Utilizing the Khan Academy as a Teacher with Students

Video tutorials are not everyone’s idea of the ideal learning asset. The idea of reducing education to a bunch of embedded online videos really did not sit well with a lot of educators as the Khan Academy began to be used in America’s schools. Yet, I am a fan of the site and resource. And it’s not because of the videos.

They offer a nice management dashboard and they are trying some truly interactive, interesting ways to engage the learner beyond video watching. What some teachers may not know is:

  • What’s available? and
  • Is there a management tool for me?

This guide does a good job of detailing how a teacher can create a coach role and let students become monitored by the teacher. As students progress through activities and develop points within the system, it’s all tracked. This would help facilitate time spent within Khan on a routine basis, if the teacher set the expectation for “10 minutes of Khan a week” or “1000 points a month.”

And for those not sure what’s there beyond math, here’s a catalog of their subjects covered by volunteers and resource partners. For parents, they too can become a coach, and monitor their student’s progress. We recommend students use their Goochland Google account to connect to the service.

Transient and Anonymous Social Networking Tools

A couple years ago, Snapchat just came out and was one of the new, popular tools for sending messages that could include video or photos that disappeared. Billed as a feature, this service offered its users the ability to send things without worry about accountability. For instance, the service might be used to send very private photos, but the unlike regular texting, it would prove difficult for the recipient to save the photo. As it turns out, the service is still popular, but it’s being joined by other services that either emulate its main feature or else has capitalized on new ways to communicate under a cloak of anonymity.

Watch our video explaining some of these tools.

Tools we think parents should be aware of include:

  • YikYak (anonymous location-based messaging service),
  • Snapchat (encourages distribution of images and videos),
  • Periscope (live video streaming via Twitter),
  • Meercat (live video streaming via Twitter),
  • Kik (peer messaging system).

There are also alternative apps that mimic Snapchat. What’s difficult is to track what are the new tools and which are the popular ones. As new tools are developed that allow for communication in different ways, it becomes of paramount importance not to necessarily ban the apps from kids—or ban a specific way of communication—but instead to talk in more general terms about what you, as a parent, find acceptable.

As an example, let’s assume you do not want your child using dating apps on their smart phone or tablet. Many of these services are intended for young or older adults, but lying about your age isn’t an impossibility to gain access to these types of apps. This article from April, 2015 looks at some of the more popular dating apps that allow for communication with others. While parents can go online to learn about what’s popular, the conversation and expectation might be more far-reaching: “there will be consequences if you use your phone to use apps aimed for adult users that encourage dating. I am not comfortable at this time you using these services.”

What we find interesting of late is the generational divide and diversity among social apps. Adults (18 years+) prefer to use more mainstream apps, such as:

  • Facebook,
  • LinkedIn,
  • Pinterest,
  • Instagram, and
  • Twitter.

In addition to Facebook and Instagram, the most popular tools used by teens also include:

  • Google+,
  • Vine, and
  • Tumblr.

The same report cites that 73% of teens have access to a smart phone, and 87% have access to a laptop or desktop computer.

Some tips for staying on top of the latest apps allowing us to communicate in new ways:

  • Set up your app account so that you are granting permission to the account and can control the password;
  • Regularly check the device to see which apps your child is using and in what capacity;
  • Read the age ratings of apps provided by the app stores;
  • Have regular conversations with your child about your expectations for communicating online and what the consequences are;
  • Understand that there is an incredible amount of peer pressure for students to communicate socially with online tools, including texting (also called SMS messaging). Just because the tool can allow something inappropriate, does not mean your child will use the app or service for something inappropriate. That said, all the apps in general allow for private conversations, and unlike a phone call, these conversations written in text can re-surface causing embarrassment;
  • As a general rule, you should not communicate with text, picture, or video anything that might later embarrass you, another person, or you wouldn’t mind your own mother (or father) seeing.

Digital Citizenship: Games

I wanted to re-visit some topics related to digital citizenship for parents and to provide resources. In this first post, we’ll look at video games.

That video was from 2013, and I wanted to update the video with a few take-aways.

  1. Video games are poised to take-over Hollywood soon in terms of value for an industry; we’re expecting video games to become far more immersive and life-like, as evidenced by technologies such as the Oculus Rift and Microsoft Kinect.
  2. Video games are not inherently bad, but with all activities, moderation is likely key. Some video games are designed to be addictive, and mastery of the game may require several hundred hours of screen time. Talk to your child about what values you can agree upon or uphold for reasonable game playing.
  3. Like popular music and popular movies, there is a game industry built around games that include content that may well be inappropriate for your child, with themes of violence, sex, and drugs. Consult the video game ratings guide and investigate what ratings games you are purchasing hold.
  4. Games are becoming increasingly social (it’s more fun to play with a real person than a machine). Some games allow for open chat (audio or typed) or may have associated social platforms that allow for direct communication with other game players. Participation in these social spaces could expose your child to inappropriate language or images. Talk with your child to understand their interest in games and ask them to show you how players can interact online.
  5. Look at parent guides for ideas about what lurks beyond a cool sounding game. And, if we may, invite yourself to play with your child (whether it’s a game designed for a mobile device or a console game, or one designed for playing on a PC).
  6. Games, by design, can be a fantastic medium for learning and for entertainment. Just like with food, some treats (or too much one of one food) may not be a good idea for our overall health. Games by design are made to challenge us, reward us, and to engage our attention.

