Saturday, July 7, 2012

Unite Online to Amplify Teachers’ Voices and Impact!

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

It’s terrifying how much education policy is made with little to no teacher input. There are millions of teachers around the world, but the impact of our voices does not match those massive numbers. How can we fix this? How can we, the educators, amplify our power? The answer is online unity.

As a Boston Public Schools teacher who runs a travel blog and a Global Education site, I straddle the travel blogger and education blogger worlds. What many educators don’t realize is that travel bloggers have accomplished something remarkable that can be replicated by teachers. Through online unity, travel bloggers have changed how travel is done, and who profits from it.

It used to be that big travel companies had all the power in travel and got all the business, but nowadays if you Google a phrase like “Traveling for Teachers” you are more likely to get an independently run website than a corporate mammoth. (Try it and see!) Because the online traffic now goes to the little guys, this has caused seismic changes in how the travel industry runs.

I just returned from the 800-person TBEX Travel Blogger conference (which was packed with travel companies jostling to work with bloggers) at which the CEO of Blogworld declared: “You bloggers deserve a professional conference, because you have proven that you are professionals. Travel bloggers have changed the travel industry forever.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear someone say that to teachers, with regards to education?

Learning from the triumphs of the travel blogger community, here is what we as educators can do to amplify our voices and impact through online unity:

Create a blog, and/or guest post on education sites. As educators, we have vitally important words to share about what is going on in education, and we must write for readers beyond our own schools. It is YOU who needs to be heard by the world. Yes, you. Please write.

Embrace social media. Once you’ve created a blog or article, get it read. Do this by cooperation with others via social media. Join the Education Bloggers Facebook Group and Twitter Chat, and find mentor bloggers who can teach you tricks of getting traffic through Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google Plus, Pinterest, SEO, and more. Travel bloggers have been doing this for years, and their collaboration has paid off immensely.

Go to conferences. In-person networking is vital to forming powerful online partnerships. For example, it was at the wonderful EdCamp Boston Conference that a group of us came up with the idea for the Education Bloggers Facebook Group.

Do not feel guilty about becoming a successful education blogger or “Teacherpreneur.” People try to silence teacher voices, making us fear being heard. Teachers are discouraged from being outspoken, business savvy, or compensated for work we do beyond traditional teaching within the classroom. To that I say, “Pshaw!” I am proud to be both a teacher and a hard-working entrepreneur. Because...

Having a powerful online presence with a global audience makes you a better teacher. “Oh my gosh, Miss Marshall--” one of my 7th grade students squealed last week, “I can’t believe you have almost 4,000 Twitter followers and were published in the Huffington Post!”

“Indeed,” I replied with a smile. “That’s why I’m so strict on all of you with grammar lessons. I want you to write for world audiences, too, and when you do, your writing needs to be fabulous!”  

Lillie Marshall (@WorldLillie) is a teacher in Boston Public Schools who runs the Education Bloggers group and chat, along with two GlobalEd websites, and You can also find her on Google Plus.

Mobile Formative Assessment; A One Device Solution

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

Formative assessment has been stuck in a rut for years but tablets and Smartphones have the potential for increasing the amount of formative data that teachers collect and use on a daily basis.

The combination of touch screen devices and cloud storage allows teachers to create a manageable flow of connected data, collected on the fly using mobile platforms, but ultimately available for reflection and action steps on any device with Web access.

Unfortunately, not enough teachers know about the power of their own personal handheld devices. EdTech buzz is usually focused on tools that require one-to-one or at least a large amount of classroom computer availability, but so much can be done with one handheld device and access to the cloud.

Student facing assessment platforms like Compass get a lot of attention along with student response systems like Socrative, but both require students to have their own devices they can use to beam back formative information directly to the teacher.

These apps are great if teachers have the devices, but in order to increase the actual numbers of teachers who are using these tools to personalize instruction we need to shift our national focus toward how these tools can be used when a teacher has a personal tablet or Smartphone at their disposal.

The Highlander Institute has been working with teachers on a three app system that collects all of the ongoing formative data a teacher might need in order to more efficiently and effectively group students for differentiated instruction.

There are many formative assessment applications on the market, but each one has its limitations. We’ve chosen the following three because they are cloud based, free, and they compliment each other’s weaknesses.

Evernote: (E-portfolio Formative Assessment) Set up one folder for general classroom observations, then make a dedicated folder for each student in your class. Instantly your phone or tablet becomes your eyes, ears and brain. Collect visual data, record audio, and add notes as you have time. Later, process all you collected and decide who achieved mastery and who you need to meet with the next day. Read more

Metryx: Missing from the current app market is the ability to track a percentile score in a flexible and ongoing basis. Teachers using exit tickets, online activities, pop quizzes, problems at the board, or just oral questioning need a way to document their students’ correct or incorrect responses in one centralized location. Metryx is the on-the-fly, flexible formative tracker that allows teachers to choose a skill, choose a student and take in quantitative or qualitative data. Metryx also analyzes and graphs the data automatically and separates students into groups based on how close they are to achieving mastery. (Currently in beta with Version 1 ready for the fall).

