Know When It’s Time To Get Out Of The Rain

Have you ever gotten stuck in the rain? I live in the south and most summer days there is a rain shower around 5:00. Where I live in Alabama we actually get more rain than Seattle. So I rarely leave home without an umbrella or rain jacket. The problem is rain jackets and umbrella don’t ever really keep you dry. Your feet, legs, and face will always be wet no matter what. The only way to stay dry, to stay inside.

I love social media. It’s a huge part of my day. I’m one who sees the benefits and have preached the goodness before hashtag were a thing. Through it I connect with others and have some amazing conversations that challenge my thinking and professional practice. With the mainstream of social media it has become a place to get world and local news real time. No more waiting until 5:00 to hear what is going on with the world. And that keeps us in the know and aware at all times. Last week while in Denver there was an active shooter in the area and I could watch the tweets and knew what was happening and where. This is a huge positive in our society.

Umbrella

But there is something different when it comes to this type of “journalism.” When you watch the 6:00 news the news anchor reads the facts (usually). If there is a house fire on 4th Avenue, they read there is a house fire on 4th Avenue and probably tell you that first responders are on the scene. No opinions up front. If a person on social media posts they may post that same report but with their own post with an opinion. For example they could post the link to the info about the fire with the comment “this is my aunt’s house, pray for her during this time.” That post will probably get shared with sympathy and people offering to help. Those emotions are now tied to the story. But someone could take the same story and say “this house is my neighbor. It is a known meth lab. Hope the dealers are caught.” That post of the same news story would probably spark rants about drug use in a neighborhood and negative comments. Same story but when human opinion comes into play, the reaction of others differs, is shared, and more opinions given.

This past week many dark and terrible stories have broke. The stories reported were not just of someone losing their lives but are posted with opinions in forms of videos, memes, etc. The opinions and lack of facts spark anger beyond just the anger of what has happened because others’ emotions are muddled in. The emotions and opinions start taking on the headlines and the facts and information gets lost.

Remember above when I mentioned getting stuck in a rain shower? When you are out and the first few drops hit we are usually able to grab cover and get inside with just a few drops on us. Those news stories and the emotions with them are like those rain drops. The smart thing to do when it starts, take a few drops in, pay attention, but grab cover before you get drenched. If you get stuck walking home without a rain jacket, those few drops eventually add up and your entire body becomes drenched. When tragedy that is controversial or can have high emotions happen, you need to take cover and get out. Stop standing there and letting it drench you. Because those emotions build and get stronger until they turn into an obsession. Do you need to stand up for what’s right? Heck yes, but we don’t need to add to the situation.

As educators or parents or just humans around children, we need to teach them how to turn it off. Literacy now includes how to find the real information in a sea of opinions. This is a life skill that needs to be taught in every classroom. There also need to be guidance on how to get out of the tragedy in front of them on the screens and get out in their community to take stands and remember there is good still out there.

I didn’t write this to belittle horrific events but I write this to remind us all to step back. Look at facts before opinions. Live life. Take a deep breath. For the sake of sanity. Then later after your emotions are in check, look for ways to make a difference, to have your voice heard. Social media is not the only place. More good will be done in your community telling the stories that are real and happening around you. Understand that hate isn’t the answer. Understand others. And most importantly, empathy. This is the generation we need to be bringing up.

It’s Not About the Tools… Or Is It? #ISTE2016

Over the last few days I’ve been in Denver for the ISTE Conference, along with 15,000 or so other educators. This is a tech conference. Yeah it gets geeky. Every year I go to sessions or walk through the vendor hall and get frustrated at the pitches of next best thing that will change education (and usually cost you a fortune). I get frustrated when I heard proposals from friends that were rejected because they didn’t focus on an app or a website. I even wrote a blog post about it one year after leaving the conference.

Hand drawn ISTE logo

But if you know me, you know that when I see that I’m wrong I’ll be the first to admit it. You see a big part of learning during ISTE for me is from conversations with my brilliant friends who are also my mentors. During a late night convo with Dean Shareski and Brent Catlett about 1:1 and getting teachers and leaders to use technology, Dean said something that really stuck with me (not surprising, he’s had more influence on me than anyone else in this field). He said that, it has to be about the technology, we can’t just ignore what is there. And he’s right. Sometimes schools and districts get so caught up in changing the pedagogy and how we teach that we forget to show the what and how when it comes to technology.

