Monday, November 24, 2014

Cash Knows What's Up

On Saturday night we were following Mom in the Highlander.  She was dropping it off to have a remote starter put in it.

As we followed along, Kenz and Cash began bantering.

Kenz was made at Cash for something he said.  Cash has been pushing the boundaries awhile of what we consider acceptable language.  He has been using the word "ass" quite a bit now. (Personally, I blame his Grandmother, Gail, for that, but that's just me  -  kidding Gail.  Just kidding).

He thought it was quite funny when we could go over to the Kawanis' Park in TRF, which KoKo told us some of her classmates nicknamed "Acid" Part because - supposedly - whoever designed it must have been on acid (oh, teenagers).  One day when we was feeling a bit rebellious he said, "I'm going to kick your ass!"

When I scolded him (again, blaming his Grandmother for this - ha ha- just kidding Gail), he smiled and promised never to do it again (Oh, I know that one.  I was the master of that one when I was his age.  My mom and grandmother would let me get away with murder as long as I promised to never do it again. Suckers!).

Sure enough, about two minutes later, he said, "I'm going to kick your assssss-" and then I glared at him and he smirked and finished with "asssssid Park!  See Dad, I didn't say 'ass.'  I said, 'I'm going to kick your Acid Park!'"

Oh he thought he was smart then.

Well, back to the other night.  As Kenz and Cash argued, Cash let something slip.

Then I heard Kenz instruct him, "Now, Cash," she said. "There are two kinds of asses.  There is the bad kind that you always say.  Then there is the good kind like "Acid Park."

And though I couldn't see him smirking in the back, I bet he was when he said, "There is a good ass, like 'Dad is bad ass!'"

Now I was smirking.  He is right though.  Cash knows what is up indeed: Dad is bad ass!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014 at LHS

Ever since Mr. Zutz took over as principal at LHS, he has made it a point to make our Veteran's Day ceremonies meaningful.

I feel that before Mr. Zutz took over, the ceremony was just an obligation.  For a decade prior to Mr. Zutz, I can recall a few of the speakers we've had, but I can't recall one thing the previous two principals said.  Nothing. Totally unremarkable.

And our Veteran's Day ceremony should be anything but that.

And for six years now, they have been remarkable.

This year was no exception.

This video, which we watched shortly into the ceremony, drives that point home -

Then Mr. Zutz shared this story - as he does every Veteran's Day, (his second year at LHS he actually took all the desks out of my room to use to demonstrate the power of this story with local veterans actually carrying in the desks).  And best of all, it's legit!

Then our guest speaker, Mr. Stone, gave an amazing speech on the value of our veterans.

Finally, we watched a video similar to this one.

And dammit if I wasn't wiping the tears from my eyes.

Then - just by serendipity - my College Comp 2 ended up watching this incredible TED Talk by Dean Kamen, about his efforts to provide prosthetic limbs for our injured vets.

I love this coach's explanation of the importance of the Star Spangled Banner and what he players should be thankful for while it's playing.

And finally, one of the most remarkable - and touching - stories of the brotherhood and bravery of our troops.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Today's Reads, Views, & Links

Thanks to the @entreleadership podcast, I came across the author Carmine Gallo, and his new book Talk Like TED.

I bought this in part because if I'm a better public speaker, my classes will be better.  Plus, I bought it with my two presentations at this year's TIES conference in Minneapolis in mind.

Gallo watched over 500 TED Talks to analyze what makes the most successful so successful.

Just a few early takeaways: the power of story.  

First,  it always pays to tell stories.  The power of story telling is the #1 factor in a successful public talk.  Regardless of how complex the data is that you have to present, it always comes down to connecting the data to a story.

This is one reason I'm a supporter of the use of narrative over the thesis-support format.  

The trick, though, is to not overuse stories.  If you just tell stories, they obviously start to lose their effect.

Second, rehears and rehears and rehears.  When you're struggling to find your spot or to get the words out, the audience will struggle with you and you've lost them.  

Third, mix it up.  No one ever is excited to watch a pre-made slideshow.  Those suck.  Period.  

They can't be optimal for your audience.  The one thing my students tell me over and over again about the classes they dislike: the Powerpoints are boring because they're just the notes typed up and put up on the SMARTboard.

Likewise, since everyone has gone through hundreds of Powerpoints, sometimes it's an effective approach to go back to basics during a presentation. Use the white board or use paper to illustrate your idea.  Even those these aren't "new," they're still fresh and engaging because they aren't used very often anymore.


