Saturday, November 26, 2011

A new idea!

I am in Colorado right now with my brother in law and father in law at a location near Ignacio, CO. We are at a drilling rig location looking for natural gas in the coal seams. I have learned several new ways to apply math so far and hope to be able to build them into a teaching project someday. It is a really near process and one that I think people could benefit from knowing.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Day of Thanks

With all the hustle and bustle of the past couple of weeks, with all of the excitement of Microsoft's PILGF, and with the load we all undoubtedly came back to at school because of our travels, today is a great day to take a seat, sit back, and be thankful for everything that we have been so blessed with. 

I am reminded of the first Day of Thanksgiving under our Consitution, when George Washington, as our first President, declared a day to give thanks to God and take rest.  The traditional day, of course, was declared by one of our greatest leaders, President Abraham Lincoln, to be the fourth Thursday of November.  Please take a moment to read his original declaration here: 

To bring us back to our current times, the question becomes:  What am I thankful for?

Firstly, I am so thankful for God's presence in our lives, and that he gives us wisdom and ability to glorify him daily.  Thank you Lord for the freedoms we live with and the blessing of being in the United States and the prosperity we live in.

Secondly, I am thankful for my family.  My wife is such a God-send, pushing me to be a better man and respecting me for who I am, even when my mistakes shine through.  Our little girl Vivian is so beautiful and such a good kid.  God has truly blessed us with her.  Our primary and extended families are also so loving and caring.

I am also thankful for the time we have had in Alaska.  Even though we are moving to Colorado soon, I have had the privilege of truly experiencing Alaska, from hunting moose, bear, caribou, etc to teaching Hunter Education and Winter Survival courses at -40 degrees.  The fishing has also been something I remain thankful for.  God blessed us with such an abundant supply of both fish and game meat that we were giving it away by the boxful.  He provided for others through us, and that I am thankful for.

Next, I am thankful for my profession and work involving children.  It is truly an honor to be involved with the youth of our country.  If we want to truly transform our country at its base, the schools are where it has to begin.  We must not forget to instruct them properly in the history and culture of our country so that we keep our identity and freedoms.  I also had a wonderful time at the Forums this year sponsored by Microsoft.  What a great experience!  It was great to be thanked in such a grand manner.

Last, but certainly not least, I am so thankful to be a US citizen in the greatest country on Earth.  I pray we can come out of our current rut and sustain our prosperity and ability to do good as a country.  Thank the Lord that we can spread good and be the force against evil in this world.  Most of all, thank the soldiers and armed forces that secure our freedom and keep us free of the encumbrances that many of the world live in, including oppression, lack of food, corrupt governments, and the like.  Being in DC on Veteran's Day at the Laying of the Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier truly woke me up to the sacrifices so many have made to keep us free.

Many thanks to all of my friends and people who have pushed me to be a better person and Christian man.  I love you all and only pray that I can see you once again!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Day 4, Microsoft PILGF

Alright, this is it, the last day of the experience of a lifetime.  Many of us viewed it as a much more relaxed day because we had some breaks and, thankfully, the judging was over.  We started out with our morning keynote at the Warner Theatre as a panel discussion about education.

There were four ladies (can I have some diversity, guys?) that talked about topics ranging from teacher pay and respect to getting students in the real world to do projects (2012 election was this example).  They all did a fine job and had some great ideas and insights into education.  I wish I could elaborate more about it, really.

Next, we moved to the final exhibit viewing.  I had minimal traffic, but saw a few interested folks and made some good contacts for the future.  Naturally, people were most interested in the video game next to me.  I guess this is the point where I started to reflect on my choice of items at my booth.  I wanted to have an Alaska fishing video running, but was told that I couldn't use copyrighted goods, so that was impossible.  I think I should have simplified my poster a bit, too, to exclude "about me" and "about the school" and include a big graphic highlighting the test scores that improved in the project.  Other enhancements may have included a more interactive method of presenting the subject matter.

In the afternoon, we met with our learning excursion groups.  Jinan, Maureen, Indra, Susana, and I embarked on elaborating on our project.  We were able to come up with our solid, concrete foundation from which to work, and came up with a plan to get the work done in a quality manner.  My job is to build the mathematics scaffolding necessary and then do the VCT and submit it to the Partners in Learning website.  Easy enough!

After four days, we are finally at the National Art Gallery for the Gala Dinner and Reception!  What an exciting time.  Again, we were treated like royalty and given access to the art in the museum for our viewing pleasure.  There is so much there that it is impossible to see it all in one trip.  Pauline, Kelli, and I looked at as much as we could, but we were called out to the awards dinner soon.

