Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Teachers Aren't Superheroes: True or False?

Good Evening!

I was reading an article that made the way to me through the grapevine on Twitter.  It discussed how teachers are not superheroes, capable of superhuman feats.  Instead they are fallible human beings just like everyone else.  Here's a link to the article:

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a... Teacher? 

James Harrell is right.  We are not superheroes.  We are not born with superpowers.  Everything that we can do in a classroom is because of education, creativity, and perseverance.

We trained to do what we do.  Most of them time we work alone.  We're constantly looking for an edge, tools to augment our classroom.  Technology that does for us what we cannot do alone is used as much as possible.  And most of the time, the odds are stacked against us.  And when we go home, we go about our normal lives, blending in with the world because we leave a lot of what we do at work, only taking it home in our heads and hearts (and oh yeah, the grading... it's not a perfect analogy).

But does that sound like anyone you know???

Where James Harrell takes a misstep is saying that we can't be just a little larger than life.  We can be a certain type of hero.  This is why I have always been a Batman fan.  He's a normal guy.  He trained hard to achieve peak health and fitness.  He uses his intellect and his training to solve crime and defeat his foes.  And whenever he can, he uses technology.  From his fleet of vehicles to his hand weapons to his grappling hook to his other high-tech gadgets, he's always got a tool for the job.  Not to mention, he primarily works with a kid:

We're not going to get a flashing light in the sky asking us for help.  If it were only that easy.  We may not have the fancy car or the sweet costume, but when all of that strips away Bruce Wayne is no less human than any of us.  He just chose to be more.

That's what is needed from us as teachers.  We have to choose to be more so that our students will see that they can make the choice.  And no, we aren't going to be rich or famous for doing it like Batman is.  But that's why he's in a story, and we're out here. 

 I'd compromise for the costume.  

Mr. J.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

To Boldly Use the Force to Live Long and Prosper

Greetings Education Galaxy-

I'm going to take a break from my technology pedagogy tonight.  I had to work out some of my inner nerd.  I'm sure I'm not the first person or the last to ever do what I'm about to do, but oh well.  Tonight I want to prove that the countless hours I have spent being a sci-fi nerd were not in vain.  Here are the lessons Star Wars and Star Trek have taught me and how I apply them to teaching:

 "The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." -Spock
Teacher Translation:  Do what is best for your students, not teachers, not yourself.

"Do or do not, there is no try."
Teacher Translation:  Effort is meaningless.  Things either happen or they don't.  Choose to make them happen.

"Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is."
Teacher Translation:  None.  Yoda said this one.

"Pass on what you have learned."
Teacher Translation:  Anything you keep to yourself helps no one else.

"I don't believe it."  
"That is why you fail."
Teacher Translation:  Believe in your students, believe in yourself, and believe that what you are doing is important.  It's not half the battle, it is the battle

"But good words. That’s where ideas begin."
Teacher Translation:  Discussion, collaboration, conversation, and expression are the precursors to progress.

Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. 
Teacher Translation:  Learn from your mistakes, from your failures, from your shortcomings.  When you get knocked down, come back stronger and wiser than before.

"You will find that it is you who are mistaken... about a great many things."
Teacher Translation:  You know what they say about people who assume.  We don't know everything, so keep your eyes and ears open.  There are possibilities that you haven't considered.

"I'm a doctor, not an engineer."
Teacher Translation:  There are things that other people are better at than you.  The same goes that you are better than others at some things.  Trust others to help you and help others when you can.  Collaboration is key.

"In this galaxy there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all that, and perhaps more...only one of each of us." 
Teacher Translation:  We're all special.  Everyone deserves our best.

"It is possible to commit no errors and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life."
Teacher Translation:  Sometimes we think we have a lesson figured out perfectly, we teach it exactly how we  want, and it still goes awry.  Win the next one.

Teacher Translation:  Everything you do should continue to hold your students' attention and as much as possible, entertain.  

So while so many of you folks are sitting on your laptops, your tablets, your smart phones, etc. at ISTE13, I thought I'd give you some food for thought.  Being a geek is so useful.

I'll leave you with one final quote from Captain Picard.  When it comes to new technology, new strategies, new ideas, or just something awesome you want to do for kids, follow his famous words...

"Make it so."

