Another First for Me

The line, “This is it, people…this is what we’ve been training for our whole lives” ran through my head earlier today.  That’s rarely a good sign.

I’ll admit, I experienced a bit of trepidation as I cinched the straps on my book bag just a little bit tighter and held my stack of iPads just a little bit closer.  

With one last deep breath, I walked through the door of the kindergarten classroom.  

Now, I’ve taught in a kindergarten classroom plenty of times before, and I’ve taught the programming aspects of computer science plenty of times before.  Just never at the same time.

But, you know what?  It went well. Scaffolding, modeling, baby steps: call it what you will…we took things one slow step at a time.  There was exploration, there was excitement, there was a steady chorus of “Oh, wow!”

Tomorrow, I get to do it again in a different school.  I can’t wait!

A Short, Fruity Observation

I don’t think I want to work at an Apple store.

On the positive side, I’d be surrounded by fellow believers and a lot of really cool tech.

On the negative side, I’d be surrounded by people who are either:

  • Spending a lot of money
  • Unhappy because something doesn’t work
  • Confused (and I say this respectfully) because it’s all so new to someone who knows what a “party line” is

Nope.  Thanks, but no.



Just a quick aside: I was at the Apple store tonight to take one of their teacher workshops.  I highly recommend them.

Spring Weather in Alabama

Ah, spring in the southeast.  The early flowers have already made their appearances, the landscape is that particular shade of green, the air has that hint of warmth that proclaims the changing season, and the kids at school are dismissing early today because of the afternoon tornado risk.

The first three signs of spring?  I’m okay with those. That last one, though, is kind of a downer.  North Alabama is under “moderate risk” of severe weather, including tornadoes and large hail.  That’s the second-highest risk level, so batten down the hatches.

It could be a wild one.

Bumper Sticker

When I drive

or even better

when I’m a passenger

I enjoy looking at bumper stickers

on the cars I see around me

I love to laugh along with the witticisms

I love to shake my head either

in agreement

or disagreement

with their politics

I might like their team

I might not like their team

(But, look, it’s


a game)

I normally appreciate the sentiments

but sometimes I don’t


When I drive

or even better

when I’m a passenger

I like to look at bumper stickers


99 out of a hundred times


Every once in awhile

    and today was such a day

I have to wonder

what that person has been through

in order to want to express

that sort of message to the world

on the back

of his or her car


The pain


speaking to me

speaking to everyone who follows


They don’t know me

I don’t know them


sometimes I wonder.

Deep South Hockey

When I was growing up in a small town in Ohio, there were really only two sports for most kids, and three for some.  Baseball, as I remember it, was king. If a boy was going to play a sport, it was probably baseball. Football, of course, was there as well, but not so popular as baseball.  The success of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team vs football’s Cincinnati Bengals or Cleveland Browns may or may not have something to do with that, I honestly don’t know. Finally, every playground had a basketball court.  For whatever reason, though, despite being well over six feet tall I never developed even a modicum of skill with that sport.

The odd thing is, though, that Dayton actually had a professional sports team: The Dayton Gems, a professional hockey organization.  I didn’t make it to a lot of games, but enough to have an awareness. I can explain baseball’s infield fly rule, but hockey has always been a mystery to me.

I haven’t been to a professional baseball game in years, I’ve only been to one professional football game in my life, and I’ve never been to a professional basketball game.  Now that I live in the deep south, what kind of sporting event did I go to last night with my daughter? You guessed it: A hockey game.

Huntsville, Alabama, loves its hockey.  Really. The local team, the Huntsville Havoc, draws nearly 5,000 fans a game, well above the league average (the Southern Professional Hockey League).  As is often times the case with “minor league teams,” the play itself is only a part of the attraction. The music, the promotions, the mascots, the hometown kitsch, and the funnel cakes are a big part of the experience.  

I’m looking forward to the community having a minor league baseball team in a few years, but for now, it’s the hockey rink, especially if my daughter wants to go.  

The snacks?  My treat.

New Tricks

It’s a cliche, long since proven wrong, that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  Of course you can…it’s just not easy.

The other day I wrote about teaching computer programming to elementary students.  We use a few different programming languages, but all of them are what is known as block-based programming.  This form of programming relies very little on keyboarding, rather, you simply drag blocks of code into your program, eliminating the need for keyboarding (have you ever watched a 7-year-old kid type?).  Wow.

I am, I can say, a fairly proficient programmer…at the elementary school level.