Yes, we have got to change schools and what is happening in the classrooms. It can no longer be “sit and get,” students need to be creating, discovering the world beyond 4 walls of a classroom, and taking charge of their learning, I think everyone is getting this, but this cannot be at the level kids deserve without technology. We put so much time and money focusing on PBL and curriculum design but how much of that professional development includes new technology that can open doors for our students? Are instructional technology specialist in your district being tapped for this PD or is their PD always focused on “how to use” type training? I so often see the only time technology is used for PBL is to research and/or make a Google Slide to show what they know. If we are taking how we teach our students to another level, then we need to take how they use technology to that level as well.

Are you using robots to teach measurement, angles, and coding? Oh wait, most importantly, problem solving? Do your art students have an online digital portfolio? How often do your students collaborate online in a safe place? When you are teaching about a landform or country, do you just show pictures or videos or do you allow students to “visit” via Google Cardboard and now available Google Expeditions? Where in the country or world is that class that your class collaborates with located? How deep are your once a week digital citizenship conversations with students? Do you allow students to use Desmos for free when they can’t afford a graphing calculator? Did your students bubble in answers to show reading comprehension or did sock puppets give you a recap?

The technology is there, so much of it becoming so affordable and available. Everything I mentioned above is something your classroom or school can afford. It kind of is about those tools because without them your students loose that empowerment and can do those skills. Should the tools be your main focus? Should you plan your lessons around that cool new app? No way but you can’t use that as an excuse to not use it. Your students deserve better.

Middle School is Weird

I’m back. Or so I hope. I have been struggling with writing here. I have ideas but not the energy or time. Now school is out and summer is here, I will be finding that time.

Over the last few months I have been in a few situations that have all lead to conversations about Middle School students and what makes them different. Here in the US, middle school is some how the “forgotten” group in our education system. Even education prep mostly focuses on elementary or secondary (which is usually high school focused). But you see, middle school is this own special, weird, time that does not fit with either of those. I worry that this is the time we are losing the students because the education system does not support this group and I feel like those teachers get less support.

My only explanation for this, middle schoolers are weird. They are not just starting out, babies. They are not getting ready to move on to the rest of their lives. They are just the “Jan Brady” of education. The issue is, if we lose them now, we may not get them back.

A few months ago, I spoke at Bright Bytes Institute about Middle School and STEM. Here are just a few of those thoughts that I talked about that day.

Middle Schoolers are Awkard. Think back on your yearbook picture from middle school. Told you, awkward. They are not used to these new bodies they are getting. They fall because their feet grew before the rest of them, their clothes fit weird, the boys are usually shorter than the girls, they have braces… The list goes on and on. So try to remember that when you are dealing with them on a personal basis. This awkwardness leads to insecurity, the insecurity leads to being defensive, defensiveness leads to drama, drama leads to no one listing to anything you say in your classroom. There is a lot of drama, no one wants to learn in the midst of it. So be prepared.

Early Middle School is before stereotypes are ingrained in their mind. Middle schoolers have not yet developed stereotypes for “roles” in life. What I mean by that, they are not completely sold that computers are for nerds, choir is for girls, basketball is for certain races, etc. They are still open to exploring. This is the best time to give students a chance to discover what they love to do. Get girls hooked into a STEM class. Get athletic boys in a music class. Many middle schools have “exploratory” for electives where students rotate through a variety of electives throughout the year. Other schools have “club day” or “genius hour” to provide students with time to discover their talents and passions. While this happens at many grade levels, it can have most impact on middle school students.

They have been playing school for 6 years.  For six years they have gone from pre-school where they learned through play, to 5th grade where they are learning from texts, worksheets, and being assessed on tests. Not always, but in general. Moving to middle school gives them that opportunity to start over. They are in a new environment, new teachers, new classmates, so start new. This is a great place to break that learned schooling and give students chances to learn in new ways. Don’t use middle school as a place to prepare for lectures in high school. Use this time to REMIND students how to learn naturally.

They smell bad. If you ever walk into a you know that distinct smell. Shudder. Only thing worse than the smell, is that smell on taco salad day in 100F August after PE. But I’m not here to make fun, the smell, is their body going through puberty. When they go through this, yes hormones change. But those hormonal changes cause changes in their brains as well. These are some of the effects:

They lose a lot of short term memory. They really did forget about your test, their homework, etc. It is crazy that they forget. Also, it would drive me crazy that teachers would require the students to carry these planners to prevent that. The problem, they never remembered to bring the planner to class, if they did, they forgot to get it out and put the HW in there, and if they actually did all of those things, they would lose them in the locker. I’ve known teachers to give grades based on this. Is that punishing students for something they can’t help? My solution, use Google Calendar or Google Classroom. One thing they never forget, their phones. Really, just stop with the homework. They are not going to do it.

