Thursday, December 30, 2010

#ProjectPLN Wants Your Submissions

Project PLN is a monthly magazine that @Ktenkely and I put out for free. We collect posts from educators around the world focused on a singular topic and mesh them all into one spectacular magazine. The goal is to help us all get to know our PLN (Personal Learning Network) better and spread the great things that are happening in education. We would love your help for the January issue. Take a look at the topic below and how you can submit your post for the January issue.

January’s Project PLN topic:
Every new year brings a new commitment to who we are. We set goals to accomplish to make ourselves better people. In education, it is no different. We want to know what your goals are for making education better for you, your students and everyone around you. Education reform is going to continue to be a hot topic, so let’s show the world what teachers are going to do help. Feel free to contact though email or Twitter @projectPLN. We would love to have your thoughts ready to share by January 8th. Thanks again for your continued support of Project PLN. We hope you enjoy the holiday season!

The post doesn’t have to be a new one, if you wrote another post on exactly this topic, feel free to submit it to us! When you email us, please be sure to include your name as you would like it to appear, your Twitter handle (if you have one…you should!), and a URL to your blog, website, wiki, linked in profile, etc (if you have one). Thank you for your contributions!

Cross Posted on iLearnTechnology

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Passion Meter

Every now and then, my passion meter gets close to zero. Near the end of the first semester it can get very low. I use different things to keep me going during the school year. Sometimes I read old emails from parents or notes from students. They put a smile on my face and get me through the rough spots of s school year. However, there is one thing that never fails to recharge my passion bar; my camp pals!

I just got back from having dinner with some great people. I seriously love these people! For the past three years I spend a week of my summer working with students at a leadership camp. I work with other teachers and college students. Many of the college students are majoring in education and camp is a great learning experience. During the week, I really get to know the other Senior Conselors (Teachers) and Junior Counselors (College Students)as I spend long hours talking about the students and the way they have grown during the week.

I love getting together with these people because it is exciting to see how there semester went. We trade stories and share the ups and downs of education. Sharing laughs with these people is the perfect medicine for a long school year. I can joke with Mike about smiling too much or teases my awesome JC Torie and have her tell me I'm sassy. Talking to Ryan and Emily about classroom stresses and goofy parents and chatting with Val about student teaching in my classroom next year are things I just love doing. I want to give a shout out to Brynn, Olompia, Laura Dee, and the rest of the gang that showed up to re-connect.

My camp friends get me fired up every time I'm around them. I get to be surrounded by great teachers and students that are passionate about education. As teachers, we are so busy inspiring the little bodies in the desks, we forget to keep the fires burning within. As we move forward to the new year, take a moment and check your passion meter. You might need a fill up.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction?

Recently, there has been some talk about removing Fiction from the classroom and replacing it with more Non Fiction. Besides being a tech nerd, I am an English Teacher first. Here are some of my thoughts on Fiction in the classroom.

This year was one of my hardest years teaching the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I actually did not teach all of it. I took some passages and events and used them to teach satire, which is the true purpose of the unit. One of the biggest reasons I chose to teach selections was the fact that my students were going to struggle with making connections to the jokes that Twain had planted throughout the text. I supplemented with other short works from Twain and some pieces from The Onion. I felt ok with doing this. I wasn't happy, but I was ok.

Twain is my favorite author. I love his wit and humor. I truly believe he set the tone for modern American humor and SNL can point to him as an early forefather. Every year though, I see his great works move slowly away from the students that come into my classroom. Every year, the jokes take a little bit longer to connect. The allusions are a bit harder to find. After a decade of teaching his work, it has become painful to see the blank stare of students as I explain that the "magic" hairball is satirizing fortune tellers and their "magic" crystal balls. My Twain unit is slowly turning into a Satire unit where I pull newer material in every year. Is there going to be a day where I show nothing but Simpsons and SNL to teach Satire?