Educreations: Sometimes a yes or no answer is not enough. You need a way to sit with that student and observe the ways they attack a problem. Place a tablet with Educreations between yourself and the student and hit record. Everything they write, everything they say, and their step-by-step process will be recorded on the screen for you to review later, share with colleagues or parents.

There are other formative assessment apps we like for specific and targeted tasks, like PickMe for randomizing classroom student responses or ClassDojo for tracking positive and negative behaviors over time, but the three app system described above is a great entry point for teachers with limited hardware, but a strong desire to use more formative assessment.

* (Disclosure notice: the author is also the CEO of Metryx)

Shawn Rubin is the Director of Technology Integration at the Highlander Institute 

Friday, July 6, 2012

How to Ace Your Interview for a Teaching Position

This post could be subtitled “Show me the Money!” You see, I’ve hired a good number of teachers over the years, and, while I’ve hired some top-notch teachers, I’ve also been burned a few times (BTW, I consider being burned once “too many”).  

As an educational leader, I need to ensure that all students in my building have access to a great teacher.  Not just good, great.  In the past I’ve relied mainly on responses to interview questions to determine who would be a good teacher.  Sure, I asked for writing samples and examples from class and questions about development and lesson planning and so on.  But I very rarely asked for demonstrations, prototypes, or products.

This hiring season, that’s all going to change.  My new motto is, “Show me the money.”  If you interview with me, you better be able to demonstrate that you have the skills to help students be successful 21st century learners.  I’m no longer interested in answering the question, “Can you teach?”  Anyone with an overhead projector can stand up and ‘teach.’  What I want to know is can you use the latest technology and methodology to facilitate learning, collaboration, problem solving, and creative thinking?

Because we are living in a digital world I don’t want to see this stuff in a three-ring binder with a cute cover.  I want you to use digital tools, the same ones your students will use in class, to demonstrate why I should hire you.  Here’s what I want to see (feel free to comment about anything you want to show me that I left out).

1) Your professional Social Media persona.  

What you don’t have a professional SM presence?  Well why not?  Every teacher and administrator should have, at a minimum, a professional Twitter and Facebook page.  If you have access you should also sign up for Edmodo and may consider Google+ which is growing, especially among professionals.  I want to see how you are interacting with parents and students.  I want to see who is in your personal learning network (PLN) - in other words, who you are learning from.  I want to see how you augment what’s going on in the classroom.  

I do not want to see your personal Facebook page or Twitter stream. Your personal and professional lives should be chronicled on separate pages.  Facebook will not allow you to create two accounts but as a teacher Facebook will allow you to set up Page (formerly Fan Pages or Groups).  All you have to do is click on Create a Page on the login page (highlighted).  The page will automatically be connected to your account.

Creating a page rather than an account will enable you to communicate with students and parents without friending them (I never recommending friending students).  Twitter allows you to have more than one handle so there’s no problem there.

2) Your blog.

I believe everyone should write.  Having a blog forces you to work out and organize your thoughts and ideas.  You can blog about any aspect of your professional life.  If you’re looking for your first teaching gig blog about what you plan to do when you get your own classroom, what you did as a student teacher, or about great teachers.  Write about methodology, pedagogy, or any other ‘ogy’ you can think of.  Write about your challenges and your successes.  Write about anything. Just write.  Wordpress, Blogger, and Edublogs all have excellent and free blogging tools.  My only word of caution with blogging is to keep student information confidential, you don’t want to wind up on the 6 o’clock news because you wrote about Sammy’s bloody nose, bad behavior, or poor test grade.

3) Your digital portfolio.

I also want to see everything else you’ve created on-line, your web projects, your student videos, your animotos, your Vimeos, and even your VoiceThreads but I don’t want to spend the entire interview typing web addresses so make sure you pull everything together into one site.  Sites like, Glogster and will allow you to pull from many web sources that way during the interview I only have to type in one address and you can guide me through your digital life.  

And if you’ll allow me just one more …

4) Your email.

After the interview I may want to email you. That’s why now is the perfect time to set a professional email account.  Call me old school but when I see a candidate’s email address as, “” or “” or even, god forbid, “” it really makes my skin crawl.  As a hiring manager my thoughts immediately jump to whether or not you have the maturity to handle a classroom.  Email is free.  Set up an account with some variant of your name and use that for all professional correspondence.

Good Luck!

