Friday, September 16, 2016

Commitment to Improvement: Why Failure IS an Option

*Part I of my Random Prompt Series: Someone on Twitter gives me a random topic and I churn out an education-related blog post in a matter of 10-15 minutes*


The idea that success is mandatory for any kind of benefit to occur is outdated. The phrase uttered during Apollo 13 - Failure is not an Option - was certainly appropriate for that time and place. After all, who would consider the idea of stranding members of NASA in their most trying of times?

However, as a general rule, the vast majority of us live and deal with failure on a daily basis. We fail to wake up as early as we need to. We fail to proofread that assignment we post to Google Classroom. We fail to provide one-on-one instruction to a particular student who has shown a need for help. We fail to get our papers graded and back to students in a timely manner.

But guess what? Unlike Apollo 13, there is usually no doubt as to whether we will be there to watch the sun come up the next day.

As humans we are a resilient bunch that often stares failed attempts at "success" in the face and says, "Just you wait...until tomorrow!"

The truth is, our commitment to improving our teaching craft carries far more weight than our ability to actually pull off the best lessons day after day after day. As there is no such thing as the "Perfect Teacher" we should give up the pursuit of this fictitious title and instead concentrate on our commitment to becoming a little better TODAY.

While we can - and should - learn from YESTERDAY, there is usually very little we can do to change the outcome. And certainly, who knows what TOMORROW will bring?

All we can really do is concentrate on TODAY and commit to making it the best possible day for ourselves, our colleagues, and - most importantly - our students.

Modeling such an attitude in front of peer and pupils - and make no mistake about it, we are left in a vulnerable state if we do - goes a long way towards teaching the following life lessons:

1. Each day is a new day. While consequences of certain actions do stay with us, we do have a clean slate each morning to make THIS DAY the best it can be.

2. Failure leads us to know what NOT to do. We must avoid repetition that leads to unwanted results. Rather, commit to trying something new each day or building on those things that do yield good fruit.

3. Several sequential small steps lead us to desired outcomes. Commitment to daily iteration and
improvement pays off in the long run - even if measurable results are not seen immediately. Think dieting: No one loses 25 pounds after one salad and one lap around the track.

4. Commitment gives us purpose and direction. Unlike "lost souls" we will know where we are going and how to get there. Plus it makes us feel better! What student does not want to be around a positive, driven, and smiling teacher??

So rather than approach our 5th period Chemistry class as the Apollo 13 spacecraft going down, we can instead commit to winning each day in tiny baby steps.

As we commit to improve, we will see that failure is not only an option - it is a valuable component of our existence.

Follow me as I strive to improve my knowledge and health. Check me out on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Your Own World Tour: Virtual Fieldtrips on the Cheap

It recently came to my attention that many of the students at my high school have never traveled to Japan. In fact, I came across just one kid - whose family was stationed at a US Military base there - who had ever set foot on the island of Honshu.

Being the generous instructional coach that I am, I decided to rectify this situation and set up an immediate tour of some of my favorite Japanese tourist spots.

While there are vastly expensive methods of taking kids to foreign countries, I decided to travel on the cheap - using Google My Maps and Google Maps. (And I did not even use Google Cardboard, although those would have been a nice finishing piece.)

Google My Maps integrates with Google Maps providing the ability to customize a map (in our case it was a dream vacation travel itinerary) with photos, videos, and written information along with links to specific locations and points of interest.

While GMM allows the customization, the integration with Google Maps is what really opens up the doors to authentic "travel" experiences for the kids.

Consider this story: When I was 20 years old, I had the opportunity to climb Mt. Fuji in Japan. The ascent occurred in the middle of the night so we could watch the sunrise from the summit. Beautiful. Breathtaking.

However, altitude sickness overcame me and I spent much of the time on top and on the descent with a very nauseous stomach. As it turned out, I vomited on the mountain, a scene which caused quite a disturbance amongst those nearby. See, in Japan, it is not common practice to throw up in public areas; the Japanese go to great lengths to not spread germs and infectious diseases.

So here is this 6' 8" American man puking all over their sacred mountainside. But when you gotta puke...

