Dear Ms. Roache,

A note I just wrote to my daughter’s math teacher…

Hi Theresa,

Just a quick email to say thank you for being such a positive influence in Annie’s life this year.  I suppose all teachers to some degree know that their words and actions have the ability to make a difference in kids live’s, but sometimes I think they forget how kids absorb and carry them and make them a part of who they are and who they will be.  Teachers leave little pieces of themselves in each kid who use those pieces to build what they will become & what they believe is possible.

This year I have seen Annie re-build herself as a student and change what she believes she is capable of doing.  Thank you for giving her a little piece of yourself this year.  We slowly watched her transform at home from doing math HW in a pool of tears in September to total independence by June.  But most of all, the biggest impact you had was to very slowly chip away at her fear.  She brought years of school math baggage to you and it was slowly unpacked.

Students will always be who you are, and never who you want them to be.  An important piece of who Annie will be was forged in your class this year, and it is not because of some carefully planned school curriculum or technology, but simply because of who you are and what will be left with her long after she forgets how to divide mixed fractions of negative numbers 🙂

Thanks.

Paul

“If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”

There is no protection under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech for a teacher while on duty for advocating opting out of standardized testing for students.

That is how the letter from our state union started, and I suppose I should not have been shocked by it.  I know that I accepted a contract with my school system, and my school system whole-heartedly supports lots of testing.

Similarly, there is little, if any, constitutional protections for a teacher advocating opting out while off duty.

That is how the letter continued, and I was shocked by that…but I should not have been.  It’s fair for McDonalds to fire a manager who on her day off attends rallies supporting the end of fast food, and wears a “Stop McDonalds” t-shirt to the beach.  I get that.  I do.  I will put away my “Stop Common Core T-Shirt,”  take down the sign up by the road, and I suppose next year when we opt our child out of testing only my wife will sign the letter.

Since administration of the tests is a part of the teacher’s job duties, a teacher’s encouragement of opting out would be viewed by the district as being disruptive of its obligation under state law and district policy.

There are teachers who support opting out of all the standardized tests, in some schools there are many.  I can assure you that for at least around her in CT, there is NO disruption in testing whatsoever that I experienced in the testing schedule that lasted for 26 days.  There was a disruption of class time, schedules, lunches, being able to sign-out for the library, and no ability to sign out any computers, but that is just part of the price we pay for being given the opportunity to collect data on our kids on a test which will be used to determine….I am not sure what exactly it will determine…hmmm…I know that 60-70% of CT students will fail it.  CT has already set the cut-scores before my kids took it.  I guess when the results come back we will see how valuable they are.  I guess when I get my kids scores I can send them with a messenger to the high school since that’s where my kids will be when I find out what they scored.  I won’t be able to tell the high school teachers what they need to work on because the questions are secret.

A school district’s interest in its efficient administration of education can outweigh its public employee’s right to speak on issues of public concern.

I understand that as well.  If the test were not administered efficiently they might take 36 days to finish it, or we might have to delay the start each day until all of the opt out kids leave the class.  Parents and students might also begin to question other things that we do.  That would mean extra meetings, and of course lead to possibly trying something new, which of course would lead to years of committee meetings.

Prohibited actions which could give rise to discipline and possible termination include but are not limited to the following actions: conversations with parents encouraging opting out, posting on school sponsored websites, posting on private websites, or handing out flyers.

I guess I will have to go through my common core posts, I will make sure I do not leave comments on other sites that question school policies, and if a parent asks me about the test and opting out, I will simply answer with the response that sbac script told me to use with kids, “I can’t help you, try to do the best you can.”

Given that opting out is an act of principled civil disobedience rather than an exercise of a legal right, it is better to have the CEA, with its collective force of 43,000 members, take a unified stance…

Is better to wait for the CEA to take a stance?  The same union that supported the governor that said that “only thing you have to do is show up for four years…” in order to get tenure.

