Day 3 week one in the books

As the AP said as we were walking back in, no fights first week of school. While not the highest measure of success it is a success.

Actually I think we have been doing pretty good. I haven’t written anyone up, though I am keeping an eye on a few it isn’t with the intent to catch them, but rather to make sure we get them the extra help they need.

If a kid has trouble following the rules it isn’t because they are bad, it’s because they just don’t know how to do it consistently. An individualized behavioral plan, something where he or she checks in with a friendly face on a regular basis, or has a safe place to go when they are frustrated this can mean the difference in missing a few hours of instruction and multiple suspensions.

We still haven’t taught math yet, though we have had some math practice. This is not a bad thing. We are intentionally creating an orderly environment. One where the students and the teachers all know what to do and what to expect. From there we can move on with solid instruction.

Poster with lots of motivational sayings

Too much in one little space

The day before the first day of school I was talking to a new teacher about room decorations. I gave her a bit of advice, “walk though your room as if you were a student and see if there is a reconizable system in place”. It was so good I went back to my room and did it myself. All in all though I think we did a good job of becoming student centered. Maybe instead of giving too much choice to 7th graders the trick is to attempt to see the world through their eyes.

Day two it could have been better

Ah day two, the sophomore slump.

It wasn’t so bad, but started kind of rough. Someone decided to teach the kids a new slang word, but he didn’t teach them what it meant. So when I heard a kid saying it today I confronted him, but got into a argument instead. (Note to self confrontation bad).

Birds fighting

Not love birds that’s for sure

Ok except for that life went well. I taught tomorrows lesson today so I have to do today’s lesson tomorrow, but not bad I can’t handle that. I’m looking forward to actually teaching math, but time spent getting to know kids and teaching expectations is good as well. And we are creating a unified expectation, at least for the areas where it will work best so I”m happy for that.

Million Dollar Idea

I was jogging, I know shocking. My music went to commercial and the volume went up, then down. Suddenly I thought, that would be a cool innovation for ear buds. Just let them regulate the sound. These annoying commercials that blast your eardrums can be stopped.

The ear buds don’t just play at a certain level, but the put everything to the right level. They could even reduce the outside noise with ambient sound.

Then I went further and thought, in the classroom this would be awesome. everyone could have ear buds and I could talk in my normal voice and they could regulate the volume, cutting out the outside noise and student would hear me. This would be especially awesome for SPED kids would tend to get excited from too much distraction.

Then I went further and thought, wow I could have these ear buds block outside noise with a white noise, then block phones and music for students unless I let them listen, and I could shut off all noise except me when I wanted to talk to them. The control would be the bomb.

Then I realized where I was going on this. This isn’t about making the classroom better, this is giving me more control. Still a cool idea for jogging though.


Writing Curriculum

I’ve been off for two weeks. By off I mean I’ve been at home writing curriculum for third quarter. Except this week I’ve been spending 4-6 hours a day in the classroom.

Man I love these long winter breaks we teachers get. I get so much done.

I’ve come to realize I suck at writing curriculum. I don’t like it, it is no fun and in the end it often looks too much like a textbook.

angle grinder and work glove

I wish my day were this easy

If you read my earlier post this year I had grand plans on going PBL. Then reality hit. I have middle school students, they don’t want to actually work.

Well that is a copout they want to work, they just don’t want to work on the things I want them to work on. I’ve never seen so many kids work so hard to avoid work in my life.

Then there is all the work they put in towards hiding their phones and sneaking in games on the computer when my back is turned. Oh and throwing  pencils. That was a thing this year. 300 golf pencils this year wasted.

students texting

What I’m using the calculator

We’ve had more trouble than you can shake a stick at in the building this year. a new principal, messed up scheduling, toooooo much drama even for middle school, and life in general.

total drama all stars

I’m head the Technology Committee, which has kind of drifted for the past few months so I have to get that back on track. I’m also on the Building Leadership Team, which has been working hard to right the ship which is the school. I’m was also part of the Scheduling Committee.

I never knew you could spend so much time on a schedule, but it was really enlightening. Who knew a scheduling expert was needed, but I’m glad we hired him. Lots of opportunity to make the school equitable for all.

