Thursday, July 02, 2015

Interesting Anecdote

I'm reading my first Zig Ziglar book, Born to Win.

I'm only a couple chapters in and just came across this great anecdote:

Three men were buys at the same task, and a passerby stopped and asked each of the men what they were doing.

The first man said, "I am cutting stone."

The second man said, "I am earning my living."

The third man said, "I am building a cathedral."

The first man saw no purpose or value in what he was doing, and my guess is that this days were long and tedious.  He probably went home tired and exhausted every night and dreaded going to work each day.

The second man had a different perspective.  He saw cutting the stones as a means to earn a living and probably had a better attitude than the first man.  However, the value and purpose he saw in his effort was merely about getting his paycheck.  I imagine this man spent a lot of time thinking about other jobs he might be able to get and probably found his work boring and repetitive.

The third man knew he was cutting stone, and he knew he was earning a paycheck, but he also saw value and purpose in his work that transcended those basic realities.  The third man was building a cathedral that would be used by people. The cathedral would be a spiritual and social center where me band women could come to worship and fellowship together.  That church, when completed, would give people hope and help them live better lives.  What do you think the third man's attitude was about his work? My guess is that he couldn't wait to get to work every day. I imagine he arrived early and stayed late. He probably talked about his work all the time and was grateful to be doing something that was so much fun! I'm sure he could  visualize that finished cathedral in his mind and couldn't wait to go there.

So, are you cutting stone, getting a paycheck, or building a cathedral?

Today's Read

Well, technically it's today's listen.

I'm a total podcast junkie, so much so that I probably have more podcasts on my phone than music.  It all began with my fascination with Dan Carlin's Hardcore History (which is still excellent, but now he has taken to producing mammoth episodes (in the four to six hour range) that take a couple months to produce.  Initially, he would produce short podcasts every couple of weeks) and PBS's Learning Matters (featuring the always excellent John Merrow).

Then it began to really intensify when three years ago I discovered Dave Ramsey's Entreleadership.  From there I discovered one of my new favorite podcasters, Michael Hyatt.

So I was pleasantly surprised this morning when I checked my iPhone and saw that a new podcast from Hyatt was available.  The topic was quite interesting: Four Temptations Leaders Face.

Of course, as I listened to this on my way to work, I began applying these four temptations to not just leaders but teachers (who in their own way lead their classes every single period).

Here are the four temptations:

1.  The Temptation of priorities.  

Hyatt talks about how leaders sometimes get s busy that they lose track of their true priorities (think of Ziglar's wheel of life here:

When you overemphasize or ignore any of these spokes, the wheel begins to wobble.  If not put back into proportion, the wheel will blow out.  And how good is it driving a car with one flat tire?

Hyatt talks about how too often leaders (and teachers) try to take on too much.  They put in incredibly late hours, neglecting their family and health.  This, of course, sets a bad examples for all of those under this leader, for their workers begin thinking that by overworking, that is how you be successful.

This leads to burnout.

This is so true with teachers, which is why a majority of teachers leave the profession early (within their first four years actually).  So when a teacher arrives early and stays extra late, they begin to neglect some of the spokes of this wheel in the sake of "career."  This is often what many of young teachers do.  

In fact, I did the same thing.  And I began to hate what I did.  At least my first year.

I was tired and totally drained.  I took this out on my students, who, in turn, began disliking my class (I mean who really wants to spend any time at all around someone who is tired and worn out, and, thus, crabby?).

I don't think it's any coincidence that once the other spokes on my wheel began to equal out, I suddenly began to love every aspect of my life, which I still do.

The only spoke that I really have left to get back into shape (pun intended) is the 'health' spoke.  And that's what I've been working on for about 8 months now.

2.  The Temptation of Entitlement.

This happens to leaders when they begin to think they are owed things - the corner office, the larger desk . . . and so on.

This can happen to teachers with the classes they teach.  When I started at LHS, I was given five sections of Lit and Lang 10.  This was the class no one else wanted to teach.  So it was given to the new guy.

I understand that this is how it tends to work.  But what happens if they did that in other fields?

Such as give the real sticky cases to the rookie lawyers or the worst cancer cases to the new doctors or the most sensitive crimes to the new detectives?

Talk about a recipe for failure (I think this is the other contributing factor in why many teachers leave the field within their first four years).

Luckily for me, teaching five classes of Lit and Lang 10 in a six period day was just what I needed to practice my craft and get good at it.

The best way to guard against this is to remain humble and keep everything in perspective.

I joke with colleagues from time to time, but I keep things in perspective by imagining one of my heroes in teaching, Loiell Dyrud, and understanding that I could never, ever fill his shoes. I tell myself that on my very best days at LHS, I might be able to tie them but never fill them.

Likewise, I know I could never teach AP (taking the practice test this winter was an exercise in humility, even though the key to the test is available on-line - why didn't I realize that when I was taking it?).  I know I can never use technology or incorporate discussions as well as my colleagues.

That keeps me in my place.

Oh yeah, since I am blessed to teach College Comp 1 and 2, I often have students who are smarter than I am.  I simply have the benefit of years of experience.

3.  The temptation of resentment.

This happened to me on this very blog several years ago when the Kaffir Boy controversy occurred.  I became very resentful toward many community members who criticized us and the book.

I was wrong.

I should not have handled it that way.

Hyatt says in the podcast that he heard resentment described as drinking poison and hoping the other person who resent will die.

That's exactly what I was doing with my rants on my blog.

How often do we as teachers become resentful of colleagues and students?

That does us zero good.

First, it sets a horrible example for our colleagues and students.

Second, it ruins the culture we have built in our schools and classes.

