Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Writing to our PLN

Another poignant post by Karl Fisch came to be quite useful in my all boys’ class. We are transitioning this week from simply writing our weekly PLNs to publishing our work so that others can comment and engage. Rather than submitting our work on our personal blogs, we are writing to the bloggers that are inspiring our PLN responses. Karl recently posted a piece by Seth Godin as well as Karl’s own remarks about writing. Both pieces couldn’t have occurred more serendipitously to my classes’ efforts:

Godin writes “Just write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

I believe that everyone should write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squidoo or Tumblr or a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly--you don't need more criticism, you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.”

Fisch responds, “So, are you having your students write every day? In public? I know I'm not (although I'm starting to have them write a bit).

I think we're often overly concerned about the quality of our students' writing, and whether it's "good enough" to share. Now, to be clear, I think our students should be concerned with the quality of their writing, and should strive to get better at communicating their thoughts. But if we let the worry about what others will think get in the way of having our students write more, and for a larger audience, then we're doing them a disservice out of fear.”

As a class, we read Fisch’s post discussing both Godin’s and Fisch’s points regarding writing. Should we only be publishing good pieces of writing? Why should we publish unfinished works of writing or writing in progress? What does it say about us if we publish writing that isn’t proofread and contains errors? Is what we are doing with PLNs purposeful and meaningful? Should we share our thoughts with others moving beyond the walls of our classroom? Will the blogosphere write back to us? Will they care what we think?

I challenged them to engage in their PLNs. I challenged them to write about the issues they are reading and ask questions, seek clarification, connect to what the author was saying. I challenge them to move beyond just writing for me, or just writing for them. Write so that others can see, hear, read and learn.

Here are some of the initial posts:

Austin- wrote to David Warlick

Mr. Warlick I couldn’t agree more with this idea of a game! About every kid has played or dealt with any sort of technology. I thought about the point you made, “The goal of this game IS NOT generating the best test scores. No! No!” This focuses on giving the student a fun and more efficient way of learning. My schools today focus solely on grades. I relate this post to Will Richardson’s “Getting Rid of Grades” where he exclaims, “We’re a society hell bent on competition and ranking and sorting, and much of that no doubt has contributed to the focus on grades as an easy way (supposedly) of giving a value to what has been” ,“learned.” I believe that schools should focus a lot on the students themselves other than what they have turned in. I myself, am on a computer for homework, projects, and socializing. I occasionally play games on a computer or any other handheld device. I would try this game no doubt. Because it would give me motivated to seek help, expand my knowledge, and enjoy myself all at the same time. My education would also matter because I check my grades for school daily, or even hourly. Just praying that they will never fall below an A. But with your concept, grades are NOT the most important aspect, the learning is. Finding better ways to progress and innovate the ideals of schools. Our world would not only benefit, but prosper. Think about a nation where success is worldwide. I know it is far fetched, but this game would bring this out-of-site idea into zoom. Kids in Africa, Mexico, and even all the way to India would be inspired to do better than they have before. If the world is more advantageous and astute we could work together and one. No more wars, no more poverty, and no more failures. But once again this “dream” will probably not be happen anytime soon or at all. What would you change in our school systems today? Why do you think kids choose to “fail”? Your idea is not a solution, but it is definitely an excellent place to begin our journey into the world of academic success.

Lou- wrote to Will Richardson

Mr. Richardson-

In “Getting Rid of Grades” you describe how grades affect students and their learning. This matters to me because I am a student and grades really do stress me out. I continuously check my grades and if my grades aren’t what I expect them to be I automatically begin to get stressed. Grades are a good way to show a student’s progress but a student’s growth depends on the student. Grades are the same for every student even though every student isn’t the same. All kids learn at a different pace and learn in different ways, by having grades teachers are forcing students to learn a certain way or they fail. This piece matters mostly to education. Schools and administrators need to have ways to grade students individually not the same way for every student. Schools need to form their grading styles to fit every student personally. If they can’t do this they are cheating their students by not letting them be creative learners. This matters to the world because our futures (kids) have to learn the way their teachers want them to learn not the way that they understand and grasp the most. If we want our future to flourish and be successful we need kids to configure a way to clench and understand information on their own. After reading this piece I have a few questions to ask you, if you don’t like how grades are formatted today then how would you change them? Also have you noticed a leap in students understanding and ability when they no longer have grades that they must worry about? Mr. Richardson you bring up a valid point, and after reading this I understand why you believe that grades are bad for students learning and growth.

