Monday, September 14, 2009

Pick One and Give it a Shot

For all those teachers with whom I with on a daily basis, you already know that I am a pain in the butt. This used to bother me. There was a time when I would often reflect and ask myself, "why are you such a pain?" Those days are far behind me. I've not only accepted that I am this way, I've embraced it. In fact, I do believe I am one of the top pain in the butt people in the state of Illinois. If you don't believe me, just ask anyone with the last name of McPherson in Genoa, Macomb or Bloomington, IL. I am sure they would be quick to confirm my lofty status.

I am aware that educators are currently inundated with a ton of stuff. And I am aware that more and more is being asked of teachers. And......teachers don't have enough time to do it all. That is why I am asking teachers to pick one, just one, of the following items and try to implement it somehow over the next several weeks. I know it will be difficult for some, but I wouldn't push so hard for this if I wasn't sure that it would have a positive impact on our students. So....pick one and give it a try. And after that, maybe pick another and give that a try.

  • Google Docs-Create a survey on Google docs and ask students to respond. (Gmail account necessary) Great example. This can be a great time saver as the responses are tallied/graded for you.
  • RSS Feed Reader-Have students set up a feed reader for a particular subject. Utilize this as a research tool.
  • Wiki-Create a class-wide reference list for a topic you are studying through wikispaces (free to educators).
Social Studies:
  • Online Map Puzzles. Great for review of states, capitols and/or countries.
  • An example of Youtube videos describing history. This one is on Railroad history. Also, a great blog.
  • Eyewitness accounts to many events in history. Great resource for kids to supplement texts. Maybe use to compare how history is told by different resources?
  • Learn the Periodic Table through Tetris.
  • In addition to other things, Tutor-USA offers math tutorial videos.
  • Need graph paper? Over 40 examples here.
  • Fun math games at all different levels.
The Red Sox have taken a commanding lead in the wildcard. Still very concerned about their pitching, although Dice-K and Bucholtz have looked great lately. I am confident that Jay Cutler will bounce back and lead the Bears to victory this weekend. (Cutler and I are tight, I follow him on Twitter. Pretty sure we're on a first-name basis.)

Tunes to consider: Tiny Dancer, Elton John. (Great clip from the movie Almost Famous.) Get Back, Beatles and Bird Song, Jerry Garcia Band.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Legends of the Fall

Fall is upon us. So many great things are going on this time of year; the Bears are undefeated, the Red Sox are planning another playoff run, kids are smiling at school and my Saturdays are spent at football games watching my daughters cheer. (You know you're a dad of cheerleaders when you walk through your middle school cheer practice and you know all the cheers by heart. Some guys are busy this fall building things, or working on cars, or taking motorcycle rides. Me? Just doin' a few cheers in my head. I actually own my own pom poms. I own my own pom poms! I've really got to re-evaluate this whole "support your kids in all they do" notion.)

Ok, so maybe not everything about the fall is great, but's just an exciting time of year. By the way, Legends of the Fall is ranked number 8 on my all-time favorite movies list. Along with Roadhouse and Shawshank Redemption, it's one of the few movies I'll watch every single time it's on. article review for all you crazy kids out there:

In the Classroom with Deirdra Grode

ASCD, Sept 2009
Education Update, Volume 51, No. 9.

Formative Assessments can create great opportunities for kids to reach high levels of achievement. Additionally, it's a great way to improve instruction. Benefits, according to Deirdra Grode:
  • Frequent evaluation lets the teacher know when re-teaching is necessary.
  • Frequent evaluation also projects areas of instruction that should be improved to increase student learning. This gives teachers immediate feedback as to what can be done differently next time.
  • Surveys make for an excellent tool to gauge the needs and understanding of students. (Google docs!)
  • Examples of formative assessment that can be used in the classroom: Ongoing testing, multiple draft submissions, student conferences, quick surveys, using individual white boards and writing workshops.
It's occurred to me recently how truly test-oriented we really are. And when I say we, I mean we. When my kids at home have a test, we make sure they study for it. We review with them before bed and the next morning over breakfast. But if they have a project that involves creating something? They are on their own and mommy and daddy take the night off. This is twisted, right? On this subject.....

