Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Holidays

These are a few of my favorite things.
Google extensions- oh so many of them. I've written more than a few blog posts about some of my favorites.
Google Keep- my new notes tool
Acer Chromebooks
20% Time
AJ Juliani's Mars Project
Flipboard app as curation tool
Google Cultural Institute- here's a link to its umbrella site.

On a more serious note, I'm more grateful than ever for a job that has meaning and purpose. I'm hopeful that we'll be in a better place 10 years from now because of our young people. I'm excited by the possibilities that tech affords us to make the world a better place.

I have my worries about the future, too. I'm not a Pollyanna. But today, especially on this holy day for me, I choose to live in faith and not in fear. May your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and New Years be blessed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fake News

A quick Google search about a recent Stanford study gives you the following:

Can You Tell Fake News From Real? Study Finds Students Have 23, 2016 - Students Have 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds. Facebook ... If the children are the future, the future might be very ill-informed. ... Most middle school students can't tell native ads from articles.
Column: Most teens can't tell fake from real news | PBS mins ago - The pizzeria vowed on Monday to stay open despite a shooting incident sparked by a fake news report that it was fronting a child sex ring run ...Why We Shouldn't Be Surprised Kids Can't Tell Fake News From Real ... 30, 2016 - “It's a question of how do you decide what's good enough evidence to support a conclusion,” says Abraham P. Schwab, associate professor of ...Most Students Don't Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds 21, 2016 - Does children's digital fluency allow them to distinguish between fake news and real news online? WSJ's Sue Shellenbarger has the surprising ...
Thanks Google...

The study tells us that, “when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels,” today’s “digital natives,” despite being immersed in these environments, “are easily duped” . In fairness to the digital natives, digital immigrants are equally fooled. 

Donald Trump's recent election reminds us that many older Americans were convinced Obama wanted to take away their guns, that he wanted to impose "death panels" to kill grandma, and that he wasn't born in the USA. In my personal opinion, sites like Facebook skirted their responsibility ny not removing fake news from their news feeds. There a plenty of people who really believed this nonsense.

This article shows us that in the final  months of the  campaign fake news sites received more hits than the top stories from traditional sources like the New York Times and the Washington Post!

(an aside, I've long been a proponent of "net neutrality". I wonder if I've been wrong.) 

All of this screams for the teaching of digital literacy! Look right now, it is easy to blame the right with its Fox News, etc.. But there could come a day when the left could indeed do the same thing. I don't know the ins and outs of Venezuela, but I know that Hugo Chavez manipulated the media (he was a radio host) to seize power and fundamentally ruin his country. 

The days of Walter Cronkite (who?) telling us what is news, what is real, and what should worry us are so long ago in the past. But our democracy and all democracies require an informed public. We can and should disagree about what to do about problems. However, we shouldn't be entitled to our own facts. 

So, do we teach kids how to think critically about their media consumption? How should people know what is legitimate news and websites? We need to foster meta-cognitive skills and thinking. We need to create aware and awake people who don't let themselves get duped. We can't just keep doing what we're doing. Our democracy and way of life depends on it. 

This recent article says it better than I can.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Citations on iPad using Chrome Explore feature.

I'm rather novice at Explain Everything, the tool I used to make this. But I'm excited to share this great new feature on the Chrome browser and I'm thrilled that it works on the iPad!

This is one of those times where tech just makes everything easier and better. (Unless you think it is important that kids memorize citation formats- which I don't. )

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Kids are Distracted !

A common complaint we hear from teachers in schools where kids have computers and iPads is that the students are distracted and that they can't attend to their lessons. I see this myself as today in my student centered classroom I had to redirect a student from his fantasy football website and later from a political blog. However, remember that kids have long been distracted in class. More importantly, we have to ask, "How are we using the technology?"

Last year, my boss asked me to generate questions for an upcoming discussion at faculty in-service regarding distraction in students. Below is her question and my response. (I came across this today as I was cleaning out my inbox.)

AlexAs  a teacher that uses the iPads in your classroom quite a bit, can you offer a guiding question or two for small group discussions during our PD Day Friday on distraction in the classroom? Thank you! -K
Your request is hard to distill into a question. But I'll try after a bit of explanation. With the tools in kids' hands, we can't expect them to attend the same way. Ever try not watching TV when it is on in a restaurant? I can't help but watch, even when I don't want to. My point is that we can't teach the same way as we used to. The beauty of the iPad though, is it can let us be more kid-centered in our teaching.... Since I still have to pose a question... it is this:
What do we want kids to know and be able to do?
Is she paying attention?

Follow up question:  Are we changing our expectations and goals in light of the fact that we have these powerful tools?  -Alex
Distraction is real. So is the potential for teaching differently.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Getting the Kids out of the Pool/ Blindspots

What are your unquestioned practices? What are the things so ingrained (rightly or wrongly) that you can't even see them?

