Wednesday, November 3, 2010

This Is Why I Do Teach

I meant to post this last night, but the election results got in the way (sorry, occupational hazard).

Today was a great day!! I had great conversations with my honors students in the morning about the first party system and the election tonight. But that wasn't why this was a great day.

That happened in my last two classes of the day, and both in classes where I am doing layered curriculum. In my first experience, I watched as one of my students walked another through the process of making a VoiceThread recording of George Washington. He was able to walk him through the whole process from finding an image to record over to posting the link at our class website. When I thanked him doing it and made him my official class tech, he simply said, "Well, you showed me how to do it." While that is true, I wouldn't have thought that the one time I showed him to do it would be enough, especially as it took me a couple of times to get it right. It was a great teaching moment.

The second one started during class and continued after school. One of my students has been hesitant to do much work during the process. Apparently, during lunch one of his classmates convinced him to do something with regard to the layered curriculum and that she would help him through it. As she told me this when she came after school to earn more points for herself, I was thrilled that she had so grabbed hold of the process that she was willing to work to convince others to do it. (Side note, she finished earning her "C Level" points Monday after school and has already handed in one of the "B Level" assignments, because she didn't want to wait until the last minute to hand things in.)

Some days it is great to be a teacher!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

One Step

As I read this post yesterday at the "What Ed Said" blog, and then thought about my own classes today, I realized that I was following in that same path. I do talk a great deal about allowing my students control of their own learning, but how often do I really do it? Yes, I use a layered curriculum format with some of my students, but the choices that they get to make as part of that layered curriculum are the choices that I have made for them. This certainly gives me something to think about as I plan my next unit for them.

The conversation that I had with one of my honors classes today about the projects that I assigned to them went in a somewhat different direction than I had expected. I understood when I assigned it to them that some of them might want to go in their own direction with the project (the assignment is to create a TV news report about one of the points of early westward expansion in the United States), but when they asked if they could create a video rather than a digital documentary, I was initially taken aback. I wasn't sure that I wanted them to do it this way. I am trying to build them up to creating their own digital documentaries, and I, initially, wondered if allowing them to go in their own direction would hurt that process. But, as they kept asking, I decided to relent and let them create their own documentaries, and the expressions on their faces was worth everything. They became genuinely excited about the prospect of creating their own documentaries. I am not sure what this is going to mean for the finished product, as some of them have already asked about "comedic" elements, but we'll see in a couple of weeks. They will still be creating an end-of-the-year documentary, but depending on how this goes, maybe they can have some more freedom in doing it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What does "citizenship" mean?

Having already passed on the Celtics-Heat game after 1:30 of the season, I thought I would sit down and write a post on the importance of citizenship, especially as it has been the subject of a couple of columns I have read this week.

The English Parliament recently announced that drastic cuts in education outside of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which has greatly worried educators in not only in social studies, but also all of the humanities. As A.C. Grayling said in a recent post in the New Statesman

Yet the ambition to educate more people to a high level, to meet not just the economy's needs but those of a complex society by enriching the lives of its individual members, was always a good one. What we see in the cuts is an abandonment of that ambition in favour of economic imperatives alone.

Now, frequent readers of this blog will remember my father's words about "education is not vocation." We, as educators, are trying to create in our students a love of learning about all things, not just about the things that will get them a job. But, so much of our job in the humanities is to teach them how to become contributing citizens of the United States and the world. If our students are being pushed more and more into the STEM, then what might that mean for their ability to understand the United States and the world around them better? I am currently in the middle of teaching the basics of the Constitution to my sophomores and trying to have them understand the importance of the document and how it impacts their lives on a daily basis. But, if the cuts in England are any indication about what might happen to the humanities in the United States, we must be prepared now for that reality.

The second article that I would encourage people to read is about bringing "civic education to the front burner". In the piece, Anne O'Brien quotes Rick Hess in saying:
For America's founders such as Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, and Thomas Jefferson, one of the main functions of schools was producing democratic citizens.

If this country is going to get back on the successful track that we have been for most of our brief history, we need our students to be engaged in their futures. They need to be able to think their way through issues, and without experience in how to do that in a number of different areas/subjects, they are not going to be able to deal with the different circumstances as they arise.

Focusing on the STEM is not fine. It leaves a whole, wide, wonderful world unexamined by our students.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Toys, I mean Tools....

This seemed like an interesting concept to try this with. Not sure whether or not it actually will work in teaching the material, but it was fun to create none-the-less.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Not Preaching to the Choir

Over the summer, I watched a TED talk by Dan Meyer about how difficult teaching math can be in today's environment. I was reminded of it as I read Andrew Marcinek's iTeach blog, a blog written by a laid-off from a charter school instructional technology specialist. While Meyer's quote is about math, it certainly can be applied to just about any subject in any public school today:

I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it, but by law, is forced to buy it.

I have read that quote any number of times over the past few days and have really thought about the students that I teach and how it applies to them. While I would like to think that history is the favorite subject of all of my students, I am not naive enough to believe that is true. Yet, in order to graduate, they must take, and pass, my class.

Am I doing a good enough job selling my product to people that may not want to buy it?

