Monday, December 31, 2012

A Surprisingly Difficult Challenge

Right to Education: My Fair Trade soccer ball from Pakistan
One of my friends from college just emailed me the other day with a very interesting request.  She is leaving for Rwanda to volunteer as an English teacher for six months and she contacted me to give her some advice on teaching.  She has never taught before, but she wants to be as effective as possible while she is abroad.  She asked me for some best practice teaching strategies, in addition to resources that she should buy to bring over with her.  "Wow! Where do I start?" I thought to myself.  After reading her email I started to think about everything I had learned regarding education and the science of learning.  However, I couldn't possibly tell her everything that I had learned, so I had to decide on what might be most useful and valuable to her while she was teaching abroad.

Her email is below:

Hi Brad,

I know you're a teacher and want to ask you something. I am moving back to Rwanda for 5 months to teach English as a second language to teachers, community members and kids. I have never taught in my life, and I was wondering if you could recommend any good lesson-plan websites, ESL books to bring, people you can connect me with or teaching ideas or anything! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

This was a surprisingly difficult challenge for me because I know so much about education. How could I possibly explain this to her over an email? I really had to go back to the basics and fundamentals of best-practice teaching. She will more than likely have very little resources and she said she might have access to computers, but she's not sure. I knew this was going to be difficult, but I was up for the challenge.

I have included my response to her email below ...


Get your hands on the following books if you can:

It's Not About the Technology: My Volunteer Teaching Experience in Peru

If you have access to computers and the Internet, have your students visit these two websites:

Google Search Tools

These two websites will allow your students to search in a language that they understand, translate what they find into English, and narrow down their search when they are investigating and exploring content.

My Two Cents

The most important part of teaching is getting students curious, interested, and excited to learn.  That is the real art of teaching.  If you can “hook” your students for every lesson, every day, you will be a great teacher.  You can’t make students learn, you can only motivate, inspire, foster, facilitate, encourage, and assist them in the process.  This sounds weird, but the less YOU do and the more your STUDENTS do, the better. If you remember this quote, you will be successful:

“Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”

Don’t lecture. Don’t use worksheets if possible. Get students asking questions, researching, exploring, constructing their own meaning, sharing, and creating artifacts that demonstrate their learning and understanding.  Don’t always plan what the students will learn everyday.  Allow the students to go off on tangents.  Allow students to have “voice and choice” over what they learn.  This will help to keep them interested, and they will be more excited to learn.

When helping or assisting students construct their own meaning of information, use the following strategies.

Research-Based, Best Practice Teaching Strategies
  1. Examples vs. Nonexamples
  2. Analogies 
  3. Compare and Contrast: Venn Diagrams (similarities and differences)
  4. Graphic Organizers for classification or concept patterns (Teacher generated and/or student generated)
  5. Summarizing and Note-taking
  6. Reciprocal teaching (having students explain to other students and/or teacher)
  7. Reinforce student effort not finished products.  Students will do better if they know their effort is being rewarded, not their outcomes.
  8. Nonlinguistic Representations:  Have students …
    a. Draw pictures or other visuals
    b. Create graphs, charts, tables, etc.
    c. Act, create a skit, use gestures. etc. 
  9. Cooperative and Collaborative Learning: Have students work in groups to learn together. They can all be doing the same task, or they can be working on different tasks toward a common goal.
    a. Jigsaw Activity: students work with peers who study one facet of a topic.  Then they return to a “home-base” group for sharing what they have learned.  The home-base group is composed of a student specializing in each facet of the topic.  Students in the home-base group are responsible for reporting to the group on their specialty topic and for learning what other students report.
    b. Literature Circles: This allows for students to read on topics of interest and share readings with others who read the same material.  It allows teachers to break away comfortably from the sense that all students must read the same materials in order to have meaningful discussions. 
  10. Intelligence Preferences:  Allow for students to investigate and demonstrate their learning and understanding via their strengths and interests.  Here are some examples:
    a. music smart (musical, auditory)
    b. picture smart (visual-spacial)
    c. self smart (intrapersonal)
    d. body smart (bodily-kinesthetic)
    e. word smart (verbal-linguistic)
    f. logic smart (logical-mathematical)
    g. nature smart (naturalistic)
    h. people smart (interpersonal)

While I was in Peru, I often had students play the following games:
  • Pictionary
  • Charades
  • Catch-Phrase

What I did was use the basic principles of these games and use words that we were currently learning about. Students would either work in small groups, or have two teams competing against each other. These games are great to help students conceptualize information with as little words as possible (works especially well when learning a new language).

Find out what students are interested in. Find out what sports they like, games they play, music their into, etc. This was really helpful when trying to make connections and relationships with my students, and it also helped me to tailor my instruction to their interests, which made learning more fun and meaningful.

Also, remember that ALL students can learn, it just might take different approaches and a different amount of time for each. Figure out what your students’ strengths and interests are, and allow them to use their talents and interests when learning.

Lastly, tell your students that they are all unique and valuable to this world. Let them know that you believe in them. Because, “Students don’t care how much you know … until they know how much you care!”


This was a really fun activity for me. I am so glad she wrote me this email, because this provided me with an opportunity to synthesize all of my resources, experience and knowledge into an email that reflected what I value most as a teacher. You know, it's easy to get caught up in all of the technology that is out there, but true learning comes from great pedagogy and instruction.

