Plagiarism Checker Mindshift

the pilot p-500

Just had a quick discussion with a colleague today that was one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments.  He was discussing a recent research paper he had his students working on about the causes of the American Revolution.  He had a student turn in an essay that was pretty obviously plagiarized due to the inclusion of the word “confluence” by an 8th grader.  The Great Plagiarism Mindshift began by him explaining he used the essay in class to show how easy it was to check for plagiarism.  Very informative lesson for students, though one I’m pretty sure they’ve seen in the past.

The real Mindshift occurred when he said “So after that I just posted the link on my webpage and told them it would be there for them to use themselves next time.”


If a tool like The Plagiarism Checker was great for teachers before, how much better is it now?  If a student modifies something they find enough that The Plagiarism Checker can’t find where it came from, then it’s certainly not plagiarism right?  What an amazing use of a tool ordinarily available for the purpose of “busting” students.

By the way, the site he’s using is available for free, here.


2010 Pringles Challenge

This year, my students and I are taking up the challenge of organizing the Pringles Challenge. A STEM event that asks students to design a package which will allow the safe transport of a single Pringles potato chip to another school somewhere in the US. The packages will be scored, and receive higher scores for having the smallest mass and volume to safely transport the chip. So far, 15 schools have signed on for this year’s Challenge. If you know a math, science or engineering teacher that might be interested in joining the Challenge, point them toward this site:

Sign-ups run through April 3rd, so there’s still time to get involved!

Technology Reviewers Club

Earlier today I was tossing around an idea on Twitter about having a “club” that would try out new tech tools for feasibility prior to full scale introduction to all of my students.  Part of this comes from the frustration of account creation for 100+ students when not every service is used extensively or by every student.  The other part of it comes from the reality of our school’s new proposed schedule for next year.

The Basic Idea

Kids could be pulled from throughout the building: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade.  Tools that would be used throughout the course of the year could be introduced to them.  These students would need to be somewhat tech-savvy already, prepared to reflect on the ease of use of the tool, benefits of use, negatives, and overall usefulness large scale.  Each student would start with a blog through Edublogs service.  On their blog, they would post their thoughts and reflections about using each tool.  Initially, I would be suggesting the tools that students would be using.  Some tools might be web-based, others might be open-source or otherwise available on school hardware.

The students would serve as my guinea pigs, trying out the tools from the student perspective.  They would look for pitfalls, best use scenarios, and general ideas about each tool.  When the tools are rolled out later in the year, they would serve as my “experts” to help out the new folks.  By pulling students from throughout the building, I could share ideas across all grade levels.  The amount of account creation would be minimal initially (just for the club members) so if the value isn’t there, the investment is low.

Next Steps

Some other thoughts for the “club” would be to prepare screencasts or tutorials for the use of the tools in the classroom. We could possibly set up a Google Site or a wiki where this information could be stored. This club would be a good place for quickly trying out up-and-coming web tools for communication, collaboration, and content creation.


This might be difficult to pull off as an after school club, but our school is looking at a new schedule for next year.  Our normal morning advisory time is being shifted to the end of the day. Partly to accommodate the students who leave early for sports, keeping them from missing as much class, partly to start the day with academic material, and partly for the opportunity to begin “Club Days”.  These would be weekly or bi-weekly (hasn’t been decided yet) and would be a 30 to 45 minute block of time for teachers to hold clubs during the school hours.  Many of the clubs would rotate each 9 weeks, some would be yearlong and others would run for a semester.  I think this kind of schedule is great for those students who are unable to participate in after school clubs, and ideal for the Tech Reviewers Club idea.

Is anyone out there currently doing something like this? I’d love to hear thoughts and ideas for this type of group.

Book Review: Managing the Madness

While at the NMSA09 Conference in Indianapolis, I picked up several books, one of which was Jack Berckemeyer’s Managing the Madness.  This was a quick read over the Thanksgiving break and I thought I would share a few thoughts on this one.  The book is subtitled “A Practical Guide to Middle Grades Classrooms” and that is a pretty good idea of what you’ll get from this book.

