Category Archives: 21st century skills

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

The Authentic Audience – Blogging

I am thinking is working.  Currently, I do not have high expectations as far as writing skills are concerned.  I did not have the students write rough drafts.  I wanted them to write and post quickly.  Their peers did comment on the need for remediation in some areas, but this is not the forum I am using to evaluate writing skills.  (It will be later.)  For now, I am using it as one way to discuss literature, and the comments have been good.  They do have room for improvement, but without any modeling, the kids have done a good job.

Of course, I do have some students who are extremely anxious about sharing their thoughts with others.  In talking with the parents I have learned this is not shyness.  It is anxiety.  For now, I have allowed theses two kids to write their responses on notebook paper.  I hope to have them give me an alias.  As long as I know it, I can give them credit for commenting on other’s blogs.

As all of our computers are tied up with testing for the next two weeks, I will have the students complete one blog on their own.  By the end of the nine weeks, they will pick one response to revise and I will use a rubric I developed to evaluate their writing skills.

I have a good feeling about this.

Students' Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty o...

Students’ Apple iMac G5 computers at Faculty of Informatics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  What I wish we had at school.

English: Students working in the Statistics Ma...

English: Students working in the Statistics Machine Room of the London School of Economics in 1964. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) What we currently have.

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Another Sunday… Continued

I slept on my dilemma:  to have students share laptops, or to have students write on paper.  I decided to let the classes share.  It worked out well.  The students were able to help one another create their blogs.  Of course, they have to finish the work for homework, and I gave them two days to complete the assignment.

Interestingly, I had students complete a survey that asked them if they would be completing the blog at home or the public library.  Out of 150 students, only three have said they would need the public library.  Our students have the resources at home that we cannot provide at school.  This is good news!  As for the three without computers or Internet access, I can work with them at school.  I can find one computer during their lunch period or study hall.

I wondered if blogging would work, but I already had one student ask if she could write more posts than the required ones!  Since I am trying to avoid sarcasm, I refrained from saying, “No!  There will be no extra writing and no fun!”

Another teacher is trying the same blogging site and we are collaborating on what is working and what needs improvement.  I will keep you posted on what we learn.  If you have any experiences, ideas, or questions, I would love to hear from you.  Thanks!

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Another Sunday; Another Change in Plans

Students of Saint Mary's Hall

Students of Saint Mary’s Hall (Photo credit: Robert of Fairfax)

I always begin lesson planning on Thursday, so I can stay focused on my goals.  I have been planning to try to have my students use the tools of the 21st century to analyze and write about literature.  The blog also allows them to respond to other student’s opinions also; however, they cannot merely say, “I concur.”  I expect students to support their opinions with facts from the reading selection.  It’s Sunday and I am ready to go…

Except I checked the English department’s laptops and we are down to 21.  Five of my six classes have more than 21 students.  I am left with the dilemma: how do I have students create a blog when they don’t have a computer?

I think I will go back to the 20th century and have them write on notebook paper, then share their analysis with a partner who will write a response.  I can cover the same standards in the curriculum.  I have reserved the good computer lab for the first open day, Jan. 6, so I can introduce the blog then.  But, it is late.  Perhaps I will have a different idea in the morning.




Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Lesson Plans, Writing

What You Can See in Costa Rica That You Don’t See in Ohio

Our family just returned from Costa Rica, and we learned mucho.  My high school Spanish was a little rusty, but I managed to get by.  My favorite saying, “Como se dice ____?”  or “How do you say ______?”  proved very useful!

In keeping with the theme of my blog, There were many “freshman – like” experiences for our family.  The slower life style and sunrise at 5:30 and sunset at 5:30 gave us a new perspective. I plan to share some of the lessons in the next few weeks.


  • IMG_0851Mountains
  • Surfing
  • The Pacific Ocean
  • Sodas – small restaurants that also serve as the owner’s home.
  • Rain Forests / jungles
  • Howler and Spider Monkeys in the trees
  • “Cow Farms” as my wife called them.  (The rest of us call them cattle ranches.)
  • Signs in Spanish
  • Huge, fresh, and delicious pineapples
  • Kilometers.
  • Road construction.
  • Hanging bridges through the rain forests.
  • Zip lines through rain forests.

