Student Lessons from the Shake Up Learning Show


I had plans today to write about several topics including a book I finished, Connected Principal Cohort, and presenting to a room with over 600 years years of experience as principals. However, there is one topic that I feel like a have to cover that eclipses all those topics: 

The Shake Up Learning Show With Kasey Bell episode 23: Coding, Art, and Student-Led Innovation [student interview with Ainsley] 


The first reason is pretty obvious if you listen to the episode. My daughter is the one being interviewed by Kasey.  However, this is much more than a proud dad moment. It is also a proud principal and employee moment! What Ainsley shares is a reflection of the work and dedication our teachers and staff show on a daily basis. Getting an education is much more than receiving a grade and a piece of paper upon graduation. Ainsley touches on this and probably would have gone deeper if she wasn’t so nervous. Heck, I think the girl could deliver a PD session on effective practices based on her experience, hearing her educator parents (and grandparents) talk, and listening to podcasts anytime we are in the car.


However, I wanted to take a moment to dive deeper into what Ainsley is saying. I think Kasey is right, we learn so much when we take time to listen to students. We can build on effective practices and support them if we consider them in some of the decisions we make.


8:30 Ainsley is introduced and so am I, this is the only time I spoke. I was able to sit back and listen to her speak. As I reflect back, I am amazed at how composed and well spoken she is. We need to give our students more opportunities to present and have authentic audiences. Just having the skill of communicating thoughts can take students far in life!


9:25 Ainsley talks about her upcoming (and now done) presentation at ISTE on leadership clubs. This is a separate post I should make! The experience was amazing for all involved. Preparing a presentation of current practices forces reflection and consideration for next steps. All educators should consider presenting somewhere. Additionally, having students present at conferences is equally as powerful.


10:20 Seriously, that Google Doc was pretty impressive once she put it together. When Ainsley put projects that she liked in one place, it caused her to step back and look at how far she has come in her learning. She compared some earlier work to items she did later in the year. When making the Doc, she made the comment about how she has grown. Ainsley was naturally showing a growth mindset in that moment. She even considered how she could redo some of the items now that she mastered other skills. This is the power of portfolios. Not to showcase “completed” work. I would love to utilize a portfolio system in our building. Additionally, sharing this on a show like Shake Up Learning reminds me of Don Wettrick’s plea for educators to begin thinking about how they can help students create a positive digital footprint. 

*To see some of the work, see the episode link and peruse the show notes.


11:02 “I really like my teachers. Especially the ones that really understood me and knew what I needed to learn about…and my skill level.” This says so much about what we need to consider as educators.It doesn’t matter what age or background, students want to know you care. We show we care by getting to know students. What motivates them? How can we challenge her/him next? It also speaks to differentiation and Ainsley hints at this more.


11:40 Ainsley talks about making A’s, but didn’t expand on her true meaning. She wants teachers to challenge her and she wants advanced content that expands her knowledge. However, she has already mentioned to me that she has to make straight A’s to get into the college of her choice. Without saying it, this 7th grader is already facing the dilemma of balancing making A’s with learning something new. As a parent, this is a problem I will face in the upcoming years when helping her choose classes. I rather her learn and grow, but if I am being honest with myself, I’m not sure if I would want her risking a scholarship with a harder class that would result in a B.


12:10 Ainsley likes school, but when asked what she likes, she talks about feeling like she belongs. She references both students and teachers. We often think about students that struggle when we consider this. However, this is coming from a student that has good grades and a supportive home. What are we doing to help ALL students feel like they belong?


12:48 Did we just hear about the assessment cycle for learning from a 12 year old? Yes, yes we did. It is so important to use preassements to see what students know and pick up from there. If we utilize preassements, we can meet students where they are and take them further/deeper in their learning. Bonus, we can spend more time on curriculum students don’t know!


13:39 consists of a 12 year old using her platform to give a shoutout to her “dream school” Rhode Island School of Design and telling the admissions office to consider a scholarship for her. This is completely unprompted. I find this hilarious. How witty are our students if we allow them to be? At the same time, it makes me wonder, should an incoming 7th grader already be looking at dream colleges? In a way, it is great that she has a vision and is already working towards it. However, how early is too early to consider life outside of just being a kid?


