Almost 32 things you should consider doing in order to become the supreme teacher of the universe

This year it has been difficult to find time to write posts.  Even before this year most of my posts are written in bits and pieces over time…it just adds to my “style”  🙂

When I do have an idea I usually jot it down somewhere.  My jots have been adding up, and most are somewhat random things.  Since I haven’t had time to write an individual post on any one of the ideas, a couple weeks ago I thought about throwing them all together into one post with some wonderful twittery title like “15 things you need to…”  Then I saw this tweet from one of the edutweetergodfathers:

Well now…

After thinking about what Dean tweeted I decided he meant people just weren’t shooting high enough.  So what follows is not just any list, but a list of “Almost 32 things things you should consider doing in order to become the supreme teacher of the universe.”  Each one I wish I could wax poetically about for a full post, but instead will just add a few sentences to what I jotted down on my pile of desk papers.

1-Get a good set of speakers

This fall I was at a PD session in which the presenter played videos, and the only sound came from the laptop speaker.  Ugg!  Your brain can deal just fine with bad video, but it cannot deal with bad audio.  Your laptop or cheap PC speakers are not good enough for that kid in the back row.  If they are expected to be processing what they see and hear but have to work extra hard to hear the audio something has to give.  My favorite are these which sit on my desk at home.  My second favorite are these which sit on my desk at school.  Both can easily fill a classroom.  My newest speaker that I use for conferences and grad class is this one.   It is a little bugger that has great sound.  Good for a small classroom when you don’t want to spend $100, Bluetooth compatible,  and it practically fits in my pocket.


3-Do something with your kids that has no connection to your class

Last month we did a movie night.  It is so neat to see the kids “acting normal” when they are not in class.  It simply reminded me that they are still kids, they are not academic robots.


7-Do something silly each day

Each Friday we do “Bad joke Friday”–that one will get an entire post soon. Another thing I do is put up a little whiteboard each day with something that will make them smile.  Usually, it has a couple brief announcements and something silly.  It is one of those things that I often regret starting, and every time I want to skip it and force myself to put it out I find it worth it! Here are a few examples:


10-Support another teacher who is not as lucky as you

Saw a picture on twitter of a teacher in a nicely carpeted room, all the kids on Macs, and all kids dressed nicely.  Don’t think people realize how desperate some teachers are.  My school is pretty average, and I have not had had any money to spend in at least thirteen years.  Check out other teachers Donors Choose and Kickstarter ideas.  When you see one of those tweets saying “Vote for me!” please check it out. Here is someone I had in my grad class who I am supporting because she’ll make a difference  I was recently on the receiving end of other people’s donations and it was amazing.  Opportunity for some good Karma!

12-If you struggle with writing, spelling. grammar, typing, (you know who you are) install Grammarly.

Honestly, I had long forgotten about Grammarly.  They emailed me asking me to try it out again, and I figured with my writing skills it can’t do anything but help.   I have noticed that it has improved my writing and cut down on how long it takes me to proof and edit since more mistakes are caught.  Also, as someone who misspells A LOT of words, it fixes misspellings with one less click than other editors. If you use Chrome, installing the extension is simple.  My daughter used it for a paper and she loved it.  We found ourselves having a discussion about grammar, uses of commas and overusing certain words.  Will it make me a professional blogger?  Doubt it, but I think it will simply help my writing become more professional which certainly can’t hurt when trying to express my thoughts more clearly.  In this post, I learned when to use seems vs seem 🙂

14-Let your kids be messy learners

I cannot help notice how as we push for more self-directed learning each thing getting pushed keeps getting codified.  It seems as though every great thing from PBL to Genious Hour to Mystery Skype now comes with rules that you can implement in order for kids to be successful.  Try Mystery Skype with no rules and let your kids flop miserably and then watch them figure out how to do it better.  It is not the teachers job to make them successful.  Gahhh!  As soon as something get mentioned on twitter within a year there seem to be all sorts of charts, rubrics, directions and exemplars on how it is supposed to be done.  “Let them fail” is all the rage yet the failure they are experiencing seems far from authentic.  Fear of failing is not the kids problem, it’s a teacher problem.  Sometimes it might take an extra day for them to finish, sometimes the final product is not what you would have made or directed them to, sometimes it means glitter all over the floor, and sometimes it just looks like they are playing.  Embrace the mess.  Have trust in the power of play.

18-If you blog or use social media start sharing what you are doing

I would love to start a new hastag #shareyourbest  I know, some people will have a problem with the word best, but anyway…    At some point stop retweeting, stop tweeting out articles that talk about what teachers should do, stop blogging about what you hope to be someday, just stop it and blog/tweet/youtube something that you do that is awesome.  #shareyourbest  If teachers deserve respect, let’s see why you do.  It does not have to be a massive project.  It can just be something small that you do every day.  Share, share, share.  It is our obligation to do so and brand ourselves as superior to the edreformers idea of what we should be doing and who else should be doing it.  I believe so strongly about this.  Don’t have a platform to share?  Write me.  I will share it here anonymously or with your name. I did tweet out the other day asking teachers to share and received exactly one response…thinking we can do better.


