Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Creating Better Homework

I've been on a tear lately against "crappy homework." I've written before about how I think homework assigned to "teach responsibility" is misguided; I still stand by this argument. More recently, I've been thinking about how bad most of the homework I assigned as a middle school teacher was, and how we can make homework better. I've also been encouraging teachers to think about homework from a parent's perspective, something I did not do enough of as a middle school teacher.

All of this has stirred up some good conversations with friends and fellow educators--I'm always grateful for feedback and pushback on my thinking!--but a common theme in response has been, "So what do you think we should do about this, Dave?"

Public Domain Image
via Wikimedia
That's fair. As Teddy Roosevelt once said,

"Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is whining."

And...I think he's right. So, lest I be accused of simply whining about the sorry state of affairs when it comes to homework, let's start thinking about how we might go about creating better homework.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Homework from a Parent's Perspective

I assigned a lot of bad homework over the years.

Looking back to the beginning of my teaching career, I'm embarrassed about the kind of work I assigned. As I shared in my last post, I never really learned how to write "good" homework, and I just sort of emulated my own teachers, and gave my own students the kinds of work I remembered being assigned.

And so it was that I assigned ridiculously lengthy math assignments. I gave my middle school math students problem sets like, "Do p. 188 1-51 odds" (because the answers to the even numbered problems were in the back of the book. Can't have them peeking, and just copying down the answers!) And usually they would have some time to get started in class, and usually what they didn't get done would become "homework."

Sound familiar?

But let's look at this a moment...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Let's Fix Homework

In a recent post, I shared some of the research that has been done about homework and it's effectiveness (or lack thereof) for helping elementary, middle school, and high school students learn. This has led to a lot of conversations with fellow educators, both face-to-face, and via online connections. It's clear to me that this is something teachers feel pretty strongly about...and to be fair, I have some strong opinions on this topic as well.

I think we can do better than what we've "always done" with homework. I don't think that much of the homework assigned in schools today is doing what we think it is doing. And, if I'm going to say it baldly, I think some teachers are being downright lazy in the work they assign to their students.

If we're serious about helping students learn, let's make sure that the work we assign is really going to help students learn. And that goes for in-class work, certainly, but for out-of-class work too.

Teacher, how confident are you that the assignment you are giving your students is really going to help them learn? I mean, really help them learn, and not just be "something for them to do" or "something that I can grade and put in the grade book."

My friend, Alice Keeler, recently tweeted about something that got me thinking. She is a fantastic teacher, and is thoughtful about her teaching practice. In a series of tweets, she pointed out that throughout her professional training as an educator--both in undergraduate teacher education courses as well as her Masters degree--she was never instructed in how to create "good" homework. And as I reflected on this, I realized that the same is true for me. We mentioned homework in passing in several courses, but we never really talked about how to really create homework that was well-designed to help students learn. And now that I'm a teacher educator...I'm thinking that I'm probably doing a disservice to my students--future teachers--and even to the students and families they will eventually serve; we better talk about homework now!

This makes me wonder about how many of the hundreds of thousands of professional educators in the world today have ever really thought deeply about the quality of the homework they assign. Are we really assigning homework because we are sure it will help students learn? Or are we assigning it because we feel like we "ought to" or out of some vague sense of, "Well, I'm sure homework helped me learn...so I probably should assign some to my students too...?"

We can do better than that, teachers. Let's fix homework.

Image by Corey Seeman [CC BY-NS-SA 2.0]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life

Every teacher has their own quirky moves and phrases. Think back over your years in school, and I'm sure you'll think of a few. Teachers have catchphrases that they are likely to say in class (and the kids do notice) and they have habits for how they act, and even particular gestures that come to define them.

If you are a teacher, you probably are aware of some of these in yourself too. I know that over the years, I have regularly used a few catchphrases:
  • When I was a middle school math teacher (years and years ago now!) and we were working on an especially difficult problem and it all worked out, I would say, "Fine-and-dandy, cotton-candy!" as the kids rolled their eyes.
  • As a middle school science teacher, I trained myself to respond to students with, "Interesting!" instead of "right" or "wrong." This was a deliberate choice; I didn't want to shut down their thinking with my judgment of their (in)correctness, and "interesting" welcomes them to think more deeply.
  • When a student says to me, "I have a question..." I almost always respond immediately with, "I have an answer...let's see if they match up."
  • I still break out with "Baby ducks!" if I'm excited or frustrated or amused by something that happens in class. (This is a great general-purpose euphemism.)
Why bring this up?

One thing I often used to do at the beginning of the day with my homeroom students was to start the day by slowly saying:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

No More Crappy Homework

Please forgive me for using "crappy" in the title of this post if that language offends you. But I decided to start things off this way, because it describes the quality of work so many teachers assign. I am pointing the finger at myself here first of all. I have assigned my share of shoddy, low-quality, busywork over the years.

I just read this brief piece from Edutopia, entitled "Homework vs. No Homework Is the Wrong Question." It's good stuff; thoughtfully written, and thought provoking. Here's one great quote to illustrate:
A realistic homework strategy should be a key topic of back-to-school night and the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year. But it should also reflect a considered school policy and not simply be up to each individual teacher to carry out according to his or own theory of student learning.
This makes sense to me. In every school I've taught in, homework is largely left to the discretion of the classroom teacher, other than some vague assumption that "teachers should assign homework, because homework helps kids learn." I'm not so sure that last statement is true--read on to find out more about this--but there are some strengths to this approach, I think. Teachers can be empowered this way to make the best decisions for their individual classes, and even individual students this way. Teachers are--in theory, anyway--the closest to the kids in terms of their learning, and should be the ones to determine the kind of homework that will help students learn most, and learn best. (Again, I'm not sure that is what is actually happening in schools, but in theory, this ought to be the way it works.) But all that said, I also understand the importance of a school homework policy. Having a school-wide policy makes it much more likely that the kind of homework assigned is in fact aligned with the mission and vision of the school.

I wonder if individual teachers who might clamor for the power to make their own decisions about the homework they assign would buck at a school-wide policy? I confess, I probably would, depending on the way the policy is written. For instance, if a school homework policy would prescribe a certain amount of homework that must be given each night...well, I would probably be pretty strongly opposed to that. My fear is that to meet a particular homework quota, even more shoddy, low-quality busywork (ah, crappy homework...) would be assigned.

