Thursday, April 3, 2014

Big risks = big rewards as a class website is launched

In my Media Literacy class the students recently launched a class website called The project was a complete leap of faith in response to the curriculum covered the previous semester, the growing use of technology in the classroom, the desire to create authentic learning beyond the classroom, as well as the ambition to help students understand and learn real-world workplace skills.

The first semester of the class was a time for the students to understand the role media has in shaping gender roles, ethnic identities, political beliefs and societal norms, while also learning about how the corporate media is tied into the larger corporate and political structure of the United States and global society. We also discussed the current state of media and how social media, blogging, and alternative news outlets are re-shaping the media landscape.

In our studies the students quickly became aware of the overwhelmingly negative tone of mainstream media through not only news reporting, but also through reality shows, crime dramas, music videos, video games, and blockbuster films. As a result we began to understand the immense pressure students are inadvertently placed under as they are raised learning about war in history class, studying environmental degradation in science class, and reading discouraging current events and novels of struggle and hardship in English classes, while simultaneously being bombarded with negativity through virtually all their leisure time activities.

After all of that, they are left with the age old adage we all heard when we were in school: "You are the future of this planet and it is up to you to become the future problem solvers." I don't think I need to explain how that sentiment has played out over time.

With those concepts in mind we began creating a positive, alternative news outlet, to be completely managed by the students. We created five departments and the students voluntarily chose which department to join. The different options were art/webdesign, content creation, editorial, local marketing, and national marketing. With the new class structure in place we began treating the classroom environment like an authentic workplace in which accountability is reflected in the success of the project as a whole, instead of individual students receiving individual grades based on isolated individual assignments.

The initial plan was to become a positive media aggregation site and then branch out into creating our own content through student journalism from our community. Consequently, we created four categories of content and began our journey into the unknown. The types of content we settled upon were positive news stories, uplifting songs and music videos, inspirational/motivational videos, and student created content focusing on positive events on campus and in the community.

Out of this model, in conjunction with the intentional outcomes, an abundance of amazing unintentional lessons have been learned.

Some of the intended student outcomes included:

  • understanding and practicing how to evaluate sources for credibility
  • understand and detecting information bias
  • improving writing and journalism skills
  • improving reading comprehension skills
  • expanding student knowledge of global society
  • using technology tools to collaborate and create
  • understanding the intense collaborative environment of a modern workplace

Some of the unintended student benefits have included:

  • having the ability to find their place as they explore the different jobs/departments available
  • finding an undiscovered passion for media creation
  • taking extreme pride in their writing with an understanding that it is being published for a global audience
  • understanding that their activity or inactivity severely affects the overall performance of a group
  • understanding how to use social media in order to network and customize the flow of information 
  • expanding their perspective in relation to future careers and opportunities
  • emerging into self-directed, intrinsically motivated collaborative partners
  • realizing the nature and power of global information and connectivity
  • gaining a passion for positive activism and social change
  • motivating students to read without having to officially assign reading
As the website and project continue to grow, I am learning just as much if not more than the students in relation to re-assessing my overall concept of what a classroom can and should be. My purpose in writing this is to hopefully encourage teachers to follow their hearts and take the risks that are bubbling below the surface. Hopefully, teachers have administration that is willing and able to allow teachers some freedom in re-designing their classrooms and curriculum, as global collaborative projects and authentic learning are the two greatest opportunities available in the drastically changing educational landscape.

Enjoy the journey!

With that in mind, if you are or know of an educator that would like to collaborate on the project outlined above, or has other collaborative projects in mind, I would love to hear from you. The media class is specifically looking for student corespondents from around the country to write articles about positivity in their local communities, but any and all ideas are welcome. I can be contacted via e-mail at Also, feel free to follow me on twitter @mrtessier33.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The real (really big) hidden bully in the classroom

Technology, in addition to being a learning tool, is and always has been a portal into the world of consumerism. Unfortunately, much of modern consumer culture is fueled by a corporate/media oligopoly designed to create insecurities within the general population so that money can be made assuaging the false needs created by the same corporate/media machine. With that understanding, it should be expected that by using its ubiquity, the corporate/media partnership is making meticulous plans on how they can best exploit their corporate partnerships and the education technology movement in order to more effectively bully our nation's youth into consumerist submission.

