Monthly Archives: October 2016

Common Language

New Jersey is a funny state. We have as much or more state pride than any other state including the big one down south that believes they are their own country forcing their students to recite their country’s, sorry, their state’s pledge after the national pledge. We will tell you how close we are to New York and Philadelphia. How you can go skiing, hit up the shore, or hike across a mountain range all within a two-hour drive. We laugh at the joke about what exit we are from and celebrate the fact that Flying Fish Brewing Company has made an entire series of beer celebrating a different style of beer for each exit of the NJ Turnpike.

This brings me to the number one thing that can divide New Jerseyans, worse than why anyone voted for Chris Christie, is a meat that is called either pork roll or Taylor ham according to what part of Jersey you hale from.

Pork roll is a processed-meat product made from pork, spices and other flavors. The exact ingredients of pork roll are kept secret by the manufacturers of this popular meat. Pork roll is hickory-smoked, similar to ham, but is not considered to be ham. The flavor and texture of pork roll is similar to Canadian bacon, bologna and mild salami. Link

pork_roll_People from up in North Jersey call it Taylor Ham while the lower two-thirds of the state correctly call it pork roll. Taylor is the name of one company that makes pork roll. Ordering a Taylor ham and cheese sandwich would be like calling all your tissues Kleenexes or all your pencils Penntechs (the best for pencil break). What is funny is that when most North Jersey folks order Taylor Ham they aren’t even eating a product made by Taylor!! It is made by the brand Case which calls it by its proper name pork roll. Read this article to find out more about the great pork roll debate. Oh and that beer company, Flying Fish, made a beer for exit 7 and called it pork roll beer, not that other silly name!

If you are still reading this and you are wondering if this was the longest introduction to an educational idea ever here it comes. We need to have a common language in education. There is no need to have numerous names to identify the same thing. The best example of this is student growth objectives and student learning objectives. They are the exact same thing just called different names based on what state you are from.

An SGO/SLO, or a Student Growth Objective/Student Learning Objective, is a long-term academic goal for groups of students set by teachers in consultation with their supervisors.  An effective SGO/SLO must be:

  • Specific and measurable
  • Aligned to curriculum standards
  • Based on available prior student learning data
  • A measure of student growth and/or achievement
  • Ambitious and achievable

In New Jersey that can be tiered, using specific groups of students, or you can use the whole class. They were implemented in 2013 and are controversial, to say the least. They increase a teacher’s workload, increase stress, and I have not found the research to support the use of them. This is another case of increasing what is asked of by teachers and administrators and not funding those mandates. I could not find any research to back up or support the use of SGOs/SLOs. Jersey Jazzman writes a great review of SGO’s here but that was published 3 years ago. The results of those SGO’s will account for 15% of the overall teacher evaluation score.

Personally, I do not mind SGO’s. They have forced me to focus more on data collection and making sure I can defend my teaching practices and content. In the year 2013, I was just becoming “woke” to the fact that my pedagogy and philosophy had serious flaws that needed to be worked on. Student growth objectives forced me to really examine my practices and refocus on assessment and data. I do feel that SGO’s are still more compliance than true learning for more teachers but that is an argument for people in much higher positions than myself.

Q1 What other terms in education are redundant? #slowchatpe



Being connected only matters if it improves the learning experience for your students. The past two weeks have reinforced this a million fold. I was hanging out on the Twitter when I saw a fantastic ppt being projected onto the gym wall of Mike Bohannon. The ppt was called smashing pumpkins. The slides would rotate every five seconds on their own. It consisted of two images per slide. One image was a pumpkin. The other image was related to Halloween in some way shape or form. The object was for the students to use either the underhand or overhand throw to hit the pumpkin. Being the sous chef I am, I set up hula hoops of different distances for the students to throw from based on their age or throwing ability. It was fantastic. Mike willingly shared this ppt with me and it is now located here in the shared physed folder.

cropped-maslowbloom1.jpgMike also shared another ppt which was really cool. It was the same concept of two images but instead of the Halloween theme it had the students identify capital letters, odd and even numbers, different shapes and numerous other numeracy and literacy concepts. Talk about an amazing use of technology, cross-curricular teaching, and sharing. I have never met Mike but he was still more than willing to share his creations with me. Talk about fantastic!

The best part of this story is that once I saw this ppt in action on Twitter I asked other teachers if they had any. Mike Ginicola shared his ppt he created. Jen Coursey shared her video she used with Pokemon characters as targets to aim for. I took her video and redid the audio so it sounded a little clearer. (always the sous chef!) It also gave me the idea to download a youtube video of duck hunt. I use this as another moving target for the students to throw at. Again all those resources can be found in a file here.

The second part of being connected that directly impacted my students was when I had a conversation with Dana Powers on Twitter the night of the Trump vs. Clinton waste of time debate. I know who I am voting for already and nothing short of one candidate declaring they are going to start WWIII nothing was going to sway my opinion. Dana and I were talking about what we were doing and I told him I was clumsily clod-hopping through a Teaching Games for Understanding unit. He casually dropped the line that he had a masters degree in this pedagogical approach. I recruited him to Voxer and his contribution to the tgfu chat was immediate.

