Sunday, December 6, 2015

Frozen Yogurt Learning Spaces

My friend and doppelnamer Matt Miller wrote about this same event on his Ditch That Textbook blog. You should check it out, also.

It’s date night with my wife.  We’ve got two young children. Dates don’t come often anymore. We decide to swing into an Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt restaurant for some sweets.

It’s hot. They’re busy. We are waiting our turn to get some yummy froyo.

While waiting, I look at the people who have already received their yumminess. They’re chatting. Laughing. Eating. Stories are being told. Each group is having their own conversation, but no one is being too loud that it bothers any other groups.

There are multiple tables. Each surrounded by four chairs that look really comfortable. There are a couple sets of two couches facing each other.  Each area has been specifically placed to allow groups of 4 to look at each other.

It hits me.

Orange Leaf has better learning spaces than I do in my classroom.

Communication - Each group of furniture is setup to initiate conversation between Orange Leaf’s patrons. Exactly what I want in my classroom. Two minds are better than one, right. Well, in this case, four minds are better than one. Could students talk about a topic in a more casual way? Does this setup provide for students to feel comfortable sharing about a topic?

Collaboration - Yes, these patrons are here to have a good time and have some yogurt. When thinking about my classroom, the way that this furniture is set up is conducive to having students work collaboratively.  They are facing each other.  There are no barriers in front of them to halt communication.  Collaboration becomes easier through the communication that exists.

As I was leaving, and hoping the conversations I had with my wife were meaningful and not all about learning environments, I thought that it would be cool to have some furniture like that in my classroom.

Flashback to the spring and I was heading to a basketball coaching clinic and stopped in at a McDonald’s to get some breakfast on the way.

Sausage biscuit with egg. Large sweet tea. Thanks.

I look over and the “old-timers” are all sitting around shootin’ the breeze, talking politics, discussing the news on the TV and in the newspaper, and drinking lots of coffee. They are in an area that had been recently remodeled and looked similar to the feel of a Starbucks. It reminded me of philosophers in Ancient Greece debating life’s greatest questions.

At that time, what I didn’t really think of was how the environment directly affected the conversations that were being held. My classroom desks are usually set up in groups. Four to five students per group. My single classroom desks are separate from the chairs which makes them very easy to move, but I didn’t really think of the impact of having the actual desk in front of each student. It really just becomes something to sit things on. For the most part in my classroom is a Chromebook or the students’ notebooks. Can’t laps hold Chromebooks as well?  

Back to the future.

I decide to tweet this out:

Little did I know that Orange Leaf Headquarters would see it and reply with this:

My principal at Cascade Middle School in Clayton, IN, Eric Sieferman, received word of what happened and he began talks with the powers that be.

A couple months later, with the amazing help of Orange Leaf and the Cascade Middle School PTO, a large semi-load of furniture arrived.

Then, with the help of Mr. Arnold’s Industrial Tech students that assembled a lot of the furniture and Mr. Rudd’s engineering, maintenance, and delivery services, the furniture made its way to our classrooms.

All in all, about 11 classrooms have some sort of Orange Leaf furniture in their rooms. I received three table groups (4 seats apiece) and 2 high top tables (2 seats a piece or students have liked to use them as standing desks).

Our old desks, which are a lot smaller and learning space friendly, went to improve the classrooms in the school that had older clunky, large desks.

Besides the generousness, kindness, and just downright awesomeness of Orange Leaf, one other really neat thing is the impact of Twitter.

It connects. I live in Indiana. Orange Leaf is headquartered in Oklahoma City. 750 miles away. How did this happen? A simple tweet saying that furniture like that would be really neat. Boom. It happened. How powerful is that?!

The final thing that has had a lasting impression on me is that you never know what will happen unless you’re willing to take the first step. The worst that could have happened is that Orange Leaf wouldn’t have responded. That would have had no impact on them, me, or my students and school. We just would have went on our 750 mile apart ways as if nothing had happened. The only thing is that in this situation, Orange Leaf said, “Alright, you got it.” I know that Orange Leaf is fully responsible for making this happen and having a certain type of people in leadership that values and invests in education. What I do wonder is if anyone had ever thought to combine the furniture and classrooms together? Learning spaces are evolving and changing. Sometimes it just starts with an idea. A thought. A vision.

I would like to personally thank Orange Leaf for helping me see a vision come to life. The impact that you have had on the culture of school will be evident for years to come.

Thank you.

Photo by Eric Sieferman


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Book Review: You Win In the Locker Room First

I am grateful, humbled, and honored to be a part of the Launch Team for this book. I got to see behind the scenes some of the process that goes into making the book, promoting the book, and interacting with over 300 other individuals who were on the team as well. Thanks to Jon Gordon, Coach Mike Smith, and Daniel Decker for the amazing opportunity. I greatly appreciate it and look forward to learning more from you in the future. Thank you. 

Matt Miller

The following is the Amazon Review that I wrote. 

I have read many of Jon Gordon's books and have enjoyed them all. He writes in such a simple, yet deep way that embodies conversations. His newest book, "You Win in the Locker Room First" is very similar except it's almost as if Jon and Coach Mike Smith are sitting at a table having a deep philosophical discussion on what it takes to build an organization. They go back and forth giving great examples of what they have seen that has worked in organizations and sports teams. What also takes place is that Coach Smith is very open and honest about what doesn't work as well. To offer this differing perspective not only validates both authors as authentic, but as real people as well.

