Empowered Educators

I am enjoying a long winter break after a rigorous edtech conference. I haven’t seen a classroom in a week, and I feel off. I can’t explain enough how valuable my time at #PETE2017 was to me. I had 4 days, including the preconference, of PD that was on my level, offered me choice, and allowed me time to connect with other educators across the state of PA. These opportunities for personalized professional development are few and far between and well worth the price of admission.

While enjoying my time at PETE&C, I heard 3 very impressive keynotes. All of them were very different, but they had one thing in common. They offered educators ideas to empower them in their classrooms. The first keynote, Dr. Carl Hooker, gave a humor-laced presentation which valued not the tool, but the skills learner need to develop in order to be successful in the future. He shared his insights on how today’s student should be using tech tools to help them develop skills for tomorrow’s workforce. He said that learners should be, “Filling their minds, not filling in bubbles.” He went on to empower educators to take risks, try new things, and offer their students opportunities to connect, move, create, and fail without fear.

“Students don’t take risks, if teachers don’t take risks. Teachers don’t take risks, if leaders don’t take risks.”  -Carl Hooker

Every child. Every day. Dr. Mark Edwards was our second keynote of #pete2017. He was a great speaker and he threaded music into his presentation to engage his audience. His unique insights were very appreciated.  My favorite quote from Dr. Edwards was, “A classroom without digital resources today is a classroom of yesterday.” He challenges teachers to answer the question how are your learners taking charge of their learning. He admitted that collaborative classrooms have a healthy “hum” to them and that quiet classrooms are just compliant. He encouraged us to allow our students to know their data so they know that they can be successful in their learning.

Finally, #pete2017 was wrapped up Wednesday by an amazing keynote from Dr. Luis Cruz. He was entertaining, engaging, and he began by telling a room filled with educators and administrators that we should never accept, “You’re just a teacher.” Instead he revealed my new favorite job description.

“We are members of a elite team dedicated to the arduous task of saving student lives!” -Dr. Luis Cruz

He also shared that hope is not a strategy. He said to make change we must have action. He humbly shared his experiences and his district’s approach to bringing an impoverished school from failing to flying data. He shared that schools are suffering from the disease of low expectations because our students are not coming to school as “third base kids,” or kids who have parental support and have been learning at home, read to, and supported in their learning. However we are seeing more and more students entering schools who aren’t even dressed to play in the ballpark. He humorously told the audience on the final day of the conference, “Disneyland lied, our schools are where dreams come true.”

There were many great moments at this conference, but I have to say that all three of the keynotes hit the ball out of the park. Educators need to embrace their profession, advocate for their learners, and lead from within. When change comes we need to be willing to dive in and get our hands dirty when the changes coming will empower our learners to take the lead in their own learning. We need to give students our best, b/c we might be the one person who makes a difference for our learners and lifts them up when they need it the most. Most of all we need to lift one another. As educators we need to help each other. We need to support each other. We need to lift one another up. Educators must empower themselves  today, tomorrow, and always. We work in the profession that makes all other professions possible. We make a difference in the lives of the students we teach. Lifting them isn’t always an easy task, but it’s why we all got into this profession in the first place. We make a difference, so start lifting your colleagues as well as your learners.

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Line in the Sand

Change is hard. Change requires people to move outside of their comfort zone, not only move outside of it but hang out there. People willing to change need to commit to not only sticking their toes into the unknown, but agree to marinate in the unexplored, newly implemented, discomfort zone until they become one with the unknown and make it their own.

The definition of change, according to the dictionary is the act, or instance, of making or becoming different. Throughout our careers as educators we have witnessed a lot of change; change in curriculum, standards, best practices, and trends. The one constant has always been that there will be change.

“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” -William Pollard

In society there has been many changes. We embrace changes that allow humans to advance and be treated equally. Why then do we, as educators, resist change that allows our students to advance? The traditional approach is not engaging today’s learners. Our learners live in the personalize generation. Everything from their food, to their music, clothing, and even their phones is a part of their unique brand. They demand to be different and as educators we can’t expect students to embrace the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, lecture. We need to give them variety and choice.”

