Glitter Bombs and Education


I laughed hysterically watching would be thieves getting covered in glitter and fart spray. If you are not sure what I am talking about, there is a Youtube video making the rounds on the internet showing a gentleman taking revenge on some package thieves. He is an engineer and was able to create a package that took video, uploaded it to the cloud, tracked the package via GPS, flung glitter, and sprayed fart spray on a few people who stole packages off of front porches.

While the sinful side of me took joy watching payback unfold right before my eyes, I also reflected on the learning process that took place on the video and whether my students are walking a similar process in my class.

He started with an idea of what he wanted. In science class this would be called “forming a hypothesis” but we usually call it “making an educated guess” in history class. He decided what the goal was for his project. He wanted a package that did very specific things. In my classroom I do not think I use prediction as well as I could. Making an educated guess at events that might happen next is a skill that is developed over time. While not a “testable skill” it is a skill that students will need to develop in their lives to understand the possible consequences for actions.

Next, he used his resources to collect materials that accomplished the goals he set out for. I noticed at this point that while he does play to his strengths as an engineer, he did employ some help to accomplish his goals. He constructed something that looked like it would accomplish the goal of payback.

He used his knowledge in building the product to test his goals. He methodically tested each element (the GPS, the camera, the motor for the spinner, etc.) to make sure it did exactly what he wanted it to. He did not include a lot of this footage in the final video, but I would guess there was a bit of trial an error in a machine this complicated.

Lastly he put his product into the real world to see what it could do…and it was spectacular.

My reflections on this process are:

  • Do I allow my students to come up with good ideas and put them to the test? This would be difficult in a history classroom, but I think it would be good for my kids
  • Do I use real world application enough? Again, difficult in a history classroom, but I think it is possible during certain units of study.

Teacher Culture


I am now in month two of my third school of my teaching career.  The thing that I am noticing the most when it comes to changing schools is that there is a lot of culture at school.  There are teacher cultures, student cultures, administration cultures, parent cultures, etc.  It boggles my mind how many cultural shifts I have had to deal with in this early part of the school year.

During teacher inservice days, I was almost overcome with all the teacher cultural differences in my new school.  Many of the faculty at my new school had been there for a decade or more and new the culture inside and out.  They new the families that were coming, the types of kids by neighborhood, and could predict how certain students would interact before the school year started.  In a way, I was envious of them and I wished I could rush the acculturation I am now beginning to experience.  As I have reflected on this phenomenon, I have realized that I do not need to completely adopt the new culture of the school, but use my own culture to add a new flavor to the already established culture of my school.  I do not need to be a clone of the person before me or my teaching partner on the other team.  I was hired to be me.

The culture that is normally talked about in teacher circles is the student culture.  I know a lot of teachers pining to work at any of a number of certain schools because the kids act a certain way.  What I have found is that the issues that are found with middle school kids transcend what school they go to.  Meaning that the problems that we find with middle school kids are the same no matter what school they go to.  The difference is how they are manifested and how the students are dealing with it.  Understanding the school’s response to these issues is fascinating to me.

As I have taught my sixth graders (when I have taught sixth grade), is that culture is something that is difficult to explain until you are outside of it.  Once I leave the great state of Texas it is plain to see I am in a completely different culture.  Same with changing school.  I never knew how plugged into the culture of my last school I was until I left.

Two Out of Three


In my last post, I promised that I would be using three new technologies in class.  I got two of them done and the third will come the week after Spring Break.  Let’s take a look at what I used:

  • GoFormative – This is a platform to quickly take formative assessment data during a lesson.  I liked this more than Google Forms in certain scenarios because it will allow the kids to draw instead of just type and it collects the data in a way that it is easily usable.  This is really helpful with things like my touchscreen Chromebooks in my classroom.
  • Exploros – I liked Exploros to a point.  It was easy to set up to use my Google Classroom and there are a variety of topics that are aligned to our state standards.  The problem is that it is still very much a read and answer curriculum.  This wouldn’t be bad for days when there is a sub in the classroom, but it really is mostly reading.  It’s got a lot of resources though, so if you’re short for information on a part of History it’s worth taking a look at.

After Spring Break I’m going to give Flocabulary a try, so I’ll have a write up for that when we’re back in the rhythm of the school year.

In My Own Head


This time of year is always the time where I start to get nervous.  Not because of a test coming up or because of a specific unit.  I get nervous that I’m doing things wrong.  As I reflect on this, it’s funny because I know I’m going out of my way to do the right thing and teach my students the correct way.

I think some of this is because I feel like I’m becoming stagnant in the technology I’m utilizing in the classroom.  I want to be on the forefront of technology on my campus, but that is tough to do.  I’m going to rework my lesson plans in the next few weeks to take some risks using technologies.  Some that I’ve heard of, but haven’t utilized are Exploros and GoFormative.  I’m also going to spend some time looking into other things I can use and try them out.

