Thursday, May 21, 2015

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Here are some definite tricks for intro 'hooks' and 'exit' slips.  I have to use more of those next year.


It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the . . . crane?  What?


Here is one of my favorite people in education, Geoffrey Canada talking about leadership. This is awesome.

I love his take on how we get one defining moment that will forever change our lives . . . and we don't get a retake.

Great advice.


Four small steps one can take to create a state of "Flow" in the classroom.  Great article.

Here are the steps

1. Stop lecturing.

Lectures can be great.  But just like anything, if you do them too much (just like giving Powerpoints or work days or showing videos) it become monotonous.

2.  Have team projects and give them choice over the product or topic.

You always get more buy in when the kids feel that they have a choice.

3.  Set up class like an extra-curricular event.

I never thought of this!  Set up your class to have a clear challenge (just like in sports or music) and then guide students toward accomplishing that challenge!

4.  Allow for strategic silence

Sometimes when students are all in on an assignment and they lose track of time because they are intently focused on their task . . . that is the great stuff.  But that means putting away electronics and really working mentally hard on something.

I know I don't do enough of this in my own life and with my students.


Here is an interesting read called "Before You Assign That Homework - What Students Wish You Knew."  The last reason stings.

And it's true.

Finally, they wish teachers actually did their own homework.  That they tried the assignments so they could see how difficult or confusing they may be.  That they worked through it with kids, not in a pretend way, but really, and then shared their own learning with students.  That teachers truly felt what it means to live the life of a student, along with the pressure of homework,  to understand why homework continues to be a problem for some.


I don't ask good enough questions in my classes.  I'm getting better at not asking so many one response questions or asking questions where the students are just trying to guess the right answer that I have in mind.

This article is a great one for thinking about designing questions.

In fact, when I had my formal observation this year, one of the pieces of feedback I wanted was on questioning.

As Mr. Zutz and I visited, I knew right away how I could have improved.  The class discussion was actually quite good and everyone contributed, but Mr. Zutz pushed me on how I could have improved.  That was when it hit me, "I should have asked Isaac what he thought of Jacob's answer," I said.  "Then I could have asked Elle to come up with a rebuttal to Isaac's response."

This little tool will help me develop better levels of questions and follow up questions.


Love this one on the paradox of unlearning.

How do we handle that moment of cognitive dissonance where we push our kids into new knowledge that makes it seem like they don't quite know as much as they once thought they did.

Fortunately, this moment is only temporary (hopefully) until the new connections occur and the students comprehend the new knowledge.

It's messy and the hardest thing about teaching, but when a kid gets something and you see that imaginary light bulb go off, you can't put a price tag on that!

As this author illustrates the process of unlearning, it looks a whole lot like Seth Godin's Dip.


And speaking of Seth, here he is.  I could listen to him all day.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Everything is live. Always. This Starbucks manager learns that the hard way in the clip below.

Will she lose her job? Should she?

Certainly we have all had "those" days when something trivial makes us snap.  I believe that must have been what occurred here.  Maybe she was angry at her employees or her son was up all night sick.  We don't know.  And we aren't likely to ever know.

This, I think, illustrates an important lesson we must teach our students: you are always live.  What I mean by that is that whatever you do can easily be recorded, uploaded, and then go viral.

And the worst part, it's always taken out of context.

In fact, the age we live in now is what I like to think of as the death of context and privacy.

It's my hope, though, that we learn to have more empathy than ever before.  Especially she, unfortunately inevitably, we may find ourselves in the same position as this manager.

Here are some more examples of the dangers of going viral: a few options and Vodka Sam.

Here is an interesting take on dealing with shame as a result of a scandal. Could you imagine what this scandal would have been like if it happened today?



An interesting look at our connected world via the New York Times: The Tyranny of Constant Contact.

And it isn't just our millennial students who are addicted to their phones and staying in constant contact.

Teachers are the worst offenders here.

I saw this repeatedly when I was in St. Cloud for MCTE.  While the featured speakers were talking (and, yes, some were quite boring) and even during the breakout sessions, teachers (yes, teachers) were constantly on their phones and distracted and disrespectful.

Can you imagine?

Plus, I know some who would totally have a shit-fit (sorry for the expletive) if one of their students dared to do such a thing in class.


And I doubt the teachers (well, most of them) were live tweeting their thoughts about the speakers or sessions.

