Sunday, January 25, 2015

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

I haven't blogged for quite awhile, so I thought I'd fire off a post before I plunge into finishing up final grades for first semester and prepping for the start of second semester on Tuesday.


I saw this, and it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks.  It doesn't seem that long ago (though it really is) that I was busy soaking up all of the knowledge I could from one of my all-time favorite teachers: Loiell Dyrud.  His last year was my rookie year at LHS.

Every day that I didn't have to leave early for coaching (I coached at the college for my first three years), I was down in his room talking shop.

Though I wasn't able to really institute much of what he was currently doing (he had honors and AP and College Prep classes) in my sophomore classes, I was still able to bounce ideas off of him and apply that to my craft.  I learned what worked and what didn't.

Though I don't consider myself a master teacher by any stretch of the imagination (Mr. Dyrud WAS a master teacher in ever sense of the word), I can look back over the past 17.5 years of teaching and realize I've tried a lot of things.  Many of which failed, but all of which taught me something.  That's a world of perspective I bring to my new classes on Tuesday.  That is also a huge bag of tricks that I've stockpiled to use in my classes.  There was no other way to do.

I longed to be great right out of the gates, but what I realized around my second year of teaching was this: you have to be good before you can be great.  And experience is the best way to get there.


I'm totally using this in College Comp when we read Ken Robinson's The Element, which focuses on the importance of finding your passion and the need to rediscover creativity. Robinson also discusses how one problem with our education system is that (and I don't think this is intentional) we teach students to collect dots (memorize facts to do well on tests), but we rarely teach them to connect the dots (analyze, for example, how learning about World War I in social studies deepens their understanding of All Quiet on the Western Front in College Comp).  This illustration reinforces that, but most importantly it illustrates how important it is to take it one step further from knowledge to experience and then finally to creativity.


How cool is this? And lord knows America needs to produce all the engineers we possibly can.


I wish I would have discovered this column a few summers ago when I was teaching a technology session on the benefits of teachers keeping blogs.

I agree with all six reasons.  But I am especially convinced of #1 and #6.

#1 For reflection – What educator can’t stand to review the day’s learning and objectively think about how things went? What went well? What can be adjusted?

#6 To model good learning practices – Anything we want students to do, we should blaze the way with first. This is a great way to show them the value of the practice from your own real experience.

In fact, during my Digital Culture MLK tech session, I spoke about #6 at length.  Blogs are the perfect tool for answering two key questions that our students have every single day they walk into our classes: 1. What does this have to do with me? 2. When am I ever going to use this?

Blogs are the perfect tool for answering those questions.


This Mom is amazing!

If I had a decade of my life to spare, I'd love to do the same thing!

Now this is an amazing replica of Hogwarts!

It looks even more amazing at night.

It even has the forbidden forest!

And classrooms.

Even Slytherian's common room (though, I probably would have left this out).

The great hall!

What a great peak into an office.


A very interesting read.  I agree with their take on multitasking: humans are terrible at it.

However, I think one of humanity's greatest traits is its ability to adapt.  I recall watching a documentary that read from journals people kept upon their first time visiting London 150 years ago.  They were overwhelmed by all the horses, people, commotion, stench, and business.  

However, we adapted to large cities quite well.  I think we'll adopt to our ever-busy lives as well.

But it never hurts to unplug and put the distractions away and just be present wherever you are.


This is just too awesome for me to muck it up with my thoughts on it.

Enjoy and see how many you can relate to - 50 Things You Will Never Be Able to Forget.


Teaching irony? Here is a great way to illustrate it.  I love TED Ed, but I have never seen them used quite like this.  Great idea!


This one is a bit touchy feely for me, but ti does just what the title suggests - it shows the power of words.


I have no allegiance to Fox News (though I don't know of a more loathsome human being than Bill O' Reilly . . . Okay, Rush Limbaugh and Dennis Miller . . . and to be fair to draw in a whacko from the far left, Michael Moore) or CNN.  But I do love how this high school journalism class responds to Fox News' story they did on this high school.  Oh by the way, the students educate their viewers on the code of ethics of journalists.  And they point out how Fox News happens to violate each one of the codes.



I love how the students note that FOX News neglects to cite or give any info on any of the folks they interview on the street.  Even my juniors and seniors attempt to cite their sources.

But this is fine - what gives me real hope for the future is that among millennials Fox News and CNN has basically 0% of their viewership.

Now, you could argue that they're all watching inapropriate material on the internet, but I would argue that is better than the "inappropriate" broadcasting ethics (basically spewing hate) of both Fox News and CNN or MSNBC.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

What's Going on in 205

First semester is winding down.  Here is a look at what we are working on.

Lit & Lang 9R

We are roughly ten chapters deep in Kaffir Boy.  

First I had students do a scavenger hunt related to South Africa, Nelson Mandela, apartheid, and the book. **** Actually, I first begin by sending home - weeks in advance - a parent permission form which notifies the parents of a controversial scene in the book, giving them an option for an abridged version of the book.  I had no parents choose the abridged option. In fact, of the five times I've taught the book, I have not had one parent select the abridged version.  