Scott A. Ziegler has 20 Years of experience in public education having served as a teacher, school administrator, and district level administrator.  He is life-long learner, lover of all things tech,  devoted husband, father of five, and weekend adventure seeker.  He also practices what he writes and invites you to connect via his blog, Twitter, Facebook (under construction), Linkin, or Flavors.

Use Technology to Inspire Students in Language Arts

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts. 

My students hate English class. They hate to read what we tell them to read. They hate to write what we tell them to write. They really hate grammar and sometimes, they hate the teacher just because of the subject. To them English class is an unnecessary block of drudgery because they “already know how to talk.” That has never made sense to me because language is something that binds us all together. We hear it before we are born. But then I was that rare student who loved English class. Words are magic to me.

Teachers have magic readily available. It’s called TECHNOLOGY. We all know tech mesmerizes them. It’s time to use that to our advantage instead of making teens leave the most tactile, personal, intimate part of their world outside as we expect them to produce work that is the best of themselves. Educators have to realize three points: tech isn’t going away and neither is a teen’s fascination with it, tech will change how we teach, and we have to teach teens to think while using that tech. So how do I suggest a teacher use technology?

Use What Is Right In Front of You- Even if you only have one computer and a projector, you can use technology to get them writing. Dangle the fun. The internet is full of videos, good videos, that are just waiting to be written about by students. Tim Hawkins made a parody of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”. It’s called “Cletus Take the Reel.” It’s clean, funny, and short. Parody, compare/contrast, cause/effect, tone, metaphor, etc. Why not use a video that is interesting to them to get them to write. The internet is full of them.

Allow Students to Connect to Their Interests- The hardest part about writing is coming up with a topic. The rest is easy. If you only concentrate on the prompts, story starters, organizers, and outlines, then the passion of writing is removed. Students will be more likely to write and write well if they come up with the topic. Allow students to bring their world into the classroom. They don't want to write about your topics. They want to write about what is important to them. All sorts of stuff goes through their heads. They need to know crazy thoughts can turn into good writing. Teach them the joy of writing, then, teach that sometimes you just have to write about what you have to write about. When you do that, you get a different outcome with students.

Blog With Students- Students do not value assignments like the old days. Our value was determined by what discipline waited for us at home. Today, that is not a factor. If a teacher assigns busy work (how much of your assignments are just that?), the student becomes disengaged. Before I had access to a computer lab, I blogged with students using one computer, the internet, and their paper/pen. Put their work up in your room if you have to but give students an authentic audience. Their writing will change if they know that the world will see it. Blogging is free and paperless. Once someone who they don’t know comments on something they wrote, their whole attitude changes.

Use visual sites and microblogging- A great way to get students to write is letting them add pictures to their writing. Sites like Glogster, Storify, Animoto, ToonDoo, and VoiceThread let students add text and images to their writing. Microblog using sites like Twitter or Tumblr. Twitter allows a user to post a tweet using text. One popular assignment I used was a cell phone novel using Twitter. These assignments force students to summarize without realizing it.

There are so many uses for technology and we are not using them effectively. Instead of reaching for the teacher’s edition, do a search of your own. Look for websites that use lists and interesting facts. When you find them collect them using a calendar. Here’s mine. (Start with the beginning of school date.) Use these to get students thinking about their opinions. Nobody wants to write to the city council about the color of trashcans in the park. Yet we keep shoving those topics in front of them. Use current events such as news sites to get students looking at their world. When teaching poetry use the songs that define them to demonstrate literary devices. Teaching students to write is about connecting their world to the text in front of them. Technology makes them a captive audience. I say, let’s use it.

I have been an English teacher for 23 years. My life revolves around my husband, kids, books, and students. My love affair with all things bound began when I was four and I don’t expect it to ever end. My passion lately has been to help teachers realize that technology has a place in our world just like the paper and pen did when we were young. You can find me at or @baldmisery on twitter.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

An Energized Classroom through Interactive Structures

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

Surely any passionate educator would say the teaching practice is one of trial and error, success and failure.  I am no different. Whatever hasn’t worked in our classroom, the students and I have simply altered, enhanced, or sometimes completely overhauled.  Quitting is not an option.  We collectively supply the energy needed to create a collaborative and engaging atmosphere of shared knowledge.  To allude to a favorite baseball great, we “Pete Rose” any challenges in our AP Language or American Literature classes by diving in headfirst and supplying a zest for learning that is clearly palpable in our classroom.  The great Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once stated “The world belongs to the energetic,” would surely agree.  In essence, our students transcend selfishness, boredom, narrow-mindedness, and unoriginality by embracing an academic setting that demands participation. 