Leading from Values

When Mark Fernandes visited us a couple years ago, and led discussions first with our leadership team, and later the division at convocation, he challenged each of us to look at ourselves as leaders and to consider the proposition that we find direction through our values. There was something overwhelmingly refreshing about his story, specifically about how Luck Stone’s compass is not focused on “making rocks” as our own Pete Gretz likes to say, but had a mission that went beyond the bottom line of their business. “Igniting human potential” is their mission and their battle cry. They could be in the education business, perhaps they could make healing drugs, or even great software. But their business is rock. And yet to grow that business and to distinguish it from others, they put a focus on human potential. Refreshing for sure.

This 2011 article made the case for values-based leadership, and from it, I think one paragraph in particular is worth replaying:

In all of these roles I have stayed committed to values-based leadership. No matter what title I’ve had, whether corporate executive, professor, executive partner or board member–or for that matter soccer coach, volunteer parent or Sunday school teacher–I’ve never lost sight of who I am and what matters most to me. By knowing myself and my values, being committed to balance and having true self-confidence and genuine humility, I can far more easily make decisions, no matter if I’m facing a crisis or an opportunity. The answer is always simply to do the right thing and the very best that I can.

Knowing your values can help you do the right thing and also focus your effort on being the best that you can be. And its worth saying here, for those reading, that values-based leadership works in two ways. First, you have to know yourself and your own values. Your values are what make you, you. Its from these that you will act on a daily basis, and when they’re known and focused on positive traits, there’s the potential for great things.

Second, there are the values that define an organization. The values are what you find, but hopefully those are the same values that you see members of an organization attempting to champion. Excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism are hopefully not just words you see on our walls, but the feeling, evidence, and artifacts left behind from interactions with teachers, students, custodians, and bus drivers. In fact, the entire organization might so focused that it’s easy to see these values all around us.

Getting that focus can be difficult. It takes time and effort. But how do we start?

First, consider what each of our ECCHO values means to you. Which ones really resonate? Are their other values that mean something to you? If you are not sure what other values you might consider, look at the Luck Companies’ app called Igniter.

Next, let’s focus on your own set of values. The personal set. For me, one of the ones that feels strongest to who I am is creativity. It drives how I work and the way I make decisions. If it’s who I am, then I need to make sure I am not compromising these value. I might take a week to reflect on how creativity has played a positive role in my work and relationships. Then I might look back on ways I could have been more purposefully engaged with the traits that reveal this value.

Next, we might sit with a small group of colleagues, or even students, and even parents. Where do we see ECCHO? How do these values align with our mission of maximizing the potential of learners? When we look at the full strategic plan, what goals might we set for ourselves in the next month that would help contribute to others seeing excellence, creativity, courage, honor, and optimism all around them, when they interact with us, when they visit our classrooms, or attend one of our meetings?

I believe values stick to us based on our experiences and that has a lot to do with our outlook on life. Likely one of the most sure-fire ways to inspire another person is to let them experience us living through the values that resonate with us. You might be reading this, and asking “Who has the time? I’ve got a job to do!” At the end of the day, our job is inspiring and preparing the next generation. The details matter. It’s about preparing students (and one another) to make a positive impact.

If you’re hungry for more thinking about leading from values, check out Luck’s Value Based Leader blog. Thanks for reading!

Phillip’s Instrument Drive

GHS Senior Phillip Goodman wants to help the instrumental music program here in Goochland. He’s established an instrument drive, and is looking for donated musical instruments (in working or not quite working order) to be used in our schools. On May 12, from 3:30-9:00PM, he’ll be manning the band room door at the GHS cafeteria to collect what you might have to donate. They’re looking for oboes, flutes, clarients, bass clarinets, saxophones, french honrs, trumpets, trombones, tubas, percussion, guitars, and more. If you have questions, you can reach Phillip by email (pgoodman93 at yahoo.com).

By giving your old instrument you are giving a great opportunity to someone else who otherwise could never learn. Please join us in this project to bring music education to everyone in Goochland County who is unable to without the help of our community.

Tricorder in Hand

In high school and into college, a friend of mine piqued my interest in a sci-fi television series called Star Trek: the Next Generation, and like the original series, the characters living aboard the Enterprise used small, hand-held computers called tricorders. According to the Wikipedia, this device was focused on sensing, computing, and recording things.

More recently, I visited Mrs. Kass’ classroom at GMS and students were learning about the quilt designs used during the time of the Underground Railroad to communicate. A whole collection of designs were used, and some can be seen here. While originally unplanned, students were using their iPads to “record” these patterns as they came up on the projection via the Promethean board. Designs would be used later in an upcoming project.

Having the tool in hand, students could immediately utilize the camera to record these images. Earlier in the week, Mrs. Kass’ students from her science class were doing something similar, recording images of their environment. Students collected a number of fascinating things from around the school, in areas just beyond the tennis courts. Mrs. Leiderman led the expedition, and later shared with students her own foraging artifacts in the form of bugs and flowers that have gone to form the virtual pages of several ebooks.

