I have mentioned in the past that I am part of a team involved with revising the Scientific Visualization curriculum. We were originally calling the new curriculum Fundamentals of Design & Animation but have been directed to change it to prevent class order confusion. The new name being recommended to the state for approval is now Digital Design & Animation. I like the new name and the way the curriculum came together as the team worked on focusing the content in a more artistic direction than than the earlier version of the course.
Over the past two days, the revision team met again. And, although we discussed some final adjustments to the previous course, our main focus was discussing revisions to Scientific Visualization II, a course I always swore I never wanted at DSA because the content didn't mesh with the game design focus we offered. The revised version will become (you guessed it!) Digital Design & Animation II, and although I will not go into detail on content specifics, I am thrilled with the change outline the team created during the meetings. So much so that unlike in past years, I definitely want to add this newly revised curriculum to our school's course offerings when it goes into pilot status next school year! That being said, there is a lot of work to do with creating new material for it between now and then.
But, on a more personal level, probably the most important thing that happened over these two days was having the opportunity to collaborate closely with the other members of the team. I always find working with them inspirational. The conversations and resulting collaboration that takes place as a result of these meetings always helps me re-examine where my skills lie and where I need to refocus my attention on improving myself to become a better teacher of our curriculum. It becomes clear that even as classroom teachers, when you work with technologically based curriculum, it is always important to keep up-to-date with the latest changes in terms of software and techniques. Anyone working in a technical field needs to understand that it is not possible to learn all you need to know for your job and then you are done with learning. You have to embrace the fact that you working with technology means becoming a lifelong learner!
Yesterday was our first district-wide training day of the current school year, requiring teachers to select an instructor-led session from several options offered across the district. These sessions are collectively referred to as Out of the Box training in Durham Public Schools. It's an initiative to allow teachers to lead and select their own professional development (PD) based on their interests and needs. I always try my best to either lead a session or attend one being offered at Durham School of the Arts, for simplicity's sake. This time, I selected an offering on digital literacy being offered in our media center, since training in this area has been made mandatory for license renewals starting in 2019.
This session was the first in a four part series being offered over the next two years. So, I guess I know what my Out of the Box PD selections will be for quite some time to come! It focused on the requirement area of Leadership in Digital Literacy. According to the description, teachers are expected to demonstrate leadership accelerating their integration of digital teaching and learning pedagogies. When broken down, this area states that teachers will:
One way teachers can demonstrate their mastery of technology is through the use of virtual learning communities. A virtual learning community (VLC) is a group of like-minded or goal oriented individuals who meet up online to discuss important information relevant to the group's overall topics or goals. They can include anything from technology education to game design/development to chicken farming. There are literally thousands of possibilities and everyone can find something relevant to their needs or interests.
The first VLC discussed involved using Twitter. If you are reading this post, odds are you know I am relatively active on Twitter as well. I have long known about searching for hashtags (heck, I use #dsaGAD for every post I make about my classes) and that there are lots of regularly scheduled group Tweet-chats which employ them for ease of communication. However, I did walk away with a valuable reference guide from the training containing a pretty comprehensive list of Tweet-chats and their schedules related to education specifically. It was recommended to keep track of our participation in them as evidence of our working with other teachers from around the state, nation and even world. I also shared how one can use of Tweetdeck in these conversations, which allows for filtering on hashtags and makes participating in them MUCH easier to follow.
The next tip provided was to use Listserv. Once again, there are tons of Listservs one can choose from based on interests. These collaborative conversations have been around for quite some time and are probably the grandparents of modern chat VLC groups using other, more social-oriented media. The difference is that they are shared via email, rather than in real-time, and this can quickly fill one's inbox. To be honest, Listservs don't appeal to me for that very reason.
The third tool we were introduced to was the Google+ Communities. I did a little searching through them and again I did not find them to be as useful for me as Tweet-chats. But, I can see them as a resource to use and perhaps direct students towards for advancing their knowledge. This conversation also included some introduction to Google Hangouts, which are similar to a Skype conference where you can chat in only text or include video.
