the thing about creative projects …

The responses I receive when students find out we are doing a creative project are wide and varied.

PicMonkey Collage

Some (probably obvious) observations:
1. Some students, no matter how much time you give them, will always waste it and become enraged on the actual due date, when there is a consequence for not being done. That could speak to many things — engagement, learning difficulties, distractions that have nothing to do with your class, distractions that have everything to do with your class …
2. Some students have no desire to tap into the creativity that I know resides in all people. Some just have no desire to do so in English class. These same students probably exhibit creativity in other areas of their lives or could if they tried. In fact, I’m certain of it. They might not even recognize their creativity as creativity at times.
3. Because some students don’t demonstrate creativity in an English class, many of them grow up believing that they are not creative. How can we change that? For example, my husband used to say he wasn’t creative, but after watching him repurpose thing after thing after thing that another person would probably throw out into something useful, I had to convince him that he was indeed creative. He might not write a poem, but he IS creative.
4. Some students are project-ed out. Teachers today, overall do a good job of trying to mix things up for their students, so much in fact, that students are often bombarded by projects–sometimes all at once. This is one piece of evidence that may help in proving the value of co/intercurricular projects. Why not kill two (or more) projects with one stone?


5. Sometimes I think teachers (myself included) are not as creative as we could be in offering different ways of allowing students to demonstrate creativity in learning. (Confusing! And ironic!)

Questions for other educators:

What are some ways you have allowed students to demonstrate their learning creatively?

Have you ever allowed your students to go “free-range” on how they demonstrate learning? If so, what were the results? 

What are some things that you’ve seen students do that might not be recognized as “creative” but are creative? 

How can we tap into EVERYONE’s creativity, or at least give them a fighting chance to do so? 


Instagram of the God/desses (a lesson plan, with handouts)

Gods @ Mount Olympus Ganymedes Costagravas via Compfight

To prep for our upcoming freshman English Odyssey unit, we are researching the gods, goddesses, and some other mythological friends. In order to avoid the boring Powerpoint/poster board format of the days of yore, my colleagues and I tapped into popular culture and asking the students to present their research in the form of a social media profile. I went the Instagram route.

My intention was to let them choose between Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, but as the day turned into night and the night turned into morning as I worked on the Instagram template, I decided to go to bed and so #Insta it was. (I toyed with the idea of a Snapchat template, but I just couldn’t pull that one out this time. By the next time I teach The Odyssey, there will be some other social media outlet for which I will need to devise a template.) The students had the option of printing off their template and drawing “photos” by hand, or creating a digital document using Pages.