Third, it is not how we would like to be treated, so why would we treat others this way?

Hyatt shares how one of his colleagues deals with criticism (which often leads to resentment): she treats it as a compliment.  She just takes it in stride.  And when the critics press on, she replies with this brilliant response: "Maybe you're right."  Because, maybe they are.

4.  The temptation of popularity.

This one is very difficult for teachers.  And one I see with young teachers, having fallen prey to it myself.

I think this goes hand in hand with the temptation of entitlement.

But the bottom line for teachers is that popularity is nice but it counts for nothing.  It's great to have students enjoy our class.

But it's far better to have students want to come to class because they learn something (and often times what they learn isn't viewed as popular by the students).

Focus on the skills you teach your students as opposed to how well they like you.  That's the key.

My favorite example of this hangs in our principal's office.

Mr. Zutz (who was head baseball coach at the time) has a photo of his team dog piling each other on the pitching mound after they qualified for TRF's first ever state tournament appearance.

He is nowhere in the picture.


Because it isn't about him.  The players earned it.  Not him.

I love the message that picture implies about leadership and teaching.

When I take final class pictures of my College Comp 2 class, I'm never in the picture.  It's not a conscious decision.  I didn't even realize it until I looked at Mr. Zutz's baseball photo.

I'm not in the pictures because "it's not about me" is ingrained in how I view my classes.

It doesn't matter if my class is popular among the student body.  What is all important is that I equip them with the skills that will make them successful in college.  I'm lucky to have (for the most part) self-motivated learners who also enjoy the challenging material of the class.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Today's Reads, Views, and Links

I find this kind of stuff fascinating: 40 Examples of Classic Branding Next to the Modern Version.

I don't know if it's my interest in design and advertising or just my interest in what caused the evolution of these logos, but I could study this type of stuff all day.

Here are some of my favorites:

 This one is interesting because out of all of the examples, I think the classic logo actually looks more modern than the modern version.

I love the logos that are so identifiable that they don't even need words.  You just see them and you know it's the brand.

The classic Apple logo is sophisticated and elaborate, but it runs opposite of what is at the heart of everything Apple does: easy and simplicity.

Their new logo captures that perfectly.

Not a huge change, but the NFL logo looks much better without the clutter of color in the background.

Oh what color can do.

Another logo that doesn't need any words at all.

A huge improvement over the original.  I can't see how they can improve upon the modern logo.

Not much of a change here, but the new font is a big improvement.


What if instead of finding things to do before we kick the bucket, we find ways to help others instead.  It reminds me of the famous Zig Ziglar quote -


I wonder how teachers could use these techniques to keep their students satisfied?

One of the things that has fascinated me lately is the connection between business (see my branding post above) and education.  If I ever go on for more graduate work, I think I'd explore the connections between these two in my research.  That would be a lot of fun.

For the record here are the Nine Ways

1.  Know they customer.

The example given here is the Dollar Shave Club.  I'm not a member.  I'm one of the few remaining dolts who begrudgingly pays $20 for half a dozen razor blades.

After watching this hilarious commercial, it's easy to see why the brand is so strong with its customers.  Their message is simple: they know we are all getting screwed (in this case sucker punched) by the big razor blade companies.  The Dollar Shave Club guy is on our side.  He sympathizes with us and wants to make our lives better by saving us money.

They know that their customers are fed up with excessive prices and like humor.

How can we as teachers model this in our classes?

One way I do it is on the first day I have students complete this homework assignment (and I do it with them as well): list 111 things about yourself.

What I like about this is that students are encouraged to share the most random things (I have six cats; my dog eats my stuffed animals; I'm left handed; I hate country music . . . ).  I read this and highlight the ones that catch my eye.

But what I'm really getting is an incredible glimpse into the lives of my customers.  From this I can help cement culture and build tribes.

When we read Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and I know that one of my writers is a sci-fi geek, I can ask him if he's ever seen The Island.  If he has, I tell him, he'll find "The Lottery" very similar.

It's all a way of trying to find an "in" to connect with my kids.

This is the same reason I choose to follow them (if they follow me, that is) on social media (namely Twitter and Instagram.  I usually wait to follow a student on FB until they have graduated).

2.  Dig deep to find out what really drives our students.

Etsy is as good as it gets when it comes to this with their customers.  I am a total geek.  Thus, when I was looking for a unique cell phone case and Googled "Star Wars iPhone cases," up came the usual standard stuff that I could get at Best Buy or Target.

But being an uber-geek, that isn't what I wanted. At all.

It's then that I noticed a few really crazy and unique cases.  When I searched more, I discovered that they were sold on something called Etsy.

Apparently, Etsy is a site that allows its users to create products and sell them.  Similar to ebay, but not quite as wide or random.

The more I explored Etsy, the more I felt at home.  I thought, here is my kind of place. Geeks like me live here.

The more I explored, the more amazing things I found and the more money I wanted to spend.

That never happens to me at unremarkable places like Wal-Mart or Kmart.

Etsy has a way of not only knowing their customers, but it also has a way of appealing to the geeky aspects of people like me to cement a relationship that will reward us both - they make money and I get all the uber-nerdy stuff that I crave and that very few other people have.

Where else can you find geeky stuff like this?

This case is my current one, and it combines my two favorites: Star Wars and apple.

This will be my next case: a painting from one of my favorite artists, Lichtenstein.

Once we know our students, how can we make their experience in our class richer and more rewarding.  How can we take what we learn about them and then use that to understand what drives them?  Once we know that, how can we use that to make our content more relevant to them (to answer that dreaded, "When am I ever going to use this?" question).