The only book I've ever had a student or parent object to was The Jungle.  So the student agreed to read The Grapes of Wrath instead. ***** Actually, students have objected to every novel we have ever read . . . just not because of content.  They are just not fans of reading I'm afraid! 

Then we spent three days watching the most excellent film, Invictus, which focuses on how Mandela, when he became president of South Africa (after being released from prison), sought to unify the nation using, of all things, the country's beleaguered Ruby team, the Springboks.  It worked.  The team won the World Cup in 1995.

The movie is excellent.  Clint Eastwood did a great job as director.  Of course when it has two of my all time favorite actors, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, how can you not like it?

As far as the book goes, we are nearing the controversial part, which students will be allowed to read on their own.  I have been reading the longer chapters to them so far, and they have been relating to it well.

They marvel at the poverty and oppression Johannes' family must endure.  Just today I told them - as his mother takes him to pick through the local dump for food since their father has been sent to prison for passbook crimes - that we in America cannot fathom poverty like this.  We live in the richest nation on earth (I'm not one to complain or blame capitalism for a second.  It works. It's alive and well.  Yes, at times - in my opinion - it needs to be regulated - but it allows for someone to start a business tomorrow and have a chance at making this country great) and can't imagine poverty like this.  In fact, the worst hunting shack or cabin or garage is far better than the shack Johannes and his family must eek out a living in.

Another part of the book that I treat carefully is its heavy dose of religion.  One aspect that gets overlooked because of the controversial passage is that Johannes runs away from the horrible, controversial moment and uses it as motivation to leave the slums and get an education. Along the way he discovers Christianity.  I'm not sure how many times the world "Jesus" and "Christianity" are mentioned.  But I would bet that it's far more than any other textbook the district has.  So I treat that carefully since we are a public school.  It's a great message - and one that I personally believe in - but I allow students to draw their own conclusions when it comes to that.

College Composition -

Students just finished watching Jaws.  We will write a film review on it, focusing on a theme (most likely "money is more important than human life") and a film technique (most choose the power of suggestion).  Students will analyze one scene that illustrates the theme and then another scene that illustrates the film technique.

College Composition 2 -

We are 100 pages into one of my all-time favorite books, Seth Godin's Linchpin.  We have analyzed the different ways one can become a linchpin and why the new world of work needs linchpins as opposed to interchangeable cogs.

Next week I'll try and line speakers up to come in and talk about being a linchpin.  Then for the final week of the semester students will present their Linchpin boards, sees this link for past examples, and then end with their exit interviews out at Digi Key.

After that, my schedules will change to College Comp 2 and two sections of College Comp.  It's going to be a blast starting all over and tweaking things with new texts (hopefully).

Friday, January 02, 2015

Today's Stupid

Imagine that. It's only the second day of a new year and we likely already have the dumbest story we are every going to read for the next 364 days.

Police have to "rescue" a couple who were "trapped" in a closet for two days.  The only catch? The closet didn't lock!

Something is strange about that?

Then I saw the mug shots, which tell us all we need to know.

First, if you have a throat tattoo, I am worried.  I'm no Puritan, but throat and neck tattoos baffle me.

Second, she has a money sign tattooed on her throat.  Perhaps, if she got an education or a job, she might actually have some real money instead of having to get it tattooed on her neck.  If you're capable of enduring all of that pain, you certainly must be able to endure the pain of getting up at regular intervals (say five days a week) and going to a job (say for 40 hours a week) and earning a paycheck (say to actually feed your family or save or maybe invest in a cell phone that you can use to call for help when you're supposedly trapped in a closet) as opposed to get more tattoos. Or drugs.

Third, one simple hashtag: #weretryingtohaveasociety

At least, mercifully, it appears these two don't have any kids.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Man, do I love Storify!

One of the best articles on education

that I have ever read.  This is rich. And brilliant.

Best Reads This Year

Every year I set a goal of reading one book a month during the school year and three books per month during the summer.  It's a good thing I exceeded my goal last summer because I haven't held up my end of the bargain this school year.

Still, here is a look back at the best books I read this year

Mindset - Carol Dweck

I actually learned about Dweck's work when I was part of a committee from UND that presented to area teachers, principals, and superintendents last spring.  One of our committee members, Jared, who is a principal in Devil's Lake, raved about Dweck's work, especially "the growth mindset."

This rung a bell because prior to instituting our RAMP UP for Readiness program at LHS, we were assigned an article on the growth mindset.

Then I was reading Little Bets (I'll talk about that a bit later), and the author also had quite a bit on Dweck's work, so I thought it was high time to order a copy.

It was one of the most insightful books I've read in a long time.  I just wish I would have read it when I was in college - or at least - beginning to teach.

Now, though, I'm hoping to order a classroom set of books to use in College Comp II.

Here is the author talking more about the growth mindset.

How We Got to NowSteven Johnson

It's hard to underestimate how huge of a fan of Johnson's I am.  It all began when I stumbled across a couple podcasts that he was featured in.

