Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tech Tool: Story Starters

English teachers, this one is for you. Check out the Story Starters tool on

I was visiting a student teacher yesterday and she was starting a new unit on creative writing with her 6th graders. She had a variety of tools to help them generate ideas for stories, but this one was probably the class's favorite.

A screengrab from

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


There are moments when I feel that my vocation as an educator is way, way too big for me. There are moments where I feel so ineffectual and small that I don't have what it takes. There are moments that the classroom feels oppressive and the students feel strange and distant and the marking feels insurmountable and I feel inadequate.

There are moments when I am overwhelmed.

But, thanks be to God, it isn't all about me.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Christian Education: Simple Truth


18 years ago I was a freshman in college and my roommate introduced me to a little-known Canadian band called Hokus Pick Manouver. These guys are Christians, and they don't really pull any punches, but they also don't take themselves too seriously. The have a silly song called "Simple Song" on their album Pick It Up. Here, give it a listen...

For those of us in Christian education, I think this is something we need to think about, and talk about.

How shall we profess the Truth to our students?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The 5 E's Learning Cycle: An Inquiring Methodology

In Science Methods today we were talking about teaching via inquiry. This is a topic we've dealt with before, but it's one that students who haven't experienced inquiry-infused science classes before really struggle with. And to be honest, that's most of my students.

So I'm trying to find ways of making it as tangible for them as possible. We do a lot of science together, which helps them to picture it. Today, I wanted to clearly explain some of my thinking behind the way I've structured the activities we've done lately. So I explained that I have been using a methodology termed the Learning Cycle, which is sometimes referred to as the "5 E's." The HaikuDeck below was a key part of our discussion today:

This isn't the only way to teach science, of course. But I've put it into practice myself as a middle school science teacher, and it really does work well as a way of coaching students into doing science, rather than just learning about science.

I find the following ideas crucial for this methodology (which might also determine the success or failure of a teacher's use of this approach):

  1. Don't minimize the importance of the "Engage" movement. Students need to have some sort of hook to get them primed, asking questions, thinking, and ready to learn. Discrepant events are great for this, but there are other great ways to get students engaged. Children's literature and storytelling are also fantastic hooks.
  2. When investigating in the "Explore" movement, do make sure the activity is both hands-on and "minds-on." I've found it works best if this investigation is not a cookbook-style activity (do this, do that, bake at 350°, and you get a chocolate cate), but rather a more open-ended investigation that prompts further questions and pushes students to have to figure things out and make inferences based on what they observe.
  3. In the "Explain" movement, it is SO tempting for you as teacher to be the "Explainer." Fight this urge; this movement works best if the students do most of the talking. They should be the ones explaining their thinking. That doesn't mean you won't be an active participant as well, however; this is a key place to guide the discussion and try to probe for misconceptions, and prompt alternative lines of thinking that will lead to more scientific understanding.
  4. Don't skip the "Elaborate" movement! This is an extremely important part--having the students put the pieces together and demonstrate their new understandings. Whether that be another hands-on investigation (preferably student-designed!), or a research project, or some sort of creative response, this movement is where the new understandings are consolidated and made explicit.
  5. Finally, while the "Evaluate" movement has an air of finality to it, recognize that this cycle is a cycle--the students' elaborating work might prompt further questions, that might be the kickstart of an "Engage" movement for another learning cycle. Evaluating students work need not be an end of learning. Also, the final assessment of a particular learning cycle should not be the only assessment that takes place; ideally, ongoing formative assessment will be part of every movement!
One final note: while we were talking about this specifically as a methodology for teaching science in elementary and middle school, this approach would transfer well to most any subject area and to any grade level. I hope you'll consider giving it a try, and sharing your experiences with putting the 5 E's into practice in your own classroom.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Are You Creative?

I've been supervising student teachers this semester, which is one of the best parts of my job as a teacher educator. There are various aspects to this role, including coaching, encouraging, providing ideas and resources, and...of course...evaluation. One part of the multifaceted evaluation I do for each student teacher is to complete a form reflecting on their "dispositions for teaching"--how well do they exhibit the qualities and attitudes our department has identified as crucial for excellent teaching: professionalism, flexibility, resilience, cultural sensitivity, reflectiveness, and the like.

Among the dispositions we look for is creativity.

Via Patrick Johanneson
It seems to me that this is one of the dispositions student teachers most struggle with--for a variety of reasons. Some struggle with the pacing guides imposed upon them, feeling that these squash any creative ideas they might have for teaching. (They have to keep on pace with the other sections of 3rd grade, etc.) Others struggle with the content they have to teach, feeling like it's challenging enough for them--let along their students!--that it's better to just "tell 'em" than try to do anything creative in conveying the content. Others struggle with their philosophies of education, feeling that there may be a mismatch between their ideas of teaching and those of their cooperating teacher. And some simply struggle, feeling that they are "just not creative."

I try to be empathetic with them in any of these cases, but the last one I mentioned above is the most challenging for me to work with. Because I believe that everyone is creative!

I believe that we are created to create! And I have a feeling we often misconstrue being "creative" with being "artistic." But maybe I'm wrong about this. Just what is creativity anyway? Can we develop creativity? Or is it some inborn quality? I'm hoping to gain further clarity on this, so I post this question to you:

Are you creative? 

 The HaikuDeck below gets at some of my thinking about this. I'd love to hear your response.

Monday, March 18, 2013

School and Life

I saw this online today, and it got me...

Tried to find a source for this one. Found it here, herehere, and here.
I wish people would make it easier to give proper credit for great images.
With thanks to @delta_dc for sharing it via Twitter.

What do you think?


