Motorcycle Moments #1

Have you ever wondered what the guy on the motorcycle next to you is thinking? Actually, we think a lot, at least this guy does. There's no music to listen to or books to read. So we think. I call these motorcycle moments; streams of consciousness that shed insight or humor on life. I have so many I thought I'd start recording them.

I think there's a lot of truth to the saying "Nice guys finish last." Maybe it's just because I'm going on a few hours of sleep a night, but it seems true to me. I don't know how to be any other way than what I am, yet I still feel in "last place" sometimes. As I was at the stoplight of Sand Lake & Turkey Lake I found myself thinking of this. By the time the light changed and I began to roll my bike onto I4, I had extended this thought to "Maybe nice guys do finish last. We're just hoping to find a nice girl before the race is over."

Stuart's Samurai - Friday 9/29/06

Today we took our final test from the "Give it All You've Got" theme (Mae Jemison). Both this and the spelling tests look good from the initial tests I've graded. I'm happy to report that performance on the vocab section was greatly improved over last test. On Monday we'll share strategies for improving performance on the essay questions. I am pleased with the amount of detail that is being included. The next improvement is to begin with a topic sentence.

For example: "Describe Mae Jemison's scientific duties during the voyage of the space shuttle Endeavor. Use story details in your answer." A suggested way to begin would be "On the Endeavor, Mae Jemison was a mission specialist astronaut who was in charge of important scientific experiments during the voyage." THEN include the details. Most students began their writing with the details.

In small groups we'll continue to work on individual skill weaknesses. I've identified these based on last Monday's assessment. It's very exciting to see the fire in their eyes when I sit down with them and tell them "You succeeded on 79% of the test. You failed on 21% of the test. These are the skills that are holding you back (i.e. author's purpose, context clues, compare and contrast). You are weak in these areas. We are going to attack these areas of weakness today, tomorrow and however long it takes until YOU ARE NO LONGER WEAK at this skill. You will become more than you are today!"

It warms my heart to see your child believe in themselves and truly begin to Dream Big about their own possibilities. Two students have already told me they feel unstoppable; that they really believe they can do and be anything they want. So 2 down, 19 to go. After they are 100% confident in themselves, the other part of the equation is being able to actually be anything they want. And that takes a whole lot of Doing Big. Identifying and overcoming weak skill areas is critical.

I was very pleased to hand back the test results from earlier in the week. The class average was 88% which is a BIG improvement over the beginning of the year results. I feel (hope) that this is a direct result of students taking their own abilities more seriously and holding themselves to a higher standard.

The History on Parade project is in full swing. I haven't been too successful communicating one point with your kids so see if you can do any better. The PowerPoint template has already been made. This part is worth a whopping 5 points. The content, or meat of their project is what they should be working on, as it is worth 55 points. Why they ignore me and continue to work on the format of their slides versus the content?........I don't know :-) (See "Why....I Don't Know" if you haven't already.)

In preparation for Wednesday's Unit 3 test, study guides were handed out to do over the weekend. It's very important that they identify what they know and don't know. On the parts they don't know they need to try and figure it out. In class we'll go over the answers and then I'll pull them in small skill groups. This helps me understand why they don't know how to do certain problems (examining their recognition brain network).

Once I "recognize" this with my recognition brain network, I can then teach them strategies for their strategic brain network. If they can't recognize a solution to a problem they can't develop a strategy for solving it. You can begin this process at home by asking them why they tried to solve a problem a certain way. This helps develop their reasoning skills at the same time. It may help to do what we do in class. "I don't know" means "I'm not thinking", which isn't allowed in the Mr. Stuart's Mental Giant Gym. Encourage her or him to justify their claim (answer). Email me with any findings or possibilities.

We had a guided inquiry lab experiment making recycled paper. As you can see from the pictures, they had a lot of fun.

Even though it looks like they were playing and not learning, they were both playing and learning. I refuse to believe that high learning cannot be combined with high fun. Work needs to be balanced with play. And as hard as I expect them to work, I feel responsible to make it as fun and enthusiastic as possible. In this way I hope they discover that learning can be fun.

