Presenting at AMLE Annual Conference

This past week, I had the pleasure of presenting the story of how my students connected with our community, and, although it sounds like a cliche’, with the world to compile a series of researched multi-touch books.  Within the pages of these books, students interviewed friends, family, neighbors, politicians, and more to answer a simple question, “How do historical events impact individuals?”  Each interviewee was able to share their oral history of how a historical event  direct shaped who they are, and vice versa.  This served as a launching point for students to dig into primary source archives now available and accessible from their iPads and to intertwine this research with their interview.  In the end, I was able to team teach with my grade’s English teacher to put students in a position to publish their individual section or chapter within one of four volumes of these oral histories.  Each chapter included a primary source photo, the archived interview audio, and a student research paper, truly combining both “old school” and “new school.”

We were thrilled to be recognized as the Association for Middle Level Education Community Engagement Award Winner for 2017, and even more excited that were invited to Philadelphia to present our project and process at their national conference.  I am even more excited that we were granted the funds necessary to further our collaboration with the community, by bringing students to our local library and history center.

It was invigorating to share our students’ work with an international audience.

Here is a sample of one of the books: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1224973543



“What Did You Use to Make That?!?” – Keynote, History, Shapes, & Magic Move

We’ve all been there.  You spend hours and hours working on a lesson hoping that it is a hit with your students and inspires them to want to dive deeper into content, to feed off of your enthusiasm as they take an initial question or problem and use creative approaches to go their own ways to be creators and collaborators themselves.


Rewinding to the ADE Academy 2017, I felt like a student watching Ben Mountz work wonders with Keynote’s shapes and magic move.  As a history teacher, this had so much potential to be used to tell a story, but moreover, to put my students in a position to tell a story.

After my students used stop motion to tell the story of Jamestown, it was now time to tell the story of some of the best rising action that you can experience in school, the build up to the American Revolution.  But, how to inspire them again to be digital storytellers?  I purposely would leave my projector on in the morning, during homeroom, and during the day as students watched me make my first attempts of using Keynote’s Magic Move.  What makes this tool even better is the ability to not only use Keynote’s shapes, but also to be able to edit those shapes and create your own.  My goal was to eventually be able to create all of my own graphics and shapes. So, I got started.  I began by using historical images and Magic Move and moving them around to create animated scenes.  But, I wanted to take it to the next level.  It was time to make my own shapes.

“What is he doing?”  was a common question as students would come into my first period, watching and questioning to each other.  Admittedly, some of my first attempts were not the greatest.  In fact, my attempt to draw my own head as the head of a colonist and then fill in the rest with shapes looks, at best, extremely goofy.  But, I decided to leave it in to show that it was a work in progress.  What I ended up with was hours of work for a 30 minute discussion, however, it was a discussion with lots of “What do you think might happen next?”  “What should happen next?”  “How could you show what might happen next?” In the back of my mind, I was hoping that students would be “hooked” just from seeing some of the possibilities of Keynote, shapes, and Magic Move.  They were.

“What did you use to make that?” This quote actually came from another teacher who happened to view some of the animation possibilities in Keynote, not believing that this was even possible within the application.

A 2:00 Minute version of the story of the rising action of Britain and the American Colonies is available here.

No lie, but students began asking, “can we make one of these?”  Several students in my afternoon classes asked if this could be a class at North Hills.  Not only am I hooked on using Magic Move, but, I was glad to pass on the inspiration of Ben Mountz to my students.  We already have some great ideas that I look forward to sharing in the very near future.


Powerful, Seamless Classroom Tool for the iPad Environment: Apple’s Classroom App

As my school enters our seventh month of our 1:1 initiative, more and more teachers in my building are starting to utilize Apple’s Classroom app.  This app, which, within seconds of using it, will prove to be extremely easy and intuitive to use for any teacher or administrator.  Classroom enables teachers to maintain a pulse of student iPad use in their classes, while also using tools like AirPlay and Screen View to make it a more collaborative one all at the same time.  As such, I create a brief video to introduce Apple’s Classroom app and some of its capabilities for our teachers:



A Clear Lens to Personalize Learning: Digital Storytelling with Primary Sources & Stop Motion – PBS Webinar Coming Soon!

