PictureDon instructs Kids on Alligator Behaviors
Balloons, Cake, Candles and Ice Cream, Singing Happy Birthday and playing with a Tortoise. Yep, you read it correctly; a tortoise. Recently our youngest daughter turned nine years old. My wife, and first grade teacher of 20 years, is a party planning extraordinaire. Every birthday celebration is managed to perfection; it always comes-off like a brilliant lesson because of her meticulous planning.

A point of pride in planning birthday parties has always been the infusion of learning -- imagine that from such an incredible educator (sarcasm). The educational experience for my daughter and her friends during the party on this day reached a paramount level because of Lou's Pet Shop. A visiting pet shop; at a birthday party? You read that correctly too.

Don, the Owner of Lou's Pet Shop, transformed my youngest daughters ninth birthday party into a educational traveling zoo of sorts. As any teacher can attest; just having some animals or reptiles and showing them to some nine year old girls isn't going to keep their attention for long. Like a seasoned teacher -- Don knows his pets are simply learning tools; no different than a book, iPad or computer in the classroom. It's Don that makes learning happen. As an incredibly charismatic, caring and kid capturing kinda guy; Don blends these traits with humor to impress upon young minds his passion and knowledge for animals. In short, Don posseses all the qualities of a highly effective teacher presenting a top-notch lesson plan.

Like a seasoned teacher -- Don knows his pets are simply learning tools; no different than a book, iPad or computer in the classroom. It's Don that makes learning happen. 
Focused with baited-breath as hands are popping in the air and bodies bobbing where they sit on floor the party-goers actions show how engrossed they are by the lesson. This is a constant behavioral theme of the kids during the entire one hour long presentation. Before each specimen is shown, touched and held Don gathers background knowledge from the audience through their participation answering his fascinating whimsical quiz style questions. Then, after setting the stage, he interjects vital information. Tidbits, such as, what colors indicate a dangerous snake to avoid; safety and precautionary measures when around reptiles, bugs and mammals in the wild or in captivity; in addition to proper animal care for house pets of all types. Then the kids get to touch and handle these critters he brought with him -- like the Tortoise named Frankie.

Exiting or Leaving the party is Don's most difficult feat. Swarmed by the inspired kids as he gathers together his materials and animals; the ongoing comments and questions never seemed to end. We had a hard time getting the kids to transition to the next phase of the party -- Cake and Icecream. Imagine that problem at a birthday party... the eating of cake and icecream couldn't match the joy and excitement of learning.
Our NEW Family Member: "Cooper"

Fastforward a few months -- Don inspired my wife and I so much that we finally succumb to our daughters plees to add another member to our family: a pet. This is no ordinary pet; at least we didn't think so at first. Little did we know as parents it's the third most popular household pet behind a dog and cat. It's a Bearded Dragon.

Our "Beardie" purchasing experience at Lou's Pet Shop was amazing. Like always, the staff accommodated these two extremely reluctant pet purchasing parents like true champions of the trade. We're not strangers to the Shop -- we've always gone there for fish, aquarium gear, pet food, etc. What's incredible and sets the store apart from all others isn't just the great customer service and attention to detail but the fact that it's also a mini zoo of sorts. There's a Lemur, a Parrot, a Boa; a massive free-moving Rabbit; and of course a tech-rigged Tortoise: aka all the stars of the party are here.
Frankie the Tortoise is camered-up. You can view his adventures around the store on YouTube 24/7 because he has strapped to him a "Tortoise-cam." Needless to write more, you get the idea, this store, owned by Don, is like an extension of the classroom; no different than his Birthday Party Presentations. Kids love going here simply to hangout.

If you're in the Grosse Pointe, Michigan surrounding area, like us, visit and use Lou's Pet Shop for what it is -- an educational and pet experience like no other. We're very grateful to all you've done for us Don and we'll be visiting even more often now that we're caring for our new Bearded Dragon "Cooper."

Sources and References:

Lou's Pet Shop
20779 Mack Avenue
Grosse Pointe, MI 48236
Ph: 313-885-1560

EcoHealthyPets.com - Bearded Dragons

Socratic Seminar Seating and Process; The Hot Seat Method
"Can we do this again tomorrow?" When students make a comment like this upon finishing a lesson, as an educator, you know something worked. Recently, in an effort to provoke student led discussion, I utilized a Socratic Seminar format. 
From the title, it doesn't take a genius to know where this form of discussion originates. Socrates used question based teaching as a mode for promoting higher level learning. What's good for the Greeks is good me.