This is interesting. A small, hand-held device can be used, almost just like in StarTrek, to sense, compute, and record things. These examples have been light on sensing (and perhaps, fitness trackers or the new Apple Watch might be better examples of how we will use technology to sense things), and the computing part happens too, but more often later in the classroom as students re-mix the recorded photographs in a way that helps them better understand what was captured.

I recently learned that some teachers were exploring research that articulated what can go wrong with an iPad deployment, as published in a research article about a school iPad deployment in another state. For anyone who might point out what could go wrong with behavior, perhaps even amplified bad behavior with a powerful sensor, computer, and recorder, the potential for deeper learning using such a device will likely always outweigh the negatives. I don’t really care so much that the iPads I see in our classrooms remind me of the future foretold in StarTrek, but sometimes you have to marvel at how that vision from just a few years ago has the potential to change the ways in which we get to learn and grow.

Embracing an Active Learning Modality

@bealeiderman recently shared this article with me. “It’s a good article, it’s easy to understand, and gets at a point I know we’ve tried to make in the past.” Okay, I’ve read it.

What Project-Based Learning Is (and what it isn’t)…

As teachers learned this past semester in our online course on PBL, there is a difference between learning “through the project” and one that’s added at the end, served as “dessert.” What I liked about this article were the examples educator Azul Terronez uses in his classroom.

(As an aside, the comments are worth reading from this article, too, and raise important distinctions about what’s “new” and “old” about a “true” PBL approach. What I couldn’t help but recognized, however, is how engaging Terronez’s activities sound. That’s distinctive. When you want to do some of those things yourself, it goes beyond sugar-coating activities to be fun. Through these types of activities students can find real passion.)

Understanding Personal-ized Learning

Scott McLeod, who spoke at this past year’s VASCD Conference, made a big point (and a valid one, too) about the differences between individualization in education and personalization. Personalization, more than the former, gets used a lot in education circles, and a lot with educational technology products.

An article by Alfie Kohn recently got re-published by Tech and Learning magazine about Four Reasons to Worry About ‘Personalized Learning’. In it, he quotes Will Richardson, who basically equates “personalized” with “individualized” and personal as what we should mean when we say “personalized” or “personalization.” The easy way to remember? Something individualized is done to you, and something personal is from you. Both authors are endorsing personal learning, but Kohn especially is cautioning us to be leery of the term, especially when it is used by vendors.

I have likely misused the term myself. It’s important to make the correct distinction here. I think there is space in our world for both an individualized approach and a personal approach, although Kohn and Philip McRae tie the whole idea of individualization to behaviorist principles that at their worst, “establish[es] children as measurable commodities to be cataloged and capitalized upon by corporations.” Kohn advocates for social, project-based learning. He says:

In the best student-centered, project-based education, kids spend much of their time learning with and from one another. Thus, while making sense of ideas is surely personal, it is not exclusively individual because it involves collaboration and takes place in a community.

In Goochland today I see a mix of approaches towards learning, and sometimes, we do want to help support students either in groups or individually with study that is tailored to their current needs. We have never needed technology to help differentiate instruction (although it can help, a lot), and as Kohn points out, we have never needed technology to make learning personal. In the end, striving to personalize instruction means for us that we have to be flexible enough with our design for instruction to allow the perspectives, desires, interests, and emotions of our students to play a role in the learning experience. When and where digital tools can support that pursuit, we have some interesting new opportunities. Otherwise, in our pursuit towards individualization, we might take the time to weigh our efforts with individualization versus different opportunities for authentic learning.

Learning from… experience

Tonight after school I led the final technology workshop of the year, on podcasting. One of the questions I posed was what it takes for students to remember something well. One response was “a personal experience.”

Many years ago, we convened on a professional development day at the Cub Scout camp in Goochland (thanks to Karren Streagle) and we all worked on a marketing project together for promoting popcorn. The session, entitled “Learning Hacks,” based in part on the book by John Medina entitled Brain Rules, focused on a project-based approach that started with an entry event of smelling and tasting popcorn.

What was cool about re-discovering these photos this evening on my home computer was the “look” of engagement when teachers were poised to learn, working in teams. It brought back some good memories, and reinforced for me the wisdom from today about providing memorable experiences for our students.

Virtual Classroom Feature Comes to Schoology

Recently, I noticed a new app had become available via Schoology, called Big Blue Button. This add-on, once enabled for your course, gives you the ability to setup a virtual classroom space, similar to other products you may have used. Learn more, below.

This tool unfortunately requires Flash and only works on laptops (not iPads). See Zoe or Bea today to get started!


I am preparing to move soon, and am going through a lot of cruft that I’ve held onto for a number of years. I’m reading a book, actually, on how to let go of some of this stuff, and not surprising to some who know me, I’m taking the time to “digitize” some of the stuff I can’t stand to part with. This is such an example.


