Friday, May 31, 2013

Kids' Summer Reading

Summer vacation! Time for all that great free-reading that kids might not have time for during the school year between homework and piano lessons and soccer practice and everything else!

Image from david.orban via Flickr CC BY 2.0

My own kids are out of school, and we've already been to the library once. I think my son has already read four of the eight books he picked out! (No trouble getting that one to read...)

For more reluctant readers, perhaps some suggestions might get the ball rolling? Earlier this year, I wrote a series of posts providing some reading suggestions. I called the series "Books for Boys." (No gender-bias intended, my rationale for this.) Truth be told, most all of the books listed below will be great reads for both boys and girls, though I'm focusing on the 5th-8th grade crowd here for the most part, though some of these might be great read-alouds for younger kids too.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Free Rice: Do Some Good in the World

I want to encourage you to check out sometime soon.

This site has been around for quite a while (since 2007, I believe), but that doesn't diminish it's importance or value. At it's simplest, it's a question-and-answer game: the website asks you questions, and you select the correct answer from among the ones listed. But here's the kicker: every question you get right donates "10 grains of rice" to help feed the hungry.

The United Nations World Food Programme sponsors the site. seems to be largely about building awareness of the problem of hunger around the world, as the WFP is funded by donations. The group does tremendous good in the world, and I think this sort of site is a great entry point for conversations with kids about the enormity of the problem of world hunger.

The game was originally set up to be a vocabulary practice game: an English word is listed, and you choose the best meaning of that word. This is still the default mode when you visit the site, but there are many other subject areas you can play as well: multiplication facts, identifying famous paintings, world geography, vocabulary in other languages, and human anatomy, to name a few. (Click the "Subjects" button at the top of the site to select a different topic.)

I'm thinking this might be a good summer review game for kids? Something that will keep them connected to content and reviewing things they've learned...while doing some good in the world at the same time! Maybe set a challenge: donate 1000 grains of rice a day?

I hope you'll take a few minutes to check it out.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Overwhelming Flood: Supporting Teachers Using Technology

We've had several days of heavy rain, but my basement has stayed dry so far. Our sump pump has running almost continuously.

Growing up on the West Coast of the U.S., I didn't have much context for life with a basement, let alone a sump pump. But I've learned the value of that submersible pump in a hole in the corner of the basement. The good people who built our house were planning ahead for the eventuality of lots of rain, and they put a series of tile lines (think 4-inch [10 cm] plastic tubing with perforations on the top to let water in) under the basement floor to drain water away from the inevitable cracks and crevices. These tile lines all drain into a sump--a pit in the corner of the basement--which fills up with water when it rains hard, as we've had these past few days.

A sump hole with a submersible sump pump. Thanks to Joan for this image.
Here's where the sump pump comes in: it can be submersed in the pit, and pumps the water up a pipe and out through a hose and out into the backyard. And while the water is still isn't in my house.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Blogging: One Year In

I started this blog one year ago today. I feel like my life is very different in some ways and very much the same in others. It's been a good year! I began a full-time position in higher education, and I've basically loved every minute of it. Even the stressful, overwhelming times. I've made new friends, strengthened older friendships, had lunch regularly with my wife (that is a benefit to the professor's schedule!), and developed professionally. I've had the opportunity to teach 258 unique, individual students, including supervising some in student teaching, which was an adventure in learning for me and them.

What a year!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A View of Curriculum from 30,000 Feet

Image: Jorge Royan [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

So we had a quick trip to a warm, sunny spot (lovely) and on the flight home I was doing some reading to prepare for a course I'm teaching this summer. The book was Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. I'm enjoying the book very much, and challenged by it at the same time: it's well-written, compelling, thoughtful stuff about the curricular needs for students, teachers, schools, and society in the 21st Century.

As I read, we hit enough turbulence that I was feeling a little airsick and put the book down for a bit. It got me thinking about flying.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What to do with Twitter?

I had a weird series of events over the weekend.

A good friend and fellow professor, knowing that I like social media (probably too much) shared this article from the Weekly Standard, which decries Twitter for it's banality and how it is tugging down the britches of academia. It is a decidedly NON-Twitter-length piece (very lengthy!) but it's worth reading from beginning to end...assuming you can still handle reading long-form writing, which is one point addressed in the piece.

It's a really thoughtful piece--not just ranting--and it gave me pause about my Twitter use. I love Twitter for professional development...but now I'm wondering how much of it is really narcissistic ego-centrism? When I'm honest with myself, that's probably a part of it--it feels good to get something I write retweeted, or to have a conversation with someone I don't know outside of Twitter affirming my thinking about teaching and learning.

So I'm a little torn now, to be honest, because the next day, this video turned up in my Twitterfeed:

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Joys of the Apple II

By User Apple2gs, via Wikimedia Commons

If you were a child of the 80's (and maybe even the 90's), did you have an Apple II (or Apple IIe, or Apple IIgs) in your classroom? If so, here's a bit of nostalgia too good to pass up...

