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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Class size and cliched movie metaphors....

Just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath. Says a lot about education. One of his points is that class size isn't important in determining success. His argument is that there is a benefit when the classes are too large but after a point, not only is the benefit lost, but too small is just as problematic for the class as too large. Here is a sample of his graph.

This idea seems counterintuitive and is certainly not how schools are marketed--the small the size, the better the instruction--more personalized. That is the norm, right?

Here is the deal, though. I think Gladwell (and score of other researchers) are right. 

My best year-long experience in a class has been in a class of about 15. My worst was in a class of six. My larger classes tend to be a more mixed bag: male:female, strong:middling:weak students, learning styles and differences. We do a lot of collaboration and discussion in my class and we need a diverse group for the best work to be done. 

The small class I mentioned was all male, all high achieving and not particularly racially diverse. I was so excited for the small class but left many days feeling exhausted by it. The discussions were mediocre and the group work felt 'lowest common denominator.' They all earned good grades but I didn't feel as if I challenged them to be better students or citizens. This experience was early in my career and I know I would do things differently now.  But...

Part of the problem was size. Sometimes students need a place to just be. They want to be seen and heard but not front and center all the time. This is true of both introverted and extroverted students. Sometimes you just want to be let be; to let someone else do the heavy lifting for a minute. Sometimes you need time to process what you are hearing and thinking. Sometimes you need white space to think through a challenging statement; a safe place to wrestle with a new idea. I honestly believe adding even a few more students would have been helpful. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Are teachers getting in the way of learning?

As I finished this post, I realized that I have talked about the Independent Project before... here is that previous post. The video is new though.

I have a feeling I'm going to upset someone with this post. And I am making peace with that.

This video is put together by a student at an a school affiliated with The Independent Project. The program started in Massachusetts as an alternative school. This Huffington Post article does a good job of explaining it (watch the video with it as well). The gist is that students decide on a Monday what they want to learn and then spend the week wrestling with it. On Fridays, students present their findings.

I know, it sounds like kids would just dink around all week but, the administrators of the program found that students held themselves and each other accountable, and the end of week outputs exceeded the state standards. There are requirements for the weekly exploration and there are teachers who help facilitate the learning, but students research what students are curious about.

Yes, the format raises some obvious questions and red flags, but before babies go out with bath water...

Think about facilitating students as they teach themselves.

Think about engaging with students who are curious and fearless and interested in more than regurgitating data on a test.

Think about seeing students as more than data points to be manipulated.


Friday, November 22, 2013

People who dismiss Middle School kids don't spend much time with Middle School kids!

I love my job!

We are in the middle of the section on the Constitution and I am in hog heaven. We have spent the week looking at the Bill of Rights and the last couple of days on a Supreme Court decision from the 80s. The discussions yesterday and today are why I teach. They are engaged--they have been arguing the case in other classes as well! They are well versed on the Fourth Amendment and are asking great questions...

  • Student's Rights versus 'School Environment'
  • What happens when you search for one thing and find something worse?
  • When should parents be notified when  a student is suspected of violating a school policy? A crime?
  • Should students expect to have any privacy while at school?
  • Are teachers agents of the parents or agents of the states?

One of the beauties of these discussions is at this age is they still live in a state of idealism. What is right is what is fair and they don't tend to see a lot of 'gray'. I get to play devil's advocate and they get really frustrated with me when I change sides on a dime.

To invoke Thanksgiving--they are gobbling up the debate. They see how complicated it is to protect our rights and are up for the challenge! The want to understand and are more than capable of coming up with their own opinions.

Dismiss them at your own peril.

When people wax on about the state of education and young people, I smile. They don't see what I see. Wax on...just know that we are fine. There are issues to be sure, but there are always issues to deal with. How we deal with them is the better discussion. We look back nostalgically on our youth and forget something:

They aren't like us but, hell, we weren't like us either.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ok, watch this video at your own risk. I can't get it out of my brain.

I am not speaking ill of the work "Mr. Beats" does. Teaching is hard enough without teachers baggin' on each other. He uses the tools he has and goes above and beyond what most teachers do and so he is a rock star in my book.

