All posts by Mr. Phan

2017 Fourth Annual Northern California Instructional Technology Summer Summit #mouthful

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NOTE: I do talk about this event in the latest episode of the Podcast.  Go listen!  Phan’s Homework is what it’s called, and you can find it on Google Play, iTunes, or… here, on this site.

So I just got back from the first date of Phan Summer Tour 2017.  Basically, I was asked by Classcraft to go to the Fourth Annual North –

No.  I’m going to call it the Redding Edtech Summit from now on.  That other name is awful and long.

Anyway, if one is part of the Classcraft Ambassador program, Classcraft will occasionally send one of you to the big Tech Summits to represent them and spread the word about how awesome a tool it is.  This one was kind of a special case, but I needn’t bore you with specifics.  In any case, I was there to represent Classcraft and to network.

When I showed up to that DMV-looking building they call an airport (it legit looks like there’s a parking lot outside that just happens to have airplanes in it once in a while), there was a dude there with a sign with my name on it.  Yeah, you’re jealous.

So we went straight from the airport to the actual event.  It was very obvious that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore*, because there were more than 3 kinds of trees.  Yep, San Jose pretty much has 3 trees:

  1. A maple looking tree
  2. A palm tree
  3. Whatever tree you’re allergic to

*That figure of speech doesn’t quite work when it comes to travel in the US, does it?  Stay with me, folks, I’m still in California.

Ryan Johnson (@mrjbusteacher)  was there.  Man, let me tell you, that fool does not play around.  What I mean by that is not that he is not a playful guy (he is).  What I mean is that he does nothing halfway.  This guy was 100% involved in the planning of this event, down to the individual vendor.  He was an outspoken advocate for Edtech in his community, and obviously a mover and shaker.  He also was the main reason I didn’t need an Über, because he either drove me around himself or arranged it with other people.  I actually did very little waiting for transportation.

Anyway, the Summit was at Parsons Junior High, and not only was I teaching a session on Classcraft, but I had also been shanghaied at the last second by Ryan to do the closing keynote.  I was well-received, I think.  You can be the judge: Ryan also took a video of my presentation, which cuts out right as the speech ends so that you have to take my word for it that people actually clapped.  Here is the video:

Although my table was the jankiest one there and held the least amount of swag (the pirate definition, not the weird millenial definition), Classcraft obviously had a rep at this place.  People had heard of it, and if they hadn’t, they were quickly wowed within minutes of a demonstration.  What’s not to like?  The artwork of Classcraft is awesome.  If I were to have a fantasy portrait of myself done, I’d track down their artist.  Look at this:

 

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There were other vendors too, including but probably not limited to:

  • Texthelp
  • Keyboarding Without Tears
  • Peardeck
  • PowerSchool

So all in all, a great trip.  Tons of networking, and I got to promote a product that I’m really happy about.  I was very impressed also at all of the uses for tech talked about in Redding.  I’m from the Silicon Valley, but I had to admit that Redding’s technology game was surprisingly strong.  If you want to hear more about this, listen to my Podcast!

#GAFESummit in Modesto next!

Updates – May 19th, 2017

So I’ve had a lot going on lately, with a lot of activity resulting in very little blog output, so I thought that I’d provide some information for the nosiest people among us.

Phan Summer Tour 2017

I’m kidding around.  I am doing no such thing.  That being said, I will be doing a little bit of speaking at some Google Summits and things about Classcraft and Hip Hop Ed.  I may vlog it.  I may even vlog it and edit it, who knows?  A lot of this year has been new experiences in networking, classroom implementation, and in professional projects.  Most of this activity will be as part of the wonderful Classcraft Ambassador program, which has plunged me headfirst into gamification and engagement strategies, not to mention reignited some of my passion for teaching.  This is also rather alarming because I didn’t really need reigniting, so the enthusiasm level right now is real.  Yes, that’s right, I’m using real the way some people use unreal or even intense.  Or hardcore.  You just have to say it right.  Get a little of that Logan growl in there when you say real.

