh, and here's my Twitter feed from the presentation:

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: How Children Succeed

Title: How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Author: Paul Tough

Paul Tough took on the task of discovering what keeps children in poverty from completing college degrees and in the process taught me a lot about the stress of being poor, parenting infants, noncognitive skills, and coaching chess. Let me explain.

It's no surprise that socioeconomic position plays a major role in students' achievement levels. In general, the lower your socioeconomic level, the worse you will do in just about every measure of academics. The inverse is generally true too. However, the interesting thing is that poor kids aren't dumber than rich kids. The contributing factor to their detriment is the stress of being poor. A fascinating study is the ACE Questionnaire and the long-term affects of adverse childhood experiences. (I am fortunate to have an ACE score of 0. What's yours?)

If there was a way to predict with 77% accuracy whether your infant would complete high school, would you be interested in learning more? I'll skip the rats and tell you that it's all based on how much a parent responds to a baby's crying in the first months of life. This can have life-lasting effects in coping mechanisms, dealing with stress, and achievement in all areas.  Sadly, you can see a thread of thought forming here. If a mother is dealing with the stress of being poor and has a high ACE score, she most likely won't be able to attend to her baby's needs, creating a downward spiral.

How do we break the chain of poverty and empower poor kids in education? I'm glad you asked.

KIPP is an interesting read all by itself. It is an inner city charter school system created to give students the tools they need to get to college. What KIPP administrators have discovered is they can help middle school students gain access to top-notch high schools in their cities, but college was a different story altogether. Many of their early graduates never attended or stayed in college. Their studies revealed they needed to teach character traits (also called noncognitive skills in the book) which can help students when the road gets tough.

In other words: Students never learned the skills necessary to overcome failure. Once failure came their way, they gave up and went back into the cycle of poverty.

These skills go by different names with different groups using them, but they involve concepts such as conscientiousness, grit, zest, curiosity, optimism, and politeness. As it turns out, students who are taught these traits tend to do better in life (not just in school).

And that leads me us to chess. Tough followed the nation's premiere middle school chess team, from an inner city school in the Brooklyn. What fascinated me was their coach, Elizabeth Spiegel. She spent hours with her students, recreating games -- win or lose -- to dissect every move.  She would make students defend every move, every thought process. "Why did you move this piece here?" "What would have been a better move?"
It's called metacognition (thinking about your thinking) and it doesn't come naturally for anyone. It's a skill that is taught, and it takes a dedicated and caring teacher to painstakingly walk through a problem -- whatever form that may take -- to help a student see the right path.  However, when that skill is taught and caught, some amazing things can happen in that student's life.

Application in My World:
I don't teach kids in poverty. The tuition for our school runs around $8,000 per student (give or take based on grade level) -- a total that is expensive but not nearly as much as many private schools. I would place our families in the "comfortably affluent" sector of life.  While his focus was on students and families in poverty, Tough spent considerable time with students from the "wildly affluent" world ($38,000+ tuition). What he found is also interesting.

Many of these students were also missing these character traits.  While we're not going to feel sorry for kids who have too much money laying around, the truth is that they also don't know how to succeed. Instead of learning how to fail, parents have worked hard to remove all hardship from their children. The safety net is set so high for them, that they do not have the chance to fail.  They will continue to do well in school, go to prestigious colleges, and get jobs in top notch firms, but all within their comfort zone -- so failing won't be an option.

What I see is that students in my world also need a Ms Spiegel in their lives -- someone who will relentlessly help them see the good and the bad in their decisions.  I'll admit. I'm the kind of teacher who will mark something wrong and leave it at that, hoping that students will take the time to figure out the error of their ways.  Tough says that's not good enough! If you want your students to succeed -- in school, in college, in life -- you have to know when your student needs some love and attention and when your student needs some painstaking, one-on-one, teacher-guided metacognition.

