First day of school

I was not ready to start today, but the kids they came anyway.

I’m going back to basics this year. I went full on open learning last year and it just didn’t work. I’m not good enough at wrangling cats to do that, 7th graders aren’t ready for that much freedom. This year will be very traditional and basic, but with my own flair.

Homework everyday, but the answers will be on Google Classroom. I want to convince students that practice is important.

I’ll lecture everyday, but try to keep it under 15 minutes and only in small groups. No more than 15 people at a time.

Khan Academy or Compass Learning for the rest as a second lesson on what I taught the day before.

Grades will be comprised of homework, time on computer learning, and the majority a mix of formative and summative assessments.  I still want students to remember that grades are based on learning, not the amount of work turned in.

Tuesday In Cuba

My parents went on vacation in Cuba, this is their story

Tuesday, 23 May 2016. Breakfast at the hotel.


First on our agenda today, a lecture by Alberto Faya a retired from the university professor of music. Great depth of knowledge and wonderful voice, he spoke about the development of Cuban music for the last 500 years. They really do not know how the indigenous peoples’ music sounded. The first music they have records of is the European sounding (15th. Century) music written for the Church.  With the African Slaves being brought they begin the joining of African/European Cuban music. He played and sang several examples as the form developed, especially the rhythmic complexity. Would love to take a class with him. Humble people became musicians, music taught us how to resist. Rhumba, conga drums and claves came from Cuba. Ba Ba Loo (Desi Arnea used to sing that) is the name of an African God.

man lecturing


On the way to see our next Plaza, we got a chance to ride in the vintage American Cars (how cool is that?).


Ray did not drive!Convertable car

Freedom Plaza

Freedom Plaza

There are four plazas we saw 2 yesterday and we see the 3rd. & 4th. today in Old Havana. We see a Catholic Church with an outside statue of Mother Teresa and Fr. Juniper Sierra and a Greek Orthodox Church.




Statue of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa



Greek Orthodox Church

Lunch on our own, wandering around the square. Next we went to the Modern Art Museum, which being over heated I just sat and rested. I bit over heated.

Our last Plaza in Old Havana. The Rooster & naked woman shows how mother’s worked as prostitutes to feed their families during the hard time, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Naked Woman on a Roooster

Back to the hotel to refresh and on to a Neighborhood Arts Center. It is in a poor section of town and the children come to learn art music, song and dance. We had a delightful demonstration from the children and of course they asked us to dance with them. How fun! The adults cooked and served us a delicious dinner. Home and rest.

Local Art

Our Host


Our Dancers




The View from the neighborhood

Visiting Cuba

My parents took vacation in Cuba. This is their story.

Airport in Cuba


Our Arrival in Cuba


A Short (not very complete) History of Cuba

Taino People arrive from Dominican Republic 300 CE

First European settlement 1500

Because of disease and enslavement by the Europeans the indigenous people do not survive as a distinct population. Many also committed mass suicide. Many, many African Slaves were brought to Cuba to replace the indigenous people.

The Cuban people fought for independence beginning in 1895. After the USS Maine mysteriously explodes the United States enters the war. Cuba/America are the victors.

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba opens in 1930, many rich Americans and rich American gangsters invest and spend time in Cuba. Cuba along with much of South America begins being ruled by brutal dictatorships.  The 1%ers pillage and abuse the rest of the society. The Amercians brought many high end American cars for their use. Those are the ones the people still use and repair, and are really, really cool.

The Cuban revolution began in 1953 culminating in Castro’s victory in 1959. From 1962 until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Soviets supported Cuba. The state owned everything, people had good education and medical care, and enough to eat, but not freedom to have private enterprise or speak their mind. One side note two days before he died Kennedy had talked to Castro about renegotiating the embargos and possibly helping Cuba. But it was not to be.

The 1990’s were a difficult time for Cuba, not enough to eat, not enough of anything. In the early 2000’s new trading partners are found by Cuba and the economy begins a slow recovery. There is freedom to speak your mind. There are elections in 2018. People are starting their own businesses.

In December of 2014 President Barak Obama and President Raul Castro begin normalizing relationship with each other.

Rosalen our Cuban Guide & Alex, our Road Scholar GuideTour Guide Tour Guide








We arrive in Cuba 21 May 2016. Our Hotel Nacional de Cuba, is wonderful. We are welcomed by Rosalen and Alex and enjoy a delightful dinner at the hotel. We explore the Veranda having a mojito and listening to the strolling musicians. The ocean view is wonderful. We go to our rooms and have this same great view.some of the cool cars I mentioned.

