#MakeItReal Moment Number 10

Mixed Messages

Mistakes happen all the time. I love taking the opportunity to learn from mistakes, and helping my students do the same. In fact, I’ve encouraged teachers to ONLY USE PEN on math problems! (What?!?!? Is he crazy?) You see, when students make a mistake on a math problem, I don’t want them erasing the mistake. I want them to highlight it, correct it, then move on from that point. This leaves a trail of their thinking for them to review and for me to use to help identify misconceptions in their thinking.

Here’s an example.


I really like doing this because students become self evaluators DURING their practice, not just after a test. Mistakes help us learn.

So today’s #MakeItReal Moment Number 10 comes from this picture I took while reading my 3 year old two different books from the same publishing company recently.

Is this a mistake? My immediate tendency is to jump on Hinkley Books for making a mistake. How could they do this to my young, learning child? She may be forever confused as to what a Jam Tart is now (oh the humanity).  But in Instant Relevance, I mention a time when a TV sports commentator made a comment that absolutely made no mathematical sense at all, and how when I told my students about it my classroom filled with mathematical argument and investigation instantly…just because they wanted to prove the commentator wrong. 


I also saw this article recently in my local newspaper.

An article about the need for literacy tutors, with the word “tutors” misspelled in the title. A great program, with a mixed message sent to the readers.


So my question to you is this: When you see something like these books, or the article with the misspelled title, do you let it pass by, or do you bring the mixed message into your classroom and let your students work it out? I can tell you from experience, the latter is a lot more fun. 


Share some Mistakes, or Mixed Messages you could use in your classroom with me at the #MakeItReal Hashtag on twitter!!!

Remember to use the #MakeItReal Hashtag for sharing ideas!

Connect with Denis Sheeran at Denissheeran.com

Twitter: @MathDenisNJ and

#MakeItReal Chat Every Wednesday 9:30 pm EST for 30 Minutes.

Read Instant Relevance


Powerful Partner Extension for Slides Sorter…Hide Slides!

Hide Slides Chrome Extension According to the same valid statistical survey I recently made up, everybody loves Google Slides…everybody. Being web based, it’s easy to add videos, images, items from your google drive, find templates, and take Google’s own suggestions for display themes through their Explore function. But sometimes, as …

For Those About To Rock

For Those About To Rock…

A guest post by Laura Steinbrink

I’m excited to have Laura share her experience of running with an idea, taking it to new levels, and truly modeling the #MakeItReal message. Read her post below and share your comments with us here and on twitter with the #MakeItReal hashtag. And in case you’re looking for more from Laura, her blog can be appropriately found here: Rocking The Boat

The Journey Begins

What began as a small pebble of an idea I had after reading Your School Rocks by Denis Sheeran has gathered momentum. As often happens with my ideas, they tend to have a rock slide effect on other people. One idea sparks another then another, and since I prefer to leave no stone unturned, soon my colleagues were buried under a pile of pebbles, rocks, and boulders.  So if you are planning to take the slide with me and Rock This School Year, then grab a hard hat or a helmet. Here we go.

Stand Up And Be Counted


To get the trickle of rocks started down the mountain, I emailed my superintendent and the high school and elementary principals.Then I briefly explained what Denis outlined in his blog, included his link, and explained that as communications director for the district, I proposed that our district implement the Your School Rocks project as a low tech way to get a positive message or positive association for our district out to the community and beyond.  It was a risk, but I knew it would be a good thing for our district, and luckily, my superintendent loved the idea. I got no quarry from her. (Sorry, I can’t help the puns. They just keep rolling.)

For What You Are About To Receive


My original thought was to have students paint a few rocks, and then we could spread them out across the district. My superintendent, however, had an even boulder idea. So, we recruited the high school art teacher, gathered 160 rocks from river beds (different shapes, but river rocks are smooth and easy to paint), bought some basic paint supplies, Sharpies, and we were in business.

