Challenge, Listen, Create, Learn, Repeat

Photo by Tom Swinnen on

People always ask, how do you find the time to find the things that you share? First off, I am so lucky that my current position allows me to spend time looking for learning opportunities for myself, my colleagues, and my students. I have a schedule but I am not with students all day as many of my colleagues are because I go in and out of the different classrooms on a rotating basis. Additionally, I no longer have children at home as my oldest graduated from college this past May (#WeAre) and my youngest is a college sophomore (#GoQuakers) so after I take care of the J (16 year old Bichon) and give him sofa time, I am pretty much free to do what I want when the school day is over. I also found that working without the tv is helpful. Hence, the time both during the day and in the evening to get to do what I do and be able to share with you the things I am sharing today.

Social Media Simulators

First are some templates you and your students can use to share their learning and show their understanding of a character, event, story, or topic in almost any subject. The first is a Netflix template you can download to use with Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides and the other is an Instagram template. Your students can easily show their understanding by creating a profile from the character’s point of view. Further clicking led me to the Twitter, Facebook, Time and Nat Geo magazine templates, as well as a link to a social media generator.

Writer’s Block

This next share is for our English teachers, budding writers, experienced writers who want to hone their craft and learn from an online community, or just those who enjoy writing and would like to exercise their writing muscle with random prompts. The Writer Igniter is a cool tool from DIY MFA where you are given a character, situation, prop, and setting (to me it sounds like the game Clue: Ms. Scarlet in the kitchen with a candlestick) and then you just start writing. For people looking for more, this site offers writing resources, an online community, podcast interviews with authors, and more.

Icons: More than Celebrity

I’m fairly certain I got this next site from a recent Matt Miller post but without going back in my history, I cannot be certain. I just know I have it open in a tab ready to share. It’s called, The Noun Project and it is basically a searchable set of free, downloadable (with your log in) icons for any noun (or verb, or adjective, or other part of speech including gerunds) you can think of– even “ugly sweater.” You can change the tilt angle, rotate it, add a shape, and change the outline color to get it exactly how you want it for your project. Kind of fun!

Front and Center

Sometimes having something front and center, staring you in the face, or just out on your desk where you can easily flip through and reference makes it more likely you will use it because you will be reminded of it. This downloadable image of four tools for learning from Pooja Agarwal is one of those things. It’s a simple mini-poster of the definitions of retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition along with downloadable guides for how to use these in your classroom. Who is Pooja Agarwal you ask? Well, you can check out these other posts where I have previously shared her great, research-based practices.

The Matrix

While scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning, I came to a guest blog post on Alice Keeler’s blog. It was written by Robert Kaplinsky and it is on depth of knowledge matrices. The first sentence of the post is like clickbait to me, “Ready for a problem that will make you rethink how we teach students mathematics?” Honestly, had that been the title of a Buzz Feed article, I think more than math people would click on it. But it wasn’t and I was not specifically looking for it but am so glad I scrolled by when I did because while the blog post has several, I repeat, several DOK matrices from elementary math through Calc. I am so glad I was reminded (I first wrote about him last February) of his cool math website, Open Middle which has math problems for literally every grade in school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Click Here for Free Stuff

Now that I have your attention again, the above link is from We Are Teachers and it goes to their free, downloadable posters and lesson plans. Check out their upstander, character ed, historical figures, world language, math posters and the many others on the 21 pages for all areas of the curriculum.

And now for some professional learning and listening opportunities

I have been doing a lot of reading and personal work on culturally responsive teaching and mitigating implicit bias. It seems the more I read, the more that I find to learn, and the more articles like this from Medium that make their way to my inbox and Twitter feed. Most recently I read these articles from Edutopia, “Reflections on Becoming More Culturally Responsive”, “How to Audit Your Classroom Library for Diversity”, “Bringing a Culturally Responsive Lens to Math Class”, and “How to Make Social Emotional Learning More Culturally Responsive”.

