Last Sunday, Pastor Jeff 's message at Gethsemane was about being a successful community.  He talked about 4 things that you or your community must do to be successful.
  1. Food.  You are a happy person with food in your belly and you know where you meals are going to come from.
  2. Kids. Healthy communities take care of their children.  It is the village model and not just a parent or single adult.
  3. Vocation. If you have job/career and you are happy with it, you will be a happy, successful person.  If everyone in your community is this way, then you have a successful community.
  4. Housing. Putting a roof over your head and having a place that you can call home makes you happy and successful.

I can't stop thinking about vocation.

Am I happy with my vocation?  How would I label my vocation?  Teaching? Education? Teacher? School employee? Wisdom giver? Learning facilatator? Manager?

Then I realized that there are two parts to my vocation; one that I love and one that I can't stand.


Love it!  Being able to set up learning for students and seeing them improve themselves is amazing.  Watching them go from confusion to understanding and from frustration to helping others.  That's the joy of what I do.  I can't think of many things that I could do everyday and still enjoy it.

Everything else

I don't even know what to call this.  And it has nothing to do with my particular school or district.  I think there issues like this in all schools and districts.

It's everything else that teachers have to do.  Meetings, budgeting, scheduling, professional development, paperwork, politics, copy machines, finding supplies, pushing for technology, fighting for materials/furniture.

It's so much.  I don't enjoy it.  I don't understand why somethings are the way they are.  I don't know the solutions around them.  I wonder how many teachers have left the profession because they aren't able to balance the joy of the classroom learning and the students with the everything else.

So, am I happy?

I don't know.  It seems to get harder and harder to deal with the "Everything Else" of my vocation.  I still love having the light bulbs shine over the student's head, pushing them to be better, putting pre- and post- next to each other for a student, and having a student give a hug when they are done with me.  I dread every thing else.  

I need to choose happy.

One of the biggest things we do in AVID is Tutorials (2 out 5 weekly class days). They are pretty awesome.  I don't have any videos from classroom but you can see other AVID classroom's Tutorials here, here, and here.  

One thing that I notice in all my tutorial groups is that we spend a lot of time moving information from our Tutorial Request Forms (TRFs) to the whiteboard for the group and then to individual note pages. There is more time spent doing this than there is discussing actual questions.  

I know there is value in having student practice notetaking.  I know that they need to know how to take notes in many areas of their lives.  

However, I question how to find the balance between copying notes and discussing confusions leading to solutions.

Using Technology for Tutorials

In our classroom, we have started one Tutorial group with using the Promethean board.  The present stands at the Promethean board and takes notes there.  The group doesn't take notes.  They are there to simply ask questions. No time is used to copying things from one spot to another.  In the three sessions we've done this, there has been noticeably more question asking and we've gotten through more tutorial questions.

I like this system because it is simply replacing paper with the board that they can write on like a piece of paper.  At the end, we print it out for everyone in the group.

Tomorrow, we are adding a second technology tutorial group.  I was able to get a 32" flat screen TV for under $50.  It was a pretty sweet deal and I don't see it happening again.  We'll hook at Chromebook in to the TV and the students will take notes using Google Docs.  This system looses the ability to draw like you would on paper.  It also requires typing which may take longer than writing for some students. On the flip side, we could draw on a whiteboard, take a picture with the Chromebook and add it to the Google Docs.  This could still be printed at the end of the question.

I'm not sure how this will turn out but it is something that I'm willing to try and see how it goes.   
This was the first handout for my PLC this morning:
Professional Learning Community. How to teach to the test.  Literally.  

I envision PLCs making me a better teacher.  

This doesn't make me a better teacher. This makes students better at taking tests.  This is not what education is about.  This is, sadly, what schools are about.  

I almost went home this morning. Today it got real.  Today, it slapped me in the face.  What are we doing in schools?  We aren't educating.  We are giving "tricks" to be successful on a test. 


How do I overcome this in my classroom? Tonight I brainstorm!  Wanna help?  Leave comments.

(For background, I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th grade AVID.)
A few weeks ago, a student said something really stupid to me.  The result was him being arrested.  I made a statement and was interviewed.

Later, I got a letter from the county attorney.  The charges were dismissed because the student was found "incompetent."

Yep, a judge ruled that this student couldn't be held accountable because the student is incompetent.  Legally.  Incompetent.  

Okay, I can buy this.  


What makes you think that this incompetent student should be sent back to his regular school?  Why should our school be held accountable for incompetence?  How can you expect this student to be successful when he's incompetent?

This is what is wrong with education.  Here, you are going to be evaluated on this test.  Yep, that student's scores will count even though we know that student is incompetent.  Here, you are responsible for the learning of 29 other students in your classroom who can't get anything done because of one incompetent student.  

