MTBoS30- Day 26

Activating background knowledge…

My reading today really has me thinking about how casually I have thrown this statement around. Today I’m hoping this paragraph makes you think about your lesson more, like it did to me.


Echevarría, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2013). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model.  Pearson Education: Upper Saddle River, NJ.

#MTBoS30- Day 25

A math teacher’s attempt at a reading intervention…


For my coursework I had to perform a short case study for a student and his reading needs.  This was not a small challenge for me!  I figured I would share the paper I had to write on it.

Case Study of Reading and Linguistic Needs

#MTBoS30- Day 24

American students are lazy….


This is one statement I do not like, or even a teacher stating that “My kids are lazy.”  When we use the word lazy, we are making comparisons- and typically those comparisons are made against standards we hold (or held by the person making the statement).  Now I know what you’re thinking, “but I have expectations and rules for my class.”  I’m not talking about those, I’m talking about us having unjust conceptions of what is “normal” for our students.  The culture of the American student has drastically changed over the past years.  Trying to compare that culture to other countries’ teen culture is also unjust, and this is why (or, my takes on it at least).

American students are material, and its gradually getting worse.  This materialism is coupled with immediate satisfaction, which compounds the problem.  This is what I mean: Students want their “toys”, and will work extremely hard to attain them.  The modes of attainment are vast; some have jobs, some are extrinsic rewards, and some are attained by illegal means.


When students have jobs, they start them immediately after school.  When they are done with work, typically one of four things happen.  The first is that they go hang out with friends, fulfilling a social need.  The second is that they are too tired from work and go home and go to sleep (or they get home too late and have to go to bed).  The third is that they come home and attempt to do their homework in whatever time they have before turning in.  The last is that they purposefully do not do any homework (and I have yet to find a large percentage who truly fits into this last category).  In any of these cases, homework is not a priority and is hastily done without a lot of conscious effort (although there are a few exceptions- your top 5% students).  Does having and maintaining a job imply laziness?  I will go out on a limb and say no.


When students earn things extrinsically, they also are not being lazy.  In fact, most of these students are extremely clever.  They know how to work within the system of rules their parents constructed for them, and how to use those rules to produce results that are desirable to them.  They know what they  are doing, know how to push those limits- and how to act when an external award is proposed for them to attain.  Is this lazy?  Once again I would say it’s far from it, they are constantly working to maintain a reality that produces outcomes that are favorable to themselves.  (This is my least favorite subject, I truly dislike external rewards.)


When students have no other option, they attain their toys through illegal means.  These are the students I typically deal with on a daily basis.  They case the target, devise/review/revise a plan and execute that plan.  Once they attain the object they desire, they have to constantly be alert to not draw unwanted attention to the possession for fear of being caught.  Of the three possibilities, this is the one that actually requires the most mental load.  These students are on a 24/7 “fight or flight” status- causing them to be wired and hyper-alert.  These students are constantly balancing the status of their objects and what new objects are needed, they actually have no time to be lazy and let down their guard.

When we talk about being lazy students, we need to better define what that means.  Lazy to most teachers means not participating in class, completing assignments or showing any interest in the subject.  This is all comparisons that the TEACHER makes and reflects upon the student.  Teachers compare how these students act against the norm they have created, that norm typically follows what was expected of them as a student.  Times have changed, and those rules no longer apply- just as the rules for being a good educator no longer transcend both generations.

When foreign countries think of being lazy, once again they are viewing American students and holding them against their standard of achievement.  I am not sure how we can rationally do this when we all recognize that each student is a unique individual and has different needs.  The biggest issue here is the value that students across the world hold for education, and for American students that value is not immediate.  Instead of attacking our students, we should compare the ideals our countries and cultures hold for education, jobs, material possessions and social status.


Most of my students say they want to have a college degree, but most of them say that school has no impact on what they want to do once they get out.  They try to directly tie courses to jobs, a pitfall that many teachers have fallen into in the past decade.  As such, learning is not deemed important- while having cars, a job, cell phones, electronics, etc are important.  These things define a student’s social standing and status among their peers.

Teachers are well aware of student thoughts on the value of their education.  We plan and try to instill questioning, wonder and a need for learning.  There are many students we connect with, and many who just fill space in their chair.  The students we do push this year may or may not continue that growth dependent on their instructors next year.  We can’t do this alone.  We need help, and that help has to come from this country as a whole, our communities, families, parents.  We must make a statement that education is important, demand excellence (academic, personal and social) every day and hold ourselves accountable for those same standards.

Personally, when I see a student who I feel is being lazy in class I rarely blame them.  The reason they are being lazy in my class is that I haven’t created a need for knowledge- which is my job.  Identify why those actions are occurring, don’t lay blame solely upon the student.  Change your classroom environment, fix the “lazy” problem and get back to why you started this job in the first place- the passion for learning.

