Monday, October 27, 2014

It's the Five Days of Halloween!

Actually, for us it's pretty much the 365 days of Halloween, but this is the best week of all.

Here Cash is showing off in a werewolf mask at Wal-Mart.

We have been watching the classics: Disney's version of Sleepy Hollow, The Little Vampire, Scooby Doo and The Goblin King, Toy Story of Terror, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, and, of course, the whole Halloween Town series.

And then - one of our favorite parts - pumpkin carving time.

Kenz was all about scooping out the guts.  Until the smell hit.

She was interested in roasting the seeds, until she felt them and smelled them!  She thought they should just come out of the pumpkin seasoned and cooked!

I warned her.

Cash was staying safely away from the stench. He was more fascinated by the pumpkin carving tools though.

And the finished products.  Cash wanted a Storm Trooper, and Kenz wanted a ghost.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Those Poor Bungals

A month ago, the Bengals were the toast of the NFL.  The fools who actually have "Power Rankings" had them ranked #1.  They were 3-0 and headed into a bye week where their best player, AJ Green, needed a week off to rest his injured foot.

Their defense was ranked in the top ten of the NFL.  They were getting turnovers, making plays on special teams, and basically blowing people out.

Devon Still and his daughter's fight against leukemia reminded everyone that the NFL still has good guys as opposed to child abusers and crooks.

Then the by week hit, which is always a dark time for Bengals fans as Marvin Lewis' record after the bye is something like 3-10.

That week they sat at home and watched Monday night football where the Pats (their next opponent) were destroyed by the Chiefs.

Everyone wrote and talked about how the Pats' dynasty was over and the Bengals were about to show the NLF they were for real.

The Pats were reeling and coming off a short week where the Bengals had a full two weeks to prepare.  Then Sunday Night Football rolled around in and the Bengals were - as usual - humiliated on national TV 43-17 in a game they were never ever really in.

The following week they managed to tie - yes tie - the Panthers, 37-37.  It might not have been so bad if their kicker hadn't missed a give me field goal.  That moment plunged the Bengals into Dark Ages. Andy Dalton, playing without AJ Green, put up solid numbers and the Bengals had their first 100 yard rusher (thanks to Gio Bernard's 89 yard TD run) in the better part of two years.  In fact, Dalton drove the Bengals right down the field in OT to kick a FG (a TD would have won the game for them).  Of course, the Bengals reeling defense allowed the Panthers to drive down and also kick a FG.  That meant the next one to score, wins.  And Dalton did a great job driving the Bengals down the field . . . all the way to the 16 yard line.

He set up his kicker for a chip shot FG.  Yet, Nugent missed and the Bengals "lost" the tie.

Next the Bengals had a chance to take on the division leading Colts.  Instead of showing any type of offense - as they had against the Panthers when they piled up over 500 yards of offense - the Bengals had their worst offensive game I can recall since the Ravens piss pounded them back in 2001.

And now here come the Raves to PBS where the Bengals (remarkably) haven't lost in two seasons.  The Bengals already beat the Ravens in week one.  But the Ravens have been on a tear since. In fact, they sit atop the AFC North with a 5-2 record while the Bengals are near the bottom with a 3-2-1 record.

The problems - injuries.

On offense, the Bengals are missing three vital pieces of their offense - all world AJ Green (who single handedly won their first meeting against the Ravens when he hauled in a juggling 77 yard touchdown on the Bengals' last drive) is out with turf toe.  This is an injury that will plague him all year.  The Bengals' second leading receiver last year, Marvin Jones, is now out for the year after missing the first month of the season with a foot injury and then injuring his ankle in his first practice back.  The third missing cog is Tyler Eifert, this year's starting tight end, who was well on his way to a monster game vs. the Ravens in week 1, before he fell awkwardly on a big catch and dislocated his elbow.  That is over 2,000 yards and over 20 touchdowns gone from the offense.

Thanksfully, Mohammud Sanu has stepped his game up this year, leaving the Bengals with at least one legit option on offense.  Former starting tight end (and first round pick) Jermain Gresham, in a contract year, has not been consistent enough to offer the Bengals much of anything in place of Eifert.

Worse yet, their once great defense (ranked in the top 5 the past three seasons) is now at the bottom of the league.  It hurts not having our excellent coordinator Mike Zimmer (who is having problems of his own as the Vikings head coach).  Paul Guenther is a solid replacement (after all, he could have been Zimmer's defensive coordinator in MN if the Bengals hadn't promoted him), but his team isn't responding the way they did to Zim.

Vontaze Burfict, who signed a long term deal this summer, has reverted to his old bad habits that caused him to drop out of the draft his junior year at Arizona State: injuries, penalties, and undisciplined play.  He was the leader and heart and soul of the defense, but the defense mirrors his play, which for much of this year, has been terrible.

Geno Atkins, our all world defensive tackle, who dominated the league for the past 2.5 years, blew out his knee on Halloween night last year against the Dolphins.  He simply hasn't come all the way back.  He just isn't his dominant self.  Hopefully, he will get back to his old dominant ways if not this year, then next year.

Damota Peko, our defensive line captain who signed an extension this summer too, is playing his worst ball of the year. He has just been above average for his entire career, but when he was surrounded by great players (Atkins, Dunlap, and Michael Johnson, now playing for the Bucs) that was good enough.  But with Atkins playing very average and Johnson gone, Peko has been exposed this year.

There has been precious little pressure on the QB this year, which allows for big chunks of yardage against our secondary, which does have six first round picks playing for it, but they are showing their age.

So the Bengals sit at 3-2-1, but today's game really is a make or break game for them.  Lose and they will not win 6 games the rest of the way.  Win and they might have a shot at a Wild Card.