For your consideration

I encourage all educators to take this surprisingly difficult challenge. What would you tell my friend who has never taught before, is entering a school in third world country, and has very limited access to resources?
  • What might you have added to this email? 
  • What strategies might you have told her? 
  • What tips, or reminders might you have mentioned?

All responses are welcome!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to "Remix" a Simple Assignment

Think of a new song on the radio that you absolutely love.  You start dancing in your car and singing the lyrics every time you hear it. Now, think about a few months later when you can't stand the song anymore because its so overplayed on the radio.  This is often what happens to great songs; they get overplayed. When this happens, music artists often collaborate with other artists to mix up the same song, or create remixes to make the song more interesting and engaging.  This process is called "remixing".  My new favorite "remix" is Lost+ by Coldplay featuring Jay-Z.

Application to Education

We've all written book reviews since we were kids.  It was the same thing, year, after year, after year.  Book reviews helped us to conceptualize the central themes and main ideas of the books we read, but they got boring after awhile. Book reviews became something tedious that we did over and over again.  It seemed like we were just "going through the motions" after awhile.  This is an example of a simple assignment that gets overused to the point where motivation and interest is lost by both students and teachers.

So, one teacher, Mrs. Benedick, decided to "remix" her typical book review assignment.  Instead of having students read a book and simply hand-write, or type-up their book review, she made it come to life!

The Assignment

Students were tasked with writing a historical fiction book review from a book of their choice.  However, they had to create and present an artifact that would represent a section of a newspaper that might have existed in the time period of their book.  Furthermore, they were challenged with creating a clever title for the newspaper that would reflect the setting of the story.  Students were encouraged to be creative by writing an article as it would have been written in an actual newspaper during that time.

Below are two different examples from students who completed this assignment.

What I love about this assignment is the fact that it encompasses both left-brain and right-brain skills.  Students must first activate their left-brain for their analytic, critical thinking, and writing skills in order to write the book review.  Then they must activate their right-brain for their creative, artistic, conceptual, and even emotional skills to create an artifact which is interesting, engaging, and appealing.  Incorporating these right-brain skills makes this assignment come to life, and makes it a more real-world experience. This teacher totally "remixed" this assignment so that her students might develop a deeper understanding of the content and create a more meaningful learning experience.

Tips for "Remixing" Assignments
  • Allow for student voice and choice
  • Invite inquiry and curiosity
  • Encourage students to be creative
  • Facilitate a hands-on learning experience
  • Incorporate empathy into the assignment
  • Provide opportunities for the students to reflect on the content and the process
  • Integrate the arts into the assignment
  • Publish student work so that they have an audience that is extended outside of the class
  • Turn an assignment into an artifact or product, rather than a worksheet.

My Reflection

I truly believe that anyone can exercise a lesson plan, read from a book, and follow a set of directions.  This, to me, is not teaching. Teaching is the "art" of inspiring students to learn, motivating them to succeed, and fostering their strengths and talents.  The fun part of teaching is creating investigations, assignments, and assessments that are both educational and meaningful to students.  Our challenge as teachers in the 21st century, is to figure out how to engage and challenge our students in meaningful ways to help them learn and grow as young people. 

Let's all challenge ourselves to "remix" our assignments to make both teaching and learning more exciting!

You might also like

Rethinking Assessment
Getting "Inuit" with Arts Integration

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Digital Divide or Mindset Divide?

These two videos really made me think about whether or not a digital divide really exists.  A Digital Divide can be defined as an inequality between groups in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technologies.  Some people believe that there is a digital divide among age, whereas others believe that there is a digital divide between geographic areas.

After watching these videos, I have come to the conclusion that there really is no digital divide, rather there is only a mindset divide.

Medieval Helpdesk

One Laptop per Child

Explanation of the video

"Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. 'I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android', Negroponte said. 'Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.'” [1]

My Reflection

The fact that kids in Africa, who live in a remote village, are illiterate, and have never even seen an electronic device, were able to use a tablet to learn how to read and write is astonishing. This example proves that just about anyone can learn how to operate a technology device given time, patience, persistence, and dedication. However, the key is the mindset of the individual. These kids were completely ignorant to technology, so they had no fear about breaking the tablet, losing data, or making a mistake. They were simply curious. And their curiosity motivated them to learn how to operate this machine that was so foreign to them. They were able to "troubleshoot" by simple trial and error techniques. If you think about it, isn't that how we all learn?  Failing until we succeed to the first step, then failing until we get to the second ... and so on!

Questions I still have

1.  If a growth mindset, coupled with time, patience and persistance is really all that is needed to learn just about anything (let alone a technology device) then why are we so quick to give up, or fear trying new things that are somewhat "foreign" to us?

2.  Is there really a digital divide regarding age? People often say that kids these days are "born" into technology so everything is so "intuitive" to them.  Is this the case, or are kids just more curious and have no fear when it comes to technology?  In contrast, people often say that "older people" did not grow up with technology so it is not as easy or "intuitive" for them.  What would Steve Jobs say about this?

3.  Why are some teachers so resistant to technology? What are these teachers so afraid of? Why do some teachers have the attitude that they "can't" learn technology or that they are "no good" with technology?  If kids in Africa who cannot read or write and have never experienced technology before can do it ... why do some teachers feel like they can't?

