Wednesday, July 4, 2018

TED-Ed Clubs: A Perfect Marriage of Student Voice and Public Speaking Skills

“What would you say if the world was listening?” TED-Ed is much more than the great videos we see on YouTube. Over the last several years, through the TED-Ed Clubs initiative, the TED organization has emerged a champion of student voice and of learning thoughtful, creative public speaking. Do you love TED Talks? Do you emphasize public speaking skills in your classroom? Do you want to initiate or revamp a club that amplifies student voice? This is for you! If you're interested in starting a club after reading, get in touch!

Why would this benefit your students? (not to mention you, the teacher!) TED-Ed is a thoughtfully planned program for club leaders/advisors, which runs on a “club cycle”, now in over 100 countries worldwide. Once accepted as a club, leaders/advisors receive access to a series of 13 “Explorations” that serve as lesson frameworks to be completed in a single cycle (up to 12 months). But TED-Ed understands that a cookie-cutter curriculum doesn’t work for all schools or students, so the curriculum is simply available as a guide. Essentially, the program is a guide club to assist club members in developing their "idea worth spreading". Along with the guide, access to a Leader Resources database is provided.

The explorations take students through a process of identifying their passions and thinking much more deeply about what makes them passionate about those interests and developing a TED-Ed Talk that shares one passion in such a way that the audience is pulled in and engaged. Topics can be anything under the sun. Over time, as students determine and fine-tune their talk, they learn to use images and props to get their ideas across to an audience. Towards the end of the process, they learn the finer points of producing a TED-Ed event, including lights, sound, and scheduling. *Note: expect to have a video conference check-in with a TED-Ed rep to see how you are doing at some point during the process.

When the process ends (more detail below), and your club has hosted an event and your TED-Ed Talks have been recorded, the videos are uploaded to the TED-Ed database for review for the TED-Ed YouTube Channel, giving your students the ultimate opportunity to reach a truly wide and authentic audience. But that’s not all!

What are some other special features of TED-Ed Clubs? There is huge added value within the program itself. 

Connect Weeks. Although you can contact other clubs from around the world and set up your own ‘club connect’, TED-Ed also has Connect Weeks that bring like-minded clubs together to share ideas.

TED-Ed Weekend. Your students could be chosen to attend the annual TED-Ed Weekend in New York City to meet students from clubs around the world and present on the official TED stage at TED Headquarters.

TED-Ed Newsletter & Blog. You will receive a regular e-newsletter highlighting what’s new in TED-Ed, featured TED-Ed animations and lessons, student Talks, and other ways to grow your club and connect with others.

TED-Ed Facebook Access. Yes, TED-Ed is on Facebook. And it’s a brilliant resource for connecting with club leaders to share ideas, receive advice, and celebrate your club’s successes!

So what’s the process of getting your own TED-Ed Club off the ground? It’s not difficult at all, but there are some steps. The program supports students ages 8-18, in any part of the world (club leaders can also be students age 13 or over, and advisors can also be non-teachers connected to a school). To begin, you should read through the TED-Ed Clubs website and the information packet to get an idea of how the program works. Then...
  • Apply and receive an email with ‘next steps’. This includes further familiarizing yourself with the program and participation in a Video Conference Orientation with a TED-Ed rep. Expect other club leaders to join. This is done with every new cycle. *Note: give yourself some time, as there may not be a meeting directly after your application, so start the process early.
  • Recruit club members and get consent forms signed and uploaded within a month of acceptance as a club. Whether you recruit club members before or after this is your choice, but your students will be required to have parents sign a Participation & Media Release form. The consent forms must be uploaded to TED-Ed. *Note: videos of students under the age of 13 will NOT be uploaded to the TED-Ed YouTube Channel.
  • Begin your cycle but plan a timeline. Try to get through the explorations, and modify as you see fit, keeping in mind that you’ll be expected to record the Talks, whether through an official school TED-Ed Club event or a simple recording.
  • Practice, practice, practice the Talks! (and perhaps, practice a little more) 
  • Hold an event and record the videos. The production doesn’t have to be high quality like an official TED-Ed production. 
  • Get the videos uploaded and go through the end-of-cycle checklist provided by TED-Ed.
  • Reflect, celebrate, make plans to grow your club!

How did my students and I fare through our first cycle? I’m quite certain that our club is the first for an international school in Japan, with only one other Japan-based club leader to ask advice. This made the online communities important to get ideas and support. We had students in Grade 5 as well as Grades 9-11, so we had to split the groups and have two separate clubs, with a final event together. (though we’ve decided to have two separate events next year, anticipating growth in membership)

Another challenge we faced was the school schedule. International schools have a LOT going on, and a LOT of unexpected interruptions to the schedule, leaving us sometimes not meeting for a few weeks at a time. This required extending our initially planned cycle length, which was as easy as an email to TED-Ed.

Seeking authentic feedback was a hurdle easily overcome by app smashing. We took practice videos, uploaded them to Flipgrid with no names (ie) Grade 9 Student 1, linked to a Google Form (for feedback). The Flipgrid link was sent out on Twitter, to my Flipgrid community, and other communities of educators asking them and their students to view the Talks and give feedback via the anonymous Google Form. We sought feedback from other TED-Ed clubs. Feedback was limited but more than just teacher or club member feedback.

