This Isn’t An Educational Post

This isn’t an educational post. It’s more of an eye opening experience brought on by fate. Four weeks ago I was sitting on the couch, stuffed from overeating, and heart beating rapidly. I’m 36. My heart shouldn’t be beating rapidly while sitting still. By chance, by fate I happened to select a documentary which would change my life.

Forks Over Knives was the documentary. I was thinking it was about an unsolved crime or murder in small town America. Oh boy was I off. The next thing I know, I’m captivated by data and factual evidence stating why we shouldn’t eat meat and dairy. Here is one of the pieces of evidence that caught my attention…..


Right then and there, I decided to go vegan and focus on plant based foods. The data, the clinical studies connected to me. The people in the documentary I could relate to with their blood pressure and acid reflux medication. I was tired of being 36 and feeling over 55. This was my chance to change.

Here are the changes that have occured in 4 weeks of a plant based foods diet:

  1. I have lost 12 lbs.
  2. My blood pressure is back to normal.
  3. I’m down to 1 acid reduction pill per day.
  4. I’m learning new ways to cook food.
  5. I’m learning how to spice food.
  6. I’m starting to internally feel better.

Is this an educational post? After typing this out, maybe it is more of an educational post than I originally thought. I’m learning new things about myself. I’m learning how to take care of myself. I’m learning new recipes and learning a new way of life. Overall, I just feel better and that’s important to me and my family.

Doing Different in Social Studies

As I reflect on my teaching, I feel most of what I do fall just left of engagement on the continuum. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I usually am. However, this is tons better than where I started five years ago with Social Studies.

When I reflect back on my first 2 years in the classroom, it was based on compliance. Sit down. Here’s a worksheet. Here’s a webquest. Here’s a packet. Read Chapter 2 and answer these questions. Here’s a map. Let’s go over last night’s homework. When I reflect on these things, it kind of embarrasses me but I guess most of us have been there, done that. I was closer to compliance than engagement.

Now I am closer to engagement with sprinkles of empowerment. I’m not where I need to be, but the classroom culture I’m striving to create is so much different than it used to be. This school year, I have grown to appreciate having 5 different things taking place within  the 50 minute period. It’s typical to have 3 students just starting a hyperdoc, 5 students choosing to create with legos, 2 students choosing to write, and 4 students choosing to do a Flipgrid to show what they know. These are the days I see engagement through choice. These are the days that would have freaked me out 5 years ago, but now make me smile. 

The “sprinkles” of empowerment I have found this year come i the form of Wonder Projects.  I got this idea from John Spencer and used it at the beginning of the school year. I liked using it at the beginning of the year because students chose whatever they wonder about, researched, and create a way to share what they learned with others. It gave me a chance to learn more about the students and their interests. I began using this same format at the end of units. 

When we reached the end of a unit, I would ask the students what they wonder about the colonies, or the American Revolution. I would encourage them to think of something that interested them, or they wondered about, and explore it further. It was open ended, lasted a week, and we shared out. Was it perfect? No. But, it gave them a choice and a chance to learn more about a history related topic further. 

Here is an example of how we shared out along with project examples.

How the Heck Do I Use This? – 3D Printers in Social Studies

I’m currently wrapping up a 3 day workshop called Makers and Shakers at the Cincinnati Public Library. In short, this workshop involves the use of a makerspace in education. The Cincinnati Public Library has a great makerspace complete with button makers, 3D printers, recording studio, book publishing machine, UV printer, laser cutter, sewing machines, and a vinyl printer. If you’re like me, you might think, “How the heck do I use these objects in Social Studies?” One item that stood out to me due to its popularity was the 3D printer. Between this workshop, researching ideas, and discussion, I put together some ideas.

A common misconception about makerspaces, especially 3D printers, is they are only related to Science and Math. Boy was I wrong. To begin, I used the 3D printer because I have never seen one in action. I started simple and printed a blue outline of a tennis racquet.  Check out my time lapse video here. All it took was this one experience to get me thinking about the use of a 3D printer in Social Studies. Here is my list of ideas:

  1. research ideas leading to the American Revolution, design a game, use a 3D printer to design and create game pieces
  2. What needs to change with monuments? Research someone who needs a monument. Design, and print a monument for that person.
  3. Design your own coin, symbol, flag for a country,
  4. Who would you add to Mount Rushmore? Research a historical figure and use 3D printer to add that person’s face.
  5. Which invention changed lives the most for Americans? Research, design, and print that invention. Use flipgrid or writing to explain why you chose that invention.
  6. Class timeline – each student prints an object related to time period and arrange chronologically.
  7. Find a broken or destroyed artifact – design what you think it looked like before it broke.
  8. Design (fill in the blank) in the style of Greeks, Romans, Middle Ages, Renaissance, etc…
  9. 3D print 13 colonies so they fit together. – research and explain geography’s impact on the economy and people.
  10. How would you define an event, time period, or decade? Design and print a related artifact. Use flipgrid or writing to describe.
  11. Challenge the students to think of ways to use 3D printing.