That also goes for us as parents. I provided an additional study guide for their Chapter 10 test on Monday. Hopefully helping your child prepare will be less stressful and more fun. Have a great weekend.


Impossible Dreams

Sometimes dreams do come true. The bigger the dream, the bigger the "do" it takes to make it come true. After class average test scores of 64% and 72% at the beginning of this year, I told my students that I was not happy with my teaching and their performance unless the class average was an "A". I wish I had a picture of the looks they gave me. Their eyes told me I was crazy. My eyes told them it was time to get to work.

We went back to our class rules of "Dream Big, Do Big, and Be Big". In order to be bigger we had to dream so big that we believed in the "impossible". Then we had to follow it up with massive, massive action. Every morning they came in and wrote down their learning objectives based on academic weaknesses. Lessons became more individualized to turn these into strengths. The battle cry to "Change Your Life in 24 Hours" rang out in the room every day.

This week the class average was 98% on their reading test, an "A". Together we have accomplished the "impossible" in just six weeks. We gave ourselves a rousing round of applause after I told them it usually takes my classes 6 months to accomplish this "A" average.

This morning I found a story I had written about my middle school Spanish class 6 years ago. They too accomplished an "A" average. It took the entire year. This year's class is proof that Impossible Dreams ARE POSSIBLE in Impossibly Short Times by Impossibly Doing Big.

All great realities throughout history were born from impossible dreams. I now know 22 students who have what it takes to become 22 great historical figures, and I think they know it too.

It's time to take my son to his baseball game so I'll have to publish the story about my middle school class later. Also, Iszabella wants Daddy to write another poem about her so be on the look out for that. :-) (see "Kisses in the Air" for her first one - July Archives)

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible." - Walt Disney

Thank you Kieran Scholes for giving me the book "Dream Big" where this quote came from. Although your family is moving away, your impact as a great student and great person will keep you here in our hearts. I'm still your teacher should you ever need me.


You Have to Lose to Win

"We can be very successful despite the fact we are destined to lose some games in life's season. The best professional football team will lose about three games before winning the Super Bowl. The best professional basketball team will taste defeat about twenty times. These teams are the best...even though they lose a few games. You can be like them. Be prepared, play hard, and play every game to win. Learn from the inevitable losses and go on to a successful life season."

A good friend of mine sent this to me this week. Thanks TJ. The timing was perfect. Yesterday I passed back tests and immediately some students who didn't do as well as they wanted started having stomach aches. "Eustress", the good kind that pushes you to do well, was replaced by distress. We all are familiar with this stress. It gives us stomach aches that turn into ulcers.

"If you guys don't stop yelling, you'll give me an ulcer!"

"There's been so much stress at work lately, I'm sure I'll get an ulcer."

"Don't worry so much. Do you want an ulcer?"

According to doctors, about one in ten people in the United States will get an ulcer at some time during their lives. And it's starting earlier and earlier in life. With the pressure to do well in school (and on the state assessment tests) it's easy to see how this happens. Some experts say Kindergarten is the only grade left where children are truly educated as they are allowed to learn by natural discovery and enjoyment. In first grade the countdown to state testing begins. "Look, if you don't learn this now you'll get behind in 2nd. If you're still behind in 3rd you won't do well on the state assessment (FCAT in Florida). If you don't do well on 'The Test' YOU'LL BE HELD BACK."

No wonder our kids are stressed! Is it true that we have stopped educating our children and started "schooling" them? Are we trying to pour the required state-assessed knowledge into their heads instead of pulling their knowledge out by letting them learn by inquiry, guiding them to discover concepts on their own? Are we not allowing true comprehension of the lessons being taught? Are we stressing our kids out? Do you feel stressed? I do.

So what can be done if we and our children are feeling stressed out? My main goal is that every one of my students walks out my door feeling unstoppable; not feel like they need to go to the clinic. I think one way is to pay attention to where our energy is going when we don't succeed. Is it going into worry? Is it going into beating ourselves up for not being perfect?

We know this doesn't do any good and we should stop. But how? Maybe it's by letting ourselves and our children know it's O.K. to mess up sometimes. If the best teams and the most successful people lose sometimes then we have to allow ourselves to do the same. Michael Jordan said he made more baskets than anyone else because he missed more than anyone else. The lesson is keep trying by attacking our weaknesses, and not ourselves.

This involves holding ourselves to a higher standard. In order to be successful, or BE BIG, we must DO BIG in not beating up ourselves up to the point where our stomachs hurt. When we do this we lose confidence in ourselves and begin to feel overwhelmed. This only leads to inaction at best and negative, destructive actions at worst. And we lose our ability to DREAM BIG and believe in our ability to do better.

But isn't it important to do well on tests, proving that we do know what we're supposed to know? And if it's not O.K. to not know what we should, how can this be accomplished without giving ourselves and others an ulcer in the process?

Answers to our problems are all around us when we look to see where others are doing better than we are. Someone who does this quite well is the coach of the number one ranked team in college football, The Ohio State Buckeyes. Jim Tressel has a winning percentage of .800.

This week he mentioned that the Buckeyes must be better in November than they are now in September. The way to do this without stressing out the players is to take it one game at a time, one step at a time.

Whether you like the team or not (and how could you not? :-), you have to admit Tressel is a great manager of people and players. He gets them to perform at their best under pressure. To paraphrase him again, he said it's inherent for people to deal with adversity. It's more difficult for people to handle success without succumbing to the pressure.

For the past three years I have been teaching in "Title 1" schools (economically disadvantaged). My battle cry to the students has been "Change your lives in 24 hrs!" One year I had a class made up of the poorest performing students in the entire 5th grade. They asked me to get the other kids in the school to stop calling them the "low class". I said "Why? You are the lowest performing class. I'm glad it bothers you. It means you have pride. So let's stop being the low class." (see the July archives for "The Winners of Washington Shores")

The only problem with this is that it produced stress. For many of them their test scores became important to them for the first time. The way to handle this was to get them to focus on taking one step at a time by working on one skill at a time. "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu

As with my daughter Cristina, (see "Keeping a Promise") she knew how to do 2 out of 36 problems on her math test and didn't know how to do 34. She had many more losses than successes. But the most important thing to communicate is that she is not a failure, but her math skills are failing. By focusing on and attacking her weakness, and not her, she went on to earn "A's" (see "Mind Training - Part 2").

I now teach at my children's school. Since they live with their mother, I get to see them everyday. This is an "A" school where students are used to success. Not getting an "A" on a test produces the same distress.

So if we find ourselves stressing out over failures, look to see where we are failing and not look at ourselves as failures. It helps when we're surrounded by people who believe in us and see us as our best selves. Step by step, one skill at a time, one thousand miles can be travelled.


Mind Training - Part 2

This is a continuation of an earlier post called "Mind Training" (click on ARCHIVES: August 2006). I'm having my son check his answers and encouraging him to focus on finding the ones he's missed versus the ones he got right. Then he needs to figure out why he got them wrong and learn how to get them right.

It's like going to the gym and only lifting the easy weights; the ones you know you can. It's the same with school. If students only focus on what they got right, they're really only focusing on the ones they know they can do. It is important to focus on the positive, or what you do know, in order to build confidence. And it is equally crucial to improve upon the negative, or what you don't know, in order to get stronger, smarter, and better.

Last year I had a student who would stop me at least once every math class and say "Mr. Stuart, wait a minute. That's the one I don't understand." He was a top-level math student and it's easy to understand why. He didn't say "I know most of this stuff, I don't need to learn anything" (well, because I wouldn't let him). He knew that although he received "A's" and earned test scores of 90% plus, he had to focus on the 10% he didn't know (well, I kinda made him). So he focused on the stuff that was hard, or "heavy" to understand for him, practicing the maxim "Even the smallest leak can sink the biggest ship", attributed to Thomas Jefferson,

or Thomas Edison maybe,


it could have been Thomas Thumb. I do know somebody named Thomas said it, I think.

