Change Your Perspective

This morning I was reading from Daily Stoic in which Ryan Holiday breaks down the passage by referencing Icaromenippus. In this story, Menippus copies Icarus and flies up to the skies. Many argue that this story is the first record of someone writing about traveling to the moon in Western records.

Regardless I see something much more important.

It is easy for us to get caught up in the minor and tiny(and often very irrelevant and unimportant) details of life. This little blips on the map of life can consume us to the point where they cloud our rational thought. We begin to make decisions based on emotion, rather than well being.

When we take time to step back, pause, reflect, and remember that we but a speck on the orb of life our issues and concerns don’t seem to serious or impactful.

Take time to pause before making decisions. Take time to think with loved ones before having tough conversation.

More importantly take time for yourself. To realize that we have but a short amount of time here on this planet and to spend it worked up on minor little infractions is not the quality of life worth living.

Step back. Soak it in. Remember our place in the world and go forth with the courage to make the right decisions. Courage is a choice as is perspective.




If interested I wrote each day to my basketball players based during the season on the readings of Stoicism called M.T.X.E. for Your Mind Volume 1  

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Give Teachers What They Want!

Early out PD.

You know those days that always feel like the longest day of the year. The ones where the periods are shortened, but they feel like eternity. The days where teachers scramble around like mad trying to ensure at least a little bit of learning is taking place in a small chunk of time with the foreboding feeling of a long afternoon sitting and listening to something that we should care about, but really don’t.

Yeah, we had one of those days except it was different.

I had for the first time in a very long time and perhaps one of the very few moments in my career an epiphany or feeling where I came home jacked up and super excited for learning, for working with amazing people(and people I never connect with on a regular basis), and feeling good about things in our school.

What we did that worked so effectively was provide a PD that allowed for voice and choice as well as an opportunity for teachers to be treated like professional adults. They could choose their session they wanted to attend(which is nothing new and something we have done many times before). The next key element was that the session was a long block instead of smaller time sessions where deep learning simply cannot happen. Additionally, the longer block of time allowed the teachers to create and make their own work. In the session the teachers had a choice in what they would walk away with and how they would take their next steps in their learning and growth. It was geared around moving our culture and mindset forward to a place that we need to get to as a staff.

And it was awesome.

About a month ago some of us were super lucky and fortunate to attend what I believe is one of the best conferences – Deeper Learning. We knew that we had to find a way to bring back the feelings, emotions, and mindsets that were developed while we were out there. We met for a half day to discuss ideas, brainstorm how to share to staff things that they would WANT to know, and figure out how to deploy a starting point to move into action.

We spent the morning developing ideas and sessions. In the end we came up with five sessions that ran roughly 100 minutes. Honestly, do you ever gain much from a short 40 minute session? If our goal is to promote positive culture, growth mindset, and deeper learning, then time has to be provided to allow these things to develop.

In the end we divided ourselves up and launched five different sessions. Here is what we created for my session with another instructional coach, Chad Uhde (@udhawk)

Identity Crisis – This session will explore how to create a new name placards to spruce up our name plates outside our classroom using Google Drawings, Silhouette Cameo, soldering wires and LED, and more. By creating a hands on approach to this challenge teachers will gain an understanding on how to use the tools in our makerspaces while also pushing their learning comfort zones with a desired goal to make our building look a bit nicer.

This is not yet complete. We are CNC milling a bike frame to turn on a light in the tent.

This is not yet complete. We are CNC milling a bike frame to turn on a light in the tent.

I cannot speak for the other sessions, but I know I was nervous. We knew we had to make this work. We wanted teachers to experience the tools for themselves and leave with excitement about what they accomplished along with how they could take what they learned and apply it to their classroom.

We sat down and created an agenda for the session. We made a mad dash to gather supplies, rearrange the room to fit our needs, and make sure we were ready to go. We made sure to also explain the norms and treat the educators just like students or anyone who comes into our makerspace, Coffeechug Cafe.


