Frosty the Snowman: Criminal?

If you are struggling to know what to do for the holidays with your social studies students take a look at Frosty the Snowman.  For years now, and especially when I used to teach NSL Government, I have shown Frosty the Snowman and asked the students to write down all of the crimes that Frosty commits throughout the movie.  When you frame the movie in that light it makes film much different and allows you as the teacher to talk about different kinds of crimes that exist. Here is a list of a few that the dastardly Frost commits as he makes his way to the North Pole and the movie to see if you can find some other ones:  

(This was the only youtube version of Frosty I could find. So sorry for all the Anime characters around the video.)

1. Stolen property.  (The Hat)
2. Removes Children from the school yard and is not their parents or guardians.  
3.  Kidnaps Karen.
4.  Jay walking.
5.  Public Indecency:  No Clothes.
6.  Stows away on the train without paying for a ticket
7.  Starts a forest fire
8.  Breaking and entering in the flower shop.
9.  Causes Karen to get Stockholm Syndrome.
10.  Child endangerment when Santa and Frosty leave Karen on the roof of her house.

It really is a fun thing to do, but I would only do this with older children.  Changes everyone's perspective.  Happy Holidays!

5 Principles of Gamification

Ever since I wrote an essay touting the benefits of gamification in the classroom if done the proper way, I have been wrestling with my psyche to find the words that are necessary to explain how one could go about adding games to the classroom.  After several months of deliberation, I have come up with five principles that I think help explain what good gamification should look like.  I attempted to make them apply to any classroom setting, but I know that gamification in math will probably look different than in Social Studies.    

I plan to keep writing about how I made games an integral part of the learning in my classroom and the methods that I used, but I thought the Principles were a good place to start.  They are not in any particular hierarchy of importance.  I also imagine as I go on this journey of self-reflection, I will probably end up adding more.  Over the next few months my posts are going to apply to this vein, with some other ones mixed in.  Thank you in advance for going on this journey with me. 

Schwarten’s Principles of the Gamified Classroom

1.    …is a tool that is used to teach concepts in a 3 dimensional real time environment.
2.  …builds upon skills that come from inside and outside of the game. 
3.   …is not at odds with traditional modes of learning, but is a supplement and a vehicle to further learning. 
4.   …builds creativity and critical thinking skills.
5.  …grows over the course of the year allowing the skills learned earlier in the year to continuously be practiced.  

SOLE Results: Was the US successful from 1781-1789?

The Sole Project:

This year I completed a SOLE that asked the question:  Was the US successful from 1781-1789? 
The results I received were pretty good considering I did not give out a super specific rubric.  I did give them a guide that allowed them to take it in any direction that they wanted.  And the results were pretty good.  Most chose to create a PPT in their groups as the final piece, but others chose to create a poster.  I even had one group write a well-developed essay. 

The freedom motivated many students, but was a challenge for others.  Some wanted specifically what I wanted in the project, but I refused and on the first day many complained that the project was just too hard.  I stuck to my guns and eventually all the students I had turned in a finished project.  Below is an outline of the process I underwent with my students. 

Day 1:  Students used printouts and the text to begin doing research.  Historians often use older texts to discover things about the past so I wanted to use this as an opportunity to drive that point home.  Plus, there should always be value in discovering things in printed texts as well.  Research online really does not have all the resources that could be used yet.  I also was unable to get computers that first day.  The students filled out an organizer.  Where I just drew some squares on a piece of paper. This tripped them up quite a bit because I relied on them to create the shape they wanted.  Some created two columns of success and not success. Some broke it down into years.  Others did sections of the text.  It was neat to see the process of their mind create the tools they needed. 

Day 2:  More Research.  This time we used computers and the texts.  I had put some videos on my blog as a starting point.  Some went and found other things online. 

Day 3:  Final day for research on the computer.  Most still had not finished the computer research so I gave them another day.  They surfed around to find more information. 

Day 4:  They began working on their project.  They were allowed to choose whatever medium they wanted.  I ended up with essays, posters, and PPTS. 

Day 5:  They used this final day to finish up the project and turned it in.  Below are a few results. 

Overall, the project was a success.  For the first time in a long time the students could tell me all about Shays’ Rebellion, the Northwest Ordnance, and other events from the time period.  I think it helped them understand why American needed a new constitution better than all of the readings I have done in the past.  I am kind of emboldened by this process and I am thinking I might have the students write a historiographic essay on Andrew Jackson next quarter to see how his portray might be different than others. 

