Friday, January 21, 2011

Be Inspired

Some people have days when they are truly inspired by the power of a group of people, an individual or simply an idea. This week I was blown away by all three of those things and it felt great.

The group that inspired me was through an idea that a teacher had a while back and brought it to fruition today with his students. In our building we talk a great deal about innovation and making learning better for our students. Matt Langes, a 7th grade science and social science teacher had an idea of letting his student be innovative for a day. The students would come to their core classes and learn whatever they wanted to for a whole day. He discussed with his team and they planned their “innovative day”. Of course, the initial thought would be that this is crazy and 7th graders could not possible by productive in such an environment. The students were given the task of finding something they were interested in learning with minimal teacher guidance and create something by the end of the day. Personally, I witnessed these kids working and it was inspiring. There were video diaries, diet coke and Mentos labs, ballet routines, infomercials, various Photostories, and even a scale model of our school. Over 100 students were engaged and motivated throughout the day because they were in complete control of their learning and harnessed the power of choice.

The individual that I found inspiring this week was my son’s preschool teacher. Once a month his school invites parents into the classroom to see what goes on and take part in their learning activities. That right there to me is such a huge step that many schools are not taking in terms of parent involvement. I felt a part of his class and his learning, which is something I doubt many parents outside of preschool can say. In addition, I observed his teacher interacting with each child and parent with such genuine sincerity and compassion that should be something all teachers should aspire to.

My final piece of inspiration came from my computer club students today during our daily meeting. I have a handful of 8th grade students that work with me to create a bi-weekly news show for our school. Today I showed them the Magnolia High School lip dub that was created to the Katy Perry Firework song. After watching it they were going completely nuts and wanted to create one. Within just a few short minutes songs were being tossed out and an outline of a movie idea was being put together. They were so touched by that movie that they want to create their own and get the whole school involved. I immediately shared their enthusiasm with principal that said she got “goose bumps” just thinking about it. We then got some other teachers on board with the idea and will being reaching out to the student body shortly. Next week we will begin what will surely be a long and yet very rewarding project that all started with a simple idea in my class room this afternoon. Given the determination of this group, I am sure in the coming weeks I will have something great to share with you all!

As I sit here, I think to myself, “it doesn’t get much better than this!”



Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can you laugh at yourself?

When I tell people that I am a middle school teacher, I often get the same reaction, “What? Are you crazy? Kids that age are nuts!” or “You couldn’t pay me enough money to do that!” I am sure those of you who teach in the 6th – 8th grade world hear similar comments. However, I absolutely love what I do and the kids that I work with daily. I could tell a hundred stories of the things I have heard, seen, and smelled…that most people outside of a school would not believe. Teachers have all sorts of techniques and strategies to get through difficult days and by satisfied with their work. For me, I rely on one simple rule: have a sense of humor.


Having a sense of humor applies to so many situations from dealing with a difficult student to grading. If you can’t laugh while you work, there is something wrong. Especially in the middle school, if you don’t laugh at least 7 times a day, you are probably in the wrong line of work.

In terms of connecting with your students, one of the easiest ways is to laugh at yourself. Be silly, out of the ordinary, funny and kids will connect with you. Below is a video that I made with a group of classmates back when I was in junior high. The quality is not great but the intent is good. I show this to my students before we study Rome. When kids see that I am ok laughing at myself, they connect with me and my class. They also feel free to step out of the box and take a risk themselves. This age is also a very fragile time for self esteem and being laughed at or singled out is hard. That is why it is even more important for me to model that and show them it’s ok and is often a lot of fun.

Enjoy laughing at me as my students certainly do! I am the one with the time period authentic looking executioner mask…yes that is a piece of sweatpants with holes and duck-tape!

Warning! - This movie is only attended for mature audiences that can handle poorly depicted violent acts with state of the art duck-tape and wooden weapons. No horses or junior high students were injured during the taping.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bringing the Dead Back to Life!

Here is a quick sample of a project using the program Crazy Talk 6. It is a great way to bring pictures to life and the students love working with it. I have had students write speeches as historical figures or have conversations with hand drawn pictures of characters from their reading novels. I highly suggest you give this one a try.

