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Reunions and Unions: My Summer Vacation Travel Log

Illustration of United States by Serge Seidlitz

Illustration of United States by Serge Seidlitz

By Nick McDaniels – As my summer vacation winds to an end, my summer of blogging would not be complete without a little travel log. At the end of July, I attend festivities in Milwaukee related to my five-year reunion.

This was my first time in Milwaukee since my last day of student teaching. A lot has changed and a lot is still the same. Marquette, as you all know, is building a lot. Most importantly than scenery, however, I was able to connect with classmates, some from the College, or, as it was when we graduated, School of Education.

I’m always proud to speak with my classmates who are doing great things for the lives of children. This proves to me that the experience we all had in the College of Education were formative in a way such that we all are grounded in teaching for social justice.

This is great affirmation, particularly for someone, living so far from Marquette, to know that I am not the only one who was profoundly impacted by my Marquette Education experience. Meeting with Education faculty and staff, including a meeting with Dean Henk, further solidified the long lasting connection I have and will continue to have with the Marquette Education community.

Connecting with friends from Milwaukee was enjoyable, and introducing my wife, Amie, and daughter, Charlie, to Lake Michigan and cheese curds was a terrific experience. The three of us then drove through the Upper Peninsula, stopping to visit some friends in Northwest Michigan before progressing home to Baltimore through my birthplace in West Virginia.

After a quick turn-around, I was off to Atlantic City, New Jersey with my fellow building representatives in the Baltimore Teachers Union for our annual retreat. As usual, I learned an incredible amount from my colleagues, about our union, about the struggles of public education workers. Most importantly, I learned about an important boycott for all teachers to be aware of.

BOYCOTT STAPLES. Staples is trying to undermine our brothers and sisters in the postal workers unions by having their workers, without an increase in pay, do post office work at the Staples stores. As teachers, a group that invariably spends large amounts at Staples during the end of August and September, we must be conscious of where we spend our money. DO NOT BUY FROM STAPLES if you want to stand in solidarity.

The union retreat led into a final few days of family vacation to Maryland’s beautiful Eastern Shore before returning to work to receive training as a teacher mentor. These travels have proved to me a few things.

1) I enjoyed taking the summer off and spending more time with my family;
2) I still value my Marquette experience and it continues to form and shape me as a progress through life;
3) I believe very strongly in the power of working people to create positive change for communities; and
4) I am a teacher through and through.

Wherever I go, wherever I went, education is always part of the plan, part of the conversation, part of the lens through which I view the world. I am happy about that and also happy to be back home, ready to gear up for another year in Baltimore City Schools.

What Quitting My Summer Job Made Me Realize

becomingyouBy Lauren Carufel-Wert — Well, my job as program leader for the Madison Public Schools Recreation Department didn’t last.

At the end of the first week — on that Thursday — I was done with all of it.

Earlier that day I had been punched in the knee from breaking up various fights and had a chair dropped on my foot. I couldn’t keep going back day after day knowing that there was no support for my co-leader and I and that things wouldn’t get better.

We — my co-leader and I —  had tried to see if we could switch a student out from another class, but it would not have made a difference, as it was about 4-5 kids that were causing the most trouble in the classroom. I was not trained on how to break up fights, how to work with physically aggressive children, and felt that I couldn’t do it anymore. I left everyday drained and exhausted and would go home and vent to my parents and to my boyfriend over Skype. I knew that the program, although it was only 6 weeks, would no longer work for me anymore. I couldn’t go and snap at the kids or my co-leader and I felt that I was getting far too close to that point with little chance for a reprieve.

I made the decision to leave, and it was one of the hardest I ever had to do. I knew there was a chance that it was going to get better; but, considering it was only 6 weeks, I thought it would be easier to leave earlier on in the program than later.

However, reflecting on the experience has allowed me to realize some new things about myself.

For instance I discovered that I really enjoyed working one-on-one with the kids who did have the disabilities. I loved talking to them about what was making them angry and how I could help them. As a result, I’ve begun exploring the idea of becoming a counselor or child psychologist.