I'm not sold on the last two ways the author has to improve student writing, but her first one: Student talks, teacher writes, has proven effective for me.

I use this when we craft effective introductions.  I'll ask the class to come up with dialogue to begin a rite of passage.  While they give examples, I type them up and project them on the SMARTboard.  Then I'll ask them to come up with a snapshot lead for the same essay.  And so on.

From there we will craft a rough draft of an essay together.  For the most part, I stay silent and just type.


Just read the first three paragraphs of this article (How One Teacher Changed for the Good of Her Students) and tell me you don't want to read the rest!

Four years ago, I realized that I needed to take responsibility for the damage I had done to students who came into my room loving (or at least liking) school and left diminished in some ways. Those kids who loved math until my long-winded lectures about process left them confused and bitter. Those kids that loved to read until my strict book report guidelines and reading logs devoured their curiosity for great stories. 
I had to take responsibility for what I had done. There was no one else to blame. Just as important, I had to make sure that my future students would leave our classroom still loving school, with passionate curiosity, not afraid to try something new.
How do we make children hate school so much? I now teach 5th grade, and by the time they reach me, certain subjects have already landed on their top 10 list of most dreadful things to do. Math tends to top the chart, but social studies usually is close behind, and some even hate reading (but may read many books outside of school). Most students confess a love of recess, art, music, and sometimes even science. PE is always a crowd favorite as well. But math and social studies, yikes.

Sometimes we have to change for our students. After all, the students in front of us today are not the same as they were 10 years ago.  Thus, we have to approach our teaching differently.
What is good for teachers is not always what is good for our current students.
This is one reason I embraced the use of cell phones and social media in my classes.
The counter argument to this is, "yeah, it's fine to engage and entertain the students now.  But what about when they get to college and the professor just lectures all the time."
Well, I have a couple ways to counter this -
1.  Just because they suck, doesn't mean we have to suck.  I mean what happens if our elementary school teachers took that approach?  "You're teachers in high school are just going to lecture, so first graders, you better get used to it, so sit still and here is a 25 minute lecture on reading."  That's stupid.
2.  We have to engage students now so that they better master the skills they need to be college and career ready (and this is something we don't do at LHS very well at all).  When students have been engaged and mastered the skills to be college and career ready and head off to college, maybe they will be more mature and ready to handle their college chemistry class where they are lumped in with 450 students and lectured to for three hours a week.  But even colleges are learning that this isn't an effective way to instruct students.  That's one reason two thirds of all college chemistry grades are Ds or below.
3.  And colleges, I would argue, need to actually teach their professors how to teach rather than just do research.  Why else are up to 70% of all college students leaving without degrees?  
4.  When I was part of the RRVWP with several English professors from UND, they were very cognizant of crafting engaging lessons. In fact, that was how we spent much of our time over the four weeks we met: studying best practices of engaging methods to teach students how to write.

Here is a great article from one of my favorite authors, Steven Johnson, 4 Critical Mistakes All Inventors Make.
My favorite two - failing to anticipate the response of the market.
Johnson's example is of one man's quest to ship ice to tropical environments.  He jus assumed people in warm areas would naturally realize the benefits of ice.  And be willing to pay for it.
However, the audiences didn't know what they were missing, because they weren't really missing it.  So the Frederic Tudor had to create the market first before there was any demand. In other words, he had to make his audience want ice.  No easy feat.
This happens with products all the time though.  No one realized they wanted digital music on their phones until Steve Jobs showed us how cool it would be.
Another example where this failed was Tivo.  Without a doubt Tivo is one of the best DVRs in the business.  However, their marketing campaign didn't resonate at all with their audience.  Thus, Tivo, despite being the superior product in the market, has never made a profit.
Creating a device that changes the world, but for completely different reasons than they themselves imagined.
There are several examples here -
Twitter.  This initially was simply a way for users to post their thoughts on line and share them with others all in 140 characters.  When Twitter came out the concept of hashtags to organize commentary didn't exist.  That was something not really intended. In fact, the inventors of Twitter decided to go ahead and put Twitter on line even though they knew that it would be used for completely different reasons than they intended.
They didn't know it would help market products, allow teachers to teach more effective, enable people to "live tweet" events, and even bring down governments (such as happened with the Arab Spring rebellion).
When Thomas Edison created the phonograph, he purportedly concocted a list of ten things it could be used for.  The first? The one he thought would be most successful? To record the last will and testament of the dying.  Cheerful, right?  The last thing on this list was the one that made all the difference: to record and play music.
Another (far more tragic) example was an inventor who was horrified when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank.  He worked to find a way to send sound waves through water to detect ice bergs. This would go on to become sonar.  That - over the years - would be used to detect the sex of babies and to spot potential health hazards of fetuses (sonograms).  The inventor couldn't have foreseen that the Chinese - under their one child policy - would use ultrasounds to detect the gender of their infants and then - tragically - use that knowledge in deciding to abort the female fetuses.
The brilliance of a master craftsman

鳴子系こけし/こけしの岡仁 from dmp on Vimeo.