Imagine this as if you were a student:

Documents that are over two hundred years old are sitting in front of you.  Great.  More fancy “old English” words that you just don’t understand.  From what you can gather, the person that wrote it isn’t like you at all.  Your teacher says that you need to summarize the document by the end of class but don’t even know where to begin nor do you have any motivation to do so.

Now, imagine this:

A journal or poem from a soldier and war statistics are laying on your desk.  Once again, your teacher asks you to summarize the documents.  You perk up a little, just enough to complete the summary and get on your way to your next class.

And now, this:

You are watching a movie.  Forrest Gump. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Shawshank Redemption, or binge watching the Wonder Years.  You can’t turn it off.  You want to see what happens to the struggling man from Alabama, or the high school troublemaker, or the criminal Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, or even the young boy Kevin Arnold.  You are hooked in by the story of somebody that is completely unlike yourself.  You can see qualities in people with whom  you thought you had very few similarities, if any.

What’s the difference?  Visuals? Maybe.  A catchy theme song? Okay, maybe.  A great soundtrack?  Alright, that makes sense, too.  But the biggest thing?  A personal connection to the story.   You can see yourself as that person.  You are rooting for them.  You can insert yourself into their experience.

Hollywood does a fantastic job of doing this for us when we lose ourselves in a character.

How do we do it for our students?

This brings me to the story of Lin Manuel Miranda, who, as it can be seen on the PBS LearningMedia website, turned his personal reading of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, into what he personalized in his mind when reading it: an energetic hip-hop/rap song (and consequently, a hit Broadway musical).

Again: How do we do this for our students? 

I hope that you can join me in March as I share how I have done this in my classroom by employing quality (and free!) primary resources to allow students to answer a larger question while interpreting a story using their own materials and through their own lens using a simple, yet effective technique: stop motion animation.  (Think Rudolph!)

As Lin Manuel Miranda brought American History and hip-hop together, you and your students can bring together two things that may not immediately “jive” together in your mind: Primary Sources and Stop Motion.  In doing so, you will see a level of personal connection, creativity, and interest that you may not have experienced in your social studies, ELA, elementary, and/or library classes, as students latch on to tell a story through their own eyes.  Even neater, students will start to express stories while displaying their own interests, just as these students did, while answering the larger question of “Why did Jamestown struggle to survive?”


Disney?  No?  Pixar? Not quite?  Authentic learning for a real audience? Absolutely.  Join me in March to learn about the basics of putting your students in positions to do this as well as tips, strategies, and needed materials. and let’s get started with interpreting primary sources with digital storytelling tools such as stop motion on multiple platforms.


An Interview with Gram: How Students Archived Community Oral Histories by Creating Multi-Touch Books

It hit me.  This past summer, I panicked.  I had never stopped to interview my 95-year old grandmother, Sara Whalen, who has had experienced so much during her life.  From the time I was born until I moved out of my parents’ home in 2008, my grandmother had lived in the same house as me.  However, I had never sat down with her to interview her about her life.  I immediately worried that it was going to be too late.

Using the framework from the Veteran’s History Project, I focused my attention in August of 2016 on interviewing grandma.  I prepared interview questions, researched the Women’s Army Corp and its contributions during World War II, read over handwritten letters and records of my grandma, and viewed numerous artifacts andimg_1915 photos from her life.  I sat down across from her, with my iPad recording, and had a conversation about her life.  I heard about her early life in an orphanage, her relationship with her step-father that led her to join the service, experiences in the WAC, and life after the war.  Sadly, she would show her age at times, repeating stories that she had just told me.  Sometimes, she would use vocabulary that may not be considered “PC” today.  Still, I had it.  I had her story to share with the VHP.  This process, though, left me kicking myself.  Why had I not done this earlier in my life and in hers?  Surely, her story would have been more vivid, details more sharp in her mind.  If I had only done this when I was in middle school in the late 1990s, I would have a more polished and authentic piece of history.  If only…

This led me to realize how powerful an experience this would have been if I did this years earlier.  During that conversation with grandma, I learned things I had never known. I felt more connected to her (and my) past by simply having a conversation.  I had to share her story.