I know my students love technology, especially social media.  So the question becomes, how can I use this to make my class more meaningful and engaging.  I share assignments and interesting content via social media.  Here is a cool way I can use the site Storify, Pinterest, and Youtube.

3.  Unite internally to improve externally.

StumbleUpon, which I don't happen to use, is the example illustrated in the article.  This is when a company or brand has it's crap together in everything they do.  Their content, engineering, and marketing all work together fluent.  Apple is a master at this.

One brand that fail horribly at this is DirecTV.

I left them when we moved to TRF.  I loved DirecTV when I was in RLF.  But there was one problem in TRF: I have 57 trees on my property.

I explained this to my DirecTV rep when I cancelled.  Had they offered to come out and try to see what they could do to give me a clear view of the Southern sky (the direction their dish must face), I would have entertained remaining loyal to them.

But they didn't.

Now they waste money sending me mail trying to lure me back.  This doesn't work because I just recycle it.

Every time I see one of their damn letters I think, had they worked half this hard when they had me as a customer, I would never have left!

But they blew it.  Now I'll never go back.

As a teacher, uniting internally to improve externally is difficult for me. I'm just not organized enough.  One thing that has helped though, was when I created weekly syllabi (I stole this idea from our principal who sends out our staff weekly).

The key here is not just a weekly updated syllabus.  The key is the extra content I add in (again stolen from Shane and the staff weekly). I add Tweets that I collected from students (sometimes they make fun of me or discuss something we are doing in class or highlight some humorous or important aspect of their lives).  And when a student sees they made the staff weekly, they love it. I couldn't pay for that type of reaction.

I also add in part of story or document related to what we are studying to add depth to our content (for example, if it's in College Comp and we are writing our how to survive college essay, I may put in an article on the top five skills college students need or the top five reasons people dread living in the dorms).

Finally, I add some humorous pins from Pinterest.  Again, adding humor and uniqueness to the syllabi, which we go over on Mondays.  It's always a fun way to being class.  Plus, it keeps students alert to revisions in our syllabus.

4.  Test methodically.

Breaks my heart in education when I see this.  This is great for the market place where companies need to know how their product is doing and what their customers think of it, but I fear we test far too much in education.

And I fear we are testing for the wrong reasons.  If, after all, teachers really want to know how our products are doing what our customers think, giving a traditional test isn't always the best means.  A portfolio, discussion, individual observation, presentation are all great "tests" of our products and what our customers think of them.

The problem is that sometimes teachers (and I've been guilty of this many times) don't know what to do other than test for testing sake.

That scares me.

5.  Educate students about the full value of our product.

Michael Hyatt talks about this in his book Platform.  He analyzes it in three instances -

1.  Provide products and services that you'd actually use.

2.  Solve problems in unique ways.

3.  Over deliver.

  Again, here is where I use social media, usually Tweets or posts or texts from former students.  You see I'm in a privileged position.  My seniors see almost immediately once they get to college how what I've taught them about reading and writing is instantly true.  And they share this quite often.

So I share these with my classes (either by printing them our and taping them to my podium, re-tweeting them, or adding them to a board of mine on Pinterest).

  I let these show my students the full value of the reading, writing, and thinking we do in CC 1 and 2.

6.  Make student retention a KPI

Student retention? Not a whole lot we can do about that, unless it's for electives.  But think back about your college experience.  I bet there were professors that either were so interesting, smart, charismatic, or engaging that you flocked to every course your could take from them.

How can we do the same thing at the high school level?

This is what I struggle with.  And it's what motivates me every single morning as I think on my way to school: if students could report to any class they wanted to, not the classes they had to go to, but the class that they felt most valued in and respected in and that their voice mattered most in, would I have anyone in my room when I got to school?

I hope so.

7.  Beware of discounting

The point here is that customers won't build a relationship with your product just because they save money or find a great deal.

This doesn't directly apply to teaching.  But one correlation I can see is that teachers can offer vital knowledge or college credit . . . but if they don't offer real value in terms of classroom culture and engagement, they aren't going to get the same type of student buy in.

8.  Focus on quality customers

Now I think sometimes this is just what we do in high school and it costs us big time.  In the age prior to NCLB you could just focus on the top 15% of students (those most likely to go to college) and they'd carry the rest on their back.  However, once NCLB began "measuring" (in the form of high stakes tests) skills in various sub-groups, it became clear that the top 15% of students could no longer take the attention away from the lack of education the 85% were not getting.

The real key in education is how to connect with and boost that 85% up while not neglecting the top 15%.

9.  Drive students to your product's most valuable resources

This is another area where I use social media and texts from past students.  Early on in College Comp I will ask the class to text someone they know (often a sibling or relative) who has previously taken CC from me.

I challenge them to ask them how College Comp prepared them.

Then when the results roll in, I don't have to say anything.  The results speak for themselves.  I get instant buy in.  No selling involved.


A great TED Talk I can across.  And what a great topic: fear.


I've heard of the woeful Snakes on a Plane, but Cat on a Plane?

This is awesome!

Don't worry.  The pilot realizes the cat is on the wing and lands quickly and safely.  With the cat!

Summer '15

Is already just about half over.  Once the Fourth of July rolls around . . . and the fair one week after that, summer is pretty much over.

I know there is all of August, especially for us teachers since Labor Day falls so late this year, but mentally once August rolls around, I'm all in for school.

This summer has been good.  Father's Day was great.  Early in the morning, we loaded the kids up and headed to GF where we took in Inside Out, which is amazing by the way.  Then we did a bit of shopping before heading home.

