Timing Is Everything

Memorial Day. In addition to its rightful place as a day in memory of our honored dead in wars throughout our country’s history, it marks the unofficial start of summer.

My youngest, who as recently as last year would have rather have stabbed himself in the eyeballs with raw spaghetti noodles than go to the beach, decided that on one of the busiest beach days of the year he wants to go to the beach.

Crazy. Got to be way too crowded, right?

Plus, we got a late start to the day. You know what that means….

  • Outlet Mall: A Zoo.
  • Redamak’s: A Zoo.
  • Stray Dog: A Zoo.
  • The actual Zoo: A  Zoo.

But what’s this?

Whitaker To The River
You guys, where’s everybody going?

We first noticed the exodus near Mt. Baldy in Michigan City. By the time we crossed the border it was a convoy. Literally hundreds of cars, virtually every one of them bearing Illinois plates, all heading west at once. That blue line on the map? That’s a two-mile backup through the heart of New Buffalo, Michigan.

I get it. With the onset of construction season, North Shore and Northwest Suburban people were probably looking at a three-hour drive home. If you’re gonna spend a miserable holiday in a car, best to get out on the road in the morning, and maybe get home in time for dinner, right?

On the positive: Maybe they’ll be room for us a little bit farther north in Bridgman?

Yep. While I expected a line of cars snaking back up Lake Street, instead I found a half-empty parking lot. Aww, yeah.

And what a glorious, uncrowded Memorial Day at the beach it was. So fantastic that I left my phone in my backpack, played soccer with my youngest, sat with the fam for ice cream at the pavilion snack bar, and soaked up the sun. No photos.

Well, OK. Here’s one from Sunday night:

Weko Sunset (1)
Sunset. Weko Beach, Bridgman, MI. Memorial Day Weekend. Photo cred: me.

That’s good timing, my Illinois people. And great call on the beach, kid. You couldn’t have picked a better day.


When you’ve been teaching for a while, and are a middle-aged goof, it helps to have a rich fantasy life. Takes the edge off a mundane existence. So you occasionally imagine yourself as the hero in a national security thriller, racing against time…

Image via imdb.com.

So, just as a reminder, I got hired at my current school in part to help relaunch Project Lead The Way, a national pre-engineering program that had plateaued a bit in Valparaiso. There is a bit of a maze involved in rostering your students with the national PLTW, a process that is handled well above me on the food chain. But it needs to be done so the students can take the PLTW End of Course assessment for my class.

(I know. Another test, amongst a sea of tests during Testing Season. This one carries some per student dollars with it. In my first year here, I’m not gonna mess with Free Money. You feel me?)

In the midst of my move, my kids got rostered, but I couldn’t log in to see my classes. Thus, I couldn’t print their login info for the final. My login still took me to my old school, which as you can imagine, had no rostered classes for me.

Minor Panic

So now I’m emailing back and forth with my IT guy and the PLTW help desk (starting on Thursday, 6 days & a holiday weekend before my scheduled final exam window), trying to get the situation resolved. By Tuesday, my inner cool is heating up considerably.


On Wednesday, the actual day of the final tho, strangely cool. My fellow PLTW teacher said, “hey, do you have something else you can give them as a final?” Why yes. Yes I do. I’ve got a million One-Day Design Challenges. Those hit enough of the Big Ideas of the course to stand as a final in a pinch. Plus: it’s a Making Thing. I can live with that. Got my copies made, got an assignment made in Canvas. I would still have to go explain how I cost our district money, but… I’m good either way. Let the chips fall.

Now it’s three minutes before the bell for my scheduled Final Exam period: ah, what the hell. Let’s check my PLTW one more time.

And (whoomp) there it is.

**Angel Choirs Singing**

Now you should see me move. Confirm roster. Print EoC login tickets. Get students logged in to the testing site. Zing-zing. You got 80 minutes. Go…

Broadcast News from Anton Tokman on Vimeo.

Aaaaand… we’re in. Just under the wire.