Some things that went well:
1. The students who enjoy creative projects went to town and engagement was overall high.
2. Giving high and low-tech options met almost everyone’s needs. (With some minor tweaks, accommodations, modifications, everyone was able to meet the goals of the project.)
3. The students were focused and (for the most part everyone) used class time to its full potential, which also speaks to the engagement level. (There will always be exceptions to this rule.)
4. The research portion of the activity was effective. Every student could tell you something about the god/dess or mythical figure s/he selected. Most could tell you many things. Everyone learned something.
Some things I’ll do differently next time:
1. I apparently have no idea how to instruct students on where to save their documents so that they “travel” with the student. I thought I did, but I definitely did not. When we moved to a new computer lab, the students either had to walk down to the lab we worked on the first day and retrieve documents from the exact computer where they sat the day before or start over. This lead to many lost documents and lots of wasted time.  (This is my first year at the school, so I am still learning processes. I’m STILL not sure I know how to do this. I instructed several students to email themselves the most current version of their assignment. That worked, but it is not ideal.)
2. The template is a Pages document and it needs to be tweaked so that the objects/tables are not “wrapped”. Otherwise, when you move one object it moves the rest of the objects/tables around. The other thing I may do is create a template in Google Drawing, so that the students’ can keep their document in their Google Drive.
3. I should’ve front-loaded with how to edit a Pages document … masking, tables, etc. because most of them had never used Pages in that capacity, which lead to frustration for the students (and consequently me. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard that much whining … Ugh. My bad.)
4. Those who wanted to work at home could only do so if they have a Mac. Most do not. I sent them a PDF, but they could only print it off and do it by hand, since PDFs are not digitally alterable.
5. Some of the students, today (the third day of what was supposed to be a 1 1/2 day project) asked if they could just create a REAL Instagram account. This thought had occurred to me when I was making the template, but I didn’t think they would want to go through that process. I told them YES. Those who chose the option said that it would be so much easier than using that god-(or goddess??)-forsaken template. I will most likely make that an option in the future, if I can sort out some copyright issues. I made an assumption about their willingness to open a new Instagram account, and you know what they say about assumptions.
Aside: It cracks me up when a student wants to cite him/herself as a source! (This is not to discount the idea that some students are experts at some things–like a student who has grown up taking care of horses, or a student who has honed in on a passion for vacuum cleaners at age four–but usually, until you’ve published a book or received payment as an invited speaker on the subject, you have to cite your sources.) I suppose this would be a good time to teach or model humility …?
Questions I have for other educators: 
1. Copyright is a big deal to me. I want to make sure students are citing their information sources, but I also want them to cite their image sources, which is something I’ve noticed is overlooked.  With the template, this was easy. With the actual Instagram accounts, what is the best method for attribution, or is it even okay to post images that don’t belong to you in a parody Instagram account? This is something I didn’t think of prior to giving the greenlight to the students’ spontaneous proposal.
2. Do you have any ideas for creating a FAKE Snapchat template? Other social media outlets other than Twitter and Facebook?
In all, I think this went well. It’s, just like everything we do in education (and in life), a work in progress, but next year it will be better, and the year after that, even better.
You can find the documents I used for this project #BELOW.


We need to take care of our people.


Creative Commons License Benjamin Chun via Compfight

This past summer some of my drama students and I took part in an active shooter scenario training. Some students played the role of those who were terrorized by a gunman but survived with no physical harm. Other students played the roles of those who were injured or–even more horrifically–dead, complete with realistic wounds applied by moulage make-up artists. I played the role of a teacher who went into cardiac arrest after witnessing one of my students being shot to death. Other teachers and school employees took on the roles of classroom teachers and office personnel in the given situation. Administrators were also present to essentially play themselves in the scenario.

There are some feelings that arose during the training that I will never be able to properly articulate. There are thing about the training that I won’t share in fear of someone reading about it and using what I learned to their advantage should that person “snap” and attempt to carry out a loathsome plan of his/her own. I haven’t written about it until now–not for lack of trying– because it was a very difficult experience–one that I’ve reflected upon daily since I participated in it–one that has changed the way I do business in my classroom–one that has inserted an element of fear into my everyday life, not just for me, but more so for my students and my own children. I know that statistics are in our favor for the likelihood of something like the tragedies our country has experienced happening to my loved ones or me, but the statistics are changing with every mass shooting. Even though the training was completely simulated, by the time the scenario ended, I felt like crying. I felt like I could have an actual heart attack. Some of the students who participated had real panic attacks and needed real medical attention. Afterward, I wanted to place a protective shield around every school in America–around every child in the world. It was too real, which was hard, but also good because it gave administrators, first-responders, EMTs and law enforcement the chance to practice in case something like this ever happened in our community.

Got that? We offered them an opportunity to practice in case this ever happens to us. In our community. We had to practice. Because it could happen to anyone. It could happen to us. It used to be rare. Yesterday’s college campus shooting in Oregon is one more reminder that it is becoming more common. In the Omaha area alone there have been two mass shootings of recent date–one at Von Maur department store at Westroads shopping mall, and one at my alma mater, Millard South High School. And now yesterday, and before that, Charleston, Fort Hood, Newtown,  Aurora, Oakland, Columbine … Sadly, I know I’m leaving many out.