It was spent (for the most part) in the most enjoyable way possible: indoors!  Ha ha.  I'm a proud indoorsman (give me air conditioning, high speed wi fi, and my MacBook Air, a good book, my iPhone and I'm content).  It's not that I don't like the outdoors.  I have to endure them as I go from my car to the house.

Then we KoKo got back home from visiting Cody for a few days, she surprised me with more Father's Day gifts (one of KoKo's greatest virtues is that she is a great gift giver).  In her gift bag I found a wonderful Father's Day plaque for my desk, a Terminator skull (also for my desk), and the best present of all: an AJ Green jersey!

Forgive me. It's been a long time since I've had to strike a Heisman pose!

Summer has also been busy since most days I get the kids from Glenda's at 1:00 and spend the rest of the day being Mr. Dad, which includes going to parks, Scooby Doo or Monster High marathons, Legos, evening cruises, t-ball practice, and trips to the beach.

Cash has started t-ball.  He loves it.

But he loves talking to his coaches and cracking jokes more than he actually pays attention, but that's kind of what t-ball is all about.

Kenz continues to be Kenz.  She lost a tooth, loves t-ball, and since she is starting to read more fluently, is beginning to see words pop up all around her.  She was especially amazed to see our last name on a kitchen product.

"Dad!" she said. "Our last name is on here!  Why?"

I told her it was because I invented it.  Good thing she didn't see the "Trusted Since 1947" right below it.  Then I'd have to fess up and tell her that it was actually invented by my (much) older sister, Uncle Barb!

Cash continues to ham it up.  I swear we have a future comedian on our hands with this kid.

What really scares me, though, is just how quickly these two are growing up!  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

5 Digital Tools I Can't Teach Without

For the past few years now, there have been five digital tools that have become vital to my teaching, so much so that I wouldn't be as effective without them.

Here is a quick rundown of the tools.  Later in the post, I'll dive more in depth on each.

1.  Blogger (how's that for irony - writing about Blogger on my blog).  This is the base for everything that I do.  All the other sites listed here work well with Blogger.

2.  Padlet.  I've been using this for many years now.  It is a great discussion starter, brainstorming device, and classroom content organizer.

3.  Storify.  This is my new favorite app.  I use this every single day - not just in class either.  This allows you to basically turn the web into a story.  More on that later.

4.  Google Docs.  Initially, I had a love/hate (more often hate) relationship with Google Docs (namely Drive), but I've started to come around.  This is probably the most prominent tool in my classes.  This is how I send out assignments and have students submit most of their work.

5.  TED Ed.  This is another one I use at least once a week in my classes.  This allows you to take any video and customize it for your needs (create a quiz based on it or build in pages with further resources or connect it to other videos).  The only thing I'd change about this is that I wish I could embed the videos on Blogger.  Instead, I have to just include a link.

In depth dive -

Blogger -

There are a couple different ways I use this bad boy.

1.  I use my personal blog as a tool to model all of the skills I want my kids to develop.  As Penny Kittle and Tom Romano and Donald Murray and Peter Elbow and Thomas Newkirk and a host of others have been saying for 30 years now, the most effective writing teacher write themselves.  This blog illustrates me doing just that.  That's why I have the menu bar at the top that includes My Writing.

I also know that Don Tapscott has talked about many companies who now require (imagine that) their employees to blog!  Why?  It's simple: Transparency.  Any one who deals with millennials know how they are big on transparency and integrity.

Yes, they love to spend money and buy things, but if they can buy things from companies that do something good for the world, you're golden.  That's why transparency is so vital to the future.

When I tell my kids to be life long learners and constantly curious, what better way to prove that I'm walking the walk other than showing anyone that.

2.  I have two blogs for my classes: College Comp 2 and College Comp 1.  This is the "home base" for much of what we do.  This allows me to share past student work, send out assignments, have class discussions, and just post cool stuff.

3.  I have students create their own blogs (this is something that our senior focus class uses Google Sites for - and it's a brilliant idea).  This allows for students to publish their work for the world.  I love what Angela Maiers (follow her blog here) is that she encourages all of her students to publish work online, as long as it has a "W.O.W." factor, which means "Worthy of the World."  Let me tell you, this is something - as I scan all the crap on FB right now - that I wish my generation would have learned!

Here are some excellence examples of student blogs.

Example #1 - a "beauty" blog.

Example #2 - using Google sites as an online portfolio for student work.

Example #3 - a book review with hyperlinks.

Example #4 - a hyperlink essay (though to be honest, Google Docs allows for this just as easily as Blogger).

Example #5 - a way to publish a MGRP.

2.  Padlet

There are a couple different ways I use this and have seen this used.

1.  I like to use it as a way to engage students in a topic that we will be reading soon.  Before we begin reading The Element in College Comp, I like to have students do some research and thinking about the importance of creativity in our culture.

What is great about this is that it allows you to post media to a wall for all to see.  Usually how I do this is on Monday I send the link to the Padlet wall out to my class.  On it I explain that I want them to find two examples of what they deem to be creativity (and to explain why - students always seem to neglect that part).

This works great because most will head right to Youtube.  They will come up with the most amazing stuff.  Then on Friday I have them justify their examples as we watch them as a class.

What is great about this is that my students know so much more about Youtube than I do.  They always amaze me with the original stuff they find.  I just steal all of their examples and add them to my personal playlist on Youtube for use later in class or in demos or Keynotes.

Here are some examples -

The only problem with the older version of Padlet is that it didn't allow for any real organization of content so it looked like the mess of posts above.

In their latest update, though, they fixed that issue and allow you to organize it more coherently.

