Tuesday, November 14, 2017

5 things students should leave school with

There's so much to teach! Standards, skills, knowledge, content, soft skills, citizenship, etc. The list goes on! As a student travels the k-12 journey, by the end, what should they have to show for it? In other words, what should students absolutely get out of their k-12 experience? We are kidding ourselves if we think they will retain EVERYTHING we are teaching them. So, when they leave school, what are the essential things we, as educators, want them to have?

1. Ability to read. No doubt, we need our students to be able to read and comprehend. The ability to read (and more importantly, the love of reading) can unlock so many doors and opportunities for them in life. No matter the content or the age level, getting students to increase their ability to read and comprehend sets them up for major success in their future. So what should they read? Novels! No student ever gets excited to read a textbook. Perhaps a few, sure, but if you want to spark that love of reading, get them hooked with a gripping story. ELA teachers especially are in a prime position to get novels into the hands of their students. Castaway that textbook nobody likes to read and get a novel into their hands. Who doesn't love a good story? Power in storytelling. Power in novels.

2. Curiosity. The only thing that a teacher can do to make me angry is if they crush my own child's curious spirit. If curiosity is gone, then that's a bad thing. I strongly believe that students enter school extremely curious. Watch 1-4-year-olds play and they are all over the place, checking out everything! They are curious and hungry to learn about the world around them. When they enter school, this should be fostered and allowed to grow! A curious mind craves learning and that is a great thing we can provide our students.

3. Confidence. If I could instill a computer chip into my own kids' brain with one characteristic, it would be confidence. A confident person allows so many negative things to fall by the wayside. A confident person does not get bullied. A confident person believes in themselves and believes they can accomplish great things. A confident person helps those less fortunate. They help the weak, the down and out. Confidence helps students through tough situations and gives them the ability to handle things. With confidence, comes all sorts of other "soft skills" that students will need in life.

4. Ability to think and wonder. When faced with a difficult situation or problem, we want our students to think about it and try, not shut down right away and have the fixed mindset that they can't do it. We want our students to have the reaction of "I'll think it through and work to come up with a solution." We want our students to think for themselves and not blindly follow the herd of sheep. We want our students to be able to let their mind wander and imagine.

5. Empathy. There's perhaps no greater characteristic than empathy. If our students leave school with empathy towards and for others, they are going to make the world a better place because they will be impacting people. Empathic students are not entitled. Empathetic students seek out those who need help. Empathetic students are the impact makers. Developing empathetic students means they are able to pop their own little bubble and see the world around them.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Pencils are made all wrong!

I have a big problem with the way pencils are made. They are made all wrong. Think about it--when using a pencil, what runs out first-the lead or the eraser? DUH! It's obvious. The eraser always runs out first. Why? Because it's EXTREMELY small compared to the pencil lead. I was sitting in a classroom the other day looking at a cup full of pencils. There were about 30 of them. EVERY pencil had no eraser. It had been used up, worn down to just the metal. See, here's the thing--pencils are all wrong because the way they are made, with such a small eraser that gets used up so quickly, discourages risk-taking. When you take risks, you might make a mistake, which is OK! With such a small eraser, the students are not able to fix their mistakes. They are discouraged from trying because if they mess up and need to try again, they have no eraser left to do so. Think about it--if you look at a pencil and that really small nub of an eraser, it just screams at you: "Don't mess up too much because you have a very limited eraser here!"  Rather, the eraser should be much bigger and longer because then, the students get this message, "Go ahead! Try! Take a risk! And if you make a mistake, that's okay because you can erase it!" Too often, students hold themselves back from trying something new or difficult because they "don't want to get it wrong" or they "don't want to mess up." But that mindset needs to change. Taking risks and trying new things is how real learning happens. Deep learning comes from students trying something, potentially making a mistake and learning from it. It's the power of the reflective process! 
So if you know someone who works at a pencil factory, tell them to increase the size of the eraser!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Insert Learning" - Make the Internet More Powerful

If you are interested in making internet articles more powerful and more efficient, look no further than "Insert Learning." This tool is a Chrome extension that allows you to customize online articles you find for your students.  With this tool, you can highlight text, insert sticky notes, add questions and add discussion right within the article itself. Then, after you have created what you want, can assign it to your class via Google Classroom, making it a very smooth process. The free version is limited to five "assignments" but check it out and perhaps this is something you would want to have your school buy for you.

Here is an example: https://insertlearning.com/v1/share/32uidqf1 (Add the Insert Learning chrome extension and check out the example).

Monday, October 9, 2017

Rulers Rule. Leaders Lead. There's a Difference.

