What are your expectations for the year?

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Each year at the end of the first class of the year I ask the kids a simple question…What do you expect this year??

This is what they said:

This is what is given to them:

Write three words describing your social studies class expectations for the 2014-2015 school year.  Write them with anything and on anything you would like and take a picture or video (no more than 15 seconds) of them.  Be as funky as you would like!  The more funkification the better.  Please send the video or picture attached to an email addressed to:  XYZ@photos.flickr.com  

Place only your first name, last initial in the subject line followed by your class number.  If you place it on youtube, please send the link to pbogush@wallingford.k12.ct.us

All images and videos must be sent to the email address by 7:00pm Thursday.  If you do not have the ability to send your words to the email address, bring them into class and we will photograph them during PM homeroom Thursday.

The only rule…channel your inner weirdness.  Do something a bit different 🙂

Here is an example from the very first three word video many years ago: http://goo.gl/Zj8zLU

And one from last year http://goo.gl/OSCa7f

All the images go to our Flickr account.  Some kids bring it in on paper and I take pictures.  Bulkr is used to download all images and then they are popped into video editing software.  Add music.  That’s it.


I do not embrace failure…

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I do not embrace failure.  I don’t teach grit.  There is no space on my “rubric” for creativity or imagination.

Blog posts go flying across my screen telling me that failure is part of the learning process, get kids to be ok with.  Tweets have been pressing me to give my kids a chance to be more creative.  And then there is grit.  The word is too funny for me to even consider it seriously.

I embrace success.  I embrace doing things first.  I embrace striving to do what no one has done before.  I embrace creating something that will make people want more.  I embrace being awesome. That is my class…those other things are not taught…maybe I am evil and destructive.

They are achieved by giving and letting kids create something they want to make.

When you want to make something you keep trying until you succeed.  You can see the purpose of the final product and persevere through obstacles.  You know the final product will be valuable to someone so you try your best to make it unique and different.

Yes, some….many….most kids come to my class with baggage that prevents this from happening immediately.  So we work through the baggage and remove it.  The come with the desire for success, grit, innovation and imagination is already in them.  I do not have to teach it to them.  I just need to find the barriers to their use and blast them away….slowly.

One key to making this happen is to work alongside your kids.  First, if you don’t want to make the product why would they?  Second, think aloud as you work.  Share that you are having problems and how you are dealing with them.  Share your excitement when you have a great idea.  Third, present your product alongside theirs.  Be a part of the class, and don’t be afraid.  Actually, be afraid, just tell them you are.  Connect fear and success.  They can and do exist side-by-side.  People who say they do not, are arrogant.  When a kid starts something and says I am confused, I don’t know what to do, I am nervous, I am afraid….I always respond in the same way.  “Good, that makes you normal.  I am confused too.  I don’t know where to start,  I am nervous, and I am afraid.  And I will succeed in spite of it.”

My first words out of my mouth on the first day of class are “this will be the most amazing class you have ever been in.”  My last words at the end of the class are “prepare to change the world.”  The world might in fact be the entire earth, it might just be our country, maybe just our town, and most often it is the slice of the world directly around them.  After seeing all the examples and videos and class commercial showcasing student work from past years they come back in the second day expecting to succeed.

Give the kids something destined for the physical or digital garbage can and you will have to find tricks to get them to embrace failure, show grit, and be creative. Give the kids something worth making, and they will want to succeed.

Here is your check list making sure the product they are making does not suck and is worth doing.  Take out your first assessment of the year and see how it does on this check list.

  • It promotes learning, not simply measures it.

  • Grades are not the goal, learning is.

  • Part of the process of living, not a preparation for the future.

  • It’s about the final product, not the amount of material memorized.

  • Students learn more about themselves, than they do about the content.

  • They are personal.  Each is a unique..

  • Students have the power to change, manipulate, and control the final outcome.

  • They are relevant to students today.

  • Contingencies are built in addressing kids’ weaknesses, and their fears.

  • The responsibilities for completion are authentic.

  • Assessment is not destined for the garbage can.

  • Has been looked at through the eyes of a kid.

  • Are not limited to teacher’s strengths
  • Teacher would want to (and has!) complete the assessment.

That is not a complete list.  There is no special number of bullet points you should hit, but it is a place to start when thinking about your assessments and products the kids make in class.

There is one last bullet point I would like to add. assessment should be a “thing.”  Thoughts on paper don’t cut it.  Working for three weeks to learn information so that they can be spit back on a test is pretty depressing–would you want to do that?  Don’t tell me that your worksheets leading up to the test, your multiple choice questions and essay promoted deep thinking. There is some deep thinking that is a waste of time.  What did the kids actually do?  Make?  What did they complete that they were proud of?

If a kid goes running home and excited about sharing their grade I have lost.  They should go running home, running to me, grabbing their friends, not to show them a grade, but to show them a little piece of themselves.  A final product that in which their DNA is interwoven with the content.  They should be proud to show a final product in which they did not just learn content and skills, but a little bit about themselves. When they have the power to do that, they will not need to embrace failure finish, they will embracing success.


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine. We were born to make manifest the glory that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Above edited quote from Marianne Williamson



Be bold, be fun, be you…

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(All those red words are hyperlinks!)