But the point is the same. Even when you know only 10% of what you're supposed to (i.e. flunking a test) the same principle applies. It's just that the leaks are a lot larger and need to be fixed a lot sooner. I came home once to find my daughter flooding our home with her tears because she got 2 out of 36 right on her math test (that's 06% correct for those of you wondering). She was sobbing uncontrollably so to break her pattern I threw the papers down on the tile floor, making a loud "SMACK" sound. She immediately stopped and stared up at me with her big brown eyes.

I then asked her in a soft voice why she was crying. She told me it was because she didn't know anything and that....sob.....can't..sob..get this...sob...stuff...and..sob..sob...sob. I bent down and put one hand on her shoulder and lifted her chin with the other so she could see my eyes. "Yes you do." I told her. "You do know how to do two. Now all you have to do is learn how to do three. Let's go to the table and figure it out."

By focusing first on the positive, then attacking the negative, she went from getting "F's" to "A's" in a matter of 2 months. Her first year in middle school her name was on the whiteboard as a challenge to anyone who could get a higher score than she did.

And it all came from focusing on what she didn't know, not all at once, but one thing at a time. Both the body and mind grow from "weight" that is just heavy enough to make us struggle and....when we absolutley will struggle with it until we succeed in "lifting" it.

Maybe we can use the same principle as adults. Perhaps it's because we so much want others to tell us we're OK that sometimes we only focus on what we're doing right and not on what we could do better. In fact, it's so much easier to focus on what others are doing wrong or how we're not so bad by focusing on the their faults (this has to be the reason for the popularity of shows like Jerry Springer).

In either case, we, who we are, does not improve. What we eventually become is nowhere near the person we dreamt of becoming. We don't "Become Big" because we stopped "Dreaming Big" and believed others who don't believe in us. We stopped "Doing Big" by not focusing on how much better we could become than we are and looking inside to make the hard changes within. We dishonor ourselves and allow others to do the same.

Emerson's words from the grave call out to us: "Things don't change; we change."

Fire up those big dreams of your best self. Hunger again for opportunities to see where you are wrong and where you can get better.

Respect yourself enough to demand only the best from yourself. Allow no one into your life who dishonors you by doubting who you are and who you want to become. And little by little, making small improvements every day, you do become who you were meant to be, as big and amazing as the rising sun. Why else would you be here?

To read more about the powerful effects when two people believe in and honor each other, go to the July Archives and scroll down to "Keeping a Promise". You'll see that just "loving" someone doesn't determine whether you are in another's life for a reason, season or lifetime. Loving intention and strong loving thoughts determine this. This is Sensational Living in action.


Why..........I Don't Know

If it weren't for Bill Cosby's book "Fatherhood", my children would have driven me crazy long ago. Why they do what they do sometimes is a mystery. You tell them to do something or not to do something and they do the complete opposite. In his book, Cosby tells his child not to touch his drink and as soon as his back is turned, the child touches his drink. When he asks his daughter why she touched his drink, she says "I don't know". If Cosby, the ultimate father, had this problem, then maybe mine isn't so bad.

I too, after asking them to take a shower, have to ask some of them to turn on the water or they will just wonder around the tub. If they do use water I have to remind them to use soap, as I just had to with Sofia. If they use soap I have to ask them to dry off with a towel and not run around "naked as a jay bird" trying to air dry, as Sofia is doing at this exact moment. And if the jaybird is in fact covered in feathers, why is it called naked then? ...... "I don't know".

It doesn't happen that often. Usually I say things once and my children do it, and life in the Stuart House is filled with happiness and laughter. However, in these past two weeks I have been challenged with a couple "Why did you do this?" doozies. Outrageous stories have been told and incredulous things done that test a parent's patience to react with love and with a communication of "you are better than this" response. The answer when asked why they did these things......"I don't know".