The basis behind the concept of a Socratic Seminar is to create student led conversation. The meaning of a topic is analyzed, understood and retained due to direct individual involvement. Teachers, in a Socratic Seminar, must allow the process and it's participants to carry the activity.

Here's how I managed a Socratic Seminar. Arrange student/s seats in a circle(s) facing one another. Obviously the size of your class can alter the dynamic/s of this structure. This is why I needed to be a bit innovative; my class sizes are typically around thirty or more. Due to numbers I structured the seating in two circles (see diagram). A smaller circle, known as the Ring of Fire, and a larger circle around it, called the Outer Ring. In the center of both rings is one chair titled the Hot Seat. The implementation of the discussion occurs after some background work.

Project Based Learning: Put Students at Center Stage
Traditional Learning; What is this and how would you define it? Is "traditional learning" when students work independently at their desks with a text book and a worksheet? Or is it when a teacher presents a topic to the entire class while students dutifully take notes on paper? Maybe, a better, more concise, definition is that students learn from the teacher and take a test to prove how much learning occurred? Truly, I submit, to me Traditional Learning is all of the above. Furthermore, just to be clear, in my opinion, these approaches to education are fine. Here's where the traditional methodology of learning, as well as ALL methodologies in education, falter and go wrong: not varying or changing up the teaching techniques or pedagogical styles. Project Based Learning is a tremendous form of teaching...

Twitter: An Educational Tool
Twitter, used as an educational tool, is just starting to be realized. To write that it's use is limitless at this point in time is perhaps an understatement. While the logistics of students' being able to use their cell phones, iPads, lap top computers and even WIFI is still not accessible at the Middle School that I teach, my classes were able to interact via Twitter on a recent field trip. This blog entry is a walk through on how I recently implemented twitter into a group project-based-learning assignment...


Have you ever allowed students to choose their own seat in class? Lets generalize about the student(s) that choose or seek out the seats in the very rear of the classroom; like seat #34 out of thirty-four possible seats to choose. These are the disengaged, uninspired and/or under-achieving learners. These individuals are often enough designated as the "trouble-makers." Teachers, for the most part, are taught in college to develop lessons for students as if every occupant in class is willing and ready to learn. What a sham.

What educators need to do is create lessons aimed at those that occupy the rear of the class. Perhaps the best thing I have come to realize in 20 years of education is that learning is accidental. Allow me to explain: the likelihood that  students retain information goes up exponentially if it is presented in a fun, interactive and hands-on manner. Years ago this was an immense challenge to prepare such lessons. Today technology allows educators to stimulate students in many ways. These methods are so much more attainable in the twenty-first century...

Twitter: An Educational Tool
In-service, staff meeting, teacher collaboration, professional development, learning community, etc. are all titles given to the time allotment for educators to perfect their craft by working together. In Michigan, where we teach, a specific amount of time to do this is required by law.  Organizing and using this time to suit the needs of all educators is a Herculean task. Honestly, it really can't be done. There have been some attempts in the past to cater to the various needs of staff. For example a couple of times our school district allowed educators to conduct seminars in their classrooms throughout the district on various topics; very informative and well received by most. However, the single most useful tool to helping us become better teachers started a year ago when we began using Twitter...

Two Teacherz & Family
Anticipation and cheer; these are the unmistakable elements of a parade. The crowd has an overwhelming anticipation of viewing the marvel of spectacular floats and seeing famous people close-up. A sense of unity among those in the crowd exists because everyone assembled came for the same thing; cheer. Cheer brings the crowd together. When the crowd sees the floats and the celebrities a sense of euphoria overtakes them; jumping up and down, waving and some  nervousness may enshrine the overanxious bystander.   

This past February my family and I were fortunate enough to experience another parade. We had been to many parades before; the Thanksgiving Parade in downtown Detroit and Grosse Pointe are staple events in our community. It was always fun for everyone, no matter the weather. However, this particular parade was far different than any of the others. This one was at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida and our daughters, aged thirteen and six, had never been. It seemed to us that the level of excitement seemed impossible to be elevated any further; never had we been more wrong...