Teachers have forgotten to be bold, be fun, and be themselves.

This year be bold.

Do the unexpected this year.

Kids do not expect the unexpected in school.  They walk in expecting the same thing they experienced in the past.  But deep in their heart  they have not lost hope that this might be the year in which they will get the unexpected.  They all have hope that this might be the year in which they will feel awesome.  They all have hope that they will do something that will make a difference…something that matters…something that allows them to discover something inside of themselves that they did not know previously existed.

The most basic way to get student’s attention is this: Break a pattern.

Think of lessons as mysteries. Mysteries are powerful. They create a need for closure. The Aha! Experience is much more satisfying when preceded by the Huh? Teachers can use mysteries not to just heighten students’ interest and curiosity in the day’s material but to train them to think as scientists and historians. Teachers must present material that sparks curiosity. Curiosity is when students feel a gap in their knowledge. It is the intellectual need to answer questions and close gaps. Story plays to this universal need by doing the opposite, posing questions and opening situations. That gap causes them pain…they want to know something but don’t, it’s like having an itch that you need to scratch. To make it go away, they need to fill the gap. Teachers need to open gaps before they close them. 

This year have fun.

Smiles are not necessarily the goal.

Creating a classroom in which smiling kids are the goal is probably not the path to happiness.  Happy kids also cry, grimace, get frustrated, and sometimes want to quit. The happiest days are not the ones filled with the most smiles, but the ones in which kids have made a difference, ones in which they feel as though they have accomplished something they previously did not know was possible.

Wonder what would happen if just for a day, we taught with the heart of a kid.

Imagine if for a day we dropped all of our adult baggage at the school’s front door and entered with the heart of a child that we all once possessed.  We spend so much time trying to get them to act and behave like us.  Wonder what would happen if just for a day, we acted like them.  What a grand and wonderful perspective of the world we would get. 

What should learning look like?

There must be a way in which we can succeed in satisfying the standards, but not producing kids who are mindless copies of one another.  There must still be a way that we can produce kids who will “put a dent in the world.”

This year be you.

Thoughts on this one? Insert your thoughts or blog post in the comments


Help kickstart(er) our hearts…

“Most people never ask,
and that’s what separates people who just do things,
from the people that just dream about them.”
Steve Jobs

During the last month of school my students and I decided to take over an abandoned room and set-up a studio that could be used for video, photography, and audio.  The back-story on the room is here. I then convinced the teacher who was across the hall from the room to switch with me so that I could be closer to it in September.  When school ended a seventh grade position opened, and it just so happened that there was a larger open room right next to the seventh grade room.  I interviewed, received the seventh grade job, and then received permission to build a bigger and better studio…with one big twist.  The new room would be a live performance space for monthly shows.

I used to have a student punk/metal band.  We would practice each morning and then have our one and final show at the eighth grade outing.  Each year the band attracted kids who had great passion, but no where to express it in school.  As I looked around there were 100’s of kids just like them looking for the same opportunity, and a space to that would allow them to play.  Kids who loved photography, kids shooting and editing video, kids who loved to paint and draw, kids who love to write poetry and create spoken word masterpieces, kids who love to play music and sing…there was just no home space for them in school. 

I want to create that place with the new room.  It will be called “2 Floors Up.”  It will not just be a room with a green screen for class projects, but also nighttime performance center.  A place that kids passionate about the arts can feel at home.  A place that will nurture their passion, feed it, hone it.  A place for live performances that can be streamed live around the world.  A place that kids can come to for monthly performances that does not smell like school.  A place that is cool, funky, and with equipment that treats them like professionals.  I also want it to be a place for kids who like to work on the “other side” of the performers.  A place where kids can get experience working the sound board, shooting music videos, and creating promotional websites and all feeding all the supportive social media accounts–a safe place to create their digital footprint.  A place where a kid interested in photography can use quality lighting or green-screening software, and a place where a kid editing a music video can have access to a computer and quality video editing software.  A performance venue where kids can attend concerts in a safe environment that will include artwork, poetry slams, and musical performances. A place run by a team of students who are just as passionate about being behind the mics and doing everything from collecting tickets, to producing the show.

In order for this to happen there are still some outstanding pieces of equipment needed.  We decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to get the last pieces of equipment. Hitting the final button on the Kickstarter site was scary.  What if…what if we ask for people to help…and fail.  I was reminded of a video my wife shared with me last year.

So with Steve Job’s words ringing in my ear, “I never found anyone who didn’t want to help me if I asked them for help,”  I hit that final publish button and will hit another publish button for this post to ask folks for help in making our little dream come true.  In a year in which our school system will spend thousands for consultants to implement common core, thousands on prepping for the new SBAC tests, and thousands more on the new teacher evaluation system, our request is minor.  It is all the time we will be spending on standardized units and testing that makes this request and idea so huge.  As a teacher who tries so hard to provide a home to the kids of all types, this Kickstarter request becomes more important this year as I know that already so many of the activities I used to do have to be eliminated in order to conform to the new district units supporting the common core standards.  

So without further ado, please consider contributing to our Kickstarter campaign and helping out our middle school.

You can see it by clicking on this sentence!  