In 1986, I attended Ingomar Middle School in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA. I have to say, of all the years of going to school, this was the best for me. I know it was a combination of caring, awesome teachers, but also knowing a number of kids who I could relate with. I did well in the 6th grade and I hated to leave the next year when my family moved to the Cleveland, OH, area.

The object which I scanned above is a coaster of some sort. We had to take a home economics class, and we learned how to cross-stitch. This was something I created and I have not been able to throw it away since middle school. In part, I have positive feelings about this school, as I have shared. But if it were, say, a concert program, or a report card, I’d look at it, then toss it. But this is different. This was something I put my mind to, my hands to, this is something I made. The object is homemade.

My sentimentality aside, I think it’s worth noting for the sake of this blog post the importance we place on objects we create. There’s a mental distinction I think between a worksheet we fill out, and something bigger, say, like this coaster. The apron I made later in the 7th grade in Ohio wasn’t as good as this in terms of craftsmanship (although, I am sad to admit, I too still own). But this was something I look back on as an object representing some personal success. I learned a new skill, I tried my hand at it, and wow, it had utility beyond, well, a worksheet.

I am not sure what the magic is between an object like this, and say, the worksheet. But in this case, if it was the color, the yarn, the texture, and the perceived utility behind it, it mattered to me. I wonder what my teacher, Mrs. Conrad, would think of me keeping this for so long. What did she intend for her students to do with these, when, say, they’d go to high school? College? Toss them away, no doubt.

I think it may be time to say goodbye to this part of my past, but not before I find value in keeping it so long. As educators, I think we have a duty to give students the opportunity to create things that resonate with them and mean something, well, personal. It won’t always be a physical object, but those are easiest to persist the age of time. It illustrates for me, again, the nuance between personalized and individualized learning. Facts are remembered and forgotten, unused. Emotions remain with us forever, even if it requires holding or touching something from our past.

Balancing Act

More recently, I’ve heard the term “balance” come up in education circles, and sometimes it rubs me the wrong way. Some balance, I’d argue, is good; other balance could be dangerous.

Balance with Screentime

I took part in a conversation recently with some teachers and one offered this sentiment: “Learning through a screen all the time isn’t what’s best for kids; sometimes they need to learn in a different way, maybe, by building something with their hands.” I found the idea easy to agree with, and even though my work is often tied to learning through screens, I think we learn through experience, not through glass. Balance in this regard is apt, when it comes to any one thing we do directed at learning. Learning should mimic the full range of human capacity for experiencing our world.

Balance with Assessment

A number of folks recently visited us here in Goochland to learn more about our Balanced Assessment Project. This effort, organized originally by Dr. Geyer in 2013, set out to re-engineer how we conduct and do assessment within Goochland. In short, we now use a variety of assessment types to provide a more holistic view of student progress with learning. Balance in this regard reminds me of a balanced plan for more healthy living. A doctor wouldn’t likely recommend heavy, strenuous exercise alone, while we could eat all the junk food we might find. We also might not fully benefit from a super-healthy diet when our activity level is low. Balance in this regard is a healthy diet, moderate, regular exercise, and balancing our day to day activities to include things that help us reduce stress and find happiness.

Balance with Instruction

I actually do not have one specific example here, but this is will illustrate the more dangerous interpretation of balance we might make. I am sure there is a name for what I’m trying to describe. It’s when you take a general concept and apply it to something else, but the comparison isn’t entirely congruent. The example I have is with coding, which is the contemporary term for computer programming. (It also extends to things that are technically not programming, like HTML creation for webpages, but to most folks, the interpretation is the same.) We are currently offering two after school coding clubs at Goochland and Randolph, led by Ms. Parrish. She took this on completely on her own, and I know eventually, she’d like to have the experience available to all three elementary schools. I think what she has done is a dream come true and give her 100% of the credit for the success of these programs. Students come to these weekly sessions excited and energized and the types of learning taking place is deep.

The idea behind a liberal education, which is more apt a description of many undergraduate programs today, centered on having a well-rounded (balanced) exposure to a number of different disciplines of learning. That same idea is certainly echoed in our state standards. We don’t just teach math to kids who seem to like it. We teach it to all of them.

We do sometimes marginalize some subjects/disciplines. Band or chorus. Or, music or art. We do let kids choose with some things in middle and high school, but the “core” is always there.

The one thing that has stayed with my training years ago as a future music teacher was that music, and really all the arts, belonged to humankind, not just kids who seemed to like music, or show an aptitude. I could say the same thing about coding. Coding as an educational method helps the learner develop skills around how to think in logical ways. I’m so happy there’s an opportunity for some kids to develop coding skills through an extra-curricular club (and for parents who are interested, I can point them to a number of excellent online opportunities for learning, too, that are free). But balance in this regard is dangerous.

The same goes for a “balance” between student-centered and teacher-centered instruction. So many of us were taught how to teach (or it was modeled for us as students ourselves) on how to present and rehearse information to/for students. When the sole source of information is the teacher, we are robbing kids of the opportunity to be self-directed learners and human beings. I think if we’re being honest, we are currently balanced in our schools here in the United States. As general practice, we mix up (balance) our instructional delivery methods with different instructional design models. But it’s the student-centered ones that we ought to be considering. The wholesomeness of balance is apt, but not when it’s between spoon-feeding and inquiry.

