Re-Branding: Meaningful Ed


My school year ended yesterday. I’m celebrating my first day of summer vacation by returning to this blog. It’s been awhile.

I used to blog to share ideas. Then I wrote to reflect on what I was doing. In my blogging hiatus, I’ve done a lot of professional growing. I reached that magical milestone of 10 years of experience, looked around my classroom and thought “am I doing what I need to be doing”? I finally feel smart enough to realize that in order to be better teacher, I need to be asking better questions about my teaching. This blog seems like a fitting platform to ask those questions and continue this journey.

The new name for the blog is “Meaningful Ed”. I need my students to be engaged in the content inside and outside the classroom. Content and delivery must be meaningful to them if it’s going to stand a chance up against basketball games, teen dramas and Snapchat. My goal and my focus is to make education meaningful. Hopefully this blog shares that focus.

The name has a slight personal twist to it as well. My son is almost two and is at that stage where he is learning so much every day right in front of my eyes. It’s so amazing to watch that much learning happening so obviously and joyously. He is helping me realize how incredible learning is. And his name is Edward, or Eddie. Or Meaningful Ed.

Student Reflection on Classcraft


I had planned to update my blog this week with a more detailed picture of how we are using Classcraft in my classroom.  While I’m still working on that, I wanted to share something that one of my students recently wrote about Classcraft.  I love that it is in his own words and describes our process in a way that is easy to picture and understand.

Classcraft by definition is “a free online, educational role playing game that teachers and students play together in the classroom.” However I do not believe that the definition I just told you quite captures what Classcraft really is.

The thing is, is that Classcraft is so much more than just any one thing to a person or people. Classcraft is a place where a gamer who doesn’t quite fit in can work side by side and cooperate with a varsity Quarterback on the same level and work as a team. Classcraft is a place where a disinterested student who can’t find the motivation to take time and complete his homework or listen in class can finally have a fun way to learn an otherwise “boring” subject. Classcraft is a place where two girls who maybe aren’t in the same “clique” or do not get along can work towards a common coal (and maybe even become friends in the process). Classcraft is a place where you’re not a Jock, or a nerd, or even the mean girl. It is a place where people forget about the status quo and “the norm” and see their classmates as a level 3 healer who bailed them out so they didn’t have to roll the infamous “Cursed Die” or a level 5 warrior that took a big hit to their HP for you because that’s what teammates are for. And yes, even in some cases as a level 12 mage that stays up way too late completing quests. Classcraft is a place that transforms our classroom from a boring room with a whiteboard to a battlefield where we face other teams in competitions, or a foreign land that we are exploring during a quest. Classcraft can make you or take you anything or anywhere, it really just depends on your imagination.

Classcraft for me personally has been a huge motivator. Instead of procrastinating and waiting till the night before to due homework and projects I know finish the as soon as I can because not only do I get an XP bonus if I do finish multi-day assignments early but if all my other homework is done I have more time to complete other quests that reward me with XP. I also do more quality work because I get more XP if I do. Also by doing quests such as learning Spanish and Spelling Spanish on quizlet I have learned numerous new useful Spanish words that have been a tremendous help on my more recent Spanish assignments.

Classcraft most importantly is a new and effective way to teach kids in an age that students are constantly plugged into technology with their cell phones laptops and videogames. Times are changing and education needs to change with it. We can’t expect new and different generations to learn the same way kids did 50-100 years ago, and in reality our generation is much different from what it was even 15-20 years ago. Classcraft is a proven educational tool that can teach kids in a new and exciting format. Classcraft doesn’t just improve learning it changes it, and for the better.

Thank you to Creed K. for writing this assessment of Classcraft and allowing me to share it.  He did it for the XP but I appreciate it anyway 🙂

The Paperless Classroom Experiment


My school has been 1:1 with laptops for 2 years now.  Eventually the tech coordinator and I believed that going 1:1 would gradually lead to a decrease in printing, photocopying and general paper use but it hasn’t really worked out that way.  Two weeks ago I was preparing my lesson for the next day and began printing some copies of example assignments I wanted to show my students.  The thought just popped into my head and I hit Command+P and printed without even thinking about.  Like a reflex.

