Something’s gotta give…

[It’s been way too long since I’ve posted.  The answer as to why is included in the following.]

Perhaps it’s just the upcoming holiday craziness and the need for a break in general, but I feel like everything is getter the better of me right now. I can not make a dent on the pile of papers on my desk, and it’s been way too long since I collected them. My lesson planning is growing thin; I feel more often like I’m surviving than teaching. Add Forensics season starting, graduation details already being worked out, committees and curriculum work, and…well, we all know the drill.

More importantly, I have a (very patient) wife who has to deal with my pre-occupied state of mind, and two boys (six and three) who need a dad. I am to the point where I feel guilty playing with them because I have too much grading to do, and I feel guilty grading or doing any school work because I need to spend time with them. I can’t remember the last time I read a book, played a game (digital or otherwise) or sat and watched a movie or show without feeling guilty that I wasn’t chipping away at the piles.

Add to that the myriad of tools that I haven’t even had time to explore. I finally figured Skype out, but now need to look at Yugma. I’ve recorded a few things that could feasibly work as rough podcasts, but need to explore the publishing end of that. I’m comfortable with many of the Google tools, but haven’t tried Notebook or KML in Google Maps and Earth. Just when I figure out Twitter, everyone is moving to Pownce. Some of the other programs that I haven’t really used yet–VoiceThread, for example–are as embarrassing to admit to as an English teacher confessing that he hasn’t read Moby Dick, East of Eden, or Tom Sawyer (and no, I haven’t).

Now, believe it or not, this is not a whiny rant of self-pity (though it is a good start to one.) It IS a catalyst for something that I feel is going to happen. I’m just not sure what that is. Or when it will happen. Or how.

I never thought I could see myself leaving the classroom, yet now I wonder if that is where I’m heading. Not out of education, but into a different role. I would still like to work directly with students, but I am enjoying my growing role in the workshops that I’ve been able to run in my district. Is that where I’m heading? Technology Integration Specialist? Library Media Specialist? Teaching pre-service teachers? Will this mean more certification and courses? A move to another district? Too many possibilities…

It doesn’t help that a number of ed tech professionals that I follow on my Twitter network are also switching jobs: one went from English teacher to tech coordinator, one from ed tech and school design consultant back into the English classroom. Another quit his tech coordinator position at an international school in China, another moved from tech into curriculum. But moving makes me nervous, too, with another adoption (from China, coincidentally) in the works.

And then, I bounce back to the other side again. Can I really keep juggling all the bowling pins of being an English teacher, then add another child into our already crazy household? Mentally, how much longer can I split my energies between the demands of parenthood and the overwhelming paper load? Couldn’t I make a much greater impact on the quality and relevance of education in my district by assisting my colleagues in teaching their 21st Century learners than just my classroom of students?

Or am I just hoping to rid myself of the burden of grading papers?

Obviously, this part of the story is just beginning…

Stephanie’s challenge

Stephanie Sandifer issued a challenge to edubloggers, especially (perhaps) those of us who are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the latest burst of bleeding-edge tech.

I think it’s time we — the edublogosphere/edutwitter community — take some “downtime” to reflect on what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what  outcomes we think may come from the work we are doing.

As a classroom teacher, I feel I am constantly questioning the technology and tools I use in class. Am I using this [particular tool] because it’s empowering students and moving their learning forward, or because it’s cool. It’s so easy to get caught up in the geekiness of it all; it is some pretty amazing stuff, after all. But to what end? And what of it is valuable? And what use of it is effective and necessary? A lot to think about, but here goes…


I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the Web tools that are now almost second nature to me: blogs, wikis, RSS and my Google Reader,, my Facebook. This is how I learn and what I use to access my network of teachers and my collection of resources. But I am also constantly reminding myself that many of my teaching colleagues and most of my students are not familiar with these, or at least don’t use them to the extent I do. This, of course, makes me no better than them…just a different kind of learner.

In my excitement about the direction in which education, learning and teaching is going, I find myself tempering that excitement around non-geek colleagues (for lack of a better term). I want to tell them all I’ve learned, but I fear I would simply overwhelm them in my zeal to convert them. When it comes to my students, my concern is more that I will not adequately be able to justify why I am making blogging a part of this class; instead, they may just see it as more work to do, rather than the opportunity that it is.

And so, I’m left second-guessing every inclusion and mention of technology in the classroom and every comment I make around colleagues. Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t been paralyzed by this. I had my AP English students blogging and using Google Reader last year for their research, and I am almost finished getting all my students set up with a blog for this year. My students created a study guide last year using a wiki. I believe that puts me in the brave-enough-to-just-try-it camp.

So What?

When it comes to blogging, in particular, I’ve been formulating a list in my thinking about why student blogging is worth the time and effort (and justification to others!). I need to solidify this some more, but for now..

