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The Connected Educator Back-to-School Blues

Most teachers lament returning to work. While parents are ready for their little darlings to stop harassing them every hour of every day about going to the pool or theme parks or bowling or anything but sitting on the couch so we can work, teachers have the opposite. Our summer break is over, we have to go back to work after two months off.

For me, and I believe for connected educators across the board, going back to work presents a different set of challenges.

Summer, for me, is all about learning opportunities, interactions, connections. It's twitter chats, conferences, Voxer groups, podcast interviews. It's constant professional development, new ideas, planning out changes, and running those plans by other connected educators.

All of this combined creates a kind of bubble around me. By the end of the summer, I fully believe that my ideas are going to be met with excitement by the teachers on my campus. That isn't to say that I'm oblivious to resistance. Possible resistance is built into my plans, but it's planned for. I know how it is going to go. All the people I've talked to for the last two months agree: This is going to be awesome!

Helmuth von Moltke once said "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" (and yes, I Googled that). In my case, no excitement survives first contact with teachers.

Coming back to school is like bursting a positivity bubble by hitting me in the face with it. Hard.

What it comes down to is the summer is a vacuum in which it is easy to forget that not all educators are as excited about making real change as I am, or as my PLN is. Teachers, and not all teachers but some, can be really negative. They don't think their classroom instruction needs to change, so they don't care how the PD is presented, they don't want it. They don't all agree that grading is flawed or homework isn't effective. They don't buy-in to standards-based grading, flexible seating, digital curriculum, technology integration, or flipped instruction like I do.

They are annoyed because learning a new testing platform is a pain. They're miserable because course progressions have changed. They're pissed that the principal wants more data from them. And it isn't just the ones you expect. It can be your friends, it can be your co-teacher, it can be people you've worked with for years or weeks. And in none of these things are they wrong or unjustified.

It comes in drips and drabs, and it comes in waves. It builds and builds, and it is suffocating and overwhelming. It takes the wind out of my excitement sails.

Here I sit with the connected educator back-to-school blues.


Lamenting the Loss of Audio

After Jennie Magiera talked so passionately during her ISTE Keynote about telling our students' stories, and our true stories, I decided that I would make it my mission this year to do exactly that. I would wipe away all pretense from my blog, remove the glossy coating, and just be real.

In the effort of that mission, I write this post. This is a true story about my own failures, without sugar coating, without happy ending, and without major takeaways. This is me, and my imperfections.

Last week, on Monday, I did my first live stream. I've been working with VoicEd Radio and have seen a lot of great results and connections as a result of that partnership. When I first met with Stephen Hurley (the creator of the network), he told me that in addition to airing my podcast, the network also provides a live space to do more with. That thought had bounced around in my brain for a little over a month, and one of the ideas I came up with was to do a recording for my podcast live on the air. The thought for the live steam was that it would be a behind-the-scenes look at creating an episode of the Planning Period Podcast, letting the audience listen to the pre-interview, unedited interview with all the awkward silences and verbal fidgeting, and the post-interview ramblings.

Let me paint the scene for you. Ashley McBride (my guest) and I started our Skype call a few minutes before 8:30 PM and I quickly explained what I was planning. I checked levels, checked microphones, checked recordings. I'm paranoid about losing audio, so I always record in three different places:

  1. I record my own audio on a second mic on a second computer. I also typically ask my guest to record their own audio locally so I can recover from their computer if needed. However, the last time I recorded an interview, that messed up on me and since I had other types of backup, I didn't worry about that this time.
  2. I setup a virtual soundboard to take two inputs and make them one virtual output. I ran Audacity in the background to capture the virtual output (sound from the Skype call and my own microphone).
  3. I have an automated program that starts recording all my Skype calls as soon as they start. I've used that for the last seven or so episodes and it has been flawless.

The last piece of this moving digital puzzle was the broadcasting software. I was using Rocketcaster (on Stephen's recommendation). This software outputs the sound from both my microphone and speakers to the radio network, and is a very small program, so it wouldn't tax my computer. Stephen also informed me that the audio from the network is archived automatically.

