#HipHopEd and #PBLchat

Last night was an amazing Twitter filled evening. It was a brilliant mash-up of two Twitter chats that had participants discussing the blending of culture, authenticity, and agency in education co-moderated by New Tech Network and the team from #HipHopEd . The focus was on Project Based Learning and Hip Hop Education, which some might think makes an unlikely pair.  Those people would be wrong.

At the heart of the conversation were the core principles of both hip hop and PBL. Engagement in learning and student choice were prevalent themes as was the focus on synthesis of new and existing information and how to represent that through technology, art and community. Hip hop allows for self-expression through multiple mediums like a well-crafted PBL unit does, often resulting in higher engagement while promoting student choice and demonstration of content knowledge. The natural marriage of these two topics also encourages cross disciplinary projects.

What was so exciting to watch were all of the creative thinkers who are experimenting with project design in after school programs, stand-alone PBL classrooms, and all types of communities sharing their resources and experiences so freely. The ideas came fast and furiously as questions were posed about the organic intersection between Hip Hop and project based learning in a variety of content areas where facilitators are making that integration come alive. Here are just a few resources and people who contributed to the rich conversation and some possible project/problem ideas for your own classroom.

MathTimothy Jones shared his algebra word problem in the form of a full hip hop song. Mike Conway spoke of multiple projects he has done including one on the trigonometry of sound. Math and hip hop? Not usually thought of in the same sentence but I like the possibilities of blending the two.

ScienceScience Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S is a New York City science rap competition for students to demonstrate not only their lyrical ability, but also their content knowledge about various science topics and oral communication skills. Check out how these students blended their learning with lyrics. A real world competition for students is a great project to look for.

Social Studies: The possibilities are endless here. The history of hip hop, the social perceptions of the hip hop culture, the geographical influence on the style of hip hop, the pedagogy of hip hop….the list keeps on going. If this is your content area, I encourage you to find a connection that interests your learners and go for it through PBL.

Music: By nature, the theme of the night was full of music references. Some were about the lyrics, some about the culture portrayed through song, others about the way songs can be used to educate in authentic contexts. This resource, the Top 40 songs based on Educational Value, created by #HipHopEd could be a great jumping off point for project ideas as you need inspiration. Maybe there is a song that speaks to a current content standard you are teaching or perhaps a debate about the rankings of the songs fits into your oral communication standards or an OpEd about a song that was excluded might be a great way to encourage argumentative writing. The possibilities seem endless here.

ArtJohn Larmer poses an intriguing driving question: Should streets artists be part of the gentrification of Hollywood Blvd.? Is there a comparable situation in your community that could be made into a driving question?

World Language: I am intrigued by how and why Hip Hop principles spread to other cultures. Diane Hardy has experimented with that in her Spanish classes.

Diane hardy

My takeaways from last night are these: expanding you PLN opens up a multitude of possibilities for blending not only content but also interests into something potentially explosive, this was a great mash-up and should be repeated, and that collaboration can be found in unexpected ways. So get out there and make a relevant, community based and hip hop focused project. Then share your product with the #PBLchat and #HipHopEd communities.


Don’t Let This Happen to You

Working in virtual environments is not always easy. It often feels like this brilliant interpretation from Tripp and Tyler… [Warning: loud laughter may occur]

I would be lying if I said that there was something in that video that has not happened during a conference call at some point in my virtual career. Coffee shop noise, dog barking, static on the line, losing a connection, not knowing someone joined the meeting, everyone speaking at once, and perhaps my personal favorite, the never ending battle with the mute button. I mean really, why is *6 so hard to find? Or having to unlock my phone, rotate the screen from the keypad to the options and press the microphone button? Come on……

Luckily, there are ways to make your meeting more effective. Try these tips the next time you are working in a virtual environment.

1. Not sure who is on the call? Try pulling up a seat to a “virtual table”. If you are using a sharing space or document, draw a circle on the whiteboard or Google Doc and have people type their names as they join the meeting. That way, you can “see” who is there and won’t have to rely on your memory.

Use a collaborative space to "see" who is virtually in your meeting
Use a collaborative space to “see” who is virtually in your meeting

2. Does it really need a passcode? There are ways to set up your call without a passcode with certain technology. Find out what yours can do and bypass the code. It not only adds a barrier for your lower tech users, but can be a bit dangerous if someone is driving and calling in, having to add another code (It should be noted that I don’t advocate for driving and entering codes).