Education Ice: How To Tutorial

As requested by my "fans", I came in early and put together a tutorial outlining how I made the Education Ice video from the Reform Symposium a few weeks back. I actually created a new page on my blog to house my tutorials so you can click the link on the top of this page or click here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Student Voices Parts II

A while back I wrote about student voices and a student survey I completed at my school. I wanted to take that a bit further and ask students some very specific questions about their learning. Here are a few of the responses that speak directly to what some of us know is the right way to teach students. The questions asked students to reflect on how they learn and what they like about school. If you had to ask your students, what would they say?

Evernote 101

As promised, I put together a brief Evernote tutorial today before school. I am not an expert and this is just some of the ways in which I am using this site to help me store and organize tweets, links, emails, voice notes, etc. If you know of other uses please comment and let me know so I can add it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Have a Dream

As Dr. Martin Luther stated so many years ago…


“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”

I have a dream that one day all kids will have access to technology in their homes and in their schools.

I have a dream that teachers are given freedom to determine what works best for their students.

I have a dream that students come to school and learn what they want and when they want.

I have a dream where student’s passion for learning is not squashed by a curriculum.

I have a dream where textbooks are a thing of the past and students have access to constantly changing and evolving information.

I have a dream that that one day parents and teachers and students all work together for the goal of student learning.

I have a dream that students from all walks of life and from every corner of the planet will be able to use technology to connect and collaborate.

I have a dream that a student will be as engaged in school as they are at home.

I have a dream when standardized tests are a thing of the past.

I have a dream that a student never feels isolated and the need to resort to school violence as an outlet.

I have a dream where grades don’t exist and students are not judged against one another but themselves.

I have a dream that teachers are viewed as the revered professionals they truly are.

I have a dream that students are judged by more than a symbolic letter on a piece of paper.

This is my hope… the day when we will stand together as parents, teachers, and students and know that learning will one day be free. It will be free of curriculum, free of standardized testing, free of grading, free of unhealthy competition, free of financial restraints, free of textbooks, and free to be whatever the learners need and when they need it.

This is my dream.

Suspended for Passing a Note?

Recently, I engaged in a conversation on Twitter about modeling and teaching appropriate use of social media and technology in schools. Quickly our conversation turned to the discussion of punishment for online behaviors. In light of some of the recent public instances of online behaviors being prosecuted in a court of law I raise three questions. Before I address my questions there are two beliefs that I hold to in terms of technology and the use of social media. First, it is something that kids are using regardless of if it is allowed in school or not. Second, schools should be the place where these tools are used and appropriate use taught.


Question one: Are we punishing too harshly for behaviors that would have been considered “kids being kids” ten years ago?

Now I am not supporting the students who created the Attack a Teacher Facebook page. However, if students were overheard joking and making comments like that in the lunchroom would they be prosecuted to the extent the Facebook kids are? Another example would be students texting in class. Some school policies have students lose their phones for the day or eventually are given detentions or even suspensions for repeat offenders. Is texting the note passing of this generation? Anyone ever suspended for passing a note?

Question two: Should schools be responsible for disciplining behaviors that happen outside of schools?

With the amount of cyberbullying that it taking place online, schools are taking a more active role and dealing with these situations. If a student is being bullied online and the results of that are coming into the school, then it certainly should be dealt with in the school. For me though, I wonder where the line is in terms of a school’s role in dealing with such instances. If students got into a fight over the weekend at the park, would they be suspended on Monday at school?

Question three: If we as schools believe that cyberbullying is that serious, then how does that impact our dealing with “traditional” bullying in schools?

In most cases I have read about and dealt with myself, cyberbullying is dealt with often very harshly and with zero tolerance. Students are suspended and in some cases expelled for things they have written or posted online. I take that is one of two ways. Either we are over reacting to bullying being done online, or we are not taking bullying in our schools seriously enough. With the increased cases of cyberbullying, one wonders if bullying is getting worse, or it is just now more public and visible.

Am I out of line here or are the traditional methods of discipline not current with student behaviors? Are we over punishing when technology is involved?