How can you be someone’s champion?

Today’s #AprilBlogaDay question is “How will you be someone’s champion?”

I will be someone’s challenge by giving my students time to share their passion while researching and learning that they can connect themselves to their learning in a new way. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) ask that students learn researching skills, writing skills, reading skills and speaking skills in a new way that will prepare them for college and career, basically their future.

Their Genius Hour projects are putting them in a position where they are being asked to make their learning public and visible as they work through the process. They will be asked to share “What I learned” and “How I made an impact with what I learned” in a short 5 minute TED-style talk. I will give them one day a week to research and organize their work.

Now, on to being someone’s champion…

To see my students digging into their projects, sharing their ideas in blog posts, seeing that people are eager to hear and follow their progress is the most powerful learning that goes on in my class, and it is student directed, teacher guided.

Students are hoping to connect with their community and help with less fortunate students, returning military veterans, girls’ body image, and even more impactful, learning how their research on America and its history, can connect with their learning and it is really fun to see. Talk about being someone’s champion! I get to see this unfold as my 100 students become champions.

If you are interested to see for yourself, check out their blogs and comment on the process of becoming a champion here.

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Awe Inspiring Projects!

Sitting at our Spring Break trip with my family I am enjoying every moment, but I can’t shut off my mind thinking about my students Genius Hour projects. I am in awe seeing the hopes they have with their projects. 

  • A boy who loves to fish and wants to see how he can help veterans learning to cope with PTSD and share his passion for fishing with them so they can relax and find something that can help with their experience. 
  • Many students who want to help other students who are less fortunate. We have an organization near us that helps with “sack suppers” for school children. 
  • Teenage girls feel a strong curiosity toward their body image and self image. They typically look to magazines and movies to see the “correct” body styles, but rarely ever find their actual body style because of airbrushing. Their curiosity and vulnerability is a powerful project that they want to delve into. What they find and share I am eager to see. 
  • There are many, many other topics and ideas sprouting that will be fun to watch. Check them out here and give a comment or two of support, ask questions, share insight, knowledge and just plain cheer them on! 

Now back to staring at the waves! 

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Genius Hour Update

Genius Hour requirements are: “Show us what you learned” and “Make an impact with what you learned.”

That is it! Presentations will run from June 3-5 and will be broadcast live.

Check out these ideas.

A student who likes to fish, he wants to research fishing and the calming qualities of fishing. He then wants to research and become active taking military veterans fishing to help them with their PTSD. All from a love of fishing.WHOA!

A student would like to learn more about what it takes to spread their passion for learning to school children in Africa. She saw an assembly earlier this year from a “Lost Boy” from the Sudan who created a school for children in his country. My student wants to find out what she can do to help. Do you have goosebumps yet?

Now your help is needed! Our genius hour projects are starting to get legs! They are taking off. It is so exciting… We are moving from the “what do I do?” phase to the “Here is my goal, what do you think?” phase.

It is very important that our blogs have an authentic audience and receive feedback from that audience.

Please follow this link to see our blogs. Students would very much appreciate having an audience and sharing their passion with you. Please give feedback, ask questions, show your curiosity, share your excitement with them.

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Every time someone tells me, “I have to work…” I think to myself, “that is too bad, because I get to go to school every day!”

I get to experience students learning every day. Some days reluctant learning, some days are days they walk out the door with the words, “can we do that again?” just leaving their lips. Either way, I am a part of something much bigger than myself, I get to teach.

I did a Google search on the following. Check out the autocomplete Google was offering up based on past searches in Google. Pretty fascinating what people are looking up about teaching:

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I agree with all of the search completions, but I agree mostly with the first one, “Teaching is fun. Don get me wrong, we do not just come to school and play all day, it is hard work, there are long hours, it takes creativity to make learning interesting, palatable, enjoyable, exciting, or “fun.” But I would agree mostly with the fact that teaching is fun.

Teaching to me is seeing learning happen. Watching the lightbulb go on for someone. That is fun!

I am willing and eager to spend countless hours (please whatever you do, don’t count the hours I put in outside of school, it is not pretty!) Can you say obsessed? What am I saying, I am obsessed with learning and being a part of learning for my students.

This may not make sense to some, but to those who have put in a lot of time into a project dreaming, planning, researching, preparing, presenting, participating, giving feedback, and answering questions along the way, then the end of the process turns out well, it makes perfect sense. Doesn’t it feel great? THAT IS LEARNING! THAT IS TEACHING! It is really fun!

I had the opportunity to play collegiate baseball at Central Michigan University (Fire Up Chips!) and put in tons and tons of hours into preparing to play. The game itself was short compared to the preparation. That is exactly the same as teaching.