4.  How might we support these teachers to embrace technology, stimulate curiosity, promote self-advocacy and self-confidence, and encourage technology integration?

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged!


1.  Technology Review: Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Promoting Inquiry and Exploration with Primary Resources

After visiting the Library of Congress today, I have a new appreciation for learning and education. I became inspired by reading all of the educational quotes on the walls and seeing the many statues of historical figures that represent the eight categories of knowledge, each considered symbolic of civilized life and thought.

The mission of the Library of Congress is to collect and organize America's resources and make them universally accessible and useful.  One of the ways that the Library of Congress is reaching out to teachers is by providing them with a wealth of resources and tools to supplement curriculum, instruction and assessment in the classroom.  Moreover, the Library of Congress offers classroom materials and professional development to help teachers effectively use primary sources from the Library's vast digital collections in their teaching.

Teachers can find Library of Congress lesson plans and more that meet Common Core standards, state content standards, and the standards of national organizations.  When using these resources it is important to support the learning of students who need more scaffolding with sample questions as they respond to the primary source.  Encourage them to go back and forth between the different columns, there is no correct order.

Using Primary Sources
  1. Have students identify and note details
  2. Encourage students to generate and test hypotheses about the source
  3. Have students ask questions to lead to more observations and reflections
In order to help students with this process, use the following terminology
  1. Observe:  I see ...
  2. Reflect:  I think ...
  3. Question:  I wonder ...
Instructional/Assessment Strategies
  1. Encourage students to perform this process as a Think-Pair-Share Activity
  2. Encourage students to perform this process in groups with a JigSaw activity
  3. Encourage students to think of a creative title that would capture the major concepts or themes of the primary source
  4. Encourage students to create a short story or poem based on factual information from the primary source.
Further Investigation

The whole purpose of using primary sources in the classroom is to promote inquiry, exploration, and research for our students.  We need to empower our students to ask their own questions that are important to them to make their learning more meaningful.  Let's help our students to identify questions appropriate for further investigation, and to develop a research strategy for finding answers. 

Have students compare two related primary sources

Have students expand or alter textbook explanations of history based on primary sources they study.

Ask students to consider how a series of primary sources support or challenge information and understanding on a particular topic.  Have students refine or revise conclusions based on their study of each subsequent primary source. 

For Your Consideration

Try using Google Cultural Institute for additional resources and information as a cross-reference.  


Teacher Guide.pdf

Analysis Tool link

Analysis Tool.pdf

You Might Also Like

7 Ways to Use Visuals as Teaching Tools

  1. Library of Congress:
  2. Library of Congress (Teacher Resources):
  3. Edudemic Article on Library of Congress Resources:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rethinking Assessment

"Get good grades, go to college, and pursue a profession that will deliver a decent standard of living and perhaps a dollop of prestige."[1] That is basically the same spiel that we all received from our parents growing up.  Our parents encouraged us to pursue our talents in order to prosper in life.  If you were good at math and science, you should become a doctor.  If you were better at English and history, become a lawyer. [1]  If you were a student who excelled in academics, all you had to do was get good grades and score well on standardized tests, and your future was pretty much handed to you.

However, what if you were better in the arts or something other than core academics? What if your strengths weren't in logical, critical thinking? Rather, they were in abstract, creative thinking?  What if you wanted to become a designer, an artist, a musician?  What opportunities did you have to shine?

Daniel Pink writes, "If the global supply chain ever confronted a shortage of NO. 2 pencils, the American education system might collapse. From the time children are able to grasp one of these wooden writing sticks, they use them to take an endless battery of tests that purport to measure their current ability and future potential." [1]

In elementary school, we assess children's IQ's.  Later on, we measure their skill in reading and math, then plot their scores against children from the rest of the state, the country, and the world. By the time kids arrive in high school, they're preparing for the SAT, "the desert they must cross to reach the promised land of a good job and a happy life." [1]

“If you don’t do well on the SAT,” Sternberg says, “Everywhere you turn the access routes to success in our society are blocked.” [2]  The SAT is a measure of skills in reading, math, and most recently, writing.  These skills are typically "left-brain" oriented and focus on sequential, logical and analytical thinking.  This is the only skill-set that is tested for high school students to predict their future success in college and in the workplace.

What if you were a student that is more right-brain oriented?  There is currently no mandated standardized assessment that measures this nonlinear, intuitive and holistic thinking.  However, you could find one of these tests in New Haven, Connecticut, where a Yale University psychology professor is developing an alternative SAT. "Professor Robert Sternberg calls his test the Rainbow Project and it certainly sounds like a lot more fun than the pressure-packed exam many of us endured as teenagers." [1]

In Sternberg’s test, students are given five blank New Yorker cartoons and must craft humorous captions for each one. They must also write or narrate a story, using as their guide only a title supplied by the test givers (sample title: “The Octopus’s Sneakers”). And students are presented with various real-life challenges such as arriving at a party where they don’t know anybody, or trying to convince friends to help move furniture and asked how’d they’d respond. [2]

"Although still in its experimental stages," Pink writes, "The Rainbow Project has been twice as successful as the SAT in predicting how well students perform in college. What’s more, the persistent gap in performance between white students and racial minorities evident on the SAT narrows considerably on the test."