They are unorganized. They just are at that age. Open one locker, you will probably find at least 4 coats, 2 pairs of shoes, and enough socks for the entire football team. So please stop with notebooks with 5 tabs or all subjects in one. They don’t put things in the right tabs. They take the paper out and then just shove it in when the bell rings, etc. Just use a spiral notebook where they one a page at a time. And whatever you do, stop giving notebook checks for grades. STOP.

Lastly, a product of going through these hormonal changes, increase in oxytocin. Oxytocin has been called the “hug hormone.” In adults, it is released after, um, trying to keep this PG, “loving.” Maybe you get that. So this hormone causes our brain to need relationships. That is why people declare being in love after “loving.” In middle schoolers, it causes them to need relationships. Children this age will put relationships with others over academic success. So what can we do about this? If they need social interaction and need to be with others, then this is why group work at this age is more than just learning to collaborate. It is how they function. It fulfills that need. If you don’t, they will just talk and form those relationships while you are trying to have class, so have this need work for you.

So these are just a few things when thinking about middle school students. I could go one for pages and pages on why they are so unique. But who wants to read that?! If you are a middle school teacher, work with middle school teachers, or involved in making decisions about curriculum in middle schools, please keep their uniqueness in mind.

Lastly, can you solve this? I always wonder, was I this weird before I started teaching middle school and they rubbed off on me or do I teach middle school because I get the weird. I think all middle school teachers can relate to that question. More soon everyone and enjoy the start of summer!

There Are No Underdogs

I’m going to write this and it is not going to be easy. And if he was still alive he’d be so angry at me for writing it, but he left me here on earth with just memories so he gets no say. That “he” is Dean Taylor. He died Saturday morning in a car wreck. And he was my friend. My one of my best friends. He was also a dad that loved his son so much and a businessman always looking for investments. Dean was a school board member in my district, the board president at one time, which is why not many knew of our friendship, politics are blah. But it is funny, we became friends because he was always trying to learn more about education and always had questions, but in the end he taught me so much more.

You see, he was so proud to be a board member. Think of that one person that you know that puts their all into their job, that was him. He told me a few times that he went to a ribbon cutting one day and went to bed that night a politician. But more times than that he would say that he was there to make a difference. He was a dad and wanted for his son what every parent wants, but he had the position to make sure it happened not only for his son but for everyone’s sons and daughters. All 37,000 sons and daughters, as he would say. He would tell stories of how he was not supposed to be as successful as he was (he was a pretty successful businessman and never took it for granted) and he wanted every kid in the district to know that if he could do it, they could too. I would get so mad at him for putting himself down and he’d get mad at me for making that comment and say it isn’t about him. He was in the Air Force and would tell me stories from war and end by saying that God didn’t let him die because he was supposed to be there to fight for kids like him. Every single war story ended with that. He believed and he lived to complete that mission.

But here was the thing, while he was always about the “underdog,” he never once treated anyone as the underdog. He knew every single maintenance worker by name. Was actually became close friends with many of them. He would bring them water in the summer. He would mention them when telling me a story and act like I was weird because I did not know them.  He would compliment custodians on how clean their school was. He ate in a school lunchroom at least once a week, usually more, and would not only sit with the kids but compliment the staff on the great food. He went from unknown new school board member to in the press every week because when we had cut backs and the majority of secretaries in our district were going to lose their jobs, he fought until the cuts were rescinded.

He had this amazing ability to make whoever he was meeting feel like what they were saying was the most important. He was in the schools, all 56. He’d ask me everyday, “what school did you visit today?” And then “Did you talk to ___?” I’d answer then ask him the same. He was in the schools as much as me but had the gift of meeting so many more people when there. Those people were important to him. He let them know how important they were.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

Dean coding robots with students at HMS.

He made students feel the same way. I was looking through pictures today and saw the one above and could hear him asking the kids to explain how it works. A friend told me yesterday he was supposed to be at her school next week to talked to a group of boys that were always in trouble. He worried about those students more than any. He worried that too often we focused on the kids that were gifted or already college bound and left the rest behind. He would talk often about how he never had teachers that believed in him when in school. We always had that in common. One teacher even wrote in his yearbook about how he would not succeed. It crushed him, but mostly gave him the push to become the man he was. But he would say that he never wanted a student to feel that ever again. He wanted kids to have someone to believe in them. He wanted them to know that college was not always for everyone and that was ok. He was telling a class the other day that each of them could be anything they wanted, and he truly believed it.

