Monday, October 10, 2016

Work/Home Balance

I am thrilled that my district has been able to send me to a conference this week. I have spent the first day in some pre-conference sessions getting the chance to dive deep into some of the new functions in products that we use for our student information system. While in education, you may not get to do it a lot, I have always enjoyed traveling to conference. I love the chance to learn more about how to connect with kids, share my ideas with other educators, see what great things other people are doing to engage students in learning, and, of course, the new restaurant possibilities of a new city!

When I have taken trips in the past, I knew that I would miss my wife and my kids, but I also knew that I was coming back soon. None of that has changed...except leaving this time was harder. I spent some time thinking about this on the plane as I reflected on the teary goodbye in person and over face-time before I got on the plane. What made this trip different?

One of the benefits of this trip is that I got to see my sister and her family and be a part of my nephew's birthday celebration. That certainly did not make things harder. I am away from work for 4 days (one is a school holiday), so there is work that might pile up, but that is really no different that other times I have traveled. My current location is in the same time zone, so it is easy to communicate with home, so no problem there...what is the big deal?

I realized, that for me, the big deal is just kids are bigger now. I traveled before when the kids were infants and young toddlers. I never missed a "first" of anything and my kids were doing projects in preschool as their learning. With our first child, the new experiences in daycare and preschool were exciting, but with our 3rd child, it because old hat. It was exploring ground that had been walked on already. We were thrilled for each new child to experience it, but we knew what to expected.

But now, my kids are in school...real school. This is also new territory for me as a parent. I always look forward to discussing their day, asking what they liked best, seeing what they have learned and how hard they worked. Now, as I am away, I feel like I am really missing out on these first experiences for them. My kids are experiencing new things in school every day; exploring new territories and gaining experiences. I can talk to them over the phone and video chat, but it is not the same. I will miss the hugs, the high fives, the feeling of excitement. These are big.

Learning new things to ensure a quality of schooling for my students is important. If what I learn improves the education experience of one student and their family, it is worth it. Being with my kids as they learn and enjoy their school experience is incredibly important as well...

Where is that line between work and home?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Global Class Connect

A little less than a month ago, I participated in #GlobalEdChat.One of the questions posted to the chat was "What challenges exists to connecting your class with others across the world?". Some of the responses included permission from school/administration/parents, time zone differences, and where to find global partners. This is what sparked my interest...

As a moderator of #ILEdChat, one of our standard questions that we ask is "What can you take from this chat and DO tomorrow?". Our goal is to make the chat into something actionable and not just an ethereal discussion of the state of education. Taking that thought process, I said to myself, " something about this!"

While I cannot change the rotation of the Earth and global time zones, I did want to see what could be done about getting more people connected. I went to Google Drive and made a very simple form that people could fill out with some basic information about where they are, what they want to accomplish, and how they can be contacted. Simple took less than 5 minutes to make.

It has been a month since that chat and I am so thrilled that I made that simple form. As of now we have approximately 230 educators from 16 different countries spread across 6 continents! I have made a Twitter handle for Global Class Connect (@Global_Class_1) and have been using the hash tag #GlobalClassConnect. I have even started a Google site about #GlobalClassConnect 

If you are interested in becoming a part of this global connected network, you can sign up directly here

I look forward to seeing the list continue to grow and the map get more connection points.  Please share this with your colleagues and encourage them to sign up. Let's show our students their place in a much larger world!

Global Class Connect

I want to use this post for #GlobalClassConnect users to share their successes, so please comment in the comment section!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Are we asking the right questions?

This week, #ILEdChat had a discussion on rethinking our grading practices. (You can see the archive of the chat here). Grading has always been, and I think will always be, a touchy subject. It has to do with the concept of a grade and what a grade means. Ideally, I think a grade should be a reflection of the level of mastery for the content or skill. One of my #ILEdChat partners, Linsy, pushed my thinking further with the reminder that it should be a reflection of mastery based on a predefined learning standard, outcome, skill, or target. This is an essential piece of the learning process for the students. We, as educators, need to make sure that the students know and understand expectations of their growth and development and we should NOT make them try to hit a moving target.

Grades seem terminal. They are final. Once that letter or number is inscribe in red ink on the top of the page, there is nothing that can be done to change it. This is why feedback should be the term that we are using with students. Feedback provides the students ideas on their attainment of mastery, areas where they can improve, and most importantly, a chance to activate those ideas and help their own thinking grow, develop, and change. This concept of feedback can be analogized to the use of a doctor. We go to the doctor to provide us with feedback on our current state of health. Recommendations are provided for improvement. Sometimes, something stronger, like medicine, is provided to help us move back towards the goal is we are off course. A grade seems more like the coroner performing an autopsy and saying "this poor guy should have changed X, Y, and Z a long time ago". There is a much longer blog post about formative and summative assessment in here, but we will get to that later.