Here is one of the most interesting passages from the article -  And it's a lesson all of us can learn from -

My methods seem to work well enough. But daily I see others struggle. “I was in the recording studio the other day,” the producer and jazz trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis said. “I’d hired five musicians. We were in the studio for seven or eight hours. One of the musicians was 100 percent committed, no interruptions. He will be hired again. By contrast the bassist stayed on his phone throughout the session, doing social media. He will only be hired again if I can’t find someone else.”
Asked what dark, tangled forces may have prompted the bassist’s behavior, Mr. Marsalis said: “There’s a fear that: ‘Hey, I’m doing this session with you, but another guy might call me and give me a gig that pays $10 an hour. I can’t miss that call.’ ”
I still think the very best advice comes from one of my former students: leave the cell phone behind.  I used to have my CC 2 students do a 48 hour cell phone hiatus, where they turned in their phones to me and recorded what life was like "unplugged."

I ceased doing this because now that we are a 1:1 school, the students are really ever unplugged, even if they don't have their phones.

However, David, one of my CC 2 students, stated in a survey I sent out a few years ago that the one of the best things he took away from the class was as a result of the cell phone hiatus.

David explained that now when he needs to spend three hours studying in the library, he purposefully leaves his phone in his dorm.  That way he'll be able to focus.

That's something we can all do more of.


This one isn't related to teacher - 12 Simple Strategies All Memorable Brands use to Leave Lasting Impression.

But how can it relate to teaching?  I'm convinced that teachers have to think of themselves - and the experiences they offer their students - as a brand.  And don't we all want to leave a lasting (positive) impression on our students?

I need to read this one again and see if I can't make more connections between brand building and teaching.


I had to read this a couple times before I caught the word "ON."

I was so used to schools asking students to power down before entering that I didn't get this right away.

Love it.


Stories like this should be mandatory for the evening news.  I am not going to lie: I bawled while I watched this.

Here is the actual video.

And the best thing? I could totally see this happening at LHS.  It wouldn't even surprise me.


How amazing is this? WWII Female Pilot Flies Favorite Fighter Plan 70 Years Later.

I think there is an amazing amount of stories to still be told about WWII.

This reminds me of the infamous Night Witches, Russian women who flew plans and terrorized German troops.

Here is a documentary, No Place on Earth, about an improbable survival tale of Jews during Nazi Germany.

Can you even imagine?


This could be a great tool to use in my MGRP unit.


How cool would this be?  I mean infographs are cool enough (it is my hope that one day they will supplement - if not replace - research papers), but an animated info graph through the use of GIFs? #mindblown

Plus, it's an animated info graph one how to create an animated info graph!  How cool is that?


To celebrate the debacle that was standardized testing in MN this week (with the state's testing system having severe technical issues), here is the Onion's Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing.

Let me remind you, that John Merrow found that Hartz spends more money testing kitty litter than the US spends testing its kids.

And we test the shit (sorry for the second use of an expletive) out of our kids.  That just shows you how the test companies love to screw the kids over by using cheap and horrifically basic tests.

Don't tell me there aren't expensive tests that could gauge very important things like creativity, ability to work in teams, adaptability, and the most important skill of all - the ability to learn.

But why waste money testing kids on that?


I need to remember to save this one for next fall.  It'll be perfect for October!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

I don't get it

How can a mother do this to her one year old son?  Yet, a goose refuses to leave its nest - and her eggs - even when the grass field it is nesting in is on fire (and actually set by a vicious human)?

I don't get it.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Two blog posts in one day?  After not blogging for a couple months?

Yes. It's time to get back into the daily writing habit.  Even if it's a short entry.  Besides I'm procrastinating working on this week's lesson plans and grading exploratory essays.

So here goes today's reads, views, and links -

Speaking of getting back into the writing habit, here is a very timely article - Start Today: 20 Habits That Will Help You Be Your Best.  This reminds me a bit of Zig Ziglar's Wheel of life analogy.  (Let's hope I'm remembering this correctly) - Picture a car with four wheels - each wheel is a key part of your life - spirituality, work, family, and health.  If you don't spend time nourishing each of those four areas adequately, they lose air.  You can't get very far with three flat ties and one fully inflated tire, can you?

That's been my problem for quite awhile now.  Time to re-prioritize.


I'm a football junkie, and this story on Ozzie Newsome's rise to glory as the first African American GM in the NFL is an incredible piece of journalism.  Though I hate the Ravens, I certainly can respect them and all the amazing things they've accomplished under Newsome's stewardship.

Now this is real sports journalism, not the crap The Bleacher Report amateurs pump out on an hourly basis.


The Psycholoy of Evil - Philip Zimbardo (he of the infamous Stanfard prison experiment) on one of the most interesting topics.


Here is an interesting blog post from one of my favorite bloggers, George Couros, about when a parent should get their child a "phone."

The problem - as Couros notes in his post - is that a phone today simply isn't a phone.  It's literally a tiny computer and social connection machine - at least that's how kids use it.

Of course, there is not "right" time to get any kids a phone.

Kenz has a "phone."  She even brought it to school for show and tell.  It's really my old iPhone 4s.  She can't call on it - and as long as it isn't connected to a wifi network - it do much of anything (unless she has games, apps, music, or video downloaded to it).  But that doesn't mean she can't use it (and use it fluently she does) for entertainment.

