Monday, July 28, 2014

Inspiration from Edcamp Idaho

This has been a tough post to write, I really don't know how to describe my experience at the first Edcamp Idaho.  My son (almost 4 years old) helped me. He said I should write:

Camp was fun! Everything there was so much fun!

His words pretty much cover it, but I'll try to elaborate. When I first heard about it, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to go. Although it was my state Edcamp, it was a long way away. I took the plunge and made the 11 hour drive to be there.

Photo by Simon Miller
The night before the event, quite a few #IDedchat participants met for a Tweetup at a local restaurant. My main goal for the trip was to meet members of my personal learning network face to face and this would be my first opportunity. It was a little surreal meeting people I had never met before, yet they knew me by name before we even said hi. We were able to chat, share some food, and play bocce. If there is ever an inter-state edchat bocce competition, I wouldn't bet against the Idaho team (as long as I wasn't playing - my bocce game still needs some work).

Everyone was excited to be there to share ideas, and they were all unbelievably helpful and friendly. Being at the other end of the state, I only knew one other person there. Simon Miller is a technology coordinator from Kellogg, Idaho who I first met at a Google Apps for Education Festival this winter. He helped arrange accommodations for me in Hailey. I also met my host for the night, Dave Guymon. He just moved to Hailey to take a job with their school district and graciously offered a place for Simon and I to stay the night (and he cooked us a hearty breakfast before our day of learning). Tim Rocco was kind enough to supply us with sleeping bags for the night. In addition to the effort those three put into making sure I had somewhere to sleep, everyone else at dinner instantly made me feel at ease and comfortable. I met four more members of my PLN: Tami Rigby, Marita Diffenbaugh, Janet Avery, and Chad Avery. There were plenty of teachers who weren't on Twitter (yet) who joined in our conversations that night.

Edcamp Idaho session board photo by Janet Avery
Since I was staying with some of the organizers, I was one of the first to arrive at Wood River High School in the morning. I met Maggie Stump, who has been an active participant in our Teach Like a Pirate book study, right away. Excited educators kept streaming in and voting for the day's topics. One of the great things about edcamp is that all of the sessions are completely participant created and driven. For Edcamp Idaho, most of the session ideas were proposed ahead of time and participants were able to place stickers on the topics they wanted included in the day's agenda. When the session board was posted, there were 36 sessions to choose from with topics ranging from encouraging students to read non-fiction to learning how to use specific technology resources.

My first session was Teach Like a PIRATE. Although only a handful of teachers in the room read the book, we had a great discussion on the importance of rapport and a lot of ideas shared for transforming classrooms. I went to sessions on favorite classroom apps and using Discovery Education, but my favorite session of the day was "Things That Suck." That session presented us with controversial education topics and everyone in the room physically arranged themselves in order from strong agreement to strong disagreement and then we debated. I found that I was frequently in the middle, but there were many passionate arguments for and against merit pay, high-stakes testing, and homework. I was surprised by the diversity of opinions in the room.

Hanging out with other edcampers - photo by Marita Diffenbaugh
Edcamp Idaho was everything I hoped it would be and more. With over 100 teachers in attendance and 36 sessions, I'm still sorting out everything I learned. I have a huge list of apps to check out, some resources to investigate for project-based learning, and ideas for getting my students started with Google Apps. I even won a year subscription to Nearpod! But by far the most valuable part of Edcamp Idaho are the connections I made. As great as building my Twitter PLN has been, meeting face to face is amazing. I guess the best way to wrap it all up is by saying: Camp was fun! Everything there was so much fun!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Twitter rescued me

I'll come right out and say it. I was burnt out. Somewhere along the way, I lost that spark that made me a teacher. There are so many reasons why it happened: The constant battle with the state legislature for adequate funding and fair treatment. The isolating feeling of being the only male teacher in my school. The sudden shift to new standards. So many little things that just made it harder and harder to be enthused about my work.

I knew that I wasn't doing my best teaching anymore. I was ashamed. I felt like a failure knowing that my attitude could prevent some of my kids from having the best fifth grade year possible. It seemed as though I had no one to turn to. I was uncomfortable talking to teachers who always seemed to be doing great because I didn't want them to know how I was feeling. If I talked to other teachers who were having a rough year, it became a festival of complaint. All of that just made my burnout worse and worse.

Illustration by Sarah Windisch (@slwindisch)
In February, a college friend of mine mentioned how much he enjoyed his state edchat. I had a Twitter account I never used, so I thought I would check things out. In a few minutes I discovered an upcoming Google Apps for Education Festival in my area. I secured a last-minute registration for the GAfE Festival, knowing that I needed something to inspire me. I gained some new ideas from the sessions at the festival, but the most valuable experience came after the event. The organizers invited everyone to meet later that night at a local pub for an after-party. That night, I connected with teachers throughout the West who were doing amazing things. In addition, they talked about how much they learn from Twitter.