If you are an adult with kids in your lives, I think this would be a great read to help those kids

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Stop Animation Videos

I love the Animation Chefs and how they try to teach animating skills to kids, so I thought I would bring them to my middle school students.  I gave my kids time to watch their videos, learn some tips and tricks, and apply them to their own video creations.  It took nearly two weeks worth of classes, but today they showed off their final projects. (And I might add that I'm kinda proud of how they look in the end.)

Sam and Dom:

Three Little Pigs from Craig Dunlap on Vimeo.

Jacob, Drew, and Kate:

Waite and Cooper:

Justin and Matthew:

Daniel and Connor:

Just in case you're wondering about the process we used in class, the instructions are here.

Which is your favorite? 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Blocks EX

I love Twitter! While trying to plan out the rest of the school year, I was trying to find a way my first graders could build their own dream house. I was at a loss, and I tweeted out the question.  Of course, the first response was MineCraft, which we don't have at school and can't afford.  Here's the conversation that ensued next.

Today was my first round of first graders, and as I said above... they loved it! I won't say it wasn't without glitches, but I think most of those could have been cleaned up by using the full version.

I allowed students to just play with it for a while, then I gave them 10 minutes to build their dream house.  I didn't see too many of the final products, but they weren't exactly creating architectural masterpieces. What I did love is they were all over the room helping each other. Within moments I was able to refer students to their classmates to answer questions.  To be able to tell first graders, "You have more experience on this app than I do. You'll need to help each other," is a daunting idea, but they rocked the house.

Thanks to Leka for your help, and to Twitter for connecting us!

PS I just downloaded Blocks EX for my preschool daughter to enjoy.
PPS She'll graduate from preschool next week. I have to get used to calling her my kindergarten daughter. Ugh!

Alex: Getting His Groove On

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered. 

If you’ve been teaching for any length of time, you have had that kid who will use anything as a percussion instrument.  The pen clicks, the pencil hits, the toes tap.  He is a one-man Stomp show. Of course, you want to stop him, shut him down, and keep the incessant “music” from driving you (and your class) insane. But did you ever consider that maybe, just maybe, your classroom was one stepping stone on his journey to becoming a professional musician?

Alex McKenzie was one of those students for me. I remember Alex as a very likable, very friendly kid. He was everyone’s friend and always had a smile on his face.  But, Alex also had that drummer distractibility to him. He will be the first to tell you that school work wasn’t exactly his cup of tea. Let’s just say I remember having numerous conversations with his father about how we can work together to help Alex learn responsibility.

I’m please to announce some stories can have a happy ending.

Here is how he got started in the world of music.

When I was about twelve years old I was watching the movie Home Alone with my grandma. I remember hearing the music in that movie and just becoming instantly obsessed. That day I told my grandma that I would love to write music for movies one day. Fast forward a few mischievous years to when I turned fifteen. On my fifteenth birthday my dad got me a cheap $30 music writing program that allowed me to just click in notes and make some “interesting” tunes. Trust me, you don’t want to know how AWFUL that music sounded.

Alex goes on to tell how he grew up “playing” different instruments - violin, piano, voice, trumpet, and drums. He discovered he couldn't read music to save his life. What he did have was an uncanny ability to hear a tune, then repeat it on the instrument of the day. He had at least two music teachers tell his parents that music was not his thing.

He also had parents who encouraged his musical passions and even dedicated a room in the house to practicing and writing music.

When it was time to choose a college, he was torn between his love of marine biology and music.  As a teenager, he got scuba certified and was well on his way to becoming the next Jacques Cousteau, but his musical passions got in the way.  He can’t explain why, but he headed off to music school at Travecca Nazerene University in Nashville, instead of marine biology school.

He is fairly certain that he is the first person to get every single question wrong on the music entrance exam, and his adviser tried to talk him out of the music department a few times.  But, Alex stuck with it, had some fun, and worked his tail off. I would say he learned a bit; by his senior year he started substituting for his professors.

He graduated, moved back to Northern Kentucky, and worked a few seasonal jobs while looking for the perfect “real” job.  In the end, it was a friend who helped him get his dream job.  When Epipheo called Aaron to talk about a music writer, Aaron turned them down and suggested Alex instead. The rest is history, and Alex has been there for over a year.

