Own it…

A couple of weeks ago I was cleaning out some of the dark corners of my classroom and found some old boxes of essays.  Every year I used to keep the last research paper that the kids write.  I always kept them because I have a pretty unorthodox classroom, no tests or quizzes is the tip of the iceberg, and I always felt like I needed to keep some evidence of what the kids could do in case someone wanted to fire me over the summer.  The papers were awesome.  I found myself sitting and rereading them.  I also found that I remembered the research of so many of them.  I did less teaching of writing back then, and more simple motivation and lots of coaching and conversation to get then to own their writing.  By the end of the year, what they handed in was not for a grade, but was for themselves, they were proud to hand it in.

I don’t keep the last paper from kids anymore.  When we became a data driven school I had excel sheets of data from through the year.  I had conferences where I had to show my data and examples of student writing.  Kids had to be improving every essay and show substantial growth by the end of the year.  The way we wrote changed.  Enter the rubric, enter the organizers, enter the models, and leading them by the hand to what “good writing” should look like.  It always felt ugly and dirty…and every year kids entered and left my class not writing better than the previous year’s kids.  I stopped saving their final papers because they were fake, they were produced to show that their writing has improved for a data sheet.  The kids stopped owning their writing.   It belonged to the school.  If you took away the organizers and rubrics, they would stumble their way through an idea to completion in order to get the grade in the almighty powerschool.

My kids used to do an interview show where they interviewed professionals from across the world, many who were writers.  Every one said that the way we are teaching writing is wrong and is hurting the quality of writing that is being published today.  Funny how we are suppose to get hem college ready, which gets you career ready, but the people who have writing careers are saying we are getting it wrong.  It makes sense…how many teachers who have any involvement in teaching kids to write actually write themselves?  

This year I have tried to take a step back from all of the rubrics and organizers to try and once again get kids to take ownership of their writing.  It has been a painstakingly slow process.  These kids have been taught institutionalized methods of writing for so many years that there simply is no other reason for the to write other than a grade.  There is no ownership of what they write….the school system owns it for it has led them to this point where writing is done by following the teachers outline and it’s purpose is for a grade.   Ug…

This year is an in between year for us and testing and teacher evaluations and I went back to my old ways, and alas a glimmer of hope…we just finished essays on Lewis and Clark.  The glimmer was seen in their conclusions.  The intros were pretty basic, the body paragraphs were pretty good.  But by the time they got to the conclusions many of the kids were starting to own their essays.  It is a huge step.  I found in the past that is where it would always start–at the end.  I am going to share a couple, obviously you will judge these against what your kids produce. Don’t.  In my old school these would have been considered gold, in some schools they might be struggling writers, for my kids they are pretty darn good. It is hard to make a judgement on the examples without obviously knowing what came before them.  You can check out two conclusions here and here

I was reading a article in the Atlantic magazine (yep, a paper magazine actually gets delivered to my house) and there was a great article called the Great Forgetting.” It was about how were are forgetting how to do things because our world has become so automated so that when we need to do something, we can’t.  It made me think about my kids writing.  Their writing has been automated to the point that unless they have the rubric, the organizer, the directions, the teacher telling them what to do, they simply can’t…and don’t want to write anything meaningful.  I think we have far to go, but a corner has been turned.  We will continue to work towards owning our writing and at the end of the year I will apply that wonderful system rubric to their writing and I guarantee they will have met their data goals.  If you compare two essays with basically the same directions, one from the beginning of the year, and one from yesterday, they are slowly owning their writing.  (I just realized that “owning” their writing is not official writing jargon, but a word we use in class.  Basically it represents the transition from doing it for me so that I can give them a grade, to doing something they are proud of regardless of what the grade is.)

Here is the excerpt from the Atlantic that spurred my thinking:

One of van Nimwegen’s groups worked on the puzzle using software that provided step-by-step guidance, highlighting which moves were permissible and which weren’t. The other group used a rudimentary program that offered no assistance.

As you might expect, the people using the helpful software made quicker progress at the outset. They could simply follow the prompts rather than having to pause before each move to remember the rules and figure out how they applied to the new situation. But as the test proceeded, those using the rudimentary software gained the upper hand. They developed a clearer conceptual understanding of the task, plotted better strategies, and made fewer mistakes. Eight months later, van Nimwegen had the same people work through the puzzle again. Those who had earlier used the rudimentary software finished the game almost twice as quickly as their counterparts. Enjoying the benefits of the generation effect, they displayed better “imprinting of knowledge.”

What van Nimwegen observed in his laboratory—that when we automate an activity, we hamper our ability to translate information into knowledge—is also being documented in the real world…

Sandra Stotsky on common core state standards

Sandra Stotsky spoke yesterday in CT about the common core state standards. Stotsky was one of the 26 people asked to on the common core state standards validation committee. While she has repeatedly has said that she had to sign a confidentiality agreement and is breaking it by speaking about the process, the co-writer of the ccss math standards said that is not true.  Can anyone verify Stotsky’s claim?


