3 Thoughts for the Day

My Battle With Coca-Cola: A 30 Day Challege

Today, I made a decision.

 I am no longer going to let Coca-Cola dictate everything that I do in my life.  Lately, I have fallen off the wagon and have been drinking copious amounts of this substance.  Today was the first time in weeks I drank only one can.  I feel sluggish and tired, but so far I have resisted drinking Coke.  For anyone who knows me will know that I love to drink soda and that this is a monumental undertaking.

Articles of Confederation: A Lesson on America’s 1st Governmental Document

This year I am teaching in a different program and I am not using my civilization game like I have in the past.  I really wanted to see how things would go if I did not have it as a crutch and if I liked teaching without it.  The program I am teaching in this year there is a lot more project based learning and I am working my way through this year while trying to become a better teacher in general.  I really wanted to work on my abilities as a teacher and hone some of my other skills.  I miss the game and what it provided, but I also want to be able to have other skills as a teacher.

My Plan For The Year

I just want to lay out some thoughts here about what direction I want this blog to go for this year.  Last year I did the 30 day challenge in 1 year and I surpassed that number before the school year ended.  This year I am going to keep writing, but I feel I need to have a plan.  I have a child now, so I need to make sure I have enough time for my family.  I also am teaching a different class this year and still coaching soccer.  I want to keep writing here because it has helped me immensely and helped others.  I want to keep going, but it is evident that I cannot continue to keep writing like I did.  So I am writing out a plan to hopefully keep myself honest about how I want to proceed. 

How I Survived the Education Reset Button

The Reset Button…

When I was a boy I used to play lots of video games and on the console was a button that would reset the game.  This button exuded evil…  The button itself was not evil, but I have many memories of someone hitting the button out of spite or anger when one of us began losing.  Or how about that time someone pressed it just because they felt like it when you had reached the final level after playing all day to get back at you for something you did days before?  Or what about the one time that my Dad was winning against my Godfather in Intellivision Baseball for the only time in the history of man when I ambled up as a toddler and decided to use my newly discovered motor skills to press the button.  My Dad never had another opportunity to win against my Godfather again, due to the fact my he was just that good at those games that sported stick men on the screen.  (I should know.  Despite training for an entire year on Intellevision Football, I was only able to kick 1 field goal and lost by a whole boatload of points when playing him…)  

Please Excuse my dust...

Hi Everyone,

I am currently trying to update my blog and make it look a little better.  So, please pardon my dust as I move things around.  Some of the things updated fine and some of them did not.   So I am working to make sure everything works on this one.  I found a template that I do like so hopefully I will get it all up and running soon.

Mr Schwarten

Newseum Andrew Jackson Dossier Project

 Hello ANEW15!

Rapid Fire Reading: A Reading Rotation

For those of you that have been following my blog, the birth of my first child went well.  My wife and I love spending time with our newest family member.  Hard to believe I am a Dad to a little baby girl!  Now, on to the material that can help you be a better teacher!

I have also, spent some time analyzing my analytics and it seems that some of my regular readers enjoy lessons and strategies, instead of reading about my opinions on life.  Since, this is popular, I figure I will spend some time helping others learn some of the strategies that I have utilized over the years to help students grow in various ways.  This is the internet after all where we all seek knowledge to help out our lives.  This week I plan on spending some time talking about reading.

I might be gone for a while

Hi all,

I just wanted to let my regular readers know that I am going to be taking a bread from writing for a while.  I am going to be having my first child real soon so I do not envision being able to write much over the course of the next few weeks.  I plan to start up again once things kind of settle back in.

I just wanted to thank all of you that come back on a regular basis.  I have been enjoying writing and having someone read what I have been writing.  I hope what I have written resonated with you and helped you along in your profession.  When I started I wasn't even sure if I would have enough to say to keep this going, but it has been pretty steady with a pretty large body of work now in my table of contents.

I figured I would let you all know why my posts have slowed and why they will probably stop here for a while in the near future.

