Wanna REALLY learn? Check out a TeachMeet!

Another packed room for the Dirty 30 v.4.0!

I’ll admit it – I’m an edcamp junkie. I love spending my own time on weekends or using my vacation days to go learn something new about what’s happening in schools. I’m passionate about my craft, 24/7. 

Kyle Calderwood kicks off #tmnj16

Over the years, the edcamp movement has exploded, but there is also another Un-conference that is gaining major traction: TeachMeet. Today, I attended my third TeachMeetNJ in Toms River.

73 teachers partook in BreakoutEDU

There are some differences between an edcamp and a TeachMeet. The two biggest differences are that a schedule is predetermined, and morning sessions are only 20 minutes, with participants voting at lunch for 45 minute sessions in the afternoon (based on what they saw in the AM). 

I had the chance to run a session on one of the most interesting educational tools to “break out” on the scene, BreakoutEDU. The room was packed; always a good thing. Packed rooms, on weekends or days in the summer, always show me that there are educators all over that want to learn more and more on their time. The room was very intrigued and it appeared that some would be looking into the kit for the upcoming school year.

TeachMeet scheduled food trucks for lunch!

I attended sessions on NextGen, Makerspaces, 8-bit gaming, and even gamification. And yes, I presented my annual Dirty 30 – now as version 4.0.

Three major highlights of the day –

1) Seeing one of my teachers present her knowledge and skill set to others. She had a  full crowd and lead the workshop with grace. I really have some amazing staff members. 

2) Food trucks for lunch, with a $5.00 voucher to be used towards them. Ingenious.

3) 73…… Yes, 73 teachers stayed for breakoutEDU; they broke-out in under 18 minutes. Pretty damn cool. 

In all, one of the best PD days I have attended and facilitated this year. People left charged – the excitement was palpable. Here’s to a great school year!

Chicagoland: science, STEAM, and sheer awe

The following was published on the BAM radio network and on the AASA website:

In late July, I had the opportunity to participate in the AASA digital consortium summer meet up. The consortium visited two superb districts (Leyden High School District 212 and Deerfield Public School District 109) as well as one Titan in its own class (the Chicago office of Google).

 

The symposium started with an overview of the Leyden school district. A diverse, blue collar town, Leyden has a little bit of everything to offer. What was most impressive was the fact that Leyden truly understood the necessity to prepare young adults to be adults in the workforce.  Not that they weren’t preparing for college prep too, but it’s always fantastic to see what schools are doing for the student going into the workforce. 

Tours like this always start with “the nickel tour” (tour of the building),  which was immaculate. The building itself was over 70 years old, but you would never think it. I later found out that the entire maintenance team are non-outsourced employees, which we all know leads to high quality work and investment in work. When I say immaculate, I could have eaten my lunch off of the floor.


We then saw two specific programs that were essentially turnkeying students for the workforce. One program focused on CNC machinery (tool & dye) and the other was computer repair. You may think CNC machinery as odd, but there is a large CNC plant in town, and the district collaborates with the plant in creating and maintaining the program. The epitome of win-win.


The computer repair program was a variety of mini-stations: a student-lead technology help desk, a chromebook repair station, and a coding station. All stations were oversaw by a teacher, but all work was being completed by students. From diagnosing computer problems to 3D printing parts for said computer problems, it was a well-oiled machine. 

The next day was spent at Google’s Chicago office, where Superintendents from around the country gathered to brainstorm and work through problems. This was all done in one of many conference rooms that Google has. And yes, before you even think about it, he offices were amazing. Part IKEA, part arcade, part diner, and part cubicle, the offices were amazing. All of the things about the Google office that I heard were correct, including:

  • Funky furniture
  • A manicure/pedicure and massage office
  • Fully stocked kitchens on every floor
  • Nap pods
  • Ping pong
  • Some of the most creative minds I will ever come across.

