Friday, September 19, 2014

Day 3437

On my first day at West back in 1996, I wrote on the board “5,700 work days until retirement”.       I thought it was funny at the time and it became a nice running joke for many years both with my students as well as my peers as they approached their retirement.     A number of years ago, the count came down as it became apparent the magic number of “30 Years” no longer guaranteed retirement…………

While I am not sure how many days I have left to teach……… I do know that today, day 3,437, will be my last as a Wolverine.

Teaching in “limbo” for the last couple of weeks has left me a lot of time to think back on everything that has impacted me professionally and personally while at West……….and what is very apparent is that I need to say “Thank You” to so many people before I leave……….

First is Pat Sansone.    Pat taught me how to design curriculum for students with special needs. The principles she taught, I have used essentially every day for nearly twenty years.

To so many colleagues including (but not limited to) Lisa Rettler, Steve Marineau, Mary Kay Hammes and Nadine Krueger who modeled for me a work ethic that every day mattered and “mailing it in” was simply not acceptable.

To Dale Van Keuren……..Thanks for showing me the power of PLCing and pushing me to try new things.    

To David Towers for believing in me and empowering me to become a leader in this building.

To all the coordinators and instructional coaches that I have worked with the last few years…….Jill Davis, Stephanie Blue, Brian Yearling and Laura Ryan.     Thanks for your positive attitudes, encouragement, and “proof-reading” abilities.     I will take aspects of each of your leadership styles into my new roll! (Will you guys still proof-read?)

Thanks to all my students (okay, not all, but most)........especially my WHAPers.    The energy, work ethic and love you showed me in the classroom made these past twenty years fly by and enriched me in ways that money could not (though it would be nice to know if it could……..)

There are three current staff members who I need to say special thanks to as well………..

To Fred Jonas……….Thanks for modeling for me not only how to teach with passion, but how to stand up and speak out when you feel strongly about something.     I am thrilled to have been your tag-team partner for the last twelve years.      Its a shame we will not be able to "team up" next year......

To Bob Willis………..Thanks for showing me how to listen to others when they speak and how to temper my words before I do (something I still need to work on A LOT).      When I grow up, I hope to be like you.   You are a true “zen master” and everyone who works with you realizes they are a better person for having been able to.

To Mark Anderson……Thanks for your friendship these past ten years.     I sit in amazement at how quickly the creative juices flow through you and how effectively you channel these ideas into your classroom.     The absolute toughest part of leaving West was knowing we would not be able to spend time together every day.

I also have West to thank for giving me the greatest thing I have going for me. During my second year of teaching, I meet my wife, Mary, who was a newly hired speech-pathologist. She invited me to an IEP meeting and I invited her to a Billy Joel concert. The rest is history. Thanks for your love, support and encouragement to take this risk!

If you made it this far……. “thank you” as well for caring enough to read what I had to say!   

Finally, I want to wish the best of luck to Court and Katie, both of whom will be taking parts of my schedule.    I hope that this career gives you half the enjoyment it has given me……...if it does, you will both will have incredible careers!

This whole process has been an emotional roller-coaster and the well wishes I have been given have been very humbling.   It is hard to say good-bye……... to a place that has been, and still is, filled with so many wonderful friends and memories……...which is probably why I am still rambling on……….So here goes…..

Come Monday........Day 1

Monday, September 15, 2014

PBL and Google 20% Time........In My Classroom

Better late than never!       This blog post was actually first drafted back in June...........

I know in my last post I promised to talk about Padlet.    However, my son ended up getting sick the week my students worked on it, so I can't directly comment much on how the students found it to use, so that post will have to wait until next school year..........

So, in my final blog post reflecting on technology in my classroom from this past year I thought I would share my observations on using Google's 20% in my classroom.........

The concept of 20% time comes from Google allowing their employees to spend one day of each work week developing a project that they feel has merit for the company.    From this investment came Gmail and Google Maps.