Or Fiction?

Please comment to share your reaction!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Einstein: Advice for Teachers

Via krisolin (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There are countless of quotes floated about attributed to Albert Einstein. I'm sure many of them--probably most of them--are authentic. Some are probably not. To his credit, he did have a lot of good stuff to say about a great many topics beyond physics. I think the above is a good example, and a worthy admonishment for all educators. 

Of course teachers need to have solid pedagogical knowledge (how to teach.) But they also have to have solid content knowledge (what to teach.) And if teachers can't explain things simply, maybe it's because they don't actually understand it well enough themselves.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Technological Realities in School

via Wikimedia Commons
I saw this lexicon of Educational Technology terminology online last week--it's a really good summary of 20 key terms that educators should know related to the EdTech realm.

It got me thinking (again) about the technological realities currently present in schools.

I'm busy supervising many student teachers this semester, which I love. It's great to observe their growth and development as faithful, dedicated professionals. For the most part they are doing really, really good work.

What I find interesting is that several of them are teaching in 1:1 schools. (Check the lexicon above...) This has some pretty profound influence on the way they are teaching--and none of them are graduates of 1:1 programs themselves, which makes it all the more interesting for me to observe how the available technology affect their teaching. They are struggling with managing the realities of how all that technology in the classroom really does impact what is learned, and also how it is learned.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Great Mind-Mapping Tool

Are you having your students map out complex ideas? Need a way to help them visualize their thinking? Create their own concepts webs? Check out Text2MindMap for a fantastic, simple, and elegant solution.

Check out

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Brilliant and the Obvious

Do you ever talk with colleagues or friends and feel like they are so profound and brilliant that you feel like a slobbering fool beside them? Maybe I'll just confess it: sometimes I wish I had brilliant ideas, because a lot of my ideas just don't seem that profound. A lot of my ideas seem...obvious.

If you've ever felt that way (or even if you haven't), please take two minutes to watch this clip... (thanks to @gcouros for sharing.)

Interesting idea raised here, isn't it?

Maybe you do have brilliant ideas. They just don't seem brilliant to you, because they're your thoughts.

What difference does this make for you?

Do you feel creative? Do you think of your work as brilliant? Innovative? Interesting? Outside-the-box?

Maybe others do, or would if you'd share your ideas. Something to think about...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ask a Stupid Question...

Teachers like to say things like "there's no such thing as a dumb question."

That is false.

There are dumb questions. And sometimes we teachers ask the dumbest ones of all.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Created to Create

My twitterfriend, Wesley Fryer (@wfryer) tweeted a great image tonight: "I WAS CREATED TO CREATE."

I've been thinking a lot about creativity and giftedness and the uniqueness of students and teachers and how that all holds together. Or maybe, how it ought to hold together. If I say that I believe all of my students are uniquely talented individuals, that should show up in my teaching practice, right? This is something I continue to work on in my own teaching practice.

I've blogged some of my thoughts on this before. But this graphic captured the idea so well: created to create. That sums up much of what I believe to be true about the nature of students.

That should make a difference for the way we organize our classrooms, right fellow educators? What opportunities do we give our students to practice their creativity and continue to develop their gifts?

After all, "creating" is the top of Bloom's Taxonomy... Something worth thinking about!

By Xristina la  [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, March 4, 2013

Twitter Chats for Personal PD

I've posted before about how Twitter has become one of my most valuable sources of personal professional development as an educator, but I didn't make a big deal about Twitter chats there. In the past couple of weeks I've been involved in several structured (maybe semi-structured is a better phrase) Twitter chats related to education.

Twitter chats are organized around a #hashtag so you can track the conversation. It might seem awkward to horn in on someone else's conversation. Of course it's okay to just lurk on a chat--sort of like eavesdropping at a party--but the chats I've been part of welcome new voices, so don't be afraid to jump in there! To join the conversation, you just have to tweet and include the #hashtag for that chat. Usually someone will respond to your question or comment within seconds!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Haiku Deck: The Anti-PowerPoint

Check out
I've been seeing a lot online about Haiku Deck lately. In a nutshell, it's a free, web-based PowerPoint alternative. Part of me said, "Well, whoopie-ding...another PowerPoint alternative."

And then I tried it out.


This is more than just a PowerPoint alternative. It's a different way of thinking about presentations: tell your story, and make it beautiful.

The biggest immediate difference is the focus on images instead of bullet points. This might sound crazy, but hear me out. I think one of the biggest problems with PowerPoint and related ilk (Keynote, Open Office, GoogleDocs Presentations, and even Prezi) is that there is almost always too much text. And often way too much text.

Here we are, using a supposedly visual aid--visual aid--and then all we do is add lots of text.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Here We Are Now...Hold Us Together

I’ll be the first to admit that my tastes in music are…eclectic. When I’m out for a long bike ride with my iPod, I usually choose a particular playlist or album, but occasionally I’ll just set it on shuffle and see what comes up next. Because of the variety of stuff I have loaded on there, this sometimes leads to jarring juxtapositions, like worship music by Chris Tomlin followed by the silly social commentary of They Might Be Giants, or the rocketing classical piano of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” as a prelude to Guns N’ Roses hair metal ode to hedonism, “Welcome to the Jungle.” (Ah, the 80’s…)

Occasionally, however, one of these odd pairings really causes me to pause. With my iPod on shuffle during a recent bike-hike, I had an interesting one: Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” followed by Matt Maher’s “Hold Us Together.” If you know both of these songs, you probably won’t see an immediate connection, but I’d like to share two stories that link these songs together in my mind, and share a few of my reflections on how they affect my thinking about our work as teachers.