If I don’t stand there punching the air at my desk, no one knows how epic that just was. And none of it happens without about a million people (who are really good at what they do) doing what they do. So you count on them. Because you can.

And a little patience doesn’t hurt. Because panic is at best counter-productive. And at worst: contagious.

If all this falls into place five minutes later, none of it matters. Everybody’s effort is pretty much a waste of breath and pixels. But these guys and ladies got the job done. On time.

Just like I knew they would.

Nice job, you guys. And: Happy Summer.

Learning Together


I know just enough to be dangerous. I can change out a ceiling fan or a car battery. Replace a plug on an extension cord. A few other things. I know enough to shut off the breaker or otherwise disconnect power before beginning a project. But how it all works?


I mean, I could give you a dictionary definition if you want. But I think you want a little bit more than that.


We blew past the circuits module in POE this year. We are smack in the middle of a major renovation right now, and my classroom is ground zero. There are decades of projects, binders, materials, tools, everywhere, across three classrooms. Despite receiving a literal truckload of brand-new PLTW supplies, I couldn’t track down the breadboards and wires for my students to work with. Fortunately there is an online sim for circuit building, which is what we used at my former school, but I need for my students to get hands-on with all of this. It’s one of the major selling points of PLTW – learning by doing.

Thanks to that turn of events, I’m a little ahead of schedule. Too early to start the next unit. But: amongst a recent shipment was a half-dozen boxes of the VEX building kits, including a hydrogen fuel cell and small solar panels for an energy activity.

Nothing says we can’t skip back and do that project now, right?

Turns out we didn’t have quite everything we needed. But in the spirit of American ingenuity and the can-do spirit (and the Porter County Career Center’s Alternative Energy program), we improvised. And learned. Every day I’d dig through stacks and storage of old equipment, find something that looked useful, give it to my students and said, “here, see what you can do with this.”


And because they are pretty slick, they’d go to work, think, try things out, look stuff up on Youtube when they needed to, and make some magic happen.

I told them up front that I had not done this project beginning to end before: “I’ll be real honest with you – we’re going to learn together”. I’m not sure I could get away with that just anywhere. I mean it as an opportunity for students to take control of their own learning. They get it.

Good thing, too.

My strategy: Ask a lot of probing questions, help when asked, get out of the way otherwise, check for understanding later. Plus, we eventually found the breadboards and some alligator clips.

And the next thing you know: Solar/Hydrogen Cell Car. Yeah.


There are places where this kind of “go forth and play, and oh, by the way, learn something” might not be met with great enthusiasm. “You’re the teacher. Teach us.”

I believe I have.

But wait. There’s more: Wait ’til we start coding in the next unit…


Robots are coming.

Each One Teach One

Image result for rust never sleeps
Image via http://www.1001fonts.com/rust-never-sleeps-font.html

Year One of the EPIC PLTW Reboot continues at my school. My Intro to Engineering Design kids are designing and documenting and creating, learning Autodesk Inventor and the value of planning the work and working the plan. All told, we’ve got 4 sections of IED, somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 students. Which is good. One of the foundational things we talked about in the interview was keeping the pipeline full – making sure we had a steady flow of kids into Principles of Engineering and beyond.

But my POE right now?

Two students.

Under ordinary circumstances, we’d dissolve that class and try again next year when we can fill out a roster. But I think it’s important that we offer it this year, both from a visibility standpoint and because Rust Never Sleeps.

We didn’t offer POE at my old school last year, and the year before we dissolved the class after one term because it had dwindled to an enrollment of just 5.  I get it. I really do. POE is more “mathy” than IED, and that scares a lot of people away. (Unlike IED, which gets treated like “just another elective” sometimes). But that also means I haven’t taught the second semester of the course for three years.

So here we are, halfway through the year (almost). Ready to start the machine control/mobile robotics unit in POE. Should be an easy sell. No student goes, “gee, when am I ever gonna use this?” about programming. Instant engagement, right?

And I’m terrified.

PLTW offers robust training before a teacher can be assigned to teach a course  – an intense, two-week session where we do all the projects the students do in a year, in 10 days.