I'm torn.  The Bengals are never big spenders in free agency.  So if they tank this year, it's not like they're going to go out and throw big money at anyone who can come in and make a difference (like bringing in a great middle linebacker or a great NT to replace Peko or even a third wide receiver to offer depth).  So that means the higher the draft choice they have, the greater the impact player they will likely have a shot at.  Thus, I'm secretly kind of hoping they tank the rest of the way.

They won't be a legit contender this year.  If they do happen to make the playoffs, it will be another one and done game this year (as it has been for the last 3 consecutive years and the last 5 playoff games under Lewis).

Maybe if they tumble to 5-10-1, they could get a top five pick.

That means they might have a shot at a top tier QB (not that I see them drafting one after signing Dalton to a long term deal, though if he reverts to his old ways later this year, they might consider it). They would have a shot at 2 or 3 impact defensive linemen, which they certainly could use.  Or they could draft one of the stellar offensive tackles available (while this isn't a huge need, it's value.  Plus, they could always move Whitworth to left guard - where he excelled the last half of last season - and improve their very, very poor running game).

Ah, the life of a Bungals fan.  Hope always springs eternal.  In the draft!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Logan, a former College Comp student of mine, stopped by to talk since he was home from Scholastica for an internship.

As we caught up, he talked about seeing a TED Talk that reminded him of my class.  Logan was nice enough to look it right up for me on my computer.

Here it is.

I think what Logan was thinking about was this mantra that I share with all of my classes -

Normal is merely average - Shawn Achor

   Average is officially over - Thomas Friedman

      Average is for losers - Seth Godin.


Just saw this one posted on Twitter today.  Next to finding one's passion, this is probably my favorite topic: stepping outside of our comfort zones.

One of my favorite lines that I just heard via the entreleadership podcast is "curiosity is the cure for autopilot."  This talk reminds me of that phrase.  Too often we accept our limits because he get used to the status quo.

In that same entreleadership podcast Dave Ramsey talked about how circuses train elephants.  They take a baby elephant and chain it to a huge stake that is driven deep into the ground.

That baby elephant goes nuts trying to get away.  But it's impossible.

25 years later, you can take that elephant as an adult and keep it from going anywhere by taking a small rope and tying it to a stick driven into the ground.  That elephant could rip it up and go wherever it wants, but it's been conditioned to believe it cannot.

That is a great metaphor for how we accept our limitations.  That's why we get so comfortable inside our comfort zones.


Speaking of getting outside of comfort zones, I love this blog post about applying that to our physical classrooms

I have a lot to work on here.  I have no problem with letting students use their own devices.  I can get better at tweeting their leaning with another class.  That doesn't scare me at all.

The one where I have to improve, though, is allowing for physical movement. I need to get my students up and moving and sharing ideas far more than what I do now.

Finally, the one I'm really thinking about working on next quarter is redesigning the physical space of my room.  As I looked around my College Comp 2 class the other day, it hit me that I have some students who have sat not only in the same spot but also next to the same people for an entire year. 

I need to change that.

So taking a cue from a colleague who changes up her room every few weeks, I'm going to do the same, including moving my desk.  There really is no reason for me to have my desk where it is now.  So I think it'd be interesting to come in on a Sunday and totally change up the layout of my room.  I may push all the tables into the middle of the room.  I may have them in the corners while I put my desk in the middle of the room.  Maybe I'll move all the tables out and just have the chairs in the room.

But it doesn't have to stop there.  When we have discussions, I can take my class to the business room where there is a large table and great chairs.  I can take the class down to our training center where you can really change the tables around into various configurations.

Then when I've tried all the combinations with the tables in my room, I can always do what our administration does to change things up: I'll have cards on a table for the students to draw.  Each card is then assigned to a specific table, so students sit in random groups.

I can't wait to see how this pushes us all out of our comfort zones.


And speaking of how curiosity is the cure for autopilot, I just read this article via Twitter this morning: Humans' Inherent Curiosity Stems From a Long, Protracted Childhood.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows that I am (unabashedly) an overgrown child.  I'm like a Toys R Us kid, I don't want to grow up.  Now that I have two little ones of my own, I really don't want to grow up. I'm having too much fun playing with them.

I have to credit my parents here, though.  I had an amazing childhood.  My grandmother was a retired elementary school teacher, so whenever I visited her at her apartment, we played and painted and told stories and read magazines and played games and told more stories and created art projects.  My mother was a voracious reader, so not only was I encouraged to read but I was also always visiting our local library where I would just get lost in books.  My dad never let me get a part time job. He constantly told me, "Kurt, you'll have the rest of your life to work."  So I had more than enough free time to read and write and create.  At the time, I suppose, all of that seemed pretty foolish.  However, as a teacher now, I use those same skills every single day.

The article above is really about a book, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It.

I like this passage from the book:

Our extended infancy has a hidden upside—it bequeaths the mature human a child's capacity to love, learn, and wonder why. Childhood means not having to commit to particular courses of action, because adults are taking care of our survival. We can hang back, watch, question, and learn what works best for us before deciding which paths to take. Ultimately, it's this that makes Homo sapiens so adaptable and inventive (no wonder we find the fable of the tortoise and the hare so appealing). Without the necessity to fend for ourselves in those first ten or twenty years, we can focus on learning about the niche into which we have been born and form our own ideas about it.

This reminds me of a clip from last week's episode from Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now series on PBS.  The episode focused on the invention of glass.

I never thought about it, but there really hasn't been a more impactful invention on the human species that glass.

Don't believe me?  Think about this - glass impacts our health (microscopes, eye glasses, and mirrors).  It impacts how we see the world and ourselves (again, microscopes, eye glasses, mirrors, and now telescopes).