My point is that we should be providing assessments for our students that measure both critical thinking and creative thinking in order to more accurately measure students' current ability and future potential.  By failing to assess this type of thinking, we are completely disregarding the kind of "right-brain" attributes such as people skills, emotional intelligence, imagination, and creativity.  There are plenty of professions out there for "right-brain" thinkers that are not just for inventors, artists, and entrepreneurs, but also for counselors, therapists, schoolteachers and salespeople.

I agree with Daniel Pink when he says that "We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age."

We live in such a left brain world ... and here’s this whole other world that we must integrate in order to meet the challenges of the next century.  Let's rethink assessment and work together to create authentic opportunities for our students to demonstrate both creative and critical thinking to prepare them for their future.

For your consideration

1.  Right-brain thinking is often more difficult to assess.  What types of prompts would you have your students complete to measure creative, critical thinking?

2.  How might we integrate these types of assessments (such as the Rainbow Project) into our curriculum to also measure learning and understanding in our content areas?

  1. Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
  2. Sternberg, R. (2003). Rainbow Project: Enhancing the SAT Through Assessments of analytical, practical, and creative skills

Looks like its "Game On" for Education

“Games are the most elevated form of investigation”
- Albert Einstein

For a generation of people, games have become a tool for solving problems as well as a vehicle for self-expression and self-exploration. [1]  I was fortunate to grow up in the generation of both board games and video game systems.  I had every board game from Life to Monopoly and every game system from Nintendo to Playstation.  I loved playing games, and I still do.  Games allow me to think critically and creatively, in a way that I really wasn't able to do in school.  The fact is, when kids play video games they can experience a much more powerful form of learning than when they’re in the classroom.  Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts.  It’s about connecting and manipulating them. [1]

Believe it or not, games can be used to teach and assess 21st century skills, in addition to content knowledge.  If you think about it, games require 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving.  Not to mention that kids actually have "fun" playing games ... now that is a novel idea!

Some games only require one of these 21st century skills, while others require two or more.  For example a game that might require one of these skills is chess.  The game of chess only requires critical thinking.  Whereas a game like Catch Phrase (a word guessing party game) requires communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.  It's important to consider games that require multiple skills when implementing them in the classroom.  This ultimately prepares students to use these skills in conjunction with one another, rather than in isolation, which helps to better prepare students for the 21st century workplace.

Thanks to advances to the internet, more and more designers are incorporating communication and collaboration into their games, also known as MMO or Massive Multiplayer Online games. [2]  These games can be downloaded in the form of "apps" on smartphones and tablets which can leverage the internet to communicate with their opponents such as Words With Friends.  Moreover, some video games such as Halo and Call of Duty allow players to communicate AND collaborate with each other from all over the world in order to beat their opponents.  These games are known as MMORP or Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing games, which simulate real life in different environments and contexts.

Recently, there seem to be a lot of teachers that support game-based learning or gamification for students in and out of the classroom.  Games outside of the classroom allow students to build on their 21st century skills via imagination, creativity and exploration of their interests.  Whereas games inside of the classroom help to construct these same skills in addition to curricular content by simulating a workplace-ready, learning environment.

Furthermore, research suggests that on tests of visual perception, game players scored 30 percent higher than nonplayers. Playing video games enhanced individuals’ ability to detect changes in the environment and their capacity to process information simultaneously. [1]  There’s also evidence that playing video games enhances the right-brain ability to solve problems that require pattern recognition. Many aspects of video gaming resemble the aptitude of Symphony--spotting trends, drawing connections, and discerning the big picture. What we need people to learn is how to think deeply about complex systems (e.g., modern workplaces, the environment, international relations, social interactions, cultures, etc.) [1]

So, how does playing games transition into success in the workplace?

The ideal hire, says one game-industry recruiter, is someone who can “bridge that left brain-right brain divide. Companies resist segregating the disciplines of art, programming, math and cognitive psychology and instead look for those who can piece together patches of many disciplines and weave them together into a larger tapestry. [1] In other words, students who master these 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity will ultimately be more prepared for success in the workplace.

Application to Education

Integrating games into the classroom can help motivate students to learn, and foster 21st century skills at the same time.  Some of my favorite games to play are Pictionary, Taboo, Scategories, Charades, etc. All of these games require students to think critically and creatively, use some form of communication, and use teamwork and collaboration in order to participate.  These games serve as a great review for assessments, or could even be used as an assessment.  Allowing students to create the content for the games (such as game cards from vocabulary words) is also a great idea.

For your consideration

What games do you play in the classroom with your students to facilitate learning and understanding?


  1. Pink, D. (2005). A whole new mind: Moving from the information age to the conceptual age. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Getting "Inuit" with Arts Integration

Mary Ellen Henderson 5th graders kept the beat with Arts Integration as the Husky ENCORE team taught them about Native Americans during the Native American Festival on Tuesday. Drumming was just one of several activities geared toward helping students remember the cultures of tribes from all regions of United States in advance of SOL tests. Others included storytelling, lacrosse, artistic symbols, and a scavenger hunt for artifacts.

Virginia Standards of Learning: US History to 1865

USI.3 The student will demonstrate knowledge of how early cultures developed in North America by
  • b) locating where the American Indians lived, with emphasis on the Arctic (Inuit), Northwest (Kwakiutl), Plains (Lakota), Southwest (Pueblo), and Eastern Woodlands (Iroquois);
  • c) describing how the American Indians used the resources in their environment.

