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).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Extending Student Voice with Flipgrid

*See classroom samples and a YouTube playlist of tutorials halfway through this post.

If you haven’t heard of Flipgrid yet, you’ll soon find it being spoken of in teaching circles. This discussion platform is relatively new but its value in the classroom is quickly being realized by teachers and students around the globe. It is indeed a powerful tool to enhance student voice.

Essentially, a teacher creates a “grid” which acts as a kind of classroom, or digital discussion board. Within the grid the teacher posts topics. In each topic, you can add a description and if desired a photo or video explanation of what to discuss. Additionally, a document can be linked as well (perhaps with resources or a more detailed explanation), and there are other topic resources and attachments such as image, gifs and video links. Students view the topic and respond with their own video. Additionally, students can respond to each other’s responses. (this feature can be controlled by the teacher) What do I love overall about Flipgrid?

  • Students use Flipgrid for free and do not need accounts. 
  • The interface is intuitive and user-friendly.
  • Student (and teacher) voice is clearly enhanced in a way that all students can speak and respond to each other.
  • Differentiation is supported through self-paced recording; students can record-pause-record-pause, taking their time (or completely delete a recording and begin again); conversely, students can create an edited video and upload or link to YouTube; students who don’t want their face in a video can point the camera away.
  • Teacher-controlled privacy settings (owners of a grid and topic can choose who sees what and moderate posts).
  • There is a Topic Discovery Library with thousands of grids with many ideas.
  • Your own grids and the individual or group responses can be shared via social media, as well as embedded in a variety of learning management systems.
  • It’s fun! 

How have I used Flipgrid thus far? For a Grade 8 unit of inquiry on epidemics and the spread of disease a colleague of mine and I recorded a zombie attack on the school, challenging the kids to create a video that demonstrates they’ll be prepared for a disease outbreak. (so why not make it a zombie virus!) Here is the topic, and here is the lesson document:

In a Grade 9 class we had a more serious unit of inquiry on civil wars. Students had to research the Syrian civil war, giving causes, consequences, peace initiatives, and demonstrate their opinions and deeper thinking by assigning blame to individuals or organizations, and ultimately a strategy for the international community to follow that will end the conflict. Have a look at the assignment here and feel free to copy!

Finally, for a fun school event day of learning activities I used Flipgrid for a One-Act Film Challenge. Students had one hour to conceive, script, and film a video in one hour. We uploaded to Flipgrid. (at the time of writing there is only one video, but a few more will follow and I intend to develop this topic) Have a look at the activity in greater detail here and give it a go!

How will I use Flipgrid in the future? I’m certain this list will evolve and no doubt there are people out there using the tool in these ways.

  • Classroom connections in the “Global Grid Connections” tab (such a “Who am I?” or “What event was this?” in history)
  • A brief description of a current event
  • Beginning of year introductions
  • Student-made tutorials
  • Review (what can you remember in your head)
  • Reflections
  • Debating / Four corners discussions
  • Getting teacher feedback for presentations via Flip
  • Lesson idea sharing 
  • Lesson exit tickets
  • Oral testing
  • For a new Google Educator Group, we’ll direct our members to offer a video introduction
  • Career days - parents who don’t have time to come in can record on the grid
  • Question asking (for a unit or for review)
  • TED Ed Club Grid

Teachers have the choice of the free Flipgrid One or the paid Flipgrid Classroom. Needless to say, you have much more flexibility and more features with the paid version. Like many platforms, there are programs and badges to help motivate teachers to use the tool. How about for students?

As for my own use of Flipgrid, I’m just scratching the surface of the potential.


Want to learn more? Download the 22-page PDF guide or have a look through the Flipgrid Help Center at .

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Strategies for Collaborative Practices & Learning: Working with Text

I had a sense that collaboration can fall into a simple task of doing group work, and confident that I was innovating in terms of collaboration, but had a huge mind shift over the last few weeks while doing professional development with School Reform Initiative. This post focuses on two strategies for working with text: 'Text Rendering' and 'Three Levels of Text'. More strategies will be posted, as I apply them to my own practice. 

The SRI is an invaluable resource for educators and educational leadership teams (and I would argue organisational leaders). The structure and complexity of collaboration is much deeper than I have been practicing, and I came away with some great ideas. Usually I post after doing research, but this is all SRI and a couple of weekends of excellent professional develop. I was so impressed that in the first week and second week I was employing the strategies to my daily practice, with student approval (strategies are “protocols” in SRI language).

Thank you to Margaret MacLean and Tamara Studniski, and St. Maur International School, Nagoya International School, and the East Asia Regional Council of Schools for providing the opportunity. 

