250 words:


Key and Peele just made this post even better>  THE ED-channel

We could solve all of the problems in education if we just start our own cable channel.

The EDchannel

we could produce shows like…


Where teachers master teachers from across the country are given one hour to prepare and present a lesson and include the mystery curriculum to our panel of experts.

Teachers Tutors and trainers:

“Watch as Gal Fieri drives across the country in a Prius to explore experience an exploit classrooms and the amazing ways educators are getting the job done.”

Extreme Classroom Makeover

A whole bunch of shop teachers join forces with designers and architect to remodel classroom to create engaging learning environments.

Keeping Up with the Kindergartens:

More drama, more tears, and more authentic beauty than any other reality show.

Cutthroat Classroom:

Teachers compete to finish the best lesson possible while being sabotaged with strange but somehow entertaining limitations.

Think of the power behind this lunacy

  • The Food network pulls in over 100 million in ads alone.
  • The general public would actually see what teachers do.
  • Teachers would get to see what other teachers do.
  • Merit pay would be called profit sharing.

Last year (pre-cable) my son would come home from practice and fix himself a PB&J or burnt grilled cheese.

This week he broiled turkey, bruschetta and provolone on Focaccia, with a garlic aioli spread.

I asked…

He said “What…Bobby Flay does this all the time.”

I weekly send my staff an email of exactly 250 words on a educational topic; here is that collection:

250 words on why I write 250 words:

I was asked again this week why “250 words”.   Which is encouraging to me, because it means people at least read the titles of my emails.

There are several pieces to the answer:

  • I am not a precious person by nature. Which means that artificial constructs of precision allow me the chance to work on skills I value but do not have in abundance.
  • I have be accused of rambling, hard to do with a narrow little target.
  • I am forced to edit. 250 is never where I naturally stop writing.
  • All readers are more likely to finish if they know the end target is a specific distance away. (How many pages until the end of the book?)
  • 250 words is roughly what you see when you look at an email without scrolling. Again encouraging people to willingly read all of what is written.
  • It is my mission to get you thinking, not to have you listen to me think.

Boys especially are frustrated or overwhelmed when asked to work without a hard target.  It is analogues to being told to work until you are done, or run until you are tiredDone and tired change with every student and circumstance.

Hard targets can also get in the way.  They can become the goal rather than a measure, if misplaced they can defeat rather that encourage.

Pedagogical science has shown us hard targets are a tool we can to teach.  The artistry is found in how we use the tool.

The Week Before 250  (4/3/15)

For those that may actually take the time to count, (You should have better things to do)

But I will run short this week, at least I am honest with you.

But poetry has its own precision, based on meter and rhyme

counting the words betrays the form and therefore wasting time.


“The Week before spring break”

I’ve got a great big problem,

And it has to do with time:

My school’s clocks must be broken.

I’m about to lose my mind!

t’s the week before vacation,

And I’m standing at the board

Writing out 100 times in chalk

“I’ll not tell teacher I am bored.”

But I am bored, and I’m tired,

And I’m ready for a break.

So I’m pretending like I’m sorry,

But I’m feeling like a fake.

I peek out the window.

I see green grass and sun.

I want so bad to be outside;

To fly a kite and run.

To Einstein, time was relative.

And E was MC squared,

But he’s never come to my school,

so I think he doesn’t care.

Time is not MY relative!

I’m not concerned with E!

I sure hope they start vacation soon

So I can just be free!

I’m ready for vacation,

And I know that teacher is also

‘Cuz she’s writing on her notepad

“These kids are driving me nutso!”

I’ve written mine ‘most thirty times,

But teacher’s got me beat.

She’s written hers a hundred times EACH DAY FOR THE PAST WEEK!

(249 words)

The Academic Avengers vs SBAC 250  (3/24/15)

Marvel-ous  Avengers


Sbac the cybervillian

With their quietly commanding leader feeling down our team of misfit heroes, assemble to defeat the heinous villain known only as Sbac.  The scattered by stalwart coach (played by Tom Hanks) runs from team member to class as our heroes fight and battle through frustration, depression, anxiety and awkward conditions to bring  out the best effort from our charges.