For those of you who are wondering about the validity of the SOLE it does work, but might make your students uncomfortable.  Some of my students yelled at me as I pulled back.  To some I was simply not doing enough for them or my job.  I helped many do research, but I never told them any answers. As the project finished I think that it was important I didn’t become as involved, but was more of a guiding hand that constantly posed questions.  It was hard not answering the questions, but overall this seems to be the way things should be done.  Some needed prompting to stay on task occasionally, so the method is not perfect.  Students still need the structure of the classroom to stay focused and for me to keep helping them stay focused on the process.  It was a risk I took this year and it seems to have paid off.

Give it a try.  You will be amazed with what some of the students will create.       

Some facts about the Browns in my lifetime

I know this post has nothing to do with teaching, but I am a Browns fan and I wanted to post these thoughts some where.  I have been a Browns fan my whole life, but after looking at these states there hasn't been a ton of success.  I just keep waiting patiently, but I am getting tired of waiting.   I think that the bottom thank you to Brian Hoyer does show what I value in a person.  Determination, grit, and a strong work ethic.  So loosely we can attribute that part to the education blog.  Just trying to get some thoughts out of my head. 

The Browns stats on the playoffs in my life time:
1.       7 times total

2.       5 of those came before I was 6.

3.       I really can only remember 2 of them.

4.       It’s been about 13 years since the last one.

5.       One of my best memories of being a Cleveland fan is dressing up like Bernie Kosar when I was pretty small.  That was probably about 25 years ago. 

6.       I still wear his number on the jersey that has my last name on it because he was the best Browns QB in my lifetime.  ( I Stopped buying new jersey’s because they would go out of style after a season)

7.       Why do I keep doing this?  I guess it is because I love Cleveland and keep hoping that one day the Browns will have a season that will finally make all the naysayers just be quiet for a while.  Or at least stop asking this question: “Why on Earth would you root for the Browns?  They stink!” 

8.       Thank you Brian Hoyer for winning 7 games in 1 season.  If we go back to 1995, Hoyer won more games in 1 season than the quarterbacks of 13 seasons.  The Browns have won 7 games or more three times since 1995.  Now we have 4.  If you look at the last 2 years out of the 11 wins the Browns had 10 of them came from Hoyer’s starts. 

9.       Thank you Hoyer for giving us something to root for.  No one thought you could and most people wanted you to fail so they could see Money Signs Manziel.  I was a fan because of what you represented about Cleveland.  Grit.  Determination.  Studying your craft until your moment came.  Then doing your best.  Too bad no one really got behind you. 

A Drawing of a Goatee: The Surprise Reason

In trying to keep things in perspective for myself here is another interesting moment that happened to me in class the other day:

I was doing my thing and teaching. Doing what I normally do, getting around the room, helping students, answering questions, asking questions, etc.  A student comes up to me to ask to go to the bathroom.  He had drawn a goatee on his face.

I looked at him confused.  I wasn’t sure what exactly he was doing and my brain struggled with how to react.  Part of me wanted to laugh my head off.  The other part of me felt like I should tell him to go wash it off because I can’t have him walking around with a distraction like that or if he left the room the other teachers would like, “Why did you let this kid draw all over himself?  Schwarten must be a horrible teacher!  He never pays attention to anything.  Even when the kids are drawing all over themselves!”

So we sat there looking at each other.  Me trying to still be the teacher I need to be, so I asked, “Um…  _____ , What is the goatee all about on your face?”

He looked at me and said, “I just want to have a goatee like yours and be like you.”

I looked at him, signed his agenda book to let him go to the bathroom, and just said, “One day it will come in.  Just be patient.”

Who knew that was what was going on in his mind?  I guess I could have gotten angry and told him to wash it off, but then I would have missed the reason he had it on his face.  I did still tell him to get the ink off his face when he left, because he was going to the bathroom after all, but man did that make me smile.  Sometimes teaching middle school is kind of fun and goofy. 

Teaching is Hard...

Teaching is hard…

Lately,  I have been thinking this thought a lot.  I think that I just usually have the same thought around this time of year.  Motivating students is always hard.  The holidays are coming.  The first quarter honeymoon period has ended for everyone.  And the students I have always start trying to push boundaries really hard.  I am trying to stay positive.  I am even reading Dale Carnegie’s book on how to stop worrying, but there have been days lately where motivating myself has been a real challenge.  

