Archive for December, 2013


I saw this link via a Twitter post and followed the link to a post by Richard Byrne, so HT to Richard and thanks.

Save_our_beach_200If you like science as much as I do and you teach it in your classroom as I do (yes, even the students in my Resource Room are exposed to science on a daily basis) then you might find this website hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helpful as a supplement. It's called Games: Planet Arcade.


There are 25 different interactive games available from puzzles to matching to connect the dots to board games. You will learn about w Scavenger_hunt_200eather, conservation, animals and more. 

I suppose this might be better for supplementing a lesson or maybe good for a day when there is a guest teacher in the classroom. I'm not endorsing everything you find here, but simply pointing the way to something that may be helpful to you in your work. 

I am a big believer in teachin science to our students and any resource I can find and use is of some benefit, I will try and incorporate in our daily lessons. Enjoy the resource. 




Author: Joshua Harris

Title: Dug Down Deep

Pages: 232; +study guide & endnotes

(study guide written by Thomas Womack)

Publisher: Multnomah Books

Date: 2010, 2011

 I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my review by Waterbrook/Multnomah Publishing

"A religious person is trying to put God in their debt through hard work…A Christian knows they are in debt to God; it's an absolute miracle…"–Tim KellerBeholding the Love of God sermon.

When I read any book written by a Christian the very first thing I pay attention to, regardless of who wrote it or what the subject matter is, is how long it takes for grace to make an appearance. I literally count how many pages it takes for the author to use the word, talk about it, expound upon it, and associate it with the theological point of view from which he/she is writing. In this way, I learn pretty much all I need to know about the author, the book, and the subject matter–especially if said book is a book of theology as Dug Down Deep in fact is. 

In the case of Dug Down Deep it took 12 introductory pages (introduction, TOC, etc) and 25 pages for grace to make an appearance and then only because someone else 'talked about grace, sin…' I didn't really get to bite into grace until page 27 when Mr Harris states, "The deeper I delved into Christian doctrine, the more I saw that the good news of salvation by grace alone in Jesus, who died for sin–the Gospel–was the main message of the whole Bible" (27). Sad to say that it takes a while for grace to get back into the book with any substance. I think for me it was about page 72 and then again around page 124 where we get a less than compelling definition of grace from another author. To be sure, he finishes strong, but by then I had wondered if it was too late. 

I sensed in this book that Harris was having trouble letting grace outweigh doctrinal orthodoxy–as if doctrinal orthodoxy is our salvation. I do get it: doctrine matters, but it is in no way as vital as God's grace: "The message of Christian orthodoxy isn't that I'm right and someone else is wrong. It's that I am wrong and yet God is filled with grace" (231). If that's true, why did we need this book? Because at the end of the day, it's all about grace since not one single human who has ever lived will get it 100% right. So again I ask: whose orthodoxy matters?

None of this is to say that I think Joshua Harris is preaching a gospel of works salvation. I don't think he is, but there are times when he treads the waters a little too carelessly. For example, he writes, "Being a Christian means being a person who labors to establish his beliefs, his dreams, his choices, his very view of the world on the truth of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished–a Christian who cares about truth, who cares about sound doctrine" (19). It is all to easy to point to the apostle Paul's thought that we should 'work out our faith with fear and trembling' (Philippians 2:12-13) to justify such sentiments, but I'm not buying it at all. He spend more time talking about what we do in the first 3 chapters than he does talking about what God does. 

It may be implied, but it seems to me that the weak might miss it. I'm glad that Harris learned theological words like propitiation, sovereignty, and justification (23). But what about grace? What I wanted, what I kept hoping for, was more of Harris exorting us to seek Jesus instead of theological propositions: "Pursuing orthodoxy and sound doctrine has to begin with a heart drawing close to Jesus–not to a theological system, denomination, or book" (30). Here I agree 100%! Sadly this is not always how the book came together for me. I wanted an explosion of grace to flood the pages, but aside from a few spring showers, I was left dry. I wanted a deluge of theological propositions about God's grace to fill every page, but most of the time it was merely a Wadi.

In the first chapter, My Rumspringa, he writes, "Theology matters, but if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong" (11). He then spends a lot time time (about 220 pages of time) telling his readers that "theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy matter because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity" (15). And I just do not know if this is true. Can I be wrong at one point of theology and get my whole life upside down? I think Harris is wrong about tongue speaking; he thinks I'm wrong. Who is to say who is holding the orthodox position? Does it matter? 

There is a nagging thought tthat kept creeping up on the pages while I read: Whose theology? 

