Did you even notice she was here?

I got observed today and it totally freaked my students out. We were doing a new lab–a lab even I had never tried before–so my Supervisor just wandered around and talked with the students about what they were doing. I completely ignored her because I have to teach and make sure everything is going well so I don’t have time to think about the critical eye that is staring at my back.

Some of the students would come up and whisper to me things like:

“Did you see that there’s someone staring at you?”

“Are you getting evaluated right now? Are we screwing things up for you?”

When she left about an hour later, one of the students came up to me and asked why I would do something I have never done before when my Supervisor is in the room. I asked why he thought her presence would make any difference in what I do on a daily basis. He said that his “other teachers” [side note: that is one of my least favorite phrases] make these huge lessons, prep the class in advance for what their expected behavior is supposed to be, and is a totally different teacher during the block when they are being evaluated. I explained that nothing should change just because we have a visitor in the room. If I am doing something wrong, I want her to find it and help me correct it. I am in no way perfect, and am always striving to improve. I bring the awesome every day and I expect the same of my students.

The best advice I can give any new teacher is bring the awesome every day. Invite your administrators in when you are trying something new so you can get meaningful feedback. Invite your colleagues to come to. Share what you are doing often and incorporate the best practices you find around you.

You can never have enough awesome in your classroom.


Making Our Ideas A Reality

I am making an effort to write more as my way of engaging in the act of creation every day. I am not an artist so I won’t be doing the draw everyday challenge, but I can certainly write something every day. Today’s writing is about something one of my TED Ed Club members did and I am so, so proud of him for it.

First, some background. Remy is a sophomore in our TED Ed Club and was forced to attend a meeting by a senior who was on the soccer team with him. Remy’s parents are from France and he is fluent in both English and French. But, it didn’t take long for him to realize that this was the exact type of club he was looking for. As we have been talking this year, and especially after attending the TED Ed Weekend even in NYC, we realized that the thing that makes our club so unique from anything in the school and from other TED Ed Clubs is we don’t just have ideas we want to share, but we try to turn them into reality. The club has engaged in a variety of projects over the past few years, and Remy was insistent on making something big happen this year again.

After the event in NYC, Remy was talking with his grandfather (who still lives in France) about our club and his grandfather remarked that nothing like that exists in the school that he works with. His grandfather, who is like the Alumni President, said that he thought the students at the local schools would really benefit from this type of experience. So, Remy decided to start a TED Ed Club in France while still in the US. He wrote an email explaining his idea to the TED Ed people and they loved it! It turns out there are only 5 clubs in all of France, and nothing in this region. They sent him information on how to get started, are going to do a video call with him to discuss the idea further, and are going to feature his work in an upcoming newsletter they are sending to all of the clubs! If he is successful, this will be the first club whose Student Leader doesn’t even live in the same country as the club.

I am so proud of Remy for acting on his great ideas. Being a TED Ed Club Advisor is one of the best things I have had the opportunity to do in my career and I love working with amazing students like Remy.

If you are interested in starting your own TED Ed Club, just check out this link or contact me directly. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter. Also, check out Remy’s other project, Humans of the Dog Park.

Flipping Your Classroom: The First Steps

[Note: This article was originally written for Carolina Biological’s Articles & News section.]

One of my Physics colleagues took an online Flipped Classroom course over the summer which required her to create a short (3-5 minute) video explaining a topic of her choosing. She hated the assignment. She hates the sound of her own voice, but, more importantly, she is not tech-savvy, so the assignment really scared her as to whether she could pull off a full-year Flipped Classroom. When we sat down together during the first days of the school year, she expressed to me all of her concerns:

  1. What program do I use to make my videos and where do I find all of the equipment?
  2. Videos take so long to make. How am I am going to get them all done in time?
  3. Am I going to be spending all my time making videos and not preparing any other activities for my class?

Many people have similar concerns when they first flip. Like any method of instruction you need to focus on what you are trying to accomplish by trying something non-traditional. For me, I wanted to increase time with my students assisting them with problem sets in class to tackle any problems they might encounter and complete more laboratory activities. The video is not the focus of my Flipped Classroom, but rather the method I use to achieve greater inquiry in science.

To get my students ready for instructional videos later in the year, I start them with watching certain TED Ed Videos found on ed.ted.com. We start the year with the Periodic Table and Atomic Theory. Instead of me standing in front of the room talking about Mendeleev and his ideas, we watch The Genius of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table (https://goo.gl/tJneiL) in class and then discuss why his ideas were insightful or why they may have been misguided. When we move to Atomic Theory, my students watch How Small Is An Atom? (https://goo.gl/ZWDLuz) for homework and complete the 5 multiple choice questions that are in the THINK section. When they come to class the next day, we discuss their answers and some of the interesting things said in the video.