Later that week, I made sure to participate in #IDedchat on Twitter. The topic was ideas for successfully implementing the Common Core Standards. I shared a few things that I had done, but mostly I learned that teachers from all over the state were coming up with ideas to implement the new standards even though they were struggling with the same problems of little training and insufficient materials that I was facing.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to participate with #IDedchat, but I also dropped in on #MTedchat, #NorCalChat, #SlowChatEd, #WyoEdChat, #nt2t and #WeirdEd. With each edchat, I met more teachers who were finding success in the face of obstacles and added them to my personal learning network.

I never mentioned my burnout to my PLN. It was my secret shame. But as I connected with more and more teachers, my enthusiasm and passion for teaching rekindled. I was trying new ideas like MysterySkype and Genius Hour with my students. I began sharing what I learned on Twitter and at the GAfE festival with my colleagues at school. Soon, new opportunities came my way: I was asked to be my building technology leader (an extra duty I had wanted for a long time), my principal approached me about teaching our school's advanced learning program for the coming year, I got to lead a session at EdCamp Spokane, and I facilitated a summer book study on Google+. In addition, I started blogging about my own experience as a teacher and even wrote a guest post for a summer Blog-a-thon. It was easy to forget that I had ever faced burnout.

My flame for teaching is burning the brightest it ever has! So, why bother sharing my story of burnout? Teaching is a tough job, and when someone faces the type of stress that comes with the job, burnout is always possible. Burnout carries such a stigma that I felt terribly ashamed for reaching that point. I was scared of how my colleagues in my own system would react if I admitted how much I was struggling. Yet, it was only after I connected with other teachers that I was able to overcome burnout. As teachers, we need to break the stigma associated with burnout and connect with our colleagues. I'm thankful that I found Twitter and some great professional development to light my fire, but the key was connecting with other educators and learning new ideas. We can do this in our own schools and districts. Please, reach out to the other teachers around you, especially those who are having a rough year. Be a sympathetic listener as they share struggles and ideas. You might be the light that rekindles a flame!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

P is for passion

Image from a presentation by Christy Hilbun
The #IDedchat study of Teach Like a PIRATE has begun. And the P in PIRATE stands for passion, an essential element for any good teacher. Author Dave Burgess asks readers to answer three questions about passion. I decided to post my answers here.

"Within your subject matter, what are you passionate about teaching?"
When I was teaching fifth grade, this would have been an easy answer: U.S. History! I love our country's early history: the crazy adventures of the first European explorers, the hardships of colonization, the passion that ignited the revolutionary war, and my all-time favorite topic: the three branches of government. Next fall, when I am officially an advanced learning teacher, those aren't technically within my subject matter. Instead, I'll be teaching reading and math switch groups for third, fourth, and fifth graders.
My passions in reading and math aren't as easy to define. I'm passionate about good storytelling and the ability to get lost in a great book. I'm passionate about learning through non-fiction. I'm passionate about connecting mathematics to real life. I want my students to fall in love with reading for pleasure and reading to learn. In math, I want them to see mathematics as a language for communication and problem solving. If I can weave those into every class, the passion will be there.

"Within your profession, but not specific to your subject matter, what are you passionate about?"
Lifelong learning is definitely a passion! When I was in school, I wasn't a good student, but I was a good learner. I would take an idea and run with it, puzzling though multiple solutions or seeking out books to learn more. My greatest goal as a teacher is to create lifelong learners. I want my students to have the tools to learn and discover about anything they want or need to know.

"Completely outside your profession, what are you passionate about?"
I love my family! I want to spend quality time with them and have fun. Music is a big part of my life. I play the tuba whenever I get a chance, but listening to music is one of my favorite activities. I grew up loving my grandpa's big band records. I still love the music of his era, but I've branched out to have very eclectic tastes: I'll listen to anything! Food is always on my mind. I enjoy cooking just as much as eating.  I studied the Titanic disaster in-depth throughout high school and college, and I still add to my library of books and articles about the ill-fated maiden voyage. And I can't get enough of surprising and obscure facts: I'm constantly reading articles from mental_floss and sharing all of the crazy things I learn with anyone who will listen.

Now that I've identified my passions, it's time to bring them into my classroom. I'm looking forward to learning how to do that in the rest of Teach Like a PIRATE. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

If you would like to join the #IDedchat study of Teach Like a PIRATE, let me know in the comment section or by contacting me on Twitter @teacherwithtuba We just got started, and would be happy to build a larger group!

Tweetchat triumph

Tonight I followed two edchats simultaneously. I joined #WeirdEd talking about "The Whole Wide World" and #NDedchat discussing "Connections" It was my first attempt at dual chatting and I had a bit of beginners' luck! This is my Tweetchat Triumph:

What made this so great? It answered the second question from #WeirdEd

and #NDedchat AT THE SAME TIME!

I was feeling pretty good after that one! However, all that awesome broke the Interwebs. I lost my connection to the world wide web about ten minutes later and missed the end of both chats.