What if your life depended on them?

I have a small farm. A few days ago I noticed that one of my rams was missing. I searched and finally found it. My guess is that it received some kind of head-butting, mating season, broken neck injury. As I was burying the ram I thought about how it was scheduled to go to the slaughterhouse this month and while I was sad because it died, I also lost one year of labor, feed costs, and the income from its sale. While it hurt my “farm budget” it really won’t impact my family. My life did not depend on that ram living or dying. I am a part-time farmer, and while it is a for-profit enterprise and my family relies on the meat to nourish us, it just doesn’t matter if it died. I will be just fine.

I thought about the people that raised sheep on my property 150 years ago. They would have depended on that ram for their lives, and each sheep and plant they grew would have taken care of as though their life depended on it-because it did. Taking care of their crops, their animals was more than a job…it was their life.

I teach. It’s just a job. My life does not depend on whether I put in a good effort, or a great effort. That is simply the reality of the position. I could put in four less hours of work each day and still get paid the same amount. I could deliver the curriculum in a non-personal, traditional way and it would not matter. I could just “do” the textbook with the teacher book worksheets, and teacher book quizzes and tests and it would not matter. I could ignore every problem my kids have in their lives and it would not matter. My life does not depend on it. When it comes right down to it, it just doesn’t.

What if my life did depend on it? What if each kid was like a lamb that I depended on for my life? If it was sick, would I give it the best medicine I was able to find? If one came in limping one morning would I stop it to find out why? If one was threatened by wolves would I protect it? If one was a runt, would I give it extra feed? If one had a poor mother, would I step in with extra attention and nourishment? If the barn was leaking, how long would it take for me to fix it? If I had to mend a fence, would I put up a temporary fix, or do it right the first time? If my life depended on it the answer to all of those questions would be yes. Do you do the same for your kids?

Tomorrow treat one, just one kid, like your life depends on them.

What are your kids responsible for?

I am going to ask the question again.

What are your kids responsible for? Don’t keep reading until you have some answers in your head.  You with the bunny slippers–stop reading and get some answers in your head.

Now with the answers in your head…

Do those responsibilities impact anyone’s life? or are they pretend responsibilities.  Like they have the responsibility to do their homework so they will get a good grade so they will get into a good college so they will get a good job so they will have a happy life.

So what was the last authentic assignment they had?  An assignment that had real world implications if they did not uphold their responsibilities.  An assignment that did not mimic the “real world,” or role model players in the “real world,” but one that contributed and made a difference in the “real world.”  The world they are living in right this second, not the “real world” of their future.

You are suppose to be influencing them, who are they influencing?

You are asking them questions, who are they asking questions to?

You are teaching them, who are they teaching?

You are supposed to be creating lasting memories in their minds, but how many times did your kids have to study for a test or quiz and put things into short-term memory?

You have to met their needs, whose needs are they meeting?

You teach them to write, but who do they write for?

You are suppose to be an agent of change, what do they get to change?

You get to help them with their problems, who do they get to help?

You show them the world, who do they show their world to?

You prepare them to be productive members of society, what products have did they create and send out to society?

You teach them to communicate, who do they communicate with?

You are planning lessons that will allow them to be prepared in the future for the “real world,” what lessons are you giving them in which they will leave being more prepared for today?

Real kids need real responsibilities…

What is the purpose of the first day of school?

Thursday was my first day of school with students. Each class was only fifteen-twenty minutes long(yikes). I plan my activities in the first day for very specific purposes. When the kids came in the room was darkened, my string of lights around the ceiling on, and everything is day 1 quiet. I walked to the front of the room and took out my guitar case, took out the guitar and hit a couple of strings—haven’t said a word at this point. I start some simple strumming of songs chords and then stop and say—“oh I forgot, welcome to the greatest class you will ever have.” Start up the strumming again and play an original song welcoming them and giving them some insight as to what will occur in the class, and inside themselves.

When the song is over I briefly talk about how this class will be different from any other class they have ever had, and that they will struggle in the beginning—but not to be afraid. The struggles, the tears, the joys and the smiles will all be worth it. I then played a video showing them quotes from last year’s kid’s final evaluations to drive home the point to stick with me through the struggles, because great things will happen.