Glass is tied to another profound invention: the printing press.  Prior to Gutenberg, no one knew they were farsighted.  But once medieval monks realized they couldn't read their transcribed texts, they began using large glass ovals to magnify the writing.  With the printing press making books available to the masses, suddenly thousands of people realized their world was blurry.  This allowed the elderly to work longer.  Soon a glass maker realized if he held two lenses together, it increased its power.  Thus, the microscope was born.  From that we realized an entire universe of minute details (parasites, bacteria, viruses, cells, and even atoms).  Soon a glass maker realized this could be applied to the outside world and the telescope was born.

Now glass is used in constructing sky scrapers, cars, computers, our smart phones, and most importantly fiber optics, which allows for our world to suddenly be rendered into a village thanks to their amazing ability to transfer calls, messages, and photos into streams of light and send them across cables at the speed of light.

What made all of this possible? The amazing human trait of curiosity.  Fiber optics, in particular, were invented when a scientist began use experiments with heated glass and a crossbow.  He discovered when he shot an arrow with heated class attached to it, he got a long wire of thin, flexible, but sturdy glass.  That is still basically what fiber optics are today.


Here is another interesting post I found via Twitter

Teachers, make classroom learning an experience

This article is about a moment in the teacher's classroom where she takes a chapter from Animal Farm and has students re-write a scene to illustrate Orwell's tone.  Then she uses re-enactments to make it come alive.

I couldn't agree more with her when she concludes: Students want to learn; this is a fact. The challenge comes when we force students to passively take their learning in like bad medicine. With a few small tweaks, we can be providing students with amazing learning experiences where they are walking away from class awestruck and excited to return. 

The traditional classroom where we read a text together and then have a teacher-led or 2-3 student-led discussion doesn't make memories. Give students opportunities to commit their learning to nostalgic impactful moments that they will carry with them throughout their lives. 


My year can roughly be divided into three parts.

First, August-December, where I feel like I'm trying new things and stepping outside of my comfort zone.  As a result, I feel like I am having an impact and making a difference.  In other words I'm #livingthedream.

Then bleak winter sets in and for Jan-March I wonder if I am even in the right profession (honestly).  I feel like I'm a fraud and don't know if I'm doing anything right in class.

Third, hope springs eternal and right around April-May, I feel restored and start believing I can make an impact in the lives of my students.

You'd think after 17 years, things would be different.  But they really aren't.

This article, especially the first half, reminds me of the feeling I get at the start of every year, where I feel like I'm doing something new and important -This year, I threw it all away. 

The grade book. The tradition. The way I've always done things. 

Fear, worry and excuses, ran scared as I barreled toward the water without pause. 

At full speed, I jumped in. Head first, eyes open, without even dipping a toe in the water first to test the temperature.  

Because I knew if I tested it first, I'd surely lose my confidence and succumb to comfort; it would be too easy not to. 

Perhaps the last 12 years have been my wading process; climbing down the steps at a painfully slow pace, getting used to the water one year at a time. Each step a further dabbling into different philosophies, questioning past beliefs and feeling my way into what felt right for the kids. 

After many steps, a lot of reading and consideration, I was ready to take the plunge. 

But no one else came with me at my school. They are watching and waiting for the feedback, for my reaction. 

I like that idea of a 'wading in process.'  In fact, I don't know if I ever really get a sense of accomplishment from teaching.  Instead, I get the feeling that, well, that was pretty good, but I know next time I'll want to do this and this and this differently . . . 

Maybe I wouldn't have it any other way.


This title, "Visibility Creates Accountability,"  alone has me hook, line, and sinker.  The fact that it comes from one of my favorite bloggers is even better.  

Here is my favorite part 

The more we start showing what is happening in classrooms, and the more visible it becomes, the more I hope it sparks that feeling of both pressure and curiosity in educators to keep pushing themselves to embrace improving their practice.

I couldn't agree more.  Think about this - if you want to buy a house, you can tour it, compare the price, dicker over the price, have it inspected . . .  If you want to buy a car, you can research it on line, dicker, test drive it, talk to others with it the same model . . . But if you want to learn more about the school your kids will be attending?  Well, you're out of luck.  

But by having a visible brand for your classroom via social media, you can at least put it out there for parents so they can see the learning that occurs in your classroom.

What's not to love about that?


Finally, to illustrate Steven Johnson's theory about multiple narrative threads in popular films are actually making mass audiences smarter, we applied his theory to Inception.

The film perfectly illustrates his point, for he actually argues that audiences today have far more sophisticated cognitive skills than generations past.  First, we can handle complex narratives like Inception (or Pulp Fiction, Gone Girl, and Crash, to just name a few).  Second, we can handle the lack of "flashing arrows" to cue us in on characters and events (such as the sinister music that plays when a villain first appears, as in Star Wars or Indiana Jones).  Third, we now can develop social media connections that allow us to analyze films in a far deeper way than ever before.

Here are some of my favorite examples when it comes to Inception.

Why can't all websites be this interactive and engaging?

Here are some of my favorite info graphics - all done by diehard fans - trying to illustrate, explain, and analyze the film's complexities.

The next time I do this assignment, I'm going to charge students with creating an info graphic instead of writing an essay.


How awesome is this?!  

A tireless 100 year old teacher?  Amazing.  And she is still passionate and curious? I'd love to have Kenzie and Cash learn from her.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What's Going on in 205

This week has been an absolute blast. It has been the very definition of #livingthedream. Here is why -

 In Lit & Lang 9R we have wrapped up our short story unit. We have banged out the reading skills of facts, main idea, inference (always difficult), and the most difficult one of all for this group, sequence. This week I took them down to the media center to find a book that interests them to read over the next week in class. They will have to annotate the book with a minimum of 25 Sticky-Notes. Their final project will be to create a blog for the book where they will post their chapter summaries, character lists, creative assignments, and their final review of the book.

 Here is my example - How We Got to Now.

College Comp 1 -

We are wrapping up our theme #3, a how to essay.

The first essay was on how to improve LHS.

The second essay was on how to survive college.

