Sometimes, the Old Way is Perfect Just the Way It Is

My grandpa passed away yesterday, at 87 years old. He had colon cancer and a number of other heath issues that he kept private up until two months ago. So while his death was sudden to my extended family, it was not to himself and my grandma. Upon reflection, my family and I notice the small affairs he put in order in the last year or so was really his expert planning. He used excuses that didn’t alarm anyone, but accomplished his goals.

My grandpa led a full life in his 87 years. Even in his passing, he planned it expertly. He passed at 1:45pm, giving the family the afternoon to grieve together. We went through suitcases of mementos and photos. He served in the Navy, fathered four children, and was married to my grandma for 64 wonderful years. He served as mayor of a small town, worked at AAA, and made beautiful wooden toys.

He did not understand technology very well. He and my grandma loved to go antiquing every chance they could. He only got rid of his rotary phone when he could not call Medicare customer service without a touch-tone phone. He did have a flip phone cell phone…for calling long-distance. He did embrace DVDs, but mostly to watch his favorite old TV shows.

As my family and I went through the suitcases, someone commented about how people just don’t make photo albums anymore. I thought about that for a bit. We take photos of everything and upload them to Instagram, Facebook, Google, or whatever site is the newest “it” thing. We keep “backup” copies on cloud storage, external hard drives, or just on our computer hard drives. And looking around at all the photos in my grandpa’s old suitcases, I realized that as wonderful as having digital copies are, they really do not replace physical copies of the important photos.

Through all the “noise” of a thousand digital photos, do you have favorites? A silly photo from the beach, a formal family portrait, or a touristy photo from a trip abroad? Print them out, organize them in an album, toss them in a shoebox or make a scrapbook. You don’t need to go to the craft store and buy tons of different papers, stickers, and cutouts, just something with acid-free paper where you can write some notes and glue a few pictures. It may not be something you want to look at for a while or at all, but others might. Alternatively, create a digital album of favorite photos, but make sure the information to get to it is left somewhere (i.e. leave passwords and directions to it in your will).

Unexpected or not, we all will pass away. There will be people who will want to celebrate your life. Make sure you lived in the moment, kept a journal of thoughts on important days of your life, took a few pictures, and put them all in a memory box outside your head and heart.

Technology enables us to do so much more and gives us access to so much more information, but my grandpa’s passing has reminded me that technology does not always mean better. Sometimes, the old way is perfect just the way it is.

Rest in Peace, Kenneth Roy Oates, 1926-2014.

Shorten YouTube Videos

According to a article, the longest video posted on YouTube is 571 hours and 101 seconds. That’s about 23 days and 19 hours. It’s about his trip to Chile. I wonder how long the trip was…is the video longer than the trip?

So what if you wanted to share just a small part of that video? Can you?

Med Kharbach, founder and author of Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, wrote a blog post naming four tools that a teacher can use to shorten videos for students: TubeChop, Splicd, EmbedPlus, and YouTube Time.

However, if you use WordPress, there are some shortcuts you can use. For reference, the base URL is

  • To start at a certain point in the video, convert the time of that point from minutes and seconds to all seconds, then add that number to the end of the link with the ampersand, the word start, an equal sign, and the time in seconds.  The end of the link looks like this: &start=75 (This is using an example start point of 1 minute 15 seconds):
  • To specify a start and end time for a video, do the same as the above but add the end time as well.  The end of the link will look like this: &start=75&end=85.

See more WordPress YouTube shortcodes.

There are probably more ways to shorten YouTube videos. What’s your favorite?

US Government Shutdown & Education

While individual policies have differed, at the core of education reform is one basic element: Improve the education system so that the next generation can contribute the most it can to its community, to the world, and to humanity as a whole.

We’ve improved the curriculum. We’ve revised the textbooks. We’ve increased the requirements for new teachers. We’ve trimmed the teaching force to obtain the cream of the crop. We’ve demanded excellency and college degrees from students. We’ve added new programs to reduce conflict and encourage collaboration. We’ve thrown money at schools and threatened to take it away if some schools didn’t fall in line. We’ve–

Wait, back up a sentence. “We’ve added more programs to reduce conflict and encourage collaboration.” Back up one more sentence. “We’ve demanded excellency and college degrees from students.”

