Everywhere I’m Not

Sam at Sunset
I know that look.

Mrs. Dull and my youngest caught a sunset at the beach while I was attending graduation last Friday. We shared a cup of coffee before I headed out for a weekend calling hoops on Saturday morning, and she told me a story.

My 13-year-old son is all SoCal‘d out these days – he grows out his hair when school is done, so he’s got a little surfer-boy flow under his beanie, eyes hidden behind shades.

Mrs. Dull noticed that the look kind of suits him, and mentioned that to him as they watched the sun dip under the horizon.

He smiled.

She told me, over strong beans, that she thought he would thrive out there. Vegas, specifically. That the vibe there suits his personality.

Yeah, I can see that. And, truthfully: The draw to the West is strong sometimes.

When we  lived there, all I wanted was to be back here. When we visited back there last summer, not gonna lie… I felt a little tug.

 

 


We plan to retire to a little beach town in Michigan, and we visit there often. When we sit on the beach at St. Joe, or share pizza and schooners with the windows open and the lake breeze blowing on our face at Silver Beach Pizza, it’s the only place I want to be, forever, watching a glorious sunset every night, or standing in awe as the waves of an angry lake pummel the lighthouse and pier.

But I imagine if we lived walking distance from the beach, there’d be nights I’d think “Oh great, another sunset. Whatevs. Do we have to go? Can’t we just stay inside and watch TV?” Like Dave Ramsey says, lobster gets to taste like soap if you eat it every day.

Rod Dreher writes of a lesson he learned on a trip to Europe as a high school student:

“The other big thing I learned on that trip was that life could be something else, something other than what I had been given. I met my Dutch pen pal Miriam in her town in the south of Holland. Valkenswaard was its name. I had dreamed of Valkenswaard as everything my own town was not. What I discovered was that kids in Valkenswaard dreamed of America as everything their town was not. It was, in truth, an unhappy surprise to discover that Valkenswaard was a real place and not a fantasy village. I laugh to think about it today, at 50, but back then, I needed to believe in Valkenswaard like I needed to believe in Carnaby Street and Dexys Midnight Runners and After The Fire and all of it. If only I could possess it, and be a part of it, I would finally belong.

Well, no. That’s not how it works. There are some places that are better than others, but the thing I learned was that you can’t escape from yourself. This is unfortunate. But there it is.”


When I started back to school for a teaching degree, one of my first professors introduced us to the concept of The Four Square Blocks: for kids who grow up in the city, that space is their world. For a variety of reasons, you just don’t cross the boundaries of your four square blocks.

Then I started teaching in a city. After that, in another, smaller city bordering Chicago. The parents moved their kids across the state line, hoping for… something better for their family. To the kids, living in Indiana (even just a few miles away from their old neighborhood) meant permanently tossing aside whatever street cred they had back home.

My Chicago kids spent a lot of energy putting up a front. The unspoken message was: you Indiana people think you’re hard, but you wouldn’t last a minute in my neighborhood.

Everybody wants to be somewhere else…

Meanwhile, at my new school this year, this was the number one most popular fashion accessory.

Image result for california hoodie
All the Cali Flag hoodies. Everywhere. (source)

Maybe it’s just a fashion trend. Maybe it’s a sign of longing to get out. Midwest kids will always be pulled to Endless Summer. The midwest brain drain is pretty well documented. My school sends kids to Notre Dame, and the Ivies, and to the top engineering schools in the country. What should we tell them? “No, you can’t go”? There’s a whole world out there, filled with challenging problems in need of answers. As the writer George Ade said: “A lot of smart young people have come out of Indiana. The smarter they are, the faster they come out.”

At the same time, the Golden State continues to see more people moving to other states than move in from other states – Cali natives are being drawn to far-off lands where taxes and housing prices and schools and everything must be so much better. Hell, we moved back here from Vegas (just before the housing bubble popped, Deo Gratia).

Everybody wants something better. Me, you, my kids. Everybody. And maybe it’s out there. Sometimes it’s worth it to pick up the phone and find out. (I did). To pack the U-Haul and roll the dice. (Did that too). The trick is, not to fall prey to the fantasy that streets are paved with gold. You can be just as miserable in Florida as you are in Indiana. Maybe more so.

Something better.

Hmmm….