The other thing I love about teaching is that it is an art. Art is not a perfect process. It is not something that has a perfect beginning, middle and end result that we look at and say, “Wow, what perfection!” Art is different to everyone. Teaching and learning is different for everyone. We must make that known and a priority! That is why I completely agree that teaching is an art and must be embraced by our communities as such. We are fine-tuning a craft and mistakes and failures will happen. It is our jobs as teachers to make sure failure is not the end, it is just a First Attempt In Learning (Get it? FAIL).

I love teaching! Wow that felt good…

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Columbus Trial Hangouts!

Each class will have their own unique link that will bring you, the audience, to our trial. Please select the link below and it will take you to the trial that you can see your son or daughter. People vs Columbus are the charges the groups had against them. They are the beginning to their research. You can even ask a question or make a comment during the trial.

All trials are Thursday, October 23. Specific class times are listed below.

Use these links to view live.

1st Hour Trial – 8:20 – 9:10

2nd Hour Trial – 9:20 – 10:10

3rd Hour Trial – 10:20 – 11:10

6th Hour Trial – 1:50 – 2:45

Use these links to view after the trial.

Each trial will have a YouTube link as well that will be a recording once the trial is complete. So you can watch the trial later if you wish.

1st Hour YouTube recording.

2nd Hour YouTube recording.

3rd Hour YouTube recording.

6th Hour YouTube recording.

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Jurors Needed!

Parents, Followers, Minions… I am in need of jury members. We are putting Columbus (among others) on trial!

Our trial will be held Thursday October, 23 throughout the day. If you are interested in learning more or joining us, please respond to this post or send me an email at:

Jurors will be asked to read the roles and information of each student group before the trial and ask questions (basically “grill” the groups) while each group is proclaiming their innocence. People vs Columbus readings.

We are putting the following groups on trial, stating they are guilty of committing the terrible genocide of Native Americans on Hispaniola (Caribbean Islands) in 1492 – 1500.

  • Columbus
  • Columbus’ Men
  • King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella
  • The Tainos (or Arawak) Indians
  • The System of Empire

All groups are charged with the same thing:

“You are charged with the mistreatment and murder of thousands, perhaps millions, of Taíno Indians.”

Whose responsibility was the mistreatment and death of millions of Taino (Arawak) Indians? We shall find out based on arguments and supporting information each group shares during the trial.

Here are the class times I will need jurors:

1st Hour: 8:10 – 9:10

2nd Hour: 9:15 – 10:10

3rd Hour: 10:15 – 11:10

6th Hour: 1:48 – 2:45

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Learning from Spiderman’s uncle??

Spiderman is like Social Media. What???

I asked my students today about what Social Media sites they know about. Their lists off the top of their head were extensive.

I shared with them Twitter’s Gift  to the US Library of Congress. Their first response to “What did Twitter do this for?” were things like:

“To keep track of what the bad guys are doing.”

“For the government to watch us.”

“To see what we are doing.”

All possible, but not the real reason, if you ask me. Today people do not keep hard copies of diaries, pictures, notes, sometimes books, etc. We are living in a world where our life’s story is recorded by social media like Facebook & Twitter.

Here is my answer to my own question: “Our story as an American citizen is recorded and the Library of Congress has been given the access to collect that story.”

I want students to be able to use social media in a positive way and see the benefits of Facebook, Twitter, etc, etc. I want them to practice their digital life in a safe place where the only people that can collaborate with them are peers that are close and that have the same teacher. What a great place for them to learn how to be a positive digital citizen than in a place like Schoology or Edmodo or some other Learning Management System in class.

How can we practice this? What does this have to do with us, Mr Kipling? (Typical questions from my kids. 🙂

Use your words to tell a positive story! Share a nice thought with someone and make their day. This reminds me of a quote that sticks with me.

“To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world.”

Class Activity from this: 

I asked my students to turn their positive comments toward each other and practice sharing nice thoughts with each other. Pick someone up, share a nice thought, boost someone’s day. We did this by commenting on our class Schoology page. Each student replied to each others’ name and practiced saying something meaningful and really meaning it.

The looks on their faces as this 15 minute activity took place were priceless. There were even conversations afterwards with each other and “getting to know you” time that was not in my plan.

There is a quote that comes from the Spiderman comic: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben tells him that early in the comic series.

Our lives are collected because that is the way we put ourselves out there, but we have much responsibility that we must live up to with how we use Social Media to send out the message we want others to see.


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Life Changing – Opportunity

Preface: I planned to write a whole new post about Rachel’s Challenge and my experience this year as opposed to last year (my first experience). As I thought about what to say, the same thoughts came to mind. With that in mind I will re-post an old post that is still perfect for my thoughts.