Then I read Everything Bad is Good For You (parts of which I use in College  Comp 2), Where Good Ideas Come From, Future Perfect (which we jig-saw in College Comp 2 and students (along with a teacher / administrator) teach a chapter to the rest of the class), The Ghost Map (which I hope to teach in College Comp this new year), The Invention of Air, and now How We Got to Now.

I think I became fascinated with Johnson when I saw this seminal TED Talk (he is actually one of the few people to do multiple TED Talks).

Like a lot of his other works, How We Got to Now looks at innovations we take for granted.  It was also an amazing TV series featured on PBS (and available on iTunes).  We watch the episode Clean in class and apply all that we have learned about innovation to it.

Here are the six innovations that Johnson argues created the modern world: Glass, Cold, Sound, Clean, Time, and Light.  Most people have no clue all of the amazing people and events led to the rise of these six things that make our modern world possible.

This led me to a most interesting thought experiment.

Who are the 5 (or 10) most important people of the past 500 years?

For my money, here is my list -

Johannes Gutenberg (the printing press! Come on!  What aspect of our lives didn't that effect?)

Tim Burners-Lee (the world wide web! Come on!  What aspect of our lived didn't that effect?)

Shakespeare (I'd be kicked out of the English club if I didn't list him)

Gandhi (I was tempted to put Martin Luther King Jr, but he was heavily influenced by Mahata, so I went with Gadhni instead.  His nonviolent civil disobedience changed how we fight for change)

Einstein (mostly for his work on the Manhattan Project.  If he hadn't come to America, we well could all be speaking German now and living in a Nazi controlled world).

This is just a brief list. I could go on - Martin Luther, Pope Francis, George Washington, Henry Ford, Queen Victoria, FDR, and on and on and on.

Little Bets - Peter Sims

I can't recall how I stumbled upon this great book, but it was the first book I read last summer.

This book's subtitle says it all - "How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries." Sims explores some of the major breakthroughs and discovered, much like Johnson does in his book, that the major innovations that occur don't happen in a grand flash of light or a monumental breakthrough.  Instead, they occur when a hundred small bets or discoveries pile up and reach a tipping point.  It is at this tipping point that the disruptive innovation or breakthrough occurs.

This also gives hope to anyone seeking to make a drastic change in their lives.  Sims notes that the best (or at least the most prove) way to institute change is to not put all of your eggs into one basket.  Sims argues that you should have a dozen eggs in a dozen different baskets.

Think of it this way: if you're trying to lose weight, you could go all in and buy that expensive treadmill.  But how often do those just end up collecting dust in the basement?  Or how many actually are getting used consistently three years after they've been paid for?

Sims would argue that if you really want to lose weight, you're better off going for one walk a day, cutting out pop from your diet, drinking more water, do a little weight training in the mornings, going out to eat less often, and taking smaller portions.  Those will add up to more weight loss than simply buying an expensive treadmill and telling yourself that you'll start training for that marathon tomorrow.

Teach Like a  PIRATE - Dave Burgess

This sucker, which was part of our staff reading for the school year, caused quite a ruckus at LHS.  But that's a good thing.

I think there was a ruckus for several reasons.

First, Burgess is a bit over the top.  I like that because that's how I tend to be.  But I certainly can see how others were uncomfortable with this.

Second, it called into question many of our practices.  Burgess certainly doesn't operate under the "this is how we've always done it" mantra.

Third, Burgess puts a premium on engagement and passion in the classroom.  These two things make people uncomfortable.

But I honestly think many people missed the point - think critically about how we can become better teachers by making better connections with our students.

I'm not against the old fashioned way of doing school - practice in class modeled by the teacher and then independent practice at home (otherwise known as homework).  The only problem is that this isn't working for us.  Our scores across the board in math, science, reading, and writing are low.  So what we haven't been doing hasn't worked. Time to change.

And change is what TLAP is all about.

I also heard grumblings about having to read outside books.  Many teachers reasoned that they were experts on what they taught, so why read anything else?

This shocked me a little.

Aren't we supposed to model what eager, curious minds look like?  Should that involve reading and staying at the top of our profession?

I agree, many of my colleagues are quite expert at what they teach.  But if they aren't pushing the boundaries and exploring new things, how will they ever know what else they can be teaching?

Here is the man himself -

What to do When it's Your Turn (and it's Always Your Turn) - Seth Godin

The MAN himself has a new book out.  Only it's not really a book.  It's more like a magazine in book form.  But that's what I love about Godin.  He always pushes the boundaries.  For his last book, The Icharus Deception, he put his money where his mouth was.

He always talks about making a ruckus and how you don't want a map (directions).  What you really want is a compass (so you can make your own directions).  So instead of going to his publisher to publish his next book, he tried to walk his own walk.

He started a kickstarter campaign to raise enough money from his fans to publish the book.  And that's exactly what he did.