16110580_746669032151782_7656934551322624000_n
Douglas Coughlin, Logical Negativist. (source)

Always listen to your bartender.

What We Learned

14 years, in the books.

As the years go on, the last day of school is always a bit anti-climactic. It is melancholy, for sure. But that’s true everywhere. You might have seen this one floating around a few years ago from up in The Mitten:

Gonna miss my kids, and those moments of awesomeness when a lesson all comes together or they discover something cool and get excited about math. I’m not gonna miss setting my alarm and programming the coffeemaker for the next 10 weeks or so. But the “woohoo” of turning in my keys and walking out the door is gone. Compared to the first few years, it is less an “event” and more a “point in time”.

Either way, it is a moment ripe with opportunities for reflection. Especially now that I’ve just finished my first year at a new school.


 

After school, waiting for my ride, I bumped into my department chair, who is leaving the classroom to go into administration. We had an opportunity for small talk, and he hit the bullseye with the first question:

“So, how did it go here during Year One?”

My stock answer to every who has asked that question since August is: Smooth.

But Nick is a good guy, and deserves more than a stock answer.

“It was good. Pretty much what I expected. Getting used to everything new. Building out a course in Canvas ate up a lot of time, but that will pay off next year and beyond”.

Then: “the department is a powerhouse, man”.

He said: “Yeah, we push each other pretty hard.”

And I said: “Yeah, I felt that. In a good way.”

I ate lunch every day with a group of four other math teachers. I heard them collaborate and troubleshoot on the fly between bites of brown-bag sandwiches. I heard a 25-year veteran asking for help from her subject area teaching partner. I saw a young teacher ask to come in and observe his colleagues in the department. I heard teachers gently push a colleague who could do better.

Everybody’s got everybody’s back. But nobody lets anybody else slack off, either.


So, Mr. Reflective Teacher, what did you learn this year?

  1. City or suburbs, kids are pretty much kids.
  2. They got kids that hate math in the green leafy suburbs too.
  3. If math class is just about math, those kids will hate it intensely.
  4. So, children must play.
  5. Living where you teach and seeing your kids outside of school is cool.
  6. Changing the culture is not a one-day process.
  7. The kids that don’t want to change will fight you for 180 days if they have to.
  8. I’m still more stubborn than they are.
  9. There’s only 30 hours in a day.
  10. Perfection is an unattainable goal.
  11. Having a planning partner is a gift.
  12. Having an hour a week to plan with your team is like finding a little gold nugget.
  13. Having a Lunch Bunch to ask questions/bounce ideas off/talk elections with is imperative to mental health.
  14. Having a copier that staples automatically saved me probably 24 full hours of my life over the course of the year.
  15. Having six classes in four classrooms on two floors, never the same room for back-to-back classes meant I got my steps in for sure every day.
  16. I got fat anyway.
  17. We’re going 1:1 next year.
  18. I’m thinking of a million ways my kids can use Web tools to knock down walls, or at least to look at and think about math in a different way.
  19. Like this guy.
  20. I’m also trying to find a way to use MyMathLab to support my students who need extra practice.
  21. I know that makes their laptop a $300 worksheet, at least for that night. Sue me.
  22. Give kids a chance to do incredible things and they will. Or at least they’ll try.
  23. Give kids a chance to jump thru the right hoops and put the right squiggles on a piece of paper for a letter that will keeps their parents off their back or get them in the right school, and they’ll do that too.
  24. I can retire in 10 years.
  25. I don’t want to.
  26. I won’t be able to, anyway.
  27. Teachers report back to school in 63 days.
  28. I’ll be ready.
  29. But first, sunsets.
  30. This is really, really, really true:
teacher13-itokpjmqqzvn
Image via takepart.com.

Probably.

Understand What You Do

It’s graduation season. Throughout May and June, men and women, selected as speakers for their accomplishments and wisdom, will stand before a sea of faces, dropping knowledge and providing encouragement.

Most of their words will be forgotten within a few hours. I know my speaker said something about doing good at all possible opportunities, and beating Purdue in every possible sport. The rest of it?

Image via giphy

But just about all of them will riff on how “commencement” means “beginning”, even though it feels like we are celebrating an ending.


The world doesn’t need another blog post about how teaching isn’t just another job. It’s been done to death.

