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:

The best royalty free Creative Commons music site for teachers and students

Inevitably at conferences or online people always ask, “Where do your kids get the music for their projects?”  While there are many sites offering “free” creative commons music, my class usually only uses one–Incomptech by Kevin MacLeod.  It is a site that has provided the music for 100’s of my kids videos.  Many have the music cited properly as Scott has requested…and many, many videos do not because they were made when we were just starting with digital storytelling and simply throwing someones music into the background to perfect the video.

Music is so important in videos.  Try watching a movie without the music in the background.  Try watching a video with fuzzy music and audio, or one with the improperly selected music. Can you imagine Star Wars without John Williams soundtrack?

I always tell my kids you do not want your first choice for music in your video.  as soon as your video starts and Lady Ga-Ga starts where will the viewers attention go??  Great movies soundtracks amplify a viewer emotions, and often dictate them.  I take my kids through the steps of picking music that adds value to their video.  At the beginning of the year they always play possible songs while watching the video.  In the beginning they can’t separate the fact that they would never listen to the song by itself versus is the song perfect companion for the video?  On Incomptech they inevitably always find the perfect song (although not always the one I would have picked!)

On Incomptech they can search by genre, feel, and can also see the beats per minute.  They are easy to download and there is a spot where you can click and copy exactly what Scott would like in the credits.  I love the cut and paste aspect of giving credit–it is easy to make sure the kids do it right.

cc music

While I have never met Scott, I have this weird appreciation for what he has offered my class for free over the years.  He has given my kids an easy way to make their videos sound more professional.  He has added class to my class and doesn’t even know it.

The other day while digging around on the site I noticed he is doing a Kickstarter campaign.

Without asking my budget consultant I clicked on the pledge button (Aimee, it’s awesome karma, just take it out of the food budget line this month).  I have really gotten to the point on the internet where I am now willing to pay for quality.  Since Scott puts out quality work for free I think this is the perfect opportunity.  I know I am not alone in using Scott’s work, just last week at Edcampseacoast a teacher featured the site during the smackdown.

So if you haven’t used Scott’s site I highly recommend it.  If you do use it please consider pledging to his Kickstarter Documentary.  This post is not endorsed by him or the filmmaker, it is simply a post reminding you to used quality music in your kids videos, cite it properly, and give back when able (Shhhh–that’s not really true.  I am actually writing it to attract the attention of the filmmaker hoping that he will interview one of my kids for the video to represent all the school kids out there using Scott’s music).

Here are some quick examples of my kids using Scott’s music in their videos:

And we even use his music when slapping our family videos together 🙂

Used for the intro & outros in all my daughter’s team videos:

Watch this video with his music on and off (music on and you’ll watch more than 60 secs!)

And who could ever forget my common core video before common core was a household word 🙂

What is possible??

After our first project of the year the kids reflected on it using a fishbowl discussion (you can see it here).  One of the things that each class stated was that they grew tired of just watching google presentations.  They all wanted to do something different, but talked about how they did not have the tools and did not have any experience doing something different.  They did not know what is possible when given the choice to do anything that is possible.  The next three assignments we did each added a “tool” to their belt.  We did a straight forward paper and ink poster with a twist, a stop action video, and an animated video.  Slowly we are adding to their repertoire.

I was asked by my admin to share with the staff what the new audio/video recording studio that I am building is capable of…that would be the studio that is not quite yet completed–ug.  Last year it was built with basic gear (website still being built) on the third floor, but with an opportunity to go one floor down to a bigger room, a new seventh grade teaching position next door, and a victorious Kickstarter campaign giving us $$ to spend, the room is totally being re-done.  I have learned that seventh graders are much….much slower than eight graders and after two months of after school Fridays we are still a couple weeks away from finishing it. I got to thinking about how I would share what the room could offer…I could mention the Rode mics, the Nikon 5200 and the 20’x20′ green screen (you should be getting shivers from that :).  I realized I would get a similar reaction from the staff that I got from my kids.  “Great, there is a lot of stuff to use but what would we use it for?  What could we create?  Could we see examples?”

So this post is actually for my collegues, it is full of examples of the gear in use.  There are no examples of the actual room being used since it is not completed, but all the examples below use the same equipment that is available from the room and would have better if we had had the room to film them.  If you are old follower of this blog, everything below is recycled from other posts 🙂


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.  2 Floors Up has the space and gear that can help you and your students tell your stories with heart.  So Moran Middle School…what can you do with the Two Floors Up room, gear, and student management team?  Below is the  start of what is possible…

Have pictures and videos from class activities?  Send them to us and we will make a highlight video for you to share with parents. A simple example and a more complex one.

