Discovery Education: Beyond the Textbook Forum.

The easiest blog to write is on the topic of how I love free stuff (but I think I’ve already written that blog… a couple of times).

Any day I get free stuff is a good day (for the record these days don’t come nearly often enough).

A free trip to Washington, D.C. is a very very good day (I’m a patriot after all).

So when I received an invitation to attend the Beyond the Textbook Forum at Discovery Communications in the District of Columbia, I immediately thought one thing.

There’s obviously been a mistake.

When I saw a list of the other attendees, it confirmed there had been a huge misunderstanding.

I could list the other attendees, but I want to protect their reputations at least until I meet them.

In Discovery’s words, the forum was put together to bring an eclectic group of educators together for a conversation about digital textbooks (I think they just called me weird).

It’s a full day of brainstorming.  Not sure how much I can help, but I know this.

If you pay for my flight and hotel, I’m more than happy to share my thoughts on just about any subject (note to others putting together forums or conferences… I can be bought and I’m really quite cheap).

Best case scenario, I fly in, stay at a fancy hotel, and share my thoughts on digital textbooks.

Better case, Discovery offers me a job (I prefer to start out as a Vice-President of Something… with at least 16 weeks of vacation.. and hopefully very little actual responsibility).

Perfect case, they buy my "Road School" televsion show idea.

Actually, who am I kidding.

Perfect case is my flight is on time.  They feed me.  And I get some dirt on 20 of the top educators in the world that I can use in future blogs.

I’m pretty sure no one will sit by me or talk to me in fear I will disparage their hard-earned reputation in a future blog. 

They would be right by the way.

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Flying is Cool.

As I type, I’m on my way to San Antonio, Texas.  You know it’s the home of The Alamo (which I’m sorry to say is on my ever-growing list of disappointing national landmarks).

The good news is I’m not walking.  Or taking a canoe (which is good because I’m only on swim/not drown lesson #3).  Or riding a horse.  Or going by train.  Or even driving.

I’m flying.How Do Planes Work?  Seriously?

In a giant metal tube with tiny little wheels thousands of feet above the earth (it might be Kentucky or maybe Georgia… hard to tell… all clouds look alike to me).

As a proud member of the human race, I’m always amazed by our ability to fly.

Who was the first genius to even think this was a possibility.

I can eat peanuts, read a magazine, listen to babies cry, and cruise the internet all at 10,000 feet (and don’t forget you can use the bathroom in the middle of the sky… and while it may be gross (and cramped), it still impresses me).

I’m equally amazed by how put out and angry other passengers are about flying.

In the sake of full-disclosure, it should be noted that I never flew before 9/11.  My only experience with air travel is with the new security measures that have been put in place to keep us safe… or annoy us (I’m not sure which, but I blame you Mr. Laden).

People complain about the airports, parking, the lines, security, and paying for checked baggage.

My thought is… shut up.

And if you don’t want to feel hurried, get to the airport earlier (duh).

Get over yourself and what you perceive to be a huge inconvenience.

Walk 1,500 miles one time and then you won’t mind waiting 12 minutes for your luggage at the baggage claim.

Flying is a gift.

Basically it’s just like sitting in a lawn chair.  Except you aren’t in your backyard.  You are 8,000 feet above ground.

And you are hurtling through the sky at 500 miles per hour.

Did I mention, you get free peanuts?

And internet (how does this work?).

Flying is a privilege .

Why do so many people think it’s their right?

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10 Years Ago: I Was Younger and an Idiot.

A single meeting can drag on for hours.  Days last forever.  And weeks seem like they will never end.

How is it that a decade can fly by so quickly?

By my estimation decades are about 10 years long (feel free to double-check my math).  That means the last ten years accounts for approximately 1/8 of my life (if all goes well).

I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m living on borrowed time (my life is half over… I hope it wasn’t the good half).Time Flies.

Before the inevitable happens (I’m crossing my fingers that my Evil Spawn doesn’t put me in a nursing home… or a crate), I want to acknowledge how things have changed for me since the good old days (the year 2000).