There are just some things 3D printers won't be able to replace.

Here is another example of a craftsman

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Kenzie vs. the Monkey Bars

During the middle of my second block class last Thursday I received a call from the nurse at Challenger.  This is never good.

"Kurt," Mrs. Jone, the nurse said, "Kenzie fell off the monkey bars on the playground.  She says her arms hurts. It's swollen and turning green."

And with that I was off to Challenger.

Two things were running through my mind: First, I had to get Kenzie to the emergency room.  Second, did I have her insurance card?

While waiting at the round about, I flipped through my wallet: no insurance cards.

So I quick dialed my wife's phone.  And wouldn't you know it, she didn't answer.

Not that she was ignoring me, I had forgotten that she had to go look at a property for her insurance company, and she was in a dead spot for cell phone reception.

Without thinking much about it, I rattled off a message: "Honey, I'm taking Kenzie to the emergency room. I don't have her insurance card. Call me back."

I figured that would suffice and focused on picking up Kenzie.

(Side note - I didn't think at all about the shock my poor wife would endure when she heard my actual message!  I somehow thought she would automatically know that she fell off the monkey bars and that  was why I was rushing her to the ER)

What I love about Challenger is that I know so many of my colleagues out there that I feel like they are always looking out for us, so as soon as I walked through the doors all the secretaries smiled and said, "Daddy's here Kenzie."

I walked into the nurse's office and saw poor Kenz with her jacket still on, an ice bag on top of her forearm and the wood chips still clinging to her coat from when she tumbled off the monkey bars.

I scooped her up and carried her to my car while the nurse brought her back pack.

And we were off to the new Sanford hospital to the ER.

It didn't take long for the doctor to see us and order some X rays.

At first everything seemed fine.  I breathed a sigh of relief that it her wrist was just bruised.  However, when we were brought back for a second round of X-rays and she had to rotate her wrist, I knew something was wrong.  That's when Kenz began to howl in pain.  That's when I knew we had a break.

So we returned to the ER room to wait while the nurse fetched a splint.

To take her mind off of her pain and panic, we played I-Spy.  Then when I got tired of that, I tried to peak into her ears and nostril with the ear, nose, and throat inspector device that all doctor rooms have (you know those one that has a long cylinder and with an arrow type top pointing out.  The doctor always puts a plastic cone on the end and it lights up so he or she can examine you).  But Kenz was having none of it.

"Dad," she said. "You can't touch that stuff!"

"Why not?" I said. "There's no one else in here.  I just want to see what's up your nose. Come on!"

By this time I had already taken it off the wall and was trying to take a peek at Kenzie.

"Dad," she said inching away from me.  "You're not a doctor!"

"True," I said, waiting for her to settle down, "but I play one on TV."

She was not impressed.

I had to put the device away.

Nor would she let me check her blood pressure or test her reflexes with the little hammer I found in one of the drawers.

Poor Kenz was about mortified when I began snooping around.


"Well, if they're going to leave me in here this long, I'm going to look around. I always wanted to do this when I was in your spot when I was young.  I just was too scared."

Finally, the nurse came back and put Kenzie's wrist in a splint.

I knew it was going to be fine, for as soon as the splint was tightened, Kenzie's pain went away.

Disaster was averted.  And just in the nick of time too as Halloween was the following day.

As we were about to leave, Kenz seemed sad.

"What's wrong, babe?"

"Dad, I hurt my right arm," she said.  "That means I can't write or draw."

My girl!!! I thought and gave her a hug.

Ha ha.  What a sweetheart.  Then I had to tell her about Casey, when he was in first or second grade, tried to convince Kristie that he had an allergy to paper and couldn't write anything.

And here was Kenze all bummed out that she couldn't write in kindergarten.  At least for a few weeks.