21-Pick one unit and do not have a test at the end of it

Think about it.  You finish a unit.  You then review.  Why?  Because the kids don’t know the material otherwise you would not have to review.  Then they go home and study.  Why? Because they don’t know the material.  So in one night they go home, study, spit it out the next day, and a few days later it’s gone.  Why are you giving the test? To see what they know.  After an entire unit why do you not already know what they know? And come on, you can pretty much predict what each kid is going to get anyway, so just give them the grade and skip the big process.  Try Project Based Learning for one unit (if you are really cool and hip you can call it Problem Based Learning or Inquiry Based Learning, just look out on the internet there are now rules for how to implement it successfully).   For one unit let there be some self-directed learning, let there be a way for kids to share what they learned without a test.  The best assessments aren’t the ones from which you learn what the kids know. The best assessments are the ones from which the kids learn something new.  Who could possibly get excited about a unit knowing that it’s climax will be a test?  Do something different.

A Civil War Letter from Moran Mustangs on Vimeo.

22-For you mysteryskypers and anyone else who video conferences–get a good mic and webcam

Remember, good video is a plus, great audio is a necessity.  If you do a lot with live streaming or video conferences invest in a mic and webcam.  If you use your laptop webcam all anyone sees is up your nose.  If you are using your laptop mic then you need to be right in front of it to be heard and can’t have a class interact with the guest.  With microphones you get what you pay.  I recommend any Blue Mic.  Snowballs are awesome and can be found under $50.  I bought a Yeti used that I just simply love.

Once you have a mic get a better webcam.  There are models in all price ranges.  The one that I have can also be used as a video camera and capture anything we are doing in class, used as a document camera, take still images, and when needed it has a built in mic.  At the time I purchased it, it was the only webcam  that had the ability to be mounted to a camera tripod.  I have had nothing but success with it…and it has survived many middle school hands.


23-Give your kids a question and do not have them answer immediately

Kids are too busy in school to think.  We give them a problem, question, worksheet and BAM they are expected to start working  immediately.  When was the last time they were given a problem or question and allowed to ponder and day dream.  Each year I actually have to force kids to not get to work immediately.  Day one of any research is usually a “no write” day.  they are not allowed to write anything done.  Just explore, make connections, or sit and think.  An application for a grant came in my email box last week.  I am still not exactly sure what I am going to submit.  If I was a student I would have been expected to hand it in 45 minutes later.   Try it.  Give them whatever you would normally give them, but don’t allow anyone to write for just ten minutes and see what happens.  And watch this:


26-Do the work you are making them do

I have a policy.  My kids never do anything I have not recently done.  I have two history degrees and I have been teaching social studies for 24 years–so I like social studies.   If I wouldn’t be excited about doing the assignments I give to the kids why would they be?  Stop teaching and be a model.  Writing teachers who don’t write.  History teachers who don’t research.  Science teachers who don’t do experiments.   How can you stand in front of kids teaching them to write and talking about its importance if you don’t write?  How can you talk to the kids about how to research and write a thesis if you do not?  Sorry, but having done it in college is not good enough.  If you want to be taken seriously by the kids you need to practice whatever craft you are imploring then to do along with them.  Get dirty with them, and shake like they shake. If you are going to require them to do a presentation, you better not spend days telling them how to do it.  On the day your kids need to stand up and do it, you better walk to the front with them.  Don’t tell them how it’s done, do it with them.

27-Get a good camera for your class

Get a good camera for your class.  Sorry, but there is really no cell phone cameras that can do what a good DSLR even on auto mode can do (iphone 6 and Samsung Galaxy 5 and Note 4 owners are allowed to make faces here).  Yes, they are more money, but if you have a Smartphone in your pocket you can afford a decent DSLR.  Want to save money? Buy one that has been refurbished–all my tech gear from cameras to my personal computer was purchased refurbished.  Take lots of pictures and videos of your kids and share share share.  Share with other teachers and most importantly share with their family.  I love sharing pictures of kids doing things that parents never get to see.  Sure you may send home pictures from the “big” project, but parents never get to see their kids in the hallway, sitting at lunch, or going to their locker.  Pictures of them doing the little things make a big difference. Throw them into a video with a song and you have gold.  Get a camera, place it in a spot the kids can access, and they will do the rest. Under $100, a bit more and just awesome.

28-Stop reading about education issues for a bit

Read something out of your discipline and let your mind wander.  I picked up a book on crisis negotiation a couple years ago and it changed my teaching.  And this fall I was at a conference and the speaker mentioned that when someone was trying to figure out what all the creative types had in common at Apple the only thing they could find is that they all read science fiction growing up.  With that in mind my wife gave me a fiction book at Christmas.  It was the first one I read in 20+ years.  My mind wandered to places it hasn’t in a long, long time.  Next in my stack is a best selling science fiction book from China.


29-Stop filling the garbage can

Next time you sit down to plan a unit, think about where the final product will ultimately end up.  If it is the garbage you can stop planning.  Need an audience for your kids work?  Contact me! paulbogush1@gmailcom We’ll watch videos, examine posters, read stories–anything!  We can share through snailmail, email, video, or live.

30-Share a piece of yourself…

The next time you start class after reading this, sit down in front of the class and share a story about yourself with your kids.  And then ask them to do the same.  The first words out of your mouth each day tells the kids what is the most important thing in the class.  Don’t let it be “take out your homework.”  Tell them a story.  Share a piece of yourself.  Be bold. Be authentic. Be you.

