Shaking up School Lunch: Epic Lip Sync Battle brings the Fun

Where I teach in Hamilton, Michigan, elementary teachers have an hour lunch/planning time everyday. With it come some obvious advantages for staff. Lunchtime is less rushed and everyone in the building has common planning time. Kids get longer recess. With it also has come challenges. The longer kids are in the lunchroom, the more likely they are to get restless and in trouble.

Principal Teisha Kothe has taken this problem by the horns. She has instituted all kinds of fun activities including Flocabulary videos, Trivia Tuesdays, and Talent Fridays where kids get to show off their special abilities. We kicked things up a notch last week.

Building upon a hugely successful kickoff to March is Reading Month that featured a Superintendent vs. Curriculum Director lip sync battle embedded in a Hans and Franz skit, I challenged Teisha to our own battle. Kids were glued to the action and their laughter, smiles, and excitement were priceless and on Friday we made Blue Star Elementary a place where kids definitely wanted to be. Shouldn’t that always be a goal of our schools?

Here is the full-length version of Teisha with Katy Perry’s “Roar” and me with the Kidz Bop more-elementary-appropriate version of “Uptown Funk”.

Everything we need to know about teaching is in an 80s movie

On Saturday I was honored to present the keynote address at the Michigan Connected Educators Un/Conference. Here are my thoughts I shared with the group.


I started teaching in January of 1995. This is who I thought I needed to be in the classroom and to some extent it was required. I took over a fourth grade classroom for a retiring teacher who had taken every Monday and Friday off the entire first semester. When I had been there eight days, it was the longest stretch of consistency these kids had had all year.

If I wasn’t being Sergeant Hulka from Stripes I was coaching like Bo Schembechler. I had high expectations. I was loud with very low tolerance. I expected my students to be exactly like I had been. Do what I ask when I ask it with few questions…It wasn’t very fun. I wondered how I would ever endure 30 more years of this.


In 1998 I faced what I figured would be a “make or break” task. I would be teaching a 5-6 split.  I would have six 6th graders who all were academically gifted in one way or the other and seventeen fifth graders who hadn’t been selected for the previous year’s 4-5 split, primarily due to academics. How was I going to tackle this?


This is what I discovered when I started using project based learning with the sixth graders….primarily to keep them occupied while I tried to get my 5th graders ready for the state assessment….MEAP test. That approach overtook my teaching that year and by June all kids were working on all kinds of projects and learning together in so many ways. It also became one of my favorite years of my career. You can smile and cheer instead of bark and gripe when your kids are constantly engaged.


I have also discovered that everything we need to know about engaging learners is in an 80s movie somewhere.

I present to you the ultimate piece of educational technology. Just watch this trailer and think about how this phone booth does exactly what we want our technology to do.  These guys have incredible access to primary sources and get to witness history.  It is total immersion in content. 

If you remember how the film ends, these two put on an amazing rock concert-like oral report. They had the tools to gather information and then presented in a way that expressed the learning through their skills as rock and rollers.


The next step is to value the time together. We can not monopolize the time.  Jeff Spicoli actually makes a great point in the following clip from Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Mr. Hand shouldn’t be the only one having all of the fun…if we can call it that.

There is probably a better way to set up a “feast on our time” though.


Kids love to the make stuff. It’s our job though to channel that energy into the right opportunities. Gary and Wyatt learned the hard way about being  responsible with tools. Okay….this 3d printer might trump the phone booth for top tech honors but we are still talking about technology being used educationally!  Weird Science brings one more thought to mind. Did these “two guys” grow up to the “Two Guys and some iPads” that host a fabulous Google Hangout on Tuesday nights and are augmented reality ninjas?


Kids love to mess with stuff…even back in 1983 they were monkeying with NORAD and its super sophisticated computer the WOPR. Then in 1986 a kid who looked a lot like the War Games kid was hacking his high school attendance computer so he could go to the museum and a Cubs game. Poor Ferris. He asked for car and got a computer. Talk about being born under a bad sign. But….he had Internet in 1986. That’s not all bad. I wonder if David Jakes ever bumped into Ferris’ principal Ed Rooney in any Suburban Chicago educational circles. Rooney could have learned a lot from Jakes. 

One of the hardest concepts for me to get my head around was the idea everything cannot be the same for every kid. Adam Bellow mentioned it at MACUL, the idea of an IEP, or individualized plan for every kid.


So, here is your opportunity to do just that. Pick one character from the Breakfast Club: Bender the Criminal, Andrew the athlete, Allison the basket case, Claire the Princess, or Brian the Brain and design some engaging learning activities for them. 

Here is the form:

Here are the responses readers are creating. Some are pretty awesome. Please pardon the ones from aspiring comedians.