Any amount will go a long way to making a difference for my kids.  Worried about whether my class and I are legit?  Here is my class commercial for the 2014-15 school year with quotes and video from last year’s kids, quotes from last year’s class evaluation, and a deeper look into what we have done. I think you will see that if our Kickstarter campaign is successful we will make a big dent in the world.

One vote…

In a couple months Connecticut will elect a governor.

The Democratic nominee and incumbent is Dannel Malloy.  Maybe the governor most in bed with corporate reformers.  Every decision he has pushed on education has made like for me and my students more dismal.  He has put in place a Commissioner of Education with direct corporate ed-reform ties, and has supported dismantling the Department of Education and rebuilding it with outsiders with no education experience.   What he has done with charter schools and who he has supported to run them is offensive.  He said that all teachers have to do is show up and they have a job for life.  I could never vote for him.

The Republican nominee is Tom Foley.  Foley barely lost four years ago.  After losing he created the Connecticut Policy Institute.  They have four great big ideas on how to fix schools in Connecticut.  The want to grade each school from A to F, push more school choice in lowest performing districts, require a reading exam for all third graders and a regents exam for high schoolers, and his last idea is to improve the quality of teachers (change certification requirements, tenure, merit pay).  He has worked with Conncan and Teach for America.  I could never vote for him.

The third candidate is Jon Pelto.  Wait What?  A third part candidate?  Yep.  He wants to turn back the dollars being sunk into common core and standardized testing, stop funneling all the dollars into the special interests opening charter schools, and stop the forces creating an insane passing school and failing school system that opens the door for more wicked ed-reformer take over.  A third party candidate that can win?  I don’t know.  But what Jon offers is a voice to so many workers, teachers, and parents in CT that are so rejected and beaten down by the current administration.  A voice that is just getting louder.  Is a vote on Jon wasted?  No.  I see my vote as a simple moral one.  Foley and Malloy’s ideas and decisions are immoral.  They will further destroy the learning and dreams of my children, and further destroy the last glimmer and spark of the fire that brought me into teaching.  I will vote for Jon Pelto.



This is the third reincarnation of the post 99 videos that make you go hmmm, ah, and ahha (186 videos is here). I have re-checked some of the links from the last version, but if you find one that is a dead link or leads to the wrong video please let me know by leaving a comment.

The videos are broken in to simple categories based on how we generally use them in class. Some are used in isolation, some are used for inspiration, and some are used in reaction to the day’s experiences–obviously many cross category lines. I have added two new categories.  One for videos about passionate people or people doing something that inspires passion or used when we talk about passion.  And I started a last category with videos from my class.

Pick one a day and show to your class, show one each Friday. Make showing videos a part of your class. At least 50% of the time we watch one just because….the kids will make their own interpretations. Always near the end of the year kids will make a comment like “you always show us those videos to make us see things differently.” And “you want us to open up and not be afraid to be creative like the videos.” Sometimes it is just nice for kids to know that the first minute or two of class is going to be totally and completely stress free. If you have difficulty starting class, show one. As soon as the video is over you transition into class whole you have everyone’s attention. If you have classroom community problems, show a funny one each day. Have the class share a laugh, share an emotion. Doing that each day makes a huge difference.

I do write posts that are more than lists….you can check them out here.

Simply click on the title to go to the video.

Videos that make us think:

Mankind is no Island



Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes

Did you Know?

Piano Stairs

Dove Evolution

Kaplan U Desks

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Just One Girl

Micheal Jordon-Failure

The Deepest Garbage Can

The Years are Short

Stuck on an Elevator

The Money Tree

Dear 16 Year Old me

Staring Contest

Power of Words

Be a Follower


Instant Face Maker

Girl and the Fox

Butterfly Circus (if you are going to watch only one…)

I Can’t Read…

Knock Knock

Dear 16 Year Old Me

Why I Hate School but Love Education


I will not let an exam determine my fate

Children See, Children Do

Nahla~Muslima In High School (ChiefThePoet) Spoken Word

Photoshopping Real Women Into Cover Models

Ronan’s Escape

Teen Brain

Look Up

I Forgot My Phone

Who will be my hero

Dear Grade 8 Me

Words and their Consequences

Golf Ball Terminal Velocity

Introducing the Book

Everything is a Re-Mix


Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck

Day in the life of a rice farmer


Videos that inspire us:

I Love Living Life

Try to Do

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Together We Can Change the World

Blind Painter

Free Hugs


Dustin carter

Pep Talk from Kid President to You

Caines Arcade

K id Speech

Think Different

Everyone needs to wear sunscreen

I Hope You See This

Human Shadows



To This Day Project

On how I approach strangers in the street

Life Changing Play

This is your life

Take a seat, make a friend

Work as a Team

Kid President Pep Talk

I Shoulda Tried Harder

Harmonica Man

Light it up

Technology, Documentary, My Dad, Me

Wall of Words

Snap Your Joy


Videos that amaze us:

