Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Live Life Without Regrets

The other day I read about the coolest illustration.  I have seen variations of this before, but it reminded me to keep my priorities straight.  It starts out with a large sized empty jar, like the one you see here.

A teacher asked the class if the jar was empty and everyone agreed that it was.  The teacher then put as many golf balls in the jar as possible.  The class was asked if the jar was full.  Many students said "Yes!" and responded that is was full.

The teacher then poured some pebbles, that you might find in a fish tank, into the jar.  The pebbles went down into the jar, filling up the spaces in between the golf balls.  Obviously, there was room for a bit more and the jar was not full with just the golf balls in it.  The teacher then asked the class if they thought the jar was full now?  Again, most of the class responded that it was now full.

The teacher then poured some sand into the jar.  Again, the sand was able to fill in even smaller spaces between the rocks and the golf balls.  The teacher then asked the students if they believed the jar was finally full?  Believing that no more could possibly go in, all but a couple students raised their hands and said the jar was now full.

Lastly, the teacher got out a couple of drinks and poured the liquid into the jar.  Amazed that the jar could still actually hold more, the students watched as the liquid seeped down into the rocks and sand filling in all the spaces in between.  The jar was finally at capacity.

The teacher then gave the students a life lesson.  The golf balls represent the important things in your life, such as making time for your children, going to their activities, talking with them, playing a game with them, making time for your spouse, let them know everyday that you love them and that they are important to you.  They could also represent your friends and building life long relationships with them.  You should tale the time to call them, see them, and give them a hand when they are in need.  The golf balls also represent taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and pursuing the things you are passionate about.

The fish tank rocks represent the second round of important things such as your job, car, and house.  These things are important, but can be changed or replaced, unlike the first category of important things.

The sand represents the small stuff.  The teacher emphasized that if the jar was filled with the sand first, then the golf balls and the the rocks would not have been able to fit in the jar.

If you spend your life sweating, worrying about, and consumed by all the small stuff, then you will never have the time for the things that matter to you the most.  Spend time the with the people that matter most in your life.  Go to your children's baseball games and dance recitals.  Take your spouse out to dinner or for a walk in the park.  Call your parents on a Sunday afternoon to see how they are doing.  Make a date with friends on a regular basis and spend time together.  The housework and the lawn will always be there.  Live your life without any regrets before it is too late.  Don't come to the end of the line and say "I wish I would have done this or that."  Do it now!

Finally, the liquid represents, that no matter how full your life is, you should always make time to stop what you are doing and have a couple of drinks with friends and or your family members.  Now that is something to think about!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Google Docs: Are You Writing a Research Paper?

Last week I attended the Google Summit right here in Evansville, IN.  Let's say, I thought I knew most of the the things that Google apps and docs could do.  Boy was I wrong.  Even after attending the summit for four full days, I feel like only the surface was scratched of what Google can do. One tool I would like to share with you today is the Google Drive--Documents Research tool.

Google docs comes with a research feature that allows you to search for sites, photos, and more via Google search.  You can even link and cite your sources directly from the tool.  From the tools drop down menu, the word "research" can be found in the list.  When you click on it, the research tool will appear over at the right-hand side.  After it appears, you will see a little arrow under the search box.

Click on the arrow and you will then see options for an image search filter and options for your citation format.  The image filter allows you to search for images that may be copyrighted or free to use.  The citation format gives you options for MLA, APA, and Chicago formats.  When you click in the search box, it will give you options of what you want to search for such as: everything which also includes websites or you can search images only, quotes only, etc...

I did a search for Abraham Lincoln.  If you search for everything, then you will get a big list of items such as images, web sites, quotes, and charts to view, insert, or cite.  Here is the cool part.  When you hover your curser over the web link you can preview it, insert the link into your paper, or cite your reference with one click.  Below shows you how the preview of the site looks.

The best thing to do is to just get in there and play with it.  As this tool was being demonstrated, I was thinking to myself, "If only this were available when I was in high school and college, it would have made my life so much easier."  This is an incredible tool that I think student could use from middle school all the way up through college.  Please try this and let me know what you think of it.

Lastly, here is YouTube video that will help explain the tool as well.

A few colleagues and I having fun at the Summit!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

If We Are All Alike, Then Some Are Unnecessary

The last week in January I presented at and attended the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Florida.  It is always a great conference that is full of educators from all over the world that help to re-energize me in the work I do.  They demonstrate new and exciting tools that they have found, which can be used to increase student engagement and creativity in the classroom.    By the end of each day, I feel like my sponge is full and I just need to digest for a while.  I get totally stoked and cannot wait to share these new ideas with my teachers when I get back home.  Don't worry, I will be sharing many things I learned at the conference in future blog posts.

Well, I said all of that, to set up the rest of this post.  That is the part where I come home and reality begins to set back in.  Does that sound familiar?  I come back, and as you read in the last post, we are still experiencing network problems.  Teachers are frustrated about that, and because of the issues, aren't very receptive to learning new ways to use technology with an unreliable network.  They are feeling "under the gun" for their students to grasp the list of standards or essential skills, so that they will do well on the standardized tests that teacher evaluations are tied to.  The wind in my sails begins to weaken from the excitement I felt just a few days earlier.  It really got me to thinking.  If it takes the wind out of my sails, then what does it do for our students?

