Thursday, June 28, 2018

A 2018 #PBL reflection

I’ve just wrapped up my first year as a PBL teacher; thirteenth year in total. When I embarked on my journey to be an educator 14 years ago, I never could have imagined the twists and turns my life
would take. So, as I try to do every year, I’m reflecting on what this
most recent teaching experience means for me as I move forward. What just happened? What did I learn? What did my students learn? What do I need to do for next year? I wanted to share my top 5 reflections with you below:
  1. I over did it. I was warned to not bite off my than I could chew, but ambition took over and I swamped myself in trying to teach in a way that I wasn’t ready... and neither were my students. I appreciate individualized learning for what it is, but I didn’t set it up the way I needed to. I have to incorporate more of my natural teaching style, and integrate individualized learning in a more organized way.... deadlines...! 
  2. Co-teaching is amazing. I was fortunate to work with a set of co-teachers that were remarkable, passionate and creative. Being part of a team that adjusts easily, sets high standards for each other, and works together to meet those standards is an experience all educators should have. It is with their help that this year was the success we needed it to be for our students. 
  3. Standards based grading is what students need. I grew up in the points system. Do this... get points. Do that.. get points. Points! Points! Points! When you remove the points and let students show you what they know, they realize that the learning is central to the experience. There is never an empty feeling of failure when a student has all year to demonstrate understanding within a standard. When you add to it the theory of decayed averages that allow for the most recent completed work to have a stronger influence on a student’s overall grade, then it shows we are working for our kids, and not against them. There is always opportunity for showing learning/growth. 
  4. Math portfolios! I’ve been wanting to create an opportunity for my students to build math portfolios to show what they have learned through out the school year. I took the chance this year to make it happen and the feedback that I received from my students was very positive. Naturally, I wanted the portfolios to be challenging, so that I could fully see the depth of each student’s understanding. What I was most proud of was the perseverance they showed in completing them. They knew the value the portfolio held towards their grade being that is was the very last picture they could paint for me regarding their growth in learning. More than 90% of all my students completed the portfolio. Almost all of my Algebra students used it to bump their final scores, some from C’s to A’s. I loved seeing the pride they had in themselves when they turned it in. For next year, I’m going to expand the portfolios. Make them longer and more in-depth, but also give the students the majority of the year to complete. Collecting them at the end of each trimester to provide feedback and scores. 
  5. Relationships over content. This one is central to my philosophy of education, but held true this year. I feel like this was my worst year ever as a teacher of content. I know that my students learned, but I also know that I didn’t help them all reach their potential. I left a lot on the playing field... some of it never even got in the game. But, you wouldn’t know it if you asked my students. The feedback I received from their portfolios was incredibly supportive and caring. They thanked me for a great year, and wanted me to know how much they appreciated me and my ability to connect with them. I read all of these messages and it hit me that for the majority of my students, the take away for this year in working with me is that I cared, and I made it enjoyable to be around math. Sure lessons matter, but it’s in how the kiddos are treated that memories are created. 
If you’re a parent to a school aged kiddo, take the time to reflect on your own kiddo’s experience. Maybe journal it somewhere for memory sake. I know that I asked all of my students to have someone (parent/guardian) write a message in their portfolios for future reference. It’s an amazing future moment to create.

If you’re a teacher, share some of your reflections from this year on my Facebook page or in the comments below. You can also connect with me on Twitter. It’s all about community, so feel free to connect, so we can learn from each other.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Why cell phones may not be the problem

The topic of technology and cell phones in the classroom is one that cycles through conversation circles quite frequently. A recent article sparking discussion is from The Washington Post about a company called Yondr. This company has created a “pouch” to store student cell phones through out the school day, so they can’t use them. (click technology to read the article) The main idea being that the cell phones provide a distraction to learning that is harming student growth.