Side storyline flash before the audience as we see small scale struggles that seems as powerful and important as the Epic team battles going on next door.   Emotions run raw as we are moved to both admire and despise Sbac and its twisted journey form a source of insight and beacon of acumen to tyrannical overlord obsessed with its own power.

Yet through all the action and energy, it is the small stories that pull us in.

That struggling student known only as JM who knows as well as the audience that he cannot win pushes through, grumpy and grumbling all the while,  not once but twice because people that care have asked him to try – and bribed with candy.

The Strong gifted solider that phoned it in for the first wave then as a change of heart and stands tall in the round two.

The team leaders trapped behind a cyberwall that Somehow blinds them to all the dedication, preparation, inspiration, they have already given are forced to look on feeling impotent as their crew fights on without them.                                   Hollywood makes small things seem large:

Thankful But… 250 words   (3/17/15)

250 Vocabulary words: (3/6/15)

Although neither of my parents ever got close to college vocabulary and debate, were huge in our house throughout my childhood.  We knew Roberts rules of order by heart. I could present a three-point argument at age 8. My brother put the butt in rebuttal.  We debated vociferously and vehemently.

My parents would not let us play sports because competition was bad, but, we were scored on the strength of our arguments and extra points were given for vocabulary.

As a kid words had important value in our family, they had muscle and sway.

The more word you know the smarter people think you are.  I was a horrific reader but no one noticed until late because I was well spoken.

Vocabulary has torque:

“By age three, it is believed that children growing up in poor neighborhoods or from lower-income families may hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more privileged counterparts.”

A run of the numbers:

The Typical high school grad know between 40 and 50 thousand words and use around 5,000.

The typical college grad knows about 75,000 thousand words, and uses around 10,000

And one more just for the old white middle class rapper inside me.

Jay Z  uses about 4500 different words in his raps, which is dangerously close to the total number of words used by high schooler…and his lines rhyme!

Vocabulary is all about exposure. Hearing, using and reading words.

I have a list of books with great Vocabulary on the website.

The Oscar for Best academic Support goes to…   (2/27/15)

I was thinking about the Oscars this week.  Which got me thinking about stories and how we learn and teach from them.  Clearly, the Academy is not looking at movies the same way I do as a teacher.

Maybe we could petition Hollywood to add “Most Educationally Relevant” as a category, (Then Selma would have gotten the props I thought it deserved.)

Or Best Academic Support.

From my little corner of the world, the big winner of that one last weekend was the animated short called Feast. It’s about 6 minutes long and tells a wordless story of a dog’s life as seen from around his food bowl.

Wordless stories and books are always my goto when I am talking to a class about inference, and Feast is now top of that list. (Other top contenders are Tuesday, Lion and Mouse and Flotsam.)  Teachers identify inference as one of the most challenging of all academic skills to teach. They note that inference feels abstract and difficult to model. It’s also pretty high on the list of thing you need good executive function skills for.

Inference is an uphill battle.  I have no easy path up that hill.  But I do know that inference can be modeled more effectively through pictures than through text.  Stories told without words force us to infer meaning; stories told with detailed illustrations are great for close “reading” and reexamination.

However: Inference in Videos and pictures do not come with the same level of rigor as text.

250 words of resolution 2/20/15

My kids tease me because I make resolutions in January and again at Lent in March.

Spencer’s current theory is that I should resolve each year to keep my Lenten goal and be done.

Behavioral scientists are also big fans of goal setting and motivation, mostly because the business community pays big for that kind of information.  Naturally, some of what they learned we can use too.

  • Making a target goal of 100% is less likely to be successful then a target of 97%.    – For example if I tell you 100% of your students must pass, you are unlikely to try hard. Because 100% leaves no margin for error.  You may think 97% is also unreasonably high but it allows for a margin.  97% also seems more specific and therefore implies a logic to the unreasonable standard, which also adds incentive.
  • I give up sugar for Lent but on day 41, I will be back to nightly ice cream and brownies.

But I would be better off giving up sugar five days of every week and feel better having earned my brownies, because small rewards add value to the effort and then sustain it over time.

  • Those Behavioral scientists also figured out that – even with kids- having them sign a goal statement or write one out themselves increased success by 31% over those that had didn’t sign their papers.

