Committees Shamittees

I was reading a post from Aldon Hynes on Connecticut School’s Three Year Technology Plans.  Aldon lives in a town next door to me, and we share a regional high school.  It made me reflect on just how effective a group of teachers would be in creating and implementing such a plan.  I worry about schools that are not integrating technology coming up with a plan on how to integrate technology into the day-to-day life of students all on their own.  If they knew how, wouldn’t they already be doing it?  Would they need a committee?  Wouldn’t teachers seeking the very best for their students have already slowly been integrating technology into their curriculum? The results might be a school that uses more technology, but just in place of notebooks and pencils.  A school that invests in stuff–hardware, software, but has no idea how to use it effectively. 

Can the current teachers really create change in schools?  I would bet that if you took a survey of all teachers, the majority would see no problems with what is being done in classrooms today.  They might dislike administration, cleanliness of their building, or the age of their textbooks.

But if they saw the need for change, if they saw how today’s system is not preparing kids for tomorrow, wouldn’t they already be doing something about it?

I am very lucky…

I might have the very best group of kids I have ever had in my life this year.  They are totally putting up with me trying to re-write my teaching book and figure out how to integrate technology into our lessons as we create, communicate, and collaborate with folks from around the world–and try to adjust to block scheduling.  What has really blown me away is how they have taken ownership of their blogs and simply become the best middle school bloggers in the world.  I can give then that award right?  I had them fill out a very simple survey made with a google form embedded into our wiki.  At this point in the year they probably have had 16-20 posts that were “official” class assignments.  What follows are the results from two questions from the first 25 responses so far–keep in mind they have had these blogs for just over two months:

I know, I know.  There is more to blogging than just the number of posts and the number of comments you get.  And I know that there is a group of kids who only do the minimum requirements on the or blogs….but still…

I also wished I had asked them to take out the comments from kids on our own team.  I bet that at least 75% of the comments they receive are from kids and adults from other states and countries.  I just checked and after I started blogging last October it took me 5 months to get a comment from someone other than my students.

As we move into our second quarter I had planned to start to be more critical of the writing on their blogs.  Try to push them to write a bit more, be a bit more insightful, and add a few things to each post to make them more engaging.  I do hesitate now after reflecting on some of their stats from the first quarter.  I feel as though in many ways, they are better bloggers than myself.  They certainly have more readers, more comments, and take the time to keep their blogs updated.  I am considering just hanging back and seeing what happens.  Even if nothing changes from now until the end of the year, I still think they are the best middle school bloggers in the world-do I want to mess with that?

Disrupt Your Class

“Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first.  The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior.  When our students fail, we, as teachers, too, have failed.”  ~ Marva Collins

About seven or eight years ago I stopped giving traditional tests. I used to be very good at giving tests. They used to last two days. One day for the short answer stuff and one day for the long answer stuff. I was very good at getting kids to remember the information they needed to know for the test. Then one year my district implemented a district-wide social studies test. I quickly realized while reviewing for the test at the end of the year that my kids did not remember many of the facts that they had been able to recite for all the previous tests. <<<Lightbulb>>> Ironically it was the mother of all tests that made me stop giving tests.

I am currently reading the book Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen and read a paragraph that jarred that memory.

In the past, testing has been used to do two jobs for students, teachers, and administrators. The first has been to determine the extent to which students have mastered a body of material and are ready to progress…The conventional teacher-administrator examination doesn’t do the first job well. Regardless of whether students have mastered the material in a unit, they all move on. Teachers don’t find out what students actually learned until an exam is administered and graded, which tends to be some time after the unit of class is already complete. If students haven’t mastered all the material but know it well enough to get a passing grade, students must still move on. And even if they fail an exam, the students typically move on, because moving on is inherent in the model of monolithic instruction. This teacher-administered examination tells teachers and administrators only what percentage of the students has demonstrated mastery of what percentage of the material. The amount of time in which to learn the material is fixed, but the amount of learning varies significantly.

