The Mask You Live in

I am a male teacher.  I watched a film tonight that will change how I teach this fall.  If you have a Netflix account you might want to check it out too.  It’s called “The Mask You Live In.”

A synopsis of the film from The Presentation Project:

The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity.

Pressured by the media, their peer group, and even the adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. These gender stereotypes interconnect with race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men.

Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it.

The Mask You Live In ultimately illustrates how we, as a society, can raise a healthier generation of boys and young men.

There are great interviews with kids, teachers, academics, and coaches. It’s worth your time.

I think the great myth in America is that sports builds character.  Sports does not build character unless the coach intentionally teaches it and models it.  When I did start coaching I did not want to be a transactional coach using kids for my own identity. So I started with a simple philosophy, if you are going to be a transformational coach you have to know what you are transforming.  I coach to help boys become men of empathy and integrity who be responsible to change the world for good.  That’s what sport ought to be about. And we have a lot of work to do in our country.   — Joe Ehrmann



Augmented Reality

If you have never played with Augmented Reality please take some time and work your way through this page.  If you have kids, friends, family members or a cat, gather them up before you start.

If you need a teaser to convince you to stop and try these, here you go (go full screen)!

 Ready to play?

First download this app Animal 4D onto your tablet or smartphone.

While downloading app, print page 1 here (more here).  Instead of printing, you can simply just open the page on your laptop or desktop computer and use the image on the screen, but it is much better if you print the page.

Open app and hold your phone above the image you printed.

Follow the same instructions for the links below.  Make sure you have your volume up and poke around on the screen.  More pages for each app are available on the app’s home page…enjoy 🙂


Anatomy 4D
Print page 2 and 3


Spacecraft 3D
Print page 4 When you open app, you do not need to download the “marker.”  This page is the marker.


Apple ($0.99)
Print page 5


Flashcards AR
Print page 6 


AR Flashcards Space
Apple (with kid friendly adds, a paid ad free version is available)
Android ($o.99)
Print page 7


Print page 8 and 9  Grab some crayons and color in the picture before using it.  At the very least, just quickly color in a couple sections to get an idea of what will happen.


Elements 4d
Print page 10 This app is aimed at Science teachers and it’s worth reading the “How it works” page to get the full effect.  You can just print the page and use it without folding it into a block to get an idea of how it works. The rest of the elements are here for you to print, fold, and combine.


Amazing Space Journey was just introduced to me at a conference last week and it’s pretty neat way of looking at the solar system (Apple, Android).  I haven’t messed around with it that much but so far, so good.  It does take a bit for it to load on my phone, the screen looks blank and you just need to wait 5-10 seconds for it to open.  When it opens it is not in AR mode.  You can manipulate what you see on the screen with your fingers, and change the screen with the sliders. In the corner you’ll see a tiny AR icon, click on it and scan page 11 to see the AR features.






The space in between…

My daughter Annie did not get up and get ready for school with me today.  Yesterday was her last day at Amity Middle School and today she is sleeping in.  This year Annie talked about school non-stop.  Every time I got into the car with her I would hear about Mr. Goldstein‘s experiments, we now have a Sons of Liberty flag flying at our house after completing research for a social studies project, and the kid no longer believes that mathematics was created to simply destroy souls of children.

A couple days ago I received a letter from a graduating senior thanking me for 8th grade.  In the letter he mentioned many things, but not a single time did he mention any content or skills directly.

“…you were so encouraging…”

“…thank you for believing in me when I did not.”

“…thank you for teaching me about the incredibly exciting life and times of Nathaniel Walker and making us sing a song about him!”

Ok, there was one mention of content.

What always strikes me about the letters I receive is they are almost never from a student that I knew I impacted.  They are almost always from a student that mentions what made a difference was not the time during instruction, but about our interactions in the space in between.  The side conversations, the walks in the hallway, the vibe and spirit of the classroom that honored a belief system that each and every kid could do what they previously thought was impossible because it was a safe place to be yourself.

That is what I head from my daughter this year.  More than just content, I heard everyday that her team of teachers had created a place in which Annie flourished because of the that vibe and spirit that they created in the space in between.

I decided to write them a letter (posted here with Annie’s permission).  I want them to hear about the impact them made.  I also want to post it here because I think it is important for teachers to remember that we make a bigger difference in kids’ lives than we realize, and usually we make the biggest different in the lives of the kid’s that we think we made the least. Teachers leave little pieces of themselves in each kid who use those pieces to build what they will become & what they believe is possible. Don’t forget that.