It's not always about teaching.  It's about what student's bring to school with them.  It's about upbringing.  It's about values.  It's about norms.  It's about preparation.  It's about competence.  

The best teacher, with the best resources, the best lesson plans, the best technology, and 29 other amazing students, will not be successful.

When is the world going to wake up?  Someone legally declared incompetent needs something different than a traditional school.
Dear Samsung,

I have a broken hinge on a Samsung Series 5 Chromebook.  I've been emailing with Samsung support since January 8, 2014.  In my very first email, I mentioned that the Chromebook is part of a set for my classroom.  I also mention that they were purchased through Donors Choose and Lakeshore Learning.  All three of these entities (Donors Choose,  Lakeshore, and my classroom) are businesses.  

In the exchange of emails, I have needed to provide model numbers and serial numbers.  I was asked to register my device online but it was already registered.  I was asked to submit the original invoice for the purchase.  In my opinion, the steps to replace/repair this device has been difficult.  

The most recent email tells me that I need call SAM4BIZ because the Chromebook was part of a business to business transaction.  This bit of information about businesses was in my original email.  This process has wasted one month of time and energy.  

I am reaching out by blog (with posting on Twitter) to try and rectify this issue.  I'm frustrated and disappointed with Samsung support.  While I still love the Chromebooks in my classroom, I would really love to have all of them back in perfect working order.

Thank you,

Ben K.
Chromebook Teacher
I've been trying for a while now to figure out an online way to organize the lessons for my AVID classes.  I've used Blogger for posting lesson plans.  I've tried Haiku Learning for a brief spell (I think it might be the best option but it hasn't been easy to get it to play nice with other systems my school is using).  I've tried Weebly for posting lessons.  All worked but none perfectly.  Each had things that I loved and things that hated.

The lessor of all the evils is Moodle.  It's not perfect but it works the best in my situation and with all the other pieces that our school uses.  

I thought I would give a short overview of how the AVID Moodle is set up (it's closed and a public part isn't an option).

The top part of the Moodle is for Announcements.  Right now, there is an announcement about our upcoming field trip.

The first section is set up for "AVID Basics."  I'll be adding a few short documentary style videos outlining how binders should look, how to take Cornell Notes, and what the perfect tutorial looks like.

Next, there is one section for each grade level.  I thought about doing different Moodles for each grade but that seemed way to overwhelming.  Each section has the following in it:
  • Warm-ups - set up as a forum
  • Writing - set up as a label like the other WICOR pieces.
  • Inquiry
  • Collaboration
  • Organization
  • Reading

In each part, I add the assignments that fit in each area.  Right now, there are two inquiry assignments, two reading assignments, and three organization assignments.  The Warm-ups are turned on and off daily so that students only have access to the current one.  

I've been told that my district is moving to another system in sometime in January.  I'm not sure what it is or how it will mesh with Moodle.  For now, Moodle is my best option but I'm not completely sold on it.
*Full disclaimer: I am a proud resident of Minneapolis, a proud teacher in Minneapolis Public, a proud parent of a Minneapolis Public student, and passionate about my community.  These often intersect in troubling ways that I struggle with internally and externally.  This is one of those struggles. These thoughts are truly my own and no ill meaning is meant toward Minneapolis Public.  I'm just confused.

I woke up one morning to this tweet from Stan Alleyne, MPS communication officer:
It blew my mind.  

One of the schools mentioned, Pillsbury, is an incredible school.  They have "strong vision, strong leadership, and strong teachers."  I would never question that.  I've worked with their leadership and many of the teachers. They are passionate, driven, and successful.

This was my reply to Mr. Alleyne:
You can pull out all the research, studies, and facts that you want, but Mr. Alleyne's tweet says it all: it's not always the teachers or principals.  Here's why:

In 2012, Minneapolis Public shut down Cityview School.  It was labeled as failing under NCLB. The district had many options but they chose to shut the school down and displace all the students.  Two years before, they replaced the principal and assistant principals as ineffective.  For the record, Cityview's student population was more than 90% Free/Reduced lunch, a key indicator of poverty.

Fast forward to Mr. Alleyne's tweet.

The principal and assistant principal at Pillsbury were the principal and assistant principal at Cityview.  Of the 79 current staff at Pillsbury, 14 of them are from Cityview.  I know that many of those 14 moved with the principal and assistant principal because they know they are amazing leaders.  I would have followed them too if Pillsbury had a middle school.

How can you shutter a school in 2012 citing ineffectiveness and then compliment the same leaders and teachers in a different school for the same thing you labeled ineffective just a few years ago?