I know there are plenty of folks who will read this and I will never change your mind—but how about if you just stop for a second and consider the type of questions that you give. If your kids have to study for the test then they did not learn the material when you taught it, or they had it in short term memory, maybe even re-memorized it for the quiz, and then forgot it again. If they study it and try to remember it for the test they automatically put it into short-term memory and 72 hours later it begins to fade fast. So basically you are testing how well they can memorize and how long they can hang onto their short-term memory. If you really want to give a test, and you really want to see how much your kids will retain, and how well you did with your lesson plans, give them the test without anytime for them to prepare for it…or better yet…O’ you are not going to like this one…give them the test unannounced a month after you finish the unit. Wouldn’t that be the true test of how well the students are doing? How well you are doing? I have done it before and I can almost promise you it will change the way you teach, it will change the way you present information, it will change the structure of your lesson plans. When you see what they remember after a month and you match the info with the lesson in which it was presented, you end up designing more lessons like the one they retained the info from.

She gets it…

My students just finished letters to President-elect Obama.  We are actually going to put them in the mail and send them to Washington, DC.  This is our very first project that the kids are handing in on paper!  One letter that I started reading I honestly did not have high hopes for.  It was wrinkled.  It was addressed wrong.  It was one ginormous paragraph.  I almost handed it right back.  The issue that the student told Obama he should deal with first is education, specifically infusing technology into education.  I found myself reading sentences twice–because they were that good.  There were some sentences that I had to stop at the end of before going onto the next one because I needed to reflect on what she wrote. It was a great letter with a great point, but one sentence stood out in particular:

What is more important, knowing how many square miles in Canada, or knowing how to set-up a video conference with someone in Canada?

Kind of just made me stop and go hmmmmm.  She gets its.  Great job Katie!


What really puts kids at risk online?

“The nation’s foremost academic researchers on child online safety presented their research and answered questions over a luncheon panel on May 3, 2007.”

Here is one thing they said that about the connection between being online and their risk for being a victim from internet violence:

“Our research, actually looking at what puts kids at risk for receiving
the most serious kinds of sexual solicitation online, suggests that it’s
not giving out personal information that puts kid at risk. It’s not
having a blog or a personal website that does that either. What puts
kids in danger is being willing to talk about sex online with
strangers or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web
like going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there,
kind of behaving in what we call like an internet daredevil.”

The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee

My Vote Did Not Count

I thought long and hard about who I voted for in the 2008 Presidential Election.  I am a social studies teacher and spent about three weeks on election activities so I knew quite a bit about the big two and more about third party candidates.  I was undecided right up until the night before the election when I made my choice.  I strutted into the town hall with my daughters at my side and with great enthusiasm filled out my ballot. Yep, that’s my ballot below–click on it for a better view.

I did an entire slide show of me going through the voting process to show my class.  They were VERY eager to find out who I was voting for.  I tried my best to remain unbiased in the weeks leading up to the election and told them I would reveal who I voted for the day after.  Within minutes of putting this image up, a student stated that it was too bad my vote didn’t count.  Yea, very funny wise guy.  Then I felt myself start sweating as I realized he was correct.  I even called the town registrar today who verified my students observation.  Two classes later another student pointed out that all my other votes probably didn’t count either.  I am not telling you why they don’t count, you’ll have to figure it out on your own.

Big ol’ smarty pants me with how many college degrees and years of teaching kids couldn’t even follow some simple directions on this O’ so important day.  Instead of an optical scanner, it might have as well been a shredder.

One thing I know for sure is that the next time a kid in my class forgets to follow the directions it sure won’t bother me.

My New York Google Teacher Academy Application

If you are one of the few, proud, mighty might readers of Blogush you might recall that October was “Positive Posting” month for me, and I was able to jam out exactly 2, count them two, posts. It’s not that I didn’t try. I have been writing a post for about three weeks now based on my video for the Google Teacher Academy application that is being held in a few weeks at Google Headquarters in  New York City. After spending another twenty minutes or so on it, I decided to table it and just post my video—and why not all the questions and answers on the application too.