I want to be honest – I rely upon a lot of teacher-centered methods in my own teaching. But I’ve been getting better. I love to lecture, I love to present ideas. I’ve seen teachers who are so talented at it, too. It’s not that kids cannot learn this way, they can. We all can. But if our vision is focused on something we’re calling deeper learning, with incredible focus on learning from students (which we’re calling engagement), and we’re learning how to better collect and utilize assessment, we need to be careful about the promise of a simple word like “balance.”

Balance Should Require Us to be Reflective

If you’ve made it this far, it’s probably obvious I’m reflective of my own role in the field of education. One way we can really use the term “balance” without it failing us is to make it personal. We’re hopefully not balancing one really good strategy for learning with a bad one, instead, we’re taking the time to stake stock of our tools, our abilities, and our effectiveness and how we are able to balance those. For example, I might love to lecture, but realize it’s not the best way for students to learn. So, I might balance by using my own experience as an entry event to a project where I turn over the learning to students. Or, a “bell-ringer” for an interactive debate in class. Or I balance my assessment strategy by giving students the ability to self-assess their learning on an upcoming assignment. The reality is, learning and teaching is a mixture of both art and science and with extreme limits on resources (among them, time), we are always attempting to balance the experiences we provide students. My ultimate point is to consider what we’re balancing, not to be satisfied alone with the idea that balance is, in itself, a virtue.

The Old Lab

When I came to GHS in 1999, I taught from two classrooms. The first was in the main building, which is currently the County Administration building. You can see me in a photo taken by students with a digital camera owned by the school at the time, an Apple “QuickTake” camera. For some reason, you could only maybe get 15 pictures with the thing before you would have to replace the batteries.


There’s a couple of things interesting to me in the photo, and by extension, my thinking about teaching with technology.

In 1999, I used a whiteboard. The space also would be used (with a screen) to project onto the wall (the lights would have to go down, as the brightness was only 600 lumens).

In the back, right, was my classroom server running Macintosh Manager. Above that, on the wall, was a web URL beginning with http://, that pointed to an internal IP address for my intranet. It’s where I placed a lot of materials, especially for my advanced classes. It was my own website that was updated daily with the day’s agenda, tutorials, and even videos.

I take no ownership of the overhead projector, save to note that the classroom was also used by other teachers.

Sometimes we really liked using the tables in the room and as alternative to the computers, which were arranged along the perimeter of the room.

Take aways:

  • We still today need easy, effortless ways to shift our work between one machine and the other, or at least to present it easily to be seen my multiple people,
  • Fixed designs, especially with relation to tools, often are compromises. The best spaces are flexible ones.
  • Facing kids against a wall was never great for trying to have conversations with students or to discuss their work that lived virtually.

That’s one reason I like iPads in our classrooms supporting 1:1 – they provide for more flexible modalities, they allow some sharing with large groups using AirPlay, and because of their size, they tend not to get in the way of seeing/communicating with others face to face.

I was inspired by the designs for learning outlined in this brochure from Steelcase. When you see the flexibility available, you kind of realize “there doesn’t have to be just one way to orient your room.” By extension, not just one way to teach.


When the New Goochland High School opened in 2001, I taught a single class in room C143. That afforded great space, and larger, more capable computers, but the flexibility factor was still negatively impacted. I am not sure I could have foreseen the current state of learning and what some teachers have come up with.

Demas at GES

Kudos to teachers who are open-minded enough, and flexible enough as we use mobile technology, to re-think, and re-orient their instructional spaces. Now, if I could only get used to sitting on the Pilates balls.

An Old Friend

It wasn’t that long ago that I saw Mr. Goldman back at GHS, working as a substitute teacher. Terry Goldman was a fixture by the time I had come to Goochland High School in 1999. Formerly the library media specialist, when I met Terry, he was a social studies teacher who had high expectations for kids, for using high quality books in class, and finding something interesting to take away from history. Goldman was also a coach, and until recently, lived in the county. At last mention, I knew he had moved to South Carolina with his wife.

Terry Goldman passed away on February 23, 2015.

The memorial service will be on Friday, February 27, 2015, at 12:00 PM at the Temple Or Ami, 9400 Huguenot Road in Richmond, VA 23235, (804) 272-0017. A burial will follow at Greenwood Cemetery.

Terry Goldman

Mr. Goldman had a number of varied interests and he and I shared time talking about history, music, and even how to improve our schools a few times. Somehow, if you spent any time with him, you walked away a little richer. You might not have always agreed with Terry, but you were better off for the conversation.


Before we really got into G21, Terry was into project experiences for students. One year he was so excited that two students had built a trebuchet. He asked me to come talk to the students and photograph their work.


Popping Bubble Wrap

What might a sheet of bubble wrap have to do with learning math?

So, in my last blog post I referenced former math teacher Dan Meyer’s online curriculum–offered for free as slides in PDF, Keynote, and PPT formats–that he used with real, live students. His latest thinking about math instruction took him to a different type of online curriculum, using problems he creates, to be presented to students in three acts. You can even see a list of all of the ones he has created, and if that number of examples is not enough to be used with your students, they should provide enough context for creating one of your own.