“Teachers will not be replaced by technology, but teachers who do not use technology will be replaced by those who do.” – Hari Krishna Arya, India

A very wise person once shared the above quote with me. I took it to heart and began my journey towards change. We live and work in an age where everything in public education is uncertain. We need to do our best to give the students in our charge the very best opportunities. What have you done to embrace change this year? Have you tried a new tool? Implemented a new instructional model? Research a new best practice? Or are you using the same bag of tricks you’ve had since student teaching?

Change doesn’t come easy for many. However fighting inevitable change is like trying to push a car up a mountainside in neutral. My first experiences with technology were far from pretty. I had some rough experiences and I learned quickly that failure is to be expected. Do we ever require our students to get content correct prior to studying, practicing, and remediating with their teachers? No! So why is it that educators feel the need to be perfect all the time? We need to embrace a community of learning, not just for our students, but for ourselves as well. We need to encourage everyone to take risks, set goals, and work towards them.

Perhaps we need to stop dragging our toes in the sand, and start blurring those lines as we push off to a new reality.



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Differentiation by Choice

Students love having a say in their education. One way to offer them some choice in how they learn, and what they produce to share their learning is differentiating by student choice in product. We all know and accept that students have a variety of learning styles and that some prefer one style over another. However, how often do we address this and allow students to pick activities that gravitate towards their strengths?

I planned with a teacher yesterday and today and her eagerness to allow her students to chose the products they wanted to complete to demonstrate their mastery was refreshing. One of the biggest complaints I hear from students is, “School is boring. We all have to do the same things.” Differentiation takes the monotony out of learning and gives students a wide variety of opportunities.

I realize that offering a ton of choices might be overwhelming, hard to grade, and a management nightmare. However if you start small and offer students a menu of choices, it will be much easier to handle student choice in your classroom. The goal for all of these items can be the same, in this case vocabulary acquisition, but the proof of learning and mastery can look unique for each student.

Differention by Product is Made Easy with Tech

“This is easy with Web 2.0 technology tools.  Students do not need to all create the same product, but choices can be given to allow them to choose a method that is more in alignment with their intelligences.  All these tools help students create.  According to the Digital Bloom’s taxonomy – creating is on the high end of the spectrum of critical thinking tools.  You don’t have to be an expert in all of these tools.  Tutorials already exist in Youtube or by talking to other teachers who have the how-to papers ready to go.  Students are ready to learn the program to accomplish the product so let them try!”

Young, Robin. “Technology Tuesday-Supporting Differentiation in the Classroom.” Robins Tech Tips RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2017.

Considering all the tools today’s learners have readily available at the tips of their fingers, I highly recommend giving your learners objectives, or learning goals, and allowing them to choose activities from a menu to complete. Want to give them more of a challenge, differentiate by readiness as well and require your learners to complete a different number of activities based on their understanding during pretests or benchmark testing.

Tic Tac Toe boards, Bingo Boards, and choice menus are easy to construct and give students a say in how they share their newly acquired knowledge. It would be super easy to infuse this type of differentiation into the independent station.

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Tweet-tastic PD

I have advocated for a long time about the importance of differentiated professional development for educators. We know it works for students, so why is it rarely done for the adults that educate them. All teachers come with their own unique bag of tricks, tools, and strengths. I feel that the key to making our teachers stronger is to provide them with differentiated PD that allows them to demonstrate their strengths and train on their weaknesses, or even allow them to set their own learning paths. Teacher buy in would be huge if they could pave their own path. However, I realize that this is a management nightmare and would take a lot of time to implement, track, and provide adequate training.

My hypothesis still stands. When teachers want to learn something, they will and they’ll do it with gusto! This is why I love Twitter. Twitter allows teachers to investigate ideas, find like-minded educators, and exchange ideas 24-7. Nothing else has quite the scope and reach as the professional learning network I have fostered on Twitter.

How in the world does 140 characters enable educators to learn so much? It’s all in who you follow! Follow other professionals and companies that will share information on ideas, topics, and tools you are implementing in your classroom. Have a question, need a resource, want more information on a topic? Send out a tweet and ask for the information you need. You might get a reliable response, or two. However, if you follow an educator whom you know tweets about a certain topic and you mention them (use the @+their username) you will most definitely receive a reply from that particular person.

Better yet, I want a lot of educators to share their particular perspectives on a project, idea, or research I am exploring. If I use hashtags to direct educators’ attention to the purpose of my tweet, I have now gained the attention of a wider audience. If I want an even bigger audience, why not use multiple hashtags to reach educators in multiple groups?

