Sunday, January 31, 2016

Improve your Students Google Search Ability

How often have you heard the phrase, "Google it"? I'm guessing a lot. Whenever we have a question or want to know something, the first thing we do, or at least I do, is "google it." No matter what. I always go to Google. Sometimes, I literally just google the question itself. Now, I know our students also work/think this way. Their number one solution is to "google it" as well. However, as you have probably seen yourself, some students are not good at finding information on the internet and are not good at 'googling it.' But we can't abandon it because Google is such a wealth of information, we must use it! It's a great resource. So, instead of complaining about how our students are terrible at searching for information on the internet, help them get better at it! Teach them! Fortunately, Google is awesome and have created a "activity" that allows students (or anybody) to practice searching for information on Google. It's called "A Google A Day" (  and it's awesome. It's a great way to not only get better at searching with Google, but also to challenge our students and get them to think! 
Here's how it works: Google gives you three questions, one at a time. For each question, you must figure out the answer by Google searching keywords, phrases, questions, etc. Once you figure out the answer, you enter it and then move on to question 2 (if you get it right, of course). The faster you answer the questions correctly, the more points you get, so there's definitely a little bit of competition and intensity involved. It's a fun way for students to challenge each other. A great activity if students are done with their work or looking for something to do in study hall. Give it a try yourself and become a Google Search Pro! 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Before You Can't.

Something sad happened. Let me tell you. Mary Beth Blegen died. You probably don't know who Mary Beth Blegen is. Let me tell you. She taught American Literature and English at Worthington High School for 30 years. In 1995, she won Minnesota Teacher of the Year. In 1996, she won National Teacher of the Year and was presented with the award by President Bill Clinton. She then worked for the Department of Education in Washington D.C. before making her last stop in her educational career in St. Paul, MN as an educational consultant. Though I never had her as a teacher, our families were very close and she played a pivotal role in shaping my own educational career with her amazing insight and wisdom. She is a special person who had an amazing impact on so many.  At 72 years of age, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died just a few months later. So why am I telling you this? Let me tell you. On her passing, her Facebook page was flooded with comments from friends, family, colleagues, former students, former associates, etc. Hundreds and hundreds of comments about how much of an impact she made, how much she will be missed, how much she helped, how great of a teacher she was, how she made learning fun, how she taught, how she made people feel, how she could relate, how she was passionate about people, and how devoted she was to this amazing thing called education. All those comments and messages on her Facebook wall. All just one day too late. She won't see any of that. She won't be able to read about and hear from people about how much she impacted them and made a real difference in the lives of so many. In the weeks before she died, there were comments, but mainly of the "thinking about you" and "my prayers are with" variety. Those are great, but why wait until the person is gone before we share with them how special they are to us? Why wait!? Don't wait! At some point, I am certain we all had a teacher or an adult that shaped us or impacted us or changed us for the better. Tell that person before you can't. Tell that person and do it today. As teachers, the greatest thing is to hear from a former student about how much they loved having us as their teacher and how much of a difference we made in their lives. So do that for one of your former teachers. I was one day too late in telling Mary Beth how much of a difference she made and how much I appreciate all she did for me. That makes me sad.  I won't make that mistake again. Call or email a former teacher. Do it. Before you can't.  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Beef Up your Font Game

I don't know about you, but I like to have options. I like to be able to select exactly what I want. And, if what I want is not available, I want to be able to have a resource to go get what I want. Recently, I found myself working on a project and I needed a specific font. The "Nintendo" font, to be exact. Well, Microsoft Word doesn't have that font, neither does Google Docs. So, I searched high and low and found a quality sit that allows you to find a wide array of font styles and download them into Microsoft Word. is a great website that allows you to find the font you want. Once you find the font you want, click it. On the next page, click "download" and you will be able to download it to your computer. Once it's downloaded, open it and double click the file. It will open, so then simply click "install" and it will be installed into Microsoft Word and Powerpoint. Give it some thought. This could be what you've been missing all these years. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

