December 12, 2014

New flight plan

Filed under: about me,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:55 am

Take off. Soar. Land. Do it again. Such is the pattern of a teacher as we travel through each school year. Somewhere in the middle of each school year, the rest of the world celebrates the official “New Year” with resolutions, etc. We teachers — and our students — go right on with our flights into learning.

This holiday season, however, the New Year brings an entirely new flight plan for this teacher. My professional career as a longtime teacher and as Director of K-12 Initiatives at The Source for Learning will be making its last landing. I have filed a new flight plan for 2015. I am both excited and a little nervous to announce that I will be retiring as of January 1 to pursue the many creative endeavors that have always been pushed to the bottom of my to-do list. 36848050

I look forward to creative aerobatics in a wide open “sky.”  I expect a little turbulence, and I know my flight will involve much personal learning. I will miss more than I can say here. In my mind, I will always see the contrails from decades of terrific colleagues and amazing kids.

TeachersFirst will have a new “pilot,” and our team is ready. My successor has been chosen and is fulfilling her contract in her current school district. I know her well from shared activities within ISTE, and I know TeachersFirst will be in very good hands.

Thank you for making my nearly nine years as TeachersFirst’s lead Thinking Teacher a true joy. In my final blog post or two before I go, I plan to share a few “gifts” to keep you thinking!

December 5, 2014

Awe lighting

Filed under: about me,creativity,musing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:04 am

Any adult over age 40 (yup, I admit it) has moments of professional pondering, musing about what  other career they might choose if they were 18 years old in today’s world.  Among many other diversions, I muse about whether I would have applied my creativity to the world of code. I wonder what it would be like to “make” a screen do what I want it to do. I imagine generating images, sounds, and experiences by describing what exists in my imagination through a special language called “code.” I am very good at the language of words, and the idea of another way of speaking and describing is intriguing.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 3.56.26 PMTeachersFirst recently featured Google’s Made with Code, and you can learn a lot about code from simply poking around that site. I especially enjoy the Projects area. Just in time for the holidays, they have a way to use code to “program” a set of virtual Christmas lights. They hooked me, for sure.

December 8-14 is the annual celebration of the Hour of Code.  If you have even ten minutes, you can make a tree dance with lights. Who knows what you could do in an hour? The fact that Google has the power to make it real by “publishing” your tree in lights on one of the state trees on the National Mall is — well, simply breath-taking.  Forget tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. This is tree lighting in our minds! Yes, Google says the project is for girls and for kids, but how will they know our age or gender?

Some things about creative coding writing that lure me:

The role of play and experimentation. Scientists talk about it all the time. Code lets you do it, especially when people like Google make easy access “code toys.”

Accomplishing a mission. Yes, it seems trivial, but making that light actually do what your imagination says it should do is a real rush.

Making it perfect. If you are like me, before you finish one mission, you have already thought of a way to make it better… and better… and perfect! In the process, you learn some more. Isn’t the iterative process of creating/testing/improving what we want all kids to experience, whether they are writing, drawing, code-writing, or presenting ideas about an event in the lab or in history?

Tolerating things that break. Seeing “oops” as a challenge, not a failure, is the resilience we all aspire to.

Serendipity. I never understood what that word meant until I experienced it and someone gave me the name for that experience. I was so happy to have a name for how I felt! Code gives us serendipity if we are willing to play.

A language we can speak without words. In school, I always saw math is a language, a funny way to say things quantitative. Code is a way to speak step-by-step and logically to describe an experience or on-screen event.

The role of awe. The word itself is simple, short … worthy of silence on either side.

  Awe

When code works. It evokes awe. Little bits of letters and symbols can make THIS?

While it lasts, especially during the week of code, inspire your own awe. Muse visually with Google’s Light Project. If it is gone into Internet heaven before you read this post, you can always try one of the other Made with Code projects. You might even find that being a grownup is still fun. And maybe you will wonder what you would do if you were 18 again.

