Bettering Myself: My Summer Goals

“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
By Ignacio Estrada


This is my first summer that I am a 12 month employee so I technically don’t get a ‘summer break’ but I still think it is important to make summer goals. These are my top things I will do this summer.

1. Attend an educational conference to better my practice! I am attending Edulum’s Educational Conference. For my readers that are in NC/SC this conference is at UNCC on Aug 2nd 8:30-3:00 for only $30.00! There are presenters from all levels from K-12 and from different parts of the Carolinas. The conference theme is Engage, Enrich and Empower. The tickets are selling fast because it is so cheap. For more info or to purchase your tickets click here.

2. Complete at least one Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)! To decide what MOOC course best meets your professional development needs check out this MOOC list. I am going to learn to code better by using Codecademy.

3. Read! I read often alternating educational books with what I call my ‘fun’ reads. For my educational read I want to read Drive by Daniel Pink. For my fun read I want to read the sequel to Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah, Fly Away. I like keeping track of my books on and my goal is to read a book a week!

4. Write an article or a quest blog post or both! I have been asked to write articles and quest blog posts but the timing has not always worked out. This summer I want to either write an article or quest blog post to help challenge myself as an educational reflector.

5. Work on balancing work and life. As I stated before, I am working all summer. My goal is to work within my summer schedule of 10 hour days- 4 days a week. This means no work at night during the week, nothing on Fridays or the weekend.

6. Personal goals! Just as it is important to have educational goals, it is important to have personal goals too. I will paint our bedroom and finish the makeover I started over winter break! I will clean our spare bedroom that has become a dumping ground. I will work-out at least 5 days a week.

Of course I will still blog once a week and share what I am learning. I would love to hear you personal/professional goals. Good luck in your efforts to set and reach these goals.

Discovery Education: Changing the Classroom with Techbooks

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these is roots; the other wings.” by Hodding Carter

Discovery Education has been a wonderful tool in my classroom and in our district. A few days ago, Discovery Education announced at the NSTA conference, that any teacher in the country may have free access to their Techbook from now until the end of June.  This is exciting for many reasons! Techbooks are going to change the classroom and offer students more interaction then just a regular textbook. Another great reason to start this free trail even though it is towards the end of the school year because it is a great way to review for the end of year tests your state has without teaching to the test.

This is the link for the DE Techbook free trial. It is very easy and DE helps you walk through the steps. Once you begin your free trial there is a 4 min video tour before you begin your exploration.

Great Features of the DE Techbook for the Teacher: 

– Curriculum correlates with State Science Standards (Ex: NC 2.L.1.1 – Summarize the life cycle of animals)

– 5E plan with essential questions with built-in prep and big ideas (To learn more about 5E see previous blog post)

– Lessons are broken down into time segments to give you, as the teacher, a rough idea about how long that portion of the lesson should take

– Easy navigations and can add lessons into ‘My Content’ to stay organized

– Offers Hands On Activities suggestions with directions

Great Features of the DE Techbook for the Student:

– The students can highlight and take notes and interact with the text

– You have the option of having the techbook be read to you

– Embedded videos and interactive glossary for the students use.

I highly suggest you check out this free trial from DE. They also offer Free Webinars to ‘dive deeper’ into how to use Techbook in the classroom. They also offer Quick-Start guides, that you can download for the Techbook you want to explore more. I hope you enjoy DE’s Techbook as much as I do!

* I am also excited to learn more about DE’s ideas when I attend Discover Educator Network Summer Institute (#DENSI13) this summer in Vermont.

Web Tools for Shift 6 – Academic Vocabulary of the Common Core

“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.” Evelyn Waugh


In the Common Core  State Standards (CCSS)- Literacy there are six instructional shifts that are needed to effectively implement the CCSS. In this post I am going to focus on shift 6.

We can use web tools seamlessly with shift 6 to build academic vocabulary. It is important to remember even if we teach math, science, physical education; vocabulary is crucial in learning. The shift 6 – Academic Vocabulary tiers are:

Tier 1: Words we use every day such as chair.

