Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Edutopia: Emily Kaplan Interviews Mo Willems on the Lost Art of Being Silly

One of the things I miss most about transitioning to my position as a STEM teacher is the books we would explore in our old Infotech program. Although Infotech was primarily focused on technology, classes were held in the library and worked in all types of literature.

Mo Willems was one of those authors whose we explored the most. The Knuffle Bunny books are great examples of mixed media and we would often copy his style as kids would create their own characters that they would place into a scene.


In a recent interview for Edutopia, former 2nd-grade teacher Emily Kaplan gets to the heart of what makes Willems tick, his view that parenting should be a license for us grownups to cut loose and be silly with our kids, and that ultimately he just wants his books and characters to be launching pads for kids to generate more ideas and more questions.


Monday, February 24, 2020

Music Review: Justin Bieber "Yummy" (Country Remix) with Florida Georgia Line

The Waffle House can make just about anything better, even a really bad Justin Bieber song.

I recently posted that this blog wasn't going to get hung up on the profound. Well, there is nothing profound about All Good Days' first song review.

One thing I love about Spotify is how it at least tries to put new music in front of me that I might actually enjoy. So, in my 5:00 AM-ish music browsing of recent releases, I came across Justin Bieber's "country remix" of Yummy with Florida Georgia Line.

As I began listening, I immediately had this "I have no idea what to do with this song" feeling. Before I got too deep into the remix, I had to go find the original so I would have some kind of comparison.

Okay, so....wow. Had I known anything about the original, I never would've clicked on the remix. Three things stick out here for me.

  1. Beebs....eat brah. Find some actual food that's yummy, yummy, yummy or let's get you to a weight room. 
  2. Innuendo is supposed to be hidden at least a little bit. The kid ain't talking about food in this song and the Jello molds from the video are memorable...even if you don't want them to be.
  3. There's a major lyric in here about eyes rolling and toes curling that frankly I really didn't need to now have stored in my head...and the associated visuals...yikes.
Okay, so I am not a fan of the original...and the remix, well I am still torn. It feels like a movie one might describe as "so dumb it's actually funny". Maybe it's more like some terrible accident in the booze aisle at the grocery store. Either way, there is a part of me that can't look away and may have trouble not continuing to play it. Here's the remix as published on Florida Georgia Line's YouTube channel.



My initial reaction was: Just when you think this thing can't any worse, Bieber kicks off with a really, really bad Southern accent, accentuated with a total rip off of Larry the Cable and a "Git-r-done".

Image result for larry the cable guy get er done
Luckily this IS a collaboration with Florida Georgia Line and Tyler and Brian join in to rescue it the best they can. Like an evening out or a road trip south, everything gets better when you mix in the Waffle House as these lyrics help the song immensely.

"I've been up in Waffle House but you my Chick Fil A.
I've been into waffle fries since our first date.
Ain't got time for playin'. I'm gonna clean your whole plate.
(Girl, I'm gonna lick it up)"

Does that save it completely? No. The innuendo is still pretty strong but at least they actually mention some food in this one. I do find it a bit creepy where they talk about "saying grace" then follow it with:
"Let me slide on over, girl, and get a taste (Let's roll)".

Overall, this song is pretty entertaining, even if it's not quite in the way Beebs or the FlaGa Boys had intended. I imagine there will be more ventures into country collaborations for Bieber though. He has been on top of the country charts for weeks now with the very good 10,000 Hours collaboration with Dan + Shay. Justin has been represented by Scooter Braun since he was 12, and it is Braun who recently purchased Big Machine Records.  BMR has a whole stable of artists that could remix Bieber songs with him. Personally, I think the kid needs to spend some time with Cheap Trick.

Bottom line: Every day can be a good day but not every song can be a good song. With Florida Georgia Line's help, this one at least gets a little better. It might make your teenager gag like it did mine, or if Bieber's your thing, you might actually like it. It actually kinda beats a lot of stuff out there.


Sunday, February 23, 2020

Let's KILL It This Week In The Classroom

You may not be a fan of former NFL coach Rex Ryan...or of any sport for that matter. His approach to working with players though is worth noting.