It's not that homework has no benefit whatsoever. Some homework has been shown, in some situations, to have some positive effect on students learning.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Our Job Is 'Kids'

Oh. My. Word.

I have some fantastic students--future teachers--and they often impress and amaze me. But every once in a while, one of my students speaks with such wisdom and clarity that it makes me take a step back.

In Introduction to Education I assign my students a weekly reflection paper about the readings and discussions we have in class. These short papers help give me insight into how they are understanding the course material, how they are making connections, how they are learning.

In a recent reflection about the tasks inherent in planning for instruction, one of my students wrote this gem:
Because we are the teachers planning for each day, we need to know what we are teaching. We need to know the content and curriculum – not just know the facts, but application also. As teachers, our job is “kids.” We learn content to teach the kids. We learn to be aware of kid development. We learn to form activities and friendly classroom for the kids. We learn to be a leader for kids.
She made connections here between several different ideas we had discussed at earlier points in the semester: she is showing how it all hangs together for her, which is great!

But that phrase right in the center of this paragraph...wow, it got me! Here it is again, in case you missed it:

As a teachers, our job is "kids."

How about it, veterans? Do you still think of it this way? What is central to your work as a professional educator? Policies and procedures? That high-stakes test that's coming up? The latest district initiative? Meeting minimum standards?

Or are you in it for the kids?

Why are we teaching? Here's the voice of wisdom from a future teacher: our job is "kids." 

Image by Ilmicrophono Oggiono [CC BY 2.0]

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Problem with Grade Books

Grade books are a real problem, and I don't think enough teachers are actually thinking about how they use their grade books.

A grade book is intended to help keep track of student learning. But I wonder sometimes about this. The very design of a grade book is--whether digital or analog--to record symbols intended to represent a certain quantity of learning. Every piece of evidence a particular assessment vehicle provides has to be evaluated--measured, quantified, and scored--in order to be recorded in a grade book. Grade books are generally not designed to capture rich, holistic information. They are designed to capture tiny bits of information distilled and consolidated into symbols--points, scores, percentages, letters--that are easy to record in the tiny boxes that make up the grade book.

This is a photo of one of my first grade books. Look at all those "10's!"

And...there's the problem, I think. The technology of a grade book dictates how we use it. (And make no mistake, it's a technology, whether it's in digital or analog format. Curious about that idea? Here's another post that might help you understand my thinking on this concept of non-digital tools being technologies.) As the quote attributed to Marshal McLuhan puts it: "We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us."

Friday, November 13, 2015

When Learning Sticks

I had a joyful moment this week.

As a former middle school teacher, it is always just a bit odd for me to have one of my former young-adolescent students in class again now that I am teaching in higher ed. But it happens, and I'm getting used to it.

And, every once in a while, something wonderful happens.

One of my former middle-schoolers-turned-future-teacher caught me before class the other day:

"Hey, Mr. Mulder..."


"Remember when you taught us about cells in middle school? We learned about how things get in and out of cell membranes? And you taught us about diffusion?"

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Modern Educayshun: The Problem with Tolerance

A friend and fellow Christian educator shared this with me last night. It's a short film entitled "Modern Educayshun." I can't decide if it's a parody or a documentary; a horror film or a comedy. What I do know is that it is a look into the culture of education today. Perhaps it doesn't accurately describe your school setting, but I encourage you to watch it and think about if this is where education is headed in the Western World today. (And perhaps we've already arrived here?)

I have thoughts about this film, but I encourage you to watch it for yourself before reading on. It's only 7 minutes long.

Back when I was a freshman in college sitting in a large lecture hall--with a hundred or more other freshmen--taking a Western Civ course, our professor said something that has stuck with me through the intervening decades: "The arts are the mirror of a culture." I would say that this rings true in my life and experience. And this film seems to be holding up the mirror to contemporary education culture. There are several things in here that I think are perhaps hyperbole or satire...but hyperbole and satire can be ways of bringing the truth into focus. If you've viewed the film, I hope you'll take a moment to comment about your perceptions of the truth--or falsehood--this film portrays. (I won't be offended either way; I'm in no way connected to this film.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Should We Assess Assessment?

This is sort of a weird question I've been thinking about: "How can I best assess my students ability to assess and evaluate?"

I teach future teachers, and I have been thinking about assessment and evaluation a lot lately, because we've been learning about this in my "Planning, Instruction, and Assessment in Middle School" course. (Formerly known as "Middle School Curriculum and Instruction"...we are changing our focus a bit to better capture the key tasks that make up our professional work as teachers.) The students in this course are learning for the first time some of the rigors of the work of teaching: what is actually involved in the planning process at the lesson level? The instructional unit level? The whole course level? How do we know what our students know, and how do we understand what our students understand? How do we actually teach something to someone else?

I am trying to make this course both theoretically-informed, but also practically relevant for them. For example, in our assessment unit, we have talked about all sorts of assessment- and evaluation-related topics, from different choices for formative and summative assessments, to the value of standardized tests, to how to create rubrics and criteria charts, to whether it is ethical to grade on the curve, to how standards-based assessment works, to how to write different kinds of test questions, to what grades really mean. I'm striving to make it a pretty comprehensive course. It also has a lot of meta-analysis...I'm encouraging them to dissect my own instructional decision-making (which is a little scary, to be honest) to see how well I'm modeling and illustrating the things we are learning about at both a theoretical and practical level.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Lighthouse: A Lament

Today was a hard, hard day for me personally, and for the life of our church body: today we celebrated the life of a little one from our congregation; a 4-year-old whose life ended far too soon.

There are so many unanswered questions, so many wonderings, so many tearful moments. It was a beautiful day, but in a tragic sort of way. It was a wonderful time to surround a hurting family with the love of their broader church family. So many from our congregation came together to serve. My wife and I were asked to help lead the worship time, and we willingly agreed. The parents had selected songs that were especially meaningful for their family, including classics like Amazing Grace and Jesus Loves Me. They also included a more contemporary choice: Rend Collective's song, My Lighthouse.

If you aren't familiar with the song, here's the video. (I love these guys--their heart and passion come through in every song they sing...)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

What is Really Important?

A dear friend who is a social worker shared this via Facebook this morning...

From the Iowa Foster & Adoptive Parents Association's Facebook page.
This is a real concern.


Kids struggle with depression.