If you go to Mr. Beat's channel, you will find a low tech Crash Course sort of presentation. The information is fine but its not as flashy as what John Green puts out. I was showing a documentary on Nicodemus to my 7th Grade History students and came across Mr. Beats channel. I gotta give it to him that he puts himself out there for his students and there is a sense of humor in the videos. We had a few minutes and so I pulled up the above video for Taft.

The video was a hit.

The original song is a hoot. The kids were singing, "Taft, Taft, Taft, ... Taft, Taft, Taft..." on their way out and learned he was the only president to be on the Supreme Court as well as a frienemy of Teddy Roosevelt. (Also that he got stuck in a bathtub but we won't speak of that. Us, husky guys gotta stick together!)

It was icing on a great day of teaching. We studied New Jersey versus TLO in American History and had some of the best discussions I have this year in all three classes.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address will just have to wait!!!!

This Day in History is killing me!

We are spending this week talking about the Bill of Rights in class. Anyone who knows me knows that is one of my favorite weeks as a teacher. We have wrestled with the Constitution and the ratifying conventions, which is fun. But...THE BILL OF RIGHTS!!!

The dilemma this year is that today is the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address. 150 years. A century and a half. I had a lesson plan worked out and was going to take a daytrip to the address from the Bill of Rights. And then the kids started asking question about search and seizure and speedy trial and why Kansas doesn't have Grand Juries and I realized that Lincoln was going to wait. I always spend a few days with the Address so it will get its day in the sun.

The videos above are similar to ones I'm using in class this week. They are put together by the Annenberg folks and the data is good and the people they are interviewing are top drawer. The part I am digging, however, are the graphics and videos they are using in the background. They have found every bad educational video we were forced to sit through and used them in a way that works. They are so unintentionally bad that they are perfect for the videos.

I like the one I'm using better than these but it didn't have a YouTube video. The one I'm using is The Story of the Bill of Rights. It has to be created by the same people who made Let Freedom Swing, which offers the thesis that Jazz and democracy share improvisation as a key attribute. I will use it in the spring as we go deeper in what it means to be a citizen.

BTW-Ken Burns has a new documentary on the Gettysburg Address and how it is used in a school in Vermont. One of the offshoots of the movie is Learn the Address. I love this idea! On the anniversary of the Address, I will leave you with one this 'mashup' from that website.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Doing our job by not doing our job...

A teacher friend whom I look up to posted are article on coaching teachers (Chad's Blog--Learning is Messy). In that post, he look at what one researcher states are the needs of adult learners. That list is posted below but with a little Chad-twist...he's replaced 'adult' with 'student'.
    • Students want to be the origin of their learning and want control over the what, who, how, why, and where of their learning. 
    • Students will commit to learning when they believe the objectives are realistic and important for their personal and professional needs. 
    • Students need to see that what they are learning is applicable to their day to day activities and problems.
    • Students  need to see very clearly the relevance of what they’re being asked to learn. 
    • Students need to have some say in what they’re doing.
    • Students  need direct, concrete ways to apply what they have learned to their work.
    • Students (like adults)  need to feel emotionally safe in order to be able to learn.
His argument is that while all of those are needs of adults, how are student's needs any different?

I agree.

Its their education. Our job is as a cheerleader and coach and placeholder for them as they figure out how to be their own learners. When we take over for them (either as a parent or teacher) we deny them a chance to guide themselves into maturity. When we as teachers look for the lowest common denominator as the standard to teach toward, we inadvertently say to our charges that mediocrity is the same thing as success.  My concern is that our fear that students experience anything other than success places them in a situation that we impair their ultimate ability to be successful.

Thought experiment: How many of us as adults look back at the events in our lives which made us stronger, smarter, more mature and better people and see events in which we were only marginally involved? We were sitting in a chair listening passively and shazookum... it happened. The magic eight ball says 'the odds are low'.

I won't speak for anyone else but I've had to work hard to be a better student, better teacher, better dad and husband, ... insert whatever role you'd like there. I've been forced to confront ideas and realities I thought were beyond my comprehension; to do things I was sure were beyond my abilities. Sometimes, in response to those challenges, I succeeded and learned I was more than I thought I was. Often I didn't succeed and I learned that taking that leap didn't kill me. Mistakes are the best lesson plans. There is a great line from a song,

Each game of chess means there's one less/
Variation left to be played
Each day got through means one or two/

Less mistakes remain to be made." 

