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Month: January 2017 (page 1 of 2)

Revolt! Project 180, Day 88

Gonna take a short side route this morning. Gonna write about my seniors. Though I am not using Project 180 with them, I wanted to offer a glimpse of the journey that we began yesterday. We are getting ready to read Animal Farm. Our essential question for the unit is “How does power influence how decisions are made in society?” Yesterday, we began with a social experiment. I presented a scenario in which the students at CHS revolted, and all adults had been permanently dismissed from the building. Now in charge, the students’ task was to draft and adopt a set of commandments for all students to live by with the adults out of the picture. Of course, they had to play along, accepting the parameters that they still had to go to school from 8 – 3, Monday thru Friday. Thus, parameters loosely set, the kids got to work.

It was nothing short of fascinating. Oh, it was messy and mildly chaotic, but it was intriguing to watch them interact. I strictly stayed out of it, resisting my educator urges to give direction, to admonish inactivity, to…be the adult. I gave them the entire period, telling them that I would simply watch and take notes. And that’s what I did as they worked through the trials and tribulations of working as a community. Some took an active role. Some took a more passive role. Many did nothing at all, staring into their phones, their default escape from any awkward realities. And it was awkward. It was 38 minutes of awkward for my 4th period class. For my 5th, they managed 15 minutes of awkward. For each class, I took nearly 5 pages of notes, capturing–as best I could–the nuances of their interactions, which I will share with them as we debrief the activity today. One thing that struck me, especially from fourth, was how “adulty” the commandments were (draft example above). “Students shall complete work in a timely manner.” Ha! Gonna call BS on that.  Anyway, it was the beginning of what I hope proves to be an interesting, eye-opening experience for our newest round of “adults” about to meet the “real world.” Wanted to share.

As for Project 180, my sophs began their own journey of writing argumentative letters to the school board, addressing the controversy of using movies to teach the Holocaust. The kids will get a chance to support or protest the use of the movies The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Life is Beautiful at CHS. I am thankful that I can provide a “real” purpose and audience for their writing.

In other news, with all but a handful of parent letters in, all have elected to stay with 180.  Once I have them all in hand, I will share my thoughts on what the results might mean.

Happy Tuesday, all.



Too Late to Turn Back Now: Project 180, Day 87

So proud of the Memory Projects these ladies did. Using their own money, they made shirts and hats to honor Holocaust Remembrance.  They have pledged to wear them once a month on a designated day in an effort to keep memory alive. Overall, Project Memory was a huge success in its first year. I have so many awesome models to share with my kids next year, so they can continue this proud classroom tradition.

On another note, it’s crazy that we have already reached the halfway point of the Project 180 journey as we begin second semester today. I have learned much along the way, and I am eager to continue learning as we seek to turn education upside down, one day at a time. Though today will tell more as the official turn-in day, with two-thirds of the parent letters returned, all have opted to stay with the 180 approach. Of course, I will process and reflect on what that truly means as I take the rest of the results in, but I am honored that so many continue to place their faith in me and my unconventional approach to learning, but it is not an honor lightly borne. Indeed, I take seriously the burden of this responsibility, the weight of this charge. It is my daily drive to succeed, to do my best, to be dedicated, to fulfill my sixty degrees of the triangle.

Happy Monday, all. Halfway there, but still oh so far to go. Thanks for keeping me company. Couldn’t do it without you.

A Thousand Words: Project 180, Day 86

Here are some of the projects that the kids produced. I was so impressed with the creativity and variety of their projects. There was also a movie and puppet show, which I unfortunately could not share. I have two more classes who will share their projects today. I am beyond excited to share in more moments with my kiddos. I am so proud of what they accomplished despite the snow-day setbacks. I am also proud of their commitment to something for which there was no grade. It seems choice can indeed foster commitment.

On a separate note, with nearly half of the parent letters returned, all have chosen 180. No school tomorrow for the kids. I’ll be back with you on Monday.

Happy Thursday, all.

Looking Ahead: Project 180, Day 85

Morning, all. Running late. Quick post. Took in twenty letters yesterday, and, so far, all have opted to stay with 180. Of course that is only roughly a quarter of my kids, but I am heartened by the fact that kids and parents are choosing to stay on the 180 path. In earnest, I hope it was a carefully considered choice, in which kids and parents reflected on their experiences from the first half of the journey. I hope.

