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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Getting back to school tips

After three months off of being in charge of a class I am out shape physically and emotionally. The following make it much easier to transition from summer break to class work. First off my sleeping habits get off in the summer. At least one week before I have to be back in school I make sure I get back on a good sleep schedule. I make sure I go to bed at an appropriate time and get up when I need to. I also make sure that during the day I am up and productive, especially during the time I would normally be at school.

In our district we go back to school one week before the kids do. There a few things I do during this time that I think are vital to being prepared when the students walk in the door. One thing that always gets me the first week is my voice is not in teacher shape. I am not used to the amount of talking I have to do, especially the first week. So I spend time during that first week talking to my colleagues and hearing about their summer and ideas for the new year. This is good for many reasons, but one such is I get to flex my vocal muscles again. It would only do me so much good if I just sat in my room and got used to being back in the building. Engaging with other teachers is a great way to share ideas as well as get that voice back into shape.

On our grading program we are able to see a picture, along with the name, of each student that will be in our class. I read over the names, determine which ones I have heard and which faces look familiar. I look for names that look tricky, and then do my best to memorize each name and face. This is a big undertaking but you can imagine the impact it has on the kids when they walk in the door the first day after summer break and I know who they are. I think from day one it sets up a relationship that shows that I care about them. Invariably there are a few that look completely different from their picture, but that is a nice conversation piece you can have with them.

I know that this is a daunting task, but it is totally worth it. By the end of the first day of school I try to have every name, first and last memorized. Note: this gets harder and harder with each period. 180+ names is tough. It takes me about a week to feel like I have them totally down. A couple of tips. I have an alphabetical seating chart for their first one. It helps me a lot. I also keep the picture listing on my podium so I can refer to it until I have the names/faces down pat. I try to use their names as much as possible so that I have them down and the kids feel that I care. Whether you try to memorize the names or if you don’t have access to pictures I think you should still read the names and get a feel for who is going to be in your class.

I find the more physically and emotionally prepared I am the easier it is to transition from break to work. Hope these help and give you some new ideas for the new year.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

5 keys to creating a positive digital footprint

No matter how hard you try not to make an imprint, with each step you take you leave a footprint. In the digital world you create a digital footprint with every keystroke you make. In the world of devices and apps it is of utmost importance to keep this in mind whenever you get online, share a photo, send an email, tweet, voice your opinion on facebook, click the mouse, and make a keystroke. Whether you want to believe it or not, each of us has a digital presence. If I didn't remove my muddy boots and walked across white carpet I would get myself in a lot of trouble and may make a mess that I couldn't erase completely. Now hopefully none of us leave muddy footprints everywhere we go and we take of our shoes when they are dirty, that being said there are many people who do 'muddy' up their digital footprint by not realizing the impact and implications of their digital footprint.

I have a few thoughts on digital footprints. Before we get to them I think it is important to realize that each one of us that is using a device of any sort is making a digital footprint. There is no way around it. Sure some techies can get creative and cover up their steps, but even doing that makes an imprint of some sort. Knowing you are making a footprint is really the key to begin creating a positive digital print.

1. Take control of your digital footprint. If everything we do online can be used either for or against us, make sure whatever you post is for the good. You have control over what you say, share, post, forward, like/dislike, etc... Social media can be a great way to share and connect with others no matter where they are, it can also be a place where people muddy up the floor. You have control over your online image, cultivate it with care. Be smart in what you share, that includes opinions as much as images, for all of it has the potential to cause you embarrassment or much worse. My personal rule is that if I wouldn't share it with my grandparents then I shouldn't post it. Believe me you will never regret not posting something, the same can't be said once you click submit. Quite literally the world is watching, make sure you show them your best self. Post things that are uplifting and encouraging, that show you in a good light. Don't be degrading, rude, condescending, vulgar, profane, etc... I know that most businesses search your name when you apply and see what comes up. Frankly I don't know why they wouldn't. Be smart about what you say about your job, your boss, your coworkers, they may not see it, but someone else will.

2. There is no such thing as private. Just get that out of your head right now. This includes texts, tweets, emails, etc... Just assume everyone can see what you post. Sure you can set up a private account on social media and only allow certain people to see what you post, but just remember they can show others, they can copy/paste, they can screenshot, they can forward and share whatever you post. Once it is out there you have no control over where it ends up. There are many sad cases of people who shared private information with friends and family only to end up losing control over whatever it is they posted. There are sadder cases of jobs lost, current and future, over things shared in private. Just keep in mind there is no such thing as private and you will save yourself any heartache.

