Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Holy "Lots of Pressure" Batman

As I slowly climbed the steps this morning in our CAPS bulding, a bouquet of balloons caught my eye.  They were suspended in a bunch on the second floor and looked awfully close to the entrance into my Teacher Education Lab.  As I came closer, I realized that the balloons were accompanied by a poster displaying pictures of me in my classroom and a rhyming verse of well-wishes for my performance tomorrow on my oral comprehensives as part of my pursuit of a PhD in Educational Technology at the University of Kansas.

While I still have a ways to go (like a year or two) it's nice to be able to at least see a light at the end of the tunnel. This Fall, as the first milestone, I will receive my certification in Instructional Design from KU, and that, too, feels good as a stepping stone toward a larger goal.

What is ahead is unknown, but I'm excited that I have taken this path toward new adventures in my life.

Thank you to my CAPS family for always being there to support me and for putting up with my tired rantings and my absence of sending resources out on a regular basis.  It will be nice, when this is complete, to be able to relax, research, teach, and regain some normalcy in my daily life.

Thanks to my close friends who understand why I don't call or come over and who realize my absences from gatherings are only temporary.

Thanks to my immediate family...my own kids who had to see their mom crouched over a book any time there was an extra minute to spare and to my parents for always giving me the unconditional support that has a way of lighting an internal fire, creating a drive to always strive to do better things.

Thanks for all of the well wishes!  I will do my best to follow through and make you proud!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Authentic Experiences and Learning

 Authentic learning became a part of my life very early...in 5th grade as a matter of fact.  My teacher, Ms. Austin, decided that we should write a letter to an official in order to try to bring attention to a problem in our community.  I don't even remember how we chose our targets.  Perhaps we were given the latest edition of the Weekly Reader to ponder issues around us.  Or, maybe Ms. Austin gave us a list of choices. The year was 1972.  Whatever the plan, I came across a story reporting that the Atomic Energy Commission was considering putting a nuclear waste site in Lyons, KS.

Even though Lyons was almost 4 hours away from Fort Scott, I knew that depositing nuclear waste there would most certainly affect the lives of myself and my schoolmates.  I chose to write a letter to James Schlesinger, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, pleading with him to rethink the unthinkable.  Just as every other classmate did, I mailed the hand-written letter and considered it "handing in" just another

assignment.  Soon, however, I was to be surprised of the impact this letter would have on my life.

It began with a call to the elementary school office.  Winfield Scott Elementary didn't regularly get calls from Washington, D.C., so when the secretary handed me the phone receiver, she had a rather far away look on her face.  The voice on the other end introduced himself as someone from Schlesinger's office who was calling on his behalf concerning my letter.  Was this a bad thing?  Had I broken some rule?  My face must have turned white because the secretary began to reach for the phone...probably thinking that a fainting spell could occur at any moment.  The person told me that my letter made it to Schlesinger, and he would be writing me back.  But that was just the beginning.  Immediately, reporters began calling my home, asking for interviews.  Relatives from far away were sending us AP Photo clippings (I sure wish I hadn't worn the barrette that day) from newspapers across the country.  Immediately, I saw the impact of a small gesture.  I saw the way authentic learning makes a difference.  That experience changed me, and thanks to Ms. Austin, I now, as a teacher, strive for that authenticity and work to get my students to reach beyond the classroom walls.  I felt like I had made a difference, and I now know what needs to be done to start doing just that.  Thank you, Ms. Austin for being way ahead of your time in personalizing learning and providing problem-solving, authentic experiences for your students.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Experiential Learning...on a personal note!

I just got home from the track--two miles today.  It was such a nice day, and my brain and heart wanted to run four, but unpredictable knees and a meniscus tear repair later, and my limit is two, even with my "Darth Vader" brace. But, as usual...I digress...

As I was walking to the entrance to the track at Frontier Trail Middle School, I saw a line of five buses, empty, parked at the curb, and I was wondering why they were just sitting there.  As I got closer, the double doors at the side of the school opened, and suddenly lines of band members, dressed alike, carrying their instruments, some donning the "FT" logo, began spilling into the buses.  A short time later, they pulled away in a convoy of yellow.