Next is a podcast series, Neuroscience Meets Social Emotional Learning. It has 38 episodes ranging from 8 minutes to 1 hour and 8 minutes with the bulk being less than 30. I have not listened to any yet as I just happened upon them, but plan on listening to this one currently open in a tab, Dr. John Dunlosky on “Improving Student Success: Some Principles from Cognitive Science”.

For our 1st through 9th grade math educators and specialists, this summer you can pack your bags and head west to Denver or south to Texas (my directional perspective is from the northeast) to the [Co]Lab. At the [Co]Lab, you will learn and think collaboratively with other math educators from around the country about math practice and creating mathematical experiences that you can bring back for your young mathematicians (aka, your students). Even before you go, you can learn from their suggested readings, books, and articles, and resources including video playlists and free downloads.

For those teachers who would like to pack their passport along with their luggage can check out 5 Programs for FREE Teacher Travel (or “travel with great funding”). This site is run by a Boston public school teacher as a way to connect teachers who like to travel and travelers who like to teach so we can all learn from each other ways to combine these passions. A quick click on the “explore” will lead you to clickable categories, tags, and archives making it pretty easy to see what’s there for you. So, if you are looking to travel to reboot your teaching self or inspire your lessons, then check out what others have done, how they’ve done it, and give it a try.

“Who Owns the Learning?”

image from

I recently read Alan November’s book, Who Owns the Learning and, of course, was inspired again, by what I read. I have heard Alan November speak live and as I read, heard his easy-mannered voice come through each word on the page. Many highlights later, I thought I would share some with you.

1. The most successful way to teach students innovation and creativity is to embrace those elements in our own methods.

It goes without saying that if you want your students (or teachers) to do something, you should do it as well. You may start out faking your way through it and that’s fine, but shift begins with you. Model what you preach.

2. Beyond earning a grade, many of our students see no higher purpose in their work efforts.

If students work has no purpose, if it is not being shared, then it is being wasted (IMHO). Let the students work have purpose, let it mean something. Let it leave the classroom.

3. Simply adding technology-the thousand-dollar pencil- to the current highly prescribed school culture won’t help very much.

The culture and the mindset has to change as do the methods.

4. Successful implementation of technology into K-12 education is much more complex than providing students with access to computers and moving content to online courses. Instead, we have to teach students to use information and communication technologues to innovate, solve problems, create, and be globally connected.

Students need to learn how to learn, how to connect with others, how to be globally literate and digitally literate. Implementing technology needs to go beyond substitution. It needs to lead to change in how we view the world and our place in it. Students need to see themselves as active contributors to their learning and to the world.

5. Essential questions for educators: Who owns the learning? How much autonomy can we afford to give our students? How much purpose can we design into school work? And how can we design learning environments that lead to mastery?

6. Publish student work to a global audience– We should expect all students to create knowledge.

Who benefits from a student’s work when it goes from the binder to the teacher to the student to the trashcan? Let students work become valuable; share their learning with others beyond the classroom.

7. In adopting a new educational model, superintendents and principals must lead the way.

Many people resist change because it is scary and uncomfortable, especially if you have been doing something one way for a long time.  If principals and administrators are learning along side the teachers, and modeling what they are expecting from the teachers, it becomes a shared experience, a culture of learning and evolving and growth.

8. Superintendents and principals must lead the cultural evolution of education by establishing an expectation that supports self-directed professional growth and more collaboration among teachers, not just within their school community, but globally as well.

Schools are not just places of learning for students, there must be the expectation that teachers (and leaders) will continue to learn and grow and evolve. With Twitter and educational conversations and conferences happening on a daily basis, teachers need to be encouraged and expected to engage in self-selected and self-directed learning opportunities. Professional learning does not need to happen only on in-service days. At the same time, in-service days should be developed with input from the teachers and staff on what they want to learn.

9. While teachers remain responsible for ensuring that the curriculum is covered, student contributions to the learning experiences deepen their understanding of curriculum content.

There is no longer the need for students to wait for the teacher to deposit information; students need to actively engage in their own learning and understanding.