Thanks again for reading!

-Steve Schwarten
US History Teacher

Every Moment is A Gift: A Quick List of the Gifts of A Classroom

I recently found out that I am not going to be able to return to coaching the boys JV Soccer team in the fall at the school I was coaching at.  I suppose I could rail against the decision the school made, but that just isn’t me at this point.  Years ago I would have probably lashed out, but at this point I am sad and will miss my chance to work with the youth that I had built a relationship with.  But it has made me come to a significant realization:  Every moment we share with our students or athletes is a gift.  

Creating Educational Art: What is stopping you?

I used to walk into museums and look at art pieces and think, “Man that is so simple.  I could have done that!”  I used to walk around kind of arrogant and not really appreciating the art.  As I grew older my perspective changed and I started appreciating art in a different light.  Modern pieces are not always my favorite, but I can at least wonder what exactly the artist is trying to say.  The work that was put into the piece was tremendous even if I cannot always relate with the feelings the person was trying to convey. 
Recently, in the Louisiana Museum of Art I walked along an artist’s creation that had a gravel ground with a stream of water flowing through the space, which carved its own path.  The people in the space were quiet and almost reverent as everyone took in the sight.  Years ago, I would have scoffed.  Today I marveled and wondered with all kinds of questions bursting forth and I ended up looking through the book in the gift shop to try to find the meaning.  I didn't find it, but it was a neat experience walking through what should have been outdoors inside as an interactive art piece.  So again, my mind goes to the place it always goes:  I could have done that.  All they did was lay rocks in a way that caused a downhill slope and let water flow down it.     

This was an amazing piece.
Louisiana Museum of Art, DK

Civ Lab: The Road to Revolution

Using the game for the American Revolution is probably some of my favorite to utilize.  The game environment allows us to simulate almost everything that happened during the time right before The American Revolution.  The results are remarkable and normally I don’t have to do much to incite the uprising once we are done.  

Andrew Jackson: Student Blogs

This year I created a new project that required the students to research Andrew Jackson to create a dossier and we wrote blog posts instead of essays!  They vary in how much they finished because I had miscalculated the amount of time I could have the chromebooks before testing began.  I would love to use the chromebooks more often, but we only have a limited supply.  One day I hope to have one for every student, but unfortunately I think that is far off in the future...  Because I messed up and the students had to finish their posts by hand I promised them that I would feature some of them on my blog.  I hope you all enjoy the work they put into them!  I know I enjoyed seeing what they valued and pulled out of the material we researched.

-Mr Schwarten

Civ Lab: The Mother Country, Early Colonial Issues, and Mercantilism

For my next installment of Civ 4 as a Soc St tool, I figured I would talk about how to use the game to teach the early colonial issues.  When I learned about these topics we were usually directed to a few definitions and some notes that gave us examples of what the British did in real life.  The game allows us go even deeper to reenact in a virtual world how it all worked.  

When I start having my classes begin to build their nations they are all colonies that have a Mother Country, which allows them to exist and expand as they wish.  I always relate that they are all part of a larger empire that has a king or queen and if one of the largest alliances in the game.    When designing the game the Mother Country can be another class or you could be the Mother Country as a control country.  We do have control countries in the game, but the students do not know who which ones are a school and who is a control nation.  Having one class lord over another is always interesting to watch, since the controlling group always becomes arrogant and as the colonies buck up against the Mother Nation mistakes will be made by both parties.  But either way, when we start everyone is one large happy family.    

The Riches of Teaching

Negativity…  The world can seem saturated with it.  Sometimes when I open Facebook or Twitter I feel like I just dipped my hand in sludge and need to wipe it off.  If we let it the world can make us hate our lives.  But the key is if we let it.  