And now today, she visited Dr. Ballard and he and his nurse, Mary, took excellent care of her and got her a blue cast.  She should have it off in three weeks.

Now we just have to get a Prowler paw to go on there and find a silver sharpie so her classmates' can sign their names!

Monday, November 03, 2014

Storyboard That

Is a new tool I came across thanks to one of my favorite bloggers.  It basically, as its title suggests, allows you to create storyboards.  This is perfect for English teachers.

Want students to demonstrate a how to?  Have them create a storyboard.

Want to have students adapt a story?  Have them create a storyboard.

With the ability to upload your own images, and the fact that using sites like,, allow you to create your infographs, the possibilities are almost endless for how this could be used.

Of course, there is a limit to the free account.  Such is life, though.

Here is ten minutes of tinkering around.  I am thinking of having students use it to put the events of "A Rose for Emily" in chronological order.  I've done it in the past, but using a storyboard might be the best way to put the events from each "chapter" in order.

Create a Copy | View Larger

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Prowler VB is going to state!

I took the kiddos to their first Prowler volleyball game last night.  And it was so worth it, as the Prowlers swept the Perham Yellow Jackets (the number one seed in the section) in three straight matches (or sets) to go to state.

Our fans were amazing as they filled the entire side of the gym and had the best cheers.  I kind of felt sorry for Perham as they only filled up half of their side.

All of the support for the Prowlers was great to see.

Best of all, Cash and Kenz had a blast and were so well behaved.

Cash was getting his game face on.  That's for sure.  He was all fired up.

After the match Kenz wanted to get pictures with some of her favorite Prowlers.

First, she wanted to get a picture with her favorite player, Maddison.

Then she wanted to get a quick picture with Cassidy who helps out her class as part of a school volunteer program.

What's Going on in 205 - End of First Quarter edition

That was a quick 45 days.  A fourth of the year is already over.  Hard to believe.

Here is a look back at where I ended with each class.

Lit & Lang 9

We finished our Sticky-Note book report and blogs devoted to those books.  This assignment is simple: go to the media center and select one book that you can read within two weeks.  I give them most of 10 days in class to read it, as well as annotate it and set up their blogs.

As they read their books, they must use 25 Sticky-Notes to annotate it.  Even my College Comp students struggle with this, yet it's a vital skill for all college students and active readers in general.

Also, as they read their books, they begin to set up blogs.  Each blog has a page where students summarize chapters, map characters, create creative assignments based on events in the book, and write a 75-100 word final review of their book.

When our principal observed us as part of one of my teacher evaluation walkthroughs, he came in when I was trying to get the class to set up a one of their creative assignments.  I wanted them to type in key words, names of characters, the title of the book, and the author's full name into wordle and then generate a world cloud.  Then I was going to have them take a screen capture of it and put it into the "Creative Assignments" page.

However, as so often happen with technology, Wordle needed students to update their java download.  This was not easy.  And it only worked with Safari or Firefox, not Chrome.  What a mess!  And when Mr. Zutz was there to see it all.

However, it gave me a chance to problem solve in front of the kids and work individually with them.

Then I gave them extra time to generate a second Wordle a upload that to their blogs as well.

As Mr. Zutz walked around and asked students what they thought of their books and the overall process, he posed an interesting question to me - how does the level of engagement differ from this approach to a more traditional reading of a novel in class.

That is what we will do second quarter when we read Kaffir Boy as a class.  I find the Sticky-Note book report appealing because it allows students, and usually my Lit & Lang 9R students struggle with reading, to select their own text, which I encourage them to make one that is interesting to them.   And while I won't say that all kids enjoyed their books, many told Mr. Zutz that they did.  Sometimes that's all you can ask for before dissecting and studying a novel in the more traditional approach of high school English classrooms, which often, or so I think, kills the love for reading in students.

College Comp

Students finished their first novel and took a test on it.  This week they will write a formal research paper on it.  They are also finishing their rough draft of their theme #4 (a braided essay on a passion or expertise).

Their braided essay is comprised of four essays: a personal history narrative related to their passion/expertise, a how to essay related to an aspect of their passion/expertise, a best moment narrative related to their passion/expertise, and finally a epiphany moment personal analysis related to their passion/expertise.

The trick will be getting students to braid it all together.  But that's also the best part.

