roller quote 2

I was so excited! I couldn’t wait to try the new lesson!!! This year I made a conscious effort to change my teaching style. Gone were most of the powerpoint lectures. Gone were almost all “regular unit “tests. Students were going to be more involved in their own learning, and more empowered in how they learned. Also, more and newer  technology in the class.

So, here I was just about to start the unit on The Second World War. I haven’t taught this in over 9 years. Hmmmm, couldn’t dust off the old plans. They didn’t fit into the New Me teacher. So  I researched and found something that I was sure would ignite the class’s interest ,and make for a fun hands on learning project. An online”Baseball card creator”. How cool! They would work in groups and each group would research and create a trading card about an important figure in World War II, and then trade them back and forth .What could be bad for them. No lectures and notes from me, no long research paper ( but an opportunity to learn) Use of new technology with the chrome books, and working in groups with their friends. I almost dislocated my elbow patting myself on the back !! The big day came, I handed out real Baseball Cards to show what they looked like.

( Unfortunately Baseball Cards seem to be a dying artform) I projected the lesson on the big screen and walked them through it step by step including samples I made.

First they groused about which group was researching which people. OK, I was coming down the ride a bit but no worries, they would get over that ! Then as they started working 2 students started complaining they couldn’t find any information on their subjects. ( I had supplied a few tried & true hyperlinks to get them started)  I was confused. I checked in with them and they were researching the ballplayer from the card I had given them!        ( really a 3rd string catcher from the Mariners in 1998? ) The roller coaster was descending more rapidly now !! I got them back on track and the entire class was engaged and working Picking up speed the coaster was ascending quickly !!! Then the wheels started  to come off. The online creator was not letting them cut and paste photos. Yikes! 30 minutes of class time to figure that out.But we as a class got it.Bravo students. Wheels back on !,up up and away !! OK class, see you tomorrow and back to work then.

A new day at the top of the ride, class assembles and they log on . CRASH, the creator doesn’t save !! All the work from yesterday, gone! I have a mutiny on my hands !! I’m getting light headed from the rapid descent !! I stay calm on the outside ( never let them see you sweat!!) I go into damage control mode, get them settled down and cajole them to start over ( well actually, it was bribery by breakfast bars and peanut butter crackers, but hey !!!)  Slowing approaching the crest again, …. “Ah, Mr. Fieldman, everytime I go to another website to look something up, the card creator erases my stuff!” The coaster went down so fast, it left my stomach at the top. Another class period gone with very little work done.

Day 3 didn’t go much better.So what to do? I’m crushed they whole project tanked. Tanked, heck, it bombed like a V2 into London ( WW II refrence!)  Only about 1/3 of the cards are done. I make an executive decision. I’m pulling the plug on the project. We will just deal with what we have. I can’t waste any more time.

So what have I learned? I still love the idea ,but the execution was poor. Next year, I need to play with the tech more so I  really know it inside and out. Give the students more choice and say in how it is to be done. If my end goal is for them to learn  then is the process so important? If some  of them want to do it by hand and paper, what the heck why not, if that is what gets them involved. I learned not to get so invested in the how of a lesson, but the what ( are they learning).My enthusiasm on riding the roller coaster may have clouded my judgment of the process. But, that won’t stop me from continually trying new things and getting jazzed in the classroom about it. I think the class learned a valuable lesson about taking risks and failing. The world didn’t end when the lesson failed. I didn’t pout or rant. We adapted, and keep forward progress, inching the roller coaster back towards the top. 

So let’s see, our next project is making a Facebook Page about an important but underappreciated figure in Black History.I found the perfect online creator ( ow boy) ,printed out hard copies to do by hand, and when the students asked if they could use another online tool they found, I Was super excited! You betcha! Whatever or however it works for you !! Wow, we are back on top of the ride, and  the view is spectacular !!!

Hold on tight !!!

sun set coaster


What is Success?

In Room 101 I teach a class called Success 101. The goal of the class is to have students gain a perspective  of the future and their role in it. Where do you see yourself in say 10 years?What are your goals and aspirations? And, how do you plan to achieve them? We are working  to empower them with tools they can use to be successful. Aw, succes! What is success? Who gets to define what it looks like ? And what are the students willing to accept as their success?

The class is not designed to tell them what they “should be”, but to allow them to investigate the myriad of possibilities that are open to them. To explore what steps they may take to put themselves in the best position to succeed and how to handle failure if that happens . I understand as an older white middle class male, my definition of success may be interpreted differently by my students. (over half my class is students of color or from a lower economic strata) But does it have to be?  Am I trying to get them to be “successful” like me? No,  when I am talking about success it’s not the material success that comes to mind.  One of the first assignments in Success 101 is to imagine where they may want to live in 10 years. Look through Real Estate listings to find a home. To put this in some context, our school is in  New Jersey just boarding Camden, one of the most economically depressed cities in America. Many of the students either live in or have lived in Camden, or on it’s border and feel the economic effect of the city. They  have been told  that they  come from the “ghetto”. They are constantly are being told it’s a place to get away from.  Is that the message we want to be sending them? If you live in a bad place, you must be a bad person? And what is bad? Who gets to define what that means?  Are our students starting in a deficit or defensive mind set just by where they live? Is success for them “just getting out?” What does that say about pride in community and their ability to take control of  themselves and their future?