Seeing them reminded me of the experiences acquired in my lifetime when I was a part of the school band.  I remember the excitement of arriving at the school, seeing my friends, putting together instruments and tuning them together, and filing on the buses that would take us to the numerous parades and activities our directors arranged for us.

It's funny what we remember.  I remember specifically having to march faster because the trombones were in the front row, and even the slightest delay could mean a "slide hit" or nudge.  I remember marching on sunny days and being so hot and sweaty that the baton in my hand seemed to do nothing but slide through my fingers and seem worthless.  I remember the times we were angry when we had to follow the horses and dodge what they left behind.  I remember the people, lined along the streets, some waving, some oblivious to our efforts, but all the same, part of the experience that we were sharing.

We learn experientially and through our social interactions, and through my experiences with our junior high and high school bands, I learned commitment, friendship, strategy, logic, confidence, passion, respect, teamwork, and more.  There was no better hands-on, project-based, problem-based, competency-based learning more fitting than being part of that group of about 75 individuals who came together and had to work together to accomplish something.  I learned a lot of who I was during those experiences with and from interactions with those individuals.  I learned things that I didn't always learn when sitting in a classroom.

The FT band is headed this morning to the Old Settlers' Parade.  I hope that they some day realize how fortunate they are to have had this experience.

Monday, August 14, 2017

CAPS Year Nine

Tomorrow, I get to meet a new group of Teacher Ed students and their parents.  Each year I wonder

 how I will ever relay to them the enriching activities we will be doing all year.  It seems that we always hit the ground running, and when have a chance to breathe, we are surprised at all of the
experiences we have had.

That's what I love about the CAPS experience.  Each day brings the possibility of something new.  Some of our best projects have come out of last minute ideas or business partner requests.  If I had turned them down because of my place in the year's curriculum, the students would never have had those memories.

I started with the CAPS crew nine years ago.  I have seen other members of our founding team leave CAPS and have seen others come on board.  Each year is different and yet just as interesting as the one before.

As I reflect back, I think of some of our most exciting projects.  Arcademics (www.arcademics.com) was a great partner.  After working on a project with two of our Teacher Ed students and a Filmmaking student, they hired all three students who worked for them through their college careers.  The Teacher Ed students would create math lessons, and the Filmmaking student would put them into video form and then send them to Arcademics for review before they were added to their children's educational games website.

We also have had great projects with Sprint, AMC, TapTeach, BrainPOP, Microsoft, other schools and districts, and many, many others.  The students are learning not only the traditional classroom management and pedagogy but are also learning very professional skills as they make their way through the processes needed to complete these projects.

This year, we are working with Real World Scholars and need to have our product idea ready to launch on September 5.  The students will be researching and building their presentation The Gig Gang Theory for Greenbush Educator Technology Conferences in Girard and Eudora, Kansas, as well as for the Regional Educators Rising Conference at Mid America Nazarene University.

And so...it sounds like we are once again hitting the ground running.  To our alumni, we wish you a fantastic year of teaching or a fantastic year at college.  To our returning and new CAPS Teacher Education students, I will see you soon!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Candy Boxes

Yesterday, I attended the funeral for a friend, teacher, and former colleague.  Faye Smith was someone that you would not forget once you met her.  She had a broad smile, a great laugh, and an infectious love for life and people.

As I listened to her sons each speak about their mother and also heard from another former colleague who gave an overview of Smitty's career, I was humbled by her impact on those with whom she came in contact. I knew of some of the fun antics...the raisin costume and leading other staff in the fun of a pep assembly and the way she had to make everyone laugh and have a good time, but I learned new things about this remarkable person.

I didn't realize that she had been the first African American female teacher in the district or that she had been the first female to finish her teaching responsibilities while pregnant or that she got her ESOL certification or that she went back to get a second Masters degree in special education.  My goodness what this vivacious woman had gone through and had achieved.  All in all, she had a ferocious love of teaching and education, and it showed through everything she did to make sure she could reach as many students as possible.