You are a Skid Loader

If someone came up to you and said, "Fill in the blank: Being a teacher is a lot like ________." We all know what you would say. I mean, it's obvious. We all know the answer is "skid loader." No, serious! Think about it. As teachers, day in and day out, we are basically skid loaders.  A skid loader is a powerful, yet compact machine. Just like teachers. Skid Loaders have a wide variety of "attachments" such as scooper, land sculptor, fence installer, truss boom , backhoe, trencher, snowblower, barrel grabber, dozer blade, sweeper, trencher, forks, tree saw, stump grinder, sand bagger, and the list goes on and on. How amazing is this machine! Wow. Yes, it is truly a versatile work horse. Just like teachers! Thing about the different "attachments" we change in and out of each day: teacher, coach, counselor, advisor, mentor, wisdom giver, common sense checker, friend, facilitator, author, actor, lawyer, cheerleader, technician, detective, doctor, and the list goes on and on. Just think about how many different types of things we do each day. Yes, we are truly a skid loader. We are the skid loaders of eduction. Sometimes it's hard to "move" (motivate) a pile of dirt (student) but luckily, we are skid loaders and can move that pile of dirt with no problem. Have you ever driven a skid loader? Well, if you do and you are on grass, be careful! If you turn too sharp, you will chew up the grass and ruin it. Just like in teaching, if you lash out or react too quickly, without giving it thought and careful consideration, you may destroy or ruin the "grass" (student) so make sure you think! Don't just wrench on the controls and dig up 4 inches worth of dirt. Easy that beast to the direction you want to go and execute your plan. 
So next time someone asks you to describe what being a teacher is like, just say, "I'm a skid loader."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ramp up your "Timer" game

Using a timer in class is certainly nothing new. There is a wide variety of timers out there: egg timers, kitchen timers, Smartboard timers, iPhone timers, etc.... Those all work and are just fine, but perhaps it's time to level up your Timer game. Perhaps it's time to use something different. When you use your Smartboard timer, kids can see the number as it counts down. Which is fine. But they are looking at a number which is kinda boring. If you use your iPhone, kids can't see the time going down, which is okay because it adds a little mystery, but maybe you want the kids to see how much time they have remaining. So, we have a problem: We want the students to see the timer, but not just watch numbers tick by. Solution! Use the sun as your timer! With this awesome thing called "YouTube," we can use sunsets as our time. So if you are doing a challenge or activity that is timed, use the sunset as your timer. Once the sun sets, times up! Kids get jacked about trying to "beat the sun" and complete the challenge before the sunsets on them and their hopes of completing the challenge. Not all activities warrants a timer, but if you do something that is timed, think about using the sunset! The sunset I have attached to this post is for roughly 30 minutes. This would be a long challenge, so if you want a shorter timer, find a shorter sunset or just start the above video further into it.
Watch the sun set but motivation soar with Sundown Timers!

Other ideas: Find a slow motion video of a balloon being inflated then popped, or the tide coming in, or a tree burning down. If you can't find a video of a balloon popping or a tree burning down, then make your own video of that happening! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Will you accept the "Good Job" Challenge?

I think it's good to praise students. I also think we may over praise students at times. I think praise should be used only when it is deserved. I also think one of the ways we give praise needs to be eliminated. As I have thought more about this recently, I have realized that I do this a lot, and did it even more when I was a classroom teacher with my own students on a daily basis. I always thought I was being really nice and encouraging and supportive with these words, but what I was actually doing, was leaving students confused, perplexed, and empty. Those words, that so many say and are quick to use are these: "Good job." 
What are we really saying to a student when we tell them "good job" on something? I don't know. It is such a general, empty comment. The student is told "good job" and initially feels good, but then think, "what does that mean?" It's too broad. We want to provide high quality feedback for students. It needs to be timely and specific. Saying "good job" is not specific, or high quality. We want to give students something they can grab on to and know exactly what they did well and know exactly what warranted the praise--that way, they will repeat that behavior in the future. If they are just told "good job," they don't know exactly what behavior to replicate in the future to continue to earn praise.

Think about it: If you see a friend of yours who has lost a lot of weight and you say to that person, "Good job!" that person will appreciate that but "good job" doing what? Not over eating? Going to the gym? Losing the weight? Whatever they did to lose the weight, it was probably very difficult so a more specific comment goes a lot further. Something like, "I can tell you have lost weight! You look great!" That is a comment the person can wrap their head around, feel great about and know exactly what they are getting praised for. 
Or what if your daughter comes up to you and shows you a picture they drew in art class: "Good job!" gives them nothing to go on. Instead, "I like how you shaded those buildings and made the tree look full of life!" That is a piece of praise they can take with them.   

