Saturday, January 19, 2013

Visit to NMHS and Eric Sheninger

After spending the day with Eric Sheninger, we had a 90 minute ride home to discuss all that we had seen and heard.  During that conversation, I caught myself saying this about Eric and his school, “He is like a good professional wrestler, he has a gimmick and he sticks with it.” 
First and foremost, I must say this –I don’t enjoy the negative connotation associated with the term gimmick.  His leadership is based in a belief and his beliefs inform his leadership.  A large part of our discussion revolved around preparation for the real world.  One point we kept going back to was the fact the Education training and Education Leadership programs are not preparing teachers or principals for a modern world that includes technology.  Sadly, we echo that ill preparation in the classroom.  All too often, we build classrooms that pretend technology does not exist.  Our students deserve to be educated in a manner that reflects the real world.  Look at any meeting, we all walk in with our devices and use them for our own purposes (sometimes aligned with the goals of the meeting).
Simply stated, cell phones and wifi exist, why not use them to engage and empower our students?  This model is not built on any special training.  This model is not based in any pre-purchased, pre-packaged program.  The basis of this model is “get out of their way”.  If a teacher can find a significant logical reason to use technology to add to their instruction – do it.  If a teacher can be effective using old school pen and paper techniques – do it.  This model empowers the teachers to be the decision makers and agents of change in their rooms.  I found myself thinking that Eric gives his teachers enough lumber to either build an amazing platform for greatness or a guillotine for themselves!  Eric assured us that he gives teachers enough release time to research, experiment or even reflect!  His VP and AD often cover lunch duty to give educators release time.
Why does Eric cover his teacher’s lunch duty?  Why would a principal be willing to schedule himself a lunch duty? Well, in the words of Hulk Hogan – “let me tell you brother” he believes in what is he doing for his staff, his students and his school.  Much of our conversation circled back to the understandings of Motivation 3.0 as defined by Daniel Pink.  Eric encourages autonomy and mastery in his teachers.  It is clear that Eric does this and his teachers participate because they share the same goal: a better experience for their students (Pink would call this purpose).
Not only does he believe in his school, he has leveraged social media and other venues to spread the word about his beliefs and his school. New Milford HS has a brand, NMHS has an image and we all know what it and he stands for and knows their beliefs.  They have their gimmick and I don’t see them jumping the shark anytime soon!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Man in the Mirror

Recently, I have been approached by several people (2 people can legally be considered several –correct?) to write about my experiences “flipping” my classroom.  After a rather active #sschat tonight that I attempted to moderate regarding this model; I felt the need to get some thoughts down on paper.  What follows are those disjointed thoughts.

Prior to those thoughts a few disclaimers:
1)   It is the middle of my summer so be gentle.
2)   I am not an expert on this model so be gentle.

With that said, I am going to concede some high ground to people who have issues with the model or the term in general.  Here are my concessions:
1)   Yes, this is still hw.   I understand all the issues and opinions around hw in general but I work in a district that strongly encourages hw. Y
2)   Yes, some kids will “never” complete their hw.  I would argue there are numerous initiatives you could attempt to get those children to engage in any sort of class.

Here are a few more thoughts before I really start:
1)   I did not coin the term “flipping” but like any blanket term  - it can be manipulated in any number of ways.  Think of the numerous images your neighbors would think of when you say the term “teacher”.
2)   Like a great pitcher in MLB (none of which can be find in the NY Mets bull pen), “flipping” is one more pitch in my repertoire.
3)   Often, I hear about kids not having the tech at home; I am sure there are a few cases where I would be forced to concede this to you.   I would like to submit this to you; how many of your kids can sit in their room and watch a 5-9 minute video on their phone.  My kids don’t need a desk/pen or anything that they don’t normally have with them.

Step 1 – Back story.
After attending #educon and longer pattern of research, I decided to “flip” my Freshman World History Class.  We stayed “flipped” from basically February through June.  I have been blessed to steal some ideas from great educators that I have worked with in brick and mortar colleagues and my PLN that I lovingly refer to as my Twawgs (Twitter = Dawgs).  Ultimately, I flirted with becoming an old school “Sage on the Stage” teacher too much early in my career.  Moving towards this model would ensure I never ended up hating teaching or my career.

Step 2 – How It Worked.

After a few missteps, here is how it looked in my class by June.  Students were asked to watch videos as HW.  They were not asked to take notes or do anything besides watch the video and think about what they watched.  I moved towards having videos “due” on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursdays. 

Class would begin with some form of discussion or practice quiz on the videos.  Less and less, I would grade these quizzes.   More I used this to clear up confusion.  We had some great discussions after the videos.  Several of the discussions started with simple prompts like – “This video reminded me of….” – “The thing I did not get was…”.