31-Add a little heart to your class.

l believe that great classrooms can change the world.  When classrooms include powerful  stories, when those stories are told with heart the way they deserve to be told, kids thought patterns can change, they can be moved, fires are lit, and they will be inspired. Great classrooms just don’t just focus on content. They use the content in their course to deliver a story that has heart.


And last but not least, a big reminder I need this year…

32-All teaching is a call to action.

If your students are not moved to action by your unit, then what was the point? The only reason to teach is to change the world. If you don’t believe that…

What could possibly be your reason for teaching?

“I’m so proud…”

So often as teachers we get stuck focusing on the day-to-day minutia of our jobs.  Paperwork, behavior issues, grades…

We get stuck on the problems in front of us and forget about all the cool things the kids have accomplished.  It is easy for teachers to focus on everything that is wrong with their classes and forget about all the great things that are occurring.  Especially those things occurring in small increments over time.

Recently I sat down with my superintendent to discuss making a video that would introduce the budget at the town council meeting.  He started talking about everything going on in the district, and I could not help thinking that every teacher should be listening to what I was hearing.  I realized that I was so hyper-focused on my class that I was missing out on what the district was accomplishing as a whole. At some point he simply said, “I am proud of what we are doing.”  That became the focus of the video.  He went out with a “camera man” and took video clips that were then given to me for editing.  There were 187 clips to go through to make into a 3 minute video and I had only a weekend to do it!

After making the video below I realized immediately that I will copy this style and do this with my kids at the end of the year.  It would be a great way to reflect on what they accomplished in class.

Deadlines kill innovation…

I just read an article from Fast Company entitled “4 Myths About Apple Design, From An Ex-Apple Designer.”  I could not help make the connection between the culture of “schools” and Apple’s culture.

It was based on an interview with Mark Kawano who was a senior designer at Apple.  In the article, he dispels four commonly held beliefs about Apple Design.

I’ll let you make the connections with these excerpts:

Myth #1    Apple has the best designers.  

“It’s actually the engineering culture, and the way the organization is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody there is thinking about UX and design, not just the designers. And that’s what makes everything about the product so much better . . . much more than any individual designer or design team.”

It has often been said that good design needs to start at the top—that the CEO needs to care about design as much as the designers themselves. People often observe that Steve Jobs brought this structure to Apple. But the reason that structure works isn’t because of a top-down mandate. It’s an all around mandate. Everyone cares.

“It’s not this thing where you get some special wings or superpowers when you enter Cupertino. It’s that you now have an organization where you can spend your time designing products, instead of having to fight for your seat at the table, or get frustrated when the better design is passed over by an engineering manager who just wants to optimize for bug fixing. All of those things are what other designers at other companies have to spend a majority of their time doing. At Apple, it’s kind of expected that experience is really important.”

Kawano underscores that everyone at Apple—from the engineers to the marketers—is, to some extent, thinking like a designer. In turn, HR hires employees accordingly. Much like Google hires employees that think like Googlers, Apple hires employees that truly take design into consideration in all of their decisions.

“You see companies that have poached Apple designers, and they come up with sexy interfaces or something interesting, but it doesn’t necessarily move the needle for their business or their product. That’s because all the designer did was work on an interface piece, but to have a really well-designed product in the way Steve would say, this ‘holistic’ thing, is everything. It’s not just the interface piece. It’s designing the right business model into it. Designing the right marketing and the copy, and the way to distribute it. All of those pieces are critical.”

Myth #3 Apple Crafts Every Detail With Intention

“It’s almost impossible to come up with really innovative things when you have a deadline and schedule.”

“It was more having a small team and knowing what people had worked on, and the culture of being comfortable sharing.”

Myth #4 Steve Job’s Passion Frightened Everyone

“The reality is, the people who thrived at Apple were the people who welcomed that desire and passion to learn from working with Steve, and just really were dedicated to the customer and the product. They were willing to give up their weekends and vacation time. And a lot of the people who complained that it wasn’t fair . . . they didn’t see the value of giving all that up versus trying to create the best product for the customer and then sacrificing everything personally to get there.”

He had trouble understanding people who didn’t want that same thing and wondered why they’d be working for him if that was the case. I think Steve had a very low tolerance for people who didn’t care about stuff. He had a very hard time understanding why people would work in these positions and not want to sacrifice everything for them.”

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P-Day Intro

My kids and I do a version of what is popularly called Genius Hour or 20% Time except we call it P-Day.  The P stands for Passion.  It is a way to inject 50 minutes of student-driven learning into school.

If you have never heard of Genius hour it is easily Googalable.  Joy Kirr has a nice selection of resources here. I have written about our P-Day here and reflected on last year’s here.  More and more educators are touting P-Day, Genius Hour, 20% Time,  and other incarnations of self-directed learning.  This is not an original idea that was sparked by Google, 3M, or Federal Expresses programs with their employees or any one teacher.  Some days I think it is downright silly that giving kids 50 minutes, 2% of the week in school, to self-direct their learning  attracts any attention and that I am even writing a blog post about this great “innovation.”  There are entire schools that operate like 20% Time 100% of the time, and there are plenty of homeschoolers, unschoolers and other learning opportunities for kids that provide them with the opportunity to make every hour of their life a Genius Hour.  I think it shows where we are in education that if you tell other teachers that you are giving kids 2% of the week to explore their own interests you are seen as an outlier. It is just the way it should be.  A little disclaimer, I have some first-hand experience with kids that self-direct their learning 100% of the time  🙂