2.  It's a great way to get students' thoughts collected to begin an assignment (or to wrap one up).

Here is one our principal used asking us to imagine what sucks about  LHS from a student's point of view.  (BTW - you can either have the students put their names or leave them off for anonymity.  That is what Mr. Zutz asked us to do in this example).

Here is one I used to gather my students' final observations about the book Everything Bad is Good For You.

Storify -

My personal favorite.

I use this all the time in and out of class.

In class I use it to direct students to resources surrounding a unit of study.

These can be embedded in Blogger, but they are so large that it slows the download time considerably, so I will just include them here as links.

Here is one I am going to use when I introduce the new book we will be reading this fall in College Comp 2, The Devil in the White City.

Here is another I used when we watched Jaws in College Comp 1 for a film review.  In fact, I keep adding to this throughout the summer as more stories about sharks and attacks hit the news.

Finally, here is a Must Read reading list I'm keeping as I browse the internet every morning looking for mentor texts to be used with my students next year in College Comp 1.

Google Docs -

This is a daily tool in just about every one of my classes.

The main use is for submissions of assignments and for sending out assignments.  Each one of our students is given a email address.  Then I take all of the emails of my students and put them into a contact folder.  This way when I create a document of an assignment, Drive allows me to share that document with everyone in that contact folder.

What is so great about this: there is never an excuse for a late assignment or for a student to say "I didn't know you assigned that?"

If you go to LHS, you have a MacBook Air and constant internet connection.  No excuse.

Another aspect that I love about Google Docs is that when I send out or share an assignment, I can see right away which students are logging on to it, for their little icons pop up in the upper right corner, so I know right away who is working and who is not.

Another feature that I like is using Google Docs for a class wide activity, such as coming up with interesting leads for an essay or partaking in a classroom discussion.  Docs allows you to create a document and then add as many collaborators as you want with permission to edit it.  So I could share a document with the entire class, grant them all editing privileges, and then type a sentence like: "Type the first sentence of your rite of passage essay below.  Be sure to put your name in bold after it.  Then read through the other examples and offer feedback to the author."

Then it a matter of seconds 20 students will descend upon that document and begin writing on it all at once.

It's a trip!

Finally, there is my favorite classroom tool: TED Ed.

What I love about this site is that it allows a teacher to customize any video for their classes.  

The first section is entitled "Think," and this allows you to create a quiz that students can take while watching a video, 

The next section is "Dip Deeper," and this allows you to add links to resources or questions to extend the thinking after watching the video.

The third section is "Discuss," which allows you to pose a question (or several) that your students can then discuss in an on-line forum.  Others on TED Ed can add to the discussion as well.

Last is the section "Finally," which allows you to offer any final thoughts or to put in any links to other related sources.

How I use this is as a great tool for when I am going to be gone.  I can structure an entire lesson for my students that they can access all via their computers.

I will share a video (say this one by Adam Kreek).  That link has the entire assignment for the class period as well as homework for the next day.

First, students watch the video and take the quiz.  Ted Ed immediately emails me when a student has taken the quiz (with the results no less!), so I can tell - even though I'm at home - who is on task and who is slacking.  Then I send the slackers a text reminding them to get back to work!

Second, I have this under the "Dig Deeper" category which sends them to two other articles and then poses several possible prompts for them to write during the period.

Third, under the ". . . And Finally" category is the homework for the next day.

Of course, students can share their homework with me via Google Docs.

And if I'm really on top of my game, I can begin the next period with a Padlet board where students share their reactions.  That leads to a solid discussion.  Then I can share a Storify with them illustrating related videos and stories for further study.

We can wrap that all up with a discussion via our class blog.

And there you have, the five digital tools I can't teach without.

Here is a Youtube version of the Keynote I presented at the class . . . if you're interested.

Summer Reads

It has been my goal to read at least one book a month during the school year and three books a month in the summer.

Sometimes I have a lot better luck than other times, depending on the paper load during the school year.

So far this summer, it's been a little slow, but here is the list for this summer:

Penny Kittle -Write Beside Them.

This is a re-read.  I first read it about four years ago, and while it really blew me away, I didn't fully let the book sink in.

This time, though, it's different.  This book is going to totally transform how I teach College Composition I.

So I'm taking my time with it.  I read it for a second time in about a week.  Now, though, I'm slowly working my way through it - and as I do - I'm jotting down notes and devising lesson plans with an eye on implementing them in CC next fall.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Zig Ziglar - Born to Win.

I just started this one last night.  While I've listened to dozens of podcasts, namely those featuring Seth Godin and Dave Ramsey, that talk very highly about Ziglar, I have never read any of his works before, so this is my intro to him.

So far it's phenomenal, and it was really hard to put down last evening.

Plus, any book that has a QR code on the cover is awesome!

Best of all, I won this book as a result of my addiction to the podcast enterleaderhip, which gives away books with each new episode.

Thomas Newkirk - Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones.

This book also came highly recommended from a Heinemann podcast I was listening to featuring Nancy Atwell.  Her school read this as a PD read.

The core thesis of the book is to explore how the rise of "bad" ideas came to dominate our education landscape.  Those "bad" ideas being mainly the dominance of high stakes (and very low quality) tests (thanks to NCLB and backed up with RTTT and now still dominated by WBWF - don't know what those acronyms means?  Don't worry.  There will be new ones in a few months anyway) and reading strictly for "skills" as opposed to reading for pleasure and the dominance of the five paragraph theme style of writing that chokes any pleasure out of writing for students.

Newkirk is one smart man.  And his chapter on "Expressive Writing: Maybe the best Idea of All" is a great history of the rise of expressive writing, touching on some of the biggest names in comp theory: James Britton, Peter Elbow, and Donald Murray.  Great, great stuff.