The main thing that I feel is important when discussing technology and education is to identify what technology in a classroom truly means to educators. Classroom technology is “phraseology” that encompasses way too many things, and doesn’t easily morph with the continuous educational tech
advances. For example, when I started teaching a document camera was considered “technology,” and using a Power Point presentation meant you were the “techy” teacher. But neither of those things are bringing technology into the classroom for student advancement. They might enhance a lesson, but true student growth doesn’t require a document camera.

So, for me, classroom technology is something that is required to do the job of a student. I connect this to the workplace. When we go to work, the necessary technology required to do our job is provided to us. Sure, we bring our own cell phones, but we’re encouraged to not have them out while we are working. It is also expected that we use the technology for work purposes and not for time wasting. It is understood that we are responsible for how we use the provided technology and that there are consequences for break those expectations.

This same mindset needs to be taken with our students. I’ve been fortunate to work in a 1-to-1 student to tech ratio in my current school. Each of my students has been given a Chromebook to use throughout the school year. Our district has invested in this opportunity for our students knowing that knowledgeable use of technology is an important skill for any and all career fields.

Teachers are encouraged to push the boundaries of normal by considering web-based textbooks and learning tools that can be interwoven in the classroom to broaden critical thinking and creativity. Since all of the students have the same device, we can create a level working environment. We spend time developing and defining what digital citizenship means, and we work with our kiddos to develope a list of acceptable use guidelines that steer them away from the dependence on cell phones and social media.

This doesn’t mean it’s just perfect at our school all the time. There are still issues, and kids push the boundaries, but the opportunities to do so are limited. We have worked to engage our students in a way that keeps them focused on the projects and lessons in the classroom environment and have provided technology separate from the phones in their pockets or back packs. Having a technology “bag” for phones is a fix for sure, but it doesn’t hold the school responsible for engaging the students in a way that prevents them from using their phones in an unproductive way. It gives teachers an out from working to enhance teaching styles that help students focus on the learning and less on Snapchat  and Instagram.

This cell phone issue is highlighting the need for a shift in education. Students need to be more engaged in their own learning and teachers need to work to build learning opportunities that connect with students in a far more interesting way than the traditional methods many are holding on to. Once the work environment shifts to a more dynamic, creative, and student driven style, the cell phone issue will go away. Until then, cell phone pouches only mask the true issue and keep learning stuck in old methodologies. So maybe we need to shift the conversation away from cell phones as the problem and focus more on how we can encourage are schools and teachers to be more engaging with the content that is delivered.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please head to my Facebook page and leave a comment, or use the comment section below.




Thursday, February 22, 2018

This is my 40

On the eve of my 40th birthday, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies. I had stepped outside into a beautiful snow fall to do a “cart run” at my part-time job at a local grocery store. The parking lot was mostly empty, and the night sky was magical with the large snowflakes falling.  I imagined one of my favorite scenes from the movie as the main character, George, runs through the Main Street of town happily yelling “Merry Christmas” to everyone and everything.

It’s at this point in the movie that George had just finished an amazing reflection on his life. He was a dad, a husband, and friend. But he had always envisioned bigger things for himself. He had anticipated a different life than what he was waking up to. His daily life stressors combined with the fantasy life he envisioned for himself led to unhappiness. George had narrowed his focus to only what he didn’t have from that dream life. He was at a breaking point when he found himself in the amazing life reflection where he saw all he was able to accomplish; all the lives he had positively impacted by being himself.

I thought about all of this as I pushed a line of shopping carts through the snow. My yellow reflective jacket with the grocery store name shining in the street lights. My hair collecting snowflakes. This moment was not at all what I expected. To be a part-time cashier to make extra money was never in my plan. But it’s also part of my story that I’m proud of. I’m working hard for my crew because that’s what we need. My kids get to see my wife and I hustle to provide and to give back.