My students HAD to have this opportunity.  But, how would it “fit”?  Thankfully, I have an incredible English teacher on my team in my building, who was more than willing to amend and augment the annual our 8th grade research paper to revolutionize it to be something more meaningful.  Over the course of an iMessage conversation this summer, we moved from a 5 paragraph essay on a westward expansion figure, to a project that had a few basic principles and goals:

  1. Connect our students with the community and/or a family member
  2. Conduct primary source research using archived newspapers and magazines to promote historical thinking skills
  3. Employ the services of our library/media specialist to teach database research skills
  4. Organize research into focus areas and develop a thesis that encompasses both the oral history and student research from legitimate primary & secondary sources
  5. Author a 5 paragraph essay that intertwines research with the oral history
  6. Create an multi-touch interactive iBook chapter per student that archives an image, the full audio interview of the student, and the student work.
  7. Design and release 5 volumes of multi-touch interactive iBooks available to the community (and the world!) to highlight student learning by the Spring of 2017

This project was a team effort on all angles.  Prior to the holiday break in December, students learned of the project and used the break to make connections to relatives to figure out what significant event they would want to research and who they would want to interview.  After the break, students watched my grandma’s interview as a guide and began to write their interview questions in English class.  With the assistance of our library/media specialist, our English teacher did a fantastic job in explaining how to locate primary sources using Google News Archive in addition to utilizing databases that our school has access to this year.  Moreover, she introduced NoodleTools, a web-based tool to cite sources, create focus areas, and create note cards, before seamlessly moving thoughts into an outline.


Many students went above and beyond.  Several students elected to interview grandparents and great grandparents on the topic of the Great Depression and World War II.  The Vietnam War was one of the more prominent topics as well.  Still, some students reached out to relatives around the world, with one student interviewing a relative about the first post-apartheid election in South Africa while another interviewed her grandfather about living under Mao during many of his reforms.  Some topics included significant personal tragedies, including a Holocaust survivor now living in Washington state, Kosovo under Slobadan Milosevic, a NYC emergency call center employee on 9/11, and a Washington, D.C. Air Traffic controller on 9/11, to name a few.  Some topics were very local, including the closing of a local theme park that was part of the community, a major blizzard in the city, the decline of the steel industry, and how flooding impacted the region at various times.

No matter the topic, students reported an underlying theme: they became more connected to those they interviewed and took a greater interest in their topics. The community undoubtedly stepped up as well to contribute to student learning, which was simply awesome.  I have the utmost respect for the English teacher that led the note-taking, focus area, thesis development, editing, and writing of the papers.  As mentioned, our librarian and special education staff jumped right in as well. Many members of our teaching staff volunteered to be interviewed as well.

My role in this project was that of a guide of historical research, oralscreen-shot-2017-02-13-at-8-22-47-pm history, and, on the educational technology side, developing and releasing our class iBooks, which will be released on the Apple iTunes Store in late March or early April.  Students certainly took ownership of their own learning, while being guided by our English teacher and supported by the community.  It will come full circle when the students “give back” to the community members that assisted them as we are working on creating a book that archives such astounding stories and personal contributions to our local, national, and world history.  A bridge was truly built using oral history and primary source research, and I have so many to thank for it, notably the English teacher on my team that was so willing to not only adapt to the oral history idea, but to completely redesign her research guides and templates and instruct students how to intertwine oral histories, primary, and secondary sources to make it happen.

