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Monday, January 19, 2015

Game On: Overtime

Here are some further resources on Gamification in the Classroom.

Youtube Videos

What is Gamification? A Few Ideas (9:23)

Extra Credits: Gamifying Education (9:30)

Classroom Gamification Tips for Even the Non-Gamer (49:04)

Blogs and Articles
“Bringing Play, Purpose, and Passion to Everything I do”

Gamification Ideas and More From a NJ Teacher

Article from June, 2014 NEA Today

How to Create Class Badges for Classroom


The Why’s and How’s of Gamifying the Classroom

ENJOY and GAME ON!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why History? (Dear Katie V3 #18)

Dear Katie,

About 20 years ago I asked a high school class why they study history.  A student named Dan raised his hand and with great courage said,

"So people like you have a job."  

I wasn't angry, I had to laugh (note: Don't take yourself so seriously that you can't laugh at statements like that).  To this day, I thought it was one of the most clever answers to a question I have posed in the classroom.

He was reflecting our modern world view.  It has always been my belief that History Education has lost its value in our world of

"If it can't make you money, then why learn it."

History allow us to see we are just a very small part of a bigger story.
History is one of those courses that make us human.  It moves us beyond ourselves to think and contemplate ideas and causes greater than ourselves.  Maybe that is why there is a rejection of history, we want to make everything "about me".

History is the "Laboratory of Life"
Unlike science, we cannot run experiments and use trial and error to see if something works.  The past allows us to see if it could work in our present.  The past allows us to evaluate current events in the world around us.

History is key in understanding others.
As a teacher, you will hear about your students' home lives and gain a better understanding of why the behave as they do in the classroom.  You will learn "their history".  History allows us to see why events occur in the world around us and gives us a better understanding of our world.

For example, the struggle of the West and Russia over the Ukraine is nothing new.  Some people take it back to the Cold War struggles between the two powers of the last century.  Is it?  Or do the roots go back far greater.  

Look up the Crimean War.  

Look up how many ways Russia in history tried to mold itself to be the Byzantine Roman Empire.

Look up the Pope declaring Charlemagne the Holy Roman Emperor in the West even though there was a European Christian emperor on the throne in Constantinople in the East.

History allows you to see that that there is truly 
"Nothing New Under the Sun."


In class the other day we were talking about the massacre in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram.  The thousands of people who died as the world watched.


Student 1: Why don't we (U.S.) do something about to help those people?
Me: We don't want to get involved in other country's matters.
Student 1: We aren't going to do anything?  How can you say that Mr. Cullen? 
Me: Because of people's reaction to using force to free Iraq of a dictator. If they didn't like the use of U.S. forces then, why would you think people would be in favor now?
Student 2: But if we fight these terrorists we will reduce the number of terrorists that may attack us.
Me: Heard that one as a reason of us fighting in Iraq too.

The students may have not liked the answer, 
but history gave them the answer to their question.

Uncle Kevin

(The above dialogue is not an endorsement of a personal view.  Teachers should be willing to take the other view being presented in order for their students to see why certain ideas are hot topics instead of encouraging the defense against straw men arguments in the minds of their students.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

It Begins (Dear Katie V3 #17)

Dear Katie,

You are about to embark on an experience in education preparation that is the most significant.  Student teaching.  It will give you the most detailed look inside the life and work of a teacher.  It will allow you to better judge if this is the profession for you.  And your cooperating teacher is going to give future principals a look into how well you can handle all that will be thrown at you.

May first bit of advice on your first day is

Be Bold

You are going to be tested by your students.  Do you have what it takes?  Take a deep breath and tell yourself there is nothing that any child can throw at you that you can't handle.  You have allowed yourself to be involved in some many aspects of college life.  You have written for a local newspaper.  Enter the classroom with the same boldness that you had when walking into that newsroom for the first time, or entering the room your freshmen year in college where that club you wanted to join met.

You can do this and no little kid is going to stop you.

Your grandfather always wanted me to see it as an "us vs. them" mentality when I entered the classroom.  "Those little buggers are after your job" he would tell me.  In a way, he was right.  Standing in front of a class with a lesson in your head to initiate while 20+ students have their own agenda can be a fight.  You are battle tested and ready.  Will you get flustered, yes.  Will you make mistakes, yes.  Push through it.  There is nothing they can dish out that you cannot handle.  You are a very composed young lady and that will help you.

You will come back to your dorm some nights feeling like a failure.

Yes, there will be a few lessons that looked so good on paper that will flop.  Yet, that will become a lesson for you.  Is it worth salvaging?  If you could do it again, what would you do differently?  Yes, after 23 years of teaching, I have lessons that will work that I can pull out of my pocket, but that came about due to 23 years of failed lessons.  Don't ever get discouraged, learn from your mistakes because that is what you want your students to do.

Be tenacious!

