Innovate your life as an educator 

Do nothing and slide into oblivion. Innovation is risky, and success is not guaranteed. Doing nothing guarantees failure. 
I saw that she cartoon on twitter a few months ago and I immediately knew that this explains a lot about what I think about leadership.

In school, you see a lot of safe plays. Safe PD, safe lessons, safe rules, safe grades, safe policies etc.

I agree that safety is paramount in the k-12 school system, but where does innovation enter the equation? It seems that there can always be someone there with a counter point for any project you undertake. Sometimes that is necessary on your way to.a compromise.

However safety and futuristic vision need to be weighed together and acted upon. In order to provide our students with activities and lessons that are valuable and provocative in order to keep our twitter-generation student attention spans.

I see a lot of great ideas on twitter. Most of the time I ask myself: “why can’t we do that?” Sometimes the answer is knowledge or resources, but other times it is the willingness to take risks. 

We instill in our students the need for a growth mindset.  The need for grit to persevere in the face of adversity. Then why are adults always erring in the side of safe decisions rather than risking failure to bring about real change? 

P.s The cartoon is from Check it out!

Quick and easy UDB

You Win UBD, you Win.

UBD is tried and true. It might get some flack from teachers but at the end of the day, if you are unsure of what you are teaching, or how you are teaching, nobody is going to call you crazy for focusing on UBD.

I still remember the day that I learned about UBD. It was a lecture class, It was late, I had worked all day and was taking a class from 6-10 once a week. Yikes. Then the Prof started talking about these things called UBD, I already thought she was nuts but, by this time I think I had confirmed it.

Honestly, I got through the class but I still dont think that I had a firm grip on the topic. I’ve been thinking about how there are some gaps in my Genius Hour and I think that part of my issue is that when problems come up, I just try to patch them with a new Stage 3 task, then a Stage 2 to get Stage 1…I’m doing UBD backwards! So, I’m going to dive back in and try to clean up this Genius Hour class.

If this is murky for you as well, here are the coveted Three Stages:

Stage 1  (Remember this is backwards Design):

What is your Essential Question or Enduring Understanding for your students when you are done? Look at Standards, content or do research to figure out what is important that they know. Write that down.

Stage 2

How can you assess what they have done? What will you use to determine if students are proficient in the content that is being delivered? Make those assessment(s)

Stage 3

Now create your activities. Using materials and instruction that helps your attain your Stage 1 goals using Stage 2 Assessments. Get your stuff together!

Some teachers do UDB in the brain automatically I’m sure. There is a tendency to go from 3-2-1 and I get how you can leave students behind in the gaps if you go that route. How do you plan your lessons? Always consulting Wiggins? Or do you martch to a different beat?

Genius Hour Motivation

Genius Hour Motivation: An Honest Discussion


I started my first Genius Hour class this year and had high hopes coming in. I was excited to read a plethora of stories online about students solving real world problems as well as creating connections with community members and improving the surrounding community. As it began some students were motivated and went off to the races, they loved the idea. I was surprised by the number of students who had no idea what they wanted to do. To them this was yet another school project handed down by the man, a real eye roller. They did have Genius Hour motivation! I thought that came with the territory?

A few weeks into Genius Hour, I found myself pleading with students to pick a good topic…or to do anything at all!

  • Some had no idea what they wanted to do, nor had interest in any topics
  • others picked topics with very little information(Ligers)
  • a few just wouldn’t do anything. Seriously they just sat there.
  • A few just watched videos of O’dell Beckham

Even more, I found myself constantly pushing kids. Really hard to do research and to dig into their topics more. If this is supposed to be a passion project…where is the passion!?

I think the online teacher community can be a bit of a utopia sometimes.

People are tweeting and blogging about all these sunny day lessons that kids love and helps them learn tough concepts. Teachers have 3rd graders fixing water sprinklers and others have 5th graders coding in C++. Not to say I dont have those kids, I do. They are great, they are self starting and Genius Hour is a time for them to flourish. Their projects really keep me encouraged about how important 20% time is.

It doesn’t always go great in classrooms. I think if I could critique most of what I read online is that we as teachers do not post what could or will go wrong in a lesson or activity like Genius Hour. I do still love the idea but I am saddened by the way a large percentage of my kids regard Genius Hour that I am tempted to just ditch the project for them and give them more of a scaffolded lesson, because I think in their strange way, they are uncomfortable with the freedom the Genius Hour provides. Does this make sense?