This year I became a 7th grade teacher and whoa Nelly the transition was a bit rough so I put introducing P-Day on hold for a bit.  Then the other seventh-grade social studies teacher decided to do it with us–Whoa Nellie again, an entire floor of P-Dayers! And then I had a student teacher start with me….but finally this month we kicked it off.  I wanted to record the class because I think it would be interesting to see how people introduce it to their kids.  Below I have a video of the slides along with my audio.  I don’t allow kid to make excuses before presentations, but I will break my own rule.  I put off recording my first three classes, screwed up on the fourth and somehow by the time we started the fifth I only had thirty minutes.  The presentation was a bit rushed and not as detailed as the others, but it is a good idea of how we intro it.   I did stick in the “P-Day Pitches” that were not done in this class, but were shown the the others, and the end is cut off 🙂 The slides can be found here. The audio in the video below kicks in after 5 seconds.

Call it whatever you’d like, giving kids a chance to self-direct their learning is necessary.  If you try it and it “fails” that is just proof that they need more time doing it.  You don’t need to start doing it for an entire year.  I started by just taking the day before Thanksgiving vacation.  we called the day 45/45.   everyone got 45 minutes to explore anything and 45 seconds to share what they explored.  From there I did every day before vacation, and during block schedules we even moved up to 60/60 days 🙂    Eventually we did it for longer stretches.  One marking period, two marking periods, and now we do it for three marking periods.  Some years there have been blocks.  Single parents have ended it three different years, and each class takes to it very differently.  I don’t have kids who just sprint to exploring and making things. Sometimes I look at what other teachers have written and wonder are those kids real? 🙂 Most of mine have no real special interests.  Most just sit for weeks.  Most are slow to realize that they can in fact self-direct their learning.

Doing this type of thing with your kids should come with a warning label — **Your results may vary** — especially because the biggest catalyst in doing something like this is you.  The students need to see you model self-directed learning.  It is not something you direct.  It is not something you “teach.”  It is something you model.  You need to lead by example.  The kids will always be who your are, and not who you want them to be.

Learning should be consensual…

On the first day of my grad classes we do a funky intro ice breaker.  Students pair up and google the person next to them and introduce them solely based on what they find on the internet.  Afterwards each person gets to ask me a question.  This is one of the questions that was asked in my last class:

I have to admit, I had never heard of the book.  And a couple weeks later she gave me a copy of the book to read.  Here is a confession, it has been probably 20 years since I have read a fiction book, but since it was being given to me from a student, I could not just ignore, I had to read it.

I did put it off for a few weeks and then decided to read it last week.


The description of the exchange in the the first chapter literally happened to me two days before reading it.  The second chapter described an exchange that nearly literally happened in my class the first day of school, and it continued on like that chapter after chapter until ______ (can’t tell you, it would spoil the book for you).  The book was an incredible view into the heads of my students.  It was a reminder to me that every exchange I have with them has an impact and contains a “lesson.”  It reminded me that it is truly the little things that matter most.  It reminded me that they will be who I am and not who I want them to be.   It reminded me to model being the person I want them to be, instead of trying to teach them to be.  It reminded me that in great classrooms learning is consensual.

Personalizing learning.

Individualizing learning.

Standards based learning.

Project based learning.

Flipping the learning.

There are many things we can/should/would/could be doing as teachers.  How many things do we do with the consent of the kids?  Is learning in your class consensual?  Is it self-directed?

We want kids to do epic things.

We want them to write.

Create. Innovate. Collaborate.

We want them to produce products that make a dent in this world.

Do we ask them for their consent?  Or demand it.

I have been reflecting on the things that are important to me that “I know” and that “I can do.”  .  In each case before I learned them I did something first.  I said “show me.”  Someone telling me to “do this” is a turn off.  That is probably why for most of school I was just waiting for the chance to escape.  School was a box.  I was constantly being told to do this, learn this, behave like this, and someday you can leave the box and be successful.  I was told if I did things right I could eventually leave the box and do epic things.

What always struck me as odd is the very people who wanted me to become a better writer never shared their writing.  The people who wanted me to be a scientist never shared what they were researching.  Schools that said I could do epic things in the future just made me sit in a row every day.

Your kids do not want to be taught.  They want to be moved.  Teachers think kids learn from their teaching, but they learn a lot more by watching what is being modeled for them.   They listen to  and watch everything that you do.  Sit at lunch with a group and get them talking about the adults in their life, they can spot a hypocrite a mile away.

You could make the very best set of directions, the very best rubric, your kids can do flipped classroom and spend every Friday doing Genius Hour, in the end they will simply imitate what they see–they will act like you.

I think that we often forget that every exchange we have with kids is a “lesson.”  Every time we pass them in the hall, and each time we share with them about our lives in the classroom is a lesson.   Most important is every time we share with them what we are learning and each time we show them examples of the innovative, creative, and yes sometimes even epic things that we are attempting to accomplish.  Kids will be who we are and not who we want them to be.  My father did not tell me to play baseball, he took me outside and let me play with him.  He did not sit me in front of a book that showed me how to use tools,  he brought me under the car with him.  I got dirty with him, beside him.

