Thursday, March 27, 2014

Attending TICAL 2014

Today, I had the opportunity to attend the TICAL 2014 Conference. TICAL ( Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership). Sitting in my "comfies" at my dining-room table, I entered a world of cool ideas, opportunities, and wonders and that world was filled with creative thinkers, early adopters, and passion-based learners.  Each webinar I attended, I had many take aways (e.g., setting up my classroom to be a working laboratory of tinkers, thinkers, reflectors, doers, and rebels; having students take pics and video of their lab set up and experiment; how to take a vision and implement it).

Most importantly - I was learning with teachers around the world with similar beliefs and passions.  It was so refreshing to hear that a lot of what I do in my class is also going on in other classrooms - it makes me feel less alone.  So, instead of having to use the "I" statements, I can use the "WE" statements, like:

* We believe that students should drive the curriculum
* We believe that students should have voice and choice
* We believe that students have the ability to learn 
* We believe that learning is a messy, creative, reflective, process
* We believe that above all, having a strong relationship with students leads to their success

I truly am pumped up after this conference and appreciate what was shared and am happy to share with everyone! I hope to bring many of the ideas that I learned into my classroom - and I can't wait to see what will happen!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tinkering & Making Mistakes - that's what scientists do!

A note to my 8th graders:

I follow many bloggers (I think I am up to 45 now). Why? I learn a ton from what they have to say. Many of the ideas, tools, and projects that I bring into science class (and for those of you who were my math students last year) came from bloggers - people who are sharing their ideas. It's one of the ways I learn to improve to be a better teacher. It's also why I blog - to share my reflections so others can benefit. It's also a way for me to reflect upon my practice. While I don't always receive comments, I know that people are reading them (as I know you read my emails from my conversations with you). 

This past weekend, I happened upon Leslie Keehn's post about tinkering - trying out new technologies and learning new skills... and her hesitation to because of fear of failure. She was at an expo for new tech and she was hesitant to try it out for fear of not "getting it right" the first time.
Remember from the beginning of the year, how I said it's good to make mistakes for that is how we learn? The same is true for adults (in fact, it's even more true for adults, if that is grammatically correct to say). We have been taught that it's not ok to fail. And, society, for the most part, is just starting to learn new behaviors - that it's ok to fail if you learn from it. 

The past couple of weeks, you have been working on your science fair projects - trying to compose the strongest experimental question you can. Many of you have been struggling with it and that's a good thing... it ain't easy. Some of you have had to rewrite your question over and over and over... and it can be frustrating because you feel you should have it right immediately. 

In some ways, designing an experiment is exactly like tinkering with new tech. You have to play with it, observe, analyze, reflect, modify and then restart the steps. And guess what... you're in good company! Newton, Boyle, Darwin, Curie, Pavlov, Vygotsky, Watson, Crick, Salk... all of these scientists across the centuries did exactly what you are doing now. 

So, think of yourselves in that light... you're doing good work... great work... just like the great scientists did... so tinker away and don't be afraid to make a mistake!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Set a goal

Hello my propitious 8th graders, 

         Yesterday, we learned valuable lessons from Sam Berns z"l, the 17 year old boy with Progeria, who passed away earlier this week (some of you who attend Temple Israel in Sharon may have recognized him). Watching his talk, hearing his words, you commented on how well-spoken, smart, intelligent, and insightful he was. You were also impressed on how his outlook on life - that his disease did not rule him. 

        One of his lessons he relayed was to set a goal and reach for it - be it to do your best on the upcoming test, learn to rebound the b-ball better, go to Israel with your classmates, or learn to be more patient. Regardless of the magnitude of the goal, Sam was stating that by setting goals, we learn and grow - by achieving them, and by learning when we don't reach them the first time. And that's ok for that is how we grow to become contributors to society and all humankind.

       Tonight, I encourage you to share with your parents what your take aways were from Sam's talk (if you have not done so already). And think about what goal do you want to set for yourself.

       Erev Tov,

        Mr. M.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Trust, Faith & Risk

Trust. Taking a risk. They go hand in hand. A child has to trust that his parent will support him so that when they take the risk and fail, the parent will be there. A teacher builds trust with her students by showing empathy, being consistent, and letting her students know that she is there for them and then she can take a risk and try a different teaching strategy or introduce new edtech.

And then there is the time when the risk is so high that only when trust is combined with a leap of faith will you take the risk...

 Today, a student from my homeroom came to me out of blue and said that he needed help. We talked for a while and came up with a plan - he would take the risk and share with his teachers what is going on. He composed an email with my help. He opened up a lot. He did give me permission to share the letter in its entirety but to protect his privacy I will share just the last two paragraphs:

 I am feeling very anxious and I also feel like I am failing. I know I can do better if I got help with my work and it is hard for me to ask for help because I have the fear I will end up looking stupid and have less worth to people. 

 I am asking you all for help during this stressful time.  I am not really sure what type of help I  need and am hoping that you will know and be willing to help and work with me. I am happy to meet with each of you.

He hit the "send" button and waited... and waited...

Within 1 hour a teacher responded with, "I am sorry that you are going through this. Let's sit down tomorrow and figure out what we can do."  Shortly after that, another teacher. And then another. And another. By the end of the day, EVERY single teacher that he emailed responded either with an email or by talking to him directly. When I saw him before dismissal he acknowledged this fact... with a smile on his face... one that showed that he felt a bit more relieved and that the light at the end of the tunnel could be seen. He has glad that he took the risk and had faith in his teachers that they would be there for him.

