Friday, October 11, 2013

Season 13, Episode 5: Please, No Sawing

To be precise, I think my exact words were: "Say, ____________, can we please not be sawing right now? Thanks."

And just to clarify, I teach Language Arts, not Tech Ed or 'shop' class. Thankfully this particular student was not literally sawing. He was simply using his pencil to try and saw through the metal brace of the table.

Caution: Genius at Work!

What's amazing is that the student in question was very involved with and engaged in our lesson today. He simply had to find another outlet for his energy and wandering thoughts. He wasn't trying to be disruptive or disrespectful. In fact, he seemed a bit startled when I asked him to stop. He promptly stopped and got right back to what he was supposed to be doing. Case closed, end of story, moving on.

Why do I bring this up? Because middle school kids, especially boys, can really crack me up. Sometime's there just isn't a rational explanation, and that's okay. I've learned to just smile, shake my head, and go on about my day.

It's been a good, productive week. Taking part in the Open Online Course for Educators and trying to be involved with Connected Education Month has been great. In class, we've made some serious progress as we continue to blog and write digitally, power through vocabulary and grammar units, as well as integrate our online Literature Textbook into our conversations about Elements of Literature and the Parts of a Story. Professionally, there are many things to feel good about from the past week.

At the end of the day, however, it's all about shaking my head and smiling at my 6th graders, who continue to entertain and amaze with their absolute randomness.

Have a good weekend.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Season 13, Episodes 3 & 4

In this very special, 2-part episode...

Not to go all 'after-school' special on it, but it's been a bit of a wild 2 weeks or so. That, more than anything, was the main reason I wasn't able to get an update written last week. Two weeks ago, much of what I wrote about was how amazingly quick the past summer seems to fade once the grind has set in...the two weeks from workshop week until then really feeling like two months. This may come as a surprise, but that sensation is even more visceral now, one month into the year.

The last couple weeks have flown by at an even faster rate than the first two weeks of school. It helps to be into your curriculum and past the days of going over procedures, expectations, grading, etc. Another plus is getting to the point where I comfortably know all of my students' names. Between having more students every year and getting older, this seems to be more and more of a Herculean task. While daunting, it is also an enjoyable & worthwhile endeavor. Kids know when you've put the effort in to get to know them and connect with them; after all, they're not stupid, and I think everyone values people knowing who they are on some level.

As far as what we're doing in class, I couldn't be happier! This is by far the earliest in the school year where all of my students are writing on their blogs, accessing the online textbook, and completing work on the Moodle Course. I am very encouraged, and it's exciting to know that even when we have a crazy week like the one we just finished - 2 different days with kids at camp - my students back at school are able to work and collaborate, while students who missed class can catch up after school. We are probably a little under a month away from starting our first novel, and I'm pumped for all of the possibilities that lie ahead.

Final thought: it's been great to start dabbling in my first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), OOE13. This past Wednesday evening, there was a Twitter chat centered around getting started, engagement, and utilization. I found myself somewhere in the middle among my extended PLN colleagues, having started and done quite a bit with tech integration, yet not nearly as awesome as others. Even though I didn't have too many cogent thoughts to offer that evening, I did read one interesting blog on the possibility of Twitter making students better writers today.

Have a great weekend!


Friday, September 13, 2013

OOE 13 Intro

This is just a quick shout-out for OOE 13 purposes...

Please feel free to read, comment, critique and compliment the writing; share insight, etc.

I look forward to being a part of this experience as much as possible! I realize I'm a bit late to the game here but it's been a little crazy 'round these parts!

Have a good weekend everyone.


Season 13, Episode 2: Slowly But Surely

Two conflicting thoughts have been running through my head on a consistent basis today:

1. It's hard to believe the first two weeks of school are past us already.

2. Workshop week, the first day of school, and summer in general seem WAY longer than two weeks ago!

Many times thoughts like these can cohabitate in our consciousness, especially when you jump from a season like summer into the full-on rush of the start of a school year. There is simply so much going on that even though time seems to fly, shorter (relatively) amounts of time seem to span much more than what meets the eye.