As I read this book, I couldn't help but relate to so many instances that I have been a part of. I have worked in the business world as a graphic designer, the sports world as a basketball coach, and in the education world as a teacher. No matter what type of business that you're in, the "7 Cs to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life" will bring everything to the heart of what sustains great organizations: Culture. As one who has seen great cultures and not so good cultures, I can attest that "Culture drives expectations and beliefs: expectations and beliefs drive behavior; behavior drives habits; and habits create the future. It all starts with culture."

Throughout the book there are the "7 Cs." Each chapter could be a whole book in itself, but Jon and Coach Smith give very small little "sermons" (my word) about each topic. Each of them are usually a couple of pages and give an encounter of that trait in action. Each one is beneficial to the reader as they see a real life example and not something that is fictional. I like how if I need an area to improve, I can go right to the small heading and read about "Letting Go of Your Ego," or "Consistency Wins in the Locker Room," or "Love Tough," or "Serve to be Great." and many others.

At the back of the book, Jon and Coach Smith included an Action Plan to help you get started in changing the culture of your team that sums out the entire book.

I will be using this book to reinforce the culture of my 6th grade Social Studies classroom, the teacher team that I belong to, my 8th grade basketball team that I coach, the school that I teach at, and most importantly, my family. Lost in the shuffle of creating good teams/organizations is that families can be neglected. Coach Smith and Jon reeled me back and reminded me that "We only get one shot to be a parent or a spouse and commit to our 'team' at home." Coach Smith also mentioned that "It doesn't matter how much success you have in your career; if you fail at home you are a failure."

One of the other sections that I greatly admire is "Beyond the 7 Cs." It talks about things like "Focus on the Process" (instead of the outcome), "Creating Your Own Style of Leadership"(something I had to do and can greatly relate), and "Lead Your Leaders." Lead Your Leaders states that, "No matter what role you play in your organization, you can lead from where you are and help your leaders be their best." No matter who you are, there is still leadership and culture to be taught. The rest of this section gives more great detail about how to conduct yourselves while leading an organization.

I have recommended this book to many people so far, and know that it is something that should be read by everyone. No matter where you are in life, "The past is gone. Every year is a fresh start to focus on the process, develop your fundamentals, and build a winning team."

Off topic, but something that I did a long time ago and really enjoy getting is Jon's weekly email. It goes out every Monday and I always find something in it that helps me throughout the week. I read this one a long time ago and keep a tennis ball on my desk in my classroom. I bet I have one student a week ask my why there is a tennis ball on my desk. I then send them the link. You can sign up for it at

For more information on the book and for great visuals-

To contact Jon Gordon
jongordon11 on Instagram

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Creatively Teaching: State of the Class Address

For some additional thoughts on creatively teaching see here
Last year, I would occasionally (occasionally meaning at the most often once a month) would send out a class newsletter. I post all of my assignments on Google Classroom, have a class website which houses all of my information, send out daily Tweets and Remind texts/emails, and I send out a weekly Plans of the Week email (which is copied from my class blog. The special education department at my school also has a working Google Doc that all 6th grade teachers fill out their plans for the week as well. Honestly, there isn't any excuse from parents or students to not know what is happening in class. There really isn't anything that I'm not transparent about. I've found that the more info you give, the less that questions you receive.

I felt that I wanted to give a little more info this year and decided to do a State of the Class Address. I've been doing them weekly. I'm not sure if weekly is too much because they do take a little time, but we'll see how that continues. 

We had parent/teacher conferences this past week and a lot of the parents brought up the State of the Class Addresses. They thought that they were very helpful in knowing what was happening in class (they also like Remind.) Most of them mentioned they appreciated the humor, as well. 

At the beginning of the year, it was more about what was happening. After viewing some of my friend, Joey Holt's Last Week In Review, I decided to add some content recap. So, now I'm adding in some content review (mostly testable material) as well.  It offers up another way for the students to hear the content one more time and help some to remember it from the weekend. 

For me personally, it's kind of been my creative outlet this school year so far. Because I'm repeating a lot of content from last year, this provides me a way to feel creative and keep me from being stagnant.

Here's A YouTube Playlist of My State of the Class Addresses.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

4 Thoughts on Creatively Teaching

This is a post for a class that I'm currently taking. 

The last few years, I have put a lot of thought into the being creative aspect of learning. I am much more interested in how and what students create after consuming content than I am in giving grades. I have tried to set up my classroom in a way that is focused on creating instead of memorizing. Although I give test grades for the sake of grades, I have found that students love creating when given the opportunity. Seeing total engagement because of choice and creation is something that is really neat to observe. Students become more self motivated and self-directed as learners.

We’re in the middle of my unit on Greece. The final product, is to either make a historical marker or monument to commemorate either an event, person, or item from Ancient Greece. There is a lot of content that could be be given, but instead I give about 8 people or events and tell the students to choose one of them. I also give them the option to choose something else that interests them about the Greeks (possibly fashion, sports, or architecture). I give them some links to get started researching, but most find other sites on their own to help. I also give them the option to create something else if they desire.

Once they decide on their topic and do their research, I also let them choose how to showcase their knowledge. Anything is game. I sometimes give them an idea, like, “You could create a podcast, create it through Minecraft, create with Build With Chrome, or create a newscast,” After that I drop it, I let those that are interested in creating something “cool” do it. While others seem to only do what I tell them from the original directions. They see others thinking “outside the box.” The best thing is when someone comes back tomorrow and tells others what cool thing they created using whatever tool they want. It’s neat to see the creative juices flowing once something like that happens. What I almost always initially see is that students need a little spark. Once that spark happens, you might see fireworks. Something else that is interesting, is that students don’t want to outright copy the ideas of other students. They want to take other students’ ideas and improve them.