I think I’m also letting good be the enemy of perfect.  Our district has moved to listing learning targets in very specific ways.  I’m still adapting to this new way of communicating the point of the lesson to my students and it’s a learning process.  Hopefully through trial and error I’ll be able to learn how to do this better as a teacher.

Next week my goal is to post how I utilized at least three new technologies in the classroom and my experience with them.  Stay tuned for more on this.

The Little Things


Coming back to school after winter break is a time that can’t be explained to people not in education.  Everyone is tired, there are new clothes a-plenty, and we all feel (somewhat) rested and rejuvenated.  I’m also making some little changes in my classroom to see what happens.

  1. I’m structuring my classroom to minimize negative interactions.  After some reflection I noticed that I was having an increasing number of negative interactions with my students.  Most of this was because there was ambiguity of what the students were supposed to be doing and any given time.  To remedy this, I’m making sure that my expectations for my students are presented clearly before we get into anything.  I’m also making sure that I’m reinforcing positive behavior and putting kids in a place that they can succeed where they are.  Changing seating charts and changing my delivery of lessons slightly are part of this plan of mine.  I’ve only had two days worth of school so far, but so far it’s working well.
  2. I’ve decided to have fun no matter what.  An old principal of mine used to always say “choose your attitude.” I found that at the end of last semester I was not choosing the best attitude I could have.  I’m going to do the best I can to choose my attitude daily and laugh a lot more this semester than I did last semester (which was quite a bit).
  3. I want to help people more than look out for myself.  I’ve been known, at times, to hunker down and concentrate solely on what I need and what matters to me.  This next semester I want to make sure that I’m helping out others as much as I can.  Even if that is changing my reactions to things, changing the way I speak to people, or rolling up my shirt sleeves and helping people get things done.

The bottom line is that I want to be a better person than I am today.  I don’t think that I’m a bad person, but I want to make sure that I’m always pushing myself to be better in new more difficult ways.

Train Like a Rockstar


Training is one of those things in life that you either love or hate.  I have always found that I’d rather be over-trained compared to under-trained, but that’s just me.  The question I’ve run up against a few times is whether I’d rather travel for outside training or be trained in house and I think I have an answer.

Inside training is easy for a number of logistical reasons.  They are usually closer to you and you might know other people getting trained.  There is a chance that the person conducting the training knows your specific circumstance and more about the kids you’re teaching on a day-to-day basis.  The downside is that I rarely come away with as many “aha” moments when I attend a local training.  I feel like I see people utilizing things in a slightly different way or teaching something in a slightly different way.

Outside training is difficult from a travel perspective (usually).  For instance, when I taught US History, very little content from before the Civil War happens anywhere near Texas so I had to travel at least a little bit to see actual historical sites for training.  The thing that outside training offer is the potential for world class teachers who have spent years on their particular topic and hands on experiences.  I got the opportunity to live and be trained on the grounds at Mount Vernon (the home of George Washington) and the hands on experience was invaluable to a beginning US History teacher.  I also got to listen to a number of scholars with huge experience when it comes to US History, Mount Vernon, and George Washington.

Again, I’m pro-training in any form.  That being said, take a look at some training outside of your locale and see if you can figure out the logistics to get you there.  You’ll be glad you did.

How Much History


History is a subject that is often either loved or hated.  If you were to poll the kids sitting in my classroom, they would either tell you they loved it or they hated it without much in between.  My goal is to light the historical fire in their soul.  This got me to think about how little people remember from their history classes.

I don’t know about you, but a lot of those dates really slip my mind.  Now, as a history teacher, I have relearned a lot of them.  So much so that I was listening to a lecture the other day and out of nowhere the speaker made a reference to the Magna Carta and I had to keep myself from yelling with excitement.  No one else in the room really knew what that was, and that depressed the government part of my heart.  I’m not saying that you need to know the Law of April 6, 1830 by heart or what date the Battle of Vicksburg happened on, but you should know the big ones by heart.

I could get on my high horse and start complaining about civic duty and why no one remembers why they are so important, but I’ll try and limit myself.  I don’t like jury duty any more than anyone else, but I’ll happily participate to make sure there is justice in our country is carried out.  I also don’t like keeping up with what/whom I can vote for on the few times a year I’m asked to vote, but I do so I can place an informed vote.  Most of us like the idea of civic duty, but when push comes to shove not many of us (as a nation) do a good job of living up to the expectations of our country.

My wife sometimes wonders why I choose to read the things I do.  For instance, we’re going on a trip over Thanksgiving and I’ve downloaded three history books to listen to.  Two Texas history books and one English history book.  Maybe it’s because I’m historically inclined, but I think it’s important to know what’s happened and why it’s important that I remember it.