College Comp 2

Students spent last week watching two films (Inception and Crash).  Both of these films illustrate what Steven Johnson writes about in his book Everything Bad is Good For You.  The theory in particular that we analyze is Johnson's argument that today's TV shows and movies are more complex than any previous films; thus, audiences today are more savvy (and intelligent) in that they are able to follow multiple plot threads (as in Crash) or make sense of a story without "flashing arrows" (as in Inception).  Johnson defines "flashing arrows" as the clues directors give audiences (such as George Lucas playing the "Imperial March" when Vadar appears or Steven Spielberg foreshadowing the shark attacks in Jaws with John Williams' classic score).

Then I just introduced students to the last set of theories from Johnson that we will analyze: "probing" and "telescoping."  Students will choose one topic and then analyze how it works in their lives.

Probing - according to Johnson - is really just the scientific method.  And we all use it every day of our lives, especially when playing games.  Probing includes four levels: probing (simply testing out an activity or theory); hypothesis (after testing out an activity, you inevitably get feedback from it.  This feedback causes you to rethink your initial testing out of an activity.  Then you form a hypothesis - when I do this, X happens.  To avoid X, I now must do this instead); re-probing (here is where you take you hypothesis and apply it and then re-evaluate it yet again); and finally re-thinking (where you come up with a new set of strategies to keep moving forward in an activity or game).

Here is an example -

Think of riding a bike. For probing, you might ride fine with your dad holding on to the seat.  However, as soon as he lets go, you crash.  Thus, you form a hypothesis in which you take off from the curb and bike a short distance to your father.  As you do this, and inevitably crash before reaching him, you begin to reprobe your skills.  If you pedal steady and slowly, you won’t tip so soon. If you concentrate on reaching your father, you won’t panic as easily.  This works great, until your father begins backing up as you bike closer to him.  Now you panic and start to pedal faster and begin to wobble.  Now you must rethink your methods to deal with this new obstacle.

Telescoping - according to Johnson - is mastering an activity that requires dozens of smaller skills that we once had to master.  But now that we have them all mastered, we take them for granted.  This is one way to argue against those who refer to our culture as being "dumbed down."  Here is a great way to see telescoping in action - get a new phone.  You will instantly see all the old skills you had mastered to familiarized yourself with your phone were taken for granted as those old skills don't work quite as well with your new phone.  However, give yourself a month and you'll be using your new phone quite effectively . . . until you have to upgrade  Then the telescoping process repeats itself.

Here is an example -

Task: Sending a Tweet (with a picture) using a hashtag correctly from my iPhone

  1. I must know how to turn the iPhone on (believe me, this is not an easy task. Just observe a Baby Boomer).
2.  I must know how to unlock the screen.
3.  I must be able to locate the Twitter app on my phone.  (just try asking a Baby Boomer to download the app!)
4.  I must be able to log in to my Twitter account.  
5.  I must be able to know what icon to click on in order to be able to compose a tweet.
6.  I must then have something interesting to tweet about the picture.
7.  I must be able to click on the icon that allows me to access my pictures.
8.  I must be able to select the picture I want to tweet (again, just watch a Baby Boomer trying to do this).
9.  I must be able to say something interesting about the picture in fewer than 140 characters.
10. I must be able to think of an interesting hashtag that will be informative and funny to others.
11.  Again, I must do all of this in fewer than 140 characters.
12. I must revise the initial context of my Tweet as I have to trim it by 14 characters.  That means using “U” instead of “you” and “&” instead of “and.”  This also takes for granted that I know all of the SMS lingo and abbreviations.
13.  Finally I must click on the Tweet icon so it is added to my timeline.

Now any millennial can do that under 10 seconds.  But when you stop and look at the actually skills necessary to perform that process, it really isn’t as simple as we think.  That’s how we all use the skill of telescoping every single day.

And now second quarter is here.  I can't wait to get started.

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's the Five Days of Halloween!

Actually, for us it's pretty much the 365 days of Halloween, but this is the best week of all.

Here Cash is showing off in a werewolf mask at Wal-Mart.

We have been watching the classics: Disney's version of Sleepy Hollow, The Little Vampire, Scooby Doo and The Goblin King, Toy Story of Terror, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, and, of course, the whole Halloween Town series.

And then - one of our favorite parts - pumpkin carving time.

Kenz was all about scooping out the guts.  Until the smell hit.

She was interested in roasting the seeds, until she felt them and smelled them!  She thought they should just come out of the pumpkin seasoned and cooked!

I warned her.

Cash was staying safely away from the stench. He was more fascinated by the pumpkin carving tools though.

And the finished products.  Cash wanted a Storm Trooper, and Kenz wanted a ghost.