  • In English, we always talk about giving students a “genuine audience” for whom to write, but we can never really come up with one. So, we have them write for each other and for the elementary kids in the district, or we make up assignment with fictional audiences as a poor substitute. Blogging, by nature, gives student writers an immense, general audience…and an interactive one, to boot.
  • It forces reflective thinking, which we don’t often give students time to do, nor do we show them the value of reflection in our fast-paced, bell-driven schedules.
  • The feedback is (can be) faster, more varied, and more interactive than some red-ink comments from a teacher on a paper (that is probably not going to be revised anyway).
  • Blogging gives students a voice, an opportunity to express their thinking and insight. Especially for those that may not feel comfortable opening their mouths in an intimate classroom environment (just as others may fear writing for a global audience!), a blog post may be the best way for others to ‘hear’ that student’s voice.

Aside from the pedagogical issues, blogging gets students comfortable in a region of the online environment with which they may not be familiar. The style of conversation that exists in blogging is one that many of the them will be required to use in their post-secondary education and their professional practice.

Now what?

Now, we edubloggers continue doing what we are doing. No radical change of plans, just a steady progress, a step at a time. We share our knowledge and excitement with others, slowly, a bit at a time, and give them opportunities to try these tools and let them make the connection to improved engagement and learning. We continue to pay attention to the tech world around us and learn what we can, sanely, in between our other professional responsibilties.

Most importantly, we continue to be the professional educators that we are and focus on student learning. Every new tool should be honestly analyzed for classroom use. If it doesn’t move learning forward than it shouldn’t be in class, cool or not. We continue to advocate for students, including fights to unblock sites, get laptops into their hands, make relevant technologies an integral part of the curriculum, and–if need be–speak before school boards, committees, parent groups, city councils, whomever, about why they need to be on board (if they are not already) when it comes to the realities of the new read/write web and the role it needs to play in student learning.

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“A Vision of Students Today”

Another thought-provoking video from Michael Wesch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University and creator of “The Machine is Us/ing Us”.

Not only does this include an example of Google Docs in use, but more importantly, it is a view of students through their own (honest) eyes. The focus is on undergrads at a university, but high school students (and others?) are not far off of this vision.

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What are the implications for us as teachers? How does this vision of students demand that we teach differently? How DO we engage a generation that edits their Facebook profile during lecture hall? (Sadly, some will likely offer this as further proof of why we should not have 1:1 laptop programs and why we should ban all digital gadgets from the classroom…and why? So they can focus better on the blackboard, of course.)

And we would be missing the point.

Gee, if only I could attend some Professional Development…

In my district, the powers-that-be have recently changed the system of staff development. Up until last year, teachers were required to participate in 40 hours of professional development during the school year. This was outside of the contract day, and we could not include those activities where we were reimbursed by the district. Many of us used conferences attended, curriculum work with others, school visits, grad classes, and the like to count toward this 40 hours.

This year, we are operating a system similar to many other districts where we have a set calendar of staff development, including monthy one-hour extension days for teachers and half-day early releases for students, leaving the afternoon for PD. To determine the subject of all this time, individuals, departments, and buildings wrote proposals based on needs and goals. Various committees supposedly review these, and a calendar for the year is constructed.

Though we’ve now been in school for three weeks, much ambiguity still exists as to the specifics of these sessions. We only know which will be “building” and which ones “district”. Frankly, it has caused no small amount of frustration among staff. My only frustration is that our district tech coordinator submitted a proposal for some ongoing technology in-service, which apparently will not be a part of any of the sessions.

Just recently, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of Professional Development. I already have my master’s degree (and don’t plan on getting another…or my doctorate!). I have taken the maximum credits needed to max out on the salary schedule. So, it’s probably a good thing that we have a system of staff development lest I become a veteran teacher stagnated and stuck in the past, right?

It dawned on me a couple weeks back that I have a fairly elaborate, self-imposed system of professional development. I have an evolving personal learning environment through my connections and networks and reading. After 13 years of teaching, I’ve learned more in the past year than I learned in the previous dozen, plus my teacher ed. program. And I think for the first time in my adult life, I can honestly say:

I truly learn something new every day.

My more skeptical colleagues would say that I, the web geek, am learning the tools. I am learning how-to and all the new gadgets that seem to come out every day. True enough. But I am learning so much more than that:

I am learning about learning.

Through my own use of technology, though my conversations with colleagues far and near, through my own writing, blogging, recording of thoughts on my iPod (which may become a podcast one day!), I am experiencing a new way of learning, one that is much more compatible with the way our kids are learning. Because I know that the way I learned in the past is not “good enough” for kids these days, I have chosen to immerse myself into the type of learning environment that best suits the digital natives.

