Thursday, August 25, 2016

Alaska, sled dogs and a challenge to engage the kids in your classes

Over the last two blog posts, Fishing in Alaska Part 1 and Part 2, I have shared some of my family trip to Alaska. I can honestly say that it was the most amazing trip I have ever taken.

Nothing like it!

Part of my reason for sharing this adventure was to also ask how trips like these could help us make our classes come alive.

After all, so many of our kids have barely ventured beyond the community they live or throughout their own state.


How could we use an adventure with a few stories and pictures to start an investigation, create a story, explain the worlds around us, take a closer look at an event, explain natural phenomenon, and so much more.

Let’s start with another part of my trip to Alaska. We not only fished but we also flew in a helicopter to the top of a glacier and visited a sled dog camp.

We were taught how the dogs were trained, interacted with the dogs and drivers, and even played with a few pups. The highlight of the event was to be pulled across the top of the glacier by the team. By the way, all of these dogs were training for the next Iditarod. Want to know more here is another link.

In order to get to the dogs we had to fly by helicopter to the top of the glacier. To get an idea of what you are looking out in my pictures...see the deep blue, white and dark of the glacier? Well some of those crevices are at the very least 80 feet deep.

In an earlier post, I talked about how I felt that I was travelling to where all the dinosaurs were still alive. Well, this trip reminded me of one of my favorite Walt Disney movies from the early 70s - The Island at the Top of the World. The mist, the rocks, and ice and dogs and sleds. Out of the mist there was snow! It was cold! The dogs wanted you to play with them and rub their bellies. It was a perfect setting for the travelers who set off on a new adventure and find...dinosaurs? ….a mysterious city with people who are from a different time? My mind was and is all over the place.

Look at these pictures. A new adventure. Do you hear the Indiana Jones theme playing in the background?

What could we talk about?

What activities could we create that would engage the kids about the world around them?
Maybe we could get them to use a mind mapping app or mini-white boards to  outline a story of a trip they have taken. Maybe we could get the kids to create a what happened next or examine the history behind different forms of transportation journey.

What do you think?
I challenge you to pursue ways of engaging the kids around adventures like my trip to Alaska or your trip to the Florida Keys or maybe an overnight journey on the trails at Red Top Mountain.

So...what are you thinking about doing?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fishing in Alaska and the Classroom, part 2

The River in Alaska

This trip to Alaska was amazing! 
The first five days were living and breathing fishing. The pictures you see in this post are on the river. 

Here I am with the first King Salmon that I caught! Let me just say, Wow!!! 

You know when you have hooked one and they only let you keep 4 for per person for your time on the river. So you keep the bigger fish. Most of the fish are between 32 and 42 inches long with some getting as large as 50 inches. They filet them that day and then freeze them. (The only electricity in the camp is for the freezers for storing fish and for the food we ate. Did I say there is no such thing as cell phone connectivity up there. It was nice to be truly disconnected from the outside world.) When you come back you travel with your salmon packed away in coolers that you brought with you!

We slept in tents that had raised platforms with sleeping bags, mosquito netting and sleeping bags. The mosquitoes were bad. The netting worked wonderfully to keep them away from you at night. During the day there was typically a breeze that kept them at bay, as well.

Summer time there is almost no darkness. You have to remind yourself how late it is and go to bed otherwise you might end up not sleeping. The picture above was taken looking out from the tent area at the river at somewhere close to 2am. I didn't use any special filters. This is just me and my iphone.

The river. Check out the mountains in the distance.

Check out the purple flowers growing on an island in the middle of the river. Too beautiful. 

How about the paw print. Look closely you can see that it is a bear track. One of the places we stopped to have shore lunch...yes we ate part of what we caught each day for lunch. There was evidence that bear had been there before us...paw prints and the remains of salmon were quite common. 

The river where we fished was about 4 to 6 hours upstream from the bay where the commercial fishing is taking place. We were in an area where the members of the camp were all of the people that you would hear or run into. Getting away from everyone and everything. In this picture I am holding my first sockeye salmon. They taught us how to use fly fishing gear to catch these fish. Too cool. 

This part of the river is very different from the other area. It is shallow and slow moving (it actually is a different river by name.) This region has successfully been protected from outside intrusion. Most recently a European mining company tried to put a copper mining operation in this area and after several years of court room and legal action, the river has been saved. I am hoping to have some guests on my audio podcast this fall who will talk about this battle to protect the river and the wildlife.

 After so many wonderful days of fishing and getting to spend time with my family members the planes came back to get us...waaaaaaaaa. I sure did have fun! Now it was time to go in to civilization briefly before discovering more about Alaska from whales to fishing for halibut, eagle watching, encountering puffins, flying in helicopters to the top of glaciers to interact with sled dogs and so much more.