In that same vein, another pair of thoughts going on in my head right now are:

1. It doesn't feel like I've accomplished much with my students.

2. Man, we've gotten A LOT done already!

I think it is easy to feel as though not much has been accomplished when you do need to spend so much time and energy going through things like the syllabus, grading, expectations, materials, planner use, schedules, etc.

But as I sit here and reflect on our first two weeks, I begin to realize that quite a bit has been accomplished so far in class:

  • A week's worth of Moodle activities, including work on cyberbullying and digital citizenship
  • Starting in on our first unit of grammar work
  • Two writing assignments already in the books
  • Our "Digital Me" projects have begun, and will be presented next week
  • Students have created their Language Arts Blogs, which will support much of our digital writing efforts this year
From that perspective, I am quite happy with what's happened and where we are going. The students are eager to learn and are especially excited about the amount of work we do electronically. I look forward to covering new ground with them this year and try some exciting new things.

So while time has seemed to move at various speeds, I write this feeling pretty assured of where we are as a whole. I guess sometimes it just takes a certain kind of perspective.

Slowly but surely...


***Follow-up from last week: I have successfully learned all 182 student names! My next challenge will now be to move them to different spots in the classrooms and test myself without associating names with seat locations.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Season 13, Episode 1: That's A lot of Kids

Good to be back! After the typical summer of playing with the kids, some travel, teaching a little summer school, and the occasional conference, it's nice to be back in the swing of things.

Every start to a school year tends to feel like this epic undertaking:

Okay fine, I just needed an excuse to incorporate an Explosions in the Sky song into this post. But still, something larger than ourselves is at work. For the most part, I suppose this is very true. As a teacher, you're typically part of something big - a school and city community. There are new kids, new hopes, new challenges, and new excitements.

What amazes me is how it can seem like 'preseason' for so long...meetings, workshops, rules & guidlines, grading practices, etc....and then: full blast. Into the curriculum, doing work in class and online, passing out permission slips for the first field trip, and away we go.

The largest thing I'm wrapping my head around right now is the sheer number of students I have in class. 182. It's the highest number of different, unique students for a school year in my career. My goal is to learn & memorize these names as soon as possible. I'm thinking by the end of week 2. That could seem lofty (or slow, if you're not impressed), but this is a very important part of connecting with students. Being able to say their name in the hallway, to ask them a question about their dog, their game on Saturday, their cabin, etc. goes a long way in building relationships.

My hope for this year is to reflect on a different theme each time I write. With the goal of writing every Thursday or Friday, I have decided to approach my writing like a 36-episode TV show. This week's episode is all about what's most important:

the kids.

All 182 of them.

Here's to learning names, making connections, and creating bonds that last longer than the next 9 months.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Square Pegs, Round Holes

This concept is something on my mind lately...

As a staff, we have had some discussions about students' learning and how they go about their learning. Specifically, what is the organizational system used by each student to help ensure their success? As you could imagine, many people have some valuable insight & salient points on the matter. Each teacher has unique needs, in regards to their curriculum and teaching style. While I respect everyone's opinion and where they're coming from, I find myself disagreeing with the notion that every student should use the same organizational system. A one-size-fits-all approach. I can see the argument; in fact, I'm sure it solves some problems and could potentionally help with implementation & support.

It's just that philosophically, I don't agree. It always makes me think of the story The Bed of Procustes.

This is what can be so difficult about being a teacher and working within the modern-day educational system. On one hand, you look for efficient, widely applicable solutions and systems to teach & reach students. Sometimes this is good and what's best. Sometimes, however, you want to give students room. Room to grow, explore, create, make choice, fail & succeed. In other words, to learn. There have been countless articles and talks about how schools can 'kill' creativity and individualism, and when issues like this - albeit small in nature - come up, I can see the point.