I usually then have a third essay where students can devise a how to on any topic they wish, but we were running out of time this quarter, so I had to go with only two different topics for this theme.

To help model the process and how a writer thinks and works, I wrote my own how to improve LHS essay with the class and shared it via Google Drive along with comments in the margins about what I was trying to accomplish with each paragraph and even specific lines.

 College Comp 2 - On Monday I assigned a chapter from Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You on the complexity of modern pop culture, specifically our films and TV shows. The chapter analyzes how directors use multiple plot threads and lack of "flashing arrows" to purposefully confuse their audiences. Think of shows like Lost, American Horror Story, 24, SUV, or films like Gone Girl, Pulp Fiction, Shutter Island, or Crash.

Maybe at first blush those don't seem so complex. However, contrast those shows with the most popular shows 30 years ago: Three's Company (every plot of that sitcom is absolutely the same. One member of the house hold misunderstands a conversation and that drives the plot forward until the misunderstanding is resolved), The Brady Bunch (again, nearly every plot is identical. They certainly aren't sequential.  Each episode is a stand alone episode. Just try watching an episode of 24 or American Horror Story out of order), and one of my favorites, The Rockford Files (again, their idea of complexity back then was to have a two part episode that ended with a cliff hanger!).

So to drive this point home, this week I have my students watching the Sci Fi classic, Inception.  Students are analyzing its multiple plot lines, story threads, lack of flashing arrows, and various characters to prove how our modern culture is actually more complex - or if you prefer - intellectually complex than the past.

One thing that has been so great about this week, is that I've been able to actually write and create right along with my students.  I'm trying to be the guide on the side here for a change.

Here is my APA paper on Inception -

That is not a bad way to earn a living at all!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Favorite Horror Stories - 2014 version

In honor of Halloween, I'll revisit my list of my all time favorite horror stories.

10.  "The Playground." Ray Bradbury. I struggled to include a Bradbury piece. Certainly, "A Sound of Thunder" is classic sci fi. "The Crowd" is a great horror story, but it didn't thump me over the head with horror - as the other stories here do. A horror list just needs to include a Bradbury piece. But most of his work is mild . . . even among the mildest of horror writers. Then I remembered this little gem in the original hardcover copy of Farhenheit 451 that I read in high school. Now this is not mild. It's horror and it's Bradbury at his best. It involves a father who so loves his son - who is bullied at school, especially on the playground - that he is willing to switch spots with him. Even if it means going back to that most awful of places - if you've ever been picked on - the playground. That last scene in the final paragraph has stuck with me at least 25 years since I've read this. 

9.  "The Gentleman's Hotel" by Joe R. Lansdale.  Several, I bought the anthology, Curse of the Full Moon at the Georgia Tech bookstore in Atlanta.  However, it wasn't until this fall that I finally read this story from the collection.  I have not read anything by Lansdale since his phenomenal The Nightrunners when I was 16.  That novel has stood out as one of the most violent and brilliant horror books of my youth (right up there with the work of Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs) and Clive Barker (The Books of Blood).  This is actually one of the better werewolf stories I've come across.  And the main character, Reverend Jebediah Mercer, who is one of the most interesting protagonists I've come across in some time.  This both made me think twice about going down stairs in the middle of the night and made me laugh out loud.

8.  "Re-Animator" by HP Lovecraft.  Probably not Lovecraft's best story.  That likely would go to "The Rats in the Walls" or "The Color out of Space."  But this, for my money, is his most horrifying.  And if you get a chance to see the campy B grade movie, see it.  It's that great.  I saw it on KBRR when I was still in junior high and it freaked the hell out of me.  I'll never forget it.  And the story is even better.  This is a staple of my Sci Fi class.

7.  "The Signal Man" by Charles Dickens. I'm not a huge Dickens fan, but this one is creepy all the way around.  A classic ghost story.

6.  "The Pattern" by Rasmey Campbell.  This has the most disturbing resolution I've ever seen since I saw the movie version of Stephen King's The Mist.  Every time I read it, the most disturbing I find it. But the slow build up to that resolution is amazing.  Don't read it alone.  Or in the woods.  Or at your cabin.  In fact, if you're faint of heart, you might want to avoid this story all together.

5.  "Crouch End" by Stephen King.  This is King's ode to one of the greatest in the field of horror: HP Lovecraft.  When our husband and wife cross over to the "other" side where the elder gods hold sway, this story is one of the most vividly horrifying I have ever read.  This one is an absolute staple of my Sci Fi class.

4. "N." by Stephen King.  This was directly influenced by the #3 horror story.  King takes the concept of the evil elder gods made popular by HP Lovecraft and blended it with a patient's OCD for one of my all time favorite King stories.  And I think it's his most frightening, which is saying something.

3.  "The Great God Pan" by Arthur Machen.   Stephen King calls this work the greatest work in the genre of horror.  I have to agree.  It's not so much overt horror that makes this story so powerful.  Rather it's the horror that is suggested or occurs "off screen" (so to speak) that leaves such an impression on the reader.

2.  "Pig Blood Blues" by Clive Barker.  Up until I read Martin's "Skin Trade," this was my consistently ranked #1 horror story of all time.  I still remember the first time I ever read it, way back in 10th grade in high school when the Red Lake Falls library final got a copy of The Books of Blood for me through the inter-library loan system.  It has stayed with me all of these years. It's just as haunting (and horrifying) as ever.

1.  "Skin Trade" by George R. R. Martin. I read this a few months ago after seeing it mentioned in one of my favorite werewolf anthologies.  I Googled it, and, sure enough, I found a free on line version.  It didn't disappoint. It might be the best werewolf story (or novella) I have ever read.  It has everything - humor, horror, and great details.  I've read it three times now, and it gets better each time.

