Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Goal Reached

Hello! After almost a year the big day is here. I've included a quick celebration video below.

Although grad classes are over I'm still quite busy getting seniors ready to graduate and grading final papers. I hope to share some more reflections and data online soon.

Thanks to everyone for their kind words all year long!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Here's my video for November.

That's all the time I have! More...later?

Monday, October 31, 2011



I apologize for the lack of content and updates, but this month has been quite overwhelming in work and in thought.

Before I continue, here’s tonight’s video:

I hit 500 hours total a week before quarter two, and 500 classroom hours the week after quarter two began, meaning I’m either just ahead or slightly behind my goal, depending if you personally count my continuing education through graduate school or professional conferences. It looks like I’m going to come close to 1,000 before winter break!

And speaking of, professional development and collaboration really proved its worth this month. As I speak to in the video meeting with hundreds of other Speech Coaches or English teachers does a lot of good for my classroom.

Speech Conference & Cloud Computing

The biggest thing I took away from this year’s IHSSA conference was the importance and potential of cloud computing in a classroom. In a breakout session that prepared schools to host contests the importance of a contest website was stressed, and several tools were shown to help the process.

In researching ways to share information online, such as blogs, QR codes, and google docs, I began to apply these to my students. I was familiar with all of these tools, but hadn’t thought of many ways to apply them to my classroom or coaching experience yet.

Through google docs I was able to write a form that allows students to apply for speech club online. Not only does it cut down on the paper load and does a lot of the work for us, but it reaches the students on a medium they’re familiar and comfortable with.

ICTE Conference and Skills Based Learning

Teaching, unfortunately, can be a very isolating career. Between blinders of grading and planning there can be little energy or time to collaborate professionally. Something as simple (yet important) as checking progress of a multi-section class can be draining and low on the priority list. One’s successes are their own, but so are their self-doubts and failures.  Collaboration, professional development, and conferences at their worst become a meeting where nothing is accomplished and grievances are aired just to be heard. At their best they rejuvenate the spirit and teachers are able to share the best of themselves, celebrating successes and new tools.

There were many great ideas and applications that I heard at the conference, from podcasting small group discussions to analysis of The Finland Phenomenon. The most important revelation came from Michael W. Smith’s keynote, which encouraged many of us to let go of the canon and seek out works that spoke to the same skills and content of the greats, but were more accessible and interesting to our students today.  When you spend 95% of your time and energy getting students to read and comprehend “Huck Finn,” then there is nothing left for analysis. Understand that I’m not arguing for easier texts, just a varied selection that are more modern, come from more backgrounds (.e.g. ethnicity, class, gender), and from different mediums. Students need to read the internet or video games just as critically as “Literature.”

In that vein I’m seeking to replace Huck with the works of the 20th century Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve loved his works for years and I’m looking forward to being able to bring it to the students.

I also love zombie fiction, as I think its one of the best allegories to come out of the last few centuries. The strength comes in the flexibility of its application, whether being applied to consumerism, witch-hunts, or general conformity. Max Brooks wrote a brilliant “non-fiction” fiction piece years ago called World War Z. The book chronicles a zombie apocalypse in the style of Studs Terkel. The vignettes speak to issues brought up by Twain, such as race, class, and space. My copy of the book was stolen from my room, so I’m guessing it has high student interest.

In essence, what we’re trying to do is identify the skills that the students need in order to succeed, to be critical thinkers. If I had to choose between students remembering how much Jim sold for or to be able to analyze and compose satire it’s not even really a choice. Skills come first, content is second. As a man with literature and history degrees sacrificing the classics hurt!

Future Topics

I’ve taken a lot of time and energy here, but I’d like to briefly summarize some things I’d like to focus on soon.

Application of my graduate studies
Highlighting similar projects
New books and new reading
Critical reviews of Education Reform films (e.g. “Superman,” “Finland”

and lastly…

Brightening the curriculum! How I’m trying to avoid the doom and gloom of modern literature while maintaining a critical eye towards reality. I’ll be focusing on the Hunger Games trilogy amongst other works.

Shameless Plug

I was interviewed by the kind folks at Tightwad Teacher a few weeks ago. They’ve since posted the podcast, which can be found here Thanks for the support John & Shawn!

Enjoy the candy everyone!