Yeah, I built a robot and programmed it to platoon with my fellow teachers’ bots. Teamed up to build a marble sorter and custom designed some pieces for it in Inventor. But: its been a while.


Took C++ back in the day at UNLV. But: it’s been a while.

I’m about to get exposed again.

Except, I’ve been hanging out with a risk-taking group of teachers online who are more than wiling to admit they don’t know every damn thing, and are happy to learn. From anyone. Especially if it means learning along with their students. That spirit rubs off on the rest of the PLN.

I tried to size up where I stood the other day. We were close to finishing up a unit, getting ready to do the unit project which involves virtual bridge design. So I’m mentally looking ahead. Just as an icebreaker, I asked my students “what’s your background in programming?”

One guy, quietly confident, says, “I’ve been programming for 10 years.”

That’s almost as long as I’ve been teaching. Holy crap.

Well then. Learning is a two-way street. Guess I’m gonna learn right along side these guys, huh?

Ain’t too proud. Let’s go.

Leaner, Meaner, Greener

My POE class is studying energy sources and distribution these days, along with doing some circuit calculations.  The energy distribution lesson calls for a field trip to a local power utility facility, which sounds cool, and I’m told the NIPSCO tour is all kinds of awesome, but what if we did something slightly different? And maybe cooler?

Back on New Teacher World Tour Day our bus made a stop at the Porter County Career and Technical Center, where principal Jon Groth gifted us a stress ball and told us about the building’s Alternative Energy Program.

The success of the program, from its humble roots born out of state budget cuts due to the Great Recession, to its all-students, hands-on design and implementation, to the profit it generates for the PCCTC thru NIPSCO’s Feed-In Tariff program, has been pretty well documented.  But these guys in my class are better than just showing up, walking through, and hearing a story. I challenged them: Find out everything there is to know about this program. Before we go over there. I don’t want Mr. Groth to be able to tell you anything you don’t already know.

That way, I figured, they can use their limited field trip time asking good questions.

So I split the activity into three parts: 1) research (Doc here: pcctcvisitprep), 2) the trip itself, 3) documenting their learning (appended on to the shared research doc).

Oh, as part of my thank-you email, I also shared the doc with Mr. Groth, who took time out the day after the visit to make some comments and add to the students’ learning. That’s a teacher, right there.



For me (and maybe for my students), the biggest takeaway was something that Jon Groth told us early on during the visit: “We’re not experts.”

What kind of person admits that to visitors? The kind of person who is proud of the curiosity of his students and teachers. Who has seen them ask, over and over, “What if?” And who has seen them pursue those answers and put the solutions into practice.

GIF via https://giphy.com/gifs/flex-marlon-mack-mackattack-3o7abxcAaU5wrF4cdq

Once the ball started rolling, these guys want to keep pushing the process forward. If they don’t know an answer, they’ll find it out. If they don’t know the result of a slight change, they’ll test the change and document the results. If you notice in that photo of the solar array above (I don’t have to point this out to my OCD people), the panels in the last row are tilted at a steeper angle than those in the front. The students are testing different angles to determine which angle will result in the most power.

The most recent addition to the array is a vertically oriented cylindrical windmill. It is totally uncharted territory. The classes consulted with the students at the Alternative Energy program at Valparaiso University. The PCCTC students asked the VU guys if the design was good, if they had “done it right”. Know what the VU guys said? – “We don’t know. Try it and find out. Then let us know”

Don’t need to tell these guys twice. That’s practically the PCCTC motto. It’s the classroom culture I’ve been trying to build for a long time now.

And: It’s Project Lead The Way in a nutshell.




One-Man Book Club: Ditch That Textbook – The Takeaway

(Retroactively VHS Math Department Book Clubbing my way through “Ditch That Textbook”. Intro here. Part 1 here.)

It’s the time of summer when a low-grade anxiety starts to settle in. Bit more serious than “awareness”, not quite a “panic”. But: The New School Year Is Coming. There’s always a ton to do, and the Rational Me reminds myself that everything that needs to get done always gets done. But right now I feel like Adam Richman staring at a 6-pound burger with a timer set to 60:00.