15:58 “I like coding because it is challenging. It is something I really enjoy because you can make something out of nothing.” To me, this is one of the most powerful statements Ainsley makes. I always question if coding has a place in our school because of the pressures of covering all the standards. How is it going to link to them? However, Ainsley verbalizes here that she likes coding because it covers critical thinking and creativity. Two of the 4Cs! In actuality, she is using communication to discuss what she did with the coding. Additionally, we can have students collaborate when coding. Hence, coding easily covers all the 4Cs! What opportunities do we provide students to challenge themselves while still providing support? How are we allowing for creativity in the classroom? 

*She also covers measurement and the design process while discussing her project.


19:14 Ainsley talks about another memorable learning experience. What sticks out is that there is a running theme to her memorable experiences. Again, she has an opportunity to create. Ainsley was able to utilize her passions to learn/complete a project. She is also presenting in front of an authentic audience. 


22:35 Is where she talks about Teach Like a P.I.R.A.T.E. Day. It is evident how much of an impact memorable experiences have on learning. Just listen to her rattle off all the classes. This is something, as a principal, I continue to wonder how we can expand on. Rather than feeling like mundane work, how do we create experiences students look forward to? When we think of trying to duplicate this daily that seems overwhelming. However, we can start small. Can we create a memorable lesson once a month? Once a week? Once we have one, use it again and continue building from there! After all, having one amazing learning experience is better than none!


23:50 Ainsley explains Code Names. Again, something that requires collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. On the surface it just seems like a game or a time filler, but it can be so much more!


24:55 What?!! She just described one of the concepts behind standards-based grading and growth mindset. I may not be able to master something yet. However, if I am allowed a do over, I can show that I learned it. Wow. Isn’t that the purpose of school? When we boil it down, we want students to master content. Sometimes the focus is on grades. In some cases grades reflect who learned the content the fastest or the first time around. However, Ainsley is saying if you give a student feedback and an opportunity to improve, further learning can occur.  


26:49 Ainsley talks about a business she created to raise funds to take a trip to Washington, D.C. and hopefully for college. How many standards could a seventh grader cover by having a business? She is learning time management in order to fulfill orders. Profit margins. Supply and demand. Ainsley created a Google Form for orders and set up automatic notifications in her email. She is designing bracelets and taking feedback to improve. What if we allowed students to build on their interests and fit standards to them rather than the other way around?

*Order here if you would like one. She has changed the prices to $9 to help with shipping. Shrewd!

27:36 Ainsley certainly has a vision and plan for her future. While we should support students dreams, I would argue this isn’t my vision for school because these dreams and visions may change. I believe the purpose of school is to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to open any door of possibility. If Ainsley changes her mind, she should be well equipped to pursue that dream as well.



Consistently Inconsistent


I have been thinking about my blog and feeling guilty because I haven’t posted in awhile…well “a while” is a stretch. It has been a year. Honestly, I have been beating myself up over it. Why can’t I put that idea in writing? I mean, Seth Godin does it DAILY! So this morning I really thought about it and determined a few reasons I hesitate and ultimately don’t write:
-it is inconvenient
-I want it to be a masterpiece
-no one reads it anyway
-I really don’t have the time
-It takes me way too long to put my thoughts down
-I rather be doing something else
-it is so much pressure to come up with a creative topic
-I will be judged for all the errors
-I will be judged for the content
-At the end of the day, is it really worth it?

That last one got me. Is blogging worth it? It took me to other times I have had that thought: trying to eat healthy, saving money, taking time off (you know, because work piles up), and so many other areas. I have a pattern of being fully enveloped in something and then completing dropping it. I am consistently inconsistent and I think this morning I figured out why. I don’t have a compelling WHY. I ate healthy to lose weight, but at the end of the day, my wife loves me for who I am. I saved money for a possibility of a vacation, but is it worth not enjoying life now?