This week hasn’t helped much.  I had a ton to get completed this week:  Interims, lessons, grading completed, write my script for the soccer banquet, attend the soccer banquet and give my speech (which was really enjoyable), and not to mention trying to get ready for the holidays.  Yesterday was pretty much a meltdown in all the sense of the word, many students were acting out, the video I have used for years by PBS and was there a month ago was no longer there, and the packet I had created to build knowledge around the video was then not worth beans.  I felt like crawling in a hole yesterday, but of course that wasn’t an option.  I trudged through my lesson and then had to find another video to try to piece my lesson back together for the rest of the day.  Everything I tried to do yesterday really didn’t work.  I had to cover a class during a planning period and I also spent my lunch finishing up my interims.  Then after school I had to finish writing my script for the banquet, but when I did finish the room where the printer was located was locked and I needed to find someone with a key to open it.  At least when I went to the banquet everything pretty much ran smoothly.   

Today was better, but mentally I am tired.  It is hard to constantly be the one who keeps students on task and motivated.  It sometimes feels like I am the only motivating factor for all 111 of us.  It is just exhausting.  I always thought that as time went on that it would get easier, but it really has not.  Something things have like my ability to plan a lesson is much quicker now, but in terms of dealing with people it is pretty much the same.  I used to wonder when I was in school why some teachers were kind of grumpy people, but now on the other side I know how hard this can be.  

The thing I think most people need to keep in mind when we are discussing education in general is that teachers are people to.  We spend lots of time worrying about everything and just trying to do a good job.  But sometimes everything just kind of runs over us like a tsunami overtakes a beach.  It takes a toll and some days I feel like I just have to fake it so I don’t cast a shadow over the students who are sitting in my class.  My cooperating teacher back when I was student teaching once told me that as long as the good days out number the bad days that teaching will always be worth it.  I keep trying to remember that I do have joy doing this job I just have to find it again on a regular basis.  

I sometimes get sad when students struggle with what we are trying to do.  I suppose that all students struggle on a regular basis if we as teachers are doing it right.  We are supposed to push their boundaries, but sometimes I worry about their reading levels.  Today we used the book to find information for an activity where they could use their table group to find the information on Washington’s presidency and they struggled and needed a lot of help from me.  I suppose it might have been the general questions I wrote that were not just simple hunt and find, but some summary skills needed.   I also think the book we have is too hard for them, but I had hoped that by now with all the work I had done with them in reading they would be able to do it well.  I do know that they always struggle with vocabulary not only from an academic standpoint, but from a general standpoint as well.  My para’s all said the activity was great for all of the students, but there were times I wasn’t so sure.  One said she really liked how I put the questions on the board and expected them to talk it out because it helped the students on IEPs.    

I tried being a cheerleader for as many of them as I could, but again when kids constantly are asking you if they found the right answer it is just draining.  I hope I kept them moving along.  I guess at the beginning of the year they wouldn’t have even tried the activity because it would have been too hard.  So there is that.  I keep hoping I am making a difference in how they read, but days like today make me wonder how much impact I really am having.  

       Well, for everyone who frequents my blog looking for an upbeat passage I am sorry I just needed to process some things from the last few days.  Carnegie said that getting things out even in writing helps and today I needed all the help I could get.  On a positive note I am going to put down a couple things that were good that happened to remind myself of the good I did accomplish:

1.        I had a student tell me she really liked doing the SOLE and built 4 separate ppts to help share with her group over the weekend we did it.
2.       I had a student this week thank me for allowing her to think her beliefs.  She struggled to find the words at first, but when she gathered her thoughts she said that most adults and teachers keep telling her that what she thinks about Ferguson is wrong.  Or that they try to impose their viewpoint on them.  She basically thanked me for being different.  She was impressed that I had asked her questions about things that I wasn’t sure I had fully figured out yet, but she had an opinion on.  We all kind of worked through it together.   The discussion that class and I had about it was one that just kind of tried to piece some of the events together and let them come to a conclusion.  Her comments really warmed my heart.    

3.       At the beginning of the year I had a principal come tell me that a student she had a conversation with and was having some troubles told her that he wanted all new teachers except for me.  I was interesting and enjoyable. 