The third day was focusing on another Chicago suburb school district, Deerfield. The district, the almost polar opposite of Leyden, is a K-8 district focusing on preparing students for college prep classes in high school. Most impressive was the newly built science wing, which took three years to build after scads of tinkering to perfection. To be honest, words can’t really begin to describe the detail and quality of these science rooms. The pictures below speak for themselves. Every single aspect of the room was focused on; no stone was left unturned. Highlights of the wing include:

  • Floors that had scientific Equations embedded in them, as well as state of the art seating

  • Monitors all around the room are are connected to one camera in front of the teachers station, so the teacher can model as students partake in labs

  • Rain collection stations for fully functioning aquaponic workstations, along with camera equipped bird houses
  • A hallway designed with RGBOYV for studying purposes, along with monitors that are reporting outdoor temperatures and scientific data

The tour also included a new STEAM lab and was loaded with students talking about their daily experiences. 

In all, three amazing days this summer. Superintendents need to see this – it shows all of us that work needs to be done in our home districts, and also shows us that all of the dreams and thoughts that run through our head everyday are indeed fully capable of becoming student reality.


I’m looking forward to the next collaborative venture. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Second Hand News

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Summer is a time for relaxation, recharging, and for some, regrouping. I’m a big fan of just zoning out on the beach to some tunes. One of my favorite bands, Fleetwood Mac, was just on with their hit “Second Hand News”. I know the song has nothing to do with school, but the title sure does.

As a Superintendent, I am constantly addressing the rumor mill and second-hand news.  There’s not a day that does not go by where I don’t hear “well I heard that…” or “someone told me that…” or “is it true that…” To be clear almost every administrator goes through this. In no way, shape, or form is this unique to me.

Once you think you hear it all, something else comes along.  It’s constant, but almost expected.

Why would I waste time blogging about this? Simple; others folks in my position need to know it’s not just you, your district, or location. It’s everywhere. What you need to do is simply laugh it off and keep moving along. The only time I address rumors is when someone is personally being scrutinized for something.

Will rumors ever stop? Never. Will they dictate my life or my leadership. Absolutely not. Rumors are rumors, and peddling, laughing, and rolling with them is just as much a apart of school culture as snacks in the faculty room.

5 ways to use Pokemon Go in your classroom

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image credit: pokemongo.com

 

Disclaimer: Before you think I’m jumping on the bandwagon, I’m not.  This is intended to be used as another tool in the shed of an educator that connects to today’s learner. 

 

History does indeed come full circle. Pokemon is back in the news. When I first heard it over the weekend, I thought I was hearing things. Pokemon?? For real?!

Not even a week ago at this point, Ninentndo introduced a new app called “Pokemon Go” that has swept a country by storm.  Five days into its’ release, it’s scheduled to have more downloads and users than Twitter. You read that right; more users than twitter in five days.

Why? Sheer nostalgia meets a game that one can play with ease.

The goal of the game? Capture Pokemon creatures. Get Points. Get ranked. The epitome of gamification.

 

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image credit: pokemonfanatics.com

As mentioned earlier, this has become such a hit that it recently crashed a server because too many people were using it.  It also has received a ridiculous amount of press in a very short time, with not all of it being good.

Click here to watch a 3:00 report on NBC World News (for real, NBC WORLD NEWS!)

If you don’t know the basics of Pokémon,  it stems from the hobby of insect collecting. Players of the games are designated as Pokémon Trainer, and in the main series Pokémon games, these trainers have two general goals. These are to complete the Pokédex by collecting all of the available Pokémon species found in the fictional region where that game takes place and to train a team of powerful Pokémon from those they have caught to compete against teams owned by other Trainers, and eventually win the fictional Pokémon League. These themes of collecting, training, and battling are present in almost every version of the Pokémon franchise.

When playing the game, a Trainer that encounters a wild Pokémon is able to capture that Pokémon by throwing a tool called a Poké Ball at it. If the Pokémon is unable to escape, it is officially considered to be under the ownership of that Trainer. If a Pokémon fully defeats an opponent in battle so that the opponent is knocked out, the winning Pokémon gains experience points and may level up. When leveling up, the Pokémon’s statistics of battling aptitude increase, such as Attack and Speed. From time to time, the Pokémon may also learn new moves, which are techniques used in battle.