The situation is already dire at best. With research claiming that the average person sees upwards of 5000 ads a day, and understanding that many of these ads continue to disseminate and reinforce ideas of female objectification and dismemberment, physical male dominance and aggression, unattainable male and female body images, sexualization of increasingly younger subjects, along with ethnic stereotypes and under-representation, it is imperative that teachers and students comprehend the uninvited influences entering the classroom so those teachers and students can effectively combat the media messages and all of their negative effects that increasingly plague our youth every year.

To potentially compound the problem, the Common Core State Standards explicitly include the creation of media as an assessment tool. In most classrooms, it would be a safe guess to say that neither the teacher nor the vast majority of students have a great deal of experience in media literacy, let alone media creation. After all, the students and most teachers have been raised as products of the misogynistic, corporate mainstream media that has only increased its stronghold over public discourse and ideology during the past twenty years of media deregulation.

Consequently, if as a nation of educators, we are going to expect our classroom stakeholders to consume and create media, then we need to do a much better job at training teachers, students, and administrators as to exactly what that means. Otherwise, much of what gets created stands the chance of mimicking the toxic values that already permeate society and youth culture in particular.

This situation is also an important reason that classroom stakeholders need to openly understand and embrace social media in the classroom. For instance, too many teachers and students still view Twitter as simply a gossip or texting site. In doing so, they are missing the fact that social networks are vital in today's world for activities including personal and professional networking, collaborating with like-minded individuals around the globe, fostering and spreading social activism, and combating the mainstream corporate/media  machine by offering massive networks of smaller alternative news sources.

Understanding that allowing and embracing social media in the classroom also opens the door to the dreaded mainstream media machine, makes it all the more apparent that the media literacy piece of the equation be implemented and expanded as quickly as possible. So, if you are reading this blog, let's continue to use the voice that the internet and social networking has given us, so that we can spread ideas to continue making important educational reforms and combat the ignorance, apathy, fear, and negativity that is the bread and butter of the corporate/media machine.

And let's do it quickly because if you know anything about net neutrality, it's pretty obvious that they're on to us.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @mrtessier33

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Expanding technology integration - Prove it, don't preach it

In order to celebrate Digital Learning Day on February 5th, I racked my brain to come up with something that would be both manageable and meaningful for me and my colleagues. The staff where I teach and am technology coach spans the spectrum when it comes to technology integration in the classroom.

There are roughly seventy teachers at my site and due to the nature of our campus, student population, master schedule and limited prep time, it is virtually impossible to arrange time for meaningful, authentic collaboration, outside of various mandated monthly meetings. Additionally, our monthly staff meetings are at the end of a long workday and generally filled with administrative news and general housekeeping items, which does not typically promote a captive audience, willing or able to engage in what I think is an amazing classroom tool.

With these challenges in mind I arranged for three activities that are teacher centered, encourage collaboration, foster a sense of community, are simple enough to be used by technology novices, and highlight technology applications that can be easily used with students in the classroom.

The first activity was a TodaysMeet session which ran throughout the teaching day. A week prior, all teachers received an e-mail explaining what we were going to do. Two days before the event, they were e-mailed a reminder with a link to an article titled "20 useful ways to use TodaysMeet in schools". The morning of the event teachers received an e-mail with the link to the specific session, as well as simple instructions for those that had not previously used the site.

Throughout the day many teachers shared ideas, websites, classroom practices, and answered each others questions and concerns about certain struggles they were encountering. Other teachers simply chose to view the conversations as they familiarized themselves with the concept of the online meeting process. As a follow up, I sent an e-mail to the staff highlighting the strategies and resources that were discussed online.

The next collaborative process I introduced was a "Craig's List" of sorts for our campus. I created a Google spreadsheet on which teachers can list items they want or have available. Items can include classroom supplies, strategies, or curriculum.

I envision it will be a place where art teachers can request egg crates to be used as paint cups, History teachers will be able to find a film they need for an upcoming unit, or a new teacher may request classroom management strategies for an overly chatty group of students. In order to encourage regular usage and familiarize staff with the idea, I will be sending out weekly e-mail reminders with newly listed items until teachers incorporate use of the list into their regular routines.

Lastly, I am creating a padlet wall on which teachers are encouraged to post notes detailing what they are working on currently, as well as units they have planned for the near future. In doing so, as a staff we can begin realizing more authentic collaborative opportunities that had been previously missed due to the fractured nature of our school design.