November 21, 2014

A Teacher’s Thanksgiving: The deepening basket

Filed under: about me,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:05 am

For teachers, there is no holiday better positioned during the school year than Thanksgiving. We spend precious summer days flexing and pressing in mental cross-fit training for the coming year. Then the real fitness test begins. With ferocious intellectual muscle, organizational stamina, and some fast-twitch adjustments, we sprint head-down into the first months of the year. By Thanksgiving, we know our students well, are well along the route of the year-long marathon, and have found a good pace. For many of us, Thanksgiving day is the first day off since the first day of school. We give thanks– MANY thanks!

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After so many Thanksgivings as a teacher, my basket of things for which I am thankful has grown and deepened. I share a few in honor of all my colleagues who are too tired to talk this Thanksgiving, much less write.

I give thanks…

  • For my best bosses, principals, and department supervisors who never said, “No.” Instead, they asked “Why?” or “How?” — the two most important things I should think about as a teacher.
  • For my top desk drawer,  filled with reminders of student success and my own growth as a teacher: the sticky notes saved, a “special” pencil a student gave me, light bulb note paper, pens and ID lanyards from conferences,  leftover invitations to classroom events, teacher gifts, sticker sheets with one remaining smily face, and goofy trinkets I took away from a funny student I actually loved but had to discipline. I really should Google that kid to see where he is now…
  • For the teachers who always came to lunch with something positive to talk about.
  • For turning off my computer and iPad — and muting my phone. I still like face to face talk best. Especially the laughing part.
  • For the gym teacher who shared lunch duty with me every day– and helped me break up the fights every day. We were like a two person theatre act. I am even more grateful that duty lasted only one semester.
  • For early dismissals (for snow). Yes, they forced me to completely re-plan lessons, but we are all still kids when it snows– at least the first snow each season. I am less grateful for the drives home in that snow.
  • For a mother and father who were both teachers — and a grandfather as well. I would not Think Like a Teacher if it were not for them. My brother says it is in our genes.
  • For a scary prof/advisor who made me teach a college Shakespeare class (90 minutes!) about a play he had acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company. After that, no lesson or audience seemed intimidating again.
  • For a family that tolerates living with a teacher. They do ask me to turn it off, though, “Does everything have to be a teachable moment?!”
  • For watching a niece share about becoming a teacher on Facebook. Her enthusiasm vibrates.
  • For people who don’t make fun of my license plate, TCHR2GO.
  • For Google. So every wonder can be followed by discovery and critical decisions about whom to believe.
  • For writing a blog. So many reasons.

Happy Thanksgiving to all teachers. Enjoy the rest, and add an extra dollop of whipped cream to your pie. You made it through to Thanksgiving!

Photo Credit: faith goble via Compfight cc

November 14, 2014

The Lives of Maps

Filed under: edtech,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:02 am

Think back to the first time you can remember seeing or using a map. Depending on how old you are, that map may have been the paper-folding challenge type– printed with lines, symbols, and colors – or an app on a smart phone. Maps have always offered a symbolic way to show real places, but the Internet and GPS have added exploration into what “map” means. Today’s techno-mapped world lures us to explore far beyond the dusty map sections of a social studies or geography textbook. Those big paper road atlases with outdated information and tiny print you couldn’t read in the dimly lit back seat have mostly disappeared. The Earth and maps are ALIVE thanks to technology. Where is it? Ask Google Earth or Google Maps. How do I get there? Ask Siri or your in-car GPS. EMaps are so ubiquitous that we may forget how much they have reshaped our students’ concepts of a living “world” compared to what we may have experienced on paper.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 12.00.51 PMThree maps recently reviewed on TeachersFirst offer three very different “looks” at the world (or U.S.). One, Yale Photogrammar, organizes historic U.S. photographs. In this case, the “map” is actually the portal to see a “world” of the 1930s and 40s.  The map itself simply provides clickable “places” of reference for the photographs. It is a visual interface to access visual information. But is that really all? Like most eMaps, this one is zoomable and almost invites you to dive in. You ask whether houses or farms or people were different in Nebraska vs. California? Click to see. What about county to county in Pennsylvania? Click to see. This map is an endless set of windows into lives and times gone by.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 12.01.17 PMEsri’s Zip Lookup uses a map as the entry point into socio-economic groups, organized by mapped zip codes and described in terms of life style and values. See the make up of the people in a zip code. Who lives here? Comfortable Empty Nesters, Parks and Rec, Laptops and Lattes, Metro Renters? The map is a window into what people care about and spend their money on. We are tempted to ask, “Why here? What is it about this location that attracts this group?” The Zip Lookup map is an invitation to take an almost voyeuristic dive into people’s lives, based on where they live.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 12.01.45 PMEarth Null School maps the winds on the Earth’s surface. Unlike the weather maps on TV, this globe is in your hands to turn and zoom, watching beautiful swirls that threaten to spin blizzards or floods. This map ignores humans entirely. It does not matter who lives there or what history happened there. The storms on this map don’t care. But we are drawn in to see the power of what may happen here tomorrow or what is closing the airport in Denver today. The Earth really is alive in this map.