Never heard of Epipheo? Watch the video below and wish your job was this cool.

I could be wrong, but I think I saw Alex’s head in the video.  

(Side Note: I actually applied for a job at Ephipheo a few years ago. I was at a point in life when I was ready to leave education and was grasping at anything I was remotely qualified for. When I saw their website, I emailed them something like, “If your site is this awesome, I want to work there.” Obviously, it didn't work out for me, mostly because I found this sweet gig at my current school.)

I know you’re wondering exactly what Alex does for Ephipheo, so I’ll let him tell you.

My daily responsibility is to compose music for whatever videos are assigned to me. On average I handle about 3 ½ videos a week. I spend the rest of my week making revisions to projects that have had changes made. The best part of the job is probably the diversity of projects that I get to work on. I get to write everything from Hip Hop to Classical Orchestral to Dubstep to World music (Middle Eastern, African, Latin, etc.), and I have had the opportunity to  compose music for clients like Disney, Mercedes Benz, Intel,, and many more. Having this job has even given me the opportunity to record with Cincinnati Symphony musicians, and musicians who have graduated from Juilliard. Epipheo has a very modern tech company feel. We have a very laid-back atmosphere, they feed us all lunch on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and we even have a pool table :-D

Here is a great video that Alex worked on. (More at the end of the post.)

I mentioned in the beginning that Alex was not exactly the model student. He agreed with that as you’ll see below. What I have to come to realize from looking back at Alex and students like him is that you never know what’s going on inside the head of a student.

As a twenty-five year old man, it is hard to remember what life was really like as an 11 year old. I do know for a fact that two of the most influential teachers I ever had were Mrs. Flowers (5th grade) and Mr. Dunlap (6th grade). I went to public school until the 4th grade and the school that I went to was shut down shortly after I left. The education there was just awful and I realized that when I first came to Calvary. Mrs. Flowers had an ENORMOUS impact on my future because when I first came to Calvary I was so far behind all of the other students. I was completely lost in math and english and very fuzzy on the rest of the subjects. She worked very hard with me and helped me start to catch up with the others. Mr. Dunlap continued the trend in the 6th grade. He was the first male teacher that I had ever had, and I think that had a giant impact on me.

I can say that one thing I never got through my skull was responsibilty. I must have easily had more green tallies (we got one for every time we didn’t turn in an assignment) than anyone in my class. I honestly just always wanted to create and I despised doing work that involved memorization or just repeating someone else's knowledge onto a piece of paper. I was a bad duddler and was constantly distracted in class by something as simple as a clock ticking in the background. To me, that clock was a metronome for me to beat box to :-D

The area where Mr. Dunlap impacted me the most had to be respect. My dad has always been an extremely hard worker and so I never saw him that much between eleven and eighteen years of age. Like I said, Mr. Dunlap was the first male teacher that I ever had, and at the time that was very scary to me. He wouldn't let me get away with most of the things that I got away with in the past, but that definitely prepared me for middle school and high school. I honestly think that I would have gotten into much more trouble in high school if I wouldn't have had him to help guide me. Also, I remember learning A LOT in his classes. It may not have looked that way because of how few homework assignments I did, but he always had a knack for making certain subjects interesting. I was also still behind the other kids after coming from public school, but by the time I made it through Mr. Dunlap's class and hit middle school I felt caught up.

While I’m quite pleased that I was able to have a positive impact on Alex and helped him get caught up on subject matter, I also see this as a reminder that not every student fits neatly into the box we've created our schools to be. If mathematical logic or written language aren't your forte, school can be very difficult, but it’s hard to ignore Alex’s musical intelligence. If I could have had that year back, I am certain I would have continued to keep my standards high. I would also think I would have tried to meet Alex halfway (or at least 33%).  

In the end, I’m proud to have had Alex in my class, and can’t wait to hear some of his music gain popularity with the Epipheo brand. And, I’m looking forward to getting together for that cup of coffee he mentioned in an email a couple weeks ago.