With the new year rolling in, teachers will usually spend a few minutes reflecting on some goals for their students.   How many of those goals include you getting dirty with them?  What will you be doing with your kids?  More teaching?  or will you start modeling?  The big question for 2015 is not will you teach your kid to be a writer, historian, scientist, artist, or even simply a kind person, the question is will you be that person with them.

Will you be their model?

Or will you be their teacher?

Remember kids don’t want to be taught, they want to be moved.

Be the person you want your kids to be.

Did you miss my last post?  It’s right here 🙂

Put a little heart, into your classroom

I am a first year teacher…well at least I feel that way.

I taught 8th grade 19th Century United States History for 25 years.   That’s a long time.

This year I had the opportunity to move to the seventh grade.  I am now a 7th grade geography teacher.

Something was missing from my class in September.   It took me awhile to figure it out and then it hit me.  People.  People were missing from my class.  People and the stories that come along with them.  Stories that are told with heart and hit a kid where they won’t forget.  I am working on fixing that problem.  It is important that I fix that problem and bring people, back into my class.  Without “people,” my class lacks heart.

l believe that great classrooms can change the world.  When classrooms include powerful  stories, when those stories are told with heart the way they deserve to be told, kids thought patterns can change, they can be moved, fires are lit, and they will be inspired. Great classrooms just don’t just focus on content. They use the content in their course to deliver a story that has heart.

Lessons with Heart from Paul Bogush on Vimeo.

The video above was inspired by this one from Story and Heart.  We made ours to remind all teachers that powerful stories about people are vital to any classroom.  Making the video was quite a process, and I wish we could start from the beginning and do it all over after what we learned.  It was made during 10 minutes of lunch, a few minutes after school, and squeezed in at various other times over the course of almost three months  We learned so much about lighting, focus, and recording audio and can’t wait to put all that we learned into our next video.

We did receive permission from Story and Heart–a big thank you to them.



Here is the transcript to the video:

I believe that great classrooms can change the world.  When classrooms include powerful  stories, when those stories are told with heart the way they deserve to be told, kids thought patterns can change, they can be moved, fires are lit, and they will be inspired.

 Great classrooms just don’t just focus on content.  They use the content in their course to deliver a story that has heart.

 Most units are built upon one of four pillars
The first is People —  that’s  focusing on historical and current characters
The second is places — that’s the big picture and details of an event
The third pillar is plot — the overall arch and structure of  the unit
And last is purpose — the intention, the big why behind the unit

The p that you put first will determine what type of class you will have
If you focus on Plot, you’ll have a class with lots of action
If you focus on places, you’ll have a class that seems like a travel video
If you focus on purpose, your class will come across as a commercial
But when you put people first, well that gives you a class that is character driven

 So what does that all that mean?

If you give your kids one character to root for,
someone they can invest in,
the student forms a powerful connection with the content.

If purpose drives your unit
and you want to show how challenging it was during the time period,
how tough it was,
why reforms were made…
sure, I might  consider what it was like,
but when it’s over,
I’m relieved because it just made me uncomfortable

Focusing on places is common especially in geography classes
beautiful environment,
analyzing pictures of homes,
videos of the Amazon basin…
it might hold my interest,
but ultimately there is nothing to root for, there is nothing to feel strongly about.

Often plot drives social studies classes.
Those classrooms focus on battles,
the inventions,
the routes of the explorers
When plot drives a class
I don’t really get to know the people in the battles
or the men and women who stayed up late in their workshops.
I can’t form an emotional connection to the people involved,
I can’t get to know the people,
it keeps my attention,
but it doesn’t change the way I think or felt about anything.

That leaves us with People–
when people become the heart of your class
we’ll  will stay with a lesson a little bit longer,
we want to know what happens to the character next.
Putting people first gives kids the ability to engage with someone else,
we can dig below the surface to the heart of what matters,
we can identify with them,
we can feel for them,
people can help us make sense of our own experiences,
of things we have gone through,
or things we imagine might come to pass.

Focusing on people is the strongest way for you to get us to connect with the story.

Too often we learn about the Cherokees on The trail of tears,
but not the individuals involved,
We learn about the life of Civil War soldiers
without ever getting to know one.
Focusing on people is the reason why we will care about your class.
It’s what will give your class heart.
You can have multiple people,
but focus on them as individuals
people who shoes the kids can walk in.

we do not want to be taught.
We want to be moved
Put a little heart
Put a little heart
Put a little heart
into your next lesson.

We would like to give a big shout out to Still Motion for giving us the idea for this video,
You can check out a link to the original video made by Story and heart in the description below the video


A message from my kids to their parents…

Last year I started a new “tradition.”  Each year before the holiday break the kids make a video for the parents with a few subliminal  reminders 🙂  You can check out the post from last year right here.

Here is the note and video that went home this year:

Happy Holidays!

Just a couple of quick notes for you…(and for those of you who skip school emails jump to the link at the bottom)…

When the kids return in January we will have a student teacher from Quinnipiac College.  Ms Griffiths is finishing her masters degree and I expect incredible things from her during the next ten weeks.  In order to get into our classroom a student teacher must first pass a test–be interviewed by students on the team.  Back in September,  8 students created questions and spent nearly 30 minutes interviewing Ms.Griffiths. They made a unanimous decision to bring her aboard team 7-1.  She will start with three classes in January, and take full responsibility for all five starting in February.