Scott- wrote to Karl Fisch

Mr. Fisch,

This article has motivated me to become a better and more effective writer. I'm very shy when it comes to writing, because I feel very discouraged after I post or turn in an assignment; my thoughts in my head are that the teacher is snickering at my work, laughing at every mistake I make. Hopefully, the world can see this post, because honestly, it will encourage more kids to write, helping them to improve their skill. This method doesn't just have to work in writing, the more you work at anything the better chance you have to improve. Your article relates in a strange way to Mr. Carr's blog, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", because kids spend a lot of time relying on Google; this will make them less likely to be succesful in typing because they might just copy and paste documents. They won't ever experience real typing. I have already started to type much more this year and after reading your post, I'm inspired to dramatically increase my grammar and punctuation skills by the end of the year.

Will B- wrote to David Warlick

David Warlick- I really enjoyed reading about your idea for a new video game that tries to push the idea of creating an award winning school out of nothing. However you said the school would not be trying to earn the best test scores, but trying to raise students to be the next “masterminds” for the human race. I believe that that is a great idea. Schools are too focused on keeping up the status quos of trying to make their students earn A’s all year round. Which is not a bad thing, but it is creating this student that is almost made out of a mold resembling an honor student that is successful in school but not striving for anymore than that. Sure that student would go on to be successful in college and life but it wouldn’t create what the world actually needs, someone that can cure a disease thought to be incurable. Someone like Winton Marsellas or Kurt Vontegut both men that changed the world with their research alone. Hey- maybe this game could be published and designed and maybe even sold worldwide. But most importantly it could spread this idea that test scores shouldn’t be the big picture, it should be what these students turn out to be. What this idea might even do is even change that general picture of the perfect student into a student that strives for greatness and knowing that they have the power to change something. What I grew up believing and still am is that a good idea can catch on like wild fire and no matter how unimportant that idea is it’s not one to be thrown away and forgotten. This is one of those ideas and I believe it could be influential to schools all around the world. The idea of education needs to be rethought and I believe your game is a place to start.

Jake- wrote to Gary Stager

Mr. Stager

I was intrigued and entertained by your article and Silvia’s videos but I disagree with some of the points you made. I watched Silvia’s videos and was very impressed as I could not see my self, a ninth grader at Arapahoe High School doing something that educational or high quality for a school project let alone in my free time. I am usually worried about a hockey game the next weekend or the cheerleader in my science lab, not learning how to use an Arduino or a new computer program to do something productive. This sentence from your article really struck me “While you bathe in the warmth of your PLN with self-congratulatory tweets, Sylvia is sharing serious expertise with the world.” The fact that I am currently doing a PLN(Personal Learning Network) for my english class makes me think if you are calling out my teacher. PLNs are the first time I have been exposed to blogs and all of the blog posts we have had to summarize are sending the same general message of improving education with technology.

I respect Silvia’s devotion and love for what she is doing but she is one of few in our current education system. I, like many others in my class have just started to understand the art of blogging and personally I am pretty proud and then there are the kids like Sylvia who are clearly a level head and shoulders above kids like me when it comes to lust for knowledge. There has always been people like Sylvia who are fortunate enough to come form such supportive parents and has a love for learning and we call people like that over achievers or active learners. Its not meant to be an insult in fact the opposite but it helps show there is another side of the scale. Kids who come from divorced parents living off lower wages who cant afford home computers and struggle in school and life in general. We have to give both an equal opportunity for an education. Should we send them to different schools, or should take away Sylvia’s opportunities and give the challenged kids the same attention Sylvia needs or vis versa.

So, just to remind you, these are boys. Ninth grade boys. These are 9th grade boys who all have something to say. They will be writing to you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Goals 2011-12

Every year, I ask Karl for focused goals regarding areas I can improve in my teaching and learning. This year, as with all years, he didn't fail to challenge me. And this year, I didn't have to ask. They were there waiting for me on the first day!