The fact that we have to train for something so unthinkable demonstrates how serious this possibility is. The fact that something like this is a possibility–a very real possibility–terrifies me. The fact that I don’t want to describe what we did that day or how we did it in fear that some depraved individual will read it and be able to better plan an attack, speaks to the culture of fear Americans live in.

Of course I want you to go home and hug your babies. Of course I want you to be vigilant. Of course I want everyone in education to go through the training I went through. Of course it makes me sad that I want that. But what I really want to examine is why this happens. There are many theories–most of them quite controversial in nature, but I favor one theory. We don’t take care of ourselves or each other.

We tend to our physical ailments without giving it a second thought, but for some reason taking care of our people’s mental ailments is still a secretive, taboo practice. It’s still something we are ashamed of. This causes people to NOT seek the help they need. It causes people to NOT seek the help that their children need. Mental illness makes us ashamed of something we cannot control. We are so damned concerned about how others perceive us that we are not taking care of basic health or doing so in secret. Think about this: Why do we call it “mental health”? Why do we separate it out? Health is health. Our minds are part of our bodies, so, while the mind is a specialized area, it’s still contributes to the health of the whole person.

And, I’m not talking about slapping drugs on the problem either, though I realize there is a time and place for medication. I’m talking about making talk, cognitive, or behavior therapy available without the stigma. I’m talking about making it okay to talk about what ails us, both mentally and physically. When someone has diabetes or cancer, we get upset with them when they don’t take care of themselves. When someone reaches out for assistance because they hear voices, or can’t control their own moods, we slap them with an ugly label and ostracize them. It’s a wonder that anyone seeks help. Without a support system in place, it’s unlikely that a person will.

No matter what diagnosis any one of the shooters in any of the recent or past situations may or may not have received, I feel confident in my untrained opinion that they all have some sort of untreated OR mistreated condition–that if they had sought and received the help they needed somewhere along the way–sometime before they made the decision on the 360 degree wheel of decisions to attack unarmed individuals–there would’ve been a chance that they would’ve chosen another way to deal with their problems. Without help, there was no chance to avert these tragedies. I am not saying that these shooters are blameless–they ARE responsible for the depravity of their acts. I cannot even speak or write any of their names because I don’t want to glorify their actions. But, we need to get to the root of the problem. We cannot ignore it anymore. Let’s get over ourselves and admit it when we need help. When others need help, let’s make sure they get it. Let’s remove the shame attached to seeking help for legitimate, treatable problems.

It seems that we are all on the verge of a nervous breakdown. We need a refresh-reset for our society. There is no pat, simple answer for how to prevent this sort of tragedy. There is a web of interconnected problems in our society today. I do know one thing for certain though: We need to take care of our people.

What We Wish We Knew

Listen, Understand, Act

Steven Shorrock via Compfight

Have you ever wished to know what made a particular student tick? Why s/he behaves in such an unruly fashion? Why s/he seems so sad all the time? Why s/he never turns in homework? Why s/he doesn’t respond when you ask a question in front of the class?

At the end of last school year, a teacher from Colorado asked her third graders what they wished their teacher knew about them. She gave them the sentence stem of “I wish my teacher knew …” and let them complete the sentence. The results were telling and heartbreaking. The children’s honesty floored her and when she shared some of the responses with the interwebs, the people of the interwebs were astonished too. The hashtag #IWishMyTeacherKnew went viral. It even reached into my classroom. One of my students wrote a blog post that broke my heart and it inspired me to want to write something in response. However, the end of the school year happened, and then a new job offer happened, and then a summer class happened, and then starting a new job happened, and here I was in the midst of a new school year and I still hadn’t written anything. However, once I decided that one of the first assignments I gave my new students this year would be the high school version of what Kyle Schwartz asked her third graders to do, I knew it was finally time to write one too.