If the only maps you have ever seen are eMaps, your view of the world is so much richer. If you teach map skills, share four maps with your students: one the folded paper type, and the other three eMaps listed here. Ask them what each map is GOOD for…what it makes them wonder. If they can answer those questions about each map, they have learned more about map skills than any lesson about keys and tropics. They have discovered the lives within maps.

November 7, 2014

Of birth dates and houseflies: Gaining a new teaching perspective

Filed under: deep thoughts,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:26 am

Every once in awhile, an experience slaps us in the face, screaming. “Take a look at the big picture! Get some perspective!”  It may be a reunion, a funeral, or even a web resource. Starting Sunday, TeachersFirst is featuring BBC’s Your Life on Earth, reviewed here. This clever interactive asks for your birthdate and some basic information (gender and height) in order to provide comparisons and measures of your life through the lens of our planet Earth.BBC EARTH

For some reason, I decided to try focusing on the lifetime of TeachersFirst, entering that TeachersFirst is female and of “average” height  for a teacher (5′ 6″). The results provide several metrics of what has gone on since TeachersFirst was “born” back in April, 1998: 

  • A house fly your age would have a family o6,135 generations by now.
    Interesting but not terribly meaningful to me. I am glad we have not seen that many generations of students. We teachers sometimes have trouble adjusting to the changes of just half a generation. 
  • Population has increased by1,268,481,846 since you were born.
    That’s a lot of new students for today’s teachers, all aged zero to 16!
  • The North American Plate has moved 2’7 (Actually, this is the measurement of the “seafloor spread in the Gulf of California, pushing the North American Plate in a southeasterly direction.”)
    I don’t think TeachersFirst can take any credit for this, though we do try to help teachers shift their thinking about how technology can fit into learning. 
  • The per capita global food supplies of bananas, apples, and eggs are way up.
    It would be nice to think that the students and teachers using TeachersFirst all have enough to eat, but I know they do not.
  • The renewable energy supply is up 50%, but 240.8 million acres of forest cover have been lost– in just 16 + years!
    So what will today’s kindergarteners see when they are 30?

TeachersFirst’s mission is to provide resources to support teaching and learning across all subjects K-12 and to help teachers envision and implement effective use of technology as a tool for learning. In a broader sense, as teachers we are all trying to empower kids to understand, sustain, and improve the world they live in  – and ultimately grow to lead.

I am grateful that people like the BBC occasionally remind Thinking Teachers of our mission. The questions and comparisons that grow out of a different perspective are something every teacher needs. Try entering the start date of your teaching career as a “birthdate” to see what has changed.

October 31, 2014

The Raven Tweets: Anonymous nevermore

Filed under: digital footprints,edtech coaching,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:02 am

Ah, social media.

