Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday Words With John Mason - Social Studies Teacher and Podcaster

Q1 As you reflect on your last year(s) in education, what is a stand out moment for you?

At the end of the school year I had the opportunity to sit down with my, now former principal, to go over my annual review for the school year. In the course of the conversation we spoke about what was required, going over my evaluations and areas in need of improvement, but the conversation continued into other areas as well. For example, that we need people who are willing to put themselves out there and not merely wait to be offered a position. There is still a strain of thought that people need to put in ‘their time’ in order to gain things whereas with the major shifts that are happening in education today it is simply not sensible to follow this mentality. If someone has great ideas they need to put them out there and to not be afraid to go for it regardless of the status quo. We hear this frequently, as teachers, but workplace politics and the reality of it ultimately softens many of us and our resolve to do so. I’d suggest that if one has something in mind that is truly awesome that even those who would prefer that you hold back will ultimately come to your side once they see how great you ideas or actions can be.

Q2 Who or what inspires you as an educator?

Students certainly inspire me on a regular basis but perhaps not in a typical way. I find often it isn’t a student’s curiosity or drive that motivate me to improve my craft but the opposite; a lack of wonderment and intrinsic desire for growth and learning pushes me to try to find ways bring that student into the fold. Clearly, we need to teach to who is in the room and often times this means that we are dealing with students who may not be particularly interested in school, for a variety of reasons, on a given day. While there are also a plethora of awesome people in my PLN who push me towards greater things some folks that have been involved in my nascent career have been instrumental in pushing me forward. I’d be remiss not to mention Steve Santilli, @SPSantilli, who not only hired me for my first teaching job but pushed me towards becoming a Connected Educator, and to not merely be satisfied with what is but moving towards what education should be. My wife, @MsKouzoukas, continues to inspire me, whether she knows it or not, and keeps me moving forward as I want to be awesome for not just my students and myself, but also her.

Q3 How do you integrate technology into your teaching?

Technology is an integral part of my pedagogy but in two main and different ways. While ideas of App Smashing and using technology on a regular basis to make cool things and to push one’s learning is great, I try to think of teaching the structure of technology in addition to how to use it to make awesome things. For example, as my middle school went BYOD in the past year I had students communicate concepts like collective learning in a 6 second Vine clip. Great use of technology, challenging, pushes their thinking, 6 seconds is a real short clip, and introduces the students to rudimentary video editing. I also make it a point to try to teach them the fundamental pieces of technology that they will likely continue to use over time. For instance, defining a web browser, at least the concept of it. Will web browsers be exactly the same in 10 years? Many people would assume not but while their abilities and appearance have shifted they are largely the same as they were ten years ago even with the advent of tablets and smartphones. The idea that the web browser is what one uses to visit places online, and that places online have addresses like houses, help to teach students the larger concepts they need to know to navigate the tech world. Teaching 6th grade, many students weren’t aware of how to visit a website without just searching Google. Contrary to popular belief, I find many students have a rudimentary understanding of technology at best and part of my job is to teach them how to use tools but also to understand technology in general.

Q4 What resources do you use to learn about new instructional technology? Where/how do you do your tech-sploration?

Twitter, of course, is a great resource for learning about educational technology. Due to the inherently limited nature of Twitter it is often best used, in my opinion, for things like this where ideas and tools can be shared in a more straightforward manner within the 140 character limit. Podcasts are a great resource, too, and there are tons of great Edtech podcasts, I particularly like the House of EdTech. Often times it is still a search on DuckDuckGo, that allows me to go find new tools to play around with. Once I find a new tool to say that I explore it is an understatement where I almost always immediately go through every single option that I can tweak and try to figure out the overall structure of a tool to determine whether or not it will fit my needs. Of course, this isn’t a perfect system, and I still make mistakes and end up investing time in a tool that I may not ultimately use, but as a whole I can usually make a decent judgement as to whether or not a tool will fit into my workflow. Between Twitter and searching online I generally have no shortage of new tools to try, however, and do also keep up with some iOS and related blogs, such as Apple World Today, to try to stay up to date on new apps and things to play with. I am also a productivity nerd and always love to try to find out more about how to upgrade my workflow, sometimes to my detriment, and to find ways to allow technology to make my teaching life easier overall. Places like TheSweetSetup spend ample time on this as well as other folks like Brett Terpstra provide tons of resources for this.

Q5 What's next for you in the coming year?

It is somewhat odd to put this into writing but I recently accepted a new teaching position for next year. I am leaving my first teaching job, spending the last three years in 6th grade Social Studies, and moving to a local high school where I will be teaching a collection of Juniors and Freshmen. Should be an interesting leap, to say the least, as not only will there be new content to teach but new challenges to overcome as I move into a new building to work with an entirely new staff. I will truly miss many of the awesome folks I have worked with in the past three years, such as @bethsteinen, @MissMcErlane, @SPSantilli, but am looking forward to the new challenges ahead. In addition to focusing on teaching entirely new content I look forward to finding out what I will be able to do with high school students as opposed to middle school. I don’t like to say that the middle school students are limited but there is inevitably a difference within maturity level as well as ability. The biggest challenge will be how to best do this while still working on my podcast and going to graduate school. It’ll certainly be a busy year but I, currently, welcome the shift.


John is a 4th year Social Studies teacher from Southern New Jersey who is currently attending grad school for administration. As a lifelong technology enthusiast, lover of coffee, and passionate educator, John has also presented locally on technology, Social Studies, and language arts integration in the classroom. John is also a teacher as well as a practitioner of Yoga and currently lives with his lovely wife in Northfield, NJ. Recently, John launched his first podcast, titled beardED which focuses on big ideas in education, technology integration, and how to connect what you learn online with what you do each day in your school and classroom. You can currently find his podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and at his website, jmason.me



Voxer: jmason

1 comments :

John and Stacey, thanks for these amazing insights!

I am moving from middle school to high school this year as well. I think I share some of your same curiosities, John, about what will be different at this new level. It will be an exciting year, for sure!

~Melissa

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