I'll share an example. For many years, I have directed a robust summer camp program. More than a decade ago, our outdoor pool was replaced by an indoor one. Over the years as new cohorts of campers moved through the camp, fewer and fewer campers swam during the afternoon free swim period. Yet we still sent them to the pool. We created extra duties for counselors to watch the kids who weren't swimming. We started ad hoc football and kickball games in the field adjacent to the pool for the kids were weren't swimming. We never questioned our basic practice that from 1-2:30 was swimming time. Finally, last summer, I proposed changing our schedule and this change was perceived as a big deal, I mean we were really proud of ourselves. For decades, afternoons meant swimming.

Now, no longer do campers have to go down to the pool area at this time. Why didn't I think of this half a decade sooner? Inertia is partly it. But more basic was that I had a blind spot towards this unquestioned practice that was no longer working; the most obvious solution never crossed my mind. Instead of changing the fundamental problem, I tinkered around its edges looking for solutions.

It is hard to see one's own blind spots. But it is not impossible. I take a personal inventory (almost) every day. I adopted this practice nearly 5 years ago. Because of this, it is harder for me to fool myself. In my professional life, I have a big and likely inflated ego about my teaching which lets me fool myself. I'm working hard to promptly admit when I am wrong. I think I am getting better at looking at myself honestly and critically. This at least lets me see opportunities for change when I am not actively fooling myself.

Be intentional
This look at oneself and one's practices has to be intentional. I make time to do it every day. Like an individual, an institution has to look at itself honestly and critically and OFTEN. I do think my school really is trying to update its mission and practices for 2016, but we are doing it right now because we are up for accreditation. We are trying to be honest and we are trying to be self-critical. But we have a hard time at looking at some basic assumptions maybe because we don't look at ourselves often enough.


  • My school has used the same report card for 40 years. What are the assumptions we make about grading?
  • Why are so many of our tests full of "what" questions? What are the assumptions we make about tests?
  • Why do we continue to emphasize summative assessment at the expense of other tools? Why are our assessments always given at the end, and not during when the information could inform instruction?
  • Why do we group students of the same size and age together most of the day instead of grouping by interest and/or ability? Surely we do this because this is how it has been done since the 19th century. It is just what school looks like. 
  • Why is learning chunked into 40 minute periods? 

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but these questions are unasked and thus unanswered.  Traditions and institutional memory lead to tremendously powerful inertia.

Other blind spots? The people trying to fix and change schools and the people who are comfortable with the status quo likely were all very good at school themselves. It worked for them. This leads to all sorts of unquestioned assumptions and blind sports.

Friday, December 2, 2016

One Wish for Google Classroom

I'm really liking the flexibility of Google Classroom. It is a very effective and intuitive blended learning tool. I wish it had an umbrella page for students so they could see all of their work at a glance. Perhaps they could somehow add a Google Calendar link or have assignments save automatically to Google Calendar but have it viewed within Classroom. I know that Google says that Classroom isn't going to be a full LMS, that this is not their vision for it.

Folks at my school are kicking around the idea that it replace our use of our current school information system to give and receive assignments. Students would miss their current ability to see all of their assignments at a glance.

To anyone whose school uses Google Classroom as its sole tool for announcements and assignments, what system have you put in place so that students can see all their work at a glance?

update in response to comment from Kyle B.
I should be more clear. I forgot a crucial clarification in my haste. I am aware that I can save my assignments to Calendar, but student have to go to calendar. I'm looking for more of a one stop shopping experience within Classroom.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On PLNs and small victories

I like small victories. Today I had one because of my PLN (Professional Learning Network). One of my regular reads is Matt Bergman's Learn Lead Grow blog. I follow him through Google+. His post today was about a cool chrome extension to help those with dyslexia better read their chrome browser.

After reading his blog, I went right to the support services team at school and shared this chrome tool and then showed them how to access it themselves via chrome extensions. A cool side benefit is that I also showed these folks the cool world of Chrome add-ons and extensions. Because of Matt's blog and my PLN, the learning and reading specialist, the head of support services, and the ESL teacher all now can share with their students this effective tool. I was pleased to hear the reading specialist explain to me why she thinks the extension is a useful tool for those who have dyslexia.

Yesterday, AJ Juliani shared his reading list. Though my list is not as vast as his, here are some of the people and sites that I read almost daily.

  1. AJ Juliani - A great big-picture and inspirational tech though leader. For AJ, it is always about the bigger questions. It isn't really about the tech, it is about what tech allows us to do. 
  2. Learn, Lead, Grow - Matt Bergman is a thoughtful tech innovator. 
  3. Jordan Shapiro at Forbes magazine always offers provocative articles about education and education policy. 
  4. +Alice Keeler- a true Google guru. What doesn't she know how to do? I can't keep up with her output. But she is amazing. 
  5. Finally, I check out this Education Technology and Mobile Learning blog for its broad array of tips and tools.  
This list is not exhaustive. I also contribute to and read Google+ posts. +Kyle Beatty and +Dan Crowley are terrific aggregators of fascinating tech and ed-tech information. Their commentaries on are always interesting and well considered. I tweet and receive a steady stream of education and ed-tech tweets as well. These are crucial components of my PLN.
Important people who used to be part of my PLN

I don't read him too much anymore, but Will Richardson helped me connect technology to my already very progressive pedagogy. Before Will, I thought tech useful, but didn't really see its potential transformative power. His blog that I used to read no longer exists. Currently, I follow him on Medium and am happy when his work pops up on that aptly named medium. 

