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.

Explore The World Of Chromville In Augmented Reality

The developers at Spain’s Chromville are busily creating an augmented reality world for users of all ages. By printing and then coloring pages depicting different characters and parts of the Chromville world, “explorers” use the special app available in Android and iOS to make their scenes come to life.

Here is the backstory on this mystical land according to Chromville.com.

“The ancient world Chromville, is well known for its power source of color. It´s placed in a galaxy far, far away and there are at least five villages: Firecity, Stonetown, Greenland, Waterville and Cloudskingdom. Its inhabitants, the Chromers, look like their environment and live in peace thanks to the colorful beauty of their homeland. However, the planet´s color is fading away mysteriously in some regions and they are in danger of losing its power.
Your quest is to help Chromers to discover the enigma and solve the color problem of their planet. Paint and play with your friends and family to discover all the interactive mysteries of this adventure.”

The app is still in beta but performance is consistent enough to start using it with students. Chromville is planning on expanding quickly and is currently (April 2014) running a writing contest so students can play a role in developing the narrativesoccurring in the different villages.

As a teacher, my favorite aspect is the open-endedness of the site. The app and coloring pages help bring characters to life…but who these characters are and what makes them special is only limited by the user’s imagination.

Hands-down though my favorite feature is the blank character maker. I may…or may not have created my own Mr. T in Chromville. All I can say is, “I pity the fool who doesn’t give this site and app a spin.”

This instructional video shows how to get started.



Going Big – Caine’s Arcade Style

Willis Tower, Caine's Arcade Style
Willis Tower, Caine’s Arcade Style

Inspired by all of the creativity and ingenuity involved in the building of Caine’s Arcade, I took our annual research of the World’s tallest skyscrapers into the cardboard construction world.

This project with third graders took on many layers.
-Learning to research, looking

One World Trade Center Freedom Tower
One World Trade Center Freedom Tower

for specific facts
-Manipulating and studying models in Sketchup
-Understanding and calculating scale, 200 feet in real life equaled one foot of cardboard
-Engineering of a free-standing structure
-Creativity and style
-Developing perseverance and stamina when the best laid plans fall flat, literally

Some projects came together much better than others. We are dedicating one final class period to our architecture next week. At that time, we will sit down and take a hard look at what went well and what did not go well. Not all buildings are are going to stand as well as this version of the Willis Tower in Chicago. The biggest challenge will be for the kids to tell me why their building experience went well or what could have gone better. They are just third graders. If we don’t give them the chance to try projects like this and experience the trials and tribulations of collaboration then we can’t expect it just to naturally happen.

Hamilton PD Day 1/25: “Creativity in Hand” Session Resources

Great image created by Jacque Drenten using Frames Artist app.
Here are session resources for my Hamilton PD iPad session “Creativity in Hand”.




Video Production

Shooting Gallery Guide

Minarets Shooting Gallery Level One from Minarets High School

Vimeo app • Andy’s Vimeo Page

Action Movie Producer


Arrange your photos with the Frames Artist app

Photo Projects

Doodle Buddy
PS Express
Color Effects
Pixlr Express
Frames Artist
Popplet Lite

Other Fun Ones
PegLight 2
Vintagio (Silent Film App)
Pottery HD Lite

Wow! That’s just about all I can say about these book report trailers.

Sometimes you get an idea and it seems like it might be pretty cool.

I really liked what my Apple Distinguished Educator buddy Sean Junkins had created when he used Discovery Education footage to make historic movie trailers.

Since we don’t have access to Discovery Education anymore, I was perplexed how I could do something similar with our kids. Coincidentally at about the same time I was thinking how kids still need chances to do old fashion arts and crafts and little skits. Somehow this project ended up lending itself to the best of both worlds. They would use the Apple iMovie app’s trailer building capabilities but would have to get really creative on how they would produce the footage. It was completely open-ended but after a week of brainstorming we had really focus on the project being do-able.

The other guidelines were:
A) Trailers had to provide important information about the plot or focus on character traits.
B) Trailers could not be “spoilers” for anyone who had not yet read them.
C) Trailers had to be non-violent.
D) Several students could work together and there was no limit on the number of projects in which students could participate. Students could work solo but all students had to be included in meaningful ways.
E) This was basically an introduction/exploration activity and I didn’t fully know what we would accomplish so there wasn’t a set evaluation rubric beyond my formative checkups along the way.

The results were mind-blowing. Here is one on the Hunger Games Trilogy’s Mocking Jay. More can be found in the project’s album on Vimeo.

My biggest reflection on this project is that you never know how a project might go. Sometimes they flop but as long as you salvage the key points, that is okay. Sometimes you get way more than you ever expect. Also, don’t think this is rocket science and beyond your capabilities. I completely left completion of it up to the kids (with some progress monitoring and coaching along the way) but it was them who knocked this thing out of the park.