So what if I want to only see tweets from a certain hashtag? Then you can search for that hashtag and see only tweets in which people included that hashtag for which you searched. This makes viewing your interests much easier. Here is a list of 60 popular education hashtags by Catherine Wedgwood. Check it out and search a few of them on Twitter.

If you’ve followed hundreds of people and your feed is overwhelming, why not create a list? Lists allow you to assign tweeters to a subject that they tweet about. For example, the district I work at uses Twitter A LOT. So to make my life easier, I have created a list called WY Tweeters that allows me to see all the tweets about my district in one long list. It really makes it easier for me to sort through all of the tweets I’ve accumulated in one day. So if I were a WYASD employee I might was to subscribe to the list of WY Tweeters that someone has already established. How would I do that? It’s simple:

  1. Click on Lists when viewing someone’s profile.
  2. Select which list you’d like to subscribe to.
  3. From the list page, click Subscribe to follow the list.

Twitter is also a great way to share information with parents, students, and the community. Are you doing great things in your classroom? Are your students celebrating a goal achieved? Do you have some great photos of a pep rally? Why not share them on Twitter? Allowing the community (aka taxpayers) and parents an open view into your classroom events and assignments is always a great idea. As for school events, Twitter is a great way to boost public relations and it all can be done in a short 140 characters or less.

How about a challenge? I challenge you to open a Twitter account and post one tweet about your day with your students. Why not start of the second semester by opening your classroom to the outside world, parents, and students alike? If you open a Twitter account, comment on this blog with your Twitter Handle. Mine is @HalcottMStech. Feel free to follow me. I will follow you back and embrace you as an integral part of my professional learning network.


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Game On!

Today I was afforded the unique opportunity to visit another district and observe a science teacher who embraced the station rotation model, but gave it a twist, and made it her own. Fortunately I was able to drag a science teacher with me to the visit, because the clouds parted and the angels sang! Ahhhhhh! We saw an amazing lesson, students who were active and participating from the time they entered class until the very last minute.

The students in Ms. Weneck’s class learned and worked at their own pace, and the majority of the students, 16 out of 18, completed all 6 assignments with time to spare to prepare for the class duel. Yes, I said duel and no I didn’t say anything about weapons, unless their minds count.

The students walked into class. The song of the day was playing. They opened the laptops (Full disclosure: this is a 1:1 district), logged into Schoology, and opened their daily plan. Their daily plan gave them their 6 tasks for the day. Following the song of the day, which was about osmosis, Ms. Weneck held a 10 minute whole class discussion at the “dinner table” in the center of the room. Loved this! Truly made it feel like home.


Then the class broke off into their groups and got to work. The unique piece of this classroom is the gamification that happens. Each student is a ninja and has a ninja made out of a toilet paper roll. I’m sure rounding up TP rolls was time consuming, but certainly inexpensive. Inside of these ninja’s the class stored their beads (think stickers on papers, or badges earned for Boy Scouts).


Mrs. Weneck’s ninja creations store the beads her students have earned.

ALL classroom resources were uploading to her class LMS (learning management system, in this case Schoology). The students worked on each task moving a ninja game piece up a cargo net level each time they completed a task. Those students that completed at least 4 of their assigned tasks were able to earn their way into the duel. Dueling entailed competing with other pairs of students to recreate the formula for photosynthesis in the fastest time. Those students were whipping through that task. Each duel eliminated one pair of students, until only 2 pairs were left standing.


Mrs. Weneck’s ninja progress board.

As the bell was “ringing” the last 2 pairs of students were in a duel for beads. I, for one, am glad I didn’t have to referee the game and call the winners, because never before have I seen student hands fly to complete an equation! They were smiling, cheering, and racing to complete an equation. I wish we had been able to collect some engagement data on that lesson.

So if Mrs. Weneck wasn’t leading a direct today, what was she doing? She was circulating from student to student conferencing, she was checking over homework and calling up students to assist with misunderstandings and confusion in the assignment. She was motivating students to finish their tasks, and empowering her learners to work at their own pace. At the end of the class, each of her students could meet the daily objective of recreating the formula for photosynthesis with a flourish. They could make it, tell you it, and race to complete it when given the cards.