So I challenged myself for one week to use no paper in the classroom.  I continued lesson planning like normal, but I had to find ways for myself and my students to work without the use of paper.  I just wrapped this up on Friday, so here are my main reflections on how it all went:

To each their own

Each of my students are different.  There are some students that thrive in a digital environment with hyperlinks and online filing cabinets.  Other students find that harder to navigate and understand.  I tried to, for the most part, give my students digital copies of everything the day before class in case they wanted to print them out on their own.  Is that cheating in a paperless classroom?  Maybe, but I felt like I had to give the students that option.  Almost no students chose to print anything out though.

Sometimes there is no substitute

Sometimes paper is just the best option.  This week I introduced new vocabulary to my Spanish 2 students.  They normally get a paper vocab sheet with the words.  They use that sheet as a reference when we do different activities and I’ve seen them use it for an easy way to study during lunch or before the quiz.  This week they just got a digital copy of the sheet.  I think it definitely impacted the way they studied and learned their vocabulary.  I wasn’t very pleased with assessments results associated with the vocabulary this week.  The students definitely seemed weaker without holding that solid reference sheet.  If I ever did decide to make the move to a 100% paperless classroom, this would be my biggest concern and condition to consider.

Just do it

Kind of like a diet or a lenten resolution, there were some times throughout the week where I just thought I could cheat or cut a corner here and there.  I could have the students write down those answers and turn them into me on paper real quick.  I could just make a classroom copy of this or that.  But this was a challenge/game for me, so I just did it.  And for the most part, everything was just fine.  I think the biggest obstacle in creating a paperless or paper-lessened environment is the decision to plan it that way.  It requires a decision from the teacher to go that route.  It becomes like a discipline behavior.

Worth it?

Sounds like a lot of work or willpower for the teacher.  So is it worth it?  There are certainly benefits to a paper-lessened environment.  I never took home anything to grade — every piece of assessment data I had was on my computer in one form or another.  Easily organized and accessed.  I used digital assessments (on Canvas LMS) vs. regular paper quizzes and that allowed the students to get immediate feedback.  They knew their score before I did.  Which makes sense since it is their score.  Physically less photocopying and printing makes my tech guy happier with the budget, so there are monetary concerns if you look at this large scale.  I also found that doing things this way made it easier to get things to students that were absent.  Normally I have a little table in the corner with handouts, and when I student is absent, they come and ask for a handout that they missed and we search through the piles until we find what they need.  Everything was online for everyone all week, so there was no lag in the distribution of materials.

Future Implications

I can’t go full on paperless.  At least not until the students get more accustomed to that lifestyle.  I only have them for about 50 minutes of their academic day.  When they leave me, they have to go into classrooms where paper exists, so it isn’t helpful to them to put them through that shock just for the heck of it.  But I am going to try and be paper conscious and create a paper-lessened classroom, with less photocopying and printing.  And I’m going to promote this with other teachers to try and create that environment everywhere.  Once the students learn to learn without paper consistently, we can talk about a truly paperless classroom

A funny thing happened on the way to the paperless classroom

I’m going to add this anecdote as a post-script to this paperless classroom blog.  It’s an interesting little thing that happened with my Spanish 3 class of mainly junior students.   Using Doctopus (a truly lifesaving Google Script), each student had a personal online Google Doc where they needed to take notes over Argentina.  I introduced the notes in class but students were supposed to read and take notes on their own outside of class and come back in two days ready to discuss and talk about the information.  As they got settled in to their document and to the online notes, one student asked why they just couldn’t work on this all together.  They had previous experience using Google Docs and Presentations to collaborate with each other and take group notes, and they wanted to know why they couldn’t just do that.  I explained that for future activities that we were going to do, I wanted each student to have their own individual copy of the notes.  I said that I would be checking their personal note sheet to see how they did—but if they wanted to find a way to work together they could.  Then I kind of stepped back.