I think this is another reason why being a mobile teacher and having my cart of Chromebooks has been so great. Today, for example, students were working on a formative writing assessment. Some students were using the Chromebooks to write digitally, using Blogger and/or Google Docs to collaborate and peer edit/review, some students were using their notebooks with highlighters and pens, and still others were using a combination of paper/computer to get the results they needed.

Another way to say it: they found a method that worked best for them to learn, create, & collaborate.

I'm sure that because of my personality & philosophy, the experience of being a teacher who moves around and has a cart of Chromebooks has been enjoyable. Never mind the fact that I'm always discovering new ways - either by research, accident, or through great colleagues - to utilize the technology now available to me on a daily basis.

To quote the great Ferris Bueller: "If you have the means, I highly recommend it!"

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kids are Funny

This is going to be a short, sweet, Happy Friday post. I just needed to write a little bit about why working with middle school students can sometimes be a very funny affair.

First, some background:

-If you were unaware, we have been doing a lot of work studying Media Literacy, Propaganda, Persuasive Techniques, and Advertising in class. The students have had a great time learning about different propaganda techniques and advertising strategies, as well as examining commercials, both in video form and print form.
-One of the end results of this unit will call for the students to produce an Ad Campaign in a small, collaborative group.
-Taking advantage of the time of year, we have been looking at past and present Super Bowl commercials...looking at the good, bad, effective and ineffective.

This all leads to a moment from this morning.

We were looking at some of the Super Bowl commercials from this year. The students needed to do a 2-paragraph analysis and review write-up for their chosen Ad on our Moodle Course, then copy + paste the link so we could watch. Many of my students chose various Doritos commercials (shows where they're at mentally & emotionally), and a couple chose the Taco Bell ad from this year using the "We Are Young" song and featuring senior citizens having a crazy night on the town. This was all fine and good. When the video ended - like every other YouTube video - other "related" options were shown to watch next.


One of the next "options" showed a barely clad Kate Upton. Keep in mind that none of the girls in my class paid any attention to this and said nothing. After about a 3-second delay/realization, roughly 18 young gentelmen LOST THEIR MINDS! Like, their worlds were forever changed. Nothing made sense; everything made sense. Unbelievable.

Classic stuff. Middle School is just funny. And sometimes, you just have to laugh.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Winners - So Far

During class today and tomorrow, we will be looking at our selections of past Super Bowl commercials. Students needed to choose a favorite commercial from a previous year and write a 2-paragraph summary and analysis of the commercial. This is coinciding with our media literacy unit, as well as looking at how persuasion and propaganda apply to our own writing. So far it has been interesting to see what some of the 'big hits' of the past few years have been. Most of the students are drawn to the funny/hysterical advertisement, which is no surprise, seeing as how they are 11 and 12 years old.

Here they are:

Later this week, I will share some of the hits from this year's Super Bowl, according to our 6th graders!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Back to An Old Favorite

Hard to believe it's already been a year! Here we are, once again on the cusp of another installment of that great American tradition of opulence - The Super Bowl. And with it, this year's batch of very expensive, much-anticipated commercials.

Much like last year, we will be discussing persuasion and different persuasion techniques. Additionally, we will examine different propaganda techniques used by advertisers in their ongoing attempts to help us remove money from our wallets.

Even five days before the game, the buzz has started around some commercials. With some, there may already be a dose of controversy. Next Monday morning, there will be as much armchair-quarterbacking about the ads as there will be for the game.

This is always a great springboard into talking about the construction of persuasive essays, which helps lead us into argument papers down the road. With commercials being what they are, students are always highly engaged and are excited to learn. They soon realize that many of these techniques are used on them - on a daily basis of bombardment! - whether they realize it or not.

I will continue to send updates throughout the next couple weeks; about student favorites, hot-button issues, duds, and any new learnings.

With that, here's a classic Super Bowl commercial to get you in the mood!

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Read a very interesting article today. It was a summary, essentially, of a study conducted in England during the last school year - 2011-2012.

Here's the link.

For anyone who has ever read this blog - especially anyone who has read it on a regular basis - it comes as no surprise that this study + outcome fascinates me as a teacher. I have been interested in classroom design and space for the past few years, even starting to put some pieces together for a room transformation last year before I went on this endeavor of teaching without a home classroom.

