posted May 23, 2018, 10:28 AM by

As I have already announced across my social media platforms, I am officially going to be moving to Orange County this summer and will begin working at Odyssey STEM Academy (Paramount Unified School District) in the Fall. In this time of transition, I have yet to take a moment to simply write and reflect on all of the upcoming changes in my life.

I want to establish first and foremost that the past three months have been... not fun. My family and I are excited in that we bought a house in Orange County, which is where my wife and son have been living for that span of time. I only get to see them on the weekends, while I stay at my dad's place here in San Diego while I finish out the school year on week days. We knew going into things that this would be difficult, but the timing of other life events didn't leave us with too many options. Tack on the usual grind of end-of-the-year activities (read: copious amounts of grading) and things have slowly and steadily been bogging me down more than usual.

Though, there is a light. As I write, there are a little more than two weeks remaining, and it's the promise of reunification that keeps me going. But I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that this stretch of my educational career has emotionally been the most difficult.

Aside from my personal stresses, I have had my fair share of emotional encounters here at school. I grappled with whether or not to tell my scholars about my placement next year. I feel as though everyone has their own impressions of what to share and what not to share with kids. I know, for example, some other teachers that will not be at this school next year, and are not planning on telling their scholars at all. Yet, I felt like I owed it to them. So many juniors had already expressed excitement over the prospect of being in my class next year, and I feel like not saying anything would be a mild form of betrayal.

For their part, the kids took it pretty well. Most were upset in the polite way: "No, Simmons we'll miss you!" Several others were more upset: "You were the only reason I was looking forward to senior year." Others? Well, to say they were "ambivalent" would be an understatement. Either way, I'm glad I did. By year's end, I think we will all get closure and I'll be able to depart my first educational family in the most mutual way. (Of course, I am going to be an absolute wreck.)

Looking to the future, I am certainly going to have a busy summer. I am joining a school opening its doors for the first time in the Fall, and with that comes a tremendous amount of preparation. I will be headed out of town to two separate conferences, as well as a plethora of PD days at the new school with new coworkers.

I think the work that we do this summer will be crucial. The toughest part about leaving my current placement is the camaraderie I will be leaving behind with my "OG Staff." This is the group that worked to open the school, and we share a relationship with each other that carries the culture of everything we do at this school. I hope to foster the same sort of relationships with our opening team at Odyssey.

Overall, I am optimistic, as I always am. Time will tell what my new school and family will look like together, but if you approach life positively, I believe it will be reciprocated. 

Outside Stress

posted Jan 26, 2018, 11:42 AM by

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a Tweet asking the educational Twitterverse about managing stress in the classroom. I was thrilled that the Tweet got picked up by Edutopia, and a gaggle of their followers responded with their suggestions. I figured now was the time to take a moment and reflect on these past couple of weeks so that I can evaluate where I am and where I am headed.

Since I have been teaching in Escondido, I have been living at my parents' house along with my wife and my son. They have since moved out of town and we were living there to keep an eye on the home they were attempting to sell. Well, in December, a gentleman put in an offer on the house, my parents swiftly countered, and the gentleman accepted. I was excited for my family, but I learned that in the span of a month, I would need to find a new place for my family to live.

And so we set off looking at homes, specifically in Orange County. We have always had our hearts set on moving there, but we didn't expect to need to look so soon. I'm still not positive how we managed it, but we found a home that met all of our needs in the most ideal ways possible. We were thrilled.

That's when the stress kicked in. As anyone who has purchased a home knows, the process as a whole is quite the headache. Constantly running through numbers and scenarios, and thinking about the things we would need for our new home gave us a new thing to worry about each and every night.

On top of all of that, Orange County is quite a ways away from Escondido. (About an hour and fifteen minutes if traffic is on your side.) The commute didn't make a whole lot of sense to us, so we created a plan. I would move in with my dad – the only family I have left in the area – during the week and make my way up to Orange County on weekends, where my wife and son would move full time. You heard that right: I would only see my wife and son for about 48 hours per week. Not fun.