In the end, there was no harm done to the mountain or to me - or to Japanese customs, as far as I know. But I always imagine that there is a nice plant or flower growing on the my honor. In fact, let me show it to you:

Yup there it is - growing proudly on the trail :-) Of course, this is not really the plant (or is it??), but the use of Google Maps makes the imagery more vivid and in turn, makes the experience more real.

While we cannot take our students to spots all around the globe, we can provide opportunities for them to explore the sights and sounds that the world has to offer - all from the comfort of their own seats.

Without further delay, here is My Trip to Japan:

While this map is not in tip top condition, it does shed some light on the possibilities afforded to students as they study in any content area.

Here is another map I created that shows Google My Maps applicability to virtually any subject at any level:

Consider utilizing this technology in all subject areas to help students create more vivid and memorable experiences...ones they cannot get from completing a vocabulary worksheet.

Thanks for joining me on my trip to Japan.

Be sure to follow me as I travel to other locations far and beyond. Also follow me on Twitter and Instagram. I promise you'll enjoy the ride.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pokemon GO, Summertime Fun, and Your Classroom

So it has happened. The stores have put out the back-to-school supplies. Yeah, summer is fleeting, and we'll be back to Pinterest and the copy machines soon enough.

Or will we??

Farbeit for me to run your life, but I feel the need to point out something very crucial to your success this upcoming school year.

Let me give you a quick rundown of what a typical summer day looks like right now for a child between the ages of 6 to 36...

They are canvasing their neighborhoods... looking for Rhydon and MewTew and Pikachu, all the while engaging digitally with friends far and wide.

They are busy learning new tricks on their skateboards...practicing over and over until they are just right.

They are attending summer camps...and experiencing wilderness biomes and  museums of natural history and coal mines and city landmarks rich with culture.

They are meeting up with cousins and uncles and grandmas...and hearing stories of outhouses and The Great Depression and encounters with fierce creatures.

They are visiting their local libraries...and making their own tie-dye T-shirts and balloon animals and getting lost in fantastical worlds of dragons and fairies and shining armor.

They are...well, they are doing it all and learning what life and family and exploration have to offer.

And come August...these same kids will enter your classroom and all of that mystery and excitement and adventure will come to a crashing halt.

All at the expense of a worksheet or an assessment or a lecture or a novel study guide that is not novel at all.

So do not be surprised this August when Johnny or Susie seem less than excited to do a reader's response or sit through three days of MAP testing.

Remember, just a bit earlier, they were putting the finishing touches on a YouTube video that was sure to go viral or posting Sphere Photos of downtown New York City on Google Street View.

Think about this as you are awaiting your students next month:

Are you offering them the world...or are you taking theirs away from them?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Do You Teach Like a Five Paragraph Essay?

In regards to effective lesson delivery, there is much to be said about strategies, structures, and seating arrangements - and such - being the road to quality.

The notion - a partially correct one - is that better instruction will yield better student results. While it is true - remember, I say it is partially correct - that being a better deliverer of content does help students grasp that content, I firmly believe that it is just the entrance to a vast corridor of potential knowledge, skills, and opportunities - for our students.

Let me offer up two examples to help illustrate my point:

1) My family physician is very good at analyzing my vitals and symptoms and then prescribing a medicine for me that will have positive effect. I correctly assume that he not only memorized medications and body parts & functions and flaring symptoms but that he also had extensive practice in applying that knowledge to my medical needs.

2) Chris EveryStudent sits in a classroom day after day and is exposed to the most engaging, vivid, and innovative instructional strategies available to mortal mankind. He watches videos and participates in Kahoot presentations and straps on his Google Cardboard everyday. Through VR devices, he is exposed to life outside of his city and into unknown parts of the world full of mystery and intrigue.

Then, at the end of it all, he is asked to write a five paragraph essay that details his experiences and learning. (I grant that this is a blanket statement, but, for the sake of my argument, work with me here.)

So my question is this: While innovative instruction is a vital part of every teacher's daily life, why are they all so quick to assess students in an environment largely devoid of STUDENT INNOVATION?

Few teachers would ever design instruction that is akin to a five paragraph essay. So why are we asking our students to "show what they know" is such ways?