I didn't do it alone; supportive adults abounded in my life. They challenged and encouraged and pissed me off on more than one occasion--they pushed me to learning at more than just a baby step pace. They expected more out of me than I did myself until I was ready to.

Why do we deny that to our students?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dante and teacher conferences...

I'm sitting here in parent teacher conferences. Don't be jealous! I have two days of these puppies...again, don't hate!

I actually like them for the most part. Education is a partnership and the best ones come from all three parties (student-parent-teacher) playing well in the sandbox. Most of the parents wants what's best for their kids. So do teachers. If that is the common denominator, then even the most difficult conference is a 'good conference".

The conferences where teacher, parent or student have axes to grind--Dante couldn't envision a ring of Hell for those.  Those are the conferences which give conferences a bad name.  Those are the exceptions, not the rule and so should be treated as such.

Well, its my tun to talk ....

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Declaration videos I love...

Earlier today, I told the kids about all the great video choices for this moment history. More than I can show in class. They asked for them all in one place...here they are. The podium points I promised are down below. Enjoy!

Declaration of Independence videos I like:
A music video from Soomo Publishing
The complete Declaration as interpreted by 90s/00s actors
This is from the musical 1776. A singing and dancing TJ, Adams and Franklin. What's not to love?
The best for last. The moment between when Georgia votes and the public reading ... they say so much without a word being spoken. Brilliant.
Podium Point post from a previous epoch
Podium Point #1--Whoa, not  so fast...
Podium Point #2--Stay offa First, will ya...
Podium Point #3--Podium Point #3: "Twy vewy vewy hahd not to destwoy uth." ...
Podium Point #4--"...and I believed him because he was a basketball fan." ...
Podium Point #5--" What happened last year?"...

Is that a woman in the boat?

Washington Crossing the Delaware

  Emanuel Leutze, 1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)
As we work through the Revolutionary War, my students and I wrestle with this painting: Washington Crossing the Deleware by Emauel Leutze. This painting is roughly twelve feet by twenty one feet and images of it do not do it justice. We wrestle with the painting as a whole, but mostly with the figures in the boat. With no background knowledge of the Deleware River, the Battle of Trenton, fashion of the 18th Century, and art composition, they notice things:
  • Is that a women in the boat? Would she really have been there?
  • Why is Washington standing? Isn't that dangerous?
  • Why are they all dressed differently. Why are some in uniforms and other not? What's the deal with free black man and the guy with beret. Would they have really been in the boat?
  • Who is the guy behind Washington?
When students are engaged, they are a force to be recconned with. All three classes had great questions and offered impressive guesses as to Leutze's choices in this retelling of the crossing. At the end of this exercise we read an except (below) from Fischer's Washington Crossing. They are always surprised at how much of the painting the understood. They don't know how to articulate what they see, but they notice none the less.
The painting is familiar to us in a general way, but when we look at it again its details take us by surprise. Washington's small boat is crowded with thirteen men. Their dress tells us that they are soliders from many parts of America, and each of them has a story revealed by a few strokes of the artist's brush. One man wears the short tarpaulin jacket of a New England seaman; we look again and discover that he is of African descent. Another is a recent Scottish immigrant, still wearing the Balmoral bonnet. A third is a an androgynous figure in a loose red shirt, maybe a woman in man's clothing, pulling at the oar.
At the bow and stern of the boat are hard-faced western riflemen in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings. Huddled between the thwarts are farmers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in blanket coats and broad-brimmed hats. One carries a countryman's double barrel shotgun. The other looks very ill, and his head is swathed in a bandage. A soldier beside them is in full uniform, a rarity in this army; he wears the blue coat and red facings of Haslet's Deleware Regiment. Another figure wears a boat cloak and an oiled hat that a prosperous Balitmore merchant might have used on a West India Voyage; his sleeve reveals the facings of Smallwood's silk-stocking Maryland Regiment. Hiden behind them is mysterious thirteenth man. Only his weapon is visible; one wonders who he might have been.
The dominant figures in the painting are two gentlement of Virginia who stand tall above the rest. One of them is Lieutenant James Monroe, holding a big American flag upright against the storm. The other is Washington in his Continental uniform of buff and blue. He holds a brass telescope and wears a heavy saber, symbolic of a stateman's vision and a soldier's strength. The artist invites us to see each of these soldiers as an idividual, but he also reminds us that they are all in the same boat, working desparately against wind and current. He has given them a common sense of mission, and in the stormy sky above them he has painted a bright prophetic star, shining through a veil of a cloud.
-taken from the introduction of Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer
I love my my job.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Talking to students as teachers versus coaches

I was in a conversation with a parent the other day. It was one of those informal ones; neither of us had it on our 'to do' list, but the casual chat has had me thinking of late.