I have no problem accepting that orthodoxy matters. I have no problem accepting that 'right theology' matters. I have very little problem with most of the ideas Harris expounds upon in this book–that is, they are basic enough theological ideas that, with the exception of a few minor points here and there, most Christians will agree with him. But spare me the idea that Biblical Theology matters if you are going to begin by reciting one of the creeds (14). Creeds are neither theology nor orthodoxy. 

There is, on the other hand, a lot to like about this book. It is, in fact, easy to read and filled with happy little anecdotes. Personally, I disliked chapter 7 (How Jesus Saved Gregg Eugene Harris) and I thought chapter 9 (I Believe in the Holy Spirit) was a bit condescending, but for the most part Harris is self-effacing and humorous (maybe more than I think) and takes a stab at himself ever so often for his blunders and failures. It was interesting to follow his early paths where he 'learned to dig' and see what he came up with out of the dirt. Yet he has led a life of theological and pastoral privilege and sometimes I think his lack of experience outside the pastoral walls clouds his view of what in the dirt theology really is. 

Second, even though there are times when I disagree with Harris profoundly (I'd like to see one passage of Scripture that tells us baptism is merely the entry point into the church, 204), I do believe he is grounded in Scipture and has a high view of it. He quotes it a lot and at times takes a page or two to expound it. I wish his theology sprung more from the Bible than the collected works of Grudem, Calvin, Stott, and Mahaney–but isn't that just the point? When I ask "Whose Theology?" I am directly pointing here to this point: even Harris is the product of a mixture of theological propositions and ideas–all of whom disagree with one another at some point. 

So when I ask the question "Whose theology?" I am kind of asking "What is orthodoxy?" This leads into my third positive point: The last chapter is the best. "I am wrong, but through faith in Jesus, I can be made right before a holy God" (231). Because of Jesus. Because of Grace. 

I rate this book 3/5 stars. It will be helpful for new Christians, but I think it will leave a more mature audience wanting. 


Everyday, typically developing students and adults absorb and interpret thousands of pieces of data. Students in special education classes absorb these data too, but oftentimes have a great deal of difficulty interpreting their meaning. This, in turn, makes daily communication a chore for most students. Furthermore, not knowing how to interpret the data received often leads to awkward and/or embarassing social moments.

Students in my resource room, perhaps especially noticeable in students with and ASD, have deficits in communication, play, social skills and relating to others (Rao & Gagie, 2006 membership to Council for Exceptional Children may be required to access full text). A significant portion of my time is spent in developing ways to help these children communicate their needs, their feelings, their wants, their frustrations, and, in some cases, just to say something as fundamental as the ABCs or 123s. 

In response to the need to generalize an understanding of facial expressions among my students, I developed this sorting task. Originally, this task had four categories the student would sort, but in this latest iteration I chose to excise the 'shy' category given that it was too obscure. Then we went with only three categories: sad, happy, and angry as shown below. 

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These three categories are at the top of the board and a line separates them. Down the columns, as you can see, are pieces of Velcro. The students attach pictures of faces to these. In the next picture, you see the faces. These faces have been cut from old magazines, shaped, and laminated in order to preserve them for many uses (we also have a bunch of extras we keep separate).

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In the original design of this task, the faces were all cut to the same shape. What I found is that this was just a bit confusing at times and offered little in the way of self-correcting strategies. In this revised version of the task, we cut the faces into one of three shapes: triangle, circle, or square. These three shapes then correspond to one of the three emotional categories: sad, happy, angry. 

Displaying 2013-12-30 11.35.36.jpg  Displaying 2013-12-30 11.35.42.jpg  Displaying 2013-12-30 11.35.47.jpg

This is a very simple sorting task and costs virtually nothing to create. Any piece of cardboard will do; any face from a magazine or google search will do; and you can decide which categories you wish to use. Sometimes it is difficult to find more categories and the pictures can oftentimes be rather difficult for the students to interpret–due to their subtle nature. I work with elementary students so these three categories are easiest to find and the easiest with which to work. 

When the student is finished working with the task, simply fold it up and put it away! I use this task to help students learn the subtleties of facial expression and the varieties of ways people show happiness or anger or sadness. But I also hope that the students will learn to generalize these categories–so I'm kind of working backwards in a sense. 

It also seems important that the pictures we use are in a rotation too. So I have another bag of faces and we are always in the process of looking through magazines for more. Again, ask your librarian for magazines that are about to become garbage. It keeps them out of the landfill and they are useful for creating wonderful games. 

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This is a very simple task to create, you get to recycle, and it is flexible enough that the categories can be altered or adjusted for age appropriateness.  Let me know what you think or what sort of alterations you make to improve this idea. Thanks. 

