PictureEverything changes eventually.
This week I started my 10th year of teaching.  There are many years to go, but at this milestone, I take time to sit and reflect.  Last year was an amazing year for me professionally.  I looked at who I was as a teacher and who I wanted to be.  Lecture lessons were reduced and replaced with student driven inquiry and projects.  Some of these lessons were hits, and some of these lessons were misses.  However, I loved the experience of trying new things and enjoyed the new energy flowing through the class.  

The 2012-2013 school year was also the year that I joined Twitter and experienced the awesome potential of this social networking tool.  I connected with many teachers from around the country and was infused with new ideas.  One of my goals last year, and again this year, is to help other teachers in the district see the potentials of Twitter as a professional development tool.  As the Technology Integrationist, I am also looking for ways to use new tools and programs to improve the educational experience for students at all levels.  I loved this challenge last year, and I look forward to continuing this task.   

Over the summer I read Teach Like a Pirate by @burgessdave. Although the name would lead you to believe that the book is about pirates, it is about teaching in a way that encourages teachers to be passionate about what they do, and more importantly, getting students to develop a passion by creating an awesome experience for them in your class.  It help support the professional transformation that I am going through and I am starting the year more excited than ever.  

Good luck to everybody this year.  Strive to make it the best one year.  

As we start the fourth and final quarter of the school year, I am reminded that this is my last chance with each of my classes to make a difference.  Over the course of the year I have tried to incorporate new ideas and new techniques to have a greater impact on the students.  Blogging is new to me this year and I have tried to use it as a means of professional reflection.  Although my blogging skills are still in their infancy, it was been a fun new experience.  I have also worked blogging into my Psychology class as a way of having students connect material to their lives.  I continue to look for fresh resources and creative ways of tackling the material in all of my courses.  However, the search is an imperfect science.

It seems as though every week I find another awesome app/idea/program that I can use in my personal life.  These are great for capturing the activities of my kids and working on my hobbies, but I can't always seem to find meaningful ways of incorporating these ideas into my classroom.  However, I don't think I always need to.  Technology should not be used in the classroom just because it can.  It should be used to enhance the lesson and allow students to develop skills for the digital age.  I will continue to look for ways of bringing unique and fresh ideas to the classroom, but I will also continue to reflect on the effectiveness of new programs in my classroom.

Whether you are a professional, amateur, or student, what have your tried this year that was new? How did it work out? 

For the past week the World Studies students have been learning about the Age of Exploration. A time period that crossed decades, it was an era that would impact the world in many positive and negative ways.  Without it, the western world would not have developed and expanded quite the same way.  However, we may have avoided many negative moments in history, such as the decimation of the native populations of North and South America and the rise of the Atlantic Slave Trade.   

We can assume that men such as Columbus and Cortes never envisioned the world we now live in.  They were likely motivated by "God, gold, and glory" and were ignorant of the impact they would have on the world.  My question for you is simple.  Do we share in this same ignorance today?  Are we making decisions with the immediate impact guiding us, or are we considering the long range ramifications of our choices?  We never can be sure of what the future holds for us, but it amazing to think of what it may be.  

photo credit: Kristina B via photopin cc
One of the things I enjoy the most about Psychology is the clear connection that it can make with our lives.  Most of the topics are extremely relavent to all of our lives.  When I first started teaching this course, I wanted to encourage students to make connections between the material and their lives.  I would have the students write each week about a concept from class and how it connected to their lives.  I really enjoyed reading many of these assignments.  However, it hit me this year, that I am the only one reading and responding to what the students would say.  This year, I hope to change it all.  

For the past four weeks the students have been blogging their weekly assignments.  After their initial warmup period, I contacted some Psychology teachers from other schools and asked them to share the links to the blogs with their students.  My hope is that students will start to receive some comments on their blogs.  These comments will keep the conversation going and challenge my students to continue to think about their posts with greater depth. 

If you would like to participate in this effort, click here to access all of my students' blogs.  Browse around, and if you find something interesting, please leave a comment and/or question.  

This past week we finished up our unit on the Renaissance.  One of the themes we focused on during the unit was the idea that much of the art during the Renaissance was inspired by previous ideas or works.  After all, the Renaissance was a rebirth of the Classics.  Some of the art during the Renaissance was actually recreations of previous pieces of art.  I wanted to finish the unit with a short culminating activity.  Not gave my students a choice.  Recreate something from the Renaissance that you were particularly drawn to, or create something entirely new if you are inspired to do so.  Regardless of the direction they chose, they would also have to give a brief presentation to the class to highlight their work of art and explain the history of the original piece. 

From the education angle of this short project I was able to accomplish a number of my goals.  Students were given choice in their project and were able to target their product towards something they felt would be a strength or maybe a personal challenge.  The students also had to reflect on the unit and possibly research some additional information to complete their project.  Finally, the students were expected to stand in front of their peers and present their final product.  I am strong believer that students need to become better communicators and I try to incorporate student communication frequently so they can gain experience with this skill.  

I have posted pictures of some of the final products.  It was very interesting to see what direction students decided to go.  It was a fun day of presentation and hopefully it will be something the students remember.  
A small replica of Da Vinci's Parachute. (Tested by Donatello.)
Collection of various projects.
A recreation of the Mona Lisa using nearly 1000 plastic beads.
The first week of the new semester is nearly done.  With every new semester there is change and positive energy that enters the room with each class.  Personally, the new semester has been exciting as I start my new additional role as an Educational Technology Integrationist for the district.  The first week has already provided many excellent opportunities to work with staff members from different buildings and I look forward to the continued growth.  

World History is moving quickly into the Renaissance.  We are currently discussing the factors that contributed to the Renaissance was we try to understand the differences between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  We will also be discussing the idea of whether the Renaissance was a "thing" and if it really happened.  Oh yeah, we will also see some appearances from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  

Psychology started this week as well.  We have been spending most of the time getting settled and introducing the students to blogging.  This will be a new activity that is being incorporated into class this year to bring the lessons outside of the classroom walls.  I am looking forward to diving into the material and I know the kids are too.

If you have a choice, be great today.
Can you see it?  I changed my website.  The change is subtle, but I hope it will have a greater impact in the long run.  I have decided to separate my school websites from my professional development pages.  For the past year I have been building two homes under the same roof.  Tonight it stops.  

The traffic to this site will likely stay the same since it is dominantly visited by my students and their parents.  However, I wanted to increase the traffic and appeal of my professional development site.  In order to do this, I felt it made more sense to develop the PD page separately.  If you are interested in keeping up with my professional development, you can still get their by clicking Teacher Resources in the upper right corner of the bar.   

Wish me luck!

    Darin Swenson

    I am a high school Social Studies teacher who wants to improve education in my own classroom and school through the integration of meaningful educational technology.


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