The question: Can (Should) a teacher manage their classroom the way a coach manages their practice?

That was the jist of our conversation. I had said that I favor more of a coach's model of classroom management. You see a concern. You address that concern. You move on. I try to be aware of specific situations, but, generally, I'm going to deal with the issue in class and not in the hallway or after class. I'm direct. I'm respectful. It lasts seconds. We then go back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The parent really didn't have a problem with the approach perse but asked how students responded to it. I said that every once in a while a student misses that its a momentary correction and lets it spiral. In most cases, I can get them back in the midst of our conversation. I think, in those situations, they wonder if I'm really mad at them (I'm not) or have they lost face amongst their peers (no they have not).

I haven't done any research on best practices. Frankly, I'm not too worried about it. After almost a decade in the classroom, I think I have a good grasp of how I best manage a classroom. I want to get better  and wrestling with stufff like this on the blog helps me put voice to ideas.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

What Would You Bring to the New World?

These images are ones I took while at Jamestown a few years ago. The man in the pictures is Dr. Bill Kelso. He is the archeologist resopnsible for finding the 'real' Jamestown location in the 80s. He had been the lead archeologist at Monticello and they were one of our sponsoring organizations, so we were given a behind the scenes tour of all things Jamestown.

We have been exploring Jamestown and Plimoth Colony this week and one of the exercises we tried was one born from National Geographic article titled, What Would You Take to the New World. (BTW- Find the tab with the photography by Robert Clark. Exceptional.) The premise is simple enough, what would you take on the voyage. The students could bring one personal item and one item trade. Here is a sampling of their choices:

Weapon: knife, Swiss Army Knife, rifle, shotgun (preferably 12 ga.), gun, cannon, semi automatic M14 with adjustable stock, silencer and extended magazine, military care package, lots of rounds of ammunition,my Sig Sauer, machete

Electronics: iphone, laptop, my phone, Kindle, Surface

Jewelry: Jewelry (to trade), trinkets (to trade), diamonds, jewels,

Transportation: ATV, golf cart

Pets (including a horse and a pet tiger!)



Fishing Equipment



Friday, September 13, 2013

The Mayflower Haiku?

One of the most challenging parts of teaching research are texts above a student's current reading level. The textbook our eighth grade students read has a lexile level near what the average sophomore or junior can read and understand. So far, we've been wrestling with annotation and most students are becoming adept at finding the topic and its supporting facts in each paragraph. Its a skill they will hone over the next several few weeks as we begin our first research project and continue history onto the American Revolution.

One other way of reading texts is by looking at primary documents. This week we played around with the Mayflower Compact. There is a nice explanation of the document here.

We took the document in steps. Step one was to find the key words. Here is what we found:

Mayflower Compact
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant, and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names; Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord King James, of England, France and Ireland eighteenth and of Scotland fifty-fourth, Anno Domini 1620.

Step two asks us to take those words and sum up the document:

Christian colonists, signed below, on their way to Virginia, in serious attitude, promise to make and submit to decisions, both spoken and written, that will help keep the individual safe as well as for the good of the colony.

This is the summary 13- and 14-year olds came up with from their reflection on a document 400+ years old!!!

The third step asks them to make this their own by putting it in their own words. Ultimately, they may not use any of the words in the document (I let them fudge on the first one). After a few mistarts, I have found the best way to do this is to have them write a haiku or tweet of the document. If you can sum something in 140 characters and 17 syllables, you have a good scald on its understanding. Here is a sample of what they came up with:

civil body politic
is very interesting
and important

mayflower compact
the first new world document
makes life fair and equal

The mayflower compact shows equal laws and general good of colony #mayflowercompact

#mayflowercompact is a document that states people need to be treated = and laws are for =. we make up one civil body politic

voyage to 'ginia
coming into civil body politic
equal laws for general good

The Mayflower Compact is a document about the government and how we must submit to be acommunity. Sometimes we don't like it but its ok, we are a unit.

we Christian British
will survive with freedom in
our new colony

we make a voyage
plan to start a colony
promise to succeed

voyage in the colony
equal laws 'r important
submission 'n obedience

Yes, I know that they are using the words from the original and, yes, I know that they are killing the haiku meter and ...  but--when people ask me why I teach this age group its the moments in my class today they learned and understood. Its like catching lightning in a bottle...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Who cares about the War of 1812...