When your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Image via http://www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/tvbanners/192792/p192792_b_v8_bf.jpg


Right now I’m processing Matt Miller‘s “Ditch That Textbook“. There’s a lot in there, people. Don’t believe me? Stop by the #ditchbook chat at 9 pm Central Time some Thursday sometime. And watch the awesomeness overtop the dam. Best thing about that chat is real teachers who have really made the leap share out how this works in their classrooms. I end up blown away any week I spend time lurking there.

Now having read the book, I’m reflecting on my main takeaways. My Top 3 (really 3.5) are Chapters 28, 29, and 30, with a nod to Ch. 32. “Jump In And Try”, “Don’t Use It All”, “Make It”. I think these three chapter titles pretty well sum up my journey as a teacher the last 7 years or so. And I’m definitely down with “Make It Visual”.

When I first started trying to Find A Better Way, I wasn’t on Twitter. I barely knew what Twitter was. I had found a handful of really useful teacher blogs, and I was sold on Will Richardson‘s book “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools For Classrooms“. Having learned just enough to become dangerous, I jumped in to give it a try. I started a wiki for my students. I used Dan Meyer’s “What Can You Do With This” (#WCYDWT) concept, starting with The Slow Forty, and eventually made his Three-Act Math a regular feature of my classes. I used Standards-Based Grading for a couple of years, and learned that selling students on the chance to learn, re-take, and improve their grade (rather than just copying homework, failing a quiz, and hoping for the best) was a challenge. I dumped out of that one after a couple of years, but kept the concept of a list of “alternate assignments” that my students could use any time to make up missing work or to improve a low test grade. Meyer and another brilliant math blogger, Kate Nowak,  shared out so many of the classroom activities that they created, that I stared to feel like I could make my own openers and activities as well. Like the time we tried Mythbusters: Kobe Jumps Over A Speeding Car.

Not sure we did any actual math in that one, although we did some research on height of the car, Kobe’s vertical leap, tried to estimate the speed of the car, tried to graph the speed vs. time of the car and height vs. time of Kobe, and used a little common sense. As in, “would the Lakers really let their superstar stand in front of a speeding car?”

It was ugly and messy, and kinda cool. And made me (and my students) hungry for more.

So, if I were in charge of running a department book club on “Ditch That Textbook”, my next-to-last session would be a huge brain dump on the Conclusion chapter, featuring Five Questions based on the DITCH acronym. (The last session would be a department-wide brainstorm/make/share day. But that’s another post, for another day.)

So, the Five Questions:

How is your instruction different than that in other classrooms? How is it the same? In what areas would you like to see change?

I think in my classroom, we’ve turned “I Do, We Do, You Do” on its head, following the lead of Kate Nowak, and others.

In keeping with the “Make It” ethos of Ditch That Textbook, I stared creating my own discovery-based openers that we used to introduce a concept. Then after the students had teased it out, we could go on to formal notes to fill in the holes, and some skills practice. How is my class the same? Well, despite all this, we still do quite a bit of whole-class instruction, and problem sets from the book or worksheets. I think that’s the thing – as excited as I am about infusing tech and building in opportunities for discovery, I still need to give my students opportunities to practice the skills. Hell, Derrick Rose was taking 1000 jumpers a day the summer before he won the MVP. I’m looking to strike the right balance.


What grabs your attention outside of education? What do you think grabs your students’ attention? How can you incorporate those things into your classroom? What are some ways you’ve seen other teachers innovate?

That last question could be a whole ‘nother post too. But anyway: One thing that has been on my mind for a while is advanced metrics in baseball. These are the stats that go past the standard BA, RBI, ERA, W-L to tell the real story of player performance. If you’ve seen Moneyball, you know what I’m talking about. I wish there was a branch of sabermetrics that applied to economics. Something that would cut through the unemployment rate/DJIA/”jobs created” fog to tell us what’s really going on. Because once the curtain is pulled back, whether it be Wins Above Replacement, or real unemployment rate, it’s hard to look at things the same way again.