This week I notice that someone has tweeted this (Twitter ID redacted out of respect for anonymity):

raven tweets

      Of course, I know that TeachersFirst’s Interactive Raven is one of our most popular resources and that schools all over the world use it, especially during October. This was the first time I have noticed The Interactive Raven being tweeted by a student  My reactions, in order of occurrence, are probably typical of most teachers, edtech coaches, and/or web site editors:

  1. Is this kid promoting “cheating” using TeachersFirst? Nah…not really. It’s out there on the web. Great that kids can find it. Surely the teacher knows that kids can find anything.  If he/she does not realize that, the assignment needs some work. (Call in an edtech coach for ideas to make the assignment build from comprehension level to creative synthesis level…)
  2. Cool. Kids sending us traffic. Traffic is always good. And this tweet has 3 favorites. What should we be hashtagging our tweets with so kids find us?
  3. Cool. Kids LEARNING! Smart kids to share resources! Social learning via social media. I wonder if the teachers know they do this? Sad if they don’t.
  4. I wonder who this kid is. Oooo, fun challenge! I will call him/her MK (for Mystery Kid)…
    • Check out MK’s Twitter profile. No location listed. Some references to ice skating in tweets in last few days. Picture of obviously high school aged couple in front of a lake. Is this the boy or the girl ? (Name not clearly one or other). Pics on profiles of people MK follows include many outdoorsy, winter sports. Ice skating seems more than a passing interest. One MK tweet mentions “my new skating program.” Hmmm.
    • Digging further: one tweetpic includes screenshot with location of  someone who retweeted. I’ll call it Coldtown, USA. That location fits: I know it is in a cold climate with lots of ice skating. It is near a one-time Olympic venue. Other pics and profiles show cross country skiing, hockey and high school kids.
    • Another tweet, retweeted by MK, includes a teacher name: Mr. X.
    • Google MK’s name (in quotes). Still not sure if girl or boy. Several by this name. Tried adding “skating.” Bingo on the first page of results! Newspaper article from the Olympic venue-town paper about local skaters competing to move on to sectional and national competitions. There is MK in the picture, and the image matches the girl on the Twitter profile. Definitely a girl. (Also found a Pinterest board — possibly hers — that includes skating jewelry.) Article mentions she is from skating club in Coldtown, USA.
    • Google the name of the teacher “Mr. X” plus the word Coldtown. Bingo– found the Coldtown High School web page. Found the favorite teacher Mr X’s web page. He teaches social studies, not English. Check out the web pages/assignments of the entire English department. (It’s not that big — only six teachers.) Cannot find the specific homework assignment about “The Raven,” but suspect it is one of two teachers based on the other topics they are teaching.

I stop. I know that MK is a girl who figure skates and attends Coldtown High school in Coldtown, USA.  She used TeachersFirst’s Interactive Raven to do her homework and shared it with her friends, many of whom are involved in cold weather sports. All of the above took less than five minutes. What do I learn, aside from MK’s true identity?

  1. I could be a digital stalker,  but this is creepy. Yuck.
  2. Kids share and learn via Twitter. Teachers should know that. Teachers should USE that! (I feel a pang of guilt for not following through and informing the teacher(s) at Coldtown High School).
  3. Kids share and learn via Twitter. TeachersFirst should USE that!
  4. A five minute, savvy “dig” tells a lot about a high school kid beginning from just one tweet. This could be a great lesson on digital footprints. If you are savvy/fearless enough, give your students this same tweet or another you find on Twitter about homework answers. I am sure there are plenty!

And I wonder: What would you do if you saw a student tweeting about answers to your homework assignment?

October 24, 2014

The sound effects of learning

Filed under: creativity,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:40 pm

I will be the first to admit that I love web tools/apps that invite creative uses no one thought of before. Beginning Sunday, TeachersFirst will be featuring a review of Patatap, a seemingly simple musical gadget to make sounds by tapping your computer keyboard or tablet. You can even embed it in your web site. Many teachers might react to it as they would to party noisemakers or kazoos interrupting a lesson in their classroom: by taking it away and go back to the lesson at hand.

drumBut what a lesson you would miss by closing out Patatap! Ask your students how it “sounds” to spell the term they learned today on Patatap (try typing in onomatopoeia for example). Some words have especially meaningful spell-sounds. Try the word we. It almost sounds like harmony of two souls.