I believe that I give my students a number of different ways to display and show me what they have learned. Whether it is the daily layered curriculum check-ins with my CP students, or the blog entries of my honors students, my students can show me how well they not only learned a topic, but also understand what is going on. It bothers me, however, when I see some of my students not participating in my efforts to sell them on U.S. History. Are they not participating because I am failing to convince them to buy what I am selling or are they just not buying anything regardless of how attractive I make it?

Monday, October 18, 2010

How A Bill Becomes a Law

We are all aware of the School House Rock version of how a bill becomes a law. If you are not, here is a refresher. I'm Just a Bill (Sorry, SchoolHouseRockKids won't let me embed from their site.)

Of course, that it isn't as much fun as tracing it out yourself, which is what my C and D Period classes are doing today and tomorrow. If you are trying to navigate yourself around using the arrow keys, they are counterintuitive. If you want to see what is below, the bottom, use the up arrow, to see what is on the right side of the screen, use the left arrow, etc.

Here is D Period's version thanks to

Here is C Period's version, also thanks to

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What to Do?

OK. So there is a national conversation around the idea that public education in this country is "failing" our students, our future. Tom Whitby at My Island View has put out a call as to how to "reform" education, so, as though of you who know me will not be surprise, I will throw in my two cents (I am guessing that my opinion is worth less than that at I just calculated my twalue at just over $6).

The first thing that I would do is to stop having so much conversation about it. I am not convinced that there is truly a crisis in American public education. The various media entities in this country need something to report on and, in this current climate, teachers, their unions, and their schools, are easy targets. What has happened, therefore, is that everybody who went to school has become an expert on what it means to learn, to teach, and to educate, because the media has made this such a huge issue.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that the American education system is perfect and that the only people who should be able to offer an opinion on how to "reform" education are the ones directly involved in the process. But, the people on the front lines should be included in the discussion. What we are bombarded with on a seemingly daily basis is this businessman's opinion about what is wrong with education, or this politician's blueprint to "fix" the problem. What do teachers think would "reform" the system? How about students? Many of them have opinions about what would work best for them, yet no one seems to care at all about what they think. Again, I would not have teachers and students be the only voices, but their voices should be heard.

Sir Ken Robinson
, to whom I was "introduced" in a summer class that I took in 2009, has made any number of comments about the state of education, and the graphic YouTube video below demonstrates some of this thoughts on the matter. Until everyone who plays a role in the education of our students, our future, has a voice that the influential in the media choose to listen to, the "crisis" of "reform" will continue to exist.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Future Is Now

I, as much of the rest of the world, have been awestruck at the resolve shown by the 33 Chilean miners who have been trapped for so long underground.  Of course, the teacher in me sees this as an opportunity, not that I teach directly about Chile in my classes, but that I can express to my students the wonder of being able to watch all of this live on TV.  Apparently, there was originally supposed to be delay in the broadcasting of the miners arrival above the ground, but the Chilean president made the decision to have the broadcast made in real-time because Chile was sharing this moment with the rest of the world. 

As I have read recaps of this event, again from the world's newspapers, I have read about capsules made in Austria, drills from the United States, drillers from the United States via Afghanistan. 

When people discount the impact of technology in bringing this world closer together, in enabling 1.2 billion people (at least that is the figure that the translator just announced) to witness this incredible event, and ultimately in helping us learn about this bravery of the leader of this group and the miners themselves, they are refusing to see the forest for the trees.  

Articles of Confederation Timelines

Here are the timelines that my students and I put together in class about the problems with the Articles of Confederation and why the nation needed a new form of government.



The Preamble

There was a time in America when Saturday mornings on ABC were dominated by cartoons. As a sort of public service announcement at the end of many of these, Schoolhouse Rock came along and provided 3 - 5 minutes of knowledge about American History, grammar, science, and math. Looking back on them, they were pretty campy, but I still find myself singing those old lyrics when it comes time for anything to do with any of those topics. They have now been immortalized with their own YouTube channel, to which I have attached a link above.

My favorite (perhaps not surprisingly) is "The Preamble," which my students will be committing to memory. They are doing this as a way to better undersatand what the Constitution stands for and guarantees of us as Americans. Enjoy!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Second Verse, Same as the First

As I read this blog post about education and the business world, I could not help but think back to my post from Saturday. I won't go over that again, primarily because you can find it just by scrolling a little bit further down the page. Just read and think and learn.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saved Again

Whenever I am stuck for a blog topic (which, when you are trying to write one for each day of class, can happen often), I scroll through my twitter feeds or the blogs I follow and try to see if there is something written there that will spark my thoughts to get beyond my writer's block. I have a number of "go to" people for those thoughts, but by far my #1 source is Will Richardson and Weblogg-ed. His book "Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms" now in its 2nd Edition, published by Corwin Press, was the first along the way of my introduction into the web 2.0 world and how it could make a difference with the students that I teach. His post yesterday morning about students and their thoughts on the current educational hoops that they are expected to jump through, once again, inspired me to post something here.

When did we lose the idea of education and learning simply for the love of education and learning? We all talk about wanting our students to be life-long learners and how important it is for us, teachers and parents, to be life-long learners as role models for our students, but how many of us actually work to make both of those things happen? Why would our students want to become life-long learners if what we are currently doing to them in schools is what we call "learning"? Why would they believe us, teachers and parents, when very few of us are willing to break out of the "tried and true" or "the safe"? Why would they believe us, teachers and parents, when we tell them about the importance of education for themselves, but then compare them to other schools and ultimately to the rest of the world?