We came in to a marching band, and man that was cool!  They were loud and obnoxious, just the way we like it in America.  Next, we got to see Stomp! perform one of their routines.  It was neat because they got our attention in a unique way.  A waiter had been milling around picking up dishes, and when he was walking by the stage, he fell over, making a huge crash of silver ware and dishes.  Next thing we know, there are two guys attending to him that bust out of the fray pounding on the water carafe's that he had dropped.  Then, they are on stage with plastic buckets putting on a show.  They had break dancers, too, who were pretty good.

Next, we ate a great 3 course dinner with a salad, steak, and a dessert that was awesome!  The chocolate piece in the dessert even had a "Microsoft Partners in Learning" inscription on it.  How neat.  They definitely went all out.

We then got to the moment we were all waiting for, the awards.  First, the mentor schools were recognized.  I was very proud to see Highland Tech ( as one of them, leading the charge in innovation.  Go HTH!

Next the awards.  I was definitely hoping to win, but it wasn't to be.  The competition was fierce and it was a matter of a point here or there that decided the final outcome.  One bad judging session and you are sunk (my first one, Taiwan).  The judge from Ireland did come by to shake my hand and tell me I had one of the best projects here, and that I should have won. 

But, as a US team, we did very well, winning 3/7 categories!  When Fish Fly won Innovative Use of Microsoft Technology, Illuminated Mathematics won in Knowledge Building, and Lou Zulli won with his project.  Chants of USA, USA! filled the dinner hall each time we won.  It was so cool!  We are so very proud of them for taking it home for the US.

Then it became party time!  The stage was full of dancers, everybody was talking and taking pictures, and we were just putting the cap on a fantastic week. But we weren't done yet!  As a US team, we were invited to Stacey Rainey's room for drinks and social time.  It was good to get to know them in a different light.  Andrew Ko, of Microsoft, says he wants to go hunting with me next year!  I am very excited for that, and hope it works out.  I love teaching others how to hunt and provide for their families.

I got to my hotel at about 2:30 am, finally feeling tired from days of activity.  But I wasn't done yet!  Erin and I had scheduled to stay until Monday so we could Tour DC.  After three more exhaustive days of walking around the monuments, we headed home, and here we are, ready for our next adventure!

Day 3, Microsoft PILGF

Day 3, Surprise!  We are changing the schedule.  Oh boy, the groans from us began!  We couldn't help but wonder why the schedule was changed...has the President made a schedule change to visit us on short notice, some ask?  Nope.  But, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado has.  He is a member of the education committee of the Senate and a passionate supporter of education.  At 8am, he talked to us about education and its impacts that are felt throughout society, including reduced poverty, crime, and increased wealth and stability.

Near the end of his short talk, Cheryl Arnett, a Colorado educator, looks at me and says, "Let's go meet him."  I say, "You're crazy!"  In my mind, I am thinking somebody is going to take poorly to people rushing over to a sitting Senator.  But, his enterouge is fine with it, and we meet him and snap pictures with him.  It was a neat experience.

Next, we moved to the keynote for the morning with Dave Christian, and "The Big Picture Project."  Dave Christian is an Historian turned scientist from Australia.  At its foundation, the project is a great idea.  The concept is to teach kids the big picture about our creation and reason for being.  It addresses the big bang, evolution, religion's role, archaeology, etc.  It is a 5 billion year account of the earth's history in one college course.

Now, I am a skeptic on nearly everything that I see and hear.  This fell into my category of "needs MUCH more research."  There is a lot of science in the project, but it is presented as cold hard truth, fact that can't be altered (i.e. we have this whole thing figured out, even though we weren't there).  It completely ignores the science behind other theories, including Creationism/Intelligent Design.  When probed about this by a US educator, Dave's answer sounded good, "we aren't telling people what to believe, but we are presenting a scientific worldview...."  The problem is that once you dig into the project, the intent is to discount creationism/intelligent design and tell the students what to believe.  This happens because it is what Dave Christian believes; he inserts his own opinion very strongly into the curriculum whilst reserving his good answers for the media.  At any rate, I am not a fan, but I like the overall concept of teaching a big picture.

Next, we headed for more judging!  Our last session.  I had a judge from Ireland, and I was able to present the information to him in a way that he got it!  It was my best presentation yet.  After the awards, he even commented to me that, "You had a very strong project, one of the best, and I scored you very high."  More to come on that later.  I was excited after this session, thinking I had a chance to take home a victory.

Still, the booth next door was blocking my booth continuously, even though they made steps to change their setup to accommodate me.  It was a great, nice gesture, but proved minimally effective.  I saw very little outside traffic during that session, too, much like the day before.  Also, when I arrived in the morning, somebody had stolen two of my books off of my booth!  I was fired up, but there was no way to figure out who it was.  I guess I will not trust others with security anymore.  The weird thing was that it was very targeted.  There was technology worth so much more laying all over the place, but the books disappeared.  I will likely have to replace them because I use them so much.