It's a great feeling to have and know that I work in a place where children can take these risks for they have faith and trust in their teachers.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Failing with a plan - a note to my 8th graders (with thanks to Seth Godlin)

         Did you know that risk taking in most cases is what separates success vs. mediocrity? I don't mean the foolish idiotic risks that people (including teenagers like you)  sometimes take that can cause irreparable harm or, God forbid, physical injury or death. I am talking about reaching a bit more than you normally do. For example, suppose you find an experiment for this year's science fair that interests you but also seems a bit daunting... suppose you walk into your prospective high-school and want to venture onto the b-ball court, or debate club... just to see if you would like it.... suppose you are in Israel and you meet students from our sister school, Ironi Gimel, and they talk to you in Hebrew and you want to show you understand by responding in Hebrew... suppose you want to try out a new dance studio... do you take that risk? 

       Should you take that risk and possibly fail at it? 

       As I told you in the beginning of the year, it's ok to make mistakes... as long as you see them as learning opportunities. That's how you can turn failure into the next opportunity. The famous speaker and blogger, Seth Godin, puts it more eloquently, than I as he writes the following: 

"But what if I fail?"

You will.
The answer to the what if question is, you will.
A better question might be, "after I fail, what then?"
Well, if you've chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.
The last 15 words are very powerful - "you almost certainly be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try." Case in point is my daughter, Sophie. She has many gifts including the ability to make friends wherever she goes - be it the ski slopes, the beach, the playground, camp, or school. Sometimes "she fails" in that the person to whom she reaches out doesn't reciprocate but it doesn't stop her. She tries again and if she recevies no response she moves on to someone else until she connects. I am constantly telling my wife how impressed with and respected I am of her that she is so confident and comfortable in any setting whereas it requires of me tremendous amounts of energy to "work a room" of strangers - be it talking to the person next to me on the chairlift or party. Yet, Sophie doesn't give up because she has the answer to "after I fail, what then?"
I share this with you now because over the next four weeks, you are embarking on several adventures: the science fair, yearbook, high-school visits, and the Israel trip. Yet, this important lesson and outlook is really for each and every day that we are on this Earth.
So, I ask you... what risk will you take today and if you fail, what then?

Take care,
Mr. M.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Coding - Part 2

This past Thursday, students submitted their work from Khanacademy's Hour of Code. Below captures both their accomplishments and my reflection on the process:

Hello my ASCII 8th graders (ASCII is type of coding, FYI),

         Congrats! You guys were offered a taste of coding and many of you took to its liking! Below you'll see several of your classmates' works (if you didn't share it with me, yet, please do so ASAP and I will send out a 2nd email with yours!) and you can see how each one represents a unique individual. Here is a link to a couple of pics of you coding!

          Now, let's reflect for a bit. You were told that we would be exploring the world of coding. So, for 2 class periods (and some work at home), you learned a new concept (the language of coding to produce images) and a skill (how to code). And you created a digital card!

Now, it will take a wee bit more training in coding to create something more complex, like a video game or a website, but all the cool apps, games, sites... anything that is composed of digital media requires coding... and the coders all started where you did. 

And, you did it ON YOUR OWN!!!! 

Do you understand what that means? Do you get the power that you have? You were able to learn a totally new concept and skill without a teacher or expert telling you what to do and how to do it! That's right! I, know very little about coding. I took some classes in coding, but it never really stuck for me. Yet, I do know a little bit about learning - and as I told you in the beginning of the year, you are able to learn anything you put your mind to.

 The work we have been doing in class - not so much the topics on chemistry - rather, the skills you have been learning: (1) understanding how you learn (2) designing a path to accomplish your academic goals (3) reflecting on the process (4) being persistent in your pursuit (5) experimenting with new methods and technologies (6) working interdependently (7) searching for answers that make sense to YOU - all these skills allowed you to learn how to code ON YOUR OWN!

 I promised you by the end of the year, you would be masters of your own learning and this small project on coding demonstrates how each of you is on that path to becoming that master learner. And that, my students, is the most awesome power for it means no matter what class you take, what teacher you have, what subject you study - you will have the power to learn and be successful. Seeing that come true in each of you (as I am seeing it develop in each of you now) is what fuels me and is why I don't tell people that my job is teaching - I tell them I am following my passion and dreams because I do God's holy work in guiding students (i.e., you all)  how to learn and become contributors to our society.

Well done, my students! I am very proud of you!

- Mr. M.

David's -

Leora's -

For me, the biggest take away was that I was "teaching content" I knew ONLY a little about but because I gave my students the SKILLS they needed to learn, I did not have to be "the sage on stage," but rather the guide on the side. I was on the same learning journey as my students. And guess what? They didn't question or say, "Hey! How could he possibly teach us this stuff?" Instead, we learned together. It was an awesome experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat! Thanks Khanacademy for the opportunity!

How to Flip a Classroom - Inside and Out

I had the pleasure of working with this very talented Physics teacher, Jon Thomas Palmer, who has an amazing personality and is both passionate and creative about teaching physics and the flipped classroom model. Below is the video that he created for teachers interested in flipping. Unlike most videos on flipping, which discuss how to make a video, the uniqueness of this video is that Jon talks about how to (a) use what is out there already (I plan to use his physics videos for my physics units!) and (b) what can teachers do in the class (which is the biggest question teachers are left with when they first flip).

Take a bit of time to check it out! (You might also recognize someone when you get to 15:00min!).

Thanks Jon for putting this video together!

This video