Edit: I came across an article at Psychology Today written by Lynne Soraya called Empathy, Mindblindedness, and Theogy of Mind that I found very helpful and pertinent to this blog post. From her conclusion:

In her article "Who cares? Or: The Truth about Empathy in Individuals of the Autism Spectrum," researcher Isabel Dziobek outlines her study on the subject of empathy.  Through the course of the study, more than 50 subjects on the spectrum were evaluated against neurotypical control subjects.  The results? To quote Ms. Dziobek – "More generally speaking, our data shows that people with Asperger syndrome have a reduced ability to read other peoples' social cues (such as facial expressions orbody language) but once aware of another's circumstances or feelings, they will have the same degree of compassion as anyone else."

Related articles

Sorting task
Cereal boxes, breakfast bars, etc: Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle, pt 3

Every time there is a presidential election we hear folks asking what the prospective candidates will do about ‘the problems with our educational system.’ It gets old very quickly; nevertheless, it has become a staple of presidential campaign platforms and so it is necessary to talk about education, sadly, from a political point of view.

In 2008, then Senator Barack Obama made a speech at a school in Colorado. He was, I suppose, in part laying out his agenda for how to ‘fix’ education. He spoke that day about No Child Left Behind which he simultaneously praised and condemned. Condemned might be too harsh a word, but since he was in large part appealing to his constituency, it is apropos. And then he hit the nail on the head: “We don't have to accept an America where we do nothing about six million students who are reading below their grade level.” That was probably a political dig, but I agree even if I disagree that we were ‘doing nothing about’ it. I think if we ask any teacher, they would disagree that ‘we’ were doing nothing about it.

Whatever else we might say about teachers, students, parents, politicians, or custodians, this is a problem: children cannot read.  As an educator, I am only too well aware of the struggles our children have when it comes to reading. Being a newer educator, I’m not exactly certain yet where or what that disconnect is, but there are reading issues prevailing in our classrooms.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of reading programs available and there are thousands of well-educated, dedicated, passionate teachers using them to help children read. I know that the teachers I work with would balk at the idea that they are doing ‘nothing about it.’

So, if that is true, and I think it is, how can someone start off a blog post, syndicated by Huffington Post, that starts this way: “The education reform movement is failing”? (Vicki Cobb) I’m not sure what education reform movement is being referred to because I thought our president had solved all those problems and had reformed NCLB; I guess I was wrong. People demand teachers be accountable; politicians act; people get frustrated when teachers do what politicians say. There is one disconnect. 

Personally, I do not happen to believe that education needs to be reformed. Maybe people's expectations need reformed. Maybe where we spend our dollars in education needs reformed. Maybe the way we teach each individual student needs to be reformed. At the end of the day there will always be problems until we address some seriously significant issues–simple issues–that will not be solved by merely throwing more money at the problems. We need to reform our mindset about how we adults are behaving when it comes to education. We don't need education reform; we need people reform. 

In part 1 of this 3 part series of posts,  I will begin laying out what I believe will help improve education and might bring about some of the reform that people are evidently clamoring for in the United States. Maybe if we practice some of these things we can help close the achievement gap that exists between the USA and, say, China. At minimum, I would like to see our children become better learners, better readers, and take a life-long joy in learning about this world in which we live.

First, I think we should de-emphasize athletics in schools (which is not to say eliminate). I’m sure this will rankle the hearts and minds parents whose children derive their self-worth from their ability to throw or catch a ball, but I think it is necessary. I do not even think it is enough to have eligibility tied academics. A Notre Dame football was recently suspended from the team for exercising ‘poor academic judgment.’ So of all the football programs that exist in the USA, we hear about one player being suspended for academics? Really? And this is supposed to teach us exactly what? Of all the programs that exist in the USA there is seriously only one athlete having academic issues? Really?

I think athletics are over-emphasized, over-valued, and an overall distraction to academics in our schools. What I mean is this: I’d like to see as much emphasis, enthusiasm, financial support, and volunteerism from parents for academics as there is for athletics. Why not have a booster club for academics? Why not have cheerleaders for ‘nerds’? Why not have book clubs? Writing clubs? Chess clubs? Math clubs? Cross-country reading groups? Academic baseball or golf? We should have art shows and talent shows. We should have drama clubs. 

It seems to me that we have no problem whatsoever raising thousands of dollars for new football stadiums in the USA—at the taxpayers expense!—but we have to beg, borrow and steal when it comes to a new playhouse or library levy (and I’ll have more to say about the arts later in this series). Author Anne Lamott has done significant work when it comes to libraries and I have appreciated reading about her passion for these ‘places of small miracles.’

