Should you shop on Black Friday?

Black Friday
Reuters photo from 2014

With Black Friday only one week away, should you venture to the stores, looking for the best deals? Consider the origins of Black Friday and the economics behind the day before heading out. Podcasts below are brought to you by International Baccalaureate Economics students from the Downingtown STEM Academy, the number one ranked high school in Pennsylvania.

A Review of Year Zero: A History of 1945

Image“An astonishing global history of the pivotal year 1945 as a new world emerged from the ruins of World War II.”

Many approaches exist to teaching World War II. The International Baccalaureate (IB) History of the Americas course approaches World War II through its causes, practices, and effects. Doing so, students in the IB History course receive a global view of World War II. This approach is still heavily focused on the military history of the war. Much like the results of World War I causing many global conflict, including World War II, the results of World War II are still impacting the world today. Unfortunately, these results are often overlooked. Teachers and students are too quick to move onto the next topic that the results are simplified.

For this reason, I picked up Ian Buruma’s book, Year Zero: A History of 1945. I hoped I could recommend it to my students as a supplement to understanding the results of World War II while providing me context for better teaching about the war. Buruma’s book is set up in three thematic sections: Liberation Complex, Clearing the Rubble, and Never Again. Within each theme, Buruma examines different regions around the world in 1945. He provides some context for his investigation outside of 1945, but he holds true to his sole focus of 1945. Topics detailed include: retribution of the victors; postwar war crimes trials internationally; the relationship between the USA and USSR that led to the Cold War, with some mention of the Potsdam and Yalta Conferences, the transfer of power in Germany, Japan, France, China, Indonesia, Philippines, and Great Britain in 1945; and some mention of displaced persons worldwide.

Buruma’s book provides clear connection between World War II and the origins of the Cold War, the conflict in Korea, General MacArthur’s career, the second half of the Chinese Civil War, and the Vietnamese conflict in French Indochina. These connections, in particular, are lacking in many histories of World War Two; these are the connections necessary for students of modern world history. Buruma details them very well. I particularly appreciate the last chapter of his book, One World, in which he examines the origins of the United Nations. In this he calls for the need of a global security organization while questioning whether one can be successful. This parallels nicely with Henry Kissinger’s critique of collective security in Diplomacy.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Buruma’s book. It is a quick read, even for someone taking notes. I recommend the book for teachers and very mature readers studying the end of World War Two. The global connectedness of this book make it very applicable as a complement to studying World War Two as a topic for IB History of the Americas. Year Zero includes very graphic detail in the chapters on retribution, which make me hesitate to recommend this book for younger readers. This detail should not be ignored, but as a teacher, I would be more discreet with the detail.

Ian Buruma’s Year Zero: A History of 1945 is an important read for anyone who wishes to understand the full implications of World War Two on the next seventy years.


Your Last Days of School

If you are a K-12 teacher or student, you know what time of year it is. Post-Memorial Day… beginning of June… the end of the school year quickly approaching. Education in the United States is one of the most bizarrely cyclical institutions. Ten months ago we were ending the summer and getting ready for our first days back at school. This cycle is nearly complete, and now many of us are getting ready for our last days of school. It is very easy to slowly march to the end of the school year, but I would like to suggest the last days of school are as important as the first. The last days say a lot about your character, and how you view your role in K-12 education. The last days of school present the last opportunities to leave an impression on students. If you sluff across the finish line, it sends a message. In my ten years of teaching, nothing bothers me more than teachers and students who end the school year with a whimper.

From my ten years of observation and practice, I’ve tried to live by the following simple guidelines for the end of the school year.

Never ignore what is most important. No matter what calendar day it is, teachers and administrators come to school, every day, to serve the students. The last days of school are just as important as the first days. Greet all students (not just the ones you know) with a smile and a hello. Spend all your extra time in the hallways between classes. Greet students with a personal welcome when they come into your class. Students are why our jobs exist. They are the most important, every day of the year.

Don’t quit. In many states, high schools now offer end of course assessments. In Pennsylvania we call these Keystone Exams, in New York, they are the Regents Exams. Add to these exams the Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate exams, much of our required coursework ends before the end of the school year. Do not quit! I have yet to meet a teacher who got his or her degree to help students simply master a test. Sprint through the finish line. Use the “extra” time you have after the state, national, or international requirements conclude to do something extraordinary. Consider changing how students look at school. Let them create. Last year, I invited Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) to my school to inspire this student genius. We are challenging more students in varied and different ways with her return this year. I couldn’t be more excited. Simply because our content is done does not mean students should stop learning.