People obey rulers out of fear and obligation. People follow leaders out of love and respect. Just because you are a ruler, doesn't mean you are a leader. Just because you are in charge, doesn't mean you are a leader.  It's quite simple actually, yet astonishing how so many miss the mark on what it means to be a leader.
A ruler (boss) is really good at telling people what to do, but not much else. A leader is in it with their people. Those that are being led feel like their leader is right there, in the thick of it, with them. "In the trenches" so to speak.  Not disconnected from some Ruler on Mount High that has nothing to do with them. At the end of the day, a leader makes their teachers feel valued. They encourage them. They listen to them. They seek out their opinions. A leader understands they are nothing without the teachers, therefore does everything they can to inspire them and help them.  Leaders routinely say, "Hey, I really appreciate you." or "Thank you for covering that extra recess duty." Or "Nice job working with those students. We are lucky to have you." Teachers should be saying the same things to their students.  It's so simple to say those things! So just do it. Be a leader.

Have you ever heard of a "servant attitude?" A leader should have this. It's when the leader acts as a "servant" in a way--by approaching it like, "How can I help you?" or "What do you need to do your job better?"  The reason these questions aren't asked more often is that some don't feel secure in their position of power because they can feel those under them only obeying out of obligation. They need to make sure everyone knows who is "in charge." If you have to remind people that you are in charge, then you are no leader.

If teachers/students walk away from a full day of work and feel dejected and/or worthless, that's a problem. That means the person in charge is far from being a true leader.  A teacher should walk away feeling encouraged and hopeful. They should be eager to get back to school the next day and work hard for their students but to also want to work hard for their leader. Students should be excited to return to school the next day and work hard for their teacher leader.

It's amazing how many don't get this.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Classroom noise Monitor - "Bouncy Balls"

Bouncyballs.org is a great tool for classroom management. Project it to your smartboard so kids can see it. If the classroom volume level gets too high, the bouncy balls will bounce very high and notifiy you and the students the noise level is too high. You can customize how sensitive the noise detector is, among other features such as changing the "ball" to emoji's, eye balls, bubbles, etc.  Check it out! 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Background Noise on Steroids: "Noisli"

If you are the type of person that likes to have some background noise while working or trying to relax, then Noisli is the tool for you. It's a highly customizable way to create the perfect background noise for you while trying to be productive or to just relax. You can combine sounds to create the perfect mix of background noise. It's free to use and you don't even need an account to use it (though you can create an account if you wish). 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Interactive Timeline - "Sutori"

If you are looking for an interactive, engaging timeline tool, look no further than Sutori.com. This tool works great for engaging students in new learning or in a review of content. It's many features provide a unique, interactive experience for the students. Let's explore what these features are:
*Text: students can add text to explain, describe, share, etc. 
*Pictures w/captions: Students can add a picture/image to go along with and support text
*Video: Students can embed a video to reinforce what they are working on
*"Did You Know": These "Did You Know" facts can be inserted throughout the timeline to provide extra, interesting facts about the topic. 
*Forum: Students can engage in dialogue with the forum feature. Post a question or discussion prompt and the viewers can add their thoughts/ideas to the forum and have a discussion. 
*Questions: Students can include questions that the viewer must answer throughout the timeline. Question options are multiple choice and matching. 
*Audio: Students can insert audio clips to add to the multimedia experience. 

My Life - Sutori Example
(Click Link for example)

Friday, August 11, 2017

That August Feeling

August is the perfect time to give yourself the "Am I meant to be a teacher" test. The summer has just ended, the school year is about to begin so this "in between" time can tell you all you need to know about yourself. So if you are ready to discover whether you should be a teacher or not, take this test. It's only 1 question. It will take about 1 minute, depending on how long you have to think about your answer. That, though, is also telling. If you have to think about your answer for a long period of time, that might tell you something right there.
So here's the test: Right now, in the middle of August, with the summer ending and the school year about to begin, I want you to think about how you feel. How do you feel about summer ending and school beginning?  Think about it and answer it honestly to yourself.

How you answer this question, how you feel about summer ending and school beginning will tell you all you need to know about whether you should be a teacher or not. If you aren't at least a little excited for the school year to begin, you should quit teaching and find something else to do. It's natural to be bummed summer is ending because summer is great and we all love it. However, a bunch of new kids are about to enter your classroom so if you aren't at least a little bit excited to meet them, work with them, and get to know them, then you are not meant to be a teacher. It is okay if you haven't done a lot of "professional development" over the summer. Sometimes, the best "PD" is to just relax and recharge the batteries over the summer. But if you are meant to be a teacher, you were at least thinking about school a little bit over the summer, brainstorming and thinking up new things to try with your students. If you haven't thought of even one new thing to try with your students this year, you are probably not meant to be a teacher.  If you find yourself dreading the school year beginning, you are certainly not meant to be a teacher. Don't be a teacher just because that's all you've ever done. Don't be a teacher just because you don't know what else to do. Only be a teacher if you are passionate about kids and about learning. If you are, then you would NOT dread the school year starting and you would be okay with summer ending.
A new challenge is upon us. Relish the opportunity to make an impact!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Unique Cultural Experience

An inside look at a true relic.
I experienced a unique piece of culture and I found it in Colman, SD. I pass by this quaint, side of the road cafe twice a day and always think to myself how I should stop and eat there. I love cafes like that. Well, I finally did, thanks to my schedule opening up and a couple current students encouraging me to try it. The place is called "The Norseman" and I will certainly be going back. 
 