The principal in Breakfast Club, Mr. Vernon, had required them to each write a 1000 word essay about who they thought they were. Here is the essay Brian ended up writing for all of them.


He is exactly right. Let us never forget that every student is a complex human being and we need to foster development of their whole being.

In closing….

JacksonBig80s.014 JacksonBig80s.015 JacksonBig80s.016 JacksonBig80s.017 JacksonBig80s.018

Get in there and dig around with the kids. Dean Shareski told at MACUL, “It’s not good enough to be the guide on the side anymore. Be the meddler in the middle.”

Make your teaching an excellent adventure and not a bogus journey.

Autism really speaks in student-made video

“Autism Speaks” is a slogan used by those working hard to raise awareness for the genetic disorder. Their efforts must be applauded but nothing I have seen about life with autism has struck me like the student-made video below.

Rushton Hurley, the undisputed nicest guy in educational technology shared this link from his website with me a couple of weeks ago. What struck me was that this young man, Michael, was sharing his deepest feelings. People with autism struggle mightily understanding emotions and have an even harder time communicating them. In the footnotes, Rushton shares that this 3 and a half minute video took more than seven months for Michael and his teacher Mr. Lozano to produce. This truly is autism speaking.

I have shown this video to a number of third and fourth grade classes. Each time their is pin-drop silence and very thoughtful reflections on Michael’s words. One student stated, “You don’t have to have autism to feel like Michael.” No buddy, you don’t.

Take a few minutes to listen to Michael and please share his great message.

Just one note from famous

"I'll make you famous." - Wm. H. Bonney
“I’ll make you famous.” – Wm. H. Bonney

We educators are just one note away from being famous…or more like infamous. I am not talking about winning The Voice or American Idol either.

This week a nearby school district made national news when a couple of kindergarten teachers got fed up with recess problems related to the age-old game of tag. A note was sent home to kindergarten parents that tag and chasing was being banned until further notice with severe penalties handed down to violators.

We can agree or disagree with the decision to outlaw tag and I reacted to it in a number of ways. I got a chuckle as it seems that I recently wrote about a certain teacher disgusted with tag. I shook my head at the proliferation of more “It is easier to ban something than teach it the right way” mentality and I yucked it up on Facebook, calling it the “Wussification of America” and warning that the recent domination that school district was seeing on the football field was 8 years away from drying up when these kids hit high school. Then I thought deeper.

Why do any of us know about a single behavior management decision made by a couple of teachers at one suburban elementary school? How did this become national news and why was it lighting up Twitter? One  tweet from a  parent. That is all it took.

Here is how it happened. A parent received the letter about a “No Tag, No Chasing” policy and was concerned about a threat the teachers made that children violating the policy would have it recorded in their “permanent record”. Dealing with the granddaddy of all awful…This could keep them out of Harvard after all…the dad tweeted to the local NBC affiliate with a copy of the note but requested his identity be concealed. The station did a story and within a day, the story had gone viral.

That is the reality of the world in which we live and the reality of teaching today. This should have started and stopped within the school community. Instead of tweeting a news station, the parent should have followed a common sense protocol of respectful courtesy. Go see the teacher. If that doesn’t work, go see the principal. Get other concerned parents to join you if it is that big of a deal. Try a little diplomacy. Running to the press is the nuclear option. Back in the day only the President…or Matthew Broderick had nuclear capabilities. Now every mom and dad can launch thermonuclear war on you and your school in 140 characters or less.

Oh…one more thing. Remember all of the concern over the potential demerits in the permanent record? Well there is a far more serious permanent record at stake in this case, the digital footprint. There is no more permanent record than what is online about you. Although I completely disagree with the approach the teachers took, I am glad they weren’t identified by name. They don’t need to be forever known  and consequently digitally stoned by the masses as the people who outlawed tagged. Let’s hope this undisclosed dad has as much concern teaching his child to protect his or her online lifetime permanent record as he does with the one at school hardly anybody ever opens.

15 Second Bud Nippin’

One of the really cool tools that Teisha Kothe has brought to Blue Star Elementary as our principal is the “15 Second Intervention”.

It is the original work of Dr. Marcia McEvoy and gives both adults and kids ways to channel their inner Barney Fife and nip small behavioral problems in the bud. You are direct, respectful, and allow no arguing. If a student wants to argue, tell them we can discuss it after school Here is how it goes:

“I saw you __________. (Say exactly what you saw or heard.)
That was (mean/hurtful/disrespectful/dangerous/whatever is appropriate).
I would never let someone do that to you. It’s not okay that you did that to  (other student).
We don’t do that here.
It needs to stop.”

We practice this as a staff and practice it with our kids. It gives the whole building a common approach. Deputy Fife would approve.