Recent Workshop

A couple months ago I attended and presented at an alumni event for the Educational Technology Department at SDSU. It was a nice afternoon and I think the presentation went well. I just remembered that it was UStreamed and archived. So here it is…

The associated web site can be found here. This summer I am taking the spirit of this hour long presentation and turning it in to an all day workshop for my district.

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World Without Oil and $5 gas

Back in February people were hypothetically talking about $4 a gallon gasoline. Now with my corner gas station at $4.39, there is talk about $5.00 gas by the end of July. Crazy stuff. Who knows when it will all return to normal, or at least to the new normal – you know $3.75 or so.

Well, people have been talking about peak oil (when production of oil peaks and then starts to decline) for years. I had a friend in grad school who moved to Portland, Oregon in part because that city is one of the few in the United States that is preparing for an oil shortage. And a year ago a grant funded by PBS (and others) allowed a group of people to create an alternative reality game called World Without Oil. Essentially, each day in May 2007 represented a week in a World Without Oil. Almost 2000 people from around the world posted blogs, podcasts, and videos in response to the fictional crisis. The turnout was amazing and links to all of the posts are still housed on the WWO web site. Earlier in the year it won the award for Activism at the South by Southwest Conference. It was also nominate for several other awards.

I was lucky enough to be hired to help develop a series of lesson plans that incorporated the main themes of the game. Working closely with one of the main WWO game designers (Ken Uklund), we produced ten modular lessons that teachers can use to recreate the game in their classrooms. We hope that teachers across multiple disciplines will incorporate these lessons and the bigger ideas they represent regarding the future of our nation and the world.

I was able to do about five days worth of the lessons (or at least the main concepts) with my college prep world history students at the end of the school year – literally it was the last days before the final exam. These two classes of 15-16 year-olds, really had no idea that how deeply we rely upon oil and how many products are actually derived from oil itself or energy produced by oil. These lessons gave them some greater insight. A number of my students did blogs which can be found on my WWO-specific web site. Some of the students really bought in to the game and produced some great posts. I hope to have a little more time next year to do it.

It seems like we as teachers need at least give some awareness to the issues immediately facing our students. My awareness to the issue of energy consumption has certainly broadened. Here is an article the was recently published at Education Week in the Digital Directions section. I am quoted! So read it.

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Class of 2008

Have a lot to say these days, maybe with school over I will have time. Graduation was today. Nice event as usual. I probably “connected” with more students in this class than ever before. This was my first group of AP World History students. It was the year we almost had to vote on a strike, the year we discovered my son had Celiac disease, and the year I finished grad school. This was also the group that I connected together through Moodle (all four classes interacted as one online group). I think I really helped create a great community within the class and I actively participated in it – showing up for online chats at 10pm the night before an exam.. Since moving the course out of Moodle to Wikispaces, we (myself and my AP teaching partner) haven’t been able to recreate it.

So why no sadness? Two years ago when they left my class, we were done. It was time for them to move up the ladder. Today as watched them walk across the stage, I knew they were ready for bigger things than West Hills High School. Instead of a handful of students heading off to four-year colleges as in previous years, I have dozens accepted. Berkeley, UCSD, UCLA, SDSU, Boston College, USD, UCSB, and many others will be receiving MY students. For the others who are starting at a community college, I have confidence that most will find their way to a university or other career. Isn’t this what we are all about, trying to guide our students to the future. I will miss them, but I am more excited for them.

Congratulations to the class of 2008. Collectively, you will do great things. Individually, make it happen. I would name names, but there are too many. I hope you know who you are.

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Google Academy 2008

Last year I was lucky enough to be selected to attend the Santa Monica Google Teachers Academy. It was one of the best staff development opportunities I have ever experience. Well, it looks like they are doing another one. Instead of only being open to people within 90 miles of the Mountain View Googleplex, anyone around the name can apply. Good luck!

They also announced a “reload” session for the first three sessions – looks like I get to head back to their Santa Monica office some time in 2008 or 2009!

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Three Things

I’m trying to come back… OK, as part of the whole application process, I have had to do some serious thinking about all sorts of educational issues, but educational technology issues remain my central focus. After identifying a problem (not enough real world technology use in our classrooms) and a potential solution (more conversations, more opportunities, more money), I acknowledged that large-scale institutional change is unfortunately far-fetched. So, it is up to us. You know the underpaid teachers to start making a difference, like we always do.

Here is a list of three things I thought WE could start doing now to help prepare our students for the 21st century and try and get out of that 19th century rut we are in. So try one now or maybe next school year. When you get the chance.

What do you think? Any others to add?