4.       I had several people tell me at the banquet tell me that they really enjoyed my presentation and that I was a great public speaker.  Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy talking in front of people.   And, apparently, people like listening to me. 

So all in all, after writing all this out, I guess I am doing ok.  I just got to try to make sure I keep my head on straight.  If any of you out there are also having a rough time this year maybe my story today will remind you that you are not alone. 

Do you find a lot of students using the blog?

Do you find a lot of students using the blog?

1.  I get the most hits the day before a test when kids go to it to review.

2.  I also use it to post assignments, etc when we use the computer so I know they know how to get there.

3.  I like using it because it keeps all my videos, etc in one place for me makes it easier for me to find stuff the next year.

4.  Parents have been pretty grateful about it.  I have on dad who is making his son look at it at least once a week to watch the videos on stuff we have already done and he liked my calendar feature.  Said he has been enjoying learning with his son, which was my original intention of building an online presence.

5.  Most parents were impressed during parent teacher conferences.

6.  I do still have some kids who do not have the internet though so I haven’t flipped the classroom where I only do the application in the classroom and have them go over notes at home.

7.   I like using it for posting my notes or gallery walks in the room.  I then absolve myself of needing to help them make up notes because it is available.  I've had some kids say ok and then come back the next day with the sheet completed because they went on the blog.

8.  It eliminates the issue of students missing the video in class if they are absent.

9.  My  blog is mobile friendly whereas edline I don’t think is or at least wasn't until recently.  (Lots of my kids don’t have computers, but have a phone they can use)

10.  I think advanced uses it the most and reviews the most.  The on level kids are kind of hit or miss or depends on the assignment.

11.  Once I didn't have enough time to get a list of the concepts for the kids that would be on a quiz so I told them I would post it by 4 PM after school.  I did and several of my students thanked me the next day, telling me it helped them.  So offers a way to project educational power beyond the classroom, which is something I really wanted.  

12.  My favorite thing about it is that it doesn't require a password like edline.  There is no excuse.  If you can use Google you can find this blog.

13.  I also really like this simple kind of web design.  I don’t have the skills to do anything really cool, but it helps me get my fix of fiddling with computers.  I guess the career test was right.  I enjoy web design, but I don’t know if I’d ever want to make it my job.  Kind of a fun hobby for me.

14.  It also helps me manage civ lab and give me a running account of what has happened in the game, which is something that was always hard for me to remember.  Plus, other schools can see what my students' governments are doing.  

So In short, I do find that my students use the blog.  I have some more than others that use it regularly, which is probably true about anything in the classroom.  You should give one a try.  It has helped me manage my classroom and helped students be more successful.

Breaking Bread with Family During The School Day (Catholic Schools Week Lunch)

When I was a kid I attended Catholic Grade school.  Immaculate Conception helped me become the man that I am today and I did make some good memories there.  School is very different now than it was then, but I did receive a good foundation in skills that I would need for high school.  I am sharing these moments from my childhood to remind me of the parts of school I did enjoy and to show how I came to some of the conclusions I did today.  I hope to share some of the moments with my teachers who inspired me to become a member of their profession. 
So many good teachers were swept under the rug of the reforms that happened during the No Child Left Behind Era.  Sometimes I think we forget there was a time where teachers worked hard, taught children, and inspired them to live their lives on their own terms, without the threat of the assessments of doom that ripped away funding.  They did the job because they believed in it in some shape or form.  They wanted me to grow up to be a productive human being.  They wanted to have a hand in that future.  They wanted to help mold the next generation of doctors and lawyers and teachers, etc, etc, etc.  And they did it all because they believed in doing the job not because someone constantly threatened to fire them.  Think about that.  I am writing this because someone thought I should know how.  That is where it ended.  To me that is powerful stuff. 
I know there were teachers who obviously didn’t, but I don’t want us to only take away from the legacy of those who did a good job.  The world seems to be so full of negativity right now.  So here I am sending some positive thoughts out into the universe… 

Below is a passage about how much I loved Catholic Schools Week and the special lunch.  I know I am romanticizing it now and feeling full of nostalgia, but it was important to me.  So important I am now sharing it with you.  What memories do you think the children of today will remember about what we did?   Hopefully, they will look back fondly…

Breaking Bread with Family During The School Day (Catholic Schools Week Lunch)

One of my favorite times of year was during Catholic Schools Week.  The week was a celebration of Catholic Schools across the nation and all week we had special events that made school so much fun.  All throughout the week there were fun games we played, events that involved the entire school, the book fair, and one day where a parent was allowed to bring in food to share a meal with us during the day. 

