Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rigorous and hard are not synonymous...

There is a significant difference between something 
being hard and something being rigorous...

For example, assume a student has been learning about the 50 states in the United States of America. The last two weeks of class have been focused on learning not just the 50 states, but also learning the history of America and the significant events that have occurred leading up to the current 50 state structure.

Assessment 1: Collaboratively design and create a presentation focusing on one of the major events in America's history that have affected and/or played a significant role in our current 50 state structure. Be prepared to present this to your classmates and be able to justify/explain why this particular event was so significant in America's history

Assessment 2: Using a blank map of the United States, write down and correctly spell all 50 states.

Assessment 1 is rigorous because it is complex and has depth. There are several steps to this assessment, and most importantly, the assessment is not specific to just the content, but also to skills that are transferable to other content areas and beyond. This assessment requires students to work collaboratively while providing them flexibility and creativity to present in a manner they so choose. This assessment can have multiple correct answers.

Assessment 2 is hard because it is asking each student to have memorized the location of each state, as well as have memorized how to spell each state correctly. This assessment is also hard because it disconnects much of the information presented over the last two weeks in regard to the history of the 50 states. Students will think the important focus is on just knowing the 50 states and how to spell them, rather than the history and background behind our current 50 state structure. This assessment can only have one correct answer.


Watch this 4 minute video discussing a rigor matrix comparing DOK levels and Bloom's Taxonomy.

Check out Karin Hess' Rigor Matrix mentioned in the video here: Rigor Matrix

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's all about the technology, but not like you think...

I just read a finance article that got me thinking… and no, this blog post does not serve as financial advice and/or a political statement!

We frequently talk about how technology can enhance and broaden learning opportunities for our students. What we don’t often talk much about are the negative effects of technology as it relates to jobs and the resulting implications for our schools.

Below are three quotations I pulled from the article:

“The waning benefits of globalization and the detrimental effects of technology.”

“The explosion of new technology in recent years has also helped power the global economy, but that new technology has its shady side."

"In the past decade, machines and robotics have rather silently replaced humans, and a recent MIT study affirms that workers are losing the race against the machine."

You can read the entire article here: New Normal is here to Stay

Furthermore, as someone smarter than I so eloquently put it:

“The value of individual pieces of content is dropping drastically as society is propelled toward a world of increasing uncertainty while schools try to provide our kids with the skills for jobs that don’t yet exist.”

This got me thinking about what our students need to be successful in a global economy. In the same breath, we know full well that our society is changing so rapidly that there is more uncertainty than there is known.

I don’t really know where I was going with this, but I think it really demonstrates the awesome responsibility we have as educators to prepare our kids for whatever the future holds…

~ Happy thinking! 

Depth of Knowledge & Student Engagement

Karin Hess on Depth of Knowledge (3 minute video)
*Click on Karin's name for the Cognitive Rigor Matrix

"Whether you realize it or not, all your students are engaged all the time. The important question is, what are they engaged in?"

How can we continue making this shift in our classrooms? Shifting away from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom. It's not about doing less work, it's about making education more purposeful, more relevant, and more engaging for our students.

It's all about the approach for our students... how can you help guide and direct them to the right approach?

These might not show up on a standardized test, but nevertheless they are extremely important. How do we and how are we teaching this...?

Because of the time of the year, you probably need a little encouragement to smile, laugh, or cry... or perhaps all three at the same time; watch this 4 minute video to kick start your week!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Finishing the semester strong!

Hopefully everyone had a great holiday break and hopefully everyone was able to take advantage of some down time to recharge and re-energize. Take a few moments to read the short blog post below on Character Education Partnership's blog in regard to gratitude in education:

"Nothing in education puts a bigger ceiling on learning than limiting kids to what’s in the textbook. We live in the age of iPads, Google, and Skype. To the learner that wants to know more, do more, and explore more, the opportunities are there. We just have to think outside the book." via @mcleod

Protect your dreams... protect your students' dreams. (2 minutes)

Working together toward a shared and common goal couldn't be more important than it is now...

Consider how you respond when a student or a colleague says, "yeah, but..." (by @plugusin)

"The No Complaining Rule" ~ 2 minute video (try not to be like this guy...)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A new essential curriculum...

"Do our students feel like they are time traveling as they walk through the school door each morning. As they cross the threshold, do they feel as if they are entering a simulation of life in the 1990s? Then, at the end of the school day, do they feel that they have returned to the 21st century?"

"As educators, our challenge is to match the needs of our learners to a world that is changing with great rapidity."

~ Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Rigorous Curriculum Design by Larry Ainsworth
(2 minutes long)

Our students must gain the skills to "perform work that overseas knowledge workers can't do cheaper, that computers can't do faster, and that satisfies the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual demands of a prosperous time." ~ Daniel Pink 

A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink: Right brain vs. the left brain
(4 minutes long)

How does this fit & align with the new Common Core Standards?