The assignment asked students to write at least one paragraph explaining what each student wished their teacher(s) knew about them. The students’ writing has been so honest and so helpful in learning about them in just a few sentences (or more. Some went well beyond the one-paragraph minimum). And so, I am still inspired and now I will write what I have been wanting to write, since Devon posted her #IWishMyTeacherKnew piece in her blog last May. As a result of this assignment, I have created a page dedicated to the subject of what #IWishMyStudentsKnew. The reason I’m making it a page and not a blog post is that it’s important to me that students (and their parents, and my colleagues) get to know me. It is just as important for me to get to know them and this assignment helped me get a little closer to understanding them as individuals. I also will shape and mold it as my career carries on. There will always be something new to add or subtract as I gain experience and as my philosophy evolves.

I encourage you to do the same. I think your students will be surprised to learn what you have to share with them. I think you will be surprised what you learn about yourself.

Here is a link to my page –> #IWishMyStudentsKnew.

How to Twitter Chat

Twitter website screenshotCreative Commons License Spencer E Holtaway via Compfight

*This was originally posted on Aug. 13, 2013. Updates were made on Aug. 31, 2015.

If you’re getting ready to participate in a Twitter chat for the first time, this little post may be helpful to you.

I’ll be using #nebedchat (Nebraska Education Chat) as an example because it’s a chat I’m involved in either as a moderator or more frequently, as a participant.

1. The first thing to remember is always use the chat’s hashtag in all of the tweets you send in response to the chat. In this case, the hashtag is #nebedchat. Make sure that you leave enough space in your tweet for that hashtag because it counts against your 140 character.

2.  When you use a hashtag like #nebedchat, it creates a backchannel. A backchannel is just a place where ALL of the tweets that include the hashtag show up. You’ll notice a variety of tweets below. I captured this series of tweets whilst in the #nebedchat backchannel. Notice that all of the tweets include the #nebedchat hashtag.

NOTE: Click on the images in this entry to get a larger, clearer view of the screen captures I posted.










3. Make sure you are in the LIVE backchannel (This shows everything that was tweeted.), rather than the TOP TWEETS tab, which will only show you the tweets that get “favorited” a lot.

Some people use an app like TweetDeck to keep an eye on multiple hashtags, but when I am participating in a chat, here is what I do. I use Firefox, if I’m using my Macbook Air, and Safari, if I’m using my iPad, so that I can open multiple tabs simultaneously. I like to keep the backchannel for the chat AND my Twitter interactions tab open at the same time. That way I can see EVERY tweet posted in the backchannel as well as all tweets directed specifically to me.













(Any time someone posts something with my Twitter handle -@morgetron- it shows up in my interactions feed.) I toggle between these two tabs throughout the chat.

4. When you first arrive to a chat, it is usual practice to introduce yourself briefly–usually your name and occupation will do, but sometimes a moderator will ask for additional information.

In the tweet below, #nebedchat moderator, Chris (@chrisstogdill) asked everyone to introduce him/herself by tweeting his/her name, the school where he/she works or is associated with, his/her current position in said school and he briefly explained the preferred format for that night’s chat.






Many time there will be someone else designated as chat greeter too, so don’t be surprised if after you introduce yourself, someone other than the moderator welcomes you to the chat (though sometimes the moderator does double as a greeter as well). During busy chats, this practice is sometimes dropped, but #nebedchat-ters are notoriously friendly and odds are someone will pipe in with a warm welcome.

5. During a chat, the moderator typically uses a specific format which he/she generally will explain at the beginning of the chat (but not always). The most common format is this: The moderator poses a question, using the Q1, Q2, Q3 format. Like this:

Chris was the moderator and posed Question #2, by indicating Q2.






6. Then, when you answer a particular question, you use the corresponding A1, A2, A3, etc.

Cynthia (@cynthiastogdill) responded to Chris’s Q2 by indicating A2 (Answer 2).