A couple summers ago I read Big Data Baseball, which told the tale of the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates, a once-proud franchise on a 20-year streak of futility. The mindtrust, which included front-office staff, the manager, his coaches, and the scouts, all agreed on a new way of maximizing success by identifying player traits which translated directly to wins, then finding otherwise overlooked players who had those traits. As an example, they signed a mostly mediocre (by traditional metrics) catcher who was outstanding at catching borderline pitches in such a way that the home plate umpire saw them as strikes. More (unhittable) strikes equals more outs, equals less opportunities for opponents to score runs, equals more wins. See?  The team also went all-in on examining opposing hitters’ tendencies, and began to shift their defensive players out of their usual places on the field, to places where opponents were more likely to hit the ball. Brilliant. Using data to set players up for success. Now if there was only a way to translate that philosophy to the classroom…

Three infielders on the right side of second base. Because that’s where this particular batter tends to hit. Image via http://www.piratesprospects.com

For my students, right now (and this will change probably by the time school starts), OMG is Pokemon Go! huge. A gold mine, really. Take familiar characters, a hunt, real-life locations, and put it all in their phone, and Boom! Instant sensation.

How are other teachers around me innovating? I don’t think anybody is hunting cartoon monsters, but some of the real good ones I know have their students thinking about solving real-life problems:

I guarantee you Chevin will have a kick-ass Flint lesson put together by the time school starts. My #elearnschk12 people already know that, though. She’s got a gift for seeking out new tools, recognizing how she can use them, and then getting those tools into her students’ hands. And then watching the magic happen.

It’s not exactly finding Pikachu, but the lessons I saw in Ms. Stone’s class, built around hyperdocs, had her students engaged and learning right from the jump. I’ve spent a bit of time this summer thinking about lesson design, and Google Classroom, and hyperdocs, and how they will all fit together for my kids this year.


How has technology improved your life? How can that translate to the classroom? What’s a classroom practice or procedure that could be rejuvenated with an infusion of tech?

My biggest benefits from using tech in my life are connecting, and organizing. That group of math bloggers that I started to follow and borrow from back all those years ago? Almost all those guys and ladies tweet now, and almost all still share. When it was my turn to put together a presentation to help the teachers in my building learn Google Drive, I turned to Matt Miller and Matt Vaudrey for help via twitter. And they came through.

In addition, the portability and sharability of information via GAFE (Google Apps For Education) tools has made planning and sharing my work quite a bit easier. I can create a doc at school, open the same doc at home, or from anywhere via my phone. Shoot, I made a doc of recipes and household instructions for my family while I was on vacation this summer, and updated it from my phone while looking out over the Las Vegas Strip from my hotel room. Cool, huh? And the Google calendar (mostly) keeps me from forgetting appointments.

So now combine the goodness of the Goog with the need to quickly distribute materials to students, to get them to the same web site or video at more or less the same time, or to seamlessly get absent students and their missing work together. That sounds like a job for Google Classroom to me. Or as Miller would call it in Chapter 23, “A Place For Your Stuff”.


What types of products do you and/or your students consume a lot? How can the role of consumer be flipped to creator? How do you or your students demonstrate original ideas?

The obvious answer here is videos. Teachers are always looking for videos to help explain or illustrate a concept. Youtube is overflowing with math help videos. When my students aren’t curating a playlist of their favorite rap videos they are searching for the fight that happened after school or in the cafeteria. So maybe my students are already “creating” content, just not in a school-appropriate way.

Could they create videos to explain how to use a math concept? You bet! Here’s an example from a class at Hammond High School, done Common Craft-style:

Among the alternate assignments I offered my students this past year was to make a video of themselves explaining the math we did to somebody else. Like such:


What’s an area of teaching that’s become bland or lost its luster? How could your students use technology, objects, conversation, etc. to re-engage in that area?

As Matt says, it doesn’t always have to be about the technology. Many of the teachers I follow get great results (and increased engagement) by getting students talking to each other, talking about math, making guesses, arguing about each other’s answers. Three-Act Math is great for this. And a good supply of whiteboards (personal and desk-sized for group work) can bring a class to life.