I then hand out their million word assignment and explain how it is one of the most important assignments of the entire year.

Then I ask them if anyone is allergic to giraffes. I explain to the baffled faces that I needed to know for tomorrow’s class.

There is a lot of “unwritten” stuff that goes on between and during each thing, especially before I start playing the song—but hard to describe in words the “body motion” sorts of stuff done to draw them in.

So what is the purpose of those activities? I want them to know that I like them. I want them to like me. I want them to be desperate to come back tomorrow. I want them to begin to wonder why I did those crazy things, and wonder what will happen tomorrow. I want them to find my room to be a safe, trusting environment in which smiles are accepted.

What was the purpose of your first day with students? If you don’t have kids and you work with adults—what is the purpose of your first contact with teachers?

How to make a classroom more inviting? Follow Mickey’s Advice…

I am always looking for that magical list to guide my teaching…don’t know if this is it but it does make me think that maybe Mickey’s onto something. Thanks to Dale Basler for including a link to this in his blog.

Fast Guide to Mickey’s Ten Commandments

1. Know your audience
Don’t bore people, talk down to them or lose them by assuming that they know what you know.

2. Wear your guest’s shoes
Insist that designers, staff and your board members experience your facility as visitors as often as possible.

3. Organize the flow of people and ideas
Use good story telling techniques. Tell good stories not lectures.

4. Create a ‘come to me’ (the castle, the Epcot dome)
Lead visitors from one area to another by creating visual magnets and giving visitors rewards for making the journey

5. Communicate with visual literacy
Make good use of all the non-verbal ways of communication – colour, shape, form, texture.

6. Avoid overload
Resist the temptation to tell too much, to have too many objects. Don’t force people to swallow more than they can digest, try to stimulate and provide guidance to those who want more.

7. Tell one story at a time
If you have a lot of information divide it into distinct, logical, organized stories. People can absorb and retain information more clearly if the path to the next concept is clear and logical.

8. Avoid contradiction
Clear institutional identity helps give you the competitive edge. The public needs to know who you are and what differentiates you from other institutions they may have seen.

9. For every ounce of treatment , provide a ton of fun
How do you woo people from all other temptations? Give people plenty of opportunity to enjoy themselves by emphasizing ways that let people participate in the experience and by making your environment rich and appealing to all senses.

10. Keep it up
Never underestimate the importance of cleanliness and routine maintenance. People expect to get a good show every time. They will comment more on broken and dirty stuff.

Source: A talk given by Marty Sklar, then head of Walt Disney Imagineering

Do you teach the status quo?

status quo ante — “the state of things as it was before.”

During the first fourteen years of my schooling I was taught the status quo. Yes I answered a lot of questions, some of which I even came up with, but I never “questioned” anything. I learned about Pilgrims, read all the books “smart” kids were suppose to read, and was told pollution was bad. During this time I cannot ever remember having to think about what I was learning. I was just expected to become part of the status quo, and I should say, becoming part of the status quo was my goal.

In my sophomore year of college I had a professor who was somewhat controversial. He said and taught things that went against the status quo. He presented ideas that I could not help think about-controversial ideas that did not just flow into my brain, but something made me stop, make conclusions, and seek out evidence before accepting or rejecting them. He made me “think” about what I was learning and being taught—I started to “question” everything and have not stopped.

An idea that is controversial always makes me think more than one that re-states the status quo. I have not seen many blog posts, plurks, tweets, or ed websites that challenge the status quo. If you read most comments they all tend to be written to tell the writer why they agree with their point.

Can we truly teach kids to question things without bringing up controversial topics into our classroom? We can’t teach kids to challenge the status quo by simply having them answer questions about generic topics and maybe even sometime “creating” their own questions that they answer. I know I have stopped bringing up ideas of mine that would be considered controversial in school. Folks hear them and minds close-I am assumed to be wrong because my ideas do not support the status quo. I think that also applies to this blog–as a small time blogger I am afraid of having someone feel “offended.”

I know that I also do not feel safe talking about controversial topics in class. Kids would love it, but parents would not see it as an opportunity for their kid to question and examine their own belief system, examine evidence from multiple points-of-views, draw a conclusion and defend it with data and facts. All it would take is one single phone call from a parent to destroy my life. I am not ready for that.