We Are The Dealers


When our teachers, cooks, and custodians arrived for the big Back To School district staff meeting, we had two areas set up with the rocks, tables were covered and staged with flowers, paper plates with sections of paint, brushes, sponges, cups of water, and everyone was directed toward the rock stations and told to get rolling as soon as they finished eating the complimentary breakfast that the cooks provided. We had a rock-themed playlist ready, but still my stomach did nervous flips and flops as everyone trickled into the cafeteria.  The Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys might stone me for this, feeling like they had hit rock bottom, but I knew it was a great idea, so I nudged more stones and sent them bumping down the slope. Here we go.

We’ll Give You Everything You Need


Once the meeting officially started, the superintendent thanked those who already had begun painting, then turned the mic over to me. I again explained that the idea originated with Denis, and since back to school shopping expenses along with the usual complaints about school would be ramping up negative sentiment, I had an idea of how to get a fun positive message out to our district patrons. We’re painting rocks. I paused briefly expecting my project to be off to a rocky start and I was a bit petrified at the thought, but I noticed several of the faculty and staff were already painting and listening. I explained that painting rocks is a low tech way to make people smile, and when they see the school hashtag for this project, #platorvrocks, then maybe that smile will begin to associate with the school even when people aren’t holding rocks. I explained that our theme for the year was to make the positives so loud that the negatives couldn’t be heard (thanks, George Couros). I asked the staff to paint at least one rock during the morning session, and to use a Sharpie or paint the hashtag on the back side or somewhere on the rock. I instructed them to leave their rocks on the table or take them and spread them throughout the district. And so it began.

Hail Hail to the Good Times


We do plan to include students in the painting of rocks, and I spoke with our teachers about that as well, but the first day back for teachers is a rolling stone that gathers no moss . There wasn’t much time to think about it, and then our Back to School Bash / Open House was upon us. The two hours of the night flew by, and I found myself chatting with one senior boy who’s normally pretty quiet. He’s artistic and athletic, and he picked up the painted rock I had on display in my room.  Like other students and parents before him that night, he asked me about it, and I like I had done several times before, I explained my plan for our rocks.  He listened, nodded thoughtfully as he held the rock that was painted in school colors with flowers and the hashtag featured prominently. I could see his wheels turning. “Like geocaching?” he asked?  A few more pebbles dislodged and a tumble of ideas began. It could be like geocaching. What if it became a type of contest with a featured rock of the month? So I pitched it to him to gage his reaction, to see if he would cast the first stone. I like to consider my high school students as my Lame-o meters.  I have ideas, and then they declare them lame or not. He declared it not Lame-o.

‘Cause Rock Has Got the Right of Way


So now that we’ve painted rocks and will be placing them all over the district, here’s where I’m taking our project next. We will select 4 featured rocks a month, hopefully starting in September.  There will be an elementary rock, middle school rock, high school rock, and a community rock. The four rocks will be hidden somewhere inside our district, which is fairly large. To help in the search for the rocks, a clue or riddle will be provided on the Wanted Posters along with the picture of each rock. The clue will help narrow down the search to aid those looking for the rocks. This portion of our project is still under development, but we would like to incorporate some history of our town and area into the clues, and the prizes we are considering for being the first to find the target rock are low cost ones. For the community, we can offer free passes to individual ballgames or events, season passes, a tea party with the kindergartners, and other low cost ideas. We are considering offering fun things like Hat Day passes, where the recipient can wear his or her hat all day at school, or Get My Cell Phone Out of Jail Free cards, to rescue a confiscated cell phone (students can have them at school, but they cannot be using them without the teacher’s consent and then only for educational purposes). My plan is to have a Google form set up where students can suggest prizes they would like to win. After all, they know best what they would want to win after searching for the target rock.  Now we may just start with one rock, but if we have four separate target rocks, we can hang up more Wanted Posters, which will have a positive school message.  Also, the prize offered for being the first to find it can be tailored to suit the age group of the winners.   

We Ain’t No Legend, Ain’t No ‘Cause


We are at the very beginning of our Rock The School Year journey, and we may make mistakes, but we are willing to keep putting one foot in front of the other to reach our destination of making the positives so loud that the negatives can’t be heard, like the roar of rocks tumbling down the mountain.  We haven’t worked out all of the kinks, and this post is the first step to get the word out in a larger way than what we have already done in the Back to School meeting.  I shared the project with some of my classes on the second day of school, and they seemed interested. I polled the sophomores in my English classes to see if their Lame-O meter was the same as the senior’s, and it was. Surprisingly, they didn’t think it was lame either. While telling this to my partner in the Rock the School Year project, the art teacher, she had another idea.  After listening to her, my ideas began to tremor and quake even louder and stronger than before, and now the rock slide has begun.

We’re Just Livin’ for Today


Yvonne (Mrs. Reck to the students) explained her idea of sending a painted rock to various alumni and having them take pictures with the rock from the various locations where they now live and work. Rockin’ Flat Stanley to a whole new level, so to speak. As we discussed the feasibility of this, we also kicked around the idea of having them paint their own #platorvrocks, which would eliminate the need to mail anything. Also, our district is near an active military fort. We have a lot of community members who serve in the military, as well as several alumni who currently serve. What if we sent a painted rock to them with a care package and letters?  And as we tossed this idea around after school that first day with students, I had my new idea.

For Those About to Rock, We Salute You


Here’s where I need volunteers. Yes, I’m talking to you, the reader, from wherever you may be at this moment. What if we partner with each other in a committed effort to Rock the School Year, and in that effort, we do a painted rock exchange. I want to start a rock garden that features rocks from school districts all over who have joined in this rock exchange. It should be in a noticeable location on school property, where visitors in the area can enjoy the simple beauty of painted rocks. Maybe I can put a sign nearby that explains how we are all better together, that the garden represents education, educators, and students everywhere, not just those in the current population center of the United States. Yes, that’s us. A small rural town in the population center of the US, or at least we are until the next census. Just a stone’s throw away from several bigger towns. We may be small and we may be rural, but our students often come from all over. We are outside of Fort Leonard Wood, so we are used to having well traveled students from military families counted as part of our student body. While that in no makes us a diverse school, it does mean that we get a steady diet of new ideas and new people, which can be a good thing for a small town, so a #BetterTogether rock garden may be just the thing.  If it helps get more educators off of their islands to connect with the rest of us, and spreads positive feelings about our district, then we have managed to kill two birds with one stone. Look out. We Will Rock You.

Eclipsing Learning

You Forgot To #MakeItReal

Leadership can either help open the eyes of teachers and students to the learning opportunities that surround them, or they can completely cover those opportunities up and literally eclipse their potential value in a school. 

Yesterday was the Great American Total Solar Eclipse-O-Rama of 2017. You may have heard about it on the social media. In NJ, I was able to see about 75% totality, which was pretty cool. 

But I have a friend who I knew was teaching young elementary students at a school that was directly in the path of totality. She’d told me that the administration had extended dismissal that day so that kids wouldn’t be tempted to damage their eyes without proper protective gear. That’s when she got glasses for all her students so they could use the extended day to learn from the once in a lifetime eclipse experience. So I expected quite a good story when I asked her how it was going. This is what I got instead:

“They told us K-2 kids could NOT go outside.

In fact, they made classes move into interior rooms. It is BAD science. I’ve made such a noise. They wouldn’t even let teachers out. So I FINALLY convinced my admin to COME OUTSIDE AND LOOK!!! She then relented and let me relieve teachers so they could go take a peek. Can you imagine? And they even DELAYED our dismissal–but said we can’t go outside? We have had over 200 kids check out early.”

WHAT?!?!?!?! REALLY?!?!?!? 

This school’s leadership had found the only more effective way to block out the sun that day, move kids deep into the heart of a building. It’s an eclipse, not a tornado. There’s no need to seek shelter. Parents knew it, too, and took their kids out of the solar “shelter in place” drill that was going on so they could experience something interesting and unique. 

How unique? These are the pictures the teacher’s son took from nearby.
















Totality…and moon shadows. That’s right, moon shadows.

In last night’s Teach Like a Pirate chat (#tlap), Tara Martin and Tisha Richmond asked this question first.

