#worldgeochat this Tuesday – Taking Action

This Tuesday, April 25, #worldgeochat is talking about Taking Action in geography classes.

I’ve given my students this example. If you were to go to the doctor complaining of pain, it’s not good enough for him/her to just know what is wrong with you, you need that doctor to Take Action to help you. Our students should do the same with the knowledge they have!

A few resources that might be helpful:

Taking Informed Action

C3 Framework (Dimension 4)

Our questions for Tuesday:

  1. How does Taking Action differ from service learning?
  2. How do you introduce the concept of taking action to students?
  3. What topics are perfect for Taking Action?
  4. What potential pitfalls could prevent Ts from having their students Take Action?
  5. How do we help students Take Action without doing drives or money collections?
  6. Share what your dream Take Action project would be for your students. How would you start? Who would benefit?

Jtake-actionoin in the fun Tuesday at 9 Eastern/8 Central/7 Mountain/6 Pacific!

Want to know what topics are coming up next? Check out Future #worldgeochat topics.


Mock/Practice AP Exam

Teaching AP Human Geography to 9th graders is hard and don’t let anyone tell you it’s not.  But it is absolutely NOT impossible.  One of the keys to doing it successfully is to prepare your students for everything, including how to take an Advanced Placement Exam from start to finish.

Ninth graders have never taken a test like an AP Exam before.  For many of them,  the only high stakes tests they have taken are normed state tests and they have been successful on those tests with a minimum of effort.  An AP Exam is another beast all together.

ap exam

Preparing freshmen to take the AP Exam is just as important as teaching them the content.  One of the best ways to prepare students is to hold a mock/practice AP Exam from start to finish. Just knowing what happens during the AP test can alleviate all levels of test anxiety. Think about how nervous you get about the unknown and then put that on a 13-14 year old.

Think your students won’t show up?  Guess again!  The first  year we offered a Saturday Mock Exam, I expected 10 or 15 students.  We had over 75 show up.  I was amazed.  That was followed by parent emails about how taking a mock exam alleviated not only their child’s anxiety, but theirs as well.  The photo above shows 40 of my 89 test takers at school this past Saturday morning taking a test — one that doesn’t “count”.  Next week we have another 35 signed up.  If you offer it, they will come.

In case you want to host a mock practice exam at your school, here’s how we do it —

  1.  We offer two testing opportunities — two Saturday mornings in April.  Students sign up for one date.
  2. We use the released exam found on the AP Audit site.
  3. We have students arrive at 7:30, the same time they are to arrive for the “real” exam.
  4. We check them in, make sure they have 2 — #2 pencils and 2 — blue or black ink pens.  We take their cell phones and any other devices — just like on the day of the exam — see a pattern here?
  5. We assign them seats, go over the exam directions, pass out exams and begin promptly at 8:00 — just like the AP Exam.  Students who show up after 8:00 are sent home.
  6. We time the exam exactly — even if everyone is finished, we sit the entire time.  This is good practice for 9th graders, many of whom have a difficult time just sitting and doing nothing.
  7. We take a 10 minute bathroom/snack break between the multiple choice and FRQ sections, beginning promptly.
  8. This is where we deviate from the exam day procedures — While students are taking the FRQ section of the exam, we score their multiple choice responses.  Upon completion of the FRQ section — and a much needed bathroom break, we score the FRQS together.  (this takes about 20 minutes as our students have scored FRQs all year and know how the process works).
  9. We will then calculate their score for the exam.  We use the calculation found in any of the available APHG Exam Review books.  We feel it is important for students to know how they did before they walk out the door.
  10. Students are also given time to go through the M/C questions they missed and make notes on topics they did not perform well on.
  11. Please note — students do not leave the testing room with any test materials.  We use the Audit released AP Exam from College Board and these materials are for teacher use only — not for distribution to students.

When students leave for the day, they know these 3 things to prep for the exam;

  • their score on this particular exam
  • if they need to work on M/C or  FRQ strategies
  • specific topics they need to spend time reviewing

And, more importantly, they know what is coming.  They know exactly what to expect on exam day.  Students tell us their anxiety about the test was less because they knew what the test would be like, what was expected of them and exactly what was going to happen.  They only worried about the content of the exam, and that is certainly enough for a 9th grader to worry about!