Not expected

  • People walking along the road carrying machetes.
  • People walking along the road wearing a shoulder strap with a machete and carrying an umbrella.
  • Sloth, monkey, and iguana crossing signs.
  • Horses, goats, chickens wandering along the road.IMG_0795
  • Dogs lying down in potholes in the middle of the road.
  • More potholes than at home.
  • Traffic jams caused by cows walking down the road.
  • Road construction without orange barrels.  Instead, they used what looked like coffee cans with a metal rod or stick with a ribbon cemented in the center.IMG_0631
  • Cow paths to a house on the side of a mountain that overlooks a lake and a semi-active volcano.
  • “Mini Mega Super” store, which was as big as a convenience store.
  • “Aztec Ruins” which were really the cement framing of a new home.
  • Shacks with dirt floors yet bars on the windows.
  • Security guards who use a plastic link chain to stop cars from entering parking lots.
  • No street names, signs or addresses…having the police lead us to the condo.
  • Riding 4-wheelers on the beach.
  • Catching Mahi-Mahi and Tuna, filleting it on the boat, and having a restaurant cook it that night.IMG_0710
  • Meeting some very friendly and happy people.
  • Pura Vida!

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How do I Differentiate Instruction?

Meeting kids where they are: Differentiating I...

Meeting kids where they are: Differentiating Instruction (Photo credit: Wesley Fryer)

Our school district is collecting data on the idea of removing all honors classes from the junior and senior high schools.  The theory is that teachers can differentiate instruction in the classroom to challenge the students at their different abilities.

I have done this in the past by offering extra credit assignments to students who want to push themselves beyond the curriculum.  For example, while studying oral traditions (folk tales, mythology, etc.)  students can research mythologies from other cultures other than Greek/Roman.  According to the picture above, this seems to be ok.

I have to admit, though, that I am a neophyte on differentiated instruction.  Offering extra credit to challenge students does not seem to be true differentiated instruction.  Some kids prefer to challenge themselves in a different manner than completing extra work in English / Language Arts class.  For example, Tina has an A in class and is the lead in the school musical.  She would rather challenge herself with theater, which is her passion.  She wants to be an actress.

I think I should be grouping the students and assigning them different projects based on previous grades or standardized test scores. I have begun to research and ideas are bouncing around my brain like popcorn in the microwave bag.

I could use some feedback from folks in education and those of you who have other life experiences.

1. What do you think about eliminating honors classes?

2. Do you have any ideas how I may incorporate differentiated instruction in my classroom?


Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Learning, Lesson Plans

Risk Taking on the Surf

The freshman experience means trying new things.  In class I am constantly encouraging my students to take risks in their writing by trying new sentence patterns, new words, and new ideas to grab the reader’s attention. Please read through some of my older blogs and let me know if I practice what I preach.  (Oops, I used a cliché.)

I also try to select stories with themes about risks.  I think one reason I do it is to remind myself to take some risks.  We teachers are not the biggest risk-takers in the world.  Think about it. I have spent more years in school than Bluto Blutarsky. Only, I have never left school, and my G.P.A. was a little higher than his.

Therefore, this winter, as I was planking 24/7 while recovering from surgery that reattached my retina, our family discussed where we might travel for our next vacation. I began to say: “too far; too expensive; and what about Mom’s work?”  Then I listened to Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Excuses Be Gone and realized I had been making excuses to NOT travel to Hawai’i.  Well, this was the time to go to Hawai’i.

All of us made plans on what we wanted to do and see on Oahu.  And, we agreed that we would do what others wanted without too much whining and complaining.  (In hindsight, I should have defined “too much”.)  One of must-dos was to surf.

I researched various people who give lessons and found Sunset Suzy. Dude, my research paid off!  Our four instructors for our family of six were bitchin’! We had Suzy, Suzy’s brother, a retired professional surfer, and a 15 year-old Hawaiian boy.

