Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favorite Things I Wrote in 2016

I don't really want to do a Top Ten post, but it seemed like fun to go back and look through the writing I did this year. These lists are culled from this blog and the CUE blog, where I'm editor. These are in no particular order. I should note that if my ego had it's way this would be WAY longer.

From this blog

CUE Blog (I write a lot for CUE, but these three are the standouts to me)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Unforgiving Road

My third book, and first novel, came out today! It's called The Unforgiving Road and I'm incredibly proud of it.

I'm supposed to call The Unforgiving Road my third book, but it's kinda not. It's really my first book. I wrote it eight years ago, back when I still had all my hair and no kids and had just started dating my wife and lived in Hawaii. It was a little shorter and much different than the book you're reading about now.

Leading up to summer break last school year I was starting to feel like all I wrote about was education, and I was needing another outlet. So I pulled this out of storage and spent the summer reworking it. I don't think I rewrote every word, but at least 75% of them.

As far as plot, it's a pulpy action-adventure set in the post-apocalypse. The main character is Dia, a brand new full member of the Riders of Rawthe. The Riders are a motorcycle-mounted army who's mission is to defend their land and the land of others from the Angel and his Disciples. Dia ventures out of the Rider's Camp with her friends- twin sisters Skid and Lid, and the thoughtful Eleven. Together they experience the world in all its twists and turns, growing and discovering who they are and who they were.

They are trained to live by the Commandments of the Riders. How well will these rules serve them out on the Unforgiving Road?

Buy The Unforgiving Road on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Createspace, and Smashwords, or reach out to me for your very own autographed copy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 131- Elf On The Shelf

Dark forces live in our classrooms. They steal books and misplace papers and break pencils. They loosen desk legs and water bottle lids. They hide food in cubbies, ID cards deep in backpacks, and journals who knows where. What are these dark forces, you ask.


And I have it on good authority, they tend to dwell on the shelves.

I knew the custodian never cleans up there.

What are the mysteries of the classroom? The unexplained phenomena explainable only when you take into account the existence of these miniature, pointy-eared bringers of mischief. We all know mischief is a euphemism though, don't we? We know what they really are- evil doers*.

Tonight's chat will be all about the things that happen in our classrooms that seem to be out of our control. Out of anyone's control. Things that seem to happen and the only possible explanation is, "Because magic?" Naturally, since this is the chat before most of us get off for holiday break, I'll spin things in a yuletide way. How could I not? We may stray from the chosen path of elf hunting once or twice to discuss how a candy cane is most like a teaching tool, or how the War On Christmas is a made up persecution fantasy perpetrated by insecure, frightened children. Ok, maybe not the second one. To those people we at #WeirdEd HQ (meaning me) say, "Happy holidays."

This is a Christmas-but-actually-holiday chat. Sure, I'm using Elf on a Shelf as a jumping off point, but who wants to just talk about Christmas?

Strap on your jiggle bells, practice your caroling, deck your halls, prepare the yule log, close down the circus, evacuate the zoo, spin your dreidel, and let's party.

*side note- remember when a politician calling baddies "evil doers" was the dumbest thing you could think of? Good times.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Let Me Reiterate

Doing something once isn't actually all that hard.

"I'm gonna get in shape!" Great! You feel good about yourself, you pull on your shorts and shoes, you hit the road, you feel strong and proud of yourself.

Day three, when you're sore and tired? That's when the work begins.

Let me start again- Doing something once isn't all that hard. It's the doing it again that's the tricky part.

This is a lesson we learn again and again. And again. And again. And we have to keep learning it because often it's one of those lessons we learn in one part of our lives that doesn't easily translate to other parts of our lives.

Iteration, repetition, is the key.

Take working out. Eventually that cycle gets easier. Eventually it becomes habit and the iteration of the workout system takes hold. Then the trick becomes including creative iterations within the system to keep the body guessing and growing. This is a learning system.

Students struggle mightily to iterate their learning. Because students are people and, as we established earlier, people need to learn their lesson again and again and again. And again. One of my jobs, and my biggest challenges, as a teacher, is to guide students to a place where they understand and accept this fact of life. This unchangeable tenet of learning- that you gotta do it over and over.

It's one of the reasons I love teaching coding. Coding tricks kids into doing this on their own. They code something, make it happen, see, in real time, where the problem lies, and fix it. Over and over. They keep trying. Because it's fun, it's like a game.Which is great for me. Build those muscles in the game, kids. I don't care, as long as you're working them. I do the same thing with reading comprehension strategies. I conspire with parents during conferences. "He needs to be reading every night, and he is of course because I ask him to. If you could ask him questions about what he's reading, good, detailed, WHY questions, what will help him in school. You know, you could also do that with TV or movies or video games. Yes, I know! It's the same muscles. Doesn't have to be books. He should be thinking critically about all the media he consumes anyway. And let's not fool ourselves into thinking the majority of that media comes in the reading he does because I ask him to." Coding works those iteration muscles.