Something to think about...

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram at @coachdarin22

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Superhero Debates: An Educational Civil War, Part II

In Marvel's most recent big screen offering, Civil War, we get a taste of the continuous debate between policy and regulation versus freedom and autonomy. In this post, we will continue our journey into the connections between superhero thoughts and actions and those of the world of education.

Here is the second installment of The Educational Civil War.

Part II: Coercion vs. Choice 

In this scene, Tony Stark is lecturing the Avengers on the merits of giving up their usual pursuits of justice for a more regulated approach. To paraphrase Mr. Stark...When he learned that his weapons were harming innocent people, he ceased those operations immediately.

Photo Courtesy of
To which the hunky Steve Rodgers had this reply:
"Tony, you chose to do that. If we sign this, we surrender our right to choose. What if this panel sends us somewhere we don't think we should go? What if there's somewhere we need to go and they don't let us? I know we're not perfect, but the safest hands are still our own." Steve Rodgers - Captain America
What Cap's academic side meant was this: "<PLC Leader>, you chose to use <insert ineffective teaching strategy here>. If I decide to use <same ineffective strategy>, I surrender my ability to deliver quality instruction to my sweet kids. What if this PLC sends me on a wild goose chase and we waste instructional time? What if I see the need for a mid-course correction but this lesson design does not let me do it? I know I'm not the teacher-of-the-year, but my kids are safest when I am still Captain of the ship."
The voices of educational coercion cut a wide swath from Washington DC all the way to the classroom across the hallway. And while he means well, Mr. Stark (your department head, principal,
or lieutenant governor), does not know YOUR kids like YOU know your kids.

As such, when those voices are raised louder and louder you must be willing to dig in your heels and stand up for the best interests of YOUR kids.

Before you go barricading your classroom door, however, let me make one thing clear: YOU must know that what YOU are doing is, in fact, best for the students in your classroom.

As educators we run the risk each and every day that some of our students may not learn what they are "supposed" to or, worse yet, what they want to. If you are on top of latest educational research, philosophy, trends, and technology, you are in a much better position to use your immense strengths and abilities to help your students find what they want and need most.

After all, though you are not perfect, the safest hands in your classroom should be your own.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Superhero Debates: An Educational Civil War, Part I

As a recent convert to the grownup Marvel scene (I mean, as a kid, who didn't want to be a superhero? But wasn't I supposed to outgrow it?) I am a bit late to the party and have to play a drawn-out game of Catch-up-with-the-Hero.

To that end, I caught up with The Avengers' latest goings-on by watching Captain America: Civil War, and, with help from my fellow EdTechManiac, Blair Einfeldt, conjured up some connections between the movie's premise and some current waves of controversy in the field of education.

Without divulging any spoilers, Civil War centers around the idea of systematic regulation (monitoring and controlling behavior) of the Avengers versus allowing them continued unchecked freedom (trusting the heroes to do the right thing).

Blair, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for hooking me up with an all-things-Marvel addiction, first introduced me to the idea of Policy (UN regulation and oversight, in this case) vs. Trust (freedom to maneuver and crime-fight as they wish) as it relates to this movie.

The same connections are made throughout the educational world in the form of federal and state governmental control (even down to building administration or team leaders, perhaps) versus the desire for more autonomy and trust of educators' professionalism. "We know what's best for our students," is a commonly uttered phrase.

When examined from an academic perspective, Captain America: Civil War (along with all of the Marvel franchise big screen offerings, actually) gives us some insight into both sides of the argument.

(Partially) Full Disclosure: While I honestly lean more towards #TeamCap, do not let this series of posts sway you one way or the other. Rather, let it be a window into the eyes of Marvel for educators. And let it be a source of discussion and dialogue that may help us improve our craft for betterment of our students and our profession.

Here, then, is the first installment of quotes (which will come in subsequent posts and in no particular order) from the movie with each their educational equivalency (translation) and corresponding application to the educational world.

Let the Educational Civil War begin!