Why, then, if Congress is forcing the next generation to be better, are they not being held accountable for their lack of excellency, their lack of conflict resolution, and their lack of collaboration?

I’m pretty sure among their studies was the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have done onto you.”

The world is changing. We have changed the way we teach in order to better prepare the next generation for a world we can hardly imagine. If Congress cannot get its act together the way it is now, perhaps it should swallow a giant dose of its own medicine and follow in the footsteps of the path they have forced education to forge.

Congress either needs to learn to “play nice” and to “get along” or it needs to change.

MATE Fall 2013 Conference

Last April, I posted a PDF flyer for the 2013 spring conference the Michigan Association of Teacher Educators (MATE).  Unfortunately, the conference was delayed until the fall.  It took place last Saturday, September 28, 2013, at Oakland Schools.

The focus of the conference was providing tools and empowering preservice teachers, student teachers, and current practicing teachers.  The ATE (Association of Teacher Educators) is a national organization with different chapters in each state, thus, MATE is the Michigan chapter.  This organization is dedicated to the specific needs of beginning teachers.

There were four featured sessions at the conference:

  • got Self-Awareness? True Colors by Mary Walsh
  • got Passion? by Norma Bailey
  • got Poison? by Nic Cooper
  • got Partners? by Katie Stein

I learned quite a bit from the featured sessions.  I took some notes on my iPad using Notability and a stylus, but the speakers had written down and made copies of key points and books they spoke about.

got Self-Awareness? was about the psychology of assigning similar personality traits to a specific color and how this knowledge can assist teachers in understanding colleagues and students as well as mitigate negative situations.

got Passion? was about Norma Bailey’s passionate career in education.  The goal was to reinforce keeping our passion alive because about 50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years because they lose their passion when bogged down with the daily routines and politics.

got Poison? focused on drawing our attention to the people and things that “poison” ourselves and careers.  We all have hot buttons, or pet peeves, that will get pushed by students, administration, parents, and politicians.  It is imperative that we recognize the button is not the problem, instead, it is what the button is “wired” to that is the problem.  Teachers need to identify what that problem is and learn to deal with the root issue and not the button itself.

got Partners? reinforced the belief that teachers cannot teach alone.  We will suffer from burnout if we do.  We have partners to aid us in teaching–parents, other students, administration, parents, politicians, paraprofessionals, etc.–and we need to utilize all these resources.

Making a Difference, the closing remarks given by the superintendent of Oakland Schools, Vickie Markavitch, focused on the politics of the state of education today.  Markavitch challenged each person to not be naive like she was and ignore politics.  It is imperative that teachers enter the field of education with their eyes wide open.

In between each session there were two vendor tables, Usborne Books and Discovery Toys, we could browse.  They had educational books and toys that could be used in a variety of ways in the classroom for display and purchase.  I was really impressed with Usborne’s write-in books.  They were essentially coated pages that allowed students to write in them using a dry erase marker.  I could see numerous situations in which these books would be advantageous.  However, both the vendor tables focused heavily on elementary and middle school education and not much on high school (my preferred grade levels) or on ESL (my preferred subject).  There were several items I could adapt for use in an ESL classroom, but nothing was really ESL-specific for high schoolers.

The conference had a raffle with numerous books, gift certificates, and other education-items.  I won two things, Overcoming Textbook Fatigue and 3 Minute Reading Assessments by Scholastic.  I also purchased Nic Cooper’s book, Developing a Learning Classroom, which he signed for me.  There were a few other items in the “goodie bags” as well that I liked.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and hope to attend next spring’s conference, assuming the content will be different.

Teachable Moment: George Zimmerman Verdict

It is no surprise that people have been glued to media coverage of George Zimmerman’s trial. Zimmerman had been charged with the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin. It became a high-profile case due to two facts: Zimmerman and Martin were of different races and Martin was unarmed. On July 13, Zimmerman was acquitted.

I’m not going to analyze the trial, nor am I going to say if the jury was right or wrong. Why? Because I have no authority to speak on the trial. I am not an expert (lawyer, criminalist, judicial journalist, etc.), I was not in the courtroom during the trial, nor was I present at the scene of the crime.