So, as taxing as this experience turned out to be, I am thankful that it allowed me a new perspective on my future and my skills.

An Imperfect Cake: Gamification in AP English


I presented Megan with the first Golden Ape

By Claudia Felske — If you’re a Marquette Educator loyalist (or dare I dream a Claudia Felske enthusiast) you may recall that in Fall, I committed to gamification in one of my classes as chronicled in my post Monkey Business: The Gamification of AP English.

The notion of gamification appealed to me because of its potential to engage and motivate students, and to somehow make the difficult process of writing an AP Timed essay fun.  Shouldn’t that, after all, be the goal of every educator (and possibly very human being): to make the hard stuff in life fun?

So, I took the toughest part of my Advanced Placement English class and    gamified. Each student competed with him/herself to achieve the requisite AP analytical writing skills (one badge for each skill: focusing  on the prompt, embedding quotes, providing scholarly commentary,  using the vocabulary of literary analysis, and including a substantive  closing) in the hopes that this would land them to a good AP exam score,  and more importantly it would help them master these critical skills for  college and beyond. The golden ape pin (their culminating prize with all 5  badges earned) would be a tangible motivator that would remind them of  their writing ability and the growth they made.


Badge Pride on a Student Binder

 So, what happened? After explaining the gamification process and  badge skills, we dove right in, and  the return of each timed essay found  the room teeming with anticipation. Would they get a badge? If not, why  not? And what would they have to improve in order to get one?

These  simple little stickers were somehow having a profound effect on these  high-achieving students.  This was arguably childish, perhaps even pathetic, but it seemed to be working. They were clearly tuned into their writing at a level I had not previously seen. They proudly displayed their badges on their binders and folders.

Bottom line results?  All of my students received some badges, but only 5 of the 16 received all badges (and the highly-coveted Golden Ape). More on my “take aways” later, but first, theirs:

What They Thought: In an end-of-the-year survey,  All but one student reported that we had “the right amount” of focus on the badges or we should have spent even “more time” on them.



IMG_4157    IMG_4159     IMG_4155    IMG_4160    MEgan.jpg2

Their comments included:

  • “The badges helped my by breaking down each category that I needed to focus on in my papers, and helped me to improve in that way.”
  • “It helped me think about the components of a good essay, especially the Big Ending one. I feel like almost each essay I wrote was stronger than the last.”
  • “Although I didn’t get the golden ape, I found it incredibly useful on focussing myself during essays. It really helped me improve in each of the five important components.”
  • “Not only does it make us think of all of the devices that need to be incorporated, but also adds a challenge and ‘competition’ for us to look forward to.”
  • “I know I worked harder than I would have just for a grade. I really wanted to get that golden APE, and I’m sure any future apes worth their buttons will likewise.’
  • “Having the mini-goals working up to the golden ape was actually very motivating to me and helped me concentrate on all aspects of my papers.”

Not all comments were rainbows and unicorns however, bringing up some critical points for me to consider:

  • “It may have strayed me from the real goal a little bit. I really wanted to get all the badges so I would only focus on doing one thing to get a certain one that week when writing an essay, instead of thinking about having all five components in every one.”
  • “I prefer focusing on well-rounded essays instead of trying to get a specific badge and missing out on the other components.”
  • “It helped me try to incorporate the 5 components, however I think that students should be able to do this without trying to get an award.”

What I thought:
My students were much more motivated to look at specific aspects of their writing and improve them. One of the biggest frustrations in teaching is seeing students make the same mistakes repeatedly without exerting effort to fix them. This was clearly not the case when the process was gamified. Improvement was seen as a logical step in reaching the next level. More students than in any previous year came to conference with me on how they could improve. Students consciously planned what they’d change in their next essay. In this regard, gamification was an unqualified success.