Unfortunately, too many times grades end up representing either an attempt on completing an assignment, an arbitrary conversion of a look at that completion to a number out of ten, or the ability to hand in a piece of paper at a given time and date. I will admit, my thoughts have changed an evolved on this topic as my experiences have helped me learn throughout my years. I am not proud to admit it, but I have committed the above acts before. One of the most important things I have learned is that grades should not be a punishment.

In a different chat, educators were continuing the conversation about grading and one of the questions that came up was what policies about what type of grading practices motivate students to work harder and want to improve and learn more? It was the idea of altering a grading policy to improve student motivation instantly provoked to ideas:

  1. Tougher punishments will prevent crime -- While I think this may hold true for those afraid of the punishment, it clearly does not work for all. Education needs to be for all...not just those who "play school well".
  2. This was the other idea...

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After I chuckled and winced at my ability to amuse myself, I had the thought: Are we asking the right question? Why are we trying to find more stringent ways of reviewing work to improve student motivation to want to do better? Let's alter our own thinking and try something different...

Let's change our question to what kind of assessments/learning opportunities will provide students a method they choose to demonstrate their level of mastery? What if we provided more authentic learning opportunities than the summative/final multiple choice exam, with little or no opportunity for improvement?

I would think that if students have a voice in their learning and in how they demonstrate that learning, the motivation takes care of itself. The examples abound in standards based learning, genius hour, passion projects, choose-your-own-adventure learning. The variety of potential products from students might seem overwhelming, but this is where we go back to the initial idea of the purpose of a grade: "a measurement of student attainment at a predetermined point of predetermined skills" (quoted from Linsy Stumpenhorst on Twitter, 8/29/16).

The variety can be as wide as the day is long, but the expectations for the work can be clearly define in rubrics that provide support to the students in how to demonstrate their learning. There should be check-ups (doctor analogy again) with the students to monitor their progress, provide support, and, in more severe cases, some medication (intervention, resources, additional structure).

Let's see if we can change our question to achieve the desired outcomes.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I had a good couple of days

I have been in my new position with my new school for about 6 weeks now. Each day has reinforced that I made the right decision and reminded me of how fortunate I am that the district felt that I would be a good fit with their organization. There were some things that happened this week that reminded me why I love what I do.

Monday: This was the first #ILEdChat for the 2016-2017 school year. We have new team members to the chat team and they are a great addition. We have really started to gel as a group and working collaboratively to make the chat the best possible for this school year. We had a great opening to the chat with the timely topic of forming meaningful relationships with students. It was great to see new faces participation in the chat and seeing our regular participants back for another year. It is great exchange of ideas and really invigorates me for the week. You can look at the archive of the chat here.

Thursday: I jumped into a few random chats that caught my eye on Twitter. I was able to learn and share in #3rdChat and #GlobalEdChat . With all of my experience in high schools, the #3rdchat really opened my eyes to the wonderful and mysterious world that is elementary school. I found it important to take a look at this because I have 2 boys who are in the primary grades and the more I can learn about the pedagogy and instruction for the younger grades, the better.

With the #GlobalEdChat, I am amazed at the connectivity that I have through Twitter and yet how limited, globally, I am in my connections. The idea that technology can connect people across oceans, cultures, and languages is an idea that needs to be pushed into the mainstream. As a step towards action, I decided to create a quick form that would collect the contact information of educators who would like to connect. While the number of responses was not YET at a large level, in the first few minutes we had people from across the US, and even had educators from Canada and Australia sign up. If you are interested, please sign up here and I will share the spreadsheet with you after sign up.

Friday: Most of my new position, at lease at this time of year, involves working with students schedules and making sure that things work within the school system. Today was different, I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with actual students who had some concerns about the classes they were in. I had a great time helping the students realize that they had the ability to solve the problems in front of them. The students, both of them, came into my office at a level (1(low) - 10 (high)) of wanting to stay in the class and try at 0. When each left, they made positive movement and realized that success in the class was within their influence and they had to power to make it into a reality. I even got to teach a little chemistry, so that made it even better. :)

I also had to opportunity to introduce High 5 Friday to the students here. The concept is simple: See someone in the hallway, offer them a high 5 and watch them smile. It has a 98%+ success rate and hopefully, I will start to get some "regulars" who look forward to getting the high 5 and offering it to other students.

As an added bonus, this is the first football game of the season for my new school and it is a home game! I am excited to see the team participate in the new division and hopefully, bring home the "W".

Overall, another great week. How was yours? Share your great moments from this week and inspire someone to try something new!

Friday, August 05, 2016

If the leader sneezes...

I have been at my new job for exactly a month, as of today. What was a long and arduous journey of looking for a new school district as landed me in the right place at the right time. I am thrilled beyond words as to how things have turned out in my new position with my new district.