For a lot of our kids, we only have one chance... 

~ are we making that chance count...?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A powerful lesson in leadership...

One day, three blind men happened to meet each other and gossiped a long time about many things. Suddenly one of them recalled, “I heard that an elephant is a strange animal. Too bad we’re blind and can’t see it.”

“Ah, yes, truly too bad we don’t have the good fortune to see the strange ani­mal,” another one sighed.

The third one, quite annoyed, joined in and said, “See? Forget it! Just to feel it would be great.”

“Well, that’s true. If only there were some way of touching the elephant, we’d be able to know,” they all agreed.

It so happened that a merchant with a herd of elephants was passing, and overheard their conversation. “You fellows, do you really want to feel an elephant? Then follow me; I will show you,” he said.

The three men were surprised and happy. Taking one another’s hand, they quickly formed a line and followed while the merchant led the way. Each one began to contemplate how he would feel the animal, and tried to figure how he would form an image.

After reaching their destination, the merchant asked them to sit on the ground to wait. In a few minutes he led the first blind man to feel the elephant. With outstretched hand, he touched first the left foreleg and then the right. After that he felt the two legs from the top to the bottom, and with a beaming face, turned to say, “So, the strange animal is just like that.” Then he slowly returned to the group. Thereupon the second blind man was led to the rear of the elephant. He touched the tail which wagged a few times, and he exclaimed with satisfac­tion, “Ha! Truly a strange animal! Truly odd! I know now. I know.” He hur­riedly stepped aside.

The third blind man’s turn came, and he touched the elephant’s trunk which moved back and forth turning and twisting and he thought, “That’s it! I’ve learned.”

The three blind men thanked the merchant and went their way. Each one was secretly excited over the experience and had a lot to say, yet all walked rap­idly without saying a word.

“Let’s sit down and have a discussion about this strange animal,” the second blind man said, breaking the silence.

“A very good idea. Very good.” the other two agreed for they also had this in mind. Without waiting for anyone to be properly seated, the second one blurted out, “This strange animal is like our straw fans swinging back and forth to give us a breeze. However, it’s not so big or well made. The main portion is rather wispy.”

“No, no!” the first blind man shouted in disagreement. “This strange animal resembles two big trees without any branches.”

“You’re both wrong.” the third man replied. “This strange animal is similar to a snake; it’s long and round, and very strong.”

How they argued! Each one insisted that he alone was correct. Of course, there was no conclusion for not one had thoroughly examined the whole elephant. How can anyone describe the whole until he has learned the total of the parts...?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sample problems for Math and ELA for the new CCSS

We are all well aware that the Common Core State Standards are going to require our kids to do more at a younger age. Our students will be asked to approach learning and classroom instruction in a way that is different than what they are accustom to. Likewise, we will need to approach student learning and our teaching in a slightly different way as well.

This will help to ensure that our assessments are more closely aligned to the CCSS and to the higher levels of rigor with which our our students will be faced. 

(Be sure to click on "view more" at the top to find your grade and topic)

Sample math problem for 3rd grade:

Sample math problem for 4th grade:

Sample math problem for 5th grade:

**Check out Shaunteaches YouTube channel for more practice math problems. Simply search his channel to find what you need.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The importance of literacy...

"The simplest acquisition of literacy can have a profoundly empowering effect personally, socially and politically.

Literacy gives people tools with which to improve their livelihoods, participate in community decision-making, gain access to information about health care, and above all, it enables individuals to realize their rights as citizens and human beings.

Literacy is not just about reading and writing; it is about respect, opportunity and development..."

Use "Word Walls" throughout the year and personalize them to your content area as well as the specific classroom focus at the time:

Word walls can also be used:

  • To support the teaching of important general principles about words and how they work.
  • To foster reading and writing.
  • To promote independence on the part of young students as they work with words in writing and reading.
  • To provide a visual map to help children remember connections between words and the characteristics that will help them form categories.
  • To develop a growing core of words that become part of a reading and writing vocabulary.
  • To provide reference for children during their reading and writing.

Ways that you can increase opportunities in regard to literacy in your classroom:

~ When your students do a project, solve a problem, or answer a question, have them write a response answering the "how" and the "why."
~ Do more "read alouds" in your classroom and give your students time to focus on oral and audio comprehension. (this is especially important at the elementary levels)
~ Encourage AND allow your students to read more than just books for your class, and don't limit students to reading just printed books.
~ Push the level of rigor in your classroom as it relates to reading materials and writing expectations.