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How George Washington’s Winter at Valley Forge Inspired Memes in My Classroom

Okay, we’ve all been there.  We’ve seen that hilarious meme that gets posted on social media.  Then again, we’ve all been there, we see that borderline inappropriate (or over the line) meme that is neither funny nor witty. Unfortunately, sometimes people we known in our own lives may rely a little too heavily on proving a point by showing a meme that they had seen on Facebook.

Our students, too, see memes.  Some students even enjoy making them over the course of the day to day.  This led me to a few thoughts, why not harness this interest and try to spin it to allow students to express and enhanced their understanding of a topic by creating an appropriate meme.  I stress appropriate for a reason, as it leads to a digital citizenship discussion on what is an is not the proper way to utilize images on social media, and really, on the internet as a whole.

Enter Valley Forge.

No, really.  Valley Forge.  One of the most trying times of our young nation during the American Revolution.  Washington struggled to keep his men alive, let alone thrive as a fighting force to take on the British.

Enter primary source documents from Valley Forge.  There are many journals of the trials of soldiers at Valley Forge, paintings the support their struggle, and data to provide even more of a buttress for the idea that life was difficult during that winter in eastern Pennsylvania.

Enter memes.  Stick with me.

Stick with me like Washington needed his men to do at Valley Forge.  Why not have students display their understanding of the underlying message of the document by creating memes that would express the viewpoint of a soldier there?

Many of my students were familiar with memes.  Some didn’t know what they were until they saw some examples, and some still had never seen one.  This “teachable moment” allowed us to have a discussion about how using images in memes to “pick on” others was in no way being a good digital citizen, and moreover, led to students having the ability to make a meme highlighting what a soldier their may have been thinking in a creative, and humorous manner.

What resulted after was, put simply, awesome.  Students were asking to make two, three, four, five, six, or more memes to display different aspects of how life was harsh at Valley Forge.  Their favorite part was sharing these with the class, explaining the rationale of their meme if not immediately able to be discerned from their text tagline. There were lots of laughs, lots of “oh, I get it” comments, and, most importantly, lots of interaction with the primary sources to garner additional ideas.

It may not have caught the social media world by storm like the “Obama-Biden” memes, but, this is a tool that will now be a go-to when expressing an underlying theme of content in my class, and one the students will want to “wait out the winter with me” to experience some more of, just like those soldiers at Valley Forge.

Engineering History: 3D Printing in a Middle School History Class

Today was the culmination of a year img_0434of implementing a $10,000 STEAM Grant to the 8th Grade Social Studies program at my school.  At our local STEAM Showcase event, we were able to put some of our students in positions to share what they learned in the previous year, what skills they developed, and, as teachers, reflect upon the challenges, successes, and opportunities for growth. We were supplied with 3D printers, supplies, and 3D scanners to outfit our classrooms, but, the knowledge and experiences gained were just as valuable.

The most common question we received today, though, was something along the lines of this: “3D printing…but in Social Studies…in a history class?”  Listen, STEAM concepts are great.  Students should be challenged to use design thinking to combine knowledge from a variety of previously separate showcase1subjects to be creators.  But, shouldn’t these skills be integrated within classes throughout a student’s school day, rather than isolated to a single class that is the designated STEAM area?

Using this belief, myself and two of my colleagues applied for a 2015-2016 STEAM Grant, planning to allow students to create history, designing and making historic landmarks, forts, and innovations that have played vital roles in American History.  Full disclosure: we took a massive risk.  Not one of us had any experience in 3D printing when we applied for the grant.  When we got word that our grant was accepted, there was a definite learning opportunity for not only our students, but for us as teachers.

showcase2Looking back, I learned just as much as my students about trial and error, problem solving, and design thinking.  We actually had some hiccups early on as we were sent a faulty machine, and decided to send all of our devices back to the supplier to select a different model.  This resulted in a delay to our plans to start our implementation in September.  Instead, we were looking at January.