I am not going to lie, I was not sure how things would turn out. I am so glad we did what we set out to do because I could see teachers pushing their comfort zones, taking so much pride in their work, experimenting with new thoughts and ideas, and feeling good about themselves. I witness teachers helping one another, asking questions about other work, seeking ideas and support, and working at times by themselves and other times with others. I witnessed them walking out with a smile on their face. I witnessed all the things that we hope to create within our classrooms. I heard brainstorm applications to the classrooms. I felt the gears turning in their heads, then stopping at a grinding halt, the frustration brewing, and then the breakthrough moment when things connect.


It was amazing. It was so good that we had people working for one hour over the time they were able to leave. Let me ask you – how often does that happen at your PD sessions?

I left so inspired by the teachers that were in our workshop. We still have work to do. We had teachers in the following morning. We have more coming in the upcoming week. We had educators working on their designs at home. The learning extended beyond the sessions because they were invested and wanted their product to look good. They had pride. More importantly, they were beginning to ask and think “What if I did this in my classroom?”

IMG_3936 (1)

There is something special when learning can happen at a pace that we are comfortable with individually. Set the parameters, explain the support system, and let people go. Makerspace, project based learning, STEM, etc., use whatever buzzword you want. In the end if we can create conditions where people feel safe to try new things, take an invested approach to their learning, and feel supported, then the sky is the limit.


I thank every single person who was in our session. I learned a great deal about myself, about others, and about what is needed to continue to push our culture and community of educators to the next level of positive support and culture. It is time we remove the patchwork system of mandates and begin to really dive into our culture. We must ensure people feel supported. We must ensure we feel connected. We must ensure that it is okay to try new things. We must ensure that is alright to smile and feel proud about our work and not be attacked by others.

In closing, I cannot say it any better than a new, but powerful and game changer educator in our building who is pushing the boundaries of art education in our school.

Before this session, I was a bit hesitant of the idea of a makerspace as an art teacher. After all, I feel that my room is within the same capacity; students having the freedom to build, inspire and create works of art. But, I like challenging myself and my processing/ideas, and also I wanted to try something new, so I decided to jump into this session. After hearing and seeing the options that are housed within this makerspace, I am really interested in utilizing this within my curriculum, especially for those students who feel disengaged or need the extension for learning. There seems to be such an obvious connection between the two spaces (Makerspace and Art Room).  When this session concluded, my brain was flooded with ideas and new creations for my students to make and use. Having this session really helped me actually SEE the possibilities for myself and my students.”  Alex DeLong

I was reminded that if we don’t create conditions for our own educators/adult learners to be challenged in a positive way, then how will we ever create the conditions for students to have the same experiences. We must model by what we do, not what we say and the educators in our session lead by example.

Now, how do we continue to promote, create, and establish these type of learning environments for educators so it is not just a once in a blue moon opportunity?

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You Have To Make A Decision

Get off your butt and quit pointing the finger!

Sitting in front of me just a few days ago was this segment of an email I received.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 6.20.36 AM

This is part of an email in regards to a triathlon I signed up for many months ago that I actually forgot about(intentionally). Back when I was determined to get back in shape. Back when I knew that I needed something to get me going.

Many months later I read that email as I was snarfing down Cheetos and instantly thinking I should just cancel. I have not been exercising. No way could I do this race. This was an easy choice. I did not have time for a race or to get ready. What was I thinking? Just get my money back and call it good.


The choice was not easy. I was simply making excuses as I have done so many times in the months prior on a variety of topics.

I do not have time to run.

I do not have time to bike.

I do not have time to swim.

I do not have time to eat healthy.

I do not have time to regain some balance in my life.

I simply do not have time to do the things I want with all this work that I must get done.


How many of us have had these thoughts? Here I was sitting in my kitchen facing a decision on a matter of racing or not racing in a sprint triathlon that really nobody cares about besides myself. And I sat there early in the morning really analyzing myself, my decisions, and my life. It was a wake up call.

I was not happy always doing “work” all day long. The 80 hour workweeks were taking a toll on my mind, family, and body. A recent string of events have lead to question if what I am doing with work is even the right path and therefore further complicates the time given to the job.

I was not happy with the fitness level of my body. I hate that only two pairs of pants fit. I hate how I look in the mirror. I hate many things that we all are so critical of about our own bodies.

I was not happy that I was not getting to do the things I wanted do. I had the excuses and reasons and justified in my mind why it was not my fault for the conditions I was facing.