The answers ranged from tragedies like Kennedy being shot and the Challenger, to exciting moments like class walks, planting trees, and…what do you know…watching an eclipse with their elementary class. Yesterday was a singular event, not likely to reoccur in that place for a long time. What will the students from this school remember? 

Unfortunately…not the Great American Total Solar Eclipse-O-Rama of 2017. 

As school leaders, we can do better. Put the Instant Relevance message into action. Use today’s experiences to teach tomorrow’s lessons. Open the doors to learning, don’t build up walls.


Remember to use the #MakeItReal Hashtag for sharing ideas!

Connect with Denis Sheeran at Denissheeran.com

Twitter: @MathDenisNJ and

#MakeItReal Chat Every Wednesday 9:30 pm EST for 30 Minutes.

Read Instant Relevance

Just Joy

Just Joy





That’s Danny. He’s six. We went fishing tonight for the first time this summer. We’d been meaning to go sooner, but his Disney Cars fishing pole was broken. Yesterday my wife picked up the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one, so nothing was holding us back. We left the house and walked the quarter mile from our front door to the lakefront. While we walked, Danny wondered what would would happen if it rained as we fished, or maybe if we got hit by lightning, and why there was so much gravel on the road. He even talked about how our hair is like an umbrella, and that his sisters have HUGE umbrellas!

When we got to the beach, Danny pointed out where we should set up. I reminded him how to cast the line and baited his hook for him with a little piece of hot dog (local fish favorite). After two failed attempts to cast the bait anywhere near the water, he got it out there on the third. It only took a couple seconds for his line to go under. We reeled and reeled (TMNT fishing poles have limited effectiveness) and hauled in the first catch of the day. He kept casting and kept catching, fish after fish. Every now and then he let me have a turn, too. During my turns, he ran back and forth on the grass behind us, jumping in the air making Super Mario “WooHoo!” sounds and forgetting to notice that I wasn’t catching anything.

Then, as I reeled in my first catch of the day, he said:

“Dad. I think I have just joy in my head. Not anger or sadness or fear or…what’s the green one from the movie…disgust. They’re not up there. Just joy.”

“Me too, Danny.” I said. “I have just joy, too.”

I can’t help but think about all the students coming to school soon. Do they have anger? Do they have sadness or fear or the green one? Can students who come into my classroom leave it thinking “I have just joy in my head.” Learning is joyful, happy, and exciting. Wherever I am this year, I’m going to try to spread goodness, happiness…just joy.

Wherever I am this year, I’m going to try to spread goodness, happiness…just joy.

Danny caught 10 fish tonight. He wanted to catch 11, but it did start to rain and we decided to head home. I shouldn’t have waited this long to go fishing with him, but I’m glad we went tonight. I go back to school in two days. Even so, we’re going to go fishing whenever we can, because he deserves to have Just Joy.

#MakeItReal Moment Number 9

What Would You Like To See? Back when I was in college, the glorious years of 1994 – 1998, the battle between search engine giants Yahoo!, Altavista.com, askjeeves.com and Excite.com was in full bloom, and Google was just in its infancy at the end of my college experience. I remember …

Brand New Chrome Extension for Slides!

Slides Sorter for Google Slides According to a valid statistical survey I just made up, everybody loves Google Slides…everybody. Being web based, it’s easy to add videos, images, items from your google drive, find templates, and take Google’s own suggestions for display themes through their Explore function. But sometimes, people …

Flipped Learning Game Changer: UPTIME for Youtube!

Overheard in my district:  “If I make a video for my students, then my classroom becomes 25 classrooms and they don’t talk about anything til they’re back in my classroom. What’s the point?” I get that. It’s one of the things that holds me back from embracing a fully flipped classroom …

Wonder Woman Lesson Collection

Free Wonder Woman Lesson Collection IF THAT’S ALL YOU CAME HERE FOR, SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THE POST!  I’ve been saying that a lot lately. First Fidget Spinners, now Wonder Woman! This one’s a little different. From what I’m reading, there are no School-wide Bans On Wonder Woman occurring across …