Back then:

I was a punk teacher who thought I had all the answers.  Now I’m a punk school administrator who realizes that I don’t have any answers (and barely know all of the questions).

I coached a high school varsity boys basketball team.  Now, I coach 3rd and 4th grade girls.

In 2000, I didn’t own my house, truck, a suit, or have any investments.

I believed athletes were honest (steroids), hard-working, and good people (sorry Tiger, but I’m still heart broken).

I trusted politicians.

Buddy the Dog didn’t rule my house (that I didn’t own).

I was a year away from meeting the Evil Spawn.

And hearing my wife curse like a sailor during childbirth.

I didn’t have a Master’s or Specialist’s Degree.

I had never been to Florida, Texas, California, Colorado or basically anywhere.  Mainly because I had never been on an airplane, in a cab, or on a train.

I didn’t have a passport.

Or a cell phone.

We had a computer (that was huge), but it was slower than the phone I now carry around in my pocket.

I used to read the newspaper and look forward to the mail arriving.

Google, Twitter, Posterous, and thousands of other technology things were yet to be discovered.

I was newly-married (and yet my wife hasn’t aged a day in the last 10 years… yes, she reads the blog).

I hadn’t written a blog, read a blog, or heard of a blog.

My big concern back then was Y2K, not the Swine Flu.

Gas was cheap, but I never thought about it.

I spent my evenings watching TV, not working on a laptop.

I had a credit card, but no money to pay it off (because every cent went to student loans).

Any maybe the biggest thing… in 2000 I had absolutely no concept of time.  I didn’t think about the future.  I didn’t think about anything. 

Oh, how life has changed.  So quickly, in such a short time.

It makes me wonder what I’m about to face in the next decade.  What we are all going to face.

In the world.  At school.  In our personal lives.

For me, the next 10 years means I will celebrate my 50th birthday (how is that possible?), my 25th anniversary (what was she thinking?), and my daughter’s high school graduation.

My biggest hope for the next decade is it goes a little slower than the last one.

And I don’t end it in a crate.

Note from wife… Newly married?  We got married in 1995.  A half a decade prior to 2000.  Does that still qualify as “newly married”?

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Airplanes Are Giant Tubes of Infection.

Say Hello to Mr. Germ.

This may be my best blog title ever.

Or the most disturbing.

Now that I think about it, it’s probably both.

When I flew to Miami, my main concern was not crashing into anything (primarily the ground).

If you haven’t flown a lot, let me break it down for you.

Flying isn’t bad.

Flying into the side of a mountain is bad.

Please feel free to share this travel tip with your friends (no charge).

As I traveled across this country there was a lot of talk about the swine flu.  I’m not exactly sure what all the excitement is about because I didn’t see a single pig who looked nauseous.

But, I did see hundreds of humans who are gross.

Schools work very hard to teach students personal cleanliness.  This is good.

We then send them home to adults who are disgusting.  This is bad.

I noticed that many adults don’t cover their mouths when they cough (use your arm people).  They sneeze into their hands and then touch every public object within 200 feet.  Worst of all, they use public toilets but not public sinks.

Call me crazy.  Call me a germaphobe.  Call me paranoid.

But who doesn’t wash their hands after they use the restroom?  Especially when they are about to board a plane.  The same plane on which I am boarding.

And trapped in.

For 3 hours.

It’s sick when you think about it…

…sitting among 120 perfect strangers who couldn’t find a bottle of Germ-X if you slapped them upside the head with it.  I’m no scientist, but I’m guesstimating there had to be at least 18,407 germs on the plane.

There could have been more, but I avoided the restroom.

The germs are everywhere.  In the air, on the seats, and stuck to the pages of the airline magazines that are shoved in the back of the seat (next to the barf bags).  If that isn’t enough, there is a germ festival taking place all over those “complimentary” blankets.

Do you know why the blankets are free and an extra small bag of pretzels costs 3 dollars?