#MTBoS30- Day 23



noun home·work \ˈhōm-ˌwərk\

  • : work that a student is given to do at home
  • : research or reading done in order to prepare for something

Homework, the sleeping beast of the education system.  The biggest indicator of how our children’s focus and values have changed.  It is something every teacher acknowledges is beneficial, but is something that creates the biggest issue in instruction.  I have been thinking of getting rid of homework altogether (yes, I can still assign homework here), but have also been advocating changing your homework problems into something more like an Open Middle problem.

Currently I am casually researching some things about homework, and found a few bits I need to reflect on more.  The first:


There is a lot of inferences you can draw from here.  But be careful to make sure the ones you do draw are not discriminatory- that is too easily done.  Whatever answers you find, how can you address those to make all of your students more successful, regardless of their individual challenges?


The second quote is one that I did not immediately recognize:


Being honest, I know this to be true.  It is something that I can recognize, if I assign homework I KNOW which students will have it done.  What I didn’t consciously recognize is that it is creating a perpetual cycle, promoting an achievement gap between social classes.  I knew this but I didn’t want to admit it, I ‘m a teacher- that means I am working my best to help each of my students.  By allowing this to continue I am no longer helping each student, I’m enforcing a broken system of suppression.

The last quote is summing things up for me:


I don’t like assigning homework to students because I know of the success rate of completion.  Kids are more material now than they have been.  They have other focuses outside of school than homework, and typically don’t have an outside factor reminding them to complete it.  But homework is a factor in math achievement (according to our national testing data, and accountability issues that arise from it), and it appears that a lot of it is needed (unless you are in Finland).  This article also says that one of the authors of the study said that they weren’t advocating for adding more homework- that more than 4 hours a week isn’t particularly beneficial (which contradicts the Singapore example).

What type of practice to I assign as homework?  How much?  Do I assign any at all?  It is equitable?  These are things that are going through my head right now.  What are your thoughts?  Have you read other research?  Let me know, I would like to hear more.


PISA- Does homework perpetuate inequalities in education?

#MTBoS30- Day 22

What’s surprised you the most about your life or life in general?


The thing that has surprised me the most is that I still live in Minnesota, and have only moved 30 miles from my hometown.


It’s odd, when I was growing up I wanted nothing more that to get away from Blackduck, out of the state of Minnesota- and perhaps out of the country.  I wanted to have so many different experiences and go places far from where I grew up, but it has never happened.  It’s hard to pinpoint the how, when or why of the situation but here I am, so many years later living in the same area.

When I was a kid my Dad was a military man and we moved quite frequently.  I was not born in Minnesota, I was born in Virginia- a place which still provides me with a comforting feel when I occasionally (OK, hardly ever) return.  All of our moving and such happened before I started school, but I don’t remember ever wishing that we could stay in one spot.  I did not mind moving, at least as far as I can remember.  We moved to Minnesota before my Kindergarten year, we returned to my Dad’s family and his hometown.


Growing up 6 miles outside a rural town (population less than 500 for most of my life) that consisted of loggers and farmers, life was always simple.  Trips to town were big occasions, and that got tougher on me as I grew up.  I didn’t get to attend birthday parties or do sleep-overs, I typically didn’t have a ride to get to any of those places and I had chores around the house to do.  When I was old enough to play baseball, you would find me pedaling that 6 miles on my 10 speed across gravel roads to and from practice.  I can’t honestly tell you which activity gave me more exercise, baseball or biking.


When my brother got old enough, he was allowed to drive the old, old pickup.  It was the old 3/4 ton Ford that we used to haul our pickup bed camper and ourselves across the country when Dad was in the military.  It was a stick, beat up, but it got us around.  It was great until- I realized I was the tag-along younger brother.  I was not allowed to go with my bother often, although I knew if I put up enough of a fuss I could have had my parents force my brother into taking me more.

I ended up inheriting that truck when I got older, and things seemed fine.  I loved driving around- it was a freedom from the farm.  I often thought I was driving across the country, traveling from one coast to the other.  Sad thing is- that has never happened.

I applied to many different colleges when the time came, and I was accepted to almost all of them.  I finally could have left this place- it was what I always wanted- but fear kept me back.  Fear kept me from doing the thing I had wanted so much throughout my teen years.  I grew up with no car, no real job outside the farm.  I had no confidence that I could support myself or even get around if I ventured too far.  I planned on going to the University of Minnesota until I found out I was on a long, long, long waiting list for a room.  I ended up attending hometown BSU and the rest is what makes me who I am today.



One thing I keep telling myself is that there will be a time when I can go to all of those places I dreamed of, but was too scared to visit.  At the very least, I owe it to my younger self to visit one.