8:30 came and I hit broadcast on Rocketcaster. All was going great! I left my Echo tuned into VoicEd Radio until I heard my voice and Ashley's come through on the live stream (a brief four second delay), and then stopped my monitoring, and proceeded with my pre-interview (of course, activating Alexa live on the air, because I'm a professional!).

Other than my own unprofessional persona, things were going great. Ashley and I have met before, so we already had a decent rapport, and we had plenty to talk about in the pre-interview, catching up on what we have been up to since ISTE. I talked with the audience a little, and Stephen even popped into our back-channel to say he could hear us great but couldn't stay to listen to the whole show. Around 8:55, the pre-interview was pretty much finished and we got ready to record the real podcast interview.

Right around 9 o'clock, things took a turn. Ashley started saying "Brad? Brad, are you there? I've lost you." Checking my computer, I could see that Rocketcaster had frozen up and Audacity had stopped recording my audio. Quickly, I closed Rocketcaster and reopened it. I saw my audio levels registering as well as Ashley's, and she could hear me again. She even got a text from her dad saying he could hear us loud and clear.

Figuring that the glitch had been caused by too many running programs on my computer, I closed Audacity. I'm still being recorded in two other places (auto-recorded Skype program and VoicEd network auto-archive) I thought, so it should be fine.

And so it was. Ashley and I had a great conversation. Lively and exciting, thought provoking, covering tons of educational issues. We went the full hour and a half, and honestly could have gone longer. When I pointed out that we only had 10 minutes left, Ashley was shocked. "Really," she asked skeptically. "I didn't have any idea. This has been so much fun."

The next morning, I wrote an email to Stephen, telling him how happy I was, that our experiment had been a success and we could talk about it more when he got back in town.

Yesterday, he got back in town and wrote me back. He informed me that he listened to the archived version and we were only on air for about 30 minutes. I was bummed. Ashley and I had done a great live show, and no one heard it. I started to write a reply to Stephen, in which I wrote "Well, there's nothing to be done about it now. I still have my recording, so I can release it as an episode and next time will be better." As I wrote it though, I realized I hadn't actually gone back and checked my last remaining recording.

As you will probably be unsurprised by now, that recording failed too. For some strange reason, when the audio crashed out of the network, the automated recorder stopped picking up the sound from my microphone, even though Ashley could still hear me.

I was devastated. I lament the loss of that interview. There was a lot of work that went into creating that, a lot of time, effort, and energy. But you will never hear that audio. It is over an hour of Ashley talking to silence. She says some great things, but without the context of a discussion, it just isn't usable.

Sure, I know what went wrong. I have plans to fix it in the future. This was an experiment, and I knew there was a chance of failure. I know all those things. Believe all those things. And yet, what I can't stop believing is this:

Failure sucks.


Flipped PD and The Future of this Blog

My summer is over. Let's all lement that for a moment.

Ok, moment is over. Time to talk about the future.

Listeners of the podcast have probably already heard that I am obsessed with changing the PD model at my school. As I transition from Digital Coach to Curriculum Resource Teacher (in charge of all PD and training of our staff), I keep having one thought:

I refuse to lecture at my teachers for an hour about how important it is to not lecture to their kids.

That's what PD has been for eternity, and it isn't what actually works. True, in the past, I have ensured that my trainings (especially technology trainings) have included hands-on time and interactive components. I've incorporated things like NearPod, Padlet, Kahoot!, Quizzizzzz...and as a result, I'm kind of tired of seeing those in classes, but those also aren't particularly transformative.

At ISTE, this obsession drove my selection of sessions. In listening to a million educational podcasts, I latch onto anything about professional development. My conversations on the podcast, and on twitter/Voxer/FB, revolve around new ideas and styles. In my mind, all those nuggets and blocks of information have finally taken shape, all the little puzzle pieces fitting together.

Here's what it is going to look like.

Step 1: Online Learning

All of my PD units will start with a self-paced, online learning component. Given my obsession with podcasts, many of them will be audio recordings of me (with clips from other shows as well) talking about the content. Some may be videos or screencasts, others may be written lessons. These will be between 5 to 15 minutes. They will be housed in Canvas (our district LMS), and along with them will be additional resources, links to source material, and after the podcast, a quiz or discussion board.