Some additional resources for developing understanding of tools and techniques included Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) along with several options available through the school system and the Department of Public Instruction, though the use of NCCAT and Kenan Fellows were overlooked. If you search for MOOCs in association with related terms for your content areas or interests, you can find LOTS of free courses offered by colleges and universities as well as independent instructors for free. While you don't get credit from the schools for taking such courses, there is no reason to be confused on the tools and techniques one teaches given the possibilities.
How can teachers succeed in demonstrating leadership in digital literacy to meet the new licensure requirement? One method suggested by Dr. Reuben R. Puentedura is known as the SAMR Model. In SAMR, you begin by Substituting traditional instructional methods with digital alternatives while not making any changes to the activities. Next, you Augment those activities with functional improvements. Once improved, you begin working on Modifying the activities through significant changes to them utilizing technology. Finally, you Redefine what kind of activities are used which were not possible without the integration of technology.
So, where do I stack up in all of this? I use a number of tools to meet the various needs of this model. I use a learning management system (LMS) to distribute and collect work. I do my best to avoid the use of paper, which speeds up grading and provides students with access to my materials anywhere they can access the Internet. Activities like matchings, quizzes, tests, and so forth are augmented because they get graded immediately by the system and allow students to make attempts as many times as I want them to while randomizing questions and answers and providing immediate feedback when set up to do so. My students submit their work digitally and are involved in collaborative groups which allow them to work on simultaneous editing using tools like Google apps as well as communicate in individualized group settings. They also utilize websites for planning like Trello. These tools allow them to work in groups within the same class, different classes or even different schools/locations! Student collaboration and group work has never been easier!
This is also true for teachers and one reason why I always push using Schoology in their classrooms. Adding technology to instruction isn't only good for students, but it makes the lives of teachers easier as well. Automated grading, no papers to carry home for school breaks or weekends and transparency for all stakeholders in their students' education are just a few of the benefits teachers can experience.
So, to answer that earlier question: where do I stack up in all of this? I would say I am pretty far along in terms of being a leader for digital literacy in my school and well beyond! But, what else would one expect from a technology education teacher?
As a teacher working in the digital arts, the first thing that comes to mind when someone says transparency is being able to view one object within or underneath another object in a scene. But that is not exactly the kind of transparency I am referring to in this post. What I mean is the ability for parents and other adults invested in their student's education to see what goes on in my classroom. And, to that note, I have no problem stating that I most likely have the most transparent classroom at our school thanks to a couple of tools I use on a regular basis.
Probably the most effective tool in my bag is Schoology. Schoology is an online learning management system (LMS) that I integrate into every class I teach. This is the third year I have used this LMS and each year I learn a little more about it. Last year, I started sharing parent access codes with those who requested one. A parent access code allows parents to view their student's class in Schoology in much the same way the student can. This gives parents access to all of the resources I provide their student but it also allows them to view assignments/projects along with the associated rubrics, quizzes, tests, online discussions, two different formats for the event calendar, and comments between myself and their child. Unlike PowerSchool which provides parents with final grades on the various items I assign to their child, Schoology shows in high-def clarity the manner in which that final grade evolved.
This year, I emailed every parent their student's parent access code with a detailed explanation of how to create their account and why doing so is important. And, when a parent contacts me looking for clarification on how their student earned a specific grade, I typically point them right to Schoology and recommend they create an account if they haven't already done so. Parents who access their student's work in this manner typically have few questions for me and often find they don't need to have a face-to-face parent-teacher conference.
The next important tool is this blog. While I recognize that I do need to post more often (the goal is weekly), I use this site to reflect on what we are doing in the classroom, what I am doing as a teacher and how effective it seems to be working. If you want to know more about my inner thoughts on my classes, this is the place to find them.
Of course another important tools involves maintaining my class website. There are numerous tools and resources on the various menus above. Student resources holds information about my class and the tools I frequently employ and career and college tools are just that: a place for students to find useful items and information about careers and colleges offering degrees in game art and design.
The final and probably least specific tool I use to maintain transparency is Twitter. While I do not post a lot about classes specifically or my thoughts on teaching, I do share information relevant to the game industry as well as making some personal posts. This gives the reader insight into both the career of game design and my personality as an individual outside of teaching.