Anyway, long story short we have reset the school. I’m reenergized and ready to teach 3rd quarter. I wasn’t so sure I’d be ready at the beginning of break, I was pretty low, but I’ve got a new plan for engaging students. It may not be PBL, but it will include student choice and hopefully some students will choose the projects.


Are you one of the good guys

I’ve been kind of elevated to team leader in 7th grade. I am the teacher with the most experience, though I would argue not the best teacher. However, my experience and my experiences as a connected educator do give me some insights that I think my colleagues appreciate.

The Matrix of Leadership

The Matrix of Leadership

As a consequence of my new power rush, when I’m walking the halls I feel the need to act like what most of us think an administrator should act like. You know what I mean. “Hey you where’s your pass?” “Stop running.” “No, shouting!” (Yes, the last one is usually yelled and I do see the irony).

man shouting I have a problem with authority

Last year these kids were like herding cats. Always going to the bathroom and hanging out during class, sneaking from one bathroom to the other when security came around, then to the nurse’s office, etc…. I didn’t really like subbing for the admin in the 6th grade hall last year. It was exhausting.

I noticed  when accosting these students in the hall that they immediately got defensive and turned away. Then I realized that it was my actions that were causing this behavior.

I was assuming they were not supposed to be in the halls. I was assuming they were in the wrong. But it was my own suggestion that created this.

See, I don’t believe in limiting bathroom passes. I believe in making the classroom a place that students want to be. I believe in reducing the amount of teacher lecture so that if they have to step out for a minute or two they aren’t missing a lesson, they are shortening the amount of time they have to do the work of learning. All of the teachers in my hall treat students the same way.

Right now through the 4 periods I teach I have about 20 kids going to the bathroom and most of those in just two periods. Way too many, but what is the root cause? Is it teenage restlessness or boredom, or taking advantage of me? Could be a combination of all three. The thing is, they aren’t breaking the bathroom and as long as I am not fighting the stream (pun intended) of people going to the bathroom, it will soon stop.

Now as for accosting students in the hall. I’ve stopped. Instead of a curt, “Where is your pass?” I try a more friendly hello. Students respond better, and the couple of extra seconds allows me time to see that most of the time they are actually carrying a pass. Those that aren’t, they usually run and I let security chase them.

I can write a referral if they are doing anything seriously wrong. It’s a lot easier on me and better in the long run, because there is more of a paper trail, the life’s blood of the school discipline system.

School Funding

Public schools are supposed to provide a free and appropriate public education. (, My previous post). I suppose technically this only applies to students with disabilities, but don’t we all expect public school to be free?

It isn’t of course.We pay taxes. I also spend a bit over $100 for each of my kids to go to school and several hundred more so they can participate in the arts, band and choir, etc… I do kind of resent this extra expense, but not too much. As you see if you read my earlier post, the government doesn’t actually believe they have to provide the best education possible, just an appropriate education.

A couple of hundred dollars in fees doesn’t seem too unreasonable, especially when many of these fees are waived if you are eligible for free or reduced lunch programs. What gets me is the other sources of non-governmental funding.

In the district I live in we have a PTO that raised over $50,000 for the district. We also have an educational foundation that raises on average about $10,000 a year. We are smaller and solidly middle class district. I wonder how much the wealthier districts raise for their schools?

I’m not going to do all the research, I’m not a journalist, but a quick google search shows more than one foundation raising money in one of the wealthiest districts in the state. Think about that for a second. If my little district is raising more money than I earn in a year in donations, how much do two foundations and a PTO raise in a larger and wealthier district?

The state of Illinois funds schools through property taxes, which is unequal because the districts with the bigger houses and less dense populations pay more property taxes per student. The state and federal government attempts to even things out a bit by giving more aid to poorer districts. Even then we have some districts spending less than $9,000 per student while others spend upwards of $20,000 per student. But that is just the public money, I don’t think they are counting these private donations.

My question isn’t about the inequity of it all. My question is why? Why are we raising and donating huge sums of money for a public good that should be fully funded by our government? Isn’t it good for the country as a whole to have well educated children, ready to change the world? Why are we leaving it to chance?

We shouldn’t hope to get enough donations to fund our schools properly, we should guarantee it. Or maybe I’m wrong, let me know.

School Supplies

I hate school supplies. What happened to, ‘bring pencils, folders, and notebooks for each class’? Sure a trapper keeper or 5 subject notebooks might be nice for some kids, but is it required? Is it required that every single student in your class get exactly the same thing?