Let’s go back to blogging. I had a WHY for blogging, here are a few:
-some of the people I respect blog
-I have heard and read from others that it is beneficial
-I’ve been told I should blog
-I wanted to share an idea

I really couldn’t tell you a good reason why I blogged, which is the reason for the inconsistency. This morning I thought about why I should blog and how to get over the hurdles that stopped me in the past. The first step is to develop a compelling WHY. I have arrived at this:

I am going to blog because I want to process my thoughts. I will use the blog as a portfolio to go back and see growth.

The next step that will cancel out some of my hurdles is to develop a few rules that eliminate the strain of perfection. Here they are:
-If it can’t be written in 30 mins or less, I am not posting it
-I am going to limit the amount of links, pictures, and other “extras” that consume time
-I am going to schedule at least once a week to post
-I’m not going to come up with a creative topic. This is going to be me. Just me. Posts will be about my day, journey, and thoughts.
-This is for me. Read it or don’t read it. Ultimately, if someone reads it, I hope they find some benefit, but I am using it for my own growth.

So there you have it. To become more consistent, I had to develop a more compelling reason for why I blog and create some norms. Just like that, I have a blog post!

They are hired, now what?


Hiring a teacher is a big responsibility for those charged with the task. Hiring new people can influence the culture, ideas, and productivity of any school. While losing good people to retirement or transfers is hard, the silver lining is that we have the ability to take another step forward with the person/people we hire. When hiring, I take a page from Dr. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Hire people that are smarter than you. Todd Whitaker says, “When hiring new teachers, the goal isn’t for them to fall in line, it is to start a new line.” Finding smart and talented people is only the beginning of the hiring process, though.

In the weeks that follow their official hiring with board approval, an email is sent out to my faculty and staff with the new teacher included. In the email, I typically let everyone know a little about the new hire, including experience and what they can bring to the table. Often, the new hire comes in before they are expected to and meets with their team, tours the building, and talks with me about the upcoming year. During the summer months, we offer induction training laying the core of our philosophies and giving ample opportunity for the new teacher to learn and process skills they will need in our district. We, like most other schools, offer training a week before other teachers are asked to arrive. In these trainings, new teachers meet with mentors, learn about our processes/resources for teaching subjects, class management systems and more. The amount of support our new teachers (if they are new to the district, they are considered a new teacher) receive is amazing.

In addition to what is set by the district, I like to remind new teachers why they were hired. We are blessed to work in an amazing district that attracts very talented teachers with a variety of talents. At some point when the dust from summer school has settled, I sit down to pen a letter to each teacher. I do not use a form letter. Each letter is specific to the applicant. While writing the letter I use my notes from the interview, artifacts from Twitter, and what I have learned about the new hire up to that point and let them know why I am excited to add them to our team. I want our new teachers to know that they have strengths, attitudes, and philosophies that add value to our school and district.

In the letter, I also like to tell new hires about us. I briefly describe what has been a school-wide focus in our building and what we are focused on in the upcoming year. Finally, I let our new hire know the philosophies we hold dear. The reasoning behind this is to give the new teacher a road map of our school. I want them to know from me, first hand, what is important to us and allow them to start thinking about how they can add to our mission.

Throughout the year I check in with new teachers formally with set meetings and informally with drop-ins. We review lessons, observations, parent contact, and just talk about how things are going inside and outside of school. Often, the letter I sent is brought up in one way or another. The teacher either mentions it or I reference some of the attributes/skills discussed in it. In fact, I have used the letter (much like the interview) to help teachers reflect on the professional progress they have made in their first few years with us. I have certainly found value in mailing out personal letters to our new hire because it lets them know their value.

Off In the Summer?


If you are an educator, I’m sure you have been asked the following question and wondered how to respond, “So you are off in the summer, right?”

You can answer in a variety of ways:

  • Yes, and loving every minute of it.
  • Well, technically I am off. However, I work just about every day on something for the upcoming year.
  • I’m off school, but I am working at my supplementary job.
  • No, I am working summer school, serving on committees, and attending professional development.