Fast forwarding to today, our students featured our Civil War Innovations project.  Last year, students selected a different Civil War innovation in which they had an interest.  Some students selected weaponry, some selected musical instruments, some focused on uniforms and other accessories, while others decided to direct their attention to technological and transportation innovations.  They began researching the impact and legacy of these items before making a decision on what it was that they wanted to create in 3D form.  They then took to the task of measuring, designing, erasing, re-designing, and sketching their soon-to-be creations.

Another hurdle, though: Students really didn’t have much, if any, of a knowledge base of how to take their sketched designs and transform them into a file downloadable for 3D printing.  The solution: Tinkercad.  Props to my ADE colleagues for recommending this resource!  It was simple to use, as I believe it is really designed for younger learners.  However, my students had to start somewhere, and, after going through a series of quick demos and interactive training lessons, most students were hooked.

Students excitedly worked together, solved each others problems, and made suggestions to each other of how to improve their designs.  What I thought would take a couple of weeks to accomplish really took a matter of days.  Students were anxiously awaiting their prints, which resulted in setting up prints to run after school hours and late into the evenings.  I got into a steady routine of monitoring prints remotely and asking our awesome school custodian to turn of the machine’s power at night before his shift ended.  I would hope that this experience led some of my students to enroll in high school level 3D courses, as they now could visualize their creations in addition to learning history-based content.  So, to answer the question…3D printing…in social studies…in American History?  Yes. Take a risk – why not?

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What Electric Football Can Teach Us About Our Classrooms

I’m a child of the late 80s and early 90s.  I have vaguecam00129_preview_featured memories of watching my older brother and neighbors gather around excitedly to watch a table of plastic move around in an unpredictable fashion.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it.  But, wanting to be “part of the fun,” I, too, sat around and watched.  What created this excitement?  Why was this so engaging?

This era was also the dawn of the video game era.  Ataris, Nintendos, and handheld single-player games came on the scene.  So how could there be a niche for these electric football games.  The answer is simple: seeing, feeling, and experiencing something is powerful.

Draw upon the parallel at play: we are at a time when screens are on the rise.  Like the late 80s and early 90s when children would now sit for hours in front of screens, we now have awesome tools for our students to use, but also place them in front of screens for hours.  So what in the world does this have to do with electronic football?

When we allow our students to get up, move, hold physical objects, touch and feel items, there is a level of engagement that can’t be supplied from simply looking at a screen.  We need to use the “all of the above” strategy that is sometimes mentionedimg_2505 in political debates about energy sources. In my class, we recently were discussing our own city through the lens of why it was such a critical component within the realm of the French and Indian War.  Could we have simply looked at a map of Pittsburgh?  Certainly.  Could we have talked about the geographic features of the region? Absolutely.  But, using the “all of the above” and “electric football” mentality, what would happen if students got to hold physical objects, move around the room, and collaborate.  Students were provided with placards of rivers, physical features, modern day landmarks, landmarks from the 1750s, and flags and given the task of using their own experiences to recreate our city.The end result was a level of engagement in class activities and an inquisitive attitude to “figure it out” as a group.

So, what can we learn from electric football? Even though we have engaging and powerful applications, resources, and ways to amplify our student’s voice in ways well beyond our classroom, sometimes, it can be useful to gather around together, grab some physical objects, and make a lesson come to life within the fingertips and in front of the eyes of our students.

When Imitation is NOT the Sincerest Form of Flattery

The current day classroom is one that is based on collaboration image-1-jpgevery day.  Student collaboration, teacher collaboration, collaboration with experts.  An inherent and essential element of collaboration to make the best possible learning experiences for our students is sharing. Gone are the days where a teacher makes the “perfect test” and keeps that exam locked up in a file cabinet behind his desk (Okay, I know that this may still happen, but let’s pretend.)  Most teachers are now extremely willing to share ideas that work, share lessons and strategies that engage students, and share resources that improve the overall quality of our students’ education.

An underlying question that I ponder: What is collaboration?  I’ll revisit this in a moment.