If we want to help children keep reading, reading more, reading better then we should not have to worry about budget cuts affecting libraries or curriculum or the arts first. The majority of the population can live without school athletics, but you cannot even be an athlete without knowing how to read and think and comprehend.

I’m not opposed to athletics. I am opposed to the infatuation we seem to have with them and the lack of enthusiasm we have for reading or learning. I want to see academic competitions with parents lined up out the door. I want to see more things like Literacy Night that we host at my school a couple of times per year (in contrast to the hundreds of athletic events we host/participate in yearly). Maybe we could have teachers on the radio calling commentary on students while they are taking a test: “I see Johnny is erasing his answer on #3…what’s up with that Bill? Oh, I see…he wanted to add another paragraph and cite some references. Good for Johnny!”

I don’t know. All I’m saying is that maybe a switch of emphasis will help bring about the reform folks are looking for. Maybe it’s not reform of the same tired methods we need, as much as an utter revolution of ideas and emphasis?

One final thought. Why is it if you are an athlete your coach can demand that you spend x amount of hours working out, lifting, running, practicing, watching film (even in the summer!!) and getting your body in shape and building stamina and that if you do not meet x requirement, you don’t play. But if a teacher makes a similar requirement of a reading or math student it is an issue because ‘it might cut down on family time’ or some other such nonsense? Think about all the hours demanded by coaches all in the name of ‘being the best player’, but that backlash teachers receive if the same student has an equal amount of reading to do before the next day. Think about all the evenings and Saturdays parents give up for athletic competition, but how many parents show up to school on test day to cheer on their kids?

You want your student to do better on tests? Well have them read for an equal amount of time that they practice their football or basketball skills.

Reform or revolution? I think by and large we have our priorities way, way out of balance in America.

In part 2 of this post, I will discuss my second practical thought on how to improve education in America: Lessen government involvement. 

“We live in a data-rich, information-poor culture. We are very good at collecting data about learning, but not as skilled in using the information to improve student achievement, modify instruction, and differentiate instruction to best meet our students’ needs.” (From Pearson, 2012, Battelle for Kids FIP your School, module 4.)

The above quote applies in a specific context: education. So it is sort of surprising that on the inside of the dust cover for Futurecast I read: “Our society has widespread and unprecedented access to information, but what do we do with it all.”  Imagine that! The world of education and the world of the church having the same problem: what to do with all that data we have collected. I'm not always certain that leaders in the world of education have made the best decisions given the current and available data. What about the church?

So what has the church done with all the information and data it has collected about our culture? Or have we bothered collecting any at all?

is probably one of the preeminent collectors of data and, to be sure, one of the better interpreters of data that has been collected. What I appreciate about Barna’s work is that he is unwilling to simply leave the data on the shelf. I may not at all agree with how he interprets that data he has collected, but at least he is willing to do something with it.

I remember when I was still preaching in a church on a regular basis. I enjoyed collecting data (or ‘information’) about the community in which I lived and moved and had my being. Then I would find a way to incorporate that data into sermons or lessons in order to help the congregation who had lived there all their lives, understand how to use it. Sadly, it mostly fell on deaf ears because the congregants did not always appreciate being told that the ratio of bars to churches was 3:1 or that there were 17,000 people in the community and 45 churches.

My hope is that the work Barna has done interpreting the data will not be lost on a generation of preachers (who will probably be the audience for this book).

That being said, I find Barna’s statistics lists to be rather annoying most of the time. Frankly, it’s just hard to get excited about statistics unless you are a statistician. What I mean is that statistics can be pedantic at times even if some of the statistics are interesting: like that political conservatives are more likely to attend worship services by a 2:1 margin over political liberals (157). On the other hand, the chart on page 135 comparing percentages of adults who believe certain Bible stories are literally true is rather revealing. There is a great divide among adults—Christian and not-christian, Protestant and Catholic—and yet in nearly every category there is a solid majority who believe the stories in the Bible are true in some historical sense.

Again I point to Barna’s genius: he is not willing to merely point out the statistics without a call to action. He believes that we need to know these things about our culture in order that we can change them, change ourselves, or change other people. “Together we can redirect these trends” is the title of chapter 9: “…if you consider yourself a Christian—a true follower of Christ, not just someone who knows about Christ—then you are called to follow His example and create the future” (220) I’m not sure how far to take such a statement, but I am sure that Barna here is concerned that in some way we who are Christians are living out the faith we profess. “Genuine transformation is about loving God and people with everything you have” (222).

With this, I think we can all agree. It’s enough for Christians to have data; it’s something else for us to do something with it—or, better, become something because of it. It  seems to me that at the end of the day, Barna is asking whether or not we are becoming something because of what we know. 

I rate this book 4/5 stars and recommend it for devotional reading.