I have learned that anything you want in life comes with the price of hard work.  Things that are worth something are never easy to obtain.  If teaching is what you spend your life doing, then work at it.Work at it. Work at it. Work at it.

And from what I can see, you are prepared and willing to do just that,

Get ready for an adventure.

Uncle Kevin

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Periphery (Dear Katie #3 V16)

Dear Katie,

Community.  It is something that is strained in today's society.  People have become comfortable interacting online and by text and less comfortable face to face.  Although true, I still believe that most people, deep down, want to feel included in real time, face to face relationships .  No organization that meets on a regular basis can expect to grow or expect its members to "pitch in" to the group's success without them feeling included.

No one will reach out unless they themselves have felt "reached for".

What about the people on the periphery of your class?  For some, that is where they want to be in a group, not getting too involved.  But for others, they do want to get involved, but they don't want to impose or seem pushy.  If the leaders or those in the "in" allow them to stay on edges, they will eventually look elsewhere to be included (or for the classroom, it means will find like minded people to act up with).

There are many people who never get involved because they are not asked.

And that is the challenge of your classroom as well.  Humans are social beings and learning in your classroom is a social event.  Your job is to pull those on the periphery into the middle, if they want to be there.  It is easy to let the bold and extroverted students dominate and to blame those not involved for feeling not included.  You are the leader of the classroom, and you lead by example.

A wise teacher doesn't judge 
the health of the class by those heavily involved,
but questions why those aren't involved aren't involved.

A wise teacher doesn't blame 
those not involved for their non-involvement
but seeks to understand & make the changes
needed to encourage involvement.

A wise teacher encourages those in middle
to help in the task of pulling those in the periphery into the middle.

For some students, your classroom could be the safest place for them.  A place where they enjoy learning the wonders of your lessons.  A place where they could be actively involved.  But it doesn't matter how well you enforce anti-bullying policies, or create an environment where students encourage and compliment each other, if you are not active in pulling those students on the periphery into the life of the class,

you and the other students could be missing out on someone special.

Uncle Kevin

Saturday, January 3, 2015

TMI (Dear Katie, V3 #15)

Dear Katie,

It is difficult for me to just "veg out" watching a movie or TV show.  I want it to teach me something or make me think.

Over the break, I decided to watch the Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson comedy The Internship, a farce which chronicles the attempt of two 40 year old laid off salesmen, with severely limited computer skills, as they compete in a Google internship program.

In one scene, Owen Wilson decides to chat up an attractive Google employee.  He points up to a spacecraft that hangs from the ceiling at the Google headquarters and asks if it ever went into space.  The employee, Dana, tells him all he needs to do is go to a webpage,

"type things in and search for answers".

After a bit more conversation (mostly one sided on Wilson's part as Dana keeps her fingers flying on her tablet), Dana ends the talk telling him that the ship he sees is the Spaceship 1 that won the X Prize for private outer space launch.

Some takeaways for the classroom.

1) So Much Information You Miss the Wonder

When Dana, who you figure has gone down the steps with the Spaceship 1 hanging over her many times, could not answer Wilson's question about it, it was as if her ability to get information quickly made her take the ship for granted.

When I need to know about it, I can always get the information.

Yes, I know it's a movie, but does the access of information deaden our appreciation of what is right in front of our eyes.

There is another character in the movie, Stuart,  that makes this point.  He is constantly looking at his cellphone throughout the first half of the movie.  For him, the information that he will garner, be it about spaceships, computer code, or even the posts and pictures of family and friends on social media is more important than the world around him.

It is only after a wild night and watching the sunrise over the Golden Gate Bridge that he realizes the awesomeness of the world around him.  The wonder that he is missing.  As the group is getting ready to leave, he asks them to stay a bit  longer to he can take in more of the beauty of the morning.

The Digital Age is here, 
but let it enhance,
not replace, 
the beauty & information 
that the world around you presents.


2) Give enough information to wet the appetite.

Dana gave Wilson the background knowledge he needed to find out more information if his curiosity is genuinely piqued.  He knows it is the Spaceship 1.  He also knows it won the "X Prize".  What is that?  A good teacher does the same thing.  He/She gives

-genuine excitement about the topic being taught-
-enough background knowledge-

that allows a student to reach out beyond the walls of the classroom and discover more on their own,  Talking about spaceships, this thought reminds me of the movie October Sky.  Homer Hickam and his friends join their teacher's excitement about physics and rocketry to go out and discover more.

3) How can you adapt your classroom 
to meet the "full court press" of the Information Age?  

Yes, many of the "answers" are at your student's fingertips, so is there information that you need to memorize?  Of course there is.  A search begins with keywords that come from certain information that is stored in a person's memory.  Poor keywords will make the search much longer.  When the search results come, background information is critical to determine what website will be most relevant.  Are we assisting them with that skill?



Can you learn from a movie that isn't about teaching, of course you can.

Allow your world and everything in it to be your classroom.  

Is that Googliness, I don't know, but I like it.

Uncle Kevin