I continued to be impressed with your kids both academically and with their patience for me as I adjust to seventh grade.  They have recently tackled some problems that my eighth graders last year were not able to handle until the spring. I never ever thought they would be this far along when I met them in September.  They are willing to create and tackle challenging questions, try anything I throw at them, and put up with me when I am crabby 🙂   I have been teaching for a long time and this is honestly one of my favorite group of students.  Every single day they enter and exit with a smile–it is hard to have a bad day when you hangout with 130 smiling kids every day. Thank you for doing such an incredible job with them.

I applaud all of you who have supported your kids become more independent this year and have let them fall, and get back up on their own.  It is hard isn’t it?!  Please push them to come back and talk to the teachers when they express that they are having difficulty in a class.  Please push them to write the emails as you sit back and watch them grow…and make them cook a couple meals this week, do their own laundry, push the vacuum, and empty the garbage.  They are powerful kids who are capable of doing great things, and they might as well start by washing the dishes 🙂  Denis Waitley once said, “The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.  You have sent us eagles, let them fly!

But of course, please feel free to email us any time with any concerns 🙂

And finally, here is a link to a video the kids made today:

It consists of four parts.  Part 1 is “I am…”  The second part is “Someday I will be…” The third part is “Look how far I have come…”  Dear mommas, grab a few tissues before watching that section 🙂  Part four is a message from your child, the section is entitled “Sometimes I forget to tell you…”  If you child is missing from a section of the video that was their choice, and some kids were not in it because they were making up missed work.

Have a great week off, and if anyone is working on make-up work over break, or wishes to make-up assignments that they are missing I am just am email away.  With the exception of a couple days, every kid’s question should be answered within 24 hours.


Rock on…

I never do any kind of “academic” work without music playing.

Right now I am grading lesson plans for a grad class and this is what is playing in the background:

Another favorite for grading:

When I am researching I listen to:

When I am thinking about what I will do with the research:

If I get stuck…and hit a creative wall I put on:

When start writing my lesson plans:

When I know where the lesson is going and just putting on final touches:

When a kid asks me if they can put their headphones on and listen to music they only song they can listen to is:

music beats

Throwback Thursday — “Someone like you”

It has really been hard to find time to write a new post.  So desperate to put up new content, I was thinking about doing a Throwback Thursday.  Each Thursday I would post an old favorite post.  As of this past September I have been blogging for seven years, so there are a few hundred posts that I can go through to find a favorite.

As I was looking through my list of posts I found one with a title that did not ring any bells.  It was from almost exactly five years ago, I opened it, read it, it made me cringe.  I simply could not believe what I posted, what I shared.  I was teaching at an incredibly tough school.  It took me over five years before I was able to sleep at night…I actually remember that it was 5 years and 5 months into my sixth year of teaching when I went to bed and simply fell asleep and had a full nights rest!  The post reminded me of how far I have come…and how I might have completely forgotten what it is like to be a first year teacher.  But most of all it reminded me to reach out to other teachers and to not judge people based on where they are currently in their teaching journey.

Here is the post I wrote November 24, 2009 — “Someone Like You

I stumbled into my first teaching job by accident. I had been working at a camp for years and one summer day the year before graduating a person who had been bringing his kids there for years walked up to me and asked me if I wanted a job for the following year. He said he had been watching me for years and thought I would make a great addition to the school system he worked in. This was in 1990. Now I don’t know what it was like in the rest of the country, but teaching jobs around here were getting 600+ applicants. It was impossible to get a job, and I was offered one the summer before my senior year. Pretty cool eh? So while everyone else was worried and sending out applications I just sat back and smiled. Early in the spring of 1991 I called the person I was supposed to contact that would officially interview me and get the ball rolling. I went in and was shuffled to a back cubicle where I sat down, was looked over and offered a job in a new program that combined the “tough” kids, education, and the outdoors–my dream job. Looking back I realize how naive I was. I never realized I was being ushered in through a series of political connections, totally avoiding the normal channels.

The summer came and went, a couple calls in told me to just hold on. A week before school started I was told the program was axed. Tough job market, one week before school….started looking for that miracle opening to appear. While I was preparing my resumes I called the original school system every day asking if a position had opened. Two weeks into school, I was told yes. Little did I know that yes led to me being the first person in my family to go gray. I showed up in what ended up being the toughest middle school in the state by almost any stat you could examine: test scores, crime, or number of parents beaten with 2x4s in the hallways. I walked in to replace another person who was not a teacher, but another town employee who was placed there so that he could continue collecting a salary. I walked into a place in which I was the white guy. Almost every kid was African American, with a few Hispanic students also attending. Did I mention I grew up in a town that was, and is still considered and mocked in editorials as the most racist town around? A couple weeks ago I was cleaning out my closet. I went deeper than I had ever gone before. I pulled out some loose sheets of paper out of a box that turned out to be 10 “journal” entries that I kept during my first month of teaching–I had totally forgotten that I had ever had one. What follows is some excerpts from those entries. A reminder to us all that it’s tough to be a beginner. It is even tougher if you are in one of “those schools.” For those of you in private schools, or the suburbs, the pain and agony of the inner city teacher is unfathomable unless you experienced it first hand. You just simply can’t imagine how different it is.

