How Funding Affects Quality of Education

October 21, 2013

From the remote corners of the world, to the well established affluent countries, there are distinct necessities that ensure the successful operation of an education based institute. However, in today’s society we must ask the question: does more funding for schools equals a higher quality education? We explore whether there is a relationship between school resources and student achievement. Before we lean towards any particular side of the fence, we will look at the meaning of quality. This will lay a foundation for what the dynamics are of factors within this study.


Quality is the distinct degree of excellence, worth and usability of an item, information or act. There is an element of purity, ingenuity and precision that ranks it to the highest grade of superiority. Some will argue that setting up a fixed curriculum does not affect the learning process. This means that the only thing needed is the educator’s ability to transfer the information to the learner. It is then up to the learner to absorb as much detail as possible in order to obtain a passing mark when time comes for exams. Another argument is that student fees should be sufficient to cover all the costs needed to run the institute (in public schools, the money set aside for each school). Unfortunately, that view is one dimensional, and in addition, the picture is truly distorted. Depending on student fees or taxes is not viable, as it is calculated out to be the minimum that the school needs to function. So, if the cafeteria would like to serve higher quality food, the new textbooks for a specific class may be put on hold, as there is only one large budget that a school is given each year. In making this argument, we have to look at the line of reasoning that says newer text books and technology allow students to get a better education. You can argue that yes, this is true to a certain level, as the more current information and tools that a school has, the more opportunity there is for the student to have an easier transition of this knowledge to the outside world.


Since we’re engaging with the student’s intellect, we should not overlook the rest of their psyche. Having a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we clearly see that there are critical physical and psychological aspects that affect every human being. From having a building that is safe, to enjoying extra facilities like a library, makes a difference in the student’s overall experience and peace of mind. In turn, the atmosphere has been created for them to be more focused. Well managed classrooms combined with state of the art resources as well as fully skilled educators will greatly contribute to the quality of learning. Having facilities like a cafeteria does have its’ benefits as well, even though it takes up valuable monetary resources. You don’t run the risk of having students leave the campus during their break in search of food and then decide not to return for the day as well as removing the possibility that the student chooses not to eat because nothing is conveniently available, causing more psychological issues. Another factor to consider is how interests are heightened when there are adequate facilities available.

You can also look to specializations as a source of struggle for many schools. When a school never has the opportunity to add in additional resources because of the tight budget, new classes cannot be introduced without strain. The more types of classes that are available (woodworking, arts, languages, gym, finance, special education, etc) the more opportunities there are for children to find something that they truly enjoy and become stimulated by. If those opportunities are taken away, particularly in the K-12 range, then there is less of a chance of the student succeeding because there are fewer motivational factors. With the amount of work that educators need to get through, better resources helps with the time factor. Certain learning techniques work better than others. Visual displays and practical exercises assist in getting the learners to have a higher percentage of knowledge retention from lessons. In turn, the educator can move deeper into a particular study, or move to new learning material. Faculty-Student Ratio This leads us to looking into the class dynamics. Within the school system, the size of classes has an impact on the educators’ ability to spread his or her attention to each learner. To ensure that a healthy ratio is maintained, the faculty may have to invest in more and better educators, and in turn this has an impact on available funds. The level of expertise is a precious asset in a teacher. It’s to be expected that the importance is seen in making a sound investment in educators, bearing in mind that they are the ones teaching the next generation of leadership in the country. Let’s not forget that the future president is being taught somewhere in the United States right now! Investing in educators also includes sending them on institute related courses in order to maintain the high level of skill required to ensure that the quality is maintained. Although there is no real measurable technique to establish whether the highest quality has been achieved, some factors will always remain on the forefront. Curriculums change and so does the desired knowledge outcomes. Old techniques are not always effective in the new era and better equipment is needed to ensure that learners are equipped for their future vocations. There will always be a place for funding in education.


Brianna Jones is a freelance writer who is inspired by the neglect in the public schooling system. She advocates for teachers to earn a curriculum degree and to introduce new and exciting technology into the classroom. She also volunteers at her local Elementary school in Phoenix, AZ as a reading time helper and spelling teacher.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet…That is the Question

March 21, 2013

Kerri Schweibert – Guest Blogger

I don’t have a Smart Phone, I don’t have cable, and I took the leap into 2011 last year by finally signing up for online banking. So I’m not the go-to girl to lead a technological revolution. Of course I host online discussions, have class websites on Moodle, and utilize a SMART Board, but I’ve realized that I’m hesitant to blindly follow in the direction technology seems to be baiting us (no carrot required). As an English teacher and lover of books, I cannot fathom a world where Kindles have become ubiquitous and books extinct. And when people ask me why I’m so opposed to digital texts, the Romantic in me can’t come up with a more concrete explanation than, “There’s just something about holding a book!”

I recently came across an article that, for the first time in a long time, opened me up to the possibilities of technology in education. I’ve always believed that our children’s use of technology hampers their writing capabilities. However, according to OMG Engaging Students on Their Own Terms, “texting encourages written communication. Students are actually writing more now than any time in history.” This makes complete sense when you realize that the typical teenager sends over 3,000 text messages per month. Okay true, but texting will be the death of real writing. In response to this growing sentiment, the article explains that Socrates believed “writing was going to be the death of thinking and debate,” and “fifteenth-century educators believed that the printing press and wide availability of books would be the death of scholarly writing.”

In Shakespeare’s words, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Having students summarize an article, or state an opinion, or forge a question in a tweet of 140 characters can force them to stop doing the tango around their point and just get there. However, at the same token, what if Shakespeare tweeted the balcony scene? The beauty and romance of his language would be lost. So what else can be at stake? What is the dowry we need to pay to the technological gods infiltrating our classrooms?

Larry D. Rosen claims that we’re all headed for iDisorders: “where you exhibit signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as OCD, narcissism, addiction or even ADHD, which are manifested through your use — or overuse — of technology.” As ludicrous as it sounds, it’s true. People keep their phones next to their dinner plates, families enforce “tech breaks” at the table, someone gives you the play-by-play of their daily activities via status updates. As my dear friend Ryan once said, “Why is it I can drive for days with my gas light on but freak out when my cell battery goes below 50%?”

So what’s the apropos cliche here? “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”? Well, maybe you can just send them a friend request.


