A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What a private school teacher wishes he could say...

There was a Washington Post blog entry last May that someone suggested on Facebook: What If Finland's Great Teachers Taught in U.S. Schools? It was written by a leader in education in Finland, Pasi Sahlburg. I read a very interesting book last summer about Finnish (and other top performing) schools titled, The Smartest Kids in the World, so the question caught my eye. The article (and the book) are an interesting read.

One of the last paragraphs of the blog entry is pretty provocative...

To finish up, let’s do one theoretical experiment. We transport highly trained Finnish teachers to work in, say, Indiana in the United States (and Indiana teachers would go to Finland). After five years—assuming that the Finnish teachers showed up fluent in English and that education policies in Indiana would continue as planned—we would check whether these teachers have been able to improve test scores in state-mandated student assessments.
He finished the thought experiment saying that the Finnish teacher in Indiana would  be less effective and the American teacher in Finland would be more effective. Why? He posits that the American teacher in Finland would:

stand to flourish on account of the freedom to teach without the constraints of standardized curricula and the pressure of standardized testing; strong leadership from principals who know the classroom from years of experience as teachers; a professional culture of collaboration; and support from homes unchallenged by poverty.

Now we can spend time unpacking those ideas--the socioeconomic status of our kids and their success; administrators and the lens of classroom experience; and a 'culture of collaboration' in the teacher's lounges.

I'm not done with my own unpacking, but I will say I do agree with him on some cursory level. The school I teach at is considered successful. We regularly have a high percentage of National Merit awards each year. Our students receive millions of dollars in scholarships based on their academic prowess, athletic ability as well as leadership experience and potential. As importantly, we have college students who regularly come back to us and say they were prepared for the rigors of university.

We are successful, in large part because we meet the Finnish design. Teachers passionate about students and their subjects. My boss was a classroom teacher for 20+ years before joining the administration. Our school was founded on the concept that teachers are expected to be leaders and entrepreneurs in their classroom and should be given the respect and latitude that a leader/entrepreneur needs. We are expected to develop curriculum rather than receive it top-down from administrators. We have a wide range of families (wealthy to middle class; natural-born and naturalized; multi-faith...) on our campus, but there is a general understanding that there is a common goal--the student. We don't always agree how to achieve that goal, but the goal is to keep the student in the center of any conversation/collaboration. We are most definitely not perfect. We have challenges we need to deal with. We certainly don't have a ...

...This is where my friends remind me that I teach at a private school and that public school's have it much harder which makes it more difficult to fix.

And I agree. Sort of.

Normally, I would sit quietly, nurse my beer, and listen to the laundry list of reasons why public schools can't (fill in the blank)...

But, I am feeling a little froggy today and have decided that 2015 is the year of Mr. Mc--private school teacher. I know my thoughts on the subject are going to peeve a few people and I respect that. I am more than happy for this blog to be a spot for passionate dialogue on the issue of education. Actually, I would be delighted for it to be a place for passionate discussion. I told someone last night that I was thinking about shuttering the blog because it didn't seem worth writing anymore. This thread (why private schools are vital to  American education) may fall flat, but, well, there is learning in failure, isn't there. Besides, I'd rather shutter the blog knowing I tried to have a conversation.

So, today's thought is that many of the people who talk about private school education have no flippin' idea of the subject. To them I would (politely) ask: please shut your pie hole.

I have been teaching in a private school for ten years and, in as many years, I've listened to people (teachers, administrators, parents, ...) make statements about private schools which are stereotypically overbroad, dismissive to the point of being mean-spirited and just plain ignorant or stupid. (BTW-ignorant is when you speak with out the facts/stupid is when the facts are available, you just ignore them.)

If you do some research, you will find that there are several types of private school. Some are the toney East Coast Boarding school's most people think of when they hear private school--think Phillips Exeter School in New Hampshire. Some are school's of last resort for students with learning differences--think of The Greenwood School, featured in Ken Burn's The Address. Some are focused on specific fields like Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. Some are focused on training up students in a particular faith/denomination--think parochial schools. Most private schools fit somewhere in the middle of all of these.