3. You can never take it back. Sure you can delete something and minimize the damage, but you can never take it back. Once posted you then lose control over where it ends up. Written words can be read over and over again. Be smart about what you say and to whom you say it, for you can't take it back. Sarcasm and joking can be easily misunderstood over text, intentions can be misinterpreted when you aren't there in person. Consider the grandparent rule before you post or share.

4. What you post is your resume. I consider this blog my resume. I share ideas, thoughts, as well as successes. I tag each entry so that when my name is searched I have some control over what one can see about me. I also tag entries using the criteria that I am observed on so that I can give more proof than a quick 30 min observation. You want to impress your principal, tag your blog with the main criteria you are observed on, believe me they will be impressed. If I interview for a different position I definitely plan on using this blog for my benefit.

5. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Don't wait to take charge of your digital footprint. Start now. Make wise decisions about what you share and say, remember anything can be used for or against you. Share your successes. Keep a record of what you do well. We all are leaving an imprint with every keystroke, start to craft your online image. Take control of your digital footprint and begin creating a path that leads to success.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Students as Teachers Global Connection Project

I like big ideas. They excite me. In planning for next year I started thinking about the possibilities and opportunities that are available now. Being a geography teacher I can't help but think about the possibilities global connections. I have done some of this the past few years with varying levels of success. In all cases I know that the students like the idea of working with students from around the world, but it is tough with time zones, scheduling, technology, and just having the right activity, among a myriad of other issues that can make it challenging. Through it all I do believe that the overall experience is valuable it's just finding the most effective way of doing it. In other words there has to be something more than just talking with students from around the world. That is fun, but loses its novelty quickly. There has to be some inherent academic purpose in connecting. I have been pondering just what that is for the past few years. Then I came upon this quote:

“If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” Albert Einstein

The wheels in my head started spinning and I got excited. Keeping in mind the following graphic I couldn't help but think that the academic purpose should be to have the students teach each other.

But here is the kicker: Why not connect with six/seven year olds and have my students teach them the concepts we are learning. So here is my idea, my class of 14-15 yr olds connects with a class from another state, or even country of younger students. It could be done as a mystery skype in order to introduce the different classes and then my students would have to teach some of the concepts that they are learning to the younger class. They would become guest speakers/experts for the younger class. My students would have to really know their stuff in order to teach it to the younger class. I can conceive of writing children's books or creating videos on different topics and then having them read the book/watch the videos and come up with any questions as they go along. There would be storyboarding and editing involved, class and peer reviews before attempting to teach the younger students. There are so many things you could do with this! Really the possibilities are as unlimited as your own thinking.

Instead of taking another quiz or test you would have to teach a younger class. How bout that for authentic assessment?!

Next school year will come much sooner than you know. I want to start planning for this right now. If you are interested in participating please let me know. You can leave a comment, send me an email, or reach me on Twitter @mrjfawson

I get that each school or class will be unique and come with its own set of procedures but I believe that we can make this work and not only connect, but have an extremely valuable academic experience for all involved. There is a lot more to work out, but I figured I needed to get my thoughts down as soon as I could.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The dangers of complaining and how to change the conversation

I have never been a big complainer. I just have never really seen the point in doing it. Complaining about students or a group of students or an entire class has never really been something I view as productive. Sure I have had my share of tough students and have done some my fair share of venting, but even in such moments the purpose is not to indict a student or throw my hands up in the air and say "Woe is me". For me it is recognizing that what I am doing is not working and that I need to figure out a better way. I am a positive person by nature, so dwelling on the negativity is not how I like to do things.

One of the things that bugs me is when I hear that a particular class, I don't mean 5th period, I mean this years 8th graders, of students is 'tough' or 'behind' or some other less than desirable characteristic. It is very rare that I hear positive traits attributed to classes. Basically I see these blanket statements about a class of students as way to keep expectations low, vent, and make excuses as to why students are not performing well. Overall I think it is a bunch of garbage. Sure there are some kids that are tough and that may be behind among other things, but to label an entire class as such goes against just about everything I believe in as a teacher.

First of all how is helpful to make such a statement? Are you just making an excuse for why students aren't doing well? Is it a way to vent and wash your hands of how things are going? I can't see a real good reason for making such statements. They make you treat and feel differently about your students than you should. I for one never feel better about students that I have complained about. If anything it makes me less likely to help them out, not more.