I am not going to go into all the hidden messages about why I am posting things. I think if you have read this blog before, you will pick up on many reasons why these would be posted. I do want to be clear about one reason. Everyone knows a teacher who might do or say things that they disagree with and therefore write-off the teacher as one of “those” teachers. As you read these entries, You will recognize one of “those” teachers. I wasn’t though…I just simply did not know of any alternative methods. If someone had walked up to me offered up an alternative, or if there had been someone I could have reached out to, I wonder how different my first years would have been. I would like to challenge everyone walk up to a first year teacher offer them an alternative way of doing things. It took me ten years to start considering true alternatives to traditional schooling. I didn’t have anyone who could have walked up to me to offer an alternative. If you have the chance, don’t waste it. Someone just like me could be waiting for your advice.

September 12, 1991
Teaching is more difficult than I ever imagined. I’m experiencing failure for one of the first times…everyone that makes the rules for schools should stand in the shoes of a teacher for one day. One girl already mumbled under her breath that she “hates white teachers.” Tomorrow I have to bang on them from the moment they step into the classroom. Tomorrow is my biggest day yet.

September 16, 1991
I have so many big ideas, but I am afraid they won’t listen. They don’t even come close to understanding that if they listen now, we could do great things later. They don’t care. There seems to be nothing in their life to reinforce school….I believe if there was homogeneous grouping I would be able to do so much more, assuming the lower classes were smaller. I feel that if the classes were half the size they are now, I could achieve my goals, but now just worry about discipline. The word I hate is coming back to haunt me. That is my only goal this week, not to teach but to discipline, how sad. The only thing that keeps me going is looking forward to the days off. I can’t wait to see Aimee, I am really in love!

September 17, 1991
I keep asking myself how I will make it through the year. I’m just too fresh, too young, too white. I’m being taken advantage of so much. The damn $^(^% girls are the worst. They are practically oblivious to me. Today I yelled at one girl and she just yelled back. So humiliating…can’t wait for the year to end.

September 19, 1991
Today I’m going home feeling much better. Why? I don’t exactly know. I think every class learned something new. The old saying you only remember the last thing is true. Two kids stayed for detention and we did some school stuff and they learned. Then we played some “educational” basketball. They asked to come back for detention tomorrow. I have no luck!!

Sunday 22, 1991
Went to the Red Sox/Yankee game up at Fenway. It was th e best game I ever saw, except I couldn’t pay attention because all I was thinking about was school.

September 23, 1991
Today I am leaving practically stress free and whistling. It’s true you can’t smile until Christmas. 4th and 7th period is getting better. They’re the only classes I have gotten anything out of yet. Someday I hope I’ll be great, but right now I am just an average Joe. Now I am off to sign my first contract ever.

September 24, 1991
Today is not a stress free day. Everyday is a bigger war. The 7th graders are better but I have to crack down on the 8th graders. Tomorrow are the mastery tests and out of control. I really have to crack down on the 8th grade. I’m getting angrier and angrier so it’ll be easier hopefully!

September 25, 1991
Another day bites the dust!! Today I’m going home feeling alright. I’m finally starting to realize I have to be mean to start to do anything with the kids. I loved being mean today, because then I felt much better. The kids stayed quiet and everything goes alright. I gotta get a mean streak. I have to start getting respect. 169 days left!!

September 26, 1991
Today is great, because tomorrow is Friday.

September 27, 1991
“Fear cannot be without hope, nor hope without fear.”

November 24, 2009
I really wish now that I had continued writing that first year. As I look back I can’t even imagine having written those words. I spent ten years at that school and left with a truck load of guilt. When I left I was in many ways a master of behavior management, but still a first year teacher when it came to planning engaging lesson. The very “worst” kid in my current school would have been the valedictorian at my old school. I have now realized that I did what it took to survive. My lessons were laced with behavior management tricks and treats. I planned everything with discipline in mind. After leaving that school I actually had space and time to actually think. Things were actually so stressful at my old school that I stopped reading because it reminded me of work. After switching jobs I started to read again. I started to think. My imagination came back. I started to dream.

Most readers of this blog are also dreamers. You are probably a progressive teacher. You are probably one heck of an asset to your system but might feel alone. Just remember that one of those teachers that you…we…write off as being a person who doesn’t want to change could be someone just like me. Someone one who is just lost. Someone who is just desperate to talk to someone, who is just like you.

Teaching at that school made me the teacher I am today.  At some point after those entries I quickly realized that getting “angry” did not help.  I realized that my traditional methods were doomed to fail.  I realized that trying to get every kid to do the same thing at the same time was doomed to fail.  This forced me to experiment relentlessly.  I read about this thing called Project Based Learning, and kept messing with it year after year.   About a year later after the journal entries I decided to give some newfangled thing called America Online a try.  There I was able to find my posse.  Yes, before twitter there were internet forums where you could talk and discuss ideas in more than 140 characters.  I found many other people who were  also desperate to talk to someone…they were just like me, and we grew stronger together sharing ideas, sharing sources, and finding comfort in the fact that not all teachers start off being great.    

If you are a new teacher and someone suggests that you should join twitter, get hooked into blogs, and build your PLN, I simply offer up the journal entries above, and where I am now, as a reason why you should.

