Nepal Thinglink

First, a quick description of a Thinglink.

If you've never heard of a Thinglink, go to the search enging Bing and look at their homepage. It changes each day. As you scroll over the image, certain spots light up and lead you to an outside link. The picture you are looking at is almost certainly high quality, striking in color and very interesting to look at. A Thinglink is like what you see on Bing, only a little more simplistic.

Here is one that I've made that I will be using to help kids learn about the recent earthquake in Nepal.

Have you ever used Thinglink, or something similar? If so, I'd love to hear your story in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!


Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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Let's Talk Expectations

A quick post today on expectations. My Modern World History class is watching The Imitation Game this week. I wrote a little bit about activities to conduct during movies that make the movie a more intellectual activity. However, the activity is only half the challenge - and the less important half at that!

A lot of teachers that when they show videos, they have a large chunk of kids that don't pay a whole lot of attention. A common complaint is that this makes no sense; the teacher is giving an 'easy' activity so why would the students not pay attention on the 'easy' activity.

First, if you're showing a movie or a video because it is 'easy', then you're probably showing that movie or video for very wrong reasons. You might want to reconsider your goals a bit. Videos and movies are not breaks - they are simply different methods of learning.

Second, we often forget the details when we get moving along in the year. If you are
  1. Have a worthwhile and meaningful activity for the students to complete during, or after, they watch the video. Give them external motivation to pay attention if they are not yet to the point where their internal motivation gets the job done.
  2. Build in time to reinforce expectations before you start the video/movie each day. I always remind the students of the assignment that they are working on and I remind them how to get to wherever they need to get on their technology.
  3. Reinforce why they are watching whatever they are watching. I try to have a fun fact that will hook the students before I start each day.
  4. Be strict on the first time someone gets off task. No matter how strong your plans, someone will be off task*. Be kind and respectful, but reinforce that you expect their attention on the video/movie. If you allow small off-task behaviors to go on, they will quickly turn into bigger behaviors. More importantly, when you do redirect a student eventually, that student will wonder why you didn't redirect the other, smaller behaviors. And they'll be right to be a bit upset that they are getting redirected when the others did not. It's small for you as the teacher, but as a student it's a big deal. Remember that. 
  5. Participate with the students. With the Today's Meet, I prod the discussion on with questions. I make myself available to correct misunderstandings or answer questions.
*If you teach a class where your students never get off task, email me! I want to know your secrets!

Screen captures of a back and forth with a 4th Hour student during The Imitation Game

Whatever you set as your expectations, remember that the goal is not compliance - the goal is engagement. You can get anyone to comply for a short period of time, but in order to get the students truly on board they have to see the usefulness in their work while they are in your class.


Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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More Than a Movie

When you mention that you are going to show a movie in class, you tend to get some very interesting looks. Many seem to assume that this is being done simply to waste a few days or to give the teacher a break. This is somewhat understandable. I had this experience as a student - a teacher putting on a movie and basically checking out for 3 days. Maybe there was a simple worksheet to give the guise of an assignment, but it was a mental break.

I'll be the first to argue that a classroom should not move 100 mph every single day. The brain doesn't work in that way. We cannot ask students to think critically for seven 50-minute periods each day - it's unrealistic! Just as a coach does not have players run sprints or play full-on games all day every day, neither should we have our students working at full power all the time.

That is why there needs to be a great diversity in what we teach, and especially, how we teach. I've written before about how SportsCenter uses videos in their broadcasts and what teachers can learn from that practice. We learn about sports by watching and analyzing videos all the time! Why not do the same with education?
A picture of the Nazi Enigma machine

For the next three days in my class, we are watching The Imitation Game. It is a really great movie about the allied effort (really, the British effort) to break the Enigma code that was developed by the Germans for use during World War II. Through this code, the Germans were able to send all of them messages through basic radio signal. The Enigma machine allowed for the messages to be encrypted mechanically. What's really brilliant about it was the settings of the machine, which changed each night at midnight. That meant that the allies had about 18 hours each day (the first message went out at 6 AM with the weather) to break the code before it would change again!

So the question then becomes how to make a movie something that is more than just a mental break. While I'm sure that there are a dozen great solutions to this question, below is my favorite and how it works in my class.