Secondly I have never seen any issue get better with complaining. Certainly issues need to be addressed. There is a huge difference between noting shortcomings and failings and setting forth to improve than to just outright complain about something. Typically in these conversations there is little said about what can be done, or here is what I am doing to make improvements. I get the need to vent at times but I don't see labeling a whole class of students as a good way of doing it.

I guess I can't really write a post about this without making some suggestions. Here is my first thought. Don't let anyone dictate how you think about a particular student let alone a group of students. I have had countless students do great in my class that were tough in other classes. I only have control over what happens in my room. Sure I want all students to behave and do well in all their classes, but ultimately I really only have control over how I treat them.

When I do have trouble with students I look first at myself. Many times how I handled the situation has led to problems. There are many reasons students may be tough, I try to make sure I am not one of those reasons.

One of the most effective ways to get others to stop complaining is to first not feed the flames. When those around me engage in such talk I don't add to it. The quickest way I have found to end such conversations is to say "Well I really like this group of kids" or "I really like _______" Almost as soon as you say it the complaining will cease.

One of the most productive statements I have found is to say "How can we help ________ out?" The entire dynamic of the conversation shifts from condemnation to concern and action. There is an admission that we can and need to do better in some way. That while these students have many things in their lives that are out of our control, we can and do have an impact when they are in our classrooms.

I believe that each one of my students is capable of learning and of doing great things. If I label them this will limit what I believe they can do and it does effect how I treat them. It is foolish to believe otherwise. Complaining about students has never made me better. It doesn't inspire or motivate me in anyway. Teaching is not easy and certainly there those that make it tougher than it needs to be, but complaining does little to improve situations. As we prepare for new students let us keep an open mind and make our own expectations and focus on the present instead of dwelling on the past.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

End of Year Reflections and changes for next year

I started having students blog during 4th term and have decided to have them do it throughout the entire year. Basically the blog will be the their homework. They will update it weekly and get credit for their updates. I don't think I should grade the blog, just give them credit for doing it. If you have read this blog before you know that we did video zeitgeist that highlighted the major happenings worldwide throughout the year. I am going to have on entry per month in which they evaluate the current world and local events and determine which ones should be in their end of year video.

One of the final things I have students do is a final write up in which part of it is to give me feedback. One of the things I ask is what was your favorite activities/lessons/assignments. I have used the Genius Project idea for the past few years and students really like it. This year during fourth term students created a blog and then updated it weekly. Since my class is studying geography I told students they could pick anything 'geography related' for their genius project (which if they realize it, is just about anything). Their homework for the term was a weekly post, updating their findings. In the end they presented their blog and their genius project to the class during the last week of school. It was neat to see such a variety of projects from researching myths and legends from around the world to saving the great barrier reef to a history of Arabic music to the northern lights.

Here are some of their thoughts:

"My favorite assignment was the Genius Project. It let us think outside the box. I had a great time learning about my topic."

"My favorite assignment was the Genius Project. This is because it gave us an opportunity to make decisions on our own on whatever we wanted to do. You gave us total freedom...which is the best kind of homework."

"My favorite assignment was the blog. It was cool to be able to study and figure things out by yourself. Everyone picked something that reflected who they are and through it I got to know each person a little better."

"I really loved the Genius Project. I was able to write about something I was passionate about, and share my experiences with others."

"I really liked getting to pick what I was going to study and learn about. It helped keep me on top of my assignment and I feel I learned more than I would have if I chose from a list of topics."

Based on these thoughts as well as my own here are the changes I am making for the upcoming year:

Have students blog weekly through out the year for homework. Once a month on current events for Zeitgeist. Once a month for genius projects Once on what we have learned in class. With extra research on application and extension of knowledge. The other will be an open topic. 9-10 entries per term.

First week will set it up. They explain purpose of their blog and what they think geography is and what they hope to learn about during the year. They will do a term write up each term on each of topics. First few times will get lab to help them out. Periodically will get lab for same purpose.

I think creating a positive digital footprint is of utmost importance. With that in mind I am going to teach how to tag, comment, use CC pics, embed video, so that when their name is searched they have a lot of positive things to show for it.