And I know that I’m on the right path when my students want to tell me about the exciting things happening for them; when my coworkers at the grocery store wave with big smiles as I walk up for my shift; when my kids run up to give me a hug before I leave to work for the night; or when my wife puts out a survey for my family, friends, and coworkers to fill out for my birthday and over 50 people sign up to share amazing memories, thoughts, and love for this 40 year old.

No, this is never what I expected, and in some ways it’s harder than I wanted, but man, I’m proud of where I’m going and all I get to do each day. I can definitely say that it’s a wonderful life. #theteacherdadis40

Me w/ my Zuzu





Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday Favorites... totally sick!

By the time I posted last week’s Teacher Dad Friday Favorites, I had called out sick from work. It was aweful! I swear that I hadn’t been that sick in more than 15 years. Shaking, chills. I seriously wanted to cry, and my kids thought I was going to have to go to the hospital. I was in bad shape.

That Friday morning I went to see the Nurse Practitioner that has become my medical person locally. She’s part of a larger group of health care providers in our area, so there is a bit of a network she’s a part of. That being the case, they have created (or use) an online system for messaging with patients, providing billing info, and keeping track of records. It’s similar to online grade books that teachers can use for communicating with parents.

So after seeing my FNP Friday morning, I left knowing that my rapid strep test was negative and that I’d have to wait all weekend to know anything more. But, with this MyChart system, I knew Sunday that my throat culture was positive for strep, and by 9am Monday my FNP had messaged me to let
me know my prescription would be waiting for me at my pharmacy! It was great, and incredibly convenient.


I even had to message her about getting a medical release to go back to work, and she was able to provide one to me online to print out with out having to go back in. I will admit that prior to this experience, I had been reluctant to sign up for MyChart. I couldn’t see why it would be helpful. But now, it’s definitly one of my new favorite things!

Thanks to The Vancouver Clinic and it’s use of MyChart! And FNP Heather, you rock! Thank you for your medical care and getting me back on my feet.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ambitious... is that the right word?

It’s easy to imagine how hectic the home life of a family of 7 can be. Throw in teaching, blogging, part time work, small business ownership, and coaching and I’m sure your head is spinning. A normal response from someone I’m meeting for the first time is “whoa, that’s a lot; you must be tired” or “really, 5.. I can barely manage my life with 2”. My favorite all time response was: “Wow, you’re ambitious.”

I like to hold onto that “ambitious” label. I’m proud of that idea. My wife and I... ambitious:

We were ambitious when we moved from Denver to Atlanta for my wife to go to school. I had to find work. I struggled in a post 9/11 world. My wife worried for me, then her mom had a medical emergency, but came out smiling. I fought to pass a Praxis test to get into an Ed program; she was top of her photo class with a project inspired by the beautiful song “Round Here.” We felt far away. Worried about her mom, I rejoiced at my acceptance into an Ed licensure/masters program in her hometown. 

We moved. Drove all the way from GA to AK. She worked to find a job; I thrived on my new Ed path. I received my teaching license, and she worked as an after school program coordinator helping students get the support they needed. She was great, but wanted more. We started our family; I accepted my first teaching position. 

Our first kiddo was born, and she still worked. I taught and took a class here or there to complete my masters. Money was tight, but it didn’t need to be... debts had piled for school... moving.. life.. She followed her heart and started her photo business. First born wasn’t a fan of sleeping. He was sensitive to so many things. We were exhausted; I taught and went to night class. She carried, soothed, fed, built her business, and researched everything to help our boy. 

Tragedy.. we traveled 3 times to say goodbye to loved ones back in Chicago.. through sorrow grew hope; our fist baby girl. Her small business continued to grow. I change schools, but haven’t finished my masters.

We took a vacation. Life was great. Then more sorrow. So unexpected to not even get to say goodbye.  Rattled, we moved forward and planned a path to grow our family through adoption. Over a year later having shifted our plans, we have our twins. Money was tight, adoption expenses were high, but we did fund raisers.. it’ll be ok.

