When I reflect back on the last 16 year of teaching, I see three distinct phases:
Phase 1 was crucial. I fell in love with the profession during this phase. My gut told me I was doing the right thing. Students loved my class. I loved being with them. All was good. But were they really learning? I didn’t care. It just felt good. Teaching felt the right choice, and the positive relationships I was forming with students and colleagues felt good. The difference between job and vocation became clear.
Phase 2 was ugly. An overconfident 4 year “veteran”, my popularity as a teacher transformed my initial love for teaching, into a fear of being a “boring” teacher. Although my colleagues perhaps did not notice this side, I saw it. I could hear it. This attitude led to a form disconnect between myself and my students. A blind adoption of the latest trends in educational technology under the guise of “innovation”.
Phase 3 is transformative. I’m in the middle of phase 3.. No longer can I hide under the blanket of being a “rookie teacher”, or an “early adopter”. Deep gaps in student conceptual knowledge, painful anonymous student feedback, personal health crisis, and a myriad of other catalysts are forcing me to face a question I should have faced along time ago: What does authentic, good, REAL teaching look like?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to give a TED Talk about this journey. Anyone of us could have given that talk. I was just in the right place at the right time. As teachers we are all on a journey. A “Hero’s Journey” if you will, full of temptation, mentors, transformation and realizations that change our outlook on the career. Our outlook on ourselves. Our students. Our colleagues. We are always changing.
Spark Learning dives into this journey. My hope is that this book can provide insight into both the emotions, and the instructional mechanics of the process. A process that I find successful. For me. I have faith that in sharing this with others, it might spark a few simple insights for you. Catalyze insight into your authentic teaching self. Spark new realizations
As Parker Palmer says, “We teach from who we are.”. My greatest fear in writing a book about teaching is that I would revert to Phase 2. Appear to be a narcissistic “I gave a TED Talk listen to me…” know it all. A “look at me I wrote a TED Talk book…” snake oil salesman. Lessons I’m learning in Phase 3 remind me to have faith in the teaching community. That the Imposter Complex can be ignored. And that's OK. That I love this vocation and work REALLY HARD AT IT. That 9pm-1am for the last 7 months was on purpose and for a good reason. I have an obligation to share. To share. To share. And so do you. Tag.
I am blessed to teach at a school that incorporates an "Intersession" program into the month of January. Upon returning from winter vacation, students sign up for a two-week-long, 9am-3pm, course of their choosing. Courses are offered by individual teachers and represent areas they are deeply passionate about and would not have time to expose students to during the normal school year. Courses spanned from Fly Fishing, to Mural Painting, to Molecular Gastronomy, to Virtual Reality and even a course designed to break as many Guinness Records as possible in two weeks. Needless to say, it is incredible to see what students can produce an do, when the pressure of grades are removed and students are given ten full days to slowly dive deep into a subject area.
Over the past two years, in addition to my role as a high school science instructor, I have have developed a growing passion for facilitating youth science camps. The MakeyMakey, given its simple implementation, and incredible potential for open-ended invention has always been an an important tool for sparking an interest in science and invention at my camps. See the two videos below to learn more about the intricacies and development of the MakeyMakey.
As is evident in the above videos, while it is an extremely flexible design tool, when introducing young students to the MakeyMakey it is very tempting for them to immediately begin designing video game controllers. While not inherently a bad thing, the potential for more meaningful invention is incredible. Keeping this in mind, I have always wanted to teach a class that leveraged the MakeyMakey as a tool to empower students with either severe physical or intellectual handicaps. The ability to repurpose everyday objects to interact differently with a keyboard, as well as the ability to program and interact with a myriad of different online modules using physical, tactile objects, opens up a world of possibilities for creating Assistive Technology.
My desire to develop such a course was amplified when I stumbled across this website and the below TEDx talk by educator Tom Heck.
Tom and his students brought to life the exact experience I was dying to create, and his website provided a detailed roadmap for how to make it happen! I immediately contacted Tom, and shared my ideas with him. Tom was gracious, excited to collaborate, and eager to discuss his process.
Back to Intersession. My growing passion for leveraging the MakeyMakey as an invention tool, interest in Assistive Technology development, and Tom's TEDx talk serendipitously overlapped at the right time and it was clear that Intersession would be a perfect opportunity to create such a course! After establishing a strong relationship with a local middle school teacher of exceptional students, a few months of brainstorming, I developed this course, and Assistive Technology devices that leveraged not only MakeyMakey, but also Arduino and Scratch, were created and delivered by a passionate team of 11 Sonoma Academy students. Needless to say, it was one of the most powerful two weeks of my career as an educator!
Below is a playlist with three videos captured when delivering the devices to students.
Below are a myriad of different pictures taken during the two-week Intersession course.
Over the past few months I have received many requests for recorded versions of a Keynote presentation on the relationship between the Hero's Journey and the Lesson Planning Process. I finally found the time to record it. Click here to access.
If you are interested in the content from the keynote, I am in the process of recording a series of online courses for interested educators and districts to access specifics around the technology and structures I find helpful when planning and implementing lessons. Click here to access.
Excited to share this quick, "Sparking Curiosity" document I put together for my colleagues. The document outlines past and current research on Curiosity as well as practical examples across disciplines.