So, why is it important to have such transparency with my students and their families? If the students know me as more than their teacher, I can make a better connection with them and they will be more invested in succeeding in my classroom. For parents, it helps to build their investment in their children's education and hold their student responsible for their own success. Parents can see all the tools and techniques I employ and I believe that helps them understand just how invested I am in their child's success as well. And in the end, isn't student growth and success what education is all about in the first place?
While it was slow for me to get back into the mindset that another school year has begun, things are now back in full swing! It appears that I have a great bunch of students who are all focused on learning the skills needed to make games. However, we are still in the honeymoon phase of the school year.
This past week, each group of students had a slightly different experience in my classroom, as one would expect. Students in Fundamentals of Design & Animation (FDA) got accustomed to Sketchnotes (a more creative way to take notes), set up accounts for Schoology, had several lectures and completed their first set of assignments. Students in Game Art & Design (GAD) refreshed their memories as to the skills they learned last year, demonstrating their understanding of bitmaps, vectors and 3D modeling. In Advanced Game Art & Design (AGAD), we hit the ground running with career exploration accompanied by some of the best and quickest class presentations I have seen in my 14 years of teaching! And the CTE Advanced Studies students dove right into their independent projects. We are now gearing up for more detailed information in my earlier level classes and I hope all of my students keep their current enthusiasm as the year progresses.
Coming up this week in the GAD classes:
It is hard to believe that tomorrow is the start of the 2017-18 school year. But, we all knew that summer had to end at some point! Over the past week, I have been actively working to get students' lessons ready well ahead of the materials being needed instead of only working on them on demand. And, for the moment at least, I believe I am ready for most classes through the first semester. Will things change? Of course, they always do! But it feels good to be ahead of the curve for once.
On a related note, we held the DSA open house a couple of days ago which allowed me to speak with returning #dsaGAD students and meet my new students who are coming into the program. They all seem as excited to start the new year as I am. While I am mainly teaching classes I have taught before, I am excited to be piloting the new Fundamentals of Design & Animation. This update to the Sci Vis curriculum is LONG overdue and while it still needs a bit of massaging to be great, it's got an amazing skeleton for learning goals and material!
One final thing I want to mention is the addition of two new resources for students at DSA. The school is finally stepping into the current millennium with its use of social media. We have added a couple of news resources in the form of a new DSA Facebook page as well as a Twitter handle for @DSA_DurhamNC. If you haven't connected with one or both of these resources, I recommend doing so. It will allow you to get all the latest news about what is going on at school in the fastest possible manner!
But now, it's time to do some more prep for this week. I can't wait to see everyone tomorrow!
It's that time of year again when students realize they need to begin their summer assignments as the break is quickly drawing to a close. And, like our students, teachers begin turning their attention back to the classroom as well. In less than a week, teacher workdays begin and while I look forward to seeing my coworkers again, as well as making the acquaintance of new teachers, I cannot help but feel the pressure to prepare for the upcoming year beginning to rear its ugly head. Early morning wake-ups to start working on lessons and organization are the rule of thumb for most teachers at this point. Unlike some people (you know who you are), I have worked a little here and there doing class preparation work throughout the summer, trying my best to get ahead of the curve while still taking some personal "me-time". One thing that made this a little easier on me was having the house all to myself as my wife decided to take a seven week trip to visit her family in Germany. It's been quiet, though I can honestly say I am ready for her to return. And even though I did get a lot done, both personally and professionally, I feel I could have done more. I have a habit of over-pushing myself until I collapse from exhaustion with little-to-no motivation to do anything outside of mentally rejuvenate before I start the vicious cycle all over again. This summer was no different.
So, what exactly did I accomplish this summer? Here's the big list:
I hope your summer has been equally productive (and relaxing) as mine. I look forward to seeing all my returning students and meeting the families of my new students in just a couple of weeks. And, if you are one of those students who is just starting their summer assignments...it's crunch time.
Good luck, enjoy these last two weeks and I will see you all VERY soon!
