Friday, March 22, 2013

5 Awesome Articles to Share With Your Students

How I used to share awesome articles with my students.
10 Amazing Jobs You Could Land With the Right STEM Education [Mashable!] - Discuss this one in class and watch their eyes light up!

MIT’s Free Creative Learning Class Teaches You How to Learn Almost Anything [Lifehacker] - Discuss question: What would you want to learn, if you could do it for free?

What if students designed their own schools? [GOOD] - Ask your students what their school might look like. You can use the short video as the kickoff for your discussion.

Mark Hyman, MD: Why Cooking Can Save Your Life [Huffington Post] - Home Economics isn't too easy to find these days, but that doesn't mean the skills are unneeded for your student's long term health.

How to Self-Publish Your Very Own Children's Book [Wired:GeekDad] - In the digital age, anyone can do this. I would suggest to use for the self-publishing, since they have done right by me with my two books, but otherwise, there's nothing stopping your students from being able to do this. You could do this as a very low tech in class project, but if you have access to tablets or similar tech, why not create the physical product? Your students would be much more invested if they were creating something not only tangible but that could actually make them some money.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What Will It Take For "Zero Tolerance" Policies To End?

It's not too surprising that as a nation, we're all out of outrage for stories like Boy Suspended From School For Making “Gun” Out Of A Pop-Tart and Florida high school hero gets suspended AFTER preventing school bus shooting.  It seems that in recent years, stories like this have become as much of a media cliche as "local boy makes good."  They still illicit some sort of reaction, but it's not sustained or strong enough for us to make a serious change to the now standard "zero tolerance" policies in school districts across the country.

An artifact from my earliest teaching experience
"Zero tolerance" sounds great when the most common school story seems to be about mass shootings.  Of course, that's why we have these policies to begin with.  The reality is that "zero tolerance" runs counter to anti-bullying efforts as well as common sense that every good teacher uses within their classroom.

Bullying is nothing new.  I was bullied in middle school (this was years before Columbine), and when I stood up for myself and it inevitably led to a "fight", we were both punished equally.  This was wrong then, and it's wrong now--if a student is bullied and stands up for themselves, or someone defends themselves after someone else starts a fight, it should not result in both students being suspended or otherwise punished.  Obviously, a student intervening to prevent a Columbine-like tragedy should be honored, not punished.

In short, "zero tolerance" discourages anyone from intervening and preventing bullying or other violence--including bystanders--because the consequences are doled out so thoughtlessly. 

This brings us to the second problem: great teachers follow the main theme of Teaching with Love & Logic, the best book ever written about teaching. Great teachers know that the ladder of consequences or any other rigid system simply doesn't work. Every incident should be considered on a case-by-case basis, like it is in exemplary classrooms.  This idea hasn't spread to the school or district level, like many common sense ideas that come from the classroom, but that's because it's easier to follow mindless, blanket policies.

The solution to this problem is very simple: districts and ultimately principals consider each case on it's merits and hand out appropriate consequences accordingly. This would end the practice that led to the Florida teen and any kid that makes a mere gesture of a gun getting suspended.  Keeping "zero tolerance" in place not only fails to protect innocent kids, but also adds to the list of reasons why students are so increasingly disengaged with the entire school system.

Our students deserve a system grounded in reality, like the rest of the world around them.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Have You Read One Of My Books? If So, I Need Your Help

I know a lot of people have read one or both my books on teaching, Ten Cheap Lessons and Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word: How to Stop Worrying and Love the Job.  Between the number sold and those I've given away, there's roughly a thousand of you out there.  Here's my problem:

0 reviews for Ten Cheap Lessons on Amazon, only 1 on

2 reviews for Teaching is Not a Four Letter Word on Amazon and 0 on

I don't know about you, but I rarely buy anything online that has few or no reviews. So no matter where you got your copy of my books, you can help me out by logging in to either site and posting a brief review.

Positive or negative, I'd like you to share your thoughts with others who might be interested.  Any feedback I receive will help me reflect, improve and hopefully be able to publish better work in the future.

Ten Cheap Lessons:,
Teaching is Not a Four Letter,

Monday, March 11, 2013

What Leaders Can Learn From Spike TV's Bar Rescue

Jon Taffer would make a pretty good principal. In the Spike TV reality series Bar Rescue, the bar expert takes failing bars and turns them around. How that might qualify him for a principal role requires looking closely at this great show and finding the very practical lessons that apply to any successful organization.

The problems facing each bar vary, of course, but the overarching problem in nearly all of the businesses is a failure of leadership.  At first, the owner usually refuses to take responsibility for bad practices, poorly trained managers and employees, or failing to meet the needs and wants of their clientele.  Of course, when no one takes responsibility, nothing ever gets better--especially if the lack of accountability starts at the top.

Does that sound much different than a school or classroom that's being run poorly? You can only fix problems when you agree to own them.

The show follows a procedure of collecting information, history and observations and then using that data to make improvements.  Taffer brings in experts to retrain staff, fix menus and improve the entire concept behind the bar.  He uses tons of research and science to get the owner and staff on board with changes and to show us, the viewer, why it works. 

The process of reflecting on relevant data is something every successful teacher and school leader does. Poor leaders can sometimes put on a good enough show to convince you they're seriously, objectively looking at what's right and wrong in their schools.

There's also some great examples of what not to do on the show.  Owners, managers and employees display the whole gamut of poor decisions, from laziness to ignorance.  Taffer himself does a lot of yelling and insulting that should never fly in any school or classroom.

Most importantly, there is always resistance to change--it doesn't matter that these places are failing and what they are doing is clearly not working, there's always someone fighting Taffer on making improvements.

We see all of these things in schools, and we must continually strive to do better.

There are many other shows like this on television, and they follow the same formula--Restaurant Impossible, Tattoo Rescue, and many other makeover shows.  If you watch a lot of them, like me, you see these same lessons come up almost without fail.  That's how you know it's something you can learn from as an educator.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Weekend Reader on Video in the Classroom: March 2013

19 Videos That Make Learning Fun [Mental Floss] - Covering everything from women's suffrage to calculus.

Kids Will Create Masterpieces With the Tabletop Moviemaking Studio [Wired:GeekDad]

THNKR - CHANGE YOUR MIND [YouTube via Twitter] - Described as TED talks for high school and college students "but better".

Making Math Meaningful with Online Games and Videos [KQED/Mindshift]

8 Videos That Prove Math Is Awesome [Mashable!]