#MTBoS30- Day 21



I’m ending the year with programming.  I know it’s not a long time, 8 days to be exact, but it’s enough to give my students exposure to programming and the processes involved.  Their first activity is to program the game of Pong, because it was the gateway to the video game era.  They do pretty well with this activity and I love seeing my students switch into a different gear in thinking.  There is so much logic and problem solving involved with programming I really believe it impacts my students in a positive way.

Here’s one student’s game so far….


He’s pretty much nailing it.


#MTBoS30- Day 20

The power of one…


While I am taking these classes, I keep thinking about what Special Education teachers are expected to do as well as what elementary teachers do daily.  I think about student need, and how those teachers address that.  I am licensed to teach 5th through 12th grade, but I am not totally convinced on my effectiveness at the 5th or 6th grade level.

If we are so concerned about the message of NCLB, how can we expect our elementary and special education teachers to be experts for all core curriculum?  I am not saying that it can’t be done, or isn’t done effectively.  I am saying that we as teachers all have our strengths.  I am acutely aware of this with my classes and learning how to instruct students in reading.  This is definitely not my strong suit, and I am unsure of how comfortable I can be if I find myself in this role.

We have found that students have gaps in their learning- some of those are due to their individual circumstances at home, some are due to personal application in class, but some are also due to the teachers they have throughout their learning career.

I am not saying that some teachers are bad or inept, but I am saying that we as teachers have our strong subjects, those that we understand and feel comfortable with.  My wife teaches 3rd grade and she is also a math person.  Her group consistently scores the highest on the MCAs compared to her team.  She also works hard with her students in language arts, but is consistently behind her coworker who has a passion for that discipline.  What if a students consistently gets assigned homerooms with teachers who are strong in math?  What will that do to their language arts abilities?  Is there a correlation there?

I also know many parents request a certain teacher for their student on the grounds of “best fit” or personality.  What if that too promotes a deficiency in the student’s learning?  Is there a correlation between personality and proficiency within a discipline?

These questions may seem off base or a stretch, but I think it is something to consider.  Our students need to have the best opportunities available to them as learners.  Sometimes that means instead of going with a family friend as a teacher or one who is strong in a student’s interests or skills, that they need to be led in the direction of the teacher that is strong in an area of that student’s need.  I have to fight with Brayden about reading, and I know other than my love for reading there isn’t a lot of home support on that front.  It has become a chore to get him to read, and Brayden doesn’t see, feel or get exposed to the passion that can come from a teacher who truly loves it.  I want Brayden to get teachers who he will get along with socially, but I also want teachers who can best support his needs- which currently lies in reading.

There is a power in one, each teacher has educational strengths that perhaps we need to utilize more.

#MTBoS30- Day 19

Passion matters…

This year has been hard, real hard for me.  My group of students this year has been tough- we have not had a good mix of kids all year.  I’m not complaining, it’s my job and I love what I do- but I will acknowledge that it drains you.  Add to that the coursework I am taking for my Master’s program and there are times I feel like I am overwhelmed.  I think as I continue to get closer to completing this program the more I am afraid to.  I don’t want this license added to my file, I don’t want this label attached to me.

I don’t want this label attached to me

I had to type that, it is what I feel with such passion- but it also is something that is so petty I am almost ashamed.

I do not want the label of “Special Education” teacher attached to me.  It is NOT what I went into teaching for, it is something I have been assigned to do.  Funny how that sounds like what we do to our students every day.  Our students have to go to school, not that they want to.  They are assigned work to do, not work that find interesting or inspiring.  I need to remember that.


Another problem with the label of “Special Education” is that is also makes me keenly aware of how prejudice is part of our lives.  I rebel against the though of having a label- just as much as students do not want the label of LD, OHD, EBD, FAS, Autism, etc.  Many students (and their parents as well) do not want the stigma associated with having special educational needs- it is still seen as a defect, that you are broken.  As I get closer and closer to this license, I get closer and closer to feeling broken.  I don’t feel I will have the same opportunities I would have without it, that I will be forever pigeon-holed into a role that I never wanted.  How many of my (or your) students could say this same thing?  How can I ever be confident that future administrators will view me for my knowledge in Mathematics, not my ability to work with students of special needs?  Will I ever get the opportunities to teach AP classes, or even at the college level- which is something that I have always desired since I became a teacher?  As I take this journey I am keenly aware of how this influences students.  I am not so self-centered as to believe I can understand the situations of those students, or that I should even be considered to be in the same category.  But I do have a better awareness of it.