Lea Hansen was likely my first daily read. I don't check her out much anymore, but her classroom blog was a tremendous inspiration to me back when I was a social studies teacher five and six years ago. 

I also found Jennifer Ward's work to be amazing. She barely posts anymore, but thanks Jennifer. You taught me a lot. 

I also read quite a few history teaching sites that I don't list here. Though they are tech related, they are less germane to this general ed-tech blog. Unlike the folks I list above, I don't read them daily. They are bookmarked sites I visit frequently, but they aren't part of my PLN.

To my about 50 or so daily readers (and thanks so much to all of you!) I am sure that I am preaching to the choir in saying get a PLN. If you somehow have come across me, surely some of the names I mention above are already very familiar to you. If not, I hope you find them as interesting as I do. 

I love my PLN. I almost wish the unwieldy immersion into learning it offers could be accredited because I've learned more from it than I did through my Master's degree. I learned something today that wasn't earth-shattering. But I made three teachers very excited today and their new knowledge will directly benefit students right away. Without my PLN, this small victory would not have happened.

Please retweet this along with your favorite reads.

Tech Tip of the Day... actually a complaint and then a solution.

The Google graveyard is littered with some of my favorite tools. Sigh, I miss you Google Research Tool. And double sigh, I really really miss you Google Hangouts on Air. Today, I found its replacement. Ultimately, it did work. really, it isn't too different from the way it use to work. One use to access it from Google+. Now you get to it through YouTube.

From Google, here is how
"Follow these steps to set up Hangouts On Air with YouTube Live:
  1. Go to Live Streaming Events in Creator Studio.
  1. Click New live event.
  1. Select Quick (using Google Hangouts On Air).
  1. Give your live stream a title.
  1. Click Go live now or enter in details to schedule your event for later.
  1. Use Hangouts to broadcast live."

It works. It isn't as easy as it used to be. I don't know why they changed it. Sadly, for my 121 iPad school, it doesn't work on an iPad. One can't create a recorded hangout or join one either. Also, kudos and thanks to my colleague at FCIT, +Victoria Schwoebel. I needed her help figuring it out. Which shows two things:
    1) It isn't that easy to figure out because I am not a tech neophyte.
     2) Vicki is very smart.

I want my students to record interviews on their iPads. Sadly, this isn't going to be the tool.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

20% Time

Thanks to +A.J. Juliani for his weekly newsletter and insights into 20% time. I am well underway into 20% time with my class of 11th and 12th graders. 20% time was inspired by Sergey Brin's time in Montessori school. It no longer quite exists at Google, but the idea is/ was that Google's workers would spend 1/5th of their time working on their own projects, not the projects assigned to them. In Google's earlier days (according to this infographic) half of Google's products came from 20% time.

It has taken a lot of prep work to get ready. I've brought in 4 speakers to prime the idea pump. I have told the students loudly and clearly that for 20% time they are only responsible for the effort, not the results. Failure is an option because if they don't risk failure they won't aim high. I conferenced with every student after they wrote me their project proposals to help give their ideas some focus.

So that I stay abreast of their work and their successes and pitfalls, I created this log for the project (which I stole from +Colin Angevine's comp sci class.) I will also have the students journal weekly in addition to the nightly log posts.

So far so good, I like very much that I am modeling risk-taking. I like that I've already convinced a few skeptics that this could be really cool and powerful way of thinking about learning. As I told the students, failure is an option. This really might not work. But I'm pleased with the start. We will work on it in earnest for the next three weeks of school. All  students seem to have a good kernel of an idea
and most seem off to a good start.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Blended Learning Resources

Blended learning and flipped learning are commonly heard terms these days. Khan Academy is likely the most famous of the blended learning sites. Some blended learning programs are so tech centered that individual student work is assigned by a computer program which customizes work based on student performance.

For most of us, blended learning means we combine the internet and digital media with traditional classroom methods. Flipped learning is closely related. In flipped learning, direct instruction is provided at home via videos, tutorials and other digital media and the practice and individualized instruction is provided at school by the teacher.

Its promise is oversold. I like it for what it is. But it is less transformative than appears at first glance. I like that teachers can customize lessons. Yet, it is labor intensive and takes a lot more work than traditional instructional methods. I do like that students can rewatch the lecture or video. I also like that students can see and practice the problem set again and again. Blended learning still posits the teacher as expert and leaves little room for problem and project based learning.

Though its promise is oversold, it still should absolutely be in the "toolbox" of a tech savvy teacher. Blended learning has a purpose and is effective by its own terms. Take a look at some of the blended learning ideas I shared with faculty members today. Not on the padlet presentation is the chrome extension edPuzzle. It is a must get for YouTube.