Interestingly, though, when comparing my gamification numbers with the results of the College Board AP English exam, “success” was much more ambiguous. Of the 5 students who received the Golden Ape, demonstrating mastery of each of the timed essay components, 2 of them did not receive a passing score on the College Board AP English exam. Furthermore, none of those who received the top AP English Exam Score of 5 received a Golden Ape in class.

I’ve mulled over these incongruities and I see two different ways to interpret them: 1. My gamification process is not in line with the AP English Exam. I am either measuring the wrong things or evaluating them incorrectly. 2. Those two students who received the Golden APE but did not receive a passing AP exam score either choked on the AP English exam, or their AP Multiple Choice score was so low that even strong essay scores could not bring them up to a passing holistic score.

So my bottom line debrief on year 1: While this experiment clearly succeeded in the areas of student motivation and reflection, there is less clarity in its correlation to AP English exam performance. While I’d prefer that this wasn’t the case (and maybe next year it won’t be) I am comfortable with it.


I have always told my students that a passing score on the AP exam  (translating to college credits) is icing on the cake. The true take-away of any class should be learning, self-improvement, and readiness for what the next step in life brings. By that criteria, and from what students said and I observed, I think the gamification process is an imperfect but delicious cake, with or without the icing.  So I’ll tweak the recipe, but continue to serve it.

Mindfulness From a Middle School Counselor

mindfulnessBy Sabrina Bong — If you recall in my last post, I expressed my excitement (and concern) about taking a class on mindfulness.

At first, I was unsure of what exactly the class would teach me. One thing I had heard about mindfulness is that it teaches you to slow down, to take life as it comes and appreciate each moment in the present. And while I could definitely appreciate that, I have always lived my life planning ahead for the future.

I was thinking about college when I was seven, worrying about grad school when I hadn’t even graduated from undergrad yet. Right now, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the 90ish days I have to plan a wedding. Wouldn’t slowing down and thinking only about the present leave me unprepared for what was ahead?

Oh, how wrong I was.

During our first class, the instructor walked us through some simple meditative breathing. We called it a “drop-in.” For two minutes, we focused solely on our breaths. At first, I was a little antsy. Instead of concentrating on my breathing, all I could hear was that little voice in the back of my head, rambling off everything I had to do in the upcoming week.

But as the week evolved, I began to appreciate the few moments I had to just sit and listen to my own breaths. It was relaxing. Soon, I was able to sit for 15 or 20 minutes without hearing the laundry list of tasks I needed to do. Not only that, but I found myself to be happier and really enjoying every minute of my day. Food tasted better. Tasks were more fun. Spending time with my family and friends became much more treasured and appreciated.

But the most important thing I learned from class came during the third day. The instructors had a picture of a cow up on the wall. They talked about “rumination,” which is the process that we know as cows “chewing cud.” However, we also talked about how rumination can also be used to signify thinking about things over and over. When the instructors asked how many of us had a tendency to “ruminate,” all of us laughed before raising our hands.

“We need to let go of ruminating over things,” one of the instructors said. “Remember that our thoughts are just mental events. They are not facts.”

I pondered this while the instructors continued to talk about rumination. After all, how many times have we made assumptions based on our thoughts?

My mind always flashes back to when I waved at one of my friends at the mall, and she did not wave back. I immediately believed that she was mad at me and didn’t want to speak to me. I ignored her calls, only to find out later that it hadn’t been her at the mall! I had been waving to a complete stranger. My thoughts about her being mad was just a mental event. It was a story. It was NOT a fact.

I have filed that lesson away in my brain because I want to make sure that I talk to my middle school students about this. Many of my students go through life believing negative things about themselves: “I’m not pretty.” “No one loves me.” “I’m weird.” I want to encourage my students to remember that their thoughts – these supposed “facts” – are not their destinies.

But I’ve also made note of what my teachers said before we left, “If you do not show you practice mindfulness, your students won’t practice it either.” So my goal for the rest of summer is to embrace mindfulness, to live in the present… and to be prepared for whatever happens to come my way.