Second star to the right, and straight on until morning,

Mr. J.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The "Big Picture"

Greetings World-

I am in the wake of my Google Teacher Academy rejection, I have begun a 12-step program to rehabilitate myself.  Not really.  It was a fun experience and truly the camaraderie among playful and entertaining educators.  So while I didn't make the cut, I wanted to say thanks to those of you who chatted up the event and hyped it up into something positive to be a part of, regardless.  So @sjunkins, @msvictoriaolson, @iteachag, @EricDemore, @techbradwaid, @TechMinock, and @logan_ashlee, thanks for making the last few weeks a blast!

I've been playing with my Bamboo Capture some more.  I have found that there is a wireless feature that can be purchased for abut $40 to the tablet.  Here's the link if you didn't know about it:

Wireless Kit for Bamboo Capture

I want to use this wireless feature for an opening activity to a unit that I call "The Big Picture."  With a SMART Board, I want to create a visual outline of the material to be covered.  I'm a horrible artist, which in this case plays to my advantage.  With the wireless feature I can walk around my room and mention for example "George Washington crossing the Delaware."  I can hand off my tablet to a student to illustrate part of the picture, and then hand it back for me to continue talking.  Then I might need to talk about German mercenaries, which another student could draw for me and label as "Hessians."  Another could help discuss the setting by mentioning it was on Christmas Eve, and draw a Christmas tree, or even Santa (might have to be careful on the religious stuff if that's a big deal where you are).

The picture is not supposed to be historically accurate.  It's supposed to be funny or outrageous (@burgessdave).  The point is to mix things up, create something out of thin air, and to get a ball rolling.  The goal is to make kid-created analogies, illustrations, definitions, etc.  Jargon will be turned into "kid-friendly" language and history will be illustrated with a teenage mindset that I just help facilitate.  I mean after all, you never know what a junior high student will do/say (which I why I love teaching them), but every once in awhile you have to put the brakes on something.

While we do it on our SMART Board together, kids will have a piece of 11x17 or legal paper to also illustrate their own version of the big picture.  When we're done, we should have some sort of wacky image that can be conveyed in terms that the kids helped to develop and illustrate.

This is sort of what I have in mind, thug this was done on a dry-erase board.  My kids did a "big picture" on their own about the Civil War last year.

Just a quick thought tonight... but hopefully a good one.

Until next time-
Mr. J.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Tech Curriculum out of Thin Air?

Hello World-

So among other things today I was asked by my administrator to help to create a tech curriculum for this coming school year.  Of course I jumped at the chance.

We used to have a tech class that went by the wayside in budget cuts with our industrial arts program, consumer and family science program, and several sports and clubs.  I'm glad such a vital set of skills is going to be taught directly again.

The question is, where do you start?  I teach in a district diverse in its student population.  Gauging the technological skills and ability to use applications and other Web 2.0 technologies in my students will be tough.

Some have no typing skills, understanding of basic Windows concepts, and cannot even save a file on their own.  Some have more know-how than I do.  It's a wide range of children to attempt to meet and engage.

So of course I immediately with to my PLN on Twitter and am hoping for ideas there.  While I wait, I also took a look at the NETS Standards, which can be found here:

NETS Standards

The six standards are at least a jumping off point to designing a curriculum.  For each school or program, expectations are going to be different.  Our kids will get two 30-minute blocks a day for "tech" instruction.

I would despise it if this class became Keyboarding 101 or educational website playtime.  That's not a tech class.  Technology changes, revolutionizes, enhances, and inspires.  It's how we communicate globally, and built civilization.  It is how we are going to continue to cure cancer, solve environmental problems, and continue to improve society.

Your wpm or how many math problems you got right on the latest math game website will not do those things.  We need to teach how to use today's tools to make tomorrow's tools.  We need to know how to share our ideas about the past and the present to get new ideas for the future.  We need to learn what we  can do to help what has been done.

Digital citizenship is the starting point.  Our job as teachers is to guide students as we educate them.  Using technology and social media in positive ways has to be considered.  If we can make progress in this area, there is going to be less resistance to other tech initiatives such as 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device.

Here are some resources I found to get me started with that:

Digital Citizenship 
Digital Citizenship 2
Digital Citizenship 3
I want to give kids access and the ability to use tools to learn in new ways, not just type up their report for me a little bit faster.  Who knows, we may need them to use some advanced tech to save our life someday as opposed to typing up our death certificate just a tiny bit faster.

Keeping thinking, keep laughing, keep learning.  Have fun and teach kids.

Mr. J.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Augmented Reality? For Real? Yes Really!

I'm going to disclaimer this right now...  I totally piggy-backed off of a Twitter conversation  going on last night and I stumbled upon pure educational gold.