The real thing that was so amazing, however, on top of everything else was her love for making people feel valuable and loved.  She gave out small candy boxes to people all of the time, just "a little something," to make them happy.  Her sons and her colleagues talked of her giving these boxes to friends, students, waiters and waitresses, everyone and anyone.  She was even known to bring them for all of her retired co-teachers group who met (at her direction) once a month to keep in touch and share their lives and would proceed to give the boxes to not only her friends, but everyone around including the restaurant workers.  At the funeral yesterday, there was a table at the back of the chapel, and it was covered in little, decorative boxes of all colors, designs, and shapes.  All were filled with chocolate treats. We were asked to take a box from the table as a last message from Faye.

The box I took was one that caught my eye first.  If you visit my Teacher Education lab at CAPS, you
will see it on a shelf...a constant reminder of Faye and what she taught me and everyone about doing just a little bit extra out of your way to make people feel special and to spread kindness.

Thank you, Faye.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Teacher's Legacy

Today I experienced something that only strengthened my thoughts about why people enter the teaching profession.  My dad is a career teacher and administrator.  His greatest love of all was music, and he led concert bands and marching bands for years.  He traveled to parades and national football championships to do half-time shows and took his bands to the Rose Bowl Parade. In all of the years that he has worked in various school systems and institutions of higher education, he has impacted so many students and families.  Of course I've always known that and respected my dad so much for the relationships he has built over time, but how do teachers know, unless students come back to tell them, what kind of influence their efforts had on the lives of those students?

The other day, on Facebook, a former student reached out to some of her former instructors with a quote about something to the effect of how teachers are not just teachers but lifelong connections, and her comments and the fact that she took the time to include my name in that list of former teachers energized me.  At that moment, I knew what I needed to do for my dad's 80th birthday.  Twice retired but still substituting, he could never give up this passion that he has within him.

I used the power of social media to make some strategic contacts who I knew could reach out to others in their "groups" to disseminate a request:  write a note, memory, or wish to send to my dad to celebrate his 80th mark!  Word traveled quickly, and in a few weeks time, I had well over 100 texts, notes, emails, cards, pictures, and more sent to me to be included in a scrapbook that I constructed and planned to present to him on his birthday.

Today was the day.  Before I pulled the thick, heavy collection of memories out of the decorative bag, I told my dad, "you know... sometimes people just need to know what impact they have had on the
lives of others."  He was taken by surprise, and as he opened the book and began to turn the pages, all he could say was "oh my, oh my."  Imagine the warmth I felt when I saw the emotions in my dad's face as he looked over note after note.  I cannot think of a better gift that I could have given.

My dad took the book home, and I know that he will have hours of reading and remembering people who found it in their hearts to take the time to send a long letter or just a simple "happy birthday." I watched him connecting with them once again, if just for a moment, through shared experiences.

My dad will know that he impacted the lives of many.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Test Scores and Educational Reform

In the book, Counting What Counts:  Reframing Education Outcomes, there is an interesting comparison between the statues of Easter Island and the goal of high test scores in education.  Just as the Easter Islanders based their success and progress by the statues, many in education have become obsessed with competing globally for the best test scores.  The emphasis on these test scores has caused less emphasis on other areas of education which can be detrimental to the fostering of creativity and the acquisition of soft skills necessary to compete in a modern ecomony.  Ironically, this movement, GERM (Global educational reform movement) is described as "infecting" education.

While certainly test scores have some worth in quantitative measurement of student progress, it cannot be the only measure, and alternatives must be considered.  One of the book's authors, Dr. Yong Zhao, equates the measurement provided by test scores to the concept of one taking medicine to treat an ailment.  While the medication can make a positive difference in the prognosis and progress of the health of the individual, there could be side effects of that medicine that hurt something else in the body along the way.