I was basically not happy as a person.

Then this little email creeps into my life and has me making what seems like a life or death situation.

So, I start to map things out. How many weeks until the race? 9 weeks. Ok, I can get to a basic fitness level to do alright by my standards. 9 weeks is doable in terms of focus and dedication. I can focus for 9 weeks right?

What do I weigh now? Oh lord, do I even want to know? No, but you have to have a baseline. I creep over to the scale and face reality. YIKES! Not good and the number explains why only two pair of pants fit.

Am I really doing this? Seriously? I told Amanda and she looked at me like I was crazy. “What about just running like you said you were going to do?” I have had conversations about this type of thing before. A few weeks back I said I was simply going to run and nothing else, but that went nowhere. I told her this was it. She nodded her head like I was a fool or as if she has heard this scenario play out before(broken record syndrome)

I grabbed my training resources and started to map out what plan I wanted to create and how it would look. This was going to be different. I have never trained for just a sprint triathlon. After reading, plotting, organizing, and sketching things out I knew what needed to be done. It did not seem so bad.

I was going to do this. I was going to stop making excuses and make it happen. I called the plan Fat to Dad Bod


And so Sunday I ran. I ran to my daughters soccer game. I am not sure if you call it a run or fast walk, but I got three miles done. I was beyond sore(I was already sore from fitness day on Friday for PD).

Monday I knocked out a swim test in the morning and swam the exact same time of 18:16 for a 1000 yard swim that I did one year ago. Crazy.

Monday night I took the bike out for a 10 mile ride just to remember how to ride a bike. My bike needs some fixing so I will be dropping it off at the shop this week so no bike workouts for a few days.

You see it was not that I did not have time. It was that my mind was wrong. What we do when we have excuses is build them into facts. I cannot create more time, but what I can do is FIND the time. I had the time. Waking up early is finding the time. Instead of sitting in a chair on my phone during soccer practice I found the time to ride. I had to stop lying to myself. The time exists if we want it to. This is the truth that we don’t like to face.

I know that my blog is about education and you might be wondering why this post? The issues I struggle with and am working to overcome are universal. These same things happen in the classroom as well as out of it. We all complain about time, but really the fact is that we don’t want to get off our ass and do something about it. We would rather just complain about things, point the finger at others, scoff at those who do, and go home and be unhappy with ourselves.

It is important that we look at ourselves and be honest. I have to be honest. If I don’t want to remain in the state of mind where I have been, then I have to do something about it. Nobody else is going to do anything for me because they don’t care. And they shouldn’t.

I challenge you to analyze your life. What do you want to change? What do you you wish you had more time for? List these things, chart them out, and then develop a plan to FIND the time to make it happen.

In the coming weeks I will share how I started and how I map things out. It is a system that can be applied to any situation or goal.

Until then……. go make it happen instead of complaining about it or others.

Now, I am off to go get things done.

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BCSD EdCamp Presentations

Our school district has a whole day of PD. It is a pretty cool experience(if you want it to be) where teachers from all buildings and levels actually come together to learn from one another whether it is a presentation style format or a true EdCamp style where everyone shares.

Below are my two sessions I will be sharing during the day. The links to the resource guides are linked as well.

Speedgeeking With Coffeechug

This will be rapid fire session of technology tips, tricks and productivity tools that I use in my classroom and school to help make life easier for both myself as a teacher and for students. I will share out things I use with classrooms as well as staff during Teaching Tinker Time and PD. These ideas will give you time to enjoy that cup of coffee and have fun at the same time! The key here is simplicity and productivity.

Making Global Connections With Skype In The Classroom

Want to connect your classroom with the world and promote global citizenship? Using Skype, you can connect students across town, around the world, bring in industry experts, or take virtual field trips. Learn how you can connect with other educators, get lesson plans, start a project and more from Skype in the Classroom.


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Hands On is Key to Learning

ScienceFest is always a huge event for our community. Once a year our middle school is loaded with all sorts of people who dedicated and volunteer their time to help bring science, STEM, and engineering alive for kids and adults of all ages.

Each year I am asked to help. I am lucky to call on my Robodogs to help out with support in the room. Each year we have our First LEGO League board on display to show families what we do.