It could possibly be because I said she was a writer, when in fact she was on the validation committee, , or that I probably slightly misquoted her exact words and maybe it was called something else, but I will assume that anyone so close to the process could have identified my mistake.

Below is the video of her speaking.  If you click on “Youtube” you will go to the full video.  If what she says is true…well.  If what she is saying is not true I would like to see some sources showing that she is a liar. ((A reader just let me know that the below video is not showing up on some mobile devices, video can be found here, start at around 15:00))


Chopped–Social Studies Edition

A few months ago my daughter asked me to sit and watch a show with her.  It was called Chopped.  When it started I quickly realized that it was a show about people cooking food…ummm, not very exciting right?  I haven’t stopped watching it.  It hooks you in and keeps you wanting for more.  Go ahead, press play on the video below, give it five minutes and try turning it of (after posting, seems as though embedded video does not want to play, you can check it out here).

After watching several episodes, I knew that I could somehow turn this into a social studies activity.  This post is about Chopped–Social Studies Edition.  My very first experiment with the idea, and I would like to share what I did in it’s rough form that is far, far from polished.  Before I get to it, a quick story…

When I got my first teaching job, I lived at my grandfather’s and he had his windows replaced.  He took out old windows with multiple panes, chipped old paint, real antique looking things.  I stacked most of them in the cellar not wanting to throw them out, and brought a few into the classroom.  During our next project I gave each group a window and simply said you must use it.  What happened next surprised me.  While each group discussed how to use the window, they also processed and reprocessed the information from the unit in trying to figure out how to use the window.  The window ended up not just being a special part of a single moment in the presentations, but added depth and creativity to their entire presentations.  Since then I have added many strange objects, and will often throw in odd words that they must use.  Recently on the last day of the Constitution unit, as the student walked in they had to grab a random object from the room and simply write how that object was like the Constitution using all the key vocabulary from the unit.  Awesome answers and creativity and processing of the information from the unit. Back to Chopped…

The topic was Louisiana Purchase, and I had three days.  I figured this would be a good topic to experiment with. The students has basic background information on the Purchase acquired over a couple of days–we did not go into detail with this unit, it was riddled with snow days. The next day we had a 40 minute class.  I spent the first ten minutes introducing the task, and stalling so that when we started they would have exactly 30 minutes until the end of class. When they started each group received one box with a list of vocab words, and six items in it.  A picture of Napoleon, a letter from Jefferson to Livingston, a map of New Orleans, and 3 other random objects–everything from a puppet to the horn from a ram.

They opened the boxes and had thirty minutes to “tell” the story of the Louisianan Purchase using every single thing in the box and like on Chopped, anything from the pantry (our classroom).

Now if you are a social studies teacher I know what you are thinking….this is nothing more than a simple document based question type assignment.  Yep, you are right.  And you know what you hear when you say we are going to do a DBQ today?  That’s right, nothing.  After this kids were asking to do it again, and the next time I slip in more difficult primary sources, some additional historical artifacts and it will look like a legit DBQ except everyone will actually want to do it  (Julia and Paige please don’t reveal my secret :).

More pictures examining sources

Some of the things in their boxes were a bit strange.

What do you do with a doll and a hinge?

Hmmm..in a few years will I still be able to include Jefferson’s letter written in cursive?

Since I never had actually shown them a picture of Napoleon, some groups just thought this was a random guy on a horse!



While they were putting their stories together I had no idea where some groups were going with the items!


The other thing that added to the creativity was the time limit.  This could have lasted three days, they received thirty minutes.  Limiting the time increases creativity.  I believe that is none of the biggest reasons why schools do not change and do not innovate–there is no time limit placed on when they have to produce.  Want to change how classes are taught?  Create a committee, get input, create a plan, pass the plan out for feedback, back to committee, pass on to Bd of Ed subcommittee, and on and on.  Three years later maybe something gets done.  Blah…   Sometimes I do projects where instead of them coming in and extending time, I cut it.  Sometimes they walk in expecting to have 5 minutes to present and it’s announced they have two.  Sorry for the random thoughts…

For this attempt I had them present when they walked in the next day. the next time we do this we will film the interviews in between presentations, and reflections just like the real show, but for this one our minds had enough to think about.

So try a Chopped with your class, or at the very least, tell the kids that they have to use the words “boxing gloves” in their next essay.  If you don’t already promote creativity in your class, it might take several attempts to see a change, and that is ok.

So some day this year we will published a polished Chopped-Social Studies Edition video and it will look slick and impressive..but wanted to throw this up in a post so that I can link back to it and show where some of our ideas start.  Here are some silly videos, I quickly realized that even on the real show, they don’t attempt to ask questions of the chefs while they were in the middle of cooking!

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Hello…and goodbye.