Have you hosted a mock AP Exam?  If so, please share your experience and what you do that has worked for students and teachers to make the process more effective.  If you would like to host a mock exam and have questions, just ask below.

Tuesday is My Favorite Day of the Week

Tuesday is my favorite day of the week.  First of all because it’s not Monday :-), but mostly because it is the day I get to chat with my #worldgeochat PLN.  The geographers, historians, literature teachers, parents, instructional coaches, non-profit and education institutions that join us each week feed my desire to be better at the profession I love.  The dedication of those that join us each week inspire me in ways I didn’t even know I needed.  They push me and teach me.  It is by far the best hour of my week.

Our chat topic this week was on discussion strategies and as the hour progressed, I began to see this was no ordinary #worldgeochat.  Class discussions are a HUGE part of geography instruction, but what I noticed about this chat, was we all have our own “bag or tricks” we use for discussions.   Some like Socratic Seminars and Chalk Talk shared by multiple participants are old friends, but other were new ideas.

Tough Choices activities and The World In a Room strategy shared by Bill Chapman (@classroomtools) are designed to encourage a variety of discussion topics among many students.  Matt Shomaker (@TheShoe_CMS) shared Socratic Smackdown with us, which takes Socratic Seminars to a whole ‘nother level.  I participated in a Socratic Smackdown as part of a Professional Development training and it was a hoot!


As I reviewed the chat archive (found here), the two questions that triggered the most conversation were about how to prepare students for class discussions and the holy grail of discussions – -getting all students to participate.  In general we agreed that prepared students participate more.  @kylesprague95  suggested having students come to class with prepared answers to a few questions to aid in the beginning of the discussion, while allowing students to Think-Pair-Share in small groups to build confidence works for students in @GeoJo22‘s classes.  @Scottmpetri shared a link to a Civil Conversation lesson on the Syrian Refugee Crisis.  I had not heard of this strategy, but I can’t wait to try it in my classroom.  It both prepares students for content and norms for discussions.

Getting more participation from students brought out so many great ideas!  Some of my favorites shared were  –

  — Have you tried using a prop…like a fake microphone? Only someone w/ the prop can add to the discussion & everyone must participate.
 – use non-verbal hand signals for “I agree” + “I object” helps the Ts see engagement + if all Ss are following the conversation
  I do fishbowls so the students who don’t like to speak can write down their response to the class discussion and stay engaged
   I’ve given Ss 3 poker chips. Each time they talk, they pay. While it doesn’t encourage quiet ones, it limits the talkers.

@chuckeba and @storiestoldinsf recommend using sentence starters or sentence stems to encourage participation.
@storiestoldinsf linked to a Trace the Conversation Chart that helps the teacher track the follow of the conversation
I learn about more apps and tech stuff from #worldgeochat and last night was no different.  I’m excited to try out Today’s Meet, Zoom, and Verso, all recommended during Tuesday night’s chat.  If you are looking for a way to pump up your discussion with technology, give these a try.  I know I’m going to incorporate Today’s Meet into my next Socratic Seminar.
What did you take away from Tuesday’s chat?  We’d love to hear what you found useful.


How where I live shapes how I live

The Boston Marathon is kinda a big deal where I’m from. Each and every year it brings runners together from around the world to tackle the mythic climb of Heartbreak Hill, down into Kenmore Square past fans who went to the early Red Sox game, and then a final push around the corner at Hereford Street and onto Boylston. There, in front of a hundred thousand screaming fans is a moment that most ‘regular’ athletes will never be able to comprehend or participate in. Most of us will never be able to hear the screaming adulation of a hundred thousand people behind your final push to the finish line. All in all over a million people watch from the sides of the road along this 26.2 mile course.

Most of us will never be able to push our bodies past the point of complete exhaustion one more step, one more yard, one more mile with no hope of a big paycheck, just the will to win their own personal fight against the course. Every year 26,000 runners get to experience that exultation right there alongside the class runners of the world. This is the magic of Marathon Monday.