This post if more me thinking out loud, but I welcome any suggestions of things that have worked well for you.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

YouTube Video Editor the tool for end of year projects

I am a geography teacher and have been looking for a way to tie everything in that we learn about during the year into one big final project. I have always enjoyed the Zeitgeist videos that Google produces that highlight the most searched stories/events of each year. I decided to incorporate that concept into our class by having students chronicle the major current events worldwide from the start of school to the end, basically Aug-May. They had to pick events each month that they felt should be included in their final video. They needed to explain why they were choosing to highlight a particular event, what made that event more worthy to be chosen than other events. In the end they used the Video Editor to find images and video that showed their view of the past nine months of the major world, national, and local events.

There are many reasons that I think the Video Editor is worthwhile. First off the students get to create a project that they can show the world. Most projects end up being viewed by the student, parents, and teacher, maybe the class, but that is usually it. Using YouTube really does open it up to the world. Secondly students get a project that they can keep. In the past posters have been an acceptable medium, meaning as soon as project is over it goes in the garbage, plus there is only so much you can do with a poster. Next point is copyright infringement. I think the YouTube editor does a great job teaching how to be a responsible creator in digital age. Because you are limited to copyright free images, music, and videos students learn that if they are publishing worldwide they need to make sure they are following the rules. Finally and perhaps most importantly is the ability to create. I allowed my students a lot of freedom in this arena. They could add anything to their video that meant something to them which I felt was important from a creative stance as well as it meant I didn't have to watch the same video 150 times. Each one would be as unique as the students themselves. Students have really enjoyed this aspect of the video editor. They make the final call on edits, clips, and anything they put in or leave out of their video. They also love that others can see their video and they can view what the rest of the class has done. They will do a good job for you, if they know it will be published for the world to see they will make sure it's worthy of that as well.

I have included a few of the videos so you can see what students are able to produce. I consider creation the peak of critical thinking and the YouTube video editor really allows for something special.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What did you do in class? Nothing, we just took notes

One of my biggest pet peeves about much of professional development in our profession is that instructors talk about best practices and then lecture the whole time and go through a bunch of bullet points. The classic do as I say not as I do. I have considered this in my own teaching. I have realized at times I can launch into lecturer mode and students become passive learners who just write down everything on the screen or board. They are dispassionate hearers trying to determine what to write down as I move from point to point. A while back I overheard students in the hall ask what we were doing and one said, "Nothing really, we just took notes." I thought about this again and again and realized there had to be a better way. I began to consider this a put down, it became a battle cry for me to find a better way. Over the past few years in my attempt to hit at higher levels of thinking I have changed the way I do notes in my class.

I think back to when I took notes as a student and spent time writing away and not listening to what the teacher had to say. I mean who cares what is being said when there are notes to be taken? All that mattered to me then was making sure I wrote down every important thing that the teacher had put up on the board. I became a great note taker as a student, I figured out what was important, used my own system for shorthand, highlighted important details, and then forgot everything as soon as I wrote it down. It is this last thought that is the most troubling to me. As a student I took organized and well composed notes and then did little else with them. Before exams I looked through them with varying degrees of success trying to decipher why I thought these notes were so important that I had highlighted them. I had notebooks full of notes that ultimately did little more than give me reference for what I was supposed to be learning. A bunch of facts is really all notes were to me. Some useless some more important but basically just a bunch of facts that I tried to regurgitate and then forgot as quickly as I had written them down.

I don't want my students to be fact reciters that forget as soon as they recite. I want them to be critical thinkers. I changed the way I did things and have never looked back. It has made me a better instructor and my students active and critical learners. Here is the basis of what I have done:

First off I don't have my students take notes. Groundbreaking right, I will explain what they do instead.

Second I layer my lesson out and consider where to add different levels of critical thinking. There is starting point with everything where lower levels of critical thinking are essential. We can't talk about the Arab/Israeli conflict without some basic understanding of the background. Each lesson is designed to go from lower levels like knowledge and comprehension, then go to application and analysis, and then finally synthesis and evaluation. Recently there has been a shift to add creation as the top layer. This is definitely a place a try to get to with each lesson.

Third after explaining a topic I have them do something with the information. I might have them list items, draw a diagram, rank, or predict something with the information. The important thing is they don't just take notes and not use the information. They have to make sense of what we are discussing and then do something with the information. This is where you find out if they get it. If you are just having them take notes you usually accept the blank stares as understanding and move on. By having them do something you find out real quick if they got it or not.

Fourth I don't ask questions in the traditional sense. For instance there is no who, what, when, where, why, and how. I have them describe, compare, explain, categorize, defend, rank, predict, etc...

Fifth I have them share. This is where you really find out if they get it.

Finally I have them create. It might be a persuasive essay, it could be website, a video, a presentation. It can be whatever you conceive is the best way to show your mastery of the subject.