My sons new goal is no TV before 8:00 five nights a week. —I made him write it down 😉

Swirling Vortex of 250 words  2/12/15 

If you were stuck in a swirling vortex of some cosmic time-space continuum loop, that forced you to teach only one concept over and over, What one concept would you cover?

—- What?  You don’t think about that kind of problem every day?…

Okay it’s a bit of a ridiculous question but at the heart of it what I want to know is what you think the most important concept you teach is?

For me…my answer this week… would have would be the idea of cause and effect.  It runs through everything.  Our reading writing, history, science, behavior, politics, ecomonics, even cartoons.

More than just popping up everywhere … cause and effect is a tool for explaining the world.  It can be as simple as understanding that being burnt makes you leery of fire or as complex as the idea that the flap of a butterflies wings can cause a hurricane in the Atlantic, (as well as explaining Chaos theory.)

As it is with any big overarching, space-time continuum looping concept, as a teacher I know I need to vary the medium without changing the target.  If we don’t make that variation kids will assume no cross over exists.

To help with that variation below I have given a short list of books that offer multiple paths of clear and direct cause and effect as well as a couple short videos science related as well as some fun Pixar shorts that lend themselves to questions and discussions on the topic.

250 words on Creativity (part one)  Jan. 9, 2015

I think of myself as creative, so unsurprisingly, I am a huge advocate of creativity.

Creativity is chaos brought to order. Finding the freedom within the limits and retelling the same old story in new ways.

There are many reasons we don’t teach creativity in our classrooms, and none of them good, but all of them make sense.

  • Thinking outside the box is fine as long as it fits within the structure of our block schedule.
  • Classrooms are filled with rigor, standards and evaluations.
  • 21st century kids and 20th century tools… where do we put creativity?
  • Good teachers don’t want to invite the chaos and rebellion that creativity seems to engender.

In my experience creativity isn’t taught in most classroom because it is not understood.

  • When we list “creative people” Picasso, Robin Williams, Edgar Allen Poe, Johnny Depp, Vincent Van Gogh, and Bob Dylan are all heavy hitters.
  • If we also make a list of famous people we would not have wanted in our classrooms Those same names would appear close to the top.

I will add here, that I am not certain it is our job as teachers to make people creative. I do however think we should expose students to that path and allow them to explore it.

I think 21st century creativity is:  learning to stay within the lines while you think outside the box.

Our dilemma is that sometimes if feels like education is a lot of blurred lines and moving boxes.

250 on Reasons I’m thankful to be a Teacher:

It is easy to be grumpy as a teacher.  The demands, complaints, pressures and changes are just the top of the list of things that weigh heavy on our shoulders.
This time of year, as we ask our kids to be thankful for all they have, I thought I would reflect on the best parts of this job.
Five days a week there are 20 some kids standing outside your doors eager to get inside and spend time with you.
We get to eat in a private dining room.
No profession that gets to spend as much time as us helping kids celebrate themselves.
There are very few adults that understand what we do all day, but there are even fewer that could actually do it.
What we lose in salary we gain in karma.
You are guaranteed the best chair in the room.
There is no other profession as kid friendly as teaching.
We don’t have to pay for parking.
There is an endless supply of funny stories to tell at parties.
You never have to worry about the value of your stock options.
Late start days still count as full days.
No one has more control over what happens in your classroom than you.
You will be part of life changing moments.
Nobody else gets the week between Christmas and New Year off every year.
You feel like a rock star every time you are spotted at Winco.
The platitude is true.  You really do touch the future.

250 on formative  Assessment:

Our Design team is taking a deeper look at assessments so I am trying to keep up with them by thinking about it too.

I think there may be a real connection between how we think of assessment and how the US thinks and uses the public Ed system.  I shouldn’t try and solve world issues in 125 words but wisdom is not my strong suit.

For most the world, assessment in education = tests

Tests have a negative connotation because we are still learning that failing a test does not mean failing in life.  Changing that idea is important but slow.

Schools have been used/seen as conduit to more testing;  SAT, ACT, College.

In other areas…., assessment is a tool to measure the current conditions of something.  That is similar but importantly distinct form a test.

Doctors do not test a wound they assess it.

In the military a Tactical, Warning Assessment is a measurement of threat.

If we want the world, or even our little corner of it, to think of assessment as a tool rather than a test then we need to make the difference clear.