And it's a good reminder for me as we - as a department at LHS - take the plunge into a very standardized curriculum (far more standardized than we have ever had before) - that regardless of how amazing the curriculum is, the developers of Collections don't know (and can never know) the 15 kids in my Lit and Lang 9 class as well as I do.  There will always be a need to inject a little creativity and personality into our curriculum to tailer it to meet the needs of our kids.

Tom Romano - Crafting Authentic Voice.

Like Kittle's book, this one is a re-read.  When I read this about ten years ago, I found it to be the best, most useful teaching manual on writing that I have ever encountered.  It changed how I taught writing every single day in my class.

Now I'm re-reading it on the heels of Write Beside Them to hopefully catch any snippets of prose to use in class as mentor texts or ideas to use to improve my teaching of writing.

The chapter, "The Five Paragraph You Know What" is worth the price of the book.  In fact, I have bought this and given it to several of my former students who have graduated and are considering becoming English teachers.  It's that good!

The Benham Brothers - Whatever the Cost.

This was another freebie that I got for listening to the entreleadership podcast.

This book has a stronger religious bent than any I have read before, as the Benham brothers are strong Souther Baptists, but it doesn't overwhelm the real reason I'm reading the book, which is their idea of how you must "die to your dreams," which is very similar to Seth Godin's concept of The Dip.

Their point is you have to chase your dreams with everything you have, but in the end, you have to hold your dreams with an open hand, for they may very well not come true.  Then what are you going to do?  Call it a life?

Nope.  Let them go and trust in the lord to offer you a new dream to chase.

Erik Larson - The Devil in the White City.

This is a new addition to my College Comp 2 curriculum.  I read this a few summers ago and added it to my classroom library.  This is one of the few free reading books I have my students choose that every kid just loves and finds fascinating.

This is the story of the Chicago World Fair in 1893 (that is the White City of the title), which also coincided with one of America's first serial killers, J.J. Holmes (he is the devil of the title).

Since I read it casually several years ago, I'll have to read it with a more diligent eye this summer to develop some curriculum around it, just as I did last summer when I got The Ghost Map to use in my CC 1 curriculum.

Marc S. Tucker - Surpassing Shanghai.

I actually bought this book last summer with some classroom budget dollars, but I never got around to reading it (it's still in the packaging wrap), so I'm saving this one for later this summer to give me some insights that will help me with my UND Teaching and Learning 250 class this fall.

I'm an ed policy junkie and could read stuff like this all the time, though I still have to read the next book too that has sat on my shelf for far too long.

Diane Ravitch - Reign of Error.

Ravitch is one of my all time favorites in the world of education reform.  Her book - The Life and Death of the Great American School System, which I devoured a couple summers ago, was one of the best serious looks at the modern education landscape I have ever read.  This should be mandatory reading for ever single teacher in America.

Her most recent book will work well with Newkirk's book.

Thomas C. Foster - How to Read Literature Like a Professor.

Who wouldn't want to read this book with a title like that?

I saw this in a textbook magazine a few years ago and ordered a sample copy (we currently use this in our AP English class).  I just haven't had time yet to read it, which I am planning on doing mid-July.

And finally a couldn't go a summer without reading one of my all-time favs: Seth Godin.

I just bought his classic, Tribes, on my iPhone (the audiobook) and will listen to it while I log some miles on the treadmill.

I was just listening to Michael Hyatt's podcast and he said he devours books while on the treadmill.  I never thought of that before. (Coincidentally, this book made Hyatt's all time top ten list . . . Who doesn't love Godin's work?)

I'm currently on a weight loss regimen, which include bouts of high intensity running with short walking bursts, so that requires some good old rock and roll (AC/DC, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Metallica) to survive.  However, I do a warm up mile and then a cool down mile where I like to just let my mind wander.  I think this will be an excellent place to listen to Tribes, especially when Godin himself is the narrator of the audio book.

Well, hopefully I can knock those off before my birthday at the end of summer.  Despite all my high hopes of keeping up with my reading, once school starts and those papers start to roll in, reading is not as high of a priority as it is in the summer.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I so wanted to believe this

When I read this editorial on Earth day, "The State of Our Planet Is Better Than Ever," I so wanted to believe it.  The author, an economist (what they know about the earth's condition - I hope - is better than what they seem to know about our ever fluctuating economy), named Stephen Moore is all about how Earth Day is overrated.

There is no looming environmental disasters about to send us back to the middle ages . . . or worse . . . to extinction.

And he makes some good claims:

1) Natural resources are more abundant and affordable today than ever.

That made sense to me.  I mean us living in America - even those of us in the lower middle class - enjoy a life style that is far richer than 99.9% of people who have ever lived in the history of the world.

Then just today I saw this about the earth's water supply.

So much for the one natural resource we should have more of than anything (after all isn't our planet 75% water?)!

But Moore - his rhetoric and biases are quite clear if you bother to read his editorial - refries to anyone who attempts to argue that bad things are happening "proven shysters" - I am sure would refer to NASA as a surefire shyster organization.

And Mr. Moore, I just saw this on the news this morning: water level at the Hoover Dam dips to record low.  Yep, water is more abundant in the western part of the US than ever before. Not.

2) Energy - the master resource - is abundant.

True enough.  It's a major drag in our household when the wifi speed crawls to a snail's pace at the end of the month.  This is the biggest problem we face in our household.  And we have come a long way since my grandmother and her kids had to huddle around the wood stove in their home in Red Lake Falls on cold winter nights.

True enough.  Though when I see our monthly energy bill, I can't help but think how it's more than my father made in an entire month (if not several months) when he and my mother were first married (in a house that didn't have running water by the way).  So energy is more abundant than ever.