Tier 2: Words that frequently appear across all domains and have shades of meaning such as relieved.

Tier 3: Words that have a specific domain such as photosynthesis- domain: science.

The web tools I highlight can be used in any subject and within each tier.

1. VisualThesaurus is a free mind mapping vocabulary tool that takes one vocabulary word and branches out related words visually. The students can see the different parts of speech and these are color coded. If the student spells a word wrong they offer suggestions helping the student learn the vocabulary. You can have students make their own individualized tier 2 and 3 vocabulary lists to help differentiate. You can also search for word lists, such as this general academic vocabulary.

2. Make Beliefs Comix is a free comic strip maker that allows you too create simple free comics strips. Having the students show master of a vocabulary makes the students critically think, create and communicate their knowledge. Giving them a vocabulary word such as ‘absurd’ and having them demonstrate though making a comic. You can assess mastery without a paper and pencil vocabulary test.

3. Sketch Odopod is a free web tool that you can have the students draw out their vocabulary knowledge. Having the students represent a non-linguistic approach. You don’t need to have an account unless you want to save the pictures. Here is one done on the elements of fiction and on the water cycle.

Ninjawords is a fast dictionary students told me about the other day….they love it because it gives them the definition fast. (It is an iPhone app as well)

Want to learn three more web tools for shift 6 you can use in your classroom check out this blog post, 3 Digital Tools For Common Core Academic Vocabulary by Susan Oxnevad

Please share other ways you are teaching shift 6 in your classroom so we can learn and grow together!

Introspective of ‘A Whole New Mind’ By Daniel Pink

“Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”  ~Edmund Burke


This week I finished the book A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink (@danielpink). It was an amazing ‘read’ (I did it as an audiobook) and one that made me look at things in a new way. I highly recommend this book to anyone but especially educators as it takes a look at our students as 21st Century learners.

Daniel Pink says, “We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathetic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age” (1-2)

Pink states that there are six fundamental right-brain aptitudes and I have added some of my own thoughts as well for how to apply them to the classroom:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.  He discusses how improving school environments could increase test scores. If you think about it, where would you rather work/learn? At a desk and chair with pencil and paper or in a relaxed environment on a comfy couch or chair with your device. We need to get teachers comfortable in changing the environment so it is not as structured, no more rows or assigned seats. (To learn more about what I think the classroom environment should look like, check out my previous post: 21st Century Classroom Environment)
  • Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument. What do you remember about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster? I remember the story of the first teacher going to space, not the facts about the disaster. With students, connecting facts/events to story will help them not ‘memorize’ but think deeper about the events. This can easily be done in the classroom with digital storytelling.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus). This works well in the classroom with goal setting. Having students looking at the bigger picture is a great way for them not to work about just one grade but how they master a concept over time. Having symphony in the classroom allows students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers because you are looking for solutions for problems. Similar to Challenge Based Learning (CBL) style. 
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition. In the classroom this is helping students having a global perspective and aware of people outside of themselves. This is part of the ‘hidden curriculum’ and part of building well-rounded students. Having students participate in community service events and getting them involved with emotions. In my classroom, I would engage the students in a few videos about the hunger problems in our world to make them aware. I then posed the question, how can we help? The students brainstormed ideas of ways that we could help and then we took it a step further and carried out those ideas for example we held a food drive. I always tied in the curriculum by having the students create persuasive ads to entice others to want to donate and I had them collect data on what items we had then graph the results.
  • Play – Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products. Pink discusses how we should blur the link between work and play. I don’t consider my job ‘work’ as I enjoy it, I can ‘work’ for hours on school stuff and not even realize how much time has gone by because I love it. To me, work is going to the gym, where I watch the clock and think, is this over yet? I am ‘doing it’, because I know it is good for me and I should, but I am not enjoying going to the gym. We need to do the same in schools. We need to make the classroom environment be a place where students ‘get lost in learning’ and not be looking at the clock thinking is it over yet. Pink discusses how game based learning (GBL) in the classroom can help students with this concept. Check our this site for more about GBL and A Whole New Mind
  • Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself. In the classroom, we need to teach concepts that are related to the real world so students see the connection.