Can teachers every really get a student ready for the “real world?”

I often question my ability to get students ready for the “real world.” Now don’t start getting all teacherish on me and start saying that the real world is now, or we all live in the real world, etc… I mean that first true experience in the business world, or as an entrepreneur. How many teachers have ever had a job other than teaching? How many teachers have a second job in the “real world” that takes their mind out of academia and into finance, construction, government, sales, or running a restaurant.

I have often joked with folks that every five years teachers should have to work as something other than a teacher for a year.

Many teachers I know went to school, worked as the camp counselor, and now teach. School is not the real world. We segregate people by age, ability, stay on task for 45 minutes at a time, do work that is for the garbage can, rarely get to talk freely, etc…

Just like you can never figure out what it is like being a teacher by just being a student in a school, you don’t know what it’s like to be a doctor by being a patient, or what it’s like being chef by eating in a restaurant. How can teachers get kids ready for the real world if they are simply consumers and observers? Do you have to be apart of the “real world” in order to properly prepare someone else for it?

Be nice…Just thinkin’…

What happened to using 2.0 tools to connect students?

Bear with me here–a short intro before I get to my point. If you are one of the 1000s of regular readers-ok, one of the 100s of regular readers–fine, if you are the regular read of my blog you probably have realized that I am not the best writer. And I really struggled with this post because I found a lot of difficulty to put my thoughts into a cohesive point. Also I found it difficult to bring out in this post that it expresses thoughts I have been wondering about, not firm beliefs. So please don’t attack in the comments, this is just a post about something that has been bouncing around my mind…

I fell into the 2.0 world in a weird way. I wrote a kid who was using a wikispace for a project about a cool graphic she was using and she wrote back and so did her teacher. The teacher and I then somehow decided to have both classes work on the project together. After that every time I found a new tool I tried to figure out how to use it to collaborate with another classroom or audience somewhere in the world. My mindset was fixed on using the power of the web to get my students out of our classroom and having them connect with classrooms and audiences across the world–I just thought those were the rules in the 2.0 world–it’s how it was introduced to me by Ben Wilkoff. We were already a funky out-of-the-box PBL classroom way before 2.0 came along. By integrating 2.0 tools into our classroom we were able to connect and collaborate with an audience or classroom in everything we did making us slightly twist the way we approached our projects and making all of our work more authentic. We did not become more creative or collaborative within our four walls, but the magic happened when connecting with folks out of our four walls. Really, when it comes right down to it, a creative lesson plan without 2.0 tools can almost mimic any of the skills, objectives, and conceptual ideas covered in any lesson that includes one. Almost every 2.0 tool when used in the confines of the classroom with a traditional lesson plan just gives the lesson a new coat of paint. Kind of like when I bring my guitar in and use it for a lesson. I sometimes wonder if teachers are simply relying on 2.0 tools to mask lesson plans that are not conceptual, interesting, appropriately challenging, creative, problem based or collaborative. Ouch? (For the record, I include myself as possibly “one” of those teachers)

I stopped and looked around the other day and noticed that 2.0 tools, especially plurk, twitter, wikis and blogs seemed to be getting a lot of teachers together, but how about their students? Are these tools being brought into a classroom to have their kids use within their walls, or are they being used to break down their walls? What’s that saying about how it’s not about how well the teachers teach, it about how the students learn… All of these Personal Learning Networks are great. Yes they are. But maybe they are missing the point. It’s not about how well the teachers are connecting, it should be about how well the kids are connecting. It’s not about just using tools because they are the future, it’s about using them in the way they will be used in the future. In business, 2.0 tools allow people to work across great distances collaboratively and present their ideas to audiences in a creative fashion. They are not using wikis and google docs within four walls, but to break down walls. My kids interviewed Colin Devroe of the interactive video hosting site Viddler. Colin uses skype and google docs to run Viddler with colleagues in Poland, Pennsylvania, and California. We may be using the tools of the future but are they being incorporated in the classroom in a manner that they are currently being used by businesses and entrepreneurs in the 21st Century? Are we using them within our four walls, or are we using them to take down our walls?

