When school feels like a biker bar

IMG_2779Today is the first day of school for my children and I am worried. I worry someone will be mean to them. I worry they will feel like an outsider. I worry they will sit alone on the bus or in the lunchroom. I want my children to belong and to feel a part of the group. I assume this is some left over law the jungle. A “if you don’t run with the pack the lion will eat you,” mentality???

I’m sure my cavewoman ancestry plays a part in this feeling, but so do my experiences. I have had those days where I sat alone in the cafeteria, when I wasn’t picked for the team and that horrible year where a classmate wrote “I hate Keely”trapper keeper Google Searchon her trapper keeper and carried it all around school. (It turns out some boy she liked actually liked me. There ensued social warfare). As an adult I still experience moments like these. Some call them Biker Bar moments.  Where you walk in to a bar and it turns out you are the only one not dressed head to toe in leather and chains.  

I experienced that feeling this summer when I started a 6th year program at the University of New Haven. It was my first time in the classroom as a student in 15 years. I felt pretty confident until I heard everyone speaking. Doctopus, Flubaroo, PLN, ICT. What language were these people even speaking? I felt like I knew nothing. I felt as if I were an antique, a 100 years behind these other teachers. I couldn’t blame my age as some appear to have been born in the same decade as me. I know that having left the classroom for 10 years to raise my children contributed to my feelings of inadequacy. Luckily, I was able to hide behind my Chromebook and quickly Google the terms they were using. I spent that first face-to-face meeting catching up, translating and trying to understand. 

My husband noticed this same phenomenon on move day at the university. He talked about the student athletes, texting, taking pictures, and simply being on their phones during the whole move-in. Many see this type of phone use as a symbol of rudeness.  The Pew research study Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette states 89% of people used their phone during their most recent social gathering with 82% reporting the phone usage hurt the conversation.  I believe the phones were being used as a “mother’s skirt” that they could hide behind. The situation was wholly out of their control. Selecting an Instagram filter for the photo of your dorm and tweeting about pushing your mom out the door is 100% under your control. Sherry Turkle defines these moments as being “alone-together” in her 2012 Ted Talk Connected but Alone? Where these student-athletes being rude or taking control of a difficult situation and employing an updated strategy to find success in an uncomfortable situation?

I teach middle school students so they can not fade into their phones as a defense mechanism. In order to negotiating their positions in our learning community they must juggle parent, peer, and teacher feedback. Attempting to please all three groups each of which has a highly divergent goal; is nearly impossible. As established by James Paul Gee in Social Linguistics and Literacies (p. 2-3), students must be literate in multiple “social languages” in order to be successful in a variety of contexts and discourses. My students will negotiate these waters by volunteering to go first but not too often. Making jokes to get a laugh out of their classmates without upsetting the teacher. Wearing the “right” clothes that don’t violate their parents’ values or the school dress code. They must be three different people all at the same time. I will watch their hand go up, their jokes roll by, and the slogan t-shirt messages and remind myself that no matter what the outside of the box looks like, these are kids. Little kids; no more than 11 or 12 years old. Regardless of the mixed messages they emanate, they are here to learn and every one of them can learn. I will know who the cool kids are (LeBron sneaks, a new pair each day this week), the immature kid (wore a Hello Kitty top in a non-ironic manner), and who will struggle (did not look at me once the whole week). I will know all of this and I will teach them by reaching out through the Chromebook. Allowing each to hide behind the screen while they pursue their own interests at their own ability levels; an impossible task before we became a one2one school*.  

*My school offers a free Chromebook to all students and allows students to bring their own device as well.  It is expected that students will be online in every class, with few exceptions.  Students and parents must sign acceptable use policies but there is no school or district-wide policy on repercussions for violating said policies.


Where do we go now? Straight to the Library of Congress

This past week I took my kids (age 7 & 8) to Washington D.C. We saw the monuments, looked through the iron gate at the White House and took selfies in front of the Supreme Court. One of my favorite sites is the Library of Congress. It is a work of art in and of itself. A sculpted water fountain welcomes visitors to climb the stairs toward the grand bronze doors. If you are not impressed by the exterior of the building, wait until you get inside.

Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

These pictures do not highlight the real beauty of the library; what it contains. The LOC contains over 838 miles of bookshelves; books, manuscripts, newspapers, microfiche, maps, sheet music, sound recordings, prints, and photographic images. Anything copyrighted in the United States of America must be submitted in duplicate to the Library of Congress. And the Library makes millions of digital objects; videos, audio and archived Web content; most of which can be accessed for free on its website. The collection is so vast, I had to look up the term for this quantity of information, petabytes.

The Library of Congress has long understood that literacy is not simply books.  It is time our schools follow suit.  

In Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research–What Path Should We Take “Now”? (Greenhow, Robelia and Hughes) the authors argue that the Web has morphed from its origins as technology allowing access to information.  It has become a technology that allows interactive participation and content creation by all users. While I agree the Web has morphed over time; neither I nor the Library of Congress agree it is simply a technology.  Instead, the LOC and myself agree with Comments on Greenhow, Robelia, and Hughes: Expanding the New Literacies Conversation. Leu, O’Byrne, Zawilinski, McVerry and Everett-Cacopardo argue that the Web is instead a continuously changing context in which to read, write and create. These authors further explain that online literacies must be integrated into subject standards, integrated into every subject area, each classroom teacher must be responsible for teaching online information and communication use and online information and communication skills must be included in subject area assessments.

What does this look like in my classroom or yours?  It looks like we allow students to explore the new forms of literacy that pop up everyday.  Assignments that require blogging, texting and multimodal metaliteracies must become part of our curriculum standards. We must continuously educate our selves in these new literacies. Those of us enrolled in the IT&DML program have agree to a full year of education in these new literacies.  But in reality our course work can never end.  I imagine our instructors must change their syllabi every semester as new media platforms are born and old ones become obsolete.  I imagine our students will know more than us in some areas and less than us in others.  I imagine a whole nation of students learning together and teaching together to improve communication and knowledge.

There is a Shakespeare quote in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress is the East Corridor that sums up my vision of “where we go from here.”  It states THE WEB OF LIFE IS OF A MINGLED YARN, GOOD AND ILL TOGETHER (All’s Well That Ends Well, Act iv., Sc. 2).  This WEB is now the internet.  It is full of hurdles to overcome and dangers that lurk online; but this WEB is still how we live and how we will learn and create knowledge.

The Gutenberg Bible is ensconced in the Library of Congress in a case for all humanity to view.  The content of the pages is not important.  It is there as a symbol of a new form of literacy (the printing press) that expanded teaching, learning and knowledge and for the masses.  One day the Library of Congress will also contain a memento of the Web as a new form of literacy. Maybe, just maybe it will honor the teachers who strove to incorporate metaliteracies into their classrooms and educators will become our heroes.

Getting educated = Creating knowledge

The Network Learning Project allowed me the opportunity to learn about being a vegan before lunch.  I developed a list of recipes and a strategy for remaining vegan while travelling.  More importantly, I learned how to learn in 2015.  Knowledge creators have covered the internet in information and it is yours for the taking.  Learn what you want, when you want and how you want.  Yes, there are traps like information overload and endless products to purchase, but if you “mind the gap” you can learn anything.  Curmudgeons beware!  You are still required to interact with people to learn in this new fangled way.  Best of all, the new learning requires you to engage and experience knowledge.  I created a video timeline of my experiences with the NLP.  Rather than a list of information experts shared with me it is a demonstration of what I have learned and how I learned it.  Enjoy!

Vacation…all I ever wanted

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Finally!  My summer job is over and the family and I are off on an exciting road trip through the Nation’s capital and down to the beach in Delaware.  I know; the history teacher taking her kids to D.C. is such a surprise.  But the kids loved the monuments, taking the metro and of course the hotel pool.  This trip has made keeping up with my VBL (vegan before lunch) goal really difficult.  I did not do enough prep work to know what to eat at the hotel breakfast.  Here is a quick look at what they offer.