I lived in Boston from 1999 through the early summer 2014 before we moved to Maine. Before I met my wife it was a tradition for my friends living in town to travel plop down somewhere along the course (with a few beverages) and watch the throngs of runners strive, earnestly, towards an achievement that few can equal. In the spring of 2013 my wife was in the middle a 30hr shift (she was an emergency resident at Boston Medical Center) so I decided to show my four month old son the fun and excitement of the Boston Marathon. I walked to the T with little dude strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn and chatted with lots of marathon goers on the way downtown. It was a beautiful spring day.


We all know what happened after that.

As I was walking though the Prudential Center mall, almost to the street, we felt the entire building shake. “Maybe a T just derailed”, I said to two friends who had joined us. Then the second explosion hit. A wave of humanity started running towards us. Hundreds of people fleeing in terror. I witnessed an elderly woman pushed to the ground and disappear in the sea of running legs. One of my friends stopped to help her and also disappeared from my view. I was caught up in the wave with no way out. My other friend… just disappeared. I scrambled to find a safe haven for my child. Every time I was pushed or shoved back into the teeming, running, frightened mass of terror. I was pushed the length of the corridor until the mall opened up into an atrium area. I was finally able to find refuge behind a large potted plant in a corner ( a woman yelled to others “Get that baby over here and keep him safe!”. YES! I thought to myself, that’s a great idea! And the dad that is attached to the baby! The police started moving everyone towards an exit. As we were directed to the Huntington St. I searched for my friends. I found one outside near the water fountain across the street near the Huntington St. entrance.

A runner passed by me. “Are you OK” I asked, “What happened?”.

“Bombs” she replied, “Two of them”. I could see plainly that she was in shock. Her body shaking as she moved passed. She had just finished the marathon and was already past the point of exhaustion and now had to contend with this.

“Are you OK?” she asked me, “How is your baby?”. I hadn’t stopped to think about my son in all the confusion. I started to shake. I had forgotten that my son had just experienced all this terror as well. He may not remember it but he was there, too. All at once the emotion welled up and I wept. I can’t tell you if I have ever cried as hard as that moment.

My wife took care of many of the victims as they came out of surgery. She has said since that she has never seen an emergency room so covered in blood, something she will never forget. Since she was in the midst of a 30hr shift, we couldn’t hug each other until the next day. We couldn’t speak to each other since the phone lines were down. The first person brought to BMC that day was a 37 year old male with his legs blown off. I was 37 at the time. She only knew it wasn’t me when the ambulance arrived in the emergency bay.

This isn’t a sob story though. It is about resilience. It is about identity. When you look at a place through the lens of geography you see stories like this all over the world. The marathon bombing embodies a lot of how Bostonians view themselves and how they look out at the world. A “You can knock me down but we will get up again” mentality. The phrase Boston Strong was not about selling t-shirts, it is a mantra. When you are Boston Strong, you can push yourself past the point of pain, past the point of exhaustion, go the extra mile. Just one more mile. Just like the runners of the marathon. The two were inexorably linked before the bombs but now it is deeper in the gut and heart.

It’s also how Bostonians see helping others. Boston often gets criticized for being thick skinned, blunt and unwilling to help others in times of need. But look at it from the perspective of the marathon and the bombing and you will see it a little differently. No one helps runners because the runners don’t want help, they want to do the race themselves. No one needs help… until they do. When a runner falters on the course they don’t have to ask for help because it is already there beside them. You will always see another runner stop and help, the crowd will always cheer them on a little louder. I’ve seen the mentality of “If you don’t need help you won’t get any but if you do need it, we’re already there helping” countless times in the winter during massive snowstorms.

Events happen that change a place and in doing so they become part of the fabric of how that place sees itself. The people of Boston came together. They looked straight into the eye of adversity and became galvanized. You see it on the street today. Strangers look into each other’s eyes and greet each other with a smile and a “wus’up?”, knowing they were one in the same on that day.

As an educator I have become more aware of how events shape the perspectives the people who live them. Bombings, wars, genocides, earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves are not just events in a text book. They are defining moments that live in the present as well as the past. The rest of the world will move on and the news will always cover the next tragedy in its 24hr news cycle but for the people who lived through tragedy, their world view is changed forever.

It is incumbent on us as educators to make sure that the students we teach look past the events and look closer at the people that it affects.