When I am asked this, I usually tell people I am off in July because that is technically true. However, those that know me, know that I do work through the summer. They also don’t know why. This includes my wife and my mother. Honestly, I sometimes question how I work through the entire summer. So, I thought I would write this post. It isn’t meant to be cynical or a piece about how hard educators work. It is just a way for me to reflect on how I use my time. I want to be clear, I enjoy my job and further learning. Most of this list is my choice to participate and I am not asked to dedicate as much time as I do. Rather than descriptive paragraphs, I decided to compose a list of anything education-related that I have done (or will do) over the summer. This list is in no certain order; nor is it comprehensive.

I would be curious, what is on your list that is not on mine? Please leave comments!

  • Read professional books and articles
  • Watch education-related YouTube channels
  • Participate in Twitter chats (not as often as I do in the school year)
  • Catch up on my education podcasts
  • Attend conferences (in person and digitally)
  • Present at conferences
  • Create presentations
  • Attend district-related PD
  • Present at district-related PD
  • Supervise summer school
  • Search for inspirational videos
  • Revise the faculty handbook
  • Revise the paraprofessional handbook
  • Create and revise the schedule
  • Hire support staff
  • Go over budget for final approval
  • Order supplies
  • Put in summer maintenance work orders
  • Learn how to create my first HyperDoc and make one
  • Plan Open House
  • Meet with incoming PTO
  • Answer emails
  • Create the PD/faculty meeting agenda for August
  • Answer questions about construction (this one is not typical, but we are building and remodeling our school)
  • Meet with teachers for input on decisions about next year
  • Create class rosters and continue to update
  • Update the website
  • Create and update new teacher website
  • Begin to work on planning PD through Connected Learning
  • Review our Leadership Clubs list (other ideas and suggestions are welcome! [especially for younger grades])
  • Review teachers individual goals for the upcoming year
  • Revisit my personal goals for the upcoming year
  • Relay PD opportunities, articles, and ideas to teachers
  • Attend committee meetings
  • Take certification tests (CPI and Google Educator Level 2)
  • Read latest legislative bulletin from the state organization
  • Review upcoming district/school changes in policy and procedure, prepare for them, and plan for communication
  • Learn the responsibilities of my role in my state’s elementary administrator’s professional organization, MAESP
  • Blog
  • Finalize PD outline for the year
  • Create a welcome a letter to new teachers explaining the attributes they possess that we are looking forward to utilizing
  • Order welcome gifts for new teachers
  • Make sure new teachers and staff have what they need to begin the school year
  • Revise the Emergency Operation Plan
  • Schedule items in our school calendar
  • Review grant opportunities and apply for what is applicable
  • Meet with fundraisers to plan for next year

Whew! I am tired just looking at this list! Full disclaimer, many of the items on this list are accomplished with the help of many other educators. For instance, Brandon Brazel built most of the new teacher website. Allison Miller has agreed to present the “explanation” portion of the HyperDoc. Jessica Simmons has helped with a large portion of this list. I could go on and on!

So what else is left off this list?  Add a comment and let me know!

Student Generated Fantasy Football Club


“Is this the year the Browns erase the ghost of ‘The Drive’? Will Saquon Barkley be the second coming of Emmitt Smith? Can the Jags D be the next ’84 Bears?”

“Dad, Dad, why are you talking to yourself? And why are you comparing these players to old guys?”

“Well Finn, I was getting ready to set the stage to write a blog about how you started a Fantasy Football club in second grade.”

“A blog? Is that like a vlog for old people?”

“Ha, I guess so. Now let me tell the story.”

“Well make sure you point out that it was all my idea and you were just around.”

Okay, now that is out of the way I can tell you the story of how we started a club that was a student idea and how it allowed families to participate together in something school related. My second-grade son, Finn, is obsessed with sports. He was jealous of my hobby of fantasy football and wanted to participate. He asked if he could start a group that plays fantasy football. I agreed. We ran into a few challenges. The first of which was that football started in early August and so did school. The second was that he was to do all the work. I was not going to give his club any special treatment. He was responsible for inviting others and getting a sponsor. The third challenge was the age restriction for ESPN fantasy football. Our parents needed to be involved if students were to make accounts. The final challenge was deciding how to set up the league and finding the prizes that Finn decided should be given away.