Today we begin sharing Memory Projects. I will share some tomorrow.  Happy Wednesday.

Spirit Intact: Project 180, Day 84

Morning, all. Thank you for all the check-ins, well-wishes, and words of support yesterday. It always means the world to me to know that you’re “there.” Truly. It’s nice to know that so many have tuned in to the project. It’s nice to know that so many care about the progress of the journey. But, of all, it’s nicer to know that so many simply care about me.  Thank you. And to put your minds at ease, I am fine. Really, I am great. In an odd, rather unexpected sorta way, I am at peace. And I think that’s because I trusted my gut, I listened to my heart, and I followed my compass. I made a “kid decision.”

And while it will be a week before I know and subsequently share the decisions of my kids and their families, some interesting conversations have already begun with my kids. Here are a few from yesterday. Names changed.



John: Hey, Sy. Can I get my portfolio?

Me: Sure. What’s up?

John: I want to show it to my dad. I want to show him what I have done, how I have grown. I wanna stay with 180.

Me: He wants to go traditional?

John: Yeah. He doesn’t think I am doing anything.

Me: Okay. Well, make your case, kiddo. If he wants any input from me, have him or mom email me, and I will support you.



Layla: Sy, whatcha think I should do?

Me: Lay, I think you are in a perfect position to continue with 180. It would break my heart, if you went the traditional route. You have taken full responsibility and ownership of your learning. You’re a poster child for 180, girl.

Layla: You really think so?

Me: Absolutely, chica. I am so proud of all that you have accomplished so far this year. Can’t quit now.

Layla: Okay, Sy. I got you.



Michael: (leaning on the edge of my desk, Gary standing beside) Sy, I wanna stay with 180. I know. I know. I have kinda screwed up this semester. I started off well, but then I got lazy. But I can do this.

Me: You think you can reload and make it happen?

Michael: For sure.

Me: How will the conversation go at home? Can you convince your folks to stay with 180?

Michael: Oh, yeah.

Me: So you’re going to own this?

Michael: Yep.

Gary: (jumping in) Me, too. I messed up. I got lazy, and it kinda became a habit.

Michael: (interrupting) And we’re gonna be like this, spreading his fingers apart.

Me: You’re not gonna sit together?

Michael and Gary: Nah. (chuckling) We can’t sit together, Sy.

Me: Huh, ya think? Okay, boys. Let’s see if you can redeem yourselves.

And by the end of the day, I was feeling okay. I didn’t find the decision a smudge on the project. I found it to be what it was intended to be: another option for kids. And my spirit can live with that. Journey on!

Happy Tuesday, all. Again, thank you for being there. Really.


Course Correction: Project 180, Day 83

A little heavy-hearted this morning. After too much deliberation, I have decided to make some midpoint adjustments to Project 180.  And though I know I will no doubt disappoint some that I was unable to continue the good fight or “soldier on,” I am not giving up; I am not quitting. I am adjusting. Trust me, it breaks my heart to not see it fully through, but I believe, in the end, I am making the best decision for my kids, for I am giving them the option to find success in the way that works best for them, even at the cost of compromising my principles.

Here is the letter that I will send home today with my kids.

Dear Parents/Guardians,

We live. We learn. After much consideration and reflection on my current approach to grading, I have decided to provide an option for those who desire it. It was not a decision lightly made, for I earnestly believe in what I am doing, but I also acknowledge that, for some, Project 180 has not provided the necessary motivation for them to grow and succeed. In the end, I want all kids to grow, and if some need a return to tradition for that to happen, then I am willing to make adjustments to my approach.

But that’s not as simple as it seems. First and foremost, I made a promise. I promised all my kids that I would give them an A, no matter what, and while I am not necessarily going back on my word, for that offer still stands, I do feel like my sincere sentiments then are shallow sentiments now. And that will take me some time to reconcile–with the kids and with myself. Second, I will now have to juggle two different approaches, which is fine, but it will take more time and effort. But if that’s what’s required, then it’s time and effort well spent. Third, I am compromising my convictions. I really do believe that we must and can do education better. I do not believe that we should maintain the status quo because of its familiarity. And while it does not sit comfortably with my spirit, my convictions are ultimately secondary to the primary concern: supporting kids. All kids.