However, by now most people are aware of FLL and most are not coming to simply listen.

This year we planned for stations. We had a lot of stations geared for all levels. I could not believe how busy our room was for three solid hours.

It just proved once again that the makerspace culture and mindset is so vital to learning and challenging what we know and what we think we can create.

Here is what we had setup(you can see everything in the movie below)

  1. FLL Trash Trek Challenge
  2. LEGO City Free Build Table
  3. Trebuchet Kit
  4. Vibrobots
  5. Balance Blocks
  6. Marble Maze
  7. Cardboard Robot Arms
  8. K’NEX Bridge Builder

I had everything setup with some Hans Zimmer in the background. As kids walked in we explained and let them explore as needed.

The most powerful moments of the day were the vibrobots. As students and adults learned how it became a true maker community watching strangers teach one another and help with tools and creation. It become a community movement requiring no help at all from me allowing me to watch, observe, and answer specific questions about a 1000 different things like 3D Printing, STEM, CNC Machines, robotics, etc. Human nature took over when the play environment was established.

A great day of learning not only for me but for all. So don’t be bashful get out there and start making!

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2016, Goals, Productivity, and the Opposite of Doing Nothing

I have been quiet on my blog for most of December. I have my usual feeling to look back at 2o15 like everyone else to look at how we have grown, did we achieve our goals, and what did the year mean to us?

I have been wanting to do this. I have the tabs open. I have a list a mile long of things I want to get done. I have list of goals and thoughts for 2016.

It will come. Things will change. Ideas will develop.

However, as an educator it is winter break. The goal is not to do more work, but to take the days given to us to recharge.

So, all these things will be done, but for now I will draw pictures, read Harry Potter, play Star Wars Battlefront, go out to eat, and sit on the couch and read.

I will opt for hanging with family and doing very little.

Because we all know once January 4th hits we will be full throttle will all the demands of education.

Doing nothing is important. It is just as important as being busy because both have this facade where when we do nothing we feel like we are wasting time and when we are busy we think we are being productive. Don’t feel fooled.

Enjoy the nothing so you are ready to be productive, not busy. And now I go back to defending Endor.

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Technology Cannot Mask Poor Teaching

I have been working on a proper way to express the idea that I have about technology in education, but have really struggled to find a correct way.

After reading Did the question change because it’s now a QR code? I finally realized there is no proper way.

Time and time again I see technology being either

1. Misused to try to cover up non essential teaching to make it look “cool” OR

2. Simply not being used at all

Neither extreme is helpful. We push tech, yet as Scott and Rafranz mention in the link we don’t make the necessary adjustments to create high quality learning.

So often we don’t properly analyze our own teaching to determine what needs help. We often don’t like to be critiqued either(yet we love to critique students all day long).

Technology becomes a scapegoat to make us THINK we are changing our teaching, but really are just adding a bunch of fluff to mask the bigger idea that we must change how we teach.


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Why is PBL a new hot ticket buzz word in education?

31 Days of Deeper Learning & PBL Blog Series 4:

Whew! After that last post on Deeper Learning I felt exhausted. I worked tirelessly to craft a post about standardized testing without tyring to go off the deep end and to share my ideas that would lead to discussion and not a criticism. I want to thank everyone who took time to reach out to me via comments, Twitter, email, and Facebook. You have all rattled my brain to really think through all the complexities of education and how to make sense of it all. I know that we are on the right path and my passion to continue to write these posts leave me feeling excited about the future of education and the future of these very conversations.

With that being said I want to use this fourth post to highlight a key piece of information that is important to bring up in the discussions on deeper learning and project based learning. I would like to clarify that the whole notion of project based learning is not new. I have made reference to this in the prior posts, but want to really bring this to the forefront. I am working diligently to make sure I don’t celebrate the ideas of deeper learning and project based learning as some new system(s) that will save education.

The question that maybe begs to be asked is, “Why is PBL a new hot ticket buzz word in education?”

