Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Singles and Doubles Keep Us In The Game

A popular teaching cliche is, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

That cliche doesn't work as well as its users want it to. Any distance runner will tell you that however difficult you imagine a marathon is, it's harder than that. There's a saying in distance running: "Run until you can't. When you can't run, walk. When you can't walk, make sure you fall forward." Distance running is all about pace and suffering and attempting to find the balance between the two. Then it’s about realizing there is no balance and embracing the suffering until you slowly lose your mind and experience the popular delusion known as a "runner's high," which is really just your mind giving up on you seeing reason and deciding to let you die in peace.

So, if we use “the marathon” metaphor to talk about teaching, we're implicitly talking about embracing the suffering and pain that comes with an endurance event. Words create thoughts and meaning, and as hard as teaching can be the mindset that teaching is finding a way to survive and pace out suffering is a negative, hurtful one. Teaching isn't a marathon.

But sports metaphors are fun and, while not perfect, scan fairly well. So, let's move away from marathons and sprints to something that better represents teaching: baseball. As American as apple pie, 4th of July BBQs, and taking voting rights away from people of color.

Teaching is baseball, and lessons are at-bats. Sometimes, we strike out. Sometimes, we knock a lesson out of the park. Most of the time we just want to get on base.

Baseball teams live and prosper by getting on base. Singles and doubles keep teams in games. It's a rare batter who steps to the plate looking to cream the ball, sending it in a beautiful arc into to the centerfield stands. And it's an even more rare batter who can actually do it. Odds are if you swing hard for the fences, you're gonna screw yourself into the dirt. In fact, the last time baseball fans got excited about a bunch of guys hammering homers, it turned out they were cheating.

We want to do the best for our kids. We want every lesson to be a home run, out of the park, fans up on their feet, fireworks shooting in the sky while their teammates mob them at the plate. How amazing would that be? What a teaching day. What a fantasy land. In the end, Mighty Casey has struck out.

Day-to-day teaching, the real work, isn't about home runs. It's not about those lessons that consultants and keynotes go on and on about. Those are great goals. Those are great to have in a pocket. But setting that standard every day and attempting a home run at every at-bat? You're gonna pull a muscle.

Baseball is a cumulative game. Base hit there, double there, maybe a walk, and you've got a win. Major league baseball teams play 162 games over the course of a season. If batters go cranking for the fences every single game, they aren't going to finish the season. Their muscles won’t tolerate that stress.

Players accept that. Good baseball players know the game is more important than their stat line. Maybe they didn't have the flashiest game, but they know the work is grinding out a few solid doubles that moves the team along. In a healthy, sustainable way.

ESPN helped popularize the highlight reel, a quick burst of all of the flashy awesome that happened during various games all over the league. Highlights out of context from the game are pretty but meaningless. The game is so much more than that. Because of this, I have major concerns about the connected nature of education. Not in an old-man-shouts-at-cloud, "You kids today with your twitters and your FacePlus" way, but in a, “what do we get when all we see is the highlights” way. When the conversation is so focused on those Big Lessons, the ones where you dress up and plan a ton for, what happens to the day-to-day lessons? Don't tell me every lesson is like that, every day. I'm teaching day-to-day. I've got a class of 31 fifth graders and a student teacher, plus a MakerFaire to plan, hoops to jump through, and assessments to grade. Because all that's real teaching. We should be sharing all that.

Encourage the home runs. Love them, they are super cool. Create experiences. But that's not the job. The job is to teach, to create lessons that build on each other. Lessons that grind sometimes because the grind of repetition makes learning into practice into habit. What comes after the home run?

Now, you might think I'm a cautionary teacher, slow to adapt and try new things. On the contrary. I’m a cliff jumper when it comes to teaching. I will jump off just about any cliff if I think I'll find a way to fly on the way down, or of I think there's strong student learning to be had at the bottom. But that's not day-to-day doubles-and-singles teaching. Jumping off cliffs all day isn't healthy. Eventually you misjudge the wind and become stuff on a rock. And I’m not jumping alone, my whole class is holding hands and trusting me, jumping with me. It’s irresponsible of me to repeatedly dash their learning against the rocks because I want the awesome lesson more than I want the learning.

Among the many factors that contribute to teacher burnout, Keeping Up has to be on the list. And the connectedness of educators and teachers contributes to that. It's on us to temper the home runs we share with embracing the on-the-ground, daily-grind teaching. To take a breath and celebrate doubles and singles. Moving kids around the bases slowly but surely. Supporting each other with high-fives and totally not-at-all weird butt slaps.

We should stop letting success and failure be dictated by people who aren’t in the game, playing every day, getting dirty, getting hurt, getting up to do it again. You know what a hit looks like in your class. Listening to an outsider’s look is one thing, but don’t let someone who isn’t picking up a bat be the final word what’s fair and foul.

Play hard. Look for runs and every opportunity to score. Celebrate the bloop singles that turn into doubles and triples somehow. All the while, know that those doubles and singles are advancing runners and adding up to a winning season. And it’s a damn fun game.

Post-Script- This metaphor works to the point, but it’s not a sports metaphor so it doesn’t fit in the post itself. 