Kerri Schweibert received a B.A. in English Education from Stony Brook University and an M.A. in English literature from Queens College.  Born and raised in New York, Kerri spent time traveling and studying abroad before she decided to settle down in Hawai’i.  She currently lives in Honolulu, teaching English at Assets High School.

Never Underestimate the ‘Cool’ Factor.

March 3, 2013

Guest Blog by Nadjib Aktouf
I had the pleasure of joining a Google Hangout on Connected Learning through Hosted by Paul Allison, and featuring the remarkable and super-energetic Stephen Ritz, it was a fantastic session and I learned a great deal. Ritz began the Green Bronx Machine initiative at his school in the South Brox, NY. It has now become a thriving student-led project that provides urban landscaping and agricultural services and health and wellness awareness. Ritz’s energy is contagious and motivating.
What I took out of this talk was how much student engagement impacts achievement.
As Ritz told us: “The achievement gap can be attributed to the engagement gap.”  In educational technology, experiments and initiatives are often brought to a halt when skeptics slam them as ‘just fun’, ‘shiny’,  or ‘expensive’. It’s easy to overlook the engaging characteristics that these projects can bring. Having students fully engaged in an activity, lesson, or whole unit impacts learning on a much broader scale. Achievement will be the natural course.
It will have them looking forward to coming to school every morning. Looking forward to interacting with their peers, expressing their curiosity, and solving problems. That’s where I think that highlighting the ‘cool’ factor can have a significant effect on how engaged students are in the classroom. We need to prepare students for their future, not ours.The next time I plan for a lesson, I’ll ask myself is “How can I keep my students thouroughly engaged without losing sight of the learning objectives?” 

How have you answered that question?

Our Guest Blogger this week hails from Caracas, Venezula. He promotes the use of technologies to support student achievement in Kindergarten through grade 5.

Our Guest Blogger this week hails from Caracas, Venezula. He promotes the use of technologies to support student achievement in Kindergarten through grade 5.


5 Ways to Collaborate in the Classroom

February 22, 2013

When most people hear the word classroom, the image that comes to mind is of neat rows of note-taking students facing a teacher who is writing out all they need to know on a chalkboard — and, if this scenario is at all realistic, at least one student will also be staring out the window. The question teachers face every day is how to engage all of their students, to ensure they process and retain the coursework being presented.

The answer to that essential question can be collaboration, which encourages students to learn together, harnessing the power of social dynamics to improve engagement. Here are a few suggestions on how you can use collaboration to reinvigorate your classroom:

Create Ground Rules

Perhaps the most obvious way to re-engage a straying student is to target a student for being inattentive during class, but at this point, the class has already been disrupted, and the most successful teachers seek to prevent disruptions before they occur. One way to attempt this is to ask students to determine what appropriate classroom behavior looks like. Have each student write one ground rule on the board, on a piece of paper or, if computers are available, in a shared Google doc. This allows students to play a role in constructing the social space they share and creates a shared language of expectations.

Ask Students to Present Readings

You don’t really understand anything unless you can explain it to someone else, and as teachers, we all know that we internalize material as we present it to our students, so why not give our students the opportunity of learning their reading material as they present it to one another? If adequately prepared, most students will rise to the challenge of playing teacher for 10 or 15 minutes. Asking students to present in groups, co-presenting with the student or just standing by to help a student with facing momentary difficulty are all ways you can support them and ensure that an important aspect of the lesson isn’t missed.

Encourage Peer Review

This exercise is most suited to critiquing essays, but could also work for other projects. When students have completed a rough draft of a paper, divide them into groups of three. Have each student pick a short section of their paper to read aloud (preferably the section they need the most help with) and ask the other two students to provide verbal feedback on their impressions and understanding of the writing. You can provide a set of specific questions students must answer if you want to more precisely focus the critique, or you can have students read the essays in silence and provide written feedback.

Use Twitter to Broaden the Conversation

An easy way to encourage students to engage actively with reading material and to share their thoughts with each other is to get them tweeting. You can start a Twitter account dedicated to your teaching and encourage (or require) students to follow it. (If you don’t want students reading your personal Twitter account, it is a good idea to lock it.) Many students already use Twitter, and you may find that students who are silent in class are surprisingly comfortable engaging each other online. It’s a great forum to share those insights that hit you just after class ends, share news articles related to your class’s subject or ask one student each week to pose a question for group discussion.

Ask Your Students

Once you have built a classroom dynamic around collaboration, students sometimes volunteer excellent ideas for activities. Sometimes asking them what they want to do will yield insightful answers, and sometimes they will offer brilliant ideas for classroom activities without even realizing they have done so. It’s a good idea to be on the lookout for dropped gems, subtle cues and eagerly volunteered ideas alike. It can also be wonderfully validating for a student when one of their ideas is implemented, especially if their peers enjoy it. Again: Collaboration is about everyone creating a social space that encourages learning, and it works better when everyone’s input is sincerely considered.


Today’s Guest Blog is written by Erika Phyall who currently works in community relations for University of Southern California Rossier School of Education’s online master’s programs. USC Rossier Online provides current and aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Masters in Teaching online and a Masters in Education Online. Outside of work Erika enjoys networking, DIY projects, and spending time with her two dogs.


Guest Blog: What Emerging Technologies Do Adolescents Need?

December 22, 2012

Insight from School District Technology Director and CalPoly SLO Instructor: What Emerging Technologies Do Adolescents/ College Students Need To Be Exposed To?

“For some, new technologies have been such a defining feature in the lives of younger generations that they predict a fundamental change in the way young people communicate, socialize, create and learn. They argue that this shift has profound implications for education” (e.g. Prensky, 2001a; Rainie, 2006; Gibbons, 2007; Underwood, 2007). Adapted from Helsper, E., & Eynon, R. (2010). Digital Natives: Where Is the Evidence?

Our students thrive in a world of technology, and it seems counter intuitive to instruct them in an environment without it. My role in teaching technology to college students has been paralleled with my experience as a Technology Director enhancing technology in a small school district in California.

K-12 Education needs to prepare students to become digital content creators and consumers. The use of mobile devices create anytime anywhere learning that extends the educational setting beyond the classroom. Student learners leverage the power of technology through the use of mobile computing.