Tonight I had the opportunity to Skype with Marialise BFX Curran’s class at St. Joesph’s University. It was made more special by the fact that one of my ex-students, Leanna Verch,  helped facilitate the conversation.

When I saw Leanna come onto the screen what I thought was interesting was that I did not remember a single thing that she did in my class–not one big thing.  But I have very distinct memories of how she interacted with her friends, how she walked in the hallway, and her interactions with me asking questions after class.  My memory of her was full of all the little things she did,and she did them great.

During the discussion it came up that I had spent some time waiting for my daughter at the airport, and Marialice BFX Curran mentioned that she had also spent a lot of time at airports watching people say hello, and goodbye.  It made me think…

I place an awful lot of importance on hellos and goodbyes with the students.  My first day is very special, my last day even more so.  I stand in the hallway to say good morning, how are you, and listen to more One Direction stories that anyone should have to.  At the end of class there is always a have a great day, see you tomorrow, what are your plans for the weekend.  Hellos and good byes are important.

I recently sat for three hours at the airport waiting for my daughter to arrive home.  I witnessed many hellos, and many goodbyes.  Some full of smiles, some full of tears, all of them important enough to be cherished. I also sat there long enough to watch all of the time in between, before, and after the hellos and goodbyes.  Many families arrived with flowers, presents, and bags of snacks to be given a gift to send some one off, or to be given as a present upon someones arrival.  At those precious moments, everyone was perfect.

After about an hour, it was the time before the hellos and goodbyes that I started to watch more closely.  The business man yelling at a co-worker over the phone, the mother threatening her kids one more time, the family who arrived early and sat down in all separate rows, the child endlessly begging for more, and more, and more. This was not airport stress, the airport stress helped reveal their true character. When it was their turn to say hello, or tell someone goodbye, everyone went back, just for a moment, to being perfect.  A moment which lasted briefly, before their true character was once again revealed.

“What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.”
— Karl Menninger

In teaching, we tend to focus on the big things, the fancy things we do, the big ideas we have, the new strategies we put in place. They are the things we do that make us feel like perfect teachers.  In reality they are just as brief and meaningful in our relationship with our kids as all those hellos and goodbyes that I witnessed. It is all the other time we spend with kids when we are not paying attention to being perfect that matters the most, They are the moments that leave the biggest impression upon the kids we spend so much time with.  They are the moments in which we truly show the students who we are.  They will always become who we are during those times, and never who we want them to be when we are trying to be perfect. When we have a great year, it is almost never because we have done all the big things great, it is because we were great at doing all of the little things.  Whenever I have students visit they always re-tell stories from class that I never knew happened or have no memory of.  It’s always the little things that leave the biggest impressions, it’s always the things we do between the hellos, and the goodbyes that matter most.

When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you laugh with Cindy who no one else laughs with, and I wanted to laugh too.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you ask  Mark who always sits in the corner to sit a little closer,
and I thought it was good to be kind and include everyone.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you give a compliment to Keisha who never receives one, 
and I knew that kind words make a difference.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you pat Eddie on the back as he walked out of class,
and I knew that little things are special things.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you ask Billy why he was absent yesterday,
and I knew that you missed us when we were not in class.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw your tear when I presented, and I felt loved.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared, and I wanted to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I LOOKED….
and wanted to say thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking.

Above poem is a rendition of When I thought You Weren’t Looking which is often attributed to Connie Black

Thanks for Megan Roux for showing me this video and making the connection between it’s message, and our skype conversation.

Why I love middle school #7

To see “Why I Love Middle School posts #1-6” please click here.

Last week I was out of school and needed something quick for the kids because it was also going to be a snow delayed schedule.  I left them the following directions:

The next day when I came in kids were questioning whether or not it was real, how could they have missed me passing out the slips! Most understood it was a joke…until…one student rose up and brought forth a permission slip (wish I could give that kid an “A” for the year).  This being 8th grade, if it says so on a permission slip then it must be true.


There were many doubts about the reality of the mystical unicorns, but maybe, just maybe there was now some truth to it since it was after all….on a permission slip.  I thanked the student and assured him a spot on the bus.  The next class walked in and several more students turned in slips.  Many in the class were now worried that they were not going to have a spot on the trip, especially since I did not have any more forms.  In the last class of the day, a student turned one in and I took one look at the form, one look at him and said that I cannot accept it because the parent signature had been clearly forged. He immediately felt bad about it and said that he thought it was ok to do that because he thought it was a joke, and he could get the real signature after school.  Unfortunately for him it was too late.  It was first come, first served, and the bus had been filled.

I am setting up a PayPal account if you would like to send me money to bet, I am putting it all on Steve.