Will Richardson weighs in during an August blog entry on the focus of schools. For instance, instead of asking our kids how their spelling test went when they get home (or kids in your class), consider asking your kids some of these questions:
  • What did you make today that was meaningful?
  • What did you learn about the world?
  • Who are you working with?
  • What surprised you?
  • What did your teachers make with you?
  • What did you teach others?
  • What unanswered questions are you struggling with?
  • How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?
  • What’s something your teachers learned today?
  • What did you share with the world?
  • What do you want to know more about?
  • What did you love about today?
  • What made you laugh?
These are great questions to ask our kids. The last two may very well be the most important questions you can ask your kids or students. After all, harvesting passion and joy will lead our kids to happy lives.

Finally, the subject of social media and it's place in the world has been a hot topic of conversation. As stated many times in this blog, I have found social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to be extremely useful when used properly. Whatever the possibilities are, its tough to ignore the influence of social media on our kids. The video below goes so far as to call our current era a revolution. Maybe John Lennon was right after all...

The Red Sox are holding steady at 3 games up in the wild card. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games. I'm still very concerned, for a team that had a ton of pitching depth, we are down to basically 3 starters. But hey, Billy Wagner can pitch every 3rd day for 1 inning, so we got that going for us, which is nice. Can't wait to see the Bears and Jay Cutler on the 13th.

Tunes worthy of your exploration: Chicken Fried, Zac Brown Band, California Stars, Wilco and one of my all-time favorites, Flowers on the Wall, The Statler Brothers. If you haven't heard this one in a while, call it up on youtube and enjoy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Getting Caught Up

Is it geeky to get caught up on my reading while on vacation? In a quick poll conducted on Twitter, the answer is a resounding yes. My justification? It's relaxing and it comes after 14 straight hours of family time in the sun. So, here's what I've learned:

Wow. Want to understand the power of Twitter? It gave these people a vehicle to organize when all other sources were unavailable.

Awesome website, printfriendly, allows you to create a better document to print. You can cut stuff out, and it reduces the spaces. Check out the video tutorial, lasting 1 minute and 42 seconds.

If you are like me, constantly worrying about how your kids (either the ones you teach or the ones who drain your bank accounts) are going to find a job and support themselves, new jobs are on the horizon.

This one is more than a month old, but President Obama continues to think outside the box in terms of education. Two words: merit pay.

Terminate textbooks and go digital? The Govenator thinks it's worth checking out.

A teacher using twitter to vent a bit has set off a debate amongst journalists and educators. Is Twitter too much for educators? Does it violate privacy issues? Interesting debate.

Still wondering if Twitter and other social networks are a good thing? This editor tackles some tough questions with some great answers. Read the answer to the first question and tell me Twitter ain't great when used properly.

Songs to consider as I listen on the screened in porch of my parents condo in Sarasota, FL. Sittin on the Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding. Sundown, Gordon Lightfoot. In the Ghetto, Elvis. (Natalie Merchant also does a killer live version.)

Tim Wakefield keeps on truckin. At 43, he is among the lead leaders in wins. You gotta love Wake.

Until next time, here's wishing peace and happiness to all those who seek it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Kindle, Twitter and Other Tidbits

My parents were worried that burning books would be the end of reading as we know it. They are boomers and have become convinced that all of Gutenbergs hard work would go up in the flames of every book burning. I don't have a lot of experience with it myself, my only recollection is Reverend Shaw Moore going crazy over a book buring in Footloose. (For you youngins who aren't familiar with Footloose, never fear, a remake with Zac Effron is in the works.)

So what the heck is a Kindle? It's an electronic book. Actually, it's far more than that. Not only can you read books on it, but you can purchase them directly from amazon and they will appear on your kindle in seconds. Imagine being in line, on a train, in the car etc. and ordering a book, only to start reading it in seconds. This is Kindle.