The Classroom

So let's talk about using trips like these to create engagement in the classroom.

You can't do it through just showing pictures but that will help.

I don't know about you but many of the students I taught or worked with over the years had never been out of their state nevertheless out of the small community where they lived. Their view of the world was small. 

Alaska? Where is Alaska? We would have to start with an activity there.

What if we did it though through an activity that let them find more information about the region of the country? We could use the information I shared in this post. What activity could you create that would require the students to develop an understanding of words that will be new to them. How about an activity that would help the kids understand location on the globe? Think about the landscape and the wilderness?  What is so different about where they live and what is similar?

How could you make this fun, interesting, and engaging?

Remember that we had to fly by float the way the pilots call them Beavers.

The only way to get people and supplies into the camp is by plane. 

There is no cell phone communication. The camp has a satellite phone for emergencies. Expensive to use so they have to reserve it for real emergencies.

Do you remember that I said that the only electricity was used for feeding us and storing food? Guess what else we didn't have...bathrooms. They created a shower tent that used water collected in barrels from the river and rainfall. They treated these barrels so that the water was safe for human consumption as well. But this also meant that there were no toilets ...we had to use outhouses. By the way the outhouses had a wonderful view of the tundra.

So what ideas are you getting about how you could use this trip or one you have taken to create an engaging activity to introduce some subject within your content?

Does it give you an idea for creating an experiential trip for your students in your subject area?

Here is another possibility for a topic. Have the kids you taught ever fished or eaten fish that didn't come from the grocery store or a fast food restaurant? How does it get to them? What is the difference between wild game fish and farm raised fish? In the salmon industry this is very controversial. Why?

Hopefully, the grey matter is on fire and churning!

I challenge you to help the kids explore the world while helping you grow their understanding of the content area that you teach.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fishing in Alaska and the Classroom

OK, so put the coolers and luggage here…
in front of the scale so’s I can get that weight.

Millie will get your weights.

No lying or that..ha!
’cause you might make us hit a few trees...hmmm?

Ted was a funny guy or at least he tried to be.

We were in a hangar at the far end of the regular airport.
It took five or more hours to get here and now we were about to board a plane that fit luggage and 11 people if you count the pilot and the seat next to him.

When we sat-he sized us up and had us trade seats to shift the weight around...either that or he was just messing with us.

Nah, he wasn’t talkative. Didn’t smile and he sure didn’t really interact with us…
no problem just fly the plane and get us there.

Boy did he miss his chance to be funny...I mean he was tall and had to kneel down inside the plane to talk to us about the seat belts and the flotation devices…(smile...get it? funny)
What no drink service? No bathroom, either?

I have flown lots of places but I’m not sure that ...ok. I’m positive that I have never, ever flown over- nothing- absolutely nothing that was man made...for the next two hours the plane flew just above mountain tops and over rivers, streams and snow and! words just wow…2 or more hours of wow…

Soon we landed at a small airport on a lake.

Check out this sign that is located in the shed where they place your luggage.

Safety Around Bears
My favorite parts of this sign-
Bears may bluff charge and come very close to you. Hold your ground. and If a bear touches you, surrender. Fall to the ground and play dead.

Hmm.This got me thinking about where we were going. You know the idea that the exhibits might eat you? Know what movie that is from?

Hey, Dad...focus you were talking about the lake...

sorry ...
After a little bit of sitting and looking and laughing about the adventure that was on its way…
Oh, yea and using the last real bathroom with actual plumbing...
It was time to be slip into a van for a short trip to the lake…

The van driver helped us unload our stuff on the gravel shore…
Beautiful water with just a little bit of a breeze and nice low 60s crispy air..
Sun and in the distance mountains…

Then there was the low rumble a motor - in the air..just over ...over there..yea…
The float plane approached over the horizon then dipped out of sight and suddenly it was back in front of us as it barreled across the top of the lake--touching-lightly bouncing and then gliding on top of the was a surreal ice skater...arriving to mid-ice to receive the roar of the crowd...ok- so there wasn’t any ice but cool…

The plane made its way to the shore and out popped the pilot to load our stuff in the back of the plane and in the pontoons.

There were 9 of us so only 4 could leave on the first plane…

The rest of us waited for the next one to arrive…

Take off from that lake was amazing...the plane maneuvers into position-slowly and then the pilot guns the engine ...spray hits the windows...we are heading for the treeline...wait..doesn’t the water end there? Hey, you think you might want to go a little faster? Hmmm? I mean those trees are getting closer and we aren’t off the...Wow!!!