It’s almost time…

It is almost time for the sbac test.  Close your libraries, shutter your computer labs, round up the computer carts and get them ready for testing.  As an added bonus make sure your school has purchase a shredder because sbac requires that if a student does use scrap paper, it must be collected and shredded.  

sbac has produced a great video called  “What is a field tests?” to tell the kids who they are, and why they are taking the test.  You can check it out here: click here. I especially like part 8 entitled “What’s in it for me?”  Check it out, or if you don’t have time it basically goes something like this:

So you may ask what is in it for me? You’re part of a one time never to happen again special group that is helping construct the next generation of tests for students across the nation. Plus by being a field tester you get a preview of the coming test just like software testers help create contests new products. It’ll be important to give your very best effort because that is how we will be able to make the assessment system as good as it can be. Think of it like trying out software and a review before the developers release it to everyone across the country.  You have important job in taking the field test doing your best on every question and helping make sure the system works well.  I know that you and Greg can do that, no problem. Enjoy giving the field test a try, or would that be fielding the tryout.  Whatever your preference, thanks for participating

The video made me miss being a kid again.  I could have been able to stop what I was doing in class for days in order to make future tests better!  I could have been doing the work of software testers!  I could have made sure the system works well!  I could have made the assessment system the best it could be!  I could have helped construct the next generation of tests!  

Wait a second…don’t real companies pay people to do that?  

Well at at least I now know the purpose of the test.


Should I sell my soul for rock n’ roll?

Last year there was a knock at my door.  I was asked to play at the ultimate standardized testing pep rally.  Please take a minute and read about the experience before moving on…click here–> Yes right here

I was just asked to do it again.  I don’t know if I can…if I should.  I detest the tests, common core, and all the ed-reforms more that probably any teacher in Connecticut.  How can I be seen having fun at a once-a-year event imploring students to go to sleep early, eat well, and try your best on a test that will count for nothing?  i already do so many things against my beliefs in order to “be a teacher,”  is being a part of a test prep rally again crossing the line?

So I have a simple question for you.  

Should I do it?

Is it worth selling my soul to just play five minutes of rock n’ roll?

What kind of example does it set for the kids?

Is it going counter to my new image that I include at the top of my posts?

Please let me know in the comments, especially you, yea you, the reader who has never left a comment.  Just a simple yes or no would suffice.

The video from last year is below, the band starts playing about 23 seconds into it.


Faculty Band “Phil n’ the Bubbles” performance from Moran Middle School CMT Pep Rally from Moran Mustangs on Vimeo.

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Making Common Craft Style Videos

Making Common Craft style videos with the kids is an old standby activity that we do in class.  This post will not be an in depth look at making them, I kinda sorta wrote a post showing what we do each day a few years ago that you can read by clicking right here. If you are unfamiliar with Common Craft videos and wish to see student examples, starting there will help out. Please read the message from the founder of Common Craft videos at the bottom of the post and respect his wishes!

In case you have never seen a Common Craft video here is my all time favorite:

Common Craft videos are excellent in helping your kids explain things.

For this post I would like to go a bit into the set-up that we use which is what 99% of the questions that I get about these videos are concerning, and at the end of this post there are lots of comments from my kids with advice for you and your students.

 First the basic set-up:

common craft

First we attach the camera to a tripod…if you don’t have one send an email home to students and staff, someone has one not being used sitting in a corner.  After making our first Common Craft Style videos four or five years ago, I realized that resting cameras on books was not the best set-up.  Since then I have acquired four tripods from people who were getting rid of them and fixed them up with wire and tape and they make life so much easier.  The tripod with the yellow circle holds a cheap work light that you can find for $5-10.  My room is dark and bad fluorescent lighting makes doing these video very difficult so we have to supplement.  We have tried all sorts of colors for the background.  It is very hard to take photos or video of white paper in my room and not have it come out gray (I’ll go more into that later).  One group did go with a white background, but four went with black.  I think in the future I might stick with black.  It is easier to get crisp shots and the reality is no matter how many time you tell the kids to outline their images, some will still come up with simple pencil drawings and they can still be seen on black paper.

The yellow circle is our camera.  Pretty much any camera comes with a tripod mount in the bottom, and pretty much every digital camera comes with a movie setting.  Even if you only have cellphones you can still film…picture of that coming up later.  To get the best video you have to play with some camera settings.  First, take your camera off automatic mode and set it to “P.”  Then go into your menu and find the “white balance.”  Set it for whatever type of lights you have. If you have white paper it should look as “white” as possible, if you have black it should look black.  If you have a higher grade camera there will be a Kelvin setting in the white balance menu that would allow you to micromanage your white balance.  Second thing you want to mess with is to set your camera to manual focus.  I usually place one of the kids’ objects onto the “stage” while the camera is on the automatic setting, press the shutter button half-way to get the camera to focus, release and then set the camera to manual focus.  Here is why…depending on the type of camera you are shooting with, when the kids hands come in to place objects down their hand is closer to the camera than the object they are putting down, so the camera might constantly focus and re-focus.  Sometimes that results in a blurry image momentarily at each change of objects.  Last but not least, almost every camera has a metering mode, the choice of where the camera should place most of its attention when focusing.  Set it to focus on as many points as possible, not center spot weighted.  And actually that should have been first, not last!  Also don’t forget to set your video setting to the highest quality.  Set your camera to video, hit menu, and it is probably under something like “record quality.”  And as a bonus hint, stop deleting images from your SD card with your computer or camera..it’s bad.  Get all your images off onto your computer, put the SD card back into your camera, hit menu, go to the settings that are under the wrench looking icon, find format, and erase everything by re-formatting the card with your camera each time you use it.  If you are not sure how to do anything I mention, just google it!  Something like — how to set white balance on Panisonic DMC-LX5 — is all you would have to do to get directions.