My journey began a little before I officially started when I was invited to attend the 2 day administrative retreat. While the term retreat might get some people excited, those of us who have attended administrative retreats in education before know the truth. Putting the day long meetings aside, the message, culture, and vision of the district and the leadership was evident from the first moments walking in the door. As I was the only really new person to the district (other people we familiar faces in new places), I kinda stood out as a fresh face in the crowd. Because of this, nearly everyone in the room came over to introduce him/herself, welcome me, and tell me that I will love it here. It was genuine. You could see it on peoples' faces how much they enjoyed the people, the schools, their colleagues, the district and the community. Many people expressed how they are alumni of the district, returning to give back to a place they hold so dear.

Then the meetings began and the superintendent started the day. She started with a simple, but powerful message: If the leader sneezes, the organization gets a cold. She went on to expand the idea we, as the learning leaders, must make sure that we are putting the correct message out to our stakeholders and colleagues, and must always try to remember where the other person is on their journey when they come into your path. She described how if a leaders is dealing with a real crisis or emergency, and we quickly dismiss a student, staff member, or parent who might be asking something "trivial" (at least in immediate comparison to the crisis), real damage has been done. Regardless of the amount of time afterward is spent trying to repair the damage, the scar has been created. This is evidence of the cold that the organization might receive.

When someone comes to you, as a leader, with a question, they are looking for validation, input, an opinion, or knowledge that they are being listened to and respected. Leaders maximize every opportunity to help their colleagues realize these events for if we ignore a teacher complaint, that complaint will become their truth.

Does this mean that every emergency must stop when asked a question? No, reality must prevail, but the question becomes who's reality? Perception of the other person is their reality. In these situations, even in the "need-to-know" situations, a leader can take the time to say "I do want to listen and hear what is going on. Unfortunately, I have an emergency I must attend to right now, but I will seek you out to provide whatever support and assistance I can." The key step is living up to seeking that person out in the end.

I want to thank my principal and superintendent for providing me this opportunity to be a part of this great organization. I will do my best to live up to the examples set before me in my first month. I look forward to continuing to grow and learn in this great organization that has a real vision and direction for the future.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Confessions and getting moving

I have a confession to make...this is 16 year in the making. When I was 24 and teaching down in Bloomington, Illinois, I had a bout of food poisoning. It was 4 days of agony and I was stuck and home and missing work. One morning at 6 a.m., after I dropped off my lesson plans, I wandered into a store quickly and was looking for a small diversion from my gastronomical torture. I saw the blue Pokemon game for Gameboy. I knew that I still had my Gameboy and it was in working order. After getting over my initial embarrassment of being 24 years old, I figured no one else was around, either in the store or my apartment, and I purchased a child's game.

It only took a few ticks of the clock and I was hooked playing it. I enjoyed the questing nature of the game and being able to wander around digitally and encounter all kinds of new beasts and watching them grow, battle, and evolve. At the time, I was wondering if I could use Pokemon as method of helping students understand evolution in my biology class. (I subsequently decided against that instructional strategy because it was a poor illustration at best as an attempt to get students to let go of their preconceived notions of evolution already).

Well, I feel better getting that off my chest. Why, now, do I choose to confess my embarrassment from 16 years ago? You guessed it, because of the week long buzz on the newest app to go viral, Pokemon Go.

I have recently changed schools and districts. In my previous district, I had a great cohort of people and we would walk on the track together to get moving and to get healthier. We were able to do this for about 5 weeks, between the time the students were let out of school and when I moved to my new district. Now that I am in my new position, it is a little harder to find time and a group to walk and get moving again. Plus, I am learning a new staff, schedule, and working on a ton of things at once. It is a great opportunity, but I did want to keep up my moving and not being in a seated position so much.

So, I did what 10 million other people did and downloaded the app. My wife ridiculed me and said, you are going to let the kids play that, right? I replied, sure...sure I would. Here is what I have noticed in my short time with the game:
  • I have actually had a desire to get up, even when tired, to walk around the neighborhood. Granted, it is with my phone in my hand, but it would be anyway to listen to music or look at other things if I am walking alone.
  • I have noticed groups of children, young adults, and full grown adults, walking around in groups, outside. And yes, there are times when faces are buried in phones, but most of the people written in groups are running/walking together, talking, sharing their experiences, smiling, and laughing.
  • I can understand how people might get hurt playing this game, because I walked into a low hanging branch, so watch out... :)
  • Kids have their faces glued to their screens and we, as educators, should help use this fact to engage students in all forms of learning.
Based on the above observations, schools need to find a way to incorporate this crazed idea into the physical education programs. I had this thought when I downloaded the app and started playing, and then I looked for other people who had the same idea. In the past 4 days, there  have been almost 20 tweets using #physed and #PokemonGo in the tweet. (See them for yourself) This is a growing idea and we should be capitalizing on it.