If we want our students to love learning, we must demonstrate that for them and show them our love of learning. If we want our students to love learning, we need to challenge them with more than just rote memorization and how to take tests. If we want our students to love learning, we must get them to think about what learning means and how it can make them better people, not simply better test-takers. Education is not vocation. Education helps us to make things better, things in our world, our nation, our state, our towns, and our homes. But ultimately, education makes us better as individuals, which ultimately leads to making all of those things better.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Survival of the Fittest

"In the long history of humankind...those who learned to collaborate & improvise most effectively have prevailed" - Charles Darwin

I saw this post in my twitter feed tonight from @archivesinfo and could only think about the work that we do as teachers everyday to help students "prevail." Small group learning, "think, pair, share," and other ideas like that have been a part of teaching for a long time. We want our students to share the information that they have learned with each other and we want them to ask questions of each other to improve their own knowledge.

Now, however, more and more of us are asking out students to "improvise," to create things from nothing, and figure out how to donate to the greater culture around them. This has become a process of "cloud computing," tools like blogs, wikis, VoiceThread, timetoast, twitter, etc. are the ones that more often than not are the sites that host that improvisation.

I am proud to be helping those who will be the next to "prevail."

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One Year Later?

What kind of impact will you leave behind at the end of 525,600 minutes? What will your footprints look like? Impact! Effect! Purpose!

TEDxRedmond is "by kids, for kids" with a theme of "Power to the Students." With over four hundred youth attendees watching in the all-youth theater, this was one of the largest TEDx events entirely for youth. Organized by an all-youth committee headed by former TED speaker Adora Svitak, TEDxRedmond focused on issues (like education) pertaining to youth as well as adults.

Zoe Sprankle is creatively driven--she is a writer, actress, and singer. You can find her writing on her blog, Footprints on Paper (

About TEDx, x = independently organized event
In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Do We Blog

So, there I was reading my twitter feeds tonight and I came across this blog post from a blog that I had never read before. As I read it, I once again felt validated about the things that I am asking my students to do this year. The woman who wrote the post suggested that she found that her more reluctant writers grew excited about writing when they were writing for someone other than their teacher. That when there was the opportunity for their classmates and friends to read what they were writing, their interest in it grew dramatically.

The things that I have asked my students to do allows them to publish their work for everyone to see. My goal is that they are more excited about what they are doing and that they take it a more seriously than they would have otherwise. So far, so good.

Revolutionary War Review

Sorry about no post yesterday. I was finishing this up to provide a review for my students.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


One of the great things about teaching is the light bulb factor. I don't know if I am the first to use this term (I can't be), but watching it go off has got to be one of the greatest things ever about teaching. As I read my students' blogs, I am starting to see them ask questions not just about what has happened that day in class (which is what I have asked them to do in their blogs), but also what they think is going to come next. In my mind, this is what teaching is all about. I am watching students become life-long learners before my very eyes. They are not simply letting their education happen to them. They are beginning to take control of it and set their own direction. I could not be prouder of them. (And I have to include some teachers in this post as well, and you know who you are.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Opportunity to hear different kinds of Supermen and Superwomen

Cavalcade of Stars Respond to Education Nation
Mark your calendars!

A few days ago, Edutopia asked me to write another piece voicing my objections to NBC’s Education Nation coverage and the deeply flawed documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” I suggested that they host a webinar instead. I had already tweeted, blogged and Facebooked so much that I inexplicably lost my voice.

Edutopia took the suggestion and enlisted boy wonder, Steve Hargaddon, to organize and host the event entitled, Elevating the Education Reform Debate. This two hour webinar will feature some of the voices silenced by NBC, Oprah and director Davis Guggenheim. They include my heroes and colleagues, Deborah Meier and Alfie Kohn; friends, Chris Lehmann and Will Richardson; YouTube sensation, Sir Ken Robinson; and Julie Evans. I cannot wait to hear what they (or I) will say on Monday.

Wake the kids and call your neighbors! This is an event you won’t want to miss!

This Elluminate webinar is FREE and open to the entire World Wide Web.

Date: Monday, October 4, 2010
Time: 2pm Pacific / 5pm Eastern / 9pm GMT (international times here)
Duration: 2 hours
Location: Log in at
Recordings: Posted after the event at

Note: Conference organizers have a nasty tendency to book me last on the program, this webinar may be no exception. Therefore, stick around for Sir Ken and hangout for me to bring up the rear. I promise not to disappoint!

Ends and Means, Means and Ends

Process. This is the conversation that I had with one of my classes today. They were asking me about how they were being graded on the blogs that I have had the write since the beginning of the year and what was involved in the things I was having them embed in the blogs. I truly believe that this is one of the biggest problem with education today. Students have become motivated only by grades and not by a love of learning. If you buy into the theory that external motivation is not a great way to get much of any accomplished, and that they only way for lasting learning to happen is through intrinsic motivation. We are doing our students a disservice by having them focus on grades only and not the process, not the participatory nature of education. If we are truly trying to create life-long learners then we need to come with ways to have them not mind learning so much. If the only reason that they are learning something is for the grade, then we have not taught them anything.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Elephant in the Room

As I read through my twitter messages this evening, I came across Will Richardson's post to read this article. When will we confront the elephant standing in the corner? Read on below:

"Despite some of the highest levels of education spending in the entire nation, New Jersey’s public schools continue to confront a critical achievement gap that shortchanges our children. For example, the achievement gap between wealthy and low-income 8th graders in math is nearly the same as it was 19 years ago; the gap between at-risk 4th graders and those not at-risk has remained nearly unchanged over the past 13 years. Likewise, New Jersey’s education system has failed to prepare vast numbers of students with the critical skills required to be competitive in college or the workforce. In 2009, nearly 30 percent of all 8th graders statewide lacked basic math skills."