College students need full throttle instruction on how to augment technology in education. My class at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo explores research and theory on how children and adolescents use digital technologies, and its influences on cognitive, social, and identity development. The college students I work with value current technologies to help them in career choices and pursuing higher education.

I use a myriad of technology competencies to facilitate learning at Cal Poly and Coast Unified School District. Some areas covered are computer  science programming, robotics, web design, augmented reality, app development, photoshop skills, video production, and research based technology.   Useful emerging technologies for adolescents and college students include:

1. Understanding Creative Commons and Social Sites like Twitter

2. Basic Computer Programming (10 of the Best Online Programming Tools for Students)

3. Computing with mobile devices such as an iPad and the mobile operating system

4. Leveraging Kickstarter to create your own business

5. Using modern, Cloud-Based Web Design such as Squarespace

6. Creating Apps for mobile devices. One such resource is Buzztouch

7. Editing and using video as a vehicle for learning and creating content. Khan Academy is one proven example.

The structure of technology in the 21st century is fast paced and we must help students adapt. The surging culture of innovation in communities and schools can enhance student learning. We can prepare our students/ future teachers for a world that is creating jobs and enhancing workforce strategies through technology.

Henry Danielson is a Lecturer/Technology Lab Instructor at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, and the Director of Technology at Coast Unified School District in Cambria, California. Mr. Danielson can be reached @


Guest Blog: Six Ways To Get Your Class Moving

December 21, 2012

As educators, we continuously hear the phrase “multi-model learning.” It’s true, the more ways we learn something, the more we’ll remember it. Activating our bodies increases understanding. From teaching students to teaching teachers – improv, theatre and movement engages the body and mind, giving us yet another tool in our educator tool box. From knots to yoga, here are six ways to incorporate a little drama into our teaching practices:

1. Everything is a story, so make it active

Every event – historical and scientific especially – is a story when broken down to four basic elements: setting, characters, problem, and solution. Identify these parts and make it active. Create the setting, cast the characters, have the students write the dialog and put it up in the classroom. Add a twist by changing one of the four elements and see how differently the event could play out.

2. Be the machine

Collaboration and cooperation is essential to a group project. Having students and teachers working together to create a machine with their bodies not only encourages the group, but also gets them thinking about the parts of a whole. Be anything from the parts of a flower to a steam engine – pick a specific part, think about how it connects to the whole, what it sounds like and how it moves, then construct it with bodies. Or, build an imaginary machine that starts with a repetitive action and sound – having each new person add a new action and sound until everyone is part of a huge, moving machine.

3. Strike a pose

Tableau vivant – or living picture – explores 2D scenes in 3D. Students and teachers take the pose of figures in an artwork (or historical photograph!) and consider the moment before and moment after using evidence they see. The facilitator holds a ‘remote’ and tells the figures to either ‘rewind’ or ‘fast-forward, ’ making choices based off close examination.

4. Zip Zap Zop

Improv is all about careful listening and reacting, concentration and focus. This activity primes these things that are crucial to learning. The group stands in a circle. Person one points and makes eye contact with another person in the circle and says ‘zip’. That person in turn points to someone else and says ‘zap’. The third person points to another and says ‘zop’. The pattern continues until someone changes the order.

5. Untie the human knot

Practice problem solving and team building – students and teacher cross their arms across their chest and join hands with two different people. Without letting go of each other’s hands, untangle until the group is in a circle.

6. Take a breath

Yoga poses and breathing exercises are great ways to center a group before any activity – even a written test. Something as simple as three deep collective breaths will help them (and YOU) take a moment and start fresh.

These activities give students and teachers another method of expression. Try one (or all!) in your teaching practice for the New Year – because really, who doesn’t like a little bit of fun drama in their classroom?

Jen Oleniczak is the founder of The Engaging Educator, a NYC-based organization that specializes in theatre, improv and movement workshops and professional developments for educators. She is also a trained actor, improviser and museum educator. She’s worked as an educator with the Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection and Noguchi Museum, and performs improv with National Comedy Theatre. Find out more at

Guest Blog: A Tip For Successful 1:1 Implementation

December 19, 2012

Teachers are notoriously hard on themselves. We often tell students take educational risks, but we don’t like to do this ourselves. When adopting a new technology program, one of the most important pieces of advice I can give teachers is learn to take a risk and “Get out of your own way.”

Recently my school started a 1:1 iPad program. In the early phase of teacher training, we dealt with our fears. Teacher concerns included:
• how much time they would have to spend learning the apps.
• teaching students how to use the iPads effectively would take up time they should be using to teach the standards
• they wouldn’t know enough about how use the iPads
• the students would know more than the teachers

And that last worry was the kicker.

Our students are growing up in a completely different world than the one in which we were raised. We realized this generation of students doesn’t remember a world without the smartphone. The internet has ALWAYS been around for them; technology is touch-based and user friendly. My friend’s eleven-month-old daughter can turn on a smartphone and flip through pictures using the touch screen. At eleven months old, she expects to interact with technology. Like our current students, she has no fear of it, no fear of the learning curve, no hesitation in trying to make a device do something when she interacts with it.

In discussing this with my teachers, we realized how uncomfortable we are with learning technology. We want to know it before we are expected to use it. Our students expect to use it in order to know it.

Changing our mindset
To succeed, we needed to adopt the students’ fearlessness and get out of our own way. I told my teachers I wanted them to:
• be comfortable using the iPad, not every app
• design lessons to be content-focused, not app focused
• be willing to take a public risk and be comfortable with not being experts on all of the apps
• take baby steps. After all, since so few schools had gone 1:1 with iPads, there wasn’t much to compare us to- any forward motion would be a success!
• have my permission to have lessons fail spectacularly

Of course, that failure never occurred. In their first classroom lesson my teachers realized they didn’t need to know it all. Teachers introduced the app and the lesson. Students figured things out and taught each other. The teachers learned from their class, the class learned from their teacher. It was a beautiful experience.

But then something even more amazing and unexpected happened: The learning went viral. At break, students from one class taught students from another class about the app. Suddenly, everyone knew how to use it. The teachers’ greatest fear- needing to know how to teach the apps as well as the content- suddenly became a non-issue. Viral learning had occurred and filled in the blanks in students’ knowledge without teachers even trying. Almost instantly, our teachers’ fears dissipated because they realized they could focus on their content area.