But the job does require a certain level of commitment. To the point where, if you’re not all in, go sell insurance.

I saw two guys commit to a life of service Saturday. Meaning, like, for decades. Til death do us part, “I-will-humble-myself-by-laying-face-down-on-the-floor”-level of commitment.

Prostration
Fr. Nate and Fr. Greg prostrate themselves during the Litany of the Saints at their Ordination Mass, May 20, 2017 at the Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary. Photo via Diocese of Gary.

The priesthood. It’s probably the last job or institution left on earth that, from Day One, you know you are in for life. Even a good portion of married folks stand at the altar on their wedding day thinking, “If this guy’s a dud, I’m out.” “She gets fat, it’s over.”

These guys had spent seven years in preparation for this day. If they haven’t backed out by now, they’re not gonna. And their commencement speaker? A bishop of the Catholic Church.

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Donald Hying, Bishop of the Diocese of Gary, IN. Photo via Deena Pidrak.

I think they will remember his words forever. Because I’m still thinking about them. When they received their marching orders, I couldn’t help but ponder how these ancient lines in the Rite of Ordination might frame what I do:

“Understand what you do. Imitate what you celebrate. And conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

(And I get it if you’re not down with the theological aspects here. In Catholic teaching, the priest is “alter Christus” – another Christ. Called to give their lives, if not literally then figuratively for their flock). At this moment of the Mass they are handed the paten and the chalice which will hold the Body and Blood of Christ. These tools are central to what they will do every day of the rest of their lives.

It is a life of service. What they do, what they celebrate, is for the eternal good of their flock. They are shepherds. And counselors. And teachers. It is the work of a lifetime: long hours, loneliness, doubts about effectiveness, everything that gives a career weight.

Now, I’m not out there saving souls, but we can draw a rough parallel to what we do as teachers. Especially those of us who believe we are helping our students form the skills they will need to navigate the world of the mid-21st century.

Dad Timeline
My dad, receiving his 25-Year watch at Inland Steel. He was 44 years old then. Our world, and our kids’ world, is a little bit different.

As one school year comes to an end, I immediately (informally, if not on paper) begin planning for August and beyond. Thinking about what worked, and what didn’t. How I lifted up my students, and how I crushed their spirit. The #lessonfails, and the moments that made me want to retire on the spot because it was never going to get any better than right then. And how to fix those ratios next year.

I’ll never forget my first-ever class, Algebra 1A, looking out at 41 faces (in a class with 39 desks), Cimarron-Memorial High School, Las Vegas, NV. This is a great time to remind myself what I signed up for.

“Understand what you do…”

Mail Call

Live look-in to my class these days:

Apollo’s shoulders sagging as he shakes his head at Rocky’s tenacity is one of the greatest moments in sports cinema.


 

I made my students a promise after Spring Break. Knowing that with three-fourths of the year behind us and the toughest math of the year ahead of us, many students check out mentally, I told them:

“When I start to mail it in, you can start to mail it in. But if I’m here, you’re here.”

Translated: Finish strong. Practically a class motto. But it’s not easy. We’ve got roughly two weeks till finals. Nothing I’ve seen as far as student apathy the last month or so is new to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna keep trying to find ways to make sure learning occurs at the end of the year. Sometimes that means recognizing that my students feel like they’ve been in a 15-round heavyweight bout, and adjusting accordingly.

That Desmos piecewise project seemed like an excellent solution. I definitely plan to incorporate it (and more, cut from the same cloth) next year.  But still, I had only about 60% participation. This on a project I provided class time for, and worked hard to shepherd my students through. I had hoped to scoop up some of the students who are intimidated by a standard-issue pencil & paper quiz, and entice some of my more artistically talented but math-resistant students to stick a toe in the water. And I think there was some of that.

I can live with it. But like The Little Flower, I want it all.

Time now to help get these guys ready for finals.

Image result for final exams gif
GIF via Odyssey (link).

 

Like a racer taking advantage of a tailwind, I’ve been looking for a little boost where I can find it here in the homestretch. I’m going to help chaperone prom, and attend graduation. My students like seeing their teachers there, and I like seeing them happy. I submitted a proposal to present at the South Shore eLearning conference in Hammond in June. And I’m already making a mental  list of things to tackle over the summer to hit the ground running in August.