Some thoughts I have on this and how to use it:
  • If there is a PokeStop close to your school, have PE teachers purchase a lure and activate it and tell the kids to catch as many Pokemon as they can. Students need to run to the stop and then run back after catching a Pokemon. Make it like s shuttle run. Students can collect data on their run and earn "points" for Pokemon caught and bonus points for new Pokemon caught. Students would need to record their data and try to improve their results day-to-day.
  • Have students run/walk around the track/football or soccer field/campus to search for Pokemon. Based on the Pokemon they catch, they must do the following:
      • Grass-type = 10 jumping jacks
      • Water-type = 10 sit-ups
      • Electric-type = 10 push-ups
      • Bug-type = 10 squats
      • Flying-type = 30 second high knee run in place
      • Fire-type = 5 burpees
      • Any other = 10 leg lifts
  • While I have not looked at it yet, there is even someone who wrote something else to engage the students in their physical activity. 
We have a nation of children who are dangerously sedentary. We need to engage students in life-long physical activities. Ones that will help students, and even adults like me, find enjoyment in just getting out and going for a walk. To quote Rob Goodman, "Any game that gets people off their bums and into the real world for physical activity is a success in my eyes." (Posted by @rob_goodman on Twitter, 7/14/2016)

Do you have other ideas? Share them in the comments!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A needed change of perspective

I was digging through the piles on my desk (aka my filing system) and came across resources that I received when I went to a training with the PBIS network on working out a Functional Behavior Analysis. The basis of the FBA is founded in understanding the ABC of the student behavior that we would like to see corrected.
  • A = Antecedent. This is what happens before the behavior occurs.
  • B = Behavior. This is the "problem" behavior that we would like to eventually see changed.
  • C = Consequence. This is what happens as a result of the behavior.
One more important piece is the Function, which is the "why" the student might exhibit this behavior. Most likely the function is avoidance/escape of something in the class. For more information on an FBA you can look here.

One of the things I remember most vividly from the training is that while we will have a desired behavior in mind, it will be a long time before we can get the student to modify their problem behavior to the desired behavior. The fact is that we need to help the student modify the problem behavior to an alternate behavior that still accomplishes their function. Over time, and a lot of patience, we can work with the classroom settings and the student to attempt to change the antecedent to make the problem behavior irrelevant and make the consequences change to make the problem behavior ineffective. Throughout this entire process, we work with the student to come to their own realization that the desired behavior is more favorable than the problem behavior.

As I stumbled across this resource again, it got me thinking. Throughout the FBA process, we are attempting to modify behavior, but supporting the student throughout the entire process. When we make attempts to change behavior, we might tend to focus on increasing the consequences and making them increasingly dire in an attempt to "threaten" the student into compliance. A traditional approach does not take into account the function or why the student is performing this behavior. The traditional approach tends to focus on trying to move a student to a desired behavior by focusing on the student's deficit.

What struck me with this newer (at least to me) approach to helping student arrive at a desired behavior is that this approach actually focuses on potential student strengths. If we want students to be successful, we need to help them see how they are growing and changing in positive ways. We need to have these check-in conversations with students to help them recognize that they are making progress on their long journey in education. It is often difficult to for students to see the finish line, but teachers and students might be ignoring the distance from the starting line that students have traveled.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Encouraging the struggle

After I saw a BreakoutEdu at an edcamp, I knew that I wanted to share this with my teachers and get them using it with their students as a new way to engage, collaborate, and problem solve. I knew that some Amazon gift cards would be coming my way so I have all of the items in my shopping cart, ready for purchase. When I began to describe with one of my teachers, she thought that it seems interesting, but wanted to see it in person before she made a monetary commitment.

Then, when she attended the ICE conference, she wandered by the room that was doing a breakout and the facilitator asked if she wanted to come in. She was hooked! She immediately went out and purchased the materials and started to peruse the posted breakouts for her classroom. She immediately took it to the next level by designing her own. She created the theme, the puzzles to solve, and the method to which she was going to have her students participate. She reviewed the puzzles and before she ran with it, she took a very important step. She wanted to test her prototype.

She asked me to come in, as someone familiar with a breakout, and look at the puzzles to see if the clues where clear enough, the instructions were precise, and to discuss the flow of the instruction. We had a great discussion what the puzzles were aiming at, what schema was needed to approach the problems, and what additional resources should be made available. After our discussion, she went back to her lab to make some changes to her puzzles and clues.

After this last iteration, she brought in some other colleagues to run through the breakout as novices. By sharing this with others, excitement was generated and one of the colleagues asked if they could borrow her materials. She was ready to have the students breakout, but the learning was not done.