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

So much has been stockpiling in my email that I have about 60 messages to read.  So here it goes:

5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Every Monday Morning

I am blessed to have a job I absolutely love.  So here are my answers to those questions -

1. Am I excited to dive into the challenges that I have lined up for the week?
Of course!  And every week brings more challenges.  I'm working with teenagers, after all.  How many more challenges could I expect?  Actually, the students really don't offer the challenges.  My biggest challenge is trying to challenge them and to keep them engaged.
2. Am I looking forward to engaging with the people I am meeting or working with?
Of course! I work with an amazing department.  We bring out the best in each other and we aren't afraid to ask for help when we need it.   Just now, I'm listening in to one of my colleagues teaching sonnets to her class.  She is using modern songs that have their lyrics turned into sonnets.  This is brilliant.  Why have I never thought of this? 
3. Am I going to my dream job?
This isn't my job. It's who I am.
4. Am I being compensated fairly for the value I bring to my job?
Yes. I'm not one to complain about my paycheck.  In fact, since we married, Kristie handles all the bills and I don't even look at my pay stubs. I actually do not know what my exact monthly check is.  That's wonderful.
5. Do I feel energized, rested, and confident?
Great question.  Yes.  Usually.  I admit now that I have fourth block prep, when fourth block rolls around, I'm exhausted.  But I am also eager to get to work.
Mr. Zutz sent this one around to us via a link in our staff weekly: A veteran teachers turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days.  

As soon as I began reading this, I thought, I have to use this in my classes.

How cold would it be to actually do something like this?  Plus, we could have students shadow teachers to see what our world looks like too.  It's always been a pipe dream of mine to have this type of thing for parents and teachers.  A parent could come in and take a day worth of their kid's class while the kid goes to work in place of the parent.  Don't tell me that wouldn't be an eye opener!

As far as the article about the teaching shadowing two students for two days goes, here were the big take aways:
1.  Students sit all day; sitting is exhausting.

I love how the former teacher reflects on what they would change about this

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately change the following three things:
  • mandatory stretch halfway through the class
  • put a Nerf basketball hoop on the back of my door and encourage kids to play in the first and final minutes of class
  • build in a hands-on, move-around activity into every single class day. Yes, we would sacrifice some content to do this – that’s fine. I was so tired by the end of the day, I wasn’t absorbing most of the content, so I am not sure my previous method of making kids sit through hour-long, sit-down discussions of the texts was all that effective.
2.  High school students are sitting and listening quietly during approximately 90% of their classes.

Again, here is what they would change 

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:
  • Offer brief, blitzkrieg-like mini-lessons with engaging, assessment-for-learning-type activities following directly on their heels (e.g. a ten-minute lecture on Whitman’s life and poetry, followed by small-group work in which teams scour new poems of his for the very themes and notions expressed in the lecture, and then share out or perform some of them to the whole group while everyone takes notes on the findings.)
  • set an egg timer every time I get up to talk and all eyes are on me. When the timer goes off, I am done. End of story. I can go on and on. I love to hear myself talk. I often cannot shut up. This is not really conducive to my students’ learning, however much I might enjoy it.
  • Ask every class to start with students’ Essential Questions or just general questions born of confusion from the previous night’s reading or the previous class’s discussion. I would ask them to come in to class and write them all on the board, and then, as a group, ask them to choose which one we start with and which ones need to be addressed. This is my biggest regret right now – not starting every class this way. I am imagining all the misunderstandings, the engagement, the enthusiasm, the collaborative skills, and the autonomy we missed out on because I didn’t begin every class with fifteen or twenty minutes of this.

3.  You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

If I could go back and change my classes now, I would immediately:
  • Dig deep into my personal experience as a parent where I found wells of patience and love I never knew I have, and call upon them more often when dealing with students who have questions. Questions are an invitation to know a student better and create a bond with that student. We can open the door wider or shut if forever, and we may not even realize we have shut it.
  • I would make my personal goal of “no sarcasm” public and ask the students to hold me accountable for it. I could drop money into a jar for each slip and use it to treat the kids to pizza at the end of the year. In this way, I have both helped create a closer bond with them and shared a very real and personal example of goal-setting for them to use a model in their own thinking about goals.
  • I would structure every test or formal activity like the IB exams do – a five-minute reading period in which students can ask all their questions but no one can write until the reading period is finished. This is a simple solution I probably should have tried years ago that would head off a lot (thought, admittedly, not all) of the frustration I felt with constant, repetitive questions.
Now doesn't that make me think differently about how I approach teaching?


When I saw this on yahoo news, I was totally geeking out.  I love real stories like this: The First Spacewalk.  

The Soviet space program has fascinated me. Maybe it's because for so long it was shrouded in total secrecy.  Maybe it's because they were so ambitious to beat the US into space that safety wasn't always the #1 factor, as we like to believe it is in the US.

This story perfectly illustrates that.  I mean the first man to walk in space almost didn't make it back!  It also illustrates the power of human ingenuity in the "good old days."

Part of me wonders how these rugged and ingenious individuals would handle the Ebola debacle that we are mired in today.

BTW, the internet article on the first spacewalk is beautifully done.  Let's hope this is what all web pages and stories will look like in the next decade.


Here is a TED Talk on one of my all time favorite subjects - following your passion.  Eunice Hill has a unique take on it, Don't Just Follow Your Passion: A Talk for Generation Y.

She even alludes to one of the books we read in College Comp 2, Be So Good They Can't Ignore You.

Here is another TED Talk along those same lines.  I could listen to these all day long.  In fact, whenever I have to do work around the house, I listen to these on my iPhone.

This one is again on one of my very favorite topics - How to find and do Work you Love.

His story about swimming from Alcatraz to the California Coast is worth the watch alone.


Speaking of favorite topics (and one I blogged about last week), here is another interesting read: Where Millennials Went Wrong and How They're Paying the Price.


Mr. Zutz spoke to my Teaching and Learning 250 class at UND last week.  He did a fabulous job!  What a great resource to share with my students.