Nice, good job.

Some passion projects have included:

Classcraft

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Using Classcraft has transformed my classroom!  A lot of time and energy has also gone into making the MOST out of the benefits it has provided.  This has trickled into other parts of the profession, of course, but it has also put my brain into more of a “teaching” gear.  As a result, the blog also seems to have gained a focus on education, rather than scattered topics.  Never fear, I shall continue to write unrestrained, as the initial idea was to write about all aspects of being a teacher – including the parts that people don’t want to talk about.  Like what being a teacher does to your work-life balance.  Or your finances.  Or your relationship.  Or your gaming hobby.  Or your consumption of media.  Or your rule about using fragments.

Podcast: Phan’s Homework

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Click to listen/subscribe on Google Play

I actually started this with my wife.  She’s helping me organize the huge gaggle of content that is my brain.  I have a passion for speaking that I can’t quite capture in the written word.  Also, I think I’m funny, and I need you to check my ego.  After all, who needs self-esteem?

The appeal of a Podcast to me is that when I talk about things, the content tends to arrive organically in a way that mirrors how I – and hopefully by extension, some other humans – actually think.  This makes the consumption of the content easy to follow and intimate.  I don’t think I’m some masterful guru with wisdom to share, but I do think that I’m learning every day, and I do think that the way I tend to reflect and connect events in my life is possibly useful to other people.  Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, or maybe it’s why I’m a teacher: they way I talk tends to provoke thought, and the process itself along with the result is more often than not an amusing one.  Hence: Phan’s Homework – a teacher’s Podcast about school, home, and the limbo between.  Please, if you join my audience, do write me with feedback.  I want to commiserate, provide catharsis, and spark inspiration.  I want more teachers listening to podcasts and less teachers burning out and thinking nobody understands the struggle.

The struggle is real. (Don’t forget the growl.  Good.)

I am unsure about some the logistics of putting the podcast out; I have released it on Google Play Music, and I’m in the process of iTunes… I suppose I can have the feed run in a sidebar on this site, or simply link to it above.  I could have used a feed from a category on this site, but I gave it its own site in case people still want to consume this content without having to see my podcast.

Some other things you may hear about in the days to come include but are not limited to my YouTube channel, reading Oathbringer when it’s finally released sometime this year, playing Injustice 2 over the summer, trying to get my exercising back on point, and other things that come up when you’re an English Teacher and a gamer.

Yelling at the Ocean

During a staff collaboration, our department head showed us a TED talk by Eduardo Briceño that discussed the reason why people’s skills at their profession tended to plateau in skill despite large amounts of time being invested into their improvement.  Specifically, he said that the average person has two zones:

  • In the Learning Zone, people are relaxed and situations are very low-stakes.  The emphasis is on becoming better.
  • In the Performance Zone, the emphasis is on execution and evaluation, and the stakes are higher.

Briceño then stated that the problem is that most people almost always place themselves in the Performance Zone, and are seldom in the Learning Zone.  This is apparently impressed upon us at a young age: we are taught that school is evaluative through grades, and are often punished or docked for mistakes, enforcing the principle that mistakes are bad.  Furthermore, because the Performance Zone is one of judgment, not of improvement, the mistakes made are not used to improve any skills.

The first thing that came to mind when Briceño discussed a low-stakes situation Learning Zone was my time playing soccer.  More than any teacher making me spell and write repeatedly, my time playing soccer – especially with my father – taught me the importance of practice.

When I started playing soccer, I was typically awful.  However, about two or three years into playing the game, my skill level spiked suddenly.  This was not just due to maturity, or finally understanding the sport.  My kicks were powerful for my age, and I was able to aim the ball precisely – almost with x, y, and z-axis precision.  I was able to trap almost any ball flying toward me at my feet with a technique involving my shin.  These skills made me a valuable asset to my team, despite my lack of precise ball control as a dribbler.