It is scary because it is not just about opting out.  What about at department meetings?  If I disagree with something there should I stay silent?

I know if someone working in the “business world” reads this they would probably be thinking it is silly to complain because anyone working for a business is supposed to support the company’s bottom line.  I guess I thought teaching was different.  I guess I thought I was supposed to speak up to protect the kids and not stay silent to allow for the efficient administration of education.

Maybe someone does not have a First Amendment right to speak up, but would someone be protected under Whistleblower Laws??

As set forth in General Statutes § 4-61dd, any person having knowledge of corruption, unethical practices, violation of state laws or regulations, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or danger to the public safety occurring in any state department or agency or in any quasi-public agency may disclose such matter to the state Auditors of Public Accounts.

 **special note: the letter from the union was posted on a Facebook page and all quotes come directly from it.  I can’t share the link to it since I do not want to appear to be supporting the site it was posted on 😉

DIY Smartphone tripod hack

This week we were filming our RSA style videos.  We attempted to do it in a new way that classrooms with no school available technology and no expertise necessary could complete them (except tripods).  We need one more day to upload, and then hopefully I will get a chance to reflect here on our RSA “lite” style videos.

Normally it is an adventure to get enough cameras to allow all the groups to film at the same time.  This is the first year that I had classes in which every group was able to provide one smartphone to record their video with good quality video, but more importantly good quality audio.  While we are a day away from posting the videos, I wanted to share a couple simple things we did to support the smartphones.  After seeing the pictures, you’ll see why I will not be requesting the purchase of any cameras in the future, but the purchase of tripods.

The first item we used was a smartphone holder that can fit onto the hot shoe of a DSLR camera.  It allows you to take video with a smartphone while taking images with the DSLR, or visa versa.   If you take the hot shoe mount off it fits right onto a tripod.

RSA style videos 2015
 

RSA style videos 2015

It is a niffty little tool for $15.  We bought this one.  That clamp, with a simple tripod like this one,  will make a huge difference in future projects as we utilize the more powerful cameras and mics that are coming out with each new smartphone model.

Of course with only one clamp right now, we had a variety of other ways that the kids supported their cameras for filming.

We have the every popular “phone book” technique:

RSA videos
 

RSA videos

The daring “just hang it off a desk and don’t support it like Mr. Bogush told me too” method:

RSA style videos 2015

But the next method is my favorite that took off across the classes after one group tried it.  It’s the “get a big piece of duct tape and strap it down” method.  What is key here is to tape it to one side of the mounting plate, pull it over tight, and tape it to the other side of the mounting plate–not the round section of the tripod below the mounting plate.  You can see the first try in the two pictures below (when you tilt camera the tape pops off), and then done properly in the last image.

RSA videos
 

RSA videos
 

RSA videos
 

What’s his problem?

Because blogging is cheaper than therapy…I just need to clear my head of something…

He doesn’t do his homework.

She just sits and does nothing.

He doesn’t ask any questions.

She doesn’t pay attention.

He was offered extra help and did not come back.

She was given a study sheet didn’t use it.

He just doesn’t care.

She should just get an F and learn her lesson.

What’s his problem?

What’s her problem?

I have sat through hundreds of meetings as a middle school teacher in which the above lines have been spoken.  We spend countless hours trying to get kids to conform to what we want them to do.  If kids do not do what we want them to do, then they have a problem.

“Schools that are set up to be boring do damage to kids.”

I wish just once at a meeting the tables were turned and the kid took over, looked at the teacher and administration, and asked, “What’s your problem?”

I have never met a kid who walked into school hoping the day will suck and hoping they will fail.  I have never met a kid that hoped to live a mediocre life.   I have never met a kid that when given an opportunity to do something exciting doesn;t want to do it.  I have met kids who after spending years protecting themselves in a system that targets them as the problem might not jump immediately at the chance to do something exciting.  The protective wall the psyche takes years to build does not crumble in a day, and sometimes it takes years to undo what school has done to kids.