Reflect and share. Since teachers do not have a next unit to teach immediately, we must reflect on our school year. Because we will have a lengthy break before beginning our work again, we should record what worked and did not work this year. After you reflect, you must share. If you have the time, sit with a colleague who teaches the same subject to share your reflections. If you have more time, share with someone outside your discipline. Both experiences will enrich your practice. Determine how you can make your next school year better. If you feel comfortable, place your reflection online for others to read, critique, and praise. I will post mine this month.

Set goals- aim high. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Make plans for the summer months and the upcoming school year. Keep it simple; make sure you can do it. I suggest making three important goals for the summer. Use your time to refresh, recharge, and reinvent your practice. Again, I encourage you to share your reflections and goals. I am twenty calendar days away from the end of my school year, so I have plenty to do before I reflect.

Finally, when I graduated high school, my principal put these final words on our graduation video. I share them with you here, as they are a good reminder that what we do in school isn’t the most important lesson our students must learn. Happy summer!


Your Last Lesson from Justin Staub on Vimeo.

Ideas for Managing Teacher Workflow

Our lives are… BUSY! Whether you are a teacher, student, office worker, lab technician, artist, or general savant, we live in a digital world; if you are like me, your digital world is messy. Me? I have multiple cloud accounts spread across multiple services. I am active on social media. I have several email accounts. And, I would rather still take notes on paper. Some days, life feels very messy! In a recent Twitter chat (#edtechchat– Monday evenings at 8-9PM Eastern), we discussed how to manage this workflow. I began investigating some options in the past week, and I am proud to report on some success.

1. Managing e-mail. At last check, I have four very active email accounts, and a fifth as a throw-away when I sign up for free stuff. One person cannot manage all the data! One account is a work email from my school. Two others are Gmail accounts set up for Google Drive access. Both of those are active, but I never check them. Technically, those are both school-based accounts that I use primarily with students. I have a third Gmail account for personal use. My last account, as I said, is an older Hotmail account with no contacts or personal data, because a few years ago it was hacked. I still keep it around to collect my unsolicited email. To manage these accounts, I prefer to use the built-in email forwarding features common in most accounts. I mirror both of my work-related Gmail accounts to my work-provided email. If a student emails any of these addresses, all the mail funnels to one account. I have this work account and my personal Gmail account all funnel into my iPad, and I routinely sift through and manage my email on this device. My older Hotmail account is attached to nothing, but it allows me a level of security against unwanted email.

2. Cloud-based storage. I love Google Drive. I use the account to create and share digital files with my students. I have two accounts so I can separate my course content into separate parcels. It also affords a bit more storage! I recently used my old Hotmail account to access Microsoft’s SkyDrive. I have been tinkering with some SkyDrive-based syncing options on my iPad to improve my workflow. But, sometimes I forget where everything goes. For that, I have recently been introduced to the iOS app Cloud Browser. With this app, you can sync your cloud-based files to your iOS device and share to different users. The Google Drive iOS app is frustrating because those of us with multiple accounts cannot access multiple drives at once. Cloud Browser makes this possible.

3. Note-taking. Teachers take notes. I find many of my notes are still on paper. I write more quickly than I type on a device, and I believe electronic devices alter the conversations you have with others. I always carry a Field Notes brand notebook in my pocket. Aside from the plethora of useful features, I like that Field Notes brand products are still made in the United States. But, workflow from a paper notebook is difficult if you don’t carry it with you. Or, so you thought. I was recently introduced to Evernote’s fantastic ability to search for text within an image. Rather than keep my notes in a stand-alone notebook, I now take a picture of my notes and load them to Evernote. I’ve just started this process, but it has already been a lifesaver. In addition, Evernote allows me to schedule notes to address later; if I need to remind myself to attend to an item at home, I can do that very easily.

4. If this, then that. I’m not completely sold on If This, Then That, a website which allows you to create simple “recipes” to bring together your data. I use two “pre-made” recipes now: one sends me an email of the top ten news items I should know about each day, the second records all of my favorited Tweets to my Evernote notebook. Neither of these features are game-changers for me, but IFTTT is worth investigating when bring together your workflow chaos!

Honorable Mention- iCloud. I have not used iCloud much for more than syncing my personal “home” life; mostly pictures and music. However, Apple’s iCloud allows online creation and sharing of documents among peers like Google Drive does. Apple’s recent improvements have made iCloud better, but for efficiency, Apple cannot beat Google. What I do love about Apple’s iCloud is the appearance. The Keynote presentations and the Pages document templates are design-oriented while the Google Drive suite are more efficiency and collaboration-driven. So, I have begun working more in iCloud, but it is still not the greatest program for a connected lifestyle.