From a teacher-advisor perspective, the challenge was helping students develop their ideas in a much deeper and more focused way, something most have not had the opportunity to do. Think about it. How often can a student prepare a presentation entirely on anything they want to share, with the time dedicated to perfecting it? To guide students through this process without getting your own ideas into their Talks is a challenge. Students experienced moments of ‘writer’s block’, but part of the process is developing strategies to deal with frustration as they stretch their thinking. There was also the inevitable procrastination and some necessary prodding to get better research completed, though having club meetings suddenly canceled for prolonged periods of time contributed to this.

Overall, I’m proud of our first club cycle and was thrilled that students want to return to the club (a few already planning their next Talk and how they can mentor new members). Have a look at a few of our TED-Ed Talks, already hosted on the TED-Ed Clubs YouTube Channel:

Regaining our creative confidence

Hope and dreams in conflict zones
I'll go for the career I want (and I'm a girl!)

So go ahead and start your school’s first TED-Ed Club. You won’t regret it!

Useful Links

TED-Ed Clubs online
TED-Ed Clubs information packet
TED-Ed Blog 
TED-Ed Clubs on YouTube
TED-Ed Clubs on Facebook

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Learn To Code: Resources for Your Coding Program (for every classroom teacher!)

*This post is inspired by Code in Every Class, an EdTechTeam Press publication written by author-educators Kevin Brookhouser and Ria Megnin. You can read my overview of the book. The resources below are not comprehensive, and I have added some of my own. See the resource section of the book for much more. For teachers interested in learning to code themselves, or for the very keen student, check out these resources. A Google Docs version of this post is available.

But first, a rationale...

Why Code? Jason Wik, of Maker Toolset, sums it up nicely. "Students should leverage technology, not just consume information. We want students to change how they think of themselves, becoming active digital creators of the physical world around them." This is at the heart of how coding will empower young people. See Jason in a TED Talk on the maker movement in schools, with Gabriel Wilkes, and how to get a project started. In our conversation, Jason also suggested that simple definitions are incomplete, saying that “code is the underlying language that connects everything around us. Schools should be teaching the importance of code beyond just apps and games, to open their eyes to the revolution of physical computing, robotics, IoT, and digital fabrication happening all around them.”

How Do I Get Started? When starting your own coding program, be it a club or in your own class, take some time to have a look through the different options available to you. There are many choices for developing a program, be it using a single curriculum/lesson guide on offer, or a blend that works for your club. Consider exploring the different programs with your students if age-appropriate. These coding programs are not just for educators. Parents can also work with their children at home, learning how to code together - a great family activity!

You may want to begin your journey with Google’s introductory level, self-paced course Computational Thinking for Educators to give yourself a foundation in some of the concepts involved with coding, such as, exploring algorithms, finding patterns, developing algorithms, and applying computational thinking to a lesson plan developed by you. However, each of the programs below will have online guidance.

Free & Paid Coding Programs Resources, Descriptions and Links

CS First by Google. CS First is a free program that increases student access and exposure to computer science (CS) education through after-school, in-school, and summer programs. All clubs are run by teachers and/or community volunteers.”

Consider following up or extending learning with Exploring Computational Thinking (ECT), “a curated collection of lesson plans, videos, and other resources on computational thinking (CT)”. It builds upon CS First.

Swift Coding by Apple. "Swift is a robust and intuitive programming language created by Apple for building apps for iOS, Mac, Apple TV, and Apple Watch. It’s designed to give developers more freedom than ever. Swift is easy to use and open source, so anyone with an idea can create something incredible." Free, but you will need a newer version of iPad. is from the organizers of Hour of Code and a fully recognized 501c non-profit organization. Free curricula for ES, MS and HS are offered, with additional resources in tutorial videos, an online support community, and regional partners. Students can learn alone or in a classroom environment. Have a look at the additional 20-hour, age-appropriate courses from Code is also an advocate for social justice, reaching out to all communities. There is even a feature to find third-party resources and local computer science classes or clubs. (it says “US only” but when I searched Nova Scotia, Canada I found three)

CoderDojo. A “global network of free computer programming clubs for young people.” Anyone aged 7 - 17 can join and attend a Dojo and learn to code. These are brick and mortar clubs with adults acting as mentors. Some equipment is necessary, but the resources are free.

Code Monkey. A “fun and educational game environment where students learn to code in a real programming language, no previous experience needed.” Has a course ready to follow and is based on games.

Girls Who Code is “a national non-profit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology.”

Python is an open source programming language that is widely used for website, web apps, and scientific computing. (see this 4-minute YouTube video explaining Python)  Python provides a beginners guide.

Pencil Code. An open source “collaborative programming site for drawing art, playing music, and creating games. It is also a place to experiment with mathematical functions, geometry, graphing, web pages, simulations, and algorithms. Programs are open for all to see and copy.” Has an online guide, discussion forum, and tutorials. Includes an online guide and teacher’s manual.

Scratch. With this MIT program, students can “code their own interactive stories, animations, and games. In the process, they learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for everyone in today’s society.” Scratch is a widely popular coding program used in schools, museums, and community centers. Includes tips and curriculum guides. Teacher accounts can be made for students. See this TED Talk on Scratch.

Hopscotch. A programming software that is easy to learn for kids, giving them a foundation in coding. Has video tutorials, a coding curriculum, and support forum. Free for iPhone and iPad.

Lightbot. Children solve puzzles using programming logic. Ages 4-8 and 9 and up. Has a variety of devices to work with.

Monster Coding. Incorporates math and shapes, with lessons in vocabulary essential to programming. Has a keyboarding piece and tutorial videos.

And for a bit of play...

Code Academy wants to change the face of education, acknowledging that curriculum today doesn’t reflect the economy. Courses are varied, including making websites, JavaScript, HTML, CSS and much more.