Reading: Enriching My Life & My Social Studies Class

6983706360  I was a history major at the University of Illinois. I say this to let you know that when I was hired to teach 7th grade I was less than enthused to teach a block of language arts each day. I was so passionate about teaching world geography yet, I often felt as if I was going through the motions during my 82 minutes of LA each day. Part of that struggle came as I was tasked to teach reading. I have always been a reader yet, I read the news, kept up with my favorite teams via my sports websites and blogs, and read novels geared towards adults. I never read middle grade or young adult novels for fun and thought of them as too kiddish. Needless to say my conversations with students about what they were reading were stilted and challenging to say the least. This all changed when my librarian Bonita Slovinski ( @sloreader ) recommended to me The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I was blown away and wanted more. I finished it in a couple days and stopped on the way home from school to buy the sequel Catching Fire. At this point the final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay hadn’t been released yet. I went to Bonita asking, “Please tell me there are more books like this!” She quickly gave me a fresh stack of MG & YA dystopias. I was hooked. After I felt as if I read all the dystopias I started exploring other MG & YA novels. This transformed my teaching in my LA classroom. I was so excited to talk books with my students. I was also excited to bring my renewed love of reading into my geography classes as well!

The following are ways that I have used stories, picture books and novels in my social studies class.

Every year we tackle the HST reading and writing standards. I begin the year by utilizing the story of The Three Little Pigs. I have students act this story out. After we finish I explain we are going to put the wolf on trial for attempted murder. The students need to find text evidence in the story to convict the wolf. When the wolf goes on trial the students need to present this text evidence and explain how it prooves his guilt. This is an easy and fun way to introduce this concept in order to build upon these skills with primary sources later on in the unit. In addition, we connect back to this story when we read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieska later on to introduce point of view. After reading Scieska’s retelling in which the wolf was framed, I then have students examine different textbook accounts of the historical events included in our course.

Other ways I’ve brought my reading life into the classroom are that I have used excerpts of audio books to intro topics. I used the segment of Bomb by Steve Sheinkin, just after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, to illustrate the horrors of the atom bomb. All of our 7th grade students read The Hunger Games. I’ve had students compare life in North Korea to life in Panem in The Hunger Games. When we cover World War 1 I have utilized the poem, “In Flander’s Field” by John McCrae and images from the graphic novel Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood. During our unit on the Middle East, I have students read profiles from Deborah Ellis’s book Three Wishes. I then pair students that read profiles of Palestinian children with students that read profiles of Israeli children. They have to introduce their person, and key aspects of that child’s life to their classmate.

Picture books are fantastic and easy to integrate into your social studies classroom. When I use picture books I have students gather around me at the front of the class. They sit there just as they probably did during kindergarten. I call this story time with Mr. Casey. Students often get excited when they see story time on our agenda for the day. Some of the picture books I use are Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss to tackle World War 2. The Butter Battle Book also by Dr. Seuss is used to explain the arms race during the Cold War. The Terrible Things by Eve Bunting is utilized to introduce the Rwandan genocide. I read the picture book We Are All Born Free to intro of The Declaration of Human Rights. I also make use of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to intro deforestation. Two other picture books I’ve read to my students are The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by Bryan Mealer and William Kamkwamba for our unit that covers Sub Saharan Africa and 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy on the anniversary of 9-11.

I share my reading life with my students. I post on my door to my classroom what I’ve read. In addition I book talk books that connect to topics we have covered in class frequently. If a book has a book trailer, and most do, I will include that in my book talk. There are several great lists of books that have social studies connections. The Texas Council for the Social Studies ( @TxSocialStudies ) had this great post and list of books that could be used in a social studies classroom. The list includes suggestions from social studies teachers such as Chris Hitchcock ( @CHitch94 ), Valerie Furnas ( @MsFurnas ) Erika Lowery (@ErikaLowery ) Bettie Gaylor Saccardo, Dr. Scott Petri  ( @scottmpetri ) Bill Chapman @classroomtools ) and Tina Melcher ( @tlmjordan ). Dr. Scott Petri also compiled this list of titles for teaching World History Through Literature. Tim Smyth ( @historycomics ) is an amazing follow on Twitter for ideas on how to include comics and graphic novels into your instruction. He has incredible lists that cover most social studies topics at this site. His blog has great ideas on how to incorporate comic books and graphic novels into your class. The last list of titles I’ll share was created by Jeff Kohls ( @jeffskohls ) after a Tuesday night #worldgeochat. Check out that list here