First they tried to share their personal note taking sheets with each other, but I had blocked that option.  So then a student created a new document and invited the class to all be collaborators.  They worked together to take notes on that document.  Then they went through those group notes and copied them into their personal note taking sheets.  I watched them work through that and thought how transformative that was.  It was completely something that didn’t and couldn’t exist with only paper and no technology.  And it turned out great.  The notes they took were very good and the students were ready for the tasks we had in class later that week.  Certainly they did it because “it was easier” but I choose to focus on the fact that they wanted to collaborate and figured out a way to make it work.

What It Is I Do


I recently signed my contract to be a Spanish teacher next year.  That’s my official title when people ask me: Spanish teacher.  In simplified terms, that’s what I am.  But what is it that I do?  I just finished my 9th year of teaching and I’ve been doing some thinking about that.  These are the two most popular responses I used to give (and I’m guessing fellow teachers would to):

A: I teach Spanish to my students.

B:  I help students learn Spanish.

And I think I finally realized that these statements are not interchangeable or at all the same.  And somewhere along the line of figuring that out, I got closer to understand what it is I do and want to do.

Statement A

Within this viewpoint, the teacher is the one actively doing something: the teaching.  It’s a teacher centered statement, meaning that my job is based around the things that I do.  I do the instructing, the creating of assessments, the giving out of information.  I give “the learning” to my students.  I do it.  They are there to get it.  And that’s a fine construct, one that higher education and traditional educational settings are set-up for and encourage.

Statement B

Whereas in Statement A the teacher is in the limelight, Statement B shadows the teacher into a supporting “helping” role.  The people actively doing something here are the students.  They are doing and are responsible for the learning part.  They have to do that.  The teacher is there to help and make that happen.  The students are the stars of the classroom and the teacher is there as a coach, as back-up, to provide a path but not to just give information.

Neither of these perspectives is right or problematic and a successful teacher probably needs a mixture of the two, but moving forward, I’d like to say that I’m more Statement B than the other.  It’s a completely personal perspective, built upon your own educational philosophy. (click here for my philosophy).

Continue reading “What It Is I Do”

Approaching Education like Zappos.com


About this post: In April of 2012, I attended a workshop/session at Iowa 1:1 Institute in Des Moines, IA led by John Nash, Associate Professor of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky.  The session was titled “How to Include Students as Co-Designers in your 1:1 Planning”.  As an introduction into why we need to consider students in the design and implementation of new policies and procedures, Nash drew a brief comparison between education and Zappos.com.  It was a seedling that I’ve been thinking about for the past few months (while doing some online shopping) and this is where my educational philosophy has ended up.

Have you ever ordered anything from Zappos.com?  It’s your standard online retail store, specializing in shoes.  Nothing glitzy or radically innovative on the surface.  And yet is stands as the model I think about when approaching my classroom and education in the future.

Customer Service

Zappos does the same thing that many other online (and physical) retailers do.  Where they separate themselves is in their customer service.  So why should education follow these footsteps?  Education is a service and teachers are in the service industry.  We don’t make anything; we don’t build anything.  Rather than focus on the things, we should focus on people we serve: our customers.

This can snowball into a larger debate: “Who is the customer?” in terms of education.  Parents? Community? Students? I feel like my profession doesn’t exist without my students.  I serve no purpose if I serve no students.  Students in our classrooms and in our schools are our customers, and too often education only refers to and insinuates their needs and desires.  (read more in a post by John Nash on Service Design and Education)  Zappos has become successful because of their commitment to their customers, addressing needs, considering feedback and creating an overall environment centered around the consumer experience.  Can educators duplicate that commitment?