This time around, he wanted to push the boundaries of what exactly a book was.  So he has What to do When it's Your Turn (and it's Always Your Turn) which is part book, part blog, part magazine, and part bulletin board, and part Pinterest page.  It's a reading experience unlike anything I've ever seen.

Your Turn Intro Update from Seth Godin on Vimeo.

Talk Like TED - Carmine Gallo

Like many of my recent reads, I came across this one via Dave Ramsey's Entreleadership podcast.

This blew me away so much that I started tweaking all of my slideshows and presentations to reflect Gallo's suggestions.  Now I have a presentation coming up on our MLK tech day called "The Powerpoint Isn't Dead" based off of a lot of Gallo's ideas.

Carmine Gallo: Talk Like TED from BrightSightGroup on Vimeo.

I hope to get copies of this book next year for College Comp 2.  I'd like to have them analyze several TED Talks, something they do in education classes at UND already, for the principles Gallo talks about in his book.

Then I'd like to use 20% time in my class (Wednesdays) to allow students to develop a TEDx Talk on a topic of their choice.  Then at the end of the first quarter, students will present these to the class, peers, parents, and other teachers and administrators they want to invite.

The Skin Trade - George RR Martin

The best damn werewolf story I've ever read.  Period.

This is totally amazing.  I never knew Martin could write horror like this.  It's actually a novella that is part of an anthology called Dark Visions, but this is the crowning piece in there. It won a Stoker award in 1985.

I don't know how this isn't yet a movie.  It'd be amazing.  I hard Martin say that he'd love Paul Giamatti to play the main male character in here.  He'd be perfect!

Luckily, though, there is a graphic novel version of the book.  You've been warned though! Some of the covers are a big gruesome.

So Good They Can't Ignore You - Cal Newport

This was so powerful I asked Mr. Zutz if I could order copies to teach in College Comp 2 this year.  And, as usual, he came through!

I've written about this book at length when I was reading it.

Cal Newport: "Follow Your Passion" Is Bad Advice from 99U on Vimeo.

The Rise - Sarah Lewis

A beautifully written book about the "near win" and how vital it is to success and breakthroughs.  Lewis was fascinated by failure and explored examples of how artists, athletes, explorers, intellectuals, and scientists used their failures (what she calls "near wins") to stay committed to their efforts.

And she has one of the best TED Talks I've ever seen!

I love the line - "Success is hitting that ten ring, but mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can't do it again and again and again."  That is a message very high school student needs tattooed on their brains.

Jab, Jab, Jab . . . Right Hook! - Gary Vaynerchuk

I bought this two years ago at TIES, but I didn't get a chance to dive into it until this time last year.  It totally changed how I teach.

Here is a longer blog post about all of that.

Now after realizing just how much I spend on Amazon buying new books, I have a New Year's resolution to read all of the books I've bought the past two years before I buy anymore new ones!

That should keep me busy until 2020!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Since I'm on Christmas vacation, I have more time to read and research than normal.  So here are the interesting things I've come across lately.

First, last week I rented Guardians of the Galaxy for the family.  I only have two words: blown away. Okay, three words: Totally blown away.

I thought The Avengers was Marvels best movie, but it doesn't even compare to Guardians.  I loved the irreverent humor, the lack of gruesome violence, the (mostly) family friendly themes, and, above all, the amazing soundtrack.

Here are some of my favorite scenes -

And here is Guradians' take on the classic "I have a plan" moment - as well as some of the other hilarious scenes.

Notice Groot in the background of this scene.  Hilarious.

And the final scene is classic.  Groot, who sacrifices himself and who learns a new pronoun (for most of the film, his only line is "I am Groot."  However, at the climax when he saves the rest of the Guardians by surrounding them in a protective network of his branches and leaves - thereby sacrificing himself- he utters "We are Groot."

Don't be sad, though.  He is able to regenerate himself.


I came across this one last night: How School Has Changed Since You Were a Kid.

Initially, I'm hesitant to believe this.  After all Time came out with a cover story entitled How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century,  in which they argue that if you were to bring someone from revolutionary times to today, they'd only recognize two things right away: churches and schools.

But after reading this article, I'm starting to question that.  Sure, they might recognize a school, but they most likely wouldn't recognize the learning going on inside.  Or so I hope.

For the record, here are the five things you wouldn't recognize -

1. Handwriting is gone.  Thank the lord!  Handwriting is totally irrelevant.  They can concoct a signature of their own, but that's it.  Cursive is a romantic notion, but it is irrelevant today.  Kind of like Latin.  That's not to say I don't think it's valuable or serves a purpose.  I am just saying we have other more important things to teach.

2.  Cooler Classes.  Remember taking computer classes?  I even - gulp - remember taking keyboarding.  I do.  That's laughable today.  Schools offer coding, video game design, entrepreneurship, and even 3D printing.

3.  Lighter Backpacks.  I don't know where this comes from.  Even though we are a 1:1 school, I still see far too many students with their backpacks crammed full of books.  While I love that, I do worry about back problems 20 years down the road.