Monday, September 19, 2011



I’m back for the first time in a couple of weeks. A cold took me out of commission for a while, and although I didn’t miss class I did scale back my out of school work & life. I unfortunately chose to miss the legendary Iowa State vs. Iowa football game in order to rest. The pitfalls of adulthood. I'd forgotten how tiring the job could be, and how the combined immune systems of 1,600 people could mix so dangerously.

My video highlights what’s going well so far, hours, and a Minecraft extra credit assignment. A quick reminder about my hour count. My “true” grad school or grading hours are more numerous than what’s shown, but often fall within my hours during the day. If I'm at the office from 7 until 5, then I count it as ten teaching hours, although I may be grading after school. It'd be impossible to sort out every minute of the day into these four categories...

If you’re interested in Minecraft, or implementing it in your classroom, you can check out the following links.

I’ve also uploaded my assignment here, which contains more detail than what was mentioned in the video.

I’ll be spending most of this week revising my film assignments, and grading 150 papers. Ninety film critiques and sixty Fahrenheit 451 analysis papers. Look for some thoughts on grading papers later this week.

Be well and rest!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day


I had planned on shooting a video today, but the weather was so beautiful and my voice is so sore that I thought I'd push it off a few more days. However, here are some thoughts about life lately.

First, here are my hours as of tonight, September 5th. Remember that 'grading' is only grading done outside of school hours or the school day. I've lately stayed until 5 or 6 P.M. grading and planning. For my own convenience, I decided to count as such. Teaching includes lesson design, classroom time, grading during the day, staff meetings, etc.

Teaching: One hundred and ninety hours, five minutes
Grading: Two hours, ten minutes
Grad School: Thirty four hours, forty minutes

Total: Two hundred, twenty six hours and fifty five minutes.

Most of the grad school hours so far have been reading, GRE prep/exam, and application. I've had two weeks of class and am really enjoying it so far. I'm presenting on Sand County Almanac this Wednesday. I'll be focusing on the strength of his eco-narration, possible dangers of anthropomorphism, and how much agency is drawn from the text. I've also designed a Minecraft extra credit assignment for student volunteers. The idea was to apply land ethic to a virtual landscape by using only sustainable materials. The idea goes against everything the game is known for. Imagine playing Monopoly as a socialist and you'll get the gist.  I'll be uploading the assignment, some videos/images, and results later this week. I'll also be writing about how beneficial being in the classroom once more is to me in my professional and personal development.

This week has been challenging and fulfilling at once, which is often the case in education. My American Literature students have begun reading Fahrenheit 451 and our discussions of the text are going well. At the behest of a colleague we've begun using Socratic Seminars to discuss works. I'd say that two thirds of the class is fully participating in the discussions, which is amazing. New ideas and interpretations are flying around the room and the results can be very moving. My favorite discussion focused on why Guy would choose to share his books with his wife Clarisse. The consensus was that you share knowledge with the ones you love, and people love those who share knowledge with them.

My sophomores have finished introducing themselves and we've begun to introduce white privilege and white flight in order to set context for Raisin in the Sun. Watch an amazing slam piece that we used before we unpacked our knapsacks here...

Media studies focused on the news media last week. We examined clips from Bowling for Columbine, read from Culture of Fear, compared various stories of the Libyan Civil War, and deconstructed an episode of the Colbert Report to learn how satire can be used to combat media bias and spin. We focus on how the media perpetuates fear as a means to drive consumerism and shape belief about social issues like race, drug use, crime, and war.

Only a four day week, but I'm feeling it will be a long one. Welcome back to school for all those September starters! I'm trying to respond to e-mails and comments, know that I'll get to them in time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Parent Trap


Some quick thoughts while I wait in class for the evening to start. There's nothing like the feeling of campus in Fall. It's good to be a student again.

The year is off to a strong start, and I'm feeling confident about how the classes are going and my ability to sustain the effort I'm putting into them. Last night was open house from 6:30 to 8:00. Rather than go home for a couple of hours I stuck around, worked on grading, and put in a long day. Parent night can be stressful if you let it, but there's no need to. Everyone is very friendly, and just wants to know how to help their kids succeed. I've often worn a suit in order to overcompensate for my youth, but this year I just gave up, and presented who I was. There were no questions about my amount of training, as there were several years ago, so I think the night was a victory.

Too busy right now to produce anything but text, so a quick hour update as of this evening...

166 hours & 55 minutes.

I've got a three day weekend planned, so tomorrow's my last day with the kids, and with the internet for some time. Keep up the good work everyone!