I think this would be a wonderful book study for schools or personal learning networks (PLN). Mr. Pink even provides you with discussion questions for this book and I found a Livebinder full of resources that would also guide your school/PLN to effectively use this for Professional Development by Julie Hart & Jill Rubinstein, from University of Colorado Denver.

I know I do not do this book justice but hopefully I have enticed you enough to read it. I would love to hear what others think of A Whole New Mind and I can’t wait to read more of his books. Next up, Drive! Happy Reading!

What I Learned from ASCD from My Couch

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” Maya Angelou

I unfortunately could not attend ASCD 2013 this year but because of Twitter, it was like I was there! I learned a lot and still walked away with some great resources, right from my couch! Below I share the things I learned. There are a lot of embedded links so don’t miss out!

1. Maya Angelou speech was inspiring even though I couldn’t hear it. There were many tweets quoting here and this poem is one she recited.

2. Fisher and Frey’s – YouTube Channel has great resources

3. Engaged Learning and Teaching with Technology by Meg Ormiston had great insights and it was like I was there with Nicholas Provenzano (@thenerdyteachers) notes.

4. Great Common Core resource site shared by Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal called Wiki-Teachers. the site has all of the standards unwrapped with lesson plans, videos and assessments. 

5. Link shared by @WholeChildADV Andy Hargreaves and Pasi Sahlberg: Where are We Going and Why? — Whole Child Education

6. 10 Ways to Spice Up Faculty Meetings  by @bcurrie5

7. Leading Technology Integration on Campus: Livebinder of Resources

8. A great chart on managing complex change Tweeted by @RemynesES

9. “If you really want to do something you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”  Jim Rohn Tweeted by @lindapemik

10. ASCD report 1 and report 2 along with blog post about Edcamp invasion of ASCD from

Even though I could not attend ASCD13, I was still able to learn a lot because of Twitter. Next year, hopefully I will be there and sharing resources for others who couldn’t make it.

Skills a Great Leader Should Possess

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” By Jack Welch

This past week my favorite Principal, Raymond Giovanelli (@rjgiovanelli), is embarking on a new adventure by opening a new school, something he has not done before. At his ‘farewell party’ it really got me thinking about what skills a great leader requires, he has made me a better educator (more that he knows) and this blog post is dedicated to him. Mr. G contains all of the below skills and are skills a great leader should possess.

1. They have goals and they share their goals with others.

2. They are positive and happy.

3. They have passion for what they are doing.

4. They exhibit all the best character traits.

  • Respect: Show high regard for everyone
  • Responsibility: Shows this for themselves, school and community.
  • Honesty: Be truthful (actions speak, louder then words)
  • Caring: Takes care of staff and students while bring understanding and compassionate.
  • Justice and Fairness: Shows unbiased treatment for everyone
  • Citizenship: Involves the community around the school
  • Courage: Know that it is okay to fail and try new things.
  • Perseverance: With no raises and budget cuts-you stick to what matters the students
  • Hope: Believe in yourself and everyone around you.

5. They celebrate others accomplishments and don’t compare themselves to others.

6. They collaborate with others through Personal Learning Networks- PLN’s.

7. They leverage peoples strengths but also push them to grow.

8. They know when to listen and when to support.

9. They prioritize and manage time wisely.

10. They know how to delegate but share their decision making with others.

11. They find balance between work and home.

12. They are forward thinkers, innovators and think of solutions, not problems.

Thank you for everything you have done and I know will continue to do for your staff and students. You are a great leader!

You can read my past blog post on ‘Why We Need More Principals’ like him here.