Because even the airlines realize they can’t rent those disease-laden blankets for a quarter.  Trust me, if they could, they would.

The good news is I’ve been back from my trip for 3 whole days and I’m still breathing (without a ventilator).

This has come as a total shock to me.

I was convinced I would have some sort of a disease by now.  At the very least a disorder that involves drooling and a facial tick.

Evidently I wasn’t meant to be sick.

I’m as healthy now as when I boarded the Flying Infection Tube (which was delayed 2 hours by the way… even germs aren’t on time).

I’m a lucky man.

At least this time.

My advice… the next time you travel by plane, don’t worry about the landing.  Worry about the free blanket.

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Travel Stinks. Now Quit Complaining.

When I was a kid, I never traveled.

If I couldn’t get there on my bike, I didn’t go.

I didn’t have the chance to ride a train, fly, or even take a cab.

Vacations were what other people took.

As I have gotten older, I’ve had more opportunities to get out and see the world.

Or at least some other states.

What I have learned is travel absolutely stinks. The lines. The security. The delays. Airport food.

A Baby That Doesn’t Want to Fly.

A Baby That Doesn’t Want to Fly.

But mostly the bathrooms (but that is a whole different blog that I’m not prepared to write and you’re definitely not ready to read).

When you get right down to it, travel is a hassle.

No matter what you do, it’s just hard to get from one place to another. It’s almost unnatural.

Everyone is in a hurry. Everyone seems to be put out by the experience.

Frustration runs rampant.

Lots of people trying to get someplace on time, and invariably they are running late.

Of course, it is usually their own fault they are behind schedule but in today’s society people really struggle with taking personal responsibility.

So if I’m late, it must be the baggage handlers fault, or the airlines, or at least the person standing in line in front of me.

Or behind me.

Or 27 feet away from me. Especially if they have a crying baby (and let’s all take a moment to say a special silent prayer for those mom’s who travel with babies… and if you travel with 2 or more you should have your choice of flying free… or being named a Saint).

Of course, this is just an example. I hope that I’m not one of those impatient travelers.

I consider myself lucky because I had never flown before September 11, 2001. This makes me lucky because I don’t know any better.

I never had the opportunity to run straight to the gate 7 seconds before takeoff. I have never even walked through an airport before we were under a “Code Light Blue/Orange/Mauve/Purple/Slightly Gray”.

I didn’t even know that I was responsible for turning someone in to security that left their baggage unattended.

I had no idea you were supposed to sit in the airport and complain loudly because the airport mechanics found something wrong with your plane and the flight had to be delayed 45 minutes.

I assumed that we all wanted our planes to be in 100% perfect mechanical condition before we boarded and had them hurl us through the air at 400 miles an hour at 37,000 feet above the rest of the world.

So my idea of travel (especially by plane) is that it’s annoying, but necessary.

I am amazed by the whole experience.

How is it possible that I can be looking at the Declaration of Independence in Washington, D.C. at 4:30 p.m., then drive to the airport, get on a giant metal tube, fly through the air, and be in my own bed fast asleep by midnight?

It’s not right. It is unnatural. It’s truly amazing when you think about it.

And yes, it is somewhat of a hassle.

But get over it.

Because when you get right down to it… it’s pretty cool.

And from my own experience, it certainly beats riding a bike.

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Which Grade Should You Teach? I Can Help.

Hmmm.... Which Grade Should I Teach?As I travel this great country of ours (back and forth to work), the question I am asked most often is… “How do I know which grade level I should teach?”

Future educators seem to be confused by the differences in kids at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.

This is understandable because each grade comes with its own set of strange and fascinating creatures. And when I insinuate students are strange and fascinating, I mean they are strange and fascinating.

The answer to the “Which grade should I teach?” question is, of course, quite simple.

If you are confused, check the nearest restroom (pick the right one, and if you don’t, please keep my name out of it).

You read correctly. The secret of choosing the teaching position is to walk into any school and head straight to the bathroom.