Application to Education

As the Instructional Technology Coach for this school, it was fun for me to really capture the essence of "low-tech" skills that were needed for the Native Americans to survive.  It reminded me that technology can simply be defined as "using our available resources to solve problems and improve the quality of life".  These students are demonstrating (what we call) 21st Century Skills such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving via Arts Integration.  I'm pretty sure that Native Americans also needed all of these same skills in order to survive and thrive as a civilization. 


I filmed and edited the video below to demonstrate how my school is successfully integrating the Arts to deepen the learning and understanding of curricular content. 

What is Arts Integration?

"Arts integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process which connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both." -Kennedy Center

Why Arts Integration?

Research shows that arts education is crucial in children’s learning process and development. Studies show that children exposed to arts education throughout childhood through primary, secondary and tertiary school show greater scores on academic achievements as well as greater social, cultural, emotional and cognitive development. Some of the measured improvement are greater self-confidence, communicative skills, cultural awareness and sensitivity alongside greater stimulated creativity and overall academic achievement. [1]
  • Arts education is a key to creativity
  • Creativity is an essential component of, and spurs innovation
  • Innovation is, agreed to be necessary to create new industries in the future
  • New industries, with their jobs, are the basis of our future economic well-being.

Many other countries in Asia and Europe, include vigorous Arts curriculum as a national priority in their public school systems and we must do the same. The mission is to make the country, its leader and the funding agencies aware that Arts are not just a “nice” thing to have in the education systems – but rather they are an essential national priority to the future of the US in this rapidly changing global economy. [1]

The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind--creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people--artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers--will now reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys. [2]

We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what's rising in its place, the Conceptual Age. [2]

Let's continue to integrate the Arts to best prepare our students for their future!

You might also like

Leveraging the Strengths of Our Students
I Think We Have Education Backwards ... Don't You?
The 21st Century Learner, Needs a 21st Teacher
STE[A]M Education: Integrating the Arts into STEM


  1. STEAM:
  2. Daniel Pink: A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Favorite Thoughts About Education in 140 Characters or Less

After favoriting one of my tweets today, I decided to go back and read all of my favorite tweets on Twitter.  By scrolling through my own my personal backchannel, I was able to remember why I favorited each individual tweet and why each one was so significant to me.  After re-reading every Tweet in my favorites column, I decided to make a list of my favorite, favorites.  In doing so, I was able to reflect on how my core values in education have both changed and grown over the years.  I decided to synthesize all of my favorite tweets into specific categories with regard to education.  What I discovered was that I typically value tweets about leadership and pedagogy.  This was such a great reflection activity for me and it really helped me to construct my own personal vision of education.

My hope is that you will not only read the tweets that are valuable and useful to me, but that you might also perceive them as valuable and useful as well.  Furthermore, I hope that you might choose to follow some of the people that I mention, and contribute to some of the hashtags that I use for education.


@MrLands: For all educators: True leaders don't create followers ... they create more leaders. #satchat #edchat

@MrLands: "Either do something worth writing or write something worth reading" - Ben Franklin. This is why I teach. This is why I blog. #engchat

@MrLands: It has been said that the smartest person in the room ... is the room. #leadership #plc #pln #plnchat #plnchat

@MrLands: Perfection is often impossible. But if you strive for perfection you will achieve greatness! #edleadership #edchat #learning #edu

@MrLands: We must be reflective and prescriptive, rather than descriptive and deflective when collaborating and problem solving. #pln #plc #plnchat

@MrLands: Reminder "ahah" moment for me: Focus on the things that you can control and dedicate yourself to positively improving those things. #plc

@MrLands: Even the best seeds can't grow in the worst soil. The soil needs to be cultivating and nurturing. #pln plc# #plcchat #plcchat #edchat

@MrLands: "How might we" - best way to lead and problem solve. #edleadership #pln #plc #plcchat. #edchat

@MrLands: Two forms of change: Technical (structural) and cultural. Cultural change needs to be changed before technical to be successful. #pln #plc

@MrLands: Motivation needs to be intrinsic in nature, not extrinsic. #edchat #plcchat #pln #plcchat punishment and reward are the two worst motivators

@MrLands: All of us are smarter than any one of us! #plc plcchat #pln #plcchat #edchat

@MrLands: If we don't know where we are going, we probably aren't going to get there. #mission #vision #edleadership #pln #plc #plcchat.#edchat

@MrLands: Our belief needs to be supported by practice. Our philosophy of education needs to be institutionalized. #edleadership #edchat #pln #plcchat

@MrLands: "I don’t want her to settle for the “real world”. I want her to help build an ideal one." #edchat #leadership


@MrLands: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." - Ben Franklin #studentcentered #edchat #lrnchat #learning

@MrLands: “It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” 
― Albert Einstein #learning #mathchat #scichat #edchat #lrnchat

@MrLands: With regard to learning, failure is not an option ... It's a requirement! @web20classroom #learning #lrnchat #edchat


@MrLands: Thank you @NicholasFerroni "Why is teaching the most important of all professions? Because without it; no other professions are possible."