4.  Smartphones are encouraged.  I sure hope so.  Now we are a bit different in our 1:1 school.  I can see having students put their phones away since they are connected to wifi via their MacBook Airs every second of the school day.  But in schools that don't have that luxury, I think smartphones have to be encouraged.

That's why this makes little sense to me.

Unfortunately, too many students think of education as just that: being hassled by their teacher.

This I actually saw in a real classroom.

When I showed that to my College Comp class last year, they devised this to counter it. I love it.  That's not to diminish what coaches do. Not at all.  I'd like to see a reduced workload for head coaches - or at least less rigorous classes during their sports seasons.

5.  Old School Gadgets Gone.  I bet my pencil sharpener gets used in a year what it used to get used in a single day ten years ago. A few weeks ago, I had to give my UND class student surveys on my performance.  They were old school and had to be filled out with a number two pencil.  I brought some, but do you think I could find a sharpener in one of the rooms?  I had to go up and actually use a sharpener in a professor's office.   Old school chalk boards? Gone.  White boards have even begun to be phased out by SMARTboards.  Old school desks have been phased out in my rooms by tables or learning stations.


Here is a great article on one of my favorite topics: Disruptive Innovation.  I'm fascinated by this because for much of my life a disruptive innovation came along once every generation or so.  Think about how disruptive radio was.  Then TV came along.  Then computers.  Then Smartphones.

But today disruptive innovations happen far more often than that.  Since I've been teaching (17 years) it doesn't take long to get to double digits with disruptive innovations - the internet, Napster (single handedly killed the record industry), Netflix (single handedly killed Blockbuster, which once had been a disruptive innovation of its own), Amazon (single handedly killed - sadly, I might add - the book store industry, for I cannot tell you how sad I am every time I enter the mall and have no place to kill time like I used to be able to do at B. Daltons or Waldenbooks.  Imagine that.  Columbia Mall used to have TWO book stores in it!), Wi-Fi, Kindle (which has single handedly started to kill libraries), smartphones, iPad, GPS, Youtube, DVRs, 3D printers, and on and on and on.  Just wait until the apple watch.

Here are some of my favorite passages from the article.

WHEN HE WAS 34 years old, Clayton Christensen started a company with a few MIT professors called Ceramics Process Systems Corporation. “I was the business guy,” he explains. “We were making new products out of advanced materials. In that market niche, we were the only ones to succeed: we beat DuPont, Alcoa, Hoechst. I could not explain this by our having smarter people. The other companies had smart owners and smart managers, too. How could smart people fail? I started to think about other industries where talented leaders had failed—were they actually stupid managers?”

What I find interesting about this is that we have experts from different fields aligning their talents to make breakthroughs.  This is right out of Friedman's work on how the biggest innovations occur.

Christensen became curious about what drove an entire category of businesses to crash together in a short time—including successful, well-managed businesses led by very smart people, like Olsen. 

I love the use of the verb, curious.  I don't think that's a skill we teach enough in our kids. In fact, I think we often drub it out of them.  That has to change.  The days of showing up for a 40 hour a week job where you don't have to think at all are gone.  Because of the disruptive innovations that have occurred, you have to be a life long learner.

Just look at the world of farming.  While schools might not have changed all that much, at least according to the Time article, over the course of American history, the same cannot be said for agriculture.  In fact, I marvel where our world would be (I mean how much better off we would be) if everything else excelled at the rate of innovation as farming did.  Just three generations ago, we had numerous farm families that were basically self sufficient.  They produced their own food, with enough to sell so that the rest of us could eat.  The produced their own clothing.  And for the most part a John Deere A or 730 could do the work necessary just fine.

That world is totally gone today.  Now we have tractors guided by GPS.  We have seeders that run on a program that puts seeds deeper according to soil concentrations.  We have fertilizer spreaders that run on a program that put more fertilizer where it is needed most based off of last year's yields.

As one of my friends wrote on his blog, our farmers today could put soil down in a parking lot and with the seed and fertilizer today they could get food to grow.

That's amazing.  And that's just one industry.  This calls for us all to be life long learners.

He explains that disruptive products are typically “cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.” They tend to reach new markets, enabling their producers to grow rapidly and—with technological improvements—to eat away at the market shares of the leading vendors.

Again, I find this interesting because the vast majority of the people in the world have never bought anything on line nor even shopped in a mall.  What would happen if we were able to tap into their potential?  This is a dream shared by both James Burke and Thomas Friedman.  Friedman highlights an example of a company (Nokia, maybe) who gave a digital camera to some African villagers.  Once they realized all that they could do with it, they began capturing video and pictures.  Then Nokia came and cruelly said, "You're time is up. We want our camera back."  The villagers were distraught. They had been exposed to a piece of technology that disrupted their lives.  But then Nokia said, "Find a way to justify the cost of us giving you the camera and you can keep it."  So the villagers created their own little system for creating a market for pictures and video that allowed them to make money in order to keep the camera. Nokia won by getting in to a new market.  The villagers won by getting a new piece of technology that they enjoyed.  If you ask me, we need more of this in our flat world.

