It Is…. Alive!

Subtitle: Making A Franken-Teacher, One Piece At A Time.

Image in the Public Domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Nobody asked me, but if you want my Mt. Rushmore of Broadcasting, here it is:

Harry Caray. Pat Foley. Wayne Larrivee. Scott Ferrall.

These were the guys I loved to listen to as a sports fan, and as a young broadcaster. Caray and Foley are members of the Broadcast Wing of the Halls of Fame for their respective sports, Larrivee will be an HOFer too, and Farrell, well, he’s Farrell. Nobody worth his credential intentionally tries to copy another broadcaster’s style. It would sound phony and fake and derivative. But I’d be lying if I said these guys haven’t seeped into my consciousness. Listen to me call a game sometime, you’ll hear a little bit of each sprinkled in my style.

Last week I was keeping a eye on the #INeLearn twitter chat while doing my prep work for my football broadcast the next night. Truly, I was trying to prioritize my time and just follow along with the brilliant Indiana teachers who hang out together and share ideas on Thursday nights. Mrs. Dull already thinks I have an unhealthy addiction to Teacher Twitter.

She’s probably right.

So the subject last week was “Leading and Reflecting”, and the topic turned to blogs.

I don’t think I had given the answer to this question a lot of thought before, but with the chips on the table, there it was. Then I sat back and thought for a minute (latent beer/music hipster BS coming next….) wait a minute. Doesn’t everybody already know these guys (and girl)? I mean, shouldn’t I bring something new and fresh to the table?  Then: wait another minute. Like 4% of the Internet is on Twitter. I don’t know what percent of teachers read blogs about their practice, but based on my experience it’s probably not a huge number. So maybe people do need to know this group of teachers. I sure did.

So: Why those five?

I realized, I was looking at pieces of the teacher I’m trying to be. Again, I didn’t set out to copy anybody. One of my mentor teachers, Rod Vollan at Cimarron-Memorial High School in Las Vegas, used to say that you need to find your “charism” – to figure out your thing as a teacher. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I couldn’t be him. And not in a bad way, just that I had to let my own personality shine through in the classroom.

So maybe some confirmation bias is at play here. I knew the things I thought I needed to do to make this teaching thing work out, and in my travels as I encountered people on the same journey, I tended to gravitate back to their blogs and to adopt their methods. Not that it went all that smoothly at first:

My early attempts at Three-Act Math tasks were kind of rocky. But I’ve gotten better. Due in no small part to the fact that a guy who has ignited NCTM and been featured on Good Morning America and has 41000 twitter followers took time to respond to my tweet with some simple advice.

It was the living definition of a low barrier to entry. It’s Meyer’s teaching style in a nutshell: create perplexity, hit them in the curiosity gland with a question that students beg you to have answered; then let them do the figuring to get the answer. Provide some guidance, and let them find their way.

Not long afterwards, I was co-teaching a class that had a high population of students with IEPs. We decided we needed to be much more student-centered if we were going to have any chance of creating an atmosphere where learning could occur. Fortunately, I had been reading the f(t) blog faithfully for a while. (Suggested sub-title: “From Inside The Powerhouse Mind Of Kate Nowak”). I’d used review methods such as Speed Dating, (see above) and the great Spiky Door Project in geometry, but where things really started to cook is when I started making my own openers for lessons. The inspiration was pure k8. I’d already decided that discovery had to be a huge part of whatever we did, and here was a teacher who had pretty much raised it to an art form, and was reflective about it, to boot.


Meyer won instant credibility with me because he taught kids who hate math and hate school. My People. A few years later, I stumbled across a tweet from another guy who probably would find himself right at home if he wandered into my classroom.

Justin Aion is in his third year of blogging every single day about his teaching. Pretty much the Mike Royko of the #MTBoS. When you blog every single day, you can’t hide anything. Your class is an open book. The good and the bad is all right there in front of God and neighborhood. If it’s not, what’s the point of writing it? Here’s a guy who is upfront when everything crashes and burns.

But Aion has learned something that it took me years of frustration to finally figure out: Getting frustrated with teenagers doing teenager things is pretty much part of the job description, but being a jerk back to a 15-year-old is definitely optional. Aion sees his students as human beings first, and treats them that way. Even when they punch every button on the control panel.


Turkey Run State Park. Stunningly Beautiful. You really had no idea that part of Indiana looks like this right? Also, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Image via Indiana DNR.

Imagine you are the only world language teacher in your small rural high school. You could punch a clock every day, pick up a textbook, hand out worksheets, and shrug your shoulders.

Or you could knock down some walls. That’s Matt Miller in a nutshell. He blogs at Ditch That Textbook, authored a book of the same name, and presents around the country. With tech tools ubiquitous, Miller saw that he could completely re-imagine the way he taught his class in a way that would engage his students. This always sounded like a fantastic idea to me. I wanted to expand the world for my students, I was just never sure where to start. And not working in a 1:1 technology school, I wasn’t sure I had the tools.  Sometimes, I just need somebody to explain it me like I’m ten years old. With examples.

Plus, he’s a Google Certified Teacher willing to share and help.

Bonus in my book.

The other teacher tagged in that tweet is doing cool things at 1000 mph.

He’s young enough to have a built-in advantage at engaging with his students, but that’s also just his personality. One of my students called me a Man-Child the other day. I think it was supposed to be a compliment. We had just started our Friday Fun with “Friday” and “Never Gonna Give You Up” while they did a Self-Assessment for the week, and I think some of my students still aren’t sure how to take that, coming from someone as, um, old as I am.

So he’s having fun in class, and it spills over into lessons that are so flippin’ cool I swear the kids don’t even know what hit ’em until they look up and found out they learned something.

We did Big Shark in Algebra 1A one day. One of my students actually said, “That’s a big-ass shark.” My finest moment. I was ready to retire on the spot.

So, yeah, the people I hang out with online (some would say “stalk” –  such an ugly term) are having an effect on me. And on my teaching.

Low Barrier To Entry. Discovery. Treating Kids Like Human Beings. Busting Down Walls. Having Fun.

One of these days, I might actually be good at this job. But only because I learn from people who are already good at this job.



2 thoughts on “It Is…. Alive!

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