So if you want to learn more about what I'm going to go crazy about right now... check out Two Guys and Some iPad's Blog:

Two Guys and Some i-Pads

So as I'm on Twitter last night, I run into a conversation about Augmented Reality (#AR).  

So what is Augmented Reality?  I'm sort of figuring that out myself.  However if you get Webster on it and break it down, augmenting something means adding to or enhancing.  Reality is this thing we live in.  So what is happening is that our normal experience is being enhanced.

Think of it similar to 3-D movies, HD television, and the Xbox Kinect.  What you are experiencing is being enhanced by technology.  This concept is embodied by something called Aurasma, a new app and technology that is discussed below.

Imagine a classroom where your posters can now jump off of the wall.  Imagine posting student work with a video that explains it hiding in the air.  These "Auras" are just waiting to be created.  Students could use i-pods or i-pads over several images in a classroom or a website to learn more content.

I'm already thinking about a scavenger hunt type of process using this app.  But here's a great idea for all schools:

Imagine you are a PBIS school.  Normally reinforcing behaviors and having some sort of "kickoff" to teach behavior are part of the universal tier.  Imagine students making videos of how to act in the halls, how to act in class, how to act in the cafeteria, etc.  

Students could go around using mobile devices and view those videos that they helped to make.  All of the sudden a constant reminder of behavior could be in a school using mobile technology.

But as a history teacher, there's no doubt that making things come alive is the ultimate goal.  Aurasma can make that happen to an extent that we didn't have readily  available.  

Imagine hiding these "Auras" all over the classroom- invisible, waiting to be found.  Students would literally and metaphorically be "searching out knowledge."

That's engagement, and as the video said, a paradigm shift.  

If you want to learn more, check out  And definitely give a look to the Two Guys and Some i-Pads blog.

If you download the app, try these two very quick Auras I made.  Hold your phone or device over the image:

This might be a gamechanger!

Mr. J.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Teach Like a Pirate: Courage to Say What We're All Thinking

Ahoy you sea-dogs and landlubbers alike!

I'm about a quarter of the way through Dave Burgess's book:  Teach Like a Pirate.  This book was hard to put down last night, but I am looking forward to continuing it through what will be a monotonous grad class tonight.

About Dave

Teach Like a Pirate

However there was something that resonated with me almost immediately as I read.  Burgess points out the strong connection between referencing pop culture and teaching.  Some teachers may frown on this as tacky or worthless, and they are wrong.  Additionally, caffeine and chocolate immediately enhance any lesson (obviously).

So I thought about it for a minute or two and I thought I would list some of the sillier things I have done, references I have made, or attempts to integrate my students' culture into my curriculum.

1.  There are several Family Guy episodes (notorious for their random references) that apply to history.  Try that one some time.  Well first, you have to watch.  Then just say "hey you remember when Brian and Stewie were doing _____________, that's what we are really talking about right now.  This is how it happened."

2.  Call of Duty!  They've made like 5,000 of them now.  Each one focused on a different war or part in history.  You want to talk about D-Day?  Well about half the games have a playable level where you storm Omaha or Utah Beach.  Just say "Hey remember in COD 2 in that first level where you hit the beach?"  Or you want to talk about the Chernobyl disaster?  Ask them about the level in COD 4 where you're in an abandoned city.  Mention the Ferris Wheel you wait by for the helicopter to extract you.  They'll know what you're talking about... even if you necessarily don't.  And the best part is that you can youtube people with the time to record themselves playing these games.  So if you don't have them, you can watch them, just to make the reference.  And this one works on more girls than you would believe.

3.  Find parodies.  From SNL to TV to movies to music, historical figures and events are parodied.  If the kids get why it is funny on their own, then they probably understand something about who that person was or what that event was about.  Just be careful that your audience can watch whatever it is, and that you don't have an administrator or parent who will go to red alert.  Here's a good example for the War of 1812:

4.  Anytime you have to talk about how outrageous the government was in doing something to someone, make the analogy to pizza, soda, facebook, or texting.  Imagine if the kids had to pay a tax on every text they sent.  Everyday, multiple times.  Now carry that feeling over to the American colonists paying taxes on their tea and everyday goods.

5.  Communism not setting in with your kids?  Give them all a bunch of candy (capital).  Then let them play a trivial game (rock, paper, scissors or Tic-Tac-Toe), where the winner gets a piece of the loser's candy.  That's competition in the market, and we call it capitalism.  Let someone win big, and then step in as the government and level the playing field again for everyone.  That's socialism.  Let them get upset that they just got robbed or revel in the fact that someone saved them.  Most will have gotten a bit of candy back, and you just created a candy proletariat in your classroom that will want to maintain the equality on their own, without me (the government).  Oh, P.S.  that's Communism.  This one was not my idea, so here's props to where I got that one from:

Communism Candy Lesson

6.  Use bad movies to teach good history.  If you haven't seen Pearl Harbor, watch it.  Then use it to explain to kids that it really wasn't a love story.