Strategy: Text Rendering (looking at text as a group, from individual perspectives) The purpose of text rendering is to clarify and expand our thinking about a piece of text, while working together to construct meaning from that text. The idea is to look at text in a different way, and identify how we may look at text in comparison to others. Participants independently do the following as they read: 

*underline a sentence or two that you feel has significant meaning or resonates with you

*underline a specific word

*underline a specific phrase

*consider writing a concept taken from the text (this is my own addition)

Students then share the sentences and briefly discuss why each was chosen. Identify similarities and differences, and reasons for choices. Next, share and write the phrases and words. Discuss the nature of the text and what you get from it. Are there any new questions that arise? Is there new learning? We must make efforts to cultivate our inner teacher. 

Application: One I have tried is with Grade 12 History students studying the varying groups who opposed the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. They focused on political parties and church organizations. Due to use in an advanced academic History class I chose to add “writing a concept” to get them thinking more deeply. I also followed up with a mentimeter activity that generated opinions on the overall topic. (which included previous lesson content and concepts)

Another possibility is to have students write these on post-it notes, and then have students group the post-its from each category. (sentence, word, phrase, concept) This would be interesting to see how the class might cluster (or not cluster) their thinking. Have a look at SRI's "Affinity Mapping" protocol. 

Strategy: Three Levels of Text (making deeper meaning)
This protocol helps students to grasp a deeper understanding of a piece of text. Students respond to 3 levels of the text: the literal (level 1), the interpretive (level 2), and the implications as they relate to the reader (level 3). Groups will need a timekeeper / facilitator to keep the group on track. 

I recommend that the piece of text be read and annotated ahead of time (such as for homework - a flipped learning model). Students should select a number of passages or ideas that can be discussed as a group. How many passages to identify will depend on the size of the group. Each student will share out their passage, so students sharing later will possibly have their first choice taken. 

The process is as follows:

One person expresses their ideas using up to 3 minutes (the teacher can determine the number of minutes - this will depend on the age of the students and length of the text). Work from one level to the next, and then move on. 

*Level 1: The student reads aloud the passage she/he has selected. 

*Level 2: The student says what they think about the passage (interpretation, connection to past experiences, emotions that were evoked, connections to other learning or knowledge)

*Level 3: Expresses the implications for their course of study or body of research.

The group responds (for a total of up to 2 minutes or a teacher-determined amount of time) to what has been said. 

Repeat the process, and as always, bring the class together to debrief and discuss the piece of writing to address thoughts, ideas, and comprehension. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Starting at a new school or do you have new teachers? ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ offers lessons in dealing with change.

*See a version of this for teens at the end of this post.

I started teaching at a new school last week and was inspired by an orientation activity in which we looked at the school’s teaching standards in discussion groups. I’ll explain the activity below, but first, the hook. We had a look at Who Moved My Cheese, authored by Dr. Spencer Johnson in 1998. (we actually viewed the first four minutes of the short movie made, and following a discussion with regard to the allegory, we watched this video that brings it all together with a contemporary example using Amazon. I encourage you to think about this as an activity in which you have new and old faculty think of themselves as individuals evolving and learning - what we ask our students to do. Which character are you most like - the two mice, "Sniff" and "Scurry" (who represent the "animal instinct" to adapt to the situation), or the two little people, "Hem" and "Haw." (who are a metaphor for being indecisive)

The Activity
*Feel free to download these activity description and worksheets to meet your school's needs. They can be modified, and used for a paper-based or digital activity. As noted, these are from an inspiring moment at school, original documents, but not my original ideas. You can find other examples in an online search.

The point in this activity was to connect our reservations or resistance to change, have an introduction to the school’s “Teaching and Learning Strands”, and consider where we fall as individuals on a continuum for each strand. There are five strands at the school, broken down into descriptors that we considered in small groups, and with regard to our experience in each strand, placed ourselves on a continuum: Developing - Competent - Proficient - Can Help Others. (there are various models, but I like the four choices that force you to not take the easy middle road) Following this we considered what our “cheese” - what our things we should focus on changing over the course of our transition to a new school, and in general as professionals. It’s a reflection on what we need to do to adapt, because change in inevitable. So how will be deal with that? Be aware that there are criticisms of this allegory, but it’s your choice to agree with the activity as a reflective practice or not.

Want to extend the activity? How about working something with this animated review of Stephen Covey’s  “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. To what degree do your current habits reflect Covey’s “7 habits”.

Want to use it in the classroom? Here are activities baed on “Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens”.

Resource 1: An extended activity by Learn NC.
Resource 2: A shorter activity from Penguin.

Ann Gerber. "Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens." Web. 14 Aug. 2017.

"Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson ► Animated Book Summary." YouTube.
21 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2017. <>

"Who Moved My Cheese." 18 Apr. 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.

"Who Moved My Cheese." YouTube. 10 Sept. 2011. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.