Off the water...straight at the trees - up and over...up, up and away….move over Superman!!!

Did you ever see that movie about the island where there are these crazy scientists who bring dinosaurs back to life? Well, I have many times and I swear that as we traveled deeper into the back-country that we were going to see dinosaurs.

Dad there aren’t any dinosaurs...yeah but it sure looks like…
Dad get back to the story...ok

These planes flew lower...and we saw water, plants, trees, eagles-bald eagles, a family of bears...was that a caribou?

Then a river appears and we descend over the trees and down to the water….smooth as glass...what a landing…

Straight ahead are small boats with guys dressed in fishing waders...waiting for…

Dorothy you ain’t in Kansas anymore…
Ok so I'm not Dorothy and I'm not from Kansas and I sure butchered that reference to an old movie but ...time for a WOW!!!

Hi...I’m, Jason, Mark, Evan,Neal... let’s go to the camp!

We loaded the boats,  motored up river to John and the fishing camp on the hill…

The most amazing trip I have ever taken...Fishing in the back-country of Alaska was about to begin…

So stay tuned and next time when the story continues let’s talk tents, outhouses, wild blueberries, the river, bald eagles, bear signs, fish, eating fish, big fish, shore lunches, casting, drifting, and fly fishing, boats and no cars, no buildings, no other people.

Listen...its nature calling...and wait it doesn’t really get dark...more cool...

Start thinking about how you could use stories of trips that you have taken or could even plan school related trips to bring engagement and excitement to your classroom.

More about my trip soon.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Check out my YouTube Channel


Just wanted to let you know that I have started my very own YouTube Channel.

I hope that you will check it out .

It is just in its earliest stages, but for now, I am reviewing education instruction books like Laura Robb's Vocabulary is Comprehension , Brian Mendler's That One KidDave Burgess' Teach Like a PirateSuzy Pepper Rollins Learning in the Fast Lane and Susan M. Brookhart's How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students.  

Soon I will also have a review of Jeremy S. Adam's The Secrets of Timeless Teachers.(Look for his interview on my podcast soon.)

I also have begun a playlist focused on leadership books like Patrick Lencioni's The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Shaping School Culture by Deal and Peterson and Crucial Conversations

Oh, yeah, I'm learning how to make the lighting better. 
You should notice a huge difference between my first videos and my latest.

I think I have the sound at a good point.

Currently, I am publishing twice a week.
So keep your eyes open for more book reviews.
Just call me a fledgling BookTuber!

Coming Soon: I will be posting a series of videos of helpful hints for classroom teachers and building administrators. 

Check out this video clip about Brian Mendler's That One Kid.

Stay tuned for more reviews and helpful hints.
Thanks for watching!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Graduation Time- 7 Do's

Across the United States, it is now graduation time. High school kids are about to start on a new journey and pursue their dreams, but what is standing between them and that almighty future is their graduation ceremony. (Check out my audio podcast about this topic- Graduation Time!)

It will be a glorious day!

Family will be gathered.

Friends will be melancholy and ecstatic all in one!

And fun will be had...

Are you going?

You matter what your part of the amazing ceremony! 

Be part of their memories at least one last time.

Once upon a  time, I was asked to talk about what I liked about my job as a high school principal.

My answer was easy to come up with but took time to explain (of course those who have talked with me before know that there are never any short stories). 

Here is my answer...Graduation.

This usually creates a chortle or guffaw or at least a smirk from my audience.

Why? Because they think that I am being funny. 

They think that I want to get the kids out of know..."Get away from me kid you bother me" (as I paraphrase WC Fields).

But the truth is so very far from that...

This is what we live for as educators; to see the kids graduate with plans for their future. 

We want to see them off as they pursue the next journey in life.

As a principal, I got a chance to be on stage and hand them their diploma (or at least diploma cover...I can explain that another time). 

I stood across the stage and saw the smile that crossed faces as names were called. 

I got to extend the diploma, my hand and my arms. Hugs are a must. handshakes work but if there is a hug coming don't turn away accept it and hug back!!!

Let them feel the energy and celebrate!

Let the crowd react! Don't stifle the fun and celebration! Enjoy it! Be a part of it! 

Say no to the naysayers. 

Just make sure that your name caller stops when there is cheering and waits for the opportunity to say the next name!

By the way, if you get a chance to talk, don't shy, but talk about the kids and their families and make sure that it is about many different events so that all can remember something...especially the funny things like when you may have made a mistake and it created a mess at a lunch or on the first day of school...just wait, they will remember and laugh...

Also, stay to the end of graduation. Be there all the way to the end of the day. Be with the very last family. Be Mickey Mouse. Be Donald Duck. Be part of the Magic! Meet families. Take pictures. Tell stories. 