The Project Based Learning Handbook
Tool Time for Education

By this time of the day (lunch), we were all cooked!  In the afternoon, we were expected to spend a couple of hours on our learning excursions, and we did it, but it was slow going.  Our group did manage to come up with a good idea, though.  We are going to test pH in water samples from all over the world, have the students in each area research aquatic life health, and then have the students compare their results with the other groups around the world via video conference in order to determine if there is a correlation between pH and aquatic health.  It should be neat.

We had one more open booth session in the afternoon, but no judges were present.  It was merely for the schools and public to come by to see our work and gain insight into innovative educators and education.  I saw only two people at my booth, but both had heard about the project and wanted more information.  They also took my contact info so they could get a hold of me later.  Overall, I had a a lot of interest from Canada, Mexico, Ireland, and Britain.  Hopefully it will open some doors!

The rest of the night centered a reception, the movie, "American Teacher," and Microsoft's "Experience Pavilion."  I didn't attend the movie in favor of seeing my wife and baby, but the Experience Pavilion was really neat.  My favorite station was using Kinect to learn Mathematics.  They were gathering data from a source next door (dancing), and converting that into graphing and solving quadratics.  Neat!  Ginger Blackmon, our Principal at Highland Tech, later quipped, "Meghan is going to flip when I bring one of those home to her."  Meghan is a math teacher at Highland.

Alas, day 3 was over and I could go to bed!  I thought I should be tired, but I wasn't.  Lack of sleep and a busy schedule had not got to me yet.  On to day 4 and the Gala Dinner!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Check it out

Be sure to visit the tabs in the blog "projects" and "project ideas." Maybe you can use my stuff in your classroom or contact me and we can work together on a project!

Day 2 Microsoft PILGF journal

Wow! What a day today.  It was busy from the outset.  First, breakfast was scheduled at 7:30, but there was a small matter schedule for us as the US team...we had to meet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  We hustled to breakfast early, and headed over to the Warner Theatre for our meeting.

There was a press conference and pictures, and usual talking accompaning a visiting politician with his standing, then we had two people scheduled to present to the Secretary:  Nate and his iAm project and the When Fish Fly project.  Their presentations were great, and the Secretary even played the fish video game.  We then got word that EVERYBODY would present to him!  I was next in line, and presented Combat Fishin'! to the Secretary.  We also chatted about Alaska a little bit and he told me what a great project it was.  He proceeded to everybody else, giving them due time to present their work.  It was a great gesture from him, and an honor to present to him.  Hopefully some good will come of it in the way of policy making!

Next, we had our morning keynote.  Anthony Salcito, Education director at Microsoft announced that Microsoft and the Department of Education are pairing to enhance and push education forward in the US. Secretary Duncan also addressed us, citing many statistics and improvements he hopes to make.  It was a good talk.

Next, we headed to our Smithsonian off-site locations for the Learning Excursion.  My group headed to the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.  I was not excited to go there; it was my last choice behind places like the National Museum of Natural History.  Nonetheless, we had a good drive to Maryland and a great time learning and conducting research about fish in Chesapeake Bay.  It was a good experience in a beautiful place.  We took what we learned and will apply it to our project about water.

The cap biggest part of the day for the teachers was next.  We had our first judging session! Many of us had two judges visit our booths.  My first judge was from Taiwan.  He spoke good English, so communication was only a small problem.  My trouble was communicating to him how big a part of life fishing is in Alaska.  I didn't think he completely understood it, and this was confirmed by my afternoon judge.  I relayed the information to him, and he got it!  I was very happy with this 20 minute judging.  He was from Spain, and he understood the project in its fullness.  I was somewhat happy with my judging sessions.  My big disappointment was being next to a video game and having their crowd cover my booth.  I received little traffic other than my judges.  Overall, I considered it a good day.

The rest of the evening was a reception with the school booths open and our regional dinners.  I didn't get a chance to visit any booths, including Highland Tech, and that disappointed me.  Our regional dinner was at Zaytinya, a nice restaurant in DC.  Man, that was fun!  We ate, drank, and visited until midnight, and some even went to a cigar bar afterwards!  I was able to have some good conversations with folks from Philadelphia's School of the Future.  They are doing some good things!

After a long day, I slept well, and looked forward to the next day!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Day 1, Microsoft PILFG

Monday, November 7, 2011

Much to my surprise, today was very low key!  Ok, let me explain.  Compared to the US forum, today was great!  We didn't have a lot of down time and time that was relaxing at the US Forum, but that seems to be built into our schedule here at the Global Forum.

First, we had our introduction and a few activities.  It was not too exciting, but great to see some of the things that Microsoft is doing in education.