Have fun directly from the landing page of Code Monster. Just follow the instructions in the monster’s speech bubble as you move along. A quick introduction to code.

Play with the Chrome Music Lab, an open source platform which employs coding as children explore how music works.

Paid Resources (some with Bots or Boards)

RaspberryPi. Small, single-board “low-cost, high-performance computers that people use to learn, solve problems and have fun.” It includes outreach and education to help more people access computing and digital making, with some free resources.

Sphero. Incorporates robotics and technology with collaborative STEAM activities. The “world's first app-enabled robotic ball and a sophisticated companion for your smartphone or tablet. Learn, play, and explore with this awesome robot.” Includes other robots like Spiderman and BB-8 from Star Wars. Students learn to code the movements of the robots and guide them with their devices.

Cubetto "is a cross-curricular early learning resource that helps young learners develop coding skills, problem-solving, communication, and creativity through adventure and hands-on play.” Includes user manuals, lessons plans, and tutorials.

Code Avengers. Includes lesson plans, teacher training, gamified learning and projects for the “real world”. Has courses in HTML & CSS, Python, Web Development, Design, and more. Kids learn to build apps, games, and websites. Camps are hosted all over the world.

Code Monster. Curriculum and courses. “CodeMonster is about fundamental. Without fundamental we cannot build anything upon it. Our curriculum always start with the basic and will quickly accelerate to the required level. Kids coding must have the element of fun.”

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"50 Ways to Use YouTube in the Classroom" by Patrick Green: For the Beginner or the YouTube Ninja

(purchase from the EdTechTeam Press or Amazon)

Even teachers that feel they are a YouTube-savvy (as I do about myself) should read "50 Ways to Use YouTube in the Classroom". The structure of the book takes you from 'beginner to ninja'. It can be read in small chunks for those seeking a slow pace, or you can bounce around for those looking to get better at certain aspects of YouTube. Something we can all benefit from is the many, many examples of how YouTube can be leveraged to enhance student learning, student voice, and communication. Patrick Green's writing style, while witty and humourous, is an honest assessment of what YouTube can do and challenges educators may experience, depending on their teaching context. To this, Green provides plausible solutions to those challenges along with sound advice on a variety of areas such as student motivation, parental understanding, and copyright infringement. I found myself taking notes on what I would do to improve my YouTube channels and use of YouTube with my students. "50 Ways to Use YouTube in the Classroom" includes screenshots and web links via QR codes, providing increased understanding of the topics in the book. Additionally, Green has developed a series of YouTube tutorials to accompany the book.

The book has a logical flow, beginning with YouTube and general benefits of having video in the classroom, such as showing an experiment you can’t do yourself, or visiting a place too far away. He guides us through simple things that many of us don’t yet do as a habit, such as using playlists for our classes and subscribing to the best channels. Moreover, Green explains how we can find the “good stuff” using filters. He shows us how to curate videos in a way that is logical for us and our students (something I am doing more diligently since reading the book). Playlists can support differentiation as well, by creating specialize playlists. Ever thought of that? I didn’t. He discusses using defaults built in YouTube, as well as other features such as the closed captioning/subtitles and speeds.

Green continues on with other classroom applications such as embedding in Forms and Slides to flip our classroom. How about making photo slideshows of your students in action? How about recording your lesson explanation on YouTube to make life easy on your substitute (and be sure that the lesson gets explained how you intended)? Perhaps needless to say, privacy is an important part of the book.

If you really want to get deep into YouTube, Green touches on how to setup your channel with Channel Art, a channel trailer, and other settings (like a custom URL). Green explains how to use Creator Studio to help you get the most out of your channel, for those who want to be more serious about managing videos and reaching out to an audience beyond your classroom. YouTube Live and recording/editing with mobile apps.

This is an extremely useful book for classroom teachers, and I would argue school administrators seeking to improve their school's use of YouTube. I thought I was a YouTube ninja before I read this book. I stand corrected!

Find Patrick Green at:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Make Your Daily Review More Engaging, Interesting, and Relevant with Student Voice Activities

Make Your Daily Review More Engaging, Interesting, and Relevant with Student Voice Activities

My daily review was becoming stagnant, and I didn’t even realize it, probably because I was too focused on the next area of study, rather than properly reinforcing what was just learned. Yet, it’s amazing how a small amount of deliberate focus and effort can turn an important daily practice, such as reviewing previous learning, into a valuable exercise that reinforces much more than the last lesson, but also enhances student voice and supports differentiation. So, I did a little experiment in all of my classes. Each day that I felt review was appropriate I tried to employ a new strategy that was completely student-centered, but teacher-directed. This allowed me to “fill in the gaps” of information that students could not recall, or identify misunderstandings. The additional application that I hadn’t considered, and admittedly stumbled upon, was to include a range of learning skills in each activity (“Approaches To Learning”, for the IB teachers out there). I even found myself shortening longer activities to suit daily review. This addition is now deliberate and the only extra time it takes is to glance at my ATL document. My students have responded well, and I believe our review is more relevant, allows for additional practice and application, and students are far more engaged. We don’t have to review every day, and the teacher can determine how long or how deep to go, based on student feedback. This little “experiment” came after reading “Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher” by Rushton Hurley (purchase from EdTechTeam Press or Amazon, and feel free to read my review of the book) 

I’m confident teachers from K-12 and university will find something of use in this list that can apply to your subject and practice. With this, please keep in mind that I teach History and Individuals & Societies, so this is the context of my examples. I like to have students write or think independently before moving on to the safety of sharing to a partner or small group - put the onus on everyone to think. Note that each example below has students thinking and discussing before the teacher “fills in the gaps” or corrects misunderstandings. Additionally, note the asterisk (*) when I am highlighting some method of using pairs, groups, or an ATL. 