There are still things I want to try with building in literature to my social studies class. I would love to do a cross curricular unit with our language arts teachers. I want to do a novel read aloud that ties to a unit of study. I also want to try Skyping in authors of books that connect to our topics. My fellow #worldgeochat moderator Jen Garner (@jmgarner2003 ) wrote a great post about author Skypes here.

How do you incorporate stories and literature into your social studies class? What titles do you use? Please add them to our list here.


Why geography matters now more than ever

When I was hired as a geography teacher in 2001, I was out of my element. I was a history person. I knew bizarre bits of American History and Ancient Civilizations, but nothing about geography. In that first year, my career plan was simple: wait it out. Wait until there was an opening in ancient civilizations or U.S. history, and then move to that curriculum.

The only geography class I ever had was when I was in seventh grade. I remember learning basic map skills – latitude and longitude, cardinal directions, scale, and how to interpret the key. We learned about landforms like peninsulas, straits, and mountains. We discussed climate and biomes. Most important (apparently), we took map quizzes.

But since I started my geography career in August 2001, I experienced the Sputnik moment for geography, 9/11.

Like everyone else, I have vivid memories of that day. I remember my students doing an activity using roadmaps to find the best route across the state of Illinois. But while my students sat in groups with giant Illinois roadmaps trying to figure out Interstates and state routes, the world had changed dramatically.hate

As we began to process who had done this, a more important question emerged, why? Why did people want to do this to us? I remember the Newsweek cover a few weeks after, “Why do they hate us?” Most of us had no idea.

It became obvious that it wasn’t just my students who needed to learn about the world, but I did too. I knew where Afghanistan was on a map, but I didn’t know much more than that. I didn’t know what the Taliban was. I didn’t understand that the government was one of the most repressive governments in the world. In my mind, Afghanistan was the country that had fought off the Soviet Union in the 1980s, so therefore, they must be our ally. I may have known the physical geography of Afghanistan, but I was ignorant to the human geography that existed there.

To get back to the point, geography matters today more than ever, but only if we are looking at the right things. Google has changed our world, and geography is included in that. I haven’t given my students a map quiz in years because there isn’t really a need to memorize where countries are. Students can Google any country in the world to find its location.

Geography matters more now than ever because students need to know human geography. They need to understand the relationships that exist between cultures. They need to see not just the differences in cultures, but the similarities. Students need to know that the kid sitting in a school in Afghanistan today, probably doesn’t speak the same language, practice the same religion, or live in a home that looks anything like a student in the United States, but they have a lot of things in common. They both love their families, they both want to play, and they both want to learn. When we focus on the similarities instead of the differences, it changes the picture.

Geography matters today more than ever because our students are growing up in a globalized world. Nearly all business is international. Our students will never work in isolation. They need to know that the others they work with, whether in a cubicle down the hall or on a screen halfway around the world all have ideas and value. While they might see the problem and solution differently, they still see the problem and have solutions.

Geography matters now more than ever because of crises that range from North Korea to the global water crisis to global health issues.

Geography matters because learning about a problem isn’t enough, we have to take action to solve them.

Geography matters because we are all connected.

Geography matters because this is our world.



Discussion Techniques

We are talking about Discussion Strategies in #worldgeochat this week.  Want to brush up on the importance of class discussions?  Need some new discussion strategies?  Check out the resources below.

Rethinking Whole Class Discussions – Edutopia

13 Strategies to Improve Student Classroom Discussions

Big List of Classroom Discussion Techniques

Successful Socratic Seminars

Here are this week’s questions —

  1.  What discussion strategies and techniques have been most successful for you?
  2. What prep do students need prior to discussion?
  3. What role do teachers play in discussion?  Moderator? Observer? Participant?
  4. How do you insure participation by ALL students in discussions? How do you assess discussions, or do you?
  5. Have you tried online discussions?  What platform did you use? How successful was the experience?
  6. Share a successful topic and discussion strategy you have used in your classroom.