I don't know the answers. 
In AVID, we use the Collins Writing Program for our formal writings.  Part of the program is using a Cumulative Writing Folder to track Type 3 and Type 4 writing.  It also helps to monitor the FCAs that are used in class.  I really enjoy teaching with Collins and the FCAs make it easy to give feedback on the assignments.

What I don't like is little boxes.  I've written about lesson planning in the past and how the little boxes in the Teacher Planning Boxes don't work for me.  I can't squeeze everything into those boxes.  I feel the same way for the students trying to fill in the little boxes in the Cumulative Writing Folder. Students with big writing feel the failure of the boxes.  Students with small writing try to add too much. They write in pencil and we keep the folders for a while.  The pencil starts to fade.

In my AVID classes, we use Google Docs for our Cumulative Writing Folders.  I recreated the folder as a table in a document.  The table has a title box, a box for FCAs, and a reflection box.  The title is a link to the Google Doc where we did the actual writing (shared with a link).  They copy the FCAs from the assignment page to the writing folder.  I give them a couple of reflective questions to add to the folder too.  They can type without worrying about space.

You can find my Cumulative Writing Folder template in Google Drive by searching public templates for "Cumulative Writing Folder."

The writing folder is linked on the students Weebly page. I maintain a list of Weebly pages for the classes so that I have access to their work (password protected).

The benefits are that I don't have to carry notebooks to and from school.  Students don't have to worry about a paper folder.  It is permanent and they can come back to it years later.  This is better than having a stack of folders that they don't care about right now but might in a couple of years.  When I need to share student work, I just give someone a link and they can access it all.  In addition to all that, no one has to pay to purchase the folders.

How are you managing digital writing in your classroom?

*Disclaimer: The Macbooks referenced in this post are at least 3 years old but the issues existed from the beginning.

My classroom (not my students) is 1:1 with Samsung 550 Chromebooks. They walk into the classroom, open up a Chromebook and get started.

I collaborate in a 1:1 Macbook classroom.  The teacher just moved from a different building and the laptops are finally ready for use in the new school.  Thats 6 weeks sitting around collecting dust waiting fora tech or having the tech work on them.  On the flip side, I just moved from a new school too and the Chromebooks took 2 hours for me and 1 helper to reset all 30 of them and be ready for the first day of school.  

In my classroom, the Chromebooks start up in under 10 seconds.  Within 30 seconds, students are logged into their accounts and into a browser.  When the get to Google Drive, it automatically is in their account.  getting the classroom up and running and ready for the lesson is less than a minute.  WIth a warm-up activity on the board, they have 6ish minutes to be write and publish on their blog and be ready for learning.  I don't need to run around helping students log in.

In the Macbook classroom, half the computers didn't even power on.  I think it was a battery issue but I'm not positive.  This might also be a function of them just being old.  The ones that did power one, took at least 3 minutes to get to a point where someone could log in.  After typing in their information, it took another couple minutes to get to a point where they could start working on something.  Safari and Google Drive were faster than Word opening.

This log in issue has existed from day 1.  It is not the wireless because the Chromebooks don't have the same issue.  I've been told that it isn't the server either.  That leaves the actual laptop as the issue.  

So, lets boil it down to two points: speed of logging in and price.  The Chromebooks log in and are ready in less than a minute.  The price of Samsung 550 is half the price of a Macbook.  Other Chromebooks can be had for 1/4 the price of the Macbook.

Thanks for reading!

One tool that I love in my AVID classroom is Socrative.  At the beginning of the school year, my AVID classes spend a good deal of time working on Costa's Levels of Thinking/Questioning. We take some notes, we do some activities, and then we check for understanding.

I love Socrative because I can start a quiz and let it run.  Students can work at their own pace and check their notes.  I have created two quizzes for Costa's Levels of Thinking/Questioning.  One is a short quiz with just three questions that we take right after we take notes about the levels.  Feel free to steal this quiz buy using the code on Socrative: soc-2220484.

After that, we spend more time digging deeper into the levels of questions.  We take level 1 questions and turn them into Level 2 and Level 3.  We take Level 3 and turn them into Level 1.  We write our own questions.  We look at other peoples questions and figure out the level.

Then we take another quiz.  This quiz has 27 questions and students pick the level of the question. We aren't worried about the answers, just the levels.  That quiz can be found on Socrative using the code 

Today, the 6th grade AVID students scored 100%, all of them, on the first quiz.  The 7th and 8th graders are working toward mastery on the second quiz.  Almost all of them are 75% or better on mastery.  Several students have taken the quiz more than once.  They've taken it, studied, and retaken.  I'm willing to let them take the second quiz as many times as it takes as long as they study in between.

The quizzes are just one aspect of Socrative and there is so much more that you can do.