Roses and Thorns

Last week was rough. The students were having a hard time staying focused, assignments were coming in late, and I wasn’t feeling the greatest. Friday afternoon I asked some of my scholars to get out their planners. We’ve been working on keeping track of upcoming due dates, and I wanted to make sure they were filling them out completely. I asked several times and they didn’t get them out. They just kept talking.

After talking/yelling at them about how frustrated I was that I had to ask so many times before they would do anything we sat down and had a little bit of circle time. We shared what we call roses and thorns. Roses are great things that happened during the week, and thorns are struggles that happened. I shared that my thorn was my frustration that students weren’t following directions.

We went all the way around the circle, and the whole time I was processing our interactions before circle time. I was evaluating what I said, the tone I used and whether or not it was what the students needed to hear in the way they needed to hear it at that moment. I decided that I probably should have waited a little longer before I processed with them, but other than that I was ok with the discussion. But I also realized that they needed a reminder that no matter what I have their back, I’m there to support them, and that they are still important and valued in my classroom.

When the circle finally got back to me, the bell was ringing and I stopped them before they left for the weekend. The last thing I said to them before they left was “even though I was frustrated, you are still some of my favorite people.” That was it. Nothing fancy or formal. I didn’t even pull back on my frustration. If I had they would have called me out for being inauthentic. Instead it was just a quick reminder that no matter what happens they are still part of the room 502 family. They left with a high five to tackle their weekends.

I mess up…a lot. As a teacher we always second guess what we’re doing and question whether this is exactly what this student needs at this moment. I’m always wrestling through decisions, but if students know you love them and support them, you can work through any bumps in the road.

For more articles like this check out my article on Edutopia dedicated to new teachers: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/having-an-off-day-josh-stock

 

How do we redesign education?

Last summer my school applied for and was selected as one of 14 schools in the state of Kansas with the mission to redesign what school means in the 21st century. We were given permission to reflect on and change anything we felt would truly make the greatest impact on our students. After conversations with the state and the district we only had a couple of rules:

  1. We had to stick with our current beginning and ending times for the day (district)
  2. There would be no additional funds for this redesign (state)
  3. We had to stick within the current state standards (both)

For more information from the state check out: http://www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/Communications-and-Recognition-Programs/Vision-Kansans-Can/School-Redesign

I am one part in this giant cog of change and redesign. It has been at times challenging, exhausting, frustrating and rewarding all at the  same time. And we aren’t even close to finished.

 

Personally, the biggest way this has impacted my teaching is it has forced me to reflect on everything I do. I’m constantly asking myself why I teach a lesson a certain way, use a certain novel, or even why I teach novels at all. It’s definitely a humbling and scary question to ask myself everyday: why? Why is this important for my students and how do I want this lesson to impact their lives after they leave my classroom?

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my current teaching questions I’m wrestling with. Please feel free to share, post, comment, and question. Part of the way I grapple with things is to talk about it with others, and chances are that your insights will either challenge me to rethink my philosophies or allow me to strengthen my beliefs on certain topics.

I always tell my students at the end of every video, and I think it’s fitting here:

Until next time…book it forward…and be awesome!

Teach Students the Why

This weekend I spent a lot of time reflecting on what the students know and what they don’t know yet. On Friday they took a quiz and, along with a couple of assignments, I realized that I did not do an adequate job preparing them to read a non-fiction text. This was especially troubling, because we were already half-way through one.

I had to regroup, so I made a list of all of the things that were the most vital for understanding the text and the one that stood out to me the most is something that has been a theme of mine all year. I didn’t tell them the why.

Image result for freedom walkers

We are currently reading Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman. It’s a great text about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Many of the students know who Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks are, but they don’t know the details of their story. To them these are two figures from a long time ago that we talk about in school.

Today I decided to focus on the why. I started by asking them, “why did I choose this book out of all of the books I could have selected?” They had some great answers along with some superficial but still true responses. We talked about the physical book: the font is bigger, fewer words per page, and there are pictures on almost every page. We also talked about the importance of the Civil Rights movement in history. Several of the students brought up the importance of learning about history so we don’t repeat it. Finally, several students brought up comparisons of things that happened during the movement and how they relate to the world today.