I lived a good part of my life looking forward to the next step or the next gain, until after I had gained my degrees and landed my job I had no more course left to run.  I also have struggled throughout my life in the month of March to stay sane and not allowing cabin fever to take hold of me.  I have a hard time when I do not see the sun as often on my skin, state testing is rearing its ugly head, and there are no holidays to look forward to.  March is just a month that I battle the Black Dog and hope to keep it at bay. 

DBQ 360 Results

John Marshall Analysis

I completed doing a DBQ in the 360 style.  I learned a few things while doing it and I enjoyed having them work to complete the DBQ this way.  The DBQ question had to do with the Indian removal Policy and how it changed over time.  We looked at documents from Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Tecumseh, and John Marshall, which gave us many different views.  

Wikipedia: It Is Not Totally Evil

So this is my 30th post in my 30 day challenge.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it in a month so I committed to the challenge over the course of the school year.  At the time I didn’t think I would have much to say or that I wouldn’t be able to stay committed to writing all of them.  I was wrong on both accounts and now I am completing the 30th post!  And, before the school year is even close to being done!  

So, set your goals everyone.  As long as they are achievable they will make you feel so good when you complete them!  I am loving proof blogging kind of picks up steam as you keep going! 
Now below are my thoughts on Wikipedia’s level of Evilness…

My 1st Attempt at a Podcast:

Hi all here is my first attempt at a podcast.  The quality is pretty poor, but I figure I will make this better as I go.  I did this on the fly, but like I tell the kids we need to try and work on it as we go.   

I discuss the following:

1.  How listening to Tony Robbins inspired me to help change my thinking about teaching.
2.  How we need to ask questions to make our teaching better.
3.  How to stay positive.
4.  Who am I?  Who are you?
5.  What kind of a teacher are you?

Teaching the House of Burgesses/ Town Hall Meeting Using Civilization IV

Each class is given a nation to run in the simulation.  I want to stress that all of the decisions are made by the students and the solutions to their problems generated by the students.  The teacher here is a facilitator, a reminder as to what is available, and a resource to understanding concepts being applied in the game. 

 When I introduce the game the students have a mix of emotions.  Some are intrigued.  Some respond negatively because it is so different.  Others look at me severely confused.  I have to take the time to reassure them that they will understand more as we continue on.  They have never had a teacher do this.  I know I am the first one and I know it is scary for a lot of them.  So as we go through the journal and I show each place where information is located on the screen I make sure to help everyone.

1st steps to Civ Lab

As I promised I am beginning the journey of explaining Civ Lab to the world.  Below are links that will help to explain everything I have written on gamification so far:

Finding the words to describe how to use this as a teaching tool has been difficult, but I am going to try. I think the best way to share how to use this is to take you through how I do it from the beginning.  I think for the sake of my own brain I need to chunk this down into small mini concepts that can be explained in shorter bursts.  Every time I have tried to wrestle with this concept to find the words I tend to become overwhelmed and my brain tries to jump from one concept to another.  I have tossed out several different drafts and attempts so I am hoping the chunking will make it more effective for you all as a reader.  Below are a few things that will help you get started.

It's been a year: My first Vlog post

This year has been really great.  I wrote a lot of different stuff and have grown my blog much more than I thought I was going to.  42 posts later, I have entered many different conversations and have been loving how much my thought process has grown.  I have started meeting great people and have grown as an educator.  I have surely come a long way since these 1st two posts:

I Don't Care Anymore

On twitter and elsewhere, there has been much talk about we need to do to fix our situation in the world of education.  Everyone seems to have the silver bullet to save our children.  I agree that we cannot keep losing children, but I almost wonder if we are mentally defeating ourselves by constantly focusing on outcomes.  They almost are never what we were hoping they would be.  In fact, for all we know they may be unrealistic.  I think overall I don’t care what the scores are anymore.  

 When I coach soccer I don’t care about wins or loses any more.  I used to care about my record more than what skills were being taught.  When I switched my mentality to caring about giving the athletes skills and reminding myself that the players results were a result of the training I provided them.  This past year I focused on training, reminding them that winning is a choice, talking about mindset, how to make themselves feel better about being men in our current world, and the power of body language.   In the most intense games the ones who choose to be successful are and the ones who are hoping to win never do.  This year we choose to put in the work and it really showed. 

