Innovation: Needed Now More than Ever

IMMOOC Season 3, Episode 1

Start with Why

Simon Sinek (@simonsinek), challenges everyone to start with their “why”, in his widely popular Ted Talk. We think this was a great question to start off with in our new season of IMMOOC: putting words to the “why” for innovation because when your WHY is big enough, the HOW will show up. To quote the master directly,


Continue reading “Innovation: Needed Now More than Ever”


Mystery Skype in a Nutshell…

Mystery Skype is a global guessing game where 2 classes from anywhere in the world Skype each other, taking it, in turn, to ask yes/no questions to determine where the other school is located and what its name is. The first class to find out wins! It’s like playing 20 questions… on a global scale! Continue reading “Mystery Skype in a Nutshell…”

Never Settle for “Good Enough”

Why Reinventing the Wheel is a Good Thing

One thing that I’ve come to learn about myself is that I can’t stand to do things I’ve already done. I live for novelty… and this goes for almost every aspect of my life. I used to be a huge collector of DVDs. At one point, I had around 300 in the collection. But thousands of dollars too late, I realized that once I owned it, I never watched it again. Continue reading “Never Settle for “Good Enough””


New Year #TeacherGoals

Welcome back to the new school year! We hope your summer was as great as ours! I (Zach) took a 10 day trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains with my brother while Grayson and his family went to Arizona to hike the Grand Canyon. As awesome as summer was, we’re both ready for a new year, new excitement, new challenges, and great new students! While we took a break from blogging over the summer, we definitely didn’t turn our minds off of school. We attended and presented and many conferences and read many new educational books to fire us up for the new year!

File_000     boys3

If you have been following our blog, you know that last year we removed the wall between our two classrooms and we co-taught a class of 56 4th grade students. We had an amazing year and loved the experience. Last week the numbers in our building rose and we had to close the wall with the addition of a new section in our grade level. As sad as it was, we are so happy to welcome our student teacher from last year, Amanda Oppenlander (@MsOppenlander), to our 4th grade Dream Team!

With the new year, comes many new goals for us. This post will outline our most ambitious goals which will be followed up in more in depth individual posts throughout the year as we progress.

Goal #1: Make All Instructional Decisions With Our Kids in Mind

One of the books I read this summer was Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome and it really brought me back to my why of teaching. I teach for the kids. Plain and simple. One graphic found on twitter had these three questions below. This year, the goal is to try and make all decisions with these questions in mind. If the answer is no, then we will rethink how we can modify the task to answer yes one of the questions below.

Will this increase my students’ love of learning?

Will this empower my students to achieve their academic/creative potential?

Will this position them for greater thinking and creativity in the future?

Goal #2: Rethinking Homework

This summer we have read many articles and books around the Great Homework Debate. I (Zach) have never been a huge fan of homework. I truly believe that our kids work REALLY hard all day in school and deserve a break when they go home I also grew up playing hockey and other sports. With certainty, I can say that the lessons I learned playing sports have shaped my life more so than any homework assignment I ever did and I lost more sleep that was probably healthy trying to cram in homework after sporting events.

I also know that the stress and added pressures of homework made me frustrated at my teachers and with school in general. I often found myself using the dreaded phrase, “I hate school.” I believe that school should be a place that kids WANT to come to and I also want my students to have the same extracurricular opportunities that I had. I would never want a massive homework load prevent them from doing so.

Additionally (and maybe most importantly), research has found no evidence that homework has a positive effect on elementary aged students. John Hattie’s 15 year analysis of over ¼ of a billion students worldwide has enabled him to identify what really aids student achievement. Specifically, homework has been found to have NO effect on the progress of primary school children. Not only does it fail to improve the academic performance of elementary students, but it might actually be damaging to kids’ attitudes toward school, and to their physical health. In a review of available research studies, Harris Cooper, a leading researcher who has spent decades studying the effect of homework, concluded that “there is no evidence that any amount of homework improves the academic performance of elementary students.”

The exception of course is independent nightly reading of self selected texts. Study after study proves that students who read every night show exceptional gains and many benefits. Below is my favorite graphic to prove this.

By rethinking other homework and not weighing kids down with math worksheets, it will free up time to read which is proven to help a child succeed in school and life!

Fun Fact: Ask Warren Buffett why he believes he is successful and he will attribute to reading. When he was starting out he claims to have spent 80% of his day reading! He would read 600-1,000 pages a day and to this day he reads 500 pages a day (Read here for reading habits of ultra-successful people!).

