Archive for the Uncategorized Category

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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.59.42 AM

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.



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.

Montana… so pretty!

Posted in Uncategorized on July 1, 2014 by Mister A

I got to know a few friends even better than I knew them before.

Bianca Hewes

Our train rattled in to Shelby, Montana at 8.30am. It had been a very easy trip from Seattle, with the four of us sleeping comfortably in the family room on neat little beds. If you ever decide to Amtrak it from one side of America to the other with your family, I recommend you spend the extra money and get a family sleeper room. It gives you a private space to hang out as well as full dining service included. Our boys really love it.
Shelby. How to describe Shelby, Montana? Small, quiet, bordering on desolate. We got in early so had time to sit in the bright warm sun for a while before our ride came – Jeff Agamenoni and his kids plus their French home stay student. Jeff and his family offered to look after us whilst we were in Montana – we’ve known Jeff for ages through…

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Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2013 by Mister A

I am so sorry for the loss of a nephew of mine named Jake.  My utmost sympathy and condolences go out to my brother in law, John, Jake’s Mom, Tracy, and Jakes sister, Rylee. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to spend some of Jake’s last days here on earth with him.  This was my experience.

I teach Mine Craft to kids in Great Falls, or should i say, they teach it to me.  John asked my wife, Joan, if I would show Jake how to navigate and play and create in Mine Craft, when he came to Great Falls over Christmas break, because John and Tracy and Rylee just didn’t get it.  They didn’t understand how it worked and why Jake and other kids were so fascinated with it.  I thought it might be helpful to them if I tried to explain kids’ fascination, Jake’s fascination somehow.

First of all, a Mine Craft world is huge, as big as the planet Uranus.  And when I say that…my students always say “you mean, YerAnus”.  They can travel and teleport and fly any where they want in that huge world.  There are forests and jungles and deserts and huge caves and mines and oceans and rivers and lakes. There is rain and snow and thunder and darkness and light. It really is a beautiful place.

When I was showing Jake some things last Saturday night on Mine Craft, he looked up at me with his big excited eyes and said, “Look, Jeff! I can fly right up into space, and I can almost see forever!”

Another cool thing in Mine Craft, is that kids have access to any kinds of blocks they want to build with.  There are diamonds and gold and coal and obsidian and any kind or color of wool u need.  There are foods like cake and roast beef and porkchops.  Jake told me he was gonna learn how to build an Oreo.  My students can raise chickens and cattle and pigs and have dogs and cats and entire villages of people who are willing to share what they have with them.  They create farms and grow and raise crops like carrots and potatoes and bamboo.  Jake started building a house on our Mine Craft server out of gold.  He was building a little dog house right behind it out of Lapis Lapuzi block.  I am not sure what that is, but Jake liked its name.


Jake and I starting on his gold house. His dog house is behind us.

Jake was so excited when i showed him how to wear his armor.  He asked, with that enthusiasm so unique to him, “Can my helmet be gold and my legs be diamond and my chest be iron?”  I told him that in Mine Craft, you get to make your armor however you like and his face lit up in joy.

You sometimes need that armor to protect you from scary things, like creepers and spiders and zombie pigmen and endermen, even a dragon.  But what is really cool about Mine Craft is that the creepers cannot hurt you when you are in creative mode, which I think is the mode that Jake liked to be in the most.  And if they do try to harm you, you can slay them and get really good loot.

I think the most important reason why kids are so fascinated with Mine Craft is that in Mine Craft, you are never alone.  There are always others there with you, exploring, building, creating and having fun.

I think that some people don’t get or understand Jake’s fascination with Mine Craft is because for them, what I just described is not, could not be a real place, but for kids like Jake, it is as real and beautiful and fascinating as places out here are. I was so looking forward to exploring with, learning from, and playing with Jake in Mine Craft.  I am disappointed tremendously that I will have to wait.

I imagine, believe, and hope heaven is little bit like the Mine Craft I described above.  I believe Jake’s soul was ready for a place like that.


My students built a shrine by Jake’s build.


Posted in Uncategorized on December 9, 2012 by Mister A

I attended the first GED Graduation in my new position as an Adult Education Math teacher a few weeks ago.  One of my students, Maile, addressed everyone with the following speech.  She did an outstanding job and has many good things in her future. The coolest thing about teaching adults is watching the tremendous amount of obstacles many of them, including Maile, overcome in finally finding some success in their own education.  In her speech, she talked about the biggest.  I was very lucky to be able to help Maile overcome some of her obstacles.  This was her presentation:

“Graduation means different things to different people.  For me, graduation is something I have pursued on and off for my entire adult life.  It always seemed just out of reach for one reason or another.  I always could come up with an excuse as to why I couldn’t study, or why I couldn’t go to class.  To tell the truth, one of the biggest problems I had was fear.
This fear kept me from working toward what I wanted, and it would have stayed that way unless I had made a conscious effort to put my fear aside and take a risk on myself.  I made the decision earlier this year to attend classes, study what I knew I was miserable at, and finish my education.  To do this required me to sacrifice time with my family, to get to class when I would rather take a nap, to try to understand things I had no desire to even look at, namely math.
What this all boils down to is that there is one person responsible for the earning of this achievement: me.  Granted, I was supported by family and friends as I studied and tried to work my schedule around.  But the one person who is truly responsible is the person standing here before you, now a graduate.