Free Shipping

One things Zappos does to entice its customers is to offer free shipping, everyday and with no strings attached.  They make their product very easy to get.  It’s not that paying for shipping is that much of an obstacle if I really wanted a pair of shoes, but the fact that the company is willing to offer me that little extra in order to make their products more accessible does not go unnoticed.  Do educators send a message to the students that we think learning should be easily accessible?  Sometimes it feels like the system is setup so that students, parents and teachers are more concerned about the end product (the grade, the test, the score) than the process (the learning).  Those ends results are inevitable: there will be shoes at Zappos, there will be tests in education.  But focusing on those end details don’t necessarily create a recipe for success.  Schools and businesses have to find a way to connect to their consumer and think about the best way to deliver their service in an easy and pleasing fashion.

Options

I go to Zappos to find shoes.  That’s not really innovative and can be done at most online retail shops.  One thing Zappos does real well is providing its customer with many different search options.  I can search shoes by size, by color, by brand, by occasion, by heel height, by material, by season, by accents – – you get the picture.  The end results is a customized shopping experience, built around options that I choose.  The searching options allow me to focus in specifically on what I want rather than searching through the exact same standard search pages that every other consumer does.  Do our students have the ability to customize their own learning experience or do we have them cycle through the same educational experience as every student?  Educational psychologists have done extensive research on personalized learning theories, most notably Thomas Dewey and Howard Gardner. Students learn better when they are personally invested in the material and the process.  Customization, options and differentiation is the way to do this.  Allow students to reach the end objectives through their own chosen path.  Zappos doesn’t care if I find the Franco Sarto Track book by searching through 100 pages, creating a customized search or  by searching customer reviews – – they just want me to get from point A to point B.  Each educational objective is a similar learning journey: start here and by the end, be here.  Let students play a role in the customization of their educational experience by giving them options and supporting that journey.

Return Policy and Follow-Up

Zappos is relentless in their follow-up to every purchase.  They want to know if the product and the experience was satisfactory.  And they truly care about that feedback.  I had to return a pair of shoes once because it was the wrong size.  They apologized, the return shipping was free and they sent me a new size immediately – – before I could pack up the old shoes and send them back.  It wasn’t about who’s fault it was – – there was no fault, just an unsuccessful purchase.  But they reached out, inquired about the purchase and immediately set out to improve my shoe buying experience.  Do educators seek out feedback from students about their overall educational experience, including policy, procedures, etc.?  This echoes a lot of what John Nash talked about in his workshop about including students in rolling out a 1:1 program.  We do these things in education ‘for the students’, yet many times never consult a student on the design and implementation of different programs.  Most professional development is designed to make us better educators ‘for our students’, but how often are students involved in professional development?

The extension of asking for feedback is following up and acknowledging that feedback.  How do we respond to student feedback?  Every shopping experience at Zappos might not work for everyone, just like each educational approach might not work for every student.  Zappos believes that if it doesn’t work for you, return it and they will do what they can to “get it right”.  Educators should make a similar commitment to “getting it right” for the students; gathering feedback and modifying the experience until the outcome is satisfactory for everyone.

Personal Interests

Last fall I bought a nice pair of black ankle boots through Zappos.  Yesterday I logged on and Zappos generated some suggestions for me based on my previous shopping experience.  They also have geographical information on me and suggested some shoes based upon the winter months in Iowa.  Maybe they know too much information about me.  Maybe it’s like an invasion of privacy.  I like to think of it more like they keep in mind my personal interests and use that information to make my next experience one I’m more likely to be interested in.  Do we know our students well enough to be able to create learning experiences that incorporate their personal interests?  I’ve never read a word of Twilight or Harry Potter, but I understand that many of my students not only have but are unnecessarily fanatic about them.  So every once and awhile I reference them and other pop culture phenomena in our activities.  This takes a cookie-cutter activity and makes is a more personal one that they students are more likely to connect to.  Being aware of student personal interests can also help out in the customization options I mentioned earlier.