First the story behind the application—hey don’t skip to the questions and answers, it’s a good story. I was excited to find out through a Plurk that the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) was going to be held in New York City this year. I think there have only been six and so there are less than 300 Google Certified Teachers in the world! From what I read, and seeing who had been accepted in the past, I became a bit intimidated—there are some real rock stars that have gone through the academy. I put it off and put it off. Finally it was the night it was due and for some reason I decided to go for it. I decided to do the video first. Problem was, there was no time to storyboard, film, edited, etc, a classy movie. I also spent some time looking at other folks videos—geez, some teachers have access to some incredible software and equipment. I decided to go to the other extreme—make a video as simply as possible on using technology the opposite way that many people are using it. No on screen captions, no fancy quotes, no backing music, just my face, my voice, my words-oh, and I had to film it outside since it was impossible to ask two little kids to stay quiet for 60 seconds before bedtime!! My first full take was 62 seconds long—it can only be 60—so I slowly shaved a little bit off each end until it was 60 secs. No time for a second take! On to the questions. I pounded out some answers—grrrrr….not my best work, downloaded the video to youtube and shipped it off to google. Below is basically what I sent to GTA. I did change a few sentences in each section to make it more powerful once I cut and pasted to the application, but the gist of each answer remains.

Why should we select you to be a Google Certified Teacher? And what do you hope to get out of the Google Teacher Academy?

Someone once told me that if you plan on using technology in a lesson and the technology fails but the lesson can still continue, then you really haven’t fully integrated technology into the lesson. If we lost our internet connection our 8th grade Social Studies classes would not be able to continue as planned.   We are one of the heaviest users of blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other web 2.0 tools in the country. Almost every unit we do is in some way done in collaboration with a class somewhere in the world with web 2.0 tools.  The internet is the backbone of my classroom. Our biggest problem is that the tools we use are spread over many different sites and companies which lead to projects that become disorganized and lack depth.  Google Academy would give our creativity, collaboration, and passion a focus and depth that we have not been able to attain.

Describe one of your favorite teaching moments. What made it so special for you and your students?

It was last fall when our podcast team landed an interview with one of the leaders of an internet video site (a google competitor that will remain nameless!). Our school had just opened up our internet filter to allow us to communicate with the outside world with Skype. This one call knocked down our four walls. From that moment on, the kids stopped thinking that learning and information could only come from within our classroom. They used web 2.0 tools to create and collaborate with people from around the world. They started to use the web not just to get information, but to produce products for authentic audiences around the world.

Describe your role as a Professional Developer.

As a regular classroom teacher, my role as a Professional Developer is more of being the web 2.0 evangelist in my building. I try to speak to the benefits of integrating technology into the curriculum with any teacher that I am with, and have done formal presentations for both my team and curriculum area. I am also a mentor teacher and have either a student teacher or intern every semester. I find that in this 1:1 atmosphere professional development is truly meaningful. We don’t just talk about integrating technology into a lesson, but practice it, reflect together, and learn what the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson were, and try it again.

Describe an obstacle you encountered in your professional life and how you overcame it.

I am about as far from a traditional teacher as one can be. My staff thinks I am crazy doing authentic child centered Project Based Learning units that are infused with technology and are done in collaboration with schools across the world. I became professionally lonely and was growing stagnant as a teacher. There was no one I knew that I could learn from, no one to pass ideas by. After the recommendation of one of the teacher’s I was collaborating with I jumped into Twitter, then I began to seriously blog and read other’s blogs, and now I Plurk. My PLN has grown incredibly and now I have so many people to learn from. I can see how this might not necessarily be seen as a major obstacle, but a static teacher is a dead teacher, and I was on life support before I developed my PLN.

60 Second Video on “Learning and Motivation

Do you hear whispers?

What do your kids whisper? I stand every morning in the hall and listen to their feet, their shoulders, whether or not they say hello first, their tone of voice and most importantly their eyes. Usually what they say the loudest is the least important. It is very rare that a student will scream for help—normally any plea for assistance is almost silent. If you are not quite, you’ll never hear their whispers.