Now, I’ve dabbled with “real” programming before, but it’s not been easy for me.  Today, though, I started to take another shot at it using a language developed by those folks with Apple.  I’m finding some success, but, as with previous times, it’s not easy.

I’m learning, but it’s hard.

I listened to a teacher the other day who was complaining about a student who just  wasn’t getting it.  (I know I’ve complained the same way more than once over the years.)  For so many of us in the education world, when was the last time we learned something that was hard to do?  I don’t mean read a new book and implement a new strategy; I mean learned something that’s hard.  Like multiplication is to some third-graders.  I know it’s been a long time for me, but my eyes have been re-opened.

Patience.  Scaffolding.  More patience.  We can do this.

One of Those Days

If I’m not mistaken, it was Oscar Wilde who advocated the idea that life imitates art more than art imitates life.  I’m sorry to say that his notion came to my mind after I realized–with no small degree of guilt–that my life today reminded me of a country music song.

Brad Paisley has a song he calls “One of Those Lives.”  In this song, he recognizes that having “one of those days” is nothing compared to people who are experiencing “one of those lives.”  His–and my–minor problems like traffic or missed appointments absolutely pale in comparison to the problems of people dealing with more significant issues.  From his song, the line, “the doctors say the cancer’s back” gives you an idea of what he means.

This morning I was running late, but I got a text from a dear friend telling me she and her husband were on the way to the hospital with serious blood pressure issues.  My tardiness wasn’t as big of an issue anymore. Later I was running around searching frantically for iPads to conduct a class when another friend with frightening medical issues came to my mind.  Slow down, Tim, it’s not that big of a deal. I was wrapping up my school day telling a colleague about the behavior difficulties I had with a student, hoping for some advice or strategies to use during our next meeting.  Not five minutes later I was approached by another colleague looking for advice concerning a former student who is going through some stuff way too heavy for someone who’s only 10 years old. Suddenly, the minor behavior issues I dealt with during my day faded away.  

I’ve written before about a quote that Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) is said to have carried in his wallet.  The quote was of Mary Kownacki, who said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

People all around us are carrying some heavy burdens.   Let’s show some love.

How We Communicate Today #2

Today I taught computer programming to kindergarten students.

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 3.21.14 PM









The screenshot above was created with the programming language Scratch.  While it’s not the programming language I used today (we used Scratch Jr), the image comes close to capturing what I feel I’m giving to my students.

Just like with written and spoken words, we’re empowering young people to change the world.



Want to know more?   Check out and

Oh, Coffee, How I Love You

A cup of Joe.  Brew. Java. Coffee.  

I occasionally see a meme in which the author states that he or she drinks a lot of water.  Filtered water. Water filtered through coffee grounds. Okay, coffee.  I chuckle every time.

Coffee.  It’s a thing.

I just finished my last cup for the day while pondering my post for this afternoon.  As I tipped it back, I started to think about the impact coffee has on the people who mean the most to me, especially my students, of all people.

With my wife, it’s a daily ritual, a time in which we sit and talk.  

With our adult daughters, it’s an event they’ve grown to enjoy, an element of their relationship with “the parental units.”

On a daily basis, though, it’s a connection with my students.  It’s part of who I am. My shtick, even. I regularly have students whom I barely know (as a STEM coach, I’m in a lot of classrooms) come up to me and ask, “Mr. Gels, where’s your coffee!?”

Coffee lets my students know I care for them.  I regularly tell them how much I love it, even more than 3rd graders (or whatever the grade I’m with).  When I ask if they believe me, my tone tells them to answer no, and I get to tell them they’re right…but, wow, do I love coffee.

Coffee is a connection.  “Mr. Gels, my mom loves coffee, too.”  “Mr. Gels, you’re like my dad; he drinks a lot of coffee.”  It gives me something to talk about with other teachers, as well.

Coffee gives the opportunity for think time–something that I oftentimes struggle with.  I’ll let a question hang while I search the room for my mug. I usually find it as the maximum number of hands are up.

Coffee lets me redirect attention.  If someone embarrasses themselves or a situation gets awkward…I need to find my cup, and I need everyone to look around to help.

You’ll never guess what my most common Christmas/end-of-the year gift is.  Or, maybe you will.

How, some people wonder, do I drink so much coffee?  There are, I confess, two parts to my secret. First, most of the coffee I drink is lukewarm, but not quite cold–it takes a long time for me to drink a cup.  

The other part (shhhh): Decaf.