The benefit of starting the year with TED Ed videos is they are concise and animated so they keep the students’ attention very well. During these early videos, I don’t ask students to write anything down for two reasons. First, I generate the notes about the topic based on their comments from the in-class discussion. Students don’t always know what is important so they need a little guidance filtering the information. But also, some students have really insightful ideas generated from the video and I want to make sure to include them in the class notes. Second, I want their first impression of instructional videos to be a positive one, not one where they listen to me drone on (i.e. read a PowerPoint slide to them) about a topic that is difficult to visualize.

After these introductory units, I begin to use short videos for daily instruction that I have made. But if you are like my colleague, making videos can be overwhelming so don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel. Start by finding videos on YouTube created by teachers who are teaching the same subject as you are. This may require some hunting and watching videos with various styles and qualities. Here are some suggestions my students have given me when they have watched other teachers’ videos for my class:

  1. Find someone who matches your energy level when you speak. If you are high energy, don’t pick someone who speaks calmly and with a monotone voice.
  2. Videos need visuals. This may mean someone standing in front of the camera or text bubbles or simply writing/picture appearing. Don’t choose someone who is simply reading text.
  3. Watch the entire video and make sure it covers the exact topic(s) you want. I talked with a Calculus teacher who used a college professor’s videos. They were over an hour long and often went into topics that didn’t apply to what the students were learning at that time. There is no better way to create disconnected students than giving them irrelevant videos to watch.

Keep all the videos you find that you like in a YouTube playlist, even the ones you aren’t going to show to your students. This will give you quality examples to refer back to when you decide to make the leap into creating your own. Like your first year teaching, the first year flipping your classroom is the hardest so find ways that allow you to be innovative in all aspects of the learning process.

Making it on the ‘Gram’

My students love it when I take pictures of their work and post it on Instagram. They call it ‘making it on the ‘Gram.’ I have found they get upset if I don’t tag them, even if it is just their hand that made it in the picture. Many teachers are very cautious when it comes to social media, more afraid of what could go wrong than the positive effects it can have. So, I wanted to offer up a couple of suggestions on how to get started Instagram in the classroom.

  1. Pick an Instagram name and class hashtag. I am @DaretoChem and we use #chemisawesome for any of the activities we are doing in class. This allows all your content to be easily searchable for anyone in the community. Give the information out at Back To School Night or in your Welcome Letter home on the first day. Also, on your class website, insert a widget for Instagram that shows your feed. Now, even if a parent/guardian doesn’t have Instagram, they can see the pictures you are posting as they are happening.
  2. At the beginning of the year, I collect Media Release Forms for every student. While we have these on file in the main office, some parents never send in forms or have changed their mind about what they want the school to post. Keep a Post-It in your desk of the students who absolutely don’t want their pictures taken for easy reference. But, no matter what, I do my best not to get faces in the pictures. This is easily accomplished with the over the shoulder shot or focus on what they students are doing and just get their mid-section in the shot.

3. Find the super eager kids in your class and take pictures of their work first.

These students will talk openly about seeing themselves on your Instagram feed and others will work harder to get their work on the feed.

4. Some students will want to pose for the pictures. Don’t be afraid to take their pictures with their work, but double check that it’s ok to post it on the Internet. Even though I collect the release forms, I still ask if they want to post the picture and if they want to be tagged in it.

5. If you are still unsure about having students in the photo, just take pictures of their work with no one in the picture. Your students will still get excited about seeing their work in your feed.

The world needs to see what you are doing so please share. And share often!!!

Make Your #Hashtag A Movement

Anyone can put an octothorp in front of a word. Yeah, that’s what the hashtag/pound sign thiruter_logo_number_signngie is actually called. I once had a 5 minute conversation with someone on Facebook entirely in hashtags. #youcanhashtaganything

When I was listening to Shonda Rhimes’ book A Year of Yes, something she said has really stuck with me. She was talking about how we all seem to have time to send a tweet or make a post expressing our support for something, tagging it with the appropriate hashtag, but what do we really do beyond that? It is fine if you want #justiceforharambe, but the fact is your public outcry on Twitter isn’t helping the cause unless you get up and actually do something. Start a fundraiser, call your local politicians, start a website and Internet campaign. It doesn’t matter what you do, but you need to do something beyond just saying you support something.