This shot was taken facing west from the top of the St. Louis Arch--St. Louis is the point of departure both before and after the War of 1812 for Westward Expansion

Ok, after a few weeks away from the USS Constitution and the NEH program I attended, I  may be ready to answer the question posed the first day of the seminar. I don't think my answer will make all the the 1812-ers happy, but it links into a more important question for me.

This is from the deck of the USS Constitution facing the Boston Harbor. By sending it east, we will be able to take much of the west.

Why teach the War of 1812 in the first place...

I am going to to admit that I don't always teach the War of 1812. There. I said it. In the past, I've had one semester to get through US History from the Colonies to Reconstruction. That means I barely touch on several decades of US History. In the era of instant access, I don't feel entirely bad about not teaching everything. Part of my goal is to give them tools to find the information when they actually need it.

I'm recalibrating my schedule and will have more time to teach US History and so wanted to attend the War of 1812 seminar to see what I should teach from this era. I sat through five full days of discussion and tours and I have a pretty solid grasp on the conflict. The struggle is that I'm becoming smitten not with the war itself but the legacy of the war. The war has some really interesting stories, like Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, Dolley Madison and the Landsdowne portrait, and USS Constitution among others. But there is no real gain to the war from a strategic sense. The real gain is the development of national narrative that is quintessentially American. The war gives us:

This model of the USS Constitution was presented to its captain after its success again the HMS Guerriere and HMS Java in 1814. It model is part of a maritime exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and has been used by historians to refurbish the actual boat.
This was Andrew Jackson's first home at The Hermitage in Nashville. After his success at the Battle of New Orleans propelled him into the national spotlight, a newer, more refined house was built on the property.

This is the front entrance to the new house. The challenge of photographing The Hermitage is that the trees which line the entry to the mansion are so large you get only a third of the house in your viewfinder.

I am playing with teaching the war in the context of westward expansion. Let me make sure I'm understood: it is not a war for expansion and we were expanding just fine before the war. The issues with the Native Americans over expansion is tangential to the war (See, I was paying attention in class, Dr. Hickey.). The real issue was the impressment of sailors. There is a notable Indian Wars segment to the war, but it's a lesser concern. The war is important because of what happens after the war and how the war is used by later generations as we continue to cobble a national identity together. Prior to the war, there is expansion; after the war it is expansion on steroids. The affect of the War of 1812 is that this new national identity requires a larger nation. That sends thousands out west, beyond the Northwest Territory to the 'new' west. The result of the war is that we begin to think about our 'God-given right' to 'sea from shining sea'--a Manifest Destiny. That sense has a shadow side to it which includes Jackson's Trail of Tears, the development of the Antebellum sensibility and rhetoric, as well as tensions with Spain and then Mexico.

We should care about the War of 1812 and I will let the naval historians, those smitten with the interior and Great Lakes theater have their day. I wonder, however, what would happen if I taught it backwards...the legacy first and then fill in the blanks with the great narrative stories of the war. Hmmm. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sumo historians

Several weeks ago at a history professional development I attended something happened that I have started to see as a trend. It isn't the first time and I'm not sure if I should be troubled by it. Since this is my place to put my thoughts, here they are.

The facilitator for the session was a historian who has been published in this area and I have no problem calling him an expert. His session was fine-content was good and he seemed like the kind of historian I would want my kids to meet. And then another historian took the stage.

The second historian agreed with the historian one on 90% of their content and offered some interesting ways to look at the subject. They finished and historian one proceeded to dissect the argument at a level well beyond what we needed as teachers. It was awkward to watch a Phd talk to another Phd in a way that felt dismmissive and rude. It struck me as odd but the other historian took it in stride and made his case, which was again dismissed.

I wouldn't have thought much about it except, at the next session, it happened again. And then again at the next session. Even during an Q and A with teachers, this historian dismissed any idea that wasn't in line with his premise in a way that felt combative. A teacher started to ask a question and was waved off and even growled at before he could finish his thought. 