Our guest speaker was a man named Will Richardson.  The neat thing about his talk was that he owned it!  The material is a part of who he is.  He talked about our need to use technology and teach in a way that is meaningful and useful to students.  Translation:  use technology and teach these students 21st century skills.  It was a great talk.

We also met our learning excursion groups!  I have a group that is diverse in many ways (except sex).  Susana is from Ecuador (but doesn't speak English), Indra is from Latvia, Jinan is from Lebanon, and Maureen is from Ireland.  We were charged with creating a project that deals with water and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.  It was a very fun day with the ladies!  I was acting as the defacto translator for Susana part of the time!

Exhibit setup was uneventful, but we as the US team were separated from rest of the crowd.  We had to setup at the Warner Theater for our time with the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Tuesday.

Then, we got free time!  Pauline, the gang and I hung out and chatted about various items including the US Forum and our classrooms.

The last item of the day was definitely the most exciting for me.  We had a reception at the American History Museum.  First, we met the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, G. Wayne Slough and his wife.  What a neat guy.  We also met the Sig Behrens, Microsoft education director.  The list goes on!  By far, the neatest part of the night was the Star Spangled Banner Flag Exhibit.  We got to experience the battle from the war of 1812 in which the US fought of Britain at Fort McHenry.  When Francis Scott Key saw the Brits retreating from the fort, he wrote the song we consider our National Anthem.  Around the corner, we saw the neatest part of the exhibit, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry.  Just standing there in awe, near tears in my eyes, so thankful for the skill and perseverance of American soldiers.  I went through twice.

The rest of the night Pauline and I toured the museum.  What a place!  There are exhibits about transportation, electricity, flight, music, and many others.  The highlights for me were the Stratavarius Violins and electricity exhibits.  We actually got to see light bulbs Edison invented and that didn't work!  After a night of fun and food, we rested at our hotels, ready for the big day of Tuesday, likely our busiest.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Microsoft PILGF overall experience

Wow!  I felt like a fish out of water.  A country boy like me in the big city partying like an uptown, upscale pretty boy is far fetched, but it actually happened.

Microsoft's Global Forum was an experience that I will not soon forget.  We were treated as royalty, respected and wined and dined for four days.  We learned a lot, laughed a lot, and complained a lot about not having many breaks!

I learned many different things during my time in Washington DC.  First, I concluded that teachers in the United States are not respected.  This is poor for two reasons:  1)  we will flourish and do an even better job when respected, and 2)  we should be respected for choosing to serve the public good.  I also learned that there are many people doing good in education, but there are also forces for evil that are being promoted.  Yup, I am talking about our guest speakers.  I like several, but several of them were wrong on many points.  I will not go into that.  Thirdly, I learned that there are fantastic educators all over the world that share our fervor for improving education.

Laughing played a vital role at PILGF.  We made some great friendships that will last for a lifetime, friendships that are shaped in a love for children, education, and other people.  We talked about our students, our administrators, and those we love, and forged bonds not to be broken.  We also stayed up late, got up early, and didn't rest much.

The presentations/competition aspect of the Forum was a disappointment for me.  Yes, I went to win (and didn't), but mainly I just wasn't prepared for the Global crowd.  I was US ready, but that didn't get it done.  I learned a few things:  first, Alaska Fishing isn't as appealing to the world as the US.  Secondly, I needed a little bit more flash, something like video games, videos, hands on activities, etc to draw folks toward you and interest them.  I didn't have that flash because we couldn't use copyrighted materials.  Next time, I will go prepared.  The station next to me set the stage for realizing that you need flash.  They had a video game for people to play, and there was a constant crowd at their station, often times overflowing in front of me.

Ah, the food and drink were fantastic.  Thanks Microsoft!  It allowed us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride comfortably.

The other aspect of the forum was the Learning Excursions.  I enjoyed our group, with me from the US, and women from Latvia, Ireland, Ecuador, and Lebanon.  Truly a diverse group.  We came up with a good idea and plan for the project; hopefully is gets some traction and we do a great job implementing it.

Overall, it was a great experience!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It has been such a busy fantastic week with Microsoft and my fellow teachers. I haven't even had time to blog enough! I will summarize upon my return to home.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On twitter

Listen to me @PBLMathTeacher

Oh my!

I just presented to Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, at PILGF. It was great to be able to spread the word of PBL.

Monday, November 7, 2011

National Museum of American History

We just had a private viewing of the museum, and I am fired up! Go USA! Boy, I sure could have a ball with a history/math project with videos here!


Great stuff at MSGPILF! I am drinking from a firehose! Heard from Will Richardson and started work on our learning excursions. DC is an amazingly beautiful city.

We are here!

Microsoft partners in learning global forum!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Harvested a moose!

Ok, I just spent two days hauling a
Moose out of the woods and I am cold and tired! I am sure though that there is something I can teach the kids through this.