Want to go an extra step? Send us your images, quotes, work examples, and videos from the year and we will turn them into a classroom commercial for you:

The room has 14 2’x4′ whiteboards that can be used for RSA Style Videos (more on RSA Videos here)

You can do extreme green screening…

And simple green screening (background here)

The room is super if you just need a quiet place to record (background on the video here)

Using the whiteboards and cameras for Stop Action videos (included this one because you have to be ok with kids making mistakes!)

There are lots of neat things you can do even if kids do not want their “face” to be filmed.  Notecard confession style videos are powerful and simple to make (how to make then here).

Straight up audio recording (more info here)

Audio gear will be all set-up so that all you have to do is come in, plug into your laptop, and record.

There is also lots of equipment to sign out.  Cameras, mics, tripods, lights, and more.  Take the gear to your room and you can make things like common craft style videos (read how to make them here)

Or just record your class presentations like poetry slams (is poetry still legal? background of video here)

And you can take the gear to make music videos or record in 2 Floors Up (some more examples of music videos)

Sometimes all you need to produce something powerful is just one kid, a great script, and a camera.


Please talk to me if you are interested in utilizing the room.  I love to talk about assessments that don’t suck 😉

Why I love Middle School #8

To see posts #1-7 entitled “Why I love middle school” please click here.

I have weird stuff in my classroom.  A stick of hickory. An old 19th century hammer. A ram’s horn. Probably the same things you have laying around your classroom.  This year the kids who are on the last buses re-purposed many of the items.  They made them into instruments, and formed a band.  I recorded them practicing their first track off their next release…enjoy.

“Teaching” Blogging and Digital Storytelling

I was writing an email to someone about blogging and digital storytelling and figured I would cut-and-paste it into  a post 🙂   So not exactly a polished post, but there might be some tidbit of advice in here that might help you “teach” blogging and digital storytelling in your classroom.

It is nearly impossible to learn how to blog and create digital stories from books and articles.  They might be useful in getting adults and kids started, but nothing replaces “doing it.”  After blogging for a while and making a few digital stories people are then usually open to hear advice from another person and then take in what they read.  It is hard to read about how to do something you have never done before–almost every person’s schema contains no experiences that can be connected to blogging or digital storytelling.  That is why teaching blogging and digital storytelling is messy…very, very messy…and instructors must embrace this fact.  The first posts and videos are usually a wreck.  Instructors want to step in and “fix” things, they want the final product to look polished and simply be wonderful.  Most teachers became teachers because they succeeded in classrooms in which answers were supposed to be found nearly instantaneously, assignments were to be done quickly, tasks based on memorization made things neat and tidy as to understanding what was right and wrong, and when in doubt….just following the teachers rubric or directions led to success.

Successful blogging and digital storytelling does not follow a recipe.  I am the poster child for that fact.  Just look at the format of this and any other post I have written 🙂  I can remember a best selling author my kids once interviewed said something along the lines of, “kids should not be taught how to write until they are in high school.  Until then they should be allowed to love to write, and write about what they love.” She went on to say how “teaching” writing, or in this case blogging or digital storytelling, removes a students voice from their work.  They grow up knowing how to write, but not having anything to say.

I think the same is true for blogging and digital storytelling.  Too often we rubric the assignment to death.  We create homogeneity in the room.  We do the equivalent of making everyone in the chorus sing the same note.  If everyone grows up to blog and create digital stories with the on the same note, harmony is impossible.

Anyone can research blogging and teach the “steps.”  Sign-up on a site, how to post writing, how to insert an image, etc…  A well written blog is more than just a site with writing, it is an extension of the blogger’s heart and spirit. Some things to think about:

  • You cannot teach blogging unless you blog yourself

  • You cannot guide others to “expose” their inner thoughts and feelings unless you have felt “naked” while blogging

  • Teaching blogging professionally and with students starts off with unpacking the mental baggage that comes along and freezes your finger as you are about to hit the publish button

  • Using blogging posts as HW and “grading” them has to take a back seat to instilling a love for sharing one’s ideas and believing that one’s ideas have value

  • If you can’t break through “Who cares what I think” then you will not be able to instill a love for writing and blogging with your students

  • Teaching students how to manipulate their blog settings and having them alter their site before posting is very important.  It leads to a sense of ownership.