At the beginning of the school year, my PLC decided to give the concept of 20% time a shot.     For the most part we just "jumped in "......taking a risk......something that is encouraged by our administration.

When the final products were submitted at the end of the first semester, I think it was safe to say that both the students and the teachers were underwhelmed.

Believing in the concept, but wanting to see higher quality finished products, I sat down and reflected on what needed to be done to "fix" our project.

I felt that the following errors were made:
  1. To much time was given to the students.
  2. Too few check points were required throughout the semester
  3. There was not enough framework provided in order to ensure student success

I decided to try to design a project that addressed all of these perceived shortcomings that at the same time combined many of the skills that we had been working on throughout the course of the year.

I started by deciding that all students will create a webpage using Google Sites.    To try and create additional "buy in" I created a scenario to guide the project, which can be found HERE.

Throughout the course of the year, we had spent a lot of time focusing on skills.    The skills ranged from writing (thesis statements and argument development) to 21st Century Technology Skills (Padlet, Dipity, Thinglink, YouTube Editor, etc) to developing the skills of a historian (making inferences, point of view).    

I was hoping that I could create a project that encompassed all of these skills.  To achieve this, I created a list of requirements.   Among the requirements were.......

  1. Students had to choose a historical question to study.   (I had final approval for the question)
  2. Students had to write a thesis statement to answer their question per class requirements.
  3. Students would create a webpage using Google Sites that they could design as they saw fit as long as it contained all of the requirements of the project.
  4. To show their understanding of point-of-view, students had to present at least two different interpretations of their topic.
  5. To show the skill of inferencing, each website had to contain at least five links to resources that related to their topic that they felt someone who enjoyed their website may want to visit.
  6. To show their mastery of 21st Century Skills, they had to seamlessly embed four forms of digital media into their site.   One of these forms of media had to be something that they found on their own.
  7. Finally, they had to present their website to me in a ten minute role play situation based on the scenario that was provided to them.
Earlier today I watched the last of the ninety presentations.......HURRAY!   I did three before and after school each day since the middle of May.........

While not all students created masterpieces, the results were profoundly better than first semester!   The best of the students can be seen in these sample pages........

While the quality of the work was much better, there still are some things I would like to improve on for next year........

Among my goals for the summer/next school year will be to.......

     1.  Remember that as I am teaching the SKILLS that are embedded into each unit, I need to more 
     explicitly state the skill I am teaching.  Then, when the students are asked to perform the skills on 
     their project later in the year they more clearly will know what I am referring to.

     2.  How can I keep the entire class on PACE throughout the semester, so pieces of the project 
     aren't forgotten, dismissed or ignored because they run out of time at the end of the semester?  

     3.  How can I build in multiple ONE-ON-ONE meeting times with students throughout the 
     semester so I can give them quality feedback on their keep their work to ensure they remain 
     focused on their question and thesis?

     4.  How can I improve teaching the skill of ANALYSIS?

     5.  How do I teach SEAMLESS integration of technology?
All are tough questions........

Fortunately I have a couple of months in order to try and solve them!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dipity Timelines......Cool but Cautious

In the most recent unit in world history that I taught, I introduced the website “Dipity” to my students. Dipity allows students to create unique timelines on any subject of their choosing.      It has many similarities to thinglink, which I previously reviewed.    

One downside to their free accounts is that you are only allowed three timelines per email address. While you can’t expect everything for free, having a limit of three, would limit the amount of times dipity can be used in your classroom without purchasing access.

Just like thinglink, my sophomores took to dipity very quickly.    

My students were building two timelines, with ten events each.    The first was on the history of communication since the invention of the printing press and the other was on advances in military weapons since the invention of the gun.      For each event on their timelines they needed to analyze the importance of that event to the history of communication or warfare.      The end goal was that this information would eventually help them answer the question of “What is mightier, the pen or the sword?”.