Overall, it was a great foundation that I should have started with at the beginning of the unit. The next thing I asked them was, “how would you have ended segregation if you grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s?” They struggled with this question like I knew they would. After a couple of minutes, instead of asking them for their answers I asked them how difficult it was to decide on a strategy that would end this massive problem. Then we talked about having a laser-like focus on a problem. We talked about how the bus boycott was meant to end segregation on buses, but their hope was that it would lead to more progress. We talked about taking small steps toward a bigger goal.

I’m hoping this moment to regroup will set them up for success later on. The hope is that in a few weeks they will decide on their own challenges, their own movements they want to start to make the world a better place.

 

*This is a post that I wrote while I was still setting up my new website. It’s a couple weeks old but still pertinent.

Giving my students real-world application to their writing

This week I learned just how little I actually know about the political system and showcased my struggles with my students.
To begin, we spent most of the week reviewing the STOP writing strategy (suspend judgment, take a side, organize ideas, plan more as you write) and the DARE writing strategy (develop a claim, add supporting ideas, reject the other side, end with a conclusion). The goal was to give the students tools in their writing toolbox to formulate persuasive writing in a more cohesive manner.
This week’s topic was based on a Newsela article on the laws involving dogs riding in cars. The students read the article and then outlined whether or not dogs should be allowed to ride in cars. At the end of the week the goal was for them to write a persuasive essay.
Thursday night rolled around, and I started planning for the essay and realized something. In the 10 years since I left college I have never once written a persuasive essay in the real-world. I haven’t sat down to write a 5 paragraph essay about my views on year-round school or whether or not students should have cell-phones. It’s not a practical experience and won’t directly translate into something they might actually do after high school. I know there are some benefits of writing an essay like learning fundamental grammar rules and organizing ones thoughts in a coherent way, but I thought I might be able to cover those same topics in a more applicable way.
At that point I knew I wanted to take the lesson a step further, but I had no idea what I wanted the students to do. What could I have them do that they might actually do in the future? I decided someday they might feel strongly about something and want to notify someone influential that things needed to change.
I decided I wanted them to write to their legislature about the importance of creating a law (or not creating a law) banning dogs from riding in cars. The problem…I had no idea who they were supposed to write to. I started searching the internet for our local congress representatives and realized it was EXTREMELY difficult to find. I either found our national representatives or found a list of local representatives but no list of which district the school was in. After 7 or 8 different searches I finally figured it out. I found a great map of the districts in the area with a listing of each representative for that district.
When class started I told them about my struggles to find the information. I showed them the map and explained which representative represents their address (our school covers 3 different congressional districts). Then I had them write a letter to their representative. The next time I do this we’ll actually send the letters to the representative (I want more prep time before I feel comfortable doing this).
This was terrifying. I know embarrassingly little about the political system, but I used that as a teachable moment. The students watched me struggle through finding answers and the final product was something they might actually end up doing someday.
 

It’s time for some TweetUps!

In education it’s easy to get bogged down and let frustrations get the best of you. To counter that I’m constantly trying to find ways to build my students up. I tell my students why they’re awesome and try to encourage them anyway I can. Sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes my words don’t hold the same weight as their peers.
That is what spawned the idea of TweetUps. TweetUps are little slips of blue paper meant to look like a Tweet that students use to write positive messages to each other. They are a chance for students to put some positivity in the world, tell their classmates why they rock, and tell them they aren’t going unnoticed.
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Here’s how it works:
There is a box on one of my shelves for students to put completed TweetUps in. Once a week I pull all of the TweetUps and read them in a special edition of my daily announcement videos. The students love hearing Tweetups about them, about their classmates and also sneaking in some inside jokes.
Here is my latest TweetUps video. A student created the theme song, and another student is currently working on a logo:


It helps create a great classroom culture of building others up. Students can take credit for writing a Tweet or they can keep it anonymous. The nice thing about anonymous tweets is I can share some TweetUps about great things kids are doing, and they don’t know it’s from me. Sometimes it’s better that it sounds like it came from one of their peers.
Usually part way through the year I ask if anyone would like a list of students who haven’t received a TweetUp yet. There are always a handful of students who take the challenge and make sure that every student in class gets recognized. I’m always cognizant of the need for tact on this. I don’t want students to feel embarrassed about not receiving a TweetUp yet and I also don’t want them to feel like their TweetUp is insignificant. So far everything has worked out perfectly.
Once the TweetUps have been read on video they are hung up on a bulletin board. When the bulletin board is full or there is a good transition time (during Winter Break for example) I take all of the TweetUps down and hand them out. It amazes me how many students keep the TweetUps in their binder for the rest of the year.
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I can’t take full credit for TweetUps. Below is the PDF of the TweetUp form that I use. My wife designed it for her 5th grade classroom.
tweet ups
TweetUps are a quick way to make a positive change in the classroom.