The one thing that is really tough about being an English teacher is that ever year, the curriculum gets old. As it gets older, the students are slightly removed from it. In the curriculum for my district, the "newest" piece is Death of a Salesman. That is now over 50 years old. I think Death of a Salesman is still relevant to students today and the Dustin Hoffman movie is a great performance of the work. I still love teaching The Crucible and the kids cannot get enough of Holden and The Catcher in the Rye. (I personally think they like it because I let them say Fuck. Kids.) It's Twain and those crazy Romanticists and Transcendentalists that are losing the power they once had on students. Many kids cannot see the connection of Huck coming of age and Thoreau writing that people should be who they are no matter what others think. What next?

As teachers, we have to be ok with letting go of some of the texts we grew up loving and look at some of the great newer literature out there. I'm not suggesting that departments go out and use the flavor of the month every year, but they need to be willing to be open to new ideas. The texts are classics, but the focus needs to be on the skills. If you can get kids to understand coming of age and dystopian society by using The Hunger Games, why not consider the change.  There are plenty of great books out there that appeal to the new generation of reader. Some of these new books are Graphic Novels!

It took me two years and tons of leg work to create a Graphic Novel Class. (It is officially called Pictorial Literature because community members might be bothered by having a class with the word graphic in it.) I saw a hole in the curriculum for a certain group of students and I thought a class that had different offerings would appeal to students looking for something different.

I teach Bone by Jeff Smith as an Epic Novel comparing it to The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. I also teach Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Maus by Art Spiegelman and graphic versions of Poe and Twain Short Stories. I also do a cool ( I think it's cool) Dystopian Novel Unit using Watchmen, Dark Knight, V for Vendetta and Kingdom Come. Our textbook is Scott McLoud's Understanding Comics. It's been an an exciting class that is run no differently than any other literature based class. I'm constantly tweaking it and is better this year than it was last year. It's time for curricula to change around the country. No longer are the classics of my youth (I was in high school in the 90s) the classics of today's classroom.

I understand the push for more non-fiction in the classroom. Kids are going to encounter non-fiction in life on a regular basis and after school, fiction is for recreation. However, fiction can inspire. Fiction can make a person view life in a completely different way. Fiction is art. The way an author crafts a sentence or plot structure is beautiful. If we move away from fiction, are we heading toward the world Bradbury envisioned in Fahrenheit 451 (Top 5 Novel for me)?

Fiction is something very special. They are stories of people about anything and everything. Not only can Fiction be used to teach anything you want as a teacher, it can be the inspiration for a student to pick up the pen. As important as it is to help kids develop critical thinking skills, the creative mind needs to be nurtured as well and Fiction can help in that area. 

Very few people know this, but there is a collection of short stories out there by a Nicholas Provenzano.  Now, I bet that person was inspired to write by reading great works on fiction as well as not great works of fiction. Everyone has a story to tell and we now live in a time where people can share their stories with the world. Fiction plays an important role in molding creative young students. Why would we want to take those stories away from kids who are just discovering their own potential as creators?

Do not buy into the concept that the fiction is outdated and not relevant to today's kids so it must be replaced. Tons of great fiction can be found if teachers and administrators are willing to look for it and spend the money to replace the older texts. I fear that the dollar and cents of the matter is what is truly dictating the slow evolution in the English Curriculum.

What are your thoughts on Fiction and Non-Fiction in the English Classroom?

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Edublog Acceptance Speech

Here is my acceptance speech for the Edublog Award for 2nd Runner Up for Best New Blog. I hope you enjoy.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Visualizing Themes in Literature

This year, I really wanted to focus more on project based learning. I felt that I was getting the best from more students when we did projects. I would still have students wrtie essays, but I always want them to do something a little different afterwards. I want to give the students to express their knowledge in different ways.

My Freshmen students have been working in Lit Circles this year with students from Van Meter, Iowa. This past unit, students have been reading Richard Wright's Black Boy. This a great book to use with students as they learn more about theme. We discuss the different themes in the story and discuss the events in the story that support those themes in great detail. After writing an essay (which I get to check over "break"), I decided I wanted the kids to do a visual representation of the the themes we discussed in class and share them with the students of Van Meter on the KidBlog.

Below you will find links to the various KidBlogs we have been using this school year. Some of the students have not posted their final project yet, but they should all be up and running by Friday. The students were given a choice of different web tools to use for this project. Many used Glogster, Prezi and Pixton.Some are more detailed than others, but I'm very happy with what I have seen so far.