As I said when I began, I have data everywhere, in both digital and print format. Hopefully some of these tips give you more ideas to try in your classroom. Good luck!

Planning for Disruption

Educational technology has progressed rapidly in the past ten years, however many classrooms, curricula, and state requirements have not budged. This movement of educational technology has started the ripples of a disruptive force to change K-12 education. With high speed internet, bring-your-own-device, and 1:1 programs in schools, blended and online learning environments are poised to disrupt traditional education. Educators can already see the impact this advancement of technology is having on higher education with the MOOC movement. With careful planning and implementation, the blended and online learning technologies are ready to transform K-12 education.

In their 2008 book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovations will Change the Way the World Learns, Christensen, Horn, and Johnson examine the force of disruptive innovations in education. They note that traditional schools are built around a structure that promotes standardization, while learning is personal and individual. Citing Howard Gardner’s work with multiple intelligences, the authors conclude students will learn best in school systems designed to support multiple intelligences, and computer-based learning is the best opportunity for schools to differentiate learning for students with multiple learning styles. Christensen, Horn, and Johnson believe traditional schools are ready for disruption, and they provide evidence to support their claim that by 2019 more than 50% of high school courses will be delivered with online content. This disruption of traditional learning is more visible through the growth of online learning in higher education.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Douglas Belkin (@dougbelkin) questions the relationship of Massively-Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and traditional universities. Through a conversation with three university representatives, Belkin concludes MOOCs complement traditional university coursework, but MOOCs alone will not replace traditional university learning. MOOCs do have the ability to reach millions of learners, but critics of MOOCs are quick to argue few of these learners complete the coursework. MOOCs, and online learning, can be impersonal. Educational researcher Katy Jordan (@katy_jordan) has studied MOOC participation and completion, finding MOOCs enroll around 20,000 learners per course with an average completion rate of 13%. This means 2,600 learners per course complete a free and open class they otherwise would have not attended. So yes, learners drop out of MOOCs, but the MOOC disruption in education also opens access for new learners. As the costs of colleges rise, MOOCs are poised to impact the structure of traditional university learning, opening new avenues for learning. K-12 organizations must prepare for online education to disrupt the traditional system of education, pushing for a more personalized and individual approach to education. In the next five years, a majority of K-12 learning may be delivered online. Administrators and educational leaders must encourage new innovations like online learning, or K-12 education will continue to support a standardized, rigid, and impersonal learning environment.

The foray into blended or online learning does not need to be a step into the unknown for school organizations; a technology integration plan that includes coaching and peer-sharing will lead to success. When planned and implemented appropriately, new technologies like online learning will be very effective. A key part of this implementation plan requires support for teachers. My doctoral research study examined the correlation between teacher training and teacher use of laptops as my district began its first 1:1 laptop program. I found large-group, sporadic, and one-size-fits-all training does not lead to successful implementation of technology. An approach that focuses on coaching and peer-group collaboration will better results. Gene Hall, co-founder of the Concerns-Based Adoption Model, explains that teachers need a supportive coach to lead them through a differentiated learning path based on their familiarity and use of technology. Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, also pointed out while individuals can learn from a screen, sharing ideas in person leads to greater opportunities for innovation. Implementation of any new idea, but specifically blended and online courses, will be more successful if coaching and peer-group collaboration are used to differentiate instruction.

Traditional K-12 school leaders face many challenges. Many forces, like the recent emphasis on standardization and the exponential growth of technology, have primed K-12 organizations for disruption. Carefully planned and supported, though, this disruption can positively transform education to promote more personalized and individual learning.

Belkin, D. (2014, May 11). Can MOOCs and universities co-exist? Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from

Christensen, C. M., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C. W. (2008). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hall, G. E. (2010). Technology’s Achilles heel: Achieving high-quality implementation. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 43(3), 231-263.

Jordan, K. (n.d.). MOOC Completion Rates: The Data. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from

Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine: How creativity works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Staub, J. H. (2013). Teacher training and teacher use of laptops in a 1:1 laptop program: A correlational study (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Phoenix. Retrieved May 15, 2014, from

Hard work pays off.

Today Pennsylvania released its updated information for the School Performance Profile, scoring secondary schools across the state. The top performing school was the Downingtown STEM Academy, my school!