If you would like to take down a wall or two in your classroom, please see my prior post. And remember, I was just wondering…which might just be my way of being afraid that I am going to offend someone with this post? Will I?

My kids need your kids…

Last year pretty much everything we did in class we did in collaboration with another group somewhere in the USA or Australia. The collaborations ranged from passive (we delivered something to another class, they reacted), low-key (both sides contributing to one final product but no need to constantly communicate back and forth), and aggressive (both side actively working together). There’s got to be better words than aggressive, passive, and low-key…hmmm…

I thought that I would throw into this post all of the things that are planned for this year and see if I could catch anyone interested in working with us–either aggressively, passively, or low-key.

So here goes, a very rough agenda of the 2008-09 school year. Nothing is in stone. If you have a totally different idea let us know. If you have content that is not on this list we can connect almost any subject and curriculum that you have to what we do. I have listed some activities we have done in the past but open to any ideas. We could shift the timing of almost any of these units also. These are written as basic as possible, no EQ or concept or anything like that included. There are some units that I am looking for activity ideas! Give me a break on the wording…these are more like my notes.

Throughout year — Three words videos example 1, example 2, example 3

Sept- American Revolution-Last year kids did videos on one person or action

Oct- USA Election-Set up campaign for one candidate, would like to “debate” another class with each one taking a different candidate. Could have multiple Mcains/Obama/Nader;) etc in each class.

Nov- We are going to Sturbridge Village an early 19th Century(1830’s) living history museum. Would you like to hire us for a virtual field trip? I could have groups individualize a virtual field trip to fit your needs/concept/content/final product. Come on someone take me up on this one at least!! No seriously, it would be cool.  My kids talk to yours before hand to get their requests and deliver a “fieldtrip” to your cyber doorstep.

Dec- Lewis and Clark–??

Jan- Children’s books on the War of 1812 We write, you illustrate–or we write together–or we write and illustrate then you read and critique

Feb- Oregon Trail– Form a group that will open a business on the Oregon Trial and create Business plan. Would love to have mixed groups, or classes create plans to be presented live or… I did a trial run of this last year and am really interested in doing this activity again without all the mistakes.

Mar- Immigration-??

Ap- Civil War- We are doing first person podcasts from soldiers that are buried in the cemetery in the town center

May- Industrialization-???

June- Independent Study

These are the biggies. There is a unit on the Constitution, we usually do a “Whose your hero?” unit, another unit that involves writing and recording songs, and an editorial carton unit. Of course every year I try to have my plans laid out and then I get a notice that I will be getting a student teacher which could change everything based on their strengths..

I am very interested in working with classes and teachers who have never done any type of collaboration before. Please do not be shy! If you are interested in one of the above topics or some other topic let me know. That means you in the back who really wants to leave a comment but feels as though you are not ready to jump into a distance collaboration–you are! Email me PBogush@wallingford.k12.ct.us

What is the profile of a successful 21st Century teacher? or Is it the apples or is it the chef?

Have you heard some version of this question lately in the 2.0 zone?
Has what is considered “good teaching” changed?

Can that be altered to:
Has what is considered to be a good teacher changed?

Can that be altered to:
Should we be hiring different types of people to be teachers?

I have read and heard so much talk about how to get current teachers “up-to-date.” Not just with 2.0 tools and integrating technology into their classrooms, but simply starting with making a unit conceptual, making a connection to a kids life, individualizing the learning, and having the learning be authentic and useful.

If you gave a bushel of bad apples to a great chef what could they make with them? Everything they tried would have an off-taste, they could dump a load of sugar in, put ice cream on top but that would just hide the fact that the main ingredient and the heart of the recipe has a problem. I feel bad for all the technology teachers who are putting their hearts into trying to make changes in their school and no one is listening. Maybe they don’t need to create a different hook, or a different story, or show the staff what needs would be meet…maybe it’s the apples.

Is our problem the apples, or the chefs?

What is the profile of a successful 21st Century teacher? What does a 21st Century teacher need to be able to do with their students that a 20th Century teacher did not have to do? To be clear, anything you think of or comment should not be something that 20th Century teachers should have been doing but didn’t, it should be something brand new that a 20th century teacher would not have been expected to do with their students in order for them to be successful in their world.

What do you teach?