Today's Meet - This website provides an online back-channel discussion. I give participation points for each day of the movie and have one running discussion for each hour of my class. Throughout the day, I'll offer up class questions ranging from "Where is this scene located in the world?" to "Why do you think that group is treating the main character so rudely?" You are able to see immediately where students are struggling to comprehend something or where they are curious.

Students will often find outside websites that have to do with what they are watching and post them to the Today's Meet board. This is curiosity at work.

These questions help guide the back-channel, but they are not the basis of the discussion. The basis are the interactions and curiosity of the students. The points I give are the accountability to stay on task.
You can see in this screenshot the kinds of interactions that can occur. Students are able to ask probing questions. They can even ask them specifically of an individual by using the @ symbol.
Character Boards - It is important when watching a movie that the students understand who it is they are watching and what role they play in the story. While it seems basic*, it is worth the time to have students write what they see about characters in the movie. The character board for The Imitation Game gets the students to focus on the main character and 5 secondary characters.

*It is.

Screenshots of the character board that the students filled out during The Imitation Game.

There isn't much special about the character board, but it forces the students to pay a bit closer attention. You would be amazed at how much more enjoyable the movie becomes when this activity is carried out, though. Students don't get the full effect of a movie unless they get who the characters are. The mistake that lots of assignments that go with movies make is that all they require of students is that they catch random bits and pieces of the movie. Find a quote kind-of-activities are guilty of this. They require close attention on a small part of the movie. What I want is broad attention throughout the entire movie.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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Class Take Over!

This should be required for all teachers at least once a quarter. I don't know how it would logistically work out, but if I ever become an administrator, I'll make it happen. Somehow. The this I'm referring to is a take-over day!

I've had an observer in my class named Michael Aleto for a little over a month. He is a teacher in training at a local university in Kansas City. He was placed at Center High School, where he was then placed with me. I was a bit nervous about this for two reasons at the start:
  1. I don't teach in a conventional manner. I know it almost never turns out like this, but I still have this nagging anxiety that visitors to my room will think that I am teaching totally wrong. This is part of why I love going to other teacher's rooms and telling them later how awesome I thought it was;* part of our responsibility as teachers is to build each other up.
  2. This was my first long-term observer. Would he be bored? Would he ask me ridiculous questions all the time and take up all of my free time? Would he be terrible with the kids and force me to have an awkward confrontational conversation? These are all questions that ran through my head.**
*Assuming that the class was, in fact, awesome!
**Yup. Welcome to my mind. A scary place. 

I am in a phase of wanting to see others teach and wanting to learn from collaboration. I know that this seems like it should be obvious, but it's actually a lot harder than it seems. In any profession, there tends to be more to do than there is time in the day. Teachers are certainly not alone in wishing that there were more hours in a day, but teachers have the unique issue of essentially having to put on a brand new performance each and every hour. In addition, we get a very short amount of time in each day to both plan each performance and assess the student's mastery of the topic of the performance.

Teaching is very unique, and we are often so busy that the idea of spending some of our planning time in another teacher's classroom can quickly seem counter-intuitive. In theory doing this makes sense. In practice, it makes more sense to grade, to plan, to call parents, and sometimes to beautifully do absolutely nothing but think. This is what being ridiculously busy does - it stifles creativity and growth.

I need to remember that in my own classroom.

Having Michael take over my class today was a great opportunity to watch him teach for an entire day. I was able to give him some feedback and observe him adjust to the various issues that come up while teaching an entire day of classes. He did really well, both from my observation and from chatting with the students as they left class.

Just as important, it was an opportunity to simply observe my students. We get caught up in teaching our own classes that we sometimes do not have the time to just watch. We are problem-solving this or trying to teach that - we forget about some of the quieter students who at times just blend into their surroundings and get their work done. Not that I saw anything truly revolutionary, but I certainly got a chance to notice things about my students that I had either not noticed before or that I simply needed a good reminder.

It'll be interesting to think about this in a week. Will I teach any differently in the next week? Will I pay closer attention to certain, quieter students? Will I pay closer attention to body language signs that I saw today?

All good questions. I'll let you know what comes of it!

And just in case you missed it in the previous post, here's a really awesome video I made with my group answering the question, "What is learning?" in kind of a fun way!


Until next time - onwards! 

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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What is learning?

