Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Dear Katie V2 #19)

Dear Katie,

My last month in high school, I stumbled into my first period Physics class, hardly awake, as usual, as the morning announcements began.  Half listening, I heard three of my baseball teammates were awarded second team all-conference status.  I remember thinking, "That's Cool".  All of a sudden my good friend Fred and his buddy Louie began shaking me saying, "Way to go Cullen".  As I rewinded in my mind what was said on the intercom, I remembered hearing the voice say that I had earned first team honors.  One of my favorite memories of high school.

They say that hearing your name is the sweetest sound in the world.  Remember that in the classroom.  Praise your students by name whenever possible.  I often create hypothetical historical situations where I use students in the classroom names.  It not only engages the kids whose name I use, but also keeps the rest of the class listening as I weave my tale.  Say hi to kids by name in the hallway, be quick to honor them with praise in front of fellow teachers.

When former students run into you around town, you will never see a wider smile than the ones that follow the following statement, "Wow, you remember my name."

As a coach, I do not write up stories for morning announcements to allow the school to know if their team had won or lost the day before.  The main purpose to give the boys on the team the experience of being like their heroes who are announced on ESPN. I try to include as many names of the boys who had good games so they can hear their names and be proud of their accomplishments.  It is neat to walk down the hallway later in the day and a boy recite what they heard about themselves on the intercom, "Johnny Jones' ripped a bases loaded double to begin the scoring barrage."

Knowing and saying students' names is a great example 
how something of such small effort reaps big rewards.

Education is far more than just the subject you teach.  It's about the management of people, creating experiences where they can mature and develop their thinking skills.  Kids are not robots, and by giving them experiences where they can feel good about themselves, will only enhance their effort in school.  Not that I'm one of these "self-esteem first" teachers, but lets be honest, you're going to work harder in a place where you know you, as an individual, are appreciated.

You're going to work harder in a place where everybody knows your name.
(borrowing a phrase from the Cheers theme song)

The other day, your little cousin came home with a "Student of the Month" award.  She received a certificate recognizing her accomplishment.  Also, she earned an ice cream pass as a reward and has her picture on a wall across from the main office at the school.  But do you know what she was most excited by,

"Daddy, they said MY NAME over the loudspeaker."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Benefits of Playing on a Team (Dear Katie V2 #18)

Dear Katie,

My college history professor and advisor always encouraged us to be "Renaissance Men and Women".   He wanted us to excel in many fields, not just academic.  He never wanted us holed up in the library for all hours studying away while allowing the college experience to pass us by.  He wanted us to be musicians, artists, and athletes as well as academics (and trust me, Dr. Vos placed a HIGH value on academics).  He just didn't want us to be one-dimensional.

Often I have heard how music education helps students in academics, or more specifically, the playing of an instrument.  I believe that is true, and we have encouraged your little cousins to take up an instrument by adding a piano to our house's list of furniture.  However, there is another activity I will be encouraging your cousins to pursue that I have found tremendously helpful in life.  I want them to play team sports.

As I look at activities that I have been involved with that have helped make me the man I am today, one that keeps coming to mind is the many seasons I played baseball that continued through college, then as a member of a softball team (as well as soccer and basketball teams I played on before high school).  Being on a team helps you to focus on improving your skills, encourage others in improving their skills,  as well as teaches you something very important, learning to sacrifice for the good of the team.

Here are just some ways that I believe playing team sports has helped me as a teacher:

1) Striving to be your best

Vince Lombardi once said:

"Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. 
But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Playing on a sports team helped me to focus on doing my very best as a teacher in the classroom.  It taught me their is satisfaction in "playing the game well.

2) Athletes have to learn to balance academics and athletics.  

The stereotype for the "jock" is that we don't care about school.  Your grandfather would not allow me to "not care about school".  I played on middle school and high school teams with two twin brothers who were two of the top students in my graduating class.  Many of my high school friends were athletes and also in the top 25% of the graduates in our class.  There are kids who don't do well school in any co-curricular activities, I think athletes are just called out on it more, because in my experience, many of the scholars of my school played along side me.

I have seen both as a student and teacher students given breaks such as no homework the night of the play or concert that athletes NEVER receive.  I often came back from games exhausted and missed 3-4 hours of time I could be studying or doing homework, yet 

I never used an extra-inning game 
as an excuse for not doing my homework, 
I got it done.

Being an athlete has helped me balance the many hats that I wear, teacher, father, husband, son, coach, etc.

3) It prepared me to interact with people from varied backgrounds and to cooperate with them.