  • It is a huge benefit to write the first couple posts in class with the instructor present.  This allows all tech problems to be answered promptly and allows the focus to stay on the sharing

  • Do not underestimate how time consuming it is to blog with students.  What can take an adult 5 minutes will initially take an entire period with students. Getting kids signed up, talking about copyright, showing them how to post…it could take three class periods before writing even starts.  It has taken me an entire period to simply show kids how to find and post one image.

Teaching digital storytelling might be more difficult that teaching blogging! Instructors should also have experience making digital stories before having students create one.  One cannot understand the difficulty in making a great digital story without having made one themselves

  • Making a great digital story is incredibly time consuming! If you have not worked with video you cannot understand how much work goes into making a great video

  • Professional video studios would need more than a week to create a 5-10 minute digital story.  One cannot make the jump from never having used video editing software and creating digital stories to creating a 5-10 video.

  • Just teaching about copyright could take 1-2 hours

  • To do it right there needs to be more time, smaller videos first, etc…

  • The amount of time it takes an adult to make a video should be quadrupled for kids. My students just completed a 30-60 second stop action story and it took 7 class days

  • To get to a 2-5 minute video many smaller ones need to be first.  Just doing something simple like placing five images into a video with simple narration or captions can be a mighty task.  Learning how to manipulate video editing software is not second nature to most.  Yes there are apps and programs like photo story, but there are reasons why the videos most watched and most likely to touch a persons heart are not made with a $.99 app.

  • A great video to remind budding filmmakers about what is the most important element in telling a story

I do wonder if calling it digital storytelling taints the art form.  Digital storytelling is an eduword.  If anyone in the “real word” was making a “digital story” they would simply call it a film.  Calling it film-making gives it a real authentic vibe.  It is after all what we are doing when making a digital story.  The word film does not imply length.  There are shorts, documentaries, animations, and a myriad of more complex and simple types of films.  At the heart of a great film is a great story–it is implied.  Digital storytelling was coined when the first online tools became available to quickly create and post a video.  Now many filmmakers, especially small companies and individuals, record their films digitally, edit digitally, add sound digitally. It is the norm.  We should call it what it is–making a film.

Again, there are apps and quick online tools available to make films, but making one with video editing software is important.  You can make cookies by going to the store and buying cheap pre-made batter in a tube, slice, bake, and yes you will have cookies.  But knowing how to craft cookies from scratch is beautiful, and imparts all types of skills that can be carried over to other tasks.  Building a film from scratch, allows you to do all the little things that helps make a great story.  Most little things needed in a successful film are overlooked by teachers ( ).  They are just making check marks on a rubric while grading.  When I make a short film it could take me a week to find the right piece of music.  Hours and hours to edit the film so that images hit the right mark in the music.  To make my classroom commercial ( ) I spent almost 24 hours editing.   Keep in mind I already had the video clips before starting, and that does not include the time it took for me to find the music.  That is about 8 hours of work per minute of video.  Can my video be graded with a rubric?  I know if it had been it would never, ever have been made.

There is a different way to teach blogging and digital storytelling that leads kids to tell powerful stories.  In order for a teacher to be able to empower kids, the teacher needs to find their voice first.  If a teacher does not know who they are as a blogger or digital storyteller, then the kids will never be allowed to get lost, wander, and then find themselves in these two wonderful art forms.

Mystery Skype

Today we did our first Mystery Skype of the year.  If you don’t know what Mystery Skype is please look it up!  We have been video conferencing with classes for many years, but I like Mystery Skypes because the “rules” are already made.  It is like ordering a catered meal.  You just set the time, the place, and the other class just shows up ready to participate.

This was my first in 7th grade after years in 8th grade.  The kids came back during lunch and I explained what they would be doing (note to self–7th graders need a few more tips on getting organized and asking questions).   Then they came back the next day during lunch to do the Mystery Skype.  We Skyped with Laura Fengler’s class in Michigan.

At first everyone is always a bit hesitant and sits back.

Then slowly the start getting up and forming a pack near the microphone.

Then the pack starts getting serious about asking questions.

And sometimes it can get a bit stressful 🙂

But for most of the Skype conversation this is what you see…look at their eyes:

Doing a Mystery Skype is worth your time.  Email me (click on “contact” at top of page).  We will be happy to join you in a Mystery Skype.

One smile at a time…

Sent an email home to parents today–the email is below.  I sent it out around noon.  By 3 o’clock I had received more responses from parents to the email than I have ever had to any other video I have ever sent home.  The power of a smile…

Today is World Smile Day.  Harvey Ball is the artist that created the “smiley face” that we all think of when we hear the words “smiley face.”   When he died the “Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation” formed to honor his legacy.   Their slogan is “improving this world, one smile at a time.”   We made a quick video for you this morning to improve your world…”one smile at a time.”

