The Listicle – Edublogs Club Wk 7

Prompt: Write a listicle about any topic that interests you.



You asked for it Internet. Here is my personal ranking for the eight Star Wars movies.


#1 A New Hope – Episode 4

Can’t mess with the best. It’s the only movie in the series that can completely stand on it’s own. Obviously that is in large part because George Lucas didn’t have any reasonable expectation that he would be able to film a sequel at the time. But that doesn’t matter. This film changed film. It changed an industry. It is a near perfect telling of the hero’s journey. The lightsaber! I mean…gimme a break.

Best moment – I am a sucker for the twin sunsets on Tatooine. Visually stunning. The music swells. It is the last moment of naive innocence for our hero – when the new day dawns he unwittingly embarks on adventure.


#2 Empire Strikes Back – Episode 5

A lot of people rank this as the best of the series. I won’t argue with that, it’s certainly a very close second place finish for me. This film challenged expectations in so many ways. The big set piece battle was the beginning rather than the end…with some strong foreshadowing for the rest of the film as the Rebels were forced to flee for their lives. The great Jedi master was a weird monkey puppet who lived in a swamp. Darth Vader is merely a subordinate to a more powerful evil. The princess falls in love with the pirate. And so on.

The film just ends as a deliberate cliffhanger. I am not quite old enough to have seen this in the theater but I CANNOT imagine how crazy it must have been to wait three years for a resolution.

Best moment – The lightsaber duel on Cloud City. This is easily my favorite duel of the entire series. The set and lighting are amazing. The entire tone of the battle is so tense and perfectly acted. Luke is being an impetuous fool, as he was warned by both Obi-Wan and Yoda. He doesn’t even understand at first that Vader is toying with him…testing him. We are forced to watch our hero get slowly destroyed physically, mentally and emotionally while the bad guy doesn’t even break a sweat. And then of course…


#3 The Force Awakens – Episode 7

Yeah sure…it’s a heavy retread of the Orig Trig. I don’t care. This movie is what the franchise needed after the slow heat death of the prequels. It was fun without being campy (e.g., Phantom Menace). It had emotional weight without being too dark (e.g., Revenge of the Sith). I want to learn more about these new heroes. I don’t think I need to see any more Death Stars though…we can probably put that idea back on the shelf.

Best moment – I can’t pick one for this movie. Rey and Finn escaping in the Millennium Falcon was pretty awesome (said me and the rest of the Internet). The interrogation room face-off between Rey and Kylo Ren. The lightsaber duel between Rey and Kylo. Luke Skywalker’s reveal at the end. Great stuff.


#4 Return of the Jedi – Episode 6

Ah yes. Apart from the prequels, this is easily the biggest opinion breakpoint among Star Wars fans. The Ewok Line (as presented by Barry on How I Met Your Mother) is the best illustration of the demographic split. If you were under the age of 10 in 1983, then teddy bears were awesome and logical fighting companions. If you were a teenager or older, then Ewoks were dumb people-filled muppets ruining your beloved franchise. I was born in 1976…so yay Ewoks!


Otherwise, it’s a decent film. The editing elevates it a bit through skillful interweaving of three action sequence plot lines during the last half of the film. Once the ball starts to roll, it keeps going straight through until explody Death Star time. Also, this has significant nostalgia value for me as it was the only film from the original run that I was able to see in the theater.

Best moment – The lightsaber duel is fine. It hits all the right beats, and Vader’s redemption is classic. However, when I stopped to think about it, my favorite scene is perhaps the few moments that Vader and Luke have alone before meeting the Emperor. It’s only thing approaching a “normal” conversation these two ever have together in their lives. And there’s a lot going on. Both characters are vulnerable and trying to “save” the other. They both know that ultimately one of them will have to die, but neither one wants it to happen. Spoiler – one of them dies.


#5 Rogue One

There is a lot about this film that I liked, but the level of fanboy service is perilously close to jumping the shark. Too many cameos and winks to the audience. Yes it was cool to see a dark and gritty “real” movie – but that is also just a sign of our times. Remember how Star Wars was a light and fun alternative to the gritty (and depressing) films of the 1970’s? Anyway, it was cool, but we’ll see how it holds up. I know this is higher on several of my friends’ lists…some even have it as number 1. I could see it maybe bumping ROJ someday, but no higher. Here’s an interesting test…watch the film one time, and then see if you can actually remember the names of the new main characters other than Jyn Erso. Bet you can’t without looking it up. I can’t, and I’m the kind of guy that writes a blog post about Star Wars movies.

Best moment – K-2SO. Excellent comic relief which was crucially necessary to balance the tone of the film. I want to watch the movie again just for him.