That is where you will find the answer to your career questions.

Other stuff is also kept in there, so ignore that if possible. If you can’t, call a janitor.

When you arrive, wash your hands then ask yourself “What kind of restroom troubles do I want for the next 30 years?”

If you want a restroom in your classroom, teach kindergarten or 1st grade.

If you want to yell at goofy boys for doing goofy things in the restroom, teach 2nd thru 5th grade.

If you like general weirdness, in the vicinity of a restroom, focus on teaching junior high or middle school students.

If you are interested in discovering why there is smoke coming out of the restroom, focus on high school.

So there you have it. Answers to career questions can be found in a stall near you.

Now that I have cleared up this mystery, I can focus on the other question that I am asked almost every day.

“Where’s the restroom?”

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Labor Day is Here: Which Means I Have a Lot to Do.

Where Did the Summer Go?The arrival of September tells me one thing.

I am woefully behind.

As an educator, I realize how lucky I am to have a job that gives me some time off during the summer months.

The only problem is that it isn’t nearly enough time.

As the school year winds down each spring, I always try to make a list of things that I need to accomplish over the summer.

This year was no exception. I made a list of about 30 items that had to be done.

No exceptions. Writing them down on the list was like carving them in stone. They would be done before the beginning of school.

Some were small items (like take a nap every day) and some larger items (paint the house). Actually, I may have those backwards as I believe taking a nap every day was Important Large Item #1.

As I sit here on Labor Day (it’s an American thing if you are reading this from another country… and enjoying your universal health care), I have realized that summer is officially over and…

I lost my list.

About 2 months ago.

So, most of the items on the list have not been completed. I think. I am not exactly sure because if you are paying attention you know I lost the list.

When I think about summer as a large block of time, I worry that I am not getting enough accomplished.

I have wasted an opportunity that I can never get back.

I have an overwhelming anxiety that time is slipping by me.

Things around the house, at work, and on the computer still need to be addressed. So much to do, and so little time.

But if I break it down, I don’t feel quite as bad.

This summer I got to travel (Texas and Colorado), went to NECC (sort of), visited a zoo, coached a softball team, learned a bunch of technology stuff (Jing,, Twitter, Plurk, Joomla, etc.) made lots of positive changes at school (at least I hope they are), did some work in the yard, saw the Riverwalk in San Antonio, wrote about 38 blogs, helped redo our school website, played some golf (never as much as I would like), rode the flat escalators in the Denver Airport (these should be everywhere), went to a Major League Baseball game, explored a cave, visited Sea World, watched the tech queen’s workshop business grow by about 300%, ran about 175 miles (jogged more than ran… actually, shuffled more than jogged), loaded about 60 items on, experienced my daughter growing about 4 inches and aging from 7 to 14 years old, and saw the horribly disappointing Alamo (the Alamo isn’t disappointing… just the mall next door).

So all in all, I can’t really complain because none of this stuff was on the list.

Maybe as I get older (if all goes well… quick, someone knock on wood), I will have a better understanding that life isn’t a race.

Not everything needs to be on a list and crossed off as I complete it.

Ah, who am I kidding?

What I need to do is make a fall list.

There is much to be done before winter gets here. Primarily, all of the things I didn’t get done over the summer (which is pretty much everything).

And Important Item #1 is going to be… Don’t Lose List.

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Strangers Always Have an Opinion About Education.

Everyone Gets an Opinion.  And Has One.Vacations are nice. Coming home afterwards is better.

It is always an experience to get out and see different parts of the country. An even better experience is sleeping in my own bed.

Yesterday was a travel day. It seems that the first and last day of any vacation is totally consumed with getting to your destination or coming home (and worse… packing).

It may ruin a whole day, but it does give you time to think.

While coming home, I took a few moments to contemplate everything that happened in the last several days (2 hours to the airport + 3 1/2 hours in the airport + 2 hour flight + 2 1/2 hour drive home = way, way too much time to think).

