Learning How to Learn

Posted in Uncategorized on July 11, 2016 by Mister A

I have been messing around in MOOC’s for a couple of years and the rate at which they are improving is tremendous.  I finished a couple of Coursera Courses recently, one on public speaking and the other on Learning How to Learn.  I really gained a lot from both courses and I tweeted the Learning How to Learn twitter account and thanked them and they tweeted me the following question.

I did not feel like a 140 characters would be enough to discuss their question, so I thought I would write this blog post.

The most useful thing I think I learned was that the class re-enforced much of what I try to convey to my students.  First, that cramming is not the best way to get something lodged into long term memory.  The best learning happens when it is done in shorter spurts and on a more regular basis.  Second, that a growth mindset with regards to any subject makes learning and improvement possible for nearly everybody, if they use perseverance.  Finally, I always tell my students about how important exercise in not only maintaining a healthy body, but a healthy mind as well.  The research found throughout the Learning How to Learn course supports many of the ideas about learning I try to convey to my students in my practice as a mathematics instructor.

I also learned some new things not only to help myself improve as a learner, but to share with my students, and possibly help them become better learners as well.  First I learned about a way to avoid procrastination.  It is called a pomodoro.  It is working on a task in a focused mode for 25 minutes, while avoiding, and ignoring outside interruption.  When completed, you should take a short break where you leave your focused mode of thinking behind and do something different for a few minutes.  One suggestion is to reward yourself somehow.  You should focus on the process and not the final product when using the pomodoro technique.  Secondly, I learned about the two modes that a brain can be in: the focused mode and the diffuse mode.  I had learned a little bit about these two modes of thought previously, but the course gave me new insight into ways to use those two modes of thought to improve how well I learn new things and maximize how well I retain them.  Lastly, I learned that it is good to step outside your comfort zone and try to learn something that is not natural to you.  I have been doing that in another public speaking Coursera course I just finished taking with one of my students.  It has really helped me in numerous ways that would take another blog post to explain.

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Coursera provides some outstanding MOOC’s.  I switched to the next session in each of those classes I just completed so I could continue to review and re-enforce the things I have been learning in them.  Thanks to the creators of the MOOC’s, Dr. Matt McGarrity, who was instrumental in creating the public speaking MOOC, and to Dr. Barbara Oakley who was one of the primary creators of the Learning How to Learn MOOC.  I plan to complete the honor assignments and perhaps pay for a certificate.  I love to learn and Coursera provided me with a way to do so.

Recap of 2015/16 Professional Goals

Posted in 2015 - 2016 Professional Reflection on May 10, 2016 by Mister A

Before you read my recap, watch this video I made to provide motivation to my students who were about to take the Compass test.

  1. What were your successes this year? (Student, personal. School or other)

I think the biggest success for me was teaching the welding program.  I truly enjoyed that.  The students loved math which was a bit of a change from my ordinary Adult Education students.  I became more reflective as a result of my goals which not only helped my confidence level, but I think made things better for my students as well. I have heard that it takes at least 3 or 4 years to be at your best in a teaching position.  I feel like I am really in a great spot in my career and increasing my effectiveness in the classroom more each year.

  1. What were your goals and what progress did you make? Evidence of?

Goal 1 – 4E – Reflecting on professional practice and engaging in a professional learning community

Reflecting on a regular basis has really been beneficial so far this year.  As a result of my reflection I have made several changes and improvements to my professional practice.  I relied on my own expertise as a teacher in developing materials for my Math for Welding class. Julie and I worked together to develop a wiki to collect and deliver instruction for the “A” Game curriculum.  I developed an edready course for implementation with welding students that was used with several of our students. It addressed all of the objectives from the math for welding course, and provided another avenue for students to practice and master those objectives in a different manner.  Not only did it help future welding students prepare for the course but it also helped current, struggling students review and practice those objectives in a new way.

Goal 2 – 3E – Using assessment in Instruction

For this goal, I had my students do all their work for me in a mathematics journal.  I corresponded with them in this journal, and provided feedback on where they are at in our mathematics curriculum.  It provided me a forum for checking for student understanding more effectively, and also a place where my students can also use reflection just how I did in the previous goal, about how, when, why, and where they learn the most effectively.  It was pretty effective for our regular students and also the welding class.  It will be something I will continue to incorporate.