7.  Wrestling fans?  Buy a title belt from Walmart and then use it in a competition.  Middle schoolers love showing off and gloating to their peers.  You know you're awesome if you're the champ.

8.  Justin Beiber is Candian, as is Carly Rae Jepsen.  The boys from One Direction are British, as is Adele.  Selena Gomez is Hispanic.  Nicki Minaj is a Trinidadian, Rihanna is from Barbados, Shakira is from Colombia.  There's a geography lesson or project waiting to happen.

9.  Speaking of geography and map skills, let the kids create a city, state, or country.  Let them give it a theme.  I graded countless sports, boy-band, video game, and tv/movie-themed maps.  For older students, ask them to also devise the government structure.  Wanna be king?  Emperor?  President?  Prime Minister?  Or perhaps you and a few friends want a good old-fashioned oligarchy...  Who cares if the names are silly?  I mean someone named their town Santa Claus (sorry Jay Cutler)

That's it for now.  Time to go to school!

Mr. J.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Does It Have to Have a Pencil Involved to Be "Writing"?

Happy Sunday!

Having another overcast Central Illinois day today.  However my baseball team split a doubleheader today and managed to get its first win of the season.

If you are really interested in how we're doing... check out!

Anyways, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I am going to include writing into my curriculum. Mostly because my administrator told me "you are going to include more writing into your curriculum."  And so of course, with less direction or inspiration than I would like to have, I am setting forth.

My question though is this:  are we at a point where writing needs to ever be on paper anymore?  I mean sure, people are going to continue to need to write, and learn how to write, but as far as an assignment goes, should a written work be the last step still?

For example, if I want my students to respond to something they have read, they can post their response to Edmodo, link it to a blog, or if I ever was feeling ambitious, tweet it.  Those are still writing exercises, just not on paper.

But what if the writing was not the final product?  What if that writing turned into a short youtube clip where the student responded using what they wrote.  What if they enhanced it using an animation program like xtranormal?  What if they did an audio recording?  What if they rapped it?  All of those things started with writing, and guess what... we probably just hit a common core speaking and listening standard in the process.

I think that doing things in a way like this is more in line with the way our students our today, and also allows them to do things I need and want them to do while giving them outlets to be creative as well.  I'm not trying to "trick" them into writing, but I'm sure enough hoping for more success and better products.  If the student gets to record his or herself reading or talking about his or her writing, I'm hoping that a better job will get done.

It's this step beyond that is going to take our students from merely reciting or repeating back to us things we told them and instead transform their everyday work into something they produce.  With a course management site like Edmodo, Moodle, Blackboard, etc., this is within reach.  Imagine being able to conference with a parent and student and show them the work they have produced because it is digitally preserved and archived...  No more manila folders with crinkled papers and gouged corners.  No more messy papers with eraser holes and cross-outs.  No more papers getting lost (definitely guilty of that one) by a teacher!

Technology is just something that does a task for people in an easier way.  Usually it saves time.  That extra time should be used to create better work, not just hand in work in a different format.

Ok, I'll put my soapbox away for a bit.  Here's to my fingers being crossed for the Google Academy!

Mr. J.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bounty System?

Hello World-

Stay with me on this one... I'm going somewhere with it.

I still consider myself to be a "young man," unless my parents or an authority figure address me as such :).

Anyways through three years of marriage, I have managed to maintain possession of an xbox.  Video games these days always have extra things to do in them.  These "achievements" give you additional gamerscore points on xbox.  It's kind of a way to show off and brag to your friends.

Check out the following sites or previous blog posts of mine to get an idea of what I'm talking about:

If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

Random Thoughts for Next Year

Using Badges (Edudemic)

So with my ideas for a flipped classroom, I know that differentiation will come naturally.  I plan to divide my kids into "project groups" and "reading groups."  This way kids can pick their own groups to work on large assignments while I will assign them into groups based on our reading data to assist them.  This way if our MAP scores tell us a large group needs to work on cause and effect, making predictions, etc. I can tailor their reading through Edmodo to do so.

Regardless, there are going to be kids who get done early.  I have always had a hard time keeping these kids busy because there are other students who honestly just need my help more.  So here is my idea... a bounty system.