I wouldn’t trade my job for any teaching job. Period. That does not mean my job is easy. On the contrary, I am blessed to work hard for hard-working students, devoted teachers, and a very supportive community of invested stakeholders. No day is easy; every day is spectacular. I’ve shared these thoughts before, but now we have state-wide recognition for our work. [A Dream Job: Teaching at the Downingtown STEM Academy; Project-Based Learning at the Downingtown STEM Academy; and An Age of Mass Connectivity.]

Today’s announcement only validates that hard work pays off; our motto “Effort Creates Intelligence,” pays off. Students have been working hard for the past three years, so have teachers. Our school has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School every year we have been open. Students are continually recognized in regional and national competitions in academics and extracurriculars. Our students are being asked to speak at national conferences on the state of education. Our students are continually presented opportunities beyond comparison. Our students are engaged and want to come to school. All these factors make the school I work in the best school in the state; quantitatively and qualitatively.

Thank you to the administrative team and community for saying yes to such a bold endeavor. Thank you, students, for showing up every day willing to take a risk and work harder than you would have to elsewhere. Thank you to my colleagues for constantly inspiring students and fellow teachers to achieve at our highest potential.



The biggest lesson I have learned in the past year is saying yes. In January I read Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, in which he includes many tips on how to sell ideas and build communities of support for your ideas. One such tip is, when in conversation, do not say “no.” Rather, if you are not in complete agreement with an idea, say “yes, and…” Then, support this idea with ways you believe it could be better. This tip isn’t new, but Pink’s inclusion of it in his book on selling ideas inspired me to think about how often I say yes in my life. I yearn for people to think of me as open-minded, innovative, creative, and easy to work with, but I found I like to say no. I like to be in control. Saying yes opens you to new ideas, which in turn makes you vulnerable to the unknown. If you only operate within what you know, you will never experience growth, innovation, and creativity. You will be stuck in the system surrounding you, whether that be your job, your relationships, or your faith. Practice saying yes.

My journey saying yes led me to a risk, a new surrounding, an education “unconference” called EdCamp. This particular EdCamp was held in Philadelphia. At this conference, I ran into hundreds of educators, who all occupied a similar spectrum- yearning to change education but unsure how. Many of these educators wanted change but were not yet comfortable with the vulnerability that comes with change and saying yes. The first event I attended at this conference was with Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers), whose passion-fueled belief in education pulled at my heart.

For those outside the daily education arena, let me paint a brief picture what current public education looks like in Pennsylvania and likely in many states around the United States. My vantage point on the topic of education expands from my work as a scholar, my practice as a classroom teacher and leader, and my new view as a parent of a first grader. I know my view is not all-encompassing, but I know where I stand provides a unique perspective of American public education.

By in large, American public education standardizes students into mediocrity. This isn’t the fault of teachers, the system, or the leaders alone, and this is not true in every instance. By in large, public education takes the passion, drive, and curiosity of students as young children and standardizes it into numbers, standardized test scores. This isn’t an emotional appeal to abandon the tests, though… I know I would lose that battle. This is an appeal to strive for more. By only aiming for the standard level of mediocrity demanded by the current testing culture, many students lose the passion, drive, and curiosity that embodies learning. I believe by striving for more, American students will so demolish the tests that the tests will become irrelevant, silly, and a bump in their educational journey.

The message promoted by Angela Maiers is that all students are geniuses, at every level, and passion-based education should encourage and grow this genius, rather than standardize it. She challenges students to Choose2Matter. When I heard her message, many educators in this progressive un-conference began asking some silly questions: What is your business plan? How does this relate to the standards? How will I get buy-in for the project? With each question, I became emboldened. How silly, right? A business plan to bring passion back to the classroom? Leveling passion-based learning to a standard? Administration buy-in? I was shocked. So, I raised my hand (yes, I can’t avoid it), and I said yes. I was willing to dare big. I knew it was a risk. I knew it would make me vulnerable. I was not sure which direction it would take me. But, I also knew how dismal standards-based education can be. How passion-less the school day is for many students. This educational system is so bureaucratic, at times, it is amazing learning can take place. It will take risks to shock the system. It will take rebels and disruptors. If we are not willing to say yes, we remain glued to the system we are in. I cannot remain glued to a system that encourages mediocrity and standardizes greatness. We need a change.

Angela came to my school two weeks after I met her in Philadelphia. Planning this trip alone was a struggle. At every point of opposition, when I felt like quitting, I realized I was no better than the educators in the lecture hall in Philadelphia that put up roadblocks immediately. I persisted. When Angela made it to my school, I had no clue how it was going to go. I had a very loose plan, and I allowed flexibility for students to change what was happening. It went SPECTACULARLY!