I took my class on mindfulness through Growing Minds. It is a fantastic organization that encourages mindfulness in schools and in your personal life. If you are interested in taking a week-long class like I did, you can check out their website.

Technology These Days…

Multi Media Internet Laptop with ObjectsBy Aubrey Murtha — Lately, the global emphasis on modernization and the development of newer and faster technology has got me discouraged.

I have always been an advocate for the simple life, but easy-to-use technological advancements have people digitalizing their lives these days, and the temptation is there—even for me. Ask anyone, I am pretty much the opposite of that which is hip and trendy. For example, I am still without a Twitter, I am illiterate when it comes to pop culture, and I’d rather shop at Goodwill than waste money on anything that is name brand.

However, I love my iPhone, and it would be awfully preachy of me to tell you to cut down on your use of technology as I sit here and type an article for an online publication on my lap top while checking my Facebook every ten minutes.

My concern is not technology in general. Obviously, I do appreciate electricity, running water, and the vast breadth of information that is available for me when I need it. However, I am concerned with the way that modern conveniences are affecting my generation and those to come.

In my opinion, the two main negative results of the Digital Age are materialism and an overwhelming need for instant gratification. The alarming rate at which companies are producing new and fascinating technology leaves children longing for the latest and greatest piece of modern equipment. In addition, kids and teens are exhibiting signs of complete dependence on technology.

How many eighth graders do you know that do not have a cell phone for texting their friends? How many college students do you know that do not use a computer to complete essentially all of their homework assignments? This dependence perpetuates materialism, in my opinion, and I find it discouraging that so many of our relationships and many of our academic endeavors depend on computers and smart phones.

The way in which the Internet and sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide kids and teens with instant gratification is hotwiring us to expect immediacy in life. Amongst the U.S.’s younger generations, this urgency seems to dissolve our work ethics as we simply expect that we will be given what we want right away. Instead of taking our time with things, everything is rushed and accelerated.  There is no value in the search anymore, no honor in waiting, no love of the quest or respect for the chase.

Maybe I’m reading into things a bit when I say that, but I believe this to be true: Technology is often a detriment to the development and maturity of America’s youth because of the manner in which it destroys our patience.

As teachers, parents or students, I am encouraging you to challenge the youth in your life to unplug. You too! Yes you! Be an example for your student or child, and promise that you’ll be present to him or her whenever you can.

Let’s not get wrapped up in the cyber world.  Let’s live in the now!

Lessons from Summer: Days as a Stay-at-Home-Dad

macklemore-ryan-lewis-stay-at-home-dadBy Nick McDaniels – I am very fortunate. I’m about half way through my third decade on this planet and my daughter is about half way through her first. And we are both half way through my first summer as a stay-at-home-dad. I’ve learned a lot, from her, about her, about teaching and learning, about myself. So here are eight things I learned during my eight weeks of vacation.

First: I am fortunate to have a job where I get to spend so much time with my daughter. I imagine there are not very many men my age who get the opportunity to spend eight weeks with their kid(s) without interruption. For this, I am grateful.

Second: Four-year-olds talk a lot! Those that know me, know that I don’t leave too much open air in a conversation, so I’d have a hard time claiming that she gets it from her mother. But Charlie’s language is just exploding with idioms and colloquialisms that never stop, but for the occasional breath. At every utterance of an “O Dear Me,” or “Heavens to Betsy,” “What in the world…” I wonder, one: who taught her to talk like my West Virginia grandma, and two: how amazing it is to watch personality bloom in children. I’m pretty sure last Sunday, she talked for about 14 hours straight. Perhaps I’m raising a filibustering future politician. Watch out Ted Cruz and Wendy Davis! Charlie may be able to talk you into submission.

Third: Teaching reading is very different than it used to be. I was not trained to teach reading per se, though in my job, I am probably called to do so more than I should be. But I learned to read simply by being read to, a lot. My daughter loves books, being read to, taking home 45 pounds of books from the library. She loves How The Grinch Stole Christmas more than anything, all year round, usually twice in a row. But she is not interested in sitting down with me and working through a book together as a reader. She’d much prefer to play learning-to-read games on her tablet to practice. I’m not sure if this is blessing or curse, probably both, but I am sure it is different.