It occurred to me that while traveling in the last couple of weeks, I met two people who had very strong feelings about public education (doesn’t everybody?). And specifically how important technology is or isn’t for today’s students.

I didn’t really put too much thought into it at the time, but they were on the opposite end of the spectrum with their opinions.

The first time this subject was brought up was when we were taking a taxi in San Antonio.

Rocky, the cab driver (not to be confused with the Mountains) asked me what I did for a living.

Why is it that cab drivers always ask what you do? Anyway, he asked and when I said that I worked in a public school he wanted to share his thoughts (doesn’t everybody?).

His father came to America when he was a boy (about 50 years ago, I am guessing).

With his job he was able to put both of his daughters through college. He said that was important to his wife and him, even if they had to work 70 hours a week to pay for it.

He felt the world was changing too quickly, so college was not an option.

I asked him what was changing and he said everything…because of computers. He believes that even to drive a cab in today’s world that you need some knowledge of technology.

Their family has always had a personal computer in the house. He said his daughters lived on it during college.

His one complaint about their high school years was they didn’t learn enough about computers.

Then there was Mark. I played golf with him in Colorado. His opinion was just the opposite.

He was also interested in my job. He also had some thoughts about schools (shocker… doesn’t everybody?).

As the owner of his own business, he felt his employees (primarily teenagers) knew a lot about computers but not enough about working.

His idea: we spend way too much time teaching computers in school. He thinks humans are way too impressed with our own inventions.

While he owns a computer, he says he doesn’t use it. He doesn’t think we should spend so much time on them until we get the kinks out (I am not sure how we do this if we don’t use them, but who am I to argue with a complete stranger).

His strongest feeling was that public education should be more focused on vocational programs. He hates to see programs getting cut in school like art, music, industrial arts, etc., just so we can focus on test scores and technology.

So that was my vacation. Listening to strangers tell me what is right and wrong about education (ironically it was kind of like being at work).

Actually, it was quite interesting. I learned a lot from both. Although I was surprised about who believed what.

The one, who has the blue collar job, believes technology is the wave of the future.

The white collar businessman thinks schools need to spend more time on vocational programs and teaching work ethic.

I am more confused than ever. Should schools focus more time on technology, or less?

Should we set more time aside in the schedule for computers, or use that time for vocational programs?

Maybe we need to do both, but how do we find the time?

I wish I had thought to ask them.

Who knew strangers were so smart?

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Travel Does Stink, but Alan November was Great.

Mr. Alan November.I survived my first business related travel experience. Barely. There were a couple of bumps in the road (get it… travel… bumps in the road… you don’t get this type of 5th grade humor just anywhere… well, maybe from a 5th grader), but for the most part the trip was okay.

And by okay, I mean just okay. As in I didn’t die or cry myself to sleep. Not that I slept well in a strange place.

I still don’t understand how people do this all of the time. The hotels, finding someplace to eat, the hotels, the messed up routine, and the hotels. Did I mention the hotels?

It is just not natural to sleep in someone else’s bed. Especially if 1,237 “someone’s” have slept in that same bed before you. And by sleep, I mean… well, never mind because if I say it you will never go back to a hotel (and I could open myself up to legal proceedings in Alabama…. so says the legal department).

So, I will keep these thoughts to myself, much like I try not to think about how many students and parents touch the door handle of the school office on a daily basis.

While I was at the conference, I decided to ask salespeople (did you know salespeople in Latin means; evil bloodsucking devil children? I’m serious… Google it) who were there how they liked traveling for their job.

They all had the same attitude when I asked them questions about business travel (I not only have a Blog; I am a miniature Ron Burgundy).

The nice salespeople (not really… see devil children) got a glazed look in their eyes, cocked their heads to the side, and mumbled something to the effect of, “Travel is okay and I never get tired of breakfast at McDonald’s, dinner at Applebee’s, cold showers, and sleeping in a disgusting hotel bed.”

The glazed look told me they would rather be home with their families.