Made with Padlet

Friday, November 18, 2016

Visual Essay Assignment Example/ ISTE standards

I recently assigned a project I called a "visual essay" in my International Relations course. I asked students to create a four to five minute long visual essay that considered at least two important works related to Samuel Huntington's, Clash of Civilizations thesis. Half of the presentation was to be a review his idea and two responses to it. The second half of the presentation was to consider how well his 25 year-old thesis is holding up in 2016. Looking at the world today, students were to consider if Huntington or his critics are correct. I asked them to give real world examples to support their arguments. .

I showed students three new (to them) tech tools:  adobe spark and these two RSA tools. In perhaps my favorite presentation, these two boys used the old standby iMovie to make a very effective visual essay.

I very much like this open note, open tool, open everything assignment. It requires students to analyze, apply, evaluate and synthesize information. I also like that students have a choice in digital tools. Not all my ideas are base hits. Sometimes I strike out. Sometimes I hit a weak grounder to second base. This one is at least a solid hit for extra bases. What I like best about it is that I am not giving a test asking "what" questions. This assignment gets to the same type of thinking that a good essay promotes.

What's the value add in using tech?  I believe, or I agree with ISTE, that students should: "a. interact, collaborate and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media" and "b. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formula."  At some point, being "educated" will include the expectation that one is facile with multi-media presentation tools. We are very close to that point. Some say we have already reached it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Success and 20% Time

I was cautioned (rightly so) by my boss to be careful of social media use. I made a boneheaded mistake and retweeted without checking the hashtag. So, I write very carefully here even though what I'll say has political overtones and implications.

For many reasons, we need to redefine what it means to be "successful" in this post-modern, post-industrial society. One can be a failure at many things yet deemed successful if one has made enough money. That's sick for society. Its effects are all around us. It is also toxic to individuals. If one seeks money and power to define success, one will likely never have enough.

I teach in a high-powered prep school. We promise a "both-and" for our students and their parents. We promise a path to prestigious colleges paving the way to "success" while also promising to nurture the social, emotional and spiritual welfare of our students. I'm a proud parent of 5 kids who go to my school. I think we do a very good job. I also know that if we didn't promise a path to "success" as traditionally defined, we'd go out of business. Besides,  nothing is wrong with money. I'd certainly like to have more of it.

But here is my fear.
How many of my teenaged students will, when they reach my age, wake up wondering if they've wasted half their lives chasing a phantom. Many will have done well enough in high school to get into a very good college, have done well enough  in college to get that plum internship that in turn will have led to law-school, med school, business school, etc... eventually landing some of them in prestigious firms, hospitals, and businesses.

I suspect many will wake up and wonder if it has all been worth it, "Is this all there is?" Most of them will not the top in their fields. Only a few will land the "best" positions.

I think a mid-life crisis is a very real thing to many people. One reason they occur is because people define success too narrowly and they are disappointed after spending decades working for something to only find it an empty promise.

In an increasingly atomized, individualized, and automated society, fewer and fewer people will be able to meet success. Much of the anger Donald Trump successfully channelled was of people who have had the rules changed on them. The old paths to success aren't working. I fear they will work even less in the future. We can't afford a permanently angry group of older middle aged folks and I fear we are stuck with several generations of folks who are going to stay angry. Additionally, generations before us had family structures to support them. This is far less true today, as conservative author Ross Douthat explains.

"Be a success." "Work hard and get ahead." This is a seductive and powerful narrative. I'm a teacher. I chose a career where I knew my earning power was limited, yet I too have sometimes thought of myself as less successful than schoolmates who've earned far more than me. I reject that notion intellectually, but I still feel it even though I know better. How does the person feel who doesn't know better?

We need a better way. Desperately.

In my own small way, I am hoping my students see that they can define success differently through their work on my 20% project (which I learned about through +A.J. Juliani) I've had a series of activists come through and talk to my students about issues about which they passionately care. These activists have chosen less than lucrative career paths. Yet, they live fulfilled, meaningful and, dare I say it, successful lives. I thank +Phyllis Hanson+Harvey Zendt and +Paul Paz y Mino for demonstrating this to my students.

SAMR and Potential Problems with Redefinition.

I've written more than a little bit about SAMR. It is a great model. I see a potential problem with it, if we aren't careful. Redefinition is the 4th and highest level in the SAMR model. However, one could redefine a task with technology and do something really cool and relatively meaningless when it comes to learning. Recently, inspired by a blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez, I wrote about Grecian Urns. Some of these "urns" may be redefinitions of tasks already low on the DOK scale. Just because you couldn't do it before doesn't automatically make a new, redefined assignment a good one. I get excited by tech tools. Sometimes it is worth remembering that new and shiny isn't any better.

Don't take this to think that I am in any way dismissing the transformative potential of edtech. Just be careful when extolling the potential of new tools.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Using MyMaps.

Check out this most amazing padlet by Karly Moura about using MyMaps by Google. Great use of Padlet too. So impressive. I really, really like everything from Matt Miller's Ditch That Textbook and Alice Keeler who seems to know more about GAFE than anyone. These are awesome resources.
Made with Padlet


I have mixed feelings about rubrics.