Let me say that again:

Kids. Struggle. With. Depression.

This is a real thing, and if you a teacher, a parent, or work with young people in any way, you need to be aware of this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

There is DNA in Your Smoothie!

DNA is an actual real thing. DNA is the "blueprint" for how to build a particular organism. Human beings, lobsters, oak trees, bacteria, strawberries, platypus (platypi? playtpuses?)...all living things are made of cells, and all of them have DNA in their cells that contain the instructions for how to build the structures of that particular organism.

Most of you won't be shocked to hear this, I know.

But have you ever wished you could see DNA? How do we really know it's a thing, if it's so small that we can't really see it?

This is a real problem for science teachers. We often are working with things that are too small, or too big, or too dangerous to show students directly. So we create models, or play videos, or show pictures...which are all good options, of course.

Take DNA as an example. When I used to teach students about DNA, I often showed them pictures of the double-helix structure in their textbook. We would view video clips of how DNA can make copies of itself using the microscopic machinery of living cells. I would have groups of students create construction paper models of the ladder-like structure of DNA.

But wouldn't it be nice to show students DNA first hand, if possible?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Grades Should Report LEARNING

I think you may need to know where I'm coming from if you're going to read this post, so you don't think I'm just suddenly ranting out of thin air.

Early in my teaching career, I was all about the points. I've written before about my "bucket-o-points" approach to grading, and how I slowly shifted away from this perspective. (I encourage you to read the article linked above for that story.) But this is still a passion area for me, and I think most teachers aren't nearly mindful enough about our assessment practices, and more specifically, about our grading practices.

Okay, on with the post...


I was recently doing some reading in preparation for a lesson I'm teaching next week, and I am using John D. Mays's lovely little book Teaching Science so that Students Learn Science as a text for the course. While Mays is giving advice to science teachers in particular, much of what he has to say applies to teachers in general.

Take this gem, for instance:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Will It Float?

In Science Methods this week we have been learning more about what inquiry-infused science learning looks like. I really like the "5 E's" learning cycle for managing an inquiry-infused science class, and I've been recommending this to my students. (This model was developed by Rodger Bybee and colleagues in the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study; you can read their executive summary if you want more details...)

The 5 E's are a way of organizing learning activities for a student-centered, constructivist approach to science learning. The 5 E's are five "movements" in an inquiry learning cycle that describe what the teacher and students are doing. In a nutshell:

Engage - The teacher provides some sort of hook (a discrepant event, a connection to students' world, etc.) to foster curiosity and set the stage. This provides motivation and a need-to-know to set up the inquiry.

Explore - The students conduct a first-hand investigation to develop their thinking about the science concept to be learned. This movement often exposes students misconceptions about science concepts, and also gives them concrete experiences that can provide the basis of new learning.

Explain - In this movement, both the students and the teacher have the opportunity to do some explaining. The students explain their current thinking, based on their experiences in the Explore movement. The teacher has the opportunity to probe their thinking, ask questions, help them voice their ideas...and provide direct instruction to help students think more scientifically about the concepts being considered. This is the movement where teachers help mediate students' understanding of the content.

Elaborate - The students then have the opportunity to continue working with these new ideas, extending their thinking through another learning activity. This might be another hands-on investigation, further research, or some sort of creative response that incorporates the science concepts. They key is that students continue to develop their thinking about the science content, elaborating on what they have previously learned in the Explore and Explain movements.

Evaluate - Finally, students and teacher work together to find out what the students are now thinking about the concepts. Assessment of learning happens here, with the students (hopefully) able to say, "I used to think...but now I think..."

We had previously learned about the 5 E's learning cycle, but I wanted my students to experience a learning cycle firsthand. So, we took a couple class meetings to learn about floating and sinking, a common elementary science topic. Here's what we did:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Get in there and Jump!

I had a fun new experience this past weekend: I took my kids and nephews and nieces to an indoor trampoline park. You would think that I was there to be the responsible adult, but let's be honest: I was just the biggest kid in there. Here, this might help you picture the scene:

That's me, "levitating" with the smaller humans jumping around me...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Are You a Christian? Or a Follower of Jesus?

"...Hey, Jesus, are you a Democrat?"

Our guest pastor in chapel today, the Reverend Doctor Paul Mpindi, quipped this line. I laughed, but now I'm wondering if he was right?

He was preaching on he story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10. In the story, a young man comes running to Jesus, falls at his feet, and asks, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Rev. Mpindi pointed out that he must have been hungry for the answer: he is identified in the story as being wealthy...and wealthy people don't run and fall down at someone's feet.

The story says that Jesus looked at this young man, and saw the heart of what he desired, and loved him. Jesus loved him!

And so, Jesus gives him this imperative: Go. Sell. Give. Come. Follow.

You want to inherit eternal life? Here's what to do:

  1. Go home. Check out all your stuff.
  2. Sell it all. ALL of your stuff.
  3. Give it away. All your possessions.
  4. Come back to me.
  5. Follow me. Really follow.

And the story says that the young man was very sad to hear this. Despite Jesus' love for him, this was too much for him. And he went away...but not to Go - Sell - Give - Come - Follow, by the evidence in the story. He went away sad.

It was in this context--Jesus telling the young man to get rid of all the stuff--that Pastor Mpindi quipped his one liner.

Jesus, you want me to sell all my stuff, and give it all away? (I see his point. Jesus does sound like a Democrat here, doesn't He?)

But Pastor Mpindi was making a real point here. He challenged us to think about whether we are "Christians" or "followers of Jesus?"

(Is there a difference?)




(But c'mon...)

(You can be a Christian in name. Be a Christian who follows all the rules. Be a Christian who does good stuff. But if you aren't really trying to be like Jesus, you aren't really following Him.)

(Oh. Right.)

Go - Sell - Give - Come - Follow. He repeated this over and over again.

And it started to sink in.

I have been a "Christian" for most all of my life. But am I really striving to follow Jesus? To really follow Him? Even if it means sacrificing of myself? Denying myself, taking up my cross, and following?

When I'm honest...it's hard for me to let go. It's easier to be a "Republican Christian." But what if Jesus is calling me to follow Him...and what if this means I can't just play at this following business.

Am I a "Christian?" Or am I a "followers of Jesus?"

(Ouch. This has me thinking...)