Not surprisingly, when you give students a voice in what they do, the students will blow beyond your expectations. Within three hours of Angela’s arrival, students were live-streaming their genius to the world via UStream. By the end of the second day, many students had begun the process of building their idea, their passion, into a non-profit organization. These two days occurred in the last week of school, when many educators shut their doors, clean their rooms, and largely ignore the students. Ironically, these are some of the same educators who argue there is not enough time in the year for what they want to do. I’ve learned early in my life to run through finish lines, not walk.

Students continued work over the summer, including video conferencing with Angela and others about their ideas. Students shared their genius for other teachers in professional development. Students shared their genius internationally with the United Way during Angela’s hour-long contribution in The 21 campaign. Students continued working, over the summer, on a passion-based idea started because two educators said yes.

Saying yes has another effect. The journey that being with “yes” never ends. By remaining open to new possibilities, you no longer solely control your destiny. As such, not one path but many remain open to you. If I had my way, my path would be straight, directly pointing at my goal. Saying yes brings you to many more intersections, cross-streets, alleys, paths, and uncharted routes than you could ever imagine. These new avenues of growth never dead-end if you keep saying yes. That itself is hard to maintain. If you only know you are moving forward but aren’t really sure where you will end up, as a traveller, you must constantly orient yourself to your surroundings. You build community wherever you go. Some in this community travel with you on this journey, while others keep watch over where you have been. Saying yes is a journey that does not end.

Angela Maiers was chosen to speak at the ninth annual Business Innovation Factory conference in Providence, Rhode Island in September 2013. She told me the conference was willing to pay for students to present with her. Astounding! Unbelievable! By pushing beyond the standard of mediocrity in education, my students would get to share their genius with some of the most innovative business leaders! Angela left the details up to me: how would we get there, how would I get through the school approvals, how I would get parent support. Again, it would been very easy to say no. The students would have to miss school; we might have to drive seven hours in a minivan; we would only be presenting for a few minutes. I, hesitantly, kept saying yes. When I had trouble doing it all on my own, I turned to my support system of educators and family; they keep watch over my well-traveled paths so I remain grounded. I asked parents for help; this new community was going to travel with me a bit on a new, exciting journey.

In Rhode Island, the students met Angela again and we immediately went to work. We had a mission. The students wanted to promote their business idea, Bikes with Benefits (@BikesWB). They also wanted to work with Angela to promote passion-based, genius-inspired learning. At the cocktail hour following the first day of the conference, Angela mapped a plan for the students then told them to go share their genius. Left to me, I would have been more cautious. I did not think they were ready for such an adventure, largely on their own. But, I said yes. What happened next was amazing. The students, in pairs, began networking with business innovators!!! They found a familiar face, Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), who Skyped with us in June. They were honored to meet him in person, and he was thrilled they remembered him. Onward they went. The evening crescendoed when the students bumped into an executive from Trex bikes. They brought their group together and pitched their business idea, on their own, with no direction from Angela or myself. THEY NAILED IT! Angela and I, standing a few feet away, couldn’t help but cry for joy when witnessing the limitless potential of student genius and the boldness of these six girls.

Having made a name for themselves Wednesday evening, they got to be on stage with Angela on Thursday morning. I must say, we were all more than a little nervous. Some of the students tried to weasel out of their spotlight. We all encouraged them. What happened next was amazing. THEY NAILED IT!! They got a standing ovation. A spectator shouted in affirmation through the applause that these girls will lead our future. In the second day of this conference, only two speakers got standing ovations. Not even the final presentation from the co-founder of FastCompany raised the crowd from their seats. Students, led by their passion, relinquished from the bounds of standardization and mediocrity, inspired some of the nation’s brightest business innovators.

During lunch, business leaders and students from other schools kept my students very busy. My students, with Angela, have helped pave the groundwork for this movement in another school. One of my students said she was heartbroken that other schools couldn’t have the opportunity they were having. Bikes with Benefits, the group these students have formed, were ready to ride and ready to rescue. But, what if it wasn’t about the bike? What if this journey is just the beginning of a long path of innovation, creativity, and passion-based leadership from a group of high school juniors? This is what happens when you reach beyond standardization and mediocrity.

On the return journey home from Rhode Island, I cannot predict where we will go next. I cannot predict the story of these girls. I do not know where Angela and I will wander to next, or even if our path will continue on together. I do not how the many connections I made will support our travels. I do know I many new paths lay before us. Many new travelers have joined with us. As a community we move forward. Inspired by their awesome example, I cannot ever return to simple standardization and mediocrity. Say yes. You will not know where it will lead. You can always return from where you came, but I am certain you won’t look back.