These lessons will cover various content. For the first couple, they will be instruction on the models of face-to-face sessions we will be using. The first one, for example, is on EdCamp: what it is, why it exists, and how we will use it in face-to-face at my school. Once I've gotten the staff to understand a couple of those models, the lessons will shift to specific instructional strategies, and align with the goals of our administration (standards-based instruction, student centered learning, differentiated instruction, etc.).

Step 2: Face-to-Face

Throughout the year, I will have roughly one hour a month of face-to-face time with my staff. During those times, I will use various models (like EdCamp format, Speed Dating, or Conference style) to have the teachers interact with each other and the new concepts taught in the podcast. Much of this part of the idea I explain in my description of Kerry Abbott's ISTE session. Her session really blew this part wide open for me and made all the rest of the disparate pieces fall into place.

But what do you do about those that don't listen to the podcast or don't pass the quiz, you ask? Well, I'm glad you did. Those people will be given a modified version of the podcast/lesson as a face-to-face, remedial session instead of participating in the EdCamp session or whatever. This does three things.

  1. It gives them the critical content that I know they need.
  2. It models the kind of remediation you would need to do in a flipped classroom, because not all students are going to learn at home.
  3. Probably most importantly, it will encourage them to do the online learning before the next face-to-face, as their friends will be laughing and having enlightening discussions in an EdCamp, while they are listening to me speak.

Step 3: Post Face-to-Face

The last step in the process is getting my teachers to reflect. This is the critical step that we need all teachers to do so that they are modeling what we want students to do with metacognition. Here again, the LMS will come into play. After face-to-face sessions, I will release the reflection component, which will be either a survey completed on Google Forms, or a discussion board on Canvas. Either way, I will be asking teachers to reflect on their learning as well as tell me which parts of the process are working and not working.

Buy-In

This is new for my teachers, for most of them, it will be viewed as completely absurd and possibly stupid. Teachers are negative, and skeptical of new ideas. It isn't their fault, we've been failed time and time again by new ideas coming and going. Eventually the dog stops coming up to the abuser with wagging tail. I get it. So it will be critical for me to find ways to get buy-in from my teachers. One way, after the first session at least, is outlined above with the remediation plan.

Another, will be PD points, or continuing education points. As CRT, I submit points for my staff. Since they are learning through the podcast and discussion boards, I will be giving them points for that. They will also receive points for the face-to-face time, the reflection activity, and the extension activity.

As an example, the EdCamp lesson will have the following point values:

  • Pass the podcast quiz = 0.5 points
  • Attend the EdCamp F2F = 1 point
  • Complete the reflection = 0.5 points
  • Conduct an EdCamp with their students and complete a reflection = 1 point

If they complete all of the parts, and the extension activity, they earn 3 points. If they don't do any other online parts, and instead come for the remedial, direct instruction, they receive 1 point. This will all be tracked as their "grades" in Canvas. At the end of the year, their grade will be the number of points they get to submit to me and I submit to the district.

My Own Personal Growth

As for the blog, this is going to be my home for my own metacognition. During one of the keynotes at ISTE, they talked about how we don't show our true selves online, referencing the New York Times article examining social media posts and real life. I'm taking that to heart with my blog. I will be blogging about the entire experience from start to finish, the good and the bad. Every failure and success. Stay tuned, and journey with me, as I try something crazy and likely to fail.


#ISTE17 - Flipping PD to Create More Powerful Face-to-Face PD Opportunities

This is my last session for today, possibly overall. I'm probably most excited about this, as throughout these last few months, knowing the role I'm working my way into, have been toying with the idea of changing the PD models. After the last couple days, I'm obsessed with changing everything and flipping PD.

Kerry Abbott is solo in a room of about 150 people. Brave, as most people don't present alone in my experience. Also, it's almost 5 o'clock and most people are wrapping up their sessions for the day, so to deal with a dying audience solo is pretty cool.

She opens her session talking about why she did this, and that part is pretty clear. Forced instruction to a whole staff doesn't work, and teachers won't just go out and learn everything on their own, so a change is needed. I'm with her.