Made by one of our fantastic students, Sierra Jones, 9th grade, Center High School
 I'm trying this new mini-project with my students. I'm having them write a guest blog post for this very blog. It's pretty clear that an end-goal could not be to publish all of the student's blogs onto this space here. I have around 140 students and I'm asking for around 300 words per student. Some quick math gives us 42,000 words (I hope I'm right. If not, I teach social studies - leave me alone!) which are far too many to post all together.

What I've decided to do instead is make this a little bit of a competition. I've told the kids that I'm going to pick the top 6 to 18 blogs* and I will publish those blogs on my site. To make the work a bit more realistic, I've also told the students that whichever blogs get picked will need to go through an additional step of editing with me. Extra credit will be given to incentivize this process, but it shows that there should be a few drafts before publishing work. All the students will go through 2 drafts. Those who get published will go through 3 to 4 drafts.

*I know that number seems random, but it is 1 to 3 blogs from each of my 6 hours of classes. 

I gave the students some guidance on what would guide my decision. I did not use a classic rubric because I wanted to represent that holistic writing is important, especially when writing a narrative like a good blog post very often is. There is no single formula, but there can be guiding questions that show the student what I am looking for in their writing without limiting their scope. Those questions were:
  • Does the student provide a thoughtful answer that is interesting to read? 
  • Does the student show deep meta-cognition in his/her writing?
  • Does the student use quality grammar and sentence structure?

How will it turn out? Who knows! I will say that this is the most intensity I've seen come from a writing assignment in my teaching career, and that's worth something. I've had several students who normally don't ask me a lot of questions coming up to me and asking for guidance or advice. This shows that there has been a chord struck. Kids like attention. I want to give it to them for a positive reason.

In addition to the posts, which will hopefully come out sometime next week in their fully published forms, we made a video centered on the question of What is Learning? It is truly amazing how much kids like to watch themselves on video! For this particular one, I took volunteers who had something to say and stitched together their answers to the question. It's a bit silly and goofy, but it's a great window into my classroom and the students that I get the privilege of working with every day.

I'll also say that going through this activity has been really good for me. The students can be really frustrating at times, as teenagers tend to be. I try to be upfront with my students and have told several of them recently that they are starting to gnaw on my patience; some have responded well and some are going to need the message worded a bit more strictly. By this point in the year, I have been amazed by every single student and been frustrated like hell with every single student.

Making this video brought me to the edge of tears and got me all sentimental -  it is so important to do things in my class that help to remind me every so often how much I love my kids. In the midst of them being teenagers, they are also becoming young adults. Having taught for nearly 5 years at this point, I'm able to see the bigger picture more than when I was a brand new teacher. I can more easily identify progress that may not necessarily look like progress in the traditional sense; that could be a student handling a situation with a touch of maturity or showing kindness to a student that is normally ignored in the social hierarchy that too often dominates high schools in America.

More on the student guest posts coming soon! 

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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Connected Educator Day - MAY 2nd, 2015

Picture via

Being a connected educator is a must in the modern world of education. There is simply too much out there in the world to NOT connect. There are too many great projects; too many incredible teachers; too many informational and entertaining videos; too many organizations ready to give time and money and resources; too much of everything that is good in education. If you are not connected, or at least are not trying to connect, then you are doing a disservice to yourself as a professional and, more importantly, you are doing a disservice to your students!

Having said that, if you're reading this blog, then I'm probably not talking about you! So thanks for connecting. Maybe think about leaving a comment today so that we can all learn from each other!

Connected Educator Day - May 2nd, 2015

May 2nd is Connected Educator Day. This is exactly what it sounds like - a day to encourage others around the world of education to become more connected. If you haven't been on Twitter yet, try it out. Specifically, think about joining #satchat for a special Saturday morning session. If you don't blog, try it out. It starts as personal reflection, but turns into a really wonderful place to share and gain ideas. If you aren't on Voxer yet, get there and connect with me. I'll show you a few great groups to join.

If you are a little leary of the #edtech world, then connect with others around your building and district. Can you start a book club, perhaps with a little Teach Like a Pirate? Can you start a monthly meet-up for teachers in your district where you talk about successes in your classroom like #kcedu? Can you walk around your building and see other teachers doing their great work and find some inspiration there?

Whatever it is, get connected and keep learning!

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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#EdTech Struggles - And Solutions!