Before every oral presentation I have everyone freeze and we read their bodies. I could give everyone a grade right then and there and be accurate about 90% of the time. Whose legs are crossed? Arms? Both? Where are they looking? They are all whispers. You have to ignore the normal signs of communication that we are accustomed to getting our messages from. Smiles are sometimes frowns, questions aren’t always looking for answers, bright clothes often hide dark moods, the words of anger hide sadness, expressions that push you away are done because they really want you close, and believe it or not every time a kid asks to go to the lav it does not mean they have to pee. Sometimes I stop class when every single kid is sitting up, looking forward and staring at me and ask them why no one is paying attention. Something happened at gym, there was a problem in the hall coming to class…we have to stop and talk about it otherwise nothing we do in class will stick and they won’t be able to listen to me. Kids can hear our whispers. They know what we are really saying despite the words they hear.

You can often tell if a teacher listens to student’s whispers based on how they describe a student. “He is not working up to his potential.” “He just sits there in class and doesn’t ask any questions or come back for extra help.” “She doesn’t try, she comes in everyday with a poor attitude.” All sentences indicate that the loudest actions and words are being heard, but the whispers are not.

I did not always listen. In fact, for ten years I was a struggling confused traditional teacher. I knew I was missing something but just could not figure out what. I knew that bringing in a good sense of humor was important, but not enough. I knew that creating engaging lessons was important, but not enough. I knew that talking to kids about life was important, but it was not enough. I did not listen to the whispers. Until one dark night I received a phone call informing me that one of my students had committed suicide. I had missed all of her whispers. Every single one. It was on that night that I knew what was missing.

Christina’s suicide was one of the single most influential events in my life. It opened my eyes to an entire spectrum of communication that I had previously missed…or maybe a better way of saying it is that it opened my eyes and ears to an entire spectrum of communication that I had previously misinterpreted. I went into an intense period of reflection, an intense period of replaying student behaviors in my head to figure out what I had missed. Which led to a whole new set of problems…I was getting overloaded whenever I tried teaching because now all I was hearing were their whispers. 13 year olds might be loud, but they also whisper non-stop. My classroom routine had to change. Every Monday when the kids come in we sit and do a “How was your weekend.” Every kid shares something they did over the weekend, kids can ask fellow students to elaborate if they choose. On weeks in which I am feeling a bit crunched it might only last ten minutes. On other weeks it can go the entire period. Other classes during the week start off with “Bits of Business.” I might share a story, we chat about something going on in school, anyone who has something to say gets a chance to say it. Visitors might look at this as wasted time. I call it an investment. I invest 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the period, and it makes the return on the final 45 minutes much greater. It also allows me to get right into the kids heads before we start. I will know who is distracted by something, who is going to have trouble following directions, and who might need a little extra help staying focused during group work. We transition right from Bits of Business to the academic portion of the class so I never have to ask for anyone’s attention, I already have it. They have been given an opportunity to be listened to, and they know that they have been heard—whether they speak aloud, or just give me a glance and whisper.

Thank you for reading my post…if you can hear the whispers…what did I just whisper to you?

October is officially Positive Posting Month on Blogush

I was looking back at many of my blog posts and there seems to be a common thread amongst many of them—they all are about problems I encounter in school. I think I am losing my positive energy…no, I know I am losing my positive energy. What has happened to me? I have become “one of them” without me noticing. It’s really hard to find a positive post on this blog. Even the ones that might seem positive to someone, came from a negative experience. Ickk. It seems every post has been written for me to vent some frustration and allow me to spread my anguish to the blogosphere. Double Ickk. I need to find a way to replenish my spirit, my energy, my sense-of-humor bank. I think I have to center myself on the most positive people I know—all of my kids. They come in smiling each day and somehow I miss it. I need to get totally absorbed in their smiles, their laughs, their energy. I need to somehow lock out the rest of the world each period and be drawn into theirs. I would love to say that I should also hang out with more positive people but I simply don’t know many. I need to talk more about positive things that are occurring in school, but can only think of one or two people that would be willing to have that conversation.

