Saturday, May 28, 2011

When an Idea Goes Viral

I have written about the power of Twitter and how it has impacted my teaching before. I was initially blown away by the connections being made and sustained on a daily basis. However, I was amazed yet again with the power of Twitter to actually make a concrete impact on student learning. Yes, we share resources and strategies that filter into classrooms, but there is something bigger out there. There are ideas that show up and then go viral. I was recently a part of such an idea and the results are still amazing me.


Back in March our school held an Innovation Day at school for our sixth grade students. This idea came from a fellow teacher in our building who had done it on a small level with his team of about 100 students. Shortly after I wrote about our Innovative Day, Daniel Pink tweeted about it and the hits on the post skyrocketed. He also wrote about our day on his blog. I was slightly embarrassed by the mention because it certainly was more than me involved in this day. While all that was cool, what happened next was even more impressive.


In the days and weeks that followed my initial post I was contacted by teachers and administrators from literally all over the world. These educators wanted to hold an Innovative Day of their own. While it was no Rebecca Black, the idea has gone viral to some degree. Pernille Ripp recently held her Innovative Day with her 4th grade classroom and Tim Monreal facilitated one at his school. At this time I am in the midst of planning other Innovative Days with schools across the Midwest and two in England.

This experience has raised two questions for me about why this idea has gone “viral”.

Why did this idea gain the traction that it did?

Obviously if an idea is able to be replicated and gain in popularity, there has to be some value in it. As I previously wrote, there is great value unfiltered learning and giving students complete control of their learning. If we know this is true, then why do we still try to put learning in boxes with curriculum and standards? Yes, Pink’s press certainly helped spread the word, but I like to think it was more than that. Teachers saw the value in the idea and it made sense on a very simple level.

How does an idea like this go viral?

For me, this experience is yet another powerful example of the connections social media allows. If I was not a blogger or a tweeter, folks would never have known about our Innovation Day and the idea would not have been shared outside my school. The connections we make are so crucial not only for ourselves but for our students. When ideas such as Innovation Days are shared, it is the kids that come out as winners. They are the ones that ultimately gain from our connections through the shared ideas and experiences on social media. While I will never meet the students in Mrs. Ripp’s or Mr. Monreal’s schools, I feel good knowing they had a good experience based on something I wrote. If you are doing an Innovation Day or something similar, please share it in the comments.

My final thought on ideas going viral is that for that to work we need to share. For those reading this post, you already know this because that is what brings you here. You are reading blogs, tweets and making connections because you already know the value. I challenge us all to bring more teachers here. We need to stop preaching to the choir and bring more people into the chorus.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Summer Break Sucks

As the end of the school year approaches, I am often reminded of the harsh reality of summer break for a number of our students. Many of my students are excited to get their Little League seasons into high gear or their annual summer vacations with the family to a whole variety of locations. Some are already making plans for mid-week sleepovers and time with grandparents and relatives. However, that is not the case with all of my students.

There is a small population of students not looking forward to summer break although they will never come out and tell you. No, I am not talking about your overachieving gifted kids that love doing projects and taking tests. I am talking about that student that has been acting up lately. They have not been doing their work and have been getting into trouble more than usual. In class you notice them unplugging and doing anything for your attention and often in a negative manner. Generally speaking, they are not themselves.

When you take a closer look at these kid’s lives you realize there is something going on. They are not making plans for the summer because they don’t have any. For these students, there is a wide variety of reasons why they fear the summer. For some, their parents are going through a brutal divorce. For others, their parents are just not around and are not involved. In some sad cases, they are in broken homes with some level of abuse or other more tragic circumstances. For them summer is not filled with fun and games, but a harsh reality. They are often too proud to tell you this and as a result act out to get that much craved attention from you before leaving for the summer.

The end of the year will come and summer break will commence. However, for some kids, school is their break. It is their place of normalcy and stability. It is the place they feel safest and most cared for. When these kids started getting out of control towards the end of the year, keep in mind that some of them might be seeking attention out of fear for the summer ahead of them...

The Stumpies

A great number of influential educators have been blogging and tweeting about awards ceremonies and how crucial they are to motivate and engage learners. We all know that without awards at the end of the year students will stop trying hard and basically give up on learning. In addition, we know that acknowledging a student on the side will not work. Rather we have to make a public display and draw as much attention to the winners as possible.

In this renewed spirit of award giving I present the first annual Stumpies…modeled after the iconic leader, Michael Scott. The Stumpies are awards given to accomplishments in the area of Social Media use. It is our belief here at the Stumpies selection committee that only a select few can win these coveted awards. We cannot give one to everyone as that will take away from the winners.
Without further ado, here are the 2011 Stumpies award winners.

EduBrothers Award – This award is given to two twitter users living in vastly different geographic locations by connected by a brotherly connection where no blood line is actual present. Their connection and powerful relationship proves the value of social media in creating strong personal connections. Winners: @thenerdyteacher and @tgwynn.

Eraser Award – Given to the education reformer of the year with a passion for erasing mistakes to make positive statistical gains. Winner: @m_rhee

Cyborg Award – This award is given to the tweeter that may or may not be a cyborg due to heavy involvement in chats, blogs, and appears to always be there and have a page for everything. Winner: @cybraryman1

Greyhound Award – This award is given to a hard working tweeter who is at the front of the pack in educational thought and leadership. Winner: @L_Hilt

Michael Scott Award of Excellence – This award is given to the MVP of twitter and this year to a person that stands behind our mission to promote awards in school for the select few! Winner: @mrwejr

UPDATE: I had to update this post because I was contacted by @mrwejr's people in regards to his award. He was upset that he didn't actually receive a physical award and was adamant that for any award to be "real" there needed to be some hardware. He was also loosely quoted saying, "without the bling, the award don't mean a thing"...so, here is a placeholder certificate until the official Stumpie trophies come in.



That is all the awards for this year’s Stumpies. If you didn’t receive an award it was more than likely because you did not work hard. You probably failed in some way and you didn’t try hard enough. I know that you will take this failure and use it as motivation for the next year. We can’t give an award to everyone as that will water down the award’s process and devalue those that actually earned one.