It is getting more frustrating as we now are two years into our “common core” aligned curriculum that is centered around collecting data so that we can identify which kids have problems.  Gone are the days when I could sit with a kid and say, “What I am doing is not working for you. Let’s figure something out that will.” I find myself more and more trying to figure out ways to get kids to do certain things a certain way that I know will be weighed on some assessment.  It’s now less about getting kids to do incredible that they previously thought was impossible, and more about getting them to do what someone way outside my classroom thinks is possible that can easily be scored a 1, 2 , 3, or a 4 on a rubric.

I have my end-of-the-year evaluation in about a month.  If my kids do not get those 4s, then someone across the table will look at the data and ask me a single question…

“What’s your problem?”

My fear is that someday after I retire I will meet a student and they will ask me, “What was your problem?”  And I will utter that line that so many before have tried to use to feel better about what they have done.  “I was just following orders…I had to cover the curriculum at all expenses regardless of the collateral damage.”

I think after recently finding out that I can retire in five years, I am having a bit of an identity crisis.  A couple years ago I could have retired knowing that I make a difference.

Now, I am not so sure what my legacy will be…

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Tell me a story…

I have to give credit to a twitter convo between @wmchamberlain, @spencerideas, and @shareski for being the spark for this post.

twitter convo

Have we forgotten how to hold kid’s interest without tricks?

I heard a storyteller once tell a tale that I have not forgotten.

I can remember that she walked to the front of the room and sat criss-cross on a desk.  She said, “I am going to tell you a story that is almost an hour long. ”  She paused for the very subtle but noticeable groans.  She then said, “Most of you will be turned off after the first line when you find out it is about baseball.  But is about more than baseball, and it is a story that will make you lose track of time.”

She proceeded to tell the story, and 60 minutes later she finished.  It could have been 6 minutes, maybe it was more than 60, I don’t know because I lost track of time and never even looked at my watch even once.

After she was finished, a student asked a simple question.  “What is the moral of that story?” Her answer burned into my brain.  “The moral is is not up to me to determine, it is up to your heart to determine. Great storytellers never tell the audience what to think.”

That hit me hard.  I was five years into teaching.  I was hitting that phase where essential questions drove my teaching.  Objectives were clearly written on the board.  I had 25 kids walking out of class all being able to re-state what they were “supposed to” have learned that day.  Every unit drove home a powerful point.  I even designed each unit to have a moral.

“Great storytellers never tell the audience what to think.”

I still remember that line, that story, that classroom, where I was sitting, how I felt when she said that line, and how it impacted my teaching the very next day.

I listened to that story 20 years ago.  The storyteller’s name was Carol Birch.  You leave a little piece of yourself with everyone you meet.  That day Carol left a piece of herself with me that I used as a cornerstone to re-build myself as a teacher.  I learned the importance of story.

When I look back at the people that each left a block with me that I used to build my teaching career, they each have one thing in common–they told great stories.  They were not professors and teachers who supported Project Based Learning , active learning, or used programs or techniques like Class Dojo 🙂

They were people who changed my life with stories.

I wonder if teachers have forgotten how to tell a story? Have we forgotten how to hold kid’s interest without “tricks?”

Could you walk in tomorrow, sit on a desk in the middle of the room, and with just your voice, could you grab kids hearts for 5 minutes? 10? 20?

I challenge you to try it.

Grab and hold kids’ attention without any tricks.  Without any technology.  Without any images or video.  Let a great story be the center of your class one day.

Tomorrow don’t just focus on content.  Use that content to tell a story that has heart. Remember kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved.

And this is where I should probably end…but I feel the need to add one more thing.  Kids do want to be moved, but they also want to have the power to move others.  Make sure you give them the chance to tell stories in class.  And I challenge you again…let them do it without any tricks 🙂

 

 

?

If a kid does not ask the question for what the information they are being taught is the answer, then the information will not stick and it will have no consequence in their life.