I have attended a few of Jack’s presentations in the past and will say that the non-stop humor that comes through in real life takes a bit of a hit with this book. Those of you who have also experienced Mr. Berckemeyer’s presentations will notice the near total absence of Bernice (though she does make a breif cameo appearance here and there).  While humor isn’t everything, and perhaps this was an attempt at a more “serious” endeavour, I was certainly expecting more “snicker worthy” moments in this book.

Managing the Madness, at it’s core, is as much about living and working with early adolescents as it is about teaching them.  Jack’s work with the H.E.L.P. series of pamphlets is evident throughout the writing.  The book starts off with a chapter on Engaging Adolescents providing information on group work, activities/actions that help keep early adolescents focused and excited, and ideas for dismissal.  The most interesting part though is the Developmentally Responsive Classroom checklist.  The checklist is based on the elements of This We Believe, and asks you to identify activities which match up with the characteristics of young adolescents, such as:

  • Need for Physical Activity
  • Intense Curiosity
  • Real Life Learning Opportunities/Situations
  • Dealing with Shades of Gray
  • Need to Build Positive Peer Relationships
  • Seek one-on-one time with Teacher

Along with 21 other characteristics.  Including activities to meet all 27 Characteristics would guarantee that your classroom is being developmentally responsive, and would be quite a challenge in its own right.

Jack then moves on to discuss the use of humor, trends, and showing you care.  He emphasizes the use of true humor over sarcasm, as the latter tends to bring someone down or imply that is okay.  He also advocates being aware of trends that involve early adolescents, recognizing that you’ll never be cool, but at least be aware of what they are interested in.

Chapter 3 focuses on the classrom environment.  My favorite part was the discussion of ways to tame the ever aging classroom bulletin board.  I’m notorious for changing posters only at the end of a unit. In fact, this year I mistakenly used paper that was too dark for the board, so when the first unit posters came down, the paper had faded around each of them.  Jack recommends preparing a schedule for students update the bulletin board.  Another idea that I love is that of taking photos of finished bulletin boards to share with others for help generating ideas. The chapter also includes a discussion of seating arrangements and an evaluation survey of student’s impressions of your classroom.

The fourth chapter deals with using Technology and unforunately suffers from extreme ADHD.  I’m not sure if this is an effect of not being comfortable discussing technology (the elephant in the room) or from trying to cram so much into a short chapter.  Across the 18 pages of this chapter, we get:

  • Differences in student brains and teacher brains
  • Challenges of Teaching with Technology
  • Cooperative Use of Technology
  • Educating and Holding Students Responsible For School Tech Policy
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Degradation of Spelling and Grammar
  • Phone Policy
  • Using Technology with Purpose
  • Wikipedia
  • Laptop Use
  • Facebook
  • Technology Safety
  • Impact of Social Networking…including concerns

That is an amazingly ambitious amount of information to try and cram into a very short section of the book, and effect is to make each section feel like just a teaser of the information.  Don’t get me wrong, there is excellent fodder for conversation within the chapter, but very little depth of any of the information.

From here, Jack moves into a discussion that is more focused on general ideas about working with adolescents.  He focuses on social skills and manners, dealing with adolescent power, and proactive discipline over the course of the next three chapters. The chapter on Sharing Discipline offers a five step discipline plan:

  1. Document – parent contact, anecdotal interactions, records of conduct infractions, etc
  2. Meet with Student as a Team – invite student in to discuss behavior during a team meeting
  3. Create a List of Strategies – Separate behavior issues from academic issues and address one at a time. Included are checklists for possible interventions for both academic and behavioral issues.
  4. Inform parents and admin – keep them in the loop of all that is going on
  5. Follow-up – with both student and parents as needed

Overall, Managing the Madness is a truly middle school book.  Equal parts great advice and ADHD, you get a feel that the author is a true middle school personality.  One of the best features in the book has to be the reflection questions that are posed at the end of each chapter.  These would make excellent discussion points for a full staff book study throughout the course of the school year.

Call for Presentation Help

I have recently been asked to present at NMSA’s Middle Level Essentials Conference in Las Vegas this upcoming April. I will be leading a 3 session strand on “Getting the Most Out of the Technology You Already Have”.  The sessions will be run twice, once on Thursday and again on Friday.  The focus will be on Middle School classrooms/students but there will also be a contingent coming for the 9th Grade Academy sessions, discussing how to build a transitional program from middle school to high school.