1. Creativity is something that needs to be taught. Students need to feel comfortable in class to break away from the teacher’s directions (if allowed) to follow a passion. I would say that more and more students are becoming less creative because of the greater (some would say stupid) emphasis on standardized testing. I feel there is usually a handful of students that are innately creative at the beginning of the year.  Those where I could give them a state standard and say, here it is, show me you know it seem to be few. Throughout the year, through small projects and helping them think about their thinking, I hope to continue to help students improve their creativeness, which leads us to point 2.

2. Creativity is Improvable. Deep down I am a rule follower and an introvert. Most people wouldn’t think that I’m introverted, but I think I do a good job of masking it. Creativity requires you to break the mold of tradition. It took me a while to understand this concept. More importantly, it took me a while to apply this concept. I always thought being creative was something artistic. Could you draw well? Make a cool poster? Design a logo? Those are what made someone creative. While there is some truth to that, I didn’t think you could push the boundaries of teaching creatively. I was wrong. When you look at a state standard, there are really only a few ways to attack it in social studies. Read about it then answer some questions to show you know it or consume as much content as possible to become an expert on it, then, regurgitate that knowledge in a way that pushes creativity. The latter takes the focus off the actual content and onto the application of the content which is a far more deeper level of thinking. The key is after you consume greatly, take it to the next level of creation.

I play guitar. Well, I play 4 chords. Only until last year, did I bring that guitar into the classroom to use it creatively. I didn’t feel safe doing it. What if students made fun of me because I’m not that good? What if I messed up? What if I was goofy? What if I messed up chords? What if ______? You don’t know until you try it.

3. Creativity takes courage. While creativity is improvable, you still need courage to improve it. Once I got over myself and my insecurities, it was one of the best things to happen to my teaching style. This was the first hurdle that I had to get over to teaching creatively. You had to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I had to get out of my comfort zone. My first year’s as a teacher look so much different than today. I’ve given up a lot of control to the students. I’ve relaxed my guard, while keeping order in a sometimes controlled chaos atmosphere of all students working on different things using different tools. I’m goofy in front of the students. I dance. I make fun of myself in videos I create. I think differently now. I’m personally more interested in finding creative ways to get students content. The technology tools that are at our disposal are almost endless.

4. Teaching Creatively Requires Finding Connections. The first time I feel I did something truly creative in the classroom while teaching was when I wore a football helmet the entire day. I did this because I did a writing lesson (I used to teach writing) on word choice and the focus was on onomatopoeia. I tackled a tackling dummy in class. Pop! Boom! That was my start. Not much. Just a spark. All it takes is one connection from something in the lesson to something else. I chose the football thing because it was football season and I had a Colts jersey, but I wanted something more. I talked to the football coach at the school. He got me a helmet and a tackling dummy out of storage. That was it. One connection to a memorable lesson.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

Having Faith in the Public Classroom

My friend, William Chamberlain's take on the same topic - here

I am a public school teacher.

I am a follower of Jesus. 

These two aren't supposed to mix. I'm not supposed to talk about my faith with students. What I can do is show my faith through my actions, hoping that students, parents, and fellow teachers question those actions and wonder what makes me different. 

Disclaimer: I can be very un-Christlike. I'm not perfect. I raise my voice, yell, and get upset. I don't forgive all the time. I probably don't see as much potential as I should. I don't show as much love as I need to. I'm harsh at times. I'm spiteful at times. I show favoritism to the students who do their work and are nicer. I'm not nice all the time. I don't treat everyone how I want to be treated. I have hurt others with my words. I'm not perfect and don't pretend that I am. Sometimes, I think that when others hear that you are a Christian, they give you a "holier-than-thou" vibe and then chastise you because you screw up. I'm here to tell you that I screw up a lot. I struggle with my faith on a daily basis. I also get an audience of 135 students every day to help me in my faith - even if they don't know they are helping me. Just know that because I say that I am a follower of Jesus, doesn't mean I am perfect. I am still human.

My faith is personal to me. I'm not one to share it outwardly. I hold a lot of things in. I may seem outwardly jubilant and very outgoing at times, but at my core, I am very introverted.

I teach social studies. I'll teach about all the major religions and also Greek and Roman Mythology. I don't force feed my religion on any student.  

I struggled with writing this post because it's hard to write about something that you're not supposed to talk about, so I decided to leave it to some who are mightier with the pen. (Although, I think just reading lyrics is very spiritual.) These are songs that mean something to me. They help me to relate to the classroom. Also, my favorite bands are Crowder and Rend Collective.

When I'm Feeling Like I Need a Breakthrough -

When I Need Reminded That It's Not About Me And How I Don't Need Inheritance Or Extra Stuff Because I'm A Teacher.

When I'm Sad Because One of My Students is Going Through Something Rough.

When I Forget My Purpose and Need A Slap In The Face Because My Actions Don't Reflect Jesus.

When My Flesh Fails (It Does A Lot.)

When I'm At A Loss For Words And Need A Shoulder To Cry On Because Things Are Out Of My Control.

When You Decide To Follow God's Calling into Education.

What I Picture My Classroom As. A Family. Togetherness and Celebration. Choosing Joy. There When You're Down and Celebrating When You're Up. A Real Community.

I found this earlier this week and I thought that it spoke exactly to what I wanted to say and sums this post up perfectly. No matter what your job is, you can take out football and put yours there.

Keep building the kingdom. It is here. It is near. Show others.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Monday, August 24, 2015

About One Month

This post was inspired by a conversation I had with William Chamberlain. 

1 hour a day.

5 days a week.

36 weeks.

180 total hours.

180 hours is 4 1/2 "regular" work weeks.

Basically, one month of work.

That's how much time a typical teacher will spend with a student during one school year.