Block off an hour or so and go check out You won't be sorry.

The site is an emulator for all those classic games you used to play: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Lemonade Stand, and...the grand-daddy of them all...Oregon Trail!

The games load up right in your browser, but you'll have to install a plug-in for them to load. (This is easy, and free--when you try to play a game for the first time, follow the on-screen instructions and you'll be in game-mode in a matter of minutes.)

Yes, the graphics are just as awful as you remember them. Yes, the sounds are midi-generated silliness. Yes, the games are just as awesome today as they were all those years ago.

And even though the graphics are bad and the sound is worse, I think your students could still learn from these games. Okay, sure: some of them are just ridiculous...but you could say the same for some of the schlocky apps you probably have on your classroom set of iPads today!

It might also be worth sharing this site with your students' parents...just the sort of old-school fun for parents and kids alike for the summer doldrums of "Mom...I'm bored!"

(Thanks to my Twitterfriend @sjunkins for sharing this great site!)

Friday, May 10, 2013

I Know the Plans I Have for You

I have a pet peeve about Jeremiah 29:11 being used as a celebratory text at graduation ceremonies. Here it is, from the NIV:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Image made freely available via
Thanks to dustytoes for sharing.
Now, don't get me wrong--that is a lovely verse, one from the inspired Word of God. It's actually a pretty amazing reminder that all things are in God's hands, after all. And that sort of blessing is probably very appropriate for graduates embarking on a new adventure, a new phase of life--especially when some are heading out into unknown territory.

The problem I have with people using this verse this way is that people are taking it completely out of context. Go and read the whole text of Jeremiah 29, and you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fixing Homework

Photo courtesy tracy the astonishing
CC BY-SA 2.0
Okay, here goes...

Generally speaking, I think much of the homework assigned in K-12 education is counter-productive.

There. I said it.

And this is coming from a guy who used to assign quite a lot of homework for his middle school students. But the longer I taught, the less homework I assigned. To the point where I rarely assigned homework at all anymore.

I feel like I need to qualify my reasoning for saying homework is counter-productive. Here goes:

It seems to me that most (not all, but most) of the things teachers assign for homework is either busy work (why bother doing that?) or project-based work that often needs adult-assistance (which is fine for the kids with super-involved, on-the-ball parents...but that's not the case for many kids.) And then the way we teachers grade homework... I don't think it does what we think it does for kids: if they don't see the value in the practicing, or if it's too dull, or too hard, or too easy, or too much, they are going grow to dread and resent the practice...making it into a fight to get them to do it at all.

I know, I're going to argue that homework helps build character, that it teaches responsibility...

Fajitas and Reflective Practice

Today I went out for lunch with a good friend and fellow professor. We enjoyed some amazing fajitas at a great hole-in-the-wall Mexican place downtown. More than that, we enjoyed conversation over our lunch.

Photo by kochtopf
CC BY-SA 2.0
Amidst the tortillas and salsa and Coke out of a glass bottle we talked about good teaching, and how our profession is changing. We ruminated on the history of education and the future of higher education; we discussed the impending beginning of my doctoral studies and the joys of teaching underclassmen. We wondered together about how to teach students critical thinking skills and how to best evaluate what they have learned and whether we expect too little from our students. In short, we had the chance to reflect on what we are doing, and why we are doing it. What a blessing!

After lunch, I went back to my office, had a much-needed breath mint, and got back to marking exams and reading student teachers' portfolios. This is a crazy time of the semester, for sure. But I'm still taking time to reflect on the joys this first year of college teaching has afforded me. I sure don't have it all figured out yet, but with mentors like this, and fantastic colleagues, and amazing students, and the time to reflect and refine my teaching practice...I'm feeling tremendously blessed!

Friday, May 3, 2013

School as a Game

Encountered this video earlier this morning--it's from way back in 2011. I think there are some very, very interesting ideas here...

I have to confess, this has me thinking a lot about the "game" of school. And I think Dr. Haskell is right on--the current game stinks, and we can make it a much better game.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I'm a Pirate

I've been part of a visiting accreditation team for the past couple of days at a Christian school in our area. What a tremendous experience this has been! So great to examine what a team of distinctively Christian educators have been working on and developing and putting into practice in the service of their students and to God's glory!

The thing that has been so fantastic about this experience is that it isn't a judgmental thing at all. We are here to review their self-study and the goals they have set, and then to confirm and affirm that what they have written is being put into action. It's been a lot of visits and conversation and walkthroughs and thinking and writing and more conversation and rewriting. As I write this, I have a few minutes of downtime to reflect before we share our findings with the administration, and then with the whole faculty and staff. I'm excited to share our work with them!

The past two days have been excellent professional development for me. I've seen so many examples of excellent teaching, application of a biblical worldview, and thoughtfulness about measuring the mission of a faith-based institution. And I'm stealing it.

I'm a pirate.

Image freely available at