Each unit had a list of objectives and students were allowed to select from a list of ways to demonstrate understandings of these objectives.  Most units included DBQs – where kids used primary source documents to answer questions.

 Why I will continue to “flip”
  1. I believe 25 1:1 conversations are so much better than 1 25:1 conversation.  “Flipping” took my handcuffs off.  The videos allowed me to cover content in a valid professional way.  It allowed me to use class time to speak with students individually regarding their understandings, their misconceptions, or their concerns.
  2. The trade off is so worth it.  These videos and the model allowed me to do more activities in class.  The best in-class discussion I have ever been a part of happened this year.  I was able to step out of their way and they discussed serious issues regarding peace and justice.  Being able to attempt lessons that looked like chaos (some kids working in a writing lab, others completing a reflection on a primary document, others structuring a debate) made it all worthwhile.  This created opportunities for students to create content or articulate their beliefs.  The best benefit I have received from this model is the amount of time – we got to spend working on reading or writing skills.
  3.   Answer this questions – when do the kids need you?  I feel like moving to this model, I was able to present for my kids when they truly needed me.  I feel like when I was a kid, we sat and got the info and then were sent home to do the important/difficult stuff at home- alone!  I would rather be in the room when the kids are doing work that is moving them up Blooms Taxonomy.  In a way, I look at the typical pyramid structure of Blooms as an indicator of how much; I want to be in the room with the kids.

Hopefully, this year I will continue to improve as an educator.  Slowly but surely I am getting better out of the kids way.  Thanks to tonight’s conversation, I have numerous ideas on how to better implement this development in my instruction.    Please feel free to reach out to me here or on twitter to ask questions or (better yet) give me advice.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

For #psychat


Set up room with desks facing each other around room.
A vs B
C vs D
Create as many match - ups as your class needs!
Give the kids a control sheet - just ask and I will send you mine.

Each round on mine looks like this
Round #___

Teacher asks three questions and a tie-breaker.
A and B compare answers.  C and D compare answers.  Each pair determines winners by comparing number of answers correct - only use tie breaker if there is a tie!

Winners move up one match up.
so next round might be
A (winner rnd 1) vs Z
D (winner rnd 1) vs B (stayed in same seat :{ )
B (stayed in same seat :{ ) vs E? (winner of rnd 1)

Person that lost sits still and faces the winner of match up behind it.
A few of the pairings around the room, I label as hot seats  (put red contraction paper between the two desks).

I love using this to gauge knowledge level, give cheesy hints.  I try to use goof tie breakers that give test hints or create engagement in class.  Many of the tie breakers are me saying pick a number between 0-100 and then asking a random kid their jersey # in a sport or their favorite number.  We will collect hot seats as they take the test!

- I can review with them the questions/concepts that I am concerned about.
- We can have a fun class but make them comfortable with what to study.
- Kids have numerous chances to get points on test.

- Competition can be unhealthy
- Some kids may not move
- May breed over confidence for the test.

One more:
if there is an odd # of kids in class.  Create one hot seat where if kid gets 1 answer right - they get point on test and move on; if they do not get one right - they get one point on test and move on!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I owe you

I owe you!

Ok, so it has been nearly 4 months since my last visit here to the Soup box. In fairness, I have let numerous bloggable moments slip through my fingers.

Since my last post, I have attended Educon, we have dealt with some frustrations regarding our schools filtering software and I am presently experimenting with a modified flip for my classroom.

Educon was awesome and exciting with a touch of depressing. I had a chance to catch up with some amazing people and share some amazing ideas. Hearing Chris L express his vision for SLA was like hearing a smarter, more professional and handsomer version of me express his beliefs. I have stolen so many of his quotes. “If you want to get over on someone who is treating you in a loving manner – go right ahead” – being my favorite.

Educon was frustrating because I saw what education could be and I saw the distance I need to travel to be at the top of my profession. In fact, I have started and never completed 1 blog entitled Getting There from Here about closing that gap. I am hoping to present something on that order to edcampss.

Basically, my thoughts lately have broken down into three distinct areas: instruction, life profession balance and our profession.

Regarding instruction:

1) How in good faith can I be using basically the same exact techniques used by my teachers over 20 years ago?

2) What techniques can I adopt to make my students become the primary actors in my lessons?

3) Is Camtasia studios really worth $300?

Okay, that one has to be explained. It seems like every year (ok for the last 2) I have been getting the urge to flip my class. This year I am trying something with my Modern World Frosh. They were asked to spend 2 nights of hw time on the site Here I collected all the materials related to our next chapter and then we spent a few days discussing the unit in a very relaxed manner. After a few days of discussion they were assigned this menu (

The kids seemed to balk and complain a lot. They really got into the menu items and have created some good work. I am allowing them to hand it in waves so their full awesomeness has yet to be revealed to me. Their complaints seemed to relate to the disconnect they experienced from their instructor. The nights of the hw – I got a lot of: “I don’t understand” and “this is stressing me out”.