I felt the same way after only a couple of days. I missed my wife, my unemployed daughter, my pillow, my bed, my shower, my computer, my refrigerator, my TV, and my routine. I even missed school (any chance that changes by about 8:27 on Monday morning?).

But the important thing is I survived.

One good thing that came out of the week was attending a conference presentation that was actually good. And not just good, but great.

I listened to Alan November for 2 hours. It seemed like 12 minutes and 14 seconds (I have a stopwatch in my head).

He talked about the future of education, technology, and how as administrators we need to change the way we think about teaching our students.

This includes classroom technology, the internet, teacher evaluations, testing, length of class periods, etc. He has a strong belief that educators should be using resources that allow them to interact with teachers and students from all over the world; not just down the hall.

As an administrator who has the opportunity to sit through 37 meetings a week; this was the best presentation that I have had the pleasure of hearing.

He had just the right amount of information, sprinkled with a little sarcasm and just a hint of anger.

Who am I kidding? He may be my biological father (I wonder if he has an alibi for New Year’s of 1967?).

Anyways, he was excellent. After sitting through 14 sessions, this was a welcome and much needed surprise.

Our school district won’t be able to implement everything he talked about at once, but we can work towards it slowly but surely.

I was so excited after listening to him, that I briefly considered flying to Boston to thank him. Then I remembered the hotel bed thing.

Maybe I will just call. Or Skype. Or maybe, he can just read this blog.

He is correct about one thing; the world is getting smaller. And the people that understand this best are our students.

I wonder if they understand the hotel bed thing.

If you get a chance to hear Mr. November present, run don’t walk. You won’t be sorry. Unless you have to stay in a hotel.

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You Know Who Likes to Travel, People Who Don’t.

I'm Not a Big Fan of Airplanes... When They are Taking Off or Landing.Something odd is happening this week. Actually in education, something odd happens on a daily basis, but this is unusually odd. My wife and I are both traveling for work.

What is so odd about that? You see, neither one of us has ever traveled alone on business before (by business, I mean school stuff not actual grownup business… we could never get one of those jobs).

One would think at our advanced age this would have happened before.

Before we move on let’s take a moment so I can explain… by our advanced age, I mean I am incredibly old and decrepit and my wife is unbelievably youthful and vibrant.

She is often asked for a hall pass as she walks around her school during her prep time.

So this will be the first time we have been out of town on business. Odd enough in itself; but it happening for the first time to both of us on the same week? The planets must be aligned just right.

Things are so weird that the junior high kids were doing their homework in study hall and I overheard a teacher say, “I wish the school day was longer. Maybe I could voluntarily give up my prep time?”

I am sure there are people who enjoy traveling for work, but I am not one of them.

Although, admittedly I am not an expert on this whole business travel thing (you see I haven’t done this before… you really should pay more attention).

I like my routine. Get up. Go to School. Work. Come home. Exercise. Go to sleep. While this may strike you as boring, I thrive on it (by thrive, I mean that I am difficult to live with, extremely grumpy, and looking forward to retirement).

You can count on a routine. It never lets you down. There aren’t many things you can depend on in life, but a routine is one of them.

I am finding travel messes everything up.

You have to plan ahead, pack, get directions, sleep in a strange bed, and eat out. It just doesn’t sound appealing to me.

And being gone makes me nervous. My daughter has already called my half of the bed and my wife is giddy with the idea that she won’t have to cook.

I am not sure what to make of this, but I may be expendable.

I have a feeling that I should have just stayed in the office.

What will I do when 8:10 comes around and the bell doesn’t ring? Will I be able to buy chocolate milk for a quarter out in the real world? How will I know when 4th hour is over and it is time for lunch? Who is going to keep an eye on the parking lot after school? What happens to the 79 emails I get everyday if I am not there to answer them?

School administrators should stay in the office where they belong. The entire school district could fall apart.

Or worse, they could not even notice I am gone. I swear I saw people decorating the lounge with balloons and streamers as I left the building.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.