What about student choice?

I get the idea we want all students ready for school with the supplies necessary to succeed. And there are definitely better and worse ways to get organized. Do we have to do it for the kids?


There might also be some inequity as Bobby shows off the gold-plated trapper keeper thingie, and Carl has nothing. Do we fix it by making everyone buy the exact same thing?

At the school my sons go to there is an exact list and we definitely felt some pressure to fill it all out before the start of school. With parents encouraged to visit school for the “Drop and Run”. I thought it was a great way to meet teachers informally, but my wife felt the shame of not having bought all the right things as we went from class to class. And why does everyone have to bring in two boxes of plastic bags?

Then at the school I work at, there is a school supply list somewhere, that I had no input on. So far one student brought in three boxes of Kleenex and the nonprofit that works with our school gave me a bag with a scrub brush, a box of Kleenex, some staples, and a roll of paper towels. What message did that send to me?

Setting Goals

One of the big keys to success to this year is to teach students how to set their own goals. If they can set a strong specific daily goal then they should be able to direct their own learning.

Yesterday I did an overview of the class and the student and teacher roles. I tried to emphasize that basically our roles are now reversed. They will set a goal each day and I will conference with students at least once a week. So traditionally the student role (which they wrote down) is to listen and learn from the teacher. while the teacher determine what is being taught. However, in this class the student tell me what they are learning and I listen carefully so that I can give them the support they need to be successful.

Each day my students will have to come in the classroom and write a goal on a post it. then at the end of class what they did to reach that goal.

We practiced today. The goals were very broad. Things like learn something new, or be a better student. Not bad goals in themselves, but the lack of specificity will make the goals meaningless.

We practices by setting a goal for the year. At first it was still, be a better student, listen to the teacher, but as I went around the room and spoke to each student or table we started to get more specific.

Now we have goals like: straight A’s or come to school with a positive attitude. Further we have specific actions we can take to reach those goals. Do homework everyday for 30 minutes. Read one book a week, smile at 10 people.

I think we are almost ready to set daily goals. For now here is my goal.

Personal Education Dedication Statement

This Year in Teaching

I can stand in front of a classroom all day long and teach. I’m actually pretty good at that. I explain well, I have a deep understanding of my subject so when half formed questions come up I can usually see where they are coming from, but this is not the way I teach. This method of teaching meets the needs of students like me, but I don’t teach students like me. Most people at the age of 13 don’t want to sit and take notes from a teacher. they want to talk, move, text, snap, whatever, anything except sit and take notes.

I won’t try to incorporate all that into my teaching. That would be forced. What I will do is to allow students to take more responsibility for learning. For me this means projects. I’m calling what I am doing this year project based learning, but it isn’t quite fully that. We have one project for each unit, but they are not always natural teachers of the content.

For example the first project will be rewriting a song so that the lyrics teach operations on rational numbers. The project, could be more natural if we asked the student to explore sound frequencies, but I am not going for pure project based learning, I’m going for standards based learning.

I know studying song lyrics won’t teach anything about operations on rational numbers, but writing the lyrics correctly will. Maybe it isn’t project based learning right away, maybe call it project based assessment except that the project will be given first and students can choose to learn from me or through other resources until they feel confident enough to finish the project (or test if they prefer that sort of assessment).

The organization of each unit is pretty simple. (and I use the word unit loosely as we mostly group units by strand of mathematics) Introduce the CCSS standards, walk students through how I make standards into objectives, have students break the objectives into learning targets through the questions they have. (a KWL chart) Next introduce the project and show how it meets the objectives. Show students resources we have that will allow them to learn the target skills  necessary to meet the objectives and allow them to choose how and when to learn those skills. (Still individualized learning and not personalized (or vice versa I always get those confused), but giving a lot of voice to the students).

The important thing is the student choice. They don’t actually have to do the project. They can learn all the skills from me and then take a test, they can learn all the skills, from another resource such as Khan Academy or CK12 and take a test. They can learn on their own and then do the project. They can learn on their own and then do a project of their own choosing. It doesn’t matter as long as they check in with me at least weekly and are working towards the goal as measured by mastering learning targets.