Preventing Social Loafing in the Classroom

“Unity is strength… when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” by Mattie Stepanek


Many times in the classroom when a group of students are collaborating on a project, we see one or maybe two students not pulling their weight or working to their potential. This is called, Social loafing. Social loafing is the tendency to reduce individual efforts when working in groups compared to the individuals effort expended when working alone (Williams & Karau, 1991). Social loafing can also happen within online groups as well. How can educators prevent social loafing in the classroom? Here are my top 5 ideas on how to prevent it.

1. Create rubrics. Set expectations for the project with a rubric but also include a team work component. Have students evaluate themselves as a group before turning in the project, this allows for individual accountability for the group as well.

2. Create reasonable sized groups. Making sure groups sizes are not too large will help with social loafing. Groups sizes should be between 3-5 members, to see the most productivity.

3. Have the students develop rules for the group. Setting rules at the beginning will help all group members achieve the goal. I would give 5-8 minutes for the students to decide on the rules of the group. This allowed them to take ownership of the group along with teaching them real word skills. If you want, the teacher, can also create the rules and assign the jobs for each group member.

4. Model and teach students how to use accountable talk. Accountable talk refers to the ways that educators precisely encourage their students to think deeply, articulate their reasoning, and listen with purpose. There is a great book called, Comprehension through Conversation that helps give you strategies for you to model and teach students to have these rigorous conversations.

5. Highlight individual and group achievements. Everyone wants to feel accepted and highlighting students strengths and achievements will help show that they are a value to the group. I do this by facilitating around the room and making sure each time I go to a group, I make a comment about a different team members progress.

I would love to know any other ideas on how to prevent social loafing in the classroom. Please share your ideas in the comment section.

5E Cycle Integrates 21st Century Skills

“Many school focus too much on achievement… (they need) to create opportunities for young people develop their learning muscles and their learning stamina through working on real problems… to reflect on and manage their own learning.” by Guy Claxton

The 5E model was developed by The Biological Science Curriculum Study (BSCS). The 5Es represent the five stages of a sequence for teaching and learning: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaboration and Evaluate. The 5E model easily incorporates all 21st century skills (4c’s- create, critically think, communicate and collaborate) along with technology.

Engage is where the objective/task is introduced but also allows you to pre-assess. The goal is to spark the learners interest and get them involved. Using technology you can do this many ways such as creating an iMovie to introduce the topic or have the students watch a clip of  a You Tube Video about the new topic you are going to study. I also like using a mind-mapping tool such as Popplet to get the students to start thinking about a topic and telling me what they already know so I can build upon their knowledge.  

Explore is where the learners should take part in activities that allow them to work with materials that give them a ‘hands on’ experience. Simulations or models whose elements can be manipulated by learners, so that they can build relevant experiences of the topic. The learners should be collaborating, questioning, sharing and communication with other learners. The teacher should be facilitates the process and asking questions to get the students to critically think.

Explain is where the learners analyze the exploration and is encouraged to put observations, questions, hypotheses and experiences from the previous stages into action. Communication and collaboration between learners can spur the process. The teachers might choose to introduce explanations, definitions or mediate discussions. Having students create Pic Collages, iMovies or blogging etc will help seamlessly integrate technology along with having students show what they have learned through creating.

Elaborate/Extend is where the understanding gained in the previous stages by the learners, should be encouraged to build and expand upon the new knowledge. Inferences, deductions, and hypotheses can be applied to similar or real-world situations. Varied examples and applications of concepts learnt strengthen critical thinking and provide further insight and understanding.

Evaluation should be ongoing and should occur at all stages, in order to determine that learning objectives have been met and misconceptions avoided. Any number of rubrics, checklists, interviews, observation or other evaluation tools can be used. If interest in a particular aspect or concept is shown, further inquiry should be encouraged and a new cycle can begin that builds upon the previous one.