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Demosthenes projecting his voice over the ocean.

As I reflect now, Briceño’s words color my experience with a new significance.  His example of the Learning Zone was made clearer by his reference to the orator Demosthenes, who practiced posture by suspending a sword blade above his shoulder, who spoke against the ocean on the beach to perfect his projection, and who put rocks in his mouth to master enunciation.  Individual skills were perfected and honed in ways that far surpassed the difficulty of what he was practicing for – but the situations were low stakes.  Nobody would know if he failed during these exercises but himself.

Soccer practice ran similarly.  No matter how much we begged for a scrimmage (essentially a simulation of an actual game), both my coach and my father would instead focus on drills, which were little tasks that perfected individual skills in preparation for the game.

“There’s no point in a scrimmage if you have no skill.” said my dad to me once in the car.  Essentially, using a soccer game to practice for a soccer game was limited in usefulness because it was a performance zone.  Drills were specialized in practice: We practiced dribbling.  We did sprints and liners to practice changing direction.  We did the Give-and-Go.  We juggled the ball with our feet.

When I reflect now, I realize that the things I spent the most time practicing with my dad (mostly because we couldn’t really run around) were my kick (shooting the ball with my father as the goaltender – he was better than any elementary kid would be) and my trap (my dad would always expect me to trap the ball – no self-respecting soccer player would do otherwise if a trap was possible.)

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Soccer practice was low-stakes but higher in difficulty.  If I missed a goal (you know, because my goaltender was a full-grown adult), I just had to try again.  Every time I missed a trap, I just had to run and get the ball.  There was no punishment. I practiced for way more hours than I ever played in a game.  I realize now that my father kept me in the Learning Zone.  Every time I tried to shoot a ball past my father, I was Demosthenes yelling at the ocean.  The drills that I performed faithfully improved my skills.  Accordingly, the drills that I performed less diligently – like running laps, dribbling, and ball-handling – did little to help me.

My skill plateaued eventually – and again, that’s easy to explain.  As I got older, I was shorter than a lot of my teammates.  When they did better than I did in practice, I was disheartened, instead of focusing on myself.  I practiced less with my father, and soon I only heard his feedback from watching my games.  Without realizing it, I had transformed my practice time into a Performance Zone.

Many parents make this same mistake with their child’s education.  Low grades are punished, average performance ignored, with only high performance receiving acknowledgment. – implicitly teaching that mistakes are bad.  If mistakes are bad, then everything is high-stakes, which makes school a Performance Zone, not a Learning Zone.

In addition, the social imperative mirrors this as well. For some reason, teenagers care what their peers think, to the point that their worst nightmare is to be caught in a vulnerable position.  The fear of becoming a social pariah as a consequence is about as high as stakes get, with teens tossing and dodging labels like “snitch” and “slut” in their day-to-day lives.  If you worry about what other people think, how can you be safe enough to make mistakes?

I’ve talked before about how we need to be uncomfortable.  In order to do that and get to sword-suspending and ocean-yelling, we need to identify our Performance Zones and our Learning Zones and treat them as such.  This is also why hobbies are a good idea: you can use the skills they give you in their assorted Learning Zones with your Performance Zone.  For example, rapping has been a low-stakes way of building confidence when speaking and demanding attention, which is something crucial when teaching teenagers.  It also expands my vocabulary and refines my pronunciation.  Blogging helps me with my writing skills and with expressing my thoughts in words, which is definitely an imperative for an ELA professional.

The concept of the Learning Zone is the rebuttal we’ve been looking for to the tired claim that you “don’t use what you learn in school anyway.”  Yes, you do!  Of course, problems aren’t like they were in school.  A school is a Learning Zone.  School tasks are drills.  School is yelling at the ocean.  Real life replaces the ocean with real people and raises the stakes – because now the waves can hear you or destroy you, and your words matter.