If you know me well, and my wife will actually vouch for me on this, you know that I don't get mad very easily. In fact, Angela used to (jokingly) get mad at me because I would never get mad at her. Teaching for 5 years has helped develop this in me - if you get upset at every mishap or moment of rude, teenage behavior, you'll be mad your entire career. Some teachers seem like they are always mad.

I don't ever want that to become me. 

One of the reasons why some teachers stay away from technology in their classrooms is because of the incredible number of things that could go wrong! And it's a valid concern - on any given day, a laptop could break, a student could come in without their device charged, a web server could have crashed or any other number of things that you cannot control.

The other day I tried to have my class watch a live STEM in 30 webinar from the National Air and Space Museum.  The plan was relatively simple:
  • Connect to a live feed of the webinar during my 3rd hour class and record video using a screengrab. Simple enough. 
  • Quickly upload the video to YouTube before 4th, 5th and 7th hours so that each class could watch the video. 
  • Host a Today's Meet back-channel discussion. This kind of discussion allows students to have conversations while something else is going on. We all get bored during videos at times. A back-channel can help catch some of the kids who don't learn well visually and keep them engaged. 
First, the district filter blocked the streaming video site that the National Air and Space Museum was using. Easy enough - I just needed our wonderful tech wonder-woman, Colleen, to come down to my class and log in with her username and that would be overridden. What we didn't plan on was for my desktop to need about 8 minutes to log out of my user screen and log back into hers! We talked and neither of us know why it took that long, but it did. There goes the first 10 minutes of the live webinar.

Next, to solve the first issue I tried to connect to my mobile hotspot, which wouldn't have the school filter anyways. It would use some of my data, but it was only 30 minutes, so whatever! For the only time in my memory, my laptop would not connect to my hotspot! Now I'm feeling cursed.

We finally get logged in with Colleen's information so that she can bypass the filter. The webinar gets on the screen about 10 minutes in, so we still have about 20 minutes of live webinar and Today's Meet back-channel. This isn't perfect, but it's going and it's a learning experience. I have the screen recording and all appears on track for the rest of the day.

The webinar ends and I hit save.

I then see the most dreaded image at the top of the video recording software that one can see:

At this point, I'm ready to throw my desktop out the window, order some pizzas and call it a day! I'm done! I'm angry; I'm flustered; the kids are acting great, but I feel like they're all looking at me thinking what an idiot

One of the many skills teachers have to develop is a short memory. Third hour ended, I took the 5-minute passing period to take a lap around the hall and relax, 4th hour began and I had to make something up on the fly. 

I went to YouTube and searched for a WWI documentary on flying, which was the topic of the STEM in 30 webinar. I found one that was from a source that I had used before. My next class entered and I told them all about my terrible morning in what I can only describe as a 3-minute melodrama! 

This melodrama accomplished two important things. First, it calmed me down. I was making a joke of my morning, but I was also getting some real frustration off of my chest. I was yelling, but not at anyone. The yelling just made the kids laugh a little at me. Second, and probably more important in the long term, is I tried to make the whole thing a learning experience. Once I got the kids laughing a little bit about my follies, I got a bit more serious and talked about how my entire plan had crashed and burned. I talked about my thought process for figuring out what to do next. I compared it to their 20 Time Passion Projects and reminded them that some of them would have similar feelings at some point during their projects. 

And then I started the documentary and began the Today's Meet with them. Fourth hour went great. Fifth hour went great. Seventh hour went great. The students were engaged, some more in the documentary and some more in the Today's Meet, but they were engaged. You can scroll through the finished product below:

The lesson here is to keep calm, keep pushing and keep trying. You may not end up with the polished off, wonderful end result that you envisioned. You could end up with something even better.

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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Social Media Lessons

First, a video.

The video is by a guy named Jack Vale. If you didn't watch it, essentially what he does is use a social media app to search for existing social media accounts in his vicinity. He pokes around and finds one that is not locked too tightly with security settings, and goes about finding this individual. He studies their profile enough to be able to kind of creep them out - things like telling them what they had for lunch, or where they work, or what kind of dog they have.