Consider the hegemony of Detroit’s Big Three—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. At one time, they dominated the auto industry, producing bigger, faster, safer, more comfortable cars with more and more features. But these improving products also “create a vacuum underneath them,” Christensen says, “and disruptive innovators suck customers in with fewer features and a cheaper price.” Toyota, Honda, and Nissan disrupted the Big Three’s marketplace by introducing smaller, lighter, less safe, and less comfortable but reliable cars that needed few repairs and got good gas mileage—at a significantly lower price. Within a few years, they had garnered a large share of the market. Says Christensen: “The leaders get killed from below.”

In terms of disruptive innovation, Detroit is a fascinating example for several reasons.  First, they had the best engineers and designers in the world.  Yet, they lost their edge.  They became complacent (I listened to a podcast where they said the Pontiac brand never turned a profit.  Yet, for decades the line was allowed to exist.  Despite never making any money!) and they were nearly wiped out.  Second, they missed a great opportunity to learn from their overseas competition in order to innovate and become more efficient.  One of my favorite stories (and I can't recall what podcast I heard this on) that illustrates this occurred when Americans toured a Japanese car plant.  They noticed that the Japanese plant was almost identical to America's except in one key detail.  At the end of the American assembly line, there was a person whose job it was to use a mallet to hammer on the door to make sure that it fit properly on the body of the car.

This person was absent in the Japanese assembly line.

When the Americans asked their tour guide about this, the guide simply replied, "We make sure that the door is designed to fit properly. Thus, there is no need to have someone with a mallet hammering it into place."

Talk about efficiency.  Yet, Detroit missed out on a wonderful opportunity to learn and innovate.

Third, I love that last line, "the leaders are killed from below."  The competition (regardless of our fields) doesn't always come from our big competitors.  In this flat world where anyone with a laptop and an imagination can wield a ton of power (especially compared to 25 years ago), it is vital to stay on top of things.  Otherwise someone will take it all away.  And that someone is often a competitor you've never ever heard of.

Think of B Daltons or Waldens or Barnes and Noble.  Each competed against each other.  But it wasn't either who brought about their demise.  It was Jeff Bezos over at Amazon.  I bet B Daltons and all the other bookstores laughed when they heard about the concept of buying books online.  Now they aren't laughing at all.

What I find most interesting about disruptive innovation is that whoever you are, you have to be constantly on your toes.  You can rest on your laurels.  Just look at the record industry.  For decades it dominated the market.  Just think of this - if you wanted to listen to your favorite song, you had to buy it on a record.  Where could you do that? A record store.  Where you saw a lot of other records to entice you to buy.  If you had to leave your record player, but you still wanted to listen to music, you had to listen to the radio, which only more records (talk about a wonderfully free advertising system).  And don't forget, there were only four or five radio stations.

But thanks to the internet and digital music files, the music industry doesn't look anything like that at all.  Just notice how all of those record stores (and there used to be two in the Columbia Mall that I used to routinely visit) also dried up and disappeared just like the bookstores.

Talk about disruption.  Now I can buy all the books and music I want right from my iPhone (yet, another example of disruptive innovation).

Speaking of disruptive innovation, here is the perfect illustration.


This is awesome.  I wish this type of sportsmanship went viral and was more predominant in sports than chest pumping celebration over earning trivial first down.


Now this scares me.  I haven't seen a honeybee in our yard for two summers now.


This is brilliant.  I so want to do this next semester.  Imagine if we allowed ever teacher the chance to shadow one of their students?  Now that would make for a hell of a common prep discussion.


Speaking of curiosity, which I wrote about in the disruptive innovation post above, it is one of the skills students need to survive and thrive.

This skill, though, is probably my favorite.  How often do we attempt to teach this in our classes?

High threshold for uncertainty. Be comfortable with the uncertainty that often accompanies problem solving, innovative and creative work. Uncertainty is what drives leaders to seek answers and solve problems. Recognize that setbacks and dead-ends are part of the process.


I somewhat facetiously refer to myself as a chief inspiration officer.  Here are the actual responsibilities of a chief innovation officer. I am going to have to type up my responsibilities as a chief inspiration officer.


Now while I love disruptive innovation, one of my other favorite topics is something closely tied to disruptive innovation: failure.

Here is a great article from the New York Times: A Brief History of Failure.

The first example is quite interesting - the long bow.  Talk about disruptive innovation (it killed 2,000 soldiers in the Battle of Poitiers alone).  However, it was only able to disrupt battle plans because it took years to master the long bow.  This worked great, until another disruptive innovation (the cross-bow) came into existence.  Sure the cross-bow took longer to load and didn't have the range, but it only took a modicum of training for a soldier to use it.  Of course, another disruptive innovation would soon make the cross-bow all but extinct: gun powder.


If you've got an afternoon to burn, check this out: 20 Most Inspiring TED Talks of All Time.

Don't start watching this unless you've got the time.  But they're worth it.

My personal favs from the list - Daniel Pink, Brene Brown, Simon Sinek, Jane McGonical (whom I met at TIES this year), and Shawn Achor (maybe the best TED Talk ever).