But these are necessary sacrifices in our minds. As hard as they may seem, we know that in the end it's what's best for our family. Still, lingering questions remain. How will I manage this sudden displacement? Will I be able to find a new job once I relocate to Orange County? How will this move affect the relationships with my friends, colleagues, and students?

The valuable responses I got from Twitter were ones that I really took to heart. The biggest takeaway for me: make time for myself. The more I try to go through the motions as if nothing as changed may only be to my detriment. This weekend is the first weekend I will be traveling up to Orange County to see my wife and son. I decided to take Monday off from school as well to extend this time and help transition to this new, temporary way of living.

Also important in this process has been remaining open with my students. More so than many adults, my kids know when something isn't right in my world, and I don't think it's right to hide that from them. Ever since I shared with them what has been going on, they have been nothing but supportive. They regularly check in with me and ask how I'm doing. Knowing that they are sensitive to the difficulties in my life makes me much more comfortable in class, and as a result, does not seem to negatively impact my pedagogy.

The weeks and months ahead are going to be insanely difficult for me. I have never felt empty with the departure of my family, but these strategies will (hopefully) see me through to June 1.

Year Four

posted Aug 25, 2017, 1:08 PM by   [ updated Aug 25, 2017, 1:09 PM ]

We've been back at school here at Del Lago Academy for a little more than a week, so I figured it would be time to reflect on my summer and shape-up to my fourth full year of teaching.

My son continues to grow, more so in mind than body these days. Every day brings with it a new word or sound, and unfortunately, more determination to do everything his way. We were brave enough to travel a great number of places this summer: Washington, D.C., Tokyo, and Honolulu. My wife and I are beginning to realize that despite our insatiable need to see and learn about everything, it might not be wise to do so at the expense of our son's and our own comfort. Junior was a trooper, make no mistake, but the travel did not come without it's hardships. You really don't realize how much of the world isn't baby-proofed until you are fully out of your element.

Thankfully, we had the support of many family and friends along the way, but we were more than ready to get back into the school routine a few short weeks ago.

This year brings a feeling I have not had to face in a couple years: the anxiousness of meeting a large number of new people. My last two senior classes were composed of scholars that had been enrolled in my sophomore classes, so it was fun to rekindle our relationships and build off of them to further enhance their learning experiences.

With a new batch of kiddos in and out of my room every day, I have plenty of wonderings. Will I be able to academically reach them in the same way I was able to reach my former seniors? Will they find my teaching pedagogy helpful and worthwhile? And finally, as cliché as it may seem, will they like me?

The answer to that last question may so far lack a firm decision, as a couple of days have already been spent taking diagnostic tests – a hard sell, especially for seniors who may already be contracting varying degrees of senioritis. But I find myself gravitating towards one aspect of relationships in the classroom as I begin to learn more about these young adults: trust.

For educators, trust can mean many things. Do your scholars trust you to deliver content in a way that is both effective and meaningful? Do your scholars trust you with sensitive information? Do your scholars trust you are acting in their best interests? Trust, of course, works the other way as well. Do I trust my scholars to do their best work at all times? Do I trust scholars will respect one another and follow established behavioral expectations? Do I trust they will be open and honest about their feelings in class?

I like what Edutopia contributor Ben Johnson says about trust: "A teacher has to take a chance on students and trust them enough to be independent learners." This all involves building the learning experiences around the unique needs of all learners. This leads us, as all contemporary education discussion has done, to differentiation. While I don't think I am quite at the mastery level of differentiation just yet, I can feel myself getting closer.

At the beginning of this year, I began with very surface-level introductions, asking to learn more about the kinds of social activities each of my scholars has an inclination towards – from favorite song to hobbies and more. I begin conversing with each scholar to try and establish a relationship. Just today, I asked one of my scholars – who I learned is originally from Sweden – about his home country and shared about my experiences visiting Stockholm. It was a wonderful conversation, and who's to say what kind of impact those 2-3 minutes made, but it's my hope that I can use that information in a future government competency. (The challenges Sweden is facing with Syrian refugees immediately comes to mind.)

