Disconnected Day

Anyone who know me, knows I'm a technophile. I'm an instructional technology coach, a constant Twitter user, and podcaster. I Snapchat most of my life, text friends, have multiple active Voxer groups, and take tons of pictures of my son. My phone is in my hand constantly.

Last week, I popped into my friend's office and started playing with these fortune card things. You shuffle the deck of cards and pick on that speaks to you. They're really silly and sarcastic. I got this one:

Now, I hate baths, so all that stuff is garbage. But the idea of going somewhere and getting "unplugged" for a bit sounded like fun, especially since I already had plans to go to the beach for the weekend with my fiance and a couple friends of ours. I reached out to them and suggested that we make Saturday a Disconnected Day, turning our phones off when we woke up in the morning and not touching them until the next day when we wake up.

I thought it would be a struggle, that I would go through withdraw symptoms of sorts, but I didn't. Sure, for the first hour or so I kept instinctively reaching for my pocket as if I would find my phone there, but after that it was wonderful.

I found that without my phone, I was more present in the day. We had to talk to each other, and actually pay attention. We talked about topics without immediately jumping to our phones to find the exact details and "prove" things. We played card games instead of video games. We read physical books instead of Reddit posts. We sat on the beach and enjoyed the waves and sand instead of framing the perfect picture.

Those were all the things I expected. What I didn't expect was how clear it made my mind. Normally, my mind runs a thousand miles a minute in 4 or 5 directions. I'm always thinking about the next thing, or some project I need to finish. Rarely do I find that my mind is quiet. That's productive for me, it works. I thought that given a day without the outside distractions of my phone, I would solve problems that had been plaguing me or have creative inspirations and new ideas.

Throughout the day on Saturday though, I regularly found myself not thinking. I was just experiencing the moment, enjoying the company, and being content.

I highly recommend the experience to everyone. We are so constantly bombarded by signals and information, and while I advocate for that level of connection the majority of the time, the value of getting away from it from time-to-time shouldn't be dismissed.

I, for one, am going to start doing disconnected days once a month. I will be announcing it on twitter the day before each time and encouraging people to join me. Or, pick your own disconnected day.

To help, I've made a quick document to give you the rules and agreement. You can use it with a group of friends and spend the day enjoying each other's company and the world around you.

Google Drive Disconnected Day Contract
PDF Disconnected Day Contract

My Time on the Personal Playlist Podcast

I had the amazing honor of being asked to be on Noa Daniel's Personal Playlist Podcast (BTW, notice I didn't say "recently". Because this post is 4 months past due. Because I'm awful). While Noa is a phenomenal and inspiring educator (if you doubt me, check out Episode 23 of my show with her), her show isn't really about education.

Noa's show is about using music to tell who you are. The way she goes about this is by asking you to pick out three songs. The first song should be nostalgic, the second is one that is part of your identity or you identify with, and the third is one that motivates you.

As I tell Noa in the episode, picking my three songs was a true struggle. I grew up in a house of music, all kinds of music. My dad was a band director/music teacher all through my childhood, and we constantly had music playing. I was also in band myself, playing the trumpet all through middle and high school, and I even started college as a music education major (though it didn't stick).

With that in mind, identifying just three songs that showed the breadth of my love of music, and how important it is to me, while also showing who I am as a person and my beliefs, was tremendously difficult. Noa and I have been trying to schedule this for well over a month, and that whole time I have been deliberating and struggling with this choice.

If you'd like to the whole episode, please checkout my P3 with Noa. You can click play below. If you'd prefer to read some of my thoughts, and maybe a little more than I said on the podcast, read on!

Nostalgic Song: The Saga Begins by Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al maybe hokey or silly, but I really adore his spirit and style. He is the embodiment of not taking yourself, or anything, too seriously. When I first heard a Weird Al song as a kid, I thought it was the greatest thing of all time. I laughed so hard my ribs hurt. And back in those days (man, I sound old), you couldn't fall into the YouTube hole and hear his entire catalog, so I had one tape that someone had made and it only had one song of Weird Al's. Play, rewind, wait, play, rewind...

But it was this song, The Saga Begins, that really made me truly fall in love. I was (and am) a HUGE Star Wars fan. I read book after book in the extended universe throughout my middle school years, and couldn't get enough (Corran Horn is the best Star Wars character ever even though he doesn't exist anymore!). Combining the silly parody of Weird Al with a universe I was so immersed in really set this thing in stone for me.

To this day, I try to embody that funny and relaxed approach to my life. I try not to take things too seriously, whether it is a problem at work, something difficult in my life, or even a mistake I made that is causing me more problems, I laugh it off and move on. Fix the problem when you can, find a solution, act on it, and keep going.