  • They delineate what is poor, fair, good, and great by giving (somewhat) objective standards.
  • They can help clarify student thinking and guide student work if you share the rubric with the students in advance. (Hint: you should)
  • They are efficient and easy to use.
  • There is such a thing as rubricitis. If not careful, we can splinter instruction into too many pieces. 
  • Customarily, a rubric breaks the learning down into co-equal pieces. Thus in a project, content and neatness may get the same score. Understanding of content should always be the primary focus. This is easily fixed by weighting each section of the rubric differently. 
Single point rubrics.

I've come to appreciate single point rubrics. One doesn't have to get as "granular". And it leaves space for real teacher feedback. Below is one I made last year for a podcast project. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

It is always about the Learning (or On Grecian Urns)

Don't Use Tech for Its Own Sake.... just as you wouldn't do pretty much anything else for its own sake. Jennifer Gonzalez totally nails it in this recent post entitled Is Your Lesson a Grecian Urn?. She points out that some seemingly good lessons are actually quite devoid of learning. 

I was reminded of the dioramas of my childhood while reading her blog post. I was so proud of them. Yet, all that they demanded was that I know some of the main characters of the book. How many projects using tech or the art supplies advance learning? What are the 21st century equivalents of diorama making?

Quoting Jay McTigue, she writes:
“The activities, though fun and engaging, do not lead anywhere intellectually. (They) lack an explicit focus on important ideas and appropriate evidence of learning.”
It is easy to fool oneself into thinking one is doing a good job. The kids are busy and having fun. Tech is integrated. Multi-disciplinary teaching is going on. But what is learned? It's a great post. Seriously. Go read it.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

I Hate Elections.

In my 40's, I've finally learned some ways to check my thoughts. I could and can get totally caught up by my own thinking. I also have the ability to catastrophize. A wise old women I knew put it best when she said, "I worried about 100 things. 99 of them didn't happen and one almost did." Like my friend Marian, I did this all the time.  Election season bring back some of these bad habits. I can be a politics junkie if I am not careful.

Prayer, breathing, meditation, mindfulness and self-awareness have give me a tool-kit to get out of my own head and out of my own way. This election season in particular has tested this ability. I checked Nate Silver's 538 about 8 times a day until about a week ago when I just had to stop making myself worried.

I canvassed today for my preferred candidate. I'll vote. But I have to realize that I can do very little to change the outcome. My vote is statistically insignificant.  One of millions. I convinced one unlikely voter to vote today while canvassing. Or maybe this woman was just being polite.

My son failed his first 4 driving tests. (In his defense, I blame his second failure fully on the test-giver) With each failure, future failure become more likely. His anxiety rose. On the sad car ride back from the testing site after the 4th failure, I talked to him about some of the tools I now use to calm myself and relax. Maybe this helped him as he took his 5th test, because he passed it. I asked him if he used some of the tools. He said they really helped.

For me, these tools are spiritual in nature because that's the vocabulary that makes the most sense to me. These tools can have a secular vocabulary. I convinced the mindfulness movement is getting at some of the same things  Buddhists have been doing for millennia. Many Recovery programs are also based on teaching this self-awareness and teach "letting go". As someone raised in the Catholic tradition, I am most comfortable using Christian language to do this.

I teach 12th graders who are freaking out about college. Wouldn't it be great if they had a toolkit to help them navigate this year?  These aren't intellectual tools; they are self-awareness tools.

I took a step in this direction this week by playing for my students David Foster Wallace's This is Water speech to help them understand that they construct their own realities and can control how they perceive and react to the world. (I embedded the lesson in a broader International Relations lesson on how nations and peoples can construct collective realities. Germans have a word for this spirit of an age, zeitgeist. )

Teaching always calls me to my best self. I am my least petty, most generous, most understanding and most open when I am working with students. I expect most good teachers are. I think this lesson for the students was at some level really a reminder to myself to get out of my own head. When I'm not self-absorbed and wrapped up in my own head, I'm clearly a better, happier person.

While writing the paragraph above, I realized something that should be so obvious but hitherto I have never thought of- while teaching, I go outside of myself thereby letting me be my best self. That's probably why teaching has always made me so happy.

I still hate elections.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What is the point of a grade?

I return to this topic again and again. It is report card time at my school. So grades are on my mind.

I loathe grades. Too often, they get in the way of learning and they don't give much in the way of information. They imply an objectivity that rarely and perhaps can never  exist. Some suggest that grades serve to motivate students. In some cases that is true. However, I taught for 23 years without giving grades and my students were motivated. In the video below, Alfie Kohn explains far more eloquently than me why grades don't work.

Yet in most schools...


we are stuck with grades. And so, I find myself keenly attuned to grading and testing practices. If we agreed that grades should be no more and no less than a shorthand "snapshot" of a student's learning, then I'd be okay with them. I wouldn't like them, but I would tolerate them. But we don't use grades that way, even if though we say we do.

For instance, I have had advisees, who not knowing tests had a second side to them, score D's on tests in which they answered correctly every question they attempted. While yes, the students should have looked to turn the page over to find more questions, the "D" tells the student, and the student's parents, and potential colleges next to nothing about the students' learning. Everyone involved, including the teacher, knows this "D" is not indicative of learning. So why give false information? 