In current Mississippi State head football coach, Mike Leach's book Swing Your Sword, Leach explained that he would visit Ryan's practices as often as he could because of the simple way he approached all activities he asked his players to do.

While still in the NFL, Ryan worked off of the acronym "KILL", short for "Keep it likable and learnable." He believed that people achieve more when they are enjoying what they are doing and new things are presented in ways that promote their understanding.

I think that is a pretty good way to creating experiences for our students.

Unprofessional Engineering Podcast: STEM Teacher Janet Andrade

Jake and Luke from the Unprofessional Engineering Podcast have taught me all kinds of things like the ways the Mayans and Egyptians built their pyramids, all of the foods we have today thanks to the Chicago World's Fair, the beginnings of companies like Ford and Boeing. Recently, the guys introduced me to an amazing STEM teacher in Janet Andrade and a program from Chevron that is helping fund STEM projects in several communities.

Janet teaches 8th grade at Bud Carson Middle School in Hawthorne, California and is a former Project Lead The Way California Teacher of the Year. In the episode, she shares how she has been able to use funding from Chevron's "Fuel Your School" program to complete several Donors Choose projects. Not only are students doing amazing things in her classroom, but they are also going on to pursue high-level careers like in aerospace engineering.

Whether you are a STEM teacher or not, there is a little inspiration for everyone as Janet tells her story. Give it a listen.


Saturday, February 22, 2020

40 Years Ago Today: Do You Believe in Miracles? Yes!

Forty years ago, the most formative sporting event of a generation happened...and hardly anybody saw it live. Although the game was played at 5:00 Eastern, it was taped-delayed until ABC's coverage started at 9:00 PM Eastern.

I was a second-grader watching the Maple Valley Lions play basketball when word began to make its way through the Vermontville, Michigan gym that the impossible had happened. The upstart United States Olympic hockey team had upset the Soviet's Big Red Machine. Even though most Americans already knew the outcome, the replay became one the most-watched television programs of 1980.

Image result for miracle on ice
Team USA celebrates its win over the vaunted USSR - ESPN.com photo

The dobbers in America were pretty low before that hockey game. Iran held 52 Americans captive. The only thing higher than gas prices was the interest rate...and those same Soviets were a press of a button away from wiping us off the globe with a barrage of nuclear missiles. Then, The Red, White, and Blue won a hockey game and it changed everything. Instantly, a nation united and collectively picked its chin up as it watched its hockey team on Sunday beat Finland and win the gold.

One hockey game launched a whole new outlook on a new decade...and that was the real miracle.

Now thanks to YouTube, you can watch the whole thing anytime you want.



Friday, February 21, 2020

Google Ups Commitment to #CreateWithChrome


As more and more educators call on colleagues to find more ways for their students to use Chromebooks for creative purposes, the Google Mothership is taking steps to make that easier.

Recently Google posted on its Chromebooks in Education page, that a creative bundle will soon be available in the administrative console that features six apps aimed at students producing content and not just consuming it.

The recent additions are:
While there are tons of sites that foster creativity with Chromebooks, these six are a great start to add to the console. Check out my special page The Chromebook Creativity Project for even resources. 

Six apps that allow kids to #CreateWithChrome will soon be available for installation via the admin console. 

5 Things Today's New Teachers Will Never Understand


Last week, I saw this tweet and it got me thinking about how old I feel in the teachers' lounge when I make a reference to something from my youth and all I get are blank stares from the young teachers born in the late 1980s and '90s, like when I made a reference to the movie Stripes. 

So, here are a bunch of other things from my youth they will probably never understand.


Image result for rolling stone U2 cover
5. How cool you felt reading Rolling Stone.  For me, there was just something really exciting about discovering new music before everybody else did. Plus, the writing on every subject in it was some of the best available. One of my favorites was PJ O'Rourke, a political satirist who became their foreign affairs lead. He actually came to Hillsdale and spoke about covering the Clinton presidency. It was before anybody knew who Monica Lewinsky was, but it was still tremendously memorable. Rolling Stone is still alive and I check-in online every once in a while but there was just something special about poring over an article on the emerging Seattle-sound or a hot new band and its upcoming tour. 