#6 Revenge of the Sith – Episode 3

I guess this wins by default? No Jar Jar. The knowledge that it’s almost over. There wasn’t anything blatantly annoying like Episode 1 and it was less overblown and convoluted than Episode 2. It’s fine.

Best moment – Easy. Padme’s ruminations. No dialogue. Tense haunting score. Padme and Anakin separated literally and symbolically across the divide of the city. This scene is a perfect and deliberate bookend to the twin sunset in Episode 4.


#7 Phantom Menace – Episode 1

This one is very interesting. I don’t actually dislike it – the story is basically OK, if a bit dull. But upon re-watching it years later I realized that I just blocked out all of the Jar Jar parts like a repressed memory of trauma. Jar Jar Binks is the Ewok Line for the prequels. Kids love him. I was 23 in 1999… But JJB is far worse than the Ewoks. At least the Ewoks had a meaningful role in the story. Go on YouTube and without too much effort you can find numerous fan edits that completely remove JJB and make the movie noticeably better.

Best moment – Young Anakin. Haha…JK. The lightsaber duel between Darth Maul, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. It was cool, and the only decent one in the entire prequel trilogy. That super speed run the Jedi did at the beginning of the movie would have been incredibly useful for Obi-Wan to catch up to the other two and save Qui-Gon’s life, but whatever. Also, killing Darth Maul in his first fight scene was the biggest waste ever of an amazing bad guy.


#8 Attack of the Clones – Episode 2

I could be convinced to switch this out for Phantom Menace. There are some cool plot points for Episode 2, but they were largely overshadowed by the ham-fisted “love story” between Anakin and Padme. Also, it’s kind of gibberish anyway. Clones. Something about Clones. If you liked the Yoda lightsaber duel that’s cool, we can still be friends.

Best moment – When I realized that they put a gag order on Jar Jar Binks.






Thanks for reading – leave a comment!

What is YOUR rank order for the Star Wars movies? What is your best Star Wars related memory?

Challenging myself to get out of the way – Edublogs Club Wk 6

Prompt: Write a post about challenging situations.

  • Share your biggest teaching challenge and explain how you overcame it.


I love being a teacher. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. If I may be so bold, I am pretty good at my job.

But I didn’t spring forth fully formed.

Some teachers knew they wanted to become a teacher when they were in like…fifth grade. That’s cool, but that wasn’t my path. I was good at school. History and English were my favorite subjects. I liked stories and I liked to read. But teaching wasn’t for me. I even said at the time that I don’t know what to do with History or English other than become a teacher…and that’s crazy talk. Mostly it was about self-confidence, or lack of I suppose. Let’s just say that standing in front of a group of people to talk wasn’t in my skill set at the time.

Anyway, flash forward a bit and now I’m ready. Let’s do this. I shall teach.

Getting my teaching degree was fun. I liked to learn. I liked History. So far so good.

Student teaching was…an important professional development experience. It was fine. I learned from great and not-so-great mentoring teachers. The most important thing I discovered is that I am a Middle School teacher. It was a bit of a shock. Nobody sets a life goal to be a Middle School teacher. Other people look at you with a mixture of pity and grudging admiration when you tell them it’s what you do. But it’s true. I love teaching Middle School, and this is totally where I belong.

Anyway, I survived student teaching and in the Fall of 2006 I entered the exciting world of day subbing. Within a few months I was very privileged to get a contracted permanent substitute position in my home district. It was a great gig. I got to know the students and the other teachers. I didn’t have any lesson planning or grading. Easy street. I did that for about a year and a half. Along the way I got certified in Middle School Math. That proved to be extremely advantageous.

A brand new position opened up in my school – gifted coordinator (i.e., GIEP case manager). The only degree requirement was Middle School Math, so I threw my hat in the ring and got the job. Great! My responsibilities were to teach one section of Geometry, handle the administrative duties for the GIEP compliance, and most important of all, make sure we didn’t get sued. Once my principal saw that I was good to go running the GIEP meetings with parents, I was on my own. The paperwork was a pain, but not a big deal once I got familiar with the process. Teaching Geometry worked ONLY because I had a class of just four students the first year (later on I would expand to two full sections of Geometry and Algebra).

But I was also supposed to “do something” to enrich the lives of our best and brightest students, and this is where I hit the wall. When do I meet with them? What do I do when I have them? This isn’t graded so why do they care? In fact, I’m probably taking them out of a study hall where they would otherwise be doing “real” work so this is actually kind of annoying for them. Also, I don’t actually know what I’m doing. And they know it. They’re being polite and all…but I can see it in their eyes.

The absolute best thing that ever happened to me in my career is that my boss didn’t look over my shoulder too much that first year. I had room to breathe and make mistakes.