 

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image credit: wikipedia.org

I immediately thought of another game that has the same exact concept of moving around to collect things: Ingress. If you haven’t heard of ingress, it was created by the same company that created Pokemon Go – Niantic.  In Ingress, the competition in Ingress is between the two opposing teams rather than between individual players, and players never interact directly in the game or suffer any kind of damage. The gameplay consists of capturing “portals” at places of cultural significance, such as public art, landmarks, monuments, etc., and linking them to create virtual triangular “control fields” over geographical areas. Progress in the game is measured by the number of “mind units” captured. The necessary links between portals may range in length from meters to hundreds of miles. Gameplay relies heavily on the player physically moving about the community in order to interact with portals.

 

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image credit: citycapture.org 

Now that you have this crazy description, there has to be a way to inject this into classes; surely there is!  Below are 5 ways to capitalize on the craze:

Map Reading.  Starting in 3rd grade, per Common Core standard ERI.3.7, students should be able to use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur). While we all rely on GPS and mapquest, viewing and reading a map is paramount for anyone. PokemonGo is based off of maps; this would be a great way to teach direction and to incorporate the 5 themes of geography.

Digital Citizenship and Safety. I’m sure you have heard or read the headlines; the game has lead to people strolling into traffic, finding weapons and dead bodies, and has even lead people to muggings. Using real-time news and scenarios, you can easily inject the game into the importance of being safe in your surroundings, meeting strangers on the internet, etc.

 Probability. Pokemon is a game based on location, but also a game that circulates around rarity. It’s like fishing in a way; you never know what you’re going to catch. A lesson on the probability of catching a certain species to another species could be one of the best hooks that you can use for your students… and it’s compliant with 6th grade  CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.SP.A.1.

 Local & Cultural Exploration. PokemonGo has brought people out and about.  Gatherings. Meetups. Excitement.  Not just in a park, but at art galleries, restaurants, sights, and more. The way the app works allows folks to truly explore their surroundings. You have a whole new level of engagement and urge for exploration that many did not have before.  Why not inject local history, art, music, and culture into this craze?

A perfect opportunity for research.   Tying into the exploration lab above, having students conduct research on the game, the fad, and the places they have gone in the process is an easy and simplistic way to engage as student in research practices.  If a student is interested in it, why not have them engaged in it?

Again, I certainly won’t be pushing a PokemonGo classroom next year, but teachers would be silly not to capitalize on the craze like everyone else has.

 

 

4 Ways to Deal with Dead Weight

One of the best posts I have read in a long time.  All truth, written by someone who is not only seasoned, but more importantly understands how dead works and how dead weight is scattered.  It can weigh everyone down. All school leaders should keep the concept of dead weight in their heads when scheduling and planning out an effective program.  Mostly, dead weight needs to have the least impact in schools. Placement is critical!  Read the superb post below.

Successful leaders deal with people who take up space but don’t contribute.

12 ways to be deadweight:

Complain about entitled millennials. Have you noticed how entitled older leaders expect young people to bow down to their experience? I can’t tell who’s more entitled.

Commit fully to your comfort zone. Do your best to make people dance around your preferences.

Beat down infant ideas with questions about details and definitions.

Cling to offenses. You’re still upset about the policy change of 2005.

Smile and agree in the meeting. Drag your feet when the work begins.

Refuse to adapt. Policy is policy.

Reject all attempts to update systems and software. It can’t be better if it’s working for you.

Say, “We already tried that,” at least three times a day.

Disagree because it’s fun to throw your weight around. Remove the word “constructive” from dissent. 

Encourage people to worry about the people upstairs. Just bringing up the CEO is enough to stall any initiative.

Demand perfection. Reject better.

Remind everyone about something that’s lacking, when things are going good. “That’s great. But what about …?”

4 ways to deal with deadweight:

#1. Figure out the strengths of deadweight and apply them appropriately. I’ve found that deadweight isn’t always dead. I’ve been frustrated with fellow leaders because I didn’t understand or respect their strengths.
Just because someone sees things differently, doesn’t make them deadweight.
#2. Put all your deadweight on the same team. Don’t spread poison through your organization. Who knows, the deadweight may come up with something useful. At least they won’t be polluting everyone.
#3. Assign deadweight to established projects. Don’t expect historical obstacles to magically get behind new initiatives.
#4. Help deadweight take their talent to an organization where they’ll be appreciated.