My own opinion/answer to this question is that education and teaching has become stagnant due to education reform and pressures to perform well on standardized tests(See previous post on this topic). With the pressures coming down from the top whether federal, state, or local district initiatives, schools across the nation are narrowing the focus to a sit and get type method. No matter how we would like to justify and explain that this is not happening, the truth of the matter is that it is happening. Schools are working like mad to move those bubble kids and as a consequence we are leaving behind some of our brightest and others that are not a major concern for punishment. People around the world are beginning to realize that “when bubble tests define what gets taught, we end up with narrow and shallow curriculum.”

Preschools no longer look like preschools. Kids are expected to enter kindergarten with skill sets that they should be learning and developing in kindergarten. Kindergarten has kids sitting more than ever before and this simply is not fair to the learners who at the age of five and their developmental stages should still be experiencing play and experiments. Unfortunately with the pressure to identify, be able to read, understand math, and other “essential” skills the culture of play and tinkering is being lost to worksheets, drill and kill, and standardized curriculums that educators fear deviating from for fear of punishment or loss of jobs.

Tests reign supreme. There is now kickback from both parents and students. Schools are looking to find ways to engage students after losing their attention. Teachers are slowly losing their love for teaching because they can’t. They have to follow a binder, say key phrases and are slowly morphing into robots.

Without repeating my whole previous post, let me shift the focus back to why PBL and deeper learning are taking off. It is taking off because schools have had enough. Administrators, educators, students, and the community want something more. To push the idea of PBL is a natural fit. Students become excited. Multiple choice fill in the blank tests slowly go away and the community can be invited to see what students are learning and doing. As projects begin to grow and develop, more people get involved and schools are able to see a shift in the excitement of learning.

It does not matter what model you look at in terms of how to incorporate project based learning. The key is to hold true to the essential elements of a quality project.

In order to develop high quality PBL, educators need training, they need time to work, time to develop their ideas, and protocols and tools in place to make it happen.

If I can use my school for an example. The state of Iowa has set aside money for TLC. With this money and new leadership roles our building has three instructional coaches. Besides the tasks of PLCs, data, meetings, and other regulatory parts of the job we have time and allocation to work with teachers to develop projects. We set up project tunings, brainstorm sessions, do it schedules, exhibition prep, record lessons, help with field trips, documentation of learning for teachers, and more. Basically, we are here to serve and support the educators where they need help to move their teaching and practice to new levels. We are not the answers, but we are a sounding board to help educators find the answers that they all have inside them and just need help out bringing out.

I will share in future posts how we do all of this, but for now I want to bring up these opportunities because it is important to note that teachers cannot do it alone. For so long we have expected teachers to do it by themselves. Just like we teach our learners we must work collaboratively and network to find the answers. Educators must do the same.

This is a radical shift and perhaps something that is new for many educators. For so long, teachers have been islands working to develop their own solutions by themselves. Now, more schools are increasing the support for educators and they must learn how to ask for help and how to receive help.

As this support network increases, we must see changes in teaching. The days of kindergarten had elements of pbl. Elementary used to be pbl. Art classes, industrial tech, living skills, are all PBL focused. Science labs where experiments were conducted are natural fits of pbl(as long as they are not the cookie cutter ones where everyone gets the same results). Even, gifted programs operate on a pbl model(at least when I taught gifted students were always knee deep in inquiry and problem solving).

Once again, use the resources below to determine if you have pbl already happening in your school. Maybe you do. Maybe you have some elements and just need to tweak what you have to make it pbl. Maybe you don’t have any of it and need to start. The key here to raise your own awareness. Identify your base foundation of your school and/or classroom. In order to make change you need to know where you are starting. You must first identify your Point A so you can plan for your Point B.

DISCLAIMER: I do not want to provide a standard recipe. You can find all types of templates and forms to create your project whether you look into BIE and their tools or HTH or many of the others schools that use project frameworks to develop deeper learning opportunities.

Remember, projects are a creation over time. This is not a one and done approach. PBL is not an end all be all system either. It is a tool, one tool, to help you develop deeper learning in your classroom.

Here are some articles with various twists to projects, but they all work. I share these in hopes that you find one that connects best for you.

8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning (by BIE) on bie.org 

9 Steps of PBL


11 Steps Of Effective Project-Based Learning In A Blended Classroom

Did you find common themes? Basically, posing a problem, digging into resources, developing an action plan, implementing that plan, sharing out learning, and reflecting on the process.