If you think of Dead Poet's Society when you think of private schools, you are off by about six decades as well as a mile.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Trivia Crack and the History Teacher

I withheld as long as I could.

After several weeks of hearing about Trivia Crack, I succumbed. If you don't know the app, its Trivial Pursuit meets Wheel of Fortune meets Jeopardy. It is also addictive. I am currently playing about 10 games with friends at the same time.

Shock of shocks--my best area is history. Shock of shocks (the sequel)--my worst area is sports, followed closely by science.

Here is the question I have...Is Trivia Crack a useful tool for an educator. Its popular and fun to play, but does it (or any trivia game) show learning has taken place? In some ways, a comprehensive test (multiple choice, true and false, blah blah blah) is a kissing cousin to Trivia Crack isn't it? How well can you regurgitate data?

I prefer assessments which require more than just data regurgitation. Writing a paper. Analyzing a map, photograph or piece of art. Creating a podcast or documentary. Show me you know the data by showing me how you'd use the data.

Now, data regurgitation has a place in the classroom. The 'teachery' jargon is formative versus summative assessments. Formative assessments are those checks while you are in learning mode. Data regurgitation can be a useful formative tool. Summative is an assessment at the end--what did you learn and how can you use that information in a meaningful way? My feeling is that a summative assessment needs to go beyond data regurgitation.

I remember reading a story about a class that had an all-day project. A farmer unloaded a huge pumpkin to the school's doorstep. It was far too large to get the pumpkin in through the doors. So the student's worked all day to figure it our. They had to use math to figure out slope and calculate measurements. They had to communicate with each other by writing out questions and the corresponding answers in a way others could understand, interpret and respond to. They employed scientific method. They had to learn from mistakes without letting the mistakes consume them. In the end they had to report their findings, whether they were successful or not. As a teacher, its hard to manage chaos and not feel the need to jump in and 'help.' Its difficult as a parent as well. However, I love the idea that we hand the kids the keys and say, we trust you enough to get out of the way. To me, that is where you get a real assessment of the work you've done.

As I've been writing, I realized that this is a new thought for me. I've written about this idea before. Here is that link.

As I've said before, this is a place for me to dump ideas. So I can remember them again in the coming months. Consider these thoughts on assessment dumped...besides, my computer just let me know its my turn, pray I don't get sports or science this time.

BTW-happy holidays for the folks who read this blog.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Back to Before...

This blog was originally designed to record my experiences one summer at a professional development course (two actually). The Presidential Academy selected one teacher from each state and then brought us to Philly, Gettysburg and DC for one week each to discuss the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and the Civil Rights Movement. That was the inspiration of the blog's name--Declaration Address and Dream.

Today I had a little bit of a deja vu from 2011. Dr. Lucas Morel of Washington and Lee University presented for the Gilder Lehrman Institute. Dr. Morel was the lead professor for the Presidential Academy and when I saw his name on the literature, I knew I was signing up.

For the interested, a review of some of the posts from Summer 2011:

Big Arnold and Your Bike

Pictures from the Walking Tour

Gettysburg and History as Art

Photos From the Battlefield

Gettysburg National Cemetery

Talk May Be Cheap, But it is Necessary

John Brown, Domestic Terrorist

I Want to Like Woodrow Wilson, I Really, Really Do

Some Pictures From DC

A Day in the Senate

A Morning in the House

70 Hours in the Classroom, 9 Sites, Battlefields and Tours, 3300 Pages of Reading

In one of my posts that summer, I explained what I liked about Dr. Morel's teaching style:
What I like about sitting in one of Dr. Morel's lectures is that there is an expected give and take. He asks questions looking not necessarily for the right 'answer' but an answer that gets us on the field and moving toward that answer. To participate, you have to know the material, not in a regurgitated ATM sort of way but an organic way of moving toward a concept or big idea. Its a teaching style which encourages participation and requires preparation. You want to get in the game. It is a pleasure to listen to what the other participants have to say about the Lyceum Speech or in response to the handbill pronouncing Lincoln an atheist.
It is a style I both enjoy and try to emulate. I can say that on several of the few moments I consider my most successful as an educator-this is the style I have employed.