1. Share the passion. I love teaching. I love my classes. I love showing the kids the possibilities that reside within each one of them. I couldn't ask for a better job (better pay, yes), but not a better job. I think what I need to focus on is not just showing my kids the passion for learning, but to show my colleagues as well. Often I feel there is a lot of resistance to what I do and how I do it, but this year, I sense a shift in the tide. New teacher=new attitudes. I am loving life!
2. What is truly essential for your students? Do the rest if you have to , but don't sweat it because it doesn't matter. What do I want my students to know and be able to do? I want them to be intellectual giants for the world. I want them to be articulate and persuasive speakers. Thoughtful and contemplative thinkers. Challenging question askers. In-depth connection makers. Devoted collaborators. Intense listeners. And all around nice kids. I want me kids to see there are endless possibilities in the world around them. I want them to firmly believe they can make a difference in the world and that I am there to help them do it. The rest...doesn't matter.
3. Failure is (almost) not an option. Encourage, cajole, berate, hassle, joke-let them know that they will succeed in your class; that you're not going to let them off the hook.This is right up my alley. The NO D policy I uphold in my all-boys class underwent a little revision this summer- I returned the policy back to its original state the first year I implemented it. We are doing well, but I am still not reaching them all. Some simply do not want to do homework. How to reach them all is the question? How to hold them responsible yet give them space to grow, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. How can I balance my expectations of work turned in on time, with all my other classes, and not allow myself to fall into a grading nightmare. How can I reach all the kids?
4. Be bold. Why not?

My addition to the goals:
5. Be a communicator. Communicate successes and failures. Communicate with my students in class and out of class. Get to know each kid's passion. Communicate with my students' parents. They want to know what is going on, let them in. Communicate with my colleagues. Be open to listening and sharing. Communicate with the blogosphere.

Friday, September 16, 2011

TED Talks AHS Style

Towards the end of second semester, our ninth grade Honors students were challenged to deliver their own TED talk based upon a subject they were passionate about. Maura Moritz and I heavily borrowed this idea from Christian Long who encouraged, supported, and motivated our efforts to build off what he had done with his students in Texas. All he asked was that we give credit back to his students and their work, and make it better. Hopefully, we made you proud, Christian.

Christian gave us access to his resources on his wiki that was instrumental in the success of our students’ projects. Having a basis from which to work, Maura and I constructed a similar website to guide our students and ourselves. We asked our students to answer the question, “What Matters?” in a 5 minute Pecha Kucha or Ignite style presentation.

I think this is one of the scariest parts on undertaking an idea you have never done before, nor have any idea where the project is going to go, or how it might turn out in the end. We were navigating in un-charted waters, with a minimalistic map of where we wanted to go. Luckily for us, we had students who were patient, reflective, and willing to try anything we challenged them with. I love those kids!

From the students’ perspective this was scary territory too. They were riding without seat belts on our learning adventure. Not only were they responsible for creating their own TED talk, but their talk was going to be shown live on Ustream for all to see. The students’ job was to “Change the World” by what they discussed. As TED requests, they were to “Spread an idea worth spreading” and “Inspire.” NO PRESSURE! Plus, Maura and I have never given out an assignment before that was so individual, so raw, so independent and so challenging to our students and to ourselves as teachers. Usually when we take on a speaking project, we ask that kids complete the project in groups. However, this time, with issues so controversial yet so personal, it only could be a solo project.

In the beginning we had our students watch numerous TED talks to get a feel for what makes a quality talk. As we were wrapping up our readings from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and selections from Drive, we started viewing various TED talks: Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, Clay Shirky, and Dave Eggers. Additionally, our students had to watch TED or TEDx videos on their own. Using their own blogs, our students reflected about each video. Here was the assignment:

Students will offer a written summary of all 8+ videos they are assigned. Each summary will be uploaded as an individual blog entry following these simple rules (to guarantee a ‘Gentleman’s C’, so to speak): 1) write respectfully and thoughtfully, 2) write about "What Matters" from the video c) write about the speaker's effectiveness and purpose and d) attempt to be “remarkable” — to borrow from TED speaker Seth Godin’s talk — so that visitors will want to “remark” about your post and also consider the video itself. Beyond that, write in a way that is meaningful and compelling. Period.