He was always on a mission to help someone. He would do the kindest things but usually did them secretly. He would call me and ask what type of tech would a certain school needs because “rumor” was that a teacher was about to get it anonymously. That was him.

He was a huge supporter of STEM in schools. He knew that it would reach students that textbooks didn’t. We would talk STEM all day. He loved LEGOs. Like always had a LEGO minifigure in his pocket. He had 100s. So makerspaces were a natural draw for him. He loved it all from coding (he was the biggest supporter in my district for Hour of Code) to 3D printers. He was always trying to figure out how to get more in our schools and if you asked him why, he would talk about the importance of it and how it would reach all students. All students. That was important to him.

He’d be the first to admit when he was wrong. He would tell me over and over that if I ever blamed others, then I was still at fault. He told me all the time that I had to find my issues first then I could blame others, but by then I knew it was my fault. Oh he’d make me so mad making me face my demons. But then he’d congratulate me when I would figure it out. I don’t like the thought of this cheerleader being gone.

In his honor I am going to remember the underdogs. Who are not really underdogs, because he was proof that anyone can do anything. He was proof that drive and self confidence is all you need. He had both. And maybe fake glasses that made you look smarter.

Goodbye my friend. You told me that we were separated at birth and I was the crazy twin. I will miss my twin. Though I only got to know you for a little over a year, you left your mark on me and I will forever remember to continue your legacy and treat the custodian like the CEO to be the voice for students that don’t have one. Also, I hope God had a closet full of shoes for you. Oh and yes I wrote this on my Macbook just for you.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.

This was his favorite quote. Said it all the time in his best southern politician voice.

Are We There Yet?

I hate car trips. OK so I really hate. I love going places. I love vacations, quick trips, even business type trips. I even love hotels. People make fun of me often because I’m always moving from place to place.

It’s journey that drives me crazy. If I fly, something dumb will happen. Never fails. I can cause the entire Eastern seaboard to become stranded. The alternative, car trips. This weekend we decided, last minute, to go to Busch Gardens Tampa and Legoland in Orlando. The parks were a blast and the kids got time with their cousins, even though they see them few times a week. But I hate 9 hours each way in a car. I feel stuck. I feel confined. I read, or like now, write, but still not satisfying. While I’m in the car I want to scream. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I think since I’m in passenger seat, I need a drink at lunch. Don’t judge, I get edgy. And I usually don’t give in to that.

So why do I end up still taking the trips? Because tomorrow, I’ll forget the grueling part. I’ll just remember destination. Last weekend I went to beach and Mardi Gras in Mobile, 4.5 hour trip. On the way down there and back I swore off car trips. Yet 4 days later I agreed to a 9 hour drive to Florida. You forget the hard part and think of the satisfying part of the trip.

Seriously that quote is from Drake the rapper. You know, the dancing in a box guy. I researched it, and it's from a graduation commencement speech.

Seriously that quote is from Drake the rapper. You know, the dancing in a box guy. I researched it, and it’s from a graduation commencement speech.

Lately I’ve been talking with my PLN and so many of us are in frustrating situations professionally and some even personally. Myself included. But conversations, ah ha moments, and seeing things fall into places are making those frustrations and the long journeys starting to become a fading memory. Hopefully the destination is worth the journey, it usually is.

So those of you who are in the same place as me, stuck in a long car ride, we eventually will make it to where we want to go. And it makes getting there so much better. We learn so much as we go. You know all the quotes about learning being the journey not the destination, right? Yeah it is!! But know through those learning struggles, the outcome is worth every moment. And then it will be time to find a new road and start a new adventure! It too will be full of struggles and boring white dotted lines but worth it in the end. You’ll forget about the struggles that have now shaped who you are and remember the success.

Teaching Engineering is Not Scary!

I spend a lot of time talking to teachers about STEM and PBL. When we go through that process, I can usually almost predict what they will grasp onto and what they will shy away from. Teachers usually get really excited about the project part, the hands on math and science part. On the flip side they usually hate the idea of the “engineering” process. Mostly because it sounds scary. Engineers have a stereotype, one that STEM ambassadors like me are always trying to get rid of. To get them to understand the process and the ease of it, I usually have them do projects that involve it. But when they go back into the classroom I always worry if they have their kids prototyping or asking questions. For months I have been looking for materials that will help them not only get over the fear of “engineering process” but something they can go back to when planning lessons and units. I haven’t found much that would be helpful or not overwhelming.