What if we asked kids to listen to all the Patatap vowels or to letter combinations and use those sounds to help remember spelling demons. For example, sepArate has that lower pitched, letter-snare-drummy tap in the middle, not the higher pitched e-snare. Even the SOUND of the word please “patatapped” sounds polite!

What if we asked kids to write sound poems or compose music using letters on Patatap?

What if we watched the colors and shapes that change to remind us of new terms: “Onomatopoeia starts with the popping bubbles of o.”

Ask your gifted or creative students how Patatap could help them compose and play word songs, rhythm combinations, or memory prompts to help them recite states and capitals or elements in the periodic table. The LETTERS of the chemical elements could have sounds, too. Unfortunately, the numbers have no sounds  so compounds like H2O don’t work. Share the “tunes” link at the bottom of the page for examples.

Instead of taking away this mental kazoo, embrace it. Give your students the homework assignment of creating a way to use Patatap to help them study. Let them work with a buddy or small group. Your classroom will sing with the sound effects of learning. This one will work in your BYOD classroom, too!

October 16, 2014

Prep plus the Trifecta: A better plan for parent conferences

Filed under: edtech,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:05 am

Parent conferences can be confrontational, collaborative, or just plain boring:

  • show work samples
  • show grades
  • describe strengths
  • point out needs for improvement (often including organizational skills, work habits)
  • mention upcoming projects
  • where to find class web site
  • questions? (if you have 20 seconds left)
  • thank you

… repeat

If you have fallen into this routine, you may want to change it up to maximize the impact of  this face to face conference time. You have to prep for conferences anyway, so why not prepare a document that can be viewed more than once and by more than just you and the parent?

  • share work samples and grades in advance via your online grading program and/or email
  • describe strengths and point out needs for improvement in an online conference summary (think Google Doc?) that the parent can share WITH their child or teen. Include the link to this document in the email mentioned above. Better yet, have the student help to CREATE this document prior to conference day.
  • mention upcoming projects and include the link to your class web page ON the conference summary form
  • Add The Trifecta+ information below to your class web page prior to conference week. (You have my permission to copy/paste from here, as long as you give credit.)

You have just saved ten minutes of your 15. Now, when you meet face to face:

  • Ask if parents have questions about the information you shared in advance (5 min). If they have not read it (quite possible), start with the Trifecta+ and come back to the online conference summary at the end.
  • SHARE The Trifecta+ of organizational tools and work habit support so you can work together in support of their child/teen. They will appreciate the concrete help!


threeThe Trifecta + is a set of three tools — and an optional fourth — that every family can use to manage home “study life.”

More importantly, encouraging students to find and use the tools that meet their individual needs (see above) will have a lasting impact on that young person’s life long after this elementary grade, English class, or Algebra I course.

Every student will need at least one of these at one time, and most need all of them most of the time:

  1. A timer like Timertab (review) or Teachit Timer (review)
  2. A can’t-lose-it list maker like  Strike (review) or Todoist (review)
  3. A sticky note tool like Primary Wall (review) or Lino (review)

1. A timer like Timertab (review) or Teachit Timer (review) Often, time available = time wasted. Show your child how you use a timer to manage time available. Do it for yourself so he/she can see how you organize your time. If you are not great at time management, admit it and learn together! Make it a game to predict how long a task or homework assignment will take and see if you can complete it in that time. Adjust your prediction the next day. Look at all available time (before soccer, after dinner, etc) to allocate time for each task on your list (see #2). The Timer Tab option i especially handy if you are trying to manage ONLINE time. You can see how you are doing just by glancing at the browser tab. Family bonus: this helps with arguments about which child gets to use the computer and for how long! TeachitTimer has audible alarms. (Yes, your teen could also use his/her smartphone timer.)

