Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Create With Me" - Megan Nichols

A fellow teacher and friend in Baltimore City by the name Megan Nichols wrote the following and is a must read...

There is an image in your mind and it is likely a little bit different than mine but it’s of the child. 
I ask you to picture it.
The child that creates and is messy and passionate
The child that changes things with their mere presence
Hold fast to this child, hold onto mine or to yours or perhaps now a somewhat congruent vision. 
That image in your mind of the child. Picture it. Create it with me, for just a moment.

Now of what adult would you say such things? How many grown men and women would you seek their presence for the simple joy or to be moved by their exploration or immeasurable brilliance?

When does this occur this breaking of the wings that carried the child to make meaning to feel to believe with such conviction in these things that if 
We really believed in them, these things like world peace and justice
If we really valued these things if we fought for them with just an ounce of the fervor
Or brilliance of the child
Things could be quite different in this world.

This breaking of wings this squashing of imagination this loss of sincerity
Begins I believe with the education
as our system strives to provide clarity. Clarity and data and scores and right answers that will help our economy rise
But their wings are broken
Replaced with something else, something that is not that the child at all

And so, with your patience and open minds I’d like to tell you a story of my very own
Breaking of wings and how I began this career as a teacher so rooted in the child
Yet I broke their wings and how I became capable of doing such things
Like rigor, bright signage, class points and deductions
These things that were for adults and not for the child that had been silenced.  My story.  

The first day of school.  The first bell, the first objective , the first encounter
Between me and my students
The students that would test shape change guide push and educate me
The students that would rise and fall and disappear in into the depths of east Baltimore nowhere near their potential let alone that image of the child you hold in your mind. Picture it. Create it with me.
The child that creates and is messy and passionate
The child that changes things with their mere presence
Hold fast to this child. 

The first 8 hours in room 102
The beginning hours of the career through which I’d dreamed I’d be
This powerful agent of change
And I felt powerless in front of the boy that loomed over me as if I was some deranged
Person who demanded that he participate in a class wide diagnostic so I could assess and we would be partners in his progress

We both dripped in sweat, the school was melting in this heat and anger and tension
Rooted in power control authority and suppression of the child
At hour 3 this child stared me down and stated with authority
It’s as hot as a wet ass stripper and he threw his pen on the floor and
He planted something in me on day one I couldn’t ignore
a doubt and a fear that this perhaps couldn’t be done
And in this moment in hour three I began to break their wings by demanding that this child
Who was as hot as wet ass stripper
Embrace the 80 question diagnostic, Sit down, be quiet, better get used to it

In hour three the child slipped by me
Replaced with such things as diagnostics and daily objectives were necessary for their futures
For their livelihood and successes
The rest of child was pushed into the deep enclaves of my mind where it would reside a dying light barely visible even to those that searched

The child. Hold fast to it. Create it with me.

My story. The doubt was so small at first but it grew from hour three, and ultimately expanded as I became one of  the adults that
Drew forth and created not a space for the child
But one of compliance mistrust and hatred
I became a part of this and I’m not sure why
This work had broken the wings of those that had entered holding fast to the vision of the child but instead held were told to hold fast to a checklist of items
Like Objective on the board, documentation, benchmarks, benchmarks, benchmarks
These items on the checklist,
 that no one could explain the validity of other than the mere presence of the item on the list, the reasoning was buried somewhere deeper than the child
But if we could do at least this, if we could just do these things on the list…an “education” at its finest?

Were we validated in this? Did we find pride, comfort, joy fulfillment in this list?
Were we creating, unafraid to be messy and passionate
Were we changing anything with our mere presence
Or perhaps was the essence of this place and our work and this checklist of compliance
so far removed from the child that we were wounded and wounding simultaneously every day
A wounded generation we are and we create in the name of education

And of what adults would you not say such things? How many grown men and women would you defend as true protectors of the child? For if education requires compliance submission in some skewed sense
of expectations or tradition, can the wings of a child ever be repaired? Or are we all scared fearful and somewhat lifeless as a result of this education that was intended to prepare
Prepare us for stagnation

My story. Creation innovation and joy are not born from this. These things are buried. With my joy buried with myself suppressed and the unexplainable inability to speak up or to change it I asked myself almost on a daily basis
Fight or flight?
Will you fight for the child it’s buried in your mind if you haven’t forgotten it it hasn’t died yet.  Hold fast to it.