If you are using a tripod the next part is key.  The camera has to sit directly over the “stage.”  If you just plop the camera onto a tripod and angle it down you get a warped view.  So point the camera down, lean it over the “stage,” and shorten the one leg up in the air.  We then place it on a chair and pile books on it.  The front of the tripod with the two legs on the ground are against the desk, the one on the chair has books piled around it. Here is another look from a different angle:

Once you have everything set, you can zoom in a bit, or move the camera farther or closer to the stage in order to have it fit perfectly in the video.  

You do not need a fancy set-up, if you simply have a cell phone or any camera with no equipment all you need to do is to stabilize the camera, don’t try to have someone hold it steady. Even something this simple would be just fine if you do not have access to a tripod.


Not only is there tech set-up but there is also student set-up.  The students do practice the day before filming.  THERE IS NO WAY THEY CAN FILM WITHOUT PRACTICING.  After having done this five different years, I would say that if a group does not run through it at least six times before filming there will be problems.  It is so much harder than it looks to choreograph their movements.  And practice has to be done like the real thing.  Each group gets a piece of paper the same exact size as the one we will be using to film with and they tape it to their desk.  Here is a practice image below:

The bottom two kids are the narrators, the top two move the images in and out.  They have to place everything in upside down and on the opposite side on the paper that they want the image to appear in the video–think about trying to read in a mirror.  When they do it for real, they stand in the same location.  It is key that the narrator gets up as close as possible to the camera unless you are going to provide a wired microphone. In the picture below you can see a basic set-up that most kids used.  This group had one person in charge of only removing objects–a good choice for four member groups.

Some groups brought up extra desks to help them organize their items.  The group below brought up two.  The desk on the left was brought in with all their items organized in the order they were to be placed on the stage. They transferred them to the “stage” desk when the narrator was reading, and then brushed them off to the desk on the right.

Here is an example of one video being filmed:

We filmed the videos last Thursday, came in and watched them Friday.  When we were done the kids recorded some advice for teachers and students who wish to try making Common Craft style videos…I gave them all of 5 seconds to prepare for this!  Just click on any image below a question and a video will play.

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What does happy look like?

The words happy and fun are dirty words in school.  The other day a student told me and another teacher that we were the “fun team.”   For a split second I thought obviously we are not working them hard enough…we need more “rigor.”

In many cases fun has been removed from the curriculum.  You can see that many believe that you don’t learn while having fun, learning has a look to it…doesn’t it?  I have pondered this before. I have even been told that what I wear will result is a classroom that is not serious enough for learning to occur.  Learning has a look to it.  Kids sitting, serious faces, teacher dressed up in front.

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.  My happiest days are not the ones filled with the most smiles, but the ones in which I have made a difference, ones in which I feel as though I have accomplished something I previously did not know was possible. On those days smiles usually do not come during the process, but afterwards.

I read this today: 

Most students — whether A students, C students, or failing ones — have lost their zest for learning by the time they reach middle school or high school. In a recent research study, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyl and Jeremy Hunter fitted more than 800 sixth- through 12th-graders, from 33 different schools across the country, with special wristwatches that provided a signal at random times of day. Whenever the signal appeared, they were to fill out a questionnaire indicating where they were, what they were doing, and how happy or unhappy they were at the moment. The lowest levels of happiness, by far, occurred when they were in school and the highest levels occurred when they were out of school playing or talking with friends. In school, they were often bored, anxious or both. Other researchers have shown that, with each successive grade, students develop increasingly negative attitudes toward the subjects taught, especially math and science.  As a society, we tend to shrug off such findings. 

Peter Gray

Made me wonder if I hooked my kids up to special wristwatches what would I have discovered? There certainly were not many smiles during the last week.  Were they happy?  Is this what happy looks like?



I am not a fan of people saying that schools should prepare you for life.  There should be more to it.  Schools should be life, the life we want our kids to have, to be a part of, the life we want them to create upon graduation. What if schools had a more grandiose purpose, what if schools became something more and life reflected schools instead of the other way around?