We must find a way to alternatively teach students and to evaluate progress to create more well-rounded, global citizens whose educational experience has been one to foster an entrepreneurial spirit so necessary in our existing and future society.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Welcoming a New Crowd!

In a few weeks, I will be welcoming some returning students to our CAPS Teacher Education program along with many students who are just now starting this journey with us.  I am excited for this new adventure and am anxious to see what opportunities the year brings to us, but I am always wanting to make sure that I can provide the best insight, opportunity, and knowledge to pass along the passion of pursuing a career in the field of education. With the help of my returning students, I hope that we can do just that and have some fun along the way.

One new venture this year will be our partnership with Real World Scholars.  This organization will be providing us with the resources and support to create our own in-house educational start up.  Under the leadership of co-CEO's Makenna Peterson and Kate Stalcup, (both CAPS Teacher Ed returning students), we hope to start our own business with future education in mind and with an entrepreneurial flair that will create an authentic learning opportunity for them and their CAPS Teacher Education colleagues.

Other planned activities:

*Collaborative co-planning with Mid-America Nazarene University's Department of Education to host a regional Educators Rising Conference

*Presentations at the Regional Educators Rising Conference and the Greenbush Technology Conferences for Teachers

*STEM virtual teaching alliance with Manhattan, Spring Hill, and other school districts

*Preparations for competing and presenting at the National Educators Rising Conference to be held in Orlando, Florida in June 2018

Please watch our twitter feed this fall  www.twitter.com/wevegotclass  to follow our progress as we embark on these and other exciting adventures!

The Competitive Advantage

When trying to get ahead in the entrepreneurial world, attention needs to be given to two factors:

COMPARATIVE advantage:  I need to make sure I can offer my product or services at a lesser price but uphold the quality of what I am offering.
(image: https://tinobusiness.com/what-is-a-competitive-advantage-benefits-tips-tricks-definition/)
                                                                                       DIFFERENTIAL advantage:  I need to make sure that the quality of what I am providing outweighs that of the competition.

Primary to both of these factors, I would think, would be sustainability.  I would have to find a way to uphold quality while remaining affordable in a changing economy.  Even if I would interchange parts or find other manufacturing shortcuts, I could not sacrifice the integrity of my work!


In thinking more about the effectual thinking model of entrepreneurship, what came to mind was the podcast on "We Work," discussing the start up of Mighel McKelvey's communal workspace concept.  He discussed creating the community aspect as the model for replacing typical work place environments.  He started something with not a lot of capital, but with what he was passionate about and that with which he already had to work.  His life environment played a part in the start up.  He was raised in a commune by his mother and a group of other women, so from the start, he realized the importance of community as a support system.  It also brought to mind a place here in Lenexa with whom we have done some work...Plexpod.  It sounds like a similar system.  Great things are done together, and creativity is certainly not fostered in isolation.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Winning the Lottery

One of my pet peeves is listening to teachers say, "I'm just a teacher," and listening to others say, "you are so lucky that you get 3 months off."  To the former, I say that you are of much more value than that.  You are a professional who can steer the future, make students dream, and change the world.  To the latter, I say, "It's July 18, and I am sitting here at my computer working on opening activities for my classroom in August."  And, that is an almost daily occurrence.  As a learning engineer...there...I said it...I am always looking for, reading about, focusing on new ways to help my students become life-long learners.  Even when I might sit
(Image: https://pixabay.com/en/lotto-lottery-ticket-bill-profit-484801/)    for the proverbial time on the couch to catch a movie, I see themes and actions that I can bring into my classroom of life in some way.

I was recently in conversation with other professionals who were in fields other than teaching, and the subject of winning the lottery came up.  A couple of them said that they would not show up for work the next day.  One said that he would be able to retire early.  Then, they turned to me and asked what I would do, and my comments were the same that I said to my students when they once asked me the same question.  My students had asked me if I would even show up for work if I won the lottery.  I responded, "You know what?  I would still be here with all of you, but there would not be a KIA in the parking lot."  You see, I'm in a profession that I love.  I have already won the lottery.