Is this bad?

That depends upon the parents.

Kenz seems quite mature and capable for her age, so I could see us getting her a phone far earlier than we ever did KoKo and Casey.  Maybe.  We will cross that bridge when we come to it I guess.

As for Cash, given how much he loves to game on the iPad, it might well be college before he gets a phone!

The one problem I do have, though, is how adults tend to look down on the younger generation for their use of technology.

This one, especially, drives me nuts -

There are so many things inherently flawed here. Where to begin?

1.  Einstein never said this.  So whoever posts this deserves to have the same type of post directed right at them with the caption: "Whoever is too damn lazy to look up the authenticity of a quote is a damn fool." Of course, they'll retort with: "Well, if Einstein didn't say it, it's still true."  To which I'd respond by pointing to my quote again and saying, "You're still a damn fool."

2.  I've seen this at least a dozen times on Facebook.  Guess how a majority of users access Facebook (and most certainly the ones criticizing others for starting blankly at their phones)?  Yep, on their phones.

3.  In my experience, this is certainly a "problem."  But it's a problem for adults just as much as it is for kids.  Just go to an elementary school recital or performance and see how many parents are staring at their phones.  Worse yet, go to Playland at McDonald's and see all the kids playing wildly and all the adults starting directly into their phones.  As we ate at Texas Roadhouse, I saw an elderly man (at least in his 60s if not his 70s staring at his phone for much of his meal)!

4.  I'm willing to bet that employers, such as Digi Key, have to tell just as many teenagers to keep their phones away as much as they have to tell their Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.  Just because you didn't grow up constantly connected, doesn't mean you still don't want to be constantly connected!

5.  In one example from Facebook, a user lamented how he was at the doctor's office the other day and say everyone staring into their phones.  The implication appeared to me that they should have been visiting and interacting instead.  At the doctor's office? Really?  I spent many hours in the waiting room as kid (my parents were always visiting my grandmother - and I was never allowed to go up - hospital policy for some reason).  I also spent many hours with Dad when he had to go to the doctor and then I spent many hours with Kristie when she was expecting our kids in more offices.  And I rarely saw anyone chatting it up.  I did see people reading magazines, watching TV (far worse than being on your phone, if you ask me), reading books, or - gasp - on their phones (doing all those other things as well as being on social media).  

I simply think this kind of junk is done to make one generation feel superior to another.  And that's the very definition of stupid.

This is one of my favorite rebuttals -


This week my CC 2 students will be putting their own twist on TED X Talks and giving their own 10-18 minute presentations in the LHS Training Center first block.  The next time I teach this unit, I'm going to share this article with them: 8 Great Role Models for Wowing a Crowd.


Speaking of TED Talks, last week I had my students teach the class a chapter from Carmine Gallo's book Talk Like TED.  One group showed us this TED Talk, which is amazing.  I don't know how I've ever taught without it.


If you're in education and you have a meeting coming up, start it with these 10 images.

Here are my favs.

Soooooo true.

Culture is the #1 indicator of student success in the classroom.  If you have a caring, supporting culture, the kids will want to work and produce.  Just like us.  If we have a great workplace culture, it's not like work at all.  

Sad but more than likely true.

This totally illustrates the power (or potential power) of social media.


And finally, a thoughtful article on how the millennials are NOT a lost generation.

Saturday Shopping

Oh how my mother would have considered me to be in all of my glory yesterday, for I took the kids shopping in GF.

You see, back in the 80's, trips to GF happened twice a year . . . If I was lucky.  We made the pilgrimage during the summer to get fireworks and then prior to Christmas for Christmas shopping.  Whenever another unexpected trip occurred, my eyes lit up.

My mother always like to talk about how when I was maybe five or six, we had to take my grandmother to the doctor in downtown Grand Forks.  While she was seeing him, Mom took me over to a large department store where I gleefully spent my time riding the escalator.  Over and over again.

I remember Mom telling a security guard who was watching us, "We're from a small town."

But I had a blast.

Then as the '80's gave way to the '90s and I earned first my farmer's permit and then my official license, I could wait to actually get my own car and have the option to go to GF whenever I wanted!  That was the coolest thing I could have imagined.

And, sure enough, once I did have my own car, that is exactly what I did, pretty much blowing every check I received from the Red Lake County Highway Department (my summer job for nearly a decade) at Columbia Mall (usually Dayton's).

So when Kristie mentioned going to GF yesterday to do some shopping, there was no way I was going to disagree with her.

Unfortunately, she woke up with a terrible head cold, so the kids and I decided to make the trek to GF where we'd meet my mother-in-law, Gail, for a little shopping and then lunch.