 I also wonder about the role of extra credit. I know there are students who score 106% on tests. That is impossible! One cannot know more than all the material. It also reinforces the notion that tests are about the points, and not the learning. 

Yet, here is my real point today. I'm resigned to giving grades in my new role. What I want to know is when did we decide in American education that an average was the best way to determine student understanding?

Imagine a foreign language class.
Student A scores
80, 80, 85, 80, 84= 81.8 average

Student B scores
55, 70, 75, 90, 100 = 78

Who has learned more? Who is the more proficient student of the foreign language. Hasn't student B learned far more and by course's end,  know more? This is an unlikely example (though it is one that any long-time teacher has seen), but it does prove the point that averages can deceive. In terms of weather, the average temperature in Dublin and Philadelphia is largely the same. The average tells us nothing about the weather in Philadelphia and Dublin. I've spent a good amount of time in Dublin. It isn't like the weather in my hometown of Philadelphia, PA. 

A colleague of mine pointed out that for one's golf handicap, the highest and lowest scores are dropped. Makes sense. Outliers are just that, outliers. 

Some schools are rethinking assessment and grades. Some have dropped grades. Others have become very intentional and specific in what they say the role of grades are. 

If you give grades, please remember the point of a grade is to quickly show student learning. Do yours? And pointing the mirror back to me, do mine? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The World's Most Expensive Potato Chip

$11 for 5 chips. Comes in its own box. Made with truffled seaweed found near the St. Faroe Islands.

Monday, October 24, 2016

RSA Style Animations

I love RSA animations. They remind me of illustrated books I loved as a kid. They also remind me of the vintage cartoons I also loved. The first RSA I believe I ever saw was the now famous Ken Robinson talk.

I've been looking on and off for awhile for RSA animators that I could use for my teaching and for my students to use as they make reports.

I've found two that I will review here.

1. Mysimpleshow. I found Mysimpleshow from reading Jennifer Gonzalez's Cult of Pedagogy blog. Mysimpleshow is slow! At least it was slow for me. It took quite awhile for it to upload and it also had loading errors when I tried to go back to previous steps in the creation process. This, unlike the video I make below, was a serious effort. I wrote a script. The content matter is about Samuel Huntington's Class of Civilization thesis.

plusses- it is web-based. You can take a powerpoint, which I did, and modify it to make it the basis of your video. This is a terrific feature. Also, if you'd rather not record your voice, there is a auto-narration feature. Finally, unlike VideoScribe, it is FREE!

Minuses- OMG it is slow. In fact, it took hours to upload once complete.
Here is my serious effort at a mysimpleshow.

2. The other tool I'm checked out is VideoScribe. It is super easy to use. It does not let one start with a preexisting powerpoint. Did I say that it is quick and super easy to use? It is web-based and doesn't require a full browser as I made it on my iPad. It took me all of 15 minutes to make something decent looking. It is unscripted and hardly a best effort, unlike my legitimate attempt at mysimpleshow. Still, I think I like videoscribe better. Also, the pictures are "drawn" not just placed as they are in mysimpleshow. This makes it more visually appealing.

The downside, it isn't cheap. In fact, it is expensive. I made this with my free 30 day trial. It is $144! for a year and even more if you want to only buy a month, $29!

Click here to see my example.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Want to add a widget to your blog?

I wanted to spice up this blog a little bit. I admit in advance none of this is profound stuff. But if you want to know how to add that spinning globe that marks my new visitors over there on the right side of the screen to your blog, read the simple directions below.

I started here at
I then went into my layout page on this blog.
I clicked "add a widget"
Then in "basics" I clicked on  'HTML/JavaScript'. 
I cut and pasted the javascript from the revolver map page and viola, I too now have a spinning globe.

I know this is no great shakes, but I am always inordinately pleased when I figure something like this out. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Google News now Fact-Checking

While it is good, right and necessary to teach students to recognize good sites and news sources and to be able to distinguish such sites from bogus sources of news, it is also good to know that Google is now fact-checking news sites.

In teaching, reading and learning about this election cycle, it is nice to know when "facts" cited are real.

Google Classroom and Chrome Extensions

In the summer, I wrote about some of my favorite Chrome Extensions. I have three more to share. Chrome Extensions increase the functionality and ease of use in the Chrome Browser. Some extensions allow for shortcuts that are so quick and cool. Others add levels of functionality that will surprise you. Fellow teachers and tech users, these extensions are for your full Chrome browser.

My new favorites include:
1) Share to Classroom. If you use Google Classroom, get this one. With just a click you can send any link right into Google Classroom. +#FCS Upper School Faculty

2) Google Tone. +Dan Crowley showed me this yesterday. You no longer have to email a url you like in order to share it quickly. Google Tone uses your computer's speakers to exchange URLs with nearby computers. You can send the URL to any webpage, YouTube video, even search results.

3) Google Docs Quick Create. Quickly create new google docs, spreadsheets, forms and presentations right out of your browser. It'll save you more than a few clicks.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Blended Learning.

"Blended Learning" is one of those catch-phrases that ed. techies like me throw around. (BTW, ever wonder why we have buzz-words but have catch-phrases? Why not buzz-phrases and catch-words?) What do we actually mean when we say blended learning? 