When you look at things from a time point of view, it makes you think about being intentional. What are you putting the most time into? What types of things can be cut to "trim the fat?" Are you teaching to learn or teaching them content? Are students creating from the content under your guidance or are they simply consuming content?

This then leads to the question of... Maybe what teachers teach isn't all that important anyway? Maybe what happens inside the walls of a school really isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things?

Over fall break last year, I made a padlet "wall" and just let students put whatever they learned over break on there so that others could see what they were learning. Here were some of my students' responses. (I'd post the actual padlet, but it has the names of the students. Padlet has a nice "download to Excel" file that works well.)

  • Did you know that the more shrimp flamingos eat the more pinker they get? I learned this today at the zoo. The dye in the shrimp that makes it pink makes the flamingos pink.
  • Today, I was taught how to use our sitting lawn mower to mow our lawn.  It is very fun. I learned there are many steps to doing this. I also learned you have got to take caution while doing this and you can't rush through the job. 
  • Today my grandpa MADE me pick up walnuts today. Good news is that I didn't stain my fingers! I wore gloves, so no stained fingers for me!
  • Over Break, I learned that research shows that laziness is just a natural part of being a teen. It does not, however, reflect  bad behavior! 
  • I went shopping with my step-dad for my family. I learned to never go with him again! (It was super scary and I don't wanna do it again!!!)
  • i learned that ring tailed lemurs are not active at all when its cold outside :]
  • First, put 1 finger on the edge, then put the rest of your fingers under it. Put your thumb on top, twist your body and release. 
  • From the zoo trip today, I learned that orangutans have cultures as well. Their mothers teachr them a lot of their life skills. I also learned a really interesting fact about how two groups of orangutans live on opposite sides of a large river. On one side the orangutans have learned how to eat a poisonous fruit without getting stung and passed it on to their offspring. The other group on the other side of the river has never learned this so they don't eat the fruit. 
  • I learned on Saturday and Sunday that playing in a travel softball tourney is a lot harder than a regular season tourney. So intense!
  • I learned that on a lowercase i the dot is called a tittle!
  • I learned how to not get annoyed at commercials. All you have to do is 1 mute the TV then mimic what you think there saying then when the show goes back on all you have to do is turn the sound back on.
  • I learned that you have to get all the dirt of potatoes in order not to get sick when you eat the skin.I had to wash 10 of them! Plus i forgot to turn on music but i started making music with the dishes around me.:)
  • Only 22 countries have never been invaded by Great Britain!
  • I learned that Winter the dolphin only wears her prostatic tail for therapy and when she relaxes she sort of floats on her side.
  • I went to the beach on Thursday and learned that catfish live in the ocean and when I had caught it almost horned the people that took it off! Now I wish I was still in Florida's weather was warm.
  • I learned how to swim with manatees and I even got to pet one calf(baby manatee).Sometimes it takes 5 minutes to find one and sometimes it takes 3 hours.
  • I learned how to babysit my little  brother.Babys need love and care and they need to know that someone is going to be there with them every step of the way.Even though they they cause trouble you can,t stay mad at them they don,t know any better.
  • I learned how to hook up a PS3 to our T.V. My sister came over for a couple of days so she brought their PS3. It is really easy and fast to hook up.
  • I went to Dauphin Island over fall break. There were many dead jellyfish washing up on the shore. I learned the hard way that when they are dead they still sting. This happened when I got my fingers stung by a dead jellyfishes tentacle! the jellyfish looked like the picture below...
  • Today, October 20, I had what is called a tonsilectemy. Basically they removed my tonsils that were in the back of my throat. The key was to stay calm and relax. They put you to sleep and when you wake up, it is all done! A funny thing about my surgery was they give you a certain type of medication that makes you kinda loopy. Well according to my mom, I told her that I was seeing fireworks exploding in my face! 
  • I crossed the mississippi headwaters in Itasca state park, Minnesota.
  • During Fall Break Laney and I went to the Ripley's Aquarium in Gatlinburg. In the aquarium there was a section where you could touch the moon jellies. On the top of the moon jelly there are four circles. To touch it without getting stung you touch it right in between the four circles.
  • Which will cool you down more ice cream, hot cup of tea, room temperature cup of water, or ice-cold sports drink (Gatorade)?  The correct answer is actually a hot cup of tea because the hot cup of tea makes you sweat that makes you cool down. I learned this after watching a show called The Hungry Games on Food Network. This show proves to people that when eating food it is just all up in your head. If you were to have ice cream the ice cream would make your vessels constrict which makes you hot. It may sound backwards but, it is true.
  • Over fall break I went to Disney World and while I was there I learned that the Carousel of Progress was taken to the World's Fair by Walt Disney. It became a smashing hit so, he brought it to Walt Disney World. It is in Tomorrowland of Magic Kingdom. The  Carousel of Progress is a show that shows through the 20th century to see technology improving through the years.
  • Jonny my brother and me went to the Elementary and played at the basketball goals it was fun but at the end I started to just shoot threes and I kept making them and now i now  when and where I release the ball for a 3 pointer. 
  • Over my fall break I got a huge gash in my tire of my car. This is how to  put air in it and drive on it long enough to get it fixed. First you need to pull over somewhere close to you. Then you need someone to get you 2 cans of fix flat from the gas station. Next you put in in the air hole and when you get done with both cans you put air in it. Then after that you drive it to the tire place where you got your car from and got it replaced.
  • I learned a better serving form at volleyball practice. I also learned a better way to practice spiking a volleyball. 
  • I learned that in Disney movies there are hidden characters. My mom told me this and I had no idea. Then I looked at it on the Internet. Here is a picture of Rapunzel and Flynn in Frozen when Anna is singing "For the First Time in Forever"
  • Me and Bobby went to the zoo and we learned that you should never Throw leaves and hiss at the Male lion that is sleeping because the lion will try to attack you and it kind of scares you at first.
  • Prussia was once a German kingdom. But, Prussia today is now part of Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Denmark, Belgium, Czech Republic, and Switzerland.
  • I learned that leaves change colors because the chlorophyll in them breaks down. So the green disappears. Causing the leaves to turn yellow red and orange!
  • Jeg lærte å snakke mer norsk. Hallo, jeg er Kaya. Hvordan har du det? Jeg er god.(I learned to speak more Norwegian. Hello, I am Kaya. How are you? I am good
  • There are 196 countries in the world. Though Taiwan is not considered a country to many. There are about 6,500 languages in the world. But, about 2,000 of them only have fewer than 1,000 speakers.
  • I learned that there are more chickens in the world than there are people! (I'm sad that my kind is outnumbered by ugly fluff balls )
  • Canadians buy their milk in bags. Why? If you buy milk in a plastic jug in Ontario, there is a 25 cents depost fee. It also helps keep all those plastic jugs out of landfills.
  • I learned that the Halmation Beach Flex Brew coffee maker is flammable. My dad told me this after my mom bought it for my grandma, luckly we didn't open it so we can return it.  
  • Going to watch my dad race I learned that the reason he was not getting traction was because he made so much tork with small tires he was spinning.
  • Over fall break I learned that some Disney movies tie in together, the storm that Anna and Elsas parents die in, is the one in Ariel. Flinn
  • I went to work with my dad and I learned how to be an adult for one day
  • I learned to through a frisbee more accurate. 
  • Visiting the Zoo I learned that the Orangutan foot is a lot like their hands. That's how how they can swing vine to vine so well. My favorite was Rocky!, 
  • Over fall break I learned that even though you don't think it will be easy to get a sickness called hand feet and mouth from your one year Old sister it doesn't mean  you won't so I really learned to stay away from sick 
  • I have learned how to buy a good car for a cheep price thanks to my uncle.
  • I learned that Toledo is the 6th biggest city in Ohio
  • I learned a magic trick with a bowl of water some pepper and a dab of soap.
  • I learned how to not get hurt in football  I also learned that school is going to be awesome because the chromebooks.
I intentionally put all of them here. I didn't edit them (except change names). I wanted you to all see how much they do and how much difference there are in all of them. As you can see, my students were active learners. It was a lot of self-selected learning as well. Nothing from a textbook.