A couple of things I really like about her method. First, she has a bunch of these built for a ton of tech tools (she showed a screen that listed at least 16 of them) and the teachers pick whatever tools they want to learn.

She also gives them District PD points for each lesson they complete. Points depend on how long she thinks it would take the teacher to complete. If teachers already knew the given tool, it would take them less time, but as Kerry points out, at some point they learned it and didn't get points for it then.

Teachers are required to prove that they completed the online sessions, and she does this by having them complete a reflection on a blog. The blog is opened to the whole staff, so once they complete a reflection they can go see who else completed those, and then collaborate with those people.

The real beauty of this whole thing though is what happens with the Face to Face PD time. Kerry uses a lot of different models during her weekly half hour (that would be nice, wouldn't it?!?!). She does a modified Ignite session using pre-recorded teacher presentations that include examples. She makes each tool-based video one minute and includes five of these before an informal reflection session.

She also does Campfires, a shortened version of an edCamp. Each table is given a topic (such as historical event, word problems, or story structure). What's cool here is that the table groups aren't focused on a tech tool, but an instructional concept. Then, the groups at the tables will naturally recommend the technologies they use for those instructional techniques.

Another model she uses is Speed Dating. In this one, a teacher-expert on a technology gives a quick five minute presentation on a tool, then answer Q&A, then the groups rotate to the next table. In 30 minutes they can see 4 or 5 tools with quick info about each. According to Kerry, this is the participant favorite.

There are a couple other structures she uses as well during these face-to-face times (Appy Hour, SAMR Slam, and Classroom Visits PD). If you want more info on this, checkout her resources.

Resources from her session are available here. From there, you can also see her built tutorials and PDs. It's an awesome resource!

What an awesome session! Kerry got my mind running, and I will definitely use some of her ideas. Thank you very much!


#ISTE17 - EdTech Insights: Teacher Hacks

This session takes place in the middle of the Expo Hall, which is really odd. It’s loud and distracting. They are organizing the session into three parts, Hacks for 12 Years & Under, Hacks for 13 Years & Up and Hacks for Any Age.

Vicki Davis starts it out with hacks for 12 and under. Her number one suggestion is Seesaw for elementary digital portfolios. She also talked about using IKEA bins, lining them with soundproofing, and putting an iPad inside it. You can then have students put their heads in the bins and you have a soundproof recording studio.

Blair Pircon says she uses Screencastify alot, but thinks about other uses besides her profession. For example, use it to go over a rubric. This would let kids not only review the rubric itself, but also the additional information you give when explaining it.

Aaron Sams says to use a chore app that maybe designed for parents to help manage their own kids in the classroom. Use it to manage who does what chore in the room. DIY.org is a great tool to find projects for things like 20-time, Genius Hour or a Maker Space. Lastly, he adds that he uses a “poor man’s 3D printer”, a hot glue gun. You can make all kinds of shapes with a hot glue gun. Love this idea!

For the upper kids, Vicki talks about ClassCraft, a gamification app. You can use it to add a gaming element to the class, and as students earn “points”, they can get new outfits or items. I will definitely have to look into this further.

Walter Duncan says that QuickKey is apparently a great tool for taking paper-assessment data and digitizing it. Will need to look into it.

Trello is the best hack that Blair mentioned for tracking to-do lists and processes. It can also be used to organize a roadmap, such as what is going to be done in a class period or a unit. I like the idea of making a kind of macro to-do list where they mark off the to-do's for a whole unit as you complete them, but each item may require multiple activities to be considered "done."

Aaron stressed that the LMS app must be on their phone. Students can easily take pictures of anything you give them and upload to the LMS App. Even in a 1:1 environment, students should have the app on the phone week one.

He also says that as a hack for all ages, give yourself 24 hours a year to disconnect. His argument is that we need at least one day a year to completely disconnect. Wake up, turn your phone off, and don’t turn it on until you wake up the following morning. Go outside, explore nature, experience the world. I like this idea in theory, but his premise is that it “gives you your brain back.” I disagree with that part. I think it is a good idea to increase mindfulness and make you more present in the world. Probably a great idea for relationships with family and loved ones as well. However, your phone is part of your extended brain I’m starting to believe. More on that later probably.


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