I like Lenessa’s (@lenessakeehn) explanation for this practice as well:






6. During a chat you can respond to the questions posed by the moderator OR you can respond to what other people are saying. For example, you will notice that Laura (@mandery) responded to one of Chris’s questions. Then TJ Meyer (@tjmeyer12) responded to Laura’s tweet and included Kid President’s handle, (@iamkidpresident) since Laura mentioned him in her tweet. Laura tweeted back at TJ and then Daisy (@DaisyDyerDuerr) responded to Laura, TJ, and Kid President.











7. If you’re responding to what someone else says, you can just click on the REPLY link in the tweet to which you’re responding which should automatically format your tweet with that person’s (or like in Daisy’s case, people’s Twitter handles). You should still include the chat’s hashtag in your response though so that others involved in the chat can read your responses. Below, I included a screen capture of what it looks like when I clicked on the “reply” function on Daisy’s tweet. It automatically formatted my tweet to include Daisy’s, Laura’s, TJ’s, and Kid President’s Twitter handles. If I wanted to just reply to Daisy, I would remove the others’ names.







8. The main thing about Twitter chats is this–> You’ll be sharing in learning by communicating with people from all over. (You’ll notice that many people who participate in #nebedchat are educators from Nebraska, but others will be from elsewhere. For example, Daisy is from Arkansas. We have people joining us from all over the U.S. and from other countries as well.) View it as a friendly conversation–like people gathering at a coffee shop to discuss common topic of interest. It’s really low-pressure and you will be able to both give and receive helpful information.

9. If you are new to Twitter or new to Twitter chats or just a nervous lurker with a desire to break free from lurker status into active Tweep, #nebedchat is an excellent place to start. I would argue it is one of the friendliest chats out there. As long as you are there in the spirit of learning, everyone will deliver a warm welcome to you.

Are you still unsure about this? It’s okay to try things of which you are unsure. If you are really nervous though, tweet me (@morgetron) or send me an email and I will answer any questions you have:

I’ll be moderating #nebedchat on Wed. Sept. 2, 2015 at 8PM CST. The topic will be Introverts in the Classroom.

On Overparenting

Walk towards the light

Creative Commons LicenseJoris Louwes via Compfight

Jessica Lahey: We really need to stop looking to our kids for validation. They are not extensions of us, nor indicators of our performance, and it’s unfair to saddle them with that responsibility.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Yeah. And our need for validation needs to be taken up with a therapist, not imposed on our kids’ existence. As Carl Jung said, ‘The greatest harm to a child is the unlived life of the parent.’

~ How Schools Are Handling An ‘Overparenting’ Crisis

This is NOT a judgment on ANY parent who reads my blog. I am an imperfect person and parent and I am definitely guilty of some of these overparenting “sins” (e.g. driving an assignment that one of my daughters has left at home or in my car to her school … or signing something digitally that should’ve been signed a week ago on paper … ) In fact, I did this yesterday. My daughter needed her paper signed, but she left it in my truck. Instead of just letting her experience a consequence, I drove it to her. I “rescued” her. I allowed her to be a damsel in distress. I shouldn’t have done that. 

Overparenting IS a thing. I’ve noticed it as a teacher and a parent and I acknowledge that it is an individual parent issue but that it is also a systemic problem. The unwieldy goals we (as in we, a society) expect students to attain at younger and younger ages puts unneeded pressure not only on kids, but on their parents as well.

Image is everything in the United States. We (the collective, general parent we) don’t want to look bad in the eyes of the school (as in the people who work at the school) or of other parents, so we protect not only our kids from failure but our own images in the eyes of others. It doesn’t help that, as a mom, who knows other moms, I know that some moms judge each other. That IS a thing too. As a teacher, I know that some teachers judge parents based on factors that they shouldn’t. And so that IS a thing as well. (Conversely there are some parents judging teachers based on things they shouldn’t too … ) So, we all know that we are all silently judging each other and some of us are just vain enough to worry about what other people are thinking–so much so that we manipulate our own image and the images of our children to portray the things we think we want to be (or what other people want us to be) rather than what we are. Humans are inherently judgey. And inherently vain. And inherently insecure … so it’s no wonder overparenting exists. We are all on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Letting your kids suffer natural consequences is GOOD for them. Having a 4.0 is overrated. One of the best things that ever happened to my oldest daughter was getting a B. Bubble popped and she survived. This helped her understand that she was still a valuable human being–even though she no longer carried a “perfect” GPA. Guess what happened … She still got a good scholarship at a school she wanted to attend in the program of her choosing.

