Saturday, November 24, 2012

iPad App-Educreation

My sample Educreation lesson on the Council of Nicaea 
(yes, you will see I spelled it wrong on the video) in my Byzantine Unit.

I finally received my classroom set of iPads the week before the storm hit.  And then we were out of school for almost two full weeks.  When we returned, the Internet was down.  So I am now beginning to test drive my classroom set with the kids.

The free app that we are using to start is called Educreations.  It allows the user to create presentations on a topic as if the viewer was listening to a lecture from a teacher using a smartboard.  You can write on the screen and add text and pictures as well as your voice.  It is a class lecture without my ugly mug!

In order to get the students trained on the program, I gave them a tutorial and then allowed them 15-20 minutes to create anything on any topic.  Most took pictures of themselves, others realized by adding more slides, you can create cartoon motion.  After that, each group was assigned a topic based on our studies on the Byzantine Empire and they have to develop a minute long presentation for the class.

The next step will be that each student will be assigned a topic which other students can access and learn from.

The pros of the this program are that it is quick and easy to use.  It allows a teacher a fast way to post brief explanations of topics and then post them to a website so students can watch them if they are absent or if they need more time to understand the concept.  For the student, it is a fun way to demonstrate to the teacher their understanding of a topic or concept.

I could see math teachers not only posting explanations of problems online, but assigning their students a problem and have them not only write down each step, but verbalize what they are doing during each process.

The cons of this program is that you cannot edit your work.  Once you start recording, that is it.  Make a mistake in the last 30 seconds of a 5 minute presentation, and you have to record everything again.    The best way to attack this app is to think things through and/or write down exactly what you plan to do.

For example, the sample I posted, I threw together on a Saturday morning.  There are definitely changes I would make if I could, but it is good enough to get the point of the program across.

Another way to look at the lack of editing features is emphasizing to a student, that's life.  When you are presenting at your job, there isn't a "do-over" so do your best to prepare well.

Weighing pros and cons's a keeper.

(Here is the link

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Providence, Providence, See it laying down the cornerstone
The Hand of Providence - it's evident, For we could never make it on our own
Apportioning the power, Weighing all that it entails, Giving us the fulcrum, And a balance to the scales

Oh, the Hand of Providence
Is guiding us through choices that we make
Oh, the Hand of Providence
Is reaching out to help us on our way

-Michael W. Smith (Hand of Providence, 1988)

In George Washington's original Thanksgiving proclamation, he declares:

"(God's) favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war (Revolution)."  

Providence is God's intervention in the daily affairs of people.

God's Providence is what I'm most thankful for this and every thanksgiving.

God's Providence placed me in a loving family, whom I often questioned their decisions that seemed draconian at the time, that now as an adult can appreciate how it shaped me into the man I am today.

God's Providence led me to meet my loving wife who with each passing year, I come to understand more clearly she was the one that was most compatible with me and worth the wait.  I truly married my best friend.

God's Providence showed us another way to birth a family and led us to two wonderful birthmothers who gave us the gift of our daughters.  And God's Providence has allowed me to hear the sweetest word come out of the mouths of my daughters, "Daddy".

God's Providence guided me, despite my awkwardness and feeling uncomfortable in new situations, to discover a great group of loyal friends, be it from high school, college, Connecticut, or back again to NJ.

God's Providence brought me into contact with a tremendous amount of awesome kids that have bought into my style of teaching and has allowed me to enjoy my time with them and I have delighted in coming to know the unique personalities that enter my classroom each year.

God's Providence was forgiving to this lazy student (I believe 20+ years later I can finally confirm for my father what he knew all along) who saw The King's College library as a social hangout and was rarely preparing for his future career and only focused on present realities, to some how land a teaching position and then supply ample perseverance to work hard to develop the skills needed to survive in the profession.

God's Providence was the reason I had faith that I could get up an leave my original teaching position at Christian Heritage School in Connecticut without any job prospects in order for my wife to fulfill her dream to attend medical school in New Jersey and become a Physician Assistant.  I was confident that God would provide a job.

And God's Providence had a job as a computer teacher in a middle school in Chester waiting for me that quickly turned into the history position I now have and thoroughly enjoy.

God's Providence also led me to some difficult moments and seasons of my life, that He used to mold and shape my character.

God's Providence always seems to direct me to what I need.

God's Providence is what Thanksgiving is all about for me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

On Making Up School Days

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, my school district in NJ, like many others, used up all the snow days built into our calendar, and some days that were not.  Decisions are being made on how to make up those days to get to the state mandated 180 days of instruction.  Here are some of my thoughts about different ideas of how to make up these days from the perspective of a teacher (or at least this teacher, and I will actually give you what I believe to be the best option at the end)...

1) The state should reduce the number of days required.

Won't happen in NJ because Governor Christie has already said "No" (of course he did, how would his education record look if he ran for higher office and he is attacked for not making kids go the full 180 schools days, and its not a concern for his family because his kids go to a private school where there is no school day requirement).  And then you have state assemblymen and senators who see school as free child care so they will want to keep the 180 day limit (heck, I wouldn't be surprised if they used this crisis to increase the number of days).

