Saturday, June 28, 2014

Make and Print Your Own Badge Stickers

a screenshot of six badges made for teacher development
Everyone enjoys recognition for a job well done. Give them a sticker! OpenBadges has a free badge designer that even allows uploaded images.

While developing a DualBoard training plan for teachers, I planned to give out certificates of accomplishment. The basic training is divided into ten sessions, but teachers get busy and might find it difficult to keep coming back to more sessions. How could I keep them interested?

Monday, June 23, 2014

How To Teach Like A Pirate

picture of book on beach with bucket
Any teacher who has found themselves fishing for ideas to keep students engaged will find this book helpful. In his book Teach Like A Pirate, Dave Burgess has developed a catchy methodology that uses PIRATE as an acronym.
This short book (less than 200 pages) is divided into three parts. The first defines the philosophy of Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and analyze, Transformation and Enthusiasm. The second part lays out practice applications for building lesson plans that will hook students' interest. The final part gives instructions and encouragement for educators to keep growing and learning.

What I appreciated was the practical nature of the book. Burgess does not preach down but tries to encourage and excite teachers to passionately pursue their craft. He gives personal experience and practical examples for teachers to borrow, adapt and use. While I don't think this book alone will transform the American education system, teachers can find ways to increase student engagement.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Conference Room Design

image of red couch and table
Learning environment can impact the quality of education. While the tech industry has embraced a casual atmosphere, many others businesses remain married to traditional settings.

Last Friday, the Technology Director and I traveled to Turning Technology in Youngstown, Ohio for a day of Dualboard training. The offices were colorful and styled in the open floor plan model. I even spied a ping pong table tucked in the corner. But the conference room was clearly designed to allow creative collaboration.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Discoveries Along Southern Lake Michigan

sandy path through dune grass towards Lake Michigan
There's more to Indiana than just great beaches: hiking, history and fishing are also fun activities. Yesterday I took the kids and a friend up to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore along the southern tip of Lake Michigan.

First we stopped by the visitor center to pick up some maps and a pamphlet for the Junior Ranger beachcomber badge. One nice thing about this national park is that most of the park is free admission as the park intertwines with urban areas. We did pay $6 entrance to West Beach which includes lifeguards and a bathhouse in addition to great shoreline.

The park has implemented an aggressive reclamation program limiting access to the many sandy dunes that form the backdrop of the shoreline. But there are still several hiking trails available for those who want to climb a sand dune.

Our second stop was the Chellberg Farm for a quick picnic lunch. The farm is well kept and gives a glimpse into the lifestyle of early Swedish immigrants. This is the only national park location that harvests maple syrup! If you want a full tour of the farm, stop by on a weekend during the summer months.

We then made our way down to West Beach where we spent four hours soaking up sunshine, building sand castles, burying each other in the sand and swimming in a very cold Lake Michigan. Since it was a Monday, the beach was not very crowded. We did see a couple of patrolling rangers ticket a group down the beach and empty their entire cooler of beer.

Late that afternoon, we traveled north along the shoreline to the Kemil Road Access Point. The short (0.75 mile) Dune Ridge Trail takes hikers through sandy and wooded dunes with some great vantage points. It was just enough trail to satisfy the hikers and the grumblers in the group. We could see how controlled burns maintain the dunes ecosystem.

Just down the road is the Dunbar Access Point, which we decided would be a great place to return to. The beach had a few more pebbles but was more secluded. The parking lot was closer but there were only restrooms instead of a beach house. This beach is adjacent to the 1933 Century of Progress Homes. While these are private residences and only visible from the road and beach, they are still stunning examples of architecture.

On the way home, the fisherman in the family asked if we could stop by the Bass Pro Shop in Portage. More than just a giant retail store, they are animal displays throughout and two large fish tanks. We pulled into the driveway well after dark and totally exhausted. The cool weather and clear skies helped make it an enjoyable day for everyone.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Book Review: After the Blue

When people (or aliens) look back at us a hundred years from now, what will they conclude about humanity? As they attempt to reconstruct the way mankind lives, what conclusions would they make?

In his book, After the Blue, Russell Lake gives an interesting insight into human nature. The basic premise follows the good intentions, but severely misguided alien assumptions as they attempt to restore earth to its condition prior to their accidental near annihilation of humanity.

One hundred years after the Gruumsbaggians accidentally infected humans with a deadly virus, they have returned to help the few survivors. Unfortunately their actions often produce unintended results, like forcing men to do the hokey pokey every day after work "to unwind".

One review compared the book to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but aside from quirky humor about alien misconceptions and insane repercussions, Blue is nowhere close to its depth of irony. Still, the book was fun to read and compelling to discover how the resilient humans resolve the alien intrusion. Young readers may not understand the reference to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The book was free of vulgarity and profanity. There was a single occurrence of swearing and the humans do blow up a lot of buildings that kills some of the Gruumsbaggians, but they are careful to clear out any humans beforehand. This book might provide a non-science fiction reader an gentle introduction into the genre, but serious sci-fi geeks will probably find it to be a fun little romp.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Searching for Identity In Collapsing Contexts

Teens face the same issues as adults when crafting an online identity, but with greater consequences.

Sometimes I skip book introductions, and at nearly thirty pages it was tempting to skim through this one. But the heart of danah boyd's thesis can be found in the introduction.

While each chapter stands alone, supporting her theories with thorough research, It's Complicated, delivers a compelling and articulate treatise on the social lives of networked teens with a large bibliography to back it up.

Chapter one deals with teens' search for identity in a world that has become both networked and contexts collapsed while their audience has become invisible. While it has been several decades since I was a teenager, going through a job change this summer has revealed a similar identity crisis of my own.

As audiences have become invisible, it is difficult to know who is hearing our messages. While teaching in the classroom, I know exactly who is listening to me - their gender, occupation, age, etc. I tailor my message in ways that my audience will best respond. Junior high students are different than high school and both are different from teacher's meetings. My own primary audience is changing from one school to another. And public online posts can be read by anyone, anywhere. Online posts need to be crafted in ways that the majority will interpret correctly.

Networking gives us many benefits, but at times it's difficult to manage how far the content goes. Posts intended for a select group can be easily redistributed. I've talked to junior high students who are well aware that Snapchat photos can be screen captured, but still send them hoping their friends respect an unspoken sense of privacy. Social networking inflates a person's reputation to levels never before seen and often difficult to control.

Postings become isolated and easily taken out of context because they are permanent and searchable.  Our thoughts become removed from time and location as context collapses on itself. What makes sense today (funny pictures with friends) becomes unsavory when applying for a job. This is probably the most difficult challenge for adults or teens to overcome, making sense of contexts that collapse upon themselves. We know what was meant at the time, but understanding how it will be perceived in the future is almost impossible. Context historically formed the framework that defined our communication. Without that framework, sarcasm becomes hatred and innuendo becomes fact.

Knowing how to communicate effectively through social networking is not simply "talking online" but an entirely new skill set. As adults, we are having to relearn how to effectively connect through digital means. Teens are also learning, but will hopefully fare better given time. This is why it's so important for adults and teens to learn together how to navigate the pitfalls of social networking.