Kindle can be viewed as an extremely useful piece of techonology or it could be perceived to detrimental to books as we know them. Or, it could be both. We know reading has changed in the 21st century. In a must read article, Steven Johnson examines just how much devices like the Kindle (or Sony's version, the e-reader) will change reading forever. Consider books as digital devices:

  • Parts of books will be available for purchase. Individual chapters.
  • Discussion boards, blogs etc. will quote passages from books with links to the passage.
  • We may enter an age where whole books aren't read in chronological order.
  • Books will be read in sections; or, maybe just sections of books will be read.
  • Days of writing notes to yourself or underlining key passages may be gone; replaced by computer-generated highlighting and keyboard-led notes.
As we approach the digital revolution, maintaing the balance between our virtual world and the real world will be important. This educator is worried about kindle replacing books, at least the good ones. It would be interesting to examine textbooks in this version however. In fact, see why many students desire online textbooks. Kindle could possibly handle this type of formatted text.

Micheal J. Miller, who provides outstanding work in his techie blog, Forward Thinking, loves the new Kindle. And many of you are sitting on the edge of your seats, begging for the answer to the question ringing in your head, yes can get the Kindle on your iphone.

On a sad and shocking note, I did not make the list of top1oo educators on Twitter. All that campaigning and money spent on bribing the commission goes for naught. It's during times like this in which my wife is of great comfort to me. She reminds me that I'm "really not that bright" and to "get a grip loser." Can I just tell you how great it is to have the love of a good woman? Yeah, it feels great.

Some tunes to consider: (please keep in mind, just scored an XM radio and drove to Florida listening mostly to the 80s channel.) Our House, Madness. Your Eyes, Peter Gabriel. Burnin Down the House, Talking Heads. If your feeling really saucy, check out You Spend me Round, by Dead or Alive. And while your at it, check out Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi.

Red Sox vs. Yankees this year, 8-0. It just doesn't get any better than that. And I have to say this, but I say it with love and mean no disrespect to anyone; eat it yankee fans. Red Sox who must be in the all-star game: Kevin Youkalis, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon.

Until next time, here's wishing peace and happiness to all those who seek it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Twitter or Tweet?

My youngest daughter has said twitter or tweet numerous times in her life. All in attempt to get a bag full of what she calls "the good stuff." Chocolate gold. Sweet satisfaction. Candy to the lay person. Of course, when she says twitter or tweet, she is trying to say trick or treat. Her speech teacher assures me she's doing better.

What is Twitter? How is it useful? How can educators use it? Can we use it as an instructional tool? Is it just a waste of time? All common questions; All fair questions. Let me enlighten you with an answer that should help everyone: I don't know. (Any flashbacks to Mr. Hand writing that on the board? That crazy Spicoli)

I use twitter and I have no idea if it's useful. Or if it can be used by educators. Or if it could be an instructional tool. Or if it's a waste of time. But, I am willing to explore these questions. (If you are a audio learner, you can scroll down to the bottom and watch/listen to Rich Voltz explain how twitter is used.)

What is it?

Here's the skinny of it: it's a social network where people can update (called a tweet) in 140 characters or less. (That's about 1 or 2 sentences.) This can be done from the website,, or from your mobile phone. The update can be literally an update of (A) what someone is doing at the moment, or it can be (B) used as a sharing of information. Examples:

A. Going to Walmart to pick up toilet paper, then off to White Castle!

B. Worried that web 2.0 tools may create cheaters? "Unauthentic assessment will produce cheaters." Awesome blog!

Twitter is simple to use. Sign up for a free account and start searching for people to "follow." This can be done through twitter, although, you are more likely to find people through blogs you read, facebook, or friends you have. People can choose to follow you as well, although you have the option of blocking them. Updates will come to your webpage on, or you can choose to have them go to your phone as a text message.

How is it useful?

The usefulness of twitter is still up for debate. See this article for each side of the argument.

The bottom line is Twitter is useful if you want it to be. For me personally, it's a complete waste of time for me to send or receive the "what are you doing right now" updates. For one, I am not that interested in what my friends are doing. And for two, my wife and kids could care less what I am doing, let alone anyone else. I'm not that interesting, and quite frankly, neither are any of my friends. However, I have personally found twitter to be useful as a professional development tool. More on that later. (That's what people in the media profession call a teaser. A hook, if you will. I know that will keep everyone reading. Who wouldn't want to know how twitter can be used as a professional development tool?)

How can educators use it?