If you'd like to listen to Pastor Mpindi's sermon, it will be available for your listening pleasure...and you will be challenged by it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Would You Want to Be a Student in Your Own Class?

A question for you teachers: would you want to be a student in your own classroom?

My suspicion: your initial answer would be a resounding "Yes!" And why wouldn't you say that? I think we teachers tend to create a classroom atmosphere most like the one we would love to have as a learner.


Here's the thing: usually we teachers are the ones who were "successful" in school. The kids who weren't successful at doing school...how likely is it that they would choose to spend their professional life there?

We were able to do school.

We were the ones who figured out how to play the game.

We were the ones who actually liked the game of school.

And, because we were the ones who were relatively "successful" playing the school game, we became teachers.

Do you ever think of it that way?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"This is hard!"

"This is hard!" one of my students exclaimed in class this afternoon.

It is my middle school curriculum and instruction course; in the catalog, we call it Planning, Instruction, and Assessment in Middle Schools. Basically, it's a general methods course for thinking about what teachers do (plan, instruct, and assess) and it's tailored to folks who are hoping and planning to teach in grades 5-8.

It's a new course for me. I have a strong background in curriculum and instruction (my masters degree was in this field) and I taught middle school for 14 years before beginning this adventure of teaching future teachers. But it's a new course for me. And, the first time you teach anything, you can't be quite sure how it's going to go.

I'm thankful that I have some fantastic colleagues who are teaching the elementary and high school versions of this course. (Ed and Mary Beth, you are gems!) The three of us are able to share ideas and resources and try to keep things more or less similar in structure between these three courses, while also recognizing that there are some differences in the way elementary, middle school, and high school teachers conduct their work.

However...all teachers, regardless of the age of their students, have to plan, instruct, and assess.

Image by David Muir [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

We have done some reading about these three elements, and I've lectured a bit, and we have discussed these topics a bit. We have looked at some curriculum materials and textbooks. We've done some initial examination of standards documents, such as the Common Core State Standards. I have shared with them Wiggins & McTighe's Understanding by Design framework for thinking about planning, assessment, and instruction. We have examined a few different lesson planning templates.

But we've really only had a taste of each of these so far. And, at the encouragement of my colleagues, I figured it's time to start pulling things together, and putting it into practice.

So, in class today, I sort of tossed my students into the deep end of the pool.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Serenity: Dealing with Difficult People

It's a fact of life that teachers have to deal with difficult people. It comes with the territory: we aren't working with cars on the assembly line; we are dealing with human beings with their own thoughts, emotions, and plans.

Every group of students I have ever taught included two or three "knot-heads." You know, those difficult kids who--either by nature, or by design--seemed to conspire to make it difficult on me. Every once in a while, you get a group with eight or nine knot-heads...that's fun too! ("There aren't enough corners to spread them out!")

Sometimes it isn't the kids at all. Sometimes it's the parents. I've had a few classes in my time as a teacher where I've thought, "I wish this was a boarding school...then I would only have to work with the kids, and not deal with these parents!" We sometimes joke about helicopter parents, but this can be very dispiriting as a teacher.

Unfortunately, sometimes the difficulties aren't in the students or the parents, but the colleagues or administrators that make your life rough. Colleagues who seem to be out to thwart your innovative idea, administrators who give you just enough rope to hang yourself...talk about sucking the joy right out of the classroom!

And that doesn't begin to touch the pressures from society: people who decry teachers as lazybones, people who think unionized teachers are just out for more money, politicians who pass laws that put incredible burdens on teachers in the name of "raising standards" without really understanding what the job is like...all of these can make the already demanding profession all the more difficult.

There are days when I think all teachers need to pray the serenity prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Don't we all need a little more serenity, a little more peace in our lives?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

And Six More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography

Image by Enrique Flouret [CC BY 2.0]
I have shared my love of geography here before, and though I'm not a geography teacher in an official sense, I think that every teacher should help foster a little geographic awareness in their students--in very much the same way we say things like "every teacher is a reading teacher" or "every teacher teaches writing."

Previously I've shared a few collections of fun resources you might be able to use to help your students develop a greater sense of geographic awareness; you can check out Eight Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography and Seven More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography to help you get started.

It's in this same spirit that I offer this collection of six more resources. Enjoy!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Awe and Wonder: Space is BIG

In my science methods class today, we were talking about how to foster a sense of awe and wonder in students. I was sharing with my students how I hope science teachers help their students to have moments in which they simply stand amazed at the way this world has been shaped and created.

As an example, I shared with them this illustration of just how BIG the distances are in astronomy. I actually had all of the balls I describe here collected and ready for illustration. I hope this might foster a bit of awe and wonder for you too!


Space is BIG.

How big is it? Let’s make a model…

Image that the Earth is a super-ball about 1 inch across.

On that scale, how big is the moon? Bigger than Earth? Smaller than Earth?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"Doing Science" with Fortune Fish

I love the variety of courses I get to teach for pre-service teachers. The one I've been teaching the longest is "Teaching Science PreK-Middle School." I began adjuncting this course in 2007, and it has slowly evolved over time to the current state, after 15 or so iterations.

One of the key themes that has not changed, however, is that I have my science methods students "do science" on a weekly basis. That is, we aren't just learning about science; we are actively investigating, observing, inferring, experimenting, and communicating what we discover. I want them to experience learning science this way in the hope that they will carry this approach to teaching science into their own classrooms down the road.

So, when we began the new semester in science methods yesterday, their first assignment is an investigation...

I handed out a little plastic sleeve to each student:

What's in the package?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Middle School Teachers: American Ninja Warriors of the Profession

I have a new course I'm teaching this year: Planning, Instruction, and Assessment in Middle Schools. I'm so excited for this one! I was a middle school teacher myself for 14 years before becoming a teacher of teachers, and I care deeply about making school a developmentally appropriate experience for young adolescents.

Teaching in the middle grades isn't for everyone.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Today is my 18th first day of school as a teacher. Add to that 4 years of college, and 13 years of K-12, and one of preschool, if you want to count that too...and this is my 36th "first day" of school.

I still love school. I still love to teach.

It still terrifies me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Thoughts from Camp: A Religious Experience

I spent last week serving at Royal Family Kids Camp, a camp expressly for kids in the foster care system. My last post shared a few of my initial reactions after my week, but I've continued to reflect on the experiences of the week, and now a whole week has passed since returning home from my six days at camp. I think I'm ready to share this now...