And so, I offer a choice, a choice that needs to be a family decision. In that regard, I hope this is something that you and your child consider carefully. I would hope that it would be an opportunity for your child to reflect back on his/her performance this past semester, letting that somewhat guide the decision moving forward. As many know, the Project 180 approach has been successful. Many of your children have taken ownership and responsibility for their learning through the 180 opportunity, and I hope in earnest that  you allow them to continue to be successful as they continue down this path. But ultimately the choice is yours. For those who choose to return to tradition, I completely understand, and I welcome your decision. Again, if it will help your child grow, then that’s all that really matters. Truly.

Thank you for your time and attention with this matter. Thank you, too, for allowing me to live, learn, and grow. If you have any questions, please email me at msyrie@cheneysd.org.

____ We would like to continue with the Project 180 grading approach for spring semester.

____ We would like to change to a traditional grading approach for spring semester.

Student Name (print): ____________________________________________

Student Signature: ____________________________________________

Parent/Guardian Signature: ____________________________________________

Please return by Monday, January 30, 2017

Gotta admit, I am feeling a wee lost at this juncture in the journey, but I’ll get back on track. In moments like this, I have to trust my compass: kids. The dial directed me here, and I am going to trust its direction. I am sorry for disappointing any of my faithful. I hope you find some sense in my decision. I will continue to fight and soldier on for what I–we–believe in; the front line has just shifted a bit. Turns out to be a battle with many fronts. The journey continues.

Happy Monday, all.

At a Loss: Project 180, Day 82.1

Well, shortly after publishing yesterday’s post, I learned that the 2-hour delay turned into a cancellation. So, now I am really at a loss as to what I am going to do about the Memory Projects with so little time left. Truly. Still have not made up my mind. Feel like it’s going to be a lose-lose either way. Kinda waiting to see if the semester’s finals schedule is going to change. Apparently, we will be discussing just that at a staff meeting this morning. Ugh.

Happy Friday, all. Trying to find the silver lining.

Fuel: Project 180, Special Post

“I have noticed through Facebook that you have been active in trying to make education better. I just wanted to let you know that if more teachers had the same mind set and goals as you then education in America would be exponentially better. I would like to thank you for doing your part to make a difference.” –Tyler Hilzendeger (former student)

Confession. I want to quit. Every day. Oh, I hide it, keep it close, but it’s there. And while most days it is easy to suppress my more emotional, irrational urges, there are other days that it pushes me to the edge, and I am vulnerable. Of late, stuck in my head wondering and worrying over grades, I have found myself backsliding in my convictions that I am on the right path, making myself open and vulnerable to the doubt upon my shoulder. But then. But, then, someone meddles. It’s as if some cosmic force is at play, and he/she pulls me back from the edge with his/her encouragement. And I am able to brush it away, again standing tall, resolute in my belief that my journey is worthy.

Yesterday, Tyler became my most recent meddler. Out of the blue, he messaged me the above words, and I wanted to share them, not so as to pat myself on the back, but rather to honor their import, their impact. Thank you, Tyler. Your message could not have come at a better time. It was just the fuel I needed to fill my depleted tank. Truly. Thank you.

Plans: Project 180, Day 82

Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned, so when they don’t, we have to adjust and modify; in short, we have to roll with it. Our snow day yesterday, kinda messed things up. We are at the end of the semester, and we are on a tight schedule to wrap things up before then. And now a day later and shorter, we will be scrambling to get our Memory Projects done on time. Beyond losing time, we have now also lost a valuable resource in computer access. As a department, we share Chromebooks and the other classes’ needs are no-less important than ours, so there is little flexibility–understandably. So, we will…

Wait, just found out that we are on 2 hour delay. Now we’re really in a tight spot. Hard to roll with it, when the wheels fall off. Dang it. Oh, well. Nothing we can do about it. We’ll do what we can. Most importantly, I don’t want to over-stress the kids. I do have control over that.

Happy Thursday, all.

Project 180, Snow Day!

See ya tomorrow.

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