1950's automobiles

Arrival at the Hotel Naciona

This is our Hotel Nacional.

Hotel Nacional

This is the Veranda.

On the Veranda

The Lake in Spring

It’s cold and raining, but the waves are awesome.

Some cool pictures

We stopped at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha

We also stopped at the Kenosha Museum with a fantastic display of student art.

This picture is from the part of the exhibit where they asked descendants from a Native tribe to respond to a 25 year internment of natives for political crimes in the late 1800’s.

Michael Connors
Lesson Plan 2013




Protesting is Protected by the Constitution

I spent a bit of time watching a protest march in Los Angeles Saturday. It wasn’t violent, they weren’t demanding a change in the election results (but I’m sure many would be pleased if the Electoral College refused to vote for Trump based on his lack of qualifications for the job), they weren’t really demanding anything specific, they were just venting their anger.

I don’t really have many Republican friends (funny because I was a Republican precinct committeeman for 4 years), but the few I have share memes and don’t really explain in a coherent way what they want. She’s a crook and he isn’t, which is just ludicrous to me. (Yes, I listened to every argument and as close as I could come is she let the ends justify the means. A highway to hell certainly, but transparency is something specific to demand and measure.).

I get that many Americans are angry, I’m angry, but most people also claimed to be a friend of the LGBTQ community, non-violent, and non-racist. So I just don’t get how so many voted for a man who advocated violence, racism, and anti-gay policies. Yeah, I saw the video of his speech where he said he was a friend to the LGBTQ community “believe me” and people of color weren’t getting any help from the democrats so what have you got to lose, but actions speak louder than words. (SNL taught me not to be surprised at the level of racism in this country).

I guess I don’t get why people turned to the Republican party at all. Ok the Democratic party hasn’t actually followed through on their promises, but at least they had workable promises. All those old good paying jobs with low entry barriers, they aren’t coming back. We can start a trade war with China and Mexico, but those jobs still aren’t coming back. At best we will build robots to bring those jobs back. (I don’t think robot designer is a job for a high school diploma). Steel, coal, those jobs are on a downward trend and nothing we do will ever change that, time to retool and find something new. (The real whiners aren’t millennials looking for a safe space, they are laid off workers looking for a job as easy and high paying as the one they used to have. Your boss is a business person he won’t pay more until you prove you are worth more).

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t have jobs that pay well, we should (fight for $15 and all). The problem is most of those jobs wont be in manufacturing. When you complain about a high paying manufacturing job being sent to non-union Mexico on the one hand and then tell us that a McDonald’s employee doesn’t deserve $15 an hour, you are contradicting yourself. I guarantee you the CEO of General Motors didn’t think it was worth paying a union employee $60,000 a year to tighten a bolt over and over everyday.

Do you want America to be great again? Join a union (don’t complain about the dues), work for equality in treatment and wages. Demand that every full-time job require full-time pay. Demand universal healthcare. Demand equality for all. Stop whining about the past and build the future.



The other day I saw an ant hill outside my front door, so I made a pot of coffee and poured all over that hill. Today they are all dead.

Mass murder of ants. I have no regrets, I had easy access to a weapon and of course who cares about ants.

Last night a violent man with easy access to a weapon and who was told over and over that gay people are less than human went and murdered a lot of people.

Access to an AR 15 didn’t cause this, it just made it easier. Religion didn’t cause this, it just made it easier. A history of violence didn’t cause this, it just made it easier.

There isn’t one cause for any of this. In the end a complicated juxtaposition of issues that came together in one man who choose murder as an outlet.

If he had a better childhood, or counseling, or restrictions on guns, or a better understanding of God maybe things would have been better. But, he didn’t have those things.

Do you want to prevent this from happening again? Choose one or more of the above and make it better.

Data Mining

My excuse for the late blog post this week (and last) Not that I’ve gotten past page 25, but so far a good read, espcecially for a government document. It’s been three days since I wrote that last sentence, so I’m going to publish today, finished or not.


When I started teaching, 15 years ago, No Child Left Behind, NCLB, was not a thing. Common Core was not a thing, I don’t think most states even had standards. Fifteen years later and NCLB is over, replaced with Every Child Succeeds, but the damage perhaps has been done.