  1. Information handling and processing: The incredible access to information that the Internet has afforded us has dramatically changed the manner in which students acquire and then use information. With the ability to publishing content open to virtually anyone, we must start teaching students the value of evaluating resources. Just because it shows up in Google, does not mean you can trust it!
  2. Responsible online behavior: Here is the perfect example of students creating worlds with little or no guidance from adults. Very few schools actually teach students how to properly behave online. Plus, what might be acceptable within a peer group, often times violates appropriate behavior within an academic or professional setting. Teachers can even set up their own learning social networks to help demonstrate and model appropriate behaviors using free online applications.
  3. Authentic production opportunities: To stay relevant, at least some of our learning opportunities must reflect real world situations. The application of their knowledge and skills must stretch beyond multiple-choice and essay tests. Many jobs at all levels in the economy require employees to complete specified projects. Students need to be able to plan, create time lines, work collaboratively, and finish assigned tasks.
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Teacher of the Year Application

I was selected to represent my school at my districts Teacher of the Year competition, here is my letter of introduction. My interview is on Thursday.

I love history, from the broad historical trends that have shaped the various regions of the world to the personal first hand stories of struggles and triumph. History defines who we are as a nation and gives insight to the roots of our conflicts. For me, those connections are natural. I am intrinsically fascinated by history and the lessons that we can take from it.

But students, they have other things going on. They have MySpace, video games, texting, and all the other distractions that have plagued teenagers throughout the history of education. That’s where my love of history blends with my love of teaching. It takes more than me telling them something is interesting or important, I get them hooked and keep them engaged. I have to make the curriculum assessable while still maintaining high academic expectations. I have to get them to think about the French Revolution and the greater implications of the French Revolution when they just had a rockin’ weekend with their friends at the River or they have stayed up all night fighting trolls in World of Warcraft. I’ve never found that silver bullet solution, that one tried and true method that works for every student each day. Instead I have found dozens of techniques that I use to actively engage my students.

On any given day you may find my classes participating in deep discussions, dissecting primary sources, examining photographs online, reenacting portions of history, trying to solve a problem, analyzing art, writing poems, listening to music, empathizing with a specific individual from history, or playing a historical game. Students must understand the importance of different events and how most modern problems have deep historical foundations. History also serves as a tool to teach practical skills that will assist them long after the dates have faded from their memories. I craft my lessons so that students can develop a range of skills, from basic note taking and critically analyzing a source for bias to ultimately applying complex problem solving skills. The ability of level of each student helps determine the emphasis of specific skill sets, for instance AP students have much different needs than college prep students. I also create a balance between teacher-directed lessons and more constructivist student-center projects, providing opportunities for students to approach their learning on their own terms.

Over the years I have attempted to define my educational philosophy and found that I do my best work when not adhering to a rigid school of thought. I am always open to new ideas, theories, and techniques that better serve my objectives and the varying needs of my students. If I were to describe my teaching persona, I would say I am a history teacher trying to prepare students for the twenty-first century. That idea may be one of the most defining factors of my teaching career that has brought me extensively into the realm of staff development. I cannot imagine teaching without a computer or the Internet just a click away. Without getting on a soapbox, I do not think we can responsibly ignore the power of technology in the classroom. The American students of today get little or no academic direction how to responsibly use computers and the Internet in an ever-expanding global economy where there are significant potential long-term consequences. As a result, I have made it a priority to integrate cutting-edge technology-based projects and assignments throughout my curriculum. By the end of this year, students in my classes will have created digital video projects, completed WebQuests, mapped historical events in Google Earth, published their work on blogs, and used wikis to collaborate online.

Through my strong connection with the SDSU Department of Educational Technology, San Diego County Office of Education, GUHSD Technology Resources, and a strong Internet presence I have had the opportunity to help spread that message. In my 12 years in the district, I have had the privilege to speak to over 350 GUHSD teachers and hundreds more around the nation about integrating various forms of technology into their curriculum. Through these expanding connections I find myself part of a nationwide network of teachers and educational technologists who continually look to improve instructional strategies. At West Hills I have helped establish what I consider to be a model professional learning community for world history. Our five teacher team made incredible strides to enhance the course curriculum and provide equitable learning opportunities for all world history students, which resulted in a dramatic increase in subject SAT9 scores last year. We continue to bring our strengths together while still encouraging independent innovation.

In many ways I consider myself an artist. The mechanics of my classroom are fluid and flexible. I constantly work to improve my instruction. I refine and at times redefine the lessons and dynamics of my classroom as necessary. As a product and now an employee of this district, I know the caliber of teachers found in the GUHSD. I am honored to be nominated for the Teacher of the Year award, and I appreciate your consideration.

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