So as I press forward in this new year, greeted by new faces every morning and afternoon, I find myself falling back on trust in helping me better understand, and feel more comfortable, about the next wave of seniors to grace this campus.

Social Media: A Double-Edged Sword

posted May 9, 2017, 10:58 AM by

We are in the final stretch of the school year, and the seniors are frantically making sure they have everything lined up for graduation. That's bad news for me as my grading inbox suddenly gets much more busy. The good news? I have more time to write while I wait for that inbox to fill up.

In economics last semester, we looked at the standard business cycle and discussed what things might contribute to the expansion and regression of businesses. One item that was not discussed in an incredible amount of detail was the role of social media, especially with very large corporations. Most commonly, these businesses rely on social media to advertise their services, gain new, younger clients, disseminate vital information, and amidst all of this, appear more human. Many companies have relied on their social media tools in a humorous fashion, tweeting memes and responding to individual users in the perpetuation of troll wars.

Lately, we have seen the other edge of the sword with fair frequency...

...especially with some major airlines. United and Delta have had quite the month of damage control. And just today, Spirit Airlines had to deal with fights breaking out in their Fort Lauderdale terminal. At the center of all of these events is social media. Bystander photos and videos have been pouring through these outlets, lending credible support to the victims and rarely reinforcing the actions of the airlines and their subsidiaries.

In the business sense, this is a nightmare scenario. Many people may think twice before pursuing a career in public relations. While most would laud the increased accountability, few others would bemoan the constant struggle to keep a clean sheet. Even just 10 or 15 years ago, these incidents would likely have not caused too much of a fuss. Other than America's Funniest Home Videos veterans, very few people were in the habit of capturing every single moment on their smart phones. Even still, very rarely would anyone be exposed via social media. Today, you too can be an effective muckraker.

We have to ask ourselves a couple of questions about the role of social media and the standard business model:
  1. How much credibility do we give to excerpted photos and videos taken by passersby?
  2. How does a business account for these incidents, both financially and aesthetically?
I want to also throw my hat in the ring here, especially as I would consider myself a frequent flier. I believe that media coverage of these incidents, like many other things, sensationalizes the issue. These incidents are relatively rare, and though I have witnessed several disgruntled passengers in my travels, I have never seen anything along the scope or magnitude of what has been published over the past month. This just happens to be the trendy topic.

I don't think these observations devalue the severity in what has happened in any way. After all, it would be foolish for airlines in 2017 to treat these problems the same way as they did in 1997. Social media creates a much larger, more informative world. But with this comes more accountability and responsibility, and it's adapt or perish.

The No Mark System

posted May 9, 2017, 10:29 AM by

I teach at a school founded on a strong learning culture. Amongst our cultural "pillars" of "Be the Best," and "Do No Harm," is the pillar of "Never Too Late To Learn." This pillar has become a mantra here at Del Lago Academy. The principle of this pillar is simple: no matter your learning ability, no matter what obstacles life may throw at you, you will always have the opportunity to succeed. Here is what the pillar looks like in practice:
  • Del Lago Academy utilizes a competency-based grading system. Scholars show their competency on a wide range of academic skills specific to different areas of study, but may also overlap across disciplines.
  • Upon the completion of a competency, the scholar will be assigned a grade on a 4-point scale. A 2.5 is needed to pass. The scores combine for a class subtotal that can be assigned an A, B, C, or NM (No Mark). Individual competencies may also be assigned as NM if they do not meet the competency criteria.
  • Once a scholar has been given a NM, the "Never Too Late To Learn" policy kicks in. Scholars have two terms to "clear" these grades by refining their work until it satisfies the competency criteria. (For example, if a scholar has a NM in a class in the Fall, they have the Spring and Summer terms to improve their work.)
The rationale behind this system was also pretty strait-forward: some kids simply need more time and opportunity to complete what a demanding curriculum asks of them. The system recognizes the diverse background of all of our scholars and hopes to compensate for life's many obstacles. Ideologically, this seems fantastic.