LED Sheep Herding

Time Warp

Paul the Opera Singer

Breaking Wine Glass

Boyanka Angelova

One in Million Chance

Human Shadow Puppets

Giant Water Slide


Dominoes in the Kitchen

Greatest Car Advertisement Ever

Test Your Awareness 1

Test Your Awareness 2

Test Your Awareness 3

Test Your Awareness 4

Bruce Lee Table Tennis

Golf Ball Reaches Terminal Velocity`

Optical Illusion Dance

Tractor Trailer Mishap

Largest Glacier Calving Ever

Grinding the Crack

Biggest Surf Wave Ever

Dubstep Beatboxer


Ball Camera

Stop Motion

Top Secret Drum Corp


One Man Band

VW Factory

Hearing for the First Time

Coke and Mentos Car

Time Warp Balloon

Breaking a wineglass

Inspired Bicycles


Free Style Football

Wolf’s Law

60 Seconds in a Skate Park

Chalk Art

Mind Blowing Dance

Painting Reality

Animation on a Bike

Evolution of Music

Sand Art

Google Street View Hyperlapse

View from ISS at night

Dream Music

Moon Walk


Tony vs Paul

Stop Motion

On Top of the Hood

I believe I can Fly

Experience Human Flight

Experience Scootering

I Believe I Can Fly 2


Live Augmented Reality

Tony vs Paul

Way Back Home

Throwable panoramic camera

Reverse Things

Ohio State Marching Band

Car vs Car

Bike Tricks

Optical Illusion Dance

Tractor Trailer Jackknife

Lock and Load

Tokyo Reverse

100 Riffs


Human Flight

Zero Gravity





Videos that make us ask questions:

Steven Levitt: Why do crack dealers still live with their moms?


Gever Tulley: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do

Built to Last

What teachers make

Lost Generation

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet

Vision of Students Today

Vision of K-12 Students Today

The Kid No One Wanted

Power of Simple Words

Behind the scenes at McDonalds Photo Shoot

Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us


Why you need to fail

The Majestic Plastic bag

Take My Ball and Go Home


When there is a correct answer

Be more Dog

Discrepant Event #2 — Candle

Magic for Dogs

How to talk to your ten year old self

Science of Happiness

How Wolves Change Rivers

Steve Jobs on Asking for help

Creativity Takes Time

Lost Generation

Chasing Ice

The Reflect Project


Videos that get us to laugh together:

Cat Herding


Life after Death by Powerpoint

Food Fight

The Invisible Rope

Thou Shalt Laugh

Trouble in Paradise

Ron Lucas and Big Dummy

Electric face Stimulus

Basset Hound Beat Box

Martians Meet a Clock

Everything is Amazing and Nobodys Happy

Mr. Bean-Pool

Bill Cosby-Dentists

Five Minute University

Barking Fish

Football vs Baseball

Charlie the Unicorn


Rabbit (ok, maybe not funny but frightening)

We’re Sinking

Sneak Thief

Why you should think before you text

Pigeon Impossible

Entr Kazoo Man

Introducing the Book

Stupid Terrorist

Slinky on Treadmill

Dramatic Surprise 1

Dramatic Surprise 2

Evian Babies

Bulldog Snorting

Ojai Taxidermy

Lighthouse vs Ship

Gotta Share the Musical


Invisible Drumkit

Flying Fish

Marcel the Shell with shoes on

Worst Ice Skater

Funny Animals

Frozen Grand Central

Spy vs Guy

Kiss Cam

Safer in Groups

Inflated Animals

Baby and Me

Duck Heart

Mouth Open

Marcel with Shoes on Two

Fluffy McCloud


Cumulus and Nimbus

Give it a ponder 1

Give it a ponder 2

Give it a ponder 3

Give it a ponder 4


Parallel Parking

Bless You

Uncle Jack (not for all audiences)

Dumb Ways to Die (not for all audiences)

Are silent farts worse

The Graduation Song

Marcel the shell with shoes on

Llama Llama Duck

French Bulldog snoring

April Fools Joke

Rubber Band Babies

Elevator Joy Bomb

Gotta Be A Scholar

House of Scholars

Research Rescue

Study Like a Scholar

Ask a Librarian

Crazy Cart

Basketball Class


Make your day better in 64 seconds

Math Class

Cubicle Contagion

Wall of Boxes

Parent Rap

It’s Not About the Nail


Dragon Baby




The Putter

Passion for Sound

People are Awesome


Walking Contest

Snow Circles

Sound of Wood

Fifty People One Question 1

Fifty People One question 2

Secret of Toys

Planet Earth

Last Ice Merchant

The Puppet Man


Cool Videos From My Class

Welcome to Room 207

3 Floors Up 

Why use tablets in the classroom?

Intro to P-Day

A Civil War Letter

Monroe Doctrine Song

Class Commercial 2012-13

Edcamps are different…they give me hope.

My daughter and I went to the Warped Tour yesterday.

Let me start over…I drove my daughter and her friend to the Warped Tour yesterday and then spent 10 hours on my own navigating a massive concert venue with six stages (loved it!).  The Warped tour is one of those concerts that if you mention it to someone you either get eyes wide open excitement, or one of those blank stares in which their head slowly tilts to one side.  Hardcore fans go to Warped and folks often travel pretty far to get to a show.  Warped brings together bands like Vanna and Echosmith (Two that I went to see).  It also brings together fans in skinny jeans and those that wear jeans that cover little that they really should have just bean left home(it was too hot for my skinny jeans).  You have folks in plaid, and folks in black.  It is a neat eclectic mix.  Everyone has fun together.  Everyone goes home happy.  For the type of all day concert it is, I have never seen fewer fights (zero), fewer drunken idiots (zero), or less drug use (zero).  What seems like a scary place to be (why is it called Warped anyway?), is a pretty cool community of folks coming together for one reason–their passion for music.  They just do it differently than most.