Our quest up Everest

Today marked my 3rd annual trek up Mt. Everest with my students. It coincides with our reading of Peak by Roland Smith and usually falls on a day about halfway through reading the novel. It is by far one of the most fun spins to a normal reading day.
It all begins with a hook…
Our journey began yesterday towards the end of each hour. I played a “voicemail” I just received on my phone the students “just had to hear.” The message informs them that they have been selected to go on a special excursion to ABC on Mt. Everest.
Then I passed out climbing permits for the students to fill out, which I collected at the end of the hour.
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The prep work…
After school the classroom transformation took place. To begin I put half of my desks in my reading corner (I told my students that corner was off limits because of a rockslide). This freed up a lot of my room for the students to set up their “camp sites.” Then I created a giant mountain out of construction paper. I also hung up some pictures of yaks and turned a couple of coffee thermoses into oxygen tanks (it’s the details that make the day fun). Finally, I created a mountain on my classroom door.


Climbing up Everest…
The students started in the hall waiting to enter Base Camp. I handed them their climbing permits and told them about the camps they could choose from: 3 pods of desks, a floor table, some comfy chairs, and the fave, a tent set up in the classroom. They were sent in one guild at a time to choose their camp site based on their guild standings.
Once the kids had their camps set up, I let them create a team banner for their campsite to replace their current guild crests they’ve been using since August. They also had a chance to create new names (my favorites were the YetiYetis and Blizzard Shakers).

While they worked on their banners I let them come over and get some hot tea to “warm up” like they do in the book. Many had never tried hot tea before. I let them add sweetener and honey to it. We also did a mini-lesson on appropriate responses when someone offers you a gift (only two responses: thank you or no thank you).

IMG_0026.HEIC

The kids spent the rest of the hour reading the next chapter in the book at their camp site.


The finale…
The highlight was at the end of the hour I broke the bad news to the students. One of the groups in each hour got frostbite and unfortunately lost the fingers on one of their hands. I had a dramatic dice roll to determine which group would get frostbite. That group then had to spend the rest of the day not using the fingers on that hand. It was hilarious and fun. I saw kids in the hall all day trying to figure out how to carry their books and open doors with their missing fingers.
The cleanup…
The hardest part about the day is cleanup. This year I came up with a solution. To begin I let my homeroom students have a snowball fight with the paper snow on the ground. They loved it. Then I let them play paper basketball with the paper snow into the trash cans. It was great. They were having fun and cleaning at the same time. Finally, I bribed them with some more hot tea to help me reorganize my desks.

Overall, it was an exhausting but great day.
The future…
Next year I’m hoping to add more team building activities around the campfire, team chants and songs, and then have them share some campfire stories they write beforehand.
It’s things like this the kids remember.

Our Flight to Tibet

Last night I was in the middle of a great Twitter chat with the #xplap crew about immersive engagement and planning out today’s lesson at the same time when I got an idea. Why was I talking about immersive engagement and not creating an immersive lesson at the same time? It seemed a little hypocritical, so at 9:30 at night I changed up all of my plans and this was the result:
We are 7 chapters into the novel Peak by Roland Smith. At this point in the novel the main character is on a plane flying out to Tibet to climb Mt. Everest. My original plan was to have the students do a flipped reading of the next 2 chapters (using EdPuzzle). To make this a more immersive experience I decided that we would fly on the plane to Tibet as well.
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To start the hour I had the students wait in the hall until the bell ring. I had a sign on my door that said Stock Air: Gate SFT1. When the bell rang I walked out in a suit and tie (not my normal attire). They asked me why I was so dressed up. I told them that Flight Attendants always dress up and asked them for their tickets. When they couldn’t show me their tickets I told them I had extras for them and proceeded to pass out a plane ticket to each student.
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I then tore off a portion of each ticket and welcomed them aboard the plane. My desks were lined up in rows to look like airplane seating. The next time I do this I’ll hang some sheets from the ceiling to make it narrower and look more like a plane.