@MrLands: I agree with @21stprincipal students don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care! #edchat


@MrLands@21stprincipal Answers are part of the process. They are not the product. The product is the knowledge the student walks away with. #edchat

@MrLands: Questions have always been the answer #edchat #edchat #inquiry #lrnchat

@MrLands: Often, a learning disability is not so much a difficulty in learning, as it is a difficulty in being taught. #edchat

@MrLands: For Students, Why the Question is More Important Than the Answer! Great resource! #inquiry #learning #edchat

@MrLands: Agreed "@ddmeyer: Daro prefers "you, we, I" to "I, we, you." The former draws out the prior knowledge the latter ignores. #cmcmath" #edchat

@MrLands: All kids are gifted in something. Let's channel their gifts to enhance their learning. #edchat #gtchat #spedchat #multipleintelligences


@MrLands: "Let’s shift our #assessment of students' mastery to ones that examine mastery in action." #performancebasedassessments

@MrLands: New Post - We can't forget that there are faces behind the data 7 reminders about data analysis #assessment #plc #pln

@MrLands: There is More than One Way to Climb a Tree! #edchat #edreform #speced #assessment

@MrLands: We need to remember to put faces on the data of our students! #edchat #education #assessment

@MrLands: Data are only numbers. They only measure what has been tested. And people often only test what they can measure. #edchat #assessment

@MrLands: Data need to be supplemented by other kinds of data, data that might not easily be quantifiable at all. #edchat #assessment #education

Application for Education
  1. I recommend all educators to go back and look at their notes from different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, Google+) to analyze their ideas and beliefs in education.  It might remind you about your passions, or even help you to make new discoveries!
  2. How might we facilitate a similar activity with our students? This could be a great reflection activity for students to learn more about themselves, or to help them construct their own opinions and ideas about specific content. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Leveraging the Strengths of Our Students

Often, a learning disability is not so much a difficulty in learning, as it is a difficulty in being taught.

As we grow up and attend school, many of our ways of gathering information are taken away. We are told to sit still, be quiet, stop daydreaming, not to doodle and pay attention. For the child who learns best by moving around, we have taken away his or her primary mode of learning. For the interactive learner who needs to talk about ideas to understand them, we have taken away the ability to integrate information.

For the child who understands best by drawing diagrams and symbols, he or she loses that most vital tool. Although music is used to teach the ABC's in elementary school, it is considered too childish to use in the higher grades. Before we know it, learning becomes boring or school becomes a challenge to meet without our full set of tools. The joy is gone.

School programs and educational techniques reflect our western values which elevate science, math, and logical achievement above success in the arts and human relations fields. Schools teach most effectively to those with strong language and logical thinking skills. If you were successful in school, you are probably strong in these areas. Yet your students may not be. Those who learn differently are often misunderstood, neglected, or undeserved by our educational systems.

Studies of the brain have shown that we need to move, sing, dance, draw, talk, and reflect to learn effectively. So the first thing we need to let go of is the expectation that there is one "right" way to learn or teach. Secondly, we need to let go of the expectation that our learners will be most successful if they use the same strategies that worked for us. Diversity is the key.

Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed his theory of multiple intelligences more than twenty years ago. Simply put, Dr. Gardner argues that people employ several different types of intelligence, rather than one general type.

Dr. Gardner defines intelligence as “The capacity to do something useful in the society in which we live.  Intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to new situations and the capacity to learn from one’s past experiences.”

We as educators need to be helping our students discover their many intelligences and how to use them effectively in mastering whatever content is being learned in the classroom and at home. The emphasis is on tapping into the student's unique and natural learning processes to ensure success.

In order for students to leverage their strengths in school, they first need to become self-aware of their strengths by identifying their most dominant intelligences.  Moreover, students need to also identify their learning styles, interests, and needs.  This helps to paint the whole picture of the learner profile for each student.

I have included some resources to help students paint their own learner profile picture, below.

A key to successful teaching is understanding what the learner already "reads" well. Although a reader may have difficulty reading print, he or she reads other things successfully, such as car engines, menus, blueprints, football plays, body language, situations. It is our challenge to discover with our learners what they "read" well and to break down how they do it.

It is the premise of innovative educators like Peter Kline that each of us is an "everyday genius," that we have a great capacity to learn. The key to unlocking that capacity is to create an environment that supports discovery and allows us to enjoy learning because our natural talents are being used more successfully.

In short, let's leverage our students' strengths to enhance their learning and educational experience!

  1. Dr. Howard Gardner, author, Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice
  2. Peter Kline, author, The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children's Natural Joy of Learning, and Yours Too
  3. Why Arts Integration?
  4. I'm Determined 
  5. Literacy Works: Multiple Intelligences
  6. Multiple Intelligence Assessment: Find Your Strengths:
  7. Practice: Engaging the Intelligences:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Top 10 Most Valuable Posts of the Year

It has been exactly one year since I first started my blog, The Landscape of Learning.  From blogging, I have learned so much about learning, teaching, reading, writing, blogging, education, and relationships.  I have noticed myself become a much better writer by simply reading what other educators have to say, analyzing their thoughts, and synthesizing my own into blog posts.

