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 there...at 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.