All Treats and No Tricks!

booWith Halloween only a few days away, I was tempted to provide a few “tricks” in this week’s post but decided that I would resist that temptation and only hand out “treats” for your enjoyment.

  • The first item was passed along to me by a colleague and adds to the growing list of articles addressing the topic of multi-tasking and technology. Don’t Look Now! How Your Devices Hurt Your Productivity.
  • The Faculty Focus website had two nice articles this week that look at topics that are common in discussions of teaching these days. The first one Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Practical Points looks at a skill that we all talk about but most of us have a difficult time actually teaching.
  • Finding Signs of Progress When Learning is Slow looks at one of my favorite topics, namely, effortful learning and how difficult it can be for students.
  • The last “treat” this week is a longer piece that is a good primer on the topic of Design Thinking (DT). DT has become very popular in education circles of late and provides a framework and way of thinking that can be used in every discipline. This primer is quite thorough and includes a bunch of excellent links for those who find the topic intriguing. Well worth the time!

Finish Line within Sight

As any independent school teacher will attest, the middle of May is one of the busiest times of the year. AP exams are winding down, prom season is winding up and the seniors are counting the days until graduation. Special schedules are the “norm” and any sense of routine has gone out the window. In an attempt to inject some normalcy and predictability into this crazy stretch, I offer up this week’s Friday 4…even posted on Friday this week!

The first two pieces I ran across this week come from the same website…an interesting URL to be certain. Some good advice for all teachers as they work with students to improve their communication skills.

  • 10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them
  • The 4 questions to ask before you write anything: ROAM
  • The NPR website includes an “ongoing series of conversations with thinkers and activists on education issues.”  They recently posted a conversation with Ken Bain, author of the book What the Best College Teachers Do. I have read the book and highly recommend adding it to your pile of summer reading. The conversation on the NPR site will give you a sense of what his book is about.
  • A colleague passed along the following link to a bunch of great resources for designing rubrics to assess both traditional and  “non-traditional” student work. Valuable information for anybody who is incorporating multimedia activities or projects into their classes
  • BONUS find…could not help but include this recent post from website for those of you Chrome users. I installed a couple of the extensions myself and love them already.

Enjoy the craziness that is the month of May!

Pre-Mother’s Day Friday 4


The thermometer is expected to crack 30 this afternoon and I am ecstatic! (That would be 30 degrees Celsius and not Fahrenheit for those of you who have not yet converted to the metric system.) Warm weather is a mixed blessing as most teachers will attest….nice to be able to shed the winter clothing for spring duds; but if it gets too hot, students and teachers alike can struggle to remain focused in toasty classrooms. I can think of no better way to beat the May heat than a new edition of the Friday 4, so here you go…

Spring has (almost) sprung!


While it may only be 41 degrees Fahrenheit outside today, the end of winter is definitely within sight; I can see more grass than snow on my JV Baseball field, and we are in full-fledged mud mode around campus. After a long, long winter, it is time to recharge the batteries and forge ahead with a sense optimism that only the spring term can evoke. In this week’s Friday 4, I have a couple of articles, a couple of resources for new lesson plans or ideas, 12 Google search tricks and a final thought provoking piece that should generate some discussion around the water cooler. I have not posted  a Friday 4 in a few weeks so I took the liberty of going beyond four items.

  • The all-school read for the Loomis Chaffee community next year is actually a listen to the “Serial” podcast. There just happened to be a nice piece on the Mind/Shift website earlier this month about how teachers are incorporating the podcast into their lessons. Perfect timing if you ask me! What Teens are Learning From ‘Serial’ and Other Podcasts
  • Why Kids Need to Move, Touch and Experience to Learn appeared on the Mind/Shift website this week and includes some good reminders about the connection between the body and the brain in learning.
  • Looking for some short but pithy audio clips to spice up your classes? “Listen Current makes it easy to bring authentic voices and compelling non-fiction stories to the classroom. We curate the best of public radio to keep teaching connected to the real world and build student listening skills at the same time.” Signing up for a free account will also give you access to additional resources for using the clips in your classroom. Worth a look and listen!
  • Looking for a new way to introduce or teach a topic that is getting a little stale? Check out Activate Instruction, a free website that contains a wide range of resources from all of the core disciplines.
  • 12 Google Search Tricks You Probably Didn’t Know is a recent post from the Google Guru website. You will certainly impress your peers and your students if you add a few of these arrows to your search quiver.
  • The thought provoking piece is from the recent Atlantic Magazine and is titled The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher. The questions raised in the article are ones that all serious schools and teachers should be discussing if we are to remain relevant in today’s educational landscape.