My apologies if your kid is blurry—they move quick 🙂

And here is some raw footage of one class Wednesday:

Have a great weekend,


Paul Bogush
7th Grade Social Studies
Moran Middle School

Something’s fishy…#ThrowOutGradesChallenge

Eventually at the end of this post I am going to share a video of a fishbowl discussion.  I have been using a fishbowl style discussion in my class for several years.   There are many different “definitions” of fishbowl discussions, in our class it done with kids constantly moving in and out of the bowl.  If you don’t know what a fishbowl discussion in here is a sample of how we do it:

We started the year with a 5 Themes of Geography project.  Nothing fancy, apply the fives themes to where you live and share what you learned with the class.  For this first project the kids picked how they would like to present, I did give some options, but they were free to make anything they wanted in order to share what they learned with the class.  We don’t talk about grades or points in my class.  We do talk about what quality work looks like.  It is different for each kid and for each product they are making(shhh…), but of course there are some constants that we discuss as a full class.  When the kids share they share because they are proud of what they have made and want to share (ok, so maybe not every kid in the first weeks of school, eventually…).  

A few weeks ago I saw a tweet from Mark Barnes on his “Throw Out Grades Challenge.”  He asked folks to do the following:

  1. Make a decision: Pick at least one assignment/project/unit to eliminate traditional number and letter grades (optionally, you can eliminate grades for the entire semester or year).
  2. Create a conversation about learning: Replace your traditional grades with a verbal conversation about learning and/or written feedback, using an objective system like SE2R.
  3. Grab your smartphone or tablet:Create and publish a video of you either writing feedback or participating in a conversation about learning with a student. Important: be sure to say in the video that you are taking the Throw Out Grades Challenge.

Now to be clear upfront, I have to give kids grades.  There is no other option.  So yes we don’t talk about grades, points, and slowly kids forget all about them…but I do have to give a grade in the all might powerschool in the end.    But I figured I would take Mark up on the second part of his challenge to record our discussion the day after we shared.  There were some questions on the board to guide the discussion, some classes used them and others ignored them.  

It was our very first day doing a fishbowl.  On our first time I do not introduce all the normal guidelines.  There is zero pressure for everyone to come to the center.  It was a half day schedule, and by the end of each class at least 50-75% of the kids had entered the bowl.  After a few classes I had everyone who did not enter the bow just come to teh center and sit for a few seconds to see that it’s not that scary in the middle.  

I let the kids take the conversation where ever they wanted and only butted in a few times 🙂  I normally would not post a video of something that might not be the best example of a class activity, but thought it was important to post this one.  If you look around on the internet there are some very polished videos of fishbowl discussions.  The kids have obviously been prepped, the teacher has done it many times, the kids are comfy with talking in front of the class.  But what does it look like the very first time?  

There is some minor editing in our video, I cut out some of the big transitions and included clips from two different classes but nothing that would alter spirit of the class.  So here you go…our first fishbowl discussion of the year reflecting on our first projects on the year:

***Before you watch one tech note… The custodians decided that my circle discussion table no longer fit in my room and removed it.  As of today, it still cannot be found.  I used a new table which sent awful  vibrations to the mic and created a sound that was amazingly difficult to edit out.  I did test it before hand, but without anyone sitting at the table.  So I do apologize for the weird sound effect throughout the video.  There is a lesson in there somewhere…***

You are boring. What are you going to do about it?

It became obvious to me years ago that it seems the one reason why kids got IEPs is because they were bored.  “Page 8” of the IEP is full of tricks to get the kid to pay attention and “do their work.”  I have often wanted to say at PPTs that maybe if we changed how we taught we would not have to trick the kid into doing their work.  Instead of the teacher being exposed for having flaws, we instead slap a label upon the kid.

People with ADHD have a low level of tolerance for boredom.  This is normally perceived as a character deficit.

As I have observed kids over the years I realized that most kids fall in line with school.  They walk in, sit down, stop talking, be quiet for 45 mins, exit the room, walk into the next class, sit down, stop talking, be quiet for 45 mins, and they do it over, and over, and over, and over, over, and over, and over each day.

In a University of Pennsylvania study dogs were given electric shocks.  One group was able to make them stop by pressing a lever.  The dogs that had no lever eventually just laid down and took the shocks, when even moving two feet would make them stop.