Part I: Compromise vs. Standing Firm
Photo Courtesy of
"Compromise where you can. Where you can't, don't. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, 'No, YOU move'." Sharon Carter
What she means to say is this: "Be a team player where you can. But if your <insert school leader here> wants to head in a different direction that in your heart you know is not right, take a stand. Back it up with research, whether it is qualitative or anecdotal. Even if the world tells you that PowerPoints and worksheets are the essence of quality instruction, you take a stand to support your constructivist views of learning. You tell them to make the MOVE to makerspaces...because it is what is best for kids."  
While teamwork and unity are important to success, so too are convictions and loyalty to self and your students. I do not advocate for constant off-the-rails thinking or blatant opposition. Rather, when you know you are right, diplomatically stand your ground. When lives are not at stake, it is okay to agree to disagree, even if feelings become bruised. If the final product is viable and shows growth, you will be affirmed.

Remember too that not every battle must be fought in open space...or at all. Also, if your firm ground turns to shifting sand, be prepared to admit defeat and move forward with new conviction. To be sure, not even Captain America is correct all the time.

Stay tuned for more Civil War - Policy vs. Trust quote analysis.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Seeing the Forest AND the Trees: Student Exploration Time

By Darin Anderson

Picture this: You arrive for your first painting lesson from a renowned local artist. Before you lay all the materials you need to begin creating your first masterpiece.

As you settle in with your surroundings, in walks the artist, who begins visiting with each participant about the beauties of art and painting.

You simply cannot wait to get started.

Monsieur Paintbrush walks to the front of the room and begins speaking to the group about the endless possibilities of paints and palettes and prisms of color. He continues into very interesting dialogue about purpose and passion, and you become even more excited to fill your empty canvas with wonder.

However, as the minutes pass by, you notice the instruction, while incredibly valuable and inspiring, has left you no time to do what you came for.

As the artist bids you a find adieu, you leave your still blank canvas and pristinely clean brushes behind, hoping for a chance - next time - to work wonders with them.

Would you stand for such circumstances? Regardless of whether or not you paid a fee for the class, I'm certain you would be disappointed with the outcome. Why, you never even got to open up the paints!

Imagine the thousands of students who walk in and out of thousands of classrooms each school day with the same emotions - "Sounds cool, but I never even got a chance to try it out!"

Now, imagine yet another situation - similar and just as frustrating to our students:

Monsieur Paintbrush walks to the front of the room and instructs you to follow his lead in painting a red flower. He takes you step by step through the process, even stopping the class to ensure that each participant neither speeds ahead or lags behind. "We all must build the red flower as I do," he says.

Since you are a decent painter who has done his or her share of flowers, bushes, and trees, you begin to become antsy and annoyed at the teacher for not letting you "do your own thing" and paint what you want. But in the interest of staying with the group you decide to just remain silent and paint your red flower.

While I understand the need for direct instruction and scaffolding in classrooms, I believe that we often go overboard with controlling the scenario in the interest of classroom management and, honestly, making our own lives as teachers easier.

However, many of our students leave classrooms each day without having had the opportunities to explore and design and create and tinker with (insert content/skills here).

Think of the tools we have in our classrooms that are metaphorically represented by the canvas, brushes, and paints in our story:
Computers and laptops
iPads and other tablets
Video cameras
Student Smartphones
3D Printers (perhaps)
CNC Machines (perhaps)

Not to mention these:
Plutonium (according to Dr. Emmett Brown, it should be readily available these days)

But those "standard issue" tools are only the beginning. Think of a computer (or other device) as a box of toys. In and of itself it is a container with little practical use. However, the inside holds the wonders of the world (and I'm not talking about word processing programs).

For example:
+ Google Hangouts or Skype allows staff and students access to content area experts all over the world.
+ 3D programs such as Tinkercad and Thingiverse make design and creation easily accessible for users.
+ Video and audio creation programs allow students to express themselves as never before.
+ 24/7 discussion and collaboration are a snap with Google Drive and a wide variety of social media outlets.

But here I am preaching to the choir. Or am I?

Please take to heart the memes inserted in this post. Ensure that on a daily basis you are having your students explore, create, design, and tinker with content, skills, and - most importantly - their own thoughts and ideas.

Our world - and their - will be the better for it!