Usually, I start my mornings with a coffee with almond milk.  The Hyatt Place does not have almond milk.  So non-dairy creamer it is for me.  My kids are not so upset about the lack of almond milk.  (The cow’s milk vs almond milk taste test was a flop).  The kids hated the almond milk!  They thought it was totally gross.  Of course I bought the gallon container so I have been slipping it into their morning smoothies until it was gone…but you won’t tell them, will you?

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Luckily, I did bring my Shakeology packets and my immersion blender so I can have a shake after my coffee.  I have worked out a recipe I really like.  I fill the cup up to the “k” with water, add the protein powder, a banana and some orange extract.  Then I blend until smooth, add ice to the top and blend again.  It is a nice smoothie consistency.  But at less than 200 calories, they do not hold me over until lunch.  My solution is to grab some of the nuts and dried fruits found at the oatmeal bar and pack them to go.  By 10:30 am I starving and they are a necessary snack.

To sum it all up, VBL is not as easy on the road.  Using my PLN (personal learning network) I was able to view several lists of vegan breakfasts and make do with I found at the hotel buffets.  Back to the long drive south.IMG_2433

Keely’s Classroom

Last week I took a stab at the one minute commercial assignment for ED7710.  It came out super scripted, and rather lame.  I sound like I read about teaching without actually teaching anyone.  Feel free to watch the first BAD draft here:

Then with some feedback from a mentor, I turned it around and made what I consider to be a pretty accurate reflection of who I am as a teacher.  The new and improved version:

Feel free to comment on which “commercial” you prefer and why.

Milking vegan bloggers for ideas

I have spent the past few days looking into other blogs focused on vegan breakfasts. It took some doing to even figure out how to search WordPress. I eventually found a good tutorial. It turns out they have their own search engine.

WordPress.com — Your Blogging Home

I selected the search terms Vegan and Breakfast which resulted in more hits than I could handle.  Adding the term Protein in, narrowed the results but it also turned up some lentil/tofu concoctions that my kids will not enjoy.  In the end I found good lists on Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Tasteful Pantry.  I also followed several bloggers including; The Full Circle Vegans, Peace Crafting, Vegged Out Mom, and Vegan Revamp.  Finally, I left comments on 6 blogs.  One of my favorites was Lioness Lifestyle a 10 year old vegetarian who is exploring veganism.  I hope this blogger will be a great resource for the kid perspective on vegan recipes.  As I mentioned in my last post VeganNeeds is also a great resource for me.  I did receive some responses to my comments.  For example, the Full Circle Vegans stated they will look into creating more breakfast based recipes. July 12, 2015 | thefullcirclevegans
Most of the blogs I reviewed include a cereal or oatmeal recipe that called for almond milk.  This will be the next taste test for the kids.  I will compare the whole milk they usually drink to the almond milk suggested on these vegan blogs. IMG_2427                              Photo - Google Photos

This is how the two stack up nutritionally.  Whole milk has 150 calories, 8 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat.  Almond milk only has 30 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 1 gram of protein.  This makes almond milk sound good to me, but my growing kids need the calories and fat.  Whole milks’ biggest down fall is the sugar. It contains 11 grams of sugar to almond milks’ 0 grams.  It looks like the almond will be fine to add to a breakfast cereal but I would need to replace the calories/fat somewhere else in my kids’ diet.  I hope to have my kids do a blind taste test latter this week and report back the results.

My Multimodal Tutorial

My entrance into the Information Technology & Digital Media Literacy program at the University of New Haven required a deep submersion into the world of IT with an intensive 9 credit summer course load.  I have spent the past 5 weeks reading online, blogging, screenshooting, screencasting, joining social media platforms and trying out software and apps.  Many of my students have already dabbled in these skills and platforms.  Most are much more proficient in these arenas than I am.  But their parents are not. Therefore, I decided to create my multimodal tutorial on how parents can use Google Classroom as a window into their student’s lives.