Life Changing – altering a person’s life or circumstances in substantial way.

Opportunity – a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.

There are times in one’s life that can be called landmark, signature, or life changing opportunities. I had one today!

These occasions are usually things like the birth of my children, the day I was married, the day I met the woman I would marry and have those children with. These are the moments  that can change even the most hardened, tough, never-let-you-in types.

Those occasions are usually set aside for that title, yet think I had one today, NO, I am certain I did. (And yes I know that typing in all capitals is yelling, I just yelled that!) Today’s experience was amazing, powerful, exhausting, beautiful, gut-wrenching, tear-filled, scary, among many, many other things. I can’t just give it one name, it was all those things.

I had the opportunity to participate in a thing called “Chain Reaction” with an amazing group of about 88 7th & 8th graders and 20 teachers, counselors, and parents. I also need to mention 2 extremely gifted presenters from “Rachel’s Challenge,” Keyona and J.B.

My students (I call all the students at my school “Mine”) transported me on this amazing 6 hour ride that started with this seemingly corny group games called Avalanche, Shark Attack, and Lighting & Thunder, which ended up with a strong connection to the overall message, to sitting with this group of students and seeing them share the most deep, incredible, difficult parts of themselves with their peers and teachers.

Our students have experienced things that kids 13 and 14 years old should seemingly never have to experience. They have not only experienced these things, but they have become amazingly strong and wonderful people throughout these difficult experiences.

One thing this program, Rachel’s Challenge, does is break down walls. Break down walls between students, between students and teachers, and walls that have been built inside yourself allowing you to open up and see the kindness and compassion in others. Well I am here to say, it does exactly what it sets out to do!

Chain Reaction is a beginning to what could be a long journey of building kindness and compassion between people. People in a school, people in peer groups, people in a community. If today, and this feeling I have inside me right now, is any indication as to whether we are on the right path to starting our own “Chain Reaction” in Spring Lake Michigan, we are going to have one helluva a ride as we build stronger relationships and kindness and compassion takes the place of bullying, gossip, negative talk about others, among other things that get in the way of real progress in the journey of life.

I woke up this morning thinking I was going to have a great day, similar to the other great days I set out to have each and every day. What I got was a day that has reached in, grabbed my heart and pushed me to be a better man, dad, teacher, person, neighbor, friend, and human being. Seriously, it was that amazing!

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English TED Talks Invitation

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More details at

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Why should I read as a Middle & High Schooler?

“Reading takes too long!” “You want me to read a huge book rather than hang out with my friends?” “This book is boring!” “The other class doesn’t have to do this.” “I shouldn’t have to read, I am not going to need this reading in my life!” “I don’t like reading, so I don’t do it.”

All the previous quotes are directly from the mouths of middle school students.

I would like to give a reason to read as a middle schooler. Maybe even a plea to heed my warning as a person that went to high school and college and survived as a struggling reader. I was not a struggling reader as far as ability goes, I struggled with “want” to read. Motivation to read was the furthest thing from the top of my priority list. Actually, reading WAS NOT ON my priority list.

As a veteran teacher that prides himself on expecting the highest of expectations on his students, I would like to say that the love of reading needs to be fostered and caressed and prioritized and stressed and expected from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Allow students to choose their reading, allow them to share their reading with peers, teachers and parents. Allow students to fall into books and quit on books and shout out loud about books until they can not put books down and their own expectations are sky high. Their abilities will be up there right with their expectations.

If we foster the love of reading before 9th grade (the dreaded beginning of high school), students will be stronger readers of text and information and novels that are NOT chosen by them but assigned to them.

Assigned reading? But how much are we preparing for?

I asked college admissions offices that very question. The numbers are pretty eye-opening. Check out a few responses.

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As you can see, college freshmen are required to read a large amount in college. This is reading that is assigned, not chosen. Schools like Michigan (approximately 500 pages per week per class), Indiana (300 pages per week per class) and Grand Valley State University (6,000 pages per semester).

These are all averages and estimates. If all the average estimates (from the people at the college) are as high as they are, there we have a goal we need to prepare for!

In my class, students’ reading is strictly chosen BY them, not for them. They are expected to set their own goal and reach their own goal. If they reach their self imposed goal, they succeed (Get an A on that portion of the grade). They are asked to be a part of the grading process through a Reading Ladder (reading reflection throughout the grading period).

As middle schoolers, shouldn’t we be spending out time reading for the love of reading and building the stamina up to be prepared in the next 4 years for this large amount of reading? Once high school gets here, shouldn’t we then add in the “reading that is assigned and not chosen” and continue to build the stamina?

Are you doing your part to build the stamina for reading or the love of reading for your students?

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