           Even with the success of our project-based assignments and some traditional teaching methods, the most tested and highly effective solution for creating this active environment is our implementation of learning structures.  The students and I totally create them ourselves.  With names like “Stage Fright,” “Recording Artists,” “Force Field,” and “Six-Shooter Firing Squad,” these organized but spontaneous designs have been the foundation of our success in Studio 113, an interactive Language Arts classroom that houses a basic recording studio, a hexagonal, raised stage, green screens, a smartboard, and a secondary room for digital production. 
           One of our top ten structures is one verbosely named “Flip Forum, Unaware Speaker, and Silent Discussion.” At first, it may not appear overly exciting, but the students’ feedback reveals a clearer vision. Actually a conglomeration of three mini-structures, the design is highly effective.  First off, the students are placed in one of four teams that will eventually rotate through four structured areas.  Stations A & B, circled around our stage in the middle of the room, constitute the “Flip Forum” discussion, where students analyze and discuss the assigned literature by sharing their original ideas, flipping over their assigned numbers located in front of them on stage, and then calling on classmates to continue the thread.  A continual backchannel via Polleverywhere is viewable on a drop-down screen, and students are also encouraged to enlarge the discussion audience by using Apple’s Facetime or by simply switching to “speaker” on their cell phones.  There is nothing quite like having a student’s mother offer her opinion in real time.  Obviously, I remind the students a few days before to prepare any outside audience members with a tentative schedule for our “Flip Forum” discussion.  If communication on the assigned prompts needs to be extended, Voicethread is embedded on my webpage for afterschool continuation, or students can use Posterous to send in their video-recorded opinions to our class blog.  

           Station C, “Unaware Speaker,” invites the students to record a team member to speak to the assigned prompt while pretending to be oblivious to the symbolic and silent acting performed behind him.  One particular student, acting as the camera man, will frame the video with the acting appearing directly over the speaker’s shoulder.  Students can choose to share camera, speaking, and acting responsibilities in this station.  All videos may be later mashed-up into an original video in a style determined by the class after completing all rotations.  Ideas range from movie trailers to newscasts to music videos to any original and appropriate student proposals.   

           Finally, Station D is one that adds a bit of serenity to the bustling learning environment.  The “Silent Discussion” asks students to explore the prompt by contributing in a TodaysMeet chatroom or by using a Twitter hashtag.  Of course, I follow along on my iPad or laptop as I stroll through the stations and observe the students sharing knowledge in a variety of ways. 

           A few educators in my PLN question the effectiveness of the “Flip Forum, Unaware Speaker, and Silent Discussion” in their classrooms due to a perceived lack of technology.  That may very well be the case.  As I have witnessed so many times, students are eager to share tech gadgets, knowledge, and ideas to circumvent any problem caused by technology or the lack thereof.  However, no worries.  I have used this exact same structure with Post-It notes, dry-erase boards, rolls of bulletin board paper, rotational manila folders, etc.  Whether it’s old school or tech-integrated, the students are encouraged to express their original ideas.    

           But the next structure I want to share with you is way too simple, yet it’s extremely effective.  In fact, the “Wax Museum” structure comes with a warning.  Although no technology is required, the energy level in the class will skyrocket the moment the students understand the level of freedom allowed to create a motionless, symbolic “wax” statue that successfully addresses the assigned prompt.  Here’s how it goes.  1. Students are instructed to use any appropriate items in their possession and any within the classroom (or my storage closet of tech gadgets and props for that matter) 2. While focusing on the prompt at hand, students should plan a “wax” statue that will be held without movement for up to five minutes or more.  3. Students are given roughly 15-20 minutes to discuss and prepare the assignment.  4. Once all teams are ready, students are instructed to hold their positions quietly and as perfectly still as possible while I record their creations with a video camera.  5. Lastly, the students continue to hold their positions while one or more team members explain their rationale while only moving their lips.  Simply put…students love it.  
           Honestly, I am not sure if Mr. Emerson’s quotation stands true for our class.  After all, our energetic students in Studio 113 may not actually own the world after an invigorating class, but there is one certainty: I can guarantee you they will share their classroom of knowledge and creativity through engaging structures, project-based learning, and forward thinking.  That’s all I ask.  

John Hardison is a facilitator of learning in an interactive classroom called Studio 113 at East High School in Gainesville, GA where literature creatively comes to life on a stage with students as the stars. In the past 14 years at East Hall High School, Hardison has taught AP Language, American Literature, World Literature, and Applied Communications. Through original learning structures and a shared classroom concept, students are inspired to connect literature with their own talents and interests. Follow John on Twitter @JohnHardison1 and his class @Studio113_EHHS.  Hardison blogs monthly for and shares his interactive structures in workshops at local technology conferences.
Blogs from
The Structure Factory Blog
John Hardison’s Studio 113 Webpage