4. McDonald's Birthday Parties. I am not sure what it was that made McDonald's so icky in the eyes of our youth. Back in the late '70s and early '80s though, having your birthday party at Mickey D's was a pretty rad experience. I still remember when the richest kid in 1st Grade, Chucky Shrader, had his 7th birthday blow-out at the Three Rivers, Michigan McDonald's. Mind you, this was even before they started building their PlayPlaces. It was just trays and trays of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, shakes, and whatever that orange un-carbonated drink is. It was such a big deal, the Three Rivers paper even published a blurb on the society page. My mom still has the clipping. Apparently one can still book birthday parties at McDonald's. 
Bill Frakes Photo: © Laura Heald
Bill Frakes photo by Laura Heald

3. Getting Sports Illustrated every Thursday in the mail. Just like Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated was a huge part of my adolescent reading consumption. Growing up in the '80s as a sports fan meant you could always rely on there being a new issue of SI in your mailbox every Thursday afternoon. SI featured the best sportswriters in America and equally great photographers. This was before instant in-depth coverage of every sporting event on earth. ESPN Sportscenter was a part of my morning routine, but you were still basically limited to 90 seconds of highlights and a score. The three most fun hours of my professional life came in 2011 when I became an Apple Distinguished Educator and SI photographer Bill Frakes not only was on hand to shoot headshots of all of us, he took us out into the desert to learn the art of nighttime photography called light painting. The instruction was awesome but I also ended up riding out to and back from the Salt River with Bill and long-time associate Laura Heald. For two hours in the car, they told twenty years worth of SI photoshoot stores. The most memorable stories were Bill recalling when John McEnroe came over to the photo pit at Wimbledon and started drinking Frakes' Coke in the middle of the match and Laura describing Chinese government officials being less than thrilled with them during the Beijing Olympics for accessing restricted areas of the Great Wall. What I found most amazing was that I could describe a picture from 20 years ago and Bill and Laura could not only remember it, but tell me who took it, and often its backstory. Yes, SI still exists, but the thrill of its weekly arrival will never be the same.
 Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers. © Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated delivered sports in HD before 1080p was a thing. Bill Frakes photo

2. These three Walmart brands were once the essence of cool. A little tear forms in the corner of my eye every time I am in Walmart.......and.....I see Ocean Pacific, Bongo, or Starter logos. 

All three brands at one time were the gold standard of cool. OP burst on the scene in the early '80s as the popularity of surfwear grew. Growing up in Arizona meant we were the first stop eastward for trends coming out of California. Never before had I been such the envy of my Michigan cousins than when I came to visit in head-to-toe OP and they were scrambling in the Midwest to find stores that carried it. Even though the inseam length of OP corduroy shorts made them darn near obscene, they were insanely popular. So was Magnum P.I. and other than Larry Bird, nobody rocked the short shorts like Tom Selleck. Bongo Jeans was just one of many denim brands to be popular throughout the late '80s. At Casa Grande Union High School, the Bongo denim skirt was exceptionally well-liked from 1986 through the end of the decade. Starter came along at the end of the '80s and made an epic ascent in the world of NCAA and professional sports team apparel. As fans flocked to buy gear from establishment-challenging teams like UNLV, the LA Raiders, and Michigan's Fab Five, hip hop artists further fueled a craze by wearing Starter gear on stage, but especially in their music videos. Things got so intense that lives were even tragically lost in robberies involving Starter jackets. Popularity is terribly fickle and Walmart has long made it a practice to swoop in and buy once-popular yet struggling brands. The mega-chain slaps those labels on their own lines of apparel and the results are rarely pretty. Just look at how lame this current line of OP gear is. 
If you were lucky enough to hang onto your original OP, Bongo, or Starter gear it could fetch you up to three-figures on the vintage market. 