Here are some examples of going from lower level to higher level thinking and how I would design a lesson.

(We are currently studying Korea so I will use some of the material)

On your map label North and South Korea, the 38th parallel, Pyongyang, Seoul, etc...

Explain why the Korean War is considered part of the Cold War

Support or argue against the US involvement of maintaining the DMZ

Explain the hero worship of the Kim family and the effect this has on the citizens

Evaluate the effect of not having freedoms such as religion, press, and speech and how this can keep governments in power.

Compare Korea's situation to that of the US after the Civil War how are they alike/different?

Finally the build up is to have students work together and create an action plan for five scenarios(coup d'etat, mass defection, natural disaster, foreigners held hostage, and weapons of mass destruction) that the US and ROK have planned for. (PS these are actually real scenarios that have been planned for) They will need to show how to best handle each of the situations.

In the end I don't believe my students need to take notes in the traditional sense. They have already proven they understand the material as we go through the lesson. They have a firm understanding of the material. It has been a mind shift for me, but I can tell you it has made me much better at what I do, and more importantly it has made class more engaged, and hit at all levels of critical thinking. No one ever leaves class anymore and says we just took notes. No one ever says we do we have to learn this. They are all engaged learners critically thinking about the material, how it applies to them.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Teaching organization in writing

Teaching students how to write is never easy. There are so many different things you can focus on, reading 150-200 papers is time consuming, and let's face it each student is unique and will need individualized feedback. For these reasons and others many teachers just don't do it, or at least don't do it as often as they could or should. Leave it to the English department to teach students writing. There have been times I've been guilty of this thinking. Our administration asked all teachers to focus on writing this year, so I have been trying to incorporate more opportunities and more effective ways of teaching writing in a social studies course. After our study of the Middle East and especially Israel, students had to compose an essay on the one or two state solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict. I was pleased with most of the writing and thought it was a good assessment. However, I still noticed that students struggled with organization and this guided my thinking to our latest writing assignment.

China's controversial one child policy would become our next good opportunity for an essay. I thought about the best way to teach organization. I think when it comes to teaching writing it requires as much focus from the teacher as it does the students. I decided that the best way to proceed was to begin with the topic of unintended consequences. I found some great examples worldwide showing how a government policy that intends to do one thing may have hidden or unintended consequences. I introduced the 'Cobra Effect' from India where city officials worried about deaths as a result from bites from the snakes gave a reward for everyone who brought in a dead cobra. Good idea right, turn the problem over to the citizens and involve them in eradicating the problem and pay them for their efforts. It all sounds great, but what ended up happening was people saw the opportunity to make money and began farming cobras themselves. The result was more cobras, not less. Indian officials had never considered that their citizens would act in such a way and the result was they were paying people to increase the problem. A similar occurrence took place in Vietnam except it was with rats. Yea its gross but totally captivating.

After that we delved into the policy. We started with a discussion on population and resources and then looked at the implementation of the policy itself. I must admit that as versed as I am in the policy there are nuances that make it complicated and students can usually come up with a question that is hard to answer. Such moments can become a nice time to have students delve deeper and realize the complications of such a policy. After a thorough introduction to the policy we looked at results. First the overall data which government officials will use to claim its effectiveness and necessity. Then we looked at unintended consequences.

We watched a 10 minute film which shows many such consequences and then discussed them in greater detail. The discussion was important because it allowed students to state their opinions and a chance to give voice to their thinking that they would later be using in their paper. After our discussion I gave out a list that had consequences, intended or unintended, with information about each one. Students then read through the list and ranked them in order of what they felt were the strongest for against the policy. Little did they know that they had decided on what their body paragraphs would be in their essay.

I then gave them the prompt "Do the ends justify the means?" We discussed what that meant and then how they were to organize their essay. The introduction would briefly explain the who, when, where, what, why, and how of the policy and then the results. Students could either agree or disagree and use their rankings from the previous exercise to guide them with their body paragraphs. It was almost magical when I pointed out that they had already decided what they were going to use as their body paragraphs based on what ranking they had given each consequence. When I set them loose the students began immediately and had no trouble deciding what to write about or where or how to include information.