  1. Any disappointments for the year?


  1. What will you want to do differently next year in advisement and in your classroom?

We are thinking of possibly shifting the schedule around a bit to possibly meet the needs of a larger number of students.

  1. How can I help you?

Continue to support Tammie and all the staff up here exactly as you have been and that is more than enough help.  I think our staff is very cohesive and effective, especially with Tammie at the helm and also with the addition of Julie Korb.

  1. Any key areas or ideas you want us to explore for a Paris focus for next year?


  1. How has the trauma informed information helped you this year?  Where do we go next with this topic?

We were already pretty aware of this.  I think we became increasingly aware through the training however, and as a result, I think it made us all more patient, tolerant, sensitive and helpful to our students who have come from traumatic backgrounds.  I think next year, it would be good to continue to be included in those trainings.

  1. Any final thoughts, ideas, concerns or suggestions?

The staff continues to become increasingly cohesive in how we work together.  We have become even more effective in helping our students achieve their goals.  Tammy is an OUTSTANDING Program Coordinator and Julie Korb very simply makes everyone around her more effective.

Mid year – Goal Post #4

Posted in 2015 - 2016 Professional Reflection on February 7, 2016 by Mister A

I have not been keeping up very well with my daily reflections as I have become busy working on some things that I discovered while reflecting.  At a staff meeting, Tammy suggested it would be good to develop some type of hybrid course for the A Game curriculum Julie has begun teaching in our program.  I have spent a great deal of time working with Julie on putting the lessons she has developed on a wiki.  The wiki can be found by clicking this sentence.

This wiki is really the 5th result or change I have made as a result of reflection.  I knew that developing a type of hybrid course, or at least a place to gather lesson materials, ideas, and resources could be very effectively done with the use of a wiki, so that is what Julie and I began doing.  Not only has it helped me learn more about the A Game and how to deliver instruction regarding those work ethic values, but I believe that it has helped Julie become more effective as well.  A lot has changed in educational technology since Julie left the classroom several years ago, that I believe can help teachers be more effective in a few ways.  I helped Julie learn some of this new technology, and although she is already an extremely effective teacher, I think some of the things I taught her may have helped her be even more effective.

The wiki is private so if you would like to take a look at it, let me know and I can give you a dummy account. It really isn’t meant to stand alone, but more as a collection point for teacher lessons, slide images, videos, and curricular packets.  We have been collecting those things to help us deliver the curriculum more effectively, either in small group or one on one settings.  It has been fun to do this and I have enjoyed learning more about the work ethic values taught in the A Game curriculum.korb trees1

In conclusion, I have made five changes in my practice now as a result of my reflection.  These changes have helped my students, my coworkers and me, improve our effectiveness in the classroom.  Becoming more regular in my daily reflection and simply teaching the weldjulie has a bearding program the way I teach are the first two ideas I implemented in my teaching practice.  Change 3 was creating a supplementary course in edready for the welding course I began teaching last fall.  The fourth change I made was to begin practicing gratitude on a more regular basis.  The final idea I began implementing in my teaching practice is described in the preceding paragraphs. I am having an excellent year.  The addition of Julie to our staff, has brought everybody up a level in their effectiveness.  It is nice to teach with someone that you really click with.




Goal Post #3 – End of Second 6 week period

Posted in 2015 - 2016 Professional Reflection on November 24, 2015 by Mister A

I think the name Goal Post for each of these posts is especially clever.  We just reached the end of our second six week period of the year and are doing another set of orientations.  It seems like this year is just whizzing by.  I think the six week periods, though, have turned into five week periods…which may or may not be good.  It probably doesn’t really matter.  So this is my third reflection of the year for my professional goal of becoming increasingly reflective and identifying changes to make as a result of that reflection.

First of all, to summarize how my goals are progressing, reflecting on a regular basis has really been beneficial so far this year.  I have made three changes as a result of my reflection, which have not only helped several of my students, but have also helped me with motivation and attitude. Besides becoming more regular in my daily reflection and simply teaching the welding program the way I teach (changes #1 and #2), I have implemented one new idea to my teaching practice.  The first of these is that I created an Edready course to supplement or deliver the 191B Math for Welding course.  It meets all of the objectives from said course, and provides another avenue for students to practice and master those objectives in a different manner.  Not only will it help future welding students prepare for the course but it will also help current, struggling students review and practice those objectives in a new way.