That should be celebrated.  And we should guard against it going away . . . as we are more dependent upon energy than ever before.

3) Air and water.

See NASA's report on the depletion of the major underwater supplies.  And just in case you don't trust those shyster's at NASA, here is a report asking the simple question "How Can Our Blue Planet be Running out of Fresh Water?' from the BBC.

And as far as air goes, tell that to the Chinese . . . who now have more energy (dirty energy by the way) than ever before in their long and glorious history.

Or is this yet another shyster?

I'm starting to think that maybe Moore is meaning by "shyster" anyone who doesn't think like me!

4) There is no Malthusian nightmare of overpopulation.

It certainly does appear that global poverty is on the decline.  Which would be a major triumph for everyone on this planet.  If overpopulation isn't a problem, though, why are we soaring past 7 billion right now? Why is that China and India have more honor students than America has students (and our current students - the millennials - are the largest generation of American children ever.  Baby boomers are around 72 millions while millennials are at least around 87 million).

5) Food production is up vastly over where it was in the 1950s.

Moore hits this right on the head.  That's thanks to our amazing advances in science and technology and how it has improved the food production in America.  So before we start smashing those scientists for their dire warnings (those darn shysters again), we should also thank them for getting some things right (such as genetically modifying food and so on).

But who knows what the long range impact of all the pesticides and growth hormones are?

6)  Death and physical destruction from natural disasters has plummeted.

I guess Moore has turned a blind eye to some of these events, which have happened just in my 41 years on earth -

Katrina - 60 billion in insurance losses.

Tsunami in Japan - I don't know about insurance losses, but to rebuild it will cost 309 billion.

The Haiti earthquake - 200,000 dead.  This cost the US alone 195 million in aid.

In fact, if you look at the 25 greatest global disasters (here's a hint - the Black Plague comes in at #2! Right behind the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918) a whopping total of 14 have taken place since I graduated from high school.

Disasters have plummeted?  What planet is Moore living on?

Moore does conclude his editorial with this whopper -

Earth Day should be a day of joy and celebration that life on this bountiful planet is better than anytime in human history. The state of the planet has never been in such fine shape by almost every objective measure. The Chicken Littles are as wrong today as they were 50 years ago. This is very good news for those who believe that one of our primary missions as human beings is to make life better over time and to leave our planet better off for future generations.
Happy Earth Day.
And oddly enough, a couple days ago, I just read this: Earth entering its sixth mass extinction as hundreds of species near extinction.

And today, I just read this from the Lancet.

Now, I'm no doomsdayer.

I grew up with the shadow of The Day After Tomorrow (yes, I actually remember watching that post Nuclear War film with my mother) where the evil Soviet empire seemed inevitable.

And it never came to fruition.

Many other predictions never came to be either. 

But the great thing about all of these incorrect predictions is that there were numerous others proving them wrong as they said these very things.

So I'm not saying Moore's article is a bad thing.  We need that other opinion.  I just worry about he quickly dismisses anyone with a dissenting opinion with his rhetoric.  And some of his claims are ludicrously under-supported (if even supported).

I certainly hope many of these dire predictions don't come true.  But if you aren't trying to solve problems or at least keep an eye out for them, then you're just living with your head in the sand.  Ultimately that seems to be a better place than where Moore seems to have his head much of the time in this article!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rikki Tikky Tavi

I remember this fondly from my childhood, no doubt watching it at my grandmother's apartment when it came on Disney.  It would be years later before I read Rudyard Kipling's story version of this.

When teaching Brit Lit I had a student write an essay in which she interpreted the Kipling tale as a fable for colonialism (as the British Empire took over most of the world . . . in that case the British Empire is represented by the British family while the indigenous people are depicted as the villainous snakes.  I'm sure Rikki Tikki Tavi, the real hero of the tale, is representative of the natives who realize the "civilization" that the colonials are bringing and work to help them rid the native land of its "traditional" ways . . . I know . . . only an English major would delve into a children's work so much).

When I saw this on the Smithsonian website, a real mongoose taking down a real deadly snake, I was reminded of the Kipling tale.

You have to respect the mongoose's moxie.

When I watch it eventually defeat the snake (sorry to ruin it for you), as the mongoose manages to snap the snake's next, paralyzing it and seeing it lie there unable to move as it is about to be eaten alive, I can't help but think of what my father would always say about nature . . . it's cruel.

But that's nature.  And that makes me glad I'm human.  And that reminds me of one of our main goals as humans (or at least what I think should be one of our main goals): to make the world far less cruel.

Science Fiction I and II summer 2015

One thing I love about teaching summer school is that it is the only time I get a chance to teach electives.  Over the past ten years, I've been fortunate enough to teach at least one section of Science Fiction, which is one of my all-time favorite classes, which was offered for an elective way back in 2001 with a curriculum I mostly designed (though the first year it was actually taught I was at BSU for grad school and a colleague of mine had to actually teach it!).

Over the years the curriculum was evolved.  I still rely heavily on our excellent textbook, Decades of Science Fiction, but it has also adapted to involve some of the most seminal sci fi films: The Matrix, Alien, The Thing, and Inception.

This year I will be teaching Science Fiction II - with total freedom to construct a new curriculum. I can't wait.

Here is what we go over (or try to) in Sci Fi I.

I break it down into themes -

"What is Out There?" - this examines how sci fi writers ponder the possibility of aliens.  What is great about Sci Fi is that authors tends to use their subjects (such as aliens) as metaphors.  For this we look at the two most prominent ways sci fi authors (or directors) view aliens and their inevitable invasion of earth: the all out assault and the "silent" invasion.