From Dog the Bounty Hunter to the Borderlands franchise to the Wild West, bounties are collected when someone accepts a task and completes it for compensation.  So in my class, I am considering posting specific research tasks on a "bounty board."  These would be similar to the student contracts that I discussed before, giving students who have completed their assigned tasks something to explore.

Take the Civil War for example.  There are so many topics, battles, people, and technology that could be explored in so much more detail.  I could select some of these topics that I have research or readings for and post them to the bounty board.  Students who finish work early (or those who wish to do something extra that they found interesting) can accept an assignment off the bounty board.

I plan to do a running points system for the students' grades this year.  Taking an assignment off the board will be similar to creating their own using a student contract.  Both of these will be extra assignments that can add points to the grade.  It is extra work to improve the grade, but not simply free points.  If the work is poor, the grade will be also.

The badge and level systems will be added into the bounty system.  Doing extra work will earn extra experience, which will lead to more rapid acceleration through the ranks.  Students will quickly see (I hope) that going above and beyond is worth it, and will be recognized!


This will hopefully accelerate students who are ready and keep them engaged in relevant content while I can continue to facilitate and provide additional instruction to those who need it.

It's win-win.  They get positive recognition and perhaps more tangible associations to "leveling up," and I get more out of students than I hopefully would have without any sort of system.

Let me know what you think!

Mr. J.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Want to Go to Chicago

Hello fellow Techies-

I finished my Google Teacher Academy application.  It's hard to say something in just one minute, so I just decided to be myself.  I watched on Youtube and saw how awesome some of these videos were, and how much of an overachiever some folks are!!!  Impressive nonetheless, I aspire to be as talented.

I really want this however.  Technology just goes with our students.  They're connected at all times to the world, to each other, and to information.  Schools have to continue to focus on using the skills that kids already have instead of scorning their use of technology.  Kids these days can multitask so well that we should give them several things to do and watch them do it.

Anyways... I'll get on a soapbox some other time.  Here's my video.  Amateur footage I know, but I'm working with free software.  Thinking about Camtasia soon though.  I'll definitely give it a review for the blog universe.

But right now it's a beautiful day, and I'm going to go spend it with my beautiful wife and the baby boy she's carrying along with her.  I can't wait to meet him!

Best of luck to anyone who makes it to Chicago.  I'm so close to there, maybe I'll crash the Academy if I don't get picked :)!

Mr. J.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


This was a suggestion from my wife...  Learning about these link parties this summer.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Death to Lesson Plan Books! Evernote: Great for Lesson Planning

Hello All-

It's like the Epic of Gilgamesh out there.  It's been raining in Central Illinois for what seems like weeks.

That just means it's time to blog once more.  Today I'm going to tell you about the best $30 you can spend.  Evernote, a web-based, note-taking and organizing system, is great for lesson planning.

The service itself is free, but there is limits to file space.  I upgraded for $30/year and have more than enough space, with a quota that refreshed every month or so.  Evernote is great because you can set up notebooks, tag them with special tags to search later, upload documents, and quickly share a note or file with other people.

Additionally, Evernote has apps for the i-phone and droid phones, works on a Mac, and also has a desktop interface so that you do not have to access the website.  A companion app, Skitch, allows you to snap a picture or create a sketch and then quickly upload it to your notes as well.  You can do the same thing from the cell phone app too.

On the far left are all my notebooks, which I use for grad school and for lesson plans.  Next is the recent notes that I have taken or edited.  Then to the right is the current open note, one for a book I am reading.  All of this information can be tagged, as you see on the far left.  Want to find the week you taught the Constitution?  Tag it, and then search it.  To the top right, you can edit a note, share it, delete it, or print it.  Imagine that crazy day where you wake up feeling horrible, your kid is sick, your car won't start, or there's a traffic jam.  Quickly call a colleague or your trustworthy secretary, forward them the note via email, and they can click print.  Then it looks like this:

Each paperclip icon represents an attached file.  If you can save it or scan it, you can attach it.  File limits are pretty high.  You may not be able to load up a feature-length fill to Evernote, but every document, powerpoint, picture, and even most sound files will fit.

The app is nice too.  The interface is easy to use:

This is how I keep all my lesson plans organized, because if I had this much paper in binders I'd go crazy and probably lose it.  Like I said... best $30 ever spent.

Well that's it for now, hopefully my next blog post will come from dry land.  I feel like I'm in a terrible Kevin Costner movie.

Here's to sunshine-

Mr. J.