Most educators I know have been pretty negative on the whole NLCB thing. As for me, I thought it was a joke from the beginning. Who would ever expect 100% achievement? Haven’t you ever heard of SPED, ELL, ED, children? Not to mention the obvious inequities in buildings or supports not controlled by schools. I mean really 100%, not going to happen, ever! What I did like was the conversation on accountability. I would like to think we could have started that conversation without threatening to destroy public education, but maybe not.


The core problem, as I see it, is that accountability has never been defined in a way that actually improves education. I think teachers need to be accountable to parents, after all it’s their children we are educating. When asked most parents will usually say something to the effect of, my school is good, it’s those other schools that suck. Those few parents who will look at their own school and say this school sucks will usually say, but here are good teachers in the school. Finally, everyone, even the pope, will agree good schools, and teachers in particular, are underfunded, yet try to get a local school referendum to pass in the US. Why is it we demand accountability without furnishing the tools to succeed?


Anyway my point is not to whine about the state of our educational system in the United States it could be better but it will not change because I wrote a blog post. What I would really like to talk about today is data.

What is data?

This whole NCLB thing heralded a new emphasis on data. We can’t trust principals, those experts of teaching so named because they are the principal teacher in a school. We can’t trust parents, because they are intimidated by the degree carrying hooligans. And we certainly can’t trust those unions, they are the cause of all this trouble. We have to use hard fast, data real numbers that don’t lie. (Please don’t quote Mark Twain and statistics right now).


I think education can be improved with the use of data but we’re not having a conversation on how to create and mine that data. What we’re trying to do is collect a ton of data on everything without getting too deep into the question of what makes quality data.


Evidently, if data is to tell the truth it must be a number and that number must be pulled from so sort of test. If we want to know anything about education, we should ignore quotes attributed to Confucius. In this manner everything that is done in education must be subject to some sort of double blind or A B test. If we are to intervene with students that intervention must have been researched and found acceptable. And when we are not using an approved and researched curriculum (and sometimes when we are), we should be also be performing our own research.

How do we find good data for our classroom?

Teachers are often being asked to write and or use a common formative assessments and then use that data to inform education. We are then to compare our results from a common assessment with the results of the teacher down the hall. If they are doing a better job we should consider teaching in the same manner (because it couldn’t have anything to do with the students or anything like that). Like the PARCC test but on a smaller scale.


Some questions I have on this whole thing. Does a multiple choice test with a hundred questions give me good data? Can a three question exit slip give me good data? Can a common formative assessment really lead to quality data? What is authentic assessment? Will authentic data in my classroom be the same as authentic data in the classroom next door? If a student can explain how to solve a problem, but can’t do that on paper, has s/he mastered the standard? If data is so important why isn’t psychometrics a class in teacher education? Why don’t we have a psychometrician in each school or at least each district?


Good classroom data won’t come from some administrative committee outside of the classroom creating assessments. Creating formative assessments has to be done by the teachers who are teaching that subject. Not teachers of the subject, but teachers actually teaching right now. Some sort of common summative assessment might be a different beast. Do teachers have discussions on what constitutes a quality question that provides quality data? Do they have that kind of time? How do we standardize the data collection from authentic assessments? If I use problem based learning and she uses direct instruction can we collect the same data? Can we compare data?

Teacher education

Are teachers taught how to create a vehicle for collecting quality data? Why do we always seem to default to a test? Do we know what makes a good question? When learning to teach we study child development. We have an idea of how a students in our age range will generally behave, and act. We learn pretty quick about the neighborhood in which we teach. What resources will a student have at home. How much support they will get when doing homework. That sort of thing, but how does that translate into data? More importantly how does that translate into data we can use in the classroom to inform instruction?


I haven’t been in a teacher education program for a long time. When I was there we had a couple of classes on data collection and action research, but I don’t remember a big emphasis on quality data collection methods in the classroom, just action research for our own purposes. It was a graduate program so our data collection methods were concentrated on data we would use for our thesis paper. How similar or different should that be to data collection in our classroom. Right now I have to say the data collection we do for state and federal levels isn’t really all that high quality.


I’m not even talking testing scandals in Washington D.C. or Atlanta. I’m just talking about quality data, the basics. Sure we are testing 90+% of the kids, but are the kids actually putting in an effort. Obviously not, because  a lot of schools have these big expensive pep rally, assemblies, reward parties, motivate students to put effort into the test. Quite honestly, I think, we would be better off using real world modeling to choose a motivated representative sample of the population and use that to determine if education is working. The only problem is that we couldn’t do representative sampling for individual teachers, or even schools. Of course the data we use now is suspect for individual teachers and most schools as well, but it seems we aren’t willing to admit that just yet.

