Teaching is my Life

I know the I have been negligent in keeping up with my blog, but (you knew a but had to be coming) I have been spending the time with my family, my students, and my curriculum. Some of you may have even wondered, where did he disappear to?


cc0 Public Domain

While at my son’s baseball game last night, I was able to jump on Twitter and interact a bit and to look through my Flipboard aggregator. I had to step back from Twitter chats for a while because, well, I was buying too many books and trying to filter through and process too many great ideas. Gamifying classrooms, eXPlore Like a Pirate, blended learning, Ditch Textbook, Learn Like a Pirate, grading, not grading, feedback, badges, personalized learning, embedded assessment, formative assessment, summative assessment, project based learning, innovation, HyperDocs, and mindsets in the classroom are all ideas I am trying to wrap my mind around. Oh, and let’s not forget that I also teach high school theology, college and careers, computer science principals, and junior high religion!

So, I’ve been busy. Such is the life of a teacher and teaching is my life. Being a teacher and building relationships within a classroom is something that God has hardwired into me, but being a stereotypical guy, I pour my all into it. I mean, how many people are at their son’s baseball game curating articles into magazines?
My Twitter PLN is great and I love everyone who is in it. I sometimes feel that I don’t contribute enough or I feel jealous that many of my peers have had the focus to publish a book, present at or attend conferences, teach webinars or create podcasts. Meanwhile, I am all over the place with these ideas and not really incorporating any of them into my classroom or my professional development.
So what might I do to rectify this situation dear reader? I am going to take a statistics course this summer and begin my doctoral studies in the fall. In the past I have written about trying to work out a doctorate online with a board of directors and badges as credentials. Well, I’ve decided to go the traditional university route. I know it will be expensive, but I need the deadlines, a system, and a mentor to hold me accountable. What might I research? Curriculum, assessment, and motivation. Stay tuned for more. My goal is to try and post at least weekly throughout the summer.
Pax Christi

We Have to Stop Pretending…#MakeSchoolDifferent

Inspired by Scott Mcleod’s challenge at http://DangerouslyIrrevelant.org and Tom Whitby’s http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com  Scott originally challenged 5 educators to enter 5 ways that we can #MakeSchoolDifferent and the blogs were to be posted on twitter using the hashtag #MakeSchoolDifferent challenging five more educators to offer their contributions. I will enter my own contributions to the conversation.


We have to stop pretending…..

1. That practicing short term memory skills equates to long-term learning gains. If it is not important to a student, then it will not be remembered for long. You are only fooling yourself if you believe that these skills are important in today’s world.

2. That content is important. Being king of your content is nice, but if you are familiar with the content you teach then you can lead others to sources of rich content that can be mulled over, chewed on, and reshaped to form a learning experience for students versus a teacher controlled information dump.

3. That grades matter. The marks I received in school at any level do not make me who I am. I naturally do “old school” well, but I push myself to not care about the grade. I want my kids as well as myself to be in an always beta mode. Always learning, always curious, always pushing the boundaries of new experiences and new technology.

4. That traditional brick and mortar schools are better than other forms of learning. Blended courses, online courses, YouTube, Apps can all contribute to effective learning. Kids want to hear and see things that are authentic and relevant to their lives. They don’t want to waste time learning something that they may need sometime in the future, because the future is changing too rapidly.

5. That all students are the same. We are on the cusp of personalizing education for students and we should all be moving in the direction of learning how to make that happen, make it real, and improve it to the point that it is useable for all.

I am challenging the following educators to add their voice to the conversation #MakeSchoolDifferent:

1. Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy

2. Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz

3. Shannon M. Miller @shannonmmiller

4. Jake Duncan @jkdncn

5. Joy Kirr @JoyKirr

Students First

     Throughout time there has been a lot of open debate in education about how to best meet the needs of students. My question has continually been, if each and every student comes to school with different and varied needs, wants, and desires, then how can we take an antiquated curriculum and process every student through it like beans in a canning factory? I remember pedagogical discussions from years back in which colleagues would state that the gap between the top students and bottom students is so large that we ought to just aim for a middle ground. I was never satisfied with that line of reasoning, and seeking ways to make things better and more engaging for my students helped me become a better learner and leader.