Maile and Me

I think one of the biggest obstacles I faced wasn’t scheduling or learning the material, it was motivation.  I wanted to be here in front of all of you, I wanted to have that diploma in my hand, but I lacked the motivation to do what was necessary.    Wayne Dyer, a motivational speaker and author, is quoted as saying “Be miserable.  Or motivate yourself.  Whatever has to be done, it’s always our choice.”  To me, that is one of the truest sayings I have ever encountered.  Once I chose to pursue this diploma, nothing was going to stand in my way.  When I took the final portion of the test, I was exhausted, and had been sick for the previous two weeks.  I could have easily decided to put off the test considering how I was feeling, but I made the choice to go forward and take the risk, betting that I would overcome the obstacles in front of me and succeed.  And now here I am.
Don’t be concerned if you are working toward a goal and you stumble.  There were plenty of days that I stumbled, but rather than let these bumps in the road knock me off track, I chose to use them as examples why I should redouble my efforts.  When life knocks you down, get back up, dust yourself off, and say ‘you hit like a little girl’.  By doing this, not only are you making progress toward your goal, you are also redefining the way that you deal with life’s issues.
There will always be problems in attaining your goals.  But how you deal with these problems can and will have a significant impact on how successful you are.  If you let things like a flat tire or having the flu stop you from reaching your goal, how will you ever attain anything in life?  The only way to do something, to do anything is simply to do it.  If you spend all of your time considering why something can’t be done, you will never have a chance of doing it.
To have reached this goal, there are some things I have realized.  First, it is an amazing thing to see myself here, doing this.  I had hoped and dreamed for so long to be here, and now it almost seems surreal.  It truly is one of the best feelings in the world.  Second, now that I have reached this goal, I am setting new goals for myself.  By doing this, I will be working toward the things that I want, rather than sitting back and accomplishing nothing, and now that I have realized a goal, it will make it that much easier to realize more of them.  Finally, I feel like now I am ready to see some success in my life where before there was only the dreary day-in day-out routine.  This graduation has opened many doors for me, but what has opened even more doors is the fact that I did this, and knowing that I did it means that I know I can do other great things.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my parents, my husband, my children and my friends for their understanding and support.  I would also like to extend a special thank you to the people here at ABLE who made all of this possible by providing the materials and guidance necessary for me to succeed.  Without the ABLE program, getting this diploma would have been much more challenging.  They were truly a light in the darkness during a difficult time when it seemed I barely had a chance to catch my breath.  Thank you all, goodnight.”

You did an outstanding job, MAILE…YOU ROCK, LADY!!!

Thanks Lindsay

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2012 by Mister A

I have been going through some feedback I ask students for at the end of each quarter I teach them.  Here is one of my favorites from my first year as a GAT Specialist…Thanks Lindsay:)

I enjoyed this quarter and the whole year of ECS a ton! I knew everyday when I drove to school that I had something fun to look forward to. ECS was definitely the most fun class I had this year.
I liked the Animal Farm unit we did because it is a great book, and even though I had read it before, I never understood the symbolism. Now I know what the book means and I feel a lot smarter. The vocab quiz was tough, but I was fine with all the other work for the book. The thought questions really made me thought (are they suppose to do that?) and I thought the word webs were really good. I learned what the word meant, it’s part of speech, how to use it in a sentence, and a lot more.Next, I had a lot of fun with the Dean Groom activities. I learned how to be really creative and fun, but at the same time became a better writer. I loved how funny you were when we were having a hard time with them. ie ‘Lain by the bunny, the eggs were deliciously chocolate!’ It was a lot of fun.
I also had a lot of fun writing by tales of Utopia story. I basically got to be creative and have fun writing a story, and show my understanding of Animal Farm by incorporating the theme of Utopia. I thought it was great that Dean did the webinar conference with us where we were able to practice presenting to an audience. He also helped us make some little changes that really helped.
Now, the Perfect Classroom projects. I thought they were fun and I liked working with a partner to createour own Utopia. I liked being able to share what I thought about school and what I thought would make it a Utopia.
Last, I would have to say my most favorite thing to do was play Quest Atlantis. It was a video game and a learning tool at the same time,which I would have to say really helped. I liked how I had my missions on QA and it made me feel really important. I learned a lot from Scoop Perry and his persuasive writing tool. You need to have a thesis, reason, and example. I also learned how to argue with something I don’t necessarily agree with in the articles and it helped me to learn how to keep an open mind.
Over all… ECS was amazing!!!! I am going to miss it so much during the fourth quarter and the summer. I look forward to it next year. and.. Thanks soooo much Mr. A!


Posted in Uncategorized on March 29, 2012 by Mister A

I am in my third year as a Middle School Gifted Education teacher and fifteenth year overall as an educator.   I recently learned that the program I am the teacher of has been cut.  I will still have a teaching position, but I will no longer be teaching gifted kids and I will no longer be teaching in middle school.  I have gained many things from teaching gifted kids, most of all, is that many gifted kids need to be less hard on themselves and not take life as seriously as they do.  I hope that somehow my students have learned this lesson along with me during the past three years. As a teacher, I often wonder is anything I am doing with my students going to stick with them when they leave school and move on with their lives.  I wonder if most of them are just biding their time until they no longer have to be forced into coming to my class or any other class for that matter.  I wonder if they will use what they have learned from me beyond my classroom, when they start a profession, go to college, begin a family, and start living their own lives.  After all, the biggest reason I became a teacher is that I wanted to have some kind of impact beyond my classroom, in my students’ lives.  Did any of them learn anything from me that they will use to make themselves a better person somehow? Or was my class just a way they could pass the day a little faster?

Please reply below in a comment, if you can answer this question.