One of the most valuable chapters in Ditch That Textbook is Chapter 34, “Establish Your Philosophy”. In it he asks “what kind of teacher do you want to be?” It’s worth the time to examine yourself and answer that question.

What kind of teacher do you want to be?

Many of my first class of PLTW students stayed with me for two years, through IED & POE. We got to know each other pretty well. They knew I was interested in finding answers to questions that troubled me, and had no problem admitting when I didn’t know something. As a result, they felt pretty comfortable experimenting with new approaches to problem-solving in those classes. They did some really cool stuff, things they probably would not have done if they were just following a set of steps in an assignment.

Those kids still send me funny engineering/learning-related stuff on Facebook.

Other students tag me in updates on their post-high school successes, or when they recall a silly moment in class. Or when they use something they learned from me a few years down the line.

(No, really. It happens).

I want to be that teacher. Guess I should keep Ditching That Textbook…

Playing Catch-Up

The thought has been bouncing around my head all summer. A prayer. Or a toast, if you will. To all my teacher colleagues who will be starting new jobs in five weeks or so. First-year or veteran.

“May you always be the teacher your interviewer thinks you are.”

Students are a little less likely to give unconditional love than puppies are. Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/45/df/4b/45df4b01c55b4c8774b5abedc25eeb1e.jpg

We obviously present our best front at the interview. Our real self, but our best self. Ideally, when school starts, with 30 happy smiling faces sitting in front of us, that real self connects. Theory matches practice.

My own thought is: Culture Matters, In the classroom and in the building.

I’m making a move this year. Starting at a new school, in the town where I live. I already have a couple dozen parents in my circle of people asking me to watch out for their kids. Kids who may or not be among the 180 of mine, out of 2100 or so in the building. No pressure, right kid? I’ll do my best.

But I’m also balancing letting my personality (teaching and otherwise) show. I’m an introvert in real life, so of course I pick a profession where I put on 900 performances a year. Fridays especially are a little wacky. And that won’t change. But my most trusted advisor gave me good guidance this summer: Take a minute. Don’t come in with both barrels blazing. Lay low. Learn the culture first.

“Try and keep up, OK?”

One of my favorite moments in the interview came when an assistant superintendent asked me, “Do you teach math like you teach PLTW?” Meaning: Are you getting kids hands-on opportunities to learn, or just lecturing and handing out worksheets? I was able to show him how the concepts I’ve learned from my online PLN have influenced my teaching. How my lessons have evolved through a better understanding of desired student outcomes, and the addition of some pretty cool tech. I’m pretty much #MTBoS all-in.

A big Interview Pay-off Moment came when I mentioned using Desmos, the fantastic online graphing calculator. My new department chair’s ears perked up. I took that as a good sign. All of a sudden, I started to feel like my teaching style would be a good fit for the culture of the building. It’s a Four-Star school that excels at serving a college-bound population of motivated students. But more and more the administration is seeking ways to serve the kids who don’t fit in that narrow band of kids who play the game of school well.

Early in the summer, I had a twitter convo with my new department chair, regarding the text for my class and available supplemental materials. Teachers have got plenty of leeway to use whatever materials and activities they see fit, if it serves teaching and learning. And that includes pulling sections from other course texts offered by the same publisher. I told him that’s great, because I’m all about ditching the textbook.

The phrasing was partly intentional, but definitely struck a chord. He replied that the department had read Matt Miller‘s book Ditch That Textbook as a group last year.

Hashtag: No Coincidences

I’ve been reading Matt’s blog for a while, I’m fully bought-in to the concepts. Even implemented a few into my work. In a lot of places, that would make me a unicorn. Maybe even at my new school a few years ago, I would have been an outlier. But guess what? Now it’s SOP.

Welcome to The Show.

Thing is, I haven’t read the book yet. I’m already behind my new colleagues. That will never do.