What are some ways you can think of using a 3D printer in Social Studies? Use the comment section below to share your ideas…..



Why Are We Learning This?

    I recently read an article entitled, The Surprising Thing Google Learned About Its Employees — and what it means for today’s students. This article discussed several soft skills that students need to possess. The soft skills mentioned in the article are those skills that helped employees succeed in the workplace.After reading this article, 1 idea stood out to me.  It was the idea of a soft skill for being able to make connections across complex ideas. This made me think of this common question from students, “Why are we learning this?”

    The soft skill of making connections across complex ideas I took to include across the curriculum as well. This idea made me think of a book I recently read entitled, “Dumbing Us Down,” by John Taylor Gatto. In the beginning of the book, Gatto mentions 7 lessons that any teacher ultimately teaches further driving a gap between learning and the student. One of these “lessons” was called Confusion.

     The lesson of confusion comes from the lack of logical sequence in teaching. Students go from one class to another with no real continuity. However, the outside world has natural sequences: learning to walk and learning to talk; light from sunrise to sunset; the ancient procedures of a farmer. These sequences make sense. This is not the case in school. There is a curriculum of disconnected facts that students understandably have trouble relating to. There is a lack of coherence within a school’s curriculum. Students go from one class to the next, mindlessly playing the game of school.       

    I would love to see more cross-curricular lessons being used in schools. I find this to be important to help create consistency throughout the day. I feel like students are hit with so much randomness through a 7 period day, it’s too much to take in. If you looked in any student’s locker, you would see a random mess of papers stuffed in binders. Google Drive is becoming the new unorganized locker. Look on any Drive and you will see docs, slides, drawings, and pictures, from 7 different classes, creating a digital mess.  With all the different topics students learn throughout the day, I’m amazed at how they can retain information.

    At the end of the day, I would like to see more consistency for student throughout the day. More cross-curricular lessons. I’m not saying it’s the answer, but it might help students make better connections. It might help students from feeling overwhelmed and asking the question, “Why are we learning this?”

Using Eduprotocols in Social Studies

Context for this blog post: I was responding to a conversation topic about Iteration during a book study.

Last year around this time I received the book, Eduprotocols, in the mail. At first glance, it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It looked like too much math and language arts “stuff”. But, I was going to give it a try…….the book even stated you can read it cover to cover or go to what you need and start tomorrow.

    While reading, Iron Chef caught my eye. It seemed simple enough – create a slide deck about a topic, provide links, let the students design and create.   So, in one night I put together an Iron Chef about Andrew Jackson and ready to use it for my 3rd period class.

    The next day, 3rd period rolled around and we discussed the show Iron Chef then we went through the rules of our Andrew jackson Iron Chef – 20 minutes to create a presentation, 10 minutes to plan a presentation, the rest of class we would present. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces – confused and annoyed. Aaaaand we were off……….

    I set the timer for 20 minutes. Did I mention confusion? Well, let’s add “rushed” to our list of negative words. The timer went off and half the students finished their slide. The other half, well…..didn’t finish. Did I mention they were annoyed and rushed? Now they would have to present.

    They had 10 minutes of prep time to put together a presentation to do in front of the class. Students hate presenting in front of their peers. I cringe when students present in front of their peers. This is exactly what happened when it was presentation time……hatred, annoyed, and cringeworthy. My first attempt at an Iron Chef was a huge failure. As a result, I put Eduprotocols aside and decided to revisit the book another day.

    Even though the Iron Chef was a failure, I knew in the back of mind there was something special about this lesson framework. I loved that students were creating and communicating their findings with others. How could I make this work?

    For starters, I could actually read the book from cover to cover. This is what I did during the summer. The more I read about Eduprotocols, the more it resonated with me. I. LOVE. EDUPROTOCOLS. This school year I made a goal to use them more often, as I was determined to get this Iron Chef thing right.

    The biggest takeaway from the book was using a fun, low key, light-hearted way to introduce each Eduprotocol. Students had to learn the process before using it to learn the content. Before doing an Iron Chef for real, I had students do an Iron Chef on a Big Mac from McDonalds. We compared a cat and dog with the Cybersandwich Eduprotocol. We “frayered” a friend with the Frayer model before actually using Frayer models in class. It’s these little moments that I discovered we need more often when introducing new things to students.

    Here is where iteration fits into this topic…………we do the same Eduprotocols week to week. Once a week, students complete an Iron Chef. Once a week, they complete a Cybersandwich. Once a week, they complete a Mini-Report. As they get better, we use these tools as a stepping stone create bigger and better things such as annotated maps, comics, our cereal box president project.

