Posts by: bcurran

I have not done an excellent job of not thinking about work this summer. Part of this involves the length of my time off–about 3 weeks. But a bigger part might be that I actually enjoy thinking about work during the summer. I like brainstorming, pondering, planning…basically anything that will help me make this year better than the last. That’s what’s summer is for, in my opinion.

So, even during the two little “getaways” I treated myself to, I found myself thinking regularly about work. What did I learn? I’m glad you asked.

Tour Bus vs. Self-Guided Wandering Tour

My first trip was to DC. You can’t go far in the nation’s capital without seeing a tour bus. You know, those double decker things with the dude on the top deck telling bad jokes, pointing out landmarks, and sharing random factoids. That kind of thing has never appealed to me. I’d much rather wander around, free from a pre-planned route and free to stumble upon hidden gems that appeal to my own interests.

If I was on a tour bus, I never would have found the collection of 43 presidential portraits in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art or the fountain at the National Gallery of Art where you can dip your feet or the Korean War Memorial or the shop serving Zombie Coffee.

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This got me thinking…as teachers do we want to be tour guides, telling students what we think they need/want to know or do we want to empower them to take self-guided wandering tours?

Give the people what they want/need

Yes, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is pretty cool. But this museum also has a “branch” out at Dulles Airport where they keep the really cool stuff. Like the space shuttle. Yes, the real space shuttle. One of them at least. According to one of the many little signs around the exhibit I read, there were five shuttles that travelled to space: Endeavour, Discovery, Atlantis, Challenger and Columbia. The sign also informed me that there was a sixth shuttle, Enterprise, that never was used on a mission, though. New and exciting info! Yay for informational signs! Yay for learning!

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But I also found that there were several signs that were lacking in info. While informative, they also left me with unanswered questions, questions it would seem that a lot of people would have. It seemed like a series of missed opportunities. It happened again on my camping trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A sign about possibly encountering black bears in the wild left off what seemed like a key piece of information…what to do if you actually encounter a black bear in the wild!

This one got me thinking…how often are we leaving key information out of our work with students? Are we always anticipating the key things that they need to know? Or are we impeding their learning by not putting enough thought into our planning and execution? AND, how often are we giving them opportunities to learn about the things they want to learn about?

The kindness of strangers

My camping trip was pretty sweet, too. And as always, I was struck by the near-Utopian nature of campgrounds. For the uninitiated, allow me to explain…campgrounds bring out the best in people, it seems. In a campground, people are friendlier, they help each other, they share things. It’s a beautiful thing to see. And it’s always the case…no matter where you camp. There’s something about camping that just makes people…nicer.

This got me thinking…what if our schools were more like campgrounds? What if staff members went out of their way to be nice to each other? To help each other out (even without being asked for help)? To share all their stuff and all their ideas? Wouldn’t that be great? And a better question…how can we get there?

Just another three examples of how lessons about teaching and learning can be learned no matter where you go!

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Although there hasn’t been much blogging going on here lately, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any writing. I wanted to share with you some posts of mine that have appeared on other blogs lately.

Most are related to the Common Core State Standards, which I’m learning more and more about each day and which I feel demand a great deal of attention if we are going to understand and implement them effectively.

Here are the links if you’re interested:

Many of these were due to opportunities provided by the Center for Teaching Quality, whose new virtual community– the Collaboratory – is something you’ve absolutely got to join. So big thanks to them.

Hat tip also to the amazing Larry Ferlazzo, whose blog was the first one I ever subscribed to back when I started getting into ed tech about 5 or 6 years ago and who now emails me to ask me to contribute to his columns from time to time. He’s pretty awesome, to say the least.

Hope this bit of shameless cross-posting and self promotion helps you in some way. Stay tuned for more right here on our own blog…subscribe today!

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

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“Just when I think I’m out…they pull me back in.”

Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III

I recently completed a stint back in the classroom. After 11 years in the classroom, I started my new job as our school’s instructional coach in August. It’s been a thrill, a challenge, a roller coaster, and also a tremendous learning experience. But I learned early on that it’s critical that I don’t forget what it’s like to be a classroom teacher. I mean, if a big part of my job is going to be helping teachers improve their craft, then it’s key that I don’t forget how difficult that craft is.

A fairly accurate depiction of me working in the classroom.

A fairly accurate depiction of me working in the classroom.