My mother would have loved to have gone with, probably just to spoil Cash and Kenz, but she would have gotten a kick out of things coming full circle.

Before we were out of TRF, though, Kenz vowed to do her homework (what Kindergartner is excited to do homework?).  She is even putting the water bottle she got from Uncle Barb for a present to good use to keep herself hydrated during the homework session!

Cash, on the other hand, was all too happy to play his Harry Potter and Avengers Lego games on the iPad.

Once we hit GF, we promptly headed towards the mall.  The kids needed clothes, I needed new shoes, and they were excited to burn off some energy at the play land in Scheels.

Kenz pulled her usually tricks at The Children's Place, picking out cute, "girly" outfits that she promised to wear this spring.  In reality, once she gets them up to her room and is her usual surly self on a weekday morning, we'll see how many of these outfits she actually wears.  I hope she does, but my money is on her beloved half a dozen pairs of sweatpants and her two beloved soccer shirts - or maybe her T-ball shirts.

Cash found this awesome hat and wanted to strike a pose to send back to mom.

After the mall, we hit our favorite place to eat - Texas Roadhouse (The Mexican Village is a very, very close second).  Then it was off to Target before finally heading home late in the afternoon.

The highlight on the way home?

Well, unlike with my parents, the kids and I actually like the same types of music.  I mean back when we had out Buick Skylark, which came with a type deck that the previous owner had installed, it was unimaginable for me to ask Mom or Dad (certainly not Dad) if I could pop in one of my Def Leppard, Guns N Roses, Metallica, or Iron Maiden tapes.  That was what my Walkman was for, and that was one reason it was by my side on every excursion we ever took.

But the kids and I? We love the same music.  So on the way back, Kenz requested some Def Leppard.  I cranked "Photograph" and listened her sing the entire song line by line on the way home.  Not bad for a kindergartner.  I didn't get into Def Leppard until I was in third grade!!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

Guy Kawasaki has a great bit in one of his presentations on the ridiculousness of mission statements. Kawasaki argues that these are often way too complex, and worst of all, meaningless as they sound good but have no real value to anyone working in an organization or business.

Kawasaki believes mission statements should be mantras instead, boiled down to just a couple words.  Kawasaki's person mantra is to empower people.  Nike's is authentic athletic apparel.  Zappo's is deliver happiness.

 Weird Al chimes in on this debate with this hilarious video -


This is something I've (ironically) been stressing to my College Comp 2 classes for a few years now: Degrees Don't Matter; Skills Do.

Or as both Thomas Friedman and Tony Wagner have stated: "The world doesn't care what you know; the world only cares what you can do with what you know.

This of course is a concept vital to Carol Dweck's growth mindset concept.

This article is vital for us at Lincoln I believe because we already have so many of these tools in place.

First, we have 1:1 technology.

Second, we are retooling our curriculum thanks to the state's requirement now that every junior take the ACT and how they do will reflect on our school's success or failure.  The World's Best Workforce legislation is also shining a light on areas that we never bothered to examine so closely previously.  So we now are well aware (like never before) where our weaknesses lie.

Third, since we are aware that what we have been doing for the past 5-10 years (and quite possibly longer) hasn't been working, there is no reason to protect any of our sacred cows.  We can shoot them all, take a deep breath, and approach our classes with a new mindset, a mindset rooted in best practices but also we have to have a willingness to do things differently.

Because 50 minutes of notes and 35 homework problems hasn't been particularly effective for a large portion of our student body . . . in every single subject: math, English, science . . .

At least that's what the ACT scores reveal.

This article suggests how to approach things differently -

*  differentiated learning (customized lessons tweaked to each student's learning style).  Now I would love to see this happen, but I don't know how it possibly can.  Students don't even know how they learn best (we just had this conversation on Friday in College Comp), let alone teachers don't have time to individually craft lessons based on the students' learning styles.

This would be amazing, but I don't know how we could do this.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm all for it.  I'd much rather spend money on a program that would both identify student learning styles and help teachers craft individualized lessons than spending it on new textbooks or even ACT prep courses.

*  Flipping classrooms.  This is actually something I've started doing more and more.  Just because it makes a ton of sense.  Why should I craft a 45 minute lecture on finding your passion, when I can show two TED Talks from Ken Robinson - a world class expert on creativity and passion?  Then when students come back to class, I can find out what students think about his thoughts.  Best of all, I can individually strive to meet with them and help them devise a product (it could be an essay, an info graph, a Storify document, or something else) that shows their understanding and application of Robinson's ideas.

*  Engaging education software that makes subjects as engaging as video games.  This is a double edged sword, if you ask me.  I hear from a lot of teachers: "why do we have to constantly entertain you?"  I agree, this worries me.  Now, I personally don't struggle with this because somewhere along the way (I blame my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Mueller for having a very innovative assignment (especially for 1985) where he video taped us doing a skit of To Tell the Truth.  He cast me as the game show host.  That single lessons pushed me outside of my comfort zone and turned me into a ham . . . it unlocked my passion for being an entertainer) I became an entertainer.