It means that we blend online and face to face learning experiences for students. It's a broad umbrella.

A flipped classroom is one of several types of blended learning, but the terms are not synonymous.
I blend. To me, it is important for students have some control (agency) over time, place, path and pace of their learning. As often as possible, I give my students a range of choices in assignment and in readings. I also blend by making sure that students publish for an audience bigger than just me, their teacher.

Some helpful resources.

Tips for a long-time humanities teacher:

Getting started with Blended learning:

For a longer, thoughtful read check out this article in the Atlantic.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Knowing How, the 4 C's and Google Docs

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” - Benjamin Franklin

Technology at the end of the day is just another tool. However, it is a powerful tool that can help you design tasks for students that involve them. This awesome, downloadable google doc from Steve Wick and Melissa Wilson is full of terrific advice on how to use Google to support student learning. In my previous post, I mention Bloom's Taxonomy. These 4 C's are getting at much the same thing and are at the root of the doc.

Many of these tips require a full browser. So tablet and iPad users, you won't be able to do much of what is posted. But for inspiration, there is much to be gained from reading this document.

Knowing What vs Knowing How

Last night as I neared the finish of, Shopcraft as Soulcraft, I came across a wonderful passage on moving learning away from knowing what to knowing how. I nodded in eager agreement.

We know that most of what we learn we forget. This is especially true if we do not retrieve newly learned information shortly after learning it. However, it is common for teachers to move to the next unit after a test and shelve the knowledge on which students were just tested.

Proponents of final exams sometimes point to this reality as a reason to give finals. Finals force students to look back at what they were taught and remember or relearn it. But isn't this just "wash, rinse and repeat"? Isn't the knowledge going to be forgotten yet again within short order?

A useful shift for all of us in the teaching business is to ask students to know how insteading of asking them to know what. I'll be the first to admit that this dichotomy I pose is in some ways false. I had supervisor I respected who argued the what didn't really matter. I disagreed. Knowing how sometimes requires knowing what. In teaching students to write a proper paragraph, we have to to teach them what to do. This supervisor would have said, "Of course, that is a skill." In the humanities, however, there are ways of knowing where the what must come first. Before my students can analyze international events from the competing international relations' theories of realism, liberalism, constructivism, and neo-conservatism, they need to know these paradigms.  

This caveat aside, there still is an important distinction to make. Consider, what do your tests look like? Do they ask students what questions or how questions? Do your tests ask for recall or comprehension, Or better yet, do your questions promote the higher order thinking skills application, evaluation and analysis?

 Consider these two questions from +Michael Gorman 

  • EQ: Can we name the various reasons that the American Colonies declared independence from England?
compare this with: 

  • DQ/IQ: How might we write and produce a play that could be used today, or in our country's early history, to show why the colonies should declare independence? 
Making this shift  begins to move students from what to how.

The skills vs. content debate is in some respects a false one.  Still we teachers must be mindful of what we are asking students to know and do.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Teaching as Soulcraft

I have so many ideas running around my head. I don't think I could ever synthesize it all into my own "grand unified theory". I say this with tongue partially in cheek. But I don't have a fully consistent philosophy to house all of my all over the place thinking. Among other things, I'm influenced by the spiritual writings of Catholic monk Thomas Merton who has given me a new appreciation of Eastern thought. I have a contructivist pedagogy. I read Kohn and Williamson. I like Dweck and Stevenson. I read Richard Rohr and love his spirituality yet I'm also attracted to Richard Rorty's realist philosophy. (I can't square that circle.) I appreciate the new mindfulness movement. I also have strong opinions about politics. On what is the the liberal to conservative spectrum in the United States, my beliefs are scatterplot. Except for being pro-gay marriage, I'm somewhat conservative on social issues and on economics I'm in Bernie Sanders territory.

At the end of the day I really only want to live a meaningful life. I don't have grand ambitions for myself. I want to be a good husband, dad, and teacher. I used to have much more ambition regarding my career. I've made peace with the fact that I'm not going to be a head of a school, President of the United States or Major League Baseball Player. But I've also come to learn that it isn't outside achievements and getting stuff that make me happy. For my own children, I really wish them a meaningful life beyond anything else. It isn't about money and things. It isn't about power and possessions. It certainly isn't about status. It is about peace of mind, serenity if you will, and helping others. I've also found I'm happy when I'm intellectually engaged. The craft of teaching deeply engages me. I love learning about new ideas- with and without technology- in teaching. 

Almost ten years ago, my brother-in - law gave me Matthew Crawford's, Shop Class as Soulcraft. This book has moved me closer to my "grand unified theory." Crawford is a renaissance man. He grew up on a commune, worked as electrician, went to college and eventually the University of Chicago where he earned a PhD. He left his high earning career to open a motorcycle repair shop after only five months in a high powered executive position. (This article is the genesis of what became his book) 

I gave the book a half-hearted read upon receiving it. I confess to admitting that I just didn't get it yet. Since getting it, two things have changed me and thus have changed how I see the book. One is a deep-seated spiritual awakening that I can only explain by saying that something profound happened to me and that I didn't do it. It was done to me and I can only say that it was by a power greater than me. I choose to call it God, but that's really because I don't have any better words. The other is my interest in the Ed. 2.0, Ed. Tech and the Maker Movement. Reading it again almost ten years later, I'm in a very different place.