The final product was the best writing I have seen all year. It was thoughtful, organized, and to the point. Students that normally would struggle with such a task wrote nice balanced essays and finished in a timely manner. Now I understand you can't always do this, but for this subject it worked better than I even expected and in the end I think they have a sound understanding of the topic and the complexities in creating a 'simple' solution to such a complicated issue.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

TED Talk

Recently Jared Covili from UEN participated in Canyons district TEDx Event. In his talk he spent a few minutes highlighting a few of things I have done. Here is the TED talk

Sunday, April 27, 2014

In the news

I was contacted by a reporter, Louise Shaw about a month ago. She said she was doing a story on what students were learning in their classes and had contacted the district and my name was given to her. She came into the class for a period, interviewed students, took a few photos, and wrote an article about my interview with Mahmoud. Without a doubt it is nice to get recognition for the positive things we do in our classes. This project is of great personal value for me since it took so long to come to fruition. I love the fact that I was able to connect with Mahmoud and then have a meaningful interview that I could show our class, it means a lot to me and to them.

As far as being in the paper I am glad that she interviewed members of the class and that they were prominent in the article. Sure it's nice to see your own name in the paper for good things, but this was about sharing with my class and I am pleased that they are able to share in the moment as well. We read the article in class Friday, it was a neat moment to share in with them. They were pleased to see the article, especially those that saw their names in print.

Here is the article:
WEST POINT — It’s a problem that has deep roots in history and seemingly no viable solution.

It’s a problem that has stymied U.S. presidents and world leaders.

And it’s a problem students at West Point Junior High are taking on as well.

The conflicts that have divided Israelis and Palestinians revolve around land and authority.

Students in Jared Fawson’s World Geography classes were introduced to those problems by viewing the documentary, “Promises,” that follows the lives of children very close to their own ages.

Children in the documentary are both Palestinian and Israeli. One Jewish child is the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor and is a secular Jew, one is the child of a rabbi. The Palestianian youths lived in refugee camps. One had a father in prison at the time.

Though the children lived within 20 miles of each other, “they exist in completely separate worlds,” according to a review on

“They possess an acute awareness of the political reality that surrounds them,” it said, “and have a freshness of expression that is inspiring, in contrast to the entrenched and often embittered opinions of adults.”

The students in Fawson’s class could be said to have the same attributes.

“They just need to be more willing to cooperate,” said Chenille Morris, a ninth grader at West Point, of the two parties staking claims in Israel. “They don’t see each other as human. They hate each other. Both sides have in mind what they want, but they’re not willing to give.”

A fellow student, Harlee Sorrells, said it’s wrong when, because of the past, people won’t work together for their future.

The documentary was filmed between 1997 and 2000, with a follow-up segment added in 2004.

During those seven years, the youths in the documentary share what they’ve learned from their parents and from their own personal experiences and fears.

To add to their stories, Fawson was able to connect with one of the youths in the documentary last month, 10 years after it was filmed.

Now 26, the youth answered Fawson’s questions about what he sees as the problems and solutions to the Middle-East conflict.

His responses have been shared with students in subsequent classes, further shaping their views.

“We need to wake up and to think in a very positive way,” said the Palestinian, who the Clipper was asked not to name.

The young man spoke in favor of a one-state solution and of the region becoming a “100 percent democratic place.”

With one state, elections would determine representation and whoever won would have responsibility for the people, who would all have rights.

“We don’t need walls and stupid check points,” he said.

That was also a conclusion ninth graders were reaching.

“Both sides want Jerusalem, the Red Sea and the resources,” said Chenille. “ There’s no way to split them up. They already live together ... they should elect representatives from both sides.”

Fawson led a discussion on what happens when a group like Hamas “continues to sow discord and chaos.” He pointed out that public opinion and support shifts away from a group when it changes from what might be considered freedom fighters, to being more like terrorists.

Several students referred to the positive effects of the nonviolent protests in America relating to race relations as proof change that can be positive.

“Peaceful protests ended with integration of schools,” said one, adding that Israel could do the same.

“They could be all one nationality but have religious diversity,” said another.

“It’s complicated,” said Fawson.

Listening to the young man who had grown up with the conflict and was now an adult gave students “a personal connection to the conflict ... one that helped break down barriers and open the world up in a way that it couldn’t get in any other way.”

Student Mike Nash said the study of the conflict in the Middle East has helped him realize what’s going on, how bad it is and what really needs to be fixed.

“If kids could get along and make friendships,” he said, “the kids could teach their kids and it would eventually come to them not being enemies anymore.”