So that leads me back to my initial thought, how much history do we remember?  Would this city/state/country/world be better off if we remembered (maybe even put a little emphasis) on a little more history?  I don’t know the answers for sure…but I bet you can tell which way I lean.

Presentations On My Mind


I enjoy presenting.  I consider myself a decent presenter, so I started thinking about what makes a “good” presentation.  In my mind, a presentation I want to be a part of has three main components to it:

  1. They tell me why I should care.  I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve been to that halfway through I have no idea why this is important.  Usually when I’m able to sit in a presentation I’ve invested travel time and dollars to be in the room with them.  Please tell me why I should care about what you have to say early on.  That gives me time to switch presentations if what you care about is far from what I care about.  I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for theoretical presentations, but at least let me know that.  My goal when I’m a viewer is to take away one practical application to my life, and if your goal isn’t to provide that I can find something else.
  2. They use their time wisely.  I’m not a rambler…which could be taken as odd for a history teacher.  I like for people to get to the point quickly so that I can begin to contextualize what they’re saying for my particular situation.  Sometimes there are good reasons for people to meander through steam of consciousness stories, but often those are filler.  Anyone who has sat through more than a few presentations knows what is filler to kill time versus what is useful to a presentation.
  3. They leave time at the end.  I believe that a little time at the end of any presentation is beneficial to everyone involved.  Time to chat with the people around me can help me crystallize what was said in the presentation.  A Q&A session at the end allows people to get clarification on points that were made.  Even leaving time to try something that you’ve presented on is helpful.  The constant complaint of teachers is “we don’t have enough time for planning,” so why not let them have a little time to do so?

Anyhow, just some thoughts on presenting.  I’ve probably broken some or all of these at some point during a presentation, but I try not to.

The Future…Of History


I go through this cycle every couple of years.

I start the cycle by loving where I’m at in my career.  I’m enjoying where I’m at in life, everything is going well, and there is not a care in the world.

At this point, I’m minding my own business, and someone starts talking about academia.  I think back to my time in college and graduate school.  I think how much I learned and how great it was to learn about subjects I’m interested in and the wheels of my mind start spinning out of control.

Next in my cycle is I start thinking about what kind of degree I would go after, if I were to decide to go get one.  I think about a history masters degree, but I don’t do languages well, so that is out.  I look at religion degrees, but the universities in my area don’t have religion programs I would be interested in being a part of.  I settle on education degrees and narrow them down into some I would be interested in and others I would not.

Finally, I start researching programs in my area and the cost of attending, details, etc.  I then present my findings to my family who agree this would be a great idea, but the timing isn’t quite right.  I’ve always known this in my head, but hearing them vocalize this snaps me back to reality…oops, there goes gravity… (bad Eight Mile reference there).

Added to these realities right now is the fact that I’m not sure what I want my next step in education to be.  Do I want to be an administrator?  Do I want to move into educational technology?  Do I want to move into counseling?  Who knows.

A better way


The best practices of the teaching world are rarely ground-breaking.  Usually, I find that the simple things that get overlooked are the most revolutionary in my classroom.  The most recent example of this was when the history department was prepping for our state testing review unit.

In general, I’m always looking for the “best way to teach everything”.  I think we all are as educators.  I was convicted of my hubris when setting my plans for review when my curriculum director asked me why I was reviewing the same way I taught it in the first place.  She gently reminded me that if I had met the student’s needs completely the first time, there wouldn’t be any need to spend time reviewing it.  I really took time to reflect on that and it has pushed me to drastically think outside the box with the way I’m going to review.

The most important question for me when I began rethinking my history review was, “is there a way my students can touch (or at least see) the concepts that we’ve talked about in class before.”  To this end, I’m making it a point to use as many new visuals and ways of looking at things that I can.  What I’ve found as I begin to plan this unit out is the more creative I get with my visuals, the more opportunity I have to spiral the materials into other things in history.  By allowing for this kinds of discussions during review, I’m hoping to see my kids make more connections than they would have in the past.

An example of this is how I’m trying to visually represent each battle of the American Revolution.  I’m trying to not use any words so the students have to process through what battle it might be, and then give them a new perspective on what might have been going on during the war.  Regardless of whether they have all the battles memorized, I’m hoping the will walk away with a good general review of the Revolution and be able to make connections with the flow of wars and how the Continental Army used it’s meager advantages  to force a surrender of the greatest army and navy in the world at that time.

I haven’t completely planned out every lesson, but this basic reset (that you need to try and teach in a new way if it didn’t work the first time) has radically changed my thinking.  It’s almost like even slightly older teachers can still learn new tricks.