One of my all-time video series is Kirby Ferguson's Everything is a Remix.  Here is his follow up - This is Not a Conspiracy Theory.


Here is proof that the good old days weren't that good.  What were these people thinking?  And before we think we've got it all figured out, just ask yourself this: What will people 50 years from now look back at us about and laugh while they ask themselves, What were these people thinking?


I love lists like this one: The 31 Most Pointless Things of all Time.  If you're looking for an interesting activity, have students search your school (or community) for something like this. It doesn't have to be "pointless things." It could be great innovations or most useful things of all time or things we take for granted.  You could even vary how students capture these - they could use video, pictures, wordles, written descriptions, narration, and so on.


I love this metaphor for teacher innovation.  Where do you lie?


I love this short blog post from one of the greatest, Seth Godin: If you can't fail, it doesn't count.  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Changes to Class for Next Year

Our English department is in the stage of the curriculum cycle where we will be buying new curriculum and instituting it next year.

We, along with the middle school, decided to go with the textbooks, Collections, for our text book series.

There were a couple key reasons we went with Collections instead of another textbook series:

1.  It comes with a subscription to TURN IT IN, which will allow us to instantly check for plagiarism.

2.  It is aligned with the common core.

3.  The selections are more modern and, hopefully, relevant to our students.  This caused some debate within our department.  Collections' literature selections are so modern that many aren't deemed "classics" (think dead white Europeans).  For each unit there certainly are "classic" pieces of literature, just not the standard ones (think "Young Goodman Brown," "The Bride Comes to Yellowsky," "The Minister's Black Veil," "The Rocking Horse Winner," "Barn Burning," "Hills Like White Elephants" and, of course, Shakespeare.

    ** personally, this doesn't bother me one bit for several reasons:

    First, our ACT scores already are low, so the classic stories that we've been teaching obviously  
    haven't had an impact.  So what's the big deal in trying a different approach?

    Second, I think by having us teach new stories and poems that we aren't as familiar with will help
   us step out of our comfort zones and try new things, which, hopefully, will have a greater impact on
   our students.  I was most impressed with our middle school teachers who really stressed trying
   something different.  Now the key thing here is that we don't just revert back to the same 12 or 14
   stories that we have always taught (guilty as charged here, too.  More on how I'm trying to combat
   that later).  What we want to avoid is spending tens of thousands of dollars on new textbooks that
   just sit on the shelves and don't actually get used because we just went back to teaching what we
   always have taught.

   Third, when I first started teaching, I was hardcore on the classics.  I believed all of that stuff about
   getting students to fall in love with literature and contributing a verse and discovering their souls
   and all that jazz.  It was right out of Dead Poets Society.  I couldn't imagine not teaching a student
   to love Robert Frost or Langston Hughes.  I felt like it was a crime against humanity if I didn't do
   that.  Mark Bauerlein would've loved it.

   Now, however, I'm actually on the opposite side of things.  I realized that I thought all of those
   things because I was passionate about them, not necessarily that it was what was best for students,
   especially students in the 21st century.

   I'm not sure when my shift in thinking occurred.  Maybe it was when I went to graduate school at
   BSU and saw how little literature was actually part of the non-English curriculum (we devoted the
   last half of the second semester to it.  The rest of the curriculum was focused solely on

   Maybe it was later when I read The World is Flat and realized that the world my students would be
   entering was most certainly not the one I thought I was preparing them for.

   Then maybe it was reinforced when one of our teachers, Mrs. Stock, surveyed the syllabi of several
   colleges from around the state and realized that most freshmen composition courses hardly even
   touch on literature.

   So as it stands now, I don't think any kids' life will be less rich if they don't read BeowulfThe Great  
  GatsbyPride and Prejudice, The Jungle, Moby Dick, and Great Expectations.  Understand this, I'm
   not opposed to any of these works.  They are all exceptional and worthy reads.  But to believe - as I
   once did - that a person's life will be less rich having not read these works is ridiculous.

   I mean - come on - in the hay day of American public education, the 1950s, fewer than half of all
   students even graduated!  So do we think they all read the classics in school?  If we traveled back in
   time and visited a family home on an autumn Saturday afternoon, do we honestly think they'd all be
   huddled around the dining room table pouring over the classics?  That's ridiculous.  That past never
   existed. So why perpetuate it?

   So where do I stand now?  I'm far more interested in getting students to think critically about the
   flat world around them and how they fit in a global economy.  I'm far more interested in striving to
   get kids to find their "extras" (again, borrowing a term from Friedman) and to get them to
   understand their "whys" (again, I'm borrowing from Simon Sinek here).  I'm far more interested in
   helping students uncover their passions (I'm borrowing from Ken Robinson here), in getting
   students to realize the key to college and success in the flat world is the craftsman's mindset and
   career capital (I'm borrowing from Cal Newport here), and that maybe the most important thing
   they can understand is that the must always be life long learners who have a growth mindset (I'm
   borrowing from Carol Dweck here).

