Friday, April 24, 2009

A challenge to you!

Today, I am at the Tech Forum conference. I really enjoy the instructional technology conferences because I am exposed to multiple experts, get to meet people face-to-face from my Professional Learning Network, gather new online Web 2.0 tools, although with what Clarence Fisher stated in his keynote address, we need to improve our pedagogy and curriculum and not focus on the individual tools, and just generally get invigorated about what can be done.

In one of the sessions, Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype, multiple questions were brought: Are there new literacies that connective technologies create? Or, do these tools afford the attainment of literacy in a different way? David Warlick: People want schools to be better, but not different. Do you believe this true? How does web 2.0 make schools better? Should ask what does it mean to be well educated in the 21st century? Are we teaching kids to communicate in the new methods?

These questions were challenging. Some of the answers were difficult to hear in terms of what we are doing compared to what could be done.

How can we bring the outside world into our classroom? It is with this question that I write this blog post...a challenge of mine own to the 4 people that read this.

For the people that read this, you are probably up to date (or more so than I am) on the newer things out there to increase student engagement in the classroom. I know that you share things. Here is the trick, how many people that you share things with will share with other people?

If you share and the idea doesn't go anywhere, it is like asking a question when teaching and getting the answer. Sure, it is nice, but it is better when you hear that your student went home and described how to answer the question to their parents of someone else in the class. That is when your knowledge has been passed and, in some way, provided you with a legacy. Your passion and knowledge have been passed to someone you have never met!

The challenge to you with your Internet knowledge. How many people have you reached outside of your direct contact? When you share your knowledge with someone, ask them with who are they going to share it? Let your knowledge become viral. Keep the SOCIAL in social networking and bookmarking!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Save Men's Glee

I know that it has been a while since I posted to the blog. To be honest fatherhood, doctorate program and my job were keeping me pretty busy.

I have recently learned of a disturbing situation with an organization at the University of Illinois that is near to my heart, the Varsity Men's Glee Club. For anyone that knows me personally, they know that music has been a big part of my academic career and personal life. Recently, there have been changes to the audition policies of the School of Music that have "demoted" the VMGC to a third tier choir.

Please check out to get the full details. If you are in central Illinois, please attend the concert at Foellinger Great Hall in the Krannert Center for Performing Arts on the U of I campus on April 25 at 7:30 pm. If you happen to be a VMGC alum, please get your voice heard through a letter, phone call or other communique. If you, the alum, can make it to the concert, think about attending the meeting at 3 pm with Dr. Coleman and Dr. Kramer to discuss the current state of the VMGC. You can also hear Jim Turpin discuss this matter on 1400 AM.

Below of the letter that I wrote. Please help in any way that you can.


My name is Robert Abrams and I am an alumnus of the class of 1998 of the University of Illinois. Currently, I am the Instructional Leader of Science at Rich East High School in Park Forest, Illinois and pursuing a Doctorate of Education. My students often ask me questions about where I attended college and what I did when I was there. If they are in my office when these questions are posed, I proudly point to my U of I flag hanging on my office wall.

Some of my best memories from my time at the University of Illinois came from being a proud member of the oldest organizations in the history of the University, the Varsity Men's Glee Club. Being a member and executive board member of the VMGC provided me with the opportunity to make some amazing friends from across the campus, proudly represent the University as an ambassador when performing around the state of Illinois and across the Midwest, gain valued leadership skills, and make some inspiring music that I still sing today.

As a new father, I was looking forward to my son attending the U of I and sharing in my experiences as a part of the VMGC. I imagine the experience of sitting in Foellinger and eagerly awaiting the chance to go up on stage and perform the Big Ten Medley and Illinois Loyalty and perform with old friends, a great director, Dr. Barrington Coleman, and my son. I am disheartened about some of the recent changes in the School of Music’s policies and the lowering of the VMGC to the third tier of performance opportunities availed to the general populous of the University.

VMGC is more than just a School of Music course. It is an institution open to university-wide participation by students of every college and department at Illinois with 123 years of grand tradition. VMGC, although a proud unit of the School Music committed to the highest performance standards, also has important constituencies among the Alumni Association and a rich tradition of service to the University at large. Music majors, while being required to get broad experience in all different kinds of choral ensembles, should not be prevented or discouraged from remaining in VMGC in addition to any other coursework, if they wish to do so. Non-music majors, as I was, should be exempt from the arbitrary assignment policy and should be allowed to try out specifically for Glee Club, if they wish. They should not be subject to being reassigned to a different choir because they are “too good for Glee Club.” The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign should not set out to have a “first-tier” mixed voice ensemble and a “third-tier” male chorus in its School of Music, any more than the university should aspire to have a “first-class” football team and a “third-rate” track team.

Tradition and Honor are two values that I learned to fully comprehend while I was at the U of I. I learned about these values as a member of 123 year old organization. There was a history of excellence that I knew I had to live up to. Especially as a non-music major, I was honored to don the tuxedo tails and represent the University wherever we performed. The Glee Club should be restored to its position and reputation as one of the leading collegiate male choruses in the United States. The Glee Club director should be able to hold campus-wide auditions, to augment the ranks of VMGC with talented non-music majors, in addition to taking any music majors assigned to VMGC by the mandatory panel auditions of the School of Music.