Connecting with the customer and setting out to enhance their experience has a tendency to get a lot of eye rolls and criticism from the educational community because it’s too fluffy sounding.  We can’t allow students to dictate the future of education – – we have to live in the real world where there are mandates and standards, a common core and decades of educational research that shouldn’t be replaced in order to just put smiles on a 14 year old’s face.  And I couldn’t agree with that point more . . .

Quarterly Projections and Objectives

Let’s not make any mistake about it:  Zappos is in the business to sell shoes.  They have a bottom line, sales goals, quarterly reports, stakeholders, quotas and everything like that.  All those fluffy things they do to enhance the consumer experience are great, but in the end if they don’t sell X amount of shoes in a month, it really doesn’t matter.  Schools are much the same way.  No Child Left Behind or not, public schools will always answer to some state or federal standards.  Test scores matter.  Graduation rates matter.  In my own classroom, I have standards and objectives to reach in every unit.  The goal is to get there, to meet those objectives.  What pathway do I take to get there?  Zappos chose to reach those objectives by dedicating themselves to customer service.  By adopting that philosophy, I can reach my objectives while creating a positive learning experience for my students.  It’s not a choice between the two: meet educational objectives or make my students happy.  It’s symbiotic; each part enhancing the success of the other.

Not “Schools Run Like a Business”

Just Google “Schools Run Like a Business” and the literature from pundits will overwhelm you.  I don’t feel like this philosophical approach to education is promoting schools run like businesses.  Schools are not the place for a “no shirts, no shoes, no service” type of mentality.  Certainly poverty and funding play a huge role in educational success, and I’m not suggesting that poor performing schools go the way of WonderBread, leaving us with only profitable institutions.  It’s more about the mindset of successful business leaders and the philosophy behind building a successful business.  Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist tied to Apple’s success, cites these 10 steps for a successful leader in business: Be likable, be trustworthy, perfect your service, tell a great story, overcome resistance, make your enchantment enduring, be a great presenter, use technology, enchant up and enchant down (read full article here).  Which of those principles could not be applied to a successful educator?

Conclusion

Guy Kawasaki and Apple have been quite successful over the past decade or so.  So has Zappos.com.  Unfortunately you’ll find enough people that believe that the educational system doesn’t experience that same amount of success.  I don’t think that things are categorically bad or broken right now, but I do think that schools can gain momentum if we approached education like Zappos.

“When you have two coffee shops right next to each other, and each sells the exact same coffee at the exact same price, service design is what makes you walk into one and not the other”  (31 Volts Service Design, 2008, cited in Stickdorn & Schneider, 2010, p. 33).

Why do students walk into our schools everyday?  Geography isn’t a good enough reason for me – – however unrelenting that reason is.  What experience do we offer students that other institutions don’t?  How can we be different?

For more on John Nash, please check out: http://reformbydesign.posterous.com and follow him on Twitter @jnash

Electronic Portfolio


Portfolios have become popular assessment and evaluation tools in the last decade.  The teacher education program at Clarke University prepared me for portfolios by teaching us how to make electronic portfolio.  My first teaching portfolio was electronic and I have always preferred that method.  I like the ease of clicking through related materials rather than flipping pages in a designated order.  And I like that it is easier to add media to an electronic portfolio than to a paper binder portfolio.

I first started using I-Web in 2007 and thought that it was an easy and beautiful way to create an electronic portfolio.  In the past, I was never able to upload my portfolio directly on to a website so I just burnt it to a disc.  It still works the same but it isn’t universally accessible.

This year I created my professional teaching portfolio using I-Web and was able to upload it to the server at my school.  I honestly had to rush the completion of this portfolio so I’m not 100% pleased but I still think it’s a good representation of my teaching competency.

Check it out: http://www2.denver.k12.ia.us/ehuff/Portfolio/Welcome.html