He dropped a pedagogical bomb that like other brilliant ideas seems so simple once someone points it out to you. His idea was that if two teams play each other in a game the losing team gets to implement a rule the next time they play the winning team again. That rule could make the game easier for them or harder for the other team to succeed. Most of you reading this will say that is so simple why didn’t I think of that! This would force the losing team to identify what the other team was doing successful and put in a rule to slow them down or identify an area they struggled in and implement a rule that would help them succeed in that area.

My brilliance lies in that I can recognize a great idea when I hear it. As soon as I heard that I knew that I needed to use this approach in my class. The next day we played a game of scooter football. One team was head and shoulders above the teams. They easily won both their matches against their opponents. The next round the other teams were able to change the rules to their advantage. One rule was that the dominant team had to throw with their non-dominant hand. The rule the second game was that the team that had lost in round one were allowed one free push on their scooters when they had the ball. Both rules helped equalize the games.

I had one student on the dominant team that was getting frustrated by being on the receiving side of the rules. He was getting minorly frustrated during the games. I pulled the student over and we had a conversation that I hope may have influenced his thinking. We discussed his frustration of wanted to throw to a certain person but not being able to have the power or accuracy to reach that person with his non-dominant hand. We discussed how this is what students who don’t have his same athletic ability feel like. They have the knowledge who to throw to but may not possess the power or accuracy to consistently achieve their objective. They feel that same frustration he did. I believe that the message resonated with him. He wasn’t being told what lack of privilege felt like. He was experiencing it first hand.

This brings me back to my original statement. Being connected only matters if it helps your students.


Family Physical Activities

My wife’s grandmother died Wednesday night. She was 89 and in declining health. Although her passing wasn’t a surprise, it was still upsetting that she was no longer with us. She left a husband, four successful children (success being defined as happy/healthy), nine grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren. Her viewing was loud and full of people. Everyone was there to celebrate a life well lived. This is how life was supposed to happen. You are born, grow up, create some sort of family, and enjoy the trials and tribulations of a long and fruitful life.

The funeral the next day was much more sorrowful. It was difficult to watch her grandfather bury the woman he had spent over 50 years married to. There were tears and speeches. Flowers were put on top of her casket and we were told to move on to lunch.

The lunch was fun. Yes, the lunch after the funeral was a pleasurable occasion. Family and friends gathered together to eat and drink. This was where we were able to reconnect with out of town family and friends that we don’t see as often as we should. Lunch wrapped up quickly and then it was time for the children to nap before the family get together at night.

Once the kids arose from nap time we went over to my inlaws. All the aunts and uncles and cousins came together to just enjoy each other’s company. The ages ranged from 2-70 years of age. I was outside on kid duty. I watched the children swing on the swings, play with a football, play an interesting game called puppy, and run around in general merriment. They moved because it was fun. Their faces were flush, jackets were thrown to the ground, cell phones put away and they moved. It was a pleasure to watch and be a participant in.

We don’t always need organized leagues, videos to exercise with, or a gym to go visit. There are numerous ways to move with other people. Family parties are my favorite form of physical activity. All it takes is a volleyball net and two people, a football and someone who wants to throw it, a soccer ball that is laying in wait. Random games of tag pop up out of nowhere. Remember the joy of movement is multiplied when shared with others.

Q1: What is your favorite activity to do at family parties?


Stifling Creativity

Imagine planning lessons that take a boat load of time to plan. You scour the internet and steal the greatest lessons from your personalized learning network in order to create the best learning experience you can provide. Then a student comes in your class and states they want to play __________. For the past two years, I have a student who walks into my class and wants to play their game. At first, this bothered me. I would tell the student no, I have a lesson planned and this is what we are going to do. At some point last year it occurred to me that I was crushing this young man’s creativity. I started to question myself (which I often do). If my class can’t be a place where a student can come in and play a game they created then where can they? Why was I saying no? Was it a power trip? How were his games going to align to my standards and curriculum? Was this going to be a waste of time?

I decided that I would give him the last five minutes of the class to explain and play his game as long as he followed the directions of the class. For the last five minutes of most classes, he would stand up, explain his games, and ask for helpers to demonstrate. The students would all clamor to be picked. Some of the games were interesting and worked well, while others needed a tweaking here or there to make them playable. The students loved the games and I even used one or two myself in other classes.

This year I have multiple students who are asking to play their games in my class. I tell them to create a google doc and share the game with me before the class so I can prepare any equipment that is needed. The younger students can draw a picture or write the game down the best they can.

Why am I so flexible in my teaching this year? It all goes back to creating that positive association with movement, my class, and school in general. Would you want to go to work every day where you had absolutely no input into your day? How fast can we crush a student’s creativity? It starts with the simple statement, “Not now.” It ends with the student not even attempting to contribute their original ideas after a while.