I am driving up to my first Edcamp of the summer tomorrow.  Edcamp is one of those teacher conferences that if you mention it to someone you sometimes get eyes wide open excitement, but usually you get one of those blank stares in which their head slowly tilts to one side.  Hardcore teachers go to Edcamps and folks often travel pretty far to get to one.  Edcamp brings together educators who teach high school with those that teach elementary. You have teachers from the city, and those from the country (well, east coast country).  It also brings together teachers who come with all sorts of electronic gizmos, and teachers who are happy to leave all the electronics home.  You have folks who like to talk a lot, and folks who are happy sitting in the back row of each session.  It is a neat eclectic mix.  Everyone has fun together.  Everyone goes home happy.  For the type of conference it is, I have never seen fewer fights (zero), fewer drunken idiots (zero), or less drug use (zero)…folks also don’t complain about kids, gripe about the lack of supplies, or swear about parents.  What seems like a weird conference to attend (what the heck is an unconference anyway?), is a pretty cool community of folks coming together for one reason–their passion to provide the very best learning experiences for the kids in their classrooms.  They just do it differently than most.

The session topics are different, that is why you should attend.  The sessions that are offered are unlike any other conference that I attend, unless I use my time machine (I don’t have a time machine).  The session’s topics at many of  the very first Edcamps are just becoming part of the conversation in mainstream ed-circles in 2014.  The topics of the sessions in 2014’s Edcamps will just start to be mainstream 4-6 years from now.  You will meet people who are doing things that NO ONE ELSE IS DOING ANYWHERE.  

The organization is different.  You have no idea what to expect when you enter.  When people walk in they decide whether or not they want to organize a session based on who else shows up (if it is a twitter strong audience, no sessions on twitter), based on what the attendees request (if someone shows up wanting to learn about twitter there’s a session on twitter), and based on what occurs spontaneously (you can skip all morning sessions and have that conversation in the hallway with your twitter idol).  When you attend a session it is considered an insult to stay in it if you are not getting what you need from it.  People support you getting up and walking into another session.  Sessions are not stand and deliver, they tend to be more conversational.  You’ll find many rooms with chairs in circles rather than rows. There are sessions with three people, and some with fifty people.  It does not matter how many people attend, I have always found the sessions with the fewest attendees to be the most intimidating at the start, but the most awesome by the end.  Yes, Edcamps do fuel extroverts, but it is totally ok and acceptable to just come, keep you mouth closed, sit back, and take it all in.  

The people who attend are different.  Ever person there has chosen to take their day off and attend.  You don’t hear complaining at Edcamps, you hear solutions being tossed around.  Even if you don’t come away from an Edcamp with a single new idea, you do come away with a new found energy.  There are very few ed-conferences that can match Edcamps participants’ energy.  I am not talking about get-up-and-dance energy, just simple positive energy.  The energy at Edcamps remind you why you wanted to teach.  The energy you gain protects you from all the negativity that exists in “the teacher’s room.”  It makes you realize that there are people just like you out there, and sometimes that is all you need to keep fighting back in your home district.  If all you come home with is hope, that is reason enough to attend.

The cost and food is different.  It’s FREE.  It costs you nothing to get in, and nothing to eat.  You get an entire day for $0.00.  And most Edcamps now specialize in a certain food or have some specialty that I look forward to.  There are Edcamps that serve great burgers, some have special chips, and I know they are from some chain store but EdcampNJ have these awesome cinnamon bun things that are worth the trip for me.  I am still hoping one Edcamp will start serving milkshakes, I would travel pretty far for those.

I do think there are still issues Edcamps need to iron out.  At some established Edcamps too many people are coming with canned presentations they set up in advance, those Edcamps are soon going to lose their “organic” label.  Some Edcamps are attracting more people who are no longer teachers and who lead too many sessions.  Some brand new Edcamps are attracting too many new teachers so the session board stays pretty bare because some folks are more comfortable experiencing an Edcamp before deciding to present at one.  And one weakness specifically for me is that too many Edcamps really adhere to the no stand and deliver rule for session.  Just like I love to hear a good keynote, I don’t mind sitting in a session for an hour and listening to someone talk about something amazing. Not all Edcamps have a “request a session” built into it.  I think that is a must.  Newbies might not get involved presenting, but they can certainly help drive the content of the session board through their requests.

I have been to over 15 Edcamps.  I have been to the first content specific Edcamp, first student run Edcamp, first Edcamp at the Department of Education in Washington, DC, the largest Edcamp, and probably the smallest(doesn’t seem anyone keeps a record for that ;), tomorrow will be Edcamprsd6 in Litchfield, CT. Edcamprsd6 is a morning only Edcamp run on four successive Tuesdays (they have awesome food too).  It will be a morning with teachers in which I won’t have to talk about data teams, performance tasks, or uploading documents for my evaluation. Next month I will be driving up to EdcampCT.  Both are small cozy Edcamps full of folks that are different, and even if I don’t come home with any new ideas, I know I will come home with a little more energy, a free lunch, and a lot more hope.