Data and learning

What do we do with the data? Brain based education is popular now. Teachers, at least some, are designing lessons based on engaging the whole child. No more drill and kill until education is beat into a child, instead we create multifaceted lessons designed to create an entry point for each child and all of them lead to the same end. In the classroom teachers should formatively assess students and use that information to change instruction for the better.  Subject teams create common formative assessments to see if one teacher is teaching better than another. Buildings should compare those common formative assessments within a district. So on and so forth until we know how to best educate each and every child in the best way.


Well that’s the dream. the reality is depending on the school, or even the classroom, I might spend the majority of my time keeping order, or reteaching, or back filling knowledge, or feeding the hungry, or sharing emotions. Data collection can easily get lost. I forget, I compromise, the well crafted assessment is scrapped for an interesting rabbit hole.


My point is this, we don’t talk enough about what it means to collect quality data in the classroom. We don’t talk enough about where and how it informs instruction. It’s there and some teachers are really good at it (not me), but that isn’t what I mean. I mean that is not the central focus of teacher education, but it seems to be the central focus of evaluation. So which one will change?  


My Week in Tech Integration – Formative Assessment

Classroom Action

Several teachers have been using during RTI. A great way to get that math practice in while working with a small group.

All of these researched based help usually say something like students who put in 75 minutes a day have shown improvement in math. Well if you practice 75 minutes a day on math of course you are going to get better. That isn’t to say the program is not useful, just that it is not trans-formative. It is a tried and true practice with just a bit of an edge because the work adapts to the level of the student instantaneously.


There are of course many similar programs out there, depending on what you want at a teacher could determine the tool you use. However, all should have at least some way to sign in and track the students, so that we know if they are actually learning or not.


Put your favorite tool in the comments or go to this survey and put it there. Some of my favorites are:


Presentations to students – getting interactive

Wouldn’t it be nice to integrate formative assessment into your regular teaching? I know it’s easy a quick half sheet of paper and boom an exit slip. But then you have to grade everything and what if they didn’t understand the first thing you said and so were lost for the entire class period.

Some folks will create a quick Google form (like the one above, you can add videos as well) then use something like flubaroo to automatically grade it. The problem is that is still separating the discussion from the assessment.


Enter the web app Blendspace. It is a product one of the elementary teachers showed me Wednesday. It is a very simple way to add content and make quick multiple choice quizzes. Students don’t need an email to sign up so it is appropriate for the elementary crowd.


However, the questions are limited to multiple choice and sometimes you want students to be able to write or draw and answer. So here is a list of a few similar tools. Nearpod, PearDeck, Socrative, SmartBoard clickers, Classflow, and Junoed.


Of course the middle school teachers noticed the educreations app. Similar to the Show Me app and the Doceri app (more of a presentation tool). All of these are iPad apps which require an iPad and a way to get the iPad onto your projector, which can be done with Air Server.


Stuff from the web

Portfolio defense to graduate high school

From Envision academy charter schools.

Cool blog I found two great posts.


Most people will like and probably use the first one right away, but the second one is great for technology. When you start asking “How do I create curriculum with multiple ways to learn the same content?” My mind goes immediately to technology. I might share one way to learn content in class and then offer a couple of youtube videos on my web site for further help. So when students don’t quite get what I explained in class they don’t have to rewatch my same lecture a million times and hope it finally sinks in, they can watch alternative explanations and hopefully one of those sticks.


Cool kindergarten classroom

My Week in Tech Integration 3/6/2015

I spent a lot of time in extracurricular classrooms this week, one teacher spent the first 5 or 10 minutes of class just asking students about what they were doing what they accomplished in other classes and clubs. Obviously she did it a lot because they were ready and willing to share and some of the comments were updates from previous weeks. When they got to work though it was all business.

Posture was mentioned a couple of times lately. I love how some of the elementary classrooms have big rubber bands under some desks so kids aren’t constantly tapping their feet. And last week at the ICE conference a participant brought up the Alexander Technique for Musicians and how slouching actually takes more energy than sitting up straight.

I read The History of Future of Education from Audrey Watters

My thought for the day. What is the difference between an overhead projector and an SMARTboard?

I used to used in my classroom and I know a few teachers at the high school also use it. It is a great tool for communication with students and parents. We know it’s working when students are complaining that some teachers use it too much. If you have students who are constantly missing assignments being able to send a group text to students and their parents without sharing phone numbers is awesome. Plus you can schedule texts for an optimum time. I always sent mine around dinner time.

Do you know about the Camscanner app? Some teachers like everything to be electronic so they can annotate and keep a copy in their google drive or Haiku dropbox. Some students prefer to write by hand. Camscanner allows you to take a picture of a piece of paper and turn it into a PDF and upload it to your Google Drive. Now that the first draft is written and feedback given the second draft can be typed.

I’ve been showing off Learning Management Systems to the middle school teachers. No one has said it is required, but I have always thought it was an invaluable tool for putting responsibility for learning onto the shoulders of the students. And as we are almost one to one in the middle school I would almost consider it necessary.

The power of a LMS in the classroom is not for the low students, or for the recalcitrant students, it is for the smartest and hardest working students. The student who takes decent notes, does all assignments, and has decent grades. The student who could be moving faster and works independently, but waits patiently for the entire class. This isn’t even a gifted student, just an average student with a good work ethic.

When this type of student is given an LMS they can work at their own pace, usually slightly faster than average, and still take time to explore topics of greater interest. When they get stuck they won’t be so far ahead that they are stuck alone and have to wait weeks for the rest of the class to catch up. Maybe even a regular conference with the teacher will be all they need, because certainly they won’t spend months working alone, maybe just one unit they are more independent than another. At any rate the teacher is checking progress reports and formative assignments regularly so they know what the student is doing and how well they are progressing.

Meanwhile the teacher still teaches class as normal, but has time to work with smaller groups of students. They in turn move faster because they have more teacher time and more individual instruction.

How does it work?

Students who show evidence of independent learning can do more in the classroom on their own leaving the teacher more time to work with students who are not as independent. Formative assessments like self grading practice quizzes or video quizzes with educannon or EdTed can be assigned for homework, or as bell ringers. This quick formative assessment shows they have a strong grasp of the concept and then can choose to do some independent or small group work in the classroom. While the teacher can spend more time with other students. It becomes possible for students to move at their own pace and/or get more in depth learning on a concept without extreme burden on the teacher.

An LMS can help with that recalcitrant student also. If your content is online it removes the excuse of “I was absent” or “I missed that lesson”. If the homework is online students can never forget it. If the discussion is online (at least partially) everyone can participate. If parents have accounts they can always stay up to date with what is happening in class. If alternative content (youtube, Kahn Academy, LearnZillion, Alex, etc…) is made available students can choose to learn in the way most suitable to them. Shared notes and other resources can be attached to each unit. It isn’t possible to make a horse drink, but we can take away excuses.

Finally, an LMS is great for the future. Digital projects and portfolios can be linked to students and brought with them to high school. The classroom walls are in effect removed. Students can learn when they are most comfortable learning, they can come back and revisit (ok they won’t), they can, well it’s a tool it won’t create utopia in your classroom, but it can help.

We looked at four learning management systems. they are:

HaikuLearning is great and several teachers use the free version. Some teachers even ask why we all aren’t using it.

Google Classroom is free. To be honest it isn’t a classroom. It is more like a place to assign and collect work. It syncs great with Google Drive (obviously) and can be used in conjunction with another LMS just for assignments.

Schoology is kind of like the facebook interface. It has it’s own calendar. you can create courses and groups, send messages, and add resources. The app center allows you to bring in web 2.0 functionality into your classroom. Like Backchannel Chat, or TurnItIn. There may be an extra cost for some apps.

Edomodo is very similar to Schoology. It is free and you can add apps, many of which are extra. You can also easily create quizzes and add resources. It also possible to connect to google Drive.


Ask the Right Questions

When bringing technology into the classroom, how do you know you’re asking the wrong questions?


Can you help me find an app that will teach …?

What kind of tech should I have in my classroom?

How do I use this in my classroom?

Can you show me how to use this?

How do I find time for this?

How do I fit this into my lesson?


When your questions have to do with bringing something extra or replacing expert knowledge of teaching.


Instead ask:

What do I want my student to learn?

What ways to I want to present the content?

How will students prove they have gained understanding?

How will I give feedback to my students?

How will students make corrections and resubmit? (iterate)



CCSS doesn’t leave time for this.

I have so much more content to cover.

The kids are/will be off task.

Students just know how to play, not learn.

Texting, slang, etc… is not real speaking writing.

The technology/wifi/site doesn’t always work.

Students wont get enough practice.

They cheat on tests/quizzes.

I don’t know how to do it. I don’t have time to learn.