To take a quick look at the other education metaphor that circles this, Moonshot Thinking is great. Aim high (don't tell kids if they aim for the moon and miss they'll land among the stars because that's bad science and you know better). But remember that we didn't decide to go to the moon and *poof* go. We exploded. A lot. Once we figured out how to not explode we edged into the upper atmosphere...nope, no death here. Guess we can do a lap and see if we die doing that. Nope, still ok. The landing is rough, what with the crashing into the ocean like a rock and all, but it's doable. Still not ready to go to the moon though. Now we practice the stuff we need to go to the moon. We do a bunch of laps around Earth running scenarios and procedures. Now we're ready. To fly around the moon, look at it, check it out. Then, finally, we land on the moon. That's a moonshot. 

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

Monday, March 12, 2018

March Madness (Now With More Madness)

It's March! Which means it's that time when people who watch college basketball (even peripherally) build brackets only to have them immediately destroyed by some freshman phenom no one has ever heard of before, and the entire internet hates Duke like they're the Patriots or the Yankees.

Not to get all Pokemon Go! on you, but this is probably a great cultural touchstone to build educational efforts off of . What can we, as teachers, make into brackets to have kids debate or vote on? How can we get creative with our bad selves and not teach our students about gambling nope nope nope, but the power of ideas, especially when there's a sixteen-person office pool riding on those ideas? Let's look at some potential brackets. I'm not going to build the entire however-many field because this is your project, I'm just giving ideas. What do you think this is, Teachers Pay Teachers?

I want to point out that I bet your lists will be better than mine and, if I was smart, I'd have asked Pernille Ripp and Jess Lifshitz to weigh in on these.

Children's Book Bracket
Have your kids make a list of 32 children's books, then debate how the plots, messages, and characters come together to form the best cohesive whole. (You can do this with Characters as well, of course)

Duke Stand-In- Charlotte's Web. Perennial favorite, classic.

Sleeper Pick- Diary of a Wimpy Kid #1-64. You know they'll pick this.

Who Should Win- Every Dr Seuss book. Don't argue.

Poet Smackdown
Who's collected worked best stand the test of time?

Duke Stand-In- Depends on the age of the students, but probably Dickinson or Angelou.

Sleeper Pick- 2Pac. Unless you have young kids. Then Shel Silverstein. And yes, I'm tickled to put 2Pac and Shel in the same section.

Who Should Win- You think I'm gonna say Seuss again, don't you? Well I'm not! But I'm gonna go with Poe because the dude's name is practically Poet so I don't really know how he could not win.

Book Settings
So many places, so little time. Who is the best. Again, depends on the age of your kids. Where would they rather go? Why? What would they do there?

Duke Stand-In- Narnia. Classic. There's a Jesus lion and a fawn and disgusting desserts.

Sleeper Pick- Hogwarts is the modern Narnia, so I'm not sure it's a sleeper pick any more. I've got kids super into Minecraft books right now, so that would probably do better than I expected. And maybe Coraline's Other Mother's house, choosen by the kid who was only half-paying attention.

Who Should Win- Hogwarts. They have magic.

Best Dystopia
Dystopian fiction is all the rage with "the kids" these days. They love them some bleak near-future settings, as they should since hey, look at the country. They're basically planning ahead. Also, how great is the title "Best Dystopia"?

Duke Stand-In- Panem is where it's at if you've got the right age kids. It's basically the modern example of dystopian literature for the youths.

Sleeper Pick- Forks, Washington. Twilight was dystopian, right? It looked dystopian in the previews. All grey and ugly and boring.

Who Should Win- Oceania. I just finished 1984 again and damn, that book is bleak and a little scary. No one did it better.

Best Number
I should have one of these in here for Math. And it's fun to tweak math teachers, quite honestly. So a best number bracket it is. Just pick 32 numbers. Then have the kids debate them...or something.

Duke Stand-In- 1. I mean, it's number one. It's the best.

Sleeper Pick- 7. Biblical. Prime. Feels good to say. Seven is sneaky.

Who Should Win- 19, because if you add up the two digits they almost equal 10, and that's pretty coo and rare. You don't see a lot of two digit numbers doing that.

Create a big list of scientists, make the kids research 'em and choose who is the most important of them all. Make them fight it out, in a pit, with lions and stuff. Using science.

Duke Stand-In- Edison.

Sleeper Pick- William C Dement.

Who Should Win- Bill Bill Bill Bill Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Again, like Poe, he's got Science right in his name. And two TV shows. Did Madam Curie have two TV shows? I'd have to google it but I do not think she did.

I've gotten you started down the path. You are welcome. I think by now it's pretty clear I wanted to plant the idea of an educational bracket or two in your brains and then let your Teacher Madness go to work on it, mulling and churning until you come up with the best idea for your class and subject. Now I've gotta pick one, seeing as I wrote this whole thing. Maybe I'll make, nay let, my student teacher come up with one. Yes. That's what I'll do. I'm the best mentor teacher ever.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

Should Teachers Be Armed?


No. You're a dangerous person with no ability to think critically or plan if that's your solution. 