If you haven’t been to an edcamp yet, please find one and attend. Click right here for the Edcamp Calendar.

Education’s Changing Landscape

I saw this (you have to check out the link to understand this post):

And then wrote this:
Edubusiness | Edcuation’s changing landscape
You Say You Want a Revolution

Only a decade ago, virtually all of a students learning came from sources given to them by their teacher–textbooks and tests, primarily. What they learned was shared only with the teacher and then thrown out into the garbage. Today more and more learning comes from digital sources they access on computers, tablets and the results of their learning is shared through digital formats with the world.

Where will the classroom be in 20 years, 30 years, 50 years?

Mr. Bogush is a teacher and speaker, and the winner of the 2013 B.S Pile Classroom Teacher-of-the Year Award.


Before I tell you my thoughts on the matter, you should know that you’re reading the opinion of an enthusiastic optimist: one of the few living souls in public education who still believes that schools are not dying…they’re just starting to come alive.

There are many (many) people who predict the downfall of public schools and the irrelevancy of the classroom as an educational entity. I am not one of them. In my opinion, the value of a classroom is, and will continue to be, based on the amount of heart and soul a teacher has bled into it, and the community value that taxpayers (and governments) place on their students and their place in the marketplace. Kahn Academy, Youtube and charter schools have shrunk the importance and respect for public school teachers, and every teacher has handled this blow differently.

In recent years, you’ve probably read the articles about people who have decided to practically give their lessons away, for this website or that video channel. My hope for the future, not just in schools, but in every young kid I meet…is that they all realize that nothing will replace a face-to-face conversation, a touch on the shoulder, or a high five in the hallway at the end of a challenging day.

Teaching is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that teachers should be compensated in accordance with other jobs that are deemed “important”, and my prediction is that teachers will someday decide that what they do has true value worth fighting for and determine what that value is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.

Arrows Through the Heart

In mentioning public schools, I’d like to point out that kids are still attending, but now they’re expecting a different experience. They are finding value in the classes that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren’t alone in feeling so alone. It isn’t as easy today as it was 20 years ago to have a group kids sit in front of you and blindly follow a teacher’s directions, and as teachers, that should challenge and motivate us.

There are always going to be those teachers who break through on an emotional level and end up leaving a mark on kids’ lives forever. The way I see it, students view music the way they view their relationships. Some classes are forgotten about as soon as the kids leave their seat. Some classes are just for fun, a passing fling (the ones they joke about during lunch that they will soon forget they ever attended). Some classes represent seasons of their lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past.

However, some classes will be like finding “the one.” Kids will cherish every activity in the teacher’s class until the last day of school and they will re-tell their stories from class to their children and grandchildren. As an teacher, this is the dream bond we hope to establish with our kids. I think the future still holds the possibility for this kind of bond, the one I had in elementary school with Mr. Vaccino, or the one in college with Professor Branigan.

I think forming a bond with kids in the future will come in the form of constantly providing them with the element of surprise. No, I did not say “shock”; I said “surprise.” I believe couples can stay in love for decades if they just continue to surprise each other,  can’t the bond between a teacher and their kids also benefit from the same?

Classroom Commercial 2014-15 from Moran Mustangs on Vimeo.

In the YouTube generation we live in, I walked into class every day last year knowing almost every kid could have easily googled any of the content we were supposed to have covered the night before. To continue to allow them to do something they had never done before, I brought in special guests through skype, used a variety of new tech tools, created hands-on activities and simply did a lot of wacky creative activities that they never ever even heard of before.  My generation was raised on being able to continue teaching if kids got bored. That is simply no longer true.   Kids want to be caught off guard, delighted, left in awe. I hope the next generation’s teachers will continue to think of inventive ways of keeping their classes on their toes, as challenging as that might be.

There are a few things I have witnessed becoming obsolete in the past few years, the first being textbooks. I haven’t been asked for a textbook to be purchased from my classes since the first PC entered my room 15 years ago. Textbooks are left in the class at the end of the year.  What kids can create digitally can continue to live on outside of the classroom for years.

Digital Power

A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the casting director chose the actress with more social media influence. I see this becoming a trend in the teaching industry. For me, this dates back to 2005 when I walked into my staff meetings, explaining to them that I had been communicating directly with my students and teachers on this new site called Myspace and sharing my lessons and student work on our class Geocities website. In the future, teachers will get teaching jobs deals because they have shown proof of a digital trail of impressive accomplishments—they won’t be hired on their potential, they will be expected to have already shared their potential with the world.

Another theme I see fading into the gray is subject distinction. These days, nothing great you see in the classroom seems to come from just one influence. The wild, unpredictable learning rule in the digital age is that anything goes. Social Studies includes language arts, Art is combined with science, Science is meshed with math—and to me, that’s incredible progress. I want to have a class that reflects all of my influences and combines all content, and I think that in the coming decades the idea of content specific classes will become less of a school-defining path and more of an organizational tool.