In case I had forgotten even a little bit, I was lucky enough to be reminded when I filled in as the teacher of a fifth grade classroom whose previous two teachers had left their jobs mid-year. Not wanting to place a substitute in the room and disrupt the students’ learning even more, our principal asked if I would teach literacy and math while we searched for a suitable replacement.

Well, it took six weeks…and that was plenty of time to remind me of several things…

  • I love teaching. From lesson design, to lesson execution and delivery, to connecting with kids, to trying to make school fun and so on and so on…it’s a pretty great gig. 
  • Teachers work their ***es off. From lesson design, to lesson execution and delivery, to connecting with kids to trying to make school fun and so on and so on…it’s a pretty challenging gig. Throw in meetings, testing, observations, administrative pressures, budget cuts, and so on and so on…it’s a ridiculously challenging gig.
  • There’s always more to do. A close relative to the previous thought. This was the feeling that hit me pretty much right away on day one. Part of it is my mild to moderate perfectionist nature. Part of it is the nature of the profession. Whether it involves working with struggling students or pushing the high achievers, there’s always more.
  • Failure tastes awful. Every day there are successes. But there are failures, too. Little ones. Mistakes. Missed opportunities. I don’t care for them. They are a heavy weight on a teacher’s back. But they are insanely motivating, too.

I could go on and on, of course. But these four things will fuel me in my return to coaching. Especially the first one.

I think perhaps every former teacher who moves to a new position outside of the classroom should go back to teaching for a little while each year. I wonder how that would change things…what do you think?

We hope you enjoyed this post. If so, please leave a comment and consider subscribing to this blog. You also might enjoy our most recent book: Learning in the 21st Century.

photo credit: Pedro Vezini via photopin cc

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We will soon return to regularly scheduled programming.

We will soon return to regularly scheduled programming.

Ah, faithful readers…you’ve stuck with us these past few months (I hope) and kept your subscriptions alive. It’s time for us to emerge from our winter hibernation and get back to blogging about teaching and learning. We hope to return to our previous level of posting frequency as well as recapture the prominence we had risen to in the edublogosphere. (We consistently rank 51st on 9 out of every 10 “Top 50 Education Blogs” lists!)

What have we been up to? Glad you asked.

Since February, we have…

  • Put the finishing touches on our second book, a soon-to-be-titled release from Eye on Education (they publish all your favorites…Larry Ferlazzo, Angela Maiers, Todd Whitaker, Barb Blackburn, and more!!!) that will hopefully be out before the close of 2013.
  • Immersed ourselves in the work of educating children. Neil in his 5th grade classroom and me as instructional coach and interim part-time 5th grade teacher (more on that in a future post). If you work in a school, you know how the profession can consume you. It’s challenging work, but there’s no other work we’d rather be doing.

So, what now? It’s time for Neil and I to finish off our school year. That’s important stuff, and I plan to blog about it over the course of the next few weeks. There are also more guest posts coming from Tchrs’ Voice and a follow up to the Atlanta piece on Teaching Ahead from Education Week.

I apparently need to get back to my once daily obsession habit of reading blogs. I was working on transferring my Google Reader feeds now that Reader is headed for the tech graveyard. Here’s a shot of my unread counts on my new Bloglines page (stay tuned also for an update on switching over your RSS feeds):

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If you can make that out, that’s a total of 2,900+ unread items. For someone like me that starts twitching when that number hits triple digits, this is a problem. So it looks like I’ve got some reading to do. And as a result, luckily for you, some blogging!

Stay tuned for this week’s post about my return to the classroom as a fifth grade teacher (complete with areference to The Godfather Part III). And if you still aren’t a subscriber, please consider signing up today.

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It actually happened. We wrote a book. It hit “shelves” recently and we have to say, it’s pretty cool. And practical. And affordable (less than 6 bucks!).

Written with homeschooling families in mind, it still has a lot to offer for educators of all types. If you’re at all interested in helping children connect, collaborate and create using 21st Century technologies, then this book is for you. It’s a slim (less than 100 pages) guide for getting started, not just in terms of the nuts and bolts and “how to” of educational technology, but in terms of ideas and inspiration as well. And all the ideas are classroom-tested by Neil and me in our work with students over the last 8 years or so.

Hopefully, you’ll give it a read. Definitely let us know what you think. In the meantime….

Here’s a link to a very comprehensive review of the book by Peter Lydon.