When I hear the architects of the common core standards speak, and read what their goals were, I can’t help think why we are allowing  big money to dictate what we should be doing with kids to get them ready for life. We are not getting them ready for life,we are getting them ready for “them.”  At what point do people just pause and say, there are some things really wrong with the world today and I don’t want my kids to be ready to join in, but to change it.  Right now there is a big push to have creative, innovative kids.  Why.  Who does this benefit?   What if the big push was to build community, diplomacy, empathy, authenticity.  I bet innovation and creativity would come along for the ride.  That creativity and innovation might not be used to become the next inventor of some disposable electronic device for a billion dollar company, but to leave the world just a little bit happier.

Are your kids happy?  

How do you know?

Why not ask them?

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“I wanted to make a difference”

A couple of weeks ago I walked into school and saw that a student had done the unthinkable…they had plastered the main hallway with signs…without permission.  They had broken the rules.  I am big fan of rule breakers, you can check out this, and this, and this. But this was different.  This was nothing done on the back of a notebook, inside of a locker, or on the corner of a desk.  Someone had desecrated the main hallway of the greatest rule following institution in the world, the local public school.

My first instinct was to take them down so that the student stayed out of trouble.  Instead I left them on the walls because every single staff member who walked into school that day should have stopped and read each one.  Before they were taken down there was one that I grabbed and taped to my laptop to share with each class that day.

This random act of vandalism was one of the greatest things I had even seen in my building.  It was like all of my secret thoughts that I had always wanted to scream to the school just showed up overnight plastered onto the walls of the main hall of our school.  Later in the day as I walked with kids they all noticed and talked about the signs.  A couple days later I followed a group that was discussing which was their favorite.  I did not hear any staff members discussing the signs.

I wondered if these signs were a cry for help, the start of a rebellion, a plea for understanding, a desire for power, a threat to adult power, or just a simple reminder that maybe what we are doing in our classrooms currently sucks. Here is a sampling of my favorites:

My principal found out the name of the student and called her into his office, what happened next I did not expect, and the signs did not come down I found out who she was and told her that I was going to write a post about her signs, and thought it would be fitting if she explained why she did it.  She agreed and here are her words:

Dear Mr. Bogush,

     The answer to your question, “what was your motivation for hanging the posters?”, is not such a simple answer.  I have a lot of reasons as to why I did this.  First of all, I dislike the way our society tells everyone how to think.  We all have our own bodies and we all have brains…yet we leave our decisions up to the minds of others.  I want to be my own person and I want to be who Ysabelle Candido is.  I refuse to let someone make my decisions for me because they don’t know what I want to be; they only know what they wish me to be.  Someone else’s idea of a “perfect” me is way different than my idea of a “perfect” me.  At the end of the day, I have to be happy in my skin and that requires me being who I am.  I wanted to empower other students to do the same and be their own person…not just another clone.

My second reason is very simple: I wanted to make someone’s day better.  I know how it feels when you’re having a bad day and you just need someone to tell you that you’re beautiful or that you are special.  Thankfully I have people who are there for me, but I know there are some kids in my school who aren’t as fortunate.  Everyone deserves to be happy and feel good about him or herself.

Another reason…I wanted to make a difference. The exact moment that I realized I wanted to make these posters was when I was on a popular IPhone app and I saw a picture that read “DANGER: Thinking for yourself may cause a sudden outbreak of independence.”  This picture that made me really think about why I look the way I do or act the way I do.  I concluded that reason I am who I am is because I think for myself and I make my own opinions.  I wanted other kids to have this same idea of becoming independent.  I don’t mean these kids should completely ignore their parents or teachers and become independent in that sense. I mean these kids should think for themselves and challenge the ideas that you were told you had to think.  This was my difference: changing their mindset of following what they consider the “norm”.
Think of things this way…no one is born homophobic or racist, for example. Your parents, teachers, or other influences teach you to be this way. Once you are old enough to think for yourself and make your own decisions you can’t blame these influences for your thinking. At this point you are choosing to think this way. I want kids to challenge these ideas and not be clones of their friends.

Back to making my difference: I have a quote from a big influence in my life that means a lot to me…
“You can’t just stay down on your knees the revolution is outside. You want to make a difference? Get out and go begin it…”
-Hayley Williams from the band Paramore
Song: Hello Cold World

This lyric really makes me think about how easy it is to make a difference. “The revolution is outside…” really describes how close everyone is to each other.  These people are right next to you and all it takes is a few kind words to make their day, make them happy or just change their point of view.

That’s all I meant to do by hanging these posters. I thought maybe I would help a few students or teachers from school who were having a bad day, but now so many people have seen or heard this story.  To be honest, it took me a while to realize I had accomplished more than just helping a few people…I have hopefully made every reader of this article’s day better.  Thank you Mr. Bogush for giving me the chance to help even more people outside of my school through this article. 🙂

Ysabelle Candido

What kind of institution do we work in that requires kids to “break the rules” to feel like they are making a difference?  Seeing Ysabelle’s signs and reading her words made me both incredibly happy and angry at the same time.  Despite all the changes that are occurring in schools with both how students are being taught and how teachers are being evaluated, the one constant is conformity.  That is what is at the essence of how common core is being implemented, and I have yet to hear anything about getting kids to “make a difference” other than a difference in test scores so that their data can be collected.