Last week, I had the privilege of presenting at the annual CTE Summer Conference. I will admit that in the past, I have not held this conference in high regard. I had been told many years ago by a mentor teacher that it was a complete waste of time with very few, if any, useful sessions. And, my first experience of attending the conference definitely verified this statement. So when I was asked back in the Spring to present on the virtual reality work we did this past year at DSA, my only thoughts were:at least I will earn CEUs towards my next license cycle and this will be another professional presentation to add to my resume. Boy, was that line of thinking wrong!
I spent the first day of the conference locked in making presentations. I gave two talks in the morning on using VR in the classroom followed by assisting another member of the Scientific Visualization revision team with two more talks in the afternoon discussing the changes the curriculum is taking as we prepare to go into pilot status. But, I spent the second day attending sessions that caught my attention or I thought may be of use to me in the coming year.
Before I talk about the sessions I attended, let me state the four presentations I took part in were very well received. Being a Technology Education teacher, I was surprised when I learned one of my talks on VR had erroneously been placed in the Marketing program. But, the audience was standing room only! So, I adjusted on-the-fly to cater the presentation to their knowledge as much as I could while still serving the Technology Education teachers in the room. And, the two talks on the revision brought about many comments from the audience thanking us for making the changes we discussed. All in attendance agreed that the alterations were very much needed and right in line with what the students would need to know to succeed down the road. So that tells me we did something right!
On the second day, I attended three talks. The first discussed teaching coding to high school students. And, while it focused on things I previously considered to be below my high school students' level, like the Hour of Code, teaching Scratch, Snap and using Khan Academy, it did give me some ideas for getting my students started with coding logic prior to diving into C# with the Unity game engine. After last year's experience in Game Art & Design, I am thinking smaller baby steps are definitely in order this year as I learned what I thought would be an easy resource for learning coding was a little more than some students could handle.
The second talk I attended had nothing to do with my program area but I thought it would be interesting: Modernization of the Electric Grid. And, I was right! While it focused on engineering topics and some of it went over my head, I still found the conversation to be fascinating. And, this talk provided me with an idea for a new activity this year in terms of game creation. The content I learned definitely lends itself to students creating a video game about the grid and how it is being updated with smart technologies.
The third talk I attended discussed teaching skills to students using Adobe Illustrator. While I have taught Illustrator for a number of years now, I am in no way an expert. I tend to prefer using Adobe Photoshop whenever possible as nearly every graphic in the game industry is a bitmap, not a vector. But, I still need to make sure my students understand the basics of vector graphics and it is always nice to learn a new tool inside of an already familiar application. And, I walked out of this talk with a new understanding of some tools that I have never used in class. So, this was another successful session for me.
So, did my attitude about the conference change? Not entirely, but I do see attending in a more positive light at this point and will likely attend again in coming years. There were still a lot of sessions that I wouldn't find useful but there are a lot of different program areas in CTE and they all need to be served during the conference. The quality of the talks increased as did the types of topics presented. So, I was very pleased overall with the conference.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably realize that taking down-time is a difficult task for me. I'm a bit of a workaholic and it's something that I am working my way through by exploring Buddhism, mindfulness and minimalism. But, there will always be things related to work or game design that keep me busy to a greater or lesser degree. This post is going to talk a little about how I am using this summer to reflect, prepare and relax.
For starters, this is the second year in a row that I am teaching a teen intensive summer camp on game design basics at the Durham Arts Council. And while I am using a different game engine than I currently use in my classroom, this camp is always a good primer to thinking about the upcoming school year. By this time of the break, I am starting to get a little overly relaxed without some formal structure and working at the camp helps to refocus my energy and thoughts on game design, at least a little bit.
Speaking of next school year, summer break is also the time when I start examining and altering the content of my classes for the upcoming year. While a large bulk of the content is already created, there are always things that can use improvement. Summer break gives me a chance to reflect on the past year. What content effectively taught my students the skills and information they needed to be successful? What content didn't? Every year, I add and remove activities during the summer based on this reflection. This gives me the opportunity to tune up my skills as well as improve my lessons. On that note, as one who works in a digital medium, it is important to realize that technology doesn't stand still for very long and one needs to alter the curriculum accordingly to keep up with current updates and trends. I also start working on preparing my Schoology site for each class.
