3 New Things I’m Trying This School Year

Hello all. This is my first written blog post in quite some time. Most of my posts have been sharing of all my other media (YouTube videos, podcasts, etc.) I’d like to spend a little more time on written work again this year. A few years ago I was blogging every week, sometimes reflecting on the week, other times just sharing thoughts about some topic in education. It’s a different medium than video or audio as I found out when I was trying to think of video ideas a few months ago and I decided to look at some of my most popular blog posts and turn those into a video. I realized some of it didn’t translate as well into video format so I modified the type of info or way I communicated that info in the video.

That said, let’s take a look at some of the new things I’ll be trying this year, both in my classroom as well as in the business side of things, or ‘edu-brand‘ if you will.

1. DEEPER DIVE INTO ESPORTS

Last year I was the first time I did anything with esports at school. Esports is competitive video gaming. It’s a pretty booming industry with increasing amounts of scholarships being offered to esports competitors. Just last week, a 16-year old won the $3 million cash prize for the first official Fortnite tournament. I did a podcast on the growth of esports in the education space.

Last year I had students organize a few tournaments in Austin and we also established an esports clubs near the end of the year that met during lunch once a week to play video games, plan tournaments, and do research on how to grow the esports program at the school. The biggest event was during Project Week, a week where students have no classes and have the week to explore an interest of their choice. I documented the week with the students who were exploring esports.

This year I’m hoping to have a few new additions to our program. In addition to having the club that continues to meet during lunch to play and organize tournaments, I’m working to get an esports team and esports elective established.

ESPORTS TEAM

Like any athletics team, this group would meet after school to practice and compete against other schools. I’d like to have two ‘seasons’ with a different game each season to keep things simple. First semester could be Overwatch which entails teams of six to fight and complete challenges together. Second semester could be League of Legends which involves teams of five and it’s a strategy game like chess; each character has different skills and strengths, working together to defeat an enemy.

Like any team, this group would need a coach. I don’t like staying after school for stuff so I’m looking for someone in the community (who knows the games better than me) to be hired on as the esports coach.

Most of the student interest is in the game Overwatch but that game can only be run on a Windows PC computer and all of our computers at school are Macs. Our admin is supportive of the esports program and are working to come up with a budget for seven new gaming PCs (six for the players and one to broadcast the gameplay which is a huge part element of esports). Doesn’t look like we’ll have the budget for the start of the school year as we had hoped but hoping to have it by second semester.

League of Legends can run on a Mac so perhaps we could start with that game first semester instead.

I’m also unsure of how to incorporate more than six students with these teams. A team and B team? With only six PCs on campus, how could we have a full team practice? Maybe A team meets at certain days and B team meets other days? What if I have 25 kids interested? Then it’d be easier to have multiple games being played; maybe six on Overwatch, a handful playing Super Smash Bros (which you don’t need a computer for at all) and others playing League of Legends on their laptops? But then that’s like having baseball, basketball, and volleyball practice all at the same time.

I’m a part of an online community on Discord of other educators doing esports related stuff so that’s been helpful.

ESPORTS ELECTIVE

I’m slotted to teach the esports elective second semester which should be fun. Not exactly sure what it will look like but I’m affiliated with an organization that has tons of resources for teachers doing exactly this. I haven’t sifted through all their lessons yet. I did see there was one lesson where you have students research how to build the best gaming PC with $x. That seems fun. There will also be a lessons in broadcasting, livestreaming,. social media marketing, content creation, etc.

2. MAKE VIDEOS ABOUT NEW PARTICIPATION TECHNIQUES I’M TRYING.

I’m always thinking through what kind of videos I can make on my teacher-focused YouTube channel. One year I focused on filming a bunch of videos of how I structure and manage my classroom economy (which turned into a course I made for teachers that you can find HERE). Another year I documented what I felt were my best math lessons. Another year I documented/vlogged nearly every week in my Robotics class.