In conclusion I would like to say that gamification of the classroom may just be the carrot that the kiddos need to engage in their learning. As adults, don’t we work harder and strive to innovate when our hard work is rewarded with an “atta boy” or another awesome incentive? Why  should our learners be any different? They want to know that their learning is important, and if they feel they are recognized for their hard work, they just might work harder. If you are interested in learning more about gamification, or how to implement a rewards system into your station rotation model, please talk to me or stop in to see Mr. Warns’ class during the spring semester. I look forward to seeing his students in action as they gamify their classroom using Classcraft his semester.

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Teachers are Snowflakes

As a coach, I get the unique opportunity to observe my peers as they teach. It is such an exciting and humbling experience. I always knew I worked among some of the coolest people on Earth. However, when you watch a teacher in their element, they forget they have a guest, and engage with their learners it is a thing of beauty.

Teachers are indeed “on”; highly energetic, passionate about their content, and assessing informally from the start of their day until the very last bus leaves the bus lane. Every classroom is as unique as the educator at its helm.

“One of these parallels is of snowflakes and us. We, too, are all headed in the same direction. We are being driven by a universal force to the same destination. We are all individuals taking different journeys and along our journey, we sometimes bump into each other, we cross paths, we become altered… we take different physical forms. But at all times we too are 100% perfectly imperfect.”

-Steve Maraboli

Teachers all have the same end game in mind. They all want to enable students to become productive, independent,problem solvers, and contributing community members/leaders in tomorrow’s society. That is our direction and desired path.

Teachers take vastly different journeys throughout their careers. Some educators sprint through college to the classroom and stay safely banked there for the duration of their careers. Others decide to blow where the wind will take them and explore alternate careers, yet their passion for education finds them flurrying back to schools to gain certificates and share their worldly experiences with the students who cross their paths. Other snowflakes are shape shifting snowballs, constantly rolling down new paths in need of snow removal. These snowballs roll and grow at risk taking rates and tend to collect other flakey friends as they voyage into the unknown scenery of innovation.

Whichever snowflake you are, and maybe you’ve become a hodgepodge of these three, you are unique and the gifts you bring to your students are unique as well. No classroom I enter is ever the same. The model may look similar, but the instruction, the delivery, and the activities vary and create a wonderland of wondering thought and lifelong learning for the students who enter each new igloo of learning.

Aside from feeling inspired by the frosty temps outside, I am advocating for the idea of peer observation and reflection (not evaluation). As educators we tend to get stuck in our classrooms, passing each other blindly in a flurry of grading, paperwork, copies to be run, copiers to be unjammed, and meetings to attend. We may not even see colleagues on the other side of the building with the exception of whole building meetings.

We need to make time to learn from one another. Educators should be each others biggest fans. How can that happen if our paths don’t ever purposely cross? I feel strongly that peer observation is a great process for educators and should be built in to professional development. After all, growth isn’t possible if we never explore the unknown. If we only stick to the tricks that we know; we fall behind. Expressing a desire to view other educators as they practice their craft, isn’t admitting you’re lacking. It’s embracing the possibility of exploring and finding a gem you can take back to your learners. After all, #kidsdeserveit!

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Computer Science Crisis

“Computer Science is a liberal art: it’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have a mastery of to some extent.” -Steve Jobs

Knowing that virtually everything we interact with today is effected or run by technology, there is little doubt that today’s students should be learning how to use computers. However, are we preparing our students for tomorrow’s jobs if we don’t offer them exposure to computer science? Learning how computers work, analyzing their favorite new video games and apps for trends in coding, and writing their own code will definitely help students become better problem solvers and promote the importance of computer science in our current and future workforce.

There are currently 517,393 open computing jobs nationwide.Last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce. –Code.org

This month, December 5-11, is the annual week of code. I highly recommend you explore Code.org and sign your classes up for an hour of code. This event takes place during computer science week each year to honor Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a computer science pioneer (December 9, 1906).

Signing up your students is as simple as filling out an online form and then giving your students an hour throughout the assigned window to complete coding challenges in a wide variety of age, ability, and highly engaging activities!

Nervous about your lack of coding expertise? Don’t be! Dive right in. Make it a competition to see which students can get through the most activities.  Get your students psyched about coding by participating in a skype lesson before they code. Try Technocamps; Computer Science 101.

I highly recommend sitting down and playing some of the Hour of Code modules on your own. Caution: They are highly addictive and can pull you into a time lapse tunnel.

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