By getting out of their own way, and being willing to accept they don’t need to know everything, they were able to take the learning and teaching to a new level:
• Student collaboration is at an all-time high,
• learning is exciting and participatory
• we are blazing new trails
• “Let’s figure it out together” has become our new mantra.

And all because we decided to get over our fear, and get out of our own way.

John Calandro is Principal of Santa Lucia Middle School in Cambria, CA. He’s happy to share his experiences in going 1:1 and getting teachers past their fear. You can reach him on Twitter: @mrcalandro or via his email:

Guest Blog: The Smart Prof!

December 11, 2012

The SMART Prof!

 “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” ― Phil Collins

Education technology has become my limitless library of resources. It continues to help me find innovative ways to bring my lectures to life. Each semester is a new learning experience, as I challenge myself and evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching techniques I have chosen. Since I started teaching my instructional tools have evolved. Students are not forced to decode hieroglyphics left on a chalk board or sit restlessly as I adjust the transparency sheet on an overhead projector. I am able to present my lectures projected on a big screen with vivid pictures and easy to read text. With the use of a database such as Blackboard I am able to upload course materials, links to articles, websites and online activities that students can use at their own leisure.

Video clips have proven to be an extremely effective way for students to glimpse the research methods of the past first hand. I show students historical footage from experiments without having to flip through library catalogue cards or climb large shelves. By embedding these clips into the presentations posted online, students are able to review the material outside of the classroom.  The E-book included with the course textbook is a great way to quick reference pages rather then flipping back and forth through the hard copy. It also offers activities, quizzes and sample tests which has increased my own understanding of the topics discussed each week.

I have recently become more active on social media such as Twitter. This has shown me a whole new world of instant communication. I have had many professional development opportunities to stay connected to what is trending in education, through networking and collaborating with fellow educators in chats such as #edchat, #learnwme and #CSTD2012. Twitter in the classroom seems to be a hot topic. I have read many tweets about using Twitter for discussions or as a backchannel and I am now eager to see what it would add a lecture next semester.

As a lifelong learner I am inspired by the endless possibilities on what I can learn and how I can share my knowledge. It’s amazing how a simple question can spark an hour long discussion or how one powerful quote can ignite a fire or passion for researching a new topic. Essentially educational technology has shown me that the classroom does not have to be a physical place; anywhere you can gain information is your classroom.

Follow her on Twitter @nmollivierre or e-mail her at

Nadia Ollivierre is a lifelong learner, Training and Development Specialist, HighScope Certified Teacher,, Registered Early Childhood educator, faculty member, student, and volunteer. She enjoys working with children and teaching future educators about the early years of development. Her focus is on learning through teaching, which she believes goes hand in hand.  

Guest Blog: The 3 Reading Strategies That Boost Comprehension – Always

December 7, 2012

This guest blog post is written by Julie Adams, a nationally board certified teacher and educator of the year.

To better prepare youth for the complexities of 21st century literacy, teach students to read with purpose and engage with text by utilizing these three strategies.

While reading fiction or non-fiction, pause every few paragraphs and ask students to write a Retell sentence (first this happened, then this happened, finally this happened). This is a simple chronological comprehension technique that can be mastered in the primary grades, though it greatly improves comprehension of even the most complex texts encountered throughout high school.

Before reading further, have students also write a Summary sentence (who/what/when/where/why/how); this is a more complex skill that requires deeper analysis of the text and helps to further cement understanding.

Finally, after completing the Retell and Summary sentences, have students Sketch a picture or symbol of the section as a visual reminder (also known as a logographic cue) as imagery is important to comprehension for 21st century screen-aged students.

This “Triple Threat” strategy can be even more effective when completed in pairs.

Though any one of these three strategies (Retell-Summarize-Sketch) used alone will improve comprehension, the three combined makes a differentiated and strategic tool that vastly increases comprehension, retention and the College/Career Readiness Skills the new Common Core Standards emphasize.

Julie Adams is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and Educator of the Year who has taught primary through graduate school. She is an instructional coach who provides College & Career Ready Content Literacy & Writing PD to schools world-wide Visit or follow on Twitter at @adamsteaching

Guest Blog: 9 Tips For Helping Students Reach Their Potential

November 29, 2012

Below is a post from David Doherty, who serves as the Academic Dean at The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland.

9 Tips for Helping Students Reach Their Potential

Robbie groaned audibly when I explained the poem explication project to the class.

“I don’t get poetry,” he said.  “It’s too hard.”

Robbie is in my ‘regular’ tenth grade English section which is comprised of students who have not placed into the honors class.  Some of the students think they are not “good at” English, and this sometimes means they don’t try as hard as they might.  Robbie himself, though he is a personable and conscientious young man, has some difficulties with spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

So, today in class, when Robbie gave a presentation on his poem, I was shocked: it was a great presentation!
What happened?  How did he go from being a disheartened student to a proud student?  While much of the credit must go to Robbie, this kind of transformation can be facilitated by teachers in the intentional planning of such projects.  Below, then, are nine tips for helping students reach their potential:

  • Explain the why of the assignment – How is this project helpful to the students?  How does it fit into the overall objectives of the course?  In this example, some students had preconceived notions about poetry, so I used class time to discuss why poets compose poems and the benefits of reading poetry.
  • Provide templates – Students shouldn’t get hung up on menial issues at the expense of developing higher-order analytical skills.  Where appropriate, do some of the grunt work for them: often is it easier to provide a simple template than for each of them to make their own.  (Do they need to invent the wheel when you are asking them to discover fire!?)
  • Model –  This project required the students to make a webpage where they would explicate their poem and then present the webpage to the class.  In this case, I did exactly this: I chose one of my favorite poems (Digging, by Seamus Heaney), made a webpage explicating the poem, and then presented the page to the class. (Click on this link to see the model explication:
  • Provide a student benchmark – This was one of the more difficult assignments, and I wanted to provide a benchmark in addition to my model.  So, I engineered it so one of the strongest students presented first.  He gave a great presentation, and his classmates had a standard by which to measure their presentations.
  • Differentiate – Though it is important that all students are held to the same standard, there’s no reason why they have to complete identical projects.  In this case, some poems were more accessible than others, and I was conscious of this as I gave the students individual help, and this was also taken into consideration in their final evaluations.
  • Provide an element of choice –  Students are more invested in a project when they feel some sense of ownership.  In some cases, they can choose the topic/subject of their presentation with only minimal teacher guidance.  On other occasions, it is appropriate for them to choose from a limited number of choices selected by the teacher.  For this project, I wanted the students to work on poems that were both accessible, but also rich in figurative language, imagery, and other poetic techniques: we held a lottery, and the students chose their poems from a list I provided.
  • Provide extrinsic motivation for the project –  Students are motivated when they have a ‘real-world’ audience, when they are making something tangible (a webpage), and when they are collaborating with others.  At a minimum, presentations provide motivation for students to work at least hard enough to avoid embarrassment!
  • Provide plenty of class time for individual help and make yourself available for further help –  Students need the opportunity to ask questions without feeling embarrassed.  They need the opportunity to discuss the problems they are having and receive guidance about how to address challenges.  In particular, where they are working on different content, they need the opportunity to discuss their individual work.
  • Communicate the criteria for evaluation as clearly as possible –   Make explanations as clear as possible: what exactly are you looking for?  Use a rubric!

