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Ben and I were forced into writing a book.  Well, forced might be a strong word, but Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) gave us a strong push.  A few years ago Vicki asked Ben and I if we would moderate an online book club for her new book called Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time, which of course we agreed to.  If you know Ben, he will agree to just about anything.  In conversations with Vicki, she suggested we talk with her publisher (the publisher mentioned here was Eye on Education who didn’t publish the book above).  Before Ben and I even had a prospectus put together, Robert Sickles, the president of Eye on Education, contacted us.  Long story short, Ben and I agreed to write a book with Eye on Education, who has since been acquired by Taylor & Francis.

You may be asking why I’m writing this or why you should care.  There is a point to this.  As Ben and I were writing Engaged, Connected, Empowered: Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century, we eagerly looked forward to conversations surrounding our book with its readers.  I think much of this anticipation came from so enjoying our book club with Vicki.  I can’t prove that anyone has actually read our book, but according to, people are buying the book in all forms of print.  I would assume that if people are purchasing the book, they must be reading the book.  Ben and I would love to converse with you about the ideas in the book or anything else that relates.

There are many ways to contact us, but there is a dedicated Facebook page for Engaged, Connected, Empowered.  The address is  Stop by and give us a like, share a thought, or ask us a question.  If you haven’t purchased the book yet, why not?  It’s available in paperback or on your Kindle (or in hardcover if you’re a high roller and love on demand printed books) or just borrow it from a friend.  We’d truly love to discuss our interest in 21st Century teaching and learning with anyone who will join us.

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NOTE: This is taken from a newsletter that I write for teachers in my building. Seemed like something worth sharing with others because I think it pertains to the way we all have to approach planning reading comprehension lessons in the Common Core era.


I’ve read several articles about how we should teach math like we teach reading. But what about the other way around? What if you taught reading skills like you teach math?

Let me explain…

When you’re teaching a student how to add 28 and 35, you don’t just put it in front of them and say: “When we add two 2-digit numbers, we combine them to find the sum…now you tell me what’s 24 + 35???”

That would get you nowhere. You’d have skipped over all the steps…lining up the numbers, adding the ones, carrying the 1 (which is really a ten), and finally adding the tens. Math is a process and we teach it as one.

But can’t we think of reading comprehension as a process, too? There are certainly steps involved. Are we teaching those steps? That’s the critical question.

Take for example the skill of determining the theme of a story. As teachers, we do an awesome job of explaining to students what the definition of theme is. I bet nearly every kid in grades 2 and up can tell you that the theme is the lesson (or something equivalent to that). BUT, are we teaching them the steps you take to find the theme (or main idea, or character motivation, etc. etc.)?

Reading skills aren’t just a two step process…first you read, then you know the theme, for example. There are things to think about, questions to ask, dots to connect, conclusions to draw. There are STEPS. Teach the steps (and fill them out in a graphic organizer!), and you’ve taught the skill. In a way that they can transfer to any similar text.Need an example? Ok…in my mind the steps for finding the theme are as follows:

1. Identify the main character

2. Think about what happened to the main character in the story. Write down the big events from the story, beginning to end.

3. Ask yourself, “What did this character learn about life?” BOOM, that’s your theme.

So next time you’re planning a reading lesson, ask yourself, “Am I teaching the steps?” Decide how to give students structures that will allow them to master the skills more effectively. I think we’ll like what happens when we teach reading a little bit more like we teach math.

photo credit: jessicakelly via photopin cc

If you like this post, please consider subscribing to our blog; following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and checking out our book from Routledge Eye on Education.

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We haven’t seen weather like this in our lifetimes! And one of us is from northern Northern Michigan! And apparently it’s spreading south, where things are so bad in Atlanta that retired baseball players are rescuing people off of interstates!

Being stuck indoors can stink. And having the kids miss so much school can, too. But here are a few ideas that are engaging and fun (and educational) for those times when the weather has got students going a little stir crazy…

Make a movie with Animoto

We’ve long been fans of Animoto. It’s an easy way to make movies using your own images or videos and their vast library of effects and music. 30-second movies are free, too! You can even turn a PowerPoint into an Animoto movie in a snap. So challenge your stuck-at-home students to learn something of interest, download some photos from a site like PhotoPin (which features images that are licensed for reuse), and turn it into a short movie.

Let Google take you places

Google Earth and Google Maps are great ways to take field trips from the comfort of your own home. Just type in where you want to go, and start zooming! Street view on Maps is pretty cool…here’s me visiting Tokyo, Japan:



Not sure where to go? Google has created Treks just for you! Want to learn more about Street View? Check out these instructions. There are even Google Maps of Ancient Greece and a 3D Google Earth file featuring Ancient Rome!