Here is what I learned or have come to believe – you must create your own content to flip. Kids do not want to see or here from some outsider. Going half way is never acceptable and my modify flip may be failing because it is a half measure.

To that end, if I want to continue with the flip model, I need to buy a good screen casting program. The real kick in the pants is that I have a Mac mini at home and a PC at school so I may need to purchase several licenses.

Random thoughts on the other topics:

1) How are kids leaving teacher training programs still dependent on the Sage on the Stage model? I feel like that is a real abdication of duties by the colleges/universities?

2) Why would anyone go into teaching for any reason other than to help kids? I am getting frustrated with the amount of times people at the various schools I deal with putting their program/their reputations/their ego before the well being of kids.

3) How do people do it? I see people on twitter that are amazing educators pursuing numerous degrees and still actively participating in their and others development. I am so impressed by them. I need to learn their tricks and techniques. I intentionally lessened my responsibilities as a coach so I could be a better teacher and a Dad but yet I am consistently feeling a time crunch. That is why you have not had a blog post from me in some time!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Who is Mike Beardslee? How Big were the Rats?

Who is Mike Beardslee?  How big were the rats?

Granted, it is the end of MP1 and I have a ton of other things to be doing but I felt the need to share these ideas.  I hope these three or four dispersant ideas help me make one cohesive suggestion for you and your classes.

Imagine : it was the Spring of ’95, I am a student-teacher at a rural MS/HS on the Delaware and Maryland boarder.  I believe the students had convinced me that the science classes were legally in Maryland and the English rooms were in Delaware.  Truth be told, I was student-teaching but thought my college basketball coaching career was going to take off and a teaching career was secondary.  After a few weeks on instruction, I started working on my first test.  Professors’ suggestion about the proper way to construct a multiple choice question echoed in my head.  I need a 100% wrong answer for some question.  I looked around my apartment on Salisbury University’s campus and used the perfect name: Mike Beardslee.

Mike Beardslee was my then roommate.  Years later, he was my best man and I am blessed to have him as a still close friend.  I love when I see his children play with mine.  

Then something crazy happened – kids picked his name as a correct answer.  That tickled me to no end.  When I returned the test, I told the students of the error and they howled!  This joint moment of silliness gave me real insight.  There is a lot to be said for a sense of community in a classroom.

With out fail for the 12 years of my teaching career, Mike Beardslee has appeared on every single one of my tests.  He has been:
·      The Queen of Egypt
·      The person who shot Franz Ferdinand
·      The person shot by Gavrillo Princip
·      Movie Director that produced propaganda for Hitler.
·      Father of Modern Psychology
·      Author of The Frontier Thesis.
·      Invented the idea of the invisible hand in the market economy.
·      One student wrote an entire mid term essay on Mike Beardslee – sadly it was an awesome piece of work on William Jennings Bryan!

Since then, I have always found some point in the year to let a class in on the joke.  Mike has even helped coach a summer camp with me and the kids were thrilled to meet Beardslee.

Years later, kids ask me how he is doing!

It is a fun moment when kids become a part of the legacy.  I feel like I have always been able to do this in a way to build community inside our class.  Kids love the idea of a tradition or a legacy.  This sense of being a part of something allows me to demand and expect more form them

The second example of this came from my immaturity.  We were covering WWI and every teacher at Pequannock suggested I use “Arming the Earth” hosted by Bill Moyers.  This video was actually funded by a gas station that is now defunct.!

During one key segment describing no man’s land, a WWI vet describes the horrors he saw during the war.  He said “and the rats, the rats were as big as dogs!”  This moment caught me and I rewound it 100 times easy.  The kids laughed, I howled and then I rewound it again!  We shared a sincere moment.  I turned this immaturity into a teaching point.  Every test on WWI started with the question – “How big were the rats?”  Midterms even lead off with that question.  I also then ended WWI test with an essay about the “real” reason that I loved that quote.  The answers about the horrors of trench warfare validated my hopes. 

This year as the last 10, I will tell the kids that they are joining a very prestigious family.  The will join a secret society that knows – “How big were the rats?”  Just last week a student I taught in 2003 posted this exact question on my facebook wall.   3 years ago, as I was leaving a Starbucks – the barista yelled at me – “Campbell – how big were the rats?”

These two mistakes or coincidents taught me an important lesson about building a sense of building community in a classroom.  Today, I use edmodo, greet kids at the door, try to comment on their work but nothing has gone farther then Mike Beardslee and the rats.  I hope you guys find your Beardslee or rats and keep building a community in your room. 

To be honest, I am more excited to see the “How big were the rats?” responses then the feedback from other educators.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


First and foremost, please allow me to apologize for the delay in getting this post up. I have been super busy and lame excuse after lame excuse.