The teacher decides upon the length of the time spent reviewing. 

Use Relevant Images. Project a slide with one or more images (photos, political cartoons, etc). Ask students to choose one or two, of the images and independently make a few short notes on how it relates to what was studied the day before. Allow students to speak to a partner or small group. Get them to make one point each at a time to provide equity. 

Draw an Image, Process, Diagram. Rather than posting some process you’ve reviewed, have students recall it on their own. Compare it with that of others in the class, and after a brief discussion the elicitation the teacher can show the correct process. 

Use Quotes. If relevant, project a list of quotes that relate to the topic. Ask students to choose one or two, and independently make a few short notes on how it relates to what was studied the day before. 

Use Images and Text. Project a mix of text (such as primary source documents, quotes, newspaper headlines) and images (such as a photograph, a chart, diagram, propaganda poster). Ask students to choose one or two, of the images and independently make a few short notes on how it relates to what was studied the day before. 

Find Images or Text. Have students do a quick web search to find images that relate to a topic, such as a propaganda poster or map (or a piece of text). In pairs or small groups, each taking turns, students explain how their image relates to the prior learning. *This is also an opportunity to remind students of copyright infringement but adding an extra layer - use the advanced Google Search tool to find copyright free images, or a website such as Flickr. 

Summarize In Groups. Have students take two minutes to discuss the key points of the previous learning (don’t allow them to take notes if you want to include the listening ATL below). Then, the 
*Encourage active listening. Let the students know that one person in each group will rotate and paraphrase the discussion for the next group (you’ll have to assign numbers to students and choose the number that rotates).

Word, Phrase, Sentence, 50-Word Statement. Have students independently write a word, a phrase, and a sentence that are all relative to the previous learning. Put the students in small groups to share their ideas. Next, they use their collective ideas to create a 50-word statement. The statement MUST include one idea from each individual. *This promotes collaborative learning, compromise, and inclusion. 

Write & Ask Questions. Have students independently write questions *Students can practice questioning techniques, such as writing one factual, one conceptual, and one debatable question. After writing the questions, have students move around the room spending 30-45 seconds at a time with each person they “meet” (which should be enough time to ask and answer two questions, or give longer time for conceptual and debatable questions). 

Write a Definition. Give students a list of vocabulary or concepts and have them independently write a definition for one or more. Next, in pairs or groups, students can work in groups or pairs to work together to make one definition to share out. *Why not raise the bar? Assign one concept or term to a group to define. Then, each group rotates around the room making additions and suggestions. When the group is back to their original definition they can choose to make revisions or not. This could be a long activity or could lead to a discussion about the process of refining writing and ideas. 

Wagon Wheels. Students write independently based on a teacher prompt. Next, students sit in chairs so that there is an inner circle, and an outer circle of chairs facing each other. The conversations should be one-to-one. Student share one idea at a time each, for equity. See the School Reform Initiative example to better understand this approach.

Compare Short Pieces of Relevant (but new) Writing. Choose a couple of short pieces of writing that relate to the previous learning, but from differing perspectives or approaches. Require that they identify how it relates to the prior learning, as well as highlight the key point or points. Students share with a partner. *This is an opportunity to practice finding the main ideas as well as identifying perspectives. This activity could also be done as a jigsaw. 

Take a Poll. You could use an online poll or some other form of polling to get student opinions on prior learning, leading to a discussion on the topic. Online apps such as Mentimeter, Plickers, Kahoot, Quizziz, Poll Everywhere, or Socrative would work well. Have a look at this Menitmeter poll (Go to and use the code 465182 to see an example student view - you’ll have to make an account to see the teacher view, which you can determine; for this example “Menti” I’ve chosen a spidergraph).

Use Photos/Images of People Doing Things. Have students relate the action taking place in the images to what was learned. 

Use Short Video to Compare. Choose a short video that relates to what has been studied and ask them to explain the connection to the previous learning. For example, a short clip of one dictator that will likely have similarities to a dictator you’ve just studied). *This allows students to practice compare and contrast.

Use a Map To Review. Have students look at a map to review something History or an event. This can be done in pairs or small groups and presented to the class.

Use a Graph to Review. Show a variety of graphs or charts to review previous learning. Students work independently before sharing with a partner or group. 

Have a little fun sometimes…

Play Quizziz or Kahoot. If you’re working with vocabulary or topics with a lot of visuals, it doesn’t take much time to construct a fun online game. Time at the end of class? Do the game again to see if the review at the beginning sticks (you’ll be surprised). I personally like the analytics format in Quizziz. Try this one on globalization terms and concepts my students enjoyed. 

Write a Headline, Obituary, Love Letter, Haiku, a Rap (you get the idea). Put students in small groups or pairs to write something creative that reflects what you want them to review. 

Mime It. Have students work in groups to use a little drama and mime an aspect of what was studies the day before. Consider giving a different task to each group and see if they could communicate it effectively to the other groups. Conversely, give the same task to all and determine which group provided more clarity and why. 