A good classroom environment is always placing kids in a situation in which each student is asking personal questions that beg to be asked and the answer needs to be found.

However, often when teachers get a question I think we usually overstep our bounds and too often see the moment after it asked as an opportunity to teach.

In a great classroom, teachers do not see a question from a student as an opportunity to teach, but an opportunity to ask another question that will prompt the student to discover their own solution…or even better, another question.

Test scores optional

My oldest daughter is starting to visit colleges and has created her short list.  In an era which ed-reformers’ influence is pushing schools to emphasize test scores as a way to find out if kids are college ready, I find it ironic that not a single school on her list requires test scores.  We just visited Clark University and during the opening remarks they had a slide with several items they consider in the admissions process.  Test scores was at the bottom, and the admissions official stated that if you don’t test well don’t even bother sending them.  She is looking at little schools like Bennington College and bigger schools like Eastern Connecticut State University.  Each one, same thing, test scores optional.

We spent another staff meeting this week getting “trained” to deliver the sbac tests.  No cell phones, all paper in room is a secure testing item that cannot be allowed out, touch your computer every 15 minutes so the test does not time out otherwise the kids will have to retake it the next day–we were not given instructions on how to spy on kids social media accounts during the testing…I guess that is above my pay grade. The testing will go in school for five weeks.  All computers will be used so the project we had in which we were going to create web pages for our unit on the Amazon has been canceled.  Canceled, even though I have sat through numerous college presentations that have all reinforced that the skills the kids would be learning from such a project would be more important than their test scores.  I can guarantee that the kids will learn nothing positive during their many hours of being measured.  I was taught early in college that the best assessments were the ones in which new learning occurred, not ones which required simple regurgitation.   For five weeks our school will be regurgitating.  Nothing new will be learned while going to the pre-test rally, sitting in rows waiting to be tested, testing in silence, or sitting in rows in silence waiting for the test to end.

Nothing will be learned from a test in which Connecticut has already determined before the kids have taken it how many will fail.  A test in which already the state has decided that up to 90% of special education kids will fail.  A test whose results are already pre-determined by a kid’s zip code.  A test that will determine which 5% of schools can be taken over by the state and given to corporations to run.  A result which then creates a new bottom 5% the following year to be taken over, taken over by the same groups that pushed the test into school in the first place.  The test that was supposed to determine if kids were college ready.  The test that is supposed to help kids achieve that great American dream.  Aptly called a dream, because the only people that believe submitting my kids to all of this testing will help them fulfill their dreams are clearly still sleeping.

 

 

“How do you engage students?”

engaged
Picture by Pablo Bogusho

Often in the presence of teachers the following question comes up…

”How do you engage students?”

I received that question again this week.

“How do you engage students?

I always have an answer, but it usually focuses on what kind of activities to do.  I try to share those “can’t miss” activities and the philosophy behind them.  This time I started thinking about why someone would ask that question.  What is the personal baggage behind the question?  Why isn’t doing certain things with kids obvious?  I thought back to the most fantasticly engaging activity I ever did.  I immediately shared it with another teacher who watched it fail miserably in their class.  I did the same activity the following year with mixed results. So it can’t be about the activity, the lesson plan, or the integration of technology.  What was different between the year I did it and it was incredible, the teacher who did it and had it fail, and the year I did it with mixed results?

I started jotting down some random thoughts while waiting for my daughter yesterday…and here they are 🙂

I think there is a dark side to the question “How do you engage your kids?”  The question is not about class activities, or what rubric or technology to use.  It is not about being student directed or how to implement Project Based Learning.  The real problem behind the question is hard for teachers to admit, so it comes out as “How do I engage my students?”

The real question is “Who are my students?”

I am finding more and more that teachers that engage kids know who their kids are.  They know where they went over the weekend, they know that their baby brother kept them up all night, they know what makes them laugh, and they know when they are afraid.  They know when they need a high-five,  they know when they need to back-off, and they know that sometimes kids get mad and snap at them but it’s ok, because teachers  sometimes snap too.