The learning monster…

This past week I had a teacher altering experience.  My kids did a project that changed the way I look at how kids learn and my role in the learning process…and no, this post is not about it 🙂 While I was reflecting on what happened and more importantly why, I noticed a post from Chris Baker.  It sat in one of my browser tabs for days.  I just felt somewhere in his post was an answer for what happened in my unit.

“Learning is a wild beast. It defies structure, and it prowls around without the ability to be predicted. It’s quicksilver, eely and slippery, unable to be tethered or corralled.”

My kids were working on a short project and at some point I just gave up on trying to get them to follow the path that I had left bread crumbs on for them to follow.  I just simply gave up and followed them.  I did not care what everyone turned in or how long it took.   Everyone was into what they were doing and following their own path.  At first I thought I had lost control–that is what it felt like.  Then I realized that the control was not lost it just shifted.

“…the more pure of heart and intention I can be in the classroom, the more my students will appreciate this, and start to reach out and learn. “Winging it”, “tap-dancing and farting”, whatever you want to call it — is a best practice in arriving at purity of heart and intention. It strips away at the objectives, standards, curriculum, and allows the true nature of an educator to come out; one where the educator says (usually in a panic), “I hope something, anything, is learned today.” Unfettered by a Design, the teacher focuses on the important things. virginal, unsullied by the trappings of what is meant to capture learning rather than educe it.”

I think somewhere in the last few years I slipped into trying to control their learning.  I wanted to capture their excitement and curiosity by making  them do incredible things…and we did.  But at what cost?  In my attempt to do things first, do things that used cool gadgets and gizmos, do things that captured the kids learning and empower them, was I actually doing it to just empower myself?  As my control in the classroom was slipping due to standardized policies being implemented was my all out attempt to make them do amazing things simply fulfilling something I was missing?

Does it matter?

Quote from Chris Baker




I’d like to share what my kids did in class today…

…but first a quick story.

In 1854 there was a Cholera outbreak in London.  Dr. John Snow decided to plot on a map of London each case of Cholera.  He soon found that they were mostly concentrated around one well which was near a sewage pit.  He removed the handle and the outbreak stopped.  578 people died.

156 years later there was a Cholera Outbreak in Haiti.  No detailed maps of the effected area were available.  Over 8,000 people died.

As you have probably heard on the news, Ebola is spreading through many African communities.  Aid workers trying to bring the outbreak under control lack detailed maps, the same type of maps that John Snow had access to more than 150 years ago.

To combat this problem the organization Doctors Without Borders in collaboration with the American and British Red Cross has started a project called Missing Maps. It allows people around the world to use satellite imagery to help create digital maps to help organizations respond to natural disasters, conflict, and epidemic diseases.

Missing Maps
CC-BY-SA Missing Maps 2014

Here is a description of how it works:

The first step is to take satellite images – which, it may surprise you to learn, are often made available to the open mapping community from such unexpected sources as US government agencies and Microsoft – and plug them into the free mapping software OpenStreetMap.

Volunteers then log in remotely, from anywhere in the world, and use a easy point-and-click tool to literally trace the outlines of buildings, roads, parks and rivers over the satellite image. Remove the image and voila: you have a basic, digital city map.

Next, the map, which still lacks street or landmark names, is physically printed out and posted to volunteers who are located in the city. These “ground troops” – anyone from students to Scouts – each take a small section of the map, head out with a pencil and write down the names of streets and buildings.

Finally, the completed maps are posted back to Missing Maps HQ in London, where volunteers fill in the names on OpenStreetMap. The result: a city map that is open source and free for ever.

Today my kids put people “on the map.” As I heard one kid say after plotting a house, “now someone will know they are there.”  It was a pretty amazing activity, and well worth taking a day off from the prescribed standardized curriculum.  While the kids might never know the direct impact of the areas they map on Friday, it is an amazing thing that a team of doctors could be driving down a road with aid to homes in a Filipino village because they were plotted on a map by an eleven year old kid in Connecticut.

Below is a video of what it looks like to work on the site–at the end of the video I went to a second map of a refugee camp in Ethiopia.   It was amazing to hear the kids who randomly found it react to the sheer size of it.

And a couple more links about Missing Maps:

Missing Maps: nothing less than a human genome project for cities

Off the Map: Rich Countries are deluged with data; developing ones are suffering from a drought

Everyone knows that the day before Thanksgiving break there is not a DVD player, TV, or projector available in schools as public schools engage in one of the greatest traditions — showing a movie the day before a vacation.  Instead of watching a movie, have your kids place some people “on the map.”

It did take about 15 minutes to introduce and get everyone on the site after a crash course on how to use the tools on the website.  If your kids have the ability to watch a couple videos at home here are two that would allow them to come into school nearly ready to start.


My kids are eleven and twelve and were able to handle the mapping.  Some took a bit of extra assistance, and we don’t have many “digital natives” so there was some basic click here and there sort of directions I had to give before they were rolling.  To  streamline the process I had everyone log-in with our class account.  I can see younger kids doing this, but might have the computers already logged in to a “square” with items like houses ready to be plotted.  I also found that it was easier to have them work on maps that were less than 75% complete.  It was simply easier for them to find areas to map that were empty and not touched by any other volunteers in the world–it was also simply more exciting to be plotting areas that no one had done, rather than trying to find the things that other people missed.

And one last video showing the potential impact of the kids work: