Professional Educator Blog

  • Archive for the ‘Professional Educator Blog (scroll down for new posts)’ Category

    Sunday, June 26th, 2016

    This is a blog designed to help students, colleagues, parents and other people interested in knowing what is behind the method in my madness. As I mine the internet, professional magazines, and other media for inspiration, I will deposit my latest discoveries here to share. I promise to keep the entries short. Like most blog rolls, they will be added chronologically, so keep scrolling down for the latest, greatest. Enjoy!

    While I am always bumping into and learning about the newest in technology tools, here is a list of tools, programs, websites, apps etc that I turn to every day. Warning: This list may change any day! 


    Professional Educator's Blog

    Friday, June 24th, 2016

    The “Latest-Greatest” discoveries, in chronological order. (Keep scrolling down to find a title that looks interesting, or a date that is more recent)

    SAMR Model Reflection

    June 24, 2016

    I recently read an article in which I recognized myself being labeled a “new technology integrator.” Sigh. I’m not a fan of being labeled. And this one is particularly befuddling; am I new to integrating technology or is it new technology that I am integrating? Any way you slice it, what I appreciated about the article was that it acknowledged the other side of the SAMR rage; it is exhausting, a time and energy vacuum, an artificial hierarchy and another way to feel inadequate. However, when taken with a large breath of fresh air, a summer’s worth of time to build curriculum and a renewed sense of ability, SAMR is another tool which will improve my practice.

    What is SAMR? Below is a 120 second video explaining this new technology usability chart or you can follow this link to the website.

    As I fold new technology into my lesson plans, it is good to not be satisfied with simply substituting existing methods with new ones, but to keep in mind not only the possibilities they offer, but how I can use them to transform learning for my student and the world. Connecting people to people and issues to issues, the past to the present and learning to creating, is after all, what it is all about.




    June 26, 2016

    Design Thinking is one of the newest and  most interesting ideas in education that I’ve found in recent years. It is an approach that has already begun transforming educational practices. Born out of the innovations in technology over the past decades, Design Thinking asks us to “connect improbable connections” (John Maeda) using content and technology. It asks us to look beyond the what in content (such as “what is the Bill of Rights?”), past the how ( such as “how does the Bill of Rights protect me?“) and into the what if or how can ( such as “what if we tweaked the Bill of Rights?” or “how can we tweak the Bill of Rights to reflect our current society?”), resulting in the sharing of ideas with others. It asks us to go to a solution. It asks us to create something new by looking at the old in a fresh way.

    “The Launch Cycle” by John Spencer is an outstanding 2 minute graphic description of how design thinking works in education.

    The really interesting and cool thing about this approach is that students ask their own questions. People learn when they seek answers to questions that matter to them (Dewey) or when they need to know how to do something. With this approach students generate their own questions (with guidance), do their own research, and  create something. Students go from being merely consumers of content to creators of content.

    As a teacher, I feel like I’m on a perpetual Launch Cycle. I’m always looking at new and hopefully better ways to help my students get the most out of our time together.  I am constantly watching what is working, adjusting, and trying a new approach. My lesson plans change every year and sometimes every day. Every once in a while I create a really good lesson plan and keep it and usually when I’ve mastered a few of these, I get reassigned and have to start over. As an example of a personal Design Thinking journey, I aim to collaborate with colleagues and students in the American South looking at racism as a legacy of slavery. I simply couldn’t have done this 10 years ago-the technology wasn’t available. I will keep you posted on where the journey takes me. According to the Launch Cycle model, “highlighting what’s working and fixing what isn’t” is part of the cycle. I’m sure there will be a big learning curve and that my friends, is what it is all about, right?

    Here’s an example of a unit plan using the “Design Thinking” model.


    Design Thinking and “The Stanford d. School Challenge”!

    July 7, 2016

    Those people at Stanford are so smart. They not only describe Design Thinking in this video, but give the viewer an opportunity to experience Design Thinking with their friends, family or virtual partners by participating in a Design Thinking challenge.

    To start, the course designers describe Design Thinking in linear terms:  Empathy>Define >”Ideate”>Prototype>Test.

    Then they invite viewers to join the actual workshop in participating in a Design Thinking challenge of creating a solution to a gift giving experience. I watched it in under 30 minutes, skipping through the work periods, though, I really wanted to participate with them (alas, I had no partner and it is a partner activity).   At the heart of their claim is that teachers, people, need to have a heart for growing the capacity to innovate in our students and ourselves. At it’s base is, empathy, a wonderful place to start and end.

    In a nutshell, Design Thinking assignments should be:

        Human centered (ensuring that they’re meaningful)

        Approached with a prototype mindset (also called a “growth mindset”-an invitation to fail often!)

        Collaborative (based on a human need, tested on/by humans, created for humans, created by partners or groups of humans)

        Biased towards action (potential solutions and ideas should be shared)

    My biggest take away from the Stanford model is that the importance of others should be at the center of the assignment and its resolution.

    Here’s the video. If you want to have fun and try the challenge, you’ll need a partner, 90 minutes,  paper and pencils. Otherwise just watch and enjoy.

    Video Player



    The 5 Essential Questions in Life

    July 7, 2016

    My friend and colleague, John Moshofsky, reposted the 6-minute excerpt of James Ryan’s commencement speech on facebook last week. It was a welcome relief from the political memes I had to scroll through to get to my family’s vacation posts, and, in true Harvard style, it is as pithy as it is intellectual. Leave it to the Harvard School of Education to once again offer us something valuable and timely in only 6 minutes.

    In his speech, Ryan claims that there are 5 Essential Questions that should be asked of ourselves and our students on a daily basis:

    1. Wait, what?
    2. I wonder if/why…?
    3. Couldn’t we at least…?
    4. How can I help?
    5. What truly matters to me?

    I plan on sharing this video with my students several times as it has taken me a couple of viewings to catch the humor, the allusions, and the important challenge. The timing for me as an educator on the brink of trying to meld Design Thinking, Inquiry, and a new curriculum based on Essential Questions, is perfect. I see questions 4 and 5 being the basis of our inquiry and questions 1 and 2 being part of the cycle. But it is question 3, “couldn’t we at least…?” that has me thrilled. We are going into the thick of an election cycle, I will be teaching social studies. Social justice questions will be front and center and I want to keep the students talking. Civil discourse and critical thinking will need to be taught, modeled and encouraged and I think I’ve found the starting point! “Couldn’t we at least agree that a democracy requires us to look at more than one solution/side/idea?” “Couldn’t we at least agree that all candidates want to make America great and then look at who their specific message might appeal to?”

    Thank you Dr. Ryan for your clarity and thanks John, for posting it to facebook. Enjoy the offering!



    Digital Story Telling Pay Dirt!

    July 10, 2016

    Incorporate aspects of Design Thinking into Language Arts and Social Studies by having students create stories based on non-fiction reading using one of the many applications and/or programs available today.

    I was looking into comparing several storytelling/video creating programs when I bumped into Kathy Schrock’s amazing list of resources. Schrock has amassed a huge number of websites and links which she shares on her website at:

    So far, I haven’t found anything as quick, easy, free and intuitive as Powtoon, but, I’ll try anything. If you have a favorite program or app for creating digital stories or videos, please let me know. For now, check out Powtoon at


    The World Just Got a Little Smaller

    July 9, 2016

    Three years ago I met a teacher from Thailand who was staying with a host family in our neighborhood. She asked if I had students who would like to be pen pals with several of her students. Of Course! I immediately had 10 eager girls writing cards, letters and postcards to send to Thailand. We did it, they returned the favor-with gifts- and a relationship was begun. It was glorious and extremely old school.

    This year I want to connect with students in the American South during our Civil War unit for meaningful discussion. I teach in a vastly white, upper middle class school district in Oregon and we need a few more perspectives! How do I find these people?

    My first idea was to try Edmodo. I posted on their website which is remarkably similar to Facebook’s interface and my first 3 responses were from what I think were phishing or scamming sites. But then, Ms. Mendoza replied. And then Mr. Fish. So far no legitimate teacher from the South has responded, but, when they do, or if they do, Edmodo might be a good platform. Check it out at

    Next I tried ePals. It’s summer. My bad. But, I have faith. The interface is promising and intuitive. Check it out at

    I may have to go the old fashioned way and use Skype or FaceTime, but, I’ve used both before with excellent success. I simply connect with a teacher via Skype using my iPad or iPhone and project it using my Apple TV. It is cumbersome, but it works and I’ve done it. Nothing replaces experience. If you don’t have it already, get it here:

    If you know of a good way to connect students to each other and have experience doing it, please let me know!



    Sir Ken Robinson’s “Amazing” TED Talk

    July 6, 2016

    Sir Ken’s TED talk is legendary among teachers. I think the first time I watched it was probably not long after he delivered the real deal in 2006. I was at a school inservice or conference surrounded by other wide eyed teachers preparing to go back to school and meet our new students. At the time I remember forming an immediate crush on the guy. He was funny, dramatic and inspiring in turns. My heart dropped as he recounted a girl whose mother sent her to dance school rather than put her on drugs and make her sit in class. I loved the line, “creativity and literacy are of equal importance,” even as I prepared for my English classes. However, after 11 years  and multiple viewings, I’m getting a little tired of his voice, and his message.

    I am always surprised by teachers who have not seen Sir Ken’s famous TED talk, and by people who are not in education presenting it to me as a gift, with a nudge. “Yes, I’ve seen it 10 times by now and yes, he’s brilliant,” is always my response, and in my head I am thinking, “what do they think we are doing? Do they honestly think that we are trying to kill creativity?” I get defensive.

    Here’s the thing: Every teacher I know loves their field and their students and wants only the best for their young people. Every teacher I know already believes in the diversity, dynamic and distinctness of our students. Every teacher I know utters the line, “don’t worry about mistakes, just try/start….” on a daily basis, and the last time I checked, every student and teacher I know was worried about a standardized test that tested all of the students, on the same skills (none of which were dancing), with the same tool, and whose results would be published, scrutinized and even used in calculating their rewards or wage. So, yeah Sir Ken and followers, perhaps you should talk to the politicians who insist on standardized tests, instead of insinuating that I am not doing a good job. As I said, I get defensive.

    It’s been a cycle, me and this TED talk. I loved it, I hated it and now, I’m thinking that maybe it in fact did change things for me, in a good way. Maybe I should be grateful. Which came first, a focus on STEM or Sir Ken? How about “Growth Mindset?” After all, he admonishes us to “prepare to be wrong,” while knowing that every teacher and student gets dinged when they are. Maybe he wasn’t talking to us teachers. Maybe he was talking to the rest of the world and maybe, the politicos and the “lay educators” will get a clue and stop tying teachers’ performance to standardized tests thrust upon our poor students. Maybe. 
    Here’s a link to the 19 minute TED talk that may have changed the world just a bit. Despite my moaning, it is pretty good.