It is an insult to the honor, talent, and history of the VMGC, beginning as the Apollo Club in 1886, to allow this policy to demote this grand and historical organization. Allow the wonderful history that Mr. William Olson built and Dr. Barrington Coleman supports to continue to teach and inspire through quality music and performance without mandatorily siphoning off the talent to other University groups. Allow the Brothers in Song to flourish. Please let me know how I can help in this matter.


Robert Abrams
Class of 1998
VMGC member 1994-1998
VMGC Secretary 1996-1997

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Biggest Loser's Club

We have some great people at my school. They have taken it upon themselves to motivate others to work out and be healthier. They have created the Biggest Loser's club at Rich East. Here is the deal...

$10 entry fee. Everybody weighs in with the school nurse (who is the only one who will know people's weight for those of us who are shy) every Thursday. Today was the official weigh in.

If you lose weight for the week, you pay nothing else.
If you maintain your weight, you pay 50 cents.
If you gain weight, you have to pay $1 per pound.

As the saying goes, I am in for a penny and in for a pound (or at least losing pounds)

My wife approved (yes, that is what I said and meant) for me to get a Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit. I have been on and working towards my goals that I have set.

Is it a problem that the Wii Fit sighs and says "Oh!" when I step on the balance board?

This club is going to be supportive and even though there can only be 2 winners (60% goes to 1st place and 40% goes to 2nd), even if people lose...they will win.

Here begins the journey.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Not really a snow day

To quote someone that I know from high school..."Today isn't really a snow day for you. It is more like a don't freeze your butt off day".

As the air temperature climbed to a balmy -14 degrees Fahrenheit I had one thought echo in my head... MAN THAT IS COLD!

What were you thinking it was going to be? Something profound? At that temperature the synapses in my brain don't all work. It was more of a survival mode out there.

Since it is not really a snow day, do I really have to get things done around the house? I was able to use my new Blu-Ray player which is cool, but I could not watch anything else since Dish Network sucks and somehow has sent us 3 defective receivers. They will be able to get someone out to us on Saturday. (We called about this problem on Sunday) How's that for customer service?

But I digress...since it is a limbo sort of day, I cannot get myself to really do anything productive. Is that bad?

That is it. You have inspired me. I will make sure that laundry gets done to help out the wife. I will pick up around the house. It won't be spotless, but things will get done.

Thank you for your help. (Of course, all of this is to help me avoid the paper that I have to write, but that is a different issue.)

Enjoy the "Don't freeze your butt off day"!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happy New Year!

Here we are in 2009. I know that many posts in the past have dealt with the concept of change. I can easily say that 2008 was the year of change! New principal, new baby, working on a new degree, new responsibilities...the list goes on.

Let me tell you, the idea that there is a little person for whom I am completely responsible has affected me deeply. I read books. I talked with friends who are parents. I have been in education for over 10 years. I have been some one's child for almost 33 years. Nothing could have possibly prepared me for everything that has happened. I know it is cliche, but I guess I finally get it.

I guess that is all anyone can ask of someone else, to just get it.

In education, working with students, the number of times I have spoken to students about responsibility and accountability for ones actions is somewhere on the magnitude of 10^8 (and that is just counting from the first 5 years). When I was in the classroom, I used to joke that part of a type 75 certification program involved a frontal lobotomy that removed the "Get it" part of the brain. There were times when I wondered where could these decisions be coming from? What was the hypothesis? Where was the data that pointed to the conclusion that was arrived at?

So, when I became an administrator, I wanted to avoid those jokes being told of me. I was going to be different, an agent of change. I would always remember what it was like to be a classroom teacher and make sure that every decision was going to take the teacher's point of view and empower them in the classrooms.

Do I fall into the lobotomy category sometimes? Of course I do. As I continue in this path of administration I have noticed that I make mistakes, but I learn from them.

Case in point, we are providing an opportunity for every student and faculty member to watch the inauguration address on January 20th. What does this entail? We need to modify the bell schedule to account for the "assembly", we need to prepare our kitchen staff for the adjustment in their work day, we need to arrange for the video feed and locations in our building to house our populations to view the address, along with other logistical details. My responsibility...alter the bell schedule and class times.

This should be easy. (Ever said that to yourself and then kicked yourself?)

The first option presented to me was to have half of our students eat, then everyone watches the address, and then the other half eats. That just became a space nightmare for the lunch rooms and for the people who teach during one of those lunches. I altered the idea to have the bell schedule more closely follow our early dismissal schedule.

I liked this idea. It is something familiar, less changes needed, etc. But, I would have to remove a class from the day to account for the time in the assembly. I picked 8th hour. It is last, why shouldn't it be cut?

Here is where I got smart. I asked some teachers who walked by my office what they thought. They offered their opinion, understood why a class had to be removed and generally liked the idea. Some objections included that 8th hour usually gets cut, shortened class periods for the other classes make for some difficulties, etc. I told them that would take their suggestions into account when I presented the idea to the rest of our building administrative team.

I presented the questions that were brought to me. (I had even gotten thank yous from the teachers for including them). Our administrative team thought the idea was great. The schedule minimized disruptions and I even found a way to have all of the classes meet.

Long story short, in a told that some of our building admin were at, an edict was passed down that the other 2 buildings had created a schedule and the district admin could see no reason why our school should do anything different. (Putting aside the differences in our student populations, our cafeteria size, SES issues in our building...)

The idea that had gathered input from various stakeholders was now defunct and we were going along with the rest because we were told to.

My hope is continued...I hope that someday, people will get it.