A couple years ago, some colleagues and I set about to create some ideas and gather information about what the ideal 21st-Century learning environment might look like (sorry non-Edina readers, closed access at this point). This was a pretty eye-opening experience, both from a standpoint of learning and from seeing the enthusiasm in so many other people - including my principal!

So what stood out to me about this particular article? First off, I think it's really cool stuff. Also, it seems as though there may be some congruency between new ways of looking at how we educate students and the environment in which this education happens. In other words, I think there's room and reason to challenge ways of thinking in each department. Finally - and this is the biggie - dealt with the effect on student achievement.

To quote: "The paper, published in the journalBuilding and the Environment, found that classroom design could be attributed to a 25% impact, positive or negative, on a student’s progress over the course of an academic year. The difference between the best- and worst-designed classrooms covered in the study? A full year’s worth of academic progress."

That's some crazy stuff right least worth thinking about. Who knows, maybe even better environments lead to more effective teaching, which magnifies the benefits of the room effect on students, etc., etc. See where this could go?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Remembering & Change

It was nice to have a long weekend during the middle of January. Even though we came back to work yesterday, it was without students, and sometimes those days can be supremely rewarding: lots of work done, the chance to talk with colleagues, an actual opportunity to go out and grab something for lunch. I know, it's the little things.

That said, my weekend could best be described as "uneven." There were plenty of good parts - time spent with friends & the kids' friends, skating lessons and hoops for the kids, celebrating an old friends' birthday Saturday night. Then, within about 10 hours on Sunday, I learned of my grandfather's passing, as well as having my car die out on me with the temperature hovering on the south side of 0 degrees.

The car is fixed ($850 later, and probably worthy of it's own post), and the temps will inevitably creep up, but what's irrecoverable is my grandpa won't be around anymore.

In the grand scheme of things, 84 is a pretty good shift - a full life lived, full of memories, family, and friends. In 84 years, a person comes in contact with many people, impacts many people's lives, and has opportunities to change and grow. It's this last aspect that I find myself thinking about today. And it's this concept of growth and change that I find myself relating to the students I teach.

All too often, we can be tempted to feel as though a student "is who they are," that what we see is, essentially, what we are going to get. I do not doubt that in many ways, there is truth to this way of thinking. Genetics plays a huge role; we are determined in many ways from the get-go. But I also know this...people continually grow, evolve, change, and advance throughout the course of their lives. Through the many stories my mom and grandma have told me over the years, my grandpa wasn't always the nicest or most available father/husband. Someone who was maybe too devoted to work, to wanting things perfect around the house, who may have been distant, and who may have even drank too much.

I never met that man.

The man I knew as my grandfather was warm, kind, gentle, and generous. The man I knew told me stories about the world, how he grew up, what he'd learned, and what he still didn't know. The man I knew always had an ear to listen to my hopes, dreams, fears and goals. I played my first round of golf with him, when I was seven. Couple that with my own amazing dad's love of the game, and it's become a lifelong sport I enjoy with family and friends. Just by watching my grandpa, I could see just how effective and powerful it can be to simply listen to people, or how far a simple 'hello, how are you?' can go. My grandpa always made time for me, whether I was six years old and coming over for a sleepover, or when I was twenty-one, flying down to Ft. Myers for spring break. I always have and will continue to love him very much. I miss him already.

I write about this because I need to remember this in my students -  that they too are always changing and growing. Things we see in September may not be the same things we see now in January, and that may change again by May.

Lfe is indeed a journey, and more than anything, I know my students will always need me to have that ear for listening, that smile for welcoming, the understanding for comforting, and the greeting for assuring them that no matter what season they're going through, I'm right here for them.

Thanks Grandpa

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Anyone who knows me professionally knows that as a teacher, I'm fairly relaxed in many ways. There are some exceptions...listening, engagement, the treatment of others. These are areas in which I am very clear with my students - there is no messing around. On the other hand, my students know they can always joke wth me, talk with me, share concerns, struggles, and triumphs with me.