The best teams I have played on had great team chemistry.  You need to learn to get along in order to achieve your goal.  Saying what you think and compromise are two important skills to getting this done and were sharpened on the athletic fields.  This is not only important among your fellow teachers, but in the classroom as well.

4) It allowed me to see the benefits of sacrificing personal glory for the good of the team.

When I teach, I try to see the WHOLE field of the school.  When I played baseball, I wanted to always get a hit, but there were times that the coach wanted me to bunt.  Bunting does not improve your personal batting average, but may give the team another win. In teaching, "bunting" means giving up class time to help teachers in Math and English improve their students' scores on test since their livelihoods now depend upon it.  It means allowing students to miss your class for a band lesson.  However, this sacrifice does not work if you cannot expect the same sacrifice back when you need it.

5) You will meet and spend time with some great people.

The people I was closest to in school, the people who always had my back, the people who put up with my immaturity the most, were the people I practiced and fought with in between the lines of the ball field.  And I felt the same way about them.  There is something wonderful about being on a team in terms of the relationships that you build that last a lifetime.  And I see the people I work with at school in the same ways I see the guys who walked out of the locker room to the diamond.

Join a team.  It is a great experience.  But if you're going to play the game, play it well.

But what do I know, I'm just a "dumb jock".

Uncle Kevin

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Eduvox 1.8


"All my originals ideas are borrowed ideas infused with my creativity & style."

Dear Katie,

As you sift through the deluge of educational opinion and advice on the Internet (including my own), here are some blog posts that I believe deliver practical ideas and/or sound advice from voices other than my own.  Discovered by scavenging through the blogs of people I follow on Twitter (I figure if they post it they would appreciate it being read).  


TWITTER: @JamesKendra

I appreciated this post because it served as a reminder that History teachers often need to work hard to convince students there is a relevance to learning our subject matter.  I agree with James, teaching African colonization by using a discussion assured African current event (such as the Ebola outbreak) is more difficult than just waiting for its chapter to pop up in the text book, but definitely brings meaning to the past and present for the student.

TWITTER: @japhillips0722

This is Jerod's only blog post and it is from January (and probably is only blog posts due to the events in his life that he presents).  However I believe it makes some GREAT POINTS (and with it being his only post, it makes it with an exclamation point).  First, obtaining a degree while working full time (and striving to do both well) as well maintain a strong commitment to your family is difficult but worth it.  Also, in order for anyone, you, a teacher, a student, to take a risk on implementing a new method or procedure, time is needed for brainstorming, processing, and reflection. (He asks himself questions that all teachers face in some form or another). I think society forgets it does take time to "think things through" and only count "physical" implementation as work.  Remember in life, you need to find time to think, and thinking is working.


I have a classroom set of iPads and I wanted to move past reading from the textbook I created, Educreations, and Socrative next year.  Apps that I wanted to apply for a grant to get buy and install are Minecraft, SimCity, and Civilization.  My problem was figuring out implementation.  This blog by Mr. Matera gave me some ideas on implementation of Mincecraft.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Using Facts to Unleash the Imagination (Dear Katie V2 #18)

Dear Katie,

My first year of teaching, I created a group project based on the Industrial Revolution for high school students.  The project had students creating a product that would make life easier and then "pitching" the idea to "investors".  A parent of one of my students was extremely concerned about the project.  "What does this have to do with the Industrial Revolution?".

Although I spent considerable time explaining that the purpose of learning historical events was to apply the facts and connections one discovers and incorporate them into creating new ideas she never was convinced.  History education for her was not about placing students in simulations of innovation and entrepreneurship to use future success in life; if it wasn't the facts of the Bessemer Process, then it wasn't history education.  I didn't let her view hinder my approach over the past 22 years.

Next week in the biology and history classes will combine in the 7th grade at our school.  The purpose for this is our Biome Zoo project where groups of students are given a region of the world and must create a pitch that will encourage a foundation to build their zoo.  The zoo combines elements of a biome and a culture from history (for example the steppes of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire).  A  Mongolian zoo would have both animal exhibits and plant life from Mongolia and buildings and foods typically found there.  We had kids building props, bringing in costumes, and rehearsing their presentations.  And starting Monday I have the pleasure of watching their "solutions" that mix together actual facts of biology and history into the creation of their presentation.

The project does not have a detailed punch list of requirements for students to accomplish.  By keeping it as open ended as possible, it allows students the freedom to present some fascinating zoos for the biology teacher and myself to watch.  As I always tell my students when I don't give them specific answers to their questions about any project:

"I don't want to see how well you create something from my imagination, 
I want to see what you create from YOUR imagination."