By the end of the seminar, there was a running joke about historian one as the 'Sumo Historian'. There was talk at the beginning of the seminar of the honor of differing ideas and questions, but in the end, anyone who differed or questioned figuratively found 400 pounds of angry historian coming their way. His demeanor stopped the flow of conversation on the topic, which hurt the seminar. His need to be the only expert made him less of one.

Now, there are historians who are jerks. I've been to enough professional developments to know that. However, I think it has implications for me as a teacher. There is an old saw about economists which fits historians and teachers as well: ask five historians a question and you will get five answers (six if one went to Harvard). There are going to be different ways of interpreting facts, but how I do it as important as the facts themselves.
What I'm taking away is this:
  • Listening doesn't mean you agree, it means you're listening.
  • Just because you've heard the question before doesn't mean the asker is wasting your time.
  • A thesis almost aways has another viewpoint that can be explored.
  • The focus in education is not on the teacher but the learner--is what I'm doing getting in the way of that?
  • Passion for a subject is not an excuse for mean-spiritedness.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"One time...at EdCamp..."

The family pulled into the driveway on Friday night and by 8 a.m. on Saturday, I was seated in a chair at the Wichita State University Education Department for EdCamp. What was I thinking!

Edcamp is the brainchild of teachers in Philly a few years ago. EdCamp challenges teachers to take control of their own professional learning. They shy away from pre-set components--teachers at each event decide at the start of the event what they want to facilitate and what classes they want to attend.

This  format lends itself to a sort of chaotic feel to the uninitiated, read that as me! Large Post-it sheets had sessions for each room, but as choices changed, so did the sheets. It was a little chaotic, but there was enough structure to guide us to the first session and then to the next and then to the next. It was nice not to be tied to a specific 'track' or feel like you could change your session selections mid-conference. The word they use is organic and that is a fair description.

EdCampKS had three morning sessions and I learned something in each.

android, base, evernote icon

Evernote is an app that I knew very little about but could see me using the snot out of. For an hour the facilitator talked us through its use and we played with the app. There were several other teachers there who were also very knowledgeable and so they were encouraged to jump in. There was a teacher take away there for me--the best teaching occurs when the teacher is secure enough to give the reigns to others. The faciliator maintained control of the group but was genuinely open to others insights about the application.

g+, google, google plus, plus, plus one icon

Google is more than just a verb and this session explored it. One of the things I learned was that by adjusting the search metric, students could find microfiched newspaper from as far back as WWI. It can also narrow a search based on the pixels and type of an image. We also played with the audio capabilities and the facilitator suggested several uses which were things I hadn't thought of using the audio function for (for instance--instead of guessing how amistace, arminstase, armistice is spelled, why not just let the google version of Siri help you out.)

blog, blogger icon   wordpress icon

One of the sessions I was really interested in was on blogging. The facilitator is a big proponent of WordPress and I use Blogger. I was curious to see if he would get me to change my mind. He did not. WordPress has some cool bells and whistles, but I think I'll stick with what I know. Besides, if I do want to change my blog over, WordPress will pull my whole Blogger archive over when I move, so its kinda a win-win for me.

After lunch was a session where everyone presented apps they use and wanted to recommend. This session, called a smackdown, was a brilliant concept. Teachers talking to other teachers instead of the IT guy giving a laundry list of what they might suggest. Teachers talked specifically about how they used it and what they liked and didn't like about the app. There are some really knowledgeable teachers and it was cool to hear from people in the classroom.
The final session of the day was called Rocks-Sucks and it was exactly what it sounds like. Topics were given and you chose Rocks or Sucks. A short period of time was allowed for both sides to defend their position. Someone said this is a staple of EdCamps all across the nation. Our topics included: tenure, Common Core, Bring Your Own Device, 1:1 initiative, firewalls, and State Assessments. What was fascinating was that there was a diversity of opinion and insights and you found yourself waivering as your 'opponent' made their case. I have done something like this in class, I need to do it more.

What I walked away from EdCamp KS is that the reality is that teachers need to take faculty meetings, professional development and in-services away from well-meaning administrators. That isn't a slam against them. They are doing what we don't want to do. Today, however, showed that with a little organiation and leadership, teachers can train themselves, thank you very much.

