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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

When I was first hired as an assistant principal back in 2010, my principal and I had a long lunch to break the ice.  I talked about my honeymoon, he talked about his history in the town, and then we started talking about bizarre things on the internet. We both were hysterical and just how much on the internet and both scratched our heads wondering what could possibly come next. We got into a strong debate at lunch one summer day about school discipline records and how they should or should not be sent to the next school (we were a sending district, so in this case, they would be sent to the high school). His stance was very strong - new school, new start.  My initial stance (2 weeks on the job) was all records go with the student. After all, I was the new assistant principal - and what do most middle school assistant principals do? Discipline.

Almost 8 years later as a write this post (and just using an app on my phone to have contractors on bid snow removal from my driveway and sidewalks - talk about things we would never imagine), I'm reading about a friend of mine who has a teenage son that made a bad choice.  He sent an inappropriate tweet to a fast food chain.  The fast-food chain responded back, a tad better in taste (forgive the pun) - but Mom was not happy.  Mom was trying to instill in her child that "congratulations - you will now forever have your name associated with this fast food chain and it will be archived on the internet for everyone to see in the future."

I don't know about all of you reading my blog, but I'll be the very first to admit that I was (and, well, currently) far from the perfect person, let alone star student in middle school and high school.  My grades weren't the best, I had a poor attitude on occasion towards certain teachers and academic subjects, and may or may not have been suspended a few times for doing what middle school boys have a strong knack for - drawing male anatomy on bathroom stalls and school signs and screaming new vocabulary words that you learn from your peers. I enjoyed a good prank call with a fake name to the local bar (Bart Simpson certainly set the standard) and might have even sent a dozen pizzas to my principal from the school payphone on the last day of middle school (sorry, Mr. Malles). Truth be told, I think being such a nudnick in middle and high school is what made me a great 8th-grade teacher and middle school assistant principal. I could easily relate to the knucklehead missteps and could easily differentiate a bonehead move and something that was serious (i.e. harm to yourself or others).

Were these middle school missteps my proudest moments? Certainly not. Was it there for the world to see and judge me? Well, now it is - but in 8th grade, it was not. For today's 8th grader, it's now etched in eternity. What are missteps are now mile-markers in one's life, all a click or google search away.

What's even more disturbing is that people that loathe you (for whatever reason it may be) can now hide behind a keyboard, go online, use their name or create several fictitious names, and say whatever they want. If you ticked someone off, look out.  You will be crucified online an entire group of people you don't know. Or maybe you do know them, but they won't say anything to your face.  Or maybe they like the attention of saying things to get people to raise comments. Whatever it may be, you can try to get out of it, try to defend yourself, or even own up to your mistakes, but it will do no good.  It will still forever be there, waiting for someone to see.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

...writing poetry can feel like doing ballet in a phone booth.

Poetry. Boring? Government. Ordinary? Math. Lifeless?

We think not.

I had the pleasure this week of working with a diverse group of 42 secondary school teachers. They came from many different schools and taught a range of topics in Grades 8-12. The session was entitled Emotion At The Helm: Engaging Emotions and Imaginations in The Secondary Classroom. Part of the workshop involved two collaborative activities, one employing tools to tap into students’ Romantic imagination, the other to tap into their Philosophic imagination. (Learn more about different forms of imaginative engagement here.) This post shares some of the imaginative ideas the teachers* came up with that employ cognitive tools to evoke their students’ emotions and imaginations with “ordinary” topics like Poetry, Government, and Linear Relationships (Math).

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

As I continue working with more and more teachers I'm often surprised at how many I still see "page turning" to plan instruction. "Page turning" is a form of lesson planning that a teacher uses, that is simply opening a textbook and continuing where they left off during the last lesson. Now don't get me wrong, textbooks have their place in education (I guess), but when teachers rely on them too heavily instruction can suffer greatly, and more importantly, learning does too.

Here are a few reasons you should get textbooks out of your lesson planning and start forging your own instructional path, outside the edges of those pages.

Textbooks Fail To Engage Students

I don't care how many pictures or fun activities exist in the realm of the book you are using, I will almost guarantee that it is not engaging all your students. The simple reason is that the writers of that book don't know your students, YOU DO. I have never (and will never) heard a student mutter "Wow! Chapter 7 was surprisingly fun and exciting! I can't wait to continue working to Chapter 8!" I would bet that you haven't either. That's because textbooks are designed as a curriculum TOOL to be used in lesson planning, not a curriculum in themselves. Students must interact, play with, and experience concepts, not just read about them. (or hear about them during your lectures...which don't work either by the way.)

Textbooks Are NOT Universally Designed

Textbooks are generally written at or above the grade level you are teaching. The pictures, diagrams, and experiences presented in them are also created at that level. I don't know about you, but most of my students, or at least some of them, were below grade level or still achieving their current grade level. I would also like to suggest that the context, circumstances, and lens in which most textbooks view your curriculum are not going to engage or allow for much adjustment or modification if they are your primary lesson planning tool.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

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… but learning isn’t.

I wrote my first book, Crush School: Every Student’s Guide To Killing It In The Classroom after realizing that most interesting education books are written for adults, and the ones students are forced to use in class mostly suck.

They’re not just uninteresting. They are dull and written in some weird code no one can, or wants to understand. And, they make your backpack look like you’re about to set off on a two week long hike in the wilderness, which would be cool if you’re into that sort of thing, except for the fact that you’re surrounded by concrete, glass, and steel. You’re not a horse either, so what’s the deal? I mean really…

And here’s one more unpopular opinion coming from this teacher. Most of the stuff in those books is useless. Most of the so-called knowledge can be googled. Some of this information will be outdated before you hit work. A lot of it is irrelevant right now.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

students walking4

Walking is a tonic for body, mind, and soul.  (Rubinstein, 2015, p. 251)

Walking With High School Students

The Walking Curriculum offers learning activities designed to simultaneously develop your students’ sense of place and to enrich their understanding of cross-curricular topics and core competencies. Walking curriculum activities reflect the principles and practices of Imaginative Ecological Education as they connect engagement of the body, imagination and the local natural and cultural context through outdoor learning activities. The following walking-based activities have been specifically designed for secondary school-aged students.  Topics include connections between walking and mental health, mindfulness, and awareness.

2 Walks For High School Students: Practicing Mindfulness & Awareness  

#1 Mental Health Walk(s)

Walking has been called the “magic pill” for wellness as it can positively impact so many aspects of our physical and mental health. This walking theme will focus on the practice of walking to reduce stress and anxiety. Begin by asking students: Why walk? What are the benefits? Have a general discussion about the positive aspects of regular walking. Students may already know that walking builds muscle strength and bone density, lowers blood pressure and risk of heart disease, burns calories helping in weight management, and eases back and other muscular pain. Walking has also been shown to slow physical signs of aging (e.g. by keeping the body subtle and the heart healthier) and also supports brain health (cognition, memory) into old age. Walking is also an effective means to lower stress and anxiety. Discuss some of these commonly known benefits of walking with your students but then challenge them (as a follow-up) to independently research one more benefit of walking that is less well-known (e.g. recent studies associate walking with retinal health--I did say it was a magic pill). 

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