Here is the assignment sheet I gave to the students. Feel free to use it or alter it in any way.

Visualizing Themes in Richard Wright’s Black Boy

Having read Black Boy and written an essay on the book’s themes, we are going to create visual representations of the important themes discussed in this unit. Using different web tools, you are going to express the various themes in a visual format and share them within your Literature Circle. Van Meter students have been reading the same story and I want you to show them what you have learned this unit. You will have three days in the computer lab to create a visual representation of your theme and post on your lit circle blog. Below you will find some options you can use to create your visual representations of theme.

This assignment is due _________________.

Web tools: – This is a graphic blog that allows a user to upload sound, pictures and video. – This is a free site that allows people to create their own comics. – This site allows you to record your voice over uploaded pictures. – This site is cool because you can upload a picture and record your comments. It also allows others to upload a comment of their own. It can even be a video comment. Very cool! – This is a cool tool because it is like a power point, but it is all web based. You can add video and pictures and share it with anyone you want.

If you have another tool you want to use, just ask and we will see what we can do.

Lastly, the students seemed to really like the project and worked hard during their time in the computer lab. It's a great way for students to show their knowledge and understanding outside of an essay or a multiple choice test.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Changing it up - My vocab lesson gets a facelift

As much as it seems like I'm always doing something new in my class, there are some things that I have not changed in the 10 years I've been teaching. I always try and evaluate my lessons every year, The really good ones make it to the next round and the bad ones are altered or eliminated. It takes work, but I feel it is needed to keep my teaching fresh. One part of my daily teaching life is undergoing a huge change for second semester.

For the past decade, I have given students a Word of the Day (WOD). The come in and there will be a word on the board. The students are responsible for writing the word down and finding the definition at home. After 20 or 25 words, the students will have one week to study and there will be a test. As the school year progresses, the tests become more difficult. The tests start with definitions and end with correct usage. This is how I was taught for 4 years in high school and I felt it really helped me with my vocabulary skills. As the years have passed, I have had students tell me they have seen the words on the ACT, SAT and other standardized exams. The lesson worked well. For me, that was proof that my lesson was a success, but was it?

As part of my vocabulary lesson, I accepted that there were going to be students who were not going to study the words. The tests were very much pass or fail. The kids that studied did very well and the kids that did not study failed miserably. As I have moved more towards project based learning, I've started to question my assumptions on who is studying and who is not. Are the students not studying because they cannot master vocabulary using memorization? Is that what is stopping them? my WOD tests are the only "tests" my students take all year. Why? Why can't I change the way I've done something for a decade? Well, I'm giving it a try.

I did not do away with the test. I'm not ready to part with my exams yet. I think I could be there next year, just not right now. I did decide to add a new element that will hopefully help some of the struggling students. As a visual learner, I thought of way to bring the visual elements I like to use in other lessons to the WOD. The AP teachers in the building have students do visual representations of Tone words. It's a cool lesson and kids decorate the room with words and pictures. I've always wanted to do something similar, but never made the connection to my WOD unit. Now, I've decided to blend the two concepts together.

The day of the WOD test, students are to submit 20 illustrated words and definitions as part of their test score. The can draw or use images from newspaper, magazines or the internet to illustrate the definitions. My hope is that the time the students spend on their projects will translate into retention. I want the kids to see the words on the exam and see the picture in their head. I really have no idea how this will work in the long run, but I feel like I needed to change it up a bit for the students who might need a change to be successful. I'm not saying that it is going to stick around forever, but I'm willing to at least look at the difference and make a better judgment on "What works well".

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Project PLN #4 - Web Tools

Here is the December Issue of Project PLN. We wanted to know what your favorite tools were and you lets us know. Here are some excellent posts from great members of our PLN. Enjoy and share!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A penny for my posts?

I was having a conversation with a non-teaching friend (Yes, I have those) and I had casually mentioned (Not casual at all) that I had been nominated for two Edublog Awards (That you can vote for here and here). The following is a recap of the conversation,

Non-Teacher Friend – Cool, what do you win?

The Nerdy Teacher – Well, I win a free Edublogs Campus subscription for one year and one free Edublogs Pro subscription for a year!