PowerPoint – How To Use it in the Classroom So It’s Innovative

“Powerpoint could be the most powerful tool on your computer. But it’s not. Countless innovations fail because their champions use PowerPoint the way Microsoft wants them to, instead of the right way.” Seth Godin

Some people hear the word PowerPoint and cringe but just like all technology, PowerPoint is only a tool. If the tool is used correctly, it can be effective, powerful and transform learning. PowerPoint has gotten a bad rap because it has been used ineffectively so many times for presentations. Incorporating PowerPoints into your classroom as a tool can help promote all 4 c’s (create, communicate, collaboration and critical think) of the 21st century. Here are 3 ways I have used PowerPoint in my classroom to take PowerPoint to the next level.

1. Who remembers ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Books’? They are fun to read but even more fun when the students are creating their own and reading each others. You can easily create choose your own adventure books by using PowerPoint and hyperlink the different slides. Having the students start with a story board to draft their ideas and thoughts before beginning helps the students be more productive when they start the PowerPoint. Creating ‘Choose Your Own Adventure Books’ helps students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop an innovative product. You also can connect multiple Common Core Standards such as W3, W4, W5, W6. Check out this site for more information and examples of Choose Your Own Adventure.

2. You can use PowerPoint software so students can create multimedia projects on any subject matter.  You can have the students take their PowerPoint and share them with the world by embedding them into blogs or wikis. Students can create ebooks by using a site called flipsnack. Having students create a non-fictional book using PowerPoint, demonstrates mastery of a concept and is a great way to informally or formally accesses a student without paper and pencil. Have the students create an ebook on the rock cycle and turn it into an ebook for the other students. Here is an example on Rhinoceros:

3. Another way  you as an educator can use PowerPoint is by making an interactive quiz using PowerPoint. Create a quiz and have students use it to guide their learning and goals. Take it to the next step and have the students make the quizzes for each other, this way the students are using their 21st century skills while mastering the concept. Check out this video for a how to guide of making interactive quizzes using PP:

I would love to hear other ways teachers are having students use PowerPoints in the classroom. Please share in the comment section.

Flipped Classroom and Common Core Standards

“The focus of flipped teaching is different from other examples in that the technology itself is simply a tool for flexible communication that allows educators to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs and spend more time in the classroom focused on collaboration and higher-order thinking.” Jac de Haan, educator and founder of Technology with Intention

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A year and a half ago I wrote a blog post about flipped classroom for elemntary classrooms and since then a lot has changed.  I think more people are realizing that flipped classroom is not just a buzz word or catch phrase but a shift in the classroom approach while redefining homework. Educators are focusing needs to be on having the students master the content rather than just covering it. The Common Core has helped with the shift, as it is deeper, not wider.  The Flipped Classroom lets you attend to each students individual needs and making differentiate easy. There are a lot of newer sites that can help you do this easily along with connecting the Common Common Core standards already done for you. My two new favorite sites are Ted Ed and Learn Zillion.

The Ted.Ed site offers a structured access of content through subject or series. It allows teachers to “flip” any video on YouTube—including TED-Ed videos, Khan Academy or ones you have created on your own You Tube Channel. With each ‘flipped’ video you can add quizzes, links and other resources to the video. It also progress monitors for you as well. Check it out here and test it for yourself introducing Ted Ed. Other great features are that it is free and if you like a video that has been flipped already but you don’t like some of the questions etc you can customize it to your liking! You can also use the Khan academy site, that has a Common Core Toolkit and match the Common Core standards as well. I also love you can embed this into your wiki, Gaggle assignment, Edmodo or other platforms for your work flow.

Learn Zillion site offers great lessons that are linked to Common Core standards with there Common Core navigator.  You can then download lesson slides and resources that help you teach the lesson, depending on what you need. They have a coach’s commentary that you can listen to, to get expert explanation of the lesson and Common Core State Standards. (This is very helpful when you are still trying to understand these new standards. You can also assign lessons and track student mastery by setting up your class. This site is also free as well!

Flipped Learning Resources:

My Flipped Classroom Wiki

Google Doc by Dan Spencer

TechSmith Flipped Classroom 

Twitter chat #flipclass (Monday @ 8:00)

If you have used another site that allows you to flip your classroom and connect Common Core standards, I would love to learn about it.