While this is a concern, I also see the other side of the issue: who doesn't like to be entertained?  There is a reason, documentaries don't go over all that well in large theaters.  I love them, but I am not going to plunk down what amounts to $50 to see them, for they don't entertain the way a big budget action film does.  Again, who doesn't like to be entertained?

Every single staff member loathes the safety training videos we have to spend hours watching over the summer.  Why?  They aren't in the least bit entertaining.  If I go to the fair, I don't want a tour of how the rides function or how the fair spends their revenue (though that would be interesting).  Instead, I want to be entertained on the rides.  Same way if I go on a cruise, I don't want to go on a behind the scenes tour of how the cruise line pulls it all off, I want to be entertained!

We all do.  The trouble is we all aren't comfortable with having to entertain.

*  Flexibility for students to learn at their own pace.

Another touchy subject in schools today.  I don't think all students can learn at their own pace as not all students have a pace!  But there are others that can totally handle this. How this will actually pan out in practice is anyone's idea.


I'm an invention and innovation geek, so this visual history of American ideas is amazing.

What I find interesting is how 'quiet' innovation becomes in the last quarter of the 20th century.  Early on in American history innovation revolved around 'noisy' industries such as coal and steam and the combustion engine and factories.  However, after '75, the innovations began to focus more on "internal" or "silent" inventions that revolve around software and computer code.

What will the world look like in 25 years?  I can't wait to see it.


The spirit of pioneers are alive and well: Meet three people who intend to die on Mars.

People today seem shocked that there are people who would sacrifice their lives to land and live (but who knows for how long) on another planet.

I don't find this remarkable in the least.  Just look at those who did pretty much the same thing to land and live on the New World.

Without GPS and any kind of radar or storm tracking technology, how safe do you think it really was to sail across the Pacific?

Now certainly, at least if you survived the trek across the ocean and you indeed landed in the New World, you could breath the air and eat the food.  That won't happen to anyone on Mars.  But just because you could eat, breathe, and drink that doesn't mean life here wasn't lethal.  There was the wildlife that could kill you, that natives who would kill you, not to mention diseases (just look at what small pox did to the native population).

So the fact that people over 500 years later are still willing to do the same thing isn't surprising in the least.


When I first saw the headline, At Today's Rate, Half of all US Children will be Autistic by 2025, seemed preposterous.

Then I read the article, which correlates the increased used of Roundup to the increased cases of autism.  This isn't conclusive; however, after reading Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, where Dr. John Snow and clergyman Henry Whitehead convince the powers that be in London to remove the handle from the Broad Street pump in 1954 because - even though the didn't have the technology to prove without a shadow of a doubt that the water was infected with Cholera - they were able to show a direct correlation between the vast numbers of dead in the Broad Street area and the fact that they drank for the Broad Street pump.

Maybe Dr. Stephanie Seneff is doing the same exact thing.  The one thing that The Ghost Map illustrated, though, is that change is glacial.  After all, Snow and Whitehead both died without ever knowing that Cholera was a waterborne disease.


I love this idea from a blogger: 10 Things We Didn't Know Last Week.  I'm going to use this as an exit slip activity at the end of each week of College Comp.  One of our core values is leave with something new, so learning should be a daily activity.  I love this idea of listing the new things we've learned from each other.

Then I'd like to connect the dots over the weekend and present it back to the class on Monday was we move forward in adding more knowledge.


The Church of the Right Answer.  This is awesome!

This blog post recounts a teacher who comes across a student who can get the "right" answer without doing all of the hard work.  He doesn't get all of the thinking and struggle that goes in to getting the right answer or showing his work.

I think he's missing the real point.  The point is the learning and the struggle, not the right answer.

If you ask me, we have too many damn kids who can get the right answer but that's it.  They can't solve anything with the right answers or do anything interesting with the right answer.

Remember, the world doesn't care what you know; the world only cares what you can do with what you know!


I'm a huge infograph fan, especially now that they're relatively easy to create.  Here is an article on the surprising way the brain processes visuals.

The best part is the top five takeaways at the end on how to generate effective infographs -

1.  Focus on strong, universally colored elements.  Too many colors is distracting.  Having the same colors for specific elements (such as captions or stats or directions) will be a cue for the reader.

2.  Remove unnecessary embellishments.  This is where I struggle.  Sometimes, I just want to cram too much info in there because I get carried away.

3.  Create anchors.  For each section of the infograph, make sure you have consistency to help the reader focus.

4.  Limit your color palette.  This I had to learn the hard way on my presentations.  Too many colors disorientates the viewer.  Keep it simple and clear.