I think the day that was my favorite was the day that my Mom brought lunch to school and we would share that lunch on a blanket in the gym.  At the school I went to we didn’t have a cafeteria and hot lunch was a special treat that was available once a month.  The hot lunch was usually pizza from the same pizza location and, to be frank, it was just ok.  Having milk with pizza was never all that tasty and we did get different kinds of ice cream on those days, but you had to eat the ice cream first before it melted and by then the pizza was kind of cold.  I always ordered it because I enjoyed getting something different once a month.  But when Catholic Schools Week was in session my Mom would ask us what we wanted and it included any kind of fast food we could request.  I usually would request Burger King or maybe McDonald’s chicken nuggets, which were a foods that were reserved for special occasions.   

The lunch itself was really nothing all that special except for food that I requested to eat with my Mother and so was seeing her during the middle of the day.  There were times seeing her was not so great, like the time in first grade we went to look at my classroom after lunch and on the sticker chart I had very few stickers for good behavior compared to all the other kids full sticker charts.  (We had an interesting conversation that day…)  But mostly I enjoyed seeing my Mom and enjoying a nice lunch with some good conversation, before showing off some of the things I did in school with pride. The hardest part was eating lunch in twenty minutes, since that was how long we got to eat and everyone was always rushed, but that was the policy of the school.

Another aspect of the lunch that I enjoyed was that I also was able to see my brothers during the day.  We all attended the same school by the time I was in Junior High/Middle School and it was nice to see them during the day.  We normally were all in different sections of the building and couldn’t see one another, but on the CSW Lunch day it was special and we all could get together to share a meal.  My Mom took requests from all of us and she picked up whatever we wanted, even if the restaurants were located in different places across town. 

Other times my Dad also came when he switched jobs to a new firm near our house.  It was nice to see him as well, but most of my memories involved just seeing my Mom because my Dad worked about an hour’s drive away from our house.  My brothers got to see him more at these functions because he worked so close he could come home for lunch, but I was on my way out the door at the time before Dad making an appearance became a regular occurrence.  

My Mom really made the day special, which we always capped off by going to look through the book fair after lunch.  She would let us go through the entire thing and pick whatever book we wanted.  Both my parents always valued reading, but my Mom must have been determined to make sure we all were sound readers.  She always took us to the library during the summer so we could participate in the summer reading program, which always had fun little prizes after reading so many books.  She also helped us pick out books when we were younger and when I once said I had no idea what to read, but  I loved sports she talked with the librarian one day that I didn’t go to the library with her to find middle school books on sports.  I still remember one being about a soccer goalie who wasn’t very good, but had his moment in the sun when he made the game winning save and a really interesting book called the Tennis Menace, which I really enjoyed reading.  Thanks, Mom! 

Needless to say, when it came to the book fair my Mom was always supportive and offered to buy us all one book each.   During the year we never really received gifts and most of the books we did get were usually presents at Christmas, our birthdays, or some other holiday.  I always took care to pick out a book that I liked, usually picking some kind of sci-fi adventure like the time I picked a fun Hardy Boys/ Tom Swift Ultra Thriller that I read like a million times.  Other times if we didn’t find anything my Mom kept her word and took us to Borders or Walden’s Books to make a selection, such as the time we went to the mall and I picked out Jurassic Park that I ended up reading until it was worn.

Once we picked out our books it was usually time to go back to class, since recess had ended. (30 minute recess = 30 minute teacher lunch.  Not much has changed I guess.) If we had time I usually took my Mom to look at my classroom and talk with my teachers, but usually it took a while for all of us to pick out a book.  So once the bell range we usually parted with her, giving her a quick hug, and saying good bye.  Going back to class was always hard because the last thing I wanted after having a nice lunch and getting a good book was to learn other things for what felt like eternity.  In reality though it was not even two hours before the day ended and I went home to see her again. 

All in all, this day was one day a year that was just spectacular.  Sometimes I wish I could do things like that again.  They were so much fun! 

Thanks, Mom for making it special!