Read more: The Davis Clipper - International issues tackled by local students

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Student Projects: Zeitgeist 2013-14 using YouTube Video Editor

Earlier in the year I came up with my genius idea to have students create their own zeitgeist video. You can read more about that here. (Note: If you haven't seen the Google zeitgeist videos that they create every year featuring their most searched stories they are both linked in that post.) I had all sorts of ideas as to how we were going to pull this off, but nothing was really coming together the way I had envisioned it. I wanted them to create something similar to what Google does in both spirit and in quality. Yea I know we are at a severe disadvantage when competing with Google for the 'cool' factor. We finally got to the point where we had to start actually making something. I tried a lot of ideas, none really fit what we needed. Then someone mentioned the YouTube Video Editor. It makes sense that if you are going to try to make a project like Google that you would use their help.

One of my issues with student projects is that they work hard and the only people who see it are their parents, and the teacher. A few rare, great ones are seen by more. Using this allows for a true worldwide audience. The goal is to create their own video that is good enough to put on display for the world.

Here is why we are using the video editor. Students can create and edit their own videos the way they want to; the project becomes an extension of how they see the world. You can upload your own videos, but most students don't have footage of the Winter Olympics or the Ukraine conflict. This is the real genius of the video editor. You can search the creative commons videos, copyright free, and get footage of what you are looking for. You can also add images (my students have become quite versed in creative commons image search), text, music (the editor allows for copyright free music and has an extensive database), and transitions. One of the nice things about using this is students can work on it at home or where ever they may be. They just log into their Google account and then into YouTube. Changes are saved automatically like on docs or blogger. A true worldwide audience. A project they can be proud of and show off and keep. No worries about using images, video, or music that is copyrighted and they could get in trouble for using.

I spent a day in the computer lab working with each student making sure they knew what they were doing. Some figure it out quickly, some needed more help, all realized how using the video editor would allow their voice to come through and make something worthwhile. They are not due for another month but I feel like we now have the right tool for the job.

FYI each week from now to then they have to write up the events they are adding to their video. Explain what the event is and why they are adding it. Events should reflect what has happened globally since the start of school, with a topics from each region we have covered as well as any local events they feel were significant to the community, school, or themselves. One of the nice things about this project is students will include events like the Olympics, but show it from their perspective. Obviously many events will be in every video, but each student will put their own spin on the event. No two videos will be exactly alike. Each one will have its own voice and individuality.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

UCET 2014 Thoughts

Here are my thoughts from UCET 2014

Loved the keynotes. Couldn't have had better speakers than the Canadian duo of Dean Shareski and George Couros.

Dean had five main points: Be aware of wonder, be interesting, share your joy, be grateful, and just do it.
Here are my notes from his presentation.

1. Wonder: opposite of boring Find the I'm bored video. Be aware of wonder, remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup.
Find video on awe. We have a responsibility to awe. Take a photo everyday. Be mindful.
How often do you get your students to wonder? Find a photo
2 be interesting. Best thing you can do for your students is to be an interesting adult. Gary Stager
We need to deliver something more as the educator. What makes it interesting to come to your class? Share what its like to be a learner.
And this is all we know so far...meddler in the middle. Be in the middle learning with them.
What are you learning right now? Do your students know it?
3. Share it
We are connected and so is our joy. Video of baby ripping paper. Contagious joy
Video newsletter
When we find interesting cool stuff we share it.
4 be grateful.
5. Just do it. Direct correlation between happiness and silliness in ones life.
When was the last time you did something where the primary purpose was to bring joy? Adults need to have fun so children will want to grow up.

I have been a big fan of George since I got on Twitter a couple of years ago. Was glad I got to hear him in person as well as have a few minutes to chat during the conference. Here are some images from his presentation.

to inspire meaningful change, you must first make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind.

George told a story about his dad learning how to read and write well on in his life because he wanted to connect with his sons using email and facebook. Very powerful story. Also told a story about an assembly in which a girl tweeted out beforehand that she didn't want to hear more of what they aren't supposed to do on the internet. George could have been upset at this tweet, but he let it go and presented and told the story of his dad. It happened to be the one year mark of his father's death. He was emotional in the presentation, she tweeted out that she was glad he came out on such a hard day for him. He stopped the presentation and her stand up. She came and gave him a hug. I was impressed with how he handled this situation and that this young lady walked out with a great feeling about herself and the assembly. Could have gone much differently, I know many people that would not have handled this the same way and allowed for such an outcome.

In his presentation he discussed blogging as portfolio which I thought was the idea of the conference for me. I changed the design of my blog to fit this and tagged posts with ties to the standards that I get evaluated on by administrators. Students would use blogs to show their learning and create a powerful, positive digital footprint. Thought this was great and am incorporating this into my class.