I really like the fact that our current superintendent, Ms. Lacey, uses twitter to share good ideas.  I began using it several years ago too, to both get good ideas and to share some as well.  Yesterday, I found a twitter link in her weekly message to an article about practicing gratitudeAfter reading the article, and in my reflection yesterday, I decided to try the experiment she suggested.  This will be the fourth idea I will implement in my teaching practice as a result of reflection.  The article, by Nataly Kogan, suggests three ways to begin practicing gratitude in your daily life.  It also discusses how doing so makes people better employees and provides research to back it.  The first thing she suggests is to begin thinking of three things each day that you are grateful for and writing them down on paper.  The second is to make a point to thank someone each day for something.  And finally, she recommended to pick a thing to savor each day.  I really liked her final suggestion.  There were three steps to savoring something.  The first is to spend a few minutes in anticipation.  The second was to really be present while savoring, which means no answering emails or texting during your savoring time.  And the final step was to spend a minute or two afterwards reflecting about the experience you just had with what ever it was that you savored.  I do not know if I am stretching things a bit here by using this as a part of my professional goals (Tammy could probably tell me if she ever comments on my blog), but the research she provided really promoted utilizing gratitude as a way to improve how well you work and handle stress in the work place.

I am very grateful for my job today.  It was first on my daily list…or maybe it was second.  I am having an excellent year…again, Julie K. has really added a ton of good things to our program…and having T. H. at the helm, makes our program a fantastic place to work. Anyhow, I love my job and feel lucky to be a teacher most days.  Today, my job is what I savored.

Oh yeah, and Tammy H., not the superintendent tammy, has yet to comment on any of my posts.  She is a busy lady.


Goal Post #2

Posted in 2015 - 2016 Professional Reflection, Professional Reflection on October 22, 2015 by Mister A

This is my second reflection of the year with regards to my professional goals for 2015-2016 school year.  I haven’t kept up with the journal I started as well as I had hoped as the new welding course I instructed was extremely time-consuming.  Since that class is completed now, I will have more time to focusing on my professional goals.  The first quarter of the school year is nearing an end and it seems like time just goes faster every year.  I am not sure how to measure the goal I have of  “improved professional reflection is”.  Let me know if you have any ideas Tammie:)  The change I will make as a result of this periodic blogpost is that I will begin writing daily in my reflective math journal.  I will set it on top of my computer so it is right in front of me to remind me to be more reflective on a more consistent basis.

I finished my first real adjunct professor teaching position last week and really learned a ton.  I think the class was mostly a success and a real learning experience for me.  Although many of my welding students were far beyond the curriculum and objectives of the course, they still showed a tremendous amount of growth based on a pre-TABE test and a post-TABE test I administered at the beginning of the course and the end of the course.  There was not one student who took both the pre and post tests who did not show a tremendous amount of growth.  I believe I differentiated very well to meet the needs of both higher level students and students who struggled a bit with mathematics.  I have a great curriculum set up now in D2L and am excited for the opportunity to teach the class again, if they offer it to me.  I feel blessed to have been able to teach the class and again, I feel like I really improved as an instructor because I taught it.  I think it helped our program too, as I now have a far better understanding of the welding program here at the college where our program is located, and I think it was beneficial to the college as well.  Our relationship with the college has only improved as a result of the classes I have taught in collaboration with them.

In the 094 developmental math course I teach in conjunction with the college seems to be going fairly well.  I began utilizing a program called Edready which is an online integrated learning system that other programs in the state have been using.  Previously, I was using a program called gradpoint, which I had success with, but I was asked to begin using Edready by my supervisor.  I think the success my students experience will be similar, as I believe that both programs are effective and that the biggest component that aids in my students success, is my own familiarity with the program.  It seems that a larger percentage of students are sticking with the 094 class than in previous years as 7 of my 10 enrolled students have continued to attend on a regular basis.  Historically, I usually finish with about half of the students I started with, so as far as attendance goes, we are a little ahead of the game at this point in the 094 class.

chic symph

Chicago Symphony PANO

As far as Hiset Preparation has gone so far this year, I believe I have learned to get students through that test.  No student has taken the test twice and failed it on both occasions (knock on wood).  I get a little frustrating that preparing a student for the HISET, preparing a student for the COMPASS, and preparing a student for a College level mathematics course, are such different animals.  Also, some of the strategies I utilize in prepping someone for the HiSET are not the most effective teaching methods to use when teaching for retention.  I have to constantly remind myself that the HISET is but a stepping stone, hopefully to improved educational opportunities or a better employment situation.  That is what I have been told anyhow.  I have become very familiar with the OPT2 practice test and find it very useful when instructing students.  Proportional reasoning continues to be an area that must be focused on for students to be successful.