1. Junior high and dances in the dark. Maybe this one should just be the concept of "junior high" in general because the vast majority of U.S. school districts have switched to the middle school concept. Our junior high was just 7th and 8th grade as opposed to modern middle schools that span from grades five or six through eight. It was basically early high school. We started every day in homeroom and then switched for six more class periods just like a high school schedule. I am pretty sure that our current middle schools take better care of kids, but we sure felt like big shots getting our locker assignments and picking up our schedule of classes. The big time pep assemblies with the band playing and cheerleaders making a tunnel for us game-jersey-wearing football players were only topped by the Friday night dances...in the dark. I know that horrifies a lot of people to visualize 12 to 14-year-old trying to make "some front-page teenage news". Yes, most dances started out with girls on one side of the cafeteria staring across at the boys staring across at the girls but the right fast song like say, Prince's Let's Go Crazy, would get everybody on the floor. I can still remember the screams of girls running to the dance floor when they heard that organ and  "Dearly beloved-loved-loved...We are gathered here today..." Follow that up with a slow one like You're The Inspiration by Chicago and it would officially be a party. Maybe the concept of the junior high dance isn't that hard to fathom thanks to Stranger Things 2 and the excellent closing "Snow Ball" scene. The gym may have been a little over-decorated in the Netflix gem, but for the most part, producers really nailed the look and feel of the junior high dance. 

Were there awkward and scary moments? Absolutely, but we all survived even when your huge crush ended up sneaking away to the baseball field bleachers with someone else. It's not like it still bugs me or anything, really.

Someday all of the new teachers will be the old coots in the lounge getting blank stares from the newbies every time they say something like, "I was so in love with Troy Bolton." or "I still have no idea how I ever taught the morning after that Lions Super Bowl parade." Okay, maybe that's a little too far-fetched. 

Don't take this just as a "back in my day" post. Yes, it's full of nostalgia but think of it as a little bit of motivation to slow down and really enjoy the "now" because we don't naturally do that enough. I don't know who said it, but I recently heard somebody say, "Wouldn't it be great if when we were in the good old days, we knew they were the good old days?"

 Here's to making all days the "good old days".


Good Morning America...It's Friday

Throwing it back to 1992. Happy Friday!


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Free Writers' Mindsets with Design Thinking


When I was a kid there was no bigger buzzkill to my writing joy...and ego than the red pen of one Mrs. Pamela Runner at Cottonwood Elementary School in Casa Grande, Arizona. This was before the days of "writers workshop" and having kids make multiple revisions. Nope, wrong was just wrong and I took her grading pretty hard. Despite all of that I still get enjoyment from putting words together, but it would take me 35 years to really find what works for me. 
Potter's Wheel by [Losik, Andy] In the early 2000s, I wrote a novel. It was a long process and nobody wanted to publish it, but I still had fun accomplishing a goal I had set somewhere in junior high or high school. You can even read Potter's Wheel for free at Amazon. Starting in 2011, I would go on to write another book, this time a biography of NFL offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Stay in the Game was a joint venture with Jared's parents. They wanted to share their son's journey from brainy and awkward middle schooler to a 3rd round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders. They also wanted to give other parents of potential draft picks a bit of a roadmap. As an elementary teacher, I wanted it accessible to kids as well as general sports fans. Combining all of these "wants" was no easy task. 
Right about the time we were trying to get Stay in the Game going, I began learning more and more about design thinking and looking at ways to teach it in the classroom. Instead of getting really caught up in the minutia of pure design thinking, I simplified it for my students. 
  • Ask: What are we trying to solve or what are we trying to create? Who are we creating this solution or thing for? What already exists that is similar? 
  • Imagine: What is possible? What's our dream result?
  • Plan: What's it going to take to accomplish the goal? Create a road map and a to-do list.
  • Create: Jump in and get putting together your best effort. Don't be afraid to guess at ways to do things. 
  • Test: How does that first attempt's "prototype" perform? Look for little things to improve.
  • Fix: Re-engineer the failure-points or make changes to the solution or project that you feel makes it better. 
  • Repeat: Fix and test. Test and fix until each little imperfection is polished away. 
I can't tell you when it all "clicked" for me, but when I realized that if I approached this book project through a design thinking mindset, even the simplified version from the classroom, that I could write with a lot more clarity and a lot less self-imposed anxiousness over picking the write words on the first draft. Even though the book took way too long to complete, mainly because Jared kept achieving new things in his career, it really came together. Like EnVogue taught us back in the day, "Free your mind and the rest will follow".