Hello Team,

I have also taught 8th grade for a few years 🙂  My unbiased opinion…and one that is slowly being backed up by some new research…is that 8th grade is the most important year.  It is the year that their personality and character is like a sponge, and for many kids what they absorb and who they become during 8th grade defines who they will be and how they will conduct their lives in the future.  The teachers they have all leave little pieces of themselves in each kid who use those pieces to build what they will become, and what they believe is possible.  

I can say without hesitation that the pieces you have given my daughter this year have established a foundation that will support Annie for the rest of her life.

The most memorable experiences a kid will have in your class will come when kids do things that they previously thought were impossible.  Math no longer scares her.  She believes she is a writer.  The stage is a second home to sing.  And geez, how many conversations can a kid have with parents about “what kind of job can I have that let’s me be an activist with the government and lets me do work with science while doing public speaking.”  

In schools we tend to give awards to kids who conform, while teaching them about our “heroes” who made a difference by rebelling and doing things that were different.  One of the things you all did this year that I believe was without a doubt your greatest accomplishment is that you created a space and place that allowed Annie to organize the GLSEN’S Day of Silence.  At home she researched and worked for weeks.  Hours of anxiety figuring out how to present the idea.  And finally saw a dream come to fruition.  That Black Team, was what I think was your shining moment.  You and the administration created an environment which allowed a kid to do something she previously did not think she could do, supported her directly or indirectly, and allowed her to do it.  

Teacher’s lesson plans should focus less on teaching and more on inspiring.  This is one year that I saw Annie be inspired to become what we love to label a “life-time learner.”  She was always watching some documentary on a class topic, discussing what she learned on car rides, sharing her writing assignments, and asking probing questions about topics being discussed in science and social studies classes.  I can’t tell you how priceless those conversations we have had about the electoral college, science experiments and Andrew Johnson have been 🙂  

ANNIE: Dad, do you think Andrew Johnson should have been impeached?
DAD: I am eating dinner, it’s the last week of classes, do you really want to have this conversation?
ANNIE: Yes because the Tenure of Office Act should have never been passed and…….on……and……on…….and…….on.

Yes, some of the conversations were a bit more one sided than I will admit.

One thing that took me 20 or so years of teaching to realize is that kids will not be who we want them to be, they will be who we are.  Thank you for being incredible role models for Annie.  Let’s face it, and sometimes it’s hard to admit this, all the content we teach our kids will be out of their heads within a few years…most of it within 72 hours.  What’s left behind is love and passion for learning and knowledge.  When your content fades, know that the love and passion for learning that you instilled in her will not, and the character that you helped to develop will guide her to someday be the press secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection 🙂

In this crazy test driven education world which seemingly asks us to conform more and more each day, please keep up the fight to allow kids have space to be an individual and continue to create lessons and directions not to make kid’s realize the dreams of an adult curriculum writer but to fully realize their own.  You can’t have harmony if everyone sings the same note. The beautiful thing about the environment that you created is that harmony is not only heard in the auditorium during concerts, but also felt each day in your classrooms, especially in the space in between.

Thanks so much,

Paul Bogush


Makerspaces should not be specialspaces, they should be in classroomplaces


This year I am teaching at an alternative high school.  We have a population that despises traditional school work and for the most part, simply will not do it.  During the course of the year I noticed that the makerspace movement was gaining steam.  Conferences were featuring makerspaces, blogs were featuring them, and conference sessions were highlighting their importance.  I could not help but notice the trend of moving the “making” out of the classroom and into a special space.  As if “making” was some special academic program that classroom teachers could not handle.

I remembered back to my early years of teaching.  We were always “making” things.  We built a greenhouse and planted Thomas Jefferson’s garden.  We were always building models of things we were learning about. And when we were not “making,” we were tearing things apart.  Years later when it was no longer acceptable to spend time making things, fewer and fewer units contained a “making” component.  That is when finally I separated the back of my class into a “making” space.  There were drawers of things to explore, things to build with, stuff to take apart. and tech to play with.

image by pbogush
image by pbogush


I stumbled upon that old picture a couple months ago and it made me reflect on the fact that my kids do in fact “make” less nowadays, and we are giving up the “making” in schools to special teachers and special spaces.  There was one thing to do, and that was to make something for the next unit.

We were studying World War 1 and after discussing this with the kids, they decided to make a trench warfare scene.  Each kid specialized in one part, and all the parts together would add up to one final product.  Some things the kids focused on were supplies and uniforms, first aid stations, tanks, and life in the actual trenches. Each kid researched their topic.  They found primary source text and images, planned what they were going to make, and then scrounged around for available items.