Finally, the first quarter of the year really flew by.  I think that having Julie here has really improved a lot of areas of our program.  She is a phenomenal teacher, and I believe our program will continue to grow and improve as she continues to learn her new position.  She really seems to “GET ” education and what we are trying to accomplish up here.  It is great to have someone to bounce ideas off and get feedback from.  She has been a very welcome addition to our team.

edin and friends lunch

Edin with his NEW Friends

On a personal note, I visited my son at Northwestern University over teacher PIR days.  Man, what a cool school.  I think he has really settled in and found himself a new home.  The fact that he is so happy and learning like a sponge has eased some of the grief I have felt as a result of not having him around.  He spends his time with like minded and incredibly passionate and intelligent people.  I am both happy for him…and very lucky to be a part of his life.  I love watching him grow into an even FINER young man.

Domain 4E and Domain 3E

Posted in 2015 - 2016 Professional Reflection, Professional Reflection on September 18, 2015 by Mister A

I am being formally evaluated this year which occurs every three years in our district.  My goals last time were to begin a mathematics program to attain another endorsement on my teaching certificate.  I finished that last December.  It was a difficult couple of years as far as how busy I was with things, and I vowed to my wife not to go back to school again, ever, as it was pretty stressful.  But it is a great feeling to finally be done and certifiable as a teacher in our state until 2024.  I learned a lot in the math program, and even won a small scholarship to help pay for my last couple of classes.  I was able to take some face to face classes for the first time since I got my initial teaching certificate which was great because I was able to see how other teachers taught in an environment similar to the one I am currently in.  But as a teacher you should always have some type of goals, which is the purpose of this blog post.

For my goals this time around, I have chosen to look back into working on professional reflection and improving my professional learning network.  I have fallen away from that a bit over the last couple of years, as my mathematics course load left time for little else.  However, I missed writing in my blog as it provides me with an outlet to really think about what I am doing in my classroom, what others are doing in their classrooms, and how I can better serve my students.  People should probably do that in every profession in which you have clients, which is pretty much, every profession.  I plan to try and write a reflective post every couple of weeks and also keep a written log of day to day things in my classroom, as I am having several of my students do the same thing.  Okay, this is getting a bit longwinded, so I will cut to the chase.

The official title of my first goal is Domain 4E:Reflecting on Professional Practice and Engaging in a professional learning community.  I believe I have a pretty good one established with twitter and perhaps my blog, although, probably not a lot of people read my blog anymore.  I have neglected these things over the past couple of years, but since our superintendent is kind of pushing this type of thing a little bit, maybe it is a good time to get back to it.  I hope to be able to share some of the things I have learned with regards to social media, with some of the teachers I work with during the course of the year.  I believe some of them will be open to it, while others, will not.  I probably need to work harder at sharing with other staff, if that other staff has any interest.

Domain 3E: Using Assessment in Instruction is the official title of my second goal.  This is the third or fourth time they have changed the way they do formal evaluations in our district and it seems like they are just using different words to describe the same things they did in the previous methods of evaluation.  For this goal, I plan to have my students do all their work for me in a mathematics journal.  I will correspond with them in this journal, and provide feedback on where they are at in the mathematics curriculum.  It will provide my a forum for checking for student understanding more effectively, and also a place where my students can also use the habit of mind of metacognition (reflection) about how, when, why, and where they learn the most effectively.

If anyone has any questions, comments, suggestions, or even reads this blog post, please feel free to comment on it.

On a Personal Note: My oldest son is off to college.  He has turned out pretty good so far, and I am extremely excited for him.  He is in an environment in which I believe he will truly flourish, even more so than he already has.  He has such passion and love for his chosen field, that the sadness I felt about his absence, was greatly diminished by the excitement I could see in his and my beautiful wife’s eyes.  Indeed, I am a lucky man.