Teachers who engage their students know that they don’t like sitting in rows for 7 hours a day.

They know that the kids don’t want to hear you talk for more than a few minutes.

They know when they are bored.

They know that they should not be the one asking all of the questions.

They know that the kids don’t like to make things that are just going to be thrown out.

They know that kids are not motivated by grades to do things they previously thought were impossible.

They know that kids do like to take risks.  They just don’t like it when their risks are compared and judged by grades and others.

They know that they do want choices, but too many choices sometimes overwhelm them.

They know that they want to self-direct their learning, but they want to know someone will hold their hand when they take the first step on their own, and be there when they fall.

They know that kids want you to think that they are pretty cool, even when they are the biggest thorn in your side.

They want you to know that your class is not the most important think in their life.  It is their new puppy, the cute boy that they stare at during lunch, the bully that pushes them in the hallway, the news of their parents’ divorce, and sometimes, maybe just once-a-week if you are lucky, it is indigenous people who are living in the Amazon.

And teachers that engage kids know that kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved.

How do you engage your kids?  Get to know them.  It is not up for YOU to engage THEM. You cannot make your kids drink your cool-aid.  It is up to you to provide the salt to make them thirsty.

How do you engage your kids?  Let them get to know themselves.  They have been probably spent years being told what to do, when to do it, what is acceptable, and what to do when something comes back unacceptable.  They don’t know who they are!  In a conversation with my kids after our first project that became crystal clear.  Every class brought up the fact that they have been powerless in their education.  They have been treated like students who need to be given everything, instead of learners who are capable of making decisions and taking responsibility for themselves.

How do you engage your kids?  1. Stop trying.  2. Sit and talk with them.  3. Make them a part of the learning process.  Let them figure out what the next engaging thing is that you will do.  4. Be who you want them to be, and stop telling them who you want them to be.  Learn alongside them.  Stop teaching and be the lead learner.  5. Repeat over and over again until you get the results you want because if you are asking the question and try this, the results the first time will probably look and feel like a terrible messy failure.  If it is not messy, then you need to repeat the process because you somehow got in the way again.  Expect chaos, orchestrate it, put parameters on it, put them in a box and make them kick their way out.  It is a giant misconception that kids need “out-of-the-box” thinking.  During their lives they will constantly be put into a box and need to figure their way out.  No one gets a job and is told do whatever you want.  People get a job and are told “solve this.”  Putting kids in a box increases their creativity and power–especially when you lead them to build it themselves.

How do you engage your kids?

Stop teaching.

Kids do not want to be taught, they want to be moved.

And you can only move them when you are connected to them.  Learn with them and eventually follow their lead.  Focus on making yourself useless.

How do you engage kids?

Be authentic.

Be vulnerable.

Be connected.

 

 

Imaginary Friends…

Just sent this home to parents:

Every morning when your kids walk in there is a whiteboard with some life changing information on it, some kids claim it is filled with witty nonsense, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  Of course today is April Fools Day.  We had the obligatory loose change superglued to the floor, and also a great message on the board.  I stuck a video camera in the background and here is the result J

 I was going to edit it down but the kids that were around me during the editing process thought it was better if they could watch the entire thing…so it is a bit long…but here is another glimpse into our mornings.

Paul

Opting out…

Each year I have been asking my daughter if she would like to opt out of the standardized tests we take in CT each spring.  Each year she has said no and given some pretty good age appropriate responses.  This year I did not ask.  I did not want her to feel pressured, I wanted the decision to be hers.

This year she asked us…and the letter is in the mail.

March 8, 2015

Dr. Richard Dellinger, Principal
Amity Middle School, Bethany
190 Luke Hill Road
Bethany, CT  06524

Dear Dr. Dellinger,

We are writing to inform you that Annie Bogush is not to take any tests produced by or related to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition (SBAC).