The thought process behind these activities is to enrich the school's professional environment by introducing teachers to authentic technology driven solutions that can also be used in the classroom. Many teachers in the midst of their day-to-day teaching lives are reluctant to introduce new technology because:
  • it might not work as intended
  • it might encroach on valuable class time that has already been meticulously planned
  • the time it takes to learn might infringe upon impacted prep time
  • their lack of experience with it might negatively impact the student experience   
With that in mind, by highlighting these technologies in a way that showcases the collaborative benefits of specific technology solutions, technology coaches can simultaneously strengthen the teaching community at their site and introduce their colleagues to classroom technology in a way that is specifically targeted, and far less intrusive than the "you should use this in your classroom" approach.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

How professional sports sabotages students' futures

Taking a break from the technology focus this week:

I teach high school to an under-served almost exclusively Latino community in which a great deal of my students have ambitions of becoming professional soccer players. In fact, many of them are so convinced of their impending stardom that they ignore serious academic pursuits, as well as the warnings of their teachers. Unfortunately, due to their socioeconomic situation and the overall lack of formal education within the community, unbeknownst to them, my students have little to no actual hope of achieving their dream.

Now, this is by no means an indictment of my students' abilities, ambitions, or desires. It is more so a result of the illusion created by sports media and the culture of idolatry deeply embedded in modern sports culture. Mainstream media is masterful at glamorizing hardship while spinning the tale of the downtrodden youth that beat all the odds and made it to the top. It is the drama that sells the championship match-ups, gets made into feel-good movies, and gives us all hope in our mundane lives.

Consequently, many of the platitudes and cliches associated with sports culture permeate society, including the classroom. Analogizing athletic practice with writing practice is certainly one of my staple motivational starting points. However, in doing so, I am starting to question its effectiveness. I am beginning to understand that by casting life in such a simple light I am doing my students a disservice by failing to provide a larger context for these simple motivational one-liners.

This realization started taking shape when my students began developing personal inquiries for a research project and ten of my male students, in two different classes, chose to research "What are the different pathways to becoming a professional soccer player and which pathway provides me the best chance of success?"

In an attempt to provide my freshmen with some context for their dream I looked to the local Major League Soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes, and focused on one player in particular: Sam Garza. As a youth and college player he was highly decorated at the highest levels of the game. Last year as a pro, he played in five games and averaged just over eighteen minutes of playing time in those games. My point in showing this to my students was to illustrate the level of dedication and commitment they would need to develop instantly, in order to have realistic hopes of just becoming a professional bench-warmer.

In order to make the example even more authentic for my students, I attempted to get someone from the Earthquakes organization (even a teenager from their developmental academy) to Skype into the classroom for a brief session regarding the demands and competitive nature of pursuing such a pathway. As a fan, I was incredibly disappointed by the Earthquakes' response that as an organization, they have chosen to decline such requests.

As far as I am concerned, flatly declining and choosing not to even entertain a simple Skype, so some students can obtain a realistic perspective and save four years of aimless academic endeavors, makes the Earthquakes complicit in the future struggles of not just my students, but students all around the greater San Francisco Bay Area that are under the same illusion.

Keeping in mind, this is a professional team that plays a relatively minor level sport in a college stadium, this problem becomes exponentially greater when applied to the more popular sports in the U.S. The question for me ultimately becomes, how can I support a team, a sport, or an industry, that is unwilling to find authentic and meaningful ways to help younger members of their fan base gain a pragmatic perspective and improve their chances for the future?

Understanding all the positive aspects that school athletics brings to the lives of high school students and campus culture, it is important to make sure we are balancing those benefits with the hidden false promises that are derailing our students as the sports media machine grows stronger every year.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @mrtessier33

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Can planning and technology end student ambivalence?

Students, or children and adolescents in general, possess the amazing ability to summon the dark lord of ambivalence on a whim. This evil spirit has been responsible for the downfall of some of the most well planned, inspiring lessons in the history of education. Well-scaffolded units, tied to prior knowledge and student interests, that offer student choice, and various levels of collaboration and interactivity, are not even immune to the powers of this curricular succubus.

In much of what is written about on the internet, it might seem that technology is here to banish the paralyzing poltergeist of inner contradiction from classrooms for eternity; however, personal experience is proving that the potential is there, but without methodical planning the reality is often wishful thinking.

Technology is evolving at an unfathomable speed. Since the dawn of MTV-style editing, the brains of children have been trained to expect information, and the systems that deliver it to them, to evolve (some may say devolve) into compelling, ever-changing, ever-quickening formats. As a result, educators are under increasing pressure to adapt to the dynamic cognitive conditioning of each year's new batch of students.