How can we continue to believe that continuing to throw money at schools and not discuss the problem between wealthy towns and low-income towns as perhaps the real issue here? This is not about taxing the "haves" and re-distributing that to the "have-nots." This is about the so-called "education reform" movement thinking that teachers and their unions are the problem, when some of the students that we teach didn't have a bed to sleep in last night, or a breakfast to eat that morning, or any number of other issues they show up with every day. Certainly, there are some that are able to overcome the issues that they face, but how often does that happen? When those people who are making the decisions about how to fix schools actually show up at a school and talk to a teacher and a student about what needs to happen to make schools better, maybe then school reform will work.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The World I Want for My Kids

As I read Sue Densmore's blog post this morning, I thought that I should lend my voice to the choir. My children are K and under and this thought is very near and dear to me. So,

I want a world where my children's ability to think is valued over what they think.

I want a world where my children's creativity will be more important than their ability to choose what is supposed to be the "best" answer as opposed to the "better" one.

I want a world where decisions about the educational future of my children will be made with the assistance of those who actually teach.

I want a world where their thoughts will be respected for what they are and not looked down upon by their peers, where believing in themselves and having confidence in what they want and believe in will gain the respect of those around them.

There are a number of things that I would want to change about world for my children, but I think that last one is the most important. It really does come down to a question of respect for themselves and their peers. Not just their peers in their town or school, but those beyond their local community and into the larger nation and world. The world is growing smaller and flatter daily, and just when you think it can't get any smaller and flatter, some piece of technology comes along to do just that. We had all better be willing to listen to what each other has to say because more and more of us are going to part of the discussion about the world that they want for their kids, and we had better hope that they respect us as much as we want them to respect us.

About this blog carnival: “The world I want for my children” is an effort to support The Joyful Heart Foundation, which was founded by Law & Order: SVU actress Mariska Hargitay to help victims of sexual assault mend their minds, bodies and spirits and reclaim their lives. Today, the foundation is at the forefront of an effort to end a disheartening backlog of tens of thousands of rape kits in labs across the country, a backlog that contributes to a rapist’s 80 percent chance of getting away with his crime. The backlog and its detrimental effects will be the topic of an SVU episode on September 29th.

Monday, September 27, 2010


I don't know if I have talked about this before, and if I have, forgive me for the repetition. I love working with the people that I do. I love that people are willing to try new things, and even "steal" them from each other if they find that they serve their purposes just as well.

This is what students need to see in their teachers. They need to know that what we are asking them to do is something that we are excited to do as well, that we are excited to work together and share the information that we have. Our students need to know that we love learning as much as we are asking them to. Allowing us and encouraging us to work together is one of the greatest learning opportunities we could give them.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Revolutoinary War Timeline

Here is an example of a timetoast timeline. Some of the entries have pictures, some have links to other sites. Some have just text.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


"Do not mistake for progress what is merely change."

The words of my father ring in my head as I watch my students deal with the varied assignments I have given them. I enjoyed participating in a "debate" on the Declaration of Independence and watching the excitement that they brought with them to the decidedly no-tech experience. Then, later, having a conversation with one of my students about one of the assignments that they are working on in their layered curriculum was eye-opening. The excitement that appeared on his face as he realized he was getting it was very rewarding.

So while I may have changed a great deal about how I teach certain classes, and while I may not have changed some of the things I do with other classes, we are all definitely making progress.

Declaration of Independence Quiz

Here is the practice fill-in the blank quiz on the Declaration of Independence. Remember that you may only take this practice quiz once, so study a little bit before you start this.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Give It a Chance

The hardest thing to get over as a teacher is watching students who appear to be bright stop working and stop trying because they have to work through something. Just because they don't get something right away is not a reason to shut down and stop trying, at least as far as I am concerned. I have seen this more and more over the past few years and I find it aggravating because trying is part of learning. If we all understood everything that we were doing right away, learning would be a pretty boring experience.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Teach a Man to Fish...

When I took my 3-day "teaching history with technology" course this summer, one of the first things that we talked about was Ben Schneiderman's Collect-Relate-Create-Donate ideas that will in the words of one reviewer said "illustrate how technology can empower and liberate users." (Diane Maloney-Krichmar, University of Maryland Baltimore County). When I read the article that I linked to in the title, I thought about how the things that I have asked my students already this year have led them down the road to that "Do-It-Yourself" ability. I understand that this is when learning works best. I believe that if I can teach my students to do things for themselves, and learn to work through the assignments and tasks that I give them by themselves, then whatever they learn in U.S. History class will have been well worth it because they will have learned how to learn and teach themselves.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Kicking and Screaming

I told my students today that I have made the decision to completely embrace my inner "tech geek." I have now gone to the level of posting quizzes on line for my students to take. This has more to do with my desire for my students to know what is happening in my class than it does with their grades.