Of course, not all students will rise to the occasion and perform as Robbie did, but by providing these resources and opportunities for our students, they have plenty of support in reaching their potential.

© David Doherty, 11/28/12

David Doherty acts as Academic leader of the Boys’ Latin School, where he is responsible for curriculum and instruction, professional development, planning and coordination, student achievement and assessment, independent school accreditation, administration of Title II Federal funds,  and faculty recruiting.  In addition, He acts as the curriculum committee chair, oversees teacher observations and evaluations, and helps facilitate new teachers’ orientation.

Guest Blog: A Classroom in the Twitterverse

November 28, 2012

Today’s post is written by Jodie Morgenson. She is a teacher in NE, who uses Twitter in her classroom! She has created ways to use twitter in the classroom, or as she would say, “A Classroom in the Twitterverse.” Enjoy

A Classroom in the Twitterverse

My students like to talk to each other in person, but also–more so now than ever–digitally. The days of passing notes are gone. It’s been years since I’ve seen an intricately folded paper passed surreptitiously under a table. However, it’s only been hours since I–in awe–watched a student text his girlfriend with his hands inside his hoodie pocket. That takes talent. Seriously.

I’m in a first-year 1:1 iPad school, so digital communication has taken on a new level of importance in my life in the past few months. Digi-com is one of many ways my students speak and I need to be as fluent in my students’ language as I can be. The dilemma is that I don’t like the closed environment of Facebook and my thumbs are abnormally large, so texting is out … (My anti-texting stance actually has nothing to do with my thumb size–that was just a little joke)

It is rather my fear of becoming obsessed with yet another form of digi-com that keeps me from joining the majority on this communication phenomenon, despite immense pressure from friends and colleagues.) BUT speaking the language of the students is of the utmost importance to me, so what’s a savvy (and downright sassy) teacher to do? Twitter has proven to be a good solution for this girl.

Twitter has become part of my students’ culture, but it’s also one of the most transparent modes I have found for “talking” to my students in the digital realm. As long as I don’t ramp up the security, (which … let’s face it … can’t be ramped up terrifically high anyway) my communication is out in the open for my students, my colleagues, my superiors, parents of students, and local, national and international community members to see AND hold me accountable. The only way someone can send me a direct (private) message is if I follow him or her. While I encourage students to follow me, I do NOT follow them back (with the exception of one unique student–my daughter–because mama trumps teacher every time).

I am very upfront about this with them too. At the beginning of the year, I wrote my Twitter handle on the board and said, “I have a Twitter.” (The gasps were audible.) “If YOU have a Twitter, please follow me. Also, do not be offended that I will not be following you back.” Some were relieved that I would not be following them back. (I saw the tension leave their shoulders when they realized I would not be hanging on their every tweet.) Others though, wanted to know why; they were maybe even a little hurt, I suppose. I explained that even though I liked the idea of interacting with them on Twitter and sometimes I would tweet to them individually, that there is no way for me to keep up with all of them AND that I know that Twitter is a way for them to talk to their friends, and while I LOVE ALL of them, I am not their friend. (Someday maybe, but not today.)

I use Twitter in a number of ways. Here are the main ones:

1. I disseminate information. I make announcements and share information by using hashtags I created for each of my classes. The downside to this is that no one OWNS a hashtag. Anyone can tag a tweet with a hashtag that I originated, but so far that hasn’t happened and it’s worked well. (Hopefully this blog post won’t jinx me!) If someone decides to troll/spam our backchannel or even use the same hashtag for some other legit purpose someday, it will provide my students and me with a learning experience. I post links to articles that I assign my students to read, to our class wiki or website, or to websites I want them to use for our class.

I also use Twitter to send out reminders. What’s also handy is that many times when I send out an announcement or reminder, once one of the class members sees the tweet, he or she retweets it and soon it catches like a little Twitter-wildfire and in no time, most students know whatever it is I want them to know. (I do have a handful of students who are NOT on Twitter for a variety of reasons–usually due to a personal aversion to social media, or more commonly, due to parental preference–which I completely respect. I am also very aware of it and use other means of communication to reach non-tweeting students.)

2. I model digital citizenship. Sometimes students (or more broadly–people) make poor choices in life. It’s part of growing up. It’s part of being human. Unfortunately when a student makes a poor choice in the digital realm, a permanent reminder or–thanks to forwarding, reposting and retweeting–multiple reminders) can remain until the internerts* implode. That’s why I view integrating digital citizenship in everyday curriculum as my responsibility–as a modern-day teacher–but especially as a modern-day teacher in a 1:1 district. What I like about modeling digital citizenship is that, while I do use Twitter for professional development, resource-sharing, networking and other fancy grown-up stuff, I also have an all-out blast using it AND I DON’T GIVE A FLYING FIG WHO KNOWS IT!

I am not always serious when I tweet. I retweet funny stuff. I good-naturedly tease my Twiends. My tweets are not all sterile institutional regurgitation; I actually have an online personality. So, I like to model the serious purposes for using Twitter, but I also like to show that being responsible online doesn’t mean being dull. It means I’m respectful of other’s feelings, but that doesn’t mean I can’t assist the world in spreading a ridiculously dorky meme about Dumbledore’s Army or retweet a student’s clever post about fashion or declaration about the snow that is falling. (Seriously … that happened two days ago for the first time since last winter. Shocking. I know.) In addition to attempting to be helpful to my followers, I seek to entertain them as well! There is no higher compliment in the Twittersphere for this teacher than being retweeted by a student.