This new approach to writing got me thinking about how we teach writing. Admittedly as a "specials teacher" I am pretty ill-informed when it comes to the specifics of how writing is being instructed in the classrooms around me. I hear things like "Lucy Calkins", "Teachers College", and "units of study" but I am not quite sure what any of those means. What I do know is that my colleagues teach their tails off and that our kids continue to improve, writing at impressive levels. I also know that regardless of the individual techniques, just about any writing instruction can benefit from a design thinking mindset. It just relieves so much pressure and it decreases the sensitivity to feedback. Kids will relate it to other fun activities that involve design thinking. 

If you have never done any "D-thinking" with your students, it's easy. Seriously, just run a piece of fishline across your classroom and declare it a zip line and give them some parameters of what materials they can use to create a vehicle for it. We use Technic Legos but you can get inventive with any loose parts in your classroom. On a piece of paper have students write out their thoughts for the ask and imagine steps. Have them sketch a plan and then turn them loose to create. On the back of the paper have them make a log of all of the improvements. Pretty soon you will see a constant cycle of fix and test, fix and test. All you have to do next is show them that revising their writing is no different than revising whatever creation they sent down the zip line. 

I just wish Mrs. Runner had known about design thinking back in 1981...or at least had strung a zip line across her classroom. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

All Good Days! Welcome to the Relaunch

I love to write. I love to create. I love to share things I love and I love to at least try to make people laugh.

I have had a blog in some form or another for at least 20 years but the thing that holds me back from writing more is that I've always felt it had to be something profound or earth shattering. Well, for this relaunch and my commitment to blog and share more I'm not going to let myself get hung up on being too profound.

The "All Good Days" concept started last winter while trying to shake off the long days of gray skies and cold. Dating all of the way back to junior high (1985ish) I have been obsessed with skate and surfware. My cousin Ben and I even had big dreams for "WayRad Skate Designs". Even though we never did anything with that, I actually sold jams shorts at school in 8th grade. I would pick out, pin, and cut the crazy material and my mom would sew them. I made enough money in a couple of months to cover my flight and the cost of attending Michigan's football camp. Fast forward 33 years and I started getting creative with designs and put a bunch of stuff up on CafePress. com in my own virtual surf shop. I also started an Instagram account designed at not just promoting the stuff for sale at CafePress but by sharing beautiful royalty-free photos of places sure to brighten any day.

So, today I am rolling all of these varied interests I have from teaching to graphic design, to music, to stuff I think is funny, to 80's and 90's nostalgia and basically giving the Internet all of me. I work hard to look at every day as a good day. I am so blessed by a wonderful family and the opportunity to teach STEM for 7 hours each day with joyous 5 to 10-year-old!

Here's to celebrating #AllGoodDays. I hope you'll check in often and more importantly I hope you find something that can make no matter what kind of day you're having, a good day.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Create Truly Authentic Learning with Google Tour Builder

My grandma is 98 and every second spent with her is special. About a year ago, she gave me something also very special. It was a book that had belonged to my grandpa Rex Cooper, who passed away nearly 23 years ago. It wasn't just any book either; it was a book awarded to him by the 103rd Cactus Division's 409th Infantry Regiment shortly after the end of World War II. That book in conjunction with Google's TourBuilder would, over the course of the next six months, provide me with one of the most authentic learning experiences of my life and allow me to deepen my love and respect for my grandpa decades after our last conversation.

Rex Cooper and the 409th Infantry in World War II - Tour Builder with Google



Like many veterans who served in the Pacific, Africa, and Europe during the war, my grandfather spoke little of his experiences. According to my grandma, the most he ever opened up about his time in the Army was when he was a guest speaker in history classes for both my sister and me. This small 75-year-old hard-bound book called The 409th Infantry in World War II  (also accessible digitally) is a day-by-day retelling of arduous marches, fierce fighting, heartbreak, and triumph. It essentially tells the story for all of the vets who found it too painful to do so themselves.

I absolutely devoured every account and dug deep into the web for more information on each location, battle and other Army divisions referenced. What allowed me to organize links, photos, videos, and locations was TourBuilder. It was fascinating to find in the French mountains, the actual hairpin turn being used as a German road that is referenced in the text of the book.