Another area my students - at least the majority - have always had a high degree of comfort with me in has been with succeeding and failing. In other words, my students know that my classroom is an okay place to fail. It means they are trying, experimenting, challenging themselves, learning. For this, I have always been proud. It is important to me that my students always feel this way.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because I observed something today with a few of my students that I found quite startling: for these few students, the fear of failure was absolutely crippling for them. Whether it was over properly writing a blog post, performing on a vocabulary test, or finishing a digital storytelling project, these students were in all sorts of varying hysterics. One young man seemed on the verge of tears; another could not move on to other work until he had quadruple-checked with me that he was going about his business the right way.

"Guys, relax. It'll be fine; trust me. We've been over this, you know what to do, just go with it. It's okay if it's not perfect, that's how we learn."

I believe some of this has to do with end-of-quarter/semester stress. Some students nervous about the vocabulary test hadn't done a great job preparing, and they knew it. Some students had not done a good job of keeping up with the blog writing, and now they're facing a deadline. This is why I'm liking my classroom mobile, digital, student-oriented: they get to be in control of so much of their learing and production, then deal with the consequences, both good & bad. Welcome to life!

The big-picture worry I have is this: too many kids - and then adults - are afraid of failure. Of putting themselves out there; of taking a chance. The crazy part is I really feel like our learning environment is very conducive to trial-and-error, but maybe I'm off on this. Maybe it's the nature of our newer grading system, with so much riding on summative assessments...but I do so much with formative assessments, practice and feedback most kids feel ready to rock and roll! I guess the students that are always tentative - are afraid to fail - will always need our support, encouragement, and consistent feedback. After all, the more they are able to pick themselves up and improve after falling down and failing, the stronger they will be in the future.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


One of the most rewarding practices I engage in on a regular basis for my job is reflection. I have come to believe that without this, I wouldn't grow in my profession nearly as much as I should; without it I wouldn't be able to learn from mistakes.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I (try to) write on a consistent basis. Every time I sit down to write, I'm thinking about something worthwhile, and inevitably, it leads me down a path of reflection - thinking about what happened that day, what's going on in life, what some current challenges are for work.

Because of this, I've typically been a pretty big fan of the alt-comp program out district has been a part of for the past few years. Yes, there are times where I feel like I'm doing a bit of hoop-jumping, but on the whole, I have found the experience to be rewarding. Why? Reflection. Purposeful, mindful, practice-impacting reflection. And what's great is that the reflection just isn't me alone. There's always place and time for that, and over the years I do more and more of it. The step up with the alt-comp program is I'm able to reflect with and through the eyes of a colleague-coach, someone who offers great feedback, listens and guides, and offers data and reflection based upon my requests.

With the structure of modern life & work it can often be difficult to reflect, but I would encourage anyone to take some time - 5, 10 minutes even - to reflect on their lesson, interactions, workouts, etc. to gain a better understanding of what was achieved, what went well, and what can be done better the next time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ah, But the Listening

Today's just been one of those days. You know the type. The kind of day you find yourself saying: "It's only Tuesday, huh?" The kind of day that makes me question your effectiveness, purpose, and resolve.

Why? One reason: listening.

Or, perhaps a better way to put it: an absolute lack of listening.

The thing is, we are doing so many cool things in class; using so many 21st-century tools; utilizing best practices methods in teaching and delivery. But at the end of the day, if students are not listening - like, at all - there are still going to be frustrations, setbacks, and dozens of unnecessary questions.

I really enjoy my students and classes this year. It has been a great group to work with, and being able to say that with 176 students is a blessing. On most days, teaching them has been a pleasure. Even with days like today, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.

Writing this today is not my way into hypothesizing about why students can have some bad listening days, or why some students seem to be serial offenders in this category. There are many different variables that lead to this, and in many ways, I'm able - like many teachers - to work through and around these issues to still effectively reach our goals. No, today I'm simply marveling how much impact listening, good or bad, continues to have on learning, daily life, work, relationships, etc.