I didn't get a chance to say thank you to Dr. Morel today, so let this post be that--Thank you Dr. Morel.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My kingdom for a speech, a slam poem and a sonnet...

After two weeks of wresting, my students have selected their historic speeches. They will research them this quarter and them work on them as orators in the next. On the way to their selection, something interesting happened. My rule was that no speech could be repeated each hour, which left the possibility that some of the speeches would be delivered three times; one for each hour. This year, no student is preparing the same speech.

None. Nada. Zip.

One of the things I've learned through the Ford's process is how long real professional development can take. During the first year of the program, I was just holding on for dear life. I am proud of the work we did that year, but most of its success was the Teaching Artist, Jojo. Last year was more of a partnership with our new Teaching Artist, Victoria. I took more leadership and we added sonnets. This year, this semester, I have taken more of the helm and Victoria is more a champion for me as a teacher of oratory than a teacher of oratory of herself. Her real work will be in the second semester as we partner together as coaches for our young charges. After two years of doing this, one thing which I thought I needed to change was how much time students had picking speeches, as well as trying to match the DNA of the speaker to the DNA of the speech. I have to admit to being a little surprised to how smoothly that went. These speeches ar both good fits for the individual kid as well as ones they are genuinely excited to work on.

Another surprise has been my exploration of slam poetry. I'm fifty and an old dog in so many ways, but spoken word performance has me smitten. The clips above and below are some of what I've found. I am looking forward to pairing spoken word with sonnets next semester. Could be either a big hot mess or brilliant.

Either way, we'll learn something. That's the point, isn't it?

BTW-I have been triple double dog dared to write my Ford's speech as a spoken word poem. I'm not sure if I can do it, but I keep you posted.

What speeches did my charges select, you ask? If you have a chance, google a few of the ones you don't recognize. I am so excited to see where my kids take these.

RFK, “On the Assassination of MLK, Jr.”
Daniel Webster, “Bunker Hill Oration”
Emma Watson, “Gender Equality is Your Issue, Too”
Michael  Jordon, “Hall of Fame Enshrinement” Speech
Hillary Clinton, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”
FDR, “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
Patrick Henry, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”
Michelle Kwan, “Worldly Wisdom to Grads” Speech
Malala  Yousafzai, “Address to the UN”
Lou Gehrig, ”Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth”
Neil Gaiman, “Commencement Speech to University of the Arts Philadelphia”
Savannah Brown, “What a Guy Looks for in Girls—A Response”
JFK, “Ask What you Can Do For Your Country”
Hellen Keller, “Strike Against War”
Ronald Reagan, “First Inaugural”
Ronald Reagan, “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall”
Cal Ripken Jr., “Farewell to Baseball”
Lily Myers, “If I Should Have a Daughter”
MLK, Jr., “There Comes a Time When People Get Tired”
Severn Suzuki, “1992 UN Earth Summit Speech”
Ron Paul, “Farewell to Congress” Speech
Charles B. Morgan Jr., “Four Little Girls Were Killed”
Sarah Kay, “Tshotsholoza”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The Solitude of Self”
Harvey Milk, “You’ve Gotta Have Hope”
JFK, “Let Them Come to Berlin”
Lily Myer, “Shrinking Woman”
Aung San Suu Kyi, “Freedom From Fear”
Fredrick Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July”
Lucy Stone, “A Disappointed Woman”
Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Abraham Lincoln, "Second Inaugural"

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Podium Point Six--Fake it till ya make it!

Last year, or the year before, I posted on this blog five essays on five of the podiums points suggested by Ford's Theater. If you want to review, here they are:

Podium Point One: Whoa, not so fast...
Podium Point Two: "Stay offa First will ya"
Podium Point Three: "Twy vewy vewy hahd not to destwoy uth."
Podium Point Four: "...and I believed him because he was a basketball fan..."
Podium Point Five: "What happened last year?"