I am still processing the experience. On Monday of last week when I returned to the office, several people asked me, "Did you have a good week at camp?" That was a challenging question to answer, honestly. There were times of fun and great joy, for sure. There were also moments where I felt real sorrow, and even anger. Honestly, it's hard to encapsulate what I feel about it, because it's all so mixed up. It was an emotional blender of a week.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Making Moments Matter

I spent last week serving at Royal Family Kids Camp; a camp for kids who are in the foster care system. I've worked at many different camps over the past 20 years, and this one was unique for a variety of reasons. Our main goal: show these kids that they are loved, and not because of anything they have done...in a 1 John 4:19 kind of way. ("We love because he first loved us.")

I'm hesitant to call it a "life-changing experience," but only because that seems like hyperbole. I know that my thinking, my heart, and my faith were pulled, pushed, and shaped through my experiences last week, and I'm still thinking about it all. (Honestly, I've started writing a post about it a couple of times, and I am just not able to pull it all together just yet.)

But one thing I'll share...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Nine Administrators You Might Know

It's that time of year again...when my thoughts start turning toward the new school year, but I'm still scrambling to make the most of the summertime I have left with my family. My son and I were talking Lego at lunch, and he said, "Remember those crazy superhero teacher and superhero student teams we made last year?" (Oh, yes I do son...)

And then he said, "We should make another one."

So I said, "How about principals?"

A knowing smile spread across his face...

And thus, we present to you, the nine administrators you might know:

Monday, July 27, 2015


Oh, don't you just love educational jargon? (I sound like I'm being sarcastic, don't I? Maybe I am...a bit...but to be fair, I think every field has it's own jargon, and since I'm in education...)

Here's a toy for you to play with, edubabble lovers: check out ScienceGeek.net's Education Jargon Generator.

It will produce gems such as...

"We will unleash standards-based engagement structures via self-reflection."

"We will disintermediate child-centered education within a balanced literacy program."

"We will harness group-based mastery learning throughout multiple modalities."

"We will morph over-arching learning in authentic, real-world scenarios."

I'm sure you don't know anyone who talks like that though, do you? :-)

Maybe it's because I'm starting to think about the new school year that is just a few weeks away, but I'm almost ready for a game of buzzword bingo. Anybody else want in?

Created with wordle.net using selected text from ScienceGeek.

Technology and "Meaningful Engagement" in Learning

My friend Dan Beerens (@DanBeerens) teaches a course in our M.Ed. program, and for the past few years he's asked me to crash his course for a bit to talk about technology and education and how technology is impacting school culture. I'm always up for stirring the pot a bit, and it's a fun time to hang out with Dan and connect with students that I will have when they take a course I teach later in their program.

During the hour or so I was with his class, Dan snapped a picture of me and tweeted it:
Always a good time!

In the course of my pot-stirring, we talked about tech tools, and just what do we mean by "technology," and a bit of the history of education, and ideas for confronting misconceptions, and the idea of students being "digital natives" and their teachers being "digital immigrants." And, of course, we focused on learning. Because that's really the point of school, after all!

Sometimes we (I) get hung up on the "Ooooohh...shiny!" aspects of technology, and forget that the point of selecting technologies for teaching is...that they should help students learn.

So as part of my presentation, I shared this graphic:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Hacking the LMS: Breaking Out of the Defaults

I tend to take a very broad view of "technology." So often when we hear that word, we immediately go digital: computers, tablets, the Internet, 3D printers, wearables, etc. are "technology," right? But could a hammer also be considered “technology?”

What if we instead define "technology" as any tools designed to solve a particular problem? In his prescient (1992) book Technopoloy: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman describes technology as “largely invented to do two things: solve specific and urgent problems of physical life…[and]…serve the symbolic world of art, politics, myth, ritual, and religion…” (p. 23). When viewed this way, hammers, stethoscopes, plungers, and the Internet can all be considered technologies, though probably all in the former category rather than the latter.

Frankly, in the realm of educational technology, we are quick to think of computers first, aren’t we? But I have argued before that even a pencil is an educational technology: a tool designed—or appropriated—to solve a specific problem for education (borrowing from Postman’s language.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tech Tool: Make Your Own Animated GIFs

I love animated gifs. Sometimes they just hit your funny bone, right? Like this one, for instance:

Even Vader loves pizza. [Scrounged from Smosh.]

So maybe you want to create your own animated gifs? Maybe you could use one for that online course you're teaching add a little interest and humor? Or maybe you just want to try and create the next viral hit?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Telling Tales in a Technopoly: Getting Started with Digital Storytelling

I believe that storytelling is central to our humanity. We tell stories all the time, from personal histories, to imaginative bedtime stories, to morality tales, to socio-political narratives...the way we use "story" is a central part of our lives. Even the main way God has revealed Himself--the Bible--is largely comprised of stories, that combine to tell The Big Story of scripture: the Creation, the Fall, the Redemption, and the Consummation. And honestly, I think that part of how we reflect God's image is through our creativity (i.e., He is the Creator, which means we have the capability of being creative as well.)

Stories have a unique pull and an emotional element that "just the facts" cannot provide. Kieran Egan, in his lovely little book Teaching as Storytelling, says, "A good story-teller plays our emotions, as a good violinist plays a violin" (1986, p. 29). And I believe that it is this aspect that makes storytelling an essential teaching methodology, even in our high-tech world; perhaps it is even more important in our high tech world! In his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman writes that one of the essential features of a Technopoly (a culture in which technology not only plays a central role, but actually is the dominant worldview-shaper) is "the elevation of information to a metaphysical status: information as both the means and end of human creativity" (1992, p. 61) This rings true for me: we've often heard the old saying "knowledge is power," right? But is "knowing" the information enough? Information in what context? And for what purpose?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Marriage: Love Wins

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary this past week. Eighteen years. Sometimes I look back and think, "We were just kids when we got married!" But it's been a good eighteen. And I'm so grateful that I have her in my life.

I love her, you see?

And she loves me.

And we're better together. But that doesn't mean we're perfect.

Love holds us together. And in those (very few) moments when we don't see eye-to-eye, when there is friction, when there is stress...we both know that we will get through it, that we'll be okay.

Because we love each other. And love wins.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Smart are SMARTBoards?