~ Make reading and writing a priority and a central focus in your classroom. When districts make this commitment and transition, the positive effects on student success are huge.
~ Consider having your students start a reflective blog and/or journal to document and monitor their learning and progress. (when students see their progress and growth it can become quite powerful)

And... if all else fails, check out this Education Week article titled, "Five reasons why teaching is still great." 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Leadership and your tipping point...

Leadership is the key to reaching & moving beyond your tipping point.

Every single day we all get the opportunity to lead and push ourselves closer to the "tipping point." We lead with our colleagues right alongside our students, and we approach each day and each opportunity with a sense of opportunity and possibility...

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." 

~ John Quincy Adams 

Look around at those with whom you work and interact. Leadership is all around you and you have the ability and choice of being an active participant. 

You have the choice...

Leadership doesn't always start at the top, and there is no doubt that we need leadership at all levels of our organization. Leadership is about encouragement, support, and commitment.

You don't need permission to be a leader...

You probably won't get an invitation to be a leader...

Watch the short video below for an important lesson on leadership.

Are you willing to take a risk and be the "dancing shirtless guy..."

Are you willing to take a risk and be the first to follow...

We all need you, and now is your time... 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

It's all about your attitude...

It's all about you... how do you see the world?

When your glass if half full, your perspective and attitude unleash a world of possibility...

Your attitude in life isn't just important, it's REALLY important...

 When you practice the power of positive attitude & perspective, you are better able to balance the demands of life.

Watch this short video below and commit yourself to finding the silver lining in every situation; commit yourself to taking action rather than waiting for someone else; commit yourself to self-empowerment and a positive outlook in life!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Assessments, and the role they play in student learning...

Assessment is an ongoing, systematic process that involves:
  • Establishing clear, measurable expected goals of student learning
  • Gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information
  • Applying information and using the results for continuous improvement of teaching and learning.
Student Learning includes the knowledge, skills, and personal development attained through curricular, co-curricular, and out-of-class learning experiences.

"The value of assessments lies not just in the quality of the test itself, but also in how the information from the assessments is used..."

Take a few moments and evaluate the alignment of your classroom instructional practices and activities to the types of assessments you are assigning. If your classroom activities are not matching up with the skills and application of knowledge you are requiring your students to complete on assessments, then your assessments will not provide you with valuable and relevant data. Likewise, if the level of rigor and DOK on your classroom activities are unbalanced with your assessments, you will not be able to make fair and/or accurate conclusions in regard to assessment data.

Lastly, personalizing the types and frequency of assessments for individual students may seem daunting and difficult, but consider this image below and reflect on your assessment practices. If the goal of assessments is to get useful and relevant data to drive and guide classroom instruction in an effort to best meet the needs of our students, then this image makes quite a statement...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Social media and how it's affecting education

I recently did a presentation on Social Media and the role it's playing in education to the local SHRCSA (School Human Resources & Career Services Association). I enjoyed my time and we were able to discuss and cover quite a few topics very pertinent to all educators. Below you can find my presentation. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Not all class time is created equal...

Imagine this scenario: You teach at least 5 classes or 5 hours a day (this accounts for both elementary and secondary teachers). Each 1 hour block takes about 5 minutes to get started and ends about 5 minutes early. 

This means that roughly 10 minutes out of every 60 minutes are underutilized. Over the course of the day, this means that roughly 50 minutes out of every 300 minutes are not spent learning.
Over the course of a typical 5 day week there will be 250 minutes not spent learning out of a total 1,500 potential learning minutes.

Over the course of a typical school year of 174 school days there will be 8,700 minutes not utilized for learning. Let's be realistic and cut that number in half because we all know there are assemblies and other events that cut into learning time throughout the school year. That leaves us with 4,350 minutes of time not spent learning.

4,350 total underutilized minutes divided by a typical 300 minute school day = 14.5 days (or almost 3 weeks) per school year we are letting slip through our fingers. 

Instructional time is precious... how are you using it?

Starting class on time and limiting transition time sets the tone for the entire learning period. When lessons are well-planned & designed around efficiency & a steady pace, kids are better able to remain focused & on task.

Too fast and you lose your class... too slow and you miss the show! A steady pace in class will benefit both you AND your students.

There is a misconception around what the teacher is doing to be considered appropriate usage of time. Utilizing instructional time more efficiently and effectively does NOT mean that teachers need to increase their workload in the classroom. Increasing the amount of group collaboration and student led projects/presentations/activities will have increased levels of rigor and DOK while also limiting any added workload to the teacher. We all need to do a better job of planning and designing our lessons so that the instructional time is used to its fullest potential.