Like me and like most of us, Crawford also is searching for a meaningful, purposeful existence. He finds it in his motorcycle shop. Crawford finds purpose in the kind of work that requires mastery of real things. 

This book is engaging and wide ranging. Many ideas jump out on issues ranging from class, work, education, and culture. Crawford argues something essential is missing in our culture. We've lost our ability to do and make. Consumer culture has pushed on in this direction. He points out several times that the newest Mercedes models come without a dipstick and this serves as a metaphor from our disassociation with doing. He writes about the customer service representatives who serve as the interface between the people who do the work and the consumer. We no longer even go into the shop where our cars are fixed. We are that far removed from fixing and making. Yet this work of fixing and making is often more intellectually challenging than much white collar work. His book also presents a full throated challenge to consumer culture and our society's values. 

Marketers realize that something essential has been lost and that we like to "make" things. The mall-based build a bear phenomenon of several years ago was a whisper in that direction even though the "building" consisted only of picking several options on a computer screen before the store built the bear. Yet, this "displaced agency", as Crawford calls it, moves us the right directions as marketers perhaps are realizing that it is, "not the product but the practice that is really attractive." When Betty Crocker Inc. invented the cake mix in the 1950's, it realized that the mix would sell far better if they let the baker feel they had some agency, some control. Thus, the baker still had to crack an egg into the mix. 

Crawford argues convincingly that people like and want agency. We want to be useful. We don't want to feel like cogs in a machine. When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line into his car factory, only 1 in 9 workers brought into his factory to work stayed. This lack of feeling useful and of having a useful skill meant something to men raised in the 19th century. To keep his workers, Ford had to double wages. Then he and other industrialists promoted credit and a consumerist mindset in his workers via the installment plan. It worked and this was a transition moment in our history and in our society's relation to work. Workers eventually became habituated to the assembly line. "Apparently," Crawford writes, " it inspires revulsion only if one is acquainted with more satisfying modes of work."  A century later, we are at an impasse. Schools aren't helping us out of this box we've put ourselves into. For instance, in math problem sets where the chapter is about "systems of two equations with two unknowns", the student knows exactly what methods to use. "In such a constrained situation, the pertinent context in which to view the problem has already been determined." It is the perfect assembly line metaphor. The problem is framed for us. We just have to use the right predetermined "tool" to solve it. 

In response to the assembly line a hundred years ago, the Arts and Crafts movement was born. An aesthetic of craft was a response against the machine age. The Maker Movement shares this response. It promotes constructivist thinking. It wants students actively making. However, I feel that in most schools, the Maker Spaces are peripheral. They are almost dilettantish spaces. We use these spaces a little bit here and there. But that's it. How do we shift the Maker Movement from the margins to the center?

It was this paragraph from the book that jumped out at me and prompted this bumbling attempt at a (excuse my grandiosity) grand unified theory, “...if we follow the traces of our own actions to their source, they intimate some understanding of the good life. This understanding may be hard to articulate; bringing it more fully into view is the task of moral inquiry. Such inquiry may be helped along by practical activities in company with others, a sort of conversation in deed. In this conversation lies the potential of work to bring some measure of coherence to our lives.”  I want to be happy, I want to live in relationship, and I want to be useful. 

The Maker Movement and Design Thinking don't advocate for themselves in this moral sense.  They promote themselves more via a practical sense/ "this is where the jobs will be" rationale. Yet for me, it is this moral sense and its potential for creating un-alienated happy people who aren't trying to fill the void left by soulless jobs through mass-consumption, food, status-seeking, drugs, alcohol and sex that excites me. I wasn't able to articulate that before.

I could never say all of this at school as I'm already seen as loopy enough and I doubt I've said it well here. But Crawford's book really gave me a framework which holds my political, spiritual, and pedagogical views. I highly, highly recommend it. 

Other observations
-Crawford points out the outsourcing of jobs is going to hit white collar workers hard and soon. Blue collar service jobs such as plumbers, electricians and motorcycle repairmen are more likely to keep jobs than a radiologist. 

-Crawford also writes about rewards which reinforces to my longtime opposition to grades. “There is a classic psychology experiment that seems to confirm Brewer's point. Children who enjoy drawing were given marker pens and allowed to go at it. Some were rewarded for drawing (they were given a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon, and told ahead of time about this arrangement, whereas for others the issue of rewards was never raised. Weeks later, those who had been rewarded took less interest in drawing, and their drawings were judged to be lower in quality, whereas those who had not been rewarded continued to enjoy the activity and produced higher-quality drawings. The hypothesis is that the child begins to attribute his interest, which previously needed no justification, to the external reward, and this has the effect of reducing his intrinsic interest in it. That is, an external reward can affect one's interpretation of one's own motivation, an interpretation that comes to be self-fulfilling.” 

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