But not all do.  Some kids misbehave and do not follow the school rules.  They seemingly fight back against every effort to help them become more like the other kids.  We talk to them about studying, being quiet, and doing what they are told…but they don’t listen.  After observing these kids’ strong sense of individualism I cannot help but see the same exact qualities in them that I see in successful adults who are entrepreneurs and change agents…professional surfers and digital nomads.

Some childrens’ bad behavior is instead of surrendering to powerlessness and might be a healthy survival tactic.  It’s not misbehaving, but fighting against the helplessness.

Schools have implemented so many programs to help these rebellious kids.  We go out of our way for special PD for special training in special programs.  We hold sessions at conferences sharing the newest techniques and tools to motivate and control behavior.  We change our grading, our attendance policies, our after school offerings, our tech tools, we flip and blend and collect data and BYOD and gamify to help these kids, but still there is a force at work in classrooms that seems beyond the grasp of any new program or tool.

After days of following high school students around from class to class…Jefferey Wilhelm has concluded that an underestimated force in education which is responsible from everything from bullying to dropping out is boredom.  Schools that are set up to be boring do damage to kids.

Teachers try to get kids to be creative, innovate, imagine.  Schools start maker spaces, genius hours, and Inventor Conventions.  Teachers complain about the inability of students to think “outside-the-box,” be independent, create, lead, and dream.  The same people that complain about kids not being ready for the “real world” are the same that create the rules that lead to one-size-fits all classrooms.

We encourage rigid conformity art the exact point when kids brains are most malleable and then complain when kids are in college with no curiosity once wiring is established

Education is not to prepare kids for the future.  It is to prepare them for the now.  Their now.  It is not to prepare them to be college and career ready so that corporations can feed off of them when they graduate from college.

What is education?  Not to make you behave and be obedient.  Its to help you do what you want.

 Students crave independence and power.  Not tyrannical power, simply the power to control just a piece of their life.  The reality is that there is hardly one decision that is made each day that is theirs.  Let’s face it, when you have to ask someone else if you can pee, a little piece of you inside dies with the question.

When students feel like they have a genuine power over their environment, they have a vested interest in keeping it both peaceful and successful.

So what are you going to do about it?  Tomorrow just stop.  Stop and look out at your kids.  For the daring amongst you ask your kids…”Am I boring?”  For the daring but not brave, ask your kids to answer the question anonymously on a piece of paper.   For the daring but not ready to make it personal yet amongst you…ask them the question but make it about your lesson or unit.  For those of you who are just curious but not ready to talk about it with your kids…just pause long enough to look at the expression on  each kids face.  Are those the faces you imagined on your kids when you started teaching?  Based on what you see, based on what your hear or read from them…what’s your plan?

If you want kids to be empathetic, place them into an environment that is supportive, democratic, and fair minded free of cruelty.  Not as defined by teachers, but by kids.  An environment where kids with lousy short term memories are not punished.

I read a book that sparked this post.  It’s called Square Pegs by L. Todd Rose.  All the quotes in this post are from the book.  It reminded me to keep a fresh perspective when dealing with the kids who are not meeting “my” expectations.  It has especially reminded me to keep an open mind when dealing with the kids who seemingly just want to quit.  I think if you read the book you will never see the rebels and the quitters in the same light again. 

My administration showed us L. Todd Rose’s video below at our opening staff meeting.  It is what made me read more about him and find the book.  Of course, after the video, I went back to prepare for my first unit that that was given to me by the district and “designed to the middle.”  You need to watch the video to get that 😉  Just watch up to the 6 minute mark…It will be worth your time.


A couple other posts I have written on “square pegs:”
One Size Does not Fit All…
“Fix the hole, not the peg”

What is encouragement?

Like a lot of people I open blog posts and many times glance over them and go onto the next one.  I check it off as read, I got it, give me another.

Then sometimes I leave one open in a tab and when I reopen my computer there it is again.  I look at it again, glance through it again…and then realize there is something different about it.  I cannot understand the post by quickly going through it.  I have to suck it up, slow down, and read every word…slowly.  Maybe twice.  I found one of those posts today.

True encouragement takes a huge and drastic commitment, one that educators everywhere have been systematically told is counter to good teaching: you should not care about the results of your encouragement. If you have a stake in the results, then the encouragement that you give stands a good chance of morphing into persuasion, coercion, or at worst, bullying. Not caring puts the benefit of encouraging solely on the shoulders of the person being encouraged; they work for themselves, not for you.
From What is encouragement?