Expanding our Professional Learning Networks

How amazing and awesome is it to participate in the many chats that are held weekly on Twitter to share the things that are working in our classrooms? How great is it to pick up a few new educational tools and new ways of thinking about a concept or giving your students a new wrinkle in the learning activities they participate in within your class? Or, when you take advantage of an opportunity to attend conferences in the summer to speak face to face with some of your role models in education?  What about when you jump into an EdCamp or local ed tech conference to share best practices of something you specialize in or have a passion in, only to have it be improved upon by someone in attendance sharing an augmentation to that passion of yours? To make a long story somewhat shorter, there are a plethora of ways for us to grow as educators to improve our students’ educational experience and opportunities to find success.  These are things that all educators should strive to take part in to be the best educator they can be.

Hootie and the Blowfish & the Currency of Collaboration

For my colleagues that are Darius Rucker fans, he describes what is needed in order to truly collaborate: Time.  Not expertise.  Not an ungodly amount of skill.  Not some secret society or handshake.  Not a conference registration fee.  Time.  If you want to participate in the educational dialogue, you just need to commit the time needed.  You can throw effort and work ethic in there, too.  Now we have some (as the Donald would say) “yuge” variables here: time, effort, and work ethic.  Teachers have busy lives: kids, aging parents, second jobs, marriages, volunteering gigs, community projects, coaching, etc.  The list of things that intrude on our time and effort levels depend on these items and how much one prioritizes their teaching.  The last variable, work ethic, is one that I want to focus on in the collaboration discussion.

When Collaboration is Really not “Co”llaboration

Let me preface this by saying that sharing the great things that occur in our classrooms and schools makes us all better.  When we build walls in our classrooms, we all stunt our own growth.  Second, teachers all have different skill sets.  For some teachers, they may not be comfortable or at a place where they are ready to share their successes quite yet.  That is perfectly fine.

But, back to my original question.  What is collaboration?  In my professional learning network, I have always felt like we all have some obligation to “pay it forward” at some level.  From new teachers to longtime veteran teachers, we have something to offer to teachers.

What is collaboration?  Is collaboration consistently lifting the same educator’s (or educators’) ideas over an over with no contribution back?  Is collaboration consistently capitalizing on the time, effort, and work ethic that another educator invested or sacrificed even though you may have the basic skills to also innovate yourself?  I love being in a position to share with my colleagues at a school, district, state, national, and, thanks to the ADE Program, an international level.  I am invigorated by the idea that educators are really more powerful than ever in terms of our ability to advocate for better learning experiences for our students and to find others with common passions.  One area, though, still perplexes my mind.  Is it acceptable to define something as collaboration when it is consistently a one way street, paved with stones of a lack of work ethic, time, and effort of others?  Is that collaboration?  In my book, it is not. And we need more collaborators.


The First Weeks of School: 8 Reflections on a 1:1 iPad Rollout

Amazingly, we have come to the end of our fourth week of the 2016-2017 school year, a year that began with each student in our middle school building receiving an iPad as part of our 1:1 initiative. Excuse the excessively long first post.

With all due respect to the Wongs, I want to focus upon the events of the first weeks of school rather than the first days. Now coming up for air, I want to share some of my observations and reflections about the transition to a 1:1 environment.

1. Students Are Ready for It, Adults May Not Be

I have taught in a classroom that has been the home to a cart of iPads since the 2011 school year. Worries arose from “Will [insert student name here] forget his/her iPads at home?“, “What if students don’t charge their iPad?“, “Will students just be playing games on their iPads?

Through 16 days of my 100 or so students having their iPads, I have had two students forget their iPad at home. Two. Not 20. Two. Set the expectation and treat it as an important piece of the learning environment and students will largely follow suit. I have had one student come to school with an iPad that was not charged. One. What about games? Sure, I have seen students playing games on their devices. I see them playing math and logic games between class periods. If a student doesn’t have a meaningful task to complete, can you blame them?