Technology has enabled people to learn about anything at any time. It has connected people and enabled physical distance to not be so important. It has empowered people. Unfortunately, the anonymity provided by technology has been the perfect breeding ground for passive-aggressive behaviors.

In the hours and days following the announcement of the verdict, people took to social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to share their emotions. Those who felt Zimmerman was guilty were angry a murderer was walking free. Claims of bias were cited most often, from what I read.

We have a jury system for a reason. There was a reason we stopped public hangings. There is a reason that one person cannot be judge, jury, and executioner. That reason is: people had been found to be innocent after they’d been executed. In other words, the jury system is the best system we have created so far.

The take-away is this: respect the process. And if you don’t like it, do something about it.

This is exactly why I became an educator. I respect the field; I respect those who are members of the field. But, I felt there were some teaching methods that were outdated and I had ideas on possible solutions. And instead of passive-aggressively tweeting and blogging about them, I pursued a path which gave me authority to speak about and influence the field of education.

So if you don’t like the jury system, or anything really, and have a better idea, pursue a path that will give you the platform to change it. Otherwise, stay out of the conversation. As the old saying goes, “if you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem”. So, do something about what you feel you could improve and be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Broadening Reading Horizons

I have a young tutoring student this summer who devours books above her reading level at speeds even I struggle to maintain.  It was quickly apparent that one of our goals, a reading workbook, was far too easy, despite it being for the grade she will be in this fall.

I realized I needed to approach reading exploration from another angle.  I did not want to give her long books in tiny print that may be at her reading level but have content that may not be suited for an elementary mind.

I came up with a project that I titled “Broaden Your Horizons” that still allowed her choose books that interested her, pulled in some interests of the Common Core standards, challenged her a bit, and were appropriate for her age.  I wrote a list of criteria that any book choice needs to adhere to one or more of the criteria.  Here’s the list:

  • 2 general fiction novels
  • 1 graphic novel
  • 2 non-fiction books — 1 biography & 1 true story (“based on a true story” ok)
  • 1 anthology
  • 1 book you think might be a little too hard
  • 1 book from the Choose Your Own Adventure series
  • 1 book from the Best American Series (any year, any type—short stories, essays, science and nature writing, nonrequired reading, sports writing, magazine writing, science writing, mystery stories, travel writing, etc.)
  • 1 book from the Myth-O-Mania series
  • 1 book from the Dear America series
  • 1 book you don’t think you’d like but seems like a book you might like
  • 1 book where there is a movie version—must watch the movie after reading the book and write 2-3 paragraphs about the similarities and differences between the two.

I had no problem explaining what an “anthology” was or why I picked these criteria.  We discussed the list to make sure she was comfortable with the list.  I told her books could count in more than one category, so for instance one of the books in a series could be a book she doesn’t think she’d like but it seems like she might.  I also gave her a list of questions to pick from and write a couple of sentences each day she reads in a reading journal.  I want her to think about the text, but not write a paper.

Here’s the part that stunned me: she had never heard of Choose Your Own Adventure books.  I only had 2 left from childhood because I had so many of them my mom said, “choose two to keep and the rest we’ll donate to other kids to read”.  My tutoring student loves playing Minecraft and other non-linear video games and had no idea that there was a book, let alone a series, that functioned in a non-linear form.  I had Hyperspace and Journey to the Year 3000 that I told her she could borrow.  She asked if she could practice reading aloud and start reading in tutoring instead of waiting until later.  Of course I said yes!

I specifically chose the Choose Your Own Adventure series to have her read a non-linear book.  I was taken aback by her excitement for the non-linear format.  She was able to interact with a book…something she knew to be linear and unchanging.  It was just like a video game…with words.

The entire point of my project idea was to show her different formats for content: a diary format, a non-linear format, and graphic novel format (which are different from comic books), as well as broaden her reading horizons to realize there are other types of books besides textbooks and fiction/”chapter books”.  I succeeded on my first day of the project and I cannot wait to see her broaden her reading horizons.

Which series was your favorite as a child?

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Cake Wrecks: Delicious Teaching Tools

Summer vacations are the perfect time to forget about correct spelling and eat cake.  And ice cream.  Preferably on a beach or by the pool; however, an air-conditioned staycation works too.