So the journey began. He first wrote a letter to parties interested. We had an overwhelming response from 2nd-5th grade. We created an 18 team league. We asked parents and guardians to participate alongside students and requested they set up an ESPN account before the draft. A draft was hosted at the school. Parents sat alongside their child and selected their team. Finn and I thought we had a steal in David Johnson. Another team bragged they got the best kicker after the 4th round. Finn’s buddy selected Gronk right before us. Every team had a lot of fun ribbing each other and letting it be known that they selected the winning team.

After the draft was over, we met each week in the room of the teacher that Finn found to sponsor the club, Mr. James. In the room, we went over rules, how to log back in, setting your lineup, and how to research. By the end of the season, we had students making savvy waiver wire moves and lineup choices. To ensure their team was up to par some of the students read more during the fantasy football season than the entire previous year.

Finn celebrating a touchdown.

The season was one of the highlights of the year for me as a father. I spent the week helping my son with his questions and we spent Sundays, like most in the league, bonding over football.

The next step was the prizes. Finn wanted to provide a trophy to the winner, but I told him that the school could not provide something like that. My little second grader could not be stopped. He decided to write a letter to our local sports store, SEMO Specialties and Sports. Finn hand-delivered the letter and followed up a week later. He persevered and lo and behold, the club was awarded a trophy to give to the winner. Finn made sure to write a thank you note to the owner of the store. Finn was so excited about the players, he created pictures and wrote letters to them.

Our top four finishers.

Overall, the experience was great. We were able to bring 18 families into school for a fun experience with the draft. We talked about research and making calculated risks each week with lineup decisions. I saw first hand how the league encouraged math skills for the students to determine if they had a chance of winning before the Monday night showdown. I saw my second grader writing letters to authentic audiences and using interpersonal skills to acquire goods for the club. Students grew closer to their parents because they had another common bond. Finn is already thinking about how he can start the club next year and hoping everyone forgot about David Johnson so he can steal him in the draft. As principal, I am looking forward to other ways we can empower our students and help them feel self-worth. I can’t wait to kick off another year and build on what we have already done!

Finn creating pictures of his favorite players and writing letters.


Iron Chef Professional Learning


Standing in front of a room to deliver a message others will learn and apply it is a daunting task. It seems to carry a little more pressure when doing so in front of a group of adults rather than students. In my role as principal, I want to model good instruction for my teachers. Recently, I was scheduled to give an overview of PBIS and PLC to our district’s new elementary teachers.

The presentation was interactive with the use of Pear Deck questions embedded throughout. However, after attending #ISTE18, I was motivated to utilize the #EduProtocol Iron Chef from Marlena Hebern and Jon Corippo‘s book The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Learning Possibilities.  I had first heard of the protocol during the DITCH Summit and wanted to incorporate it into the professional development that I provided, but I was unsure. I was inspired to take the plunge and fail forward after hearing Jon in person.

The only hitch was that I didn’t really have time to plan it. I arrived home at 3AM and was presenting the next morning at 8. I was making Iron Chef slides for our PBIS training using the learning I took from Alice Keeler during #COREsemo as teachers were walking in. When it was time to present this portion to the new teachers, I warned them, “This may fail, but it is worth the risk.” I added, “Plus you are new, so you don’t really have too much of a bar of expectations for presentations. So, you are the perfect group for me to try this with!”

As I explained the protocol to the teachers, you could tell there was a little confusion as to what they were to do. The next challenge was that I was asking them to summarize main components before they received instruction. The new teachers were broken up into groups of 4 or 3 and then given 10 minutes to work on their slides. We ran into some more issues, many couldn’t type on the slides because I used master slides and the links to resources didn’t work. I modeled what I preached on our #DITCHpanel at ISTE by calling an audible on the links. I gave them the sites to manually put in. I taught how to add text boxes and change backgrounds in the moment.

With the challenges above, you would have thought that this was a disaster. Honestly, this was the best PD I delivered in recent memory. The teachers were doing the work, which means they were doing the learning.