But, as I embrace my inner "tech geek," I have to remember that not everyone is going to do the same. That there is still a great deal of fear/hesitation/"everything has worked okay the way I have always done it" out there that I have to be careful not to push too hard. I have decided that what I really need to do is let my work and the work of my students do my talking and encouraging for me. I will help those that want it and ask for it and encourage those who are not quite ready for change to take small steps along the way.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Event Profile Quiz

CP students: you may take this quiz for 10 points on your layered curriculum.

Honors students: you should take this quiz as a quiz grade.

Something Extra

This is an additional thought to my my post about technology and teaching students and myself to use it. The most important idea is that “I not only have to be the student, I also have to be the teacher.” (Thanks to Will Richardson for posting the link on Twitter)

Lazy Afternoons

The soft, warm couch.

The lounge chair on the beach.

The float in the middle of the backyard pool.

Ahhhhhh, the comfort zone. These are places that we know we can retreat to at those times where maybe things aren't going quite as well as we might have hoped. Those places that provide safety and security for us when we need them the most. We all have them and we all need them. The thought of leaving our comfort zones often causes us distress, pain, and often forces us to stay with the familiar.

Looking back on my summer (after all, summer does not officially end until Thursday), I have realized that I have forced myself out of my comfort zone in almost every way that I could. Today, I ran almost 9 miles (averaging about 7:45 a mile, which I am told is pretty quick), and that was, until the past couple of weeks, about 3 miles than I had ever run before. (That quest goes back to the goal setting entry a couple of weeks ago.)

I also took a three-day teaching history with technology class in June that truly challenged the way I think about teaching and what my role in it should be. That class is what has inspired me to blog about my experiences this year and why I am asking my students to do the same. It was motivated me to use technology as a tool to challenge my students, not just a substitute for what I was doing in the classroom. I don't think that I can ever be the same teacher that I was before this summer, and that is a good thing.

As hard as it may have been, stepping outside of my comfort zone (a place that I found was really necessary for what has been going on over the past 16 months or so) has started me down the road to becoming better at what I do, and, hopefully and more importantly, better for my students. The growth that I believe I have gone through has made this possible, and is why I am going to spend my year challenging my students to step outside their comfort zones, to do things that they never thought they could because it seemed too difficult, because it got them up off the couch and out of the lounge chair and into a place they never knew they could reach.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Time to Reflect

I feel that time is like the weather. Everybody argues about not having enough of, but nobody does anything to change it. So no excuses for not posting about yesterday. I just didn't have time. Those of you out there who are keeping track can take a point off if you would like to.

I was inspired todby by an insight that one of my students was able to come up with in our discussion of the Boston Massacre. We were discussing whether or not it was truly a massacre, or did Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty simply hype it out of proportion. When, from seemingly out of no where, one of my students came up with the thought that it was merely a riot and not a massacre. Now, the inspiration did not come from the statement, but from the student that it came from. This student had to this point (yes, even this early in the year) seemed withdrawn from the class. This student had not handed in either of the assignments to this point and I was becoming a little scared as to what might happen for the rest of the year. After that statement, while I am still nervous about what is to come, I am at least heartened, not to say inspired (at least for the weekend) by the fact that the student was focused and paying attention enough to make that insight. This was a good day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Animoto Pictures of Revolutionary Replica Presentations

I received an e-mail last night from another adult that said I was "inspiring." I am excited to hear such a compliment from a colleague (at least that is what I am going with) and can only hope that giving my students the opportunity to show what they can do will "inspire" them to do even better work in the future. Great effort everyone!!

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Create your own video slideshow at

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who Needs the Arts and Creativity?

Just something to think about as we try to figure out why, exactly, we should be cutting arts programs in schools. "Creativity is not an exotic extra for education, like literacy it should be at the heart of national priorities." - Sir Ken Robinson

Always Something

I love using technology and the web 2.0 tools that I have exposed my students to so far this year. With blogs, VoiceThread, and podcasting already under the belts, I feel that they are already ahead of a number of the fellow students not just at Triton, but at many schools in the area. Maybe I am wrong and overestimating what I am doing with my students, but I really am happy with what we have accomplished so far.

That being said, there is always something that seems to pop up that requires some kind of immediate attention. Whether its upload problems on my part (which has happened at least a couple of times in the past couple of times), download problems on my students' part, or other technical glitches along the way, it always something.

That it why often the most important part of teaching (and the one that is the least often talked about) is the ability to think on our feet and adapting to the situation around us. If the tool that we want to use that day is down or unavailable, we have to have something ready to go beyond popping in a video and calling it a day. It is too easy to blame the IT people and assume that it is their fault. If we are using the technology, we have to be the ones responsible for knowing how it works and what the potential problems will be. It doesn't necessarily mean that new problems won't come up, but it will help us to walk through the problems as they pop up.

Monday, September 13, 2010


One of the things that we as teachers learn to deal with is that things rarely go as planned and that we have to think on our feet as best we can when that happens. First period this morning, I was having trouble remembering how to get my mic to work with the computer. It took much longer than I really thought I was going to have time for. But with a deep breath and a little patience I was able to think through the problem and work out the solution. With the patience of many of my colleagues, I was able to get the files recorded for my first period and the rest of the day went relatively smoothly. Now, as I am trying to upload those files to Google groups, I have apparently gone over my limit of uploads for the moment. I was able to get the recordings for one of my classes up, but I don't know if I am going to get the recordings up for the other class.

Patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Thinking about tomorrow, which has become one of my favorites of the year, I am reminded of the importance of letting my students know what I am expecting of them. They will be recording their event profiles tomorrow and I believe that I have told them exactly what I expect of them. However, sometimes there is confusion as to what is expected. I handed each of them a sheet with the "requirements" for the presentation, but how many of them have held on to it and will have used it to write their portion of the presentation will be seen tomorrow. I have to remind myself that while communication may be a two-way street, I am responsible for 75% if not more of making sure that things go the right way.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Process v. Product

As my students have been wrestling with the assignments that I have given them over the past week (one on the first day of school, the other earlier this week), I have listened to their concerns and their questions and have come to the conclusion, with the help of many of colleagues, that we as a culture have conditioned them to only care about the end result not how they got there. Their lives are all about taking high stakes tests; they have been told that they need to pass these tests to graduate; they have been told that they have to do well on these tests to get into the most competitive colleges or to go to colleges at all; we gear our classes to prepare them to take these tests. We as a society have told these students that all that matters is the end, not the path that they take to get there. And this is what I have found as the confusion over the assignments that I have given out so far this year. I am more concerned about the process that takes them to the end. I want them to create things, but I want them to understand how to make things so that they can apply the process to other assignments and projects that they are going to have this year and beyond. I can only hope that as the year progresses, they see the process of learning and thinking as just as if not more important than the product they create.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Road Map

Today was a another great learning experience for me as a teacher.  I realized again the importance of having exemplars for students who are struggling to understand what I am asking them to do.  There was a great deal of confusion surrounding the expectations of my event profile assignments for my sophomores, which at the time I couldn't understand.  But as I thought about it, I realized that maybe the best thing that I could do for my students is provide them with a short snippet of what I expect them to do.  So, here it is:

Hopefully, this will help to clear up any misunderstandings that they might have along the way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Surprises Around Every Corner

So, today I introduced one of my classes to Google Docs (don't worry, the rest of you get it tomorrow) and it was such a great experience watching their eyes light up as they realized what they were typing was showing up on the machine next to them.  I made sure that each of them was typing in a different color so that they could see what the other members of their group were adding and changing and suggesting.  Just a great time to be a teacher.

The other exercise of going over the similarities and differences in colonial America was just as interesting, if not as entertaining.  Listening to them throw out answers about what colonies were in New England and the Middle Atlantic region was the most interesting part.  Watching them help each other in groups was great.  The groups that succeeded the most were the ones that worked the most together and did not simply rely on one person to figure out the answers.

We'll see what happens when everyone else gets to see Google Docs tomorrow.  I am excited to see how it plays out.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Finish Line?

I don't know at what point yesterday I was going to finish the 8-mile run goal (which actually turned into 8.45 according to, but it was long before I passed back in front of my front door to finish.  Maybe it was when I reached the half-way point, and felt pretty good about what I had been able to do so far.  Maybe it was when I climbed the last big hill about two miles from the finish and knew that it was fairly flat the rest of the way.  Or maybe it was when I set the goal of running 8 miles way back when in the spring.  Maybe the actual creation of the goal pre-ordained the fact that I was going to finish it.  And that is why I have decided to have my students write down their goals for the year, what they are willing to do to achieve them and what they are going to do to achieve them. 

I see those two things "willing to do" and "going to do" as distinctly different, but not opposing, forces.  For me "willing to do" suggests that "yeah, I would be willing to do these things if everything else works out for me," whereas "going to do" suggests "this what I WILL do to achieve my goals."  Maybe the difference is a subtle one and maybe I am being to philosophical for high school sophomores, but I don't think either is true.  All students need to be introspective and work through the reasons that they do things.  What they do can no longer be something they do "just to get it done" and move on to whatever comes next.  Thinking needs to be a process for them, as it is for all of us, and the only way to get better at the process is to practice doing it. 

Will this exercise in goal setting help my sophomores become better students?  Undoubtedly, yes, as it force them to write down a more "permanent" record of what they hope to do.  Consistent reflection on it will help them to stay on course and make their own subtle corrections along the way.  Could their goals change?  Sure, based on what evidence they have collected along the way, but even then their goals will have to change at their own initiative.

My goals for the year for my students are fairly straightforward.
1. I want for each of them to become better thinkers, to be able to examine all of the different pieces of evidence from the history of the United States and try to make some sense of who we are as Americans.
2. I want for each of them to become better writers.  Those people who have told them that this new creation called the "Internet" will lead students to read and write less were selling them a false bill of goods.  If anything, the Internet requires these students to be better writers.  They have to be able to get their point across more quickly and more persuasively than ever before.  They have to provide the reader with something worth reading. 
3. I want for each of them to become better citizens, not just of the United States, but of the world.  These students need to try and figure out what it means to be an American, what we have stood for, why we have stood for it, why those things that we once stood for have changed and why those changes happen, before they can go on and figure what America's role in a constantly changing, shrinking, and flattening world should be.   They need to understand that the choices we as Americans make an impact around the world and the choices they make should be well-thought out and reasoned, not just "because."