A good number of the students start by finding homes in California, Florida, or places in the midwest that they have no knowledge about, just to put distance between themselves  and their current situation. I understand that , but is that really success for them? Leaving your community, family, friends? I had a student who is from Camden, and found his “home” in the Midwest. Another student showed him his “home” back in Camden. The first student couldn’t understand why his friend wanted to stay.His reply was” I want to come back and make it better there”  To me that is the key issue, being successful will look different to everyone. Sure having money and a nice home  can be a definition of success, but it can be so much bigger than that. Why should students feel they need to leave their communities to be “successful”   Building a sense of power within the students to understand they don’t have to run away from who they are or where they are from. That they don’t have to accept the labels placed on them, Or, that’s it’s OK to break away and change. But, the choice shoulds be theirs. I want them to understand they get to define what success is to them and how they may affect change for themselves and their community. Don’t let other box you into choices that are not yours.

People will often be defined by others for  where they are from or how they live. For many students this may become a self fulling prophesy and identity . Are they letting others set  goals and definition of what success looks like that are not theirs? Do we want our students to feel they have to leave their homes and families for future success? Is this the message we want to be sending our students? You hear a message often enough you may  start to believe it yourself. Students should not feel that to be “successful” in life they have to leave their home or community. How do we open them up to see the power they have to implement change for themselves and their environment?if-not-now-then-when-if-not-you-then-who

Success is not monetary or collecting “things”. Success is having control of your story. Success is not allowing yourself to be defined or pigeonholed by where you are from or how you dress. Being a success in life may be just  living up to the responsibilities you have. Taking care of your family, being a responsible citizen, and using your voice to change the things that you see as wrong. I understand that people want to live a more comfortable life, be free of financial worries, feel safe in their homes. Sometimes we need to step back to gain a perspective on the world as a whole. Understanding that we do not live in a vacuum may allow students to see the world as interconnections of many types of people, and many definitions of success, and they can choose which is best for them. And yes, there is a lot that needs to be changed for the betterment of others,are we allowing our students to see that they have value, they have a voice for change?

So what are we teaching them about being a success?  Is it a big house and a SUV, turning away from who they are and where they are from? Or, is it using their innate power to affect change? To give back,and to come back to a community that needs “successful ” people to model for those who come  behind them and show that the future is theirs. That’s success!

rfk why not




Family Reunion!

picnic_5906c11_webI guess for most of us a family reunion implies getting together with cousins, uncles, aunts, having a BBQ, horseshoes and some beers. Well that sounds good to me, but this past weekend I attended a family reunion with no relatives, no BBQ, or lawn games. ( OK a couple of beers) I was at the EDUCON 2.8 conference in Philadelphia. The conference itself and the content of the discussions and presentations were in of itself a great experience. The multiple sessions I attended on Cultivating Student Voice, Learning how to best Empower Students, How to create a more modern Classroom & Discussion of Race in the classroom (and more) in of themselves were well worth the price of admission. I will be discussing them more in depth in another post. However,one of the best takeaways for me was the “reunion” of people who I have never really met face to face, or only briefly before. I understand they may sound a tad contradictory, so let me explain.

Before I left for the conference I was telling my family I was excited to meet up with my friends from places like Denver, Toronto, D.C. etc. They were confused because they knew I had never really meet most of these people before. “How can they be your friends? You don’t know them, not like “real friends” . They can be good professional acquaintances, but friends” ?? But to me they have become as part of my friendships as my best buddies down the street. Over the past few years as I have become a more connected educator, not only has my circle of professional peers grown, but also my circle of friends. Real friendships that go beyond the casual mutual back slapping they can occasionally happen in a chat (and to Quote the great American Philosopher  Jerry Seinfeld)”Not that there’s anything wrong with that !” seinfeld

I mean relationships that go deeper. We have a commonality of our place in education sure. We offer mutual support, assistance, and resources. But, we also know when we are happy, when we are sad, upset, confused. And just as important, as concerned friends, they know what we need to straighten our ship.

This “family” shares joys, tears, and frustrations together, and rally around each other as needed. On occasions, if we are lucky, either through travel or though the  luck of proximity we get to meet face to face.This surely helps cement the friendship, but it’s not a necessity. Distance, either close or far away is not a measure of friendship, just as birth doesn’t truly dictate who your family is. I have truly dear close friends who  I haven’t seen in decades. This doesn’t mean we are still not close. The same can be said about our PLN families. I did not what to drop names in fear of either becoming a “Twitter Groupie” or leaving some dear people out, but, an example of the melding of the two worlds is my good friend and building peer Dan Whalen (@whalen) Dan & I  had worked in the same school building for over 4 years. We knew each other in passing, but that was about it. Then when he  helped organize our school hashtag( #chsonegoodthing) and got me into the twitterverse ,I not only landed into a new world that has enabled me to grow my teaching beyond my expectations, but grew a true strong friendship. When my wandering through Twitter, landed at #bfc530 and “met” Jessica Raleigh(@TyrnaD ) She encouraged  and cajoled me and along with Dan pushed me beyond anything I thought I could do. So a true friendship developed. When we got to meet last summer at ISTE it again only strengthened the bond. This week she flew out here for the conference and she, Dan & I spent 4 days together and it truly felt like a family reunion.Add in all the wonderful people from Educon that I met face to face and it was truly family outing. Not only the ones I was planning on seeing, but meeting new names ,faces, and relationships that is expanding my “family”

Anyone for a game of horseshoes??