If you need a more detailed list of what to reflect upon consider:

1-What are your take-aways from this video?

2-What are the speaker’s effective speaking techniques?

3- What is his/her presentation style?

4-What matters from this video? How does it connect to you personally? To education? To the world?

Asking the students to be reflective not only about the content, but about the speaker’s style forced the students to examine their own speaking styles they would employ for their presentation. What works? What definitely doesn’t work? How were they going to stand apart from the rest? Here is a sample of one student’s reflective blog post:

Megan M:

Dave Eggers is bent on improving education. By providing students with one-on-one attention and by incorporating relaxed fun into learning, he has already initiated a movement to change the face of learning. Eggers describes in his TED video the multiple, new-era tutoring facilities that have popped up around the country in response to his original site. These educational building are unique; the front rooms of them contain stores in which fun and comedic items, such as pirate or super hero supplies, are sold. In the back room, several volunteers tutor individual students that arrive after school. Not only do students receive help at these sites, they also have the opportunity to compose their own novels alongside interns and journalists. In my opinion, these new learning facilities should be included in every community nation-wide because they help tackle two of education’s largest challenges today.

Many students struggle through their curriculum simply because they cannot remain engaged in their studies. After all, with all of the information teachers drill into students’ heads, it becomes hard to avoid a loss of interest. By the time high school, and even middle school, rolls around, kids’ views of school have switched from an engaging, learning experience, to a chore. One hundred years ago, society would have deemed children crazy for not valuing their educations and feeling grateful for every minute they spent in school. Back then, an education was a luxury that spelled out certain success for those lucky enough to receive one. Education has developed, however, to become commonplace; an education does not guarantee success, nor does a college degree. Instead of ensuring future prosperity, these accomplishments are merely the baseline requirements to even open the doors to success. Thus, students no longer are able to see the direct effect their learning will have on their futures. Kids today may understand that in the long run a better education equals greater prosperity; yet in the classroom, each day of note-taking and memorizing equations seems hardly relevant. For example, I eventually hope to enter into medical school, and thus my main concerns lie in science and mathematics. However, in order to graduate from my high school, I must obtain over twice as many credits in English as I must in math. To me, this means that I must waste my time studying a subject that I will not need extensive knowledge of. The tutoring/teaching style Eggers has set up is the first step towards solving this problem. Students in his original facility learn next to magazine writers and interns, who both help and inspire them. While in the facility, kids also have the opportunity to write and publish their own books with the help of editors. Instructors speak to the kids individually and concentrate directly on their needs, allowing students to concentrate their efforts on the subjects they are most concerned with and focus on the assignments that will benefit them personally. These methods display for kids exactly how their day-to-day work, especially in English, will apply to their futures. Since the kids also learn in a fun, friendly, environment, the drudgery associated with schoolwork disappears. Instead of trudging home to independently complete tedious homework, kids travel to a club filled with people willing to help them and wanting to discuss. Students are released, often with their homework completed, by 5:30 pm. This accomplishment solves the largest issue I personally have with education. At times, it completely consumes my life. One quarter may be peaceful and result in at most two hours of homework each night. The next quarter usually then explodes, and my minimum nightly homework requirement shifts to at least three hours, normally four or five (plus around ten hours on the weekends). With the amount of time my classes demand I dedicate to homework, I must sacrifice several things I enjoy in life to meet my teacher’s expectations. If I could accomplish everything I need for school and still have three to four hours remaining every night to pursue whatever passion I choose, undoubtedly I would enjoy and appreciate my education much more.

Egger’s talk about the buildings in which he holds his tutoring sessions in reminded of Daniel Pink’s words on the importance of design. Eggers’ facilities are a prime example of the benefits of good design. When Eggers first advertized for his tutoring studio, he placed a sandwich sign outside of his shop announcing free tutoring inside. Unsurprisingly, he had no business the first few weeks. His sign appeared unprofessional and sloppy, eliminating all chance of parents trusting him to teach their children. Also, the initial sight people saw upon entering his facility was a shop selling pirate paraphernalia. People who did not already know who Eggers was or what he was trying to accomplish would immediately dismiss him as a joker or a loon. If Eggers had placed his teaching workshop or magazine offices in front, or set out a professional advertisement, he would have attracted much more business. Eggers did succeed with design, however, in a few ways with his building. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, the pirate shop adds and air goofiness and play to the tutoring workshop, allowing kids to escape the mentality of being trapped in a schoolroom. The room in which students learn is further visible to parents and other people as they enter the store, creating a feel of openness, community, and faith in the honesty of what Egger is doing.