Through conferences, articles I've read, or suggestions from other educators, I began following a few blogs this past fall. Upon learning about Twitter at a conference in January, I noticed that most all of the blogs I was following had a Twitter update on them. So I signed up for an account, then went to each of the blogs and simply clicked on the "follow" button. Booyah, I was following three prominent leaders in education. Each one sends a few tweets a day with a link or some helpful tool to use in education. Many of them have been helpful, some not. Users can organize their favorite tweets on Twitter by starring them, creating a favorites list. Or, if you are already using an RSS feed reader, you can have all your twitter updates forwarded to your reader where you can do the same thing.

I've gained valuable knowledge through Twitter. I've found valuable people to follow and those that weren't worth following, I simply deleted. Like most things in life, Twitter seems to give us whatever we put into it. It can be a very helpful tool. A suggestion if you're curious: find other people in your position to follow. If you're a teacher, find a few interesting blogs and follow them on twitter. Give it a shot. Decide for yourself.

Can we use it as an instructional tool?

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. But I know this: it's always good to seek the advice or your building administrators before attempting to do so. One of the blogs I follow is from a teacher in Maryland who uses technology in an effort to eliminate paper. ( Beyond that, he offers some very interesting ideas for engaging students. Check out his blog and you will see him using Twitter for immediate, anonymous responses in class (research indicates that students who can anonymously respond in class will participate and be more engaged), collaborate on projects and even take Latin exams via Twitter. Is it proper to use Twitter for these instructional strategies? I don't know, but if it engages students and helps them learn, it's probably worth looking into.

Is it just a waste of time?

Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know. I think it will be different for each of us. I have found a groove in which Twitter is one of my top three resources for current information on education. A friend told me earlier today, "twitter sucks. It's a waste of time." It appears as if each of us will have to decide on our own.

For a quick tutorial on twitter, Rich Voltz put together this video. Rich is a retired superintendent in the state of Illinois who now leads educators in implementing Web 2.0 tools in schools. He's a tremendous resource for all educators.

For an interesting sound, check out the Black Keys doing Stack Shot Billy. This group is one guitar player and one drummer pounding out some power rock blues stuff.

My top three most awesome reasons for being a Red Sox fan: 3. Dustin Pedroia is 5'5 and the reigning MVP. 2. 2004 World Series title and 2007 World Series title. 1. Manny Ramirez is now on the Dodgers.

More on RSS Feed Readers

My original post to this under-achieving blog involved using RSS Feed Readers, such as Google Reader. Amazingly, I did not due justice to the significant contributions an RSS feed readers can make to our lives. I was young and naive, but don't fret. I am 36 days older now and clearly, far more experienced than when the original post was written. Here's my latest knowledge:

Star your favorites:

Here are some things I know: 1. I am not a strong reader. 2. I do not have an abundance of time. 3. I have 4 kids who suck the energy out of me on a minute-by-minute basis. 4. I am not that smart. 5. My weekly "honey-do" list resembles a dissertation. 6. My boss is very, very demanding and expects me to put in at least an 8 hour day (the nerve!).

So you get it. I don't have time, and even if I did, am I really smart enough to read all this? (Rhetorical question, please do not post or send responses to this question. I'm fragile.)

As I pointed out in the original post, a feed reader can change all of this. However, I'm not sure if I did an adequate job of explaining how. Well, here's how:

Once you've subscribed to your favorite blogs, news sources etc., you will be given brief abstracts of the articles or postings in your reader. You can breeze through these quickly. If it is not something of interest, keep moving. If it is something that strikes your fancy, click on the yellow star in the corner. This will store the post/article as a "favorite" for your viewing pleasure at a later date. So I do this daily, then on a Friday night (insert my wife calling me a loser here) after the kiddies are down and I have no energy to do anything physical, I get caught up on my starred items.


How do we keep track of things we've starred and read in case we want to refer to them later? At the bottom of each post/article, in the right hand corner, you will see "add tags." Simply click on this and enter a key word for the article. You will then notice on the left-hand side, google reader has put all of the articles that you've "tagged" in a folder.

For example, my next post will be on twitter (please try to keep your composure). I tagged all of the posts/articles in my reader that were relevant with the keyword "twitter." I now have a folder with several resources for my next post, and for future reference.