My question for you is: If you were a teacher coming to this conference, what 3 topics would you be most interested in under the strand of “Getting the Most Out of the Technology You Already Have”?

Here are some preliminary thoughts:

  • Effective Use of Tech Tools – Poll the audience on various hardware tools (IWBs, Doc. Cameras, Digital Cameras, Flip Video, etc) to find out what most have available and discuss the effective use of these tools in the classroom.
  • Harnessing the Power of the Collaborative Web – Take a look at various tools that allow for collaboration in platform independent environments. Discuss the use of tools like Wikis, Blogs, RSS, Social Bookmarking, Google Tools as a means of building collaborative and creative potential of students.
  • Technology and Differentiation – Ways to use classroom technology, both hardware and software/Web to differentiate in the Middle School classroom.  Discuss tools that allow students to display their content knowledge in a variety of formats: podcasts, Glogs, video clips, blog posts, etc.
  • Web Literacy (a la Alan November) – Though I’ll still side with Ben Grey and call it something other than Literacy (perhaps introduce a whole group the the idea of Technoracy?) I could envision a session discussing how we teach students to verify information they find on the Web, from the Tree Octopus, down to using Wikipedia as a starting point for research online, advanced Google searching, etc

Those are my initial thoughts for sessions.  I fully recognize that many of these ideas are highly ambitious within the framework of a 75 mintue session. What other things would you be intrigued in as an educator at various stages of technoracy?  I’m sure I’ll have some who are coming who aren’t yet really comfortable with these online tools, and others that are looking to push their boundaries.  I don’t yet know if my sessions will be lecture style or if participants will have computers available, though I have been told to plan what I want and NMSA will do it’s best to make things happen for the sessions.

Any and all feedback/suggestions are greatly welcome! I need to have some basic session descriptions pulled together next week, so feel free to share this post far and wide until then…

NMSA Day One Reflection

My first day at the National Middle School Association conference has been fantastic and extremely busy!  I attended two sessions, a keynote, and had two great work sessions with the MSP2 folks!

First thing, and one of the most amazing things was the number of folks I met for the first time in real life today:

  • Mary Henton
  • Bill Ivey
  • Rebecca Lawson
  • Susie Highley
  • Shawn McGirr
  • Troy Patterson
  • Eric Biederbeck
  • Tom Jenkins
  • Karolee Smiley
  • Kim Lightle
  • Jessica Fries-Gaither
  • Ross Burkhardt

I’m almost certain there were many others, but these were the primary folks I ran into throughout the day.  It was wonderful to put real faces and stories with some of these folks who I had only interacted with online in the past.  It was a special treat for me to meet Ross, who I consider one of my educational forefathers.  Ross worked with Chris Cummo at Chris’ first school, taught him many things, and in turn Chris was my cooperating teacher for student teaching 6 years ago.  Pretty amazing moment to make that connection!


The sheer number of sessions available at NMSA09 is staggering!  The program book is like a phone book, with tons of things available at each concurrent session time.  The sessions I attended today were fast paced and informative.  My first session was supposed to be about Science lessons using Understanding By Design but when I arrived the session was already full.  I quickly browsed through the book and found The Digital Facelift as an alternate session.

The Digital Facelift session started off on a positive note with an excellent analogy about the Digital Tattoo.  That one moment that you may regret the  next day but is very hard to remove later.  However, the focus of the session continued to be primarily about “scrubbing” your online image and removing the offending pieces of your Digital Footprint.  I would have preferred a focus on controlling the quality of your Footprint up front.  The final 10 minutes of the session did get to the idea that the information you Supply about yourself is the key to having a positive online image.  For me, and the presenter even mentioned this, that is the overall key to building an online presence.  For only the last 10 minutes to be spent on that aspect of Digital Identity was a shame.  This came after the presenter made the statement that while scrubbing you should remove any image that identifies you from the Internet.  Even going as far as saying you should remove albums that are uploaded to Shutterfly or Snapfish for printing purposes.  If someone is going that far out of their way to find images of you to sabotage, aren’t they going to find them no matter what? I’m still having a hard time stomaching that discussion.