Connection Song: Stay Together For The Kids by Blink-182

One of the things I thought about when picking out songs was the albums that were on repeat during my life. Blink-182's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket was an album that never really stopped playing for me. I enjoyed every song on that LP, knew every word from start to finish. To this day, if I hear a song from that album on the radio, I will immediately start singing the song that was next when it ends.

This song in particular though had a powerful connection for me. Like I said in the show, this is one of the first songs I can think of that I really felt spoke my life. As a child in a broken home, this felt real. And I bring those connections forward into my son's life (who has divorced parents), and remembering the struggle my students go through.

What really spoke to me for this song though is the power of music even now. In the episode with Noa, I got truly personal. I make a point pretty regularly to separate my personal life from who I am online. Not excessively so, but still, somethings are just for me, they aren't relevant to education or my blog. With Noa, talking about this song, I had said a ton about my personal life before I even realized it. Music is so personal it makes sense that my discussion about it has that power.

Hype Song: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

I feel that Bohemian Rhapsody is a song that needs no explanation. If I think of songs that inspire me, there are lot that make me feel good, keep me going, and pick me up. But this is the only song I can think of that absolutely requires a physical response. I just have to headbang.

Overall, this was an awesome show to be on. I strongly recommend you checkout the Personal Playlist Podcast with Noa Daniel. She does them with a lot of great guests, and it is so much fun.

Google Add-On: Class Folder Creator

As a teacher at a one-to-one school who uses G Suite and Canvas as an Learning Management System (LMS), few things are more annoying than the "You must request permission" screen.

This happens a lot for my teachers and I. You give an assignment description on Canvas, the student creates their work in a Google Doc or Slides presentation, they turn it in on Canvas, but they only share the local version from their computer, which is really just a fancy link.

Or, the student just gives you a share link, so you can see it, but only by loading the link in a new tab and not in the Spred Grader window. Annoying!

Google Classroom gets around this issue by creating a new folder for the assignment and putting all the created Docs there. It's great because you can see the work in progress, letter-by-letter as the student works. This isn't perfect either though, because Google Classroom is very limited in functionality compared to a full-featured LMS.

Often over the last few years I have said that eventually Google will spin-off that shared folder ability from Classroom so that you can use it elsewhere. Then, a few weeks ago, I got impatient and decided to stop waiting for Google and just make it myself.

And, Class Folder Creator was created as a Google Sheets Add-On. Now, simply by creating a by period list of student names and email addresses, you can create a folder for each of your students that they will create all their work in, and you will have access to all of it.

Here's how it works

  1. Click here to install Class Folder Creator (free).
  2. Click Setup Sheet from the Class Folder Creator Menu.
  3. Put your class name and largest class size.
  4. Input the list of student names and email addresses into the associated columns.
  5. Click "Create Folders" in the Class Folder Creator Menu .
  6. Magic!

Now, each of your students had a folder shared with them on Google Drive with Their Name - Class Name - Period #. You will have a folder for each period, and within that, each of that period's student folders.

When Johnny raises his hand in class and says they need help, you can go straight to his folder and pull up the document he is working on to start providing feedback and support.

When Johnny finishes his work, you will have access to it no matter which way he turns it in.

This was a labor of love, and like all Google Add-Ons is completely free. It is my first Google Add-On, so if you have any thoughts for improvement or comments, let me know!

You can find more details about the add-on at the add-on site.

On a Field Trip with My Son

My son's kindergarten class went on a field trip to a farm recently, and I had the chance to chaperone the trip.

First of all, it was really interesting being a chaperone for another school, another group of kids. With kindergarten field trips, the ratios are something around 5 kids to each chaperone. With that kind of split, we didn't have a specific group of kids to monitor. Instead, we kept the entire class together and all the chaperones stayed close by.

Overall, it was really nice getting to spend the day with my son as he experienced something really unique. We sang songs on the hay ride, fed some goats, milked a cow, and even chased down and held chickens (more on that below).

The trip definitely confirmed that I could never teach kindergarten. The kids are so tiny! I love my son completely, but the other little ones his age? Meh. I mean, they were sweet and all, but so needy!

His teacher was wonderful though. She was attentive the whole trip, sweet in the way that would get her eaten alive in a high school class, and aware of where all her kids were the whole time. I got the chance to discuss my surprise at the parent who was shocked that she spent her own money on student supplies (see this post), and she agreed with me that parents should know that at this point.