Passion.  It is something that has everything to do about student interest and learning.  I am taking these classes because I have to.  I am not passionate about it, and I can tell.  I struggle with reading assignments, with completing work.  I see the importance of the classes, it is hard to make myself care about it.  I see the connections it can have for me and my job, but I can’t find the passion to make me explore options like I would with mathematical practices.  This is what our kids feel when they walk in the classroom, and I totally get it.


How do we create passion in our kids?  If I or anyone else had the answer for that- that would apply to all students- they would be so sought after that they would have no life other than PD.  We all know bits and pieces of the puzzle, and we all have to keep pushing to find that spark of passion in all of our students.  They may not be passionate about every part of math, but I believe that every student has some type of math passion in them.  Go find it, build relationships with your students, understand them, find their passions- they are the gateway to great learning opportunities. Because…




#MTBoS30- Day 18

Write about a time when work felt real to you, necessary and satisfying. Paid or unpaid, professional or domestic, physical or mental.



Surprisingly this prompt could be quite lengthy and complex for me- so I will trim it down a bit and talk about the first time work (nonacademic) felt necessary and satisfying.


I grew up on a small family farm, there was plenty of work to go around.  We had cattle, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese, lambs and more.  We had many jobs to do for feeding our animals and upkeep of their shelters and grazing land.  When you are a 8 year old boy there isn’t a lot of that type of work that feels necessary or satisfying.  Dad knew this- he fought to get my brother or I out doing chores, until he became smarter than the average bear.

Our main livestock was cattle, and it takes a lot to maintain them.  We had to put up hay every summer- trying to get 2 crops in each summer.  We had to fence in pasture and maintain it.  We had to give them shots, take care of hooves, sew lacerations, assist with births.  When the calves come, you have to clean them and feed them- first with bottles and then pails.  Hopefully mom will take over the feeding duties- if not you have to take care of them 3 times a day, every day.  As an 8 year old, none of “activities” are fun, interesting, or satisfying.  They are just necessary.

Dad put a twist on that.  One fall he asked if I wanted to go with him to the cattle yard.  I said sure- getting away from home was a rare occurrence.  We went to this place that held a large metal shed, and corrals that seemed to stretch forever.  There was so much going on I couldn’t take it all in.  We found a spot in the auction hall and watched the sale of cattle.  This held my interest for about 10 whole minutes until I got bored and started keeping myself busy- counting rafters, examining how the shed was built, finding patterns in cowboy hats, etc.  This all was all washed away when I recognized the next bull that was led into the arena, it was ours.  I was absolutely mesmerized with the bidding process on our animal, and the next 29 after that.  People were paying us money for our animals, and paying well.  It left quite an impression on my young mind.  On the way home Dad told me “Next year you are going to own your first cow, you will take care of her and you will get to sell any of the calves she has.”

This blew my mind, I was going to get a cow and I got to sell the calves I raised for once- and get money.  This opened up a whole new world to me.

Later that fall we went to another cattle sale and I got to look for my new calf.  My calf.  All of a sudden I became an expert on cattle, I wandered the yard looking at calves.  I was judging them by appearance- how clean they were, how the acted in the corral, how big they were- I was such the eagle eye.  I finally picked one and we got her at a good price, her name was GiGi.

From then on, any work around the farm was necessary and satisfying- I knew the importance of keeping GiGi fed, sheltered and kept safe.  I no longer complained about chores and even took initiative to do them on my own.  That was my first experience of ownership, and hopefully I can help my students find theirs as my Dad did for me.

#MTBoS30- Day 17

When I’m in pain — physical or emotional — the kindest thing I can do for myself is…

Not shut others out.


This is my typical remedy for [most] physical and emotional pain, the woods.

I am the type of guy who needs to deal with things on my own.  I am not a good sharer of those “touchy-feely” moments in my life.  I am not truly sure why that is, but I never liked to share how I was feeling with others.  Maybe it was because I felt my mother and I were too much alike, and that most conversations we had weren’t talking, but abrasive arguments.  My dad was never a talker when it came to those things, he always supported me in things but he never took that nurturing approach.  My philosophy is that things will happen as they are meant to- and I have to find ways to cope with things that don’t run my way.  I will talk with friends about anything else under the sun- but I won’t talk about those deeply-rooted emotions.  For me this meant walks in the woods, listening to music, going for drives.  I need to have time to calm my mind, recently running has been my outlet for that.

I tend to fall in the same pattern when I’m in physical pain.  I don’t necessarily like going to the doctor, I try to weather the storm.  I don’t like people around me when I’m sick or physically hurting, I would rather be alone.  It’s been my coping mechanism, and I’m beginning to realize that it may not be the best.  I guess that is why I recognize it so quickly when it comes to my students, I know all the signs.

I’m glad I came across this prompt for the #MTBoS30, it made me think about this- now it’s time to make a change (one is never too old are they?)