I wanted specifically to look at the bubble wrap one because bubble wrap isn’t really that important. It’s just a prop. But it’s what I might call a sticky prop, one that is simple sure, but it offers just a little bit of engaging interest to us (or to our students). Popping bubbles is something people like to do, either to relieve stress, because they’re bored, or who knows why. It feels good/interesting/curious to pop bubbles. And your students have likely popped some bubble wrap in the past. And that’s what I mean by a sticky prop: bubble wrap is interesting enough to hook us into the problem.

The cool thing about Dan’s 3-act problem with bubble wrap is, once we’ve figured out how to answer his questions (which often start with us making guesses, then refining our guesses with data points), we can apply it to different situations. If someone a year from now were to ask us “How much do you want for painting the inside of my house?” you might reference a 3-act learning experience. Personally, I’d ask how many rooms, estimate an hourly wage, then guestimate how many hours it would take me to paint those rooms. Most math problems might attack the situation is a very analytical way with how many square feet there are in the house… By design, Dan’s 3-acts are tied to situations that are more real and more every day, and if they all are not practical, they at least are sticky enough to command some interest.

I also like that so many of Dan’s problems involve video as a medium. Short videos demand our focused attention, and we can play them back multiple times, if we missed what we were supposed to see. It’s up to us as educators, I think, to make use of the millions of hours of free video available to us now to think creatively about the potential math, unsolved problems, and curious questions that lurk in short clips.

If you’re interested in 3-act math, I might suggest a few next steps:

  • Read through at least 5 of the examples linked above to get a flavor of a 3-act math problem.
  • Find one that relates to your own content standards, and try it with students.
  • Create your own 3-act, by including images and/or video in the problem. You can create your own, or borrow something with sticky interest from YouTube.
  • Reward yourself with some bubble wrap.

Schoology for Curriculum Management

This past Friday (February 13), we talked with teachers about using the Schoology platform to share digital content resources. In fact, this ability was one of the reasons we chose Schoology this past summer, and you can read more about how they envision it working. I wanted to write a few things about this capability, and why it is so important when we consider 1:1 computing in our schools.

First, not everyone is of a sharing mindset. Schoology gets around this by creating personal, local (district/school), and public sharing areas in resources. I get that not everyone wants to share the “things” they’ve created for teaching. From my own experience, when I came to Goochland, I was forced to invent my curriculum, my syllabus, and I started out creating 10 major projects for the advanced class I taught in Graphic Communications. While every student got a print-out of the semester’s projects, and they went into 3-ring binders, it wasn’t necessarily “public.” I needed some time to try these new projects out with students before I was ready to “publish” them. But for whom? No other teacher at the time taught what I did, so, what was the point in sharing them?

In Schoology now, I could share this content with teachers outside my district. Okay, that sounds interesting… we’re not just talking one high school now, but a lot of high schools. I think of folks like Dan Meyer, who has published his Algebra curriculum. He’s confident, for one, and he’s published his stuff to a worldwide audience. Schoology feels a little more safe; it’s not open to the world (unless you want it to be), but the modular system of learning object and course makes it possible to easily integrate whatever it is into what you want students to see. If I were teaching today, I’d start with sharing stuff I thought would be of value to others, but also content I was familiar with, and knew worked for my students.

Second, I might still utilize a textbook. Textbooks are reliable sources of information that someone else (an author, a publisher) has organized, added pictures, maybe graphs, and packaged in an accessible way for students. As successful #futureready leaders told us recently in Raleigh at a regional summit led by the U.S. Department of Education, their districts are choosing not to spend money on textbooks because do not adequately address the needs of today’s learners. New tools are available, but in addition, so are new pedagogies. To replace the role of a textbook, teachers are re-thinking the concept of the book or binder around the construct of the learning management system, one like Schoology. With Schoology providing the construct of courses and instructors, teachers are able to compile digital assets as resources and then add these assets into as many or few courses as they like. When the resources and activities are tagged with standards, it becomes possible to track student mastery of these standards providing a new level of assessment. In effect, Schoology becomes the new textbook, with resources culled from a teacher’s own personal library, commercial resources, and resources that are freely being shared by other like-minded teachers.

Third, everyone doesn’t have a lot of digital learning assets, yet… If you have not taught traditionally with a computer, then it may be challenging to embrace the idea of a collection of digital assets in lieu of a textbook. The 1:1 computing project we have begun helps with this in a big way by providing each student with access to a mobile computer that allows them to access the same Schoology system (read: twenty-first century textbook replacement), but with the enhancement that this system can keep track of access to the resource (Schoology reports how long students spend in each course), can assess student learning, and with the guidance of the teacher/course creator, can provide different students different types of learning experiences based on preference or need. Sounds great, but how do I start with these assets?

The Peer to Peer University organization capitalizes on the idea of free content exchange. Not to mention the OpenStax Project, with online content. The problem is, these projects are focused on higher education. But the same sharing exchange already exists within Schoology. We just have to be willing to first, share our own content (our content is someone else’s freebie!), and peruse what’s out there. In addition, there are some K-12 resources too worth exploring.