Quick update, during the summer, I agreed to return to Cinnaminson High (taught there from 02-04). Thus far so good; I could not be happier. Leaving my hard school was difficult, I became the teacher I am today thanks to great colleagues like @andremystrena. When I made the decision to do it, I was rather cavalier about tenure. Now I do finding myself watching my step and my mouth more and more. That and some of the new ideas I implemented could be great future blog topics.

Today – I encourage you to just ask.

It is that simple – just ask.

I am teaching two courses that are new to me and I was scared! During the opening of school, I just asked my new colleagues (many of hem were old colleagues!) for help. You would be amazed by the support and ideas that I received from them.

I was assigned to teach psych this year. I had exactly 0.0% experience with it. Thus far, we have done 8 or 10 of the best lessons of my career. I am a genius? No, I am a stealer. People from #psychat on twitter have given me great ideas and great support. They are keeping me afloat during this maiden voyage through Psychology. Today, my students are making Brain Models – an idea I received because I asked. Yesterday, we learned about Phineas Gage and watched a clip thanks to #psychat peeps! My other sdavior in psych has been a former colleague – Eddy D – he has been a lifesaver. He sends me ideas because I asked!
The second week of school, I wanted to use Six Word Memoirs (please vote here). One email and two hours later, @andreamystrena had shared some great resources. My kids loved it and some of my colleagues stole the idea. Again, @andreamystrena told me and I told my people – just ask!

As we finished up the Six Word Memoir activity, I needed a polling site so I just asked. Fluid Surveys offered me a great deal and treated me incredibly well. They offered me a great level of support and options – just because I asked. As our voting is coming to an end Fluid Surveys is now working on getting us swag for my kids just because I asked.

It gets better. I am a huge soccer fan and I am a middle class teacher. I have never been to an MLS game but can not afford a ticket and the tickets are hard to get so I sent a tweet out to 5 MLS powerbrokers. Long story short, my buddy and I are going to the Red Bull and Philly Union match thanks to @MLS_Insider. All because I asked!

There is one caveat – if we all start asking each other foe help, we must be willing to answer. I hope you are willing to share with and steal from other educators. Please know if there is anything I can do to help you – JUST ASK!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Help Wanted Ad

Due to numerous events in my career, I have never been lucky enough to have a real mentor.
 Trust me this is not because I have not worked with great educators.  In fact, I truly believe that all three Social Studies departments have been the strongest units of their respective schools.  At Pequannock, I worked with some amazing thinkers. John Graf, Russ Irving was the life blood and conscious of our school.  Politics and the expectations placed on me at that school it made it damned near impossible to have a mentor. I did share and steal ideas at times but had no mentor.
The most dynamic planner and thinker, I have ever met was Steve Schels. Today, Steve works at Sparta high and we now live 2 hour apart.   Mr. Schels was a great colleague but had no desire to be my mentor!
I moved to Cinnaminson and again worked in strong department with tremendous staff.  Rob Becker inspired me and we shared ideas.   Being married, a little older and a proud fool, yest again, I worked at another school and found no mentor.
For the last 4 years, I have worked at a third school and have yet to find a mentor.  At 38, I feel like it may be a little late to pick up a mentor.  I am blessed to work with great people in my department.  Additionally, I have learned and been inspired by a great educator and true colleague @andreamystrena,
One thought I have is this no mentor issue may be related to the hiring process.  All three places I worked desired “finished” products. After spending two hours talking about how “finished” I was to get the job – I have never felt super comfortable going back on that and asking for help.
As a coach, I read about the “coaching” trees of all these great coaches.  Tom Izzo and Bill Walsh have these amazing coaching trees with former assistants running teams all over the country.  Yet, I find myself feeling alone professionally at times and feeling like I could use a guidance counselor!
So here is the Job description:

Needed a mentor.  Candidate must be wise, sage like.  Candidates should posses the Wisdom of Mr. Miyagi.  If chosen for this position candidate should demonstrate the motivational skill of Mickey Goldmill (Rocky).  Ideal candidate would have the warmth of Paula Dean but the wit of Alton Brown.

Here are a few of the things I need to ask my new mentor:
1)        How do they do it?  I see these amazing teachers on twitter with amazing blogs, even better lessons and perfect family lives.  How do these people juggle all of that? (These thoughts have led to the recent idea of creating an #sschat blog) with multiple perspectives as many of us find that balancing act hard)
2)      What is next for my career?  Should I stay in the classroom? Should I pursue an Administration degree?  What about an IT/Media Center Specialist certificate?
3)      How do I balance all the voices and find my own? Grades good or bad? Late work? Teaching accountability and having a no zero policy?  Skills versus content? 
4)      What really matters? What do my students truly need to be successful?