I experimented meeting in big groups and small groups. Maybe we should work on study skills? How about some sort of enrichment-y research project? (That one was the worst – it basically involved me getting a lot of books out of the library and then being completely caught off guard when the students did not express immediate interest in reading them). Games? Actually, games worked…sort of. At least they pretended to play the board games and stuff while actually just talking and hanging out. It was a start. But it was a charade and everyone knew it.

I wanted to do big things. These were all high-potential, and in many cases high-achieving students. I basically didn’t have to worry about discipline. I had some leeway with the schedule. Most importantly, I had almost complete latitude as to my curricular goals for the program. But I had to do something soon. I was benefiting from an attitude of benign neglect from my building principal, but sooner or later I would be called to account for exactly what I was doing with all of my unstructured time.

I started to get irritable and sarcastic with the students. Once or twice the situation got tense and stand-offish. Looking back, I can’t blame them. I was flailing about with no clear goals, or even worse, constantly shifting goals.

Then one day about mid-year “it” happened. It was at the end of the day. The students had just left. Whatever I had planned for the day hadn’t worked out at all. I was so stressed out and didn’t know what to do to change things. However, the one thing I knew for sure was that everything would be OK if I just sat under my desk for a bit. Even better, a colleague came in and found me like that. It was totally not the most humbling experience of my teaching career. True story.


A historical reenactment of me hiding from my own bad teaching.


That was probably the turning point emotionally. One of those times you have to just pick yourself up and go back to work the next day. But it didn’t solve the actual problem. I mean c’mon, all I did was hide under my desk for awhile.

It should be no great surprise that my inspiration and solution came from the students themselves.

One day, one my Geometry students (also on my GIEP caseload) told me about a coding project he was working on. Just for fun and because he was interested in computers.




Kids have diverse interests outside of the classroom.

Kids work hard on things they love without needing an extrinsic motivation.

Maybe I should do something with that?


Yeah… paradigm shifts always seem obvious when you are on the other side.


Anyway, that was the beginning of the beginning.

I began to learn how to get out of the way.

Over time I set up a pretty cool framework for project-based independent study with my GIEP students. Students had freedom to select their topics but had to develop a goal and plan. They did some great stuff: shooting and editing movies, building models, creative writing, self improvement plans. You name it.

I learned how to become a facilitator and teach supporting skills. Project planning. Time management. Tracking progress. Reflection. Repeat.

It isn’t always easy. I like to be in the way. I like to be the font of knowledge. Me me me.

Getting out of the way doesn’t mean that I don’t make critically important decisions in terms of content and instruction. It takes a LOT of planning in advance to get out of the way.

Getting out of the way is NOT about efficiency. Students need a lot of time in class to work on skills and process deep content. I need to be comfortable not knowing the answer to all of their questions. I need to be comfortable with situations that do not have one clear “right” answer. I need to be flexible and willing to make big adjustments on the fly. Sometimes I need to ask the students to bear with me as I think out loud through a new procedure.

Getting out of the way means that I need to ask for help (totally my favorite thing…). I need to let other teachers see me teach and tell me what worked and what didn’t work. I need to collaborate with, and be inspired by other great teachers like @historycomics  @CHitch94 @ziegeran @paulbogush @hiphughes @joetabhistory @TomRichey and many more.

. . .

I no longer have the freedom of those early years. I teach in a “regular” classroom now. But there are still plenty of opportunities to get out of the way. Here are some that have worked for me.

Give them a menu of options to complete a HW assignment. Ask them to do illustrations instead of writing a summary. Make a choose your own adventure activity. Include kinesthetic group activities. Facilitate quick focused small group “turn and talk” discussions on a near daily basis. Provide a choice of questions for the essay test. Play a game. Build empathy for a big problem. Have them create their own guiding questions for a unit of instruction. Ask them to reflect on their learning experiences. Ask them to give ME improvement feedback.


HW menu


Sample student illustrations


Choose your own adventure


Sample timeline activities


Essay choices


Board games




Fantasy league


It’s not just about engagement, although that is a HUGE piece. Commit to getting out of the way and you will see visible results. Over time, students become stronger and more confident learners. They get better at writing, and researching, and generating their own questions, and dealing with ambiguity. Asking students to make a LOT of small low-risk decisions helps them to do better with the BIG decisions. Teach a person to fish and such.


Best of all – it’s now been almost 10 years since the last time I felt compelled to hide from the world under my desk.



Thanks for reading – leave a comment!

Do you have a “sitting under a desk questioning your life decisions moment?” How do you get out of the way of your student’s learning? What’s your favorite lesson, activity or project to teach/facilitate?