As they analyzed each event, students could add weblinks, images or videos to their description. This gave their timelines not only a nice visual, but allowed them integrate information from different sources, just like

The one downside that affected about 10% of my students was that at times they could not access their accounts.      The reason was unclear and the students affected seemed random.      I tried to do some research as to why this occurred but came up empty.     One thought was that they did not log themselves out of dipity on one computer, and as a result could not log into it on another. However, every time I tried to work with a student to test this hypothesis, they could never recall what computer they were one when they last worked on it………

Dipity Tutorial

Emails and tweets to dipity went unanswered……..

So, to sum up the review…….I like dipity a lot. As a history teacher, it allowed me to teach the concept of change-over-time nicely.      However, the number of students who had issues logging back into the site, and the lack of response to my requests for help probably means that next year I will look for a different site to create timelines with.

Next month……..Padlet

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Thinglink: Intuitive and Engaging

Currently in World History, we are attempting to introduce a new technology tool to the students each unit.      Recently, while looking at the Renaissance, we introduced "thinglink" to our students (  

The site allows you to annotate an image in the same way you would a reading.     You put "tags" on the parts of the image that you want to annotate and then type your annotation.     You can also include links to websites, embed videos from You Tube and inset any picture that is posted on the web.

Here is a link to a sample thinglink I made to show them as an exemplar.

The site is very intuitive and I figured it out in less than five minutes.     The students picked it up even faster.     Here is a quick little video tutorial I made to help them navigate the site:

After having the students annotate a piece of Renaissance art, I was thrilled with the results.    Overall, this was the highest scoring summative I have given in my class this year.    The students were REALLY into it, and it was clear that there was truly 100% engagement in the classroom.

If you are interested, here are the instructions and rubric that were used in class.

The biggest upside however was that my special ed students did especially well on this assessment.   They were really excelled at sharing their knowledge and seemed to enjoy the creative process.

Overall, thinglink is a very cool and quick learn that I would suggest to anyone looking to try something new in their classroom!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Google Chrome Web Store: Apps and Extensions

Before spring break, myself and six other faculty members from West headed off the Chicago to attend a Google Apps for Education Summit.    It was held at Glenbrook North High School, the high school John Hughes attended, which is important because some of the scenes from Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club were filmed there!

We saw many new and cool things in...........and deciding what I would like to share first with you is tough....... I finally decided that sharing Google Apps and Extensions could have the most benefit for the most members of the staff........

The idea behind these features, is the same as the Apple App Store........To make computers act and feel more like a smart phone.......for both productivity and fun............

Here is how you can unlock the tools of the Google App Store.......

To begin MUST use the GOOGLE CHROME web browser!

1.  While in Google Chrome, click on the box to open a new tab.      (note the arrow in image below)

2.  A new tab will open and with it will be your all of the Apps you have downloaded.........

3.  To access the Chrome Web Store, you click on the app (it should be the first one) or you can click on the icon in the lower right hand corner..........

4.  On the left hand side of the page you will see the categories of apps they have to offer.....

5.   From here you can "shop away" for APPS.    You can search for content specific apps depending on what you teach including graphic calculators, converting units of measure, periodic tables, grammar rules keyboarding, anatomy, building circuit boxes,  etc....... Another feature you could check out are study skills apps like flash card makers (my students love quizlet) and Lucid Chart........Or you can find productivity apps like Google Calendar, Drive, Mail and Search.

6.  Once you enter a query in the search bar, your responses will come up with available apps and EXTENSIONS.   

An extension is a small program/tool that can add new elements to increase the productivity of your web browser.    Once installed, they can be found to the right of your address bar.   (See the icons in the photo below).

There are so many apps and extensions that is it hard to say what each person may find most useful.     If you use the internet for articles for class and such, I would suggest you check out CLEARLY.    It will take an article from the web and remove all of the advertisements and side bar stories that can distract you and your students.........Simply open the article you want to read, click on the CLEARLY ICON and "poof"......You have a clean article to share with your students!