Test Day

The students sat with their bodies facing forward. 
Their eyes twitched back and forth, but each was afraid. 
The consequences were too great to move.
This was test day.

How to Gamify Reviewing: Ms. Kinkoph Style

When people think about gamification most people think about traditional types of games.  I think that most people think of students playing games like Jeopardy or Deal or No Deal.  I have created many games like these to help my students review and learn.  It really is my first foray into creating a culture where games play a part of a students learning.   

When I was younger my 8th grade teacher had a game called News Game she got weekly and was kind of like jeopardy where we played in groups.  She also kept all the results and at the end of the quarter we played a large final round for several days.  So you could win a week and you could win the final end round.  We never won anything, but man did I have fun playing every week.  In honor of Ms. Kinkoph my 8th grade SS teacher,  I have a few games below that you can try out in your classroom. 

Does having a blog for your students work? (10 tips on how to get started)

The simple answer to the above question is yes.  The blog I have been using for four years now has become a simple and important part of my classroom.  I have review materials, class lectures, games, and more that I have posted for students who are interested in bettering themselves.  

I was inspired to write this small post today because of something a student said today.  I was telling them all that I would be organizing the blog for review purposes to help them review materials for the final exam/mid-term so they could find all the materials in one place.  When I was done one boy shouted out, “That’s great.  I check the blog at least once a week to make sure I understand everything.”  This to me was proof that this works.  I have also had some kids ask me how to start their own, which prompted me to show a few of them how.  I think that it is something that I am showing them how to do by example.  One of these days when I have more technology available I plan to have students do most of their writing on a blog instead of everywhere else so they have a place they can have a digital portfolio.  Just need to wait until everyone in the school isn’t fighting over the computers…

If you are wondering how to get started here are a few tips I have found useful:


1.    Go to blogger or wordpress and get started.  It’s not as hard as you think.  Just sign up and start creating.  The templates start you out right away.

2.    Understand that creating a blog takes time and effort.  Success does not appear overnight.  Just keep working at it.  Be a tinkerer.  The tweaks will always make it better.   

3.    The layout isn’t as important as you think.  Just get started posting things for your students.  The templates pretty much set it all up for you.  

4.    Show the students how to get there and make sure they know how to use it.  

5.    Someone once told me that students will use something the more you use it.  So far that seems to be true.  The more I have them use it the more likely they are to use it.  I use this for projects in class to review.  It all helps.     

6.    The internet is your friend.  So many people have posted guides on how to expand on your blog.  If you get stuck and are not sure how to proceed just use Google.  It really is your friend. 

7.    It can be a place where you house things you do year in and year out.  I used to save links and stuff to word documents, but then I lost the flash drive or something happened to my hard drive and they were gone.  The cloud helps make things easier.  I doubt Google will be going away any time soon.  “What did I save that as?” becomes “Oh here it is on such and such date.”  I like this because I have moved states and schools many times.  The blog keeps your resources together no matter where you go.  

8.    Remember that most of the blogs you are seeing are the result of lots of time being put in.  Like anything the work has to be done.  Success is a choice.  But don’t let that discourage you.  I spent lots of my years worrying about why my creations did not look like everyone else’s.  Each blog is an extension of the person you are reading from.  Yours will not look like everyone else’s because you are you. 

9.    Videos help my students study and some have really liked the games I post.  Content you choose to make available can be supplemental or relate directly to what you are learning.  It can come from your own videos you make or ones that other have made.  So far I have only posted ones made by others, but who knows.  Maybe one day I’ll make some more.  There is no wrong way to do this as long as the content is appropriate for the grade level.   

10. Just be brave.  Most will be grateful you are doing this.  No one is going to come after you.  Even if they do, can they really argue with you providing a place for your students to continue to grow outside of school?  Plus, having a positive digital footprint will only benefit you. 