I regularly talk with teachers about using social media better in schools. I tell them to create a class Twitter/Instagram account or create a hashtag so that you can document ad show the world what is happening in your class. But as I have been rolling Shonda Rhimes’ words around in my head, I realize we need to do more than that. You need to make your hashtag a movement. Make it mean something. Make it change peoples’ mindsets or views of your classroom. Let it embody everything you and your students do in the classroom.

Last year, I started #roomofawesome. When I assign projects, I purposely only give them the bare requirements because I want their imagination and creativity to be the focus of their work. When they ask me to give them better direction, I open my arms and sweep them around the room where there are previous students’ work and bulletin boards with my hashtags on them. I tell them the best projects (aka the most creative) will end up on the walls/bulletin boards and posted to my social media accounts where thousands of people around the world will see them. Make it good enough to make it on the #chemisawesome board. Students will always work a little bit harder when they know their work will reach a global audience.

Hashtags can do so much more than just keep the community informed of what is happening in the school. It is the opportunity to change the expectations of what is possible in the classroom and show everyone the awesome that is happening every day.

Be there and cheer the loudest

There are a lot of things kids need from you, but I think the most important one is to be their biggest cheerleader. It doesn’t matter what they are doing–got an A on an assignment, made the varsity team, hit their first baseball, got into a fight with their boyfriend–kids need to know that they have someone in their corner.

I think all of this comes down to the most important “R” in education: Relationships. When you build strong relationships, students will push themselves harder to meet your expectations because they know you care about them. Tell your friends/significant other you can’t do a night out this week because you are going to see one of your students sit on the bench for the football game, send out a whole class Remind telling everyone about an award that one of your students one, wake up at 5 am to watch a live stream of one of your students competing in a trampoline competition in Denmark.

It takes almost no time to be that cheerleader and it will make all the difference in the end.

It Takes A Village

At graduation, one of the student speakers discussed how she used Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes TED Talk as inspiration for her senior year. Being a TED Ed Club Advisor, I thought this might be a great TED Talk to inspire my club members and maybe turn her profound message into one of our community impact projects for this year. The TED Talk was excellent so I borrowed her audiobook from the library and have been listening to it in the car. In the book, she plays her Dartmouth commencement speech, which I am sharing below. FYI, she has a potty mouth.

So, something she says in the book has really stuck with me as it is something we discuss often at both home and school. Obviously, I work with a lot of women (all of whom are working moms) and I am married to a working mom. Shonda talks about how the only way she can be a successful with her work and her family is because of the extra help she gets from her nanny. Several people have looked at what I do at work and the pictures I post of my family on Instagram and Facebook and comment about how I am this amazing dad for being able to pull off these amazing things in every part of my life. Here’s my secret:

It’s all an act.

Obviously, I can’t filter what my colleagues see happening at work, but I can filter what ends up on social media. When I am at home, I only take pictures of the amazing things and post those to my feed. Do you think anyone really wants to see the pile of dirty clothes that I have been ignoring or the dust collecting on the mantel because dusting is one of my 3 least favorite chores? I look amazing because of 2 reasons: 1) I only show the good stuff, and 2) I have an amazing support system.

My wife is my rock. The reason I can go to my classroom and make it the #roomofawesome is because she takes the crazy #Seigelboys off my hands for a few hours and lets me do it. Also, luckily, she never questions the hundreds of dollars I spend on my classroom and students every year. But, I support her as well. This weekend she is doing about 20 hours of yoga instructor training which means it is 3 straight days of single dad time. She’s been doing this once a month for the past 6 months (with 4 more months to go).

At work, I have fantastic colleagues and administrators who have accepted the fact that I am “that Crazy Seigel guy” and never question the random ideas that come out of my mouth. If my classroom gets too loud, they never come over and slam my door or ask me to keep it down. They let me do my thing because they know I have my students’ best interests at heart.

But I am not successful at both things at the same time. Today I was a great teacher and an absent father. My family went to Six Flags and I ignored them completely, even leaving the house to hit Lowes’ before anyone was awake so I could paint my classroom. When my wife has a yoga training during the school year, I am not going to think about my classroom or my students and I am going to focus on my sons. If I try to split my time evenly, I am failing at 2 things instead of one.

What’s the answer to all of this? Pick your battles. That stack of labs can wait 2 hours while I cook dinner, play Poop, and read books to the boys. When it’s family time, it isn’t school time. When it is grade papers time, well, that usually means it is plop the boys in front of a movie time.

It’s not easy being a Parental Educator in today’s world. It takes a lot of people to help you be the successful person that you make everyone on social media think you are. And, on a side note, never forget to stop and thank those people from time to time.