There was laughter, collaboration, feedback, creativity, and the use of technology. Teachers learned and then we filled in the gaps. The time crunch added another element of fun and focus. Additionally, the “secret sauce” served as an early finisher that enhanced the learning. When teachers presented to each other, they learned more about the topic and gained more ideas on how to enhance their presentation if we were to use the protocol again.

Iron Chef Presentations

The best part about using the Iron Chef protocol was that I taught the content I set out to teach, PBIS, but also taught Google Slides and the protocol. Teachers even added shapes and captions to pictures which reminded me of the activity, Caption This. Check out the post on it by Matt Miller and Laura Steinbrink! I could see the teachers’ wheels turning while they thought about how they could use the protocol themselves. Additionally, the winning team will receive a PD book of their choice. We call that a win-win! 

***I would love to hear from you in the comments on your top 3 books for new teachers. 

I’m looking forward to trying this again. As I reflect, there are few changes I would make.

  1. Plan it before the day of.
  2. Figure out how to make links accessible while using master slides.
  3. Take more time to explain the directions the first time.
  4. Allow for a little more time to research/present.
  5. Use a panel from the audience to help judge.
  6. Follow up with the activity after the presentation.

Take a look at some of the examples that were created.

Winning team

Caption This! and a cheer was used by this team.

Look at how much this team learned before a presentation.

Picture creativity from this team.

This team had an analogy in their presentation.

Step Up to the Challenge


It all started with extra prizes left over from a student celebration earlier that month. There weren’t enough for the whole school. “I have to do something with these. They can’t just sit around here for a month,” I told my administrative assistant. We brainstormed different ways for students to earn the prizes for their class. As we bounced ideas off of each other, came to the conclusion that I had been hard at work trying to get my faculty to utilize Twitter. It was then that the Twitter Challenge was born.

I decided that the teachers would earn points for their class to earn the prizes. The class with the most points would receive the biggest class prize, then second place, and then third. I also decided that the students needed to be responsible for their part too. They earned points each day for having zero office referrals as a class. The combined totals at the end of January would be used to determine a winner.

The announcement was made, students were excited, and the teachers’ display of competitive spirit was in full force. Teams of teachers were paired with the homeroom. The challenge form of challenges was sent out to everyone. It included the scoreboard and I would link up the challenge the day it was to happen. I wanted to make sure that the Twitter Challenge was a success, so  I provided PD to those that asked, scheduled it during lunch (and provided the lunch), and made video tutorials that I sent out.

The reaction was amazing. I had the majority of my teachers using Twitter right off the bat and referrals were down. I would announce the totals during announcements and students would ask their teachers why they were behind. “We are doing our part, Mrs. B, you have to get on Twitter!” At one point, I was talking to our Coach and a third-grade student was patiently waiting. I asked him if I could help him. The student stated, “No, I was waiting for Coach. Coach, when do you think you are will sign up for Twitter and follow some people?”

Mic. Drop.

The students were pushing us to get better! The amount of sharing and collaboration during the challenge was incredible. We later had a Techie Tailgate where I provided tailgate food for lunch, decorations (well Brandon Brazel did) and we learned about chats. Chats were the one thing that all my staff felt uncomfortable doing on Twitter. We took over #SEMOedchat and participated in a chat that reviewed our learning from the previous PD day with Matt Miller.

Our Twitter chat questions centered around the previous PD.

I even invited several people from my PLN (professional learning network) so my teachers could see the value of connecting beyond our school and district. I owe a big thank you to Dave Burgess, John Hartmann, Laura Steinbrink, Stephanie DeMichele, Todd Shriver, and Craig Klement for their help!

Tailgate food and technology!











I also took a page from the Well Played podcast with Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate by adjusting my challenge on the fly. There were no rules set in stone because I was the creator of the game. When a teacher asked if she earned extra points for helping another teacher, the answer was, yes. After all, my goal was to get teachers on Twitter and see its usefulness.