Put Students First

     I have never a big supporter of common assessments for students. A common assessment is just another way of saying, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”


Used with permission.

It’s a different way of preparing students for the industrialized notion of sorting students into five or six pigeon holes and getting ready for testing. Many administrators and researchers will turn to industry and economic movers and shakers to glean the types of skills that employers are looking for. Just because Bill Gates is one of the richest men in the world does not mean that he knows what should be taught in schools, and if we believe that the industrial model of education doesn’t work anymore, then why would we turn to business for guidance on educational issues? After all, the bottom line for business is to make money and the more money the merrier. See, at the current rate of change, content that is accurate when a kid is twelve might be completely irrelavent upon graduating from high school. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that knowing or accessing “content” is what we want from kids as preparation for college or careers. The best thing we can do for kids is to model a burning desire to learn more and the tenacity or grit to go out and learn. For me, it is an insatiable quest.

Do we really believe that doing well on a test is what matters in this world? Wouldn’t standards based grading be a great first step toward personalizing learning for each unique student? Personally, I believe that it is.

Love of Learning

     In my world view, I want to help kids sustain their love of learning. I overheard someone at a conference this year state, “…the kids are really upset with the work they are getting in math class so she must be doing something right.” This was not said tongue in cheek it was said with all seriousness! Well, if the goal of that math teacher is to have her kids become grumpy pencil pushers that excel under the leadership of a dictator, then I would say that she is well on her way to the goal.
     I do not want kids to become automatons that simply do as they’re told, regurgitating information and processes. Variety is the spice of life and I would rather be with a whole load of boat rockers than sailing in languid waters. There is a whole world of knowledge to plunder and I want true, spirited pirates on my boat while I’m out to sea. I think that what we truly want and need from the educational community is to help students be excited learners, questioners, researchers, creators, innovators, teachers, and problem solvers.

Students can make a difference today! 

     Every day there are reports about students making positive impacts on our world. Recently, there was a report about an eighteen year old who was not satisfied with the designs of the brassiere industry so she created her own and started her own line lingerie called raspberry. Also, a fourteen year old boy found that the federal government could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year by simply switching the font that they print documents with.

The world and technology are changing rapidly 

     The change is so rapid that many people are getting new cell phones every two years, whereas I spent the greater portion of eighteen years with the same corded phone attached to the kitchen wall. I am writing this blog post using a blue tooth keyboard and mini iPad connected wirelessly to the Internet where my document is physically nowhere but the cloud and maybe digitally on Evernote’s servers. I will never see this post on paper. Change is the only constant in life and students need to be able to adapt to that change. Now, I don’t mean change just for the sake of change but the ability to adapt to changes rapidly. Gone are the days where people answer the question “why are you doing that?” with “because we have always done it that way.” It’s not good for society and kids will refuse to buy into it.
     Technology is certainly not a panacea, and just being able to Google the answers faster than anyone else is not good enough. I was raised to believe that through hard work and by getting a degree my efforts would be rewarded by getting and keeping a good job with benefits. Happiness was not even talked about in my world. A good work ethic is not enough any more. My dad did tell me one time to do something I  was good at. Being good at something doesn’t necessarily bring with it happiness or fulfillment. Fortunately, I selected a career that I am passionate about filled with people that I care deeply about.

Next steps

     I get to encourage the future through my efforts today. I get the chance to help make people happy today and excited about the world of tomorrow. I know that I can create classroom experiences that I can sell tickets to! (I know that’s a bold statement but after being encouraged by Dave Burgess, you too might be bold enough to make that statement) Bettendorf High School, in eastern Iowa, has embraced the mottoes, “Passion, Purpose, Pride.” “Be the change you want to see.” “Students First.” If everyone in education embraced these mottoes, then kids would become life-long learners with the fortitude necessary to tackle the ever present changes in our world.