5.  Don't be afraid of going abstract.  People, for whatever reason, prefer abstract maps. 


Saturday, February 14, 2015

What's Going on in 205

It's hard to imagine that we are already almost through the third week of third quarter.  That means we are closing in on midterms.

Here is my schedule:

First block - College Comp 2.

Third block - College Comp.

Fourth block - College Comp.

Now, how great is that schedule? I have the best of both worlds: I'm a high school teacher (the best type of students to teach, if you ask me) with all college classes (the best classes to teach, if you ask me).


Here is what we are working on so far

College Comp 2 - First, students turned in their First Day Essays (a 6-8 page paper on a time they failed and how they recovered from it, due on the first day of class).  These were amazing.  I am in awe of how these students opened themselves and really shared some failures/insecurities.  I wouldn't have been able to put myself out there like that when I was a senior in high school.

What amazes me most is that how these kids look up to me, yet if they only knew that they are so far ahead of where I was when I was a senior in high school.  I cannot get over how talented, driven, and engaging these kids are.  I was a junior in college before I could even hold a candle to them!

But that's why I have so much hope for the future.  These kids are amazing, and that's why I show up eager and hopeful to work every day.  Not only do I teach them, but I learn from them, and, best of all, we learn together.

This week we just wrapped up Seth Godin's Linchpin.  Students are writing their final Linchpin paper as I type and then working on putting together their final Linchpin boards.  Past examples can be seen here.

As students were working on these, I couldn't help but tease their next big project: round one of their Sticky-Note book report.

Here is what I do - I give students a note cared and ask students to list three subjects/topics they are interested in.  Then I have them list two subjects/topics they absolutely do not want to read about.

From that list, I choose a book (or two) for them to read.

Over the years (and with the help of Mr. Zutz who has donated plenty of his past reads), I have built up quite the selection for my kids -

Then I give students 10 days to read the book.  As they read, they must annotate the book with their thoughts, connections, questions, and reactions on a minimum of 50 Sticky-Notes.  Once that is done, they will give a 10 minute "book talk" to the class where they summarize the book, focus on an issue or topic that really interested them, and then field questions.

Finally, they turn the book in to me and I read through their Sticky-Notes and grade it.

In round two, which will occur next semester, I will have students do the same thing (hopefully they will be intrigued by the book talks from their peers to read others).  Instead of a book talk, though, students will create a blog and write a hyper-text essay on one subject or topic related to the book.

So far, the most popular titles are below

So far the results have been excellent.  The student who is reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (which I only learned about after our media specialist, Kelly Weets, modeled a book talk for my class), said, "I'm addicted to my book."

Another student, who is reading What You're Really Meant to Do told me that her father wants to read it when she is done with it.

Not every instance works out that well, but I find it rare when a student really dislikes their book.

I won a free copy of Liz Wiseman's Rookie Smarts, so I will be reading that and adding my own Sticky-Notes to it and then model a book talk for my students.  Then I'll add that to my classroom library for next year.


College Comp 1 -

I am overhauling how I approach College Comp this semester.  I am injecting more nonfiction into the curriculum.  

So we started out reading Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, which is about the worst cholera outbreak in London 150 years ago.  It's the story of how two men - Joseph Whitehead (a clergyman) and John Snow (a doctor) work to solve the deaths.  See, at that time London was the largest city on earth, with nearly 3 million people inside a 30 mile radius.  As London sought to sanitize itself - namely through sewers and "water closets," this resulted in sewage being pumped into the Thames, where Londoners also drew their water.

Not good.

Likewise many people drew their water from a few specific pumps.  One of these pumps, The Broad Street pump, became contaminated with cholera and resulted in hundreds of deaths in the span of one week.  But the prominent thinkers at the time thought it wasn't the water that was killing people but the smell.

So Snow works tirelessly to prove this theory that it is the water - not the smell - that is the culprit.  Now, mind you, this is at a time when there is no knowledge of bacteria or microbes.

Snow's work - with the help of Whitehead - is a small ripple that - over time - turns into a huge wave that revolutionizes modern cities.

I am using this not only because it's a college level text but also because I want my students to learn just how different the world used to be.  They tend to think that the world has always been pretty much like it is now, which can't be farther from the truth.  So I want to awaken students to that.

I also like the book because Johnson explore the cholera outbreak through "multiple scales of existence."  He looks at it from Snow's point of view (a doctor and man of science), from Whitehead's pov (that of a member of the clergy), from the miasmatist's view (those who think the smell is killing people), from the views of the humans who work as London's sewer system (the toshers, pure finders, night-soil men, bone pickers, and so on).  I like this because it shows that the world - whether it's now or in 18th century London - looks differently from your particular perspective.  I think that's a lesson that we don't try to teach nearly enough.