Fed up with February

4fingersI am not sure how much longer I can take the brutally cold weather. I consider myself a “hearty New Englander” but this February has been ridiculous. To come downstairs in the morning and see the thermostat read 49 degrees Fahrenheit is the epitome of depressing. Many educators, particularly those who teach in snowy environments, will confess that the month of February is frequently one of the most difficult months of the school year. Never-ending cold weather, darkness at 5 PM and “cabin fever” all contribute to the challenges of teaching and learning in February. What is a teacher to do? How about slowing down and taking some time to reflect on the things that really matter. In this week’s edition of the Friday 4, I offer up a few pieces that I have run across of late that have helped me to deal with the February blues. Remember, spring is just around the corner!
  • Slowing Down to Learn: Mindful Pauses That Can Help Student Engagement is a piece from the Mind/Shift website that offers some concrete suggestions for ways to address the challenging topic of wait time in the classroom.
  • Students Assessing Teachers: 10 Critical Questions is a piece from the Brilliant or Insane website that I found to be unique in its suggestions about how to utilize students in the assessment of teachers. I am always looking for ways to tap into the experiences of my students to improve my practice and will definitely incorporate a few of the questions from this piece in my end of term student survey.
  • Learning from Failure: Inspirational Stories for Teachers is another piece from the Brilliant or Insane website that was posted this past week that helped me to remember that sometimes we learn the most from our failures in the classroom. We encourage our students to embrace failure but sometimes forget to take our own advice. Be sure to click on the links in this story to see the footage from the Oprah show referenced in the piece.
  • 15 Surprising Discoveries About Learning is from the informED website and includes several good reminders about what really matters when it comes to teaching and learning.

I hope that you can use one or more of these pieces to help treat your case of the “February Blues” and remember what really matters during this the longest month of the year. Enjoy!


“Deep thoughts” from the week

4fingersAs any teacher will tell you, February can be one of the most difficult months of the school year, especially if you teach in New England and have to deal with the never-ending possibility of having your well-planned syllabus blown to smithereens by a snow day or 1-hour delay. As a result, I have found that February can be a great month to take some time to be more reflective about my teaching. I ran across several blog posts in the past week or so that allowed me to stop and ponder some of my practices and seriously reflect on my teaching that I thought you might find interesting as well.

I hope that you find one or more of these pieces as thought provoking as I did.  Enjoy!


Pre-Super Bowl Sunday “Snacks”


4fingersWant to add a little “mind food” into your pre-Super Bowl snack lineup? Try a few of the delectable items on this week’s Friday 4 menu before hunkering down for your marathon session of watching TV commercials and an occasional pass of a partially deflated pigskin by local hero, Tom Brady.

Enjoy your weekend!

A snowy day = shovelling and reading

4fingersThe snow has just about stopped, at least for now, which means that I will soon have to pull on my boots and go out and shovel the driveway. I actually truly enjoy days like this, ones during which I balance a little aerobic exercise clearing the snow with time reading in front of a toasty fire in the fireplace. Sounds pretty good, huh?