In just one year I have written nearly 100 blog posts and collected nearly 50,000 views by more than 135 different countries from around the world.  What I find interesting is that what I perceive to be the most valuable and useful blog posts are completely different from what my readers perceive as most valuable and useful.  After rereading and analyzing all of my blog posts, I created a Top 10 List of my blog posts that I personally find to be most valuable and useful.

Below are my Top 10 most valuable blog posts of the year.
  1. Questions have always been the Answer
  2. There is more than one way to climb a tree
  3. I think we have education backwards, don't you?
  4. The Landscape's guide to creating your PLN
  5. Three Apps to Manage your 21st Century Toolbox
  6. Three Act Mathematical Problem Solving
  7. Let's plant the seed of learning in our students
  8. It's time to shift or get off the pot!
  9. How many uses can you find for this Paperclip?
  10. The Evolution of Education: From Teacher to Co-Learner

Honorable Mentions
  1. Mindset: The difference between Good teachers and Great teachers
  2. The difference between "Grading" and "Degrading": My philosophy on Assessment
  3. Keep it up America! We are doing something right!

I would like to thank all of my subscribers, commenters and readers for finding my blog to be both valuable and useful.  If you are reading this blog post, then I would like to personally thank you for participating and contributing to my personal learning network!

You might also like

The Landscape of Learning's Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year

The Landscape of Learning's Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year

It has been exactly one year since I have created my blog, The Landscape of Learning.  From blogging, I have learned so much about learning, teaching, reading, writing, blogging, education, and relationships.  I have noticed myself become a much better writer by simply reading what other educators have to say, analyzing their thoughts, and synthesizing my own into blog posts.

Like most educators, I decided to start my own blog for the following reasons:

  1. To internalize all of the information and media that I consume everyday regarding best practices in education. 
  2. To build on my pedagogical beliefs, keep current in my field, and stay up to date on the latest technology resources that are available.
  3. To share my expertise, resources, and pedagogy with other educators around the world. 
  4. To give back to my personal learning network of educators who already do so much for me.
  5. To continue to learn and grow with my personal learning network with the hope that our knowledge and expertise will continue to provide the best possible education for students all over the world.
In just one year I have written nearly 100 blog posts and collected nearly 50,000 views by more than 135 different countries from around the world. What I find interesting is that what I perceive to be the most valuable and useful blog posts are completely different from what my readers perceive as most valuable and useful. After analyzing my blog stats, it seems as if my readers are more interested in the resources and tools that I share, rather than sharing my educational insight, experience, and ideas regarding best and next practice teaching strategies.  This is very powerful feedback for me!

I would like to thank all of my subscribers, commenters and readers for finding my blog to be both valuable and useful.  If you are reading this blog post, then I would like to personally thank you for participating and contributing to my personal learning network!

The Landscape of Learning's Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year
  1. My Top 25 Free Math Resources for Education
  2. Twitter Tweet Sheet: Tips, Tricks, and Resources
  3. My Top Free Online Tools and Resources for PBL
  4. My Top 25 Free Science Resources for Education
  5. 15 Free Online Apps to Get Your Students Creating
  6. 13 Ways to use Socrative as a Formative Assessment 
  7. The 21st Century Learner Needs a 21st Century Teacher
  8. The 21st Century Resume`: How to Get Your Students Noticed in the Workplace
  9. MyBrain: The Most Underrated App Off the Market
  10. We Can't Forget that there are Faces Behind the Data

My Comment to a Controversial Blog Post

I read a blog post this morning that really got me thinking.  I read about an educator who used to feel hopeless in the field of education. He became very negative and cynical regarding our education system today.  Toward the end of the blog post I was refreshed to read that he persevered and re-instilled hope and faith, both in himself and the field of education. However, there was once particular section of the blog post that I found to be very controversial, and I realized that many educators share the author's same frustration.  I decided to put a positive spin on the issue to help remind educators that we need to continue to be resilient by motivating and inspiring our colleagues, future teachers, and our students to be the best that they can possibly be, especially when times are tough!

Below is an excerpt from the blog post, "Why I Continue Teaching"

As the weight of proposals such as these and standardized testing crushes my innovation, imagination, and creativity, I can no longer look anyone in the eyes and recommend that they become a teacher. It breaks my heart when my daughter says that she wants to become a reading teacher and the only thing I can think of deep down in my heart is “please don’t let it happen.” I have been passionate about working with college students both as interns and student teachers. It has been one of the greatest benefits of my profession over the last 22 years. But this year I turned down a placement with me, and plan to continue to do so into the future. I can no longer assist people to become a part of a system that is hell bent on creating an educational genocide.

My comment that I posted on the blog

"As a fellow educator, I share your frustration during these times of education reform. However, I believe that we should not give up hope on teaching. I believe that it is more important now than ever to become a teacher in this demanding and rapidly evolving world. We need passionate, creative teachers who will lead our nation in education and challenge the minds of our students who will be running the world in the 21st century."

"We need to remain positive in education and know that each teacher can make a significant impact on our students. Teachers today can still find creative ways to successfully prepare students for their future AND meet state and national standards. We need to establish a healthy school culture by collaborating together to solve today’s problems in education. Negativity is contagious and creates a toxic environment to all of those exposed. Let’s stop complaining and start positively working together to collectively inspire new teachers and current teachers to be the change they wish to see in education! I have faith that if every teacher does his or her part, then we will have successfully reformed education. Let’s focus on the factors that we can control as teachers and make our best effort to positively improve those factors! Thank you for sharing your frustration, your vision and your commitment to the field of education!"