Cool thing though: that personalized learning thing that we keep saying we want to offer our students? It goes for teachers too. Learn what you want, when you want, from anybody, any time. Hell, twitter is one giant on-demand personalized PD for me. So guess what. I’m about to join my department’s book club, from a distance.

Asymmetrical learning, people. Asymmetrical learning. I bought the book, started to tear in as soon as I opened the Amazon envelope on Sunday. I emailed my department chair to see if he had a google doc or written reflection questions from the department book chat that he could share to help me frame my thinking as I work my way through.

Call it my One-Man Book Club. Gonna do some thinking out loud in this space as well. Just what the doctor ordered to get me caught up.

And hey, if you want to join in…..

No time like now to get better.




I Appreciate You

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So the topic turned to PLTW at home one night this week, as we plotted ways to get various combinations of children and adults to various extra-curricular commitments. To allow for some additional intensive ECA/ISTEP prep classes for our 10th graders, I voluntarily gave up my Introduction To Engineering Design course for the second semester to pick up three more sections of Algebra 1. I realized I had missed being this immersed in math. PLTW is cool. Really cool. But I’m a math teacher at heart.

Still, it’s killing me. Literally. I told Mrs. Dull that this semester has taken five years off my life. And it’s only half over.

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You know those “presidents aging in office” photos? Seriously, don’t do a side-by-side of my ID photos. Image via http://www.cbsnews.com/news/do-presidents-age-faster-than-the-rest-of-us-06-12-2011/

When I start re-reading “Relentless Pursuit“,  Donna Foote’s chronicle of a year in the life of four first-year teachers at a high school in Watts, well, that’s an indicator I’m feeling a little like I’m drowning.

I love my kids. And I hate my kids. And I love my kids. But like Eddie Murphy says (extremely NSFW), sometimes I find myself wishing misfortune on them. Nothing serious, just a paper cut and a jar of pickles. Or maybe a locker infested with cockroaches.

My obituary will read: “cause of death: 3rd period class”.

We took a quiz on Friday. I promised my students I would never give them a quiz without doing a review day first. If they miss the review, well, that’s their problem, not mine, but still. We’ve been doing Speed Dating reviews to great success, but every now and then you got to mix things up. Even the good stuff gets old.

Then this:

I opted for a Kahoot review. If you played the trivia game at the bar back in your college days, you know Kahoot.
This particular class checked out long ago. I’m not sure I have any tricks left in the bag to bring them back. I was not optimistic. After our 101qs bellringer and checking homework, I launched Kahoot.

And I hear: “awwww yeah!”

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Image via http://orig10.deviantart.net/a05b/f/2013/150/8/f/wut__by_djpavlusha-d678s0o.jpg

Each student signs in with a code for the game at kahoot.it, and selects a screen name. Teachers can reject inappropriate names, and with this class I feel like it pays to be quick on the draw. So I see them start to pop up on screen:
“A’ight My Babies”
“Hey Now”

The little cherubs are using my catchprases as screen names. AYKM?

At least they are paying attention. Sometimes. Here’s to small victories. And maybe, relationship building.
We have been all-in on PBIS for the last four years in my building. (PBIS = Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports). A small but growing core group of teachers is constantly on the lookout to catch our students doing something good. Not in a condescending way, but just to say thanks for doing what they are supposed to be doing. Our markers of PBIS are Responsible, Respectful, Engaged, and Caring. When students display one or a combination of these behaviors/attitdues, they are given a purple ticket which is entered into a quarterly drawing for a goodie bag and on-stage recognition at a school-wide PBIS assembly.

So I’m walking down the stairs with a stack of copies at the end of the day and I hear an adult call my name from the top of the stairwell. It’s one of our freshman academy teachers who is also on the PBIS committee. She has a story to tell about one of her kids whose usual interaction with adults in the building is negative:

Her: “<student name> today: ‘Hey, here’s my purple ticket. Mr. Dull saw me pick up papers that a kid dropped in the hallway. I’m a rock star’. He must have said it 13 times in 40 minutes. I had to listen to him all class. Dull, You’re a rock star.”

Me: “Yeah, but you reminded me to write purple tickets at the PD the other day.”