With that understanding it is important to accept that the inclusion of technology in the classroom is not nearly enough to keep ambivalence at bay. In fact, ill-planned activities that employ technology can often increase ambivalence as it confuses students by forcing them to choose between what they know they need to do and what they want to do. As a result, many students end up doing next to nothing.

Consequently, it is essential to have a planned evolution for integrating technology into teaching units, individual lessons, and daily activities. An effective example to examine is student blogging. Having students blog, on say a weekly basis, will initially be interesting and exciting for many students as it might be their first exposure to publishing ideas online. ( is a free blogging site that provides various levels of teacher control essential to ensuring safe respectful online interactions)

Nevertheless, within several weeks most students will find it routine, just as they have previously done throughout their academic careers with activities such as worksheets, essays, PowerPoints, and Jeopardy review games. And once routine enters the room, so does its sidekick ambivalence. That is where technology integration offers significant benefits, as it provides a wide variety of authentic evolutionary pathways for a given project.

In the case of blogging, it is advisable to plan a growth process such as the one outlined below. For the sake of simplicity, assume the duration of each step to be two weeks.

  • Have students simply blog in "free-write" form in order to become comfortable with blogging
  • Begin requiring students to comment on the blogs of at least two of their classmates
  • Have students individually commit to an ongoing theme for their respective blog
  • Begin requiring at least one relevant visual per blog post
  • Begin requiring at least one relevant link (embedded within the text) to supporting information
  • Develop a partner classroom at another school and connect with their blogs for commenting 
  • Work with the partner teacher to facilitate connections between individual students or student groups
  • Develop a digital collaborative project between student pairs or student groups between partnered classrooms.
In planning the evolution of a project such as this, students will be regularly challenged with a well-scaffolded routine, that is more likely to keep them engaged as they see the path of the project heading toward an authentic product that reaches beyond traditional classroom walls, and is probably quite different than what they have experienced in most of their previous academic environments.

Additionally, establishing a preliminary understanding of desired progress, creates an environment in which time frames and activities can be easily adjusted, adapted, or embellished, as the learning environment dictates. 

With the current pace of edtech ideas, strategies, platforms, apps, and websites overwhelming teachers, administrators, and districts alike, it is often tempting to try too much too soon, or in some cases nothing at all. In order to avoid both ends of that spectrum and to begin developing successful technology driven curriculum, some good old fashioned planning can simplify the process and help teachers begin the exorcism of ambivalence from their respective classrooms.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @mrtessier33

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tips on technology integration for apprehensive educators (Re-post from Smartblog)

In my new role this year as a technology coach for the high school in which I work, I have found myself primarily involved in two separate but equally important activities: reflecting on and learning from my past challenges and successes with technology in my classroom and trying to motivate skeptical teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms.

Consequently, the following suggestions garnered from my recent experiences will hopefully provide some general ideas and guidelines to clarify the process for reluctant teachers, so they will be motivated to embrace educational technology and all of its inherent benefits.
  • Attitude: Approach the process as if you were a brand new teacher. Use year one as a time to figure out how technology can be used in your curriculum, implement a few baby steps and begin accepting the fact that this is your new reality.
Use year two to begin expanding on what worked during year one, discarding the abysmal failures — of which there will probably be several — and possibly experimenting with one or two new technologies — be it a website, a strategy, an app, a means of assessment, or a style of presentation.
During year three, expect to gain some clarity on how you and your students can accelerate learning as you begin to see the forest through the trees. You may even have a minor epiphany or two.
  • Pragmatism: In keeping with the “new teacher” analogy, beware of the inundation of ideas and suggestions from veteran teachers who may misguidedly try to ease your transition. Tech-savvy colleagues will be more than willing to share an inordinate amount of amazing lesson plans, ideas, strategies and technologies that have proven effective in their own classrooms
While the suggestions probably are amazing, innovative and engaging, as promised, understand your strengths and limitations. Along with every new aspect of technology comes a learning curve which needs to be balanced with the day-to-day teaching activities that have always existed.
With that in mind, catalogue the suggestions that are intriguing but unrealistic for immediate use. I would suggest using a site such as Diigo in order to organize and tag easily searchable resources for potential use in the future.
  • Humility: With the ever-changing landscape of technology, and the daily demands of working in education, you will rarely — if ever — be ahead of the technology learning curve. By allowing students to use technology, they will have access to innumerable sources of information as well as formats in which to formulate and present information.
Furthermore, if you were to attempt to master as many presentation formats as humanly possible, better ones will soon emerge and previous mainstays will just as quickly become obsolete. With that in mind, try and be aware of what is available, let your students introduce new resources and formats to you, and join in the learning process side-by-side with your students.
  • Adaptation: Just as it takes years of experience before most teachers feel as if they are even competent in the classroom, expect to experience similar feelings in regards to using technology as a tool for increasing student engagement, creating dynamic lessons, accessing more efficient and accurate assessment tools, and providing more timely, and meaningful feedback.
In order to ease the transition, make a plan and adapt as necessary. For instance, about two and a half years ago, I realized the amazing potential of using Twitter as an instructional tool that had the capability to expand student learning beyond my classroom walls. Due to a wide variety of circumstances, not until this current semester did I feel I could implement it as I had originally envisioned, so I am now just beginning to use Twitter with my students.
  • Self-scaffolding: Understand the SAMR model of technology integration and use it to guide you as you increase the complexity of technology integration in your curriculum. Don’t be afraid to begin simply substituting with technology in your classroom simply to adapt to the concept of allowing students access to what was previously forbidden.
  • If you try to jump straight to modification or re-definition, you will most likely create significant frustration for both yourself and your students, and will be reluctant to continue with a transition that offers significant promise.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @mrtessier33