So what does my PLE look like? I connect and think through…

  • My blog, which gives me a chance to reflect on what and how I am learning
  • Classroom 2.0, a social/professional network (kind of a Facebook for educators) where conversations take place on a wide range of topics (both technological and non-tech). This network also includes my own page and separate networks (for professional development, for example)
  • Google Docs, where I have collaborated on documents with other educators
  • Chat: I just recently started using the chat function in Gmail for conversations
  • Twitter: Ok, this is just a little fun. Sort of an ongoing IM, pops up when someone in the “twitterverse” adds a thought. Can be used for quick survey for ideas, tech help, quick sending of links, etc.
  • a “social bookmarking” site that allows me to tag and categorize sites that I find. Others can see my list, or find my links when doing a general search. I can also network with other users, creating an even larger “database” of sites.
  • A number of blogs written by other teachers and technology coordinators. I learn much about the latest tools and uses of technology, what others are doing in class, and what others are writing about learning. Here, I find links, people, organizations, and ideas that I might not otherwise have found.
  • Google Reader, which helps me keep up-to-date with many of the conversations above by subscribing to RSS feeds and bringing the new content to me, in one place.

I know I’m missing some elements. I’m not even including personal connections, like my Facebook account–where I may not learn much about teaching, but I learn plenty about how communication and social relationships are changing.

And I don’t plan on quitting. Lifelong learning doesn’t allow you to say: “Well, that’s about enough learning. I guess I’ve arrived.” So, I hope to facilitate some tech workshops throughout the year, I’m applying to be a STAR teacher through the Discovery Education Network, and I hope to attend an English education conference and NECC in San Antonio next summer.

And I feel like I’m just beginning…

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Well, whaddya know?

Tonight, as I was getting Zachary, 6, to bed, I asked him again about his first day of Kindergarten. Because he is repeating, he is being given “special jobs” by his current teacher. The conversation went something like…

Dad: Just remember, Zachary, even though you are helping and you know a lot of things, you still have a lot of things you need to learn, too.

Zachary: (distracted) Yeah.

Dad: You know, even I have things I don’t know. I’m still learning stuff, too.

Zachary: (surprised) You are?!?

Dad: Sure.

Zachary: But you’re the teacher!

Dad: You think that because I’m the teacher, I know everything?

Zachary: Yeah!

Dad: Nope, even I have teachers.

Zachary: Who are your teachers?

Dad: Well, I learn from a lot of people. I learn a lot from other teacher friends that I talk with on the internet. I also learn from things I read, and things I do. I even learn quite a bit from my own students.

Zachary: (long confused pause)

Dad: What do you think of that?

Zachary: Cool.

Yeah, cool.

Simulposted at Peppler’s Classroom Blog



Originally uploaded by cpeppler

On a recent camping trip, not too far from our home, my wife found a tiny frog in the showers. (No, I won’t name the campsite…) My older son, Zachary, had a bughouse ready for just such a find.

The boys stared at that thing for a long time, watching it climb the mesh and generally freak out at its unexpected capture. But they were enthralled by it.

It impressed me that this was enough to entertain them. And the question that burned into me as I become more surrounded by technology and the questions it engenders is this: how do I keep this alive? How do I keep them from saying, like the fourth-grader in Richard Louv’s _The Last Child in the Woods_, “I like to be inside because that’s where all the outlets are.”?

Of course I want them to be comfortable with all the technologies available to them in their lifetime, and I want them to be skilled enough to leverage those tools to maximize their own learning.

But I also want them to comfortable sitting around a campsite, appreciating the delicacy of life wrapped up in a tiny amphibian.

Back on the trail

As I was catching up on a little Google Reader-ing (don’t ask me how large the “unread” number is…), I came upon Will’s post on his recent hike/iPhone purchase.  Interestingly, this was a subject that was rattling in my skull when I stalled a few months back. 

(I probably didn’t write about this because I wasn’t sure if it “fit” my blog or not.  Now that I have done away with those silly parameters…)

As I feel headlong into the rabbit-hole of Web 2.0 last year, I had this nagging suspicion (seem to get a lot of those) that I was sacrificing something else.  It was at that time that I picked up Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. He writes about what he calls the Nature-Deficit Disorder.  Of course, one of the symptoms is a preference for all things indoors, electronic, and sedentary.  Said one 4th-grader that he interviewed: “I like to play indoors because that’s where all the outlets are.”

I grew up in the woods, practically.  Boy Scout camping, hiking, hunting, building dangerously unstable treehouses, slopping through shallow rivers for crawfish.  As a family, we still camp as often as possible and I’ve fallen in love with backcountry backpacking again.  But am I also becoming too much like that 4th-grader?  Do I panic a little when I will be out of wi-fi range on an outdoor excursion?