After everyone was aboard I told them that they would need to download the inflight entertainment by downloading the EdPuzzle app. I also told them that the airline would be providing headphones if anyone needed some.
Once everyone was situated and ready to go I played a safety video from the flight attendant:
https://youtu.be/cboLVVzxe2s
I then told them to prepare for takeoff and played audio of the pilot giving a message:
https://youtu.be/ajsO8roa-uQ
And that was it. The kids spent the rest of the “flight” reading their books. I put a picture of clouds on the screen to remind them that we were flying. They were doing exactly what I had originally planned, but after setting it up this way I had the greatest class period. The kids were engaged in their reading, I didn’t have behavior issues, and all of the kids got to work right away. Throughout the hour I would do things like ask visitors to the room how they were able to fly up to our plane and told kids leaving to use the restroom to be careful because of turbulence, anything to keep the illusion alive.
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When class was about over I asked them to put their trays in the upright position and clean up their seating area. Then I played an announcement from the pilot:
https://youtu.be/FiVLMsYsGMk
When the bell rang I thanked them all for flying Stock Air and asked them to consider Stock Air for all of their future travel needs:
https://youtu.be/sTIku2iCIj4
All of this came out of an idea I had at 9:30 the night before. Was it hectic trying to throw everything together at the last minute? Absolutely. Are there things I would like to do differently? Yep. I’m planning out all the ways I can improve this for next year. But those things didn’t matter to the kids. They enjoyed a new, unique experience.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and try something different even if you don’t have all the details worked out. Things have a way of figuring themselves out, and now I have an awesome idea for next year.

My response to #gratitudesnaps

We’ve all had those days. You spilled your coffee on the way to school. The printer jammed so you don’t have the copies you need for your first hour class. Little Jimmy decided a fork and an outlet would make a great combination. Maybe your lesson wasn’t as elaborate as you wanted it to be. Maybe the students gave you blank stares when you tried to explain a new concept. Everything in your day just bombed. You start to spin into that negative space where everything seems like it is failing miserably.
I promise there is an upside in this post.
A few weeks ago I read a great idea in a blog post on Twitter, #gratitudesnaps. The hashtag was created by the queen of #booksnaps, @TaraMartinEDU and the culinary, gamified guru, @tishrich. The goal was simple, get out of that funk. There are amazing things happening all around us and sometimes we need to be reminded to look for those positives in our lives. Each day participants posted a picture of something they are grateful for with the hashtag #gratitudesnaps. It’s a great way to reflect on the good things in life when it seems like things are too negative.
You can read the origin story here: http://www.tarammartin.com/gratitudesnaps/
As soon as I heard about it I was hooked. I spent the day looking for things to snap, found one, and posted it to twitter. The next day the same thing happened, I found things I was grateful for and chose one to post a picture of. I was so excited to share what I was grateful for.
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And then I missed a day.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t grateful, I just got caught up in life and missed it. I promised myself I’d do better the next day and I did. I posted a couple more snaps the following days including extra snaps to make up for the one I missed.
And then I missed another day.
I was failing at this assignment that nobody required me to do, and I was beating myself up over it. I felt like I was doing #gratitudesnaps wrong and people would notice. They would go on my timeline and realize that my dates didn’t line up and I didn’t post a picture each day and they would judge me and the world would end. At least that’s what I told myself.
Later that week I was in the car stressing about what pictures I could take to catch up, and I realized something. I missed the whole point of the activity. The activity was meant to reflect on the good things in life. Instead of focusing on the positive, I was focusing on the pictures and how everyone would like them. I was focusing on how they would make everyone else feel instead of focusing on the way they would make ME feel.
It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of life and miss the bigger picture. It’s easy to take something fun like this and turn it into a chore. It’s easy to think that there is just one way to do something.
I’m happily days behind on my #gratitudesnaps. I had several days where I posted multiple pictures and days where I snapped a picture and kept it for myself. And days where I chose to enjoy the moment instead of taking a picture. I’m loving the activity. It’s reminding me what my priorities are.
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I saw Tara the other day at a Dave Burgess presentation and she mentioned that she created a padlet with all of her snaps and quickly saw some trends in what she values. That’s what I plan on doing too. I love this reminder of the joys in my life.
Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to walk our own paths.
Today my #gratitudesnaps is to Tara and Tisha for encouraging people to put a little more positivity into the digital world.
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You're more than "just" a teacher…