This moment in education is so exciting because the creative avenues an teacher can explore are limitless. In this moment in teaching, stepping out of your comfort zone can be rewarded, and classroom evolution is not only accepted…it is celebrated. The only real risk is being too afraid to take a risk at all.

Teaching Spotlight

I predict that some things will never change. There will always be an increasing fixation on testing, especially standardized. Teachers who were at their peak in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s tell me, “It was never this crazy for us back then!” And I suspect I’ll be saying that same thing to younger teachers someday. There continues to be a bad teacher vs. good teacher, paper vs. paperless debate, and for as long as those labels exist, I just hope there will be contenders on both sides. Everyone needs someone to relate to right?

And as for me? I’ll just be sitting back and growing old, watching all of this happen or not happen, all the while trying to maintain a life rooted in this same optimism.

And I’d also like a nice motorcycle.

Unforgettable learning experiences…

I recently saw two different jobs being advertised.  Which one would you want to apply for?  This one?

We are currently looking for an individual with the energy and passion to create an exceptional student experience.

Or maybe this one?

We are currently looking for an individual with the knowledge of developmentally appropriate, activity-based teaching and learning. Strong oral and written communication skills. Preferred experience with reading intervention. Ability to work effectively with others. Demonstrated skills with instructional technology. Experience with SRBI.

It does seems as though in order to make ourselves feel more powerful and respected teachers are slowly turning how kids learn into some deep mysterious process that requires years of education and vast knowledge of everything from how the brain works, to the coolest and newest technologies that are supposed to improve learning in the classroom.  In order for learning to occur teachers are also supposed to embrace failure, grit, and data.  Just 10 minutes on something like Twitter will fill your brain with all things that all great teachers must do in order to have their kids learn.  And if you are not doing them, how will your kids every be successful and learn?

Learning is not a complicated process.  Schools put many roadblocks in the way of learning, and then we spend years of college, 1000s of hours of reading, and summers on the internet looking for ways to get around the roadblocks and improve learning.  Teachers can spend a lifetime trying to overcome the unnatural situation we put kids into–we can spend years trying to figure out how to force a kid to learn.

Over and over during the course of my life I have found that teachers who put all their effort into creating exceptional learning experiences have had classrooms in which kids learn simply because they want to.  Create an environment in which a kid wants to know more and wants to create more and learning will take place with no tricks needed.  Knowledge of brain cells and SRBI and rubrics  becomes more important when the class is required to cover some mandated essential question, with mandated sources, on a mandated subject, with a mandated outcome,  In ideal conditions give me one match and I can start a fire.  When it is stormy out I will have to resort to all sorts of tricks to force that fire to get started.

I have really pulled back on my teaching during the last few years.  Meaning I have done less teaching and “more” trying to create an environment and activities that allow for learning to “naturally” happen–as “natural” as can possibly happen in an artificial academic environment.  A few years ago every unit we did had an essential question and was “authentic.”  It was for a real purpose, and for a real audience.  I found the more “real” I made class the more artificial it became.  The internet told me it was supposed to be better that way, twitter told me I would be falling behind if we were not doing things that way.  Most of those people on the internet and Twitter and conferences were not even in the classroom Blah…

When I was twelve I went to summer camp.  A forester named Chris Fagan visited my group one day and we walked with him to the mess hall.  Along the way he stopped and talked about the trees he saw.  He was amazed at what he saw and shared that amazement.  It infected me and the other kids.  Some kids ended the walk knowing 20 trees, and I am sure there were some that knew only three.  But each kid in our group saw the forest in a different way when we walked the trails that week, and we saw ourselves in a different role.  I am positive Chris did not set out to make me reconsider my impact on the environment during that 30 minute walk. I am certain he didn’t try to make me into a future camp counselor. I am positive he did not try to get me to one day become a backpacker who would take kids deep into the Rocky Mountains and take other kids on that same walk.  All three happened…because of that walk?   I can’t be positive of that.  He just gave me 30 amazing minutes with his passion–no tricks, no tests, no standards, no ulterior motive.

This year I am going to re-commit myself to creating exceptional learning experiences for kids.  I am going to re-commit to letting them do amazing things and rely less on all of those “tricks” that are supposed to get kids to learn things.  Kids need to want to learn.  Try teaching a thesis sentence before a kid wants or needs it and you will be reteaching thesis sentences all year…or you’ll have to come up with all sorts of “tricks” to get them to learn how to write one.

So where did all the above thoughts come from….

Each year I make a class commercial that I share with parents and students.  Last year’s video  — check it out here — was becoming a bit showy.  It was complicated, epic in length, and was filling up with mostly clips and quotes from past years.  I decided to make a short commercial that would only have quotes from last year’s kids and clips from last year’s activities (opps, one from the year before snuck in). What I realized is that everything I wrote above was coming true.  I did not have many clips of big exciting things that we did, not a lot of clips that were for some special audience or purpose.  But still kids learned, became strong, and changed.  As I read the students evaluations I did not notice any big changes from previous years.  The activities might not have been as “big” and “special” as those in past years but they were organically grown by the students.