My suggested song of the day is Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown. A 1974 classic, it's just good stuff. For another tremendous tune in a similar genre, check out Jim Croce's You Don't Mess Around With Jim.

The Red Sox swept the Yankees. That felt so good I'm gonna say it again. The Red Sox swept the Yankees. The Bulls have played in one of the best series in the history of the NBA. And I'll tell you what, no matter how game 7 goes, I'll still be very happy with the Bulls. That being said, if the Bulls lose game 7, I will be extremely angry with the Bulls.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Is There a Disturbring Correlation Between Teacher-Student Relationships and Sweet Caroline?

Promoting teacher-student relationships in schools seems to be the most obvious no-brainer in education. It's like playing Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline at a party; it's just a given. (Please allow me a side note here: why is every guy I know a closet Neil Diamond fan? Why do we deny ourselves the joy of being an out and out fan of one of the all-time musical greats? I would argue it's for one of two reasons: A) We are intimidated by the fact that every female over the age of 60 raves about his ravishing good looks, or B) We are threatened by anyone who has hair that looks that good at his age. Look, I'm not happy about liking him either. We'd all be a lot better off if he dressed like Jack Black and looked like Pauly from Sopranos. That way, he wouldn't be an icon among the ladies and we wouldn't have all these hair-envy issues. But the reality is that he dresses differently and has great hair. I say we get over these fears and succumb to Neil Diamond. Throw on a silver silk shirt, un-button the top 3 buttons, turn up the volume on Kentucky Woman and live!) But as I attend the birthday parties of my kids, I've begun to notice a pattern with Sweet Caroline; It's not being played. What's worse, because we've accepted it as the party-song for all occasions, we don't even notice that it's not being played. It's no longer on the party mixes. We're humming it, we're bouncing to it, but it's not being played and we aren't even noticing! Parties without Neil Diamond? A travesty to future generations!

Are we facing the same dilemma with teacher-student relationships? Are they such a given that they've been swept aside and we no longer notice their absence?

We've all heard what the research says about positive teacher-student relationships, or so I've been told. But have we? Do we really know how profoundly teacher-student relationships effect various aspects of the educational process? Because if we do, and we understand their importance, and we realize how much these relationships promote a positive learning experience, then it should be something we discuss at school on a regular basis.

Did you know.......

  • Robert Marzano says that a strong teacher-student relationship is the number 1 deterrent of behavior problems in classrooms? Its the number 1 classroom management tool?

  • There is abundant research that says positive teacher-student relationships is one of the top two things that "hook" at-risk students? (Along with teaching material they can relate to on a personal level.)

  • The research on students who are bullied regularly, and who participate in bullying regularly, both say the best prevention measure for bullying in schools is teachers who know their students?

  • The research strongly supports the connection between academic success and positive teacher-student relationships?

If you know me, then you know I often need things explained to me like I'm a 5-year old. So, for my benefit, here goes:

Teacher-Student Relationships:

  1. increase student learning.

  2. decrease behavior problems in the classroom.

  3. decrease the amount of bullying in schools.

  4. increase engagement for at-risk students.

Maybe it's time for us to put teacher-student relationships back into the daily conversation. Instead of just assuming it's on the play list, let's put it #1 on all of our party mixes. Let it serve as a reminder each day as we jam to our educational party mix just how important these relationships are to the success of our students. If we integrate it into all of our discussions, we can put the focus of importance back where it belongs, on the relationships between us and our students. And just like Sweet Caroline, we can rekindle a timeless classic. If you don't want to take my word for it, take a few minutes and listen to 10-year old Dalton Sherman:

For my song suggestion of the week..........wait for it.............that's right, Sweet Caroline by one Neil Diamond. (Bomp Bomp Bomm!). OK, so that was too easy. Another? Try A Little Less Conversation by the King. Play it loud.