Google also takes care of snowed-in art lovers who can’t get to the museum due to the weather. Google Art Project features thousands of works from museums across the globe.

Blog all about it!

Blogs are great ways to get kids writing. Whether it’s about what they’re learning, what they’re interested in, or what’s going on in their lives. Take time on your snow day to set up a blog together using either KidBlog or Blogger. Then let them build blog posts for a global audience. And parents and family members can join in, too, by leaving comments. It’s a great way for students to write for authentic purposes.

Got some more ideas? Please share them in the comments! Stay warm, friends!!!

Like this post? Want to subscribe? Click here  to automatically receive our blog posts. You  should also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. You might even want to check out our book: Engaged, Connected, Empowered from Routledge Eye on Education.


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A recent US News opinion piece, “5 Key Education Stories to Watch in 2014” by Nina Rees, attention is paid to a topic that I’d love to see come to the forefront of the Education debate in the coming year: Universal Preschool.

Rees points out that the Obama administration is pushing for universal pre-k schooling for children in urban areas. She also states, however, that this issue will have a great deal or trouble gaining traction. And that’s a shame, because as urban educators, we know from experience that the biggest challenge urban schools face is students coming to us underprepared. Too many kindergarten students arrive on the first day of school with little to no letter or number recognition. Months, and in some cases years, have to be spent teaching letters and numbers. Our suburban colleagues just don’t have to deal with this in such a wide-ranging fashion.

The research supports our anecdotal experience–low-income children hear 30 million fewer words in their homes. And that’s only in the first four years of life. It’s this disparity that creates the achievement gap that’s doing nothing but widening in our country.

Universal preschool, provided for free for low-income children (no matter where they live) would be the number one game changer in the battle to close the gap. I’d be overjoyed to see movement on this issue in the coming 12 months. Sadly, I don’t remain that hopeful. But this year I’ll be reading as much as I can about the topic. And I’ll share what I learn with you.

photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

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Yesterday I wrote about one topic that I thought would be trending in 2014, Common Core common sense. Today I’d like to look at another one that is sure to be in the spotlight even more than it already has been: teacher evaluation.

States are moving to change their teacher evaluation protocols–some more quickly and effectively than others. In talking to my teacher uncle from New Jersey this holiday, it seems NJ is well on its way to full implementation. Most states are probably doing the same.

But, there are sure to be stragglers. And there’s sure to be a communication gap. Take for example, our fair home state of Michigan. I am a certified teacher here. So is Neil. We know very, very, very little about the changes that Michigan is rolling out around evaluation. (Actually maybe a little less than that.) Now, this could be for many reasons. But chances are, if we don’t know much about ours, there are thousands of teachers across the country who don’t know much about theirs. In Michigan and beyond.

I know so little about where teacher evaluation is going that I can’t even say too much here. I just know that it’s partly in response to Race to the Top funding and that all states are pushing for student achievement to be a part of the evaluation process. There are so many, many things that are troublesome about each of these. And there are many, many things that I know very little about (see above comment about how if I don’t know much…), such as value-added modeling and other buzzwords that are tossed around.

I’m all for more frequent observation of teachers. I’m especially all for more teachers having the opportunity to be coached. (I am an instructional coach, after all.) But I’m even more in favor of open and transparent communication, especially with something so critical to our profession as teacher evaluation.

What are your thoughts? What are you experiencing in your state? Please share your stories in the comments. We look forward to learning and writing more about teacher evaluation, which is sure to be one of 2014′s top trends.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please consider subscribing to our blog, following us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. You also might like our new book from Routledge Eye on Education, Engaged, Connected, Empowered.

photo credit: Daniel*1977 via photopin cc

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2013 has come to a close and it certainly was quite a year. But what of the new year? What does it hold for education? Last year, we made a prediction that 2013 would be one of engagement and regional connections. They both came true and will both continue to dominate the scene in 2014.

But a year from now, what do we hope to look back on as the hottest trend of 2014? How about Common Core? Not just in terms of what will be most talked-about. But in terms of quality information and progress. There are still a great deal of unanswered questions. Still so much we don’t know. And with the CCSS assessments set to roll out in the spring of 2015, the pieces should start coming together.

Will the pieces make sense? Will they make  things easier for teachers? Will tests be ready? Will schools be able to administer them? You’re going to be hearing a lot on these questions, and much more. And here’s hoping that these answers make logical sense. We’re worried, of course, yet hopeful. A little common sense is just what’s needed as we move closer to the 2014-15 school year.