Only going to school for 175 days is not going to destroy any child's advancement educationally.  If we were missing 5-10 days every year, that would be a problem. However, what happened this year to the state of NJ was extraordinary, and in light of the problems I will address in the other preposed fixes I will state below, decreasing the number of days required should not be so quickly taken off the table.

2) Add days to the end of the year.

Some parents wrongly believe that if you add days to the end of the year, it will just give teachers an excuse to have another week of "parties" in their classroom.  I take great offense at this belief because it questions teachers' professionalism.  If you extend the week by another five day week, the original last week would become the new week before the last week.  It would NOT be like teachers will be saying, "Yea, I now have TWO weeks to do nothing with these kids."  Trust me, most teachers want to teach up until the end, it allows us to maintain classroom order.  The last day of school tends to be the longest day of the year for me because it becomes more about crowd control as students say good-bye to their classmates and teachers for the summer.

The reason the last week is filled with "parties" is not just to celebrate your child's passage to the next level of their education, but it is for processing out your child.  I typically have to have my final grades in at the end of the last day of school so report cards can be mailed out to parents by the next week.  Last year I had about 5 students make up their last quiz the last day of school.  If we all taught up to the end, then the last day would be filled with tests or other evaluations, and then we would have parent's complaining we were piling on before school gets out.  There are also books and other materials to be collected and lockers to be cleaned out (I should take a picture of the trash cans in the hallway when this takes place).

The problems with adding days on include having to move the date of graduations, parents having to change vacation plans, and let's be honest, there will be some parents who will just not send their kids anyhow those extra five days at the end (more in elementary and middle school, high school exams would be the incentive to keep those kids in school).

3) Taking away Federal Holiday like Martin Luther King's Day, President's Day, Memorial Day or Good Friday.

Not a bad idea, might get some parents offended.  For example, the town next to the district where I teach decided to have school on Good Friday a few years ago.  This caused a fire storm, and the school district redacted the date.  I'm going to be honest, you can have school those days, but the population attending will be so low, it won't be worth teaching anything anyhow because you're going to have to teach it again the next day.

4) Saturdays

Yea right.  Like you would have wanted to go to school on Saturday.  Plus, kids have sports, artistic performances, Hebrew school, and other endeavors that they enjoy that are planned on those days.  Making parents and children be forced to decide which to do is wrong.  There is value to going to dance lesson, soccer practice, or just hanging out with your family (especially that) There is more to a child's life than school, and you can actually be educated in other ways than in school.

5) Take away Spring Break

I have had years where Spring Break was taken away or reduced.  Here is the fact, kids are not products on an assembly line.  Any teacher will tell you it is a long haul from January to April (typically the month of Spring Break) for the student, and it gets more difficult to teach them by the end of March and early April.  A mental fatigue occurs in them.  Give them the break;  it does rejuvenate them to finish well.

You could take away one or two days, but parents will still plan trips regardless.  One year, my school took away two days from Spring Break.  The first day I had about 10 kids in each class (out of an average of 23).  The next, I averaged 4.

6) Add an hour to each school , every 4 days will produce an extra day.

Can't do it according to the NJ State Dept of Education.  A day is a day no matter how many hours.

7) Only cancel school in a blizzard (to save having to add another day)

Safety should always be the primary reason for a snow day.  Superintendents shouldn't become more bold in not canceling school just because they "can't afford" another day off of school.  What they can't afford is a bus or parent getting into an accident because they had to get their child to school in dangerous conditions.  When I taught in CT, 1995 was a bad year where we missed a lot of days of school for snow and had multiple delayed openings.  Late in the year, our Headmaster decided not to have even a delayed opening on a morning that a rain from the night before had frozen over.  It was awful getting in and I wondered why we couldn't just have a two hour delay.  My kids in homeroom complained how dangerous it was as many showed up late.  One of my student's who walked in late laughingly told us, "I just saw (name of School Board member) yelling at Mr. (Headmaster) for not having a delayed opening."  He was in a car pile up. (The road where the accident was you came down a hill to a stop sign.  Cars slid, hit each other, and forced the lead car on to the major road that the school was located)

Final Thoughts

Breaks are invaluable. You are only a kid once, and a kid can learn as much in one day in my classroom as they can by building a tree fort over the summer.  Also family time is MORE important than educational time.  The greater the parental support, the better the chances the child will perform well in school.

Just adding days to add days to say you have 180 does not guarantee they will be days of a lot of educational value.  If parents don't send their kids to school, the day becomes a waste anyhow.  (If a teacher goes through the lesson, they will lose time from advancing to the next lesson as the majority of kids will be "catching up" from the day they missed.)

With all of that if Governor Christie asked me to make the decision for him I would say...

"Have schools add days at the end of the school year (decision must be made early enough that parents don't plan summer vacations and gives districts more than enough time to change graduation nights).  It will cause the least amount of disruption to the school year.  If a school can not make up the days by the end of June, then wave the rest of the days.  Kids need the summer to be kids and do kid stuff and learn kid things."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Teacher as Artist

I'm a Beatles fan.  Imagine if the Beatles record company in 1964 told the Fab Four, don't experiment, keep on writing songs like "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."  They would have flamed out by 1966 as music changed and listeners became bored.