2. A can’t-lose-it list maker like  Strike (review) or Todoist (review) A list maker can be gratifying for those who enjoy saying “it’s done!” but can seem overwhelming to those who never make lists. Do this one together with your child/teen and admit it if you are not good at remembering all the things you need to do. Learn to make lists together! Key to this idea is having the list be accessible wherever you are. Online tools are perfect, especially if you can also use them on your smartphone. These tools require a free account, so create a FAMILY account so you — as a parent –can also see your child’s lists. Start by making lists of tonight’s homework and other to-do items. Don’t forget to include repacking the backpack, picking out clothes, and going to swim practice. Younger kids will enjoy checking things off. Older ones… well, offer an incentive for making and completing “good” lists. Is there a long term project coming up (the one the teacher mentioned at conferences)? Have your upper elementary to high school student make the list of steps required, adding self-selected due dates:

  • Purchase display board
  • complete research notes
  • write first draft
  • etc.

You may need to talk through this. Use an example from your own job or home tasks to show how you divide things up and plan for them. Including materials that mom or dad need to purchase will help avoid panicky trips to Office Max and yelling at each other at 9:55pm! Tip: some tools, like ToDoist, allow you to you recycle lists of things you do every week. Explore a couple of tool options and let your child/teen choose.

3. A sticky note tool like Primary Wall (review) or Lino (review) A sticky tool is a place to collect things: brainstormed ideas, sources for a research project, images, questions, links, even bits of writing. Try making a few sticky note boards as a family for recipes you’d like to try, movies you want to see, places to go on vacation, etc. Make sure you can access your board on all your devices. Now, when your child/teen has an assignment to write a paper or do a science fair project, start by making an idea board of stickies with possibilities. Use color coding to go back and sort them. Rearrange them in order of preference. Add images, especially for non-readers. You could even use stickies as a visual to-do list and drag to rearrange the steps. Ask your chlild/teen which kind of “list” he/she prefers using. By the way, there are many more sticky tools like the ones mentioned here. Lino has the advantage of being “device agnostic,” meaning there are free app versions of it for your mobile devices. Access your stickies anywhere, anytime.

4. The plus: an online “picker” like Random Name Picker (review) Sometimes it is hard to make up a young mind. Sometimes siblings fight over the stupidest things. Enter this online spinner tool you can customize with names, game choices, dinner options, or choices of which science project to do. If you need a quick, random selection, let your kids use this gadget. Yes, flipping an actual coin would also work (Oooo, try this), but doing it “high tech” is simply more fun.

October 3, 2014

I am not a “real teacher.”

Filed under: about me,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:03 am

I am not a “real teacher.” At least that is the reaction I have heard for decades when telling people the specifics of my teaching assignment. Over the years, I have been:

  • teacher in a middle school library/media center (teaching language arts and cultural arts minicourses on media production, research, and more)
  • push-in teacher of process writing (co teaching with middle school language arts teachers)
  • gifted program specialist, grades 2-8 (implementing individualized enrichment and advancement per IEPs for which I was case manager)
  • technology integrator (peer coach to teachers on effective use of technology in their teaching)
  • Adjunct grad instructor (teaching Technology for Educators to teachers and teachers-to-be)
  • Director of K-12 Initiatives (running TeachersFirst, an online friend and “coach” to any teacher seeking ways to improve their own teaching and enhance/facilitate learning using technology)

What I have never been:

  • a teacher of a self-contained, elementary class
  • a teacher of a narrowly defined or scripted curriculum
  • a teacher with a textbook or teacher edition

In the world of teaching, there are “real teachers” (aka “regular” teachers) and “specialists.”  “”Real” teachers’ days follow predictable patterns and behaviors (the ones most adults ascribe to teachers based on our own experience in school). Then there are teachers whose patterns are less easy to explain or envision. Unless you have shared the same role, you have no idea what a teacher-librarian, Art teacher, school counselor, learning support teacher, speech/language clinician, reading specialist, instructional coach, or ed tech coach actually DOES. Those of us who are not “real teachers” do not use a specific textbook — or teacher edition. Our patterns, while possibly predictable, are not like those of “real teachers.” We are the ones who are assigned extra bus/hall duty (and the worst Friday afternoon study halls) or who are told to fill in when a “real” teacher is sick and there is no sub. We are the ones that “real teachers” do not fully understand. On the worst days, “real” teachers may even covet our mysterious positions.