3. Do you have to say your name? While it is nice to have people identify themselves when they join a call, the interruptions as people join are annoying and can distract from the meeting flow. Make it a norm with your colleagues to skip that part of the meeting setup. If you don’t say your name and just push pound to enter the call, there will just be a beep, which is less distracting. Some technology allows you to join silently, which really minimizes distractions. If you opt for this, make sure you have some other way of knowing who is on the call, like the virtual table or a chat feature.

4. Conversation feels delayed or unnatural? Try un-muting. When there are less than five people on a call, it will be much more effective to have people engaging in dialog without being on mute. Yes, you still might hear the dog or a siren in the background, but conversation tends to flow much better.

5. Have more than five people on a call? Use mute. But support one another with some other type of synchronous tool. If possible, use a chat feature or set up a Today’s Meet stream so that back channel conversation can keep going while the meeting is taking place. The great thing about that tool is that there will be a record of the chat and it will make your call more interactive.

6. And we met because? It is definitely frustrating when virtual meetings do not feel productive. That often isn’t because the meeting wasn’t important, but that it was using the wrong format.  My best advice is to choose the appropriate technology for your meeting. Think of what you need to accomplish with the conference call and make sure you have all supporting components necessary to facilitate it well. That might mean incorporating different technology than just the phone.

Meeting Selection Matrix


What tips do you have for making your conference calls more effective?

Why #blendedlearning?

Sitting in a coffee shop working with a colleague today, I was thinking. Crazy, right? Thinking and working with a colleague in person. (If you are a remote worker, perhaps you know the joy of being with humans on occasion to be uber productive in a short amount of time not online. It’s refreshing and reinvigorating to me.)

While she was on a call, I was perusing Twitter for really good blended learning reading. Something thought provoking. Maybe a little controversial. Or at least something that posed a question. But I was pretty disappointed in what I found. It seems like people post tech tool after tech tool that is good for blending, but not much else. While there is a need for those types of ideas, classroom teachers who are reluctant to blend their learning don’t need to know how to use those tools…yet.  But if a teacher is interested in blending, then chances are fairly good that the facilitator knows what blended learning is. A simple Google search produces 10.8 million hits for blended learning in 0.20 seconds where every page one link includes some type of “What is blended learning?” reference.

       Google SearchIf you are unfamiliar with Simon Sinek’s “golden circle”, then you should check out this great TED Talk. If you are familiar, then you know that he encourages people to “Start with Why”.  In looking on social media and the web today, I felt that key component was missing from the blended learning conversation. Why should you blend your teaching or learning? Why can technology be a tool to help engage learners? Why are the terms blended or disruptive popping up throughout education today?

I don’t think there is only one answer to that question of why. I believe that depending on your context or purpose, the why may be very different. And I think that is not only okay, but necessary if we are using blended learning to support all kids. My challenge is that I am not seeing people explore, share, or build upon their why, just that they are being told they must blend education and use tools x, y, and z to do it. They are being told the what and the how. But that is not good enough to change someone’s teaching practices. It won’t stick. There has to be to be a personal, emotional connection for the person to the why in order to see change.

So, today I ask, what is your why for blended learning? Let’s see a discussion about that. #blendedlearning

Come on, get #NTNhappy!

The Partridge Family knew what they were talking about! They traveled around spreading love through music and bringing joy to fans everywhere. They thought they contributed to making a happier society. Do you agree?

If it’s not a song for a fantastically cheesy 1970’s television show that contributes to a happy society, what does? That is exactly what The Global Happiness Project is investigating. Throughout the spring of 2014, the New Tech Network is asking classrooms from across the globe to participate in a blended project that addresses the following questions:

  • What elements contribute to a happy and healthy society?
  • How well do our own local and global communities measure up?
  • How can we use data, creativity, and community to make the world a happier place?

You don’t have to be a New Tech Network teacher or student to participate, so come join in the fun that over 150 teachers have decided to have figuring out what makes us happy. Register here and follow us on Twitter #NTNhappy.