How about dealing with the actual problem, which is easy access to guns? 

Arming teachers...you can tell that you never need to listen to a person's opinions ever again if that's what they think we should do. That non-thought immediately invalidates every other opinion that person has ever had and will ever have.


The solution to drowning is more water? The solution to being on fire is more fire?

I could bring up all the other concerns, like training and funding, but just by doing that I'd be giving credence to the brainless, zombie-like moaning that is "arm teachers". You know what, I take that back. At least zombies value brains. 


When someone brings up "arming teachers" to you laugh in their face. Loudly. Until they leave. Just point and laugh. There's no "discussing" things with them because they do not live on your planet. "But Doug, we should hear all sides." Nope. There are sides that we, as a culture, can all agree don't need to be heard. Like, for instance, "You know those people who spend all day surrounded by children, doing their best to create an environment of love and trust so that they may guide the growth and education of said children? Give those people the means to kill that entire room." See how ridiculous that sounds? Because it is. That's what those arguments all boil down to.


Hell no.


Don't give these people air. Don't legitimize their anti-idea. Mock them. Treat them like the jokes they are. 

And vote every single coward who supports them out of office, wrecking their platform until they can hold meetings in a phone booth. Because phone booths don't exist anymore and neither should they.


Now here's a silly video about this not funny topic.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Teaching With Music Videos

There's nothing like a great music video. It's a unique artform, constantly redefined, perfected, and then redefined again. Little movies set to music that sometimes have nothing at all to do with the song, and sometimes follow literally every single thing that happens in the song. There's no doubt that the first person everyone should think of when they think of perfect music videos is Michael Jackson. Everyone has their favorite MJ video, and I'm gonna go #onbrand and say the exceedingly weird ten minute claymation mindtrip that is Speed Demon is up there. And there's this video by Journey, which is the Greatest Music Video Of All Time. I will fight you. Air instruments. Creepy mustaches. Uncomfortably tight jeans. A great freaking song. ACTING! It's the best.

But using videos in class is different. How can we connect out love of music and the visual art that springs from the music to what we're doing in class?

It's not that hard, once you get your head around it.

My favorite Compare and Contrast lesson in the whole world uses music videos.

First I show "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. I tell my kids to look and listen for clues telling them what the song is about, what the emotion of the song is.

Then we talk about what we see. They start slowly at first. "She sounds sad." As with everything else, my best tool is "Why? Tell me more." Make them dig into the song. The hardest part for me is not going into everything I see happening in the song. Because I want to talk for ten minutes about it. How she sings the song always looking up and away from where she is and what that tells us. That it's sepia-tone adds to the already melancholy feeling. It's a song about a rainbow, and yet there's no color to be found. She never smiles. Her tone of voice is deeper, somber. The tempo is slow. This is a sad song, full of longing.

Then we watch "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Brother Iz.

Same song. Same lyrics, with very few changes. But it's a completely different song. How is that possible? What does this song express? It's so happy. It's full of love. I have to give my students context about Hawaii, telling them that it's the Rainbow State. Iz is over the rainbow already. His voice is high, his uke sings happily. It's vividly colorful. There's a party at the end!* This is a song about what's over the rainbow. He took a sad song and made it better.

* Ok, it's a party, but it's also a funeral. This is a posthumous video, made after Iz died. That's how Hawaii celebrated his life. This little glimpse into another culture blows student minds and adds to the lesson.

This is a compare and contrast lesson, but suddenly it's also a lesson on tone and intent. It's a lesson on making inferences and meanings both hidden and clear. There's so much!

And you can do it with any original and cover, assuming it's a well done cover. Think comparing the Nine Inch Nails and Johnny Cash versions of "Hurt". Bring music into your classroom. Expose your students to songs and artists they might not learn about for years yet. Help them think critically about all media, not just the stories in their books.

There's also Music Videos As Inspiration. I'm gonna bang the drum about OkGo forever, because I love having my kids make stuff and OkGo videos make them want to make.

They're the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie of music videos. If you show a student this video, they're gonna want to make a Rube Goldberg machine. And you're gonna let them because the learning is amazing. And when they finish remind them that it needs to be set exactly to music.

Or this one

This lesson goes, "Watch this video. Now tell me how it was done without looking it up. Guess." Then I let them look it up. Then we get to talk about gravity and parabolas and planning and timing and editing and practice.

Speaking of practice, and these are the last two I'll do, check out Walk Off the Earth.

Hi, yes. I'd like to teach my students about rehearsal and planning in a fun, engaging way. Oh, I could show them this, point out that there's zero edits in it, and then have them discuss how it's possible to have that many people doing that many things in time, and how everything that happens is dependent on everyone doing their job? And we could tie that to group work or projects? Sweet.

I could also use this one

No, seriously folks. Complain to me about working in small groups and needing everyone to do their thing after watching that.

There's a million million music videos out there. Find some to bring to your kids. Expose them to music you like while also whipping some education on them.

I'll close this post with a video I open many of the professional developments and sessions I run with.

If you're not with me after that, my session probably won't work for you.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird TeacherTHE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher