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Ed. Note- In honor of the CUE Rock Star Camps, for which you can still register and run all summer, we will be presenting a Rock Like a Teacher series of posts in which educators talk about the music and musicians who made them better teachers.

The blog editor and Henry Rollins after a talking show in Hawaii. Notice Doug not outwardly freaking out.

The blog editor and Henry Rollins after a talking show in Hawaii. Notice Doug not outwardly freaking out.

“What I had written, no matter what anyone else thought of it, would ultimately have to hold so much truth for me, that I would be willing to fight for it,”

-Henry Rollins (http://americansongwriter.com/2013/11/songwriter-u-henry-rollins-songwriting/)

Henry Rollins is an inspiration. As the frontman of punk powerhouse Black Flag and later his own Rollins Band, he blew the doors off every venue he played in. He electrified the crowd by always going full-tilt boogie towards one goal- channeling the music through his body and into us. I could talk for days about how Rollins has influenced my teaching. Heck, he’s mentioned in the very first chapter of my first book. I’m one of Those Fans. I will corner you at a party and tell you why, “You don’t understand, man.”

Rollins was the sole lyricist in the Rollins Band and became one of the main ones in Black Flag during his tenure. He said something once along the lines of the above quote about writing lyrics. I can’t tell you exactly where I heard or read it, and google is failing me. As I said, I’m one of Those Fans, so he might have said it on a talk show, an interview, or written it in one of his own twenty-five books. He said, and I’m paraquoting, “I like ‘Oh Baby, Yeah’ songs. I listen to those songs. But I can’t write those songs. If I took an ‘Oh Baby, Yeah’ song to my audience they’d throw chairs at my head. I wouldn’t be able to sing that sing for an entire tour and look at myself in the mirror.”

When Henry talks about “Oh Baby, Yeah” songs he’s talking about those easy pop songs we all know and love. The ones that are simple verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus where the lyricist didn’t so much write lyrics as tell the singer, “Here is where you vamp and hit those notes you hit for sixteen bars. Give me some ‘Oh yeah’ and a little ‘Baby, you know’ and we’ll throw in a few ‘la la la’s to round it off and we’re good.” The song works. It moves units. It gets the crowds on their feet. But it doesn’t say anything.

I think about that when I’m writing lesson plans or building projects. I could build ‘Oh Baby, Yeah’ projects for my students. They’d look great, they’d be impressive to people who don’t know education and people who do would at least respect their workmanship. But I couldn’t do that all year. Not and look my kids in the eye. This audience deserves my best and for them I’ll reach down deep and find that next level to make it special, to make it more. I want my lessons to be full of passion and straight ahead rock and roll. At this rate, at the end of the year my body is going to be broken into pieces. That’s ok because summer is for rest and planning the next album cycle.

I don’t want to play “Oh Baby, Yeah” songs for my class. I want to get some teaching, get some learning, then go again.

20160609_230053Doug Robertson is the CUE blog editor and a tenth-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome) and an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words).  Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.

An EdTech Authentic Ending

It’s June, and you know that that means- The end of the school year. You’ve done so many amazing things with your students, but now what? How do we make the end of the year educational technology authentic? 

Apple on a vintage report cardThe end of the year in my classroom was always a time for reflection, positivity, and gratitude. The end of the year also meant it was time for grades. In the spirit of equality, the first activity my students completed was a teacher report card. When I was in the classroom we didn’t have access to Chromebooks or iPads so I used an old school pencil and paper version. Lucky for you, John Stevens, and Matt Vaudrey, have a digital one available as a jumping-off point.

I always liked doing the report card because it helped me grow as a teacher and learn what my students thought of the class. I let my students complete this anonymously because I wanted them to be honest. In that tradition, I’ll be honest with you- There were some responses that made me cringe, but it wasn’t because of the spelling or grammar. It was because I had missed the mark. But, by opening myself to constructive criticism I was able to pivot for the following year.

The advantage of doing this digitally is all the data comes in palatable diagrams and charts based on the question types. In addition, you can save the results so you can compare your progress from year to year. I used to keep the best and worst report card by my desk the following year as a reminder of both sides of my teaching. I never wanted to make the same mistakes two years in a row.