Nothing is really invasive, but it's also a well-intentioned guy trying to prove a point. Needless to say, not everyone online is as well-intentioned. As a teacher, this brings up a whole new realm for us to think about with our students. I am taking a course online called "Connected Educators" that is studying this topic right now. Whether you call it digital citizenship or something else, the idea is still the same - the world is becoming more connected and mistakes in one's youth are becoming more magnified.

This course has me thinking about my role in teaching students about digital citizenship. My thoughts center around a pretty singular thought:

Good digital citizenship alone will not get you a job, but bad digital citizenship alone may lose you a job.

My good friend Andy Hanch is also taking this class, and he talked about his own thinking with digital citizenship. One of the things that he said in his post this past week that struck me was the thought that teaching about this might not necessarily be our job, but that he has started too come around to the thought that it is ingrained in everything that we do online.

This mirrors pretty exactly my own journey of thought. I have to do more than except certain online behavior - I have to model and teach online behavior. 

Teaching with digital citizenship in mind is something that educators have to be ready to do. The future of our world is becoming more digital all the time. In my perfect school, we do not just teach content, but we teach how to be good people and good citizens. Nothing really changes, and yet EVERYTHING changes!

As if teaching wasn't hard enough already!

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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My Little Bubble...

One of the things that surprised me most about teaching was the intense isolation that I felt my first year. If you don't put in the effort to leave your class and go see others, then you could easily go an entire day without talking to another adult. Now on any given day, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. But I found that my first year of teaching, when I was tired and stressed and sick of talking to and listening to students, more human interaction was the LAST thing that I wanted.

I began to retreat into my little bubble on a daily basis.

I would arrive through the side door closest to my room usually before most other teachers arrived. I would get to my room and work alone until kids showed up for the day. I was kind of a scrooge that first year, so none of the kids wanted to actually see me, so my class was empty except when I actually had a class.

I ate lunch alone.

I either worked, decompressed by reading ESPN, or took a cat-nap* during my plan period. The way the hall was configured, I really only interacted with one other teacher during passing periods.

*Yes, I did this. Not often - maybe 5 times during my first year teacher. Don't judge. It may happen again once our baby arrives in about 6 weeks! 

I was alone - emotionally and physically.

Today in my 5th year of teaching, while I value my own quiet time, I am rarely alone throughout the school day. Every day is an opportunity to find the next great idea, and often, that idea comes from someone right down the hallway, like my colleague and good friend, Steve Parker

As a teacher, connections are important. But too often when we in education talk about connections, we are only talking about student connections. The connections that we make with other teachers and administrators are just as important, though! This group, often called a PLN (Personal Learning Network), serves several key purposes for educators:
  • Brainstorm new ideas and projects. You'll learn to bounce your ideas off of others and also get inspiration for new ideas from talking to others and hearing their ideas.
  • Emotional support. Sometimes you are just having a bad day and need to vent for a second. If you have people to vent to, you can get it off of your chest and get back to being a great teacher.
  • Connected learning. How else could you grow as a teacher or administrator? That would be like a professional basketball player never watching game film.
  • TEAM. It's cliche, but Together Everyone Achieves More. It's true. By connecting to others, you'll learn more, you'll collaborate more, you'll become a more exciting teacher. It seems silly, but you'll start to want to come up with new, great ideas so that you can share them with your PLN. 
  • Connected educators share best-practices and learn quickly. Teaching is a trial and error kind of activity. Just like science, the moral trials and errors you have to learn from, the more quickly you'll learn. 
Becoming a connected educator extends into the online sphere. Whether that means that you are going to start writing your own blog to self-reflect or just lurk around Twitter, you now have the ability to connect to educators from around the world. Someone out there is doing something inspiring - you just have to be looking in the right places to find it.

You'll be amazed that before you know it, you'll be the one sharing something inspiring.  Rookie connected educators become veteran connected educators very quickly.

So here's my one suggestion that is easy and free and not Twitter - go visit other classrooms! Find other great teachers who are doing great things and go watch. Don't give warnings that you're coming - that makes it feel like something formal. Just grab your cup of coffee and go poke your head into 5 or 6 classrooms for a few minutes each.

Here's another hint: If the teacher you're visiting wants warning before you show up, then you're probably watching the wrong teacher. Every great teacher I've met is OK with people in their classroom any time of the day. Why is this? Because great teachers rarely waste time, even when they're doing something that to the outside observer seems pointless.

Go watch great teachers and learn from them!

Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

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