More Boston -- a couple weeks late...

After a week with the family on vacation I am finally getting around to putting a few more photos on...will post some thoughts later...again when wifi is working. These photos were taken aboard the Fame, docked in Salem. The statue is Samantha from the TV show Bewitched and the ship's instrument is from the Peabody Essex Museum, also in Salem.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Scenes from Boston

Okay, the hotel boasts wifi...this is somewhat misleading in that the wifi options appear but never connect. A opportunity for patience I suppose.
I thought I would post some images though.
I will wax on about both Triennium and USS Constitution at a layer date. In the land of wifi.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Argon, Happy Yogurt and Jim Carrey's director

Ok, watch this...your throat is going to close off, your heart rate will rise and its will be difficult not to well up. You don't know this soldier or his family and you will get all vaclempt. We were designed to feel compassion.
That is the Vagus Nerve ... you're welcome. Now go blow your nose and wipe your eyes.

Last evening we viewed the I Am movie with out small groups. Below are my thoughts from this viewing.
  • We are because we belong
  • Vagus Nerve
  • Darwin refers to love 95 times but 'survival of the fittest' only three
  • We are great at showing love in church for hour and half then not turned on again until Saturday or Sunday.
  • A lot of his suggestions sound like a secular version of  In His Steps by Charles Sheldon
  • Heart Math---magnetic field = tv station and tv set at same time
  • Interstitial beats of heart--good or bad tellers--we can't think clearly--anger makes us stupid
  • Rumi--poet
  • Random number generator---stops being random with high emotion events ---9-11 as an example---mass minds become highly focused and the numbers generated stop being random
  • Consciousness linked to quantum physics
  • Relationship is essential
  • Air unites us---Argon--inert gas---same argon as ____________(insert famous or infamous person here)
  • Grief is also a firm of joy
  • Science is catching up to religion
  • How do we change things---a change in consciousness results in physical change
  • Everyday acts build up over time to consciousness
  • Wetico--canibalism without the eating--taking what someone else needs
  • Flawed bags of bones--we have to see this in our oppressors as much as in ourselves
  • God says I don't have anybody else except you-Desond Tutu
  • Chesterton on what is wrong in the world ... he says, "I am"
  • Shayac suggest the answer to What is right is the world can be the same answer as Chesterton.
The discussion with my young charges. Some of the movie is down right odd...electrodes put in yogurt measure you emotions...the same argon might have been breathed by both Jesus and Hitler...blended new age philosojumbo...one of the people interviewed talked about religion in a positive way but dismissed Christian 'religion' as European.

The main point of the session was about how connected we are are humanity--which is central in the teachings of Christ and of the Church. We have jacked things on a regular basis but that is our bad, not God's. Once we got going, the discussion was great. These are impressive young people.

This morning, I could tell they were still wrestling with some of the stuff in the movie based on references to argon, wetico and Chesterton's comment. We'll continue to unpack those thoughts the rest of the week.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Travels at PYT13 with Mr. Madison

First, the police on the Purdue campus are not comfortable posing with a candy dispenser.

Second, most of the participants at PYT are.

Third, there is no political nor theological significance of Mr. Madison. Its a candy dispenser.

Ghosts of the past...

Normally the first posts at an event are chronological.

I've been at Purdue for two days now and have Small Group Leader training behind me as well as 'load in' day for the participants...imagine 5000+ youth and hundreds of adults converging in one place at roughly the same time. The first worship service last night was excellent and this morning saw the first small group session, the reason I am here.

This post is about ghosts and its appropriate that its first.

It about our lives before Triennium. In small group, I gave everyone the opportunity to fill our a card releasing themselves from fretting about something back home, or from the trip here or ... well, anything. It is not part of the manual, but I have found that what we bring into a session often keeps us from being fully present--and its hard to respond to God's voice when you aren't present. I told them that it would be my honor to pray for them and these concerns while I am here.

I am and I will.

I told them I wanted to share them with my friends of faith. Friends here at Triennium, but you as well. I am floored by their trust in God. And in me as their leader. These aren't small concerns and I'd like to enlist anyone who wishes to to pray for these young women and men. What you see below is what they wrote-with a couple adjustments for confidentiality.

Thanks in advance, my intercessors.

BTW-the title is literally one of the cards, so we will start with it.