Khan, as an example, can be integrated into Schoology as an app. This means it’s even easier to plug content right in without having to navigate between multiple windows and services.


In the end, by putting a device in a student’s hand, and by accepting that a new tool like Schoology can offer more flexibility in how the content we use to teach can be organized, we are well on our way towards taking full advantage of collecting and organizing our own set of curated digital learning assets. Whether these assets are something we have purchased (a Discovery video, as an example), one we’ve created (a PDF, or a video tutorial), or one we’ve found online from a resource we like (a Ck12 activity), a learning management system like Schoology will become the place to house this content and share it with students within the context of a course. If you attended our sessions led by Bea, Zoe, and Glenn on Friday, thank you! We can’t wait to get started!

#FutureReady in Raleigh Presentation for Goochland County Public Schools

Goochland County is located in central Virginia. We’re a small school district with a strong history with technology integration. Teachers have been issued Apple laptops since 2001, when all of our schools went wireless. In 2005 we started the Blogging Initiative, which required of each teacher to maintain a blog for increasing communications between individual classrooms and our community. In 2008, we launched the G21™ Project-based Framework and teachers started with PBL in classrooms, tied to a focus of developing twenty-first century skills. In 2013, we launched a 1:1 pilot with iPads in grades 3-5 at Goochland Elementary School. In 2014, our superintendent James Lane became a Connected Superintendent. In 2014, too, we started using Schoology as a LMS in grades 3-12.

This school year we have expanded our 1:1 project to grades 5-6 district-wide. For SY 2015-16, the program will continue to expand to grades 4-7.

Our foundation and future plans for being future ready are directly tied to our strategic plan.

Links of Interest

What types of questions force students to reflect?

I wanted to share a resource via Edutopia. It’s a list of 40 questions teachers from a project-based learning school came up with to deepen a student’s thinking. See what you think about a few:

  • In what ways do you need to improve?
  • What does this piece reveal about you as a learner?
  • What the one thing you particularly want people to notice when they look at your work?
  • What will you change in the next revision of this piece?

Do you get the gist? Reflection is a powerful, purposeful practice of thinking about what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what goals you set for the future. What might be some good reflective questions for parents? For teachers? For school administrators?

Digital Learning Day 2015

Our Virginia DOE has once again partnered with the Virginia Society of Technology in Education to sponsor a Digital Learning Day on March 13.

Several activities will be held on March 13 to highlight and celebrate participants across the nation. The VSTE will be doing a Digital Learning Day “kickoff event” on Thursday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. The kickoff event will feature a webinar highlighting the VSTE 2014 award winners: Outstanding Leader: Janet Copenhaver, Henry County; Outstanding Teacher: Daniel Nemerow, Prince William County; and Innovative Educator of the Year: Teresa Coffman, University of Mary Washington. To view the webinar on Digital Learning Day, go to http://www.vste.org/index/learn/webinar. Schools, libraries, community programs, and classrooms are invited to showcase how they are using digital media to improve teaching and learning.

To learn more about this event go to http://www.digitallearningday.org.

For me, and I know I’m not alone, every day is a digital learning day in Goochland. But there is plenty to learn and pick up from others, and if that’s a reason that resonates with you, I invite you to participate in the March 12 webinar and to explore what others are doing to celebrate technology in our schools this spring.

Taking Control

As educators, we sometimes bat around terms like “student-centered” when we are talking about learning and teaching in the classroom. A recent article by Katrina Schwartz features some of the ideas by Alan November that may make this term and this idea, more clear.

I wanted to pull a few out as we explore the concept of students taking control of their learning.

  1. “November says that instant feedback trend should be embraced as a powerful learning tool.” Instant feedback, the author points out, is something built into video games, but also activities an engineer might engage in, such as writing a compute program. By extension, tools we can use to give feedback during a quiz are better than a quiz that just tallies up a score at the end. We need to find tools and methods that provide students quick, and if possible, continuous feedback loops.
  2. “The benefit of technology is that is has opened the door on the scope of global problems that students can involve themselves with, making their problem solving skills immediately relevant and encouraging self-direction.” This reminds me of the challenge-based learning model espoused by Apple several years ago, out of their ADE community. It certainly resonates with a number of our G21 projects.
  3. “Have students lost the ability to define the question?” I love stopping to ask students what they are doing, or better yet, “what are you learning right now?” There is such a satisfying feeling when a student can say “Right now, I’m trying to figure out…” or “We’re studying…” It’s clear with these types of responses that students are owning the learning process a little bit more. The next step is directing them how to ask big questions, embracing an inquiry-based approach to learning, so that conversations might be “I don’t know how this works, but I’d like to know (this) and (that)… gimme a second, and let me what I can find…” It’s teaching question-creating but also how to leverage the internet to course-correct their thinking, too.
  4. Role forming should take place. “One way to replicate that ownership now is to give students classroom jobs, allowing them to contribute something powerful to the classroom dynamic.” You see this most often in the context of a project-based approach, where students learn their role within the larger group, developing a mindset around working collaboratively. But there’s no reason, following November, why this concept cannot be expanded to an entire classroom or even a school.

More of November’s idea’s are found here.