We have a system that we use, but I really don’t want to share a cookie cutter approach because so many schools do things a bit different and knock learning out of the park, but they have the key elements mentioned in previous paragraph.

I challenge you to take a look at what you are currently teaching. What elements do you have? What elements are missing? How can you take what you are currently teaching and begin to tweak and shift things around to develop a project?

Leave a comment and let me know what your school is doing/not doing. I would love to have educators share their insights and ideas. Also, share out any questions you have and what you would like to learn.

As Heather Wolpert-Gawron writes, “PBL doesn’t ask you to replace your content. It asks that you create a vehicle in which to communicate your content.” 

In post five of this series I want to move from the posts of theory and big ideas and share with you something that we use in our school that has fundamentally transformed project development, collaboration, and brainstorming. I will break down and share out our project tuning protocol. This is jumping the gun a bit, but I want to stop these long posts of big idea talk and move to practical tools that anyone can use.



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How Amy Poehler Taught Me To Be Better

I was reading an interview conducted with Amy Poehler and the following two quotes really resonated with me. In life, in education, in parenting, in whatever situation you are in currently these two statements hold some powerful truths.

“It all goes back to improv. It’s all about flexibility, about not knowing what’s going to happen next. You have to listen and stay in the moment. You have to play with people who will support you. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

“I’ve failed a million times on stage, just not getting laughs. I’ve listened to notes that I knew weren’t right. I’ve pitched idea and let other people change them, knowing that it was the wrong choice. The question you have to ask yourself is: How do you want to fail? Do you want to fail in a way that feels like it respects your tastes and value system?”

You cannot predict your future. If there is something you want to achieve in life you have to go after it. You might not make it, you might miss the target, but the key is to stay in the moment and keep working. Find those people who will support you and challenge you. It is not always about hearing the positive, but the ones that call you out, make you think different, challenge your ideas, and also are there to let you know you are on the right track. You must not settle. As Amy states above you must stick to your own guns and believe passionately about what you are doing. If you are, then when things don’t go right you at least know you stood your ground with who you represent as a person.

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Fortunately….Unfortunately Journey of Instructional Coaching and Education

Fortunately, I have been lucky and blessed to call myself an Instructional Coach for an amazing middle school

Unfortunately, not everyone knows what exactly “instructional coach” means including myself.

Fortunately, through small steps and big lunges we have begun to define what instructional coaching encompasses.

Unfortunately, we have developed various definitions of what it means and what we can do.

Fortunately, at our building we have had an administrative team that has supported and backed us in increasing teacher voice and teacher agency

Unfortunately, not enough have felt the power of their voices to engage in the support services sitting in their hallways

Fortunately, a few brave educators have opened up their doors, their minds, and their students to a world outside of their “safety” zone where things are quite peaceful and incognito

Unfortunately, it is not as many as we had hoped for

Fortunately, the journey we have begun to travel has no linear path in front of us as we are a volunteer system

Unfortunately, due to the standardization of education which goes beyond tests, we have had to sit through and be trained in systems that focus on what they think educators need and not what educators really need

Fortunately, we have worked within the system to take the bits and pieces that could work and fought to stay away from the wrong directions that head down a path that would lead to a checklist system of beautiful paperwork and data that prove nothing but distrust for the professionals in the field of education

Unfortunately, the pressure to conform to systems of mediocrity and big money machines creep closer and closer to what we know is working and will continue to work

Fortunately, the conversation about developing a vision, the future of pbl, and integrating deeper learning is going to bring us to a new place of learning for our learners and educators that the community will be blown away by the development of skills and tools

Unfortunately, we will have to battle the mindset of the community that are experts and graduates of a school system industrialized for robotic, like minded people for factories as well as educational programs that did not prepare educators for this type of learning and culture

Fortunately, this change will move beyond the notion of career and college readiness and focus on the now and developing lifelong learners who will take their learning abilities to do what they need to do in life to define their own success

Unfortunately, changing culture and mindset is a not an overnight trip

Fortunately, we are in this for the long haul and plan on changing not only education, but society to take us into the future where we will be prepared to tackle whatever challenge comes our way

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