In my district, 7th grade is the start of middle school.  Many families struggle with the fine balance between allowing students the independence needed to flourish, allowing too much freedom, or acting like helicopter parents.  Google Classroom allows parents to see every assignment and teacher communication without the dreaded, “What happened at school today?” conversation.  Additionally, it gives parents a glimpse of the new literacies required for success.

In order to make my tutorial I had to request a student login from the IT department in my district.  I had to create 4 pseudo classes and post assignments and
announcements in each course.  I had to analyse multiple screen-cast tools and create a script for my screen-cast.  The process was time-consuming but not especially difficult.  Completing the multimodal has given me a lot of insight into the reality of my requests on students to learn something new.  After many embarrassing takes, my multimodal is finally ready.  I will be presenting this tutorial at our Step Up program where incoming 7th grade parents and students come to Dodd for a sneak peek of their school year.

Click here for my Parent Tutorial on Google Classroom:

And here is a sneak peek of my screen cast:

The Buzz about Goats


Keely pictured on left with her sister circa 1980

When I was five I had a pet goat named Heidi.  I had read the book Heidi by Johanna Spyir and seen the movie and I was infatuated.  So, naturally my father got me a pet goat. The book and movie drew me in and caused a lifelong fascination with goats.  So when I heard the New Britain Rock Cats were changing their name to the Hartford Yard Goats I was intrigued.  After reflecting on the change I realized the Rock Cats are teaching educators a great lesson.  My education was based on a notion of college track defining success solely as the ability to read, process information and score well on standardized tests.  In 2015 the definition of success has changed.  The New Britain Rock Cats’ move to Hartford exemplifies the new ideal of success that educators need to consider when planning skills and content.  Instead of retaining their logo and merchandising, the team has selected a new name.  The top five options included Hedgehogs, Praying Mantis, River Hogs and Whirlybirds.  The winner of the name game was Yard Goats.

Why?  Because it makes them stand out, creates a buzz.  Today’s success standards revolve around “buzz” creation.

The education system has also moved toward creation as the student objective. O’Byrne’s 2012 article Online Content Construction: Students as Informed Readers and Writers of Multimodal Information establishes the ideas that we must teach our students to be able to create online content.  O’Byrne walks us through the scaffolding, first teaching students to consuming online content, “working collectively to read and respond to information learned while reading online” and then moving information online, “taking content encountered while reading online and copy/paste, or briefly synthesizing this information into another online communication tool” (O’Byrne 2012).  The final step in O’Byrne’s scaffold is creation; in which “students and teachers work to redesign or reinvent online texts by actively encoding and decoding meaning in multimodal texts”.  This idea of Remix is also covered by Kirby Ferguson in his 2012 Ted Talk titled “Embracing the Remix”. O’Byrne’s research matches up seamlessly with the common core standards CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W6.6-8.6 culminating with: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

I would like to suggest that we take O’Bryne’s ideas one step further and teach our students how to create a buzz.  Creating a buzz is the new path to success that our students must be taught.  They need to make their online college application, resume, dating profile stand out among hundreds if not thousands of similar submissions.  Creating a buzz is the same as constructing meaning and content.  We have been teaching our students how to do this for generations through research papers, science labs and journaling.  We are not actually teaching a new skill, we are simplifying teaching an updated version of this skill.

How can I teach this skill to my students?  Modelling my plan after O’Byrne’s I would first identify examples of this buzz in their worlds and offer them up as models.  After reviewing the essential elements of buzz the second step is to ask students to identify where in their course work buzz could be incorporated.  Students must then incorporate the elements of buzz into their own work and finally reflect back on the models to make final improvements to their work.
In my blog today I have remixed O’Byrne’s ideas in an attempt to create new meaning for myself as a learner.  If anyone is concerned I am leaning too heavily upon the work of my predecessors I will simplay stop calling this new skill “buzz” and change it over to “bleat” (this is a goat joke).  Upon reflection I am concerned that others may not see the value in my meaning making.  If you love or hate my ideas, I hope they create a buzz and get you thinking about how you can use technology to create meaning in your classroom.

Image result for goat computer