   Ultimately, I guess I care more about students uncovering and exploring the concepts listed in the
   previous paragraph than I am about turning students into little English majors.  But I do believe that
   teachers can still get kids to do all of that through reading and writing and thinking.  It can be done
   through The Great Gatsby or The Ghost Map.  Maybe the real answer is a combination.  And that's
   what I'm striving for in my College Comp curriculum.

That brings me to the changes I want to try and institute in my College Comp curriculum.

In the past I started College Comp with the tradition essay progression - descriptive, narrative, how to, persuasive, film review, literary analysis, comparison essay, and finally a 6-8 page essay in which students read two classic novels and then compared three themes shared by the novels.

All of that used to get accomplished in a 9 week course called College Prep Comp!  So when it was switched to an entire semester, I took some liberties to add more drafts (for the descriptive essay, I have students do three rough drafts.  Then they choose one to peer edit and eventually develop into a final draft).  Eventually, I added two nonfiction selections (The Element and The Dip) to the course as well.  But I feel like more can still be accomplished.  I can get the students to work harder and learn more.

Just recently, I tweaked the curriculum some more.  I decided to have students write two smaller literary analysis papers on their novels rather than comparing them both at the end of the semester.  At the end of first quarter, students write a literary analysis paper (minimum of two sources) analyzing three examples of one theme from their first novel.  And just this year, I will have students write a multi-genre literature paper on their second novel.

I changed this for a couple of reasons.  First, when students read two novels and then compared them at the end of the semester, often students would forget details from their first novel (which they read during first quarter).  Second, students were limited to choosing novels that actually had themes in common.  I didn't like this because sometimes students would choose an excellent novel (The Great Gatsby) but then they'd be limited to choosing a book with similar themes from the novels list.  This often meant choosing another work by that same author.  In the case of Fitzgerald, that meant the students reading Gatsby and then having to settle for one of his lesser works.  The same was true for The Catcher in the Rye, where students had to settle and read Franny and Zooey.  It's not that those novels are bad, but I wished there was a way for students to read The Catcher in the Rye and then still have the freedom to read another excellent novel regardless of whether it shared themes with The Catcher in the Rye.  So I decided to do two different papers for the novels.  This way a student may choose to read The Great Gatsby first quarter and write a traditional research paper and then read To Kill a Mockingbird (which doesn't have all that much in common to Gatsby) and do a multi-genre literature paper on that.

So here is what I plan to change College Comp 1 to -

First half -

Descriptive Essay (students will write three drafts and select one to develop into a final draft for submission).

Narrative Essay (ditto).

How to (students will write two drafts on how to improve LHS and how to survive college).

Then students will read Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map.  Students will analyze it and eventually write a multi-genre literature paper on it.

Students will read The Element and write a braided essay on it.

Students will read The Dip and write a series of personal essays related to the topics discussed in it.

Second half -

Students will read Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist and develop lesson plans for two chapters and teach those chapters to the class.

Students will read several "classic" short stories ("Young Goodman Brown," "The Yellow Wallpaper," "A Rose for Emily," "The Things They Carried," and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber") and write a literary analysis on "Young Goodman Brown."

Students will write a comparison essay of "Young Goodman Brown" to Training Day.

We will end the semester with students having the option to choose one classic novel from the novels list.  Then they will write a standard 6-8 page research paper (minimum of 4 sources) on the novel.

In terms of College Comp 2, I would like to change things around even more.

Quarter 1

First Day Essay (due first day of the class)

Exploratory Essay (due start of the second week)

Dumbest Generation Project (due end of the third week)

Everything Bad is Good for You (Telescoping/Probing paper and multiple narrative thread theory) (due end of the fifth week)

Talk Like TED – Give students Wednesdays first quarter to develop their own version of a ten minute TED Talk (to be given in the Business room or in the training center).  This would be the cumulative final assignment for quarter 1.

Then we'd end the quarter with the Sticky-Note Book Report – hyper text blog.  Here I have students list three topics/subjects they want to read more about.  I also have them write down one thing they absolutely do not want to read about.  Then from that list, I select a nonfiction book for them to read, annotate with Sticky-Notes, give a 10 minute book talk on in front of the class, and then write a hyper-text essay on a blog they create devoted to the book.

Quarter 2

Mindset – The Growth Mindset.  Students would read this and write a series of APA papers related to it. 

So Good They Can’t Ignore You.  Students will create an infographic that illustrates the craftsman’s mindset.

Where Good Ideas Come from Students will gigsaw this and teach a chapter to the class with the help of a faculty/administrative partner.

Linchpin.  Students will write an essay in which they analyze their linchpin ability and then create a finalLinchpin essay and final Linchpin board presentation.

Multi-Genre Research Paper

Passion Project presentation (spend each Wednesday second quarter devoted to this project which will be shared the final two weeks of the semester).

Students will end the semester with an exit interview at Digi Key where they will be asked questions about all that they have learned in CC 2 and how they plan to apply it to their futures.

I just hope I get the go ahead to put some of these changes into practice before the start of second semester.