This teacher ran the breakout with her senior level class first and watched them enjoy and work collaboratively to achieve the solutions. She was surprised at some of the teams that formed because they were not students who typically interacted with one another and some students who usually took a more passive role in the class because active in sharing their knowledge and experiences to reach the solution. She was excited to see the new learning groups that formed organically and collaborative processes that came into play.

In her own reflection of the breakout, she realized that she was very quick to jump in and help the students when they reached a road block. She said that based on this experience, she might need to look at how much struggle she allows for her students before providing a hint and a next step in a solution. She said the look of excitement on students faces was invigorating because they were excited to look up information about the clues and to arrive at conclusions based on their observations.

How often, as teachers, do we need to take a step back and let the students struggle and persevere in their problem solving before stepping in to help? As an administrator, I know that it is valuable in the post conference to let the teacher work their way through a reflection of their lesson before I provide a commentary.

I am proud that this teacher took a risk in developing her own breakout for her first go at it with kids. I am proud of her reflection and growth in the process of its development. Way to go Jackie! (@mathedjax)

Monday, March 28, 2016

The senior that almost got away

My office is connected to the guidance counselors' offices. I have the pleasure of seeing students enter and exit the office all day. It gives me an additional connection to the students and the school, where students are more themselves, open to discussing their current and future plans, their likes and dislikes, and their personal interests, in a way that is challenging to connect with when in classrooms. Students will poke their heads into my office just to say hello, ask me questions about something in school, or even to dote over pictures of my kids (sometimes as a class avoidance technique). I really enjoy talking to the students and getting to know them as people, as opposed to knowing them as their most recent ACT score.

When a counselor sends a student over to my office, it is usually to have the student attempt to explain to me why they do not need to be in one of their current classes. Students also learn quickly, that they are well counseled into these classes and it is a rare occasion where a student places a quality argument in front of me where the dropping of a course for a study hall might be considered. Through the course of this discourse, I end of having a conversation with the students about their plans in a few short months, after they have graduated. Most recently, I learned a valuable lesson from one of these students.

As the conversation with this student was winding down, I asked the traditional question that I ask: "So, what are your plans for next year?". The student responded, with some trepidation, "Oh, I am going to college". Something about her response caught my ear and I waited a few moments before saying anything. These moments were the tipping point. In those short moments of silence and waiting, I noticed a tear had begun to run down her cheek. I picked up the box of Kleenex and handed it to her and asked "What is the matter"?

She told me that she wasn't sure of what she was going to do next year. She had been rejected from a few schools, accepted to a few others, but not sure how to pay for any of it. She had just gotten a job and thought that she could work and go to school, but if she did that, she was going to need to attend a local community college, instead of going away to school.

I told her that is not a reason to be upset, you have a plan in place to complete early requirements at a cheaper cost and then transfer into a school to complete the degree. I told her that this is sometimes better than just going away to school without any idea of what you would like to do or study. This is when she told me that she was embarrassed to say this option to her friends and teachers. She said it made her feel like a failure that she could not afford to go away to school right away. She said that she was afraid that she might never be able to get away from her home town if she went to the community college and worked. She said that she was losing sleep over this potential option and was having some thoughts that scared her.

I was able to calm her down as we continued to talk. I asked if she had told anyone about these thoughts she was having or the fear she was experiencing and she said no. I got her counselor into the office and I asked the student if I could share her story with her counselor, and she agreed. The counselor was surprised to hear this information from one of the higher ranked students in the class. This student had given no indication of any of these feelings or thoughts to anyone, at home or at school.

I thanked the student for sharing this information with me. I asked her if she thought some of her friends might be feeling the same and she replied, "I don't know". I asked her counselor to sit with her and develop a plan of attack to get some scholarships applied for, to know which classes she should focus on at the community college, and develop a timeline of work and school and how and when she could transfer. The counselor and the student exited my office and worked together for a while. They contacted the student's mother to make sure that the burden of this fear could be shouldered by more than just the student and it also let the student know that she was not alone in this.

After a while, the student poked her head back in my office to thank me. I told her that I needed to thank her for being strong enough to share this information with me. She looked confused and I told her that, sometimes, the hardest thing to do, is to let someone know we are not perfect and that we need help. I asked her, what made her decide to share her story with me and she told me that it was the silence. She said that she noticed that I was there to listen and not fill a vacancy of sound.

When I look at my seniors walking the halls, I now look at them and wonder, are they just sharing an answer that they think we want to hear or are they really telling us what their plans are for next year? Unfortunately, I think it is the former more frequently than that latter. This was one student that almost got away. Thankfully, we with the support of multiple people at school, she was able to develop a more tangible plan to address her concerns. Thankfully, she was strong enough to let someone know that she needed some assistance.