I finished and defended my masters project. Our 4 kiddos were great. Business was growing. But the school district was suffering. Pink slips and low moral. I began to feel like I was done. I looked for a new opportunity; we tried for another baby. It happened altogether a new opportunity and our new pregnancy. We moved from AK to WA.. the house didn’t sell, pregnancy was tricky, stress was rediculous. Healthy baby was born. Debts grew.. more moves for homes and a new school.. restarting a business.. 

Ambitious? I hold onto that, but maybe it was all just crazy. The fact that I’ve done it all with the same person at my side it just amazing. Of course we’ve argued, cried, said terrible things, thrown things, and I’ve slept on the couch a couple of times. But maybe that’s just what ambition is sometimes. It’s pushing yourself and your partner out of comfort zones to cause conflict that you then have to work through together. And I can tell you honestly that there was plenty of conflict through all of the “ambition” we’ve lived through, and some of it was down right aweful... but there is no other person in the world that I would have rather grown this life with than her. We continue to build our family on ambition and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.. but for the record, there will be no more actual moving! We’re staying put here.


*Side note: this week our oldest turns 12 marking the anniversary of my lovely wife becoming the greatest mom in the world. Happy BIRTH day!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Teacher Dad’s Friday Favorites

I’m excited to introduce my new weekly segment called “The Teacher Dad’s Friday Favorites.” Each Friday I’m going to feature something that I find to be a “go-to” for me as a teacher and/or as a dad. This could be a thing, or a place, or a thing at a place.... whatever I want to share each week. My hope is to introduce you to a something new that you might find just as interesting or helpful. It will also be a way to give a glimpse into my life as a teacher and father of 5.

The first thing I want to share has truly been a game changer for my family. Imagine the fun of being a dad and taking 5 kids grocery shopping. The fights about who stands on which part of the cart, or who the better helper is, or the common “are we done yet?” Buffered by the irritating “oh, don’t you have your hands full” and “some one’s in the dog house having to take the kids to the store.” The awkward fake laugh reply pails in comparison to the commenter’s own belly chuckle at there own poor sense of humor.

Natuarally, any chance I got to do the shopping at night or without my kiddos was one that I took. Then my glorious wife (yes she reads the blog.. hey honey) suggested that we try Fred Meyer’s ClickList. It’s wonderful. Plain and simple they do the shopping for you, walk it to your vehicle, load it and you drive away. Yes you have to pay, but it seriosuly takes you all of 10 min to drive up, get your groceries, and leave.


How it works:
1) Download the Fred Meyer App and link it to your Rewards card.
2) Set your favorite store location
3) Start shopping for your normal items. Leave a description of what you look for when picking
    things like produce or meat.
4) Check for digital coupons to save more money.
5) Check out and set your time for pick up.

Any items you order that they don’t have available will be substituted with a similar item if you permit it when you place your order. There are certain items I don’t do this for like our favorite tea, salad dressing, and laundry cleaners. But for most others this works just fine. The best part is that you pay whatever the best price is between what you ordered and the substituted item. For example, I always order the Fred Meyer brand almond milk, but when it’s substitued with a name brand we pay the cheaper price of the Fred Meyer brand.

I can’t ever envision going back to shopping the old way again. I hope wherever you are that you can use Fred Meyer’s ClickList or some version of it. It’s truly a game changer.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Teacher Dad: How to navigate the political landscape in your classroom.

The political landscape today is tough for educators to navigate. We feel restrained by the truth that public school teachers are NOT to be vessels for political messages. We are encouraged to stick to content, and only bring up current events if applicable to what is already planned for the classroom. As a math teacher, I see how easy it can be for teachers to stick to curriculum avoiding conversations that could ruffle the feathers of students and their parents. There is always a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I have to toe-the-line when it comes to voicing my own opinions regarding world politics.