My job, then, is to make them work in math and reading and science. And writing. Oh yeah, that's a big one. Projects and writing is where iteration, the strong ability to go back into drafts and fix, that's a skill that's going to play into their lives forever. So I use coding as a springboard for that, but that's not enough. Because I am a giant ego-case, and also because I like using what I know in my classroom (it works better than using what I don't know), I talk about my own writing. I bring my challenges and struggles and life lessons into the classroom and try to help my kids see how I use the skills they are learning. "Is this gonna be on the test?" "No! Because I almost never give you tests, you know that! It is gonna be a part of everything you do in class though!" "Oh...ok. So I should write it down then?"

I just finished a book. It will be out very soon. It's a fiction novel that I've been working on for, depending on how you want to count, over seven years or about seven months. I wrote the first "final" draft seven years ago, put it in a drawer, thought about it all the time, wrote other things, and then over the summer I dug it back out and basically rewrote the entire thing. And rewrote it. And rewrote it. Because real writing is a giant pain and it takes forever and I love it. A writer, google has failed me who, said, "Anyone can write. Writers rewrite." Because that's where the real art of it comes in.

And here's the thing I'm going to bring into my classroom from that- I did a final final final final pass of the full text this week. Like, this was the third time I've said, "I finished! It's really done!" And I found a ton of stuff. Not even story things. Little silly errors. Grammar and punctuation and words that were wrong. This was after I'd read it who knows how many times, and a bunch of other people had read it, and they'd made corrections and suggestions, and then I'd read it again and fixed more things, and then there were still more things. Now, does this mean that I'm a bad self editor? That's the risk I'm taking here, right? By telling my students (and you, dear reader), that after multiple passes I still found problems, I'm telling you I must not be very good at the whole editing thing.
The final final final final pass notes
Or maybe it just proves my point that there's always more to fix. After all, this book is over 78k words. That's a lot of words. So it takes a lot of combing. The bigger message here is I thought I was done three times. And still I went back. Because I knew it could be better. I knew there was more to fix. (Important Note- There's always more to fix. da Vinci* said "art is never finished, only abandoned".) I'm not trying to make my kids maniacs, obsessing over every little detail, but I kinda am. And to do that I'm going to talk about my journey. Because they like me, they respect me, and I think sometimes it's ok if teachers teach by telling stories from their own lives. That's a whole other blog post, but storytelling as teaching is probably the oldest form of the profession. Take advantage.

How do we get kids to reiterate? We help them to have pride in themselves and their work so they want it to be better. We give them things of value to do, so they care when they do it. And we also show them that iteration is hard, it's where the work really is. We show them in a dozen different ways big and small. We make our work more transparent. We show (and we believe) that it's a process. And that it takes time and can't be rushed. It's where we learn and practice patience and accept fault. Because fault is a part of it too. It's about honestly finding fault, assessing it, and correcting it. In small ways and big.

Every project I give my kids, writing or presenting or whatever, I pound the "First Drafts Aren't Done, Second Drafts Are Done" drum. But it's not enough to say it. I'm finding ways to teach it, to show it. A big theme emerging in our class this year is this idea of practicing something and dedicating ourselves to improving it, in small bites and big chunks. I think it's a combination of the kind of group I have and having two student teachers (one main, and an alternate that's in every few weeks) with me.

Doing isn't that hard. Getting good. Going again. That's hard.

*how pretentious am I, huh?

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

#WeirdEd Week 130- Hour of Code

This week's blog and questions were written by Angie Kalthoff since this week is Hour of Code week. My personal feelings on teaching kids to code have nothing to do with Preparing Them For Jobs Of The Future so directly. When I watch students code I see them thinking around corners in a much more concrete way than they might during other assignments. Coding encourages iteration, experimentation, and risk-taking. Coding makes kids think in specifics while also being creative with solutions. It's a logic puzzle with real-world applications. I like Hour of Code and I use it in my class. I also move beyond it with apps like Wonder and Tickle and bots like Dash and Sphero and Parrot drones. This is never going to be a space to shill for a special EduWeek or EduMonth just because it's that time. Hour of Code is the real deal. Like everything else, it's not the ONLY deal, but I encourage the leap to check it out at with your kids whether you know how to code or not. You don't even need to set up a class account, though that's real easy too. It's one of those great things you can put them on with zero prep and say, "Now, learn how this works." And they will, even the littles. I've seen it with my own two gorgeous green eyes. Then your job is to tie it back to everything else we do. Which is pretty much 90% of the job anyway.

Q: 90 % of families want their kids to learn about this, but only 40% of schools teach it…By the year 2020 there will be an estimated 1.4 million jobs in this area with only 400,000 graduates. Can you guess what it is?

Computer Science! While technology is changing everything and it is a big part of our future, many students are consumers of technology instead of creators. By introducing computer science to our learners at a young age, we can help close the gap! This week we celebrate Computer Science Education Week with a kick off of the Hour Of Code. During this time educators will introduce their students to computer science through activities that can exceed, but don’t have to, one hour of time. The goal is to expose students and share this topic with them, we don’t expect students to become experts in one hour. If you want to learn more or try some cool activites, you can visit . If you want to attend a free in person workshop aimed at K-6 educators, you can check them out at . Check out #HourOfCode and #CsForAll to connect with your peers!