New Research Explains Teen Behaviors and Brains

In driving back to the office from GES today, I caught a bit of an Fresh Air episode on WCVE radio. The full story is available for you to listen to here with host Terry Gross.

I’m always fascinated to learn more about how science, like cognitive science, supports or refutes hunches and practices about learning and teaching. It’s always refreshing to know that a successful instructional practice can be supported through research in neuroscience.

This story reinforced for us that despite the size of our high school students, their brain development and capability are different than what we see in adults. They have some advantages and disadvantages. Especially interesting was the part about new ways of educating medical students to be self-learners, which supports my preference for supporting inquiry in the classroom.

More Online PBL Training

These two courses referenced below require advance registration and the two highlighted have not yet had enough folks sign up to make — but perhaps after this advertisement — they will.

If you’re interested, (1) let me know through email you are going to take the course, (2) sign up for a free account on PBLU and you can go to their Classes page to sign up for these free events. With proof of successful completion sent to me (3), I will count one or both of these as your technology class for this school year.

If you’re instead interested in the two future classes (assessing critical thinking, how to include content and competencies) – I will also accept those too.

  • How to Create a Driving Question (February 2 – 9, 2014)
  • How to Manage Student Presentations (February 16 – 23, 2014)

1:1 Teachers: Have you tried podcasting?

Back in the late fall of 2004—yes!, just over ten years ago—I started podcasting for Goochland County Public Schools. These were audio-only. Some podcasts were conversations with then superintendent, Frank Morgan. The main idea behind the podcast was to highlight the good things we were doing with technology in our schools.

Today, TechTimesLive is still updated, albeit more slowly than before. With 167 episodes, there is a considerable amount of content I have pushed out, online, with a focus changing to providing professional development videos.

What’s special about podcasting?

Podcasts are one form of serialized, creative communications. It’s more of a delivery method than media, but we tend to think of podcasts as audio or video files that we can listen to using a mobile device like an iPod or a phone. But what’s interesting is the process involved in creating these files and the potential for a world-facing audience once they are published.

You see, podcasts (and here I need to be specific) are like television shows, a magazine, a blog, or a YouTube channel. It’s an umbrella container for episodes. Just like a magazine has multiple articles (or a regular column, month to month), a blog has posts, and a YouTube channel has multiple videos, a podcast is organized around a topic with multiple takes on that topic.

Why might I start a podcasting project with students?

Podcasting in the classroom can take some time, which is why, in a 1:1 environment, podcasting becomes a new type of homework assignment. The key is—students will love making podcasts if we can focus the series on something students want to know about. There has to be a little passion behind the theme of the podcast, otherwise, producing episodes will feel like tedium and an audience beyond the teacher will be less likely…

When you produce episodes in a podcast, you have to be organized, know what you are talking about, and polish your presentation. In my recent effort in producing a new podcast outside of work, I thought it would be easy. But when I set out to actually do an episode, suddenly, I realized it was more work. But it was still fun. And after I recorded each episode, I knew a lot more about the topics I had chosen to focus on in each 20-minute episode.

How important is the audience?

We don’t play television sitcoms on TVs in forests where there are only birds and trees. An audience is important, but it does not have to be huge one. As Chris Anderson taught is in his 2006 book The Long Tail, there is a huge amount of diversity in interests out there, and published podcasts, I believe, are likely to be of interest to somebody. For students, that can be a peer, a relative, or even a stranger who shares a similar interest with the student.

How do I get started?

Share some examples. You might start by making it one choice in several for a student, not everyone is required to make their own show. Some students may choose to work together, and that’s fine. While the iTunes Podcast Directory (open iTunes Store and click to Podcasts) has ton of examples of podcasts, you might also share the video episodes put together by Super-Awesome Sylvia.

Does it have to be a podcast?

No. The point here is serialized creative communications. More examples can be found in YouTube videos produced by teenagers and college students, blogs, live streams of video game playing, a really cool Flickr account, and more. The point is, we get into a habit with our communication, sharing in a somewhat regular fashion, as a way to share, but also teach ourselves more about something that matters to us. While 1:1 technology is not required, it’s a pretty awesome use of our devices, and a good reason personalize learning.

For more on using GarageBand to produce a podcast with iPad, visit this online tutorial for some tips!

What We Can Learn about Preschool

An article from 16 March 2011 by Dr. Alison Gopnik examined the rationale for re-thinking recent changes in preschool education. The findings she shared within the article, not to mention her conclusions, really are food for thought for all of preK-12 education. The conclusions she draws, based on two studies with young students?

Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning. …it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.

Put another way, from the article:

While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.

Gopnik cites a discovery by a computer learning expert who has suggested that before we can learn from teachers, we learn something about teachers. We understand they have authority with information, and they are very likely to tell us what we need to know. That assumption about the teacher’s role shuts down our motivation for the discovery of new information.


Gopnik is not anti-teacher, as she says “it’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free reign.” The teacher’s role remains important, as “affectionate, supportive grown-ups” who can provide “lots of opportunities for exploration and play.” In words I have echoed, it sounds like she is calling for inquiry and support for engagement from teachers, or a “student-centered” classroom.