Posted in Uncategorized on May 8, 2015 by Mister A

I have a son who had to write an essay for an award.  It asked what event has helped him grow more than any other event.  The essay is as follows.


            The event that I grew from the most during my high school career was definitely the death of my cousin Jake. It was my sophomore year, and Jake was seven years old. He is one of the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege of spending time with, and he was only seven. He was smart and funny and above all he was loving. He truly adored everybody he met with all his heart. Everyone who met Jake was his friend in minutes. The way he lived his life every day was what made him such an amazing person. He enjoyed almost every hour he was alive. I never really thought about what an outstanding person he was until after he had passed away. When I began thinking about how he lived, I looked at the world from a new perspective. The biggest parts of my life that were affected were my relationships with other people, as well as the way I approach each new day and opportunity.


As I described, Jake was friends with everybody and made everyone smile.   He treated everybody like his best friend and made others happy when he was around. I could sense a change within myself after his death that made me want to live a little more like Jake. I wanted to be happy like he was. I started thinking about other people differently, and I found myself enjoying other people more and more. Jake was better than anyone at enjoying other people’s company. He could find something in everyone that he enjoyed, and he never disliked someone because of his or her faults. I realized something that Jake must have known already. That is that other people’s faults that annoyed me so much sometimes were not really big problems. They were stupid, petty reasons to be annoyed, and I could have just enjoyed their company instead of being bothered by it. After thinking in this way, I began to adore waking up every day, and I began enjoying people more and more. I look forward to seeing friends and family everyday now because of my new way of thinking, but also, because with Jake’s death, I lost a lot of my ego and gained some humility. I recognized that I am really not that big of a deal, and other people have just as much to do with my accomplishments as I do. Without other people, I would not be able to do some of the cool things I have the opportunity to do with music, French, and other things.


Over the past four years, and my whole life, I have had some pretty amazing opportunities that most teenagers, and even adults do not have the chance to experience. I will have been to France twice before I go to college, doing a family stay both times. I have performed a concerto with a professional symphony, and played in some of the most talented high school ensembles in the country. I would not have been able to do these things without some of the superb people I have the joy to spend time with every day. When I started thinking of people as good, instead of annoying, as I described in the previous paragraph, I began realizing how important other people were to me. I discovered what an amazing position I was put in to know amazing people who cared so much about my success. Without knowing my private music teachers and Mr. Kellogg, among others I have worked with, I would never have been able to participate in the musical endeavors that I do. Without Madame Davis asking me if I wanted to go on the French trip my sophomore year, I would have never been able to have that wonderful experience or the new experience in France I will have this coming summer. Without my parents’ support, none of these things would have been possible. This list goes on and on. And the really exciting part is that, at each of these new circumstances, I get to meet more amazing people.   Without Jake I would have never realized how good others are and also just how important other people are in my life. When I realized all of this, my view of everything had changed, and I kind of became a new person. I was excited to go to school every day and see what I could do, and I was excited to wake up every morning with new opportunities in front of me. This change did not happen instantly. It took months of thinking about these things to realize them, and I am still thinking about these things and changing because of them.


I figure now that, if I can live every day like Jake did, then I will end up in a place that I like. The love Jake had for other people was so admirable and splendid, but I might be misplacing the admiration a little bit, because the love he had came from his parents and sister, who loved him more than anything in the whole world. This is another thought that has stuck with me from Jake’s life and death. The love he had came from his family and went through him to other people, then from those people to other people. I try to think about this idea with each new opportunity that presents itself to me. If I can pass the compassion and love I have for music to other people, then maybe their day will be a little better because of it. If I can use my compassion for learning other cultures on to people I meet in other countries, maybe I will learn something, and those people will want to learn a little more about some other culture as well. I hope that someday, if I put enough passion into the things that I do, that other people can grasp that passion and share it with others. To do this I think I just have to live more like Jake and give everything as much time, passion, and love that I can. Every morning before Jake went to school, he would tell his parents, “Today’s going to be my best day.” And I believe he held up to that tough promise every day. If somebody can have that mentality with everything they do, then they will make a positive difference in the world. Jake certainly did, and I hope I will be able to do that with my life.