Retweeting is a part of digital citizenship too. Even if you didn’t directly say something offensive, if you retweet someone else’s obnoxious words, you are perpetuating them. That’s tough for students to grasp sometimes. Fodder abounds for discussions about how to tweet responsibly and how to (and how not to) protect one’s online identity. Another part of digital citizenship is maintaining what shows up when someone types your name into a search engine. It’s more valuable–to you, as a citizen of the 21st Century–for items you control to show up in a search than for nothing to show up at all or worse something someone else has posted to-intentionally or otherwise-damage your reputation.

Twitter is a good way to establish a positive online presence. And, if I stumble upon a student with a raunchy Twitter handle or a tweet rife with gratuitous cursing, drug or alcohol references, self-hurting, or bullying in it, I report it, and, if they are a student in my class, I call them out on it mano y mano. They have to know that they are what they tweet and that many times it’s the negative stuff that goes viral. You really can’t take viral back.

3. I build rapport. I like to interact with my followers and those I follow on Twitter. It’s called SOCIAL media … not LURKER media (though I–begrudgingly–acknowledge that lurking has a purpose … sometimes … I guess … harumph). I interact with my students, parents of students, and other stakeholders in my community on a personal (but public) level via Twitter. If I see an article that reminds me of a student’s interest, I will single out that student and direct it to him or her. If a student says something clever, witty, or humorous during class, I will quote him/her (by name, if he/she allows it or anonymously, if he or she is a more private person). I’m convinced that I have some of the most highly quotable students in America – right here in my classroom. Also, because I share many articles that I first read for professional development, parents and other stakeholders are able to learn more about my learning and my personality by following my tweets and asking questions (via tweet, direct message, email, or–get this–even face to face!) One of the most fun ways I use Twitter to build rapport is by promoting student activities! I use Twitter to congratulate teams and individuals on their victories.

I just received an email from one of the (non-tweeting) Mock Trial coaches that included these sentiments: “Thank you for your support this year … publicizing us on Twitter—you may get me on there yet! I believe your twittering has done much good for our team.” When our Mock Trial Team qualified for State, who was their biggest fan and most prolific tweeter? Yours truly! When I take my competitive one-act cast and crew on the road, who, in addition to coaching, is also the team historian? I AM. My iPad takes gorgeous photos and I have a ridiculous number of photography apps, so I often snap and live-tweet photos during activities and in the classroom.This offers a glimpse into my classroom that parents and community members would otherwise not have. You want rapport? Twitter is a rapport-building machine.

4. I whet the wheels of discussion. Students read at different paces and one way I combat the devil’s playground of idleness that differentiated pacing inconveniently provides is by posing a question or two on Twitter that asks the students to give their initial nutshell (less than 140 characters!) reaction to the article. Then, while others are finishing the reading, speed readers can post their reactions by responding to my tweets and begin interacting with other early finishers. By the time everyone is done reading, the discussion has begun already AND can continue in a face-to-face discussion. Using a backchannel is also another way to extend a discussion outside of the classroom as well, because it can happen synchronously or asynchronously and it can happen anywhere there is an internet connection available. I can use the class backchannel (hashtag) or I can whip up a new one specific to our discussion to pose questions for them to chew on and respond to outside of class. Then, I can check the backchannel to see who said what. Some students who don’t speak up in class will be prolific discussers in an online setting. (It just so happens that I know this from personal experience, as I am an introvert in real life, but a digital extrovert.)

My district has recently published an early draft of an official social media policy, which I believe is a necessity for all schools today, whether they are wired for the web or not. Clear consequences for making poor social media decisions need to be defined for everyone–students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike. Guidelines for what is okay and what is not okay in the realm of social media in one’s school is also helpful for us all too, so I look forward to having a solidified policy in the near future.

If you don’t have a Twitter just yet, then I encourage you to lurk in a chat or just check in on a couple of Twitter accounts you find interesting from time to time. You don’t have to have a Twitter to read other people’s feeds. Ease your way into Twitter that way. (It’s the one time I encourage lurking–as a gateway to participation!) If you do have a Twitter, I hope to see you in the Twittersphere soon and I’m guessing that your students would be pretty happy to see you there too.

Jodie Morgenson is a drama, English, and forensics teacher and theater director at Platteview High School near Springfield, NE. She’s been (sporadically) documenting the experience of Platteview’s first year as a 1:1 iPad school in her blog iTeach. iLearn. iWasHere. http:// She blogs (off and on) about her family life on her Tumblr Morgetron Family Theater She tweets under the handle @morgetron (probably too much). You should digitally interact with her
some time. She’s a pretty all right gal.

Teacher Blog: Great Teacher + 1:1 Tech = 21st Century Learning

November 9, 2012

To complete Always Prepped’s Guest Blog Series, we wanted to tie everything together by featuring a blog post about 21st century learning. In today’s society, teachers and educators are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge; rather, they are facilitators of the learning process. Knowledge is free (or very inexpensive), so what does that mean for the teacher? Below, hear from Chris Adams, Superintendent of the Coast Unified School District in California, on his thoughts about the 21st century classroom.

Great Teaching + 1:1 Tech=21st Century Learning
By: Chris Adams, Superintendent of Coast Unified School District,

“Whether for good or bad, the Internet and the information revolution have  impacted nearly every aspect of society and social organizations, including our  schools and how our students learn-and the challenge becomes how to address that impact. Technology and the Web have changed how students learn, study, and research, as well as how they interact with information, teachers, and each other. From Khan Academy to BYOD to Disrupting Class, it is increasingly clear  that this is, “Not your father’s school,” and educational leaders who don’t respond and plan accordingly will see their schools left behind.” Jonathan Martin

As the Superintendent of Coast Unified School District (CUSD), a coastal community in California that has implemented 1:1 iPads, I have learned much about the ingenuity innately embedded in our students and educators and how those skills can be maximized with 1:1 utilization. Common sense told us that utilizing cutting-edge technology in the K-12 environment would increase student engagement, as the novelty and “cool” factor of the iPads are hard to miss. However, many unintended positives and lessons have emerged in the midst of this process. First, let me start by stating that technology does not replace effective teaching.  The teachers first have to be skilled in teaching critical thinking, comprehension AND content, as simply employing an app or computer device in the classroom does not increase learning or accountability for learning.