Before she left my office to go back to class, I asked her to do one thing: share her story. I told her that she, most likely, has many friends who are experiencing the same things that she was. Her story could let them know that they are not alone and that there are people here to help them sort out these issues and others. Other students will become stronger because of her sharing.

We cannot let other students become ones that got away.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

6 degrees of separation

The current world population is estimated at 7.4 billion people. It is amazing that any 2 given people might know each other. (The math is a little complex, but you can take a look here and here). It is really amazing when the world of so many inhabitants gets really small, really quickly.

In the summer of 1993, I went on a 6 week journey to Israel with my youth group. I was 17 and meeting other high school students from across the US, with me being the only one in my group from the Chicago area. These were some amazing connections that I made, and with the advent of the digital age, I was able to reconnect with a lot of old friends recently. One friend that I made is named Josh. He was from eastern New York state, went to Cornell, served in the Army, and now is a dentist.

Flashback to 1997 and I am in college. I am busy taking coursework for biology and education and singing my heart out in the Varsity Men's Glee Club and the co-ed a cappella group, No Strings Attached. In this group, I made some amazing connections, and because of email, at the time, and then social media, we were able to keep in touch over the years and even have a reunion concert. One of our directors, Carrie, was from Virginia, graduated with a degree in Music Education, was on Broadway in Sister Act, and is currently earning her MFA in Musical Theater Performance at Penn State.

What really caught me off guard is when I reconnected with Josh through Facebook, I noticed that I just missed his birthday. When I scrolled through the well-wishes on his page, I saw that my friend Carrie, Virginia, U of I, Broadway, Penn State, wished my friend from my Israel trip, Josh, New York, Cornell, Army, Dentist, a very happy birthday. Their friend in common through Facebook was me, and I did not introduce them...

This got me thinking about how I might take for granted the power of my PLN and how connected I am. I take it as an every day occurrence. Via Twitter, I am directly connected to approximately 2400 people. Via LinkedIn, I am directly connected to 754 people, but I am linked to close to 400,000 people in this network. I am constantly reminded that it is not what I know, it is what the people that I am connected to know AND who THEY know! It is amazing to this connected-ness at my fingertips to have someone help me with an issue, search for information, or challenge my thinking to help me grow, and vice-versa. I continue to work with my departments and share this ability to connect and share, and some of them have caught on and are sharing their experiences as well.

When I talk to my students about the information they are sharing, I remind them of the need to be cognizant of what they are sharing and with whom they are sharing. I tell them that they are writing their resumes and they don't even realize it. I try to convince them that what they do now matters and can have unforeseen repercussions, either positive or negative. You never know what might show up in a Google search during a job interview or application process. You never know who might know someone that knows you, for better or for worse...

I certainly never would have guessed that an Army dentist from New York state would know and be connected to my a cappella director from Virginia. I am glad they both liked me. :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Pluto gets kicked again

Attention Pluto Lovers-

If you loved Pluto as the 9th planet in our solar system, today just isn't your day. But, a new planet, currently named Planet 9, has been discovered. 

Planet 9 has an elliptical orbit that takes 10000 Earth years to complete. Because it is an elliptical orbit, Planet 9 has a minor axis of 20,000,000 miles and a major axis of 80,000,000 miles!

How was it discovered? Because of MATH! Scientists and astronomers now need to collect observational data to confirm the existence!

Take a look at the article and share this major discovery with your students!

The next exciting step is the naming process. Dr. Mike Brown @plutokiller is one of the discoverers of Planet 9. The Mashable article has some interesting potential names.

Personally, I like the idea of Minerva or Apollo for the name. Both fit the naming convention already present. Minerva would be for wisdom and Apollo would be for logic.

Monday, January 18, 2016

For my high school seniors

I was perusing around Facebook and stumbled across this post. I am glad that I was able to connect with the author and she agreed to let me share the good thinking here. If you would like to connect with the original author, take a look at her info here:

Leah Jackman-Wheitner, Ph.D. is a career coach helping people enjoy their lives and work.  You can find out more about her at

Leah Jackman-Wheitner, Ph.D.
Without further adieu....

How to succeed in college:  If you only do one thing, do Hint #5. --  By Dr. Leah Jackman-Wheitner

I got a D on my first exam in college.  It was 4 weeks or so into a Philosophy Honors class.  We'd spent weeks on Mill, Locke and Hume.  Then we spent one day on Buddhism.  I prepped for this test.  I knew we had 2 exams and a final that would be our entire grade (no assignments, no participation grade.)  

We'd had 4 weeks of class.  I knew we were having an essay test with two questions.  So, I studied Mill, Locke, and Hume inside and out.  I was ready.  I skimmed over Buddhism, because we'd only spent about an hour on it.  It couldn't be much of the test, right?  Wrong.

There were two questions.  One on Mill, Locke, and Hume.  The other on Buddhism.  I wrote 5 pages on the first answer and 3 sentences on the second.