No teacher told them what to do, how to do it, or what project to do. There wasn't a rubric. No grading. No checks for understanding. 

I don't think people view learning as learning outside of school. Maybe they think of it as simply, life? I'm not sure. Each Monday, when students come in, I have them do a 3-Word-Weekend-Update. It lets them share about their experiences and also not take up the entire period. I sometimes add, "and one thing you learned." Students seem to struggle with this because they don't view life as a learning opportunity. After some cajoling and helpful guidance, students start to see that learning does happen outside of the school walls.

Instead of "What did you learn at school, today?" we have to shift our focus to, "What did you learn today?" The topics can go so much deeper and thoughtful than what they learned in social studies or reading. When we're sitting around the dinner table (does anyone do that anymore?) we need to talk about what we learned about life. Instead of a daily journal that tells what you did, how about one that talks about what you learned? Instead of talking about what you learned at school, how about, "What did you learn at school today that can be applied to life outside the classroom?" Instead of focusing on subjects in school, how about focusing on characteristics of good (or perceived good) students and how they attack their school work? Instead of asking what problems you have to do in math, how about, "What are some things you learned from others today?"

I've written on homework before, but I also know that students learn a lot outside of the school walls as well. There are a lot of people and experiences that go into a child's "schooling." From the math I did at the beginning of this post, I only meet with students for about a month over an entire year. That's not a lot of time. Look at how much is possible to learn outside of school. It's endless. It's different for each person as well.

There is a lot of learning going on outside of my classroom. Teachers are just a piece of the puzzle. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

Twitter As A Learning Tool and Learning Space: Through the Eyes of a QB

The following is my thoughts on the evolution of twitter as a learning tool and learning space. Because of my love of sports, I combined my thoughts with the quarterback position. Each QB "stage" is a step that I think educators go through. Each rank isn't necessary to go through. You might skip around. Go up. Go down. It doesn't matter. Some stop at holding the clipboard. Some make it to the Hall of Fame. Some get off of twitter completely. But really, we're all searching for more. A deeper, more relational, more.

6th Round Draft Pick - You're an egg. Nothing exciting.

3rd String QB - You do a lot of observing. Take it in. You are a glorified clipboard holder. You are overwhelmed with everything. Trying to find your team, but all you're doing is taking notes watching everyone else participating. Maybe you post about what you're eating, or what you did in your classroom today. You're following a lot of your personal friends and some of the more famous educators on twitter because they have a lot of followers on twitter and they must be tweeting things that are important, right?

Backup QB- You finally get a little action. You play in the preseason and occasionally if your team is either pounding a team or your team is getting pounded. You may put some things out there, and you're contributing to the twittersphere. You've found your role a little bit and how you can use twitter to benefit yourself. You interact and connect with others. You may fire up TweetDeck and watch a twitter chat or use a specific hashtag, a lot. Once you hit this 2nd String role, you've kind of found your niche in twitter. Mine was the #tlap #sstlap chats. I love these chats. I walked away with so many great ideas. I shared some, but got more from them. This stage is still a receiving stage, but it may take away family time, because your favorite chat is on the West Coast and doesn't start until 11:00pm your time. Ask my wife about this one.