I occasionally get emails or phones calls from friends who are administrators or other school leaders in smaller, private schools. They may not be able to have a full-time tech coordinator (or even a part-time tech coordinator! Sometimes the principal is "the guy" for their school...) so they come to me in search of advice on their tech needs and concerns.

Since I've served as a tech coordinator in a larger (but not "large") Christian school, I understand at least some of the challenges they are facing, so I'm always willing to help out if I can. And...I have opinions...

I recently got this email from a principal friend:


Currently, we have SMART boards in about half of our classrooms. As we contemplate moving forward, I’m wondering if you can give some input to help us make a decision moving forward. We have 6 classrooms that do not have smart boards in them. I’m wondering about the future. Are SMART boards still the best tool to use in a classroom or is there something better out there? Are smart boards on their way out? 

Being a small school, I don’t have a technology director so am left to fend for myself when it comes to making decisions regarding the implementation of technology. Any input you can give would be much appreciated. 

This was a great question, I thought. I am honestly sort of wondering the same thing. Here is what I wrote back to him:

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dissenting Opinions

This tweet showed up in my Twitterfeed today, retweeted by a friend:

I laughed. So truthy. (Like something @BluntEducator might have tweeted.)

A similar idea actually came up in a pedagogy workshop I was part of yesterday. A group of colleagues from across disciplines get together regularly throughout the summer to talk about our teaching practices--it's a great way to get to know faculty from other departments and to reflect together on how we are teaching.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Singing: Sometimes I Really Miss Middle School

This morning I led singing at our local Christian school, the one where I served on the faculty for eleven years before moving to my current position. I have many friends there, and the students--the older ones, at least--still know me by name. ("Hi Mr. Mulder! Are you here to sing with our class today??") I have to admit, that feels pretty good.

So as I met up with a class of middle schoolers, I picked out some of my favorites. Some newer songs, some oldies-but-goodies from when I began teaching almost 20 years ago. I included this one, which was always a hit with the middle school crowd:

"Spring up, O well, within my soul!" (Splish, splash!)
The kids sang with gusto. So did I.

When we wrapped up after 30 minutes, they were begging for a few more favorites. I took that to be a good sign. What a blessing to lead young people in worship--and for them to want more!

I love to sing, and music has always had an important role in my life. For those who say junior high boys just won't sing...I have much evidence to the contrary, both from my own experience as a middle schooler and from the years I spent teaching young adolescents. I'm convinced that your approach, and the songs you choose, and your willingness to build a relationship with the kids make all the difference. Evidence today: the kids sang.

It's been three school years now since I taught at that school, and it's still a little weird for me when I'm there. I thought it would be better by now. But I suppose that when you pour out your heart and soul for over a decade into a place that you care deeply about, it's bound to leave a mark.

I love what I do now, teaching future teachers. But sometimes, I really miss meeting up with middle schoolers on a day-to-day basis. I miss the chance to teach them, heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And today, with the singing...I'm missing middle school.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Freshman Expectations: "You Aren't In High School Anymore!"

Yesterday I posted a bit about good pedagogy, and technology, and navigating change in today's educational environment. My friend Ed replied and his point got me thinking some more about one part of the discussion fodder I shared in that post in particular: the idea that there is a real difference in expectations for learning in high school vs. learning in college. He was responding to a quote I shared in that piece that came from an article entitled "Message to My Freshman Students."

You see, I teach a lot of freshmen, first year college students. As in, they were just in high school in May, and then show up in my college class in August.

So I'm thinking now about how I can better help the freshmen I teach in Intro to Education understand the difference in expectations for their learning from high school to college. Because if I'm going to expect them to be dramatically different learners than they were in high school, they need to understand the difference.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Keeping a Level Head in a Changing Educational Environment

I think it's fair to say that the expectations for the school environment--at all levels, from Kindergarten through college--are shifting in this day and age. Technology has certainly had an impact. But pedagogy still has a role to play--and I would argue that strong pedagogy is perhaps even more important in a high technology environment.

In just a few days' time, I have had a variety of things come across my iPad that conflict and jumble together and have me thinking about the classrooms where we are teaching and learning today. It's an exciting/scary/strange/invigorating/frustrating/wonderful time to be an educator! Let me share three things that are stirring my thinking right now, and then I'll give a few beginning thoughts on how I am sorting them out.


First, this interesting piece, shared by a friend and fellow professor on Facebook: "Message to my Freshman Students." I hope you'll read the piece yourself, but I found it really interesting how the author expresses the different expectations for students and learning in high school and in college. One quote that I found fascinating:
"Up to now your instruction has been in the hands of teachers, and a teacher's job is to make sure that you learn...At university, learning is your job -- and yours alone. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

God Loveth Adverbs

This morning I had the chance to sit in on a conversation with a hero-of-sorts for me: Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff. I've been reading things written by Dr. Wolterstorff since I was an undergraduate student 20 years ago, and it was fascinating to hear his thoughts on Christian Higher Education in this rather informal session.

Dr. Wolterstorff (right) in conversation with President Hoekstra.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Creativity and Compliance with Calvin

This Calvin and Hobbes comic came to me via social media today...

Via gocomics.com

I love Calvin and Hobbes. Funny? Sure. But also thought-provoking. There are so many things this one brings up for me...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Planting Seeds...Seeing Sprouts

Image by Denise Krebs
[CC BY 2.0]
I have been marking (grading? correcting?) like a madman these past few days.

It's the end of the semester, and I am--as usual--feeling behind the 8-ball.

How does it all pile up like this at the end? It seems to always end up this way. Unit plans, papers, portfolios, final exams...it all has to be reviewed.

I tell myself it won't happen this way again next time...every semester.

And then...

While I am in the thick of marking, a student stops by. She is one of my advisees, and so I've gotten to know her quite well over the past three years. She has recently completed her student teaching, and she is graduating tomorrow. And she stopped in, just to chat.

Marking can wait.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Grading? Correcting? Marking?

It's the end of the semester. Papers, projects, tests...they're all rolling in.

My colleagues and I were having an impromptu meeting in the hall the other day (we do that) and after some shared laughs, I reluctantly said, "Well, I better get back to marking..."

And one of my colleagues said something like, "Dave's always 'marking.' You sound so Canadian." [I am not Canadian, by the way...but I had a Canadian roommate once...]

"What do you call it?" I asked.

"I say 'correcting,'" my colleague responded.