We will see how this shift in learning goes. Oh and did I mention we are also going 1 to 1 and shifting towards Standards Based Grading? I actually don’t think I could do this without those two elements, but first things first changing the culture of the classroom. No more work turned in for a grade, instead steady feedback on a long-term project.

ISTE2016 Reflection

We, as tech ed folks, have been saying for years that it isn’t about the technology. This is why I love ISTE. Even before arriving my friend, and former classmate, Michael Walker, was asking if if I was there. I was late for ISTE Unplugged. The folks at my new district didn’t even know it existed. They went on a tour of the convention center instead. It isn’t about just being at the convention and going to all kinds of great sessions, it’s about connecting, or reconnecting with people whom I have probably never met.

Anyway, for an introvert like me technology is about the way I can connect with people I probably never would have or could have before. As per usual I stifled my fanboy impulses. I did not go up to many folks and say hi randomly, but I did stretch a bit.

I waved to Alec Couros before his session.

Debbie Fucoloro, former #ETMOOC buddies, and I met and talked for a good half hour.

I sat up front and made my usually irreverent comments, its a defense mechanism, while Chris Lehmann was talking.
I actually took a selfie with Vicki Davis and tweeted to Peggy George, who could not be there. That may have been the weirdest thing. I overhear behind me someone asking to take selfies for Peggy because she couldn’t make it, so I take one without looking and tweet. Only to turn around to find out that the I actually know the person sitting behind me. Really, the whole thing is weird. I’m sitting in one of hundreds of sessions in a conference with 14,000 people and I actually know the person sitting behind me. ISTE is crazy like that. Of the ten of so sessions I went to, I recognized at least one person in about half.

That doesn’t even include the random people I met in hallways and after parties.
I stopped and said hi to Adam Bellow and nodded to Tom Whitby both of whom I had met in DC for edcampusa, which is trending as I write this, a few years ago.

Said hello in passing to Ben Grey

I met and chatted with Noah Geisel, because he liked my t-shirt. Turns out we follow each other on twitter already. Twitter is like that though for some people. I follow about 1,500 people, but many of them just because they follow me and are educators. Now though I notice Noah’s tweets more often because we did make that connection.

Without social media I would not have known about any of these people.

I guess what I’m trying to say is these folks aren’t all high powered CEO’s that are consistently written about in fancy magazines. They aren’t all national policy leaders. They aren’t even necessarily household names, but they are leaders who have developed their own voices and for the most part did their own publishing and marketing to ultimately reach an international audience.

While I’m sure most of them would love to bend the ear (or arm) of John King, our education secretary, their true goals are to teach those in front of them. Whether that be graduate students, teachers, students, or whatever, and use that experience as the basis of their own learning. Or to put it another way exactly what I try to do here on this blog.

With that out of the way here are my notes on the sessions I attended at #ISTE2016

“3d printing lessons plans You can use in your classroom right now”
Torrey Trust and Trevor Takayama

I didn’t stay for all of this session because I also wanted to go to another session at the same time. My big take away was that it helps a lot to actually build a prototype by hand first then design in 3d. I think I’m going to have students design and build mechanical calculators of something. Something like this only with positive and negative signs or maybe an abacus.

“Problem Based Learning extravaganza”
A panel with Adam Bellow, Shaelynn Farnsworth, Katrina Keene, and Nicholas Provenzano

My main take away: Start with a good general rubric, Rubistar was suggested, Then have students tell you what the various levels of understanding are. What I was doing last year was basically giving students step by step instructions. For example, if you put this this and this in then on this part you get 4 points, If you only put in three of those things you get 3 points. Etc… Then I was wondering why students weren’t actually doing any of the work. But if we set out a general rubric and then ask students to define as a class or as individuals what it means to show understanding then they are more likely to focus on the work.

Growing strong digital writers: Micro-writing for Macro-thinking”
Christopher Lehman, Maggie Roberts, and Kristin Ziemke.

Honestly I went to this one because I saw a tweet. I teach math to 7th graders so I don’t usually go to these obviously language arts based sessions. Then of course I found lots of stuff I could use.

One of the plans for next year is to give students a lot of scratch paper to work on during the day and then have them write a journal entry at the end of the period. Short quick writing with a point. There were a lot of good suggestions, but I think I might implement right away the idea that the journal prompt doesn’t have to be a paragraph on google docs. It can be a vine or snap or tweet as long as it is designed to not only impart the knowledge, but also to draw the reader’s interest.