He was so great that when we packed up to leave, two students lingered to thank him.  Why thank him?  Her words were: "I just want to thank you for giving me hope.  As a future teacher all I ever hear about is how little it pays, how little we are respected, how bad students are, and how there is no hope.  Thank you for proving that wrong."

Today he sent me this video to share with them.  We all should have a teacher like this.

Every Student Deserves a Truly Great Teacher


This title is sure to entice some debate: Why I Now Friend My Students on Social Media.

I can feel the panic in every teacher over 30 right now.

But hold on.  There's a madness to her method, and some pretty damn good reasons for her claim.  Here is one example.

I’m convinced that we’ve isolated students in a world without teachers on social media and every day we are reaping the consequences. We need to rethink this now so we can move forward to a better tomorrow.
Sometimes unpopular, uncomfortable things need to be said and positions should be reversed in order to do the right thing. Ultimately, my students said that I needed to give this one. I had at least eight kids who came up to me afterwards who said it was what educators needed to hear.
A teary eyed young man moved me most:
“My Mom died this year, I had a teacher who helped me get through it. I couldn’t have lived without my teacher. Literally. We students need our teachers and sometimes we need to talk to them on social media. We need a way to do that sometimes.”
Yep. These kids are worth fighting for and if the only casualty is my own ego in the process, that is indeed a very small price to pay.
This is truly an issue where both sides are right. We have to face the truth of the consequences of what we’ve done. We have to come out with some sort of workable answer in the middle.

Another one of my favorite topics is creativity.  Here is an interesting read on why experts tend to reject it.

You have to love the opening line: "Science advances one funeral at a time."

The same could be said for educators.


I'm totally geeking out over Steven Johnson's new series on PBS (as well as the accompanying book) called How We Got to Now.

Now PBS has release a website that coincides with the show, How We Got to Next.

If you know me, you know how passionate I am about the Bengals (unfortunately).  Well, if Johnson ever teamed up with one of my other favorite writers, James Burke, I think I would take that book over the Bengals actually winning a Super Bowl.


An interesting read on the differences between Eastern and Western Cultures.

This reinforces what Diane Ravitch noted years ago.  Ravitch told John Merrow on the Merrow Report that in America, parents tend to believe that talent is really all that counts.  They push their kids into things they are already gifted at.

Chinese parents, though, realize that we all start at zero.  We might have a little more natural talent here and there, but the bottom line is work.  As Amy Chua, the infamous Tiger Mother, observed: "nothing is fun until you're really good at it."  The bottom line for the eastern cultures is that their kids are willing to put in the struggle and hard work (or grit) that it takes to be really good.

In America? Parents are likely to complain to teachers or coaches instead of making sure their kids works.  It's all about natural talent, not work.  This is just what Carol Dweck talks about with her concept of "The Growth Mindset" vs. "The Fixed Mindset."


Finally, these are hilarious.  Some are more true than others, and some are totally false but still funny.

Even I remember this one from high school.

Guilty as charged.

I've seen this first hand.  Sad.  But hilarious.

ha ha.

Guilty as charged.

This is the damn worst!

Ha ha.  This brings me back to high school.

I've done this!  


My students said, when we were discussing ways to improve LHS, that this happens a lot.  Wow.  Then we should be evaluated every day.

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's never too early for Halloween

Here is a video I shot two weeks ago.  It's never too early for Halloween in Kenzie's world.  We ordered Cash his Stormtrooper costume.  Of course, he played with it for a day or two and grew tired of it.

Leave it to his older sister to use it to create her own blend of heroes and villains.  Here she is with a Stormtrooper mask, Snake Eyes' costume, and Bob Fett's gun.  Oh yeah, the music was her idea too!

TIES 2014

I cannot wait for the TIES convention this year.

I first learned of TIES back in 2010.  That's when one of my favorite people on earth, Sir Ken Robinson, was going to be the Keynote speaker.

I wasn't able to go, so I had to eat my heart out of jealousy.

Then a few years the Keynote speakers were none of than Simon Sinek and Tony Wanger, both of whom were also some of my favorite people in all of education.

I was lucky enough, though, to be part of the TRF cohort who travelled down to the cities for the TIES convention last year.  The Keynote speaker?  Again, one of my favorites, Marc Prensky, whose essay, Engage me or Enrage me, has been a staple in my College Comp class for years.

This year the Keynote speakers are again, two of my favorite people (I'm sensing a theme here): Yong Zhao, whose book World Class Learners, I read two years ago, and Jane McGonigal, whose TED TALK on gaming has fascinated me for years as well, and who is also one of the best follows on all of Twitter See the video below.

In doing a bit of research on these two, I found two other excellent resources -

McGonigal on the Colbert Report -

Yong Zhao

And his hilarious TED X Talk

Zhao will be the Keynote on Monday and McGonigal will be the Keynote on Tuesday.

On top of that, another one of the phenomenal guest speakers from last year, and one of my favorite bloggers, George Courus will be again speaking on Monday.

Can't wait to soak it all up.

As if that wasn't enough, though, I am actually privileged to be presenting two sessions on Tuesday.

One of my breakout session is entitled, Digital Classroom: Create a Dynamic Social Media Platform.

If you know me at all, you this topic is not just near and dear to my heart, but it's actually entwined in my very DNA as a teacher.