Read more of the leadership freak at his website

The Educators Lead Podcast is amazing!

I was recently featured on the Educators Lead podcast talking about how I worked my way up to become a Superintendent here in New Jersey. I always find it a little odd to listen to yourself, and I say the sound “uhhh” way too much, but overall, it was a great conversation with Jay Willis.

Check it out!

iTunes Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/educators-lead-jay-willis/id1068590753

Stitcher Link: http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=79340&refid=stpr

Google Play Link: http://www.educatorslead.com/googleplay

 

Some resources for dealing with Orlando

Dealing with grief in schools is tough.  Very tough.  Some schools are out already; some are just wrapping up, but regardless — questions will be had. Below is a simple letter I sent to my staff and included some resources to help your students deal with tragedy. 

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All:

It is with great sadness that I find myself writing another email addressing gun violence and terrorism.  With the shooting of a pop star that grew up down the road, and the deadliest mass shooting in American history taking place last evening, we are all in a state of pondering how such senseless acts could take place. 

With seven school days left, we are still charged with the well-being and educating our students.  While I know you will be teaching, packing, and partaking in end of year activities, I am assuming that at some point that questions will be had by students.  I know that you are the professionals who will address any issues appropriately and accordingly.

School Counselors  and social workers will clear their schedules to be available tomorrow; if anyone is in need of additional resources, please contact your supervisor and we will get them to you.

Below are some links and resources you can use if you need them.  A kind reminder that if you do address Orlando, please use your discretion when sharing any images or any news clips. 

Disney & Grief: http://efuneral.com/Articles/Top_10_Kids_Movies_Dealing_with_Loss_Death__Grief/375

Sesame Street and dealing with grief: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/topics/grief

Edutopia – Dealing with Grief in schools: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/tips-grief-at-school-2-chris-park

Talking to students about tragedy: http://www.fosterparents.com/articles/borba3.htm

Jerry Blumengarten’s  grief webpage: http://cybraryman.com/guidance.html

Even in the wake of tragedy, schools continue to be one of the safest places for children to be on a daily basis. Below are some conversational tips from Dr. Michele Borba personally shared on her Twitter feed today. I trust Michele with my own child’s well-being and consider her a personal friend and colleague. I hope you find her thoughts helpful.

· Turn off the TV and media when kids are present. Image can negatively impact children regardless of your zip code.
· Talk to the kids if they have questions. Open with “What have you heard?” Kids need the right facts. YOU not their peers provide the best source.
· Kids need to know it’s OK to share their feelings. It’s normal to be upset. Be calm and give only age appropriate information.
· Don’t give more information than the kid is ready to hear. More importantly, let your students know you’re there to listen.
· Don’t expect to help alleviate a student’s  anxiety unless you keep your own in check. Kids are calmer if we are calmer.
· Please don’t think because a student isn’t talking about the events that he/she didn’t hear about it.
· Give the information in small doses. Listen. Watch their response. Kids need processing time. Kids don’t need to know all the details and numbers. End with “I’m here for any questions you may have at anytime.”
· Here’s a great way to curb anxieties: Find proactive ways to alleviate fears about the tragedy.
· Stick to classroom routines. This soothes the stress and helps kids know that despite tragedy, that the world goes on. The sun will come up tomorrow.
· Draw kids’ attention to heroism in the tragedy. Use police, doctors, etc so kids see the goodness in the heartbreak.
· Kids respond to tragic news differently. Let your students know their feelings are normal. Help he/she express them. Follow his/her lead.
· Keep ongoing dialogue. Don’t explain more than they are ready to hear. Kids process and will want more later.
· T.A.L.K.

o Talk to the kid about the tragedy in an age-appropriate way

o Assess kid coping skills

o Listen, give some information and listen some more

o Kindle hope that the world goes on


· Plan what you’ll say to your students about the tragedy to boost their confidence and calmness. It’s OK to say “I don’t know” or “Good question. Let me find out.”