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Is edtech the horse, the cart, the tail, or the dog?

In trying to focus my ideas for this posting, I attempted to link technology to one of several tried and true metaphors including: "don't put the cart before the horse", and "don't let the tail wag the dog". In regards to the horse and the cart, it could be argued that technology could be either one. As far as the tail and the dog, that metaphor seems more apropos but I do not feel like extending a cliched metaphor throughout this post so I will just get to the point.

Technology integration in education is currently at a ridiculous level of inconsistency for reasons including:
  • Some schools and districts do not have the funding to purchase the necessary technology
  • Schools and districts that have the funding have no precedent from which to guide them on what to purchase or how to implement what is purchased.
  • Schools are making individual site decisions about implementing BYOD, and when they do, it takes on differing forms when it is executed site-to-site.
  • Professional development regarding technology often times seems to be guesswork, at best, due to the infancy of the widespread use of edtech.
  • Individual teachers have varying degrees of competency, willingness, time and confidence regarding technology integration.
  • School and district policies revolving around edtech are often being made by district personnel and administrators that have not been in the classroom recently, and thus institute misguided policies and purchases related to technology.
To those on the forefront of the edtech movement, these situations come as no surprise. The surprise will come; however, when the reality of common core hits next year in forty-five states. As it is, teachers administering the Smarter Balanced practice test in California, are coming to realizations such as: 4th graders do not know how to type, 6th graders struggle with clicking and dragging, and navigating an online test for three hours on a Chromebook without a mouse and less than optimal screen resolution is a task in and of itself 

Additionally, addressing the elephant in the room as to whether most schools will have the proper technology and data infrastructure to support the transition to online testing, how might teachers' own uncertainties exacerbate test anxiety that already plagues far too many students?

Aside from the mandated testing aspect, the day-to-day reality of meaningful technology implementation is equally as concerning. A simple example to illustrate this issue is the reliance, usually out of necessity, on traditional paper and pen assignments. The vast majority of professionals, and probably people in general, do not read or write with pen and paper, yet that still seems to be the standard format in high school classrooms, based on personal anecdotal information and observations.

Information is now dynamic and intertwined. At this point, when students are not creating digital works of writing with engaging visuals, and relevant links to additional resources then we are preparing them for the past more so than the future.

With that being said, the job of a technology coach is much more pressing and of significantly greater scope than it initially appears. Coaching peers on technology integration and preparing them for the future of education can only truly happen if we can find effective ways to become facilitators in getting all stakeholders to buy into a common vision and realization of what lies ominously ahead. 

In revisiting my initial idea, and in the spirit of a good old-fashioned mixed metaphor, edtech appears to be a dog being wagged by its tail while chasing a horse behind its cart in the Wild Wild West with a tornado fast approaching. With that understanding it is the duty of technology coaches to play the part of Paul Revere in sounding the warning far and wide, so that educators and the personnel that supports them from above can at the very least have the storm on their respective radars.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @mrtessier33