Voice and Choice

According to Spencer and Juliani in the book, Empower, students spend an average of 400 minutes a day in school. How are they spending all 400 minutes? I see my role in the classroom as a guider, NOT a controller. Students learn best when they have choice and voice and create their own pathways to learning and understanding.

The approach to my philosophies are through my experiences. I have sat in the desks of Room 303. I have sat through all day PD sessions, and it can be agonizing. This is why I feel choice begins with seating. If students want to sit at my desk, floor, my center table, etc…. this can help with creating a comfortable and trusting learning environment. (YES, we will have conversations about choosing seats wisely. YES, if their seat choices are not conducive to a productive learning environment, then I take over.)

One of the simplest words I can say to students as their teacher is, “Yes.” Students have wonderful ideas and and are waiting to unleash creativity. Often times, this creativity is held back by the teacher. Saying, “Yes,” builds an environment of trust, learning, and allows students to show what they know in multiple ways. Plus, I don’t want to grade 120 of the same product over and over again! Does all of this seem messy and chaotic? Sure! But, that’s the beauty of it all. Factory models and standardization do not create success in school. Choice creates learning and trust, and this should come first!

Doing Different with Technology

Most view me as the “tech guy.” I guess I understand why…….I use technology all the time. It’s rare to find me making copies. Often times though, I feel like I’m viewed as the tech guy for the wrong reasons.

I don’t use it because it’s cool. I don’t use it because others want me to. I don’t use it just so I can say, “Hey, look at me, I’m awesome with technology.” I use it for one simple reason: Doing Different. Doing different needs to happen for students and myself on a yearly basis…..for growth and learning purposes.

Teaching is different. Our world is different……..and we need to change with it. Outdated methods can take a hike. Don’t get me wrong, I throw in paper and pencil when it’s necessary (For example: collecting new information or offered as choice). But, each year I’m discovering more meaningful ways to use technology and getting students to use the 4C’s (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication).


This year, I’ve had students make awesome projects with colored pencils, paper, Legos, Playdoh. Again, this was their choice and it worked for me and them. I give students lots of choice in creativity……I don’t want 60 of the same project. That’s a recipe for boredom.

My 2 favorite apps for creativity are: Adobe Spark and Buncee. Adobe Spark is great because students can make awesome infographics or professional looking videos. Plus, it’s easy to use!

I described Buncee as Flipgrid, Canva, and Google Slides smashed together. Students can show their creativity in so many ways with this app. This was a recent find late in the year, so I’m still exploring it’s potential. But, I can tell you this – it’s easy to use and students loved it.

Critical Thinking

Through Iron Chef, Cybersandwich, and Mini-Report Eduprotocols, students are researching and learning to evaluate sources and information. (Click Here to learn more about these Eduprotocols) They have freedom to collect information they find important for the topic of study and create their presentations.

I love these Eduprotocols because I have gotten away from worksheets, fact memorization, and me controlling the learning. Students process the information in their own ways, and decide for themselves what important enough to share with others.

Why did I decide to different with Eduprotocols this year? It’s a simple answer: School is not about out-remembering people anymore. It’s all about out-thinking, out-creating, and out-sharing each other.


My favorite tech tool for collaboration is Google Slides. I use this app with my weekly Iron Chef and Cybersandwich Eduprotocols. I started the year super, anti-Google Slides because it’s the default, easy go-to for projects. It drove me up a wall everytime a student turned in a boring presentation. Let’s be honest though, I was mad because I didn’t have good ideas for students to use Slides. However, Eduprotocols changed my mind, and gave me a reason to get students talking, creating, and sharing.


My favorite tech tools for students to share information with others…..

  1. Flipgrid this app pairs nicely with the Cybersandwich. After students research their topic, then compare and share with their partner, they share their findings through Flipgrid. It’s easy to use, fun to grade, and allows students to learn from each other.
  2. Screencastify this app goes nicely with the Iron Chef and plays nicely with Google. This is a great presentation option with the Iron Chef because I dislike the awkwardness of live presentations in front of the classroom. Plus, this screen recorded captures the presentation and can leave the students face off of the presentation (some students hate having their face in videos). When the recording is finish, it automatically saves in Google Drive. I have the students embed the videos on a Google Slidedeck, watch them, and give honest, constructive feedback.

I use technology to get students using the 4C’s. Of the 4C’s listed, the word cool is not one of them. Before stepping into the world of tech, ask yourself, “Why am I using this tool or app?” If you can’t think of a good reason, then don’t use it. If it seems overwhelming, start small and try one thing at a time. Afterall, we must do different – not only for ourselves, but for our students.