“Use Technology to Enhance Assessment of Student Learning”
with Andrew Miller.

He has a million tools, but I liked the philosophy. Assessment has to tell a story.
And His 5 pillars of assessment.

Andrew Miller 5 pillars

My favorite quote was, “An assessment is not summative or formative until you decide. Oh everyone failed well that is formative and i will reteach.”

He also recommends
Themespark by educourage
Makes rubrics from standards.

From this point on it seemed my theme would be digital citizenship.

First a keynote by George Couros
“From Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership, Empowering Learners Through social Media”

A very moving talk on some of the best and worst of digital citizenship.

The gist of the talk. Instead of teaching students to be afraid of the Internet maybe it would be better if we taught them to harness its power.

Some of my favorite quotes.

If you are not literate in social media today’s tech you are illiterate
Students are learning the fears of adults not the possibility of the future.
Rules for internet behaviors: Anything you can say to students you can say online.
Went to library as a kid and looked at national geographic when i got caught no one canceled the subscription or, kicked me out of the library they had a talk with me.

This photo I saw on facebook kind of sums it up

Internet 1998 don't meet people from the internet dont get into cars with strangers. 2016 literally use the internet to call strangers and get into their car

1998: Don’t get in strangers’ cars Don’t meet people from the internet. 2016 Literally summon strangers from the internet to get in their car. 



Rethinking Digital Citizenship with Dean Shareski

The world is changing. Digital citizenship s more than just not doing bad things. he had us draw a 4 pane window with Personal at the top, Professional at the bottom, Visitor on the left, and Resident on the right. Then add the tools you use on the internet left right, up down, based on how you use them. For example for many people LinkedIn would be near the bottom left because they create a resume online mostly for folks who aren’t really digital natives, but perhaps want to be hip. I don’t have a good picture of his slide, though I’m sure it is online.

Chris Lehmann and
“Building School 2.0 How to Create the Schools We need”
It’s also a book.
I liked the participation. Most interactive sessions these days include some sort of shoulder or partner talk, but Chris also asked us to summarize the answer in a tweet. It’s probably not new, but the first time I’ve seen it, so I thought it was particularly engaging. The tag was #school20iste but that seems to have been hijacked by marketers. You can find my tweets here.  and the top tweets.

“Empower every teacher Districtwide with Action Research Personalized PD” Jarod Bormann and Jill Kelly.

I was impressed with this approach to personalizing PD for all teachers. The basic step for personalization for teachers is:

  1. Teacher researches topic – Not just a tool, but concept driven
  2. Teacher integrates new concept into classroom – With help and support of coach
  3. Teacher reflects on integration – again with help of coach
  4. Teacher presents findings to district and world

Kind of an action research model with support of coaches. A couple of caveats in their system. Each level should be marked with a ceremony and a token that is substantial enough that teachers would like to display it. they use nice flags in their district. The timeline is open, six months, a year, two years, whatever the teacher needs. Monthly two hour meetings with reflection and flag ceremonies, but those are limited to 20 minutes or so, most of the time is spent doing personalized PD in a central area so the coaches can visit. Those who have chosen not to do research can attend tech tool sessions.

“Developing Student Upstanders: Empowering Youth as Leaders of Digital Citizenship Initiatives” Alec Couros.

We live in a participatory culture. The old rules of digital citizenship 1.0, when we were seldom connected, don’t apply. Tools like Snapchat are popular because they give the illusion of transience.

We can probably use more sites like a sharing site without likes.

As we share more parents ask for more. the fear of predators goes down, but the risk of catfishers goes up. For some reason Alec, Dean Shareski, Adam Levine and I’m sure many others have their many photos online taken and used by catfishers. That is people who try to romantically lure people into some sort of scam.

The world of the romance scammer is full of interesting tools from simple photoshopping to innovative ways of splicing live video feeds. Something I’m afraid is going to be a big concern in the future.

It used to be everyone knew the old adage, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” today people forget that because they can see a few pictures.

by Peter Steiner and published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993

And that is it for #ISTE2016. I suppose I could write a good post on each session, but well I’m lazy. You should look up these presenters on your own and learn from the source.