Eggers finally made a point that students produce their best work when they know it will be published for the world to see. When Eggers made this point, he was referring to the novels several classes had composed together in his shop. This idea of publishing could be made accessible to all classrooms, however, without a publishing facility. Technology has opened the door for all of us to let our voices be heard, independent of assistance from others. If teachers want to encourage students to always produce their best quality work, all they need to do is have students create blogs and websites and post their assignments on them. Once information is on the web, anyone in the world can read it. Essentially, it is published. The more well-known the website, the more pressure students will feel to post quality work. While publishing work online is a terrific idea for ensuring effort is put into important assignments, having students publish everything they write often overwhelms them. When students are asked to publish too much, they give up after realizing they cannot possibly make every piece of work their best quality. Thus, using the internet as a medium for publication is an effective trigger of instrinsic motivation when used in moderation.

Education truly should learn from the expeditions of Dave Egger, and bring more fun, individualized attention, good design, and publishing into its curriculum.

More about the author: or

More about the tutoring shops:

As the students progressed through the last few weeks, they were required to meet with Maura and I individually. We discussed each topic, gave suggestions, encouraged, and reminded them of what a great opportunity this was. The world was ready to hear their ideas! They needed to practice, practice, practice. They needed to look again and again at the visuals they chose for their backgrounds. They needed to think about their dress and speaking voice too.

In class, each day there was a focus regarding their presentation: work on slides, find images that capture idea, rehearse first minute, work on posture and voice, add more slides, practice at front of classroom using clicker, rehearse second minute, rehearse third minute, stand up straight, change slide order, rehearse final minute, smile, appearance, etc…

Finally, the presentations began. All I could hear from the students was how nervous they were but how meaningful this assignment was to them. This could make a difference. This could change the way people thought about bullies, cancer, eating, smiling, and physical attributes. This project would change the world! And boy did they blow me away. As each student presented, his classmates would leave feedback regarding the presentation on the individual’s blog post on our class blog. What a powerful reinforcement for their work and ideas. Here are some samples:

KendallC2014 said...Lauren-Your presentation was very powerful. The stories show just how bullying affects kids. Your message will go straight to people's heart, and make them feel ashamed to judge people. Many people dismiss bullying as trivial, but you have showed them it is a serious issues. Your facts really emphasize your point. Good job!

ians2014 said...Lauren, your topic was very deep and confrontational. It is interesting because because you had tons of stories including a personal story. And not everyone sees bullying from the bullied perspective. I think that your tone was very helpful get your point across. It was very emotionally evoking. Great job honing in on us personally.

VivianD2014 said...Her voice was very passionate and really caught my attention. Her stories were very moving. I was very moved and it really made me think about bullying. I loved how her points flowed. I like how she connected bullying to her own life. The talk was very moving and she knew her topic. I was speechless after Lauren's talk. I now want to be nicer and watch what I say.

As I write this, thinking back to last semester, tears are in my eyes. I can’t express how proud I was of each student. From some students overcoming fears of standing in front of their peers, to other students making us laugh and cry, each student ended their presentation with a challenge to us as the audience. Each challenge came from the heart. Each challenge required more of us as human beings in these crazy times. Each challenge made me want to be more and do more for my students. I was overwhelmed by the energy they created in their presentations. Paraphrasing Dr. Seuss, these kids will move mountains. My students have an amazing digital portfolio of their work from the freshman year. They have left the world a better place because they have challenged the world to be better and do better by them.

I don’t know what this year will bring with a new set of students and their TED talks, but they will have big shoes to fill. Watch, comment and learn. These kids have something to teach us all. and

Here are a suggested few: (there are more on our Ustream channel )

Lauren B

Lauren C

Megan M

Maddie F

Steven A