Friday I had a student finish a project on Shays’s Rebellion.  A rebellion that led to the Constitution of the United States being written with sections that would allow the government to squash all future rebellions.

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s famous “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing,”  in America, and in public schools, any rebellion now and then is a little rebellion too much.  People who do rebel are seen as outsiders, as weirdos, as the crazy ones. Most kids who rebel are seen by teachers as being kids who do not have the qualities to be successful, yet they possess the very qualities that we would include when we list the attributes of heroes, role models, and leaders.  What you need to do to be successful in a conformist common core school is not the same as what it takes to do something extraordinary outside of school, or to be able ignore the hype of the world and live a very simple ordinary life.

Stand in front of your kids tomorrow, look at them, and ask yourself, what kid of kids are you building?  Do you support conformity? Or are you supporting kids to stand up and plaster the world with their signs?

I challenge you to go one step further…

Ask them.  Ask your kids the same question.  I dare you.  Ask them what kind of class they come to every single day.

Can they “make a difference” in your class?

I hope so.  I don’t want to grow up in a world in which everyone sings the same note.  That would be a world without harmony, without rebellion, without any crazy kids.

ccss directions before the directions…

Today the staff took an hour after school to learn about the new standardized sbac tests in Connecticut the kids will be taking in the spring.  It was recommended that the teachers take the practice test, that the students practice taking the test, all while practicing, learning the skills, and taking other tests to see what the test data says we should be doing to improve our students results on the test.  After taking the practice test I can see why the kids need to practice taking the test before actually taking the test.  Part of the test will simply be navigating your way around the test.  There are the different ways to click on the right answers for the test, and there are sections where you have to re-write paragraphs on the test and when you scroll to the box where you write your answer on the test you can no longer see the paragraphs on the test that you were supposed to re-write to score high on the test.  But before you ever even get to the test questions on the test, the kids get introduced to the icons they will see on the test that they will have to be familiar with in order to take the test, do well on the test, and test test test.  Here are the test instructions that the kids will receive before actually getting to the directions that will actually be for the actual test questions.

More of my common core state standards posts

Keyboard Navigation for Students


Function / Details

Keyboard Commands



Go to the NEXT test page


(or use the Global Menu)


Go to the PREVIOUS test page


(or use the Global Menu)


Move to the NEXT ELEMENT (e.g., move to the next item on the same page)


Move to the PREVIOUS ELEMENT (e.g., move to the previous item on the same page)

*+ *


To toggle between answer options for selected-response questions:


To select an answer option:








PAUSE your test

*+ (via Global Menu)*


*+ (via Global Menu)*


*+ (via Global Menu)*


*+ (via Global Menu)*

ZOOM IN (increase the size of text and graphics on a page)


or use the Global Menu


ZOOM OUT (decrease the size of text and graphics on a page)


or use the Global Menu


SCROLL UP in an area of the test page


SCROLL DOWN in an area of the test page


SCROLL to the RIGHT in an area of the test page


SCROLL to the LEFT in an area of the test page


Open the CONTEXT MENU (for that passage, question, or answer choice)


MARK / UNMARK a question for review

*+ (via Context Menu)

STRIKETHROUGH an answer option

*+ (via Context Menu)


*+ (via Context Menu)


(listen to a passage, question, answer option, or specific portion of text)

*+ (via Context Menu)

*See below for detailed instructions on using this tool with a keyboard.

Test Selection Screens and In-Test Pop-ups

Use these keyboard commands to select options on the pages prior to your test or on pop-up messages that appear during your test. For example, if you see a screen with [No] or [Yes] buttons, you will need to navigate to that button to select it.

Examples of Test Selection Screen and In-test Pop-Up Messages

Keyboard Command



Move to the next button

* +

Move to the previous button


Select the outlined button


Global Menu

The Global Menu contains all the options displayed along the bottom of the student’s test screen.

  • Press the [Ctrl] + [G] keys to access the Global Menu. The menu will appear on the screen. (Make sure you do not have your cursor in a text box.)

  • Use the [Up] or [Down] arrow keys on your keyboard to move between options in the menu. Each option will be highlighted as you arrow up or down.

  • Press the [Enter] key to select the highlighted menu option.

  • Press the [ESC] key to close the Global Menu.

Note: The Global Menu may change based on the test that you are taking. For example, the Global Menu on a Math test may include a Calculator, which you will not see on Reading tests.

Sample Global Menu

Context Menus

The Context Menus contain the options available for each area of a test page. These areas of a test page are called “elements.”