During this search I was contacted by BloomBoard. They asked if I would be interested in a blogging campaign they are doing, I decided to check out their site. I loved it. BloomBoard is a place where educators can learn, share, and discuss the best teaching ideas to solve everyday classroom challenges and improve their practice. They have these Collections that teachers have curated based on different topics. I am joining over 20 other bloggers throughout the month of February, sharing Collections of learning resources on their blog and writing about how that Collection powers their practice. The Collections will either be ones the bloggers have curated themselves around a topic of interest or expertise, or just a favorite of theirs from the new BloomBoard.

The content at BloomBoard is high quality and easy to search through. I like that I can search my topic, and the topics are beyond just “math.” Topics that are part of today’s education world, for example: Educating the Whole Child, Critical Thinking, and Increasing Engagement. Good stuff, right? You can even earn “micro-credentials” that some districts would even count for PD credit.

So back to “engineering process.” As I was searching the site, I immediately looked up “STEM” and “PBL” as a topic. I came across this Engineering Can Be Easy collection. The resources are fantastic. The links in there have “Teaching NGSS Engineering Design Through Media” from PBS, Teach Engineering, which is a favorite site of mine, that has lessons for days, and others that are geared to elementary classrooms and even teachers. Putting these resources into one place, and having resources that are actually helpful, is wonderful and I am excited to share. I also loved how it was not overwhelming and it was easy for me to pick and choose what I wanted to look at.

Engineering Can Be Easy

If you are looking for STEM ideas, I recommend starting with this collection, then browse around the site! Also, check out the  BloomBoard Blog every Monday in February for the week’s schedule of bloggers and follow along daily on BloomBoard’s Facebook and Twitter.

 
The next blogger is the series is Ariana Morrow atTeachers42morrow. She is a a special education teacher in Texas.  She has taught students with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, autism and other cognitive disabilities at both the elementary and middle school levels, delivered through co-teach, self-contained, redirect and alternative learning environment (also called specialized support) settings and models.

Every year that she has taught, she has been rated “Exceeds Standards” by the Texas Professional Development Appraisal System.  She  was a featured teacher in the Online Training Module for the Low Incidence Statewide Network, being honored with the opportunity to share successful classroom systems with other teachers in the state of Texas who work with students with low incidents disabilities.  She teaches adult education classes on lesson planning, behavior management, year-long pacing calendars, scheduling, curriculum accommodations, data collection, time management and organization for special education classrooms.  I’m currently creating a Down Syndrome 101 webinar for the Statewide Low Inccidents Disabilities Network, and she is updating and expanding the Monthly Instructional Guides for Region 3.

Which Turn Gets My Teachers to SAMR?

New year. I’ve missed my blog. I haven’t been making time to blog. I have a few reasons. But no matter my reasons, I know better. I preach over and over how important reflection is for learning and improving practice. Because I’m no longer in the classroom and my practice now includes adults and adult learning, I have fear my reflection will put my job at risk. A job I love and have worked hard for. But lately I feel stalled and I’m smart enough to know that lack of reflection is part of the reason. So I’m making a commitment to blog more this year. First one starting now.

As I said, I’m stalled. I feel like I’m going in circles. One year when I was in middle school my family went camping through Florida. We got stuck in Tampa. Actually we were outside Tampa in Pinellas County. I know that because they put the county name on everything. Being lost is my panic. Knowing that we were passing the same thing over and over and not driving so having no control drove me insane. I remember asking my mom why my dad wouldn’t just turn off the highway to any road. She told me it was because there were so many options he didn’t know which road would take him to St. Pete. Eventually my dad shared the map with my mom and I, we found our location and where we needed to go. After an hour of being lost, we found the way and in 10 minutes we were on St. Pete Beach. 

I’m in that circle. I don’t really know what will take me to the destination. I have ideas but I’m not sure which risk or idea will take me in the right direction.

The highway I’m stuck on is SAMR. SAMR is the level at which teachers integrate technology. Here’s a diagram that explains SAMR.

SAMR

The goal with SAMR is to get to the M and R. We want teachers not to just use technology as a substitution to lessons that are already doing but to change how they teach and use the tech to do so. I know that for tech to have maximum impact and for student learning to be most meaningful we need to have students creating, innovating, etc.

How am I, someone not in the classroom, stuck when it comes to SAMR? I’m stuck with the PD I do. I feel like I’m stuck teaching how to use the tech, the basics. Mostly Google Apps for Edu. I love Google and I know the importance of getting teacher buy in to get student use. My job title is “Instructional Technology Coach” and I feel that is my job, coaching teachers to use tech in instruction. But I’m at a place I’m stuck teaching the “how to” not the ways to use in instruction.