2.”iTunesU is Awesome. You Can’t Lose Anything.” ~8th Grade Student

There was a great debate between whether to utilize iTunesU or Google Classroom. Both offer certain features that are superior to the other. We are a GAFimg_2062E school but also have many teachers who have a wealth of Apple Education experience. This summer, we decided to proceed with iTunesU to take advantage and fully embrace the Apple ecosystem. Several teachers have jumped right in, and students have offered positive feedback. While Google Classroom has some outstanding features and plug-ins, iTunesU offers a one-stop shop for housing student courses with little to no wait time lag. Teachers have also begun to house their clubs on iTunesU, offering instant push updates to students, a feature that many appreciate. In conversations with students, I had a belief that some may not like having most of their materials in a digital format, instead opting print. When a choice is given, it has been about 90% in terms of students opting to just utilize digital materials with an iTunesU course. But, again, the true power of the iPad lies in designing lessons that allow students to create, collaborate, and respond to real-life questions rather than annotating worksheets.

3. Please work, Apple Classroom

image1Our system is currently set up in Apple Classroom from data pulled from our SIS and managed by our MDM, JAMF. As a result, we do not have the power to manually create classes. Apple Classroom appears to have so many great features, but sadly, I am taunted by this screen each and every time I open the app.

4. More time! Go Formative as an Anticipatory Set

A bonus of students having their own devices and nimg_2017-jpgot having them pick them up from a cart each day and then return them at the end of class is having 3-4 extra minutes of class each day. I have used this additional time to add GoFormative activities to my opening and closing lessons, allowing students to share their prior knowledge with their peers and me as well as reflecting upon what they learned and/or how their views changed as a result of a lesson.

5. Nothing Replaces Relationships

We’ve all probably seen it. Technology is introduced to a classroom and the tech tool (laptop, tablet, iPod, etc.) is provided to students as a lesson delivery tool that completely cuts out daily communication with a teacher. This is simply the wrong way to go about integrating technology. Students needs daily interactions, guidance, and redirection. We can’t expect student learning experiences to be remade if we are simply relying on recorded Keynote presentations and self-grading quizzes. Can those things part of a classroom? Sure. But all of it? No way.

6. Embrace Emojis for Active Reading

On a whim (I would love to say that this was a well thought out plan), I decided to have students break down each part of a reading assignment using emojis. img_2038-2Specifically, each paragraph students read had a theme or a tone. They were to select one emoji that they personally thought did the best job of relaying this theme/tone. What was more important to me? Students were engaged and could not wait to share their verbal explanation defending their rationale of their theme or tone. What may have been a passive reading instantly morphed into one where students couldn’t wait to get to the next paragraph. Embrace emojis!

7. Technology + Physical Objects + Meaningful Task = Purposeful Engagement

This is not some new, earth-shattering idea. Do you remember learning about Jamestown and Salem? I can remember my 8th grade year and I honestly can not. I may have taken a quiz on the early colonies, but, what purpose or meaning did this have to me? Over the past week, students have been creating Stop Motion videos answering one of two questions presented from the DBQProject, using primary sources to explain a viewpoint of historical events. Looking around my class today, the level of engagement was extremely high. Not once did students need to be redirected to the task at hand. Using Stop Motion, along with physical objects like Legos, Play Doh, Toobs, pipe cleaners, and more, students were truly making history and offering their own story in the process. I can’t wait to share what some of my students came up with to share their interpretations in an upcoming post! Want to learn more about how to do this? Download my iBook, Interpreting Primary Sources with Stop Motion for free on iTunes.

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8. Find Solutions

Were there frustrating times during the first few weeks of school? Absolutely. We have two choices as teachers: Find a solution when something doesn’t work or find an excuse. Although finding solutions may not be in our official job descriptions, in the end, we are here to do what is best for our students (or as a former boss would ask, “What’s best for the student?”) Are we serving our students by throwing up our hands when something doesn’t work and making an excuse? No. Model the behavior that you want your students to exude: a work ethic to find solutions to real world problems. You always have eyes on you as a teacher. What attitude are you portraying?