Sometime soon that should become a real list, or at least a digital one.

So I’ve got my marching orders for the next two weeks, and for the summer. I’ll hand it off to the great Phil Georgeff for the stretch call…

Here they come, spinning out of the turn….

My Hall Of Fame

Sunday afternoon. Sunshine. Driving thru a blue-collar neighborhood in my town. Looking out the passenger window, I saw a family out for a walk: mom pushing a Little One in a stroller, dad with Toddler Son riding on his shoulders.

Not quite a “record scratch/freeze frame” moment, but for me, there was a definite double-take. It’s one of those iconic moments of fatherhood that we all look forward to. And that dad didn’t know it, but for a millisecond in my mind, we shared that moment.

Because: It was me, not that long ago. I remember what that felt like. Exactly.

Going For A Ride
Father and Son, ready to tackle The Strip in the sunshine.

It’s birthday season for my boys. That guy on my shoulders up there? As the last day of March, he’s a teenager. My oldest? He’ll be 21 within days.

Our little ones, all they want is to be Big. To see the world from where Dad sees it. And all we want to do is to hoist them up on our shoulders, bursting with pride.

Image via rudyinternational.com

And that never goes away. We boost them up physically when they are little, when it’s kind of a cool dad thing to do, and spend the rest of our lives giving whatever support is needed, when it’s the hard work of grinding out a life, sight unseen, day by day by day.


Gary Works
US Steel’s Gary Works. Image via nwi.com (story link)

The encroachment of Colts-wear north of, say, Rensselaer notwithstanding, Northwest Indiana is by any measure under the sphere of influence of the Chicago Bears. But my particular town has long been a bedroom community for US Steel’s Gary Works. As such, there are plenty of Pittsburgh transplants here. My dad worked 40 years at Inland Steel in East Chicago. We’re Region people (and Bears fans) to the core. But you don’t have to be a Steelers guy to love Jack Lambert.  His 1990 Hall of Fame enshrinement speech is a classic of the genre.

As my career in the School City of Hammond lengthened, as I started to look like a lifer, I thought of that speech often.

Lambert pull quote
Image via http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1258951-the-20-greatest-pittsburgh-steelers-quotes-of-all-time

I pictured myself at my retirement dinner, in front of family and a few teacher friends, sharing drinks and memories. And I’d steal the money line: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a high school math teacher. And you damn well better believe I’d be a Gavit Gladiator.”

But there was more to that Hall of Fame speech. A lot more.

Man of Steel
Image via si.com (see link below)

The guy who made the cover of Sports Illustrated, who was selected All-Pro and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, who heard the roar of 60,000 voices wash over him, that day stood on stage, receiving the highest honor his sport can bestow, and he thanked coaches, equipment guys, team doctors, teammates. By name.

And… family.

Lambert saved the best for last. He called out his wife and children, by name, pointed to them and said, “There’s my Hall of Fame.”

It’s OK if you get the chills reading that. I do, every time I watch the speech.

Spring Break is great. Aside from Birthday Season (and occasionally Easter), it’s an opportunity to recharge, to take stock, to gear up for the last 10 weeks of school, to think about how the year has gone, what I can do better next  year.

Always trying to get better. You know why?

I won’t be a Hall of Fame anything. Not teacher of the year, month, day, or hour. But I’ve got a Hall of Fame around me in my classroom(s), six periods a day, 180 days a year…. and at home, 16 hours a day, every day.

I’ll take that. You damn well better believe….

The Now Of A Human Life

Tempus Fugit. Memento Mori. It’s the fraternal motto of the Knights of Columbus, but it’s probably good advice for all of us.

“Time flies. Remember death.”

I was at a fundraising gala this weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of Opportunity Enterprises, an organization in my area that serves individuals with disabilities, providing job opportunities, housing, and life skills.

The 600 or so of us in attendance viewed the trailer at the gala. We all chuckled nervously as April, one of OE’s clients, reminded us that “50 is, like, old.”, since 50 was approximately the average age of the couples seated at my table. But we got the joke.