And another colleague said, "I say 'grading.' I have grading to do..."

And we laughed again.

But now I'm thinking about this. I know I used to call it "grading" too. And I think--back at the beginning of my teaching career, when I taught math and had a lot of papers coming across my desk every day--I used to call it "correcting" too.

Does the name we use for assessing and evaluating students' work matter?

Image by psychobabble [CC BY-ND 2.0]

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Life is Good

It is the end of the semester. 

I am stressed out.

I am working on wrapping up my own graduate work for this semester, and at the same time I am trying to dig my way out from a pile of marking that I've been putting off. I am finished visiting student teachers for this spring, but I still have to check portfolios and write letters, and make sure their mentor teachers submit all the required paperwork. Exams are next week, which will bring more marking. I'm not in a panic...yet. 

But I'm stressed out.

Ah, but then...

Chapel this morning was such a great time of worship. I've missed chapel too often this semester--often because I've been away visiting student teachers or trying to get caught up on other work. But I've missed out by not being there: it's a great time to pause and reflect, to reset, to get re-centered. 

I left chapel refreshed. Still a general sense of stress behind me, but feeling more able to deal with it.

While I was home for lunch today, I took the dog out for a walk. Sunshine, light breeze, not a cloud to be seen. Buds on the trees.

Spring has sprung.

Yes, I'm still feeling stressed, but I know I can do this.

Life is good.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Yellow Submarine Moments: Stop Worrying So Much About What Other People Think

I recently introduced my kiddos to the Beatles. I am a little ashamed that it took me this long.

I had their compilation album 1 on in the car the other day, and my daughter asked me what band this was.

[OH. MY. I haven't introduced them to the Beatles? I am neglecting my duty as a parent to make sure my kids know good music, and a little history of rock and roll!]

So we listened...

"Love Me Do" ("Is this a love song? It's weird...")

"She Loves You" ("Another love song?")

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" ("These guys sing a lot of love songs, don't they?")

"Help!" ("I like this one, Dad!")

"Yesterday" ("He sounds kind of sad.")

"Day Tripper" ("That is my favorite guitar part ever!")

And then...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Twitter: I Think I Figured It Out

Back in the spring of 2009, I was serving as Technology Coordinator for a K-8 private school. That job was daunting, and required me to wear several different hats:
  • I taught "Computers" as a subject for grades 5-8. Keyboarding skills, digital citizenship, research skills, word processing, spreadsheets, multimedia tools, and general computer literacy were all included as parts of the curriculum.
  • I was "the guy" for any and all tech support. I used to say, "If it plugs in, it's my problem." And that is sort of the way it went...one day I came to work and someone had left a boombox on my desk with a note: "This CD player doesn't work." So...yeah...
  • I was supposed to be a sort of technology integration coach for my colleagues. I think this part was probably the aspect I was most passionate about, but also the part I was least likely to be able to do, with the first two on my plate. But this meant I tried to become familiar with as many different technologies as I could, so when people came asking questions, I would have answers.
It was in this way that I first joined Twitter in the spring of 2009; I had heard of Twitter before that, and I had read an article in Wired magazine (yep, I'm that geek...) about the way people were connecting with Twitter. And I had a few friends on Facebook who were talking about how much they liked Twitter.

So I joined up.

It's funny reading those first tweets. Like this one, that showed up in my Timehop today:

If you read this blog with any degree of regularity, you will know the value I place on Twitter as an essential part of my personal learning network (PLN). But it took me awhile...

It took me a while to start connecting with other educators, but once I found a couple to follow, that got me more invested in learning through Twitter.

It took me a while to start using hashtags, but once I learned that dozens (or hundreds!) of teachers connect and have discussions--chats--on Twitter, and that hashtags organize these conversations, that got me more invested in interacting through Twitter.

It took me a while to start sharing things myself on Twitter--I first mostly lurked and enjoyed what other people were sharing, learning from them--but once I learned that people responded with thanks to the things I tweeted and retweeted, that got me more invested in pushing my ideas through Twitter.

I think I figured out how to make Twitter work for me, as a tool for my own learning.

I am finding that different teacher-tweeters actually use Twitter in very different ways.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of capturing ideas and resources.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of collaborating other educational professionals.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of connecting with others they would never have the opportunity to reach otherwise.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of pushing back against the groupthink of current school culture, whether at a local, state, national, or international level.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of promoting themselves.
  • Some use Twitter as a way of sharing ideas and resources they are personally passionate about.
If I'm honest, I have used Twitter in all of these ways over the past six years.

If you are an educator not on Twitter and reading this--because it was shared with you via email or Facebook or printed out and left on the staffroom table--I encourage you to just dip your toe in the water at least.

Join Twitter, and approach it with a growth mindset. Find a colleague who is on Twitter and learn from her/him. Follow a few interesting educators. Eavesdrop on a chat (follow the hashtag), and don't be afraid to get in there with a tweet or two of your own.

You never know who you might be able to learn from, and what you might be able to learn!

Friday, April 10, 2015

About Mystery: Getting "Lost" in the Classroom

Lost was my very favorite television show. When it began in the fall of 2004, I had no idea how wrapped up I would become in the puzzles, the characters, the mysteries that were all part of that show.

Lost had a great team of writers, a fantastic cast of actors, and all sorts of crazy connections to history, mathematics, religion, science, geography, literature, music, philosophy, and pop culture.

It was science fiction...but not really.

It was fantasy...but not really.

It was great stories about intriguing people who were stuck together in a bizarre location that only got stranger as you learned more about it, and yet it began to make more and more sense as well.

I recently started re-watching the series on Netflix while I'm on the treadmill in the morning. I was again riveted by the pilot episode...

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Today in my science methods class, I had students extracting DNA from strawberries. It's a fun lab, and I deliberately use materials they can easily get their hands on--things from the grocery store or Walmart--to help make science more accessible, for them, and for their future students. After class, I was picking things up, washing out a few stray plastic tubs and putting away the rubbing alcohol and dish detergent. I was putting away a package of bamboo skewers when it happened...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Teaching Science with Slime

I love all of the courses I teach, but I have a special affinity for my elementary and middle school science methods course, a course about how to teach science. You see, I was a middle school science teacher for 8 of the 14 years I spent in K-12 schools, so it feels like a big part of my identity. I love science, and I loved teaching science to middle schoolers, and I still love teaching future elementary teachers (who often seem to fear science a bit at the beginning of the semester) about this subject I love so much.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Got Grit?