Of course, summer can't solely be about school or game design! I always try to have a few things planned during the break for personal improvement as well. As I briefly mentioned earlier and if you also follow my Twitter feed, you may have noticed me tweeting out a lot about the minimalist lifestyle. As one gets older, it becomes abundantly clear that the actively running game society promotes about the importance of "keeping up with the Joneses" is a fallacy. More stuff does not equal a happier life. And, after seeing how long it took my parents to empty my grandparents' home when they passed away and then clean out their own house when they decided it was time to relocate (it took years...literally years!), I don't want myself or my children to go through the same experience some day. So, this summer, I have vowed to reduce the amount of stuff we own. So far, the big purge is coming along nicely but it is definitely a lot of work and not always easy to decide what gets tossed out and what stays.
So far, this post has discussed only work of one form or another. And, we can't have that, it is summer break, after all! It is equally (if not more-so) important to spend some time taking part in activities to rejuvenate one's self. A calm, relaxed and focused mind makes for a better teacher and I want to be the best teacher I can be for my students. Besides, you know what they say: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy!
To that note, I took a week of no-work-allowed and total relaxation on the Outer Banks with my entire family right after the school year ended. It was the kind of vacation that was very much needed for several years. I got to spend time with my parents, my sister's family (whom I rarely see as she is up in Massachusetts), our kids and their families, and of course, my wife. Being around family like that helps bring things into perspective in terms of what is really important in life and I left the beach refreshed. Another activity that I have taken to is hiking in the NC State Parks system. Spending time in nature, away from technology, allows one to calm and center one's self. It is also good for reflection without distraction, not to mention a great form of exercise. Spending time in nature is good for the body, mind and soul. If you have never spent any extensive time outside, away from your video games, I highly recommend taking the time to do so.
So, that is what my summer break looks like. A workaholic trying not to only do work. I hope you are taking some time to relax as well and spend time with family and friends over the break. If you are one of my students, I have big things planned for the coming year already...so get the rest now while you can!
It's official! The final nail in the coffin for Scientific Visualization has just been hammered in. I have advocated for changes to Sci Vis for a very long time now and I am pleased to say those screams have not fallen on deaf ears over the past school year. As part of the curriculum development team doing revisions to Sci Vis, I had plenty of say with regard to what was good about it and what needed to be changed. It was clear from the start of the process that all of the teachers on the team were in agreement: Sci Vis needs to go! While I couldn't get every change I thought was important in the new curriculum, I am still very pleased with the product the team created.
You might wonder why I am against Scientific Visualization, so let me clarify my thoughts on the curriculum. And, please don't misunderstand me, Sci Vis has some really good components and I am eternally grateful to the team that originally developed it. Without Sci Vis, there would never have been any game design curriculum or concentration. But, as time has passed, Sci Vis has served its purpose and now it's time to move on. So, as I said before, here are some reasons I pushed for changes over the past several years:
Well, we've reached the end of another school year and what a year it's been! Where do I begin? I've taught six classes a day (instead of the normal five), my students explored the possibilities of virtual reality, my advanced students attended the East Coast Game Conference, both students and myself formed relationships with people in the game industry, I helped create a new curriculum to replace Scientific Visualization for use across the state, I assisted in the selection of finalists for a Department of Education contest, and I presented to other CTE teachers at the annual tech ed conference. And none of this even begins to touch on making sure my students succeeded in my classes...phew!
So, where do I go from here? For starters, I've already started planning for next year. I know it's hard to believe as we have haven't even been out of school for a week, but what can I say? It's what I do! I've already started thinking about how I can improve how I teach my students and update what they need to know to succeed in the game industry, if that is what they pursue after high school. While this is true of all my classes, it is especially important that I start prepping early for my introductory class because it seems the course I worked on this year will indeed be ready for pilot testing next school year and allow us to FINALLY replace Scientific Visualization!
So, I guess I have a pretty busy summer ahead of me. But, for now...it is time for break! I hope all of you have a relaxing and yet, still productive, summer! Watch for an occasional update on here but in general, just have a great summer break and I look forward to seeing everyone in the Fall!
I am a high school Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher located in Durham, NC with a focus on game art and design. This blog provides a place for reflection on relevant classroom practices.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent those of my employer or anyone else associated with Durham Public Schools.