NTF – You don’t win cash?

TNT – No, just those prizes I guess.

NTF – How about a plaque or something to hang in your classroom?

TNT – No, but I get a badge I can put on my website.

NTF – Do you make any money from your website?

TNT – I use Google AdSense, but I haven’t made a cent from that.

NTF – You spend all of this time on a website and attending these conferences and you are not making any money from it? That sounds like a ton of work and money for a hobby.

TNT – Well, it’s not a hobby, it’s my job.

NTF – No, you get paid for your job. You take days off and go to conferences you pay for. That’s a hobby. It’s a well intentioned hobby, but it’s still a hobby. When you start making money, then you can call it a job.

Posting for Pennies is not something I set out to do. The one thing I can say about teachers is that we did not get into education for the money. I think it is safe to say that teacher bloggers definitely did not enter the game for money either. Money should never be the driving force in education. It’s a terrible motivator as it will only get people to do just enough to earn what they want. Passion is what is needed to make education better for everyone. Money will never create passion.When I read other blogs, it’s the passion that engages me. Using that passion to make education better for everyone is what I love to do.

I’m working with another school on setting up some Professional Development for their teachers second semester. I never thought this would be something I would do. I didn’t seek people out to make this happen, they found me. I have an opportunity to take my passion for learning and share it with others. Those teaches will then take what I showed them and share it with their students. The fact that I have a chance to reach more students is exciting. If I make a few extra pennies to buy a comic or two, that is great. However, money will never be my motivator. That’s the one thing that makes cents to me. (Puntastic!)

- @TheNerdyTeacher

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Edublog Awards - I'm lost for words

Voting is now open for The Edublog Awards. I have loved checking out the nominations from years passed because they are such a great resource for educators. I have learned so much from the various, blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc. Take a minute and see the great resources available.

I've been honored to be nominated in the Best New Blog and Best Teacher Blog. I really am lost for words. For those who know me, that is saying a ton! Thanks to everyone that thought of me during the nomination process. I only keep doing what I do because of your support and my weird obsession with pop culture. :-) Stop by and vote for your favorites and keep working to make education a better situation for all students around the world.

Eternally Grateful,



EdcampNYC has shown me, much like edcampKC did, that Michigan is in desperate need for an event like this. There are so many great teachers out there that want to improve education in their schools and classroom, but there isn't a venue available to them. Edcamps are spreading across the country because educators are realizing that it is important to get together and improve education. Education is not perfect and teachers know it. However, many of us are tired of sitting back waiting for someone to fix it for us. No longer are teachers content with just making their classroom great. Teachers now want to spread the greatness around. Now is the time to act.

I'm organizing edcampDetroit, and I'm excited about the progress I have made so far. We have an excellent venue at Wayne State University and the sponsorship of SimpleK12 and TechSmith. If you are interested in joining the team or being a sponsor, please send an email to I feel edcampDetroit can be an amazing event that can ignite the passion that is laying dormant in some teachers because of the lackluster job school districts have done providing meaningful professional development.

We will have registration up soon, but if you are interested in being part of this great event, please feel free to contact me @TheNerdyTeacher or @edcampDetroit. We want to change education in this country, but we need to start at home.

#EdcampNYC Thoughts

This was my second edcamp and it was amazing. There is something about getting together with like minded people that is very empowering. I got to meet many great Twitter friends face to face and they were just as awesome in person as they are over Tweetdeck. We had amazing conversations about all the different aspects of education. It was nice to see that no matter where in the counry you are, there are similar problems.

Some might say that edcamps are just gatherings of like minded teachers preaching to the choir. Those people should have stopped by @dancallahan's Things that Suck session. There was great debate regarding traditional school days, The Department of Education, Homework and a host of other topics. It really showed that we are all not on the same page but it's great to see the conversation. It forces educators to think and share those ideas when they go back to their home district.

The traditional conference forces people to sit in a room and listen to someone who may or may not have an opinion you agree with. edcamps really allow the participants to get involved with the discussion and play a part in the learning. If you have not attended an edcamp, what are you waiting for?

Thanks again to everyone involved in putting together edcampNYC. It was an amazing event and it was worth the trip from Detroit.