When lost and looking at map, you have to find where are located at the moment, then figure out what turns and detours are causing you to keep circling. So I sat down and made a list/diagram of what keeps getting me lost. You know, those roadblocks, excuses, issues, etc, that stand between you and the destination. I could list them all out, but who wants to read a list of complaints? So I put them on this map: (click on the pins if you want to read my roadblocks)

These are my reasons. They may be called excuses or whining but I needed to figure out what highways I’m circling, those are them. Now I can find them on the map I need to look for streets to turn on to go in a different direction. I have some ideas.

  • The easiest may be to stop asking principals to come to their school, but to schedule the school and PD. Makes it hard to get buy in or know exactly what they need but I’m desperate.
  • Make it so when I schedule a PD the school must schedule at least 2 follow up sessions. Schools that did this last year had high tech usage and I had good relationships with teachers there.
  • Start just showing up at schools and stop by classrooms during planning periods and ask what I can do to help. Ask teachers to share with me what they are teaching. As a former teacher, I’m worried that there may be push back did being that guy that is interrupting their planning time without notice.
  • And this is the hardest. I’m not sure if it would work. But I’m wondering if I could create a tech school type program. Create online and face to face courses that teachers can work their way through in cohorts within their school or feeder pattern. As teachers complete levels, they can get badges or incentives. I’m not sure how great the incentives would be. I wondered about sponsors for that but then we have strict laws about teachers getting things from vendors and companies. The main incentive would be the teachers would become experts in their schools. They would also get PD credit for the courses.
  • Or in the similar mindset have a series of challenges with apps and sites then have the teachers complete and post their challenges. Then we’d have a database of sort of lesson ideas for those apps/sites. We could have a prize for those finishing all the challenges and badges.

These are some of the roads I’m looking at. I’d love to hear what you have done and what did and didn’t work. Also I would hear feedback on the ideas above. Help me find the right direction. Hopefully just writing these will get my wheels turning. I’ve missed y’all. I’ve missed writing. I’m going to be brave and take the risk of being back online. Have a great start to 2016!

For more information on SAMR, check out Kathy Schrock’s Guide to SAMR and Blooms.

 

Differentiation Beyond Instruction

Differentiation is a word we hear a lot in education. Differentiated Instruction is something most schools as well as most teachers strive to do regularly in their classroom. We know how important to focus on students’ strengths and give them a little push when they are not grasping a concept. We know all students learn differently and we need to meet those needs.

But why do we just think that students learn differently but are the same outside of instruction and curriculum? Most do not even realize that they are thinking that way. We know that learning is not one size fits all, but when it comes to discipline, we have one size fits all approach.

I often post on social media, blog, and speak about ADHD. Responses I always get from people are asking about how to handle certain situations or advice on my idea for behavior charts, plans, etc. I’m just going to come out and say it, I hate behavior charts and I some times wish clothes pins would disappear from Earth so they never have to go on red again. As an advocate for students with ADHD, I understand the negative effects these have on children. And don’t even get me started on the horrible effects of Class Dojo. I’m still waiting on that lawsuit from mental health officials once we have proof of the way those “monsters” have ruined the self esteem of children all over the world.

Untitled drawing

I understand the purpose of behavior charts, give students a physical reminder of making a mistake then hope that this helps. I am not going to sit here and argue about the stats on this, but I am going to explain ADHD and other behavior problems. They are impulsive. Students will ADHD do not blurt out on purpose. Standing up and walking across the room is not premeditated. Forgetting homework in the locker and asking to go get it is not an evil plan to go play in the hall (most of the time). So punishing students for something that was not premeditated to make them stop that behavior is never going to work. (If you haven’t, take a moment to read this post on what you probably didn’t know about students with ADHD.)

Every time I talk about this, I get another question, if I don’t have behavior charts, how do I reward students that actually do benefit from them? Believe it or not, my child is one of those students. His goal is always to move his clothes pin up. And he usually does. He lives for the reward of having the best behavior in the class. He has zero impulsive behaviors and most of his actions are premeditated. He does deserve to be rewarded for trying so hard to do what is right.