Our youngest boy did not want to learn how to surf, but he knew that we were going to try new things on the island.  He was a little apprehensive about falling off and not being able to swim.  Once we told him he was attached to the board by a rope, and he only had to swim to the board, he was fine. Still, one of the instructors was within ten feet of him at all times.  It turns out he may have been the second best surfer amongst us.  He was able to hop up on the board and surf like Obi-Won battling Anakin on Mustarfar.  Or, as Suzy would say, “He flared!”

Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu where Hami...

Pipeline on the north shore of Oahu where Hamilton grew up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My daughter, an ex-gymnast, was able to easily stand up on her board.  However, she did ride right into me.  She claimed it was my fault, but later pictures proved she surfed into me.  Now, she claims it was payback for me breaking her arm while skiing.  She fell.  I skied over to help her and fell on her.  I say her arm broke on her fall.  She claims it was my falling on her that broke it.  Do I write like someone who would intentionally lie?

Mom, Andy, and Alex all did well, too.  They were able to turn and ride the waves to the shore.  I don’t think  I ever saw any of them fall.  However, none did as well as this old Beach Boys fan.  I swam out to the big waves.  Unfortunately, my family never saw me shoot the curl or rip it on the 30 foot waves.  They only saw me at the tail end, when I was riding a half-foot wave to the shore and jumping off the board.  Of course, they jealously claim I was falling off, but I was having fun trying variations of creative cannonballs and diverse dives.

Surfing was a dream come true for me, and a memorable moment in our families’ lives.  It was so awesome that the kids went again.  (The waves weren’t big enough for me, and my wife wanted to take pictures of the kids.)

It wasn’t until after the surfing, as we ate at the Grass Skirt Grill, that we told the kids about the shark attack the last time we surfed.

View of the north shore of Oahu, near Shark's ...

View of the north shore of Oahu, near Shark's Cove. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stay tuned for the rest of the story…


Filed under 21st century skills, Goals, Humor

Twenty-first Century Tools for Educators

Just a little update on my experiences with Twenty-first century tools  like Twitter, YouTube, and  They have changed the way I think about teaching.  I am old school, like John Dewey, and have always believed in hands-on learning.  In English/Language Arts class, of course, that means reading and writing.

This year I began to use Twitter to inform students about assignments.  Many students use their phones to take a picture of the homework or vocabulary words of the day, so I tried to provide information for them in a new way.  Truthfully, I do not keep up with Twitter very well.  I do not have a smart phone, and the school blocks access to Twitter on our server.  Once I get home, I am too busy with my family’s activities to remember to post assignments.

I have pulled up some YouTube videos to enhance a lesson.  The first was in August to begin the year with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech.  His monument was in the news, and it is a great speech to start off the freshman year.  We can dream BIG.  We can get along to help one another.  We can succeed.

Another way I have used YouTube and the prairie home companion website:

Garrison Keillor and cast members of A Prairie...

Garrison Keillor and cast members of A Prairie Home Companion radio show in Lanesboro, Minnesota. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) is to show students who Garrison Keillor is.  We listen to tell him a story.  Then, we read one of his personal narratives and look at his descriptive style and use of figurative language.   Then, we begin the writing process to for our own personal narratives.    The websites bring the writer to life.  It is the visual connection many of today’s youth need. (And the show is hosting a Mediterranean cruise this summer!  If I hadn’t just traveled to Hawai’i, I would setting sail.

The last twenty-first tool I have used has been

.  I have had students show one of the themes of To Kill A Mockingbird with a prezi.  If you are not familiar with prezi’s visit the site.  Students wrote an outline for a five-paragraph essay and found passages to support their thesis statement.  Then they put it into a prezi to share with the class.  I feel the best part of the assignment are the tutorials on the website.  I did not have to be the omniscient sage.  The kids had to figure it out on their own, or with a little help from their friends.  A warm-fuzzy moment came when one of my students told me her dad has stopped doing power-point presentations and switched to prezis at work.