Instead they were allowed to pursue their artistic visions and experiment with music and sound.  I've heard it said that John Lennon and Paul McCartney challenged each other to write a song about their childhood in Liverpool.  McCartney wrote the upbeat song "Penny Lane" and Lennon wrote the psychedelic "Strawberry Fields Forever".

Two different approaches, two awesome songs.

A few years ago, I was talking with a former student of mine from Christian Heritage School.  He had entered the noblest of professions, he was a Social Studies teacher in a public school in Georgia.  We were talking "shop" when he told me how the department of education had planned out the topic he was to teach for each day.  What he said next was chilling, "(Kevin) if you taught down here, you would not be able to do any of the creative things you do in the classroom."  The pacing the state had come up with for all history teachers to follow would not allow the time.

For the past few years, my school has had to split the Geography class between two teachers due to student population numbers.  It brought about parent complaints.  We were both established veteran teachers and no one was critiquing our effort or ability.  The complaint was that the other teacher and myself taught the class differently.  So instead of allowing us to teach to our strengths, they wanted us to teach the same things the same way.  We were being asked to stop doing the things that made us the effective teachers we are and to adapt to similar ways for the sake of uniformity.

One of the greatest benefits I have had in my teaching is to serve under two principals for 17 of my 21 years, who were both big supporters of my methods in the classroom, but more importantly allowed me the opportunity to fail in trying different things in the classroom.  With this freedom, I have developed a variety of skills, simulations, questioning techniques, etc.  I take pride in the job I do.  Sculpting a lesson and seeing the finished product, the student's understanding of the material and task at hand, can be exhilarating.  Sometimes I step back after something I planned and say "Masterpiece".  Other times I step back and say, "Garbage".  Yet in 21 years, I never rest on the masterpieces I created or let the garbage I produced frustrate me.

Show me a teacher that teaches with passion for their topic, who spends time creating out of the box learning experiences, and I will show you a classroom of students who are engaged and willing to learn.

Allow a far off state department of education (with whom you will have no contact with) dictate the lesson and approach of the classroom, and I will show you a bored and unmotivated teacher and bored and unmotivated students.

And if you think test scores tied into a teacher keeping their tenure will prevent the teacher from being unmotivated and bored, remember the words of Peter Gibbons in the movie "Office Space"

"That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired."

It would be like the poet who is regulated to writing formulaic poems for a greeting card company.

Don't allow your state departments of education to shackle teachers by dictating what lesson is taught on what day.  What is the point of of all this uniformity?  How will it improve your child's educational experience?  How it will prepare him/her for the real world, where they will have different bosses or clients who are not uniform in the approaches?

Aren't we to embrace diversity?  Embrace that different teachers bring different skill sets into the classroom when they put together the "notes" of their lessons together.  I guaranteed your child will bring to ears the many symphonies they are experiencing in their classrooms.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Making Your Vote For President Count More

Every 4 years you hear a cry from people that their vote does not count for president depending on the state in which they live.  These same people falsely believe that the solution to their problem is to scrap the electoral college and go to the popular vote.  For example. I live in New Jersey, a state that hasn't voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988, so Republicans believe their vote is wasted, just as I'm sure Democrats in Kansas believe their vote for president is wasted since the Sunflower State hasn't voted for a Democratic candidate since 1964.

In fact my former governor, Corzine, signed the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact that would assign New Jersey's electoral vote to the candidate who won the overall popular vote.  It only begins when enough states join the compact to make their total electoral vote count over the 270 minimum needed for election.  In this way they believe every vote would count more.

Actually your vote would count LESS if we went to a popular vote system.

Think of it like this...

In my state, NJ, about 3.5 million people will vote for president.  My vote was worth 1 in 3.5 million.  However, if my vote was thrown into every other vote throughout the country, it is now worth 1 in 120 million (give or take).

If we went strictly to the popular vote for president, candidates would focus on the wants and needs of states with large populations and dismiss those states with small ones.  New Hampshire and Iowa despite their small populations, were important states to both campaigns this year, with a popular vote system they would be ignored since neither state has a city in the top 100 in terms of population in the U.S.  Rural needs and concerns would be dismissed.  The electoral system forces candidates to address the needs of all citizens, not just those in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The electoral college recognizes that various sections of the country think differently and have different desires and focuses.  (I believe its called diversity).  The writers of the constitution understood this, Governor Corzine and those like him do not.

If you really want your vote to count, then you should desire your state to switch to a system such as Maine and Nebraska.  In case you do not know, the number of electoral votes your state has is your congressional districts plus 2 (for your Senators).  Maine and Nebraska allow each of their congressional districts to control one electoral vote.  The average number of people in an congressional district is about 700,000, so now your vote is 1 in 700,000 (and probably worth more since some of that 700,000 are too young will not vote so let's say 1 in 500,000 to be safe).  The two extra electoral votes (for you Senators) goes to the candidate who gets the most overall vote in the state.

Now candidates would really have to work for votes and focus on a broad appeal.  It may even give third party candidates a way to steal an electoral vote or two.

But more importantly, you vote would count more.