Join in the fun Tuesday at 9 Eastern/8 Central/7 Mountain/6 Pacific!

Want to know what topics are coming up next? Check out Future #worldgeochat topics.

The Power of Author Talks

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Patrick Phillips, author of Blood at The Root, speak locally last week.  I did not grow up in the community I now live and teach in and when I moved here 25 years ago, I was told the very basics of its history — there was a rape, the black community left the county, the government built a dam and created a lake, Oprah did a show here.  That was it.  The truth of the matter is much different, more complex and devastating, horrifying in parts even.  But to hear Mr. Phillips speak about the dark history of a place — the place that has been home to both of us was a unique experience.


This was not my first time hearing an author speak about their work.  I’ve seen Joshilyn Jackson (The Girl Who Stopped Swimming), Lisa See (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan) and Kathryn Stockett (The Help).  I missed my chance two years ago to hear Pat Conroy, my all time favorite Southern author, and I will forever regret that I didn’t go.

J Jackson 2

Hearing an author talk about their work is a phenomenal experience.   My first time hearing an author speak was about 4 years ago and I was hooked.  It added another dimension to my reading experience and I wanted MORE.  The insight into an author’s creative and writing processes and how they craft a story is amazing.  Joshilyn Jackson talked about how she builds a biography for her characters.  Lisa See starts with an event or idea, researches it and her story grows from there.  Kathryn Stockett was influenced by people and events in her life to create her story.  Patrick Phillips found an old photograph that sparked a research journey to separate myth from truth.

Can you imagine how powerful it would be for students to hear an author talk about their craft?  How many aspiring authors would be inspired to keep writing?  How many future writers might be encouraged to try writing?  How many students would understand their own writing process better from hearing about the struggles of a published author?  This is good stuff people!

Did you know there are hundreds of authors willing to Skype with your class?  Really, it’s true.  Authors of books for kindergartners to adults are willing to share their expertise and answer your students’ questions for FREE on Skype.  I’ve linked several sites below to get you started.

School Library Journal Article on How to Host an Author

Authors who will Skype with class for FREE

Penquin Author Skype Program

Skype an Author Network

Scholastic Author Visit Program

In times when money and transportation issues limit experiences for students, Skype can bring those experiences into your classroom.  You are not limited by location — your classroom can transcend its four walls and experience dedicated time with authors of books your students have read and loved.  If I understand a book better from added commentary, explanation and discussion with the author, how much more rich will a student’s understanding of a book be if they can interact and question the author?

I’ve been thinking who would be my dream author to speak to my class?  After much reflection and thought, I’ve narrowed it down to two — Richard Preston author of The Hot Zone or Ishmael Beah who wrote A Long Way Gone.  We read both books in my AP Human Geography class and there are so many questions I would like to ask and have my students ask these authors about their stories.

Has anyone Skyped with an author?  Who?  How did it go?  If you were to Skype with an author, who would your dream author be?  Please share your experience and thoughts with us in the comments.

Truly Playing Like a PIRATE

Thanks to the power of social media, the strong community of #worldgeochat, and the (sometimes) beauty of professional development, this year I’ve been exposed to a variety of new, engaging and fascinating ways of helping students reach content and apply skills and knowledge. Being in social studies (a class that’s not assessed through standardized testing) we have the beauty of being a little more flexible in our content and our techniques. An additional bonus for me at my school, world geography is an in-between year. Meaning (bluntly) we aren’t technically preparing students for 8th grade content, which begins with the Fall of Rome and up.

I mention all the above because this year, I’ve been able to branch out and include things in my classroom without risk of losing time on content since I was testing things out. Students have appreciated being my “guinea pigs,” and 7th graders are some of the most honest humans ever. They’ll tell you when things work and when they don’t.

Here’s just a brief list of activities I’ve tried this year and have seen success in:

I’m also becoming a huge fan of the PIRATE series, founded by Dave Burgess and his wife Shelley. I recently took an activity from Quinn Rollins’ “PLAY like a PIRATE,” and oh my goodness! The support and the ideas began to flow!