Here is the long description


Meet the Millennials (and now Generation Z) where they live and thrive: on social media. Teachers must make social media work for them. After all, our students are talking about us and our classrooms on their social media platforms. This is inevitable. The only thing we can control is what our students have to say about us. Are students venting about esoteric subject matter that has no connection to lives? Are they ranting about tedious Powerpoints and lectures? Are they objecting to apparent busywork that has no value for them? Perhaps, our students have a point. If teachers embrace social media, though, they can transform not only their teaching, but they can also market their teaching as a brand. Teachers can use social media to show students how our subject matter actually connects to their lives and pop culture. Teachers can use social media as part of their traditional classroom to make Powerpoints and discussions more relevant. Teachers can also use social media to give students a voice in crafting content in our classes. Most importantly, social media allows teachers to transform themselves into digital role models to show our students what it is like to leave a positive digital footprint and to be a life long learner who actually has a personality and passions outside of school. This allows teachers to connect with – and market to – students like never before. This session will focus on forging an interactive, supportive, and irresistibly engaging digital classroom culture via these social media sites: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Blogger, Youtube, TED Ed, and Twitter. This session will focus on the works of John Merrow, Don Tapscott, Michael Hyatt, Ruben R. Puentedura, Mike Lanouette, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Seth Godin.
The main focus will be on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Blogger, Youtube, TED Ed, and Twitter. There will also be mention of Storify, Infographs, Tweet Deck, and QR codes.
I. Intro to social media II. Explore how schools have changed (using John Merrow's work from The Influence of Teachers here): school used to serve three functions: knowledge repository, social, and in loco parentis. Today, the only one still relevant is in loco parentis. III. Exploration of what it is like to be a 21st century student (using Don Tapscott's Grown Up Digital here). IV. How to engage the millennials/Gen Z (using Mike Lanouette's 10 Traits of Highly Effective Instructors) using social media. V. Explore how building a personalized classroom brand via social media is key to developing a positive culture (using the works of Seth Godin here). VI. Share my personal story as a digital immigrant and my conversion to social media proponent. VII. Explore the pitfalls of social media to show how they pale in comparison to the benefits of social media to transform teaching (using Michael Hyatt's Platform: How to Get Recognized in a Noisy World, Gary Vaynerchuk's Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook! and Ruben Puentedura's concept of SAMR) VIII. In depth exploration of how I (or our school and other staff members) use Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Blogger, Youtube, TED Ed, and Twitter to develop a positive culture.
My other breakout session is Flipped Classrooms: Lesson Plans for a 1:1 School.

Here is the description


Attendees will witness the teaching and learning methods of how to create an engaging and interactive flipped classroom. I will emphasize how I use Google Docs and Blogger as my base platforms to flip my high school English classes. I will illustrate how we use Google Docs to draft, revise, and, ultimately, submit assignments. Then I will walk attendees through how we use Blogger for discussions, to publish and distribute student work, and as a platform to embed the main tools I use to build many of my lessons: TED Ed and Storify. Attendees will leave with a clear idea how to use Google Docs and Blogger in their own classes. They will see first hand how I use Google Docs to make my classroom as paperless as possible through a real-time submission process with my class back in Thief River Falls. I will model my two classroom blogs for College Comp I and II. I will focus on how I use Blogger as an online base for nearly everything we do in class. I will also share student-generated blogs for various projects in my class. If attendees are interested enough, they may even choose to create a blog specific to one of their own classes. Attendees will also leave with the ability to build specific lessons unique to their classes using TED Ed and Storify. Attendees will see how they can use TED Ed to modify not only TED Talks but also any video on Youtube (or any video they choose to upload to Youtube) to their individual units or lessons. Likewise, attendees will see how they can use Storify as a way to stockpile resources unique to their own units or lessons and then distribute them to their students.
We will explore Google Docs (namely Drive), Blogger, TED Ed, and Storify.
I. Intro to my flipped classes II. Explore the benefits and negatives of Google Docs and Blogger III. Show my blogs and student generated blogs IV. Google Docs as a way to make my classes as paperless as possible V. Blogger, my base platform – allows for engaging and interactive content. VI. Sample lessons for TED Ed and Storify. VII. Time to create a blog for attendees classes or time to create individual lessons using either TED Ed or Storify.

Part of me is terrified.  But part of me cannot wait for December 8 and 9! #livingthedream

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A very interesting read

Here is a very interesting articles about one of my all time favorite topics: millennials.

I am partial to them because I've spent my working life around them for the past 17 years.  Perhaps, even more so because I am more millennial than they are.

Here is my millennial score via this site.

 Where Millennials Went Wrong and How They're Paying the Price

This is an interesting read with some legit concerns.

The author starts out with these negative stats

  • They contributed $1 trillion to our national student loan debt [Bloomberg]
  • They are the most educated generation in human history, yet they have the highest share of people who are unemployed in the last 40 years [USA Today]
  • 48% of employed college graduates have jobs that do not require a four-year degree. [The Center for College Affordability and Productivity
  • Nearly 1/3 have postponed marriage or having a baby due to the recession. [Pew Research]
Student loan debt - When reading over this, I had to think, how is this the fault of any millennial?  If this had been true for my generation, would it have been Gen X's fault?

If you're a parent, are you seriously not going to push your kid toward college?  What kid (okay, I know of one, my nephew, but he's a rare, rare, rare case) who saves up diligently for college.  I would argue that is something parents of millennials (hello Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) should be held responsible for.

Maybe I'm extreme there.  But I just don't see how it's the millenials' fault that a university education is far more expensive than it ever has been before.

But the bottom line here is that I challenge a Gen Xer to tell their kids NOT to go to college because they'll have too much student debt.  I'd like to see the author of this article tell his kids that.

Did millennials take out students loans and then flunk out of college and thus rack up student debt. Of course.  But I know a significant portion of my peers in college who did the exact same thing.  It just wasn't as expensive to make the mistake now as it was then.  And I bet you had a large portion of Gen Xers defaulting on their student loans.  But do we blame them for that?

Unemployment - okay, I can see some blame falling on the millennials here.  Just get out and freaking work.  Even if it's flipping burgers, it's not beneath your dignity.  Don't sit at home in your parents' basement waiting for the "perfect" career.