To prepare for the implementation of the new Common Core’s College/Career Readiness emphasis, CUSD has been training its teachers in critical thinking and content area literacy best practices for the past four years. Teachers have engaged in extensive PD focused on PDP Cornell Notes, Content & Academic Vocabulary Acquisition, Pre-During-Post Content Comprehension methods,  Engagement and Non-Fiction Writing. We have been learning and using research-based instructional methods and our students’ achievement has increased. In fact, our district was recently recognized for the first time by WestEd and the California Department of Education as a “California High Performing District,” as all sub-groups have improved their achievement levels four years in a row.

With that being said, because the teachers were already providing an  environment conducive to learning, the timing was right to implement new technology (iPads) to further enhance instruction.

According to our teachers, administrators, and students, these are the benefits of 1:1 iPads:

*Increased collaboration between students, students/teachers, teachers/teachers and teachers/parents

*Equal access provided to cutting-edge tech for ALL socioeconomic groups

*Decreased behavioral issues as energy-filled students are “touching the glass” and they are more enthusiastic about learning and interacting with the material

*Enhanced teacher awareness of the multiple ways in assessing student learning-not just multiple choice tests

*Improved student attention as apps are graphic friendly, interactive and colorful

*Apps on iPads are safer than normal computer use as “internet surfing” isn’t occurring

*Increased collaboration and project-based learning

*With Apple TV, students can show their work to the class – immediately sharing what they have completed

*iPads are portable-students can take them into the science lab or outside to complete projects and not be limited to sitting at their desks

*Technological skills and experience are increased-students are better prepared to compete in the tech competitive college and career realm

*Cross-curricular integration is enhanced, i.e., students can measure their heart/ breathing rates during PE and apply it to cellular respiration in science lab

*Eliminated the need for students to carry heavy backpacks as many texts are on the devices

*Increased teaching time as “anytime-anywhere” learning is possible (flipped classes)

*Drastically decreased amount of photocopying-homework, tests, labs, etc. can be created on iPad and submitted electronically

*Virtual tours-students and teachers tour landmarks such as the White House and engage as if they were on-site

*Allows more opportunities to communicate with text, imagery, sound and animation-increasing student engagement via different learning styles

*Decreased loss in transition time during class as all the materials are on the device

***Most importantly, students are working at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy  (analyzing, evaluating, creating) more than ever before have learned during this implementation process that not all apps are created  equal; therefore, it is important to evaluate the usefulness of an app by asking  questions such as:

*Does this app allow students multiple ways to communicate knowledge (images, voice, video, etc.)?

*What critical thinking value does the app bring to the learner?

*Is the app user-friendly for variety of skill-levels (including Gifted, ELs & SPED)?

*Does the app allow for material to be published on-line if desired?

*Are there privacy/security concerns with the app?

One of our primary concerns in this endeavor is student safety and privacy, so we  utilize “Lightspeed” technology, which provides unauthorized content filtering, user security and anti-virus protection. We have also incorporated digital footprint & citizenship (netiquette) training to both students and parents to increase their awareness in developing and protecting their on-line identities.

In addition, we have experienced the value in communicating the educational benefits of such technology to parents and the community, emphasizing the collaborative, flexible, creative and active learning opportunities the iPads offer our students. As educators, we are ultimately preparing students for professions that haven’t  yet been created. The 1:1 implementation, when coupled with effective instruction, allows us more creativity and opportunity to better prepare our students for the critical thinking demands of the 21st century. It also emphasizes that memorization is not our educational focus; instead, student-centered  analysis, inquiry, collaboration and innovation are the foundation of our educational program.

Chris Adams is Superintendent of Coast Unified School District in Cambria, CA. As an educational administrator and instructional leader, he believes that all students can succeed when instruction emphasizes 21st century critical thinking, student engagement, cutting-edge technology and content area literacy.

Teacher Blog: Why A Classroom Website?

November 6, 2012

As a teacher, you probably have heard about teachers who have a classroom website. Whether they use it to engage students outside of class, or simply as a place to list resources for parents, websites serve a larger purpose:  they build community. Below, Mark Bates explains why he uses a classroom website.


By: Mark Bates

Typically, I think of the classroom website as being a replacement for the traditional newsletter. Although they share many features – calendar of events, news, student work and photos – there are many differences. The main differences are the ways in which information is delivered, the audience, and the interactivity. Not only is it on the web accessible 24/7, but it can also extend beyond the classroom walls; a website can be seen by grandparents, community members, friends, media, and more.

I have heard many arguments against the process of creating class websites. Below are my replies:

Argument: To start a website it takes time, effort and motivation.
Reply: This is somewhat true. However, these aspects are lessened if you plan well, manage your time, and make it part of your routine.

Argument: It’s not required and not a part of teaching.
Reply: Many things educators do are not required (e.g. coaching, tutoring, fundraising, chaperoning, and class celebrations). It is difficult to think of what our schools and classrooms would be like without those ‘extras’.

Argument: It’s not very educational.
Reply: This is difficult to address, because it all depends on how a teacher utilizes a classroom website. Some websites are great, because they have a purpose, sleek design, and relevant content which can address many educational needs and requirements. Other websites are not updated and are outdated. All in all, it all depends on the content.

Argument: Nobody will visit so why bother?
Reply: If you create a website based on the needs of your audience, you will have visitors. Also, it builds community!

Also, there are many reasons for having a class website which offset those arguments mentioned above. By having a site, you are:

• Teaching and modeling digital literacy to students and parents while learning yourself.

• Being efficient by sharing links to projects and resource, making it easier for students to access material.

• Assisting students and parents by providing links to curriculum support materials.

• Relevant as students use the internet for much of their life outside of school. By having an online presence, you are validating “school” in their online life.

• Connected to your students, as well as, readily accessible.

• Creating a portfolio for yourself, as well as, showing professional growth.

• Contributing globally to the teaching profession.

• Taking control of your digital footprint and brand.

In the end, classroom websites are about communication and professionalism. I choose how I am perceived and the content of my message. I show my students that I am open and transparent. In the end, I feel like the time I put into building my classroom website is worth it.