As education grinds toward the divergent goals of 21st century individualization and test-based accountability, those who are not “real” teachers may be best prepared to handle the push-pull of change. All teachers today are pushed beyond previous patterns. Those of us accustomed to inventing our own wheels may have a slight advantage. “Real” teaching has changed. Now is the time for us to share ideas and strategies to invent our own teaching wheels. Those who embrace technology have some helpful tools. Those who embrace collaboration, questioning, reflection, and mutual support have even more. Let’s make teaching and learning “real” together. Thinking Teachers Teaching Thinkers are much more important than “real” teachers.

September 26, 2014

Language Limits: Captioning the pictures of learning

Filed under: about me,learning,myscilife,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:53 am

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 11.30.22 AMHow do you explain what you know and do every day as a teacher? Would anyone other than another teacher understand you?

I gave a tour of MySciLife to some non-educators this week. After decades as an educator, it is hard to explain anything about teaching or learning without slipping into the language I use among teachers. I use terms like differentiate, ESL/ELL, prompt, scaffold, and digital citizenship. Like most teachers, I do not even realize when my audience is thinking:

Hmmm….

Differentiate… means to delineate the differences between two things. What is she telling the differences between?

ESL… or did she say easel? Is this for Art?

prompt… what does this have to do with being on time?

scaffold… are they painting her classroom?

digital citizenship … is that something about online voting?

When I use an education-specific term in a parent conference,  I make sure to circle back and define it in context. I do the same with unfamiliar terms I use with students:

Today you are going to work in small groups on an issue related to digital citizenship. When we talk about citizenship in social studies class, we are talking about the way we read, listen, and evaluate what our government does. We especially focus on how citizens participate in that government. Learning to do this responsibly is what makes us good citizens. So talking about digital citizenship…

This is easy when I am in teacher mode with kids. Sharing the intricacies of teaching and learning, especially  a form of learning unfamiliar to most adults over 30, however, is a real challenge. There is such richness in student-centered, social-media based learning that giving an introduction to MySciLife requires circling back over and over — risking listener dizziness.  The intelligent adults who are listening would never expect me to understand the intricacies of what they do every day in their professional roles. But any adult touring MySciLife carries along their own school experience. It is hard for them to understand MySciLife without comparing/contrasting with that experience.

Teacher to teacher, I would say that MySciLife is:

  • a safe, online learning space where your students can learn local science curriculum through student-driven learning and interaction with peers across the U.S.
  • a social learning community where students take on and maintain a role of a science identity, such as Mighty Mitochondria or Gregarious Gravity (they choose the name but concepts are determined by curriculum)
  • student-centered, meeting today’s digital learners in a familiar digital space while respecting and directing their use of the digital tools they know so well for productive purposes in social-media based science learning (now that is a mouthful!)
  • a learning community designed in accordance with specifications and experiences of our teacher-ambassadors throughout over 2 years of research pilot
  • designed to offer scaffolding and opportunities for differentiation for ESL/ELL, gifted, and learning support students
  • well-suited to the needs, strengths, and interests of emerging adolescents
  • a whole new experience in teaching… that gets easier and better with each unit
  • engaging to ALL students, promoting participation and interaction among peers. No passive learners here!
  • aligned to best practices in process writing (drafting, feedback, response, publishing, response…) and centered on experiences with digital writing and informational texts a la Common Core
  • infused with models of good digital citizenship
  • creative, open-ended, and focused on deeper learning
  • in short… amazing. It changes your whole view of what science learning can be.

I can talk to teachers about MySciLife for hours. I have not, however,  perfected an introduction to MySciLife that connects with non-teaching adults’ prior knowledge of school, redefining what it means to teach and learn using safe social media. I can give them a gallery of mental pictures, but captions for those pictures rely on my educator-specific language. I ‘ll keep working on ways to make the captions circle back.