If you know me at all, you would know that I don’t use profanity, ever since I was a little kid and got my mouth washed out with soap. I’m not a saint, I’ve said plenty of things in my head that shouldn’t be repeated, especially when the copier goes down, and I forgot my coffee, and I just finished my 3rd IEP meeting of the day. But I don’t use it in my everyday vocabulary.
However, I always tell my students to use the words that best fit the story you are trying to tell. There is no other way to say this.
I am a bad ass teacher.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of going to the ISTE conference in San Antonio. While I was there I saw brilliant educators all around me.  On Sunday night of the conference I went to a reunion event of sorts for people who have been on the “20 to Watch: Educational Tech Leaders” list from the National School Board Association (I was on the list in 2016).  Part way through the reception we all went around the room and shared who we were, what year we were on the list, and what we are currently working on. As we went around the room there were CEOs, company founders, college faculty doing amazing work in research fields, superintendents, and a teacher…me.
For a split second I was embarrassed. I thought “Look at all of the amazing things that these people are doing, all the titles they have next to their name, and then look at me. I’m JUST a teacher.” And then I thought to myself that phrase…
I am a badass teacher.

I’m beginning my 10th year of teaching, and I’ve had several people ask me what my next step is, usually implying that I should start looking toward administration. I feel like there is this perception that being a teacher is just a stepping stone toward something else. If administration is your calling, and you feel like you could make great change at the administrator level, I think that’s fantastic. However, I hate this idea in education that the only way to move forward in your career is to leave the classroom. I have witnessed amazing leaders in all areas of education.
One of my colleagues, Ashford Collins, doesn’t just teach his students to stand up for social change, but lives it by organizing a peace walk in the local community. That’s a bad ass teacher.
Amy Hillman, along with the other science teachers in my building invites members from the community in for a giant science night with thousands of people in attendance. Those are bad ass teachers.  
My wife, Jenica Stock, organizes an after school technology club for her students because she knows the amazing benefits this opportunity gives her students. That’s a bad ass teacher.
For the past 5 years I have helped organize book drives to give over 3000 new and used books to families in need in our area. I also coach an after school LEGO robotics team, present at conferences around the country and write for websites like Edutopia. That’s bad ass.
Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like “just a teacher” or in my case I made myself feel like less than everyone else for my choice to be in the classroom.
As you kick off the new school year, embrace your inner bad ass, and share with others why you’re a #badassteacher.

My first attempt at Facebook for the classroom

Social media is an ingrained part of most of our lives. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, it’s hard to keep up. Adding to the challenge, as a middle school teacher I have to balance the effectiveness of social media for students, colleagues and parents. Each group has their preferred social media outlets.
Last year I started a classroom Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat account for my classroom activities. I posted pictures of the students actively engaged in amazing activities and shared about upcoming events.
Twitter was great for sharing my activities to other teachers and school personnel. But students and parents weren’t very active in this space. I already use it for my professional activities and this tied in nicely with that.
Instagram was great for engaging with students and sharing their hard work with their peers. Many of the students interacted in this space, sharing positive comments when students won awards and enjoyed reliving some of the craziness that is room 502.
I couldn’t get into Snapchat. The students are in that space and enjoyed my posts, but when I post something I want it to be more permanent than Snapchat which disappears after 24 hours.
This year my goal is to dive into Facebook for my classroom. I’m hoping more parents will be engaged in this space. Personally, I spend more time than I should checking my Facebook feed, and I think there are plenty of parents that feel the same way.
I created two Facebook pages, not accounts but pages. I made the mistake of creating a new account at first but realized this wouldn’t accomplish the right goals. A page allows you to control what people see and doesn’t give access to your personal Facebook account. I don’t care if parents see my personal account, but most of them are more interested in what’s happening in the classroom and less interested in the pictures of my adorable children I’m constantly sharing.
One page is a professional account for me to share my blog posts, interesting articles I come across and share the same awesome classroom photos that I share on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. In a future post I’ll share how I post to multiple platforms at once. I’ll probably share this Facebook page in more professional settings with other educators, when I present at conferences, etc. However, I’d gladly welcome any parent who would like to see my teaching philosophy.
The second page I created is a classroom page. On this page I’ll share the same Instagram photos from the other account. I’ll also post event information, announcements, etc. I’m debating posting some parenting articles I find too, but I don’t want it to come across as too preachy. The goal of those articles would be to encourage parents to read with their kids and keep them up-to-date on the technology their kids are using.
We’ll see how this goes. I’m hoping it will help me reach more educators, parents and students. If you’ve used Facebook for your own classroom, please share any tips or tricks to help make it successful.