Mark Bates is a Technology Mentor with the Anglophone School District – South in New Brunswick, Canada. As a mentor, he assists fellow teachers to incorporate a variety of educational technologies into their pedagogy.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a classroom website? Comment below!

Teacher Blog: Yes, Teachers Can Text Too…

November 6, 2012

So, as a K-12 educator,  communicating with students may often be a challenge. iPhones, iPads, text messaging, and a constant need for instant gratification (and small attention spans) make it difficult to clearly get a message across to your students. Below is a guest blog post from Dr. Abigail Grant Scheg, an assistant professor at Elizabeth City State University. She provides insight into how she uses text messaging to communicate with her students. As a K-12 educator, you may not be able to text message individual students, but this blog post should still be helpful in understanding how technology is reshaping our lives and how we communicate. Enjoy!

Yes, Teachers Can Text Too…

Dr. Abigail Grant Scheg, Elizabeth City State University

As a first-year college composition instructor, I allow my students to text me with questions, comments, and concerns about our class. This began when I was an adjunct instructor, a departmental hermit, teaching and advising in hallways and parking lots. Since I spent a lot of time on the road and had no “home base” for students to visit me during office hours, I figured it was only fair to give them another way to contact me.

I asked the students not to text me when they were out on the weekends with their friends or perhaps if they were intoxicated. And I promised not to randomly text them either. Not all students took advantage of the opportunity to text me with questions—some called, some still emailed, some relied on old faithful (staying after class to talk to me)—but for those that are comfortable communicating via text, they really appreciated it.

I received a lot of flak from other department members for giving out my personal cell phone number, but I maintained that it was the right thing to do for my students. In the years that I have been doing this, I have only had to block one students’ number thus far. But, this girl was angry because she never attended class, didn’t submit any assignments, and couldn’t understand why she would fail. Obviously, I was just out to get her. She would have bothered me repeatedly via office phone, email, Blackboard discussion board, and any other communicative mode used in my classroom; she just happened to also have my cell phone number.

Whether we as teachers like it or not, texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, and all of these other social media are becoming acceptable forms of communication in academia and the business world. I try to be realistic and forthcoming with my students and the direction of research and the field of education. While permitting cell phones in the classroom may not be a realistic or desired goal of K-12 classrooms, I feel that it is legitimate in college and my students are agreeing.

I have never had a student complain that I was not available for them, never had a student say that they asked me a question and I never got back to them. I pride myself on this. I have twelve weeks to make these students better writers, readers, critical thinkers, self-editors, and peer reviewers. I don’t know if that is always possible in a 24/7 time frame, let alone in 50 minute class periods and less than ten office hours a week. I like being there for my students and enjoy enhancing the relationship and repertoire that I have with them. Learning is not confined to the walls of the classroom; communication with the teacher, therefore, can also no longer be confined to the classroom.

I would like to do more for my students in terms of communication. I will continue to allow them to text, but there is also the possibility of Twitter and Facebook—communicative modes that I feel I would be remiss if I chose to opt out of them. There are tons of interesting and innovative ways to communicate with your students. Perhaps it may not be using cell phones in class (or even outside of class), but maybe it will just be discussing the appropriateness of texting lingo. Students like writing and communicating, just maybe not in the ways that we ask of them. But, as a teacher trying to do the best for my students, I am willing to meet them in the middle somewhere.

Dr. Abigail Grant Scheg is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University. Her research interests include online education, Web 2.0 communication inside the classroom, and sharing the basic possibilities of technology with non-believers. If you have questions about this blog, text messaging and education, or Web 2.0 possibilities, please email Dr. Scheg at

K-12 teachers, how can you incorporate new and innovative forms of communication, while also adhering to the rules governing communicating with minor? As an example, Remind 101 allows for teachers to send a text message to parents/students, but does not allow teachers to know the phone number or send text messages to individual students.

Teacher Blog: What Makes a Teacher Effective in the Common Core Age?

November 5, 2012

Students are given too much gum to chew and not enough time to chew it.

For decades, research has concluded that student success is directly linked to the effectiveness of the teacher. But what makes a teacher “effective?”

Regardless of content area, an “effective” educator divides a lesson into three phases: Pre-During-Post. He/She then judiciously implements comprehension strategies that teach BOTH the skills AND the content during each phase of the lesson, which is a foundational component of the new Common Core Standards. Therefore, just as much time is devoted to increasing students’ critical thinking skills, as is given to the content itself. This practice separates the “good” teachers from the GREAT and is vital to fostering the versatile 21st Century thinkers needed in our global economy.

As mentioned, the effective lesson plan has three phases, with each phase designed to teach a specific skill-set.

For example, in the Front-loading or “Pre” phase of a lesson, the essential skills to develop are:

*connecting to prior knowledge


*building academic & content vocabulary acquisition

Some of the more effective “Pre” strategies are: Anticipation Guides, Probable Passage, Vocabulary Study Charts and Vocabulary Word Maps. These methods foster the prior knowledge, predicting and vocabulary skills helpful to engage in the lesson.

In the “During” phase of a lesson, the skills to be developed are:



*comparing and contrasting



*monitoring comprehension

Practical and skill-building “During” strategies are: Episodic Notes, Evidence Guides, Double-Entry Journals and Venn Diagrams.

The “Post” phase skill-set emphasizes:


*identifying main ideas/causal connections


Formative and summative strategies that bring closure to a lesson and build 21st Century skills are: Summary of Informational Text, Cause/Effect organizers and Somebody-Wanted-But-So.

If the teacher fails to utilize a strategy in one of these three phases of the lesson, the student is not afforded the opportunity to “chew” the content and develop the skills he needs to be an independent critical thinker…a critical objective in teaching.

Hence, the “effective” teacher does not just cover content, he/she teaches the content AND the critical thinking skills that students need for the College and Career Readiness the Common Core emphasizes.

Julie Adams is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and Educator of the Year who has taught primary through graduate school.  She is the founder of Adams Educational Consulting and partners with the California League of Schools and the National High School Association to provide content area literacy, informational writing and College/Career Ready Critical Thinking training and coaching to public and private schools around the world. She is the author of Teaching Academic Vocabulary Effectively, Parts I-III and PDP Cornell Notes-A Systematic Strategy to Aid Comprehension. Website: Follow her on Twitter@adamsteaching