I am not saying that the students should run the class. Or that teachers don’t have valuable information that the students need to discover in some manner or another. What I am saying is that when we see someone enjoying learning, enjoying movement, and bringing something to the table don’t reflexively say no. Think about why you are saying no. There may be a legitimate reason not to allow the child to take over the class that hour or that day. I do know that if our default is no instead of I will make my best attempt to work with you, then we are slowly extinguishing our students passions for learning, creativity, and love of school.

Q1: When do you allow students to create in your class?

Q2: What do you do when students want to do an activity that you were not planning on that day?

Q3: What is your default, no or I will attempt my best? Why?

CUE Nevada 2016

I sat down at a table rehydrating myself with beverages until the world calmed down. My head was pounding while my body was pulsated with electricity. The last three days had been a blur. It started with a plane ride to Las Vegas on Thursday night. It ended on Saturday night with a table of friends discussing education, thinking, power, privilege, actions, perceptions, and holding yourself with class. In between was nothing short of amazing.

Friday morning started with a power breakfast with Sarah Thomas (@saradateechur). We sat next to each other and caught up on the current state of affairs in our lives. The food was great and the company was even better. We drank about 17 cups of coffee before Heidi Carr (@carr5) rolled up in a car inhabited by Shelly Stout (@theoddcentricT) and Amanda Rogers (@theedsaneT). One round of mani-pedis, lunch, and conference prep work down, the CUE Nevada conference was ready to begin.

Sarah kicked it off with the opening keynote. Her keynote was about her personal journey through education and life. She masterfully wove her tale enlightening the crowd with how she uses her alter ego SaraDaTeechur to become a better version of herself.

Sarah also explained how edumatch was created. The best part of Sarah isn’t that she spends time highlighting herself. She spent the bulk of her time amplifying the projects of those who have connected through edumatch. Her speech was both relatable and heartfelt.

I sat in on a session ran by Jason Borgen explaining how to become a future ready leader before I presented my session on Seesaw. After my session, it was time to see Vegas!!

Heidi Carr played hostess with the mostest along with the strawberry milkshake drinking Derek Larson (@lars3eb). We toured Vegas seeing the largest chocolate fondue fountain in the world, watched the Bellagio water light show, and took a ride on the High Roller on the strip. That evening created memories that I will never forget. The bond that Sarah, Shelly, Amanda, Heidi, Derek already strong due to our Edumatch Voxer connection, was strengthened to the level of life-long friendship. The beauty of the evening was that education was a common interest but took a back seat to 6 individuals connecting on a personal level. There was no talk of assessments, tech tools, or workshops. The topic of conversation was music, food, and fun.

Friday turned into Saturday morning and Shelly Stout was ready to begin her session. We sluggishly rolled in with one eye open and watched an Oddcentric individual (her twitter handle) transform into a classroom maestro. Her session on Socratic circles was the highlight of the conference to me. I learned the difference between level 1, 2, and 3 questions. She taught us how her students analyze and evaluate poems, stories, and songs in an authentic and engaging way. The best part is that her students were the ones saying how much the enjoyed those Socratic circles!

Amanda Rogers ran a session on how to unleash the magical powers of Google. I rolled into the session about halfway to the participants working in groups on their own completely engaged. Amanda was the guide on the side giving the participants time to explore Amanda’s projects that she set up for them. It’s not always about the sage on the stage at a conference session as well as in the classroom.

My next session was with the coca cola drinking, Derek Larson. This was a straight sage on the stage; dropping morsels of knowledge to the tech-hungry participants eagerly awaiting their next morsel. It was masterful in its simplicity. He categorized the different ways to organize yourself, social media platforms, as well as platforms to gather new ideas. He allowed participants to chime in whenever they had ideas or prior knowledge of that particular tool. It was sweet to see a virtuoso presenter in action.

My sessions finished with Digital Badges and Micro-credentials with Rich Dixon (@richedtech). I was skeptical of this session because badges are just a way for egotistical educators shouting “LOOK AT HOW GREAT I AM”! I couldn’t have been more wrong. He spoke about something called open badges and micro-data. This idea is that when you get the badge there will be links to the projects and data of what you did to earn that badge. This takes badging to a much, much deeper level. I am so happy I went to his session.

Up next was my keynote. I used Nearpod to include my PLN who were not able to attend. The crowd was super receptive. It was a blast.

The conference ended with me at a table with Sarah, Amanda, Heidi, Derek, and Shelly. It felt like the perfect way to wrap up the conference. I didn’t think it was gonna get any better until I heard Derek’s reflection of the weekend on Voxer as he drove two hours home. The rest of us listened together giggling and reflecting at his storytelling ability. It truly was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

I would be remiss if I did not thank and honor Heidi Carr for the conference she spearheaded as well as the opportunity for me to keynote a major conference. She went above and beyond chauffeuring me to around Vegas as well as to the airport making sure I caught my flight! She is an amazing individual who will never quite understand how indebted to her I will always be. I would also like to thank Derek for turning around and driving back after he realized I was a dummy and left my bag in his car!! You are the man!