Teaching Terror: Putting 9-11 in Perspective for Primary Students #UnitedbyHope

Teaching Terror: Putting 9-11 in Perspective for Primary Students

*Adapted from an original post in 2013.

Fifteen years ago now, a horrible, terrifying event took place that will be the defining event for people of my generation. Like those before me, from Roosevelt’s death to VDay/VJday, to Kennedy and MLK, I will never forget the tragic, terrifying events that unfolded on September 11th, 2001. Like many other people the images and memories have been burned into my brain by the intensity of the emotion.  I was fortunate not to lose anyone on that day, but I know several people whose world dropped along with the steel and glass that day.  It is as important an event in American history as any our students will learn about because of how drastically it altered the landscape of the world. But ever since my first year of teaching, I have been required to teach students who were many years from being born about the significance of that day. It is difficult to imagine explaining the fear, concern, and devastation that rocked the country that day when speaking to 5 and 6 year olds the as, way I will have to explain to my daughter one day.
Five years ago  on the 10th anniversary, I finally realized what my purpose should be when teaching this tragedy to the future youth of America. The phrase “We Will Never Forget” has a lot of meanings and is a popular one for sure, but what does that really mean?  In one way it is literal, we will always remember the images, feelings, and our personal stories from that day. But what does my story teach a 5 year old?  When I thought about this, I realized that sad as it is, we have already forgotten. My story is a common one. I was in college, got a phone call early in the morning, put on the news and then watched in horror, barely believing my eyes. But, within two hours, 20 of us that lived on a hall had decided to go donate blood to help out. We went to a local hospital within walking distance. When we got there, it was so packed with people hoping to donate that the hospital closed a section to create a makeshift blood bank. So many people wanting to help was amazing. As days went on there were many stories about the heroic first responders, the heroes on Flight 93, people volunteering to dig through debris or help look for loved ones, and of course countless others like mine. Also, people felt a pride in being American that I had never seen and I can only guess hasn’t been shown since at best, the Cold War.  Politicians worked together to get necessary things done, people were generally responsive to the needs of others, and Americans banded together from one coast to the other. In short, the attacks had the exact opposite result that their perpetrators had intended. We were stronger, more unified, and more caring for one another than ever before.
Those are the lessons that we should teach our young children:  lessons of caring for each other, volunteering, and pride in the amazing nation we call the United States of America.
Fast forward 15 years and sadly it seems many of those lessons about the value of community and our great nation have dissipated. That short era of caring, community and cooperation has all but evaporated for every day life for many Americans. So as a teacher, a parent, and a member of the generation for whom 9-11 was a benchmark moment, I feel responsible for imparting on my young students those messages.
When I think of how I can best honor those who gave their lives and fight back against that kind of horrible terrorist action, the best way I can think of is to teach these children how amazing it was to be an American in the days and weeks following that horrible event. My goal every 9-11 is to try and instill my classes with a sense of hope, community, an understanding of what American spirit ought to be, to ensure that not only will we never forget, but that as a nation, our future Americans will develop in such a way that defies the terror and embraces the great potential of the people of this country.

My Journey to #TOR16


I am sorry, did I say that loud?  I have always loved creating, problem-solving and building things.  I love sharing these with kids.  Over the past few years, I have worked to develop and incorporate innovative practices in my classroom.  Last summer a friend of mine through twitter, Kory Graham (@korytellers) nominated me for the Google Innovator Academy in Colorado following ISTE2016.  As exciting as this was, I was saddened.

In the summer I work. Often five or six days a week.  Giving up an extra four days of income to stay in Colorado for the Academy was not feasible.  In all honesty, I had given up on the idea.  While at ISTE I talked to another friend, Mari Venturino (@msventurino) who would be attending COL16.  I must admit I was incredibly jealous, she was a bit nervous and extremely excited.  I left ISTE with the thought of doing more big things.  I have been doing local things for almost two years, but ISTE was the first “big” event I had the chance to attend/present.  I had heard Toronto was the next Innovator Academy, but it didn’t seem like a reality.

It was an honor to have had someone appreciate what I do enough to nominate me for the Academy.  So, this summer when I got an email from Google reminding me that as a former nominee, I was encouraged to apply for the Toronto Academy, I thought… why not?

I couldn’t attend the live hangout to talk about the application and academy.  I was at work (like most of the summer.)  I reached out to two innovators I knew, Mari, and Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur) for feedback on my application.  They were a huge help in developing my ideas and presenting them.

While all this was going on, I was about to start a new job.  Would they let me go if I got in? Would my family be ok for me to leave for 4 days in October? There were so many variables that could stop me from going.  Fast forward one week- I must have refreshed my email over a hundred times.  I checked the #tor16 to see if anyone had heard, or if there was an expected time.  The anxiety was incredible.  I thought I would be able to ignore the rush, after all, going was fairly unlikely.  Instead, I desperately checked my email over and over until the answer arrived…

YES! Now to see how this would work.  The truth is, without my wife to whom all I had to say was, “I really want to do this” and she volunteered as superwoman to make my trip possible. She will be working nights and getting my daughter to and from school for days.  Also from my parents, who are always supporting my educational growth.  My mom is possibly the best “travel agent” I know and found me a flight that costs less than the 9-hour drive and helped with my stay as well.  Finally, my school district is allowing me 3 professional days.  Me, an employee who had worked there all of 2 days when I asked them for 3 days off to go to Google.  I can say that I am truly fortunate to be attending the Google Education Innovator Academy in Toronto this October.  I plan on making the most of my opportunity to honor all of those people who helped make this a reality for me.

Lockers and Lost Things



I can’t remember the last time I opened a locker.  That is until today.  After three days of Middle School I am officially a locker jam pro.  By pro I mean I have basically opened three lockers for kids.

In my first two days I spent much of my time feeling fairly useless.  I didn’t have any students in my lab, so I ventured out to where the kids were to find them and start seeing the faces I would see every day.  The first few kids asked me for directions to their homeroom.  At that point I was still pretty lucky to find my room and the rooms of the teachers I am seeing every day.  The best I could do was point those students to another teacher down the hall.  That was a frustrating feeling.  Then later that day, I had another kid with a broken locker.  I managed to help him leave a note for his teacher to get his locker changed.

While I did find work helping lots of teachers, I felt somewhat useless for the kids on the first two days.  It was frustrating, but I was happy to have the opportunity to spend most of my day with kids the following day.

Today was fun.  I basically taught the same lesson four times to four different groups of students.  It was interesting how it was different each time.  What I loved most about my new group of students was how many of them already felt comfortable opening up some discussion.  We took a Kahoot quiz on digital citizenship, I didn’t write it, but it seemed decent.  Some of the questions unintentionally opened up an interesting discussion about safety, about sharing and reporting inappropriate content they see, and how many of them are finding friendship in online communities.  If today is any precursor to how our discussions will go in the future, I am excited that we will get some great  discussions in the future.

It wasn’t all great, there were plenty of times where they stared at me blankly trying to figure out who I was and what I was selling.  I had some log in issues, some timing issues with the largest class, and a number of things I changed from one period to the next.  I learned a lot today, and I will learn a lot more going forward for sure.

By the end of today, I felt like I had made some positive connections.  The last interaction I had with a student left me on a down feeling.  It was with a student I had started making a good connection with (at least on my end).  She was in the hall after school and told me she had to stay after.  I said, “Stay after? Already?” While I was thinking about after school activities, her response was, “I don’t have a detention or anything” and went on to explain what she was doing.  That seems harmless to most, but to me I was upset.  Her first thought was that I assumed she was in trouble.  I hope that will change.  I hope when I ask these kids what they are doing, that their first response won’t be to defend themselves from trouble, but to explain what good things they are doing.

Ultimately, I loved my first day with the kids.  I have lots to learn.  They will hopefully learn a lot about me, and in the end, I hope they start to realize: I am on their team.  Whether it’s lockers, lost things, or something more serious, my main goal is to make sure they know I will do anything I can to help them.


Finding My Beat



A new school year, a new school, a new job all started today.  Alright technically they started on Monday with new teacher orientation.  As I have mentioned before this school is significantly bigger than both my last school and any other school I have worked in before.  Today I met at least 30 people.  If I remember five of their names I am feeling successful so far.  With any building I am sure I will come across a variety of different personalities, but one recurring theme I seem to hear is that my new job is “a cake job” and that I am extremely lucky.

While I do love cake, LOVE cake, that is about as far as this analogy goes for me.  I have no idea how to do nothing, no idea how to make my job “easy”.  I have never been the type to sit back and let others do while I reap the benefit.  In my previous school I took on my challenges, attempted to make big changes, and tried to say yes to any kid or staff member who needed my help.  In a school this big, even with it split into smaller groups, I will have my work cut out for me.  I am excited about making a difference, about having the opportunity to make school better for the kids I will be working with, and teaching easier and more fun for the teachers.

I am going to continue doing, continue taking on tasks, and continue looking for ways to create a better education for kids.  Those are lofty goals for year one where EVERYTHING is new, but when everything is new it is important to fall back on what you know.