Also, I don’t want to come off that I am not open to suggestions, and am just another teacher whining about newer trends. I am open! I just would like to get out and see what other teachers are doing to deal with a lack of motivation in a class that bills itself as a…self-starter for kids.

So, what do you do? How do you battle this problem and motivate those students in your class who are not captured by the Genius Hour allure?

Middle school kids are different. They’re awkward, and at a crossroads,developmentally I think they are at a chasm, an Indiana jones like situation, with one foot out leaning over the cliff hoping that what they have been doing is the path for then and that there will be a catwalk to stand on. Sometimes it’s there, and other times it’s not and kids fall flat on their face in humiliation. 

When I as in middle school I think for the most part I played it safe and rarely missed the catwalk so to speak. I remember a classmate saying to me that “everyone likes you”. I was lucky. 

 As a teacher I am confronted every day with students that have tough home lives, learning disabilities, medical problems, bad friendships or behavior issues. Differentiation is much more in a classroom than it is in a textbook. 

What excites me about middle school is that you see those kids with their foot out every day. They are wondering where they fit in, are they going to step on an invisible bridge that leads to success? Or trouble? Or miss entirely?

I see kids take the wrong step daily. They choose the wrong friends, put in little effort or just miss in social situations with their peers. This is middle school, and a huge part of being a teacher in these grades goes beyond curriculum to citizenship. Can we help push our students to the right bridge? We can try. We have to, their futures depend on it, because if a student who is smart and has a bright future starts hanging out with the wrong crowd they might never make it out of high school. I’ve seen smart kids, during middle school make that choice that will dictate the rest of their academic life. It’s scary that unconscious decisions in middle school can affect a  student so much. but teachers are there for these kids and are always looking for the best interests of their students. 

So, teach middle school and see first hand how  your teaching can change the trajectory of a students life, and push them to take that step which leads them to success!

Raspberry pi: Weather for all

Do you have a weather station and a Raspberry Pi at your school? You can get the weather out to the masses and really add something positive to your local community!

Weather Underground PWS KMAPEPPE6

The setup is not hard, you will need some sort of way to connect to your station, all models have something, I have a Davis Vantage Vue and have to buy a serial USB link. I hooked the USB into the Pi.

On the Pi, I downloaded weewx: a free linux based weather software. It’s great.


Teach from the Side of the Room

I usually end up with about ten minutes of direct instruction a class. I try to keep them working as much as possible. When I started I watched my predecessor use our computer lab by having the students from the back three rows of our four row classroom come to the front into order to participate in the lesson. I have done the same for the last few years, because I couldnt do anything else. Right?

I started talking to students in their seats this year. Asking them questions, walking around the room. 5th Graders sitting in front of a computer is quite the challenge to keep their attention, but turning off the monitor helps keep wandering eyes focused on the teacher. After using this strategy, I am free to walk around the rows and talk with my students. I’m no longer bound to the front of the room! So,if you have a computer lab, you are not bound to the front of the room! What strategies do you use to keep Students engaged?

When you are a teacher looking for resources, you are a couponer by default

I’ve come to the realization as I get more comfortable with myself as a teacher that if I am going to get new stuff for my classroom, its up to me to try and do so. I’ve written a few grants, and scored a nice one last year. That really got me excited, since then I have been an “education couponer” basically, if there is a deal, grant, giveaway or contest I’m in! I recently threw a tweet into the abyss of a Best Buy contest for teachers. Can you imagine what happened next? I won! Below is my tweet and some info about the contest.

IMG_5192 (1) IMG_5194

It was just a tweet and before I knew it I am getting emails from Best Buy about sending our school new chromebooks! It’s a great feeling to see effort pay off and that large companies like Best Buy are doing contests like this for teachers. If any CEOs are reading this, Donating to schools is a huge public good! It truly has a positive effect on the schools that you donate to!

So, that is really my post. I got lucky, but keep an eye out on social media and network to get those resources! If I had not got a grant or won this contest, my students would be learning the ins and outs of powerpoint, instead of using Raspberry Pi to program games of their own design. I think one of those skills will propel kids into the future and it isnt the stupid paperclip: clippy!