One student wanted to focus on chemical warfare and make a gas mask.  I think my response was #ummmm.  How do you make the superstructure?  The ventilation tube? The cartridge?  He found some cardboard, duct tape, an orange juice bottle, coffee can, spray paint, old shirt, and old vacuum cleaner hose.

gasmask 3

gas mask

finished gas mask

gas mask qr code

Go ahead, take out your phone and scan the above code.  The soundtrack behind the narration was made from scratch by the student.

Another student needed to make sandbags.  Can you tell what they are made from?

tea bags

One of the most difficult things was actually how to get World War 1 soldiers.  You can buy bags of cheap World War 2 soldiers, but only tiny bags of expensive World War 1 soldiers.  The solution?  One student simply took World War 2 soldiers and painted them to look like World War 1 soldiers.


In the end they all took their ideas and objects and added them to our trench warfare scene which you will see in the video at the end of the post.  What is not in the video are the QR codes that are the board.  If you scan a code you will listen to a soldier tell you a little about what it was like to be in the trenches.  Some of those voices you will here in the video. They were written by the students.

tank QR code

When you see the final product you have to redefine what success looks like.  This might not look as grand as what your class might produce, it might have more mistakes, and it might need more editing, but in the end what was completed was an amazing product for my kids.  There is no way I would have thought this was possible when we started in September.

Here is the video we made with our objects.  The sound effects in the background were make from scratch, and the German class from the high school helped us out with the shouting soldiers in the background 🙂

The opening shows the kids making, at 2:20ish the content kicks in.



More assessment ideas can be found here!



I was wondering about something…

We recently watched the documentary Virunga in class. When we watch movies we no longer take notes.  We simply ask questions.  For each movie each student gets a sheet that looks something like this.  What I have found is that kids watch the movie and explore it from all different personal perspectives, instead of watching it for each fact that I have asked them to find.  The questions they write still are centered around key pieces of content…my worries that the ket facts would be missed or forgotten went unfounded.  Most importantly, I have found that they watch the movie at a deeper level than when I just provided a list of questions for them to answer.  When we pause the movie they ask the questions, not me.  When we come into class the next day, or if we stop the video early they have questions they want answered instead of answering mine.  I have also found that the conversations also go wider than the content in the movie.  They ask for facts in the movie to be put into a wider context.  Some kids write as they watch, some write at the end of class.  It is rare that we watch a movie straight through.  We probably spend nearly half of each class not watching.  Whether it is starting the class with their questions or examining extra sources, or stopping the movie to talk about what we just watched.  And if their is research to be done after the movie, they already have a list of questions to start with.

After watching Virunga we researched who was involved in making the film and the students sent them their questions.  Some got short responses, some long, some received no responses.  It is so easy today to reach out to the people that are making the content your kids are digesting.  From authors to videographers, let the kids contact the writers and producers and ask their questions to them directly.

Below is a trailer from the movie we watched, followed by a sample email response from one of the key people doing the investigating the events in the documentary and a twitter response from one of the producers.



Dear Melanie,

I’m a student and in our class we just recently finished watching the movie “Virunga” and I was wondering about something. I was wondering how it felt to see everything happening in the Congo for yourself, to see all the people in fear of the M23 rebels and watching the military abandon them and especially how it seemed that the military only cared about itself, far more than the people a military is sworn to protect; so I was wondering how you felt, how did it feel to see everything happen right in front of you, and yet (this is just speculation, as I was not there) it seemed so difficult to bear and it seemed almost impossible to help any of the people. So I guess my question is, how do you feel having seen all of it first hand, and having to understand you can’t help everyone?



Hi Nathan,

Thank you for writing after watching Virunga, it is always very nice to hear from people who saw the film. I hope you and your classmates liked it.
It was indeed not always easy to witness the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I lived in eastern Congo for three years and Goma, the capital, became home for me. Many of my friends were affected by the on-going conflict. It made me very angry at times, and being helpless in the face of violence is one of the worst feelings I have experienced.
But as you say yourself, I had to understand that I couldn’t help everyone. That comes with a degree of hardening, I had to learn to not get so emotionally involved as I did at the beginning. But working on Virunga also meant that I was helping to build something much bigger, as the park has been a force for good in the region, protecting wildlife and humans alike, creating jobs and participating in the development. If you want to learn more about it have look here:
So in a way, I have been helping a lot of people, not everyone of course, but still enough that it helped me to carry on, even through the most difficult moments. I guess the only way to get through those moments is to keep believing in what you do, in the change you can bring, even in small ways, and to have hope.
My warmest regards to you and your class

Mélanie Gouby