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?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Rising tide lifts all boats.

I have been lucky enough to work with some tremendous educators.  One teacher I worked with loved naval analogies.  When I left one school, he gave me a tremendous book and inscribed it with a quote about how the US Navy judges the size of it's ships by the amount of water it displaced.  The first time I read the quote, I thought it was a fat joke.  Later, it became clear that he meant it as a compliment. 

This master teacher constantly was sharing ideas and discussing ideas.  He often stated " A Rising tide ifts all boats."

This is one of the reasons I have come to love twitter and my PLN.  The chance to share and steal with other colleagues means so much to me.  After attending TSETC with Andrea Mystrena, we became convined of the need to share and colloborate with our collegaues.

We have tried numerous efforts some successul and some unsuccesful.  I am proud of the way we have gotten web tools into every weekly principal message.  Andrea and I planned a Web Wednesday - where we hosted a web sharng meeting after school.  We have hosted 10th pd  (we have a 9 period day and pd a play on prof development).

Here is my new idea and new challenge.  We need a way to engage more educators and spread the word about the power of twitter.  It is too easy to speak to like minded people.  I want all of us to send emails to co-workers with the title "I got this from Twitter".  Hopefullly by sharing the great resources and the great ideas available we can excite those teachers in our buildings who could enjoy having their pilot light re ignited.

Here is one of the problems; I wanted to call it Word Out Wednesday but #wow is claimed by Opie and Anthony and let's just say we can not afford that confusion.  OandA have female fans use that tag on wednesday - awkward.  I tried #WW but that is also writer Wednesday.

Do you have any suggestions?
Who on your staff can you reach out to?
What should we call this initative?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Climbing the Mountain.....

So, this is my first entry on The Soup Box and there is so much I want to say.  More importantly, there is so much I want to ask other educators.  Ultimately, that is my concern can this blog allow me to accomplish 2 goals.  First, I want to be a participant in the on going discussion about my chosen profession.  Additionally, this will serve as my sounding board as I continue evolving and discovering as a teacher.

Here is what I know:

1) I don't know much.  I thought I was a good teacher but as the years progress, I realize that I owed my students so much more than what I was giving them.  Too often, my lessons resorted to gimmicks, humor or the power of my personality.  What is sad?  I was successful that way - even won a student selected Teacher of the Year.  I don't really like the guy that won that award.  That guy would never have flirted with flipping his class.  But now, I know it is their class - I remind myself - "Get out of their way!"

2) Communication is not as easy we think it is.  How often do you find yourself flummoxed that someone did not understand what you are saying?  Just this weekend, I lost 5 minutes from my life trying to get gift receipts at HOME DEPOT.  As communication becomes more typed, more jargon dependent, and at times limited to 140 characters; misunderstandings increase rapidly.  The story of the misconstrued e-mail is everywhere now but I have one I love.

After college, I was hired as a GA basketball coach.  I would speak to the AD and Head Coach about my apartment and other arrangements and they would tell me - "I BLITZED them about that".  Hearing that filled my sails and my ego, to me blitz meant making an all out effort; I thought they were doing it to make sure I was all set up.  This assumed effort made me think they saw huge potential in me as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.  No one working there ever knew how crushed I was when I attend my first training on our e-mail system - BLITZMAIL!

There are few things I have attempted as scary and as exciting as kicking off this blog.  I know some of my ideas will get laughed at; some of my typos will be obvious but so many of the people I admire have encouraged me to do this - so here we go.  I hope my twitter friends, my PLN, and #sschat folk make this blog a part of their reading schedule.

As I hit publish post then jump over to twitter to promote, I am reminded of another great quote from 12 Angry Men - "Let's put it on the back porch and see if the cat laps it up".