10. What do schools accomplish by blocking students from learning how to use social media as tools for learning?

Students need to be able to learn after they leave your classroom and school. Teaching them how to use social media to network and develop their own PLN allows them to learn from people who share the same interests or who have a different knowledge base as well as a different zip code or time zone. Not to mention the ability to learn and practice good digital citizenship.

These are only the first 10; there will be more to come. If you have read the book, I’m wondering what stood out to you. What did you highlight or find interesting, intriguing or motivating?


This past Saturday my friend and colleague @Wendye40 hopped in my car and drove up the turnpike to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY for the TEDxNYED conference with the theme Connected. Instructed. Created. After some technical glitches and a short rewind we were ready to go with the first presenter. I was a little upset (actually more than a little upset, a lot distressed) because the wifi that was supposed to connect us to the world and allow us to be able to tweet and share was not strong at all in the  theater and was not even showing up as an option. I sat in my seat growing increasingly agitated as I watched my 3g spin and spin because I like to tweet during these events and I like to see what everyone else is saying. Unfortunately I was going to have to take my notes using pen and the lovely composition style program they provided and share my thoughts later. So, here I am two days later getting my thoughts together, ready to share what I learned this past weekend.

Presenter 1: Jenny Buccos (@globalcitiz)

  • Global citizenship is a critical 21st Century skill
  • Global education has mainly been foods, fashion, entertainment
  • What does it mean to be a good global citizen?
  • Everyone is a global citizen but some people feel they are only a citizen of the country they reside
  • You can’t opt out of humanity
  • Technology is erasing geographical borders

Presenter 2: Jose Luis Vilson (@TheJLV)

  • How can we as teachers and educators use our own voice to elevate our profession
  • Teacher voice should be nuanced, distinguished, powerful
  • We need to speak up and speak out
  • What do I need to do to advance my voice
  • We need to be advocates for our own profession (see related article)

Presenter 3: Juliette LaMontagne (@Jlamontagne)

  • Students need to be part of designing solutions to problems rather than just learn about a problem
  • The desire to learn by doing
  • Designing solutions to big global challenges
  • Project Breaker- unique projects organized around a challenge

Presenter 4: Jim Groom (@jimgroom)

  • We need to get away from crisis mode of education and invest in what it means to create and produce and be a citizen of the world

Presenter 5: Sree Sreenivasan (@sree)

  • “Almost everyone will miss almost everything you do on social media”
  • With regard to social media, we should always be listening, not just broadcasting
  • We need to marry the digital and the physical to have anything done; if you want it to be successful, bring together the physical and the virtual
  • Hashtags amplify what you are doing
  • Social Media success formula

Presenter 6: Jamie Cloud (@cloudinstitute)

  • “Educating for the future we want with the brain in mind”
  • “Most people make sense to themselves” – Dr. Steven Jones
  • We get stuck in our own thinking
  • Why is it so easy to get stuck in our own thinking: fear, change is difficult, how much our status, identity and finances are attached to the old model
  • Results of being stuck in our thinking: “believing is seeing”, we ignore or can’t read the feedback

Presenter 7: Chris Emdin (@cchrisemdin)

  • Hip-hop based education
  • Using your Heart Inspiration and Power to Heal Oppressive Pedagogy

Presenter 8: Adam Bellow (@adambellow)

  • Passion and dedication can be infectious
  • You are the one you can control
  • Question the rules of the system and change it
  • “Fixing” education implies it is broken implying it once worked
  • The problem is the way we see school
  • “McDonaldization” of Education”- now we stuff kids full of information rather than having them make stuff (at least during the industrial revolution, people made stuff)
  • We give kids boundaries of DONT’S rather than tell them what they CAN and SHOULD do
  • Problems have not changed, the medium has (instead of passing notes, kids are texting)
  • Come up with questions then figure out how to learn it
  • Every learner should have an IEP (individualized education plan)

The day was running late and since we had a 2 hour drive back, we needed to hit the road prior to the last few presenters but overall I came away with an understanding that education is no longer “one size fits all” and as teachers we need to harness the power of social media tools and other web 2.0 platforms that will allow our students to connect, share and collaborate with other  people around the world so that students can be the architects of their own learning.