You get a detention for not having your assignment done? BOOM. No one hurt you or berated you (too extensively) for said detention, and you survived, but you sure remembered your assignment the next time, right? You forgot your lunch … Well, you might be really hungry when you get home tonight, but you have enough energy in your body to survive until dinner, and I bet you’ll remember your lunch tomorrow. You waited until the last minute to do the project you’ve had weeks to do? Hmmm … you might squeak out some C-level work there at the end, and it might not best reflect your learning and it may affect your overall grade, but that’s better than having your mom finish it for you so that you can maintain your 4. POINT. Oh.

Allowing our children to experience and more importantly SURVIVE failure is one of the best things we can do for them. If there is someone judging you based on your child’s inability to remember gloves day after day after day, despite blizzard-like conditions, not only does Judgey McJudgerperson need a new hobby, but you can find friends who will commiserate with you rather than scrutinize you for the inconsequential anyway.

I love what Jessica Lahey says about our children NOT being extensions of us as parents. It’s not fair to the parent to view a child as an extension of herself and it is certainly not fair to the child–who is her own person, with her own mind, and her own need to experience and learn first-hand. This process (known as “growing up”) can be painful for the child and the parent, but failure is the best way to learn.

I speak from experience. I am a failure. I have been a failure time after time, which is why I know what I know (which is infinitely tiny compared to what I could know). I learn so much more when things are a struggle for me than I do when things are going well. I’m not saying it’s NOT nice to have things go well, but it’s also good to temper the easy-breezy with some learning. We owe it to our children to back off and let them learn some things “the hard way” too.

Parenting is not for the weak, but neither is life. Letting our children fail in safe ways when the stakes are lower (e.g. letting them go hungry at lunch for one day) will prepare them to be adults who can handle life–even when it’s hard.

I am an activist teacher.

X is for...340/365

Creative Commons License AndYaDontStop via Compfight

It’s amazing how a 20-minute conversation can change the way you view yourself. Just like that, I became an activist teacher. 20 minutes! I have never thought of teaching as a political act prior to today, and I feel naive admitting this, because now it seems so obvious, but in the interest of transparency and honesty I’m sharing this with you, dear reader. I’ve always considered myself a little bit of a quiet system bucker, even in my earliest days of teaching, but the word “activist” wasn’t on my radar in relation to ME.

Today the class I am in went and visited another class that has been studying teacher activism. We rotated through two of three stations and in one of the sessions they asked us to think of a time when we opposed a policy, curricular choice, or something else in our school and what step we took to oppose it. It was very easy for me (and my colleagues) to come up with several examples. The older I get the more squeaky of  a wheel I become. I cannot stand idly by and allow things that are not good for our students to happen.

When I think about the educators I admire most, (from those I’ve studied –John Dewey, Paulo Friere, Ira Shor, bell hooks, Jean Piaget–to those I’ve grown to admire more recently–Rick Wormeli, Ken O’Connor, Sir Ken Robinson, Diane Ravitch, many of my Twitter friends–and those I know personally–you know who you are …) I have come to realize that one of the reasons I am drawn to them is because they stand up for what is right for students.

Every time I make a decision in the interest of my students, even if it goes against the status quo, I am an activist. Every time I post something on my blog that aims to change the way someone thinks, I am an activist. Each time I defend public education to the naysayers, I am an activist. Each time I stand up for my students, I am an activist. Acknowledging this makes me feel brave.

I might be taking small steps in the world of activism compared to other more public figures in education or even some of you that I know more personally, but as my confidence builds, so shall my activism, especially now that I know I am an activist.