Formative assessment is just a way to answer the three questions that fill up the rest of our day:

What do you know right now?

What do you need to learn today?

How can I help you learn?

Metacognition, mindset, Blooms taxonomy, the Hess Matrix, Student centers learning, and creating connections, are all popular ideas that require formative assessment to work.

I think a lot about feedback. Its kind of my job.   I wonder about, what to say, how best to say it, what will be heard. Of all the professional learning I have done over the last year the most important lessons for me have been around giving better feedback.
All learners need feedback.  It’s the difference between intentional learning and random growth.
250 on Feedback
lessons I have learned about feedback:

What is not constructive is destructive: Feedback is helpful insight to moving forward, not a list of missteps in paths behind us.
Its for reflection not direction:   Good feedback makes the learner think through a better answer it does not point to the answer.
The law of diminishing returns:  The impact of the feedback diminishes with time away from the learning.
Honest feedback means you care:  Indifference is a silent speech that echoes in our ears.

The most meaningful things teachers do is craft responses to student learning. Its not the lessons, or the data, or the grade, a machine could generate those things.
Feedback is where the connection between learners, the empathy of struggle, and the encouragement of a taskmaster. all find a voice.

Well built feedback comes from the piles of data that we gather.  It is then enriched and fortified by a teachers experience and understanding of their students. Finally, in the hands of an expert,
feedback pushes, pulls, annoys and encourages until a goal is within sight, then fades so the learning is owned by the learner.

250:  Kindergarten 101

By now most of you know that I am not a kindergarten guy.   I have said that the wee ones scare me, but the truth is that it’s not the kids.  I don’t understand how to teach that level.  I can break down and explain fractions; I know how to teach sentence structure; I can do fluency with kids. I have no clue what you do with a room full of people that think LMNO is one letter; after you tell them it’s not.  That scares me.

I decided it was a about time to overcome that fear.

I’ve learned:

·         In Kindergarten they fill every orifice with learning.   Much more effectively than any other grade.  The sounds, movements, feeling and visuals representations of every lesson are used. 

·         The rhythms of the rooms are palpable; in the cadence of their speech and the clap for attention it’s as though a metronome is pacing out a beat that the class picks up as they walk in and then carry with them through the day.   The teachers use that beat to identify struggle, to distinguish between what should be ignored and that which needs to be addressed.

·         Kindergarten is also about grain size:  teaching big chunks and thinking about little pieces. 

·         LMNO is four different sounds, four different mouth moves, four different shapes and four different letters. 

·         Kindergarten is about knowing the fine grain sizes so you can teach the big pieces.

Modality makes every teachers lessons better, but in kindergarten it’s vital.

250: Teacher Wars

I have at least 3 personal biases that I gladly own and foster.   One of those prejudices, is a conviction that people who have not taught should not tell teachers how to do their jobs.  This means, I regularly find issue with many of the most popular books on education. 

I just finished The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein:

Dana isn’t a teacher, however for the most part she avoids falling into my trap.  She follows the history of public schools and teaching in the United States. Over the last 300 years.

One thing become very clear through this historical perspective:

·         All of the Educational reform ideas of the last 20 years are really about 150 years old.

The Epilogue of The Teacher Wars is all written in contrast to my personal biases. But as I agree with most of her conclusion I will have to give Ms. Goldstein a pass on this one.   Here are some of her thoughts:

·         To improve our schools, we have to help teachers do their job the way higher-achieving nations do:  give them adequate time to plan for classes (about a 1/3 of each day), Support from well-trained coaches, and the opportunity to observe and collaborate.

·         Use standardized test properly:  low stakes, frequent assessments of growth and struggle.

·         Make education a funding priority not simply a priority for lip service.

I put this book in the same stack with The Smartest Kids in the World and Building a Better Teacher :

250 the patience of a Teacher:

Full disclosure:

I was watching Heather teach when I started this a couple weeks ago.

But sharing poetry, even bad poetry, is more difficult than counting out 250 words so there was some… waiting.

Teaching makes me think about waiting from the other side.  Not like Jonah sitting in the whales belly or, Buddha under a tree doing nothing.  Teaching makes me think of waiting as the purposeful time between actions.  More like the civil rights lunch counter sit-in or standing stalwart in front of tanks at Tiananmen Square.   It is much harder to describe. But mastering waiting means using, that time between actions to set the course for the next action.