In practice, we have encountered some unforeseen consequences.

Many of my high-achieving scholars seem to take advantage of the NM system. While we do maintain deadlines on all of our work, there are no penalties for turning in competencies late. Accordingly, my on-time completion rates average around 25%. I have discussed this with several scholars, who have shared that without the pressure of deadlines that hurt your grade, there is little motivation to complete work until it is absolutely necessary.

Does this have any significant impact on learning? I believe overall, that remains to be seen. Several of my seniors from last year have reported the pace and demand of college courses to be very challenging, and that the lax deadlines at Del Lago certainly did little in the way of preparing them. However, they have all, from what I can tell, fought hard to be successful within their post-secondary education sites.

In a more general sense, I wonder if this grading system fosters bad habits beyond school work. In any job, if you show up late or submit your work beyond an expected deadline, you are given a stern warning, if not fired on the spot. I have my concerns that the No Mark system may encourage laziness and reduce overall drive.

Of course, I have to end by explaining what a godsend this policy is for many more of my scholars. Del Lago gives so many kids the chance to succeed, whereas they might have failed in a traditional, comprehensive high school setting. I hesitate to offer any more criticism of our system, because we are still quite young in the development of our special school and its culture. I look forward to revisiting this policy in another 4-5 years to see what changes have been made, or perhaps need to be made.

Periscope in the Classroom

posted Feb 13, 2017, 1:33 PM by Hunter Simmons

February 13, 2017

Before I get to the main topic of this post, I wanted to introduce this blog as a whole. In my desire to write more and reflect on the things going on in my life, I decided to add this page to my website. Some of these posts will be related to the things I do on a regular basis in the classroom; reflections. Others will be more meditative musings on other things in my life. Either way, it provides you with a chance to stay connected on what drives me to do what I do and write what I write.

I hope you enjoy!

Periscope, for those of you unfamiliar with the app, was developed by Twitter as one of the first widespread platforms for streaming live video. I came across the app a couple of years ago, when it was initially released, and inevitably started to wonder, "How can I use this in my class?"

As a part of my American Government curriculum, scholars need to research a "current event," analyze the multitude of perspectives and biases, and lead an organized, informed discussion/debate in class.

My thought: why keep the audience strictly within the walls of my classroom? Using our school's wifi and my iPhone, I took it upon myself to stream these discussions to the rest of the world, allowing others to listen and comment along with the rest of the class.

Using this tool for a couple of years now, I can say that in my experience, using Periscope has an educational tool has been an overwhelming success:
  • Realizing that they are exposed to greater audience, scholars in my class take it upon themselves to prepare more think thoughtfully about their contributions.
  • Viewers are able to comment through the app, which I can relay to the scholars in class to further and deepen the conversation.
  • Scholars get to listen to outside perspectives that they may not have previously been exposed to.
After each stream, scholars will immediately ask things like, "How many viewers did we get that time?" Some even share these broadcasts with their friends and family, knowing that there may be another perspective worth sharing.

If you are thinking about using this tool in your room, make sure you consider the following:
  1. Be sure your scholars and their families are aware of the broadcast. My scholars sign a permission slip using language from my school district. I have attached a copy at the bottom of this page.
  2. If a scholar does not have permission to participate, I am sure to preview the discussion before I go live so that those scholars in particular get a chance to voice any questions or comments they have on the topic.
  3. Some scholars are given permission to have their voices broadcast, but not their appearance. I give these scholars an easily identifiable object so that I know not to stream their appearance during the broadcast.
  4. On rare occasions, viewers on the app will post vulgar/rude comments. As the broadcaster, you have the power to "tap" their name and block them from the broadcast. This will also retroactively block their comments on replay views.
  5. Be sure to include a clever title to entice more digital participants. I use the hashtag #simmonsdebate and use the debate question to generate interest.
If you would like more information on how to incorporate Periscope into your classroom, contact me and let's chat!

Twitter: @Mister_Simmons

1-6 of 6