Knowing I’m going to make a video about something going in class makes me want to up my game a little more and really ends up creating a more meaningful experience for the students. Since many of the activities I vlogged involved students doing collaborative work, it made it easier for me to go around class filming. I’d be lying though if I said vlogging in class doesn’t impact my ability to be completely present with the students. But most of them really like to be on camera (they’re middle schoolers) and I share it with their parents who love to get a glimpse into the classroom so I think it’s worth it.

For this year, I had the idea of taking this book full of participation techniques in the classroom and just trying a new one each week and documenting the process. Sharing which one I’m trying, why I think it pairs well with a lesson I’m doing that week, how I want to introduce it to my class, documenting how it goes, and reflecting on the process. I think it’ll push me to try new things and add a flair of novelty to the classroom that I think my Pre-Algebra class needs. Maybe every week would be too much but for sure every month.

3. START MY OWN NEWSLETTER.

I’m really trying to develop my brand / online presence as an educator. This January I started to focus my YouTube content on my channel to more intentionally try and reach my target audience (tech-savvy educators wanting to do innovative work in their classrooms). Same thing with the podcast. Instagram is just a little look at everything I’m doing related to education and isn’t as focused on that particular audience but more just teachers in general.

Part of developing that brand involves being in all the places (YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Apple Podcasts, etc), having your own website to serve as a hub, and of course, having your own newsletter.

There are two main reasons I’ve been hesitant to start my own newsletter.

REASON 1: It’s another thing.

It takes quite a bit of time to ensure I’m putting out a video a week on my main channel (as well as posting regularly to my ‘Thom Teaches YouTube’ channel), being present on Instagram, and having a highly-edited and produced podcast ready to be released at the end of each month. I find a lot of it fun to do but the idea of adding something else feels tiring.

WHY I’M MOVING PAST THIS REASON:

A few of my goals with my edu-brand are to match, if not exceed, the income I have as educator. Even writing that out feels so much like a pipe dream but I keep seeing teachers doing it through becoming influential in their little educational niche. This PE teacher makes $45k a year through a membership website he created for other PE teachers.

Part of developing that influence is knowing who your super fans are. One of my problems is that I don’t know who those fans are; the people that are completely on-board with everything I’m doing; they watch the videos, buy the online courses, follow the IG, share my work with others, etc. I do think there are a few of them out there. While everyone that signs up for the newsletter won’t be a super fan, it could be a central way to communicate to that people that are connecting with what I’m doing.

REASON 2 : I wonder if anyone would sign up.

I think to myself ‘I don’t want to be another email.’

I don’t know what the newsletter would have that would be of value. My first thought is sharing some of the content that I’ve put out that week that may be of interest (videos, podcasts, etc) as well as some reflections or thoughts from the week. But I don’t know how valuable that would be to people. A lot of it sounds way more self-promoting than it is valuable.

WHY I’M MOVING PAST THIS REASON

I don’t have this reservation about putting out a YouTube video or podcast episode; I never think ‘what if someone doesn’t watch it or listen to it.’ I think ‘people can decide if this is for them’ and leave it at that.

I think of the newsletters that I subscribe to and they generally offer things I may be interested in checking out, sometimes their own content, sometimes not. Also, no one is going to get mad about getting a newsletter they signed up to get.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

This probably could have been three different blog posts. But then I’d have to get a different picture for each one, schedule them to be released on different days, schedule out tweets to promote them all, and then share them on Facebook as they’re released. Plus, any title with a number in it always does better. Hopefully it was formatted in a way that made it easy for you to find what you found of interest.

If you want to try something new this year, consider starting a classroom economy that not only gives your students a chance to learn about money in an experiential and tangible way, it also serves as a classroom management system for you and gets students doing most of the work around the classroom instead of you!

Also, I'm going to send out my first newsletter near the end of August or maybe start in September. I'm thinking it'll be a monthly newsletter. If you're interested in signing up, fill out the form below!

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