In fact, what does this say about the whole U.S. education system?  Why doesn't the majority of students, including my very own daughters like going to school?  Why isn't the youth of America waking up every morning just chomping at the bit to go better themselves and get what is called "an Education?"  Well, would you enjoy getting up every morning to go to a job that you hate?  I apologize for the quality of the pictures below, but I want to show you a few that the 80's generation will recognize.  I graduated from high school in 1989 and I feel this is how my generation viewed the education system at that time.  Check these out from a popular music video.

The Teacher
The Principal

Kids Hooked Up To Machines
The Conform Control (Everyone Should Be the Same)
The Students are in Unison with Dance Moves
Programming in the Essential Skills


Have things changed much since the 80's or are we still trying to produce members of society like the ones depicted in the video?  Are we teaching them that only these essential skills are important?  Are the skills on our standardized tests really essential?  Are educators listening to what the students are interested in learning about?  Are we trying to figure out what motivates our students?  Is it actually possible to learn and have fun or at least make it enjoyable?  In some places I have been, I wonder. 

I recently read a post from a colleague of mine, Tim Wilhelmus called "Why Not Us?"   I highly recommend you read his post.  He discusses that each student is different and has their own way of being in the world.  In return, each student needs something different from us.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  I have two daughters, but the way I help them through problems, issues, and even the way I discipline them are completely different.  What works for one, would be catastrophic if tried with the other.

I have a nightly routine with my daughters where I pray with them and "bless their head," as we call it.  In this process I tell them that I am proud of them, when they grow up they can become any thing they want, and of all the daughters in the whole wide world, I am glad that they are mine.  As educators we should encourage our students to dream and believe that when they grow up, they really can be any thing they want.  Why not, right?  As Tim sates in his article, I want my kids to believe they can make a difference.  I want them to believe they can change the world.  I want them to know that they are unique and there isn't anyone else that is exactly like them.  If two people are exactly alike, then one is unnecessary. 

The mission of an educator should be one that inspires and encourages our students.  We should dare them to dream and get excited about their future.  School should be a place that students want to and love to go.  A snow day should be a drag and not a relief.  We need to put the Joy back into teaching, for the teachers sake and make learning fun for all students.  The time has come to change society's view of education and in the words of Yoda, "Unlearn what we have learned" about what education looks like and feels like.  We need more creativity and entrepreneurs in our world.  We need a little more of the little girl in the picture below.  This is the daughter of a former student of mine.  She wants to be a cowgirl superhero!  Lets produce members of society that will still be this creative when they graduate from high school and can talk about how wonderful their education was and not how they disliked school.  Why not, right?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Valid Concerns with eTesting

I would like to start off by making a couple statements.  If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you probably already know my opinion on standardized testing.  The first statement is that I am not a fan of high stakes standardized testing.  I don't normally do this, but before we get too far, I would like to recommend an article that talks about alternatives to high stakes standardized testing that have been successful.  You can find it at  Check that out, it is a quick and easy read.  The second statement is that I am a big fan of eTesting, but a recent conversation with a group of teachers may have swayed my opinion.  They at least have given me something to think about.

This week the state of Indiana's Department of Education conducted a readiness test to see if all devices, networks, and the test system were ready to handle the load of our high stakes state wide ISTEP testing that will take place in April.  The test did not go as I had hoped.  Recently, our school district has experienced some major issues with the wireless network, due to an upgrade, that has left many teachers scrambling for some pencil and paper alternatives.  After a very frustrating few weeks, I really wanted the readiness test to go well.  It was a disaster.  In one classroom that I visited, only four students out of twenty-five were able to connect without issues and get into the test.

Shortly after our test, I met with a group of seventh grade teachers.  Thinking I was going to provide some PD and show them a tool or two, instead the meeting became a kill the messenger session.  I sat in front of what felt like was a firing line of teachers that were hot under the collar about doing high stakes testing online.  As their eLearning coach, I pushed our agenda aside and listened to their concerns.  I want my teachers to understand that I am in this with them and they are not alone.  What I heard from them made some sense.

The concern was the frustration of the connectivity.  We had just had a horrible experience just trying to connect to the test module.  Unfortunately, it was like this last year as well.  It was so bad that McGraw Hill/CTB had to pull the plug in the middle of testing because their system could not handle the load of students that were testing at one time.  This occurred multiple days in a row and caused quite a stir.  When you tie teachers' evaluations, pay raises, individual school funding and status to one test that we cannot even stay connected to, it goes over like a lead balloon.

The other concerns were the speed and screen size of the devices that our students will be using for the test.   The majority of our students in our district will be taking the test on Dell Netbooks.  The screens are not huge and they are not fastest machines ever.  In some school districts across the state, students may be using a lab of Mac desktop computers.  Those students would be able to see the entire question screen without having to scroll up and down just to read a question and see the answers.  The students using the computer lab can also go from one question to the next in a second or less.  The netbooks sometimes hang between the questions and can take up to 5 to 7 seconds to get from one question to the next.  During a timed test, this can not only be frustrating, it puts our students at a disadvantage because they have less time to take the test.

After listening to the teachers, I realized they had some valid concerns.  With these issues, we no longer have an even or standard playing field.  I still am not convinced enough to go back to pencil and paper, but perhaps some changes and considerations need to be made depending on the device that students use to take the test.  What do you think?  Please share by leaving some comments.