So fight or flight?
Is it really possible for a school or a system to provide for that child the things that would free them
From the suppression of this feel bad education in which compliance has replaced everything
We once valued about our children

Could it be like schools in Harlem in which children have a voice
Could we provide meaningful work that transcends the classroom and fosters our children so they are not living in a vacuum of standards and tests
But instead that one of the best things they will do is produce something of excellence
One of the best things they will do is solve world problems with their classmates
One of the best things they will do is change their communities in Baltimore

Do we have the ability to listen to the child to trust the child with these things
Or can we only trust them to bubble in the test

Picture the child. The child that creates and is messy and passionate
The child that changes things with their mere presence
If we don’t believe that it is possible to foster this to not suppress this to celebrate the this child
If we don’t believe that it is possible
If we don’t believe in ourselves and our colleagues and humanity
Or if we believe but stay silent, choosing flight
Then why are we here
What are we teaching
And who do we want our children to become

I’m asking you to picture the child. The child that creates and is messy and passionate
The child that changes things with their mere presence
Hold fast to it. Create this with me. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Up and Running

Finally got the class website up and running... It is in its infant stages and is a major work in progress but at least it is something. Geometry with Mr. O'Shea is the course website. If you have any ideas on how to make it better or more user friendly please let me know.

Tomorrow is the first day students will be working with the content so... here goes nothing!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Technology in the classroom

I ask you to close your eyes (only briefly as it would be incredibly difficult to finish reading) and imagine a physics classroom where students are exploring acceleration and velocity through the use of a small wooden car, a rubber band, and a stop watch. This might sound strikingly familiar to your own physics class depending on the age of the reader. For many of us, there seems to be nothing out of the ordinary going on within this classroom… and there is the problem.

We are living in the 21st century with technology that is changing each and every walk of life. World altering innovations are being made on a daily basis with the use of this technology. And unfortunately, this very same technology is still obscure in many of the classrooms across the country. Take that imagination you had before and replace your rubber band driven wooden box car with an exact replica of a 1972 Ford Mustang. Never mind relying on your classmate’s quick finger and sharp eye to get an exact starting and stop time of your toy car. Instead this time imagine doing a video analysis with hi-definition optical lens cameras to obtain start and stop time accurate to within one thousandth of the exact time elapse. Those same students in the first scenario would be breaking down their observations with the teacher leading the discussion while the students in the second scenario would be getting a field experience with velocity and acceleration from an actual formula one race car driver.

I believe you would be hard pressed to find many students that thought the rubber band method was more intellectually invigorating than the method incorporating video simulations with field trained experts. On one hand, as a teacher, this whole idea is incredibly scary; a fluid curriculum that is ever changing as the global market dictates. On the other hand however, as a parent, if the knowledge/innovation is out there I most certainly want my son to have access to it.

With that being said, it should be noted that technology in the classroom could be a horribly misguided allocation of funds. I only mention this due to the countless number of classrooms that I have been in that use technology to deliver the same exact content that a paper and pencil lecture styled classroom would have been delivering. Rather than a chalk board teachers now use a smart board and think that they are tech savvy… sorry but wrong. In the 20th century classroom we used textbooks and curriculum to guide instruction because we were searching for the information to present to our students. With technology the information is available, with or without school. A classroom teacher’s job then transitions into teaching students how to learn rather than what to learn. What is even better is that technology can aid in that process as well by improving human connections. Students are now able to access peers, teachers, and field experts from all over the world with a simple click of a button. The possibilities are endless. Welcome to 21st century learning! 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Angry Students

As we wind down from the first semester classes and prep for finals week I decided to fully incorporate the idea of the flipped class as a way for my students to prepare for the final exam. I posted some video lectures to a website that I created and gave all my students access to it (for the tech aspect of it see below). The videos were basically the key concepts that I thought were most essential for them to have success on the final. In class I gave students a practice final exam to work through as a refresher of the concepts covered throughout the year. As I thought would happen, students struggled with practice items from units that we covered much earlier in the year. To remedy this I gave students free-reign to use cell phones (possibly against school rules - don't tell) as well as the four desktop computers that we have in the back of my class to review any of the concept videos that I posted on the site. After viewing the videos students went back to working through practice as I basically bounced from student to student checking in and guiding them as they worked.

To make a long story short, my students were not very pleased with me. They were actually quite irate. They could not believe that it was the end of the semester and I had just decided to structure class like this.  They made comments like "this is not fair"... "the students you have next semester are going to do so much better than we did". They really loved the idea. 

As of now it is Sunday afternoon and I have heard from 8 of my students via text message that they are going to rock the final. Checking the website I also saw that the videos have been watched about 60 times each. I would have to say that indicates a pretty big success rate so far! I am interested to hear from all of them on Tuesday when we get back to school to see what they think. 

I hope their excitement is not due to a little honeymoon phase of the new idea. I am planning on starting my next semester classes (two weeks away) on the flip idea from the beginning, but I am struggling with how to introduce the concept. Part of me thinks my students took so well to the idea because of the relationships that we built up and the trust they had in me to try something new. I wonder if students that do not really know me will take to it the same way. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. I will post some test scores to compare the classes as a whole when those scores from second semester start coming in.