The Red Sox have won 5 in a row. Can we just crown them right now? And the Bulls are up 1-0. And the Bears got Jay Cutler. It's a great time to be a die-hard Red Sox/Bulls/Bears fan. (Oh yeah, the Blackhawks are up 2-0, I became a die-hard Blackhawks fan yesterday in honor of my mentor, Leroy Lanes).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Balancing Two Literacies

My 6-year old daughter recently showed me a new way to navigate through one of her favorite websites. I told her she was smart and that she was much better with computers than I am. Her response, verbatim: "that's because you're old dad....and bald....and you have a huge forehead." I asked her if she wanted to kick my dog while she was at it, but she declined. Apparently her love for animals extends far beyond her love for her daddy.

My little angel's point is valid. I am old, and my educational experience is far different than the one she is about to endure. For one, students today have to deal with two literacies. One is of course the traditional literacy function that includes hard copy books, articles and newspapers. The other is a technological literacy function, one where blogs, articles, chat rooms etc. are read through the use of the Internet.

In the March 2009 issue of Educational Leadership, Joanne Rooney addresses this challenge in an article entitled Teaching Two Literacies. The following bullet points are a review of the article.
  • Technology has revolutionized reading, possibly as profoundly as the invention of the printing press.
  • The format for reading may have changed, but the ability to understand what is written is still at the core of reading.
  • Schools are held accountable for teaching the traditional literacy as well as incorporating new technology into the learning environment.
  • So the challenge becomes teaching both literacies.
  • The author offers 3 mindsets in order to achieve teaching two literacies:
  1. Continue to encourage students to read good books and effectively communicate through writing.
  2. Redefine the term literacy, with less focus on textbooks.
  3. Create a culture in school that is focused on reading, writing and thinking.

So how do we create a culture as described? Nine suggestions:

  • Emphasize reading and writing school wide (poetry writing contests etc.)
  • Create student blogs or chat rooms
  • Create time and space for silent reading
  • Encourage teachers to use web tools that "hook" students.
  • Create book clubs for staff
  • Encourage electronic journal keeping for students and staff
  • Train or encourage teachers to read and write in both literacies
  • Model both literacies
  • Teach parents the importance of reading to or with their students.

This article provides good perspective on attempting to balance the new and traditional forms of literacy. The challenge of balancing the two is not going away. The sooner schools accept these two literacies as a reality for our students, the sooner we can start to find a proper balance in order to create the best possible learning opportunities for our students.

For a little pick me up, check out the tune Black Betty by Ram Jam. I have no idea what the song is about, but it's a catchy tune and it makes me want to play the air guitar while lip-synching. It's a great reminder that I could be a bodacious rock star if I only had musical ability.........or talent...............or could play an instrument.

The Red Sox are 1-1. At this current pace, they will finish 81-81. Luckily, they play the White Sox 7 times this year, so that's 7 wins in the bank. That should be enough to make the playoffs. Go Bosox!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Life Made Easier and More Interesting Through RSS Feeds

I've spent many an hour neglecting my wife and kids surfing the web for information based on my passions. There's never enough time in the day to catch up on all the happenings in Major League Baseball, or the many tremendous weblogs in the education world, or even the most recent news articles from my favorite newspapers.

Learning about RSS feeds changed all that for me. It was like the day I discovered DVR, or maybe the day I realized my gorgeous wife is right 99% of the time. Life with an RSS feed reader suddenly became easier; more manageable; less stressful.

Through Google Reader (one of the many free RSS feed readers,) I now have all of my daily readings organized on one single page. I can mark items that I want to read later, or just simply skim through the brief summaries on each item. I can keep up on important issues in education, follow my fantasy baseball players and read all about local and national news. All of this in a matter of 10-20 minutes.

For those of us that are educators, parents or both, time is never a luxury. Every moment is precious. Life with an RSS feed reader can allow us to stay current, continue our lifelong quest for learning, and still have time to hang with the family. As Alan November makes clear in many of his talks and writings, technology can help us eliminate the excuse of time and space.

If you are interested in setting up a feed reader, I would suggest Google Reader or Pageflakes, both free feed readers. Simply follow the set-up instructions and pick a few things to subscribe to. Once you feel more comfortable, start adding more subscriptions. There is an excellent tutorial to this and many other web tools in both Web Literacy for Educators by Alan November and Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardson. I would strongly recommend both of these books to any educator.

For a happier day, check out the song Flake by Jack Johnson.

For an even happier day, become a Red Sox fan.