These podium points are for the vocal end of public speaking. There are four for the physical end of public speaking. I thought I would chat about those this year.

I'm tackling the one I have the most problems teaching first. Not for any other reason than I found the video above and Dr. Cuddy does my job for me. This will totally change how I prep kids for their speeches. Fake it until you make it sound trite and ineffective. However, her research says differently.

Presence--"The speaker's energy and connection with the audience. Does his or her presence reflect confidence? Is the speaker welcoming the audience with what he or she has to say?" I took that direct from the Ford's handout. How do you teach confidence. Practice helps with confidence but, how many of my students have practiced twice as much as their counterparts only to struggle on the day of the speech. Its heart-breaking to watch. Now I have a tool.

body language

Will let you know how it works.

There is no real reason for this particular image. While it does relate to the TEDtalk, I just like it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hope and a Holocaust essay...

Detail from a display at the Dallas Holocaust Museum (source: Dallas Holocaust Museum)

It has been more than a month since my last confession...

...oh, wait...

Its been more than a month since my last blog post.

We are in the thick of the school year. My schedule has changed so I find myself with less time during the day (and evening) to write. I think I have the new rhythm worked out and I miss writing. It is a useful way for me to get ideas out of my brain.

Lucky you!

I 've been researching the Holocaust for a project I've been working on and I keep finding myself thinking that this or that moment is a ugly as humanity can get...and then I read or watch further and realize it can get uglier.

There is a movie I show in European History from the BBC which does a great job of telling the story without making it ghoulish to watch. Its appropriate for seventh graders and is an effective springboard for discussing the Holocaust.

As I was researching, I came upon a 2011 movie by Uwe Boll. the clip below is more a 'making of...' trailer.

There is a trailer for the movie, but I can put it on my blog. It is too disturbing for the age group of kids I teach and since sometimes they wander onto this site, I will pass. Boll is been taken to task over the graphic nature of the movie in several articles like this one from the UK's The Guardian. What I have seen of it is unflinchingly accurate. Still...

That was one of the challenges of writing essays for the grant. Auschwitz is important of because what happened there and I don't want it sugar-coated. I want my students to confront the shadow-side of humanity. That being said, there is a limit. What is interesting is that the more I read about the death camp, the more moments of hope I found. The violence isn't blunted but, I keep reading stories of those who survived and the actions of those who died there and the humanity they showed.

One of the tasks for the essays was to watch several of the clips by the USC Shoah Foundation; footage of survivors telling their stories. In this first clip, Betty Gold talks about hiding in a cave, sure that they were going to be killed that night. I can't even imagine... In the second clip, Shalon Yoran recounts his mother's last words to him:

"Go. Fight. Survive. And tell the people of the world what happened here. And take revenge of our death."

I am not a fan of the word revenge. However, maybe Mr. Yoran's revenge can be in knowing that a teacher a world away has been inspired by his story and his mother's words and is going to share them with his students to show that hatred and cruelty may win in the short term, but hope and kindness prevail in the end.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A map literally dripping with anger

States Names, Jaune Quick-to See Smith, 2001
Smithsonian American Art Museum
I have used this piece of art before in class and I was wondering if I needed to put away this year. I started using artwork consistently in 2011 and so this was year four for this piece. Its a great way to start the year and I knew the kids would get into it. I just wasn't sure what new things we would find after nearly 150 young eyes had already explored it.

I was wrong! I just needed fresh eyes to show me.

I wrote about this painting and my students experiences with it first in 2011. A link to that post is here. Each year, I have had students analyze it and they notice things new each year. This year, the insights to add are:

The oceans are black, but the artist made the lakes white. Why?
The blue paint drips in the Gulf of Mexico look like their showing the route of a ship going south.
The eastern seaboard was painted, then painted over in white and then dripped in paint.
It looks like the painting is melting, like crayons, not paint dripping.
Canada and Mexico look like they were intentionally painted white. The US has all those colors.