So, I challenge you to accept the "Good Job" challenge. Try to go for a day, a week, a month, whatever time frame you choose and not say "good job" to any student. Try it! I have myself and I have found it to be extremely difficult! It's such a natural, automatic response when you see something good and want to comment on it. It's takes a lot more thought to give specific praise. Give praise (when earned) in a specific way. Explain exactly what the student did that warranted the praise. 

So, go for it. Try to eliminate the phrase "good job" from your daily vocabulary, yet continue praising students when it's deserved. See what happens! 

Thursday, January 7, 2016 Do I have a right?

If you are looking for a fun, challenging, and engaging interactive to help your students learn about rights, then look no further than iCivics interactive game: "Do I have a Right?" It allows the students to act as a "law firm" and determine whether "clients" have a right or not and if they (as the law firm) will take their case. It is a game-based format, with students working to do well, earn "prestige" and increase their Firm's power and notoriety. The more cases the firm wins, the better! Students determine whether the clients have a case or not as far as if their rights were violated. Students also earn more prestige on their ability to determine the most important parts of the clients case/description. Upgrade, increase power, and learn about the rights!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gone and Never coming back: "Time"

Father Time always wins.  No matter how good you are or talented or awesome, eventually, time runs out for you. No matter how hard you try, once those seconds tick by, they are gone. Forever. For teachers, without a doubt our most precious resource is time. It's what we need, yet sometimes feel as if we never have enough of it. Constantly being pulled in so many different directions, causes time to slip by like a slippery fish, shooting through our fingers, back into the sea. It is with time when we can discover new things, research new strategies, create new ideas.  It is with time that we can develop a culture of learning in our rooms, to build meaningful relationships, to further our own education. Time is king. The hustle and bustle of life sometimes causes time to race by so fast that we are left in a rut, unable to break the routine, to shed the chains of complacency. How often have you heard someone say (or thought it yourself), "Yeah, I would love to do stuff like that, but I don't have enough time!" Though a valid claim, I would encourage you to get out your Hulk fists and crush those shackle-like thoughts because they're holding you back. Somehow, someway, force yourself to stop the frenzy of life. Go to a coffee shop, order an iced caramel latte, take out a notebook and a pencil and just start doodling. Jot down ideas. Jot down things you want to try, ideas you've always wanted to explore. Research a new strategy. Draw. Write. Think. I firmly believe that if you do this, if you force yourself to slow down and just think, you will alter the trajectory of your life from a blur of sameness, to one of focused variety and place yourself firmly on the path of realizing your own potential.   

Monday, January 4, 2016

Something that shouldn't be.

School shouldn't be something that kids hate to go to. But it is, for a large majority of them. They dread Winter Break being over and the inevitable zombie shuffle back to school. So why? Why is it a place kids dread going? It makes me sad to listen to good, smart kids dread going back to school. It shouldn't be like that. School should be a place kids run to, not away from. Kids should enjoy having a "winter break" but also have some excitement and curiosity about school resuming in the new year.  Kids should be eager to see what will happen next in their classes. Stop and think for a moment and ask yourself one major question: If you were a student, would you like to go to your class? Think about it and give it an honest answer. If the answer is no, or if even part of the answer is no, then do something to change that! Don't force your students to sit through a class you yourself wouldn't attend! Would you like to sit in straight rows and do worksheets all day? Probably not. Students don't either. Would you like to enter a classroom and be faced with a grumpy person all day? Probably not. Student's don't either. Would you like doing 2 hours of homework every night? Probably not. Students don't either so quit giving so much of it.  Get creative. Research something new. Add something different to your class. Gets some variety, some discovery, some fun! There's this thing call the Internet just loaded with possibilities if you are struggling to come up with original ideas. Join Twitter. It's amazing. 

Here's a fictitious conversation between me and a very nice kid who tries hard and does well in school. Though it's made up, it could be real (unfortunately): 
Me: Are you looking forward to school starting?
Student: No.

Me: why not? 
Student: Because I hate Mr. Grumpelton
Me: Why? 
Student: Because he's mean and doesn't help me.

What if you were "Mr. Grumpelton"? Wouldn't that be bad? Don't be him. Make sure you do everything in your power to make sure there isn't a shred of Mr. Grumpelton in you when students enter your room. We all have tough days, hard days and sometimes we just don't feel that great or chipper or happy. But then fake it! Just fake enthusiasm to get you through. Don't resort to Mr. Grumpelton. 
Let's do something awesome and make school a place kids love! I believe it is possible. It takes a lot of work and effort but the potential is there. Seize the opportunity to leave a legacy of awesomeness.