Do you feel it? If you have any connection with the kids. 
Be there with them! It will be worth it!

So with all of that being said, Here are my ...

7 Do's at Graduation Time!

1.       Do Buy a yearbook and ask the kids to sign yours and if  
          they ask you to sign theirs-do it
2.       Do go to senior breakfasts/lunch/dinners/bar-b-ques and 
          interact and play
3.       Do go to other celebrations and interact/speak if asked
4.       Do go to graduation
5.       Do talk at graduation-just make it about the kids
6.       Do stay to the end of graduation-close it down-be there 
          with the very last family

7.       Do go to graduation parties-just don’t be dumb and partake
          of adult beverages (focus on ones with adult supervision)

Have fun! Put the events on your calendar and go and participate!

You will be glad that you did!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Teaching Learning Leading K12 is now on Google Play Music!!!


Have you heard the great news?

Teaching Learning Leading K-12, 
my audio podcast is now on 
Google Play Music!

Check it out!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Formative Assessment in the Classroom

For some reason, education publications that share best practices tend to be written in such a way that the practitioners need to hire a translator to interpret the written words and rent a small forklift to help tote the rather large book from place to place.

Personally, I believe that this is because companies and individuals are trying to coin phrases and put a copyright symbol on some program.

This is an unfortunate plight in our wonderful career field. Practitioners need the results of research to be made user-friendly. The teacher in the classroom and the building administrator do not have time for lengthy translations and trainings that require constant revisiting from the consultant. Instead, what is needed is an explanation of what was found, why the strategy or technique should be used and then the how.

Formative assessment is one of those tools that all of the research suggests is a must use. Unfortunately, most of the works are lengthy tombs with very little transferability to the classroom.

The most telling of the research on why we should use formative assessment is from Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, Inside the Black Box and most recently Dr. Wiliam’s work with Siobhan Leahy has transferred this information to book form in, Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms. There are other authors like, Susan M. Brookhart, Performance Assessment: Showing What Students Know and Can Do and R. Stiggins, J. Arter, J. Chappuis, & S. Chappuis, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right-Using It Well to look to for help with understanding the what, the why, and the how.

But my favorite is from Suzy Pepper Rollins in Learning in the Fast Lane: 8 Ways to Put All Students on the Road to Academic Success (You can also listen to Suzy on my podcast Teaching Learning Leading K12 ). Her book is short, to the point, and completely user friendly. A teacher or building administrator could pick up this book, read the section on formative assessment and put it in place in lesson plans tonight for use tomorrow in the classroom.

I recently started a three part series of using Formative Assessment in the Classroom on my audio podcast. Follow the links. In these episodes I am focused on the why, the what, and the how.

Stop by and listen. Episode 93 is part one, Episode 94 is part 2 and Episode 95 will be the conclusion- part 3. My focus is to make it usable and understandable.

I am a perfect example of a big reason why we should use formative assessment. I was a good kid. I did my work, I didn’t cause trouble, and I was quiet. And I really didn’t want to be called upon to answer questions or to come to the board and show my work. I developed a routine that worked amazingly on many of my teachers, not in just one year but in many. I barely ever was called upon. You know why, most of our colleagues, not you right?- call upon those kids who know the answers and those who might start causing issues if we leave them alone for too long.

Therefore, if I looked at the teacher, kept being good, didn’t get off task, did my work, didn’t talk or get up when I shouldn’t I didn’t get called upon. I was good at this.

In many of my classes, I disappeared into the seats and the linoleum. Nothing against my teachers, I was trying to do this.

Unfortunately, it meant that the classroom teachers didn’t know what I knew or didn’t understand about the content unless they had a test or a graded quiz. By the time many of those opportunities came along, it was already too late. I either completely was lost or I had created my own understanding of the content and needed a wrecking ball to correct my misunderstandings.

Here is my working definition of formative assessment:

Formative assessment is the purposeful use of activities that will not be graded that will reveal to the teacher what the kids know and don’t know. The results of these activities will be used to adjust instruction to help the kids develop a better understanding, overcome confusion, or move on because they already get it.

In my audio podcast three part series I explain the why (students like me and others), the what, and the how (part three)-coming soon.

I encourage you to listen in.

Each episode is an easy length to listen to - 12-20 minutes.

I’m on iTunes if you have a smartphone and Stitcher if you have an Android.

You can also go straight to my host site at Podbean (Teaching Learning Leading K12)

Or you can go to the link on this blog page or the podcast player to listen right now at your desktop workstation.

Formative assessment is an awesome tool that will help you change your instruction to address the needs of the kids. It's time to start putting it in action.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Have a great day!