So I just contradicted myself, right? Not really. What if we approached discipline and classroom management with a differentiated mindset? Let’s look at it like we look at curriculum. Say a child has a learning disability or dyslexia. You are going to teach reading and have different requirements than a student that is gifted and reading a lexile score 3 grades higher than he/she is in. I would hope that the student with dyslexia would never be randomly called on to read a passage in front of the class and his/her reading scores are probably based on reading the level he/she is on. But you may have your gifted student read a picture book to a small group during centers and grades come from doing activities on the meaning of books they are reading.  So a student with ADHD is really like that student with dyslexia, they cannot help their impulses. Do they need to be corrected and taught how to handle the situation? Sure, but stopping class and making them move a clothes pin is not going to ever correct or stop the behavior. But saying, “we don’t disrupt” and moving on to call on a student with their hand up reminds them of the behavior without shaming them. (Yes, moving that clothes pin in front of everyone is shaming. Trust me, it is humiliating, I’ve been there.)

Now that gifted student needs that encouragement and chance to succeed. Then set a reward program. Maybe have a ticket program that students can collect when caught being good. Please make sure everyone gets a ticket at some point. Let them use the tickets to buy prizes or trade activities like choosing friend to sit in special lunch seat with them.

I also get the question about how if they are more lax with students with ADHD or other behavior problems, is that fair to students that don’t have ADHD? Yes it is. All students are different and you need to meet each of their needs. A student without ADHD yells out in class just because he wants attention of his crush has to move clothes pin but student with ADHD does not. It is ok. I promise, by November, your student with ADHD no longer cares about her clothes pin anyway, she knows it is going to be moved no matter how hard she tries. The student that wanted to test you and be center of attention, if he moves his clothes pin, he is going to realize that he was in the wrong and will remember that when he goes to do it again.

So if you have a behavior chart, so many schools require them, you don’t have to treat each kid the same when it comes to ‘moving the clothes pin.’ If you don’t have to have a behavior chart, why have it? I taught elementary school for a long time. I did not have one. But I had a clip board (had this in middle school too) where I would record discipline problems and have the students sign when they got in trouble. To be honest, I did not use it much because if I could not remember it by end of day, it probably was not a big deal and I didn’t need to tattle to parents about it. But everyday my students had a behavior calendar and I would write a smiley face if student didn’t get in trouble but if they student did something awesome or they had a discipline problem, I would put a little note on the day. It was simple and gave me a quick one-on-one time with every student for 1 minute each day.

Every child in your classroom is an unique gift. Our job is to take them and love them as they are and help them become better people. Shamming and putting them down does not do that, it kills who they are and stunts their emotional growth. They are all different and we should treat them that way.

Are You Teaching Your Students to Be Martians?

Usually when a book is made into a movie, one is better than the other. A few months ago my friend Michelle insisted that I get The Martian on audio book. With my ADHD, I struggle with audio books so I downloaded just the regular ebook.  With the end of school years stresses I never finished the book. Last week I found out while I would be visiting NASA’s Johnson center in Houston I would be meeting some of the cast and getting to watch a preview of the movie. I finished the book. Probably one of the most amazing books I ever read. My inner geek (ok those that know me, it’s all outer) loved not only how cool it was to imagine someone on Mars, but how realistic and possible it actually was. Then add how lovable and hilarious Mark Watney, the Martian, is, it’s the perfect book.

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After a day of press conferences with the cast and astronauts I was pretty pumped to see the movie. First, let me just say, walking into a movie theater carrying a large red Icee and looking up seeing about 20 real astronauts sitting around you is a tad bit intimitating. But finally I get to see the movie,  and weeks before it comes to theaters. Mark Watney, who I was loving before I found out was Matt Damon, in 3D. Can’t imagine a better way to spend an afternoon.

So… The movie was amazing. Just as amazing as the book. I don’t think I have ever been able to say that. The few parts were a tad different but it stayed true to the book. Well, there was one difference, the cleaned up Watney’s mouth. No F bombs. Was glad about this, not because my potty mouth was offende, but because this movie is a must see for kids around middle school age. With his mouth cleaned up it got a PG-13 rating. It does show his rear at the end, but really it was just to show how his body had changed by Sol 300something. Yeah, body double, not real Matt. Sorry girls.

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So why am I writing a movie and book review on my blog? Not typical topic here. And I can promise you it’s not to brag. I have a reason and as usual, I took the long way getting there. Movies and books like this are insanely important. Think about the first time you saw a space movie, Star Wars or Apollo 13, whatever that movie was, it got you thinking out what it would be like to travel into space. It probably got you excited or interested to know if it would be possible. Movies like this inspire kids to learn more about space and want to be part of the space problem. This is no different than a kid going to a football game and leaving wanting to be a starting quarterback or the cheerleader sticking her liberty.