Finally, the books illustrates so many key ideas that will impact students in college: the long zoom view (what historians specialize in - basically, looking back at history and connecting the dots.  James Burke's "Knowledge Web" is a great example of this.  It illustrates how you can get from Mozart to the helicopter in about 10 jumps.  Or how the Russian's launching Sputnik resulted in the birth of the internet).  I ask students to consider how possibly their actions now will ripple through the future and impact the lives of others who aren't even born yet.

It illustrates the slow hunch.  This focuses on how innovative breakthroughs don't happen in a mythical epiphany moment.  We like to tell the breakthrough moment like that, but it really isn't like that at all.  Every "ah-ha" moment that seems to happen in an instant really is years and years in the making.  For example, Darwin's notebooks (he was a meticulous journal keeper) reveals that he had everything in place to "discover" the theory of natural selections months prior.  However, he tells it the story how he was reading Malthus's "On Population" when the "ah-ha" moment hit him and the theory popped into his head.  Maybe "On Population" was the stimulus needed for all the dots to align perfectly in his mind, but his notebooks show that the dots were already there in the first place.  He just needed a tipping point (if you will) for the process to happen.

It also shows how there really aren't any lone geniuses working in a lab all by themselves who make a breakthrough.  Most of the great inventions over time have been done in teams or in pairs (as is the case with Snow and Whitehead).  This is important for students to discover.  For the world they will enter will ask them to work in teams and to be key pieces of a vast puzzle, rather than one person called upon to do everything.

We have had great discussions related to these.  Now it is time for the final test.  I asked the students the other day if they had ever taken a test and suddenly realized that there was a section or couple questions that they had never covered in class.  Most agreed.

My theory is that this happens because teachers (and I've been guilty of this more often than not) design the test (or look at the test) last.  

What teachers should do is design their own test first (or look at the test if it is generated by the curriculum / textbook company) and then teach to it.  

See the problem occurs - as it did with me once when I was designing a To Kill a Mockingbird test - the night before I was devising the test and having a great time crafting questions that look at some of the most important themes.

However, when I gave it to my class, they said we never covered one of the themes.  How could this be?  I looked at it.  And, sure enough, they were right!

Because I created the test last (the night before actually), I put in one of the key themes, but I had neglected to teach the theme!  I had gotten so caught up in teaching the novel, that I totally spaced out touching on one of the key themes.

Had I designed the test ahead of time, this would not have happened.

Now, I know teaching to the test is a dirty phrase in education.  However, if it's a test that I design and the test is any good at all, why shouldn't I be teaching to it?

So for The Ghost Map final test, I shared a document with my two sections of College Comp in which I divided the students up into groups of 2 or 3.  Then I assigned each group a chapter from The Ghost Map.  For each chapter, the students had to come up with key figures, important quotes or statements, key ideas and events, and then summarize the entire chapter in a short paragraph.  I also gave all students editing privileges for this review session.

Now that it is all complete and the students have put down the key information from the book, I will use that to construct the test.  I also told them that if they missed something major from each chapter, I will go in and add it.

So they will have no excuse for not knowing something or having covered it because they were the ones that came up with the important information from the book that I used to design the test!

In addition to reading The Ghost Map, we have continued to write our traditional essays, beginning with theme #1 (a descriptive essay) and theme #2 (a narrative).  We will begin theme #3 (a how to) next week as well as start our second nonfiction text: Ken Robinson's The Element.

We have also crafted our own core values for College Comp.

I asked the students to come up with 3-5 core values.  I shared a Google Doc that had not only LHS's own core values but the core values of other businesses as well.

Then I compiled I read over the lists and looked for similar ideas (passion, hard work, respect, failure, and so on) that I wanted us to be hyper-conscious of in the class.

I ended up with a list of about 20 core values.  Then I shared them with the students and had them vote for their favorites.  Here is what they came up with.

1.  Failure is essential and inevitable; the key is to learn from our failures.
2.  Keep it simple, but make it significant.
3.  Be open minded and explore new things: STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE
4.  Respect ideas that aren't your own.
5.  Take something new from class everyday.

The students came up with these.  Now we just have to live up to them.  I look forward to catching my kids doing these in class over the remainder of the semester.

Here is my take on our core values

1.  Failure is essential and inevitable; the key is to learn from our failures.

      * I think we stigmatize our kids from failure.  We, naturally, want to protect them and see them succeed. However, in doing this we are creating a generation of monsters, i.e. kids who don't know how to struggle and adapt.  They have been given so many things without having to work for them.  And we as parents are to blame!  So I want students to realize the see failure as vital.  It's the only way anyone ever learns or grows.  I want us to create a culture where failures (and risks) are encouraged.