However, there is another voice that screams the truth.. "I became a teacher to be a positive role model to the kids in my classes!" Because, in my mind, my ultimate goal each day to be a positive force for my students. My entire philosophy of education rests on building relationships with students by creating the trusting atmosphere students need to take academic chances. If they feel safe with their classmates in the learning environment that I'm in charge of, then they will be willing to open themselves to the mistakes needed to learn.

I'm good at this. My students trust me, and feel safe.. But now the world they look to outside of the school walls feels crazy to them. And who do they come to?.. I feel like I led you to the answer, but if you missed it.. they come to me or their trusted teachers. But we're trapped in the expectations of what a teacher should be.. and it isn't a person that talks politics with the students.

However.. I'm a smart guy, so I'd like to share with you the 3 ways you can deliver a positive message of acceptance, safety, and hope to the students without crossing that political line us teachers are advised not to cross.

1) Fairness: This may seem like a no-brainer to the best of us, but holy hell there are plenty of teachers that are simply not fair within their classrooms. At this point, it is vital that teachers display fairness to all students in every class each day. I make it a mission to discuss fairness with the students regarding decisions I make on how I grade things, how I accept late work, when I'm available for additional help, AND in maintaining order in the class. Every kiddo is treated the same respectful way, because that is the right way, NO the only way to handle things. In doing so, I'm demonstrating just how safe my classroom is for each person. That everyone is allowed the same opportunity for success, and that if someone is struggling it's up to us all to help. Because that is what fairness is. Helping others won't take away or hurt your grade. You'll still get that A, but now someone else has a chance for an A too... because you helped.

2) Creativity: This one is a little tougher at times, but work to find ways that the students can express themselves within the content area. Find ways the students can write more stories, do more art, make a song, write a play.. something that can get their creativity working. Especially in math class! Get them doing problems where they need to create something. Instead of a quiz one week, have them express their knowledge in a creative way. How can they show me they understand a concept by using an artistic form? This is an amazing way to shift the playing field for some of the students. Suddenly, those great quiz takers are having to re-think things and see their classmates in a different way. The artists thrive in getting to be the lead in a project that showcases their talents and highlights a different way to understand the math we're doing in the class. It's important to shift the lens sometimes, and finding ways to build creativity makes that happen.

3) Exploration: I've changed my teaching style over the years. I was once the typical direct instructor, but that doesn't really get the students to think. We need thinkers, problem solvers, and team players right now. With that in mind, my classes are asked to work in table teams to explore the new content together in place of me rambling on for 40 minutes. I create a set of problems that the students start with guiding them to understand the material. For example, when it came to solving systems of linear equations, they quickly learned that finding the point where two lines cross is easy with a given graph. But what if they had to find that point without a graph? What would they do? The table teams created their own methods. They figured it out using what knowledge they already had, and then problem solved. I KNOW.. right?! How cool. And yes, they figured out substitution, and then I blew their minds when I showed them elimination! But they were pumped to have done it on their own first! They critically thought out how to solve a problem together. They didn't just take what I gave them, and vomit it back on a page for me. They owned the problem and solved it!

Those three things are the backbone to bringing the positive, inclusive atmosphere students deserve in every classroom. Other important things to consider would be to find ways to have the students analyzing graphs and working in understanding data manipulations. Help them investigate how changing the scale used on a graph can warp the reality the data is showing. Create historical math problems, or better yet, put together an entire project on the Electoral College... I had one once. I put it together a made up election between Spongebob, and Shrek. I have to find that and update it...

Ultimately, own your classroom, and make it a safe place for everyone to take chances. Your classroom should reflect all of the best things you want for this world. I do all that I can to model what life should be like when my student leave. And, I encourage you to focus on the same, because that is what our students deserve.

Please use the comments section to share a story about a teacher that was your positive world influence. The teacher that you knew was working to make things better by simply being fair, creative, and exploratory with your learning.  And please share this post with your teacher friends. We're all in this together, and someone might need that reminder. Thank you!