Will’s narrative about taking his iPhone hiking made me wonder if the two have to be mutually exclusive.  I still refuse to wear my headphones while I’m hiking, but I’ll take my iPod for listening to a book or music while trying to fall asleep in my tent.

The bigger, less personal question: Is all the social networking, network gaming, chatting, etc. creating a generation that has forgotten the outdoors?  As a parent, what should I be doing to foster in my boys both a love and appreciation for the woods and the social capital to leverage the latest web technologies to their advantage?

Once again, more questions than answers.

Start your engines…again.

Once again, I stalled.

Yet, I’m not as angry/disgusted/irritated with myself as I was in the past, or with other ventures and routines (i.e. exercise every day…) ALL of this is experimentation, so I’ve decided to cut myself a whole heap of slack. Besides, my blogging dissolved about the time the end of the year began heating up. Graduation responsibilities, two graduate classes in April and May, and a myriad of other piddly things got in the way. Summer hasn’t exactly provided huge chunks of time yet to sit and reflect, much less read.

And, so, I embark again. A little out of stubbornness, but mostly out of a nagging sense that this stuff is critically important…for me and my students. Speaking of nagging senses, I also keep feeling like I need some crystal-clear purpose and slant for my blog. In it’s short life, it’s handled thoughts from Wikipedia to Marshall McLuhan. So what? My “slant” is in the title: this is my journey, my education through blogging.

It doesn’t have to be about the technology; it’s about me, growing as a teacher. It’s about using the technology to do other things that I couldn’t do the same way without the tools. Isn’t that what I want from my students?

McLuhan in class

Okay, so I’ve stumbled upon the name Marshall McLuhan three times in the last couple of weeks.  Allowing my curiousity to get the best of me (or was I just avoiding grading papers?), I looked him up in–where else–Wikipedia.  It was this “McLuhan tetrad” that I was most curious. 

Oddly enough, my enthusiasm for Web 2.0 in the classroom has waned a bit in the past week or so, hence my lack of posts.  This is not due to some revelation about all its flaws, or its irrelevance, or a sense of “why bother, it’s just gimmicky”.  I believe none of these.  In fact, I am exciting to keep going, to keep learning, to experiment in my classroom. (I plan on setting my AP English students up with their own blogs next week…and let them run a bit)

I think it’s just a practical matter of the rest of life creeping back in after the “honeymoon” of all my recent discoveries.  Perhaps the intoxication has worn off and the sober reality of what to DO with these tool, this new knowledge, this new direction, is just now sinking in.  I want to try so many things; I want to share all of this with all my colleagues; I want to get this into my classroom…all of it.  Yet, I want it all to be relevant, effectual, moving my teaching and their learning forward.

Which is perhaps why McLuhan’s tetrad intrigues me so.  Perhaps this is one way to evaluate the efficacy of each of these new tools.  What does blogging enhance or intensify?  Does it retrieve something that was previously lost in my other teaching methods?  What would become obsolete as a result of blogging in the classroom? (And would it matter if it did?) Does blogging become a figure, and what becomes the ground

I could (should?) obviously apply these same questions to every one of the new tools I bring in to my class.  Right?  I’m curious if other educators see any relevance to McLuhan in their classrooms…

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Online courses on the rise

NCTE’s Inbox flagged this one for me.  And here’s another subject in the changing landscape of school in the 21st century that I’m ambivalent about.

I fear what will be lost in a push for online classrooms, I’ll admit it. 

But other educators urged caution, noting that teacher-student interaction is irreplaceable.

Yet, I also think the possibilities are exciting, both for the students taking these classes and the prospect of my teaching one of the courses.  The technology is certainly giving us the freedom to move in this direction.  As long as the rigor of the curriculum is not lost to the gadgetry.  Ah, the recurring dilemma of School 2.0.

The quote that resonated the most with me came from Ken Ellwein, executive director of the Lutheran high school in Orange County:

“To keep technology away from kids while they’re going to school, when
they have it in every other part of their lives — it just doesn’t make

It’s a searching statement, to be sure.  What do we as individual educators do in our own curriculum?  Are we doing our best to hold to the way we’ve always done things and keep these new-fangled Web 2.0 tools out of the way?  Do we limit lab time?  Put so many blocks on our system that they can’t get to anything of meaning or use any of the tools?

Yes, once again, there needs to be a balance. (I should add that I feel blessed to work in a district that seems to be constantly trying to find that balance.)  So, we block MySpace.  Is there a lot of educational value being lost blocking that? No, not when there are much, much better tools out there for networking in an academically meaningful way.

But what about IM and chat? What do we do when we know that students could be using these, with our direction, to have meaningful conversation about a collaborative project with other students (or experts) half way around the world?

And the questions just keep coming…