Greet kids at the door with a smile and a friendly "hello"
Activities and/or learning objectives visible for students so they know what to expect
Keep kids engaged by having "important" work available for them
Don't be afraid to let go; trust your students to do what's right
Always plan for more than you think you have time for
"Busy" work should NEVER be used to fill time!
Encourage exploration, discovery and inquiry in your classroom
Design "spaces" in your classroom for both group and independent work
Emphasize the importance of your class time to your students 

If your class time is not important and precious to you, then it will never be important and precious to your students... 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Increasing rigor in schools...

"As we continue to focus on increasing the level of rigor in our schools, it is important to first agree on what rigor is. Rigor is more than just the content of the lesson or even what we expect our students to do. Too often, we simply raise expectations without providing appropriate support for our students to succeed. 

True rigor means creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so that he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels. 

Only by creating a culture of high expectations and providing support so that students can truly succeed does one have a rigorous classroom. Supporting our students so that they can learn at high levels is central to the definition of rigor. It is essential that we craft lessons that move students toward challenging work while providing scaffolding to support them as they learn. To simply increase expectations without helping students achieve at higher levels is futile."

~ At the end of the day, who is more exhausted and tired... you or the students? Don't always work harder, work more efficiently and effectively.

~ Assigning more homework & classwork more frequently does not mean we are increasing rigor.

~ Where do a majority of your class activities fall in regard to the Depth of Knowledge wheel? Make it a priority to shift at least one activity per week to a higher level.

Doing lots of worksheets and learning from the textbook can be really hard; not hard because it's difficult or challenging, but hard because they serve no purpose and have very little relevance to actual learning.

Schools become rigorous when students are pushed not only to know information but also to apply and demonstrate their understanding of that information. Requiring students to reflect on and analyze their thinking and learning might be the most challenging task you can require of any student.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Risk & failure & greatness...

"Fortune favors the bold"

~ The phrase means that Fortuna, the Goddess of luck, is more likely to help those who take risks or action.

"Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results" ~ Einstein

~ Don't allow fear or discomfort to get in your way of being great. Our students expect and deserve nothing less of us.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The power of positivity...

Check out these 4 short posts below on positivity!

Positive Teacher Pledge

Be sure to sign the "Positive Pledge."

14 Simple Strategies to be More Positive

An Original Tale for Teachers... Nikki the Giraffe

~ Your enthusiasm and positive energy set the tone for your students. Your attitude is one of the few things you can actually control, be sure to use it wisely!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What I'm thinking about right now...

Historical origin of the word 'administrator' is 'ministrare' (serve). Consider today how you can better serve your teacher leaders...

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." by Kurt Vonnegut

"Nothing in education puts a bigger ceiling on learning than limiting kids to what’s in the textbook. We live in the age of iPads, Google, and Skype. To the learner that wants to know more, do more, and explore more, the opportunities are there. We just have to think outside the book." via @mcleod

The Voice of the Active Learner:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Educator Motivation Video

I created this video for a back to school kickoff event in the Union R-XI School District. I want it to inspire, motivate, and encourage our staff to reach beyond their level of comfort in an effort to take learning and growth to the next level for Union R-XI students...

If you are interested in creating a similar video, please email me ( and I would be happy to share the files with you so you can modify for your own school or district.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

It's Okay to Say, I Don't Know...

I have been thinking a lot about teamwork and growth lately. As much as I believe we hold the cards for our own destiny, I also believe our level of success and growth are closely related to our environments, in particular, the teams with whom we work and surround ourselves.

The last 30 days have been quite interesting to say the least... a new position in a new district has proven to be quite the challenge thus far. It would seem that I am learning about an entirely different world of education that has somehow alluded me throughout my career. Yes, of course there are certain topics that are easy to pick up on and just require the time and experience, but there are many others that are much more complex and demanding of their understanding and application.

I find myself being uncomfortable way more than I am comfortable with, and I find myself saying, "I don't know," far more often than I am used to.

One of the beauties of this new position is the people with whom I work. They are helpful, they encourage me, and they are understanding of the learning curve I have. They have embraced my curiosity and lack of knowledge by providing me a plethora of opportunities to learn and garner valuable experiences. They have made it clear that they have high expectations, but they are also realistic and understanding of the time it takes to achieve high levels of growth and forward progress.

Teamwork requires vulnerability... and when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable we open the doors to trust, and once the doors of trust are open any organization can move forward and grow. Great organizations and great leaders encourage "I don't knows," because they allow for and make room for growth and progress. To be honest, I would be scared to be a part of an organization where "I don't knows" are discouraged and frowned upon...

How do you respond to "I don't know?"

How do those within your organization respond to "I don't know?" 

BONUS: We have all heard someone say, "I don't know, let me find out for you." This response is something we have all experienced and we have all personally said at one time or another. There is however quite a big difference in how it is remembered. If you tell someone you don't know but you will find out, then you better well do what you say! There is nothing more frustrating than asking someone a question and having them say they will find out only to find out they never followed up with your question.