As I walked into the Norseman, it felt like I was walking into 1970. I loved it. The place was decked out Norwegian flair, with Thor on the wall, Viking figurines on the shelves and TVLand playing "Gunsmoke" on the television set off in the corner.  I was the only one in the place. The owner, John, mid-sixties, life-long Colman resident, currently living in the house he was born in, was sitting at a table, reading the newspaper. I walked up to him and introduced myself. He had to mute the t.v. so he could hear me. We talked for a bit and really hit it off. I explained how I teach at DSU and pass by this place each day and finally had the chance to stop. He was very friendly and I could tell he was excited to have some business. I liked John already.  So I sat down as John retrieved a menu. It was quite the menu! Not in appearance, but in variety. Lots of delicious sounding food to order. John, like the polite host that he is, asked if I needed anything to drink while I looked at the menu. Water, please. As I sat down to browse the wide variety of options, John sat down next to me and watched as I looked it over. What pressure! I was a first timer, looking to get a good grasp on my options, but the owner of the place was just sitting there watching me! I asked him what he recommended and he quipped, "One of everything" which was followed by a chuckle, from both of us.  I asked him if he was Norwegian and he quickly fired back with his dry sense of humor, "You mean, there's something else?" Oh, that John. What a card. This was just the beginning of a string of Norwegian jokes that did nothing but add to this cool experience. 
I decided to order the Norseburger and tater tots. Being my first time, I decided to go for it and make it a deluxe with cheese.  Good decision, I must say. 
As I ate my burger, John, of course, sat by me and talked. I explained to him that I had a couple students currently at DSU who are from Colman. Well, he certainly remembered them! Before I knew it, he was up and off to the shelf, rummaging through some old Colman-Eagan yearbooks. Two bites later, John was back with a couple yearbooks. He flipped through the pages and showed me my two current students from their middle school years. What a riot! John was pretty proud he was able to find them so quickly. Then we went back even further to kindergarten!  Hilarious. We then searched the yearbooks for a friend of mine that taught there. He was really enjoying the yearbook searches. 
I finished up my meal and told John that I would like to come back because there were so many delicious looking things on the menu! He said, "Well, we can help you with that!"  Then he gave me a little tour of the place and showed off some of his Norwegian memorabilia, including the helmet and sword the little kids wear for a picture. Let me tell you, so tempting to put on the helmet and take a picture with the sword. Maybe on my second visit. It might have been too forward of me on my first stop. We talked a bit more, thanked him for his hospitality, shook hands and I was on my way. I excited the cafe with an urge to start rowing a Langskip.
It was a very pleasant stop, one I am glad I finally made. I am already looking forward to my next meal. Should I go Philly cheese steak or the famous pizza? I guess I will just as John what he would recommend. 
If you find yourself in the Colman area, give the Norseman a try. Two giant-Thor like thumbs up from me. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Close Call! A relationship story

That was a close one. I almost made a big mistake that would have ruined my pursuit at building relationships with a class of 8th graders. Luckily, I was able to stop myself in time, think it through and prevent the mistake. Here's what happened:
I had a BreakoutEDU game set up for my 8th grade class to work on our lesson of the day which was "perseverance." BreakoutEDU fits perfectly with that topic because it's all about persevering through challenges/obstacles and not giving up. Anyway, I had the boxes locked and set up on the various tables in the classroom. There was a few minutes before class started so I stepped out for a bit to talk with a teacher. As I was talking with the teacher, my students filed into the classroom, waiting patiently for class to begin (which was still about 5 minutes away). I wrapped up my convo and headed into the room. When I entered, I saw a group of them huddled around one of the boxes, trying to pry the box open and/or pick the lock. They had managed to force their way into the box and pulled out the "secret" items.  I was mad. Furious. Annoyed that they were messing with the boxes and finding out what was inside. I should have known to not let a group of 8th grade boys be unattended around a locked box. Of course they would try to break it open! Their curiosity is too great at that age! This is where I had to make a decision on how to handle this. I was at a fork in the road.  You see, this was only the fourth class period I have had with this group of students. So we don't know each other very well. Which means I haven't had the necessary time to make a lot of "deposits" into the Relationship Bank. And without a lot of those deposits, it's very dangerous to make withdrawals.  If I made it a huge deal and came down hard on them about how what they were doing was unacceptable, I would lose them. Luckily, I fought that urge and decided to just be relaxed about it and just put the stuff back in the box and begin class. It was a close call.
Make a sustained, committed effort to make deposits into the Relationship Bank. When something happens that requires a withdrawal, you will be prepared. I didn't have enough deposits in the bank at this point, so I had to be real careful with how I handled it. Building relationships is a fragile thing. Hard to build, easy to destroy.