And I learned a huge lesson in how different college is from high school.

I knew when I walked out that I'd screwed it up bad.  I could have spent the next weeks complaining about how it was an unfair test, or I could do what I did - suck it up, learn something from the experience, and bust my *** to make As on the other exams to balance out the first one.

It would have been easy to just spend my time complaining about the exam.  And, of course, I did complain some.  But it's a metaphor for life.  When things happen, will you blame external forces or take responsibility for yourself and step up to improve what you can?

Here's my best list of what to do to succeed in college:

1. Go to class.  Regardless of whether the prof says you have to be there every day, just go.  You will learn so much more by being in the actual classroom.  It's a good habit.  It's a good mindset to have for all classes.

2. First day of every class, get two people's phone numbers.  You will have questions over something at some point in the class.  Get contact info for two people so you can compare your memory of what was said.

3. Take notes in class by hand.  Yes, I know the excuses - I'll just type them then I'll be able to read them better.   I learn better when I just listen.

I'm telling you - write notes, by hand, during class, with your phone in your pocket on silent.  That's how our brains encode information most effectively.  There's research about it.

4. Now - if you really want to get good grades, I'm going to tell you the best thing to do.  It's time consuming.  It does require commitment, but it helps like nothing else I know.

Rewrite your notes.

Yes.  I know you're busy.  But you have to decide if you want to be successful or not.  After class or the next day, rewrite your notes.  You can outline the info, highlight, note what page number the topic is covered on, make a list of questions.

I write notes by taking notes on the left column of a piece of paper.  At the top of the right column, I write down things I need to follow up on, upcoming test dates, questions I need to ask the prof later, reminders to myself that I need to go back and look something up in the text, etc.  When the left column is full, I take additional notes starting about halfway down in the right column.  (I'll post a pic later.)

5. Next thing - this is huge.  Actually, even if you ignore all my other advice and only do this, you'd probably be ok.

College is your job.  Your job is to be a student.  It is a full-time job.

So, you do it 40 hr/wk.

If you're in class for 15 hr of class time, then you study for 25 hrs a week.

If you have 16 hrs of class time, you study for 24 hrs each week.

If you want to have every weekend and evening free, then you spend 8 am - 5 pm every day studying.

If you have 3 hours in between classes, find a quiet place, sit, review your notes, rewrite your notes, study, read the reading for the next class session while the topic is fresh in your mind.

If you start your college career doing this, you'll get a good habit going and you'll be better able to gauge the amount of time you need to study in the future.

6. Go see each professor during office hours.  Once a week, go see a professor.  Get to know them as individuals.  I did my undergraduate degree at a school with 26,000 students.  It works in big schools as well as small schools.  Professors want to know you care about their class.

You will have a much better experience in the class if you go talk to the prof.  Just say, "Hi, I'm in your Chem 100, and I wanted to introduce myself."  Go up to them after class.  Go to their office during office hours.

If they know you are making an effort to connect with them, then they'll start looking at you during lecture and trying to see if you get it or not.  If you get that scrunched-up, confused look on your face, they'll notice.  They'll either explain again right then or they'll know that you're going to come talk to them after class.

This is your education.  Make the most of it.  Get to know your profs, then it's so much easier to go talk to them when you get stuck.

7.  Do the reading before the class.  I know you can usually get away without doing this.  I know you have never read before the class.  But seriously, if you want to be successful in life, you have to do things you haven't done before.  That includes reading the material before class.  Profs don't want to just teach the material in the reading.  They want to have interesting discussions about the material.  Remember, they have made an entire career out of imparting knowledge, helping people learn to think, and creating knowledge in their field through research  They love what they do.  They love when students participate and want to learn.  You may not care about that particular class, but if you show some interest, it becomes much more interesting.  If you do the reading in advance and ask meaningful, relevant questions, your professors will appreciate you and will go out of their way to make sure you're understanding the course.

In sum:

- You are a student.  That is your job.  Spend 40 hours a week on your classes, and you'll have time for fun.
- Do the reading.  Go to class.  Talk to your professors.  Ask them questions.
- Take responsibility for your life and your education.

I'm starting to get friend requests and emails about this post.  If you'd like more tips for a better life or life or career coaching programs, PM me.

It's Jan. 15, 2016, and this post is nearing 20,000 shares.  I am blown away and thrilled that so many people are finding value in these ideas.  If you're looking for help and direction in your career choices, email me at

Some great ideas in here. Wish I had thought of this when I was in college. Do you have any tips to add to the list? Share your ideas in the comments! Thanks for sharing! 