What else did we learn from this book and movie? The beautiful and painstaking art of problem solving. Every single day Watney gets up and goes through the scientific method for something else trying to stay alive. Some days he fails. After he gets angry about it, he looks at the failure and fixes the problem. He doesn’t let getting left alone on Mars or blown up stop him. Nope he looks at one small part of his problem and fixes it bit by bit. His ability to hone in on one thing at a time amazed me and ended in succes. This is the skills we need to be teaching our students everyday. This is science. I say time and again, science has got to stop being reading comprehension. It has to be inquiry. It has to be problem solving. Watney would’ve died if he only knew how to read a chapter, listen to lecture, and answer questions about the facts.

I know, Watney is not real. I get that. So how close are we to getting humans on Mars? Well educators, there estimate time frame, but really when it comes down to it, it’s up to you. The students ages 9 to 15 will be the astronaut class that goes to Mars. And it takes thousands of people to train and support one astronaut. We have 15 to 25 years. If you teach reading comprehension, the odds of your students being part of this are dwindling. If we all band together and start focusing on problem solving, teaching students the importance of teamwork, and getting them the STEM skills they need, we may have people heading to Mars by 2030.

Mars can happen in my lifetime. I would have never believed that 15 years ago. Orion has already taken its first test flight, and it worked. We have Scott Kelly in the ISS for a year. That is a huge step because we have the technology to get humans to Mars, we just don’t have the human body ready for it. Scott Kelly’s year in space is a first step in preparing humans and foreseeing problems. We have landers, probes, and rovers on Mars or preparing to make a trip. It’s close. It’s really close. But while NASA is preparing the human body, us as educators need to prepare the human mind. That’s why we went into education to start with, right? It’s time. We need to step up and get kids interested and prepared to be part of history.

Here are some great starting places to get resources for your students. If you have older students, recommend them to go spend some time with Mark.

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NASA Educators Resource Network http://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/programs/national/ercn/home/
NASA Museum Alliance https://informal.jpl.nasa.gov/museum/
Student Spaceflight Experiment Program http://ssep.ncesse.org
Talk to the astronauts on ISS with inflight down links. http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/teachingfromspace/students/downlinks.html
STEM on Station http://www.nasa.gov/education/STEMstation/I

No More ‘Have To Centers’

Today my nephew went to orientation at his new school. Last year he hated preschool. This year he will be in kindergarten and at a new place. After he met his teacher, my brother asked him what he liked about the school. His answer was “they don’t have half to sinners!” Ummmmm. First of all, we are from the south so all kids forget the “t” and centers become sinners, so I got that part. And in the south “have to” sounds like “half to.” Anyway, after some questioning he explained it perfectly. “You know when the teacher makes you go to all these centers and they are boring and you have to write or color something boring and you ask why and the teacher says ‘because you have to.’ I hate have to centers.”

My nephew, P, hates school at age 5. And his biggest hate is not having a choice. And really not having a voice. Isn’t that the original idea behind centers, giving kids a menu of choices? Maybe not. P is a smart kid but he is an active child, not ADHD, just very athletic and learns through movement. Sitting at a table doing worksheets because he “had to” is probably pure torture. Seriously, he would just start drawing circles on the pages just to get done. He didn’t care if right. Sounds like he learned to play the worksheet game earlier than most kids. Usually isn’t perfected until 3rd grade.

You may not do centers but we all are guilty of making students do things that probably turn them off to learning. Turn them off to school. And the only explanation we give is, they have to. You have to learn math, not let me show you how the math works everyday. You have to write a paper, not let’s try blogging so you can write your ideas and find other who think like you or disagree with you. You have to memorize the 8 (or 9) planets, not let’s figure out how to live on this planet because your generation will be on Mars. No we just say they have to because a lot of times we don’t know the reason or we are just going for the easy.

My daughter, on the other hand, is in a class this year that completely PBL for social studies and she can’t wait for tomorrow to “get to” work on her project. (She’s in 4th grade, every person in Alabama dreads 4th grade history.) We should make sure our classrooms aren’t “have to” but “get to.” I understand there are requirements and standards, but if you are telling kids every day they have to and that’s the only explanation, there is a problem. I wonder how P’s views of school would change if his teacher would have explained why they were doing the activity instead. Or even better, find an activity that did meet his learning needs.

This year as you pull out old lessons from years past ask yourself the same thing P asked his teachers, why do we have to do this? If the answer is because “you have to,” it is time for a new lesson.