My second session was a whirlwind tour of information about building positive relationships and questioning techniques.  The two topics seemed to form a bit of a disjointed presentation because while I was still trying to process the Relationships piece, I suddenly realized we had shifted topics entirely.  Mark McLeod made excellent points in both parts of the session, but a singular focus would have worked better for me.  Each part of his presentation could have easily stood on its own.  The overriding theme of the Relationships piece was that of students’ Emotional Bank Accounts.  In order to make a withdrawal you must first make enough deposits so that the account doesn’t get closed.  This metaphor was extended throughout the session, and was extremely powerful. Overall this session was as much a life lesson, as an educational one.


Daniel Pink’s keynote was a composite of information from “A Whole New Mind” and from his TED Talk on Motivation.  In fact, between the two, I felt like I had heard about 90% of the keynote already.  Of course, that did not make any of the information any less powerful, it just made it a bit of a rehash.  From the responses of the crowd, I could tell many had not read Pink’s book before and some may not have even been familiar with his ideas.  Overall the focus of the session was about 75% AWNM and the final portion was about Motivation and rewards.  Glad to know this information was taken in by a large group of folks and perhaps many more will examine the role of the Right Brain in their classrooms.

Overall, a successful first day. I’m looking forward to the sessions tomorrow and will continue to pound out blog post after blog post. Hope you can feel like you’re here without being here!

Strategies that Motivate Middle School Students

Presenter: Mark McLeod

Session Description: Student engagement is the key to learning for middle school students. This session will explore many teaching strategies and techniques that encourage students to get excited about learning. The presenter will model various strategies that can be used immediately in the classroom. Both veteran and new teachers will leave this session with many powerful, yet practical strategies to motivate today’s middle school students.


What is the #1 Quality you want in your students?

  • Positive Attitude
  • Treat Others with Respect
  • Motivated to Want to Learn

Am I treating everyone in here with the attitudes I expect?

We can’t change other people, we can only change ourselves…so make sure you do that and enjoy what you do.

No one forces anyone to have a great attitude.  It’s your choice.

Has everyone spend a few minute encouraging others…return to seats when we hear YMCA, and do YMCA together.  FUN TIMES!!

Teachers have to be willing to step out and take risks. Take ideas, tweak them to work for yourself, and take the chance to use them.

Many teachers are afraid of embarassment and failure, so they never take risks.


Kids bring enough baggage, teacher doesn’t need to bring more into the picture.  Make desposits into kids emotional bank accounts. Are we making deposits or withdrawals from our kids accounts?  These are not accounts we want closed.

You can’t change what’s in the past, so don’t let it stop you. If you’ve made too many withdrawals in the past, don’t dwell on it, just start making deposits from then on.


Developing positive relationships doesn’t just happen in the classroom, we have to do it everywhere in life so it becomes habit.

It’s not the teacher that sends students to the office, it’s the environment. Free time and inappropriate conversations happen when positive relationships aren’t established.


Students AND Adults both need deposits into their emotional bank accounts.

What are some ways to make deposits into students emotional bank accounts?

  7. STICKERS (haha)
  9. FOOD


  1. FOOD

Practice attention getting strategies in the classroom…bells, sayings, etc…don’t just tell them, actually practice it.

Students don’t know how to make deposits…we have to help teach them.

“Cha-ching” shirts…on the back “Have you made a deposit today?”

2nd Biggest Motivator: Success

Set up students for success…self-motivated students blurt out because they want the thrill of victory

Don’t worry about the blurtter-outers…they’re self-motivated and will learn anyway. Target the kids who never raise their hands and set them up for success.

#1 Questioning Technique to add Tension: Ask, Pause, Call…Tension keeps all engaged, don’t start question with “Suzy, what is…” everyone else tunes out and learning stops. Random name generators add to tension as well. This keeps kids engaged…and no one has to know for sure who’s name is pulled out if you really want to call on a particular student.

#2 Questioning Technique is “Volunteers”…This gives a bad sampling because you get the same volunteers every time.  Ask Pause Call with random name generator causes more thinking, from a larger number of students, and allows you to climb up Blooms.

#3 QuestioningTechnique: Choral Response…Have a signal when you want students to respond together, otherwise they won’t know when to start or stop.