Image via Catholic News World

I just finished reading “Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. You may know him as Pope Emeritus Benedict, who famously resigned the papacy in 2013, the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years. He is at once a man of profound holiness and powerful intellect; a prodigious writer and a humble servant. The memoir closes with his consecration as bishop of Munich, a moment which would eventually lead to him being called away from his beloved Germany, to Rome, where he has lived out the remainder of his days.

The Now of a Human Life

“The present is not a specific date, but The Now of a human life.”

That’s how I feel about teaching. Attempting to fill in the Now. For Father Benedict, that meant leaving behind his life of study and diving fully into a life of service: “a person who does not act and live for himself but for Him and therefore for all.”

That’s what they call it in teaching, right? “Service Time?”

And like every one of us, my time to serve is limited. I could teach a full 30 years (16 more) or retire in 11 years under the Rule of 85. Or one more day.

Assuming any of us ever really get to retire.

But there’s work to do. A review for Monday, a quiz Tuesday. Brushing up on some topics I haven’t taught in a while for later in the school year. Moving into our new STEM wing, the first fruits of a $140 million dollar referendum passed in our city. Planning for next year. Building relationships.

I won’t get it all done this year. I won’t get it all done in 50 more years. But as The German Shepherd wrote: “This Now can be very long or very short.”

And: I can’t write the story yet. Just the next chapter. Starting in the morning.

As St. Bonaventure said:  “To lead a good life a man should always imagine himself at the hour of death.”

Tempus Fugit. Memento Mori.

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.

groth-edits


pcctc-solar-array

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: The Classroom Chef

Can we make their day suck a little less?

I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the takeaway from the most heartbreaking story in “The Classroom Chef” by Matt Vaudrey and John Stevens.

I’ll be pretty honest. A lot of days in my first few years of teaching, (and even in recent years) I was way more concerned with how to make my day suck less. With keeping my sanity for the long stretches where I felt like I was the only human being in the class that cared if anybody learned any math.

Facebooks
Image via fractuslearning.com.

There’s a section of the book titled “The Time Matt Yelled At Kids”. If there was a similar section in a similar book titled “The Time Steve Yelled At Kids”, the subtitle would have to be “Hunh. Which Time?”

The futility of the power struggle with teenagers was made clear to me one day, many years ago, as I was making my way around the room, passing out the worksheet for an activity we were about to do. I couldn’t get a small group of students to stop talking, so using a tried and true method, I slammed the stack of papers across the corner of a student desk, hoping the loud noise would get everyone’s attention. In the five seconds of silence that ensued, one of the guys who was in the midst of the talkative group looked at his buddies and deadpanned, “Wow, he’s tweaking for no reason.”

Actually I was tweaking for what I thought was a good reason. We had work to do, and they wouldn’t shut up. Of course, they wouldn’t shut up because I hadn’t done anything to convince them that my class was worth their time and attention, but I didn’t come to that realization until much later.

But his comment stayed with me all weekend. I was tweaking for no reason. Why should their bad behavior get me stressed out? Their bad behavior should make them stressed out.  I vowed to find a more effective classroom management strategy. Preferably one that involved actual consequences that work.

I’m still looking.

But I do know that screaming at 15-year-olds: 1) makes me feel like an ass, and 2) doesn’t change their behavior.


 

The Classroom Chef Cover
Take a look at classroomchef.com and @classroomchef on Twitter.

So, I’ll grab another line from Stevens & Vaudrey: How can we make this better?

As I mentally process the book, it’s a two-pronged question: Better for me? Or for my students?

Turns out that making class more interesting and engaging, respecting all students and giving all of them an opportunity to contribute accomplishes both. It’s still pretty ugly some days, but by instituting many of the approaches that my online PLN (the #MTBoS) champions and that Stevens & Vaudrey illustrate in their book, we’ve been able carve out a space where kids who hate math and hate school, hate it a little less.

 “Teaching is hard – we owe it to our students to constantly seek meaningful ways to engage them.”

That line that will stick with me for years after reading this book. Change is hard. Doing something besides opening a textbook to a page I just looked at last night, offering half-hearted notes and a 25-problem homework assignment is hard. Finding student-centered ways to assess (the authors call it “gathering”) learning is hard.

But, damn, is it worth it.

The Entrees section is the meat of the book (pun intended), but I feel strongly like anyone ready to make the leap to a new way of teaching should consider the Appetizers and Side Dishes first.