When I taught high school at Christian Heritage School, I assigned my 11th grade American history students what became known as the the Decades History Project.  I would give each group a decade (50's, 60's, 70's, 80's) with a list of events to choose from.  They needed to create a 15 min. video that told a story that incorporated ten of those events into the story.  They became pieces of historical fiction as they wove major world events into their movie.  It was always enjoyable to wheel the TV and VCR into the classroom and watch their creations.

Assigning projects that gives wide parameters 
allows my students to explore and create solutions I never imagined.

How does allowing students this freedom help them become a success? 

Was the parent who criticized this use of time right, that it is really not history education?

I have always believed that I teach history in order to get students to think and understand their world.  I recognize that most are not going to do anything with historical facts in their careers, but every student will need to be critical thinkers (its the same reason why you should take higher level math courses like Trig and Calculus even though 95% of people will never use what they learn).

In those video projects I assigned at CHS, I had a group that attempted to make their videos into blockbusters.  Armed with basic editing devices (two VCR's) and cheap and easy to make special effects, their videos were the talk of the school.  For me I watched their films with an appreciation of their genius.  Fifteen years later, I know one of those boys went on to become a lead designer for a Facebook game and researches and develops new products.  He has a website where he documents how to make a smart watch from a 3-D printer.  My hope is that he learned through his trial and error in the video projects, perseverance and that the projects also helped to mature his innate imagination.

Ingenuity and creativity are skills that we all use in life.  Crafting your subject matter in such a way that encourages your students to think beyond the facts you are presenting to allow them to create new worlds filled with new ideas.  By doing so, you are preparing your students for whatever the future may bring them.

Uncle Kevin

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Other People's Blogs (Dear Katie V2 #17)

Dear Katie,

Next time you go to the Crossings Shopping Mall in Tannersville, PA, go past the light where you make a left and you will come to a T in the road.  You will see in front of you a HUGE sign that will list the variety of stores, restaurant, and hotels along Rt 611.  In the brief time you are in front of the sign you cannot take in all the places that you can choose to go.  My assistant principal encouraged me to get involved with the educational community on Twitter.  Sometimes I feel about Twitter the same way I do that sign.  So much information how do you sift through it all.  There are sites that will curate information for you, but even that reminds me of that sign in the Poconos.

As you have seen recently, I have started to read other people's blogs that I am following on Twitter.  It doesn't matter if it is new or years old (since it was obviously important at one time for the author to post and good stuff to read is always good stuff to read).  Sitting down and looking through the teachers who blog on my Twitter account and finding a few to read every few days has been refreshingly rewarding and doesn't send my brain into overload. (I think having a goal in mind to read three blogs armed with a good cup of coffee is calming for me.)

I named my list that I offer you "Eduvox".  Vox means voice an I have always been taught that the roots of the word Education literally means "the process of being led out" and when you are educated you are being led out of ignorance.  When I read a well crafted opinion or idea on someone else's blog, I can feel their hand gently guiding me into new knowledge.  When you become a teacher, take time to talk to and read what other teacher's are doing, as I say

"All my originals ideas are borrowed ideas infused with my creativity & style."

Here is why I believe it is beneficial:

1) You can always learn something new and/or be affirmed in your own practice/philosophy by someone who shares your views.  Reading new ideas or having my own ideas reinforced always revs me up and motivates me in my teaching to attempt new things in the classroom.

I know there are teachers who have written books, and your professors or principal will suggest some to you .  What about the thousands of teachers who will never write a book?  Are their ideas not worthy of your consideration?  Nonsense.  A teacher who takes the time to reflect on their practice and/or ideas are demonstrating how seriously they take their craft.  Give me the teacher who has been in the trenches with kids for years over the one who spent a few years in them, writes a book, and joins an educational think tank.  The blogs of the former will have enriching stories and opinions that will be well worth it.

2) Writing a brief synopsis of what the blog is about and/or what I took away from it helps to reinforce what I learned from reading the blog. (And is probably the reason why my principal encourages us to conclude our lessons with that practice as well).

3) Hopefully it encourages the writers of the blogs as well.  When you become a teacher, you will quickly realize you work and create in a bubble where very few adults will venture.  You will spend most of your day talking to people vastly younger than you.

When someone writes a blog on their educational practices, they are allowing you into that bubble to explore, take notes, and to be inspired.

Thanks to all the teachers in Twitter and face-to-face that have allowed me into their bubble.

Uncle Kevin