Tuesday, October 28, 2014

So... We Started a Twitter Chat (and don't always worry about the "why" in life)

About a year ago, I was enjoying the last fleeting moments of a three-month stretch of free premium movies from a cable provider, fully intending to cancel the perk once it became a fee-based nuisance. While flipping through the freemium movie channels for the last time, I caught a charming, if not a bit cheesy, family film called We Bought a Zoo. The story was lighthearted and enjoyable overall - Matt Damon attempts to win father of the century by moving his kids into a house that comes with a zoo. The only catch is that he must run the zoo in addition to raising his teenage son and little girl - no small task. The film is worth a rental at best, but one single line from this film stuck with me, and has really guided a lot of my decision-making ever since.

Before I get to the line that changed my perspective on life, I think it is best to get back to the title of this post (trust me, this is all going to tie together nicely at some point). Twitter and I have always had a complicated relationship, which is humorous considering such a phrase comes from their bitter rival, Facebook. Nonetheless, I have been the classic “uses Twitter only at conferences” kind of educator for years, until just recently.

Around a year ago, I started looking around and noticing a few colleagues who were starting to show me a different side of Twitter. The side I knew was one of chaos: an endless stream of links, hashtag vomit, and incomprehensible abbreviations that did not do me much good. However, I discovered the simple elegance and connectivity of a Twitter chat, typically an hour-long, moderated discussion focusing in on a particular topic. These types of professional development opportunities spoke to me in a way the “feed” never did - other people joining together to use the medium as a forum, feedback source, and focus group. I dipped my toe in the water, and suddenly I went from casual Twitter lurker to being a “regular” in a few different chats.

Only after that initial exposure did I realize the almost limitless potential of social networking within tools such as Twitter and others. Before I knew it, I had the privilege of connecting with authors, app developers, and companies, helping break down the barriers of fame and fortune to get to the people behind the brand, the book, or the legend. That’s the beauty of Twitter - groups and the famous few can connect to individuals on a personal level, rather than aiming for the crowd.

Fast forward to a few months ago. My team of Technology Integrators had just welcomed Ben Brazeau (or @braz74 for the Twitter-goers) as the newest member of our group. He had, through his own desire to connect others, started the weekly #sstlap chat. After talking with Ben about the values and virtues of Twitter, our goal became clear: start an educational chat for our district - and beyond! Ben will try his best to claim the idea was mine, but I would not have even dreamt of such a concept if not for his passionate endorsement of Twitter as a medium.

A quick snapshot of #gbedchat in action. Notice our guest cameos from Cybraryman and Todd Whitaker!

At one point in the film, a headstrong animal trainer played by Scarlett Johansson corners Matt Damon’s lovable father-turned-zoo-owner and asks, “Why did you even buy this place?”

Damon shoots her a winning smile with a little mystery behind it and simply says, “Why not?”

Although it may be a cheesy, Hollywood-esque moment, I still cannot help but admire that quote and that attitude. Perhaps we all need to say, “Why not?” a bit more. Whenever I hear people ask why we started a Twitter chat, I hear Matt Damon saying, “Why not?” When people ask me why I post silly videos of myself playing guitar while teaching English concepts, Matt Damon is right there asking, “Why not?” Sometimes we get so wrapped up in WHY we should do something, that we forgot that there are no good reasons NOT to do it!

So we started a Twitter chat. I only recently learned that We Bought a Zoo is based on a true story, so I must point out that starting a Twitter chat can only be slightly less crazy than that proposition. If you’re interested in joining some Green Bay educators and talk about all things education every other Tuesday at 8:00 CST, come on over to the #gbedchat hashtag. And what do you know? We have a chat TONIGHT at 8:00 CST on Educator Effectiveness - sounds like a good time to say to yourself, “Why not?”


Not many movies can get me misty-eyed (darn you, Up!), but We Bought a Zoo came extremely close. At the VERY end of the movie, father-of-the-year candidate Matt Damon retells a story to his kids about the first time he met their late mother, who passed a few years ago. As he sits in the diner and relives the moment, he tells them what he said to her in the restaurant, a scene which gave me chills (and MAYBE one single tear):

Matt Damon: “Why would an amazing woman like you even talk to someone like me?”

If you cannot guess the next two words from his late wife, you have not read this post very closely. All at once, everyone:

Late Wife: “Why not?”

Cue curtain. *blows nose and dabs cheek*

Works Cited:

"We Bought a Zoo". Retrieved 27 October, 2014 from http://www.comicmix.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/We-Bought-A-Zoo-DVD-300x418.jpg.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Most Important Trait We Must Teach Students (Or Why I Started Playing Guitar to Teach English)

One of the biggest traits I prayed… PRAYED… my students picked up from my classroom is not a trait one often associates with education. However, I find it is a trait we often forget to cultivate as teachers. We even give students a “back door” to avoid doing this trait at times. In fact, sometimes teachers even shelter specific students from this trait. Heck, some students even avoid completing certain assignments because they do not believe they have enough of this trait.

If you cannot tell, I am trying to see how many times I can use the word “trait” in this blog post.

Before I tell you the trait in question, I will let my next endeavor shed some light on how this thought about what trait I wanted my students to possess came to light. A few months ago, I had some Amazon gift cards burning a hole in my e-pocket, and I wanted to get a new tech tool to use with students. I noticed a few affordable, portable green screens for sale, so I pulled the trigger and picked up a green screen sheet, stand, and travel bag (as you can see below).

My other realization at the time revolved around my new job as a Technology Integrator. I loved my new job, but there was a large part of me that missed my old gig as an English teacher. Not only did I miss having my own students, but I missed developing unique lessons to teach the concepts of English literature, writing, grammar, and much more.

With these two discoveries in mind, I knew I wanted to keep teaching. I decided that a YouTube channel would be my medium, and iMovie combined with the green screen and other various tech tools would be my canvas for flipped English videos. But what was my hook? What was going to draw a teacher, student, or curious onlooker to my lessons? There are plenty of great flipped English videos out there, so what purpose would mine serve?

The question brought me back to the quality I wanted to instill in all of my students. Any guesses yet? This trait will be crucial in a world where innovation and imagination are driving every successful business.


I had to do something fearless with my channel. Why? Not everyone is looking for an English lesson, so what are they going to get out of seeing my video? They are going to see me play some music and connect it to an English concept - that’s my hook:

The video above is one of my first installments in my new venture: English Jams. My goal with this channel is to create innovative, flipped lessons, often using a hook like music, film, or other means to engage an audience. The common thread will be the same: doing something that takes me out of my comfort zone. In the first few cases, it will be playing my guitar in front of a large audience. Often times in education, the content is NOT the most crucial part of a lesson. Sometimes the most crucial part of a lesson is the trait you model - when students see me taking a risk and putting myself out there, I am begging them to do the same. I want students to celebrate their unique qualities and traits. I want them to be fearless.

The greatest ideas in history came from fearless people. A quote often attributed to Henry Ford claims that he said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Sometimes an idea cannot be new versions of what has always been. Instead, the medium or the means must change. If individuals do not take a chance, we accept what has only happened thus far. For our students, this is not enough. We must teach them to take on their fears and go into the unknown.

What can you do as an educator to instill fearlessness? How can you make sure that students take risks, put themselves out there, and do not enter the world afraid to share their gifts?