I do try to show evidence on my blog that this sort of environment does lead to learning.  You do not have to learn how to force feed students to get them to grow, you just need to provide exceptional learning experiences. That is a tough sell for parents which is why I have a meeting the very first week of school in which I introduce my class, myself, share what we do, how we do it, and this year will end it all with a three minute commercial to show that exceptional learning experiences lead to unforgettable learning experiences. 

(psst…turn up the volume way up!!)

Classroom Commercial 2014-15 from Moran Mustangs on Vimeo.

Second job description was for a local elementary school teaching position, the first one was taken from a local business 🙂 



An unprecedented view…

About six years ago my class started to participate in a Library of Congress Digital Archiving Program.   The quick explanation is that the LOC realized that today’s kids don’t leave behind many material artifacts, and so set out to digitally archive what they are doing on the internet.  A few years later my school celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary.  I could not help notice that all records and artifacts of our schools existence pretty much stopped about ten years ago–when everything started to go digital.  That is when I decided to start trying to preserve some kind of record of who went to our school and what they did.  I opened up a flickr page and started taking and upload images.  My goal was to document everything that they did for an entire year…let’s just say I did not meet the goal.

Last year we had an ex-student killed in Afghanistan.  As a teacher put together a memorial service for him he found a VHS tape with the student presenting a project for his class when he was in 8th grade, and people turned in photographs of him when he was in 8th grade.  It was incredible to have that physical evidence of his time at our school and it was worked into a video shown at his memorial service (you can see the video at the 1:36 mark).  It was another spark I needed to start documenting what was occurring in our school.

This year I was even more determined to make it happen.  I carried my camera to school each day and to every event the kids attended.  I added almost 1,000 images to our flickr account during the 2013-14 school year.  Their entire year was documented from the first to last.  The very first thing I did when they walked into class, before I even said a word was to video the class. With all of these pictures coming in I decided to start making videos to send home to parents.  This year parents received an unprecedented look into their kids lives.  Not just the pictures they might expect like kids at “big” events or presenting things, but the everyday things they do like walking in the hall, eating lunch, and just making silly faces at one another.  With most of the videos we sent home we included the still images taken up until that point, but also tried to add some extra “story” to the video.  I know for one video one student said her mom watched it ten time and cried each time.  The comments that came back from parents were so positive.  

Next school year take pictures.  Lots of them.  Even when you don’t want to.  Take pictures of all the things you would normally ignore.  Kids walking into your room, standing at lockers, and sitting on the bus for a field trip.  Periodically throw them into a slide show and send them home.  Best investment in home to school communication you will ever make.  

I would like to share some of the videos that were sent home this year.  Some are pretty long.  If you do have some interest in doing something like this I would suggest that you skip around in the videos.  Each video has different parts, each which can be done individually.

The first video parents get is our class commercial (more info on it here).  It obviously does not have their kids, but gives them a glimpse as to what their kids should expect, and after watching they are more likely to sign that little form that allows me to take and post their pictures! I tell them if they do they will have an unprecedented view into their kids’ eighth grade year. The video is broken up into four parts.  

EDIT 11/20/14  Here is our video for 2014-15

The first video that is produced by the kids and sent home is our “three word” video.  After the first day of school the kids are asked to send in images with three words describing their expectations for the year.  While it does not have pictures of the kids, it does set a simple precedent and the kids are more eager to be in the next video that will be sent home.

The next video is what was sent home at the end of the first quarter.  At this point kids are still sooo tentative about doing something special for the video,  You will see some kids lip syncing.  This video opens kids up to “bigger ” things and they want to do something more creative for the next one.

We did a grand reverse video to send home before winter break.  Each class filmed their section in one class period.  There are four distinct sections and each is easily a separate video.  The section that left the moms in tears starts around the 7:00 minute mark.

There were videos sent home for individual events like career day.  The one below has zero fancy editing, just cut and pasted the video I took together and added background music.

Videos of field trips were sent home.  Again, key is to not get caught up in the editing.  There were two cameras being used on the trip.  The only editing was to place the clips from each camera and place them into chronological order. And now that I place this video underneath teh career day one above, I realize that I used the same music in both!

When it came time to send out information about our new recording studio it was the kids who said, “So you’re doing a video?”  Well no, I wasn’t planning on it, but we ended up doing one 🙂

And then finally at end of the year I finally did something I have always wanted to do, I made a video that included footage and pictures from the first to last day.  A couple interesting things to point out.  At the beginning of the video it is the first day of school.  When the camera pans to the right it is their first class with me, when it pans to the left it was their last class.  At the 23:00 minute mark there is a cool idea that again can stand alone as a great class video you can make.  And after that song what you see is kids holding up messages to their friends, and the last song has pictures sent in from the kids.

A newsletter is great. An email home is great.  But there is a reason why a “picture is worth a 1000 words.”  Nothing I write home about their kid will ever replace a parent being able to see their kid smiling.  Next school year, take pictures, take video.  Open a flickr account and dump them all in.  Issues with having images on the internet?  Set them all to private.  At the end-of-the-year download bulkr, download all those images and videos to a folder, suck the entire folder into a simple video editing program like imovie or Movie Maker, throw some music behind them, and sit back and watch with the kids.  

This is now officially one of those no-brainer activities that I must do each year, and you must do it too 🙂