Starting QB - You're in the action. You're participating in chats. You're now getting connected with others across the globe. You may even run or moderate a chat. You have formed relationships with people on twitter and may even refer to them as your friends, not just twitter friends. You may have a "following." Those people that retweet every of your tweets. You're scheduling tweets using Buffer or Hootsuite to send out your content at it's highest peaks. You're giving a lot. You're receivers are catching TD's.  This would be the highest point of twitter. Some might say it consumes your life. I never made it here.

Multi-Season Starting QB - You stay strong as a Starting QB for a long time. Those with many followers know that they continue to pour out info to their followers. You've done well. You also notice that you're not as young as you once were.

Traded QB - Hold the phone. You've been traded. You may have found something on the twitters that really changed an idea of your thinking, so you've changed your thinking. Made a huge jump. Got tired of rehashing hashtags and decided to find something else that may feel more meaningful. Maybe a different city might be the best for you. This is where I was at last year around Christmas.

The Mentor QB - The older, almost retired, quarterback who has been around twitter for awhile and is brought in to mentor the younger QB that was just drafted and is now the starting QB. This person has a lot of experience. He has seen things. Maybe he's been traded a couple of times? Maybe he's won a Super Bowl Ring. He knows what it takes to be successful. So they get others to jump on twitter. To help them see the light about a little blue bird. They help those draft picks find their niche. They put them in contact with others who can help develop them. They show them how to correctly keep your eyes up field while in their 5-Step Drop. They help and assist without wanting anything in return.

Hall of Fame QB - This person is leaving the game behind. Hall of Fame QBs hardly ever mention "stats" (followers) in their Hall of Fame Speech. They realize it's about relationships and relationships are more meaningful than 140 characters. People are more real than a screen.  Conversations where people sit down in person and discuss a topic. Not a lot can be discussed in 140 characters at least not anything real meaningful. Things can be taken out of context. Sarcasm might not be able to be "read" between the two lines of a tweet. Real meanings can't be brought about in just 140 characters. Some use twitter to troll instead of using it as a space for civil discourse (see this by Bill Ferriter) and maybe twitter has become the new street corner where people dare not go there alone (see this by William Chamberlain). A Hall of Famer sees these negative things happening and has used his connections on twitter to escape the negativity and then broaden their PLN to one that is more relational. They've probably migrated to a space called Voxer, Skype, or Google Hangouts. They think spaces like this are the best learning that is possible in an online setting because they realized that along the way, they had a bunch of lineman who helped them along the way and now they want to learn the game from them from a different perspective. Maybe this person heads back to their high school stomping grounds to talk to students about real, authentic learning and how to place a value on relationships at a young age instead of seeking popularity, aka followers, in an online world.

I haven't personally went through all the "stages" of twitter, but I've been through a lot of them. Overtime, I've seen my view of twitter shift from something amazing to a spot now where I'm wanting more. That wanting more has driven me to find other ways of authentically connecting with others. I love my Voxer groups that I'm a part of. They challenge me daily. I love the connections that I have made on Twitter, but connections (and the increase in negativity) only go so far.

Connections have to lead to relationships for real learning to occur.

You don't learn a lot from 140 characters, but it gives you enough to want more. That "more" is where real learning begins. Twitter is a way to connect. Take those connections off twitter and find your "more." Move your learning to relational. It's more than connecting. Shoot to be a Hall of Famer and focus on relationships.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sunday, August 2, 2015

5 Day One Ideas Instead of Going Over the Rules

I know I'm in the middle of a video series, but I just wanted to write tonight. Sometimes it feels good to write a little. 

Also, my first day as a teacher, had a very memorable experience. Check it out HERE

Students don't want to hear you go over your classroom rules on day one. Have them create, make, or design something instead. Make it about the students. They should feel like what they did was worthwhile and make them want to come back. Doing something fun on the first day is good.

Here are 5 things you can do instead.

1. I'll start with what I do. I give them a half sheet of paper. They fold it in half, hot dog style. On one side, they write the name they want to be called (within reason). On the back, they write or draw the most unique thing about them, or a highlight from the summer. On the inside, I have them draw themselves as a superhero, using their super power. We then have a sharing time and the student has 3 options to share from. I imagine that each student will be comfortable sharing one of them. It allows me to mingle with every student why they all are working. I get to know their names during this time and by the end, I know all of their names. Some substitutes - Play-Doh or Legos work well for this, as well. 

2. Put a random object on each desk in your room. Have each student come up with an idea on how that thing could be used in your class. Spatula, Fork, Screwdriver, Basketball, Teddy Bear, Hat, Cup, whatever. Make it random. 

3. Adding a timer to anything makes for time-on-task.  Have them write a story about what they think this class will be like from the perspective of something in the room. Perhaps, something like a desk or the carpet. Give them 3 minutes to pre-write some ideas and 7 minutes to write it. You could also get in groups of 3. First person writes about how they think the beginning of the year will go, 2nd person writes about the end, 3rd person ties it together. Present them together. You could also have groups present each other's. You would combine the groups and they would each teach the other group their song. It could serve as an introduction? 

4. Scavenger Hunt / Amazing Race. Why not teach them about your room, by doing a scavenger hunt? Use QR codes or a Google Form. What is this corner called? Where do you turn in assignments? What is one spot in the room where you shouldn't sit because there is a horrible glare from the window? Those types of things. 

5. If you don't have multiple classes, why not pile all of your stuff and furniture into the middle of the room. Maybe stack it all the way to the ceiling? Have the students put your room together however they want to. It's a great opportunity to talk things through like, "Will this work well here?" "Is this going to make learning easier?" "Is this the best way to arrange this?" "What are some ways you can use this space to enhance learning?" 