I was in on #satchat this morning; the topic was "grit," and developing grit in our students.

This is an on-going narrative in education today: we need to foster a little "grittiness" in our students. Helping them learn to persevere, persist, hang in there when it gets tough. Helping them develop gumption or stick-to-it-iveness. Helping them see that learning happens when you take risks, and fall flat on your face, and pick yourself up to try again.

That's admirable, isn't it? Who wouldn't want that kind of student?

It would take grit to move this huge pile of sand (grit?) with that shovel...
Image by Dan Slee [CC BY-NC 2.0]

And I think it's probably a reaction to things we perceive happening in the broader culture: we worry that the kids are getting a little soft these days. They don't have enough chores to do at home. They aren't pushed to achieve great things through hard work. Everyone gets a trophy for participating, regardless of the effort they put in.

In response to all that, we start to think, "Someone's got to do something! This is a generation of softies, and we're in trouble, because they are going to be the ones taking care of us someday!"

So let's get gritty. Let's get them working hard, sticking with it when it gets tough, creating a counter-cultural movement of high expectations for kids!

But I have a problem with this narrative.

Monday, March 9, 2015

This Is How Twitter Works

I recently came across a website (shared via Twitter) entitled "Mom This is How Twitter Works."

A screenshot of "Mom This is How Twitter Works."
(I confess, the lack of a comma there is killing me just a little bit...)

No disrespect to moms is intended; the author, @jessicahische, wants us to know: "This site was not made to be an anti-feminist statement about moms. Jessica was trying to pull her mom away from Facebook (which she wasn’t using much at the time) and toward Twitter."

If you are new to Twitter and are trying to find your way, this site might help explain things. Not all social networks are created equal, and just because you might be familiar with Facebook doesn't mean you'll automatically understand Twitter.

And actually, even if you've been on Twitter for a while but never really thought about how it works, this site might be helpful for clarifying things.

I think I have seen this site before--the site was created in 2010--but when is showed up in my Twitterfeed recently, it struck me as important, because I've been participating in #nt2t somewhat regularly lately.

#nt2t is "New Teachers to Twitter," a chat to help introduce the ins-and-outs of this medium for teachers interested in using it for their personalized professional development. Many, many teachers use Twitter to connect and develop their personal learning network (PLN), but learning any new technology can be daunting. Interesting then, I think, to learn about a tech tool by actually using it. And that's the idea for #nt2t. We meet up on Saturday mornings at 9:00 Eastern time (figure out where this lands you in your local time zone...) to talk about how we use Twitter. 

It's not all newbies, of course. There are great people there who have been using Twitter for their personal PD for years who can help you get acclimated. I welcome you to join in, or even just lurk along if you'd like to learn more.

If you're an educator interested in getting started with Twitter for personalized professional development, here are a few more things I've written about it that you may find helpful:

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Seven More Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography

One of my most-viewed posts to date is titled "Eight Helpful Resources for Teaching Geography." I'm glad this was--apparently--such a valuable collection of teaching ideas, because I think we (American educators) need to do a better job of teaching geographic awareness, frankly. So it's in that spirit that I've collected another seven resources that might prove beneficial for teaching geography...

Image by Kenneth Lu [CC BY 2.0]

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Little Nonsense with Dr. Seuss

Today would have been Dr. Seuss's eleventy-first birthday.

Dr. Seuss held a very important place in my childhood--like so many kids! 

I even performed a dramatic reading of The Cat in the Hat for speech in one of my high school English classes.

And I can't tell you how many times my own kids asked me to read Hop on Pop, and Green Eggs and Ham, and--our favorite--One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Dr. Seuss's wild, whimsical imagination continues to inspire me to this very day. His artwork and lyric prose still bring me great joy.

The quote below came from a list from mental_floss that I saw this morning. I mashed it up with a free-hand drawing by one of my ridiculously talented students.

Here's to a little "nonsense" for your day. 

May you embrace a little fantasy and enjoy extra laughter today!

Drawing by Anna Krygsheld, photo by Dave Mulder, with text from the illustrious Dr. Seuss overlaid.

Friday, February 27, 2015

What's In Your Desk Drawer? Day 20

An empty baggie?

I have this baggie in my desk. It is empty. I can't remember when I put it in there either. But it's a sign of my frugality, and my packrat nature. Because I'm sure I'll find some use for it!

I remember one of my education professors--nearly 20 years ago--telling us that "good teachers are 'scroungers'...they are always on the look out for things that could be used for teaching a lesson." I guess I embody that. I have so much stuff that has made it's way into my desk drawers "because I might use it someday," it's almost ridiculous.

I've been writing each day this month about something I have in my desk. Usually there is a story involved. Almost always there is something I can connect to some part of my teaching practice. Rarely are things just..."there."

I have a bunch more junk I could keep writing about, but all good things must come to an end. This series of posts has been an awful lot of fun for me, and it was a different twist on what I usually do on the blog; this is normally just a place for me to work out my thinking on whatever it is I've been reading about, or researching, or doing in my teaching practice lately. Thanks to those of you who have commented, or interacted with me on Twitter or Facebook, or even stopped me in the hallway to share your reactions to this series. That is the best part of all for me: when I get feedback from you folks on the things I'm putting into pixels here.

So as a thank you, here are eight more weird things I have in my desk, just to keep you wondering...

Do you clip your nails in class? Ewww! (I don't...)

A finger-flinger rocket...that has potential for lots of lessons!

Mmmmm...freeze dried coffee crystals... (I don't drink this stuff.)
Because everyone should have a rubber ear in their desk...

Sometimes pliers come in handy.

A bag of shredded cash...approximately $165 in this bag...

An inflatable microphone should be part of every teacher's bag of tricks. 

Looney Tunes are the best! That Coyote and Roadrunner...physics lessons!

So there you go, teachers. Consider becoming a "scrounger," if you aren't one already. Start stashing that weird junk someplace in your classroom. You never know when a rubber ear, or a bag of shredded cash, or a recycled sandwich bag will be just the thing you need for that lesson.

Keep it weird, my friends.


(This post is part of a series about the weird stuff teachers have in their desk drawers. You can read more about this project here, and I hope you'll share the stories of the weird stuff you have in your desk too!)