Fourth: Physical activity is so important for children of all ages. On days where we’ve hiked all around the zoo (about once per week) because the giraffes, Charlie’s favorite animal, are the farthest from the gate, she is happier the rest of the day (and goes to bed earlier!). The same is true for the pool, where she is learning to swim on her own, an incredibly strenuous activity, learning to swim.

Fifth: I’m a firm believer that being a stay-at-home-parent is really challenging work and stay-at-home-parents do not get the respect, credit, or gratitude they deserve. Parenting is harder than most jobs. I will say this, having only one kid, it is easier than my day job, where I have 30, so I am grateful for the opportunity.

Sixth: Kids learn a lot from TV, the good and the bad. Charlie usually watches some television during breakfast and lunch. We don’t have cable, because like most people, we gave up our phone and TV subscriptions in favor of cell phones and streaming. I monitor which shows she watches, and the volume, but I don’t think it is the brain-rotting evil that I once thought it was. The other day, I said to her, “here’s some water, have a drink.” She replied, “If I don’t I will get dehydrated. Dehydrated is when you don’t have enough to drink.” Then she took the water and walked away. Doc McStuffins is the wise sage that instilled upon Charlie this little gem of knowledge. Not much to complain about there.

Seventh: Children need firm and fair discipline. We’ve experienced our first real bout of back-talking in recent weeks, as the terrible twos were pretty mild for us, which I think we’ve dealt with pretty well using the John Wayne model of parenting (don’t take any crap off anybody). But I can see how such issues can compound and compound quickly without firm structure and boundaries for kids.

Eighth: I will be a better teacher this year because, for the first time, I’ve spent a summer recharging, doing something out of pure love (not that I have not liked my summer jobs). Teachers need this more than most, particularly teachers with families, because during the school year, teachers burn the candle at both ends probably more than people in most professions, all while the days are short, and energy is low. I’m glad to have experienced this and I feel more ready and prepared to teach this year than ever before.

Troublesome Tantrums & Toy Cashiers: Lessons on Behavior Management

toy cashier for Lauren's blogBy Lauren Carufel-Wert — After my first day at the job, let’s just say I was not looking forward to the next one.

But I told myself I needed to keep going. I couldn’t quit on my first day. I thought, “It can’t get worse, it has to get better.”

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Each day that week seemed to get progressively worse. I found myself more often than not outside in the hallway with two students in particular that we’ll call Jack and Max. Both Jack and Max are African-American and marked as having disabilities. Their IEP’s also noted Jack and Max can be physically aggressive.

Unlucky for my co-leader and I, their IEP’s proved to be true.

Jack struggled with controlling his aggressiveness more so than Max. Jack got mad at the flip of the switch, taunted the other children, and felt offended quickly. At one point he threatened a kid, telling him he would punch and beat him up, and then proceeded to bark at the other child like a dog.

Shortly after this incident, he ran out into the hallway. I yelled to my co-leader where I was going and followed Jack into the hallway. I asked him what was going on and how he was feeling. He said some unsettling things for a second grader, the most worrisome being that he solved problems by punching things.

I tried to explain to him that punching things doesn’t solve anything; rather, it hurts another person and only fosters more fights and arguments. However, I could tell that he wouldn’t be changed that easily.

I finally had a breakthrough with him, and it came in the form of a toy cashier. We walked into an empty classroom where he found the toy cashier and began to play with it. He asked if he could go and buy items and started sorting the fake coins and money.

After a little while of playing with the cashier, he opened up and told me that he wanted to leave the room because he was mad. He asked me if we could come back and play with the cashier whenever he started to feel angry. I told him I couldn’t make any promises, but in the end I felt that I had possibly helped him.

I look forward to seeing how he will grow over the remaining course of summer.

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