New Year’s Resolution…Part Four: The Soul

So far this year, we have talked about the mind, the body, and now it is time to talk about blended learning for the soul. In the past few months, I participated in various mindful practices with some of my colleagues. Here are a few that I found help to the soul.

1. Calm.com: Have 2 minutes? 5? 10? More? I love, love, love this site when I am in need for a quick mental break. Choose guided meditations or just sit for a chosen length of time that fits your schedule. Heck, download the app and take your break wherever you are. It is worth giving your brain a break and focusing on just being.

2.  Books can be blended! Our virtual book club explored Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. We met once per week via video conference to talk about our experiences with the book. The best part is that the book comes with audio for the meditations. You can run them right from your device and practice the meditations whenever you please.

3. Join Oprah: Oprah and Deepak Chopra offer free 21-day meditations that are totally blended. There is an interactive journal, meditations, and calming scenery. Chanting is also a part of the practice, so watch for the next free session or go buy one of the courses they offer.

4. Mindfulness Schools: I have heard great things about this program. Though the actual online courses may be a bit pricey, there are some great guided audio meditations available to see if you are interested in their curriculum for learning how to include meditation in your classroom.

Whatever your New Year’s resolution may be, take some time to think about how to strengthen their effectiveness by using blended learning options. Through persistence, your mind, body, and soul will appreciate it.

Here’s to blending your success!

New Year’s Resolution…Part Three: The Body

Blended work outs? Have you tried them? This is one of my favorite types of blended learning. Life makes it hard to get to the gym and sometimes you only have 30 minutes to get your workouts in. Here are a few of the ways I have used technology to blend my own personal fitness plans.

1. Virtual Bootcamp: After having my kiddo, I needed quick workouts that I could do during nap time that did not require much equipment and that could be done in my home. Enter personal trainer Karen Shopoff Rooff. I originally trained with her because she was the only postpartum specialist I could find in Austin that would do at home workouts. We moved about an hour further away from her not long after she whipped my abs back into shape. Lucky for me, she offers Virtual Bootcamps.  For only $50 per 8 week session, she emails three workouts per week, with videos demonstrating all of the exercises, and has a private Facebook group where you can get support from everyone else in the program. It is amazing. She is quick to answer questions, posts challenges, and does a great job supporting her clients, wherever they are located. Lucky for you, one starts on Monday! You should sign up 🙂

2. Map My Run and social communities: One day last fall, @JennyPieratt convinced me and 10 other New Tech Network colleagues that we should do the SoCal Ragnar Relay. Basically, the twelve of us will be running relay style from Huntington Beach to San Diego. And maybe sleeping and showering. Jury is still out on that part.  So Team Jedi MindTrix has decided to support one another using Map My Run, a common app used by runners, as we train for our 192.9 mile journey. We are friends with each other and can encourage one another when needed to get our running bootays in gear. There are many networks like this depending on the device you use, so if you’re a FitBit, Nike+, Garmin, or the Ragnar supported PEAR user, there is likely a social community to support your workout goals online.

Photo Credit: Pedro Vezini via Compfight cc

3. DVDs: What? A DVD can’t be blended, can it? I argue yes! Most of the workout programs that you can get via DVD have some type of virtual support program that accompanies it.  Whatever you are using, see what virtual support is offered, then use it!

4. Online Workout Mega-sites: This one I have not personally tried, but I am intrigued by the setup of sites like DailyBurn. I like that it is supported by pretty much any device, which is great for the travelling professionals out there, and that you have a variety of exercises to choose from. I get a little wary about programs that offer too much when the person is unfamiliar with the exercises, as I feel like people may injure themselves more easily.

How are you blending your workouts this New Year?

New Year’s Resolution…Part Two: The Mind

The mind is a terrible thing to waste, so what are you doing with it this year? Have you resolved to learn something new? Go back to school? Take a course online? Maybe find something that you want professional development on? Acquire a new skill? Deepen your learning about something you already are familiar with?

If the answer is yes, good for you! If not, then maybe you want to check out some of the courses available online. A great resource for adult learning if you are interested in entering the MOOC arena is Class Central. This is an  online course aggregator that has top level universities, multiple languages, easy to use searches, and a variety of platforms represented. Maybe this is a next step in the resolution for your brain after learning how to sustain your resolutions.