 

The video hook for Dan Meyer‘s Three-Act task “Playing Catch Up“. One of my personal favorites.

“Guys, I want to share a little piece of video with you. Take a look at it, and tell me what you think, what questions you have, after watching it.”

“Is that you, Mr. Dull?” “Why is that guy wearing a suit?” “Damn, he’s slow!”

But somewhere in there, some kid is thinking (and may even say) “who’s gonna win the race?”

That is a video hook. My students don’t need any special kind of math knowledge to wonder about the outcome of a race. Everyone can jump in. Discussion ensues – what Stevens and Vaudrey call “math fights”. That’s the point of classroom appetizers. To create a low barrier to entry, get people talking, arguing even, and only then, after they’re hooked in, let them math their way to an answer.

The big payoff is creating a class culture where risk-taking is allowed, and encouraged. If it’s done right, eventually that curiosity with unanswered questions spills over into more mundane math tasks. Get them talking to each other. Trading ideas, working together to solve problems.

As the authors put it: “Immerse them in a kitchen of opportunity, conversation, collaboration, and critical thinking, and watch how they respond.”

It’s not an overnight change though. Taking a cue from one of my teacher-bloggers, I started using themed bellringers last year. I can’t tell you how many times I heard “why are we doing this?” or “what’s this got to do with math?”, or watched them sit and wait for me to give an answer to an estimation exercise, rather than trying to work through to an answer themselves.

For 10 years we tell our students to sit down, shut up, take notes, get the right answer, and pass the class. Now all of a sudden we want them thinking, putting answers out there that might be wrong, sharing ideas with (not copying answers from) fellow students. It’s gonna take a while.

Stick with it.


 

It’s a Friday morning. Late fall.  A corny novelty hit of the early 2010s is playing loudly from my room during passing time. My algebra 1 repeat students are filing into my classroom while I stand at the door. One of our most decorated seniors, an outstanding student, is on her way to class down the hall, walks past my room, hears Rebecca Black singing of the glories of everyone’s favorite day, and asks me sarcastically, “Are you proud of what you’re doing right now?”

Yes. Yes I am.

This is what Matt & John would call a “side dish”. In my class we call it “Friday Fun”. Just a quirky little thing we do every week. We also play the theme from “Rocky” on quiz days. As the authors say, side dishes serve a dual purpose: make class more fun for students, and make class more fun for teachers. The big payoff of all of this is, our kids see us taking risks. Sometimes they see us fall flat on our face. Some of them start to think that maybe it’s OK to take a chance in Mr. Dull’s class.

Yeah.


 

So You Think You Can Dance excited jason derulo lets go impatient
Image via giphy.com

These guys didn’t need to convince me with 200 entertaining pages. I’ve been following Matt for years, reading his blog, asking his advice on Twitter, borrowing his best lessons. Using his music cues (and some of my own). But after tearing through “The Classroom Chef” in two days, I have my guiding principles for the school year:

  1. Your students deserve better.
  2. The world needs more education geeks.
  3. Can we make their day suck a little less?

I’m holding on tight to the rest of my summer. But I’m going to be ready to tear out of the gate on August 17.

Let’s Go Eat.

 

 

The “e” is for Epic

I’m not gonna lie to you. I love having summers off. As a practical matter, I get to be Activities Director for my very own (Membership: 2) Boys Club of Northwest Indiana. But the opportunity to recharge is awesome. Yes, I plan for the upcoming year. Yes, I reflect on what didn’t work, what did, and what I’d like to change for the upcoming school year. And yes, I attend conferences and/or trainings.

But even for teachers whose summers are packed, that first week off is sacrosanct. Just 7 days to exhale, shake off the weight of 900 performances, and maybe watch a sunset somewhere.

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“And this concludes our broadcast day…” Photo credit: Mrs. Dull.

So how did 370 teachers and administrators end up in a high school auditorium at 8:00 in the blessed am on the Monday of the first full week of summer break?

The School City of Hammond offered its first eLearning Day on June 6th. To me, it’s been a long time coming. As one of our assistant superintendents pointed out, in the SCH we’ve got the numbers, but more importantly, we’ve got the talent. The bulk of the presentations came from among the 1000 men and women who teach in the city of Hammond. And oh my goodness. Superior Firepower from the neck up, people.