Also…Pamela Price at Red White and Grew has a review as well as an excerpt from the book available on her site today. She’s also offering a giveaway contest, so be sure to check that out.

And if you just want to get ahold of your copy before they’re sold out (it could happen), you can get it at Amazon and in both print and eBook formats. Seriously, let us know what you think!

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Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Okay, so you understand the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts. You have wrapped your head around the instructional shifts they call for and maybe you even have a grip on the complexities of the content at your grade level(s). But I think one common (pun intended) refrain among educators who feel they “get” the CCSS is “Yes, but what should they look like in action?” The standards themselves can be overwhelming and the task at hand can seem arduous. It’s just not that easy to visualize implementation at this time. And it’s often challenging to find solid resources and lesson plans to help you with this visualization.


Eye on Education is working to change that with their series of Common Core Literacy Lesson Plans edited by Lauren Davis. I spent some time exploring the edition for grades 9 through 12 and was left thinking that this is the kind of things teachers need: High quality, detailed and thorough plans that tie directly to the CCSS. That’s exactly what you get in this volume, and I expect you’d find more of the same in their K-5 and 6-8 editions.

Here’s what’s contained within: 35 lesson plans, each with everything you need to put them into action in the classroom. Detailed objectives, standards alignment, explicit instructions for the introduction, group activities, class discussions, and individual work. There are also sections for lesson extension ideas as well as ideas for differentiation (for both advanced students and students who need support). Assessment options and links to additional resources are included for each lesson, too. Some are designed for 1-day sessions, others for longer.

This book covers all the CCSS ELA bases: Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language. And I found the lessons to be both challenging and highly engaging. It is clear that the purpose of this book is to push students’ thinking and also to develop their expression and communication skills. And you certainly don’t have to use all of these. Each stands on its own as a model of a solid lesson. There is a lot to build on and adapt here to suit your specific needs. The only thing I was left wanting more of was a bit more that deals with technology integration, but there are some tech-infused lessons in this book. Some of the standards that teachers need the most help with are those that specifically address digital technologies, but perhaps that is just a personal preference.

Overall, I think this is a great book for energizing your thinking and inspiring you to build awesome CCSS-aligned lessons of your own.

And that’s exactly what we need in the new world order of the CCSS (especially as we await the full development and complete reveal of the national assessments)–inspiration and ideas. This book provides plenty of both.

Click HERE to check out the book’s product page and click HERE to visit the complete Eye on Education catalog.

Disclosure: I reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. Also, Neil and I are under contract with Eye on Education to write a book of our own. Release date TBD.

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Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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Much of what I do as an educator is defined by one simple fact: I am the parent of three school-aged children. I don’t blog about them too much (although this post was pretty good, IMHO) because that’s not what this site is about. However, I think of them a lot as I think about trying to improve American education. And today I got to thinking about the challenges of parenting in the current educational climate.

You see, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that on several occasions, I’ve bitten my tongue when I’ve been less than satisfied with my own children’s schooling. I’ll spare you the specifics, but if you’re an educator with school-aged kids, you know what it’s like. You think things like “Should I play the ‘teacher card’ or not?” so as not to panic or alienate your kids’ teachers. It can be a slippery slope.

But why don’t other parents, the non-teachers among us, speak up in defense of their kids’ educations? Perhaps it’s because, as products of the 20th Century educational system, we just don’t know any better. We don’t know that we should expect demand more. But we should.

You see, I believe this also contributes to what I see as a major educational problem–parents keeping quiet, accepting the status quo, because they trust that schools are doing the right things. Or perhaps because they fear making waves. No parent wants their child to be embarrassed or awkward because mom or dad is “that parent.”

However, unless we as parents speak up more often, unless we make our voices heard when schools are short changing our children or when they are subjecting kids to boring, mundane instruction, we are only contributing to the problem.

Imagine if parents spoke up more often, challenged authority when appropriate, pushed back against archaic practices, and so on. Not in the interest of rabble-rousing. But in the interest of our children. Why should we feel ashamed or embarrassed to make our voices heard? Why shouldn’t we speak up? If more of us spoke up, more often, the rate of change would increase to near warp speeds. Angry parents? Demanding excellence? In large numbers? THAT would be a force to be reckoned with. And there would be no way schools would or could ignore it for long.

photo credit: robotson via photopin cc 


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