I will say I hit a bump in the road when I pushed the game a little further. I thought, “This is going great! I should add the Ditch That Textbook #DitchSummit (which have been reopened until July 29th!) to the challenge!” In listening to feedback from the teachers, I should have stuck with one topic until they felt like they mastered it and waited to do a separate challenge on the amazing PD in our pajamas. I am taking that feedback into consideration and thinking how I might center another challenge around #HiveSummit August 1-14 or the next #DITCHSummit around the end of the second semester.

Overall, our school stepped up to the challenge. Our office referrals were the lowest they had been all year and our staff was on Twitter. All of the teachers, sans one, created an account! Teachers and staff had fun! The teachers enjoyed seeing what other teachers were doing in class. The resounding feedback on the survey was that they were glad they stepped up to the challenge even though it was something they were hesitant to do. As I move forward, I am going to try to incorporate more fun, collaboration, novelty, and support for implementation to our PD to inspire us to try things we wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Embracing Technology


Technology is everywhere and everyone has an opinion on how it should be used. I recently saw an article making its rounds on social media about the detriment technology is causing our younger generation to their dependence on it. I agree that technology can become addictive, exponentially highlight bad choices, and can be a total waste of time. However, I believe that the positive outcomes far outway the negative. It is up to the adults to model the good use of technology and have conversations with our children about it. In this day and age, it isn’t enough to tell kids what not to do with technology. We need to show them what is possible.


We use technology to empower students to explore topics that are of interest to them. Recently, some students gained interest in the Holocaust. They have been working on researching the topic and people involved. In fact, without prompting, these students have started creating a website to house all the information they find riveting. I could see them connecting with experts and interviewing them to find out first and secondhand information. Without technology, the students would have been limited to reading pages 245-252 in their social studies book.


Additionally, students are using technology to create and problem solve. I have started a club with students to conduct Mystery Calls. Students will connect with other classes and ask yes/no questions to determine their location. Simultaneously, our students will answer questions about our location. Afterward, the classes share information about their region and we learn from each other. Recently, one of our teachers connected with another class to play Mystery Number. We have also used robotics to problem solve, collaborate, and create.

Students built robotic catapults.

Students are currently learning the basic functions of the robots and how to code them. Eventually, students will build their own paths and code them.


Another way we are modeling the use of technology is providing insight to our school. We have students explaining their thinking and sending it to their parents. Our school uses social media to allow transparency. Our students want to take it a step further. We are working on how the students can be our social media interns. They will take pictures/videos about our school and post it on our school account. They will be trained of course, but they will be allowed to determine what is “newsworthy”.  Rather than learning what not to post, our students are being guided as to what to post. I would love to take it a step further, similar to Don Wettrick, and use social media for students to build resumes, a positive digital presence, and connect with experts.


Technology can be a positive avenue to empower our children. Once we allow them to be creative and apply it to their interests, the innovation starts flowing. The most recent example is a group of second graders who have formulated a plan to start a “video club” in which they will create short movies. I know nothing about this topic, but this only allows them to further explore their interest without being bound to a scripted way of achieving their interest. Another third-grade group has taken it upon themselves to create a song, ask our music teacher for input, and are now asking for devices to make a commercial. Their goal is to promote our school and tell others why it is amazing. Their words, not mine.


If we embrace technology and allow for choice, our students can have a life-changing school experience. When we utilize the technology to empower our students to own their learning we find they are capable of amazing things. Our students are not entitled, lazy, apathetic. We just need to speak their language and allow for them to be exposed to a world of opportunity.

Using Our Time


I am currently reading Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning as part of my participation in IMMOOC4. I will be posting reflections as I slowly read and digest it.

Ask a teacher what there is not enough of in his/her profession. I bet time will be in the top three responses. Right around pay and others understanding what a teacher’s job truly entails. We want everything for our students. We want to build in time for them to share, collaborate, have fun, pursue their passions, and so much more.  The problem is there is not enough time! This is why it is so important for us to ensure that we are using the time we have with them effectively.