So while 21st-century learning, practices, technologies and tools are incredibly important, I sometimes just need my students to apply the skill that's been around since the time of their ancestors...


Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy Weekend

As I right this, the weekend is under an hour away. My time with the students is done for the week; all that's left is prep and a team meeting.

This has been a good week.

     My students are excitedly writing on a daily basis on their Language Arts blogs, working on digital story telling projects, and final drafts of their first Anchor Papers of the year: creative/narrative pieces, focusing on the "day in the life" of something other than themselves.

     My family continues to be a source of inspiration, love, and support. I am incredibly blessed to have two children who love to play with me, wrestle, work on homework together, read, swim, skate, shoot hoops, etc. I have a wife that adores me - why, I'm not completely sure - but is a smart, incredible teacher in her own right and pushes me further along my path.

     My weekend is one looking to be filled with friends, laughter, and football, as we continue a tradition started in college of taking a weekend in the winter to be together up north.

I won't even mind too much if the Packers win :)

Happy weekend everybody!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


What a great night! Big road test, tough place to play, #9 vs. #12.

What do the Gophers do? Go into Champaigne and take one from the Illini, making a nice little statement.

There are not many sports games I get too worked up about; if fact, I never really lose sleep over the outcome...for that it would take something pretty monumental. I've lived through '98 Vikes vs. Atlanta, wide-right. 41-Donought. 12 men in the huddle @ New Orleans. Continuous crushing of the Twins by the Yankees in the post-season. T-Wolves 1st Round exits. Wild lost seasons. Brewster.

But Gophers Hoops? Always #1. I remember being crushed when the academic scandal hit; I'm still bitter when people feel the need to insist that 96-97 "didn't happen." Yes, it did, and it was glorious. As were the runs made to the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 by Burton, Coffee, Lynch and everyone else on those teams in the 80s.

I'm enjoying watching this Gophers team play more than any other since 96-97. That's why I'm so excited, and that's why I don't it to end anytime soon. I know they'll lose more this year; with the schedule and conference that's inevitable.

What's important is the joy one can get from watching a solid team play, and how that can sometimes help a guy get through some long, cold winter nights.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Just had another meeting reminder pop up on my e-mail outlook. It's not the worst thing in the world. I know there are - hold on, just received another meeting request for a future date - many people who have busier meeting schedules than I do.

What amazed is that, as I looked at my calendar to see more information about this meeting happening in 15 minutes, I noticed about 5 additional 'sit-downs' over the next 48 hours. On the surface, maybe not a big deal. But here's the thing: During all the time I'm not at or prepping for a meeting, I am teaching, grading, planning, etc.

The end result is that a lot of the work I could otherwise get done during the day turns into work at home, outside of my hours!

In the grand scheme, it's nothing more than a small annoyance; some meetings are downright beneficial.

If nothing else, venting a little while something is on your mind can do some good. Better run, that meeting is in 5...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Simple Resolution

Although I've never been a huge 'new year's resolution' kind of guy, I did want to challenge myself to be more consistent in my writing this year. Specifically, I want to push myself to write every day, or at least as close to that as possible.

Sometimes, things just tend to get in the way: work, kids, life, etc. That said, I feel as though I can squeeze out 10-15 minutes minimum on a daily basis. If nothing else, it may serve as a good way to reflect, specifically on work-related things, as well as what's going on in the world around me.

Why the sudden urge? I mean, let's face it: I haven't written since September!! Well, as I continue to push my students more and more to write & write digitally, I think it becomes more and more important for me to write myself. After all, if consistent writing improves one's writing, perhaps consistent writing should improve one's ability to help younger writers...

Anyway, I was all set with a few posts back in mid-December, especially after attending and presenting at the TIES 2012 conferece in Minneapolis. In due time I'll share some reflections. For now, I just want to enjoy the feeling of writing again; not burdening myself with the pressure of feeling as though something important always needs to be said.

Like I tell my students: any opportunity to exercise your writer's voice is one that should be seized.