So I am declaring October my “Positive Posting and Plurking Month” I will only write about things that will life my spirit up. It’s that simple. No complaining. No writing about how I wish something would change. I wonder if there would be interest in a Positive Plurk Day. For you Plurkers out there, imagine if on one day every plurk you read was positive. Every single one. You would not have to even look to find them, your screen would be full of positive vibes. If you have ever been in a room in which everyone is laughing you know how it changes your outlook on life for that moment. Maybe if everyone blogged, plurked, and talked a little more positively we would attack problems from a positive frame of mind, and we would solve them differently because we would have an attitude that allows us to see our challenge in a new light that the fog of cynicism and negativity clouded over.


I know there are positive bloggers, plurkers, podcasters, and people. I am just in a mood in which I don’t want to have to look for them by wading through the others. I don’t want a 60/40 split. Just for one day I want to have only 100% positive energy coming from my computer and from my interactions with colleagues. I don’t want to process negative energy for just one day. I am bringing this up in the blogosphere because I think I would have a better chance of convincing people to do it here, than I would in my teacher’s room. So what do you say? Want to declare a day and give it a try? On my blog I would have a post with links to every participating blogger’s post. If you are a “friend” of mine on plurk, all you would have to do is Plurk Positive for one single day. I am not asking for a year, a month, or even a week. Just one day. Will you join me? Pick a day…

What kind of picture will you hang?

I arrived at school today to find a note on my desk. A piece of paper folded in half with Mr. Bogush written on the top and one of those chicka girlie hearts that only a teenager could draw.

I opened it up and inside was written:

6th Grade–sketching a picture (what will yours be?)

7th Grade–Outlining and coloring (will yours be dull or bright?)

8th Grade–Are you proud of what you made? Do you want to hang it up?

Will you?

Email me and I’ll describe mine to you.

Signed (student from last year)

A great story teller once told me never to interpret a story for an audience. So I will leave her note to you the way it was left for me, with no interpretation. It did make me think that only now after 40 years of living am I getting close to being ready to “hang” my picture up.

Are you a teacher or a trainer?

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” (Michelangelo)

If a kid does not do their homework and they get a detention, what do they learn from the detention?
If a kid gets yelled at and lectured in front of the class, what do they learn from that?
If the kid loses points because they forgot their homework, what do they really learn from that?
If a kid fails a test and has to have a silent lunch, what do they learn from that?

When a kid does something “inappropriate” in your class, do you teach them, or do you train them?
Do you coerce? Or do you guide?
Do you punish? Or assist?
Do you give them less interaction with you and peers? Or do you provide more support?
Do you tell them what to do? Or do you ask them why they did it?
Do you push them away to the corner? Or bring them in close?
Do they learn what to do? Or why to do it?
Do you assume you know why a kid did something? Or get the full story before reacting?
Do you make decisions based on emotions? Or do you wait until your head is clear?
Do you close your mind? Or open your heart?
Do you try to crush a spirit? Or rekindle one that is dying?
Do they learn what not to do? Or what they should do?

Training is easy. Teaching is hard.
Having a list of rules that applies to everyone is easy. Treating each kid as an individual is hard.
Having a consequence for an inappropriate behavior is easy. Finding what triggered the behavior is hard.
Yelling at a kid during class is easy. Taking them aside and speaking softly to them after class is hard.

Be careful when you discipline your kids. I know it is really, really hard to talk with them instead of disciplining them. It might take 50 times. But each one of those attempts will be better than coercive management. For advanced teachers I recommend something even more drastic. Pull the kid aside, make like you are going to talk to him but don’t. Just sit on your butt and listen. There is no more powerful classroom management tool in world than listening with an open mind. Never do anything that will damage your relationship with a child. If you do, you can sit down and listen all you want, but you won’t hear anything.

Train your dog, teach you kids.

“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” (Michelangelo)