Play Paper Scissors Rock. When reviewing something that has one or more perspectives students move around the room with a notepad playing Paper Scissors Rock. The winner gives one perspective of their choice, while the other offers an opposing or different perspective (of course, this can be done to review when there may have been a lot to remember, or a wide are of interpretations, though you’ll want to figure out the winner’s task and the loser’s task or the game is pointless).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Teacher Certifications That Will Build Your PLN and EdTech Teacher Toolkit: Turn Your Favourite Platforms into Professional Badges

Don’t diss the badge collectors! Sometimes you see in an email signature, professional blog or website, a teacher that appears to have done everything. This may prompt a number of thoughts: Wow, this person is motivated! Wow, this person couldn’t possibly apply all of that to their practice! Yikes, that looks daunting! While you should undertake these programs with the aim of continuing your learning, there’s nothing wrong with thinking ‘that’s not too long, I can get that!’ After a recent barrage of discussions with colleagues and others in my professional learning network (PLN), I’ve decided to offer arguments for why educators should be a badge collector.

Below this professional tirade is a short description of the following programs:

Let’s start with the PLN. In the past I’ve heard educators show disdain for networking, devaluing the practice as self-serving and something done in business. Although I have met educators who build their networks for clicks and likes, I would argue the majority want to share, learn and engage. Basically, as you take these online programs you are building your professional network. Some require that you join a Google+, Facebook, or some kind of online professional community. This is where you interact and engage with others to get your students (and yourself) connected and more global and open-minded. I’ve had the good fortune to have has my students in Japan engage with students in North America and Asia. This is priceless. As an example, an eductor in the US and I (here in Japan) have students working on government and election campaigns. After viewing campaign commercials on Flipgrid students in the US will electronically vote on a Google Form. Thank you to my PLNs on Flipgrid and Twitter. It’s also pretty cool when you go to a professional development event and finally get to meet that people face-to-face, but with a relationship already established.

Stay Current by Getting Updates. Let’s build on the PLN idea. When you are a member of these communities you will get the newest information first. Whatever platform or company it is, when you are certified there is usually a closed group that you must be invited to join. When something new comes out, or there is an update, or perhaps even beta testing, you may be in the loop before many others. You can embrace (or be a part of) the change! Way cool.

Access to Great Resources & Experts. Again, PLN. (are you seeing the pattern?) When you are stuck needing a resource or an idea you will have more people to reach out to for support. If it is a very specific learning community, such as National Geographic, you’re more likely to get a very narrow body of resources. More often than not, someone will respond with resources. Worst case scenario? You get too much stuff to sift through. Nice problem to have, right? And you never know when there is an expert in your field who has done the same training and is part of that community.

Get Your Name Out There. Many for-profit and non-profit education organizations appreciate the time you’ve spent learning and earning these badges or certifications. Having these badges demonstrates the faith each organization has in your abilities to navigate and apply their platforms. Should you be one, like myself, who enjoys presenting at professional development events, these badges are proof that you know what you’re doing. (advice: stay up-to-date before presenting - the apps do change!) Sometimes you may have a company, such as a popular Google Partner called EdTechTeam, that will waive your event fees if you attend as an EdTechTeam Presenter. When organizations such as Edcamp, Coffee EDU, and ASCD know your name you may just be invited to present or coordinate.

Career Opportunities. You’re not selfish for planning your next move. Many educators are happy to be in the same place for their career, while others want to bounce around. Both are fine. Duh. Many of these networks not only offer classroom connections, professional interaction, and teacher learning, but also job postings. Although I don’t entirely believe in the idea of “it’s not what you know but who you know”, people will often give someone a look if they have had positive online interactions.

Free (or cheap) is Always Nice. Often these certifications are free and will only you cost time. If they cost, usually they are inexpensive. (the GCE1 and GCE 2 exams are $10 USD and $25 USD respectively) Additionally, you may get free stuff. If you take the time to become a Flipgrid Certified Educator you will get the Flipgrid Classroom version, and all of the platform options, for free for 45 days. (at the time of this writing)

If you have further questions leave a note in the comments section. Good luck and have fun with your professional learning journey!


Flipgrid Certified Educator, Flipgrid Ambassador. A simple but effective student voice video platform with a variety of teacher controls. The program will teach you how to navigate the platform. This platform is becoming very popular, very quickly. The platform also has other badges when you reach certain milestones, such as a certain nuber of views or responses.

Common Sense Educator. A digital citizenship initiative for kids that include educators, administrators, and parents. A massive range of resources. The program will teach you how to navigate the platform and resources. Many high-quality lessons and guides.

National Geographic Educator Certification Program. A program aimed largely at teachers of sciences and social studies, though it would benefit any classroom teacher.

Seesaw Ambassador. A program for this learning management system that requires you to update yearly. (I respect programs that require some basic recertification process)

Adobe Education Exchange. (click the 'Learn' tab) A range of courses using Adobe products. Some are free, some are cost-bearing. You’ll have to have the products to complete the training.

Flipped Learning International Ambassadors. A program with different levels that gets deep into the flipped learning model.

Certified BrainPOP Educator Program(online course registration link is here) On-site and online certification programs. BrainPop travels around with certification workshops, but you can apply for the online course and they express that when the next cohort comes up they’ll get in touch. Just fill out the Google Form.

Blue Ribbon Educator (Tynker Coding for Kids). See other types of Tynker training on offer here. A platform based on coding for kids. You’ll have to have access to the platform.

Google Certified Educator (Level 1 and Level 2), Google Certified Innovator, Google Certified Education Trainer *see the entire Google for Education Training Center landing page). These are all time intensive, but highly valuable. I recommend any educator to do the Google certifications to whatever level they aspire to. You will become a Google apps ninja and have access to several learning communities. For the GCI training, you will have to travel and do a couple of days of training. There are three to four cohorts per year. If your aim is to build your PLN, joining any of these (or more than one) will be the quickest way to meet a lot of people.