I think you have to make it about the students. It has to be their space. Even if you put your room together, it has to feel like a space that is welcoming and that students are valued.

I hope these ideas benefit you, or at the least, make you think about some ideas for starting the school year. 

Share your ideas in the comments. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sunday, July 5, 2015

After the Fireworks

It was dark now. Only a couple of lights left on still at the Fish Fry. The fireworks were done. Everyone was leaving. My own kids were playing on a tractor that had been parked out in the open.

My wife looks to me, "Do you know the girl that is walking this way?" I look one way. No one there. I look another. No one there. I turn all the way around and hear, "Mr. Miller?"

"Yes," I say.
"Do you remember me?"
"Of course. Hi, Natalie! How are you?"
(She looked amazed that I remembered something from almost three years ago and then broke out into a familiar smile that I remembered.)
"Good," she says. "Nervous about going into high school, but I think every freshman is," she continues.
I tell her, "Well, I remember your work ethic in 6th grade, and I think you'll be okay."
I ask, "What are you doing here?" (I wouldn't have expected to see any students from my old district at this event.)
"I just came with my family," she says as she points across the way.
I look over, and wave to them all. They are all smiling.
She replied in a very sincere almost thankful-like, "I miss you."
I replied that I missed her as well and thanked her for coming up to see me because it had truly made my summer so far.
Just like that, we said our goodbyes, and she went on her way smiling.

This interaction, although small and lasted a couple of minutes, will hang with me awhile. Perhaps years.

She didn't come up to ask me if I remember the reading projects she did in 6th grade, although I do. She didn't come up to tell me that she got an A on a math assignment in 7th grade (she probably did). She didn't come up to tell me she just got a new iPad (no idea if she did or not.)

Our subject area (math, reading, etc...) shouldn't be the first thing that students remember about us or our classes.  Our class projects should not be what's most important. Our daily objectives shouldn't even be remembered by our students.

Developing relationships is what's most important.

Students don't come up to you later on in life and thank you for making them write a five paragraph essay.

I'm so happy that Natalie came up and talked to me. It has been the highlight so far this summer.

(This is not written to sound arrogant or anything like that. It's just an observation that most teachers understand and it needs to be communicated more, I think. I also am going to tell you that there are a lot of students who I fail to make good relationships with while they are with me. I'm still learning, as well.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bring an Art Museum into Your Classroom

We went on a field trip to the Indianapolis Museum of Art last week. A docent took us on a small tour of some of the artworks inside the museum.  Besides looking at the artwork and trying to make sure that none of the students wandered off to other parts of the exhibit, I found myself thinking about how art museums display a piece of art.

  • It is Simply Displayed Simply - Typically, each piece is displayed by itself and free from other influences. 
  • Surrounded by White or Black - Art is usually enveloped by white or black walls and rooms.
  • Open  - An art museum has a lot of space to move around the works of art. It has room to look up closely and to take a step back and observe at a different angle.  It provides you with the best viewpoint to view the artwork. (Except for this Fault in Our Stars reference that was there.) 
  • Focused - There is always only one "topic" per display. You will see themes in pieces of work. You will see links between works. You will see whole rooms of an artist's works. You will not ever see a hodge-podge of randomness in an art museum. There is a ton of calculation that goes into the display of artwork. It must be done exactly how the artist had imagined it all fitting together. 
  • Thoughtful Ponderings - Our docent was all about asking us what "sensations" or "feelings" the art gave us. She was looking for us to interact with the art. To think about the art. To look beyond a glance at something. She wanted my students to become the art. 
  • Lighting - They put a great deal of thought into illuminating what is the most important. They don't light up the walls. They light up the artwork. They don't light up the floor. They light up the artwork. They don't light up the ceiling. They light up the artwork. 
As an educator with a background in graphic design, I see lots of potential for aspects of the design world to filter into the school culture. Teachers need to effectively communicate their material to their students and their parents and community.  

As we are ending school and reflecting on the school year and how we can get better, thinking about how museums display artwork can have a major impact on how you design your assignments/ projects/units and how you design your classroom in the future. 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Illuminate what's important.  

A couple shot from our day. 


Monday, May 11, 2015

Consuming Greatly

If you thought the title was about eating, I commend you. I like BBQ also. I'm talking about a different consuming.

After you read William and John's thoughts on this ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................I'm waiting for you to read theirs ....................................................................................................................................................................

Ok. Now that you've had enough time to read theirs, I'll tell you how I came to the same conclusion.

It was odd. I read John's post the same day that I was grading a bunch of assignments. This was the assignment. I wasn't really reading anything that was knocking my socks off. Honestly, I was a little bored reading their responses.

Then, I read one that knocked my socks off, figuratively speaking, of course. After I was done assessing it, I went to her the next day and asked her about it. I just asked her questions about her learning process. Where did you get your ideas? Where did you get your information? What were you thinking? Comparing to?

She said that she checked out all my links. She took individual notes over the videos. She looked up more websites on her own.  She watched more YouTube videos than what I had given her. She took some time to plan her responses. Finally, she put it all together.

It showed great thought.

This huge lightbulb went off above me. It's not that I didn't already know that the more you consume, the better your creation will be. It's that my students didn't know. Well, except this one girl.

So the next day, I printed off John's post and read it to my classes. I used her as an example for other students. I told them of the difference between what she did, and what others did and how much higher quality her end piece was because she took the time to invest in her consuming and garnering of information on the topic.

They just didn't know that to create something great, one must greatly consume first. 