There were heated discussions of how the dripping was achieved. There were several questions about they meaning of the painting: climate change, time zones, unity, sadness.

After were explored the painting, I found a video of Ms. Smith talking about this painting:

It sparked a discussion on how the different European nations built empires. Spaniards conquered for God and for gold. The French explored in small parties call 'coureur de bois' and built partnerships with the Native Americans in the St. Lawrence Basin, Great Lakes and Misssissippi River. Because England never had a specific policy in their colonization (each colonizing group had their own specific charter), there was a never a consistent policy on how to deal with the Native Americans. So you see a little of both tactics-in some cases, they partnered with the 'Indians', in other cases, they tried to dominate the first inhabitants.

Not bad for the first week of school and photocopy of a painting. Guess I keep it in starting line up for next year.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Days Before the Day Before...

Rock-em Sock-em: The 'ideal' of America in conflict with the reality we have to live in.
As I headed into my classroom, I left my sons at home asleep this morning for probably the last time this summer. Our first report day as a teacher was last week and we had a couple good in-service day. For those of you who think that there is no such animal as a good in-service, I have seen one and I refuse to settle for less in the future. Day one had a speaker from Washington University, Jill Stratton. She talked about flow. Flow is the idea around working at high capacity--in the zone, if you will. She was high energy and engaging and what she had to say resonated with the staff.

The next day, we talked about learning modes and differentiation. For the non-teachers thinking of hari kari, think about the way you learn best. Do you understand things better when you see things; when you touch them; or when you hear them? Learning modes and differentiation is all about helping students learn in their best manner. Its also about helping them develop skills to adapt when their best mode isn't the mode being used. The presenter, Rick Reed, is a teacher in McPherson, Kansas. He is high energy, has a great sense of humor and has an interesting resume. He is a Madison Fellow who teaches AP Government, but went back to get a Special Education certification so he could be a better teacher. He teaches AP in a manner that is intriguing. I've already made plans to visit his classroom to watch him in his natural habitat. he did something I hadn't seen, before. He got teachers on the second day of an in-service to play at three in the afternoon. they were fully engaged. My colleagues are passionate about their crafts and want to be the best teachers they can be, but day two of an in-service is usually grueling; it was the most engaged I've seen from a school training ever. Impressive.

Friday was the Ice Cream Social. Kids received their schedule, decorated their lockers and generally caught up with each other. It was fun to see kids back in the hallways again. It was also nice to have my classroom around. I still have loads of stuff to get done before all of the kids are here on Wednesday, but the room is ready. The rest will come if I can find my zone. That will require me getting off this blog, so...

In case you are wondering, Mr. Madison took a tumble a couple years ago. The company who makes them has him in their 'retired' group. Have been looking for a new one, but to no avail. I tried to glue him but his legs aren't having any of that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thoughts on New York #3-A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar...

This will probably be the last of my reflections on NYC. Today was the first report day for teachers at school and so I will be knee deep in students soon. I've had a great summer, but I am ready to start back up. I've curious to see where this year will take us.
As I've said, almost everything I know about New York City comes from the movies. I had forgotten one though. It is called Keeping the Faith. Edward Norton, Ben Stiller and Jenna Elfman star. Norton is a priest. Stiller is a rabbi. Elfman is the friend from middle school who moved away, but is moving back. It is charming. It also speaks cogently about faith in a way most films never do. These are men who are genuinely called to ministry and its fun to watch them with their congregations and each other. Besides, Norton does the best Rain Man impersonation ever.
The reason this film fits the NYC theme is it is set in the city and the city is such a large part of it. They go everywhere in the city and it looks like it did when I was there. Trash. Mystery moisture. There is a scene where the priest and rabbi are having a very serious conversation at a stop light. The bit is vintage NYC. Here is the trailer:

Here are the last few photos (admitted, some of them may have already made it onto the blog). Think of them as my last gasp before the new year begins.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Thoughts on NYC #2--Selling you the Brooklyn Bridge

One of the oddest moments in New York City, for me, was seeing places I could immediately identify. The Chrysler Building. Empire State Building. The New York Subway. Central Park. I was in NYC for a weekend 25 years ago, so how did I recognize them? Movies.  