Perhaps we’re being optimistic, but a little Common Sense for the Common Core is just what we think we will see in 2014. What about you? Let us know what you think in the comments.

We are looking forward to 2014 being our most interactive year yet, so be sure to follow along on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook and check out our new book from Routledge Eye on Education.

photo credit: Aaron Webb via photopin cc

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Available for pre-order. Released Dec. 20th.

Available for pre-order. Released Dec. 20th.

This is Part II in our series.  If you missed Part I, click here.

Quick question–Is it better to give or to receive?  The holidays are upon us and us adults generally prefer to give than receive.  Why is it that we like to give?  My assumption is that the act of gift giving demonstrates thinking.  A good gift takes significant thought and planning.  The right gift shows that you truly understand the person in which you are giving the gift.

The first shift in Engaged, Connected, Empowered has nothing to do with gifts.  The first shift examines the move from student consumption of knowledge to student production of evidence of their learning.  Just like with the gift giving, it takes more thought to produce a gift than it does to receive one.   Making a YouTube video is more rigorous than watching a YouTube video.

In this section we provide three simple to follow steps to to smoothly transition from student consumption to student production in your own teaching.  We also provide more than 10 examples of projects we’ve successfully implemented.  Three examples include Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Video; Take a Look, It’s in a Book; and Alternative Math Assessments.

If you are interested in reading more, you can pre-order today for the December 20th release!

This is Part II in our series.  If you missed Part I, click here.

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Available for pre-order. Released Dec. 15th.

Available for pre-order. Released Dec. 20th

Although we have discussed our upcoming book, Engaged Connected Empowered: Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century, several times, we are excited to begin the final countdown to the official release.  This post is the first in a series about this book as we approach the December 20th release.  How better to introduce the book than through the actual introduction.  Here is a brief excerpt from the introduction:

Our grandparents are in their 80 and 90s. Take a moment to ponder the vast
changes people our grandparents’ ages have witnessed in their lifetimes. In
about a century, they’ve seen the advent of television, space exploration,
computers, fast food, air travel, phones that fi t into people’s pockets, surgery
conducted with lasers, and cars that run on rechargeable batteries. The
number of things that exist now that didn’t exist when our grandparents
were born has to number in the thousands. Nearly every aspect of life has
undergone revolutionary change—except one: education.

This book looks at five major shifts in education that have occurred in recent years.  We look at three elements for each shift.  We begin by introducing the shift.  We then provide simple to follow steps to seamlessly embrace the shift.  Finally, we provide numerous anecdotes of how we have utilized the shift to our students’ advantage in our own classrooms.

We hope that you enjoy this book and that it is a valuable resource.  We also hope that a discussion will surround Engaged Connected Empowered.   Let’s start that conversation now!  We hope to hear from you as you read the rest of the posts in this series, as you read the book, and beyond.  What are your initial thoughts?

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My family has numerous avid readers.  I enjoy reading as well, however, I can’t seem to make the time to read as often as I would like.  Much of my “reading” is done listening to audiobooks on my commute to and from work.  I am well aware that everyone’s reading tastes are unique.  For this reason, I am always hesitant to recommend books to people, even close friends.  But, there are four books and an author that are a must read for 21st Century citizens.

Offering Perspective

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – Published 1906 – This book follows the struggles of Jurgis Rudkus, an immigrant to Chicago around 1900.  Whether you are pro- or anti-union, this book helps to paint the picture of where and why labor union’s arose.  Much of the story is utterly depressing.  However, this book demonstrates perseverance and always helps you put your life into perspective.  I guarantee if you are reading this blog post, your living conditions are infinitely better than Jurgis Rudkus, regardless of how bad things might seem at the moment.  Trust me, or better yet, don’t trust me and read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Published 1852 – This story follows a few years in the life of Uncle Tom who is enslaved on Master Shelby’s plantation in Kentuck.  Uncle Tom is sold from his family to help settle a debt.  Tom and the other characters have numerous ups and downs throughout the story.  However, no matter how bad Tom’s luck, he always stays positive.  As with The Jungle, Uncle Tom’s Cabin will make you angry and disgusted throughout much of the book, but it provides several important life lessons while helping us to understand where we came from as Americans.