Apple Teacher. This is also valuable, particularly if you are using Apple devices and apps in your classroom. There are modules based on creating content, which I believe is a very important thing for teachers to learn to do. (and model for our students) This is not so time intensive, but worthwhile. *Update: thanks @Dan_Ferreira_Jp for the suggestion to like Swift Playgrounds in the Apple Teacher program, for those who are keen about coding. (we should all get an understanding of coding!)

Apple Distinguished Educator. This is only open every two years, and like the Google Certified Innovator program, quite competitive. It is more competitive and, in fact, quite exclusive. This has its pros and cons. Your Apple PLN will be much smaller than your Google PLN, but likely to have more engagement with specific individuals. It is a good program, particularly if you are using Apple devices and apps in your classroom. You will have to travel and do a few days of training.

Microsoft Innovative Educator. A series of badges and points using Microsoft applications.

*TED-Ed did have a TED-Ed Innovative Educators program, so keep your eye out for an update!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simple and Effective Ways To Improve Your Teaching: A Book Review of Rushton Hurley's "Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher"

(purchase from EdTechTeam Press or Amazon)

*After reading, if you’re inspired to share, please offer an idea (or more!) to this padlet.

Rushton Hurley has given us a witty, thought-provoking, and inspiring book for all educators. Teachers, administrators, and I would also suggest parents, would all benefit from reading this incredibly entertaining, and remarkably insightful book.

If you’ve been looking for a no-nonsense book with practical ideas to improve your teaching practice, then Making Your teaching Something Special is a must read. In fact, if you’re in the field of education, this book is a must-read. For the new educator, it will inspire you to think more deliberately and plan the habits you want to develop your craft around. For the veteran teacher, the ideas, suggestions, and real-life anecdotes will reinforce the great things you are already doing, as well as remind you of the essential practices you’ve for some reason “let slide”. Additionally, you will leave each chapter energized, and with a determination to add something new to your teaching habits.

Making Your teaching Something Special is divided into five 'Areas', each with short chapters, which makes the book a nice pick up, put down, ponder, and plan - a bonus that you don’t often see in books for educators. At the end of each 'Area' there is a series of questions for educators to discuss and explore, be it for a staff meeting, a study group, or an administrative team meeting.

In this post, we’ll look at the five 'Areas' that Hurley outlines, while keeping in mind my comments here only scratch the surface of what is in the book. When you finish reading (or now), have a look at Hurley’s non-profit and get your students involved in creating high-quality learning resources that can be used by others.

In Area 1 Hurley discusses rapport with students. I imagine any educator would agree that building positive (yet professional) relationships with students is critical to student success. How do we quickly learn names and deal with feeling embarrassed about forgetting? Are we really aware of how we address our students when talking in one-on-one or with an entire class? Hurley discusses strategies to build that positive relationship with individual students, but in a way that allows that trust to echo throughout your classes. (ultimately building a positive reputation for yourself) How do we deal with student discipline, work with parents, and build communities within our classrooms? The chapters in this segment also offer advice to the teacher for how to deal with our own misgivings and the inevitable situations that arise in an environment in which we work with a lot of people - and varied personalities - each day. 

Area 2 explores the world of assessment, and overall deals with the question ‘Are our assessments effective?’. Are we really pushing our students to be fascinating? Are we giving them pathways that foster intrinsic motivation and genuine curiosity? Something in this section that struck me is an area I’ve been pursuing in my own teaching - are we guiding students to understanding how to ask a good question? An important point in this ‘Area’ suggests that we offer more opportunities to evaluate the work of others, an exercise that helps students consider what a quality and creative piece of work really looks like.

In sum, beyond the great ideas, Rushton Hurley is clear about one thing: education is a ‘people business’ and the person has to be at the center. Not all strategies may work for your context, but they can be modified as such. And yes, there is work involved, but with rewards that will benefit everyone involved. Hurley also discusses his past strategies of using pre-tests. (which are easier with digital tools such as Google Forms, Quizlet, and other survey-generating software) Ultimately, for myself, the reflection on assessments we give is an critical takeaway. Are we really thinking about the purpose of an assessment before we give it? It sounds obvious, but busy teachers often try to keep their heads above water and I would argue that meaningful assessment is one area that can suffer early on. 

Although I don’t buy into the antiquated ‘sage on the stage’ approach to teaching, Area 3 addresses a critical skill every teacher should develop: delivery. How much do we vary our review and introduction of a new topic to a class? Are our methods varied and engaging? Hurley provides several great approaches to beginning a class in such a way that students are curious, thinking, and engaged for the beginning - setting the tone for the rest of the lesson. His advice is actually quite simple. Be unpredictable. Rushton Hurley, remember, is a veteran teacher, and as such addresses other considerations like getting the attention of students, setting them up for interest rather than boredom, and using language that implies all learning in the course is valuable. Yet another area where I feel teachers can fail is modeling academic honesty. As a teacher of History and Individuals and Societies I feel an inherent responsibility to show my sources. How can I expect my students to do if I don’t? Again, obvious, but it took time for me to develop this important habit. (Chrome extensions and online citation tools don’t allow for excuses anymore: see these tutorials) Another great takeaway from this section is a reminder to ask engaging questions, and provide strategies that allow for all students to answer questions in a comfortable manner. (without having to stand out) Hurley reminds us that it’s a good thing to have students come up with ideas that we didn’t - and celebrate them! We don’t have to be complete masters of our subjects. (even when we strive to be) Finally, know when to stop helping. 

