Tag Archives: classcraft

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:

 

PhantheProphet.png

 

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!

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Why Teachers Need Hip Hop Education in the Classroom

Note: The following post was featured on the Classcraft Blog, and is simply reproduced here. You can see where it was originally published by clicking here.

Hip Hop Ed has become an ever-growing popular movement today, especially due to its cultural relevance and its tendency to promote—through its connection with students—an increased social and political awareness in an academic setting.

Simply put, Hip Hop Education is the use of hip hop culture, especially rap songs and lyrics, as classroom content— both in the creation of material to learn and in the delivery of existing material. #HipHopEd even thrives on Twitter weekly, with the movement inspiring teachers and students alike.

Speaking students’ language

From the 1970s to today, there is no denying the pervasiveness of hip hop in today’s youth culture. While it has been present and even popular for decades, with hip hop figures represented among different generations, hip hop culture has always—even as it has aged and matured—had an association with the youth of today. This in itself is an anomaly; how can something be about and in response to historical events, political climates, and even living conditions without dating itself?

The answer lies in hip hop music’s close connection to hip hop culture and in its ability to maintain a strong connection with its practitioners and fan base despite any shifts in technique, medium, or content. At the center of hip hop culture is something universal and integral to human nature: oral tradition. It’s a medium of catharsis and expression coming together and being spat out in the exact way it is meant, there to be admired for what makes it art—and especially for what makes it “ugly” to some listeners.

This steady relation to youth is a no-brainer as a way to connect with young students. It’s important not only to art but also history and even contemporary life. Most importantly, hip hop in education is a powerful way to teach students the skills they need to help themselves, at school and at home.

It’s about mutual respect

The academic world tends to recoil in response to any connection to hip hop culture. It’s uneducated, one might think; it’s not socially appropriate and promotes destructive behavior. In an essay accusing hip hop of destroying the “potential of black youth,” Jeffrey Hicks states that “hip-hop culture deadens the drive toward civility and legitimizes backwardness.” However, using hip hop in the classroom doesn’t mean I am turning a blind eye to all of the things that can make its presence in the classroom uncomfortable (although I do disagree with this “evil” portrayal). In fact, you should use hip hop especially if you’re not comfortable with it!

First of all, actions speak louder than words. Using hip hop in the classroom is an action that has a huge effect on what students receive from you. They see you reaching into a world that they are familiar with instead of pulling them into your world. They see you playing and engaging with them instead of retreating in fear. Not only may you accidentally show them another thing to value about your curriculum, but even the mere attempt to connect is so visible that it can’t be ignored. Whether you mean it to or not, you are showing respect for something that is theirs in your classroom.

Every teacher knows and acknowledges that there are actions, items, and concepts that are inappropriate for a classroom setting. What this can sometimes manifest as, however, is an environment in firm denial of the existence of anything “inappropriate.” The class becomes a “safe space” but then morphs into a bubble of disrespect, teaching students to look down on any other environment not mirroring the same ideals. If you instead show them the relevance of what they’re learning in the context of the culture they themselves appropriate, you are doing something incredibly important by example.

Hip hop forces discussion about race, poverty, identity, family, hate, and the Man—all of which are things students worry about daily when they’re supposed to be thinking about your step-by-step tutorial on Shakespearean sonnets. You have an opportunity with hip hop to acknowledge pain, hate, anger, and injustice instead of denying it and further losing respect from students, who go home to these real issues and face them instead of your homework. You can show them through hip hop staples (rhyme, repetition, storytelling, catharsis, reflection) how to handle these issues and even use them to navigate another discomfort: your academic world.

Another thing that lends hip hop culture well to a classroom atmosphere is its intolerance for silence. Hip hop is about taking life’s problems and putting them “on blast,” whether it’s coming up with solutions or even just spreading awareness of the issue. Subscribers to hip hop may profess that “snitches get stitches,” but the truth is that hip hop culture is about snitching on life and the world.

Incorporating hip hop into your teaching

By reflecting this “take the good, eschew the bad” ideology with your handling of hip hop, you are modeling how to take what life gives, incorporate what is useful, and filter the rest. You are showing students that the proper response to adversity is not flight, despair, or dismissal—it is action, discussion, and collaboration, all ideals heavily promoted in hip hop culture and in academia alike.

You aren’t encouraging mindless adoption of hip hop ideals, as Hicks suggests, resulting in young people “applying for a job with unsightly cornrows, baggy clothing, and using less-than-acceptable English.” Discussion of hip hop culture as a connection or even a medium for learning is not the same as adoption of hip hop culture.