Tempus Repit - Time CrawlsCreative Commons License Tee Cee via Compfight

We need to consider how we use the roughly, 400 minutes a day we have with our students because it is the most valuable currency we have for their learning. John Spencer and AJ Juliani ask readers in EMPOWER to consider student involvement in learning on a continuum. We have compliance at the beginning, which is necessary for the beginning stages of instruction and certain tasks. Next, engagement of students in the learning. Students are interested and listening. The final stage is empowerment. Students are controlling their own learning. They make choices, create, and instruction is personalized around them.  When we consider learning in our classroom, we should prioritize how we are using our time relative to this continuum.

If we examine the use of time by what we have students doing, we are likely to see improvement in learning, thinking, collaboration, and creation.   Many of us have learned with the teacher doing most of the work and we take a test based off of what we remember. However, when we think about what we are “good” at now, I believe most of us learned it by doing. We probably didn’t get it right the first time, but we learned from our mistakes. An example for me would be teaching. I didn’t truly learn how to be a good teacher until I was able to work at it. First in student teaching, then with many years of practice in my own room. What enhanced my progress was having a group of experts I could go to with my questions, reflecting on my progress, and having someone push me. We can support students the same way.  Allow them to learn by doing, guide them, connect them with experts, and have them reflect. The more we consider the limited amount of time we have, the less we will depend on worksheets and the more we will focus on empowering them.

Ditch That Textbook Professional Development Reflection


As a district, we are fortunate enough to have built-in professional development for our teachers. We have numerous talented professionals that are able to share their knowledge in a meaningful way to help others use it in their classroom. However, we also have outside resources come in from time to time. Bringing in outside experts helps extend our thought processes beyond what we are doing within our district’s walls. Today we were able to learn from Matt Miller, author of DITCH That Textbook and DITCH That Homework. Following the sessions, I began thinking about my learning and how it could benefit students. I thought it would be a good idea to write out my reflections.

1. Keep Learning

We should never believe that we made it to the pinnacle of learning. there is always more to know and we can always get better! This is especially true with technology.
Get creative with tools to provide an enriched experience for students

2. Take Risks

If we wait until our new ideas are perfectly planned out, our teaching will not evolve quick enough. We should be brave enough to take calculated risks. Try new ideas! Utilize your Professional Learning Network to strengthen the ideas. Try them. Go back and revise the process and try again. This is how we learn. This is how we get better. This is what students deserve. This idea was conveyed to Don Wettrick, teacher and author, when he told his father he was going to school to become a teacher, “I don’t care if you teach for the next 20 years. Just promise me you won’t teach one year 20 times.”

3. Be Creative

We can use technology to enhance what we are currently doing in our classes. We can enrich educational experiences for students in a way that wasn’t possible without the technology. However, it doesn’t always come with directions. We have to understand what the technology is capable of and then get creative from there. How can we use the tools to open up learning possibilities that were not there without them?

The second part of the reflection is where the rubber meets the road. How will students know that we learned anything today? If we all walk in tomorrow and nothing changes, why did we have the PD day?

For me, I will continue my learning by following blogs, listening to podcasts, participating in Twitter chats, and collaborating with other educators. As I learn new information, I plan to try it out, share with teachers in my building, and provide support. This all comes together in some of the tools I choose to use. I can use tools that teachers are using in class to lead faculty meetings. Such as conducting Family Feud to energize staff while going over the handbook.  As part of Positive Behavior Intervention Supports, we teach our expectations to students for consistency. We can use variations of Quizlet Live formats to accomplish this. Using a Blind Kahoot, I can frontload information that is important for staff to know, such as new learning around a topic. 

The final way I plan to use what I learned is in the club choice I provided students (I will have to write about this process in another post). Students will be able to participate in a club ran by me during recess. Many of the choices will require me to learn alongside students, which makes me a little nervous and excited. I plan on creating a Mystery Call Club and possibly a digital printing club depending on the final survey results. 

Top club choices: Tinkercad, Mystery Calls, Lego WeDo.

I believe taking the time to reflect on your professional learning and asking how it will be visible is a valuable process. I’m hoping that I will be able to show growth and enact the lessons I learned from Matt. We expect our students to become better each day. As educators, we should become better each day for them.