Not surprisingly though, the best part of the trip was watching my son. Field trips like this are truly experiential learning and it was amazing to sit back and see him do it. From figuring out the best way to feed a goat, to telling me that milking the cow "felt like touching pee pee", there were some cool moments.

Chief among them was watching him catch a chicken. The tour guide explained to them before we went in the coup that you needed to grab them from above. Z wasted no time chasing one down and doing that. He did not, however, get an appropriate grip on the chicken. I was able to catch an amazing video of him during this true learning process. The video starts right as the chicken flies out of his precarious grip. Z looks to the tour guide, frustrated, and the tour guide explains that Z needs to grab the chicken from above and make sure he wraps around its wings so it can't wiggle free, and pantomimes the hand gesture. In the video, you can see Z watching the instructor and matching his hands as demonstrated. After listening, and clearly learning what he's been shown, he looks down at the chicken, plucks it off the perch, and then looks to me with the biggest smile ever.

I am so glad I joined in on this trip. These are the kind of memories I will hold onto forever. And how many parents can say they have an actual recording of their child learning something?

I'm Done Holding My Tongue In Class

It only seems fair to start this post with an admission. I am a gun owner. In the past, I was even a member of the NRA. I was born in Georgia, have family that still lives on hunt-able land there, have gone hunting myself. I've made the arguments myself that people having guns makes us safer. I've quoted the 2nd Amendment, I've said that taking guns away doesn't help.

Today, I've decided enough is enough and I'm done keeping these thoughts to myself. I just had a lengthy argument with one of my students who argued against taking guns away to prevent further deaths, and point by point I dismantled his opinion. And, in the interest of sharing this discussion with you, here is a summary of that discussion.

Student: My dad is a gun owner, he goes shooting with police officers regularly, takes care of his guns. Taking his guns away won't fix anything.

He's not wrong here. Here's the real issue. Taking my guns away won't save anyone's lives, won't prevent a school shooting. That isn't the same as saying that taking guns away won't prevent school shootings.

There is a simple economics principal to consider, so I'm going to try to put it simply. Think about supply and demand. Currently, if a crazy person wants to shoot up a school, they have a demand for a gun. Currently, there is a massive supply of guns. Therefore, the cost (both monetarily and in difficulty) is easy low. Even if you require more stringent background checks, you won't fix it because private sales are still a thing, and guns can be stolen, lost, transferred, taken, etc.

Reduce the supply, you increase demand. Costs of illegal guns will go up, and just the act of owning it becomes illegal, making the chances of preventing the shootings go up. It isn't a fix that will happen overnight, but over time.

Student: Second Amendment! We have a right to bear arms!

First of all, the Second Amendment says "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Given that roughly none of the current citizens owning firearms are also members of a Militia, it feels less valid. We don't ever hear that part though, do we? "Right to bear arms!" "right to bear arms!" they scream. They don't really want to actually drill with their neighbors, march across the roads and practice maneuvers though, do they?

Beyond that though, lets look at the spirit of the amendment. It was intended to make sure that the people would be able to stand up against a tyrannical government, to reinforce the idea that the government is for the people. Should the government get out of control, the people can stand up, armed, and defend themselves.

Except, even ignoring the fact that assault weapons are banned in many states, the citizens do not own weaponry that would give them any chance against our military. We don't have missiles, drones, fully-automatic weapons, or any other of the myriad of machines of death our military does. Hell, even in the Revolutionary War, we probably couldn't have won against Great Britain if they didn't have to transport their army to us. A militia doesn't overthrow a government in power on the home front.

Student: Shooting is fun, I like target shooting.

I agree, it is fun. It isn't 16-people-not-going-home-to-their-families fun. If the cost of me going to shoot at some targets at a range is the deaths of children in schools, it isn't worth it. That equation doesn't balance in my head.

Student: You want to take all guns away based on the hope that something is going to get better. This is all opinions and guesses. 

You want to do nothing based on the hope that things will get better. I don't need your thoughts and prayers, I need change.

Still, if we take this further, lets look at some of the facts.

Look at that chart again. Please. Because it is that important.

"But people will kill each other regardless!"

Teachers, this is what I ask of you. Stop holding your tongue. Even on twitter, I saw teachers drying up, stop talking. I heard teachers say "thoughts and prayers", but few of them said "Oh hell no, this has to stop." We cannot stay quiet, cannot do nothing, while the NRA and other groups pour money into the pockets of politicians who don't care to represent us, who continue to allow these atrocities to occur. It has to stop.

Stop staying quiet. Stop believing we have to play the middle ground. Stop thinking that it's our job to make kids think on their own. There are 16 people from a city not 3 hours away from me, who will never think again, on their own or otherwise.

Enough is enough.

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