So teach a verse that helps them remember the quadratic formula, but also includes how much you hate remembering it. Have them make a diss track against whoever they think is responsible for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Anger is healthy but should never be coupled with indifference; this distinction is important in discouraging destructive action versus angry expression.

In 2016, I created a unit that focused on the human reaction to times of trauma, something that a depressingly high number of students are familiar with. Framing an examination of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, students had to compare the way O’Brien and his self-named character within the story dealt with trauma, both in the depiction of himself and in the actual creation of the stories. By the end of the semester, students were examining methods of catharsis for their own lives.

After that final project, I had students reflecting on assignments who, instead of responding with the first semester’s “I learned how to read and write better,” now wrote things like, “I learned how poetry could help me cope with my sister’s death.” I was emotionally drained, but one thing was for sure: There were some students that had needed the hip hop presence in my class to know that they could answer problems themselves.

For all of its ugliness, I felt I had brought them something through hip hop that they hadn’t gotten before and might not have had the chance to learn otherwise. I realized I had given them something integral to living and coping with life—all this through an English class.

Fear as a call to action

If you are worried that the chance to express oneself will result in a wild classroom of students, then don’t you have a responsibility to go through the process of expression with them, offering constructive guidance so they don’t unleash that energy recklessly?

In other words: If you don’t teach them how to handle their own lives and cultures despite their fear, then you end up passing on something to be fearful of. What does it say if a student can handle school but not life? Why do we not want to show students where their own cultural identity fits into all this?

Hip Hop Education is a chance to engage students not only with your classwork, but with their own lives. My students had a reason to study metaphors, and they had reasons to look at how Tim O’Brien dealt with the death of his friend Kiowa—because through hip hop, these elements of English curriculum were now yielding secrets that provided clues to their own problems.

I found that hip hop didn’t just make my students care about the content; it gave me new reasons to care about it, too.

 

How I Infuse Joy into My Teaching Day.

Life can seem difficult as a teacher; we have notoriously difficult jobs, and that can bring us to put our own morale aside. Students can pick up on this quick, however, so it’s just as important to keep your enthusiasm up as it is to maintain the enthusiasm of your class. Here are some things that I do to keep the beast at bay and bring maximum happiness into my career.

1. Journal Questions

Journal Questions are often a missed opportunity to connect with students… and to have a little fun.  The first 5 minutes of class are for answering the journal prompt – then the second 5 minutes are for sharing, with Fridays for Friday Freewrites.  The important rule that I like to apply to make it fun for me is that I share last.  The students like these questions because they get to share themselves – and find a little bit out about their teacher.  Questions like “What do you believe happens after death?” and “Describe your daily routine as a vending machine.” keep kids engaged.

2. #Custom #Gamification

classcraftflash

Tools like the awesome Classcraft can be tailor-made for your class.  In Classcraft, there’s this feature called the Random Event.  The first thing I did with it was I went through them and added custom events based on information I knew about my students.  I have events based on TV characters, characters from the books we read… no limits!

3. A Change of Scenery

I use a projector in my class to help the students follow along when we read or to model how to do some of the assignments.  One thing I like to do is change the desktop wallpaper every week or so.  Students appreciate the change – and they love when they can connect with something like what show you’re watching lately or a trip you went on based on whatever image you use. You can also use pictures from the news if you want to start a conversation that way.

4. Take risks.

You may have gotten so experienced that you are loath to reinvent the wheel by trying anything new. One thing I’ve learned though is that if you dread it, the kids will dread it. If something is going to be painful, take your own time and remake it. Tell the kids what you did! “I was going to have us read Medea, but then I realized we’d all have more fun with The Merchant of Venice!” Students seem to like when I go out on a limb for them.

 5. Character Study

Sometimes I teach with different voices or accents. This can be taken to an extreme; what if you taught a science lesson as Charles Darwin? What if Atticus Finch ran today’s discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird? You don’t necessarily have to be an awesome actor for this; you just have to commit. Don’t break character for a moment, wear the right clothing… and of course, if someone uses your real name, act confused, but tell them that they sound like a really good-looking person.

These ideas can breathe new life into your work – and provide the morale boost you need to get through the day. Most importantly, they can teach and model for the students how being in the professional world doesn’t necessarily entail a moratorium on happiness; all it can take sometimes is the right combination of factors for your passion to ignite theirs.