We are not here to say that “ALL HOMEWORK IS BAD!” and that it should all be thrown out. Our goal this year is to rethink homework and make sure if we give assignments that they are meaningful, purposeful and not just busy work.

Goal #3: Providing more Project-Based and Service-Based Learning opportunities for our students

Last year, we really dove into Project-Based Learning (PBL) in social studies and science and we both believe that it was a huge success in our classroom. We found over and over that our students blew us away with their creativity and passion when it came to subjects that students in the past have considered dry and boring. By replacing traditional multiple choice assessments with more authentic projects students engagement and buy-in were so much higher and they were empowered to share their knowledge with our class and with the world.

The shift in our thinking this year is going to be to make PBL more apart of the learning process and not just an extension after the unit. We found that students were learning more from the research and project phase because they had a higher buy-in and were much more excited then the traditional lecture.

One inspiration we had over the summer was listening to Trevor Muir’s keynote and meeting him at an edtech event. He explained his launch cycle of “Epic Projects” which has inspired us to ramp up our PBL this year. Reading Trevor’s book, The Epic Classroom, also brought tons of inspiration of how we can authentically position our students to make the world a better place.


Goal #4: Utilizing Skype to connect our students to experts and students around the world

Last year, we dabbled with Skype in the classroom and did a few virtual field trips and Mystery Skype and they proved to be great learning opportunities for our students. This year, we plan on doing many more and seeking out places to do virtual field trips that would fit into our curriculum. It used to be that teachers were the smartest person in the room but with technology that has changed. If we want kids to learn about space, why not let them Skype with an astronaut if at all possible? We believe our #KidsDeserveIt!

We will continue to update each of these goals in separate posts as the year progresses. What are your #TeacherGoals for this upcoming school year? Comment below and have a great start to your year!

Gift #7: The Essence of Empathy

Do you feel… Do you feel like we do?

-Peter Frampton

I recently read a blog post directed towards administrators of schools and other people in charge of hiring new employees. There, it was claimed that it’s too often the case that we hire applicants based on the right answers rather than truly finding the right people.  When hiring a single teacher can really be a 3 million dollar decision over the course of a 30 year career, it’s clear that we should be taking due diligence in hiring the right people. One of the most important qualities that leads to being a “right people” person, in my humble opinion, is emotional intelligence. A person’s EQ, in many aspects, is more important than an IQ. Additionally, emotional intelligence is far more malleable and able to be influenced by “nurture” versus “nature”. And so, as we search for one last gift to give our students, the gift of understanding feelings seems like a necessary choice.

Continue reading “Gift #7: The Essence of Empathy”

Gift #6 – Making a Positive Impact on The World

For years in college classes and in various new teacher training’s, I was told over and over that the larger purpose of school and education is “to prepare students to participate in America’s democratic society.” While this is based off of the highly regarded work of John Dewey, I have to admit, I’ve always had a problem with this definition.

To me, this definition is like when teachers used to say that I would need to know whatever they were teaching “when I got to the real world.” Can you think of a less motivating reason than that to get a kid engaged in learning? I can’t. When I heard that as a kid, I thought, “Phew, I’m off the hook… I won’t need to know this for another 15 years!”

My beef with John Dewey’s definition is that based on his idea, we are preparing students to be a citizen in our society someday in the future. Shouldn’t we be preparing kids to be apart of our society and world right now? Shouldn’t we be encouraging them that they can and should be making a positive impact on the world now? No one said you have wait until you’re 18 before you make a world a better place.

Below I will explain how I encourage my students to be positive and productive citizens, right here and now.

Continue reading “Gift #6 – Making a Positive Impact on The World”

Kindness Keeps the World Afloat

Gift #5 – Happiness is Helping Others

My first principal, Mrs. Linda Kehm, of Lakeside Elementary School, was best known to the her elementary students as having coined the phrase, “Kindness Counts”. My younger brother even won an award for his public displays of kindness after I had moved on to the middle school. While I was never bestowed with this prestigious honor, the importance of kindness stuck with me, permanently ingrained, and as a teacher I realize how important it is to emphasize its power to students as early and often as you can.

If you’ve been following along with our recent series, The Seven Greatest Gifts You Can Give Your Students, you might be wondering where to begin, or how to fit it all in to our already over-crowded plates. For us, the inspiration and messaging of our classroom culture of kindness all started with one video. That video was the seed that we planted in the beginning and watched grow all year. Check it out! Watch as the camera tracks a single act of kindness as it’s passed from one individual to the next and (spoiler alert) manages to “boomerang” back to the person who set it into motion. Continue reading “Kindness Keeps the World Afloat”