My "other children" who are under my care for 7 hours a day, are also on my mind. We are now halfway through the first quarter of school and after a wonderful turnout for Open House, I went to bed wondering why some of them are still doing some of the things they do (talking out, not writing down assignments, coming in to class and not getting to work right away). My answer when I woke up this morning? ........"I don't know".".

And it hit me, there's a lot I don't know. And maybe by realizing this it might help me relate better to the "small ones" in my life and actually help them figure out their "I don't knows". But then again, maybe not. It appears I have a long way to go myself.

- Why does my brother send the same text message 3x in a row, as he is doing right now?
- Why do we sing "Take me out to the ballgame" when we're already there?
- Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are getting weak?
- Why do banks charge a fee on "insufficient funds" when they know there is not enough?
- Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
- Why doesn't glue stick to the bottle?
-If nothing sticks to teflon, how does it stick to the pan?
- Why do they use sterilized needles for death by lethal injection?
- Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?
- Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a gun at him?
- Whose idea was it to put an "S" in the word "lisp"?
- If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?
- Why is it that no matter what color bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?
- Why is it there is never a day that mattresses are not on sale?
- Why do people keep running over a string a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance?
- In winter why do we try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when we complained about the heat?
- Why is shooting 'under par' acceptable in golf, while failure in anything else is considered sub-par?
- Why did Japan's kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
- What would a chair look like, if your knees bent the other way?
- If you're in a vehicle going the speed of light, what happens when you turn on the headlights?
- Why do we park in driveways and drive on parkways?
- Why can't you tickle yourself?
- If dogs are color blind, how do guide dogs know when to stop or go at a traffic light? I know... training; but still.

The answer to all of these.........."I DON'T KNOW!"".

If you have any of your own, "Why....I don't know" questions, feel free to click on "comments" and add them. I hope your day is made as happier by this as was mine.

Oh, one final "why"...Why do people think Texas will beat Ohio State tonight?....I don't know! Go Buckeyes!!!!!".


Singin' in the Rain

I was serenaded this morning by an angel. As she sang this song to me, I felt covered in sunshine. My own real-life angel, my four-year-old Sofia, sent to me from the heavens. It's funny how our own children seem to be in our lives for a reason, as if they were hand-picked just for us.

With the divorce rate at 50%, it's no exaggeration that many of us find partners that choose to be hurricanes rather than sunshine, whether they mean to or not. And as destructive as this can be and often is, our angels are here to help us get up, heal, and be alive, while we still are.

Just as my son enlightened me while playing in the rain (see "Rain, Rain, Go Away?"), my daughter's singing counseled me to appreciate the rain, and to use it to become invincible. And like Gene Kelly did in the movie; to smile, dance, rejoice, and feel the rejuvenating and strengthening love someone has for me, my little angel, my Sofia.

"Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you've never been hurt, and live like it's heaven on Earth." - Mark Twain

When the song in the movie "Good Morning" comes on, Iszabella turns the futon onto a stage and dances on top of it while Brosden and I tap dance around her.

Sofia, my "angel", likes to play the part of the villian. She likes the "Yes, Yess, Yessss. No, Noo, Nooooooo" part. If you've seen the movie you'll understand, and laugh.

Thanks to Sofia's serenade I spent the rest of the morning listening to Frank Sinatra's love songs and writing this tribute to the little angels in all of our lives. Below are the lyrics to this wonderful song that gives hope to the romantics.

Singin' in the Rain

"Doo-dee-dee-doo, doo-doo-doo, dee-dee-dee,
doo-doo-dah-dee, dah-dah-dah, dee-dee

I'm singin' in the rain.
Just singin' in the rain.
What a glorious feeling.
I'm happy again.

I'm laughin' at clouds.
So dark up above.
The sun's in my heart
and I'm ready for love.

Let the stormy clouds chase,
everyone from the place.
Come on with the rain,
I've a smile on my face.

I walk down the lane,
with a happy refrain.
Just singin'
in the rain.

Dancin' in the rain,
I'm happy again.

I'm singin',
and dancin',
in the rain.

I'm dancin',
and singin',
in the rain."