Happy Blogging!  Just give it a try!  Remember, the important thing is to just start!  Once you start things will continue moving in the right direction!

The Power of Social Media and Education (Pics of Kronborg Castle)

View from Kronborg Castle Window (Copyright Steve Schwarten)

This is going to be a short post, but the information has been bouncing around in my head for a while now.  I am convinced that as teachers we need to push the boundaries of the classroom beyond the walls.  For years I was terrified of interacting with students on social media.  I was afraid that somehow it would come back around  and and bite me.  A few years ago I started posting reminders about homework on twitter, which resulted in a better return in home work completion.  Over time, it grew into me using it to connect with other educators and me posting more information for my students as retweets and my thoughts on current events.  But it wasn’t until recently I began to see the tool as a high powered tool for connection between students and teacher.

Kronborg Castle (Copyright Steve Schwarten)
 Over the holiday break, I spent time in Europe enjoying the sights and flavors of Denmark and Sweden. While there I spent time taking oodles of pictures to share with those I love and those I teach.  I always feel like I need to bring back information to share with those who may never have an opportunity to go where I have been.  The only difference was that this time I have students who follow me on Instagram and twitter.  For the first time I didn’t have to wait to post a picture with a description and some interesting facts.  I could just connect with my students immediately.  When I was looking at the ceiling of St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC before I had to go to the airport I could share that with them.  When I was looking out at the waves from the window of a castle I could take a picture and share it with them.  When I came across a book written by John Green I was able to take a picture and post immediately with a comment about how the Danish people liked him just as much as we do.  We no longer have to wait to talk with people about our adventures.  Now our students can see what we see immediately.  Think for a second of the power the rests within our social network.  Their eyes can see immediately what my eyes can see.  That is deep…

John Green Ad while waiting for the metro. (Copyright Steve Schwarten)
Students today operate in worlds that are separate from their parents and teachers.  For decades people used to complain that we all occupied different generational spaces.  The old could not penetrate the locations of the young as they figured themselves out.  When someone older found their space the youth would scatter.  The result was a sad dismembering of society where each generation distrusted the other and learning between them severed.  

Today we are given a window into what their world looks like through the panes of social media and they are given one into ours.  I make it a priority not to follow students on twitter or other places, but I like to think of my own accounts that some of my students follow as a way for them to peer into my mind and my adventures.  I like seeing historical locations and doing social studies related activities outside of school.  They are fun for me and often I used to think if only I could share the experience with my students.  For the first time ever I can.  

I remember once going out to lunch with a former teacher and while we ordered food he began to lecture the waiter on the origins of the Margarita pizza.  I remember smiling, but also thinking of how I missed learning things with him.  For the first time ever we can continue to educate our students even after they have left our classroom.  They might not stop by every day, but the pull will be there.  I know because on my Instagram and twitter accounts I have students who occasionally post comments or like pictures.  I still feel like I am making a difference for them.  Giving them at least a little piece of my intellect and expanding their horizons through my pictures.  

The Main gate entrance into Kronborg Castle.  (Copyright Steve Schwarten)

I think that social media has revolutionized how we can communicate with one another and the classroom should be no different.  I think some of the nuances might have been replaced or have changed, but if used properly it can be such a powerful tool.  I know not all students will ever follow me or like the things I post, but those few who feel like they want to still be connected should be allowed to.  Those that are afraid of this have no idea how nice it is to post a picture of my classroom and have students send me a message about how much they missed the environment we created together.  

If you have not given social media a try you should.  If done properly the results can be staggering.  Or at least it will make you smile knowing that you can reach a wider audience as you explain the origins of the Margarita Pizza.       

(All pictures are originals taken by Steve Schwarten of the Kronborg Castle and one of a John Green Advertisement.  Please, don't steal them.  I can send you a print if you want.  They also are examples of pictures I shared with my students.)