I shared my Superhero activity online through Twitter and tagged Quinn in the post as well as the worldgeochat hashtag. What began as an extended learning activity grew into a whole new project (in the works for next year!).

The guidelines were that students had to create a superhero based off of a landform, climate zone or vegetation zone. The superpower? What they would PROVIDE for humans. Our focus in world geography at the moment is how physical geography shapes human geography.

We had multiple “Mountain Man”s and “River Goddesses,” but students truly pushed themselves to create the best superhero they could. Some students asked if they could create villains (Deadly Drought!). SURE! WHY NOT! Go crazy!! This activity was the most engaged that I had seen students (outside of some of the activities listed above).

I never would have discovered Quinn’s “Play like a Pirate” if it hadn’t been for social media. The idea of taking this extended learning activity and creating a “March Madness” bracket, with the idea of the winner being where most humans settle, DEFINITELY wouldn’t have happened without the power of social media. Playing (and learning and exploring and teaching) like a pirate has definitely changed the way I look at the techniques used in the classroom. My summer project (and it’s a big one) is to explore my standards and change the way they’re taught and explored. If my students were engaged in simple “extended learning” activity, I can only imagine how they would be throughout the whole year.

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What has been some of the more engaging lessons in your classroom? Have you played like a pirate yet? Which activities have proven the most successful and why?

The hardest thing

It’s hard for me to admit this but…..I’m a statistic.

Three years ago my wife and I moved out of state and we made the decision that I would stay at home with the kids. Just like that, my teaching days were over, so to speak. I had worked in a very strong district for 13 years and had come to define myself as an educator (I still do). That being said, the decision to walk away from the classroom was in many ways the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I still consult with teachers and help them learn about using Google Earth and Google Maps as part of their instruction. But, I also feel like my experience leaving the classroom encapsulates why good teachers are leaving the profession.

If you were wondering, all of the things that you hear teachers complain at dinner parties and out at the bar when your one teacher friend who came out for one drink at 7:30pm but left at 9:00 because they had to ‘prep for tomorrow”…are all true.

We are always short on supplies. We always find ourselves falling asleep at the kitchen table grading papers at 2am on a Saturday night (I’m fairly sure my wife has photographic evidence of this). We plan and conceptualize lessons when on vacation with our family. We get into arguments with our significant others because we have to attend a school play, recital, concert, or sporting event because we have one student “who just needs a little extra support.” We don’t have time to pee, grade, plan, or even get through the standards for our curriculum because the school day is constantly being interrupted by an assembly, a play, a fire drill, a half-day, a snow day, a happy student wanting to tell your something, a crying student needing to tell you something… the list really does go on and on.

But we also really truly love what we do. The “ah-ha!” moments that each of our students get when they figured out an especially difficult concept. The laughter and community that each one of our classes creates. Every class has its’ own personality and special moments that only those kids will be a part of. The smile at the end of each year when that one student who you didn’t think you were going to reach but that smile tells you you actually did. The kids who line up early outside your classroom and always ask you “What are we doing today?” with grins a mile wide on their faces. Letters from former students that are kept in a shoebox in your desk that when you have a bad day, you can take out and be moved to tears of joy for what you do.

I would wake up every. single. morning. and look at the reflection staring back at me in the mirror and ask “They pay me to go and do this?” Yes they did.

The reality though is that it just wasn’t enough. The pay is just not enough to balance the life I need to maintain with my wife and children. “Oh you get summers off, though!”… I don’t have enough time to go into just how false and disingenuous that statement is. I never had summers off. Either the second job, summer school classes to teach, classes to maintain my certification, summer meetings with parents of incoming students to create an individualized plan of instruction for students who learn differently would all conspire to have me in my classroom in mid-July to revamp curriculum and plan for the upcoming year. This job is not for the weak minded. To be really good at this profession it takes 75+ hours of hard work each and every week. You also have to be able to reconcile that you will only be paid for 36 of those hours, for 10 months of the year. How many jobs do you know of that you are only paid for half of the time you work?

I sometimes feel like a failure for leaving. I sometimes feel like I let my former students down. They were really upset that I wasn’t going to be teaching after I moved. I often dream about working in a classroom again and experiencing all the moments that bring me joy and fulfillment. I hope I will.
I will.