2.  Keep it simple, but make it significant.

     *  This intrigued me.  It's something I would have never thought of, but the more I think about it, the more it makes a great deal of sense.  As Einstein once said (and I'm paraphrasing here), the key is to simplify difficult concepts.  I think sometimes teachers (and I was so guilty of this my first couple years of teaching) like to complicate simple ideas.  I sure did when I taught a novel, I wanted to show off my extensive vocabulary and amaze the kids with how I could recognize all of the symbols and themes.  But I wasn't doing them any good.  As a teacher, I have to take a complex subject, simplify it so my students can begin exploring it and learning about it.  It might seem simple but those small baby steps are significant in that they're building up mental muscle for the heavy lifting to come later.

3.  Be open minded and explore new things: STEP OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE

     * I hate comfort zones.  I think this core value works well with #1.  Since we embrace failure, that should encourage us to take greater risks.  With greater risks comes the need to step outside of our comfort zones.

4.  Respect ideas that aren't your own.

     *  This is so obviously vital, that it doesn't need a lot of explanation.

5.  Take something new from class everyday.

     *  This came as a result of a student telling me in a candid conversation as I sat at their table that she liked a class where she felt like she left with more than she brought in.  She said she liked just having to show up to a class and engage in conversation and learning without taking 50 minutes of notes.  I like that, so I turned that into this core value.

Now I get to spend the rest of the semester catching and documenting and praising students for doing these core values.  That's not a bad way to spend the next 15 weeks.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

What I Love About Teaching

I have some unexpected time to reflect this morning since Cash was up most of the night hacking away, so we decided to get him in to the doctor today.

As I sit down to do some writing (and reflecting) this morning, it occurred to me just how much I love teaching.

Here is a brief list why -

When I got up early - 4:22 exactly - to get Cash a drink of water as he woke up crying that his throat was dry, I decided that since I was up - and would have to make him a doctor's appointment - that I might as well just stay up and get my sub notes ready and all that good stuff.

Naturally - I am part millennial, after all - I grabbed my phone and saw one text message from a College Comp I student sent at 10:35.  She was asking about the need for a cover page for her first theme, due today.

I took a chance and sent a reply, hoping she wouldn't wake up at 4:22.

Thankfully, she didn't.  However at 7:07 she did send me this -


This is for certain (and it's something I am thankful for every day): my students are amazing.  They are passionate about learning and (relatively) eager to try new things.  For that I am grateful.

That inquiry prompted me to post this tweet:

Then as I sat down to devise my lesson plans for the day (they were planned out over the weekend, but since there will be a sub in today, that changes everything), as sent out a Google Doc to my College Comp II students with their assignment for today.  

As I was figuring out what to have them do, I clicked on the Google Doc I shared with them yesterday as an assignment, and what did I see in the upper right hand corner?  As soon as I opened the Doc, a student's icon appeared.  Here he was up early working on the assignment.  Wow!

Another thing I love about teaching is Sno-fest week.  I will take some heat from my juniors and seniors for this, but the sophomore class (who actually won Sno-fest last year as freshmen) has the most amazing school spirit I have ever seen in 18 years at LHS!

For Sno-fest each class is designated a hallway to decorate for a specific theme related to Sno-fest.  The sophomores were given Jurassic Park.  And their hallway, which happens to run by the media center, is absolutely amazing.  I meant to snap some pictures yesterday, but I forgot.  I'll have to do it when I get back to school.  It is the coolest thing I've seen in a long, long while.

I love our core values at LHS.

They are below -

These inspired me to try and create student generated core values for CC 1.  So far - what the students came up with - has blown me away.  I can't wait to blog about them when we finally get them hammered out.

As I look at LHS' five core values, I keep rotating which one I like best.

I love #1 and #4.  They speak most deeply to who I am as a teacher.

But the more I think about them, the more #2 is starting to creep to the front of the pack.

One great example of this is the encouragement we get from the top - I recall Mr. Zutz encouraging us to try new things, even if they fail.  In other words, don't fear trying something new.  Furthermore, Mr. Zutz encourages us to not only fail but to do so in front of our students.  Why?  Because it does a couple important things - One, it shows allows our students to see us as vulnerable.  (If you haven't seen or read anything by Brene Brown and her work on vulnerability, check this out. It's amazing).  Two it shows our students how we recover from our failures. In other words, we're actually modeling so many of the real world strategies we want to impart to our students that don't really even get taught in class (they do get taught in extra curriculars and athletics though).

I love that I have students who are willing to think outside of the box and come up with amazing work, such as these 

The sign two students decided to spice up (they determined my original sign, "College Comp 2 Linchpin Final Projects" was, rightfully so, too lame) to show off our final Linchpin boards.

The actual Linchpin boards themselves -

Some amazing samples of the multi-genre literary research papers from College Comp 1.

These students illustrate why this is my bumper sticker - It's true!!!