Doctopus- Great way to use google docs to get one out to all your students and not have to worry about sharing and getting it back to you.

Pechaflickr for spontaneous student presentations

Daily Create: small daily activities that get students to be creative

Creative commons search for images: don't have to worry about copyright and appropriateness.

Use blogs in class

Have students use 5 mins of creativity a day

Be interesting to students

I decided to present this year and hopefully add to the conference. I did a presentation on using Twitter for personalized professional development. You can access the presentation here I thought it went well. Had a packed room, met a lot of great educators, even the mom of one of my former students.

I also presented on We use this in my class to learn place name geography. It has become a fun tool for learning and competing.

Was nice to feel like I gave back some to the conference that more than any other had helped me out. One day maybe I can be as smooth as Dean or George.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Breaking down barriers by connecting world wide

I teach geography, but more than that I love geography. Like any teacher I have my areas of expertise, what I really love to teach and most importantly learn about. My area is Israel/Palestine. There is something about this area that captivates me. I was first introduced while getting my degree at the University of Utah when my teacher asked the class whether or not Israel should be a country. I was taken aback. I didn't know what he meant. The class was full of people from the Middle East and within minutes there was a lot of arguing back and forth. I realized right then and there I needed to know a lot more about the subject. The teacher posed the question to me and I replied that I didn't know enough but hoped the class would help me out. He said "You need to get an opinion, people without opinions are boring." I took that as a challenge and have spent the last 15 years studying the subject out.

Over time I found a documentary "Promises" about the conflict. In the film they highlight the lives of 7 kids living in Israel who live within 20 minutes of each other, but live very different lives. 3 of the kids are Palestinians, 4 are Israeli. I love this film. I think it is so powerful for students to watch other kids their own age dealing with the conflict. The power of the film is in seeing their struggles and the complexities of the issues. You get to see the pain of the conflict and its effect on each of the kids and how they handle it. The students get sucked into the documentary and are captivated throughout the film.

One of the people in film is named Mahmoud, he is a Jerusalem Palestinian Arab. He was nine years old when they started filming, he was sixteen when they finished. He is highly opinionated, passionate, articulate, and makes some changes throughout the film. This past year after watching the film I thought about how neat it would be if I could connect with him or one of the others from the film. So I went to the one spot I thought he might be on; facebook, and found him. He friended me right off and over the course of a year we corresponded back and forth.

After some time we decided to do an interview. I wanted to be able to record it so I could show it when I wanted and have it for future use. We decided to use Google Hangouts as this would allow for that to happen. You can use your phone with hangouts, but certainly a desktop is much easier to do a hangout with, he didn't have a desktop. It took three tries over the space of 30 minutes and I was seriously worried that it wasn't going to happen. Luckily as the saying goes, 3rd times a charm, and it worked. Mahmoud was on his mobile device in Jerusalem at 8 pm while I was using my lunch time in West Point, Utah to do the interview.

I've got to say that this in one of the high points I have had in education. Here I was interviewing a Palestinian from Jerusalem who had been in a documentary that my class was going to watch about the Arab/Israeli conflict. This moment had taken a lot of persistence on my part. In all honesty it had taken the better part of a year of me somewhat bugging him to do this. We attempted once before only to have his schedule conflict at the last minute. After months of inquiring here we finally were, having in my opinion a seminal moment.

The interview lasted 40 minutes during which time Mahmoud expressed his feelings about being part of the 'Promises' documentary, the current conflict in Israel, his ideas for a solution, and what it is like being a Palestinian living in Jerusalem. He also gave a personalized message to my class imploring them to search for truth and to become critical thinkers, to not believe what the media or others say about others, but to look at it from different perspectives. It was a great thought for all, but was extremely powerful coming from someone who's life they got a sneak peek at, someone they had come to have a connection with, someone with different beliefs and from a much different part of the world. It was a highlight for all the students, Mahmoud, and especially for me.

I believe that it is my responsibility to be the lead learner in the class. I need to show my passion, my drive and determination to learn and understand more about the world to my students. If I don't show that how can I expect them too? This was a project that took a long time to complete. It took more persistence than I ever thought it would, but in the end it became as worth it as anything that I have ever done. I am glad I was able to share this with my students and show them what is truly possible. Here are a few stills of Mahmoud from the film and our interview.

at 9

at 16

at 26 today