But at the same time, how can millennials be blamed for the recession that sent companies scrambling to cut losses by laying millions of Americans off?   And thus a rise in unemployment.  That's like blaming the Greatest Generation for being out of work during the Depression.  And did any ever think of doing that?

But the bottom line here is that I think millennials have to get out and freaking work.  Period.

Jobs that don't require a college degree - I'm not sure this is the millennials' fault.  Go back to the start of the "college" for all revolution: the GI Bill.  Prior to that 10% of Americans had a college education.  But, then again, 90% of the jobs didn't require one.  

But when millions of young men came back from WW 2, the government, in a stroke of genius, realized that these vets needed somewhere to go.  Thus, they created the GI Bill will allowed them to go to schools that would never have been open to them before.  In fact, many Ivy League profs weren't thrilled about this at all.  You were devaluing their pressure degrees and education programs by letting in the average citizen.

The problem was that the industrial revolution and the fact that women in the work force were more efficient than the men who went to fight in WW 2, meant that the US needed fewer laborers.

So when all the dads got degrees and went to work in new upper blue class careers (that had not existed when they went off to Europe to fight), a new sector of the workforce opened up.  Plus, if a parent has a college education and realizes the benefits, is there any way they're not going to want their children to have the same?

Thus, Baby Boomers began going to schools in record numbers.  Not only that but more and more institutions of higher learning began to open up (MN alone has close to 100 now).  So that meant Gen Xers would be going to college in record numbers.  And their kids, the millennials, were expected to do the same.

Unfortunately, the job growth can't keep up.  Thus, there are more jobs that don't need a college education available now.  But because of their parents' expectations, the millennials have the college degree (or at least college debt) that their job doesn't require.

It's sad, but I don't know how this is the millennials' fault.

This is one reason, at LHS we have instituted our RAMP UP curriculum to get students College AND Career ready.  I preach all the time that they're are excellent jobs available with great pay that don't require a four year college degree.  The two men who are currently working on our basement for Innovative Basements probably don't need a four year degree from NDSU to be sawing and drilling down there.  Do they need training? Of course! Do they need to be life long, active learners? Of course.  Are they making (as my students would say) "good money" right now? Yes.  God bless 'em.

But one thing I find ironic about our RAMP UP curriculum is that - like it or not - it is slanted toward getting kids to a four year degree.  The bias is built in to almost every lesson.  So the hypocrisy of this runs deep.

And I don't see how we can dump it on the millennials.

Postponing marriage and having kids?  To this, I say God bless 'em!  That's one of the smartest things millennials could do.  Let's just remember, the millennials are the largest generation of people in American history.  If they started producing early and as often as the Greatest Generation did when they got back from WW 2, we'd be in a world of hurt.

And if they millennials are such a nuisance, just imagine the void America (let alone the world) would have without them.  Who would buy all of our products?  The most successful company in the world, apple, would crumble.  What would happen to Amazon? Zappos? Netflix? Wal-mart? Target? Universities? The film and music industries?  What do people the age of 16-32 buy today?  Think of the void that would exist without them!

Here is an interesting passage from the article

Millennials went wrong when they ignored the unique opportunities in front of them in exchange for the opportunities presented to their parents.
As the Information Age exploded, along with it came the rise in technology, and your average Millennial missed the boat. Instead of pursuing a path in a growing field like computer science to develop a skillset that would open up endless career options, most Millennials have chosen college degrees and careers in business and liberal arts, both of which are degrees that are virtually worthless to employers today.
I don't know that I'd lay this blame solely on the millennials.  Were schools (led by Boomes and Gen Xers) preparing students for these jobs?  It's kind of hard to know you should go into search engine optimization when you don't even know that is a field until you're a junior in college!  

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that small businesses and entrepreneurs were the backbone of America?  Yet, students aren't supposed to go into business?  I think that's dead wrong.

And liberal arts?  As the president of Duke, Richard Brodhead, once said to a parent of a graduate who said, "What kind of job will my son earn with his degree?"

Now that's a legit question.  Brodhead didn't duck, he said, "whatever job he wants.  As a liberal arts graduate, he can think, problem solve, adapt, and learn.  What job doesn't require those skills?"

I think that having a liberal arts degree would - to use the author's words against him - "open up endless career options."

Okay, so the author and I are in agreement here -

Millennials were misguided by their parents, their professors and their guidance counselors. To no fault of their own these influencers passed on the path to success that worked for them. Unfortunately, they didn't anticipate how the world would evolve.

And ultimately, I couldn't agree with him more when he offers this advice for millennials - and I preach this every single freaking day in College Comp 1 and 2 -

For starters, Millennials need to establish a portfolio both online and offline. If you're not receiving the job opportunities or the salary you desire, you need to work for free. Take on some pro-bono project-based work in your chosen field, do an incredible job and get a reference letter. Rinse and repeat this process at least 3 - 5 times. 
Last but not least, you need to make sure you have skills for today's new working environment. To survive in the highly competitive environment of employment today, you must be a Jack-of-all-trades. 
As an example, if you're pursuing a career in business you need to learn basic programming, graphic design, video editing, photo editing, accounting, web design, etc. All of these skills can be learned online at your own pace and for free or at a very minimal cost., and even YouTube are great resources.
All hope is not lost. Opportunity is abundant, but in order to qualify Millennials must be prepared for the unique obstacles that lie before their generation.

But what generation hasn't faced unique obstacles?  150 years ago when masses left the farms for the city, they faced unique obstacles.  When many of those jobs were lost to technology, they faced unique obstacles.  Later when those entire factories left for India and China, the children of the workers left behind faced unique obstacles.  And now that brings us to the millennials.  And this is where I think both a business background and a liberal arts degree and certainly a background heaped in computer science is vital: if you want a job, invent it.

Here are two videos that I love.  The first one tackles the lie that all students need a four year degree.  The latter video is a preview of the book based on the author's article analyzed above.  Both are wonderful resources.

And the other side -