We request that the school district provide my child with an appropriate alternative setting during any Common Core SBAC testing periods or activities.  If an alternative setting is not available then Annie will read during the test which is a provision for students who have finished the test.

If there are any questions, the best way to contact us would be by email:

paulbogush1@gmail.com
xxxxxxxxxxx@gmail.com

Thank you,

Aimee and Paul Bogush

 

Google Voice

Remember Google Voice?


We have continued to use our Google Voice number for a couple projects each year.  We are using it right now for our INternational Dinosaur Roar contest (please join us!).

No….I am serious.  Stop right now.  Take out your phone.  Call the number in the picture. I guarantee you will smile and feel better about your day.


Recently we used it as a substitute for a blog post.  My kids do P-Day each Friday (think Genious Hour or 20% Time).  After each week, they write a blog post reflecting on what they have done.  The posts right now are pretty straight forward along the lines of what did you do, what questions do you have, what are your plans for the following week.  The directions for their last post (#5) were the following:

Week #5
This week you are not going to write a post reflecting on your research.  You are going to call 203-759-8326 and leave a message.  That is the google voice number that is connected to our class gmail account.  When you leave your message please state the following.

Begin with a salutation (hello!)
State your name
What was the topic(s) you researched this week
What was the most interesting thing you learned–BE SPECIFIC
What was one question that was left unanswered? Or a new question that was formed?
Summarize your work to this point (2-3 sentences).  Do you feel like you are moving forward?  Are you stuck in a dead end?  Have you eliminated topics?  Are you close to zeroing in on what topic you will become an expert in?  Can you see a connection to a continent we will be studying?
End with a salutation (thank you, goodbye!)

You should be prepared to leave your message before calling.  There should be no silence as you think, no fumbling over words, etc.

Once they leave the message you just open up your google voice account and listen.  This morning I listened as I cleaned up my room 🙂  The files can be downloaded or embedded.  Google does try to transcribe the messages, but unless the student talks slowly and very clearly,  the transcript is useless.  There are a few examples from post #5 below:





Bad Joke Friday

We have a tradition in my class called Bad Joke Friday.  Each Friday we start off class with bad jokes. There really is nothing like sharing a laugh as a class.  Humor stretches our minds and imagination. It relieves anxiety and creates group unity.  It bridges a gap between teacher and student. It releases four hormones and expands our blood vessels.  It even increases our ability to tolerate pain and can be used to diffuse tense situations in the classroom 🙂

Laughing as a class builds consensus, creates a sense of solidarity and intimacy, and communicates a sense of belonging.  Laughing together produces a common ground helps us form a barrier against stress.  Laughing  removes some of the tension and stress that can come along with the learning process.

Laughing together as a class conveys the belief that we are more same, than different.

My class would like to invite you in join us this Friday.  You have two choices.  You can leave your best bad joke in the comments, or if you have an iphone, ipad, or ipod add your joke below in a video.  Here is how you can add your video:
1-Download the app Vimily
2-Sign-up and enter the code DX4Z7W
3-Record your best bad joke and upload

On Fridays we’ll play your jokes in class.  Please share the code above with anyone you know who tells great bad jokes.  If you have an “i” device in school please pass it around your classroom.  If anyone makes a mistake and uploads a video by accident, we can delete it on our end.  We don’t tell any jokes in which the gender, race, ethnicity, of body parts are central to the joke.  We also do not tell any jokes that involve blondes or frog in blenders.  I have left room at the bottom of the post for new jokes.  If your joke gets bumped out I will add more space as needed and it will show up without having to re-record it.

We are really looking forward to hearing jokes from around the country (world??) and feel free to listen to some of our favorites!  Just click on the video below to hear some of the best bad jokes you have ever heard that we have added to spark your funny bone.

If you would like a list of awesome jokes that are appropriate for most teachers and students click here.