In high school, as a student and teacher, I had a love-hate relationship with yearbook superlatives. They were always semi-stereotypical,  and there were never enough for all the students. So instead of letting the popular kids have all the fun with titles that really don’t mean anything anyway (Most Likely to BLANK, etc), why not empower your students to give each other superlatives that actually mean something. You can use this template from Google Slides to make individual certificates for each student; it is customizable if you don’t like the colors or images.

Split the class into two separate groups, each with their own slide deck. Then assign each student a superlative partner from the other group. It is their job to come up with an authentic title and justification for their partner. Encourage students to move beyond the best-dressed and prettiest hair; have them come up with real compliments about their partner’s work ethic or educational growth. If you have the time, you can even have students hold an awards ceremony to present their certificates in front of the class.

selfie with mobile phone

The last activity I always had students do in my class was write a letter to someone that they wanted to thank from the school year. It could be anyone that they felt deserved a thank you for something big or small. I had my students start with a paper first draft of their thank you letter. Then, I had them storyboard or outline what they wanted their final project to look like. Some students wanted to turn their letters into tweets, others wanted to create videos and others involved photo walks around campus. (Just think- students creating during the last week of school instead of simply waiting it out…) When their final projects were complete, as a class we walked around campus delivering thank yous.

Hopefully, one of these ideas is useful to you as the school year winds down. They can be related back to the Common Core Standards for writing (always important) but more importantly, they remind our students to observe the world around them. Whether students are giving me constructive criticism, spreading positivity, or expressing gratitude they were practicing skills they need to build positive relationships in school and beyond.

Ari Flewelling HeadshotAriana Flewelling (@EdTechAri) is a former High School English Teacher. She currently works as a Staff Development Specialist for the Innovation and Learner Engagement division at Riverside Unified School District (RUSD). She is also a Google Certified Trainer and Innovator. Ariana is the current IACUE affiliate president. In all these capacities, she strives to help others embrace and explore the many applications of educational technology.

Student Learners become Leaders of Learning – a LeRoy Finkel Fellowship Follow-up

[Ed. Note- Katherine Goyette was one of the finalists of the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship Program at this year’s CUE 2016 National Conference. This will be the first in an on-going series checking in with LeRoy’s Big Idea winners. Applications for next year's LeRoy Finkel Fellowship will open in September.] #TigerTechTeam is a student led technology club, affecting […] Read More

Encourage Students to Tell Their Stories On Film

A good film has the power to change us. Films reflect our fast changing world- socially, culturally, and globally. They inspire, provoke, inform, educate, and create an emotional connection to the subject matter. “Movies strike us in intensely personal ways,” wrote film critic Roger Ebert, “good ones get inside our skins.” Students today are growing […] Read More

Finding My Rock Star

This is a story about a shy, quiet teacher who pulled himself out of a rut and was pushed out of his comfort zone to share his passion with others. Back in 2004 I was in a ten-year rut. I was teaching from a textbook and using lessons made by others. I didn’t stand out […] Read More

Connecting Women and STEM

I saw Ayah Bdeir speak at SXSWedu in March, and I’m still not over it. Her insights and contributions to the future of STEM as the founder and CEO of LittleBits cannot be understated.  A critical component of the maker movement, LittleBits are used in classrooms and living rooms around the world to introduce kids […] Read More

We Didn’t Start The Fire

It was always burning Since the world’s been turning Meet Alex. He’s a second grader at my school who was born without eyes. He’s funny and smart and he loves music. Really loves music - of all sorts - with an encyclopedic obsession I’ve never seen in a kid before. Naturally, he and I get […] Read More

PORTS: Making California State Parks Just a Click Away

Picture this. A kayak bobs on the gentle waves in the midst of a giant kelp forest. Nearby a raft of sea otters groom themselves as they float placidly anchored in the kelp. “Why do they have such dense fur?” a student asks. “What might be the benefits of a thick fur coat in the […] Read More

Crash and Dot- A STEAMpunk Experiment

Dash and Dot Wonder arrived at my classroom in a big orange box. Excitement turned to nerves as I realized I had no idea what to do with these small robots and 30 5th graders. Not long ago CUE STEAMpunk sent me five Spheros. My class figured them out through experimentation and play and we […] Read More

CUE Live! at #CUE16

A million cool things were happening at the CUE 2016 National Conference in March. Some of those were documented here, here, and yes even here. But did you know that among all of that learning and laughing, interviews were happening? You probably did. You probably walked right by the stage where an interview was happening, turned […] Read More