To quote Yogi Bera, "It's deja vu all over again," last Saturday when I walked a few blocks from the World Trade Center Memorial and tripped into the Brooklyn Bridge. I knew immediately where I was when I saw it. Thanks to, Ghostbusters, I Am Legend, The French Connection and Enchanted. It was funny. I was watching TV a couple days before I left for the conference and the movie, The Seige was on. The synopsis from Internet Movie Database: "The secret US abduction of a suspected terrorist leads to a wave of terrorist attacks in New York that lead to the declaration of martial law." It was released in 1998, 30 some months before the attacks on 9-11. So, as I was walking the bridge, that was one of the thoughts. If you look at the poster you see the Bridge as well as the twin towers. Its chilling to think that things so dominant no longer exist except in photographs and movies. I posted my thoughts from the memorial when I was there.. 
Alright, there are also a lot of movies which have used the Brooklyn Bridge as a backdrop for good, as well. One of my favorite movies is On The Town. Its IMDB synopsis: "Three sailors on a day of shore leave in New York City look for fun and romance before their twenty-four hours are up." Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Here is a clip-the Brooklyn Bridge makes a guest appearance.

In my search for that clip, I found this one for the new Broadway version of the movie. Pretty cool re-creation.
BTW- as a note... the phrase 'Selling you the Brooklyn Bridge' comes from a con man named George C. Parker. His story is here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thoughts on NYC #1

Normally, I write as I go. I try to keep up the blog day to day when I'm traveling. NYC was different for some reason. I have some thoughts as to why, but the reality is that I'm still unpacking the conference and the information and the experience in NYC. I will post more as I'm ready, but I thought I would unload some initial thoughts and images today. These are my more tourist-y impressions. I'll post some teacher thoughts later.

1. Pack a lunch for your trip to The Met.

I love the almost architectural vibe of this piece.

This is an El Greco of a saint, but It looks like John Brown became a pope.

I love that this painter is looking right at you. Its a detail from a larger painting, but it really struck me.

Everywhere you turn in this wing there are heads of people. This one stood out for just the opposite.

This may sound like a negative, but its not. The Met is too large for a one day visit. In DC, the Smithsonian Institution is divided into individual museums and you can make it though one of them in a morning, for the most part. There is always more to see and I would recommend multiple visits, but it can be done. A morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will get you through maybe 10-20 percent of the museum. One of the highlights of my week was lunch on the steps and 40 minutes of free time in the galleries. I went back to areas we had already explored or sought out new wings to wander through. I did that every day and am still sure I missed stuff.
2. New York City ain't normal.

Time Square from several blocks away

In the thick of Time Square

All of the Broadway theaters are just off of Time Square. Almost right on top of each other.

The number of A-list movie stars on Broadway was larger than I had thought. Don't know if that is a good or bad thing, but ...

The electric bill must be staggering. This is one block in about six-all that wired.

I've had the chance to travel to large cities and so I thought I was prepared for  NYC. I was not. I can give you a laundry list of what I liked and what I didn't, but often what I liked about the city and didn't like occupied the same space. For example: Time Square is impressive. It houses these gems of theaters and stimulates you visually in a way I have never encountered. But is also more crowded that this small city boy enjoys and there is a general smell like a ripe diaper.

3. Greenspace is gold in NYC!

A softball game in Central Park

Central Park

Central Park

A park near the Brooklyn Bridge

The reservoir in Central Park

Washington Square

I take parks for granted. You can't in New York City. I was surprised at how many people congregated in all of the parks in the city. Washington Square, Union Square, Madison Square Park, Central Park... It was where people met up and hung out. In Wichita, a park has a completely different function. That's not a judgment either way, it just is. But in NYC, there was never a time that there wasn't someone in one of these parks. It made for great people watching.