  • ghosts of the past
  • stressed about college
  • first dog died
  • missing the first 2 weeks of school
  • my friends are stressed about school and family
  • stress of dance and school
  • people at dance
  • college
  • thanksgiving for Triennium
  • I'm worried about my best friend XXX
  • my dog might die
  • busyness at work
  • unknown future of loved one's job opportunities
  • one of my best friend's grandmother is sick with cancer
  • I have a friend who is going through a lot of family problems. He just told me he is gay and he is suffering from depression. He's been cutting himself to get through it and I'm scared for him.
  • my parents were having trouble, but are slowly patching it up
  • family issues
  • upcoming grad from HS
  • missing my pregnant wife and my two year old daughter
  • parents going through divorce; friends parents going through divorce; same friend lost their baby
  • big family drama and big drama at my HS
  • less alcohol and violence
  • praying that everyone has a good time
  • A group that is here with us that has experienced great loss as they traveled here to PYT
  • This may seem petty compared to all the other problems people are experiencing around the world but my relationship with my boyfriend is not entirely happy. He has much stronger feelings for me than I do for him. I don't know how to go about addressing this. I have this idea and am constantly being told by people what I should to and how I should be feeling. This is draining. Please just pray that God will know its me. I feel this could be enormously. This is something I haven't thought to do. Thank you.
  • Please pray for my cousins and their family who are going through their parent's divorce. I pray that they take comfort in me and others who care.
  • I have been trying to cope with how I will eventually go blind. Its all just saddening even though I wear a smile. Please pray for my mother diagnosed with MS and hope she makes at least to my graduation. It just kills me inside to know I'll lose the one person I've always had.
  • Prayers for my pastor and her family

I will leave you with a thought by musician and poet Leonard Cohen. "Prayer is translation. A man translates himself into a child, asking for all there is in a language he has barely mastered." I love the honestly of this thought. I also am encouraged that God is a master of the original and so adept at hearing past our missed conjugations and jacked up syntax.


Friday, July 12, 2013

A shift in blog content ...

As a blogger I have written about what I know and what I want to know more about ... primarily history and teaching. Its where I blather on about my time in the classroom as both a teacher and a student of teaching and history.

To quote Monty Python ... now for something completely different.

Anyone who knows me know that my family and vocation are a huge part of who I am and half of that has been fodder for my blog. I will continue to leave my family life out of here for the most part. Its hard enough being married to me and being my progeny without their stories being flashed on the 'interwebby thing'. There is another aspect of me that most who know me knows is significant. I am a Christian-a person of faith. I even have a degree in religion and philosphy and spent nearly ten years working in churches as a youth minister and director of Christian education...they paid me and everything.

This blog started as a way to process information about a teacher program I was attending and morphed into a classroom tool and then a clearinghouse of my ideas as a teacher. I teach at an independent (non-religous and private) school and like the model of its being independent of both relgious and governmental influence. We get no money from the state or a church and that gives us a voice that is different and a freedom that allows for a diveristy of ideas to exist at the same time in a way most dependent schools can't. I love that I have Hindu and Muslim and agnostic and Christian  and atheist kids and we can talk freely and ask questions that wouldn't be touched in some schools and 'administratively' overseen in others. I love that my school trusts me and my students.

The kids know I have a degree in religion and was a pastor for years and so they naturally ask questions...and I naturally answer them as is best appropriate in a classroom setting.  You can't talk about American and European history without talking at some point about religion and the civic conviction to make things better is often bourne out of the religious conviction of any number of faiths.

This blog started as a way to process teacher ideas and for my class. The class connection is, for the most part gone--I have a classroom blog for that. As a result, I want to add to the list of things I'm passionate about: history, teaching, and faith. If I lose you as a reader as a result, I respect that. The only thing I ask is that you give me a fair hearing.

Now, the timing for the change is the result of a conference I'll be attending next week. Presbyterian Youth Triennium is an event sponsored by three Presbyterian denomations and will bring 4,000 to 5,000 youth to Purdue University. I have been asked to be a small group leader and so will be working with about 30 youth and adult over the course of the five day event. The theme this year is "I AM" and the teaching packet is really well done. The movie up at the top of the blog is one we will view at the event. The one above this paragrph is from the last Triennium in 2010. This will be my fourth Triennium and I leave each year with

I'll keep you posted...