A few of my own resources (feel free to copy and/or share):
Area 4, Collegiality and Professionalism, is aimed at how we can engage our teaching communities more effectively, locally, nationally and globally. Hurley gives us many strategies to step out of our four classroom walls and seek learning opportunities. Although a teacher of 20 years, having started at a new school last August I found I was faced with some of the challenges discussed in the book. I needed help navigating how the school functions, not to mention some good conversation in my subject area. Had some of the suggestions in Making Your Teaching Something Special been in place, it may have been that much easier. Regardless of your situation, he suggests, it’s on us to seek those professional discussions. (and perhaps create them through organizing an Edcamp or CoffeeEDU) (I’ll add attending a Google Educator Group event - or starting your own GEG) These kinds of events are usually half to one day, or in the case of CoffeeEDU, just an hour. You decide. These kinds of events are invaluable to expand your PLN. (professional learning network)

Taking advantage of the internet age is seeking out ideas online - using or adapting the zillions of great ideas already out there. (don’t forget to cite your source!) There is a tremendous economy of sharing online, and if you don’t tap into it you’re making a mistake. Stretch your thinking to use the resources beyond teaching content, but also to develop skills. Hurley also suggests using student-created material to drive some of your professional conversations. What did you like, dislike, or would change if you were to give the same assessment? A lot of learning can come from such a discussion. (check out Hurley’s select list of select list of videos for this purpose) This section also emphasizes the need to question old processes. In one anecdote he discusses how a student could benefit from using the same assignment in two classes, but develop different skills. A very important chapter here is dealing with mediocrity - getting professional selves out of the doldrums and continuing to learn and improve, and maintain an awareness of the attitudes, words, and body language we put out there for the whole world to see. 

Logistics is the fifth and final Area. Rushton Hurley can’t stress enough (and neither can I) how important it is to know all of the people that make your school move. The first faces most of us see after an interview are the staff in the main office; without them doing their jobs we can’t do ours. It’s that simple. We’re all working together. Hurley’s comments go far beyond this in the book, noting the connection these people make between faculty, students and parents. He notes gaining an understanding of the community resources available that may help with certain unforeseen circumstances that can arise. Also in this final area, Hurley discusses preparation for working with parents. It will always pay off to keep records of information on students and communication, and he gives examples and strategies that will help teachers develop positive and productive relationships with parents.

Finally, access Rushton Hurley’s website, and more specifically the 5-Day Teacher Challenge, to find practical strategies to improve your teaching!

Other topics of discussion you will find in the book:
  • Offering (meaningful) extra credit 
  • Ready to go activities
  • Tying service to learning activities
  • Maintaining a good balance of comfort/discomfort in your journey to be your best
  • Trying new things that other teachers do without comparing yourself
  • Dealing with disagreement, debate (and sometimes arguments)
  • Developing professional habits when you may not agree with school protocols
  • The benefits of clearly identifying your classroom needs
  • Working with organizations outside of the school that you can benefit from (or assist!)
  • Finding inspiration!

Happy teaching! (and don't forget the Padlet!)

Making Your Teaching Something Special: 50 Simple Ways to Become a Better Teacher (2017)
by Rushton Hurley

EdTechTeam Press, Amazon or search via ISBN:
ISBN-10: 194516736X
ISBN-13: 978-1945167362

Monday, January 1, 2018

How can we truly innovate in our schools? An Overview of the Popular Book 'The Innovator’s Mindset' by George Couros

by George Couros (purchase from Amazon, sign up for Couros’ “The Principal of Change” newsletter, and learn from him on Twitter - @gcouros) *The thoughts in this post merely scratch the surface of the contents of the book.

Innovation has been a buzzword in education for quite some time now, but as Dr. George Couros sees it we often don’t have a clear definition of what “innovation” means prior to declaring that we are ‘innovative’. He rightly emphasizes that using technology is not innovation and, argues that we need to question what we do and why, and in this context, we’re talking about what we’re doing in our schools and with education in general. (without limiting the discussion to technology) Couros draws our attention to the visual (on the right) you may have seen before, which is credited to Bill Ferriter (@plugusin), stressing the point.

George Couros gives us a great example of how education can stifle innovation. For those who haven't heard the story, the demise of Blockbuster Video (or the old VHS / DVD rental shops) still teaches us heaps. Blockbuster missed its chance to innovate and paid the price. The Onion had a ‘mocumentary’ online as far back as 2008, a telling example of the importance of innovation in any field or industry. (see the hilarious video here)

Fixed vs growth Mindsets. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Couros discusses the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, and the need for educators and curriculums to accommodate student failure to foster success. However, he stretches this thinking further, challenging us to move beyond the simple idea that “failure is good”, and explains the need to help learners develop an unwillingness to give up. (in his words, resilience, and grit) *Following Dr. Couros' lead, I'm including several excellent Sylvia Duckworth sketches found in the book and elsewhere. 
The Iceberg Illusion is a great visual showing us
what kind of commitment success requires
Couros cites Dr. Carol Dweck’s own innovative discussions on growth mindsets. You can learn more from this short YouTube video by John Spencer that shares Dweck’s ideas on fixed vs growth mindsets. (I quite liked this one from Better Than Yesterday as well)

The growth mindset discussion left me questioning what I was doing about my own professional growth: Would I want to be a learner in my own class? Truthfully, not always. How can I challenge myself to be a more innovative teacher? How can I adapt the tools to build better learning? Couros again has a great visual produced by Sylvia Duckworth. (@sylviaduckworth) See the visual below and a deeper explanation of each of the following characteristics here