I firmly believe that great teachers are great waiters.

Never try to out wait a teacher:

They are masters of the waiting arts;

The pregnant pause, the averted eyes, awkward silence

Master teachers wield and attack undeterred by defiance

Where mere mortals will push through, or call a victim out

A teacher will hold and force the dormant thoughts to sprout.

Seconds tick by, each sweated and stewed and stirred

while the educator calmly waits patient and unperturbed

Time is never wasted, too precious is that in school

They watch for fidgeting fingers, or a curiously itching head,

Those brave enough to struggle, those that left the problem dead.

Ripe with contemplations

Seasoned with frustrations

asked with expectations

The answers rightness or wrongness are nothing but a ruse

It’s the learning the teacher awaits and will not refuse.

250 on teaching in Poverty

Donna Beegle got me thinking last week.  The push for more rigor, higher standards and deeper learning get me thinking most weeks. There was a near collision at the intersection of those thoughts in my head.

What the poverty students need runs perpendicular to what we teach and teacher stand at that crossroad wanting to avoid a crash?

I missed the bigger message.  Students in poverty are starting from a different point.   The solution isn’t found in avoiding a crash it comes in moving the intersection.

Poverty does NOT make us less capable.  As a teacher that means I need to start where my students are, rather than where I wanted them to be. And then work with them in their landscape to achieve alongside their middle class peers

It is a reminder that we learn where we feel safe, from people we trust, and about topics that impact our lives

As a person it means I need to judge less and connect more.

I am a student as much as I am a teacher:   my personal student growth goal:

Brian will modify his personal judgments of individuals based on actions contrary to his desire and then integrate those observations into an assessment of the best path forward to establish a meaningful connection with others.

My inclination as a person is to fix the kids.  I cannot really do that.  My goal as a teacher is give them the tools to fix themselves. That actually happens.

Beegle’s thought on this:

I watched a good deal of  great math this week.
I really like the way math is taught now, I think the ideas behind number talks makes a real difference in the way our kids learn.  I was taught and have taught all kinds of algorithms, I mastered 100’s of ways to memorize numbers.   But never really looked for the why of math, the why of math was clearly not meant for the likes of me.
Back when research on how our brains processed information was just starting to look at education. It was popular to plot thinkers into 4 part matrix “Analyzers, Stratigizers, Organizers and Personalizers.” Most people were said to be strong in one or two “quadrants”.
Math was all about organizing and analyzing, so for those of us on the other end of that diagram math was beyond us.
Now we teach math as a personal tool, we are supposed to use math strategies, as well as analyze and organize.  People actually listen when others are asked why they solved a problem the way they did.   I am amazed at the variety of ways student find good answers.
We will never all think in the same way, the same areas of the brain do not light up for any two people answering the same question.  But knowing there is value in my way of thinking about math is very good. In fact it is powerful beyond measure (to those of us that are not analyzers.)

250 chaos and confusion in the classroom

Every week I exchange videos with my daughter.  Its just a short diddy to keep us connected but it always contains 4 things; a learned, a smile, a laugh, and a quote.
I usually shy away from teacher stuff but, it is part of me, and so also part of how I think about the world  Kali doesn’t complain.
This weeks Quote:
“Great teachers invite chaos into their classrooms and use it as a tool to pry open thoughts and ideas”
I was not really looking for it but I saw or heard four different teachers encourage confusion (individualized chaos)  in their classrooms this week.
“You may get confused, but that’s okay that means you’re learning”
“I don’t get it.”  “Excellent I must be doing something right.   Where are you confused?”
Both quotes are dangerously close to verbatim.
Part of this is mental spill over from talking and thinking about perseverance, but more of it is just good questioning skills; building them in kids and using them as adults.
For me, one of the hallmarks of the art of education is developing a sense for when to push, when to answer and when to simply let them stew.  By my calculations there are, on average 27 answers for each part of this skill.
(If Teacher Brian pushes, answers, or stews each of his 27 students accurately a total of 81 times what percentage of chaos will be…)
Confusion and chaos are uncomfortable and scary   but then so is new learning.

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