For your consideration

What might you have posted as a comment in response to Why I Continue Teaching?


Friday, November 2, 2012

Three Act Mathematical Problem Solving

To remain competitive in the global economy, our students "... should be able to use the logic of Algebra and the spatial reasoning of Geometry to understand and solve real-life problems. These mathematical practices equip learners with the ability to solve complex problems and think critically about issues unrelated to mathematical concepts. With these skills, our young people will have the potential to do amazing things – in math, in science, or whatever field they choose to pursue." -

If we want our students to become productive, contributing citizens of the United States, then we need to change the way that we are currently teaching math in our schools! We need to integrate inquiry, problem-solving and real-world application into our math curricula. Students should be engaged in creative, critical thinking when they are solving problems. Teachers should articulate that there are multiple ways to arrive at the same solution to any given problem and allow students to struggle in order to make discoveries on their own with guided facilitation and appropriate scaffolding.

Dan Meyer believes that storytelling gives us a framework for certain mathematical tasks that is both prescriptive enough to be useful and flexible enough to be usable. Many stories divide into three acts, each of which maps neatly onto these mathematical tasks. Meyer explains his three acts mathematical problem solving strategy below:

Act One
Introduce the central conflict of your story/task clearly, visually, viscerally, using as few words as possible.

Act Two
The protagonist/student overcomes obstacles, looks for resources, and develops new tools.

Act Three
Resolve the conflict and set up a sequel/extension. The third act pays off on the hard work of act two and the motivation of act one.

As a former STEM teacher and an Instructional Technology Coach, I share Dan Meyer's passion for educating students and preparing them for their future as creative problem solvers and critical thinkers.  Moreover, I value his Three Act Math model for teaching mathematical concepts and problem solving.  So, I decided to adopt and implement his model with Michelle Janney, a co-teacher in my middle school.  To model this teaching strategy for other math teachers in our school and math teachers all over the world, we decided to document our first attempt of using this teaching strategy with our students.

Dan Meyer's Vision

"Many math teachers take act two as their job description. Hit the board, offer students three worked examples and twenty practice problems. However, it's clear to me that the second act isn't our job anymore. Not the biggest part of it, anyway. You are only one of many people your students can access as they look for resources and tools. Going forward, the value you bring to your math classroom increasingly will be tied up in the first and third acts of mathematical storytelling, your ability to motivate the second act and then pay off on that hard work."

Final Thought
"The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill." -Albert Einstein

Extension Activity

Our sequel to this lesson will be to have students take pictures, or video with iPods or iPads to create their own Act I and have other students solve their math problems.

For your consideration

How might you use this problem-solving strategy in your class?

You might also like

Questions Have Always Been the Answer
My Top 25 Free Math Resources for Education
Camera, Set, Mathematics
My Three Acts of a Real World Math Problem

  1. Dan Meyer:
  2. TED Talks: Dan Meyer Math Curriculum Makeover:
  3. The Three Acts of a Mathematical Story:
  4. Sugar Packets Lesson Plan:
  5. Dan Meyer's Three Act Math Curriculum:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We Can't Forget That There Are Faces Behind the Data

Global competition and knowledge of what successful countries are doing to get quality results have caused all countries to examine their policies and strategies for improving their school systems.

Action research and inquiry are an integral part of education and is necessary in order to improve practice on a continuing basis. Teachers collect evidence to inquire into their practices, assess their effectiveness, identify the reasons for difficulties and successes, and plan how to improve and make interventions as a result.

Principals, learning teams, and supervisors go through their schools with checklists, on instructional rounds and walkthroughs looking for visible evidence in classroom artifacts of what the data have been suggesting to them.  Armed with all these data, Professional learning communities examine spreadsheets of achievement and attendance data together looking for gaps and shortfalls (places where they can quickly intervene).

Its good to have data to help you make better, more-informed decisions and to allow you to intervene before it's too late.  It's good to be able to learn more, in real time, about how your students are doing.  Here are just a few reminders to consider when collecting and analyzing data to best meet the needs of all students:

  • Be evidence-informed, not data-driven. 
  • Don’t overload yourself with data
  • The point of data is to help you know your students
  • Remember that there are children behind the numbers and if the data aren’t helping us know our children better, or if we are so busy analyzing data that we have less time to be with the children, then we are getting sidetracked on the wrong path. 
  • When data are used to promote progress for all and not only to track those who might be falling behind, this benefits learning and achievement for all students and strengthens feelings of professional success.
  • Don't limit data to just benchmarks and standardized tests.
  • Data need to be supplemented by other kinds of data, on other aspects of learning, and by knowledge of children and learning that is also based on shrewd experience and not easily quantifiable at all. 

As educators, we need to remember that data are only numbers on a page, or a spreadsheet on a screen. They only measure what has been tested. And people often only test what they can measure. The challenge for schools is to understand the data available and get behind the figures to explore the strengths and weaknesses they indicate about our students!

In short, we can't forget that there are faces behind the data. 

You might also like

The 21st Century Learner, Needs a 21st Teacher
14 Ways to Use Socrative as a Formative Assessment
ePortfolios: The Replacement of Standardized Testing

  1. Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.