*Fist bump*



The day ended with a faculty meeting. We just finished a round of state testing, so our principal felt it made sense for this meeting to be a little more low-key. We started off receiving an individualized note and a scratch-off lottery ticket (I won 5 bucks!).

Didn't have to. Did anyway. It's a small thing, but it's a big thing.
Didn’t have to. Did anyway. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing.

Then it continued with a poster hunt with each group tweeting out a photo.

She didn’t have to. There’s a lot going on in the building right now. But she did anyway.

Appreciation is definitely a two-way street. Maybe even a five-points intersection. But this day the message from kids, teachers, and administrators (and back) was hard to miss: I appreciate you.


Will I Ever Make A PowerPoint After High School?

Every math teacher dreads the question. Like they dread teaching (Trigger Warning) synthetic division. “When are we ever gonna use this stuff?” We end up having to justify the thing we love so much we chose it as a career, to a bunch of disinterested 15-year-olds.

Other teachers get the “cool” subjects with relevant topics and awesome class discussions for days, and we get to make our kids graph lines with pencil and paper. As if anyone does that for real on the job. If only they could make PowerPoints for us, like they do for their US History teacher. Life would be so sweet.

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But you know what? Secretly… they hate making PowerPoints.


Or rather, they hate making an effort to make a good PowerPoint. It’s one more thing they can robotically churn out in a half-hour, read the slides off the screen when it’s time to make the presentation, then sit back and say “Gimme My Points!” I know it’s true, because I’ve heard those exact words.

What if making a PowerPoint is one more thing they’ll never do again after high school?

There is a stat floating around out there, of somewhat suspicious origin, that 30 million Power Point presentations are made every day.

Thirty. Million.

If this number is true, one in every 250 or so people on the planet is clicking through a slide deck today. I’m a math teacher (and a PLTW teacher), so I get that that number is not evenly distributed. But still. If my students feel like they won’t have to do this on the job… they’re probably right. Or maybe not. Depends on the job, right?


What if it’s not about slapping together 10 slides (ctrl-c, ctrl-v, rinse, repeat), and it’s really about telling a story?

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My Intro To Engineering Design students are in the midst of a project requiring them to select an invention, to research all the innovations that have been made to that product since it was invented, and to present what they have learned. I’ll be pretty honest with you. I don’t want to watch 40 horrible slide show presentation with my students standing with their back to their classmates, reading from bullet points while clicking through unreadable slides.

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Call me selfish. But last time I checked my business card, it says “Teacher”. Guess that means if I want them to make an awesome presentation, I’m gonna have to teach them how to make an awesome presentation. OK, fine. Somebody’s got to. So, after they research their invention and innovations, and before they start building a slide deck, I hit them with a combo platter: Carmine Gallo and Steve Jobs. Gallo literally wrote the book on making insanely great presentations, and Jobs…. well, c’mon. You know.

So we start with Gallo’s slide deck on the Presentation Secrets Of Steve Jobs. Yes, read the book. You’re probably already using at least a couple of these tactics in your class. Then once we’ve identified best practices, we watch the master at work.

Then I give them a slide from a previous year student’s presentation and ask them to use what they’ve learned to improve the slide.

Truth be told, it’s a lot more work than ctrl-c, ctrl-v. But holy crap, have they bought in. I say: tell a story with your slides, don’t read them, tell your audience the things you learned that you think are cool. And they give me this:

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I swear, it was like a contest to see who could put the coolest gif in their slides. They’re having fun. In school. On an assignment. For my class. Pinch me.

But, are they ever going to have to make a PowerPoint again after high school? Ask me again in 40 years. But I know for sure they’ll need digital communication skills. I know for sure they’ll have to tell a story, and make that story kind of interesting. Maybe they’ll be pitching a product or a business idea. Maybe they’ll be witnessing to a youth group. Maybe they’ll be podcasting about writing a novel or launching a youtube channel of  DIY household repair tutorials. Maybe they’ll be telling the life story of a loved one at a wedding or a wake.

Go tell your story, people.