Now, I continue to learn from my students and children what technology exists and how I might use it in the classroom.

How have you used twenty-first century tools to enhance your teaching?


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School is like a Business?

At the start of this school year, I wrote about Jamie Vollmer who shared with our district personnel his great story about how schools are not a business.  I have always agreed with that idea; nonetheless, I do see similarities in the philosophies and methods of running schools and businesses.

Look at what is happening in the country.  The education system is perceived as bad.  The economy is bad.  Some teachers and business people might throw up their hands and give up.  However, most of the educators and business owners I know are not giving up.  I see the smartest ones looking for new ideas, finding ways to keep clients happy, and learning better ways to lead their schools and companies.

Recently, the teachers at our school took inventory of the strengths within our curriculum and the challenges we are facing as we implement the Nation’s Core Curriculum.  We are asking ourselves, “What areas are we weakest in?  Do we need a better understanding of the data we get from standardized tests and our own assessments?  Do our current teaching methods work?  How can we refine our current methods to challenge more students?  What problems might be encountered?  What resources are available to help us solve any problems, teach struggling students, or push students to new heights?”

Business people I know reflect on similar ideas.  They examine their strengths to learn if they are strongest in customer service, customer satisfaction, quality of product, etc.  They ask themselves if they need a better understanding of their numbers or data?  They look at their sales techniques to see if they need some work.   Business owners search for available resources that will aid them in increasing productivity, increasing customer satisfaction, increasing sales, and increasing profits.

An example of the changes teachers and business people are making would be using Twitter.  I know Cold Stone Creamery in our home town tweets sales and coupon deals.  I, and several other teachers, tweet assignments.  Our clients use twitter, and teachers and businesses want to reach those clients in many ways.  We desire to make improvements to be successful.  The difference between the two is the definition of success.  As Jamie Vollmer tells it, teachers can’t throw out the less-than-perfect blueberries.

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ZAP!!! Electrifying Learning

Often, I am hit with ideas while teaching.  Although one of my students claims my latest idea is devoid of any intelligent thought, I can easily dismiss his opinion.  After all, he is only a teenager; what does he truly know about school, learning, and education in general?

The spark that ignited my idea was one of the vocabulary words of the day, interrogation.  Since it is Veterans Day, I required the students to create a sentence with a reference to the military.  As students shared their super sweet sentences with the class, one student mentioned torture while interrogating prisoners.

BAM!  My brain was on fire.

“Don’t teachers interrogate students everyday?”  I asked the class.

“Yes,” they responded with looks of curiosity and trepidation.

“Well, if I am interrogating, then I should be allowed to torture, too,” I hypothesized.  “Nothing too hurtful, just a little electric shock.”  I continued, “Imagine, what if I had a row of buttons that would give a little ZAP to a student who answered a question incorrectly?”   Of course, I might hit the wrong button and accidentally shock the wrong kid.  Oh well, feces occurs; the zapped kid probably didn’t know the correct answer either.

People never like great ideas.  For example, people told Walt Disney he was foolish to create a magical place for children.  Disney’s response: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  Students can be just like adults, and immediately I was met with negative comments.  The naysayers in the class told me the district did not have enough money to wire all of the desks, the desks were made of plastic and would melt, and one smart girl even said we weren’t allowed corporal punishment.

I use to see the negative side of everything, too.  However, I have been working hard to persevere through problems that arise.  I decided I would invest in the students education and would pay for the set up myself.  (We teachers are always paying for supplies, books, and additional resources for our students.)  Preventing the melting of a desk would merely require testing out the zappers.  I really do not think anything would melt; my dogs do not burst into flames when they get shocked from the wireless fence in our yard.  The last argument given by a student deals with laws.  I am not a lawyer, but Atticus Finch, the lawyer and father of Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird is my hero.  I believe he would be able to successfully counter that the definition for corporal punishment does not include small shocks.  And, if Atticus says it is ok, then I believe him.

This weekend I will spend some time researching this way to motivate my students to excel.  Yes, we teachers do not always get our job done during the school day.  A few of us even work to become better during the summer.

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