Friday, January 15, 2016

How 15 cents was the result of a lot of camaraderie

The opening of this calendar year was a bit of a challenge for us. We experienced some loss with staff members. There was some frustration with the opening institute day. Our wireless network was upgraded, which cause some challenges in connectivity for many staff members. Our ISP had trouble the next day, so the school was not connected and that had its own difficulties. We know there is some more dark days on the horizon, but for 78 members of our faculty and staff, we found a way to laugh, smile, and bond. What could be the beacon of hope amid these dark times? A shiny dime and nickel.

How can $.15 bring happiness? Because it was a group of 78 people who came together with a dream...a dream of winning $1.5 Billion in the most recent PowerBall. For the mere investment of $2, 78 people came together to discuss dreams of philanthropy and easier living; whom they would help and how they would do it. We discussed what the money could do for our families and our dream fulfillment. Most importantly, it tied 78 people together for all different aspects of the building (teachers, admin, custodians, IAs, and even a visiting consultant) for a few days of dreaming.

The Rocket Billionaire Project, as we were known, shared different ideas about the odds in winning, placing them in context, discussing possible curricular ideas, created some trivia questions for students involving math, reasoning, and statistics. We shared investment strategies and discussed how to protect our winnings. We laughed together because we knew that we were not going to win, but we did not want $2 to stand in the way of not being part of the group in the astronomical event that we did win.

One of our teachers described the odds like this: There are C(69,5)*26 or 292,201,338 ways for the balls to land.  That makes the probability of winning the grand prize with one play 0.0000000034.  To get an idea of this task, imagine the following.  Start in Seattle.  Lay a quarter on the highway.  Lay another one right next to the first.  Continue this until you get to New York.  Head south and continue to Miami.  There are now almost 300,000,000 quarters on the ground.  Can you pick the same quarter that the PowerBall Lottery will pick?

Mark Cuban provided us with investment tips:
(1) Hire a tax attorney first.
(2) Don’t take the lump sum. You don’t want to blow it all in one spot.
(3) If you weren’t happy yesterday you won’t be happy tomorrow. It’s money. It’s not happiness.
(4) If you were happy yesterday, you are going to be a lot happier tomorrow. It’s money. Life gets easier when you don’t have to worry about the bills.
(5) Tell all your friends and relatives no. They will ask. Tell them no. If you are close to them, you already know who needs help and what they need. Feel free to help SOME, but talk to your accountant before you do anything and remember this, no one needs 1m dollars for anything. No one needs 100k for anything. Anyone who asks is not your friend.
(6) You don’t become a smart investor when you win the lottery. Don’t make investments. You can put it in the bank and live comfortably. Forever. You will sleep a lot better knowing you won’t lose money.
We even shared events that are LESS likely to happen than us winning:

Source for these fun facts

An asteroid destroying your home
When an asteroid passed within 17,200 miles of Earth in 2012, the real estate blog Movoto calculated the odds of an asteroid actually destroying your home. If you have a 1,600 square-foot house, for example, your odds were 1 in 3.4 trillion, give or take.

Filling out a perfect March Madness bracket
Duke math professor Jonathan Mattingly put the odds of a perfect bracket at 1 in 2.4 trillion. And even that’s a generous estimate, since he took seeding odds into account — like the fact that a 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. A DePaul professor calculated the odds to be one in 128 billion. If you went with a truly random approach, the odds are more than 1 in 9 quintillion (one followed by 18 zeroes). Any way you slice it, you’re much more likely to win the Powerball. (So, maybe make up for the money you’ve wasted on Powerball by staying out of the March Madness pools?)

Shuffling cards in order
Assuming a truly random shuffle, the chances that a full deck of cards ends up in perfect order and suit — spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs — are 1 in 1-to-the-power-of-68. (Which is to say, 1 with 68 zeroes behind it.) That’s “roughly equal to the number of atoms in our galaxy,” according to Focus magazine.

Your existence
OK, this one is a bit of a stretch, but bear with us. Dr. Ali Binazir, who studies and writes about love and relationships, attempted to calculate the odds that you came to be. As explained in a blog post on Harvard University’s website, he took into account your parents meeting and having kids together; the exact sperm meeting the exact egg; and then that happening for their parents, and their parents and so on back to the beginning of human history about 3 million years ago. The odds he came up with? 1 in 10-to-the-power-of-2,685,000 (10 with 2,685,000 zeroes behind it). So really, you’ve won the lottery already — many, many times over.

When all was said and done, the group won a WHOPPING $12 which translates into an amazing 15.3 cents per person. We all laughed about the enjoyment we had, what we will do with our winnings, and how if we got together with 3 of our friends, we could share a cup of coffee from our vending machine. Most people donated their winnings to our media center to pay for student book fines...their way of paying it forward.

Sometimes we need to take the time to recognize the fun that we can have when we come together with a common goal. We can take this momentum and translate it into more academic pursuits for the students. Even with the challenges we  had to start the year, we had a lot of laughs and became a little closer as a faculty and family.

Plus, we each won $.15!