Not only did this project draw me closer to my grandpa's journey through Europe, it tremendously deepened my understanding of World War II and other heroes from other brigades who fought alongside the 409th at times. One such group was known as Patton's Panthers. 

From my tour: Joining the 103rd at Reisdorf was Charlie Company of the 761st Tank Battalion. This all-African American unit of tank commanders proved to be some of the best of the best despite having to endure tremendous prejudice along the way. As Charlie fought with the Cactusmen, more companies of the 761st would soon join them. 

Because TourBuilder allows for the inclusion of media, I was able to include the following YouTube video to better tell the story of the Panthers and how important they were, not only in assisting the 409th but also in their total contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany. 



There were many late nights this summer as each segment of the book opened up another deep dive into events of 75 years ago. It is one thing to get lost down a rabbit hole of something on the Internet. It sure feels a lot more worthwhile when that rabbit hole is your own family's history. Even at 48 years old, I was able to experience some of the most authentic learning of my lifetime.

Just think about all of the authentic learning experiences that we can foster for kids by combining their own personal history with Google's TourBuilder. Many other regiments created similar accounts documenting their soldiers' time in the war and many of those can be found in digital form across the web. Students with great grandparents who served can create the same kind of tour I did. What if students traced their ancestors' journeys to America with TourBuilder? Think about how powerful and empowering it would be for a student new to the United States to tell their journey's story in TourBuilder. 

As digital tools continue to evolve, TourBuilder with Google is one that can be utilized to create deep and truly authentic learning experiences.  



Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Making a Difference with VAEI Blue Apple's "What's In Your Water?"

Recently my 4th graders at Blue Star Elementary school completed the "What's in your water?" project-based learning unit.

Students learned about and traced our local watershed and the drain that empty our school parking lot leads to Lake Michigan. They tested several local bodies of water and learned about water scarcity on the Navajo Indian Reservation. As a culminating challenge, students created a fundraiser to support DigDeep and the Navajo Water Project. Students even planned and hosted a full-school kickoff assembly to raise awareness that people in the United States struggle to have access to water. In the end, Blue Star raised $275 for the charity.

As a teacher, I would highly recommend exploring this and other Blue Apple units of study from Van Andel Education Institute. Not only are the units well written and come with a full set of supplies, but the real-human support that Van Andel provides teachers using their curricula is tremendous.

Check out the video shot and produced by VAEI. The video really makes me proud to step back and not just think about the content mastered by these kids but the ways in which we see them interacting and going about that learning.


Thursday, January 9, 2020

Send kids on a big city scavenger hunt with Google Earth

One of the most fun and engaging activities I have developed this school year is the "Big City Scavenger Hunt" in Google Earth. Basically I give students ten things to locate in a given city and they can use all of the tools within Google Earth find them. A Google Slides document is used for curating each found item in the form of a screenshot and a location.

As a way to get to know New York City for an upcoming cardboard skyscraper construction project, teams took on the challenge pictured above.

You can make your own copy of the template slide by clicking here. You'll be able to changes the items to find and make it for any city you'd like. 

I tried to use a combination of ones that could be simply searched like "baseball stadium" but also included some that will really pull at reasoning like "Where in New York City are we going to find a ranger from the National Parks Service?". Some are just totally random like "hot dog cart" that they just have to get lucky searching the streets...although hot dog carts in Manhattan are pretty easy to spot.

There are a ton of curricular adaptations that can be made from this one simple activity:

  • When studying states in a region, simply duplicate the first slide several times, make each one a different capital city of a state in that region and have kids divide and conquer using the Iron Chef Eduprotocol. While we are talking Eduprotocols, have groups create a CyberSandwich to compare and contrast their cities and then compare and contrast things other regions found.
  • Use the same idea above but have kids explore regions of the world or countries that make up a continent.
  • Make the scavenger hunt about famous landmarks around you. Instead of recording the address or location, have them list historical importance.
  • Search for evidence of different biomes or landforms around the globe.
From Young Fives through fourth grade, there really isn't an app that is more universally (pun unavoidable) beloved than Google Earth. My students are enthralled every time they get to explore. It's an easy hook and a great way to make them deeper thinkers and digital explorers. 

This activity works well on both Chromebooks and iPads.