The examples in John's post really made sense to the other students, especially the music one.

In William's post, he mentions that we, educators, are putting too much emphasis on the maker/creation part. I agree. Any time that I have done something where the students will end up creating something (Here's an example) I try to put the emphasis on the consuming aspect. Do I always do a good job of it? Probably not.

I'm a "focus on the process" coach on the basketball court. I'm big on taking care of the little things first. Once those are taken care of, then the game takes care of itself.

For the next assignment, I added more content to the assignment sheet.

Consuming is a little thing, but without it, your creation can't be big. Place your focus on consuming and the creation will take care of itself. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Sat Down To Write

I sat down to write.

I thought.

I thought about something to write.

Nothing came to me.

Well, some things did come to mind, but they weren't interesting. So I thought some more.

But still nothing that I thought would be worthwhile to an audience.

An audience?

Do I write for an audience?

I'm not sure. I don't write enough to have an audience. Is what I say worthwhile? Is it emerging? engaging? interesting? innovative?

Why do I write then?

Why do you write?

I need a topic. I don't "see" topics throughout the day. Should I? Is that what makes me a good blogger? To "see" my topics throughout the day?

I see my day as simple: Plan lessons that kids want to attend if they had an option. Have fun. Assess a little bit. Repeat.

Isn't that it? Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?

Why don't I "see" deeper into my content? my students? my delivery style? my classroom management? my organization methods? my integration of technology? my ways I let students access content? my ways of allowing choice? my interactive notebooks? my how to make a digital notebook? my how I transformed my teaching this year to go 1:1? my almost ditching of the textbook? why I choose to use humor and puns to start the day? my weird props? my weird clothes? my walls that are covered in student work? why I have bucket seats? my student feedback forms? why I'm thinking of doing podcasts? why it would be cool to present at conferences? what would I present at conferences? my thoughts on innovation? my thoughts on consuming content? ....

Why don't I see these as topics for blog posts?

Why do I see them as just a part of me and simply as a "you don't care about this" topic?

I don't know,...

...but I did sit down to write.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Low Tech Learning

At the root of all learning theories, there is inevitably, always, something about how more learning takes place when there is doing. There is no denying that. The more you do, think, and create; the more you learn.

When technology is added to the mix, there seems to be a notion that tech is the answer to all the problems. While getting a device in everyone's hands great, there are also times when teachers and students need to do some lo-tech tasks/projects/etc.

Doing the same thing day in and day out (especially if all the students' teachers are using technology all day long) can lead to students being bored with the work.

There is still a need to accomplish things with your hands.

Just because you have technology, doesn't mean it's the best tool in your toolbox to use. Sometimes, paper and pencil is good. Sometimes, the good old, tried and true, turn-to-your-neighbor still works wonders. Sometimes, just asking questions and having the students answer them is acceptable. Sometimes, not moving around the room and staying at a desk is needed. Sometimes, scissors and glue, is the best thing since sliced bread. Sometimes, creating using your entire hands and not just the pads of your fingers is just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes, students need a break from tech. Sometimes, students still need to experience learning in a hands-on way.

Make sure you get back to your roots occasionally. It helps with understanding where you came from. 

Renaissance Printing Press. It helps to understand the computer today.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Makin' Holes For Others

I'm currently watching the Big Ten Network's "The Journey." They are doing a segment on Shavon Shields of Nebraska. Will Shields, former Hall of Fame NFL offensive lineman, is his father. He had an interesting quote in the article. I am going to paraphrase because I can't remember it exactly. It went something like:
"All I do is make holes for others so they can reach greatness." 
We all know that offensive lineman are the most unselfish athletes, but what a great quote.  As I was watching the show, all I could think about was the connection to education. How appropriate is it to teachers?!

The last project that I did (here)  just finished up today. I haven't done a project like this with these students yet this year. I was inspired after reading #PureGeniusBook by Don Wettrick to do a little more innovation in my room. I have done #GeniusHour before (I called it Passion Projects), but I wanted to try and do a little innovation within my social studies class. I let them really be in charge of their learning. They were responsible for coming up with questions to guide their research. They started with some basic understanding of the Renaissance questions and then found those answers. Then, they needed to come up with an "UnGoogle-Able" question. I determined if it was UnGoogle-Able if you could find the answer in under a couple of minutes.

Some students really struggled with coming up with these questions. I tried to steer them a little with my words and actions. I also gave them some flipbooks that really lay out what type of question they needed. , think Evaluation and Creation levels of Bloom's.

I was pleased with most of their efforts on this. Of course, some students didn't take things as serious as they should and waited around until the last minute, or they didn't put forth as much effort as needed to do well, or they didn't really take my advice when they asked, or they told me they were confused after their presentation was given (even though I checked in with them regularly and gave them suggestions that they didn't really take or listen to), or because they don't usually have to "think" as hard as this, they gave up.

What blew me away were the types of things that the students created because of the freedom available to them to be creative. Yes, of course, not all the students liked having to actually create things, but the ones that "grew" as learners loved it. They had complete autonomy to dive in. Fail. Get back up. Try again.

You have to be willing to fail, in order to be willing to be successful. 

Some of the things that the students used were - here

All of this leads back to the original quote from Will Shields - "All I do is make holes for others so they can reach greatness."

Every facilitator of student learning experiences should have this as their motto. It's about opening up the learning so our students can reach their greatness. It's about designing learning experiences with an element of creation involved and having our students showcase their talents. It's about being prepared with lessons that motivate learners. It's about guiding students to look beyond their potential ceiling and then breaking through.

It's about opening up holes for others to achieve greatness. 

Go out and help others achieve greatness.