  • Empathetic
  • Problem Finders
  • Risk-Takers
  • Networked
  • Observant
  • Creators
  • Resilient
  • Reflective

A key section of the book addresses a critical factor in adaptive, innovative schools: leadership. The emphasis is on relationships leading to innovation. In this, he shares a scenario in which a good idea is killed off due to a fear of the implications for the entire organization. Another area in which Couros points out relationships are crucial for innovative schools is that amoung teachers, with reference to the sharing economy. He compares “the classroom teacher” vs “the school teacher”. A school culture in which people share resources and ideas will inevitably lead to better learning, more interaction, and most likely a greater pool of well-developed ideas. (and that a non-sharing teacher may be a great teacher in the classroom, but doesn’t amount to much help beyond their four classroom walls) For school leaders he suggests:

  • Spending time with smaller groups of people and asking what they want to learn (students, teachers, staff)
  • Shadow students
  • Manage things, lead people (which Couros quotes from Steven Covey)

Couros outlines the characteristics of the innovative leader as:

  • Visionary
  • Empathetic
  • Models Learning
  • Open Risk Taker
  • Networked 
  • Observant
  • Team Builder
  • Always Focused on Relationships

See his ideas in more detail here and another Duckworth sketch below.
Are you this kind of leader? Keep in mind, leadership isn't simply school administration
We are all leaders in some capacity.
Creating a culture of innovation will require some debate, discussion, and inevitable disagreement. Speaking of cultures, and referencing Devorah Heitner (author of ‘Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World’ - see her website Raising Digital Natives for great advice and her highly engaging book) Dr. Couros notes how a culture of compliance in schools limits us in our ability to help students learn to be curious, self-directed, and engaged. Conversely, we can empower our students by allowing them to do things, which will lead to greater engagement. Achieving this kind of environment or school culture has to be a shared vision throughout the process. Leaders should be focusing on the strengths of their constituents to build confidence (by fitting jobs around skill sets), and then work on the weaknesses. This makes complete sense. When leaders ignore their people, their people will be disengaged. (I have personal experience with this, which led me to leave a school and take my skills elsewhere to a place in which I could contribute as well as develop my teaching craft) An incredibly important point is the need to demonstrate a genuine concern for your staff. What are their interests? Their goals? Their hopes for their professional future? A leader likely does not know what their people want and what they are thinking, so they should be asking. Couros notes that, ultimately, leaders must model and mentor. So what should a leader (and a teacher) be looking for in classrooms?

  • Voice
  • Choice
  • Time for Reflection
  • Opportunities for Innovation
  • Critical Thinkers
  • Problem Solvers/Finders
  • Self-Assessment
  • Connected Learning

See Dr. Couros’ more detailed explanation here and yet another excellent Duckworth visual.

Asking and answering the question "Is this obvious in my classroom?" for each area
intimidated me, but I have clear ideas for improvement.
The technology piece comes back into play later in the book, with a philosophy that reminds me of a Google for Education t-shirt I once received which reads “Less tech-ing, more teaching”. I love the statement. (not to mention laughing out loud when I read “Are your school devices really just $1000 pencils?” in the book) It directly suggests that technology are tools, but we need a plan for it. This is what George Couros is saying about technology. He goes deeper to point out that the technology tools available to us today can transform and personalize learning. Schools do need to carefully plan how technology is used, as well as what technology is used. This plan should include finding, developing and celebrating in-house to district level talent to help develop the skill sets of the wider teaching community. Couros goes into greater detail, but essentially, we have to ask ourselves what is best for students and how is learning improved with the technology being employed.

More is Less. In this section, we are given a bit of a crash course in building a culture of innovation. Many teachers will no doubt appreciate his argument that we need more depth and breadth of what we do, rather than check too many curriculum boxes. Don’t read into that statement too deeply - Dr. Couros does not undervalue the importance of curriculum. Rather, he is stating that fewer and well-focused initiatives will more likely lead to effective change. (and fewer initiatives will be less likely to burn out your faculty and keep the team on the same game plan) More time and freedom to explore will lead to new and better ideas. He breaks the levels of ability into three stages:

  • Literate = can use the tool or device
  • Adaptive = technology can be used to replace “low tech”
  • Transformative = you can do something you haven’t done before

In the process, he suggests that leaders allow faculty to seek out and explore tools that may be useful for learning. Moreover, he comes back to an earlier point and reminds us that innovation isn’t limited to technology; we should also be thinking about structures and direction in learning.

The final parts of the book is an appeal to educators to join the sharing economy. Innovation comes from ideas being shared, reused, and revised. (but give credit where it’s due, as George Couros does consistently throughout The Innovator’s Mindset)

Embracing an Open Culture means that we as educators can't isolate ourselves from a connected world. It’s already here and has been for a while. It can be overwhelming, but hiding from it will limit the effectiveness of the 21st-century educator. Couros points to Chris Anderson on TED. He gave a popular TED Talk, "How web video powers global innovation”, that is well worth a look.  A sharing economy will allow us to self-teach and innovate. George Couros offers these insights to sharing:

  • The bigger the group, the more potential for innovation
  • There is visibility to see what other people are doing
  • There is a desire to change, grow, and improve

Some final (and insightful) thoughts from Dr. George Couros:

Dr. Couros leaves us with another great visual (below), this one developed by himself, called The Networked Teacher. You can see it on his website which comes with a detailed explanation of how it can be interpreted.

*You can subscribe to Dr. George Couros’ blog "The Principal of Change” at Learn from him on Twitter (@gcouros).