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Also, cool tools. Image via source.superherostuff.com.

Seriously, anyone still mocking urban teachers is gonna have to fight me. You give me any 100 teachers and 3 administrators from that room, let’s start a school, and sit back and watch the magic happen. I’d put this group up against anybody.

Real teachers, sharing real things that really work. Also, sponsors picked up the tab for everything. Whole day was freebie. What’s not to like?

Kristin Ziemke opened the conference with a keynote presentation that set the tone for the day. I was able to reference her talk a couple of times in my own presentation. Her journey from self-proclaimed “Digital Disaster” to a teacher who uses tech as a tool for her elementary school students to show their learning in a variety of ways had teachers ready to open school back up, like, tomorrow.

I found myself nodding as she spoke of “Mini Lessons I Didn’t Know I Needed To Teach” (been there), and stated that “When we invite kids to make something, that is the best representation of what they know and can do today.”

And on a day devoted to tech learning, a guardrail:

In other words, don’t feel like you have to use a million new things. Figure out your go-to tools, then get them in your kids’ hands as often as possible and let them play around. Awesomeness ensues.

I presented on the Desmos Activity Builder, a tool for math teachers to build custom lessons using the power of the Desmos online calculator. Slides are here if you are interested.

I also attended sessions by Chevin Stone on creating formative assessments using GAFE tools, and Katie Bradford on creating and using hyperdocs, which is my main personal learning goal for the summer. Both ladies know their stuff. On a day filled with options, I chose well.

My top takeaway from the day: the different sessions I attended (and facilitated), the tools I got hands-on with, all existed as part of a framework. In reflecting at the end of the day, I realized I had curated my own little Lesson Design seminar. Whether using Docs & Forms for formative assessment, or creating a hyperdoc for a unit review, or creating an activity in Activity Builder, this was all about identifying a learning objective, and then laying out a path for students to follow, and letting them do the work. And the learning. I’m seeing that Google Classroom, Activity Builder, and hyperdocs can be a powerful combination for my classes. I definitely have a picture in mind for organizing my plans in the fall. It’s a fuzzy picture right now, floating around a bit unformed in my head. But it’s there.

That alone was worth 8 hours of my time on a fabulous June day.

But the bigger takeaway? You know that line about where the needs of the world and your passion meet? That was The School City of Hammond’s inaugural eLearning Day.

Thanks, SCH people. Let’s do this again next year. Even if you have to grandfather me in. And invite the rest of the state, shall we?

Appreciation

I’m three weeks away from completing 11 years at my current school. Thirteen years of teaching overall. The very definition of “mid-career”.

And I’ve been spending some time pondering the journey. The changes I see around me, and in myself. Every year, at our first faculty meeting (the day before we welcome students), I do a quick head count of teachers who were in the room that year I started at Gavit. This year the number was 23, out of about 100 I started with. Many of those positions have turned over multiple times. The folks that are left? It’s a really good core group of dedicated teachers.

As folks celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, I think about one of the changes I’m most pleased with. That thing about the toxic teacher lounge? It’s true.

Many years ago, when I was still struggling to figure out a lot of things, and had a much shorter fuse, I ate lunch in my classroom every day. For like two years straight. My students classes were making me miserable, and I needed answers, not a bitch-fest.

One year, I made an intentional decision. I stopped being an anti-social jerk. I committed to eating with my Freshman Academy teammates, in the lunch room, every day.

Good call.

The faces have changed, but my lunch table crew is the highlight of my day, every day. Most of the ladies I share 25 minutes of stories, smiles, and an occasional bite of food with are members of our PBIS Committee. But really, they are Just Good People.

Our administration is working on building a culture of positivity in the building. We’ve got 100% buy-in around my lunch table. It means a lot. We’re not Pollyanna-ish about it though. To work in our building, you gotta have sharp elbows and a tough shell. A penchant for dark humor doesn’t hurt either.

A few years ago I was assigned my first hard-core repeat class mid-year. I’d always had classes for math-challenged students, but this group took the concept to a whole different level.

I shared my tale of woe around the lunch table. After seeing my roster, they knew. They shook their heads in a quiet show of sympathy, and solidarity. Then: One of our social studies teachers deadpanned, “Did you buy beer?”

Those are the teachers I appreciate.