If you would like to explore more about apps and extensions, please check out the websites of  David Jakes and Molly Schroeder, two excellent presenters that we saw.    Each of the links contains their presentation and lists of apps and extensions that they shared with the attendees!

As always, let me know if you have any questions!

Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Batch Enroll a class into BB

Thanks to all of you who attended our sectional this morning.

I hope you found something useful in it.

For those of you who need a reminder on how to batch enroll students in BB, click HERE!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friendly How-To Reminders for Google Calendar and BB

With the end of the semester coming we are all crazy busy trying to close out one semester and start a new one.........and with that will come the possibility of questions with how to create a new Google calendar for a semester course, how to embed it in Blackboard and possibly how to have your calendar be the "entry point" (first thing that pops up when you log into the course)..........

In an attempt to help out with all three of these things, I thought I would share a "how to" sheet with directions for each of these things.    I had one staff member check out all the steps, and they said it worked, so hopefully it will for you as well.........

To access this handout just click HERE!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Searching Google for Sources by Reading Level

This month's Google tip deals with finding appropriate readings for students at different reading levels........

When I first saw this trick, I immediately thought of all of our work in AO as well as the current leveling in Science and the similar changes coming to English and Social Studies............

To search Google for sources sorted by reading level all you have to do is the following.......

1.   Go to Google and search for "Google Advanced Search".............(or you could just click HERE!)

2.   In the top box/boxes type in your search topic........

3.   Scroll down just a bit and you will see a series of options for your search.    Using the pull down menu, change the "Reading Level" setting to "annotate results with reading levels".       

4.  Hit Advanced Search.

The results that come up will display the results as "Advanced", "Intermediate" and "Basic".......Depending on the reading level you are looking for, click on the appropriate reading level and google will share with you only the results you requested.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Doing a Google Reverse Image Search

In early November, I had the honor to represent West at the Midwest Google Conference at the Dells.

It was two days of "intense" geekiness (is that a word?)...........

But it did me teach me two things........

(1) Technology is JUST A TOOL in the classroom......

(2) Technology can improve my instruction by creating some really engaging lessons.

I also think I can be a lot more efficient at my job and teach a few good "21st Century" technology skills to my students along the way......

To try and share some of the fun "tricks" I learned in the Dells, I will use this blog as a source for you to hopefully find something new, fun and useful for your classroom.......

My first trick, I also shared at our November Faculty Meeting......

It involved doing a "Reverse Image Search" in Google.    Doing this will allow you to take an image and search it, instead of entering text to find an image.......

The best thing about this is it is a REALLY EASY, "LOW TECH", skill!

Here are your steps....
     - Start by going to the Google search page (
     - Click on "images" (on the black bar that runs across the top of the page)
     - Take the image you want to search and simply drag it into the search bar.  As you are doing this, you should see something like this......

     - Voila!   You have a Google search based on the image you put in the search bar!

If you have any questions, feel free to track me down in F102!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Here I Go.......

For years I have enjoyed reading blogs.

Last year I started teaching and grading blogs.

This year I have started introducing my peers to blogs.

Now people have started to ask if I blog..........

The answer up to now has been an emphatic "NO!"..........

I have always been one to keep my personal life just that, personal.     I figured my stories, ideas, comings and goings were boring (for the most part they are) and those that aren't I didn't want someone to think I was bragging........My goal of "keeping to myself" includes a "welcome" mat in my basement that says "Go Away"!

HOWEVER.......... (imagine me saying this in a Stephen A. Smith voice)..........

Times have changed.     Now, as I try to help my peers out with their technology inquiries I think it will be beneficial for me to have a new platform to share whatever knowledge I may have about Google and Gadgets.......(expect the Grunske part of the title to remain personal)..........

So, HERE GOES............


My hope is that you find something here that you can use to help you do your job better, more efficiently and that this will ripple effect into your classroom through better, smarter and more engaging lessons!