My job as the teacher is to provide them with opportunities to practice these things.  So my personal goals for the year are:
1. To provide more opportunities for my students to discuss their own thoughts on the documents and pieces of evidence both with their classmates and with me.
2. To provide more opportunities for an authentic display of their knowledge.  This is more than just discussions and answers to questions on tests.  These are tangible things that the students themselves create out of the research they do and the things that are running around in their heads.
3. To provide more feedback to my students in an effort to help them formulate a clearer understanding of what they are writing.  This is not necessarily about the validity of their arguments, but about their way to create one and convince others that what they are saying has value.

If all of these things happen over the course of the year, then it will be one of the most successful that I have ever had as a teacher.  But, then, maybe this year will be successful because of going through the process of sitting down and setting these goals for myself and my students.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


All of us who are "of an age" remember that late 1970s/early 1980s commercial featuring the chorus of the Carly Simon song "Anticipation" for Heinz ketchup.  While the lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with ketchup (and yet most of us associate the song with the product), it does serve as a fitting opening for that start of a new school year.  For the past few days, I have found myself alternately dreading the arrival of this day (for fear that I am not ready, the students won't like the things that I have planned, etc.) or hurrying it along (so excited that I get to share some of the things that I want to share with my students, colleagues, etc.), and Carly Simon has been running around in my head.  (I know, I am not particularly happy with it either).

But, whether dreading it or hurrying it, today came and went with what was probably the amount of fanfare expected for the first day of school with sophomores.  I guess that is the reality of all things.  By the end of the day, my head was going 'round and 'round, but I hope I got my basic message across to the students who crossed my threshold today.  That collaboration is OK and that often the person sitting next to them has the right answer.  That technology is going to be their friend and that they are going to be exposed to new ways to do some of the same old things.  And that just because they haven't experienced something before, they shouldn't be afraid of what is to come.

Tomorrow my students will register for the web 2.0 tools that we are going to use during the year.  Only time will tell what the reality is that will come of that.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Setting Goals

At the beginning of the summer, I set a goal for myself of running 8 miles on Labor Day.  I realize that none of you know that because I wasn't blogging back then, you will just have to trust me.  As part of the training for that, I went out and ran 7 miles this morning, which is further than I have ever run before.  While the running part is not necessarily "post" worthy, the setting of a goal and working hard to achieve it is.  I had already planned to have my students make their first blog post their three goals for the year and include what they were willing to do to meet those goals.  But as I thought about it as I was finishing my run today, I am going to need for them to check in throughout the year (quarterly?) and reflect on what their goals are/were, have they taken the steps that they felt they needed to in order to reach their goals, if they have achieved their goals, what new goals do they have for themselves and if they haven't achieved their goals,  what do they need to do differently to attain them. 

I don't know if I am going to finish my 8 miles on Labor Day, but I do know that setting goals for myself and being willing to sacrifice (such as leaving the house at 6:15 on a Sunday morning) has been a worthwhile enterprise for myself.  I will be posting my goals for the year sometime next week and following the same manner of reflection on them as my students as we finish each quarter.

Perhaps more importantly than reaching my goals, I guess I had a bit of an epiphany as I was "cooling down" from my run.  As I walked by my neighbor's house, my neighbor who is off to a prestigious Ivy League institution so that she can run cross-country, I realized that my seven miles was probably just a training run for her.  I thought about the fact that it took me somewhere around 55 minutes (I am not really sure as my watch was "missing" when I went to look for it this morning), and would probably take her around 45.  Did this take anything away from my finishing?  Does it matter that I, at 41, can probably not keep up with a  just-graduated from high school runner over the course of 7 miles?  Should I even be thinking about what kind of time she is running and just focus on my own run, at my own pace, knowing that I have put in the work and will be ready to cross the finish line at some point?

I am sure that you already know where this is going.  Maybe we should be less concerned about the pace at which our students learn and be more concerned with the learning process.  Maybe teaching them to learn, and more importantly to think, should be the end in itself.  Grades and test scores are currently being used as a measuring stick for the success and failure of not only students, but also schools and teachers.  Does this make sense?  Just as I am not starting at the same point as my neighbor on our running schedule, does that mean that my ability to finish is any less important or significant?  Not all of my students are starting from the same point academically, socially, emotionally, financially, etc., so does it make sense for me to expect them to all reach the finish line at exactly the same time with exactly the same level of proficiency?  I can certainly expect them to grow, develop, and work at a consistent pace.  I can certainly expect them to practice the skills that I am working to give them and, therefore, become more proficient with them.  But how do I "grade" that achievement?  How do I assess that "consistent pace"?  These will be questions that I will have to continue to explore as the summer ends and school begins.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lies and Statistics

As I am preparing of the start of another school year, one filled with a number of substantive changes for me as a teacher, I followed Will Richardson's tweet (@willrich45) to an article about technology and its supposedly negative effects on us as a society.  The Internet and technology are tools that we should be using to our advantage.  If this is not happening, is that technology's fault?  Is it the Internet's fault that, as the critics suggest, that student's spend less time to doing homework after the computer is introduced into a home?  We all need to look into the mirror about what the Internet and technology mean to us.  Technology is not evil and should not be faulted for society's ills.  Tools are rarely the problem.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Who is Minding the Store

Once again another example of good intentions by the federal government getting in the way.  Just as NCLB might have hoped to help students across the country, there is plenty of evidence that the "achievement gap" between haves and have-nots has changed very little, if not gotten worse.  Now, by creating national standards and producing $3.5 billion for "school turnarounds," any Tom, Dick, or Harry can position themselves as "school reformers" and have access to all sorts of federal dollars that may or may not mean true student improvement across the board.  Even more evidence that decisions about education and education spending are best left on the state or, even better, local level.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on

Building on today's earlier post about the opening of school, this blog ( post asked the question of "Why?". It is a great question and sent me to this TED video, which has nothing to do with education specifically, but about what it takes to inspire people to follow what you are trying to do.