Technicolor wrote in a blog post:

“What are we as educators doing to ensure that the students that sit before us during the school day are going to ready for what they are to face when we are no longer there for them.”

My comment:

Make sure that you teach a hidden curriculum. Take a look at the school curriculum for your class and create a curriculum that stands up behind it. Never start off with I am going to teach about Harriet Tubman. Start off with I am going to teach about courage. Never start off with I am going to teach them how to write a letter to the President. Start off with I will empower them to make change. Most importantly, stop calling your class by its name-Soc Stud, Math, Sci, Eng, whatever-call it life. I teach life. I use social studies to do it. Kids will remember life skills, they won’t remember social studies skills.

Every year I teach, I come to believe that more and more. Especially this year after reading my students evaluations at the end of the year. I hesitate to place this video here, something I have been fooling around with for next year, but I offer it as proof that you will change lives, if you teach life.


I used to raise goats. Had quite a few, 40+ at one point. Which in urban New Haven County Connecticut probably made me the biggest goat farmer in the county. I grew up in East Haven, CT. I am pretty sure they have laws banning the preservation of open space and farms. So basically I went from only having a fish, to the biggest goat farmer in the county overnight.

What happens to teachers who all of a sudden want to make the change from a traditional teacher driven traditional classroom to a more progressive project based technology integrated classroom?

When I first received my first set of twenty goats I can honestly say I did not have a clue. Sure I had read every book and internet article on raising goats but soon found that they did not prepare me for the real thing and all of the exceptions to the rules. As someone who was new there was great intimidation in directly contacting a more experienced farmer and admitting that I did had a problem, did not know what I was doing, and please help me out of a mess I had gotten myself into. For all of you out there brimming with confidence—well, maybe you don’t know what I am talking about. But how many people reading this have spent hours trying to figure something out with great frustration instead of contacting someone who would be able to help you with your problem and probably give you some great extra advice that you did not even know that you needed.

What helped me with the goats is I found goats911.com. It was a site that listed goat breeders, their specialty, and when they could be contacted for help. They invited people with problems to ask them questions. When I started with 2.0 stuff I found a lot of sites full of teachers looking for partners, or sites that offered places for people to ask questions, but these were usually sites set up for folks who were already a bit 2.0 savvy, or for folks who had edibility to go from 1.0 to 2.0 in 5 seconds. What exists for the people who are driving Pintos, who might need their hand held for their transition, for folks looking for or in need of a mentor…folks who are too intimidated to get into a 2.0 discussion on a race track full of Ferraris. I know that I had goats die, because I was struggling through things on my own just reading internet articles, and only dabbling in forums with the goat Ferraris. I know that for many teachers starting a PBL 2.0 classroom will result in death because of the lack of guidance. If you think otherwise, than either you are just smarter than the average teacher (which I will assume all of my readers are 😉 or you have forgotten what it was like to make a jump to something brand new.

So I wish there was a teacher911.org(teacher911.com is already taken!). A place that had a list of teachers, their fortes, their email, Skype, twitter, something along those lines, that invited teachers who had zero experience to come and ask questions of an individual and could get close to an immediate response–a place to establish a relationship where mentors could be found. A place where newbies would not be embarrassed to ask the must simple questions of a person, and then come back and ask 10 more questions to the same person. I think newbies would be more likely to make a shift to 2.0 when they could ask questions and form a relationship with an individual rather than a ning, wikispace, or other type of forum. To get more teachers to make the shift to 2.0 we need to make a shift to 1:1 support.

Traditional professional development doesn’t work. I am talking about district supported, not when a person chooses to attend a conference. District PD is based on “we have something to give to you”, when a teacher chooses a conference to attend they go to that PD to “take something.” If you didn’t ask the question, you won’t remember the answer. One PD is full of people just getting info to questions they did not ask, the other is people seeking answers to their questions.

It bugs me when teachers say during parent conferences “S/he never asks questions in class, they need to ask more questions to catch up and do better.” It’s hard to ask a question when you don’t have the words, it’s hard to ask a question in a group that exposes a lack of knowledge, especially when it is in a group of people who have all the knowledge you are seeking. But maybe they would call teacher911 in the privacy of their home when they know the person on the other end is offering a safe helping outstretched hand.