I have been using posterous as a host site for my video blog that students access. It is a very user friendly setup to post videos for students to view. To make the videos I have been using a combination of Doceri (iPad App) and ActivInspire (Promethian board software). I have been using the screen recorder (free) in active inspire while I am using the desktop annotation tools in Doceri. It is not a perfect method but the videos created are avi. files so I pretty much can do what I please with them which is nice. It sure beats having to stand at the board with a flip cam like many of the youtube things I have seen.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 1 of "The Flip"

Within the last week I can say I have honestly been about as productive as I have been in any one given week of teaching thus far. In the past 7 days (more like 4) I have... bought a domain, registered my school for google apps, created a blog (this one as well as the one used to post things to my students), created the start of my PLN (@OSheaTeach), developed a website to be used with my math classes, recorded and posted a unit's worth of podcast style lectures (I guess I should also mention that I managed to figure out how to create these video podcasts too), figured out how to use my shiny new TFA iPad to best push students learning, and perhaps most importantly... renewed a great passion for educating my students of inner city Baltimore.

With the start of the spring semester and a new batch of 90 plus students just two weeks away, I decided to throw caution to the wind and unveil this new flipped classroom concept to my students today. I took a few minutes to explain the concept and answer the questions that students had before giving them the website that contained the videos I created. Students watched a series of 7 videos (ranging between 2 and 4 minutes) while jotting down whatever notes they might have thought were important. Aside from the students making fun of how my voice sounded on the recording... they took to the concepts very strongly. I gave them the assignments that would guide them towards their goals and immediately they set out to conquer. Even students that I had thought would never decide to attempt to work were giving it the ol' college try.

I was more of a coach/tutor today instead of a dictator/supplier and it was refreshing. Over the next week I will be looking for feedback from them and hopefully it will be constructive. I am looking forward to the possibilities that this has for my high flyers as well as my under performers. We will have to wait and see...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Review of "Human Dimensions Project" LP on Google Apps

In the quest to bring my classroom into the 21st century technology sphere I have begun looking at lesson plans from other educators that utilize tech to create engaging transformational lessons. Google Apps for Education (link to google apps lesson plans) presents an interesting angle in teaching by utilizing features such as google docs, calendar, sites, and apps+ to engage students in what typically would be a standard "I do, We do, You do" lesson plan. One such example is Human Dimensions Project - Greg Bartus.

Essentially the lesson revolves around a group of students that would prove and/or disprove Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" while focusing on wingspan with relation to height. At first glance I saw no actual benefit from supplementing a lesson like this with any type of technology. We can measure, record, decode, and compare results as the lesson calls for without using any added technological resources. However, the more I read through the lesson the more it hit me that this added dimension that technology provides (specifically google docs) is really much more engaging to our students. First and foremost it is exponentially easier for students to communicate and share their data with each other while using a google doc that all in the class have access to. After importing data into a google docs form students can then graph results using any vast array of mathematical graphing software to easily calculate any correlation that exists between body limb length and overall height/age/sex/etc. The visual representation that graphing software might provide would undoubtedly lead to a greater understanding of what it was they actually calculated. The last benefit that I see for incorporating tech into this specific lesson revolves around the idea of extending the concept to those students that really feel interested in further pursuing the topic. It is very easy to include links to specified material that may extend their learning experience beyond what might otherwise have been possible doing this same lesson in a paper and pencil based classroom. While I am not going to be jumping at the next chance to unveil this specific lesson in my classroom tomorrow, the windows that the ideas in the published lesson open might prove more beneficial than I can initially imagine.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Here is a quick overview of what a "Flipped Classroom" is. (for a better view of the chart above)

Or check out this video!

--- thanks to @banatoli for the image

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Flipping Geometry - The Beginning

After long discussions with my department head I have finally gotten the ok to go ahead and flip my geometry classroom. I am filled with mixed emotions on the idea... excited, anxious, nervous, scared. These emotions are similar to the responses I receive from others when I describe my vision for my new flipped classroom. Many doubt that I will be able to pull it off given the context that I teach in (note - I hope I can consider myself a "coach" and not a "teacher" by the end of this experiment). They point to the inner city school structure and its lack of resources, the low income community my students come from, my lack of teaching experience and other factors as reasons why this attempt is crazy. I am out to prove them wrong.

I push for my students to be agents of change and I see it only natural then that I need to be the same. Now that I got the ok to flip the class... I guess I need to get working.

Class website to follow!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Breaking new ground

This morning if you would have told me that I would have an active blog by six o'clock today I probably would have thought you were absolutely crazy.

Crazy because maybe I thought I was way to busy as a second year HS Urban Educator to ever create a blog... turns out it is as simple as a few clicks and a password.

Crazy because maybe I thought of blogs as something only the ultimate tech savvy could navigate... turns out even I can manage to get the basics down.

Crazy because maybe I thought the class I would be sitting in during that time would focus solely on theory... turns out the paperless classroom is a possibility!

Regardless as to how crazy I may have thought you were... turns out I would have been dead wrong. I guess I am just simply amazed at the things that you can learn in a matter of minutes. If I can do this all within 10 minutes... then I can only begin to imagine what my students are going to be capable of within my classroom. I am going to be looking for educators that have embarked on this new venture like I just have.