As I think about my classes this year and I think about the integration of the kinds of technology that I want my students to use, whether it is a blog, VoiceThread, Timetoast, etc., and THE QUESTION I believe I have to be able to answer for them is "Why?". I can show them all of the greatest Web 2.0 tools that are available to them, and no doubt they can introduce me to even more. But, if I can't explain why I want them to use the technology then all it will be is another assignment to complete. If I can tell them WHY this individual piece of technology will help them not just with the assignment I am giving them, but beyond that, then I will have helped them to make a connection that will, hopefully, inspire them to do more then just the assignment.

This, then, has to be WHY I teach.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action Video on

Which One Are You?

With exactly three weeks to go before our first day of school, I thought this piece hit home.  We are constantly talking about doing this for this kids.  That it isn't about what we are getting paid and the hours that we actually spend preparing for our students to arrive that first day and for all of the days that follow.  But how many of us truly mean it?  How many of us truly dread the fact that the calendar has turned to August and we will be back at work before the calendar page turns again?  Shouldn't we be excited about what we do?  Shouldn't we look forward to the fact that whatever happened last year is in the past and that we now have a chance to start over again?  We can learn from the things that perhaps didn't go as we had planned them in the bright sun-shiny days of July and August and figure out how to make them better.  We can take the successes that we had in the previous school year (and there were far more of them then we probably care to admit to ourselves) and figure out a way to use them again and maybe even make those better.  If we truly mean what we say, that it is about the kids, then we can call ourselves teachers.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Never Disappointing

Will Richardson never fails to disappoint in giving us something to think about. 

Not Just for English Anymore

We am I going to ask my students to blog all year, create unique works on VoiceThread  and Timetoast, and come up with any other activity that I can to make them write and think about what they are doing.  Here is a recent blog post as to why I am doing this.

What a World! What a World!

What a world it would be if people who think they know something about education actually let the people who do make decisions on standards, curriculum, etc.  We might be surprised by what our students can accomplish.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Potential Reading

I just finished reading A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce in an effort to find some historical fiction for my CP students to read as part of their layered curriculum.  It was the 2009 William C. Morris award winner as presented by the ALA.  In short, it is a story about a young woman who inherits a small textile mill from her father and proceeds to deal with the "curse" that seemingly dooms the mill and all those who work in it to a never-ending series of problems/disasters.  (You can read a fuller synopsis by clicking on the blog title above.)

I had read it based on the idea that it might be a good book for the early industrial revolution in the United States, and while the author claims that it would work for that purpose, I think that it fits much better in European history context and with a middle school audience.  It was very readable and well written/researched.  It also exposes students to some old-school fairy tales that perhaps they have not heard before.  Overall, I would recommend the book, although it is close to 400 pages and the second half of the book leaves the realities of the weaving process behind and moves on with the story of the people.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's Not the Tool, It's How You Use It

A great presentation about why we should be using technology in the classroom. This is from the reform symposium ( held at the end of August. These are only the slides to the presentation, the audio/video is available at (click on the title above for the link).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

King George III - Voice Thread Example

This is my effort at using VoiceThread and embedding it in my blog. It deals with King George III of England and whether or not it was his fault that the American colonies broke away.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mandatory Back to School Reading

A tremendous article on "the creativity crisis" that is going to be impacting this nation in the very near future. If we must use standardized testing, we as teachers have to figure out a way to cover the standards while encouraging our students to think outside the box along the way. We have always been a nation of thinkers and creators, but we are losing our edge because of "teaching to the test." Web 2.0 tools might be the key to helping our students learn how to be creative while still getting through the material that we need to follow.

Here is a link to an NPR interview with the author of the Newsweek piece. Copy and paste into browser.

Monday, July 19, 2010

John Wooden at TED Talks

There should be no question that John Wooden is not only the greatest coach ever, but after viewing this, he might have to be considered the best teacher ever. A true renaissance man!!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Roz Savage: Why I'm rowing across the Pacific | Video on

Is Roz Savage an example of transcendentalist?

I have embedded the TED Talks video here. If you would like to visit the web site where this is located you can click on the blog title, or follow the link below.

Roz Savage: Why I'm rowing across the Pacific | Video on

Friday, July 9, 2010

As a teacher of 10th graders...

President Obama's speech "above" too many Americans? This is something that we must overcome.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bookless Library?

Read the article above about the wave of the future at Stanford University. Is there any doubt that we need to make our students better able to negotiate the web and help them learn to refine their searches?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

True Professional Development

Participated in a great 3-day workshop last week called "Teaching History with Technology." If you are looking for true professional development, stuff that will actually make you a better teacher, you need to find the workshop that works for you and go.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Watch this Schoolhouse Rock video about why the colonies broke away from England.