It is well-known that students lose quite a bit of knowledge during the summer vacation because of the length of time away from their studies.  Thus, it is to a student's advantage to brush up on those essential skills a bit over break.  But who really wants to study over the summer?  How about we combine a quick grammar and spelling lesson with cake?

Feast your eyes on .  It is a blog started by a person named Jen in May of 2008.  I have been reading the blog for a number of years, as Jen's commentary is equally as funny as the photos.  There are hundreds of posts about misinterpreting orders, bakers trying to be creative, and just utter confusion about decorations.  However, the site does not just poke fun at mistakes, on Sundays there are posts of excellent and exquisite cakes.

Last September she wrote a blog post utilizing spelling errors as a grammar lesson; however, I do not think a link to the Cake Wrecks blog post is good enough, thus I have embedded the post below.  Enjoy!

Flipped Learning: How Does It Work? Where Did It Originate?

I really like the idea of a flipped classroom.  I think it promotes the “teacher is a coach, not a preacher” idea and enables students to learn at their own rate. Recent technological advances in screencasting, and videos in general, allow teachers to create material and students to do their learning in a comfortable location and as often as necessary in order to fully understand the concept.

I cannot count the number of times when I was in school when the teacher moved on to the next section of the lecture because “we were running out of time” but I was not finished writing my notes.  Forget even trying to color code using different pens or highlighters, I could barely keep up with scribbling what was written on the board (eventually, the PowerPoint) in a legible manner.  If I didn’t finish the section?  Too bad, the sentence was left incomplete.  The majority of the class had and we needed to move along or else students would get bored and chaos would ensue.  I’ve tried using my laptop to keep notes, but most teachers actually banned the use of laptops in class because students weren’t really taking notes–they were playing games or chatting on AIM (different devices, same issues nowadays!).  The most frustrating thing was if the teacher “jumped back a minute” because he forgot to say something, but there was no room to insert into my notebook without writing tiny in the margins and not really doing me any good.

Flipped learning solves all of these problems. A student can pause a video to finish writing notes, to go use the restroom, to grab a snack, to take a nap, or whatever life throws in our way.  A student can replay any part of the lecture if he/she didn’t understand something (or missed it).  Some students who already know the information can skip segments that they do not need, or play the video with their parent sitting next to them so a parent can see what the student is learning and perhaps be able to help with homework.

So how does the flipped learning system really work?  How does the student benefit?

Check out this graphic:

Flipped Learning CycleSource: via

A flipped classroom still has students and educators responsible for education; however, the cycle begins and ends with the educator with the student’s responsibilities sandwiched in between.  The cycle begins in the lower right quadrant.  It begins with the “what” and educator-suggested content.  Then the cycle moves clockwise to learner-generated, the “so what” content.  Once the student has made the connections, the cycle moves to “now what” and the demonstration of the content.  Learning does not end with simply demonstrating content, learning continues on to experience what you have learned by engaging with others who are currently utilizing the content in their professional lives.  These experiences should be educator suggested, or perhaps even educator orchestrated, to give students the chance to have experiences that students may not even know exist at the moment.

Where does the term “flipped classroom” come from?

The concept is not that new.  The coined term is recent; many people attribute it to high school chemistry teachers, Bergmann and Sams (2012).  Interestingly, the two do not claim to have invented the idea of a flipped classroom.  So if not them…then who?

Julie Schell traces the use of the term and the idea itself in her blog entry, “Use of the term Flipped Classroom” on her blog Turn to Your Neighbor: The Official Peer Instruction Blog.  She mentions that though it is a stretch, the idea of a “flipped” classroom can be traced all the way back to Socrates because he, “emphasized the necessity of active dialogue.”  The possibility of the idea of a flipped classroom relating all the way back to Socrates has been mentioned on a few sites that I’ve read while doing my own informal research.

Of course, Socrates didn’t use screencasting and videos to teach his students, but he emphasized to his students that they are partially responsible for their own learning.  They must go out and attend lectures, attend festivals, and talk to everyone they could about anything.  Socrates did not tell his students that they need to come every day ONLY to listen to him talk about the wealth of knowledge that he has accumulated over a lifetime.  He told them to go and experience life, then come back and we will talk.   Again, it’s a bit of a stretch, but the principles of a flipped classroom and of Socrates are one in the same.