If you are looking for something to read between shovelling sessions, I present this week’s Friday 4 for your consideration. I know it is not Friday, but it is close enough! 😉

  •  I found this opinion piece Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others from last weekend’s NYT interesting as I thought about how I create collaborative groups in my classroom and contemplated ways in which I could better teach effective collaboration. My wife was certainly not surprised by the third characteristic of the smartest teams!
  • On a somewhat related note, the following piece crossed my Twitter stream this past week and caught my eye so I clicked on the link and actually read it. Student Success Better Predicted By Personalities Than Intelligence; Why Being Smart Isn’t Enough
  • Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb is a piece that appeared in the NYT recently that was written by one of my favorite authors and cognitive psychologists, Daniel Willingham. The piece addresses some common misconceptions about attention spans and electronic devices. The bottom line for me as a teacher is that I need to keep stepping up my game if I am going to capture and keep my students’ attention in class.
  • After reading the Willingham piece in the NYT, I realized that I had not checked out his blog recently and decided to stroll over and see what I may have missed of late. Daniel’s latest post was a perfect piece for this week’s Friday 4: Five mini book reviewsOf the 5 books he reviewed, I had already read 2 of them but was intrigued by the last one on the list, so I ordered it from Amazon using my school-provided professional development debit card. Too easy! I may not be able to read the book today, but in 2 days thanks to Amazon Prime, I will have another book to add to between-shovelling sessions in front of the fireplace. 


We made it!

4fingers Phew! As I sit down at 9:20 PM to craft this week’s Friday 4, I can finally put my feet up and breathe a heavy sigh of relief…I made it through the “gauntlet” that is known as the post Thanksgiving/pre winter break stretch of the academic calendar. The students have all scattered to the corners of the state and globe for vacation and the faculty holiday party is in the books. A perfect time to share some of this week’s finds with colleagues!

This time of year is replete with “Top 10” lists and “Best of 2014” posts and articles that afford me a chance to “find” some reads that I might have missed during the year. I actually look forward to these recap articles since during these next few weeks I actually have some time to get lost in reading without feeling that I am avoiding more pressing work. This week’s Friday 4 includes two such lists.

  • The Faculty Focus website recently published their 14 most popular articles from 2014 which can be found here and here. Regular readers of the Friday 4 will certainly recognize a few pieces that I have linked to in the past year.
  • The Ten Best Classroom Q & A Posts Of 2014 is from Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo) on the Education Week website.

  • How ‘Deprogramming’ Kids From How to ‘Do School’ Could Improve Learning appeared recently on the KQED Mind/Shift website and has the added bonus of being in both print form and available as an audio file for those of you who would prefer to listen to the article being read.
  • The last item for this week is a plug for an upcoming CAIS (CT Association of Independent Schools) Commission on Professional Development event on January 29 “What Works is Worth Sharing: Teachers Helping Teachers – Plugged, Unplugged…Whatever!” The event is one our most popular and boasts a great lineup of sessions that can be seen here. Why not make a commitment to your own professional learning for 2015 and join me on January 29?

Enjoy the break!


Professional Development Salad Bar

4fingers Not surprisingly given my role at Loomis Chaffee, I see and read a large number of articles, blog posts and books on the subject of professional development. I have a somewhat random mix of items this week that all have the theme of professional development running through them. I encourage you to read the pieces and then take the more important next step, namely, to take charge of your own professional development and commit to doing something that will foster your own grow as an educator.

  • A few weeks back in the Friday 4 I included a piece on Grant Wiggins’ (@grantwiggins) blog that described a colleague’s shadowing of 2 high school students. Grant posted a follow-up to that first post which is quite interesting and will certainly get you thinking about ways to improve and grow as an educator.
  • Connected Professional Development Is Now An Imperative is a recently published piece on the te@chthought website that makes the case for: “If Collaboration and Communication are two important 21st Century Skills, then educators should be the model for the way it works.”

  • The following New Yorker piece came to me from several colleagues that explores “How the ‘performance revolution’ came to athletics—and beyond.” One of the “beyonds” is education in general and teacher training in particular.
  • Practice what you preach is a thought provoking piece that contains several good reminders for how to constructively and productively receive feedback. Giving feedback is something that we are all quite familiar with as teachers, but we need to also be ready to receive feedback.

Enjoy. As always, I welcome and appreciate your feedback…good and bad!