working together so learners can flourish

Archive for February, 2014

Integrating Technology & the Benefits of becoming a Connected Educator

Every other year I teach a semester long World Issues course. Each year it  takes a different  shape based on the students I have and the world events going on. Once again this summer I thought about the form I wanted to take on. Firstly, as a “flipped” teacher I wanted to make sure the students were actively pursuing information and not just listening to me tell them everything I know. Secondly, I contemplated how a course on world issues could reflect the world around us: a world where information is at your fingertips, shared with social media, and commented on.

A few years ago I attended the Alta Vista-NWCSI August Event entitled “Becoming Students of our Students’ Work-Together.” There a Mount Vernon Christian Social Studies Teacher shared with me his framework for a similar course, having each student follow a country through the various issues and ending with a Model United Nations.

For each “issue” students researched its status in their own country. It was interesting to see the searching methods of students and organically, we could discuss how to vary search terms and how to evaluate the credibility of a source. Students also became efficient at citing their sources.

With the information they gathered, they had to “present” the information using technology. Educational Technology is a passion of mine so various blogs and Twitter posts have helped me build an arsenal of tools. Students used LiveBinders, Screencast-O-Matic,, Padlet, and Google Drive. Students experienced a range of emotions using all of these tools. They were frustrated, nervous, and excited. I was surprised by how uncomfortable students were using these technologies for learning. They are accustomed to entertaining themselves with technology, but creating educational products was not so easy for them. I am thrilled that they “survived” these technologies and have even used them again in other classes. Furthermore, it will be important in their future careers to feel confident trying new technologies that they must use.

The final piece of learning each issue was to share their knowledge. Not only does sharing reflect 21st Century learning, it also allowed students to see each issue from the perspective of multiple countries, not just the one they studied. Students would post their products on Edmodo and then comment on each other’s posts. In the future, I hope they will be able to share to a wider audience with Twitter and/or blog posts.

Much of this model was influenced by the C4 Framework for Social Studies education: collect, collaborate, create, and communicate. This structure is a great way to integrate technology in a regular way, it allows students to get out of stagnant textbooks and dig dynamic, relevant content.


Kaelyn Bullock, High School Social Studies teacher, Shoreline Christian School


From the Back of the Bus

I don’t want to go to school today.  We have a lockdown drill planned.  They never go as well as I think they should.  I review the procedures with staff, field a ton of “what if” scenario questions, and attempt to calm my secretary because she knows that likely she’ll be the first responder to any incident on campus.  She usually barrages me with questions like “Do you call 911 first?  Do you lock the doors first?  Do you intercom the classrooms and set off the bells and whistles first?  I can’t do them all at the same time, JIM!”  Yes, I know that.  You’ll do fine.  We have procedures and that’s why we practice.  Stick to the training.

And what do you tell your kindergarten class or other small children?  That we’re practicing this just in case some bad guy comes on campus with a gun?  Well, no, we don’t.

One of the things in our favor is the local wildlife.  There are coyotes running through the soccer field in the evenings.  One of our families has had multiple cougar sightings in their creekbed.  Skunks, possums, raccoons, feral cats…we have ‘em all, and we share those stories regularly.  Our kindergarten teacher will often capitalize on that wildlife idea, with a little twist.   We also have a farm across the road which Kindergarten students can see from their classroom.  The class lockdown preparation goes something like this: “What would happen if Mr. Blanker’s cows got out and wandered over here?  Those cows are huge!  And they don’t obey like your dogs do at home, so just in case we need to keep you safe while someone rounds up the animals or something like that, this is the signal we want to use…”   And that seems to work.  For the children.

But ask the teachers about what’s going through their hearts and minds as we practice, and things are not so peaceful.

Classroom teachers worry about protecting their kids.  What if they do the “wrong” thing?  What if they do something “not according to policy and procedure” and get sued later for not being the hero as some teachers seem to be portrayed in other nationally-televised campus events?  What if they’re not up to that?  We pray we won’t ever have to find out.  But the more we talk about it, the more we play the What If Game, the more we become peaceful about it.  Not resigned, not acquiescent, not prepared to roll over and accept events as they happen.  We become peaceful because we come to a deeper realization that our God is bigger than the boogie man (insert Veggie Tales here).  Psalm 121 floats up in our minds often…  “Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD!”  The LORD Almighty is in charge.  He will neither slumber nor sleep.  He who watches over us will never stop being on guard.  That should free us up to do His bidding as well as we are able in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, good, bad or ugly.

I’m going to start my truck and go to school.  I have a wonderful emergency drill to do, and everyone will be reminded of God’s sovereignty, providence, and protection as we do our lockdown together.  Hiding from the cows.

Jim Buss, principal Ebenezer Christian School

The View From The Back Of The Bus

My aversion to cats is legendary.  I find their arrogant attitudes irritating and faith-trying.  I refuse to be their servants.  I refuse to fall into their “come serve me, human” demands.   I speed up when one’s crossing the road…

But kittens are so cute!  How can something so adorable and cuddly turn into something so demonic?  Every time a student brings that batch of kittens for show-and-tell I coo like everyone else and snuggle up with the snuggle-able little balls of fur.  They’re so…well, cute.  And needy.  I guess they appeal to my heart’s desire to protect the weak and helpless.  For the record, any runt of any litter of any animal is likely going to get my heart’s attention.

I watched one of my little “runts of the litter” this week playing on the playground.  She’s too small to get up on the zip-line thingy.  She needs help getting up on the monkey bars.   She can’t keep up with the others running around because her little legs, no matter how hard she churns, just don’t have the stride.  But she never gives up.

But she’s not alone.  She’s picked up and hoisted by kids not much bigger than she is so she gets a shot at the playground stuff.  Bigger kids will sling her onto their backs and hunch their way across the playground, never really noticing the minimal weight.  She’s well cared for.   If you need proof, look at the smile that she’s got right now looking over the shoulder of the big 7th grader she’s riding like a jockey in the Kentucky Derby.

No child left behind, for sure.

That’s my view today.  Family, friends, fellowship…all wrapped up in one little package on the back of a boy who deems his worldview is not complete without helping out a little friend.

On another note, just so you don’t think everything is always so warm and fuzzy here in the far north, I was encouraged to share a piece of wisdom I’d learned a while back.  Girls may not get this one, so feel free to stop reading if you don’t share the deficient Y-chromosome.  Free advice:  If you get the chance to say “good morning” to a little boy in the middle of doing his business in the bathroom, don’t.  Wait till he’s finished, or he will turn around and return the greeting.  And now your job just got a bit messier…

Jim Buss, Principal Ebenezer Christian School

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