The elements on a test may include include:

  • Reading passages

  • Test items

  • Answer options (A, B, C, and D)

Sample Test Page

Note: This image may not match what you see on your screen.


Each element has its own context menu. To view the context menu for an element, you need to navigate to that element.

  1. Press the [TAB] key to navigate between test items (and the reading passage, if there is one).

  2. Press [CTRL] + [TAB] to switch from a test item to each answer option.

  3. Press the [Ctrl] + [M] keys on the keyboard. The context menu for that element will appear.

  4. Use the [Up] or [Down] arrow keys on your keyboard to move between options in the menu. Each option will be highlighted as you arrow up or down.

  5. Press the [Enter] key to select the highlighted menu option.

  6. Press the [ESC] key to close the Context Menu.

Sample Context Menu for Test Item/Question

Note: This image may not match what you see on your screen.

The context menu for an answer option may show different options than for a test item or reading passage.

Context Menu for Answer Option

Selecting Text with Your Keyboard

These instructions are for selecting text to highlight or have the computer read aloud.

  1. Place the focus on the element containing the text you want to select. A reading passage, item, or answer choice are the different types of elements that can be on a test screen.

  2. Press [Ctrl] + [M] to open the context menu.

  3. Select Enable Text Selection from the list of available options. A flashing cursor will appear.

  4. Use the arrow keys to move the cursor to the beginning of the text you want to select.

  5. Press and hold the [Shift] key and use the arrow keys to select your text. The text you have selected will appear shaded.

  6. Press [Ctrl] + [M] to access the Context Menu.

  7. Select the feature you want to use for the selected text (e.g., Highlighter or Speak tools).

Keyboard Command

Function / Details


Press the [Tab] key to move between the Object Bank, the buttons at the top of the screen (Delete, Add Point, Connect Line, Add Arrow, Add Line), and the main Answer Space. The “active” space or button will show a border to make it look different.


Press the [Enter] key to move between the objects (images, dots, lines, and arrows) that are in the Answer Space. The “active” object will show a border to make it look different.


Select Object: Press the [Space bar] to select the “active” object or button (the one that shows a border). If you are selecting an object or adding a point, line, or arrow, it will move to the Answer Space, in the top left corner. It will also have a blue border to show that it is still “active.”

Delete Object: Use the [Space bar] to delete an object (after you have selected the [Delete Button] option and moved to the object you want to delete).


Move the object to the left.


Move the object to the right.


Move the object up.

For items with an object bank, use the ↑ arrow to navigate between the available objects. The selected object will have a blue background.


Move the object down.

For items with an object bank, use the ↓ arrow to navigate between the available objects. The selected object will have a blue background.


+ [arrow key]

Move the object a smaller distance (left, right, up, or down).

More of my common core state standards posts


I am messy, disorganized, and generally any space I occupy for more than five minutes is sprayed with shrapnel from my work.  Wires, papers, bits of this and that.  For most of my teaching career I had a very small room.  For the last three years I have a space that would make most public school teachers jealous..at least I think so…how large is your room?  It is big enough so that once I littered one desk with too much stuff I could just abandon it and move on to another.  A few months later I would just throw out all the stuff left behind on the first desk and start over. This year I have been trying really hard to stay neater.

Thursday we had an early-out because of snow and I decided to stick around and clean my room…at least just one part of it.  I have this big space in the rear of my room, where you first walk in that was just wasted.  It had filing cabinets that I had not opened in years, an old teacher desk, another desk I let student teachers have, and some other random paraphernalia. Here is a pic of what it looked like Thursday morning:

Eight garbage bags later it turned into this:

The filing cabinets now are each filled with things for the kids to explore and everyone has something quirky and different, things that kids can go through to spark new ideas or just play with.  There are lots of little figures, dress-up clothes, wigs, puppets, and even one filled with bones 🙂

There is a table on which different appliances will show up next to a pile of tools inviting students to take them apart.

It is not obvious from the pictures, but there is just enough “stuff” forming a partial wall around it so that when you are in “it” it feels like you are outside of the “normal” class.  A “wall” will greet kids when they walk in on Monday.  A wall does keep things out, but come on, when you get to a wall don’t you always want to peek around it to see what’s on the other side?

I am going to set-up some recording equipment up on the table to invite play, and there is the green screen and tripod and camera ready to experiment.  A computer on wheels is also back there with video editing software. There are also some “group” size whiteboards for kids to use.

There is also an aquarium with out composting worms back there, and our fish died last year, but I think it is time to replace him and put the aquarium back into the new space. There are also some individual desks and go anywhere bean bags…along with stacks of broken old laptops.

I had lots of other stuff I was going to bring in, but in this part of the world anything that is not padded is considered dangerous.  I left the hot glue gun, band saw, and hammers home 🙂

So now when you stand in the middle of the room and spin around, this is what you’ll see…hopefully I can keep it clean for more than a week!

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