The all out assault is evident in such works as the God-awful Battlefield Earth and the excellent War of the World by HG Wells and in such films as Independence Day or Alien.  This is a metaphor for our own "manifest destiny," where man has found a new piece of real estate with its own inhabitants (such as the New World with the natives) and use their superior technology to wipe them out and take the land for their own.

The "silent" invasion is evident in such works as the classic novella Who Goes There? and in such films as The Thing (which was loosely based on Who Goes There?) or the classic TV series V.  In this case the aliens arrive but they mimic humans.  That is, they look just like us.  How can you tell how is human and who isn't?  This is a metaphor for disease (who has ebola or aids for example?) or extreme political beliefs (how can you tell a member of ISIS or a communist?).

There is actually a third sub-genre here that has become quite possible as of late thanks to Erich von Danikan: Ancient Aliens.  This is evident in the underrated film, Stargate or even The Fifth Element.

Then we examine "The Nature of Reality."

Sci Fi writers (and directors) have always been fascinated by reality.  My favorite writer when it comes to this is Philip K. Dick and his amazing stories "The Electric Ant" and "We Can Remember it for you Wholesale," (which the film Total Recall is based on).  Another classic story in this genre is "Desertion" by Clifford D. Simak.  And there is the greatest novella of all time, Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan.

Some amazing films that focus on this genre are the incredible Inception as well as the original Matrix.

Next we look at "Time Travel."

This is explored in various sci fi stories and novels, such as HG Wells' classic The Time Machine.  There are many excellent stories for this genre: "All You Zombies" Robert A. Heinlein, "Valhalla" by Gregory Benford, "A Little Something for Us Tempanuats" by Philip K. Dick, and the classic "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury.

The films we examine here are the campy but classic Back to the Future, Terminator, and The Butterfly Effect.

Finally, we examine "The Dangers of Technology" / "The Mad Scientist."

This might be the most popular of all themes explored by authors and directions.  In fiction there is the horrifying "I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream" by Harlan Ellison, "Robbie" by Isaac Asimov, "The Disintegration Machine" by Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Veldt"  and "There Will Come Soft Rains" and "The Flying Machine" by Ray Bradbury.  In the past we have read HP Lovecraft's novella Herbert West: Re-animator.

Movies are numerous too Terminator 2, I, Robot, Screamers, 2001: A Spacy Odyssey . . . to name just a few.

In Sci Fi II, we take a darker tour as we explore the connection between horror/gothic literature and science fiction.

I don't know that we'll have the time to cover all of these, but in a quarter long class, here is what I'd love to explore in Sci Fi II.

Vampires - believe it or not, there is a classic Sci Fi novel that is - arguably- the greatest vampire novel of all time (except for Dracula, of course): I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.  The book is wayyyyy cooler than the Will Smith film.

There is also a great documentary on Vampires via the History Channel that shows how they are a metaphor for disease and death as well.

I think - again - if I had the time, reading I Am Legend (and there is an excellent graphic novel version of it too) would be a must.  Although two excellent short stories come to mind that would be great reading too "A Trick of the Dark" and "Population 666."

Werewolves - this monster was actually born out of another classic sci fi novel: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The werewolf is a great metaphor for the theme of civilization vs. chaos.  Think of Lord of the Flies here.  Without rules and order, will our beastly natures take over? Can they be controlled?

Since werewolves are my personal favs, we'd explore the greatest werewolf novella of all time - The Skin Trade by George RR Martin.

The History Channel has a great werewolf documentary based on the Beast of Gevaudan in France that would be great to watch and examine.

As far as films go, we could watch the classic The Wolf-man, but that would be a little slow for our modern viewers.

My personal favorite is An American Werewolf in London, which is a classic.  But I think the film choice here would be the best modern werewolf film I have ever seen: Dog Soldiers.

Then I'd wind the class down with an examination of maybe the most popular monster (as of late anyway) - zombies.  Again, as with aliens, this is a metaphor for our fears about disease or mob mentality.

Again, there is a great History Channel documentary that examines this - Be warned, though, this one is graphic.

I could use Lovecraft's Re-animator here as it is equal parts Mad Scientist and Zombie fest too.

I have shown 28 Days later here.  What is interesting about that film is that it was the first to use "fast" zombies.  Prior to 28 Days later, zombies were lumbering cadavers that you could easily run from (Think Romaro's classic Night of the Living Dead).  This was a metaphor for mindless behavior and disease.

But with a far more connected world than when Night of the Living Dead was created, zombies now are fast and ravenous.  Think of the panic that resulted with the outbreaks of ebola or the spread of AIDS.  World War Z takes this to another level.

If I didn't use Re-Animator for a text, I'd definitely use David J. Schow's classic zombie tale "Wake Up Call."  What is amazing about this tale is how Schow uses it to explore American consumerism run amuk.  The tale focuses on a man who is depressed because of his massive debt.  He decides to shoot himself in the head to escape from all of his problems.

Then he wakes up (get the title now?) in "Phase 2."  It seems to many people are resulting to suicide to stiff the banks and investors of billions.  The investors contacted scientists and voodoo doctors (hey, remember it's sci fi after all) to develop a way to bring them back to life.  Why? So they can be put to work to work of their massive debts.

Our main character is sent to a metal factory.  Zombies, after all, need not worry about safety equipment and health benefits or even time off.

Of course, they aren't supposed to feel anything or remember anything from their past lives either, but that is not true.

Our main character finally falls into the liquid metal in an attempt to escape his earlier suicide attempt.

Then he wakes up in "Phase 3."  And that's where the story ends.  Brilliant!!!