Challenging Our Thinking

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink – Published 2009 – The Common Core State Standards push for students to read more nonfiction.  Perhaps we should as adults as well.  If I write and talk about Drive anymore people may think that I am in cahoots with Daniel Pink, but don’t you worry–I’m not that lucky.  If you are a teacher, parent, business person, or still alive, Drive is an important book for your life.  It deals with motivation, which is something integral to everyone’s lives.  What actually motivates you might surprise you.  This is one situation where intuition and gut feelings might be wrong.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by  Stephen J. Dubner & Steven D. Levitt – Published 2005 – Let me start by saying I read, I mean listened to, Freakonomics immediately after Drive, so the two books have merged in my mind into one glorious book.  Freakonomics examines the the math behind a diverse range of issues, usually in a humorous manner.  Let me give you an example… They explore which is more dangerous–having a gun or a swimming pool.  They discovered that the likelihood of drowning in a pool is about 1 in 11,000 while death by gun is about 1 in 1,000,000.  A pool is roughly 100 times more dangerous than a gun.  This is just one of several situations explored throughout the Freakonomics.

(Funny) Commentary on Life

Perhaps my favorite author of all time is Bill Bryson.  He generally writes books about travel.  More specifically, he writes about his adventures while travelling.  Just to name a few, his books include trips around England, Australia, his home, and the Appalachian Trail.  He is hilarious and informative.  You will find yourself laughing out loud and then saying, “Hmm, I didn’t know that.”  Everything I’ve read by him, which I believe might be everything he’s published, is excellent and worth reading.  The perfect balance of information and entertainment.


I believe that these four books and author help to create a well-rounded 21st Century citizen.  I would also like to add that all of the books mentioned above are wonderful audiobooks.  I believe that Drive, Freakonomics, and most of Bill Bryson’s books are skillfully and entertainingly narrated by the authors.  I am left wondering what you think of my list.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  Do you have any amendments to my list?  I’d love to hear from you on this topic.

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Image by Cookieater2009 on Flickr

Image by Cookieater2009 on Flickr

Two educators–1880:

Artemus: “The students today all want to bring their own pencils to school.”

Phineas: “I know! What should we do about it?”

Artemus: “I don’t know.  They seem so useful; however, the lead breaks all the time.  The students spend so much time sharpening them.  They also use them to pass notes and doodle pictures.”

Phineas: “I’m seeing those same things.  I’m not sure about all this new technology in the classroom.  Maybe we should just stick with slates.”

Two educators–1965:

John:: “Some many students are starting to bring backpacks to school now.”

Lyndon: “I know! What do you think about that?”

John: “I’m not sure.  I can see how they make taking books to and from school much easier, but there are so many problems with them.  They are always a mess and students work becomes crumpled.  I have kids leaving their backpacks at home with all of their books and work in them.  They are also using them to bring illegal items, such as drugs, into school.  And, they are so heavy!”

Lyndon: These new technologies.  Maybe we should just stay the course and do things they way we always have.”

Two educators–2013:

Ben: ”What do you think about students bring their own devices to school?”

Neil: “You mean BYOD? I think it’s a good thing that students can bring smart phones, laptops, and tablets to school.”

Ben: “You don’t worry about it being a distraction?”

Neil: “Maybe we should just ban all new technologies.  We could ban pencils and backpacks along with devices from home.”

Ben: “Kids these days…”

The point:

Believe it or not, the conversations above are all fictitious, even the one between Ben and Neil.  According to Merriam Webster, technology is defined as: the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems.

By definition technologies change.  In 2013 we generally don’t consider pencils or backpacks a technology.  The idea of banning them from school seems almost ridiculous.  Every generation looks back at previous generations and shakes their collective heads at ideas and discussions.  The world is flat.  Women’s suffrage (not suffering-search for “end women’s suffrage prank” on YouTube).  Separate but equal.  Although BYOD is not as important as any of these three examples, they serve to illustrate the point.  These conversations seem unbelievable to the next generations.

How would you feel if you were told to leave your smart phones, tablets, and laptops at home when you came to work.  Now, who do you think is more digitally connected and fluent right now.  Today’s youth or you?  Only imagine how disconnected they must feel when told to leave their device at home.

Although social conventions change over time, people at the core really don’t.  I am sad to learn that one of my favorite quotes by Socrates has been incorrectly attributed.

The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

The quote is actually from Kenneth John Freeman’s dissertation in the  early 20th Century, but he is summarizing the beliefs of antiquity.  However, my point still holds.  Children aren’t different.  Technologies change.  The verbiage of the conversations change, but ultimately we look back at the conversations and shake our heads.  In the future, the same will be done for us surrounding our discussions surrounding bringing your own device (BYOD) to school.  The answer is obvious.  Students shouldn’t have unlimited access  to their devices at school, but they also shouldn’t have unlimited access to books during tests, paper to pass notes, or conversations at inopportune times.  In the end, BYOD won’t be a new thing, and the conversation will be over.  Let the head shaking begin.

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