The Day I Decided to Teach #youredustory

This week, Dallas-Fort Worth saw some cold, icy, snowy weather. Of course, it was an important week for my students, the kind of week's lessons that bring together a lot of hard work. That didn't happen with all the snow days, but the opportunity to try next week is why I get to school as soon as possible every morning.

This week's #YourEduStory Challenge is: What was the defining moment you decided to become a teacher?

I called my friend Dallas to tell him that I was transferring from the college of music to education where I would finish my master's degree. I can still remember where I was standing and what I was looking at when he said it.

"You sound like this is a bad thing, like you're a failure," he said. "If you called me to say you're giving up and driving a garbage truck, I would say that's a terrible idea. You're just taking a turn in life. Go for it."

Although driving a truck is an important profession, it wasn't even close to the goals I set out to accomplish. At the end of the day, my choice to teach high school instead of college was not far off from my dream to work with people and new information everyday. Actually, it worked out great.


7 Social Media Activities with TodaysMeet

Not every kid wants to make a Twitter account, but they can still learn about responsible use and the power of social media. Since my first post about TodaysMeet activity ideas was so popular, I thought it was time for an update on what my students have been doing.  

1. Tweet as a Historical Figure

After a jigsaw for Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller, students wrote Tweets with mentions and hashtags on a TodaysMeet. We projected it on he screen to discuss the historical relevance of the Tweets and connections.

2. Live Tweet an Event

Every year there's an event that the students can follow and use as subject for commentary. Whether it's an election, natural disaster, or new legislation, the students can discuss the developments for a few minutes each class or once a week and Tweet what they think about it. Try stems like "I see ... I think ... " for more structure. 

3. Two-Minute Tweet 

Read and Tweet every two minutes about what you are learning. This works well for jig saws and helps train students to take advantage of back channeling. 

For listening and open discussion activities, I use a timer that lets us know when it's time for a Tweet. This keeps my airtime in check and allows students the time to write and read other Tweets. Realistically, they write once every seven to ten minutes. 

4. Have a Twitter Conversation 

This one works well for homework. Use a hashtag to organize a conversation over topics that relate to your students' lives. This is more difficult to do without excluding students who don't have a Twitter account and don't want one. If that's the case, use TodaysMeet. Students don't need to make an account or expose their full identity to the Internet. 

5. Connect with Other Classrooms

The connected classroom of the 21st Century takes the opportunity to learn and share with classrooms in other states and countries. Perhaps you've thought about doing video conferences but don't know where to start. Schedule a video chat with a teacher in your Twitter PLN, and choose an easy topic to break the ice. 

This could lead to several classes beyond your campus participating in a TodaysMeet discussion or Twitter chat, which will expand your students' concept of learning communities. 

6. Current Events

TodaysMeet is a great place to keep a log of current events. Students can summarize the issue and include a short link to the article or resource. The stream can be embedded in a blog or site for easy access, and a PDF transcript can be made to keep the log long after the room closes. 

7. Scavenger Hunt

Post clues in key areas of your school. Write the clue so students can connect concepts and themes with examples from the content and things they see on a regular basis. Once at the checkpoint, the students receive a list of related things to Tweet on TodaysMeet. This will require them to check which items have been posted before they choose something (i.e., a link to another class's AP World History site). Use QR codes to make it more interactive.  

The example below is for a world story class. The first clue takes them to the the first checkpoint in the list. Each group of three students receives a different order so they can spread out. Students can respond on TodaysMeet so other students can find answers to the clues quicker.     

Clue 1: If we had to carry pennies, we'd spend more than money paying our bills. 

  • Song Dynasty's use of paper money -- purchasing desk
  • Silk Road -- store
  • Capital city -- outside principal's office 
  • Reception is the Mongol Checkpoints 
  • Art rooms are China porcelain
  • Agg shop -- camel saddle
  • Guidance counselors are -- Ibn Battuta
  • Connector hall is the crossroads of trade Constantinople. 
  • Chinese porcelain -- art room 
Building a Sense of Audience

With 140 characters or less, students have to choose their words well as they share their ideas with a worldwide audience. It's important that they get this opportunity because it will train them to think about what they say and how they say it. This practice could mean the difference between responsible social media content that will help them land a job, or not.

5 Digital Tools for Inquiry-Based Learning

Technology will not replace teaching. But teachers who use technology can learn more about their students in a shorter period of time than teachers who don't. 

As more classrooms begin to use digital technology, the focus will shift from fun iPad apps to tools that collect, organize, and disseminate information in ways that support learning. 

This is a list of tools that I've used for inquiry-based learning activities. They don't look fancy, but they help me manage responses from all students and present the results for class discussion or cooperative activities.  

1. Poll Everywhere

If you're presenting at a conference or your class is BYOD, this tool provides the versatility you'll need to ensure that everyone can participate. There is a small cost per year, but it's worth it to have multiple response and presentation options. 

I use it to collect thought process questions from my students. It's nice because users can submit via simple message on a smart or dumb phone. For inquiry-based learning, it provides anonymity while responding and a spread sheet of all responses to be analyzed by students on an app like Google Sheets.   

This link is to a post that details how I use Poll Everywhere and Google Sheets as an introductory activity.

2. Google Forms

Like Poll Everywhere, Forms provides anonymity and spreadsheet sharing. These options are crucial for inquiry-based learning because learners are not impeded by feeling exposed and judged as they write the questions that come to mind. 

It works well on computers and Chromebooks. Phones and tablets are often okay, but Forms can be troublesome on mobile devices, especially for teachers and students who are less tech savvy.

3. Verso App

If you want to unlock powerful thinking from all of your students, this is the tool to use. I love using it with Chromebooks, smartphones, laptops, desktops, or tablets. The best part is the way it collects responses anonymously and makes them available to students for commentary.

This is the only app on the list that is classified as a complete learning management system. Although not in the traditional sense, it takes students from content to progress report with student-centered learning in between.

For the commentary task, I encourage students to identify the questions that the responses raise. This helps students find the gaps in the argument for the purpose of bridging them by sharing ideas.

4. Padlet 

Formerly Wallwisher, Padlet is useful for sharing links to student work and collecting quick responses when anonymity is not necessary. I like the ability to make the background an image that can become littered with questions from students regarding the content.

The ability to customize the URL, embed the wall into a blog or site, and make copies of the wall lends to this tool's versatility when it comes to making and sharing.

5. TodaysMeet 

This web app works consistently because it is so simple. You can use it on any smart phone, computer, or tablet and your Google account will work for sign in. 

I use it to support class discussions when anonymity is not important. There are not limits to responses, like Poll Everywhere, and you can download a transcript, embed the stream into a site, or share a short link or QR code. 

Sometimes inquiry-based learning requires students to read their peer's questions to ask new questions that clarify or connect one to another. The transparency, in this case, facilitates team-building as the question-answer relationships are uncovered and used to further the discussion and collective knowledge.

BONUS: Remind

I know that this is a messaging tool. But what if you used it to pose questions to engage students in the inquiry process when they're not at school? My students were excited when I promised to use Remind for homework. They even showed interest in downloading the app to use the feedback stamps to indicate where they are in terms of understanding the question. 

I Question, Therefore I Teach #YourEduStory

When I was a little boy, I was my mother's buddy. I asked her questions, and she told me stories. Whether or not the stories were true never mattered because they were always plausible. This experience taught me two things. (1) We can find answers if we try hard enough; and, (2) When you ask questions, you can learn anything.

My mother gave me an audience for what I had to say. I'm not sure that finding the right answers was significant. The fact that someone so important to me was there to listen and respond has allowed me to become a confident thinker who can come up with patterns in information when they are not explicit.

Why I Teach

I teach because I love people and learning. My ultimate goal is to pass on my confidence for thinking and seeking to my students. I do this by building relationships with my students so that they not only have someone to hear their ideas, but they have someone who cares about what they have to say.

Questions vs. Answers

It's more important to me that kids know which questions to ask and where to look for the answers than to be able to recall all the facts on a state-mandated test. Besides, Google has the answers.

Our kids need to know what to ask in order to know what to find. They need to know what to ask of what they found in order to recognize if it's what they are looking for. This way of teaching helps students critically analyze questions, documents, and problems. State test or not, they rock!

Why I Still Teach

Since I started teaching, my mission has changed. I've learned and practiced strategies that have changed why I teach, or at least why I continue to do it. It was once about my students getting good grades. Now, it's about reading critically and communicating ideas that they formulate into an argument. 

Lastly, I still teach because my students teach me.   

Connected Learning #YourEduStory

#YourEduStory topic: What is connected learning and WIIFM?

Connected learning is using digital technology to tailor teaching to the needs of individuals. With all of the tools we have to collect assessment results immediately, we can now support students according to their specific needs. 


In my classroom, we use Quizlet, Plickers, and Google Forms to do formative and summative assessments. These tools allow students and teachers to connect in terms of achievement and feedback. 

We also use Google Classroom, YouTube, and Blogger to communicate. These tools provide a place for comments, which can be a powerful forum for reflecting on learning. 

Building Relationships 

Leveraging the technology effectively, however, cannot be done with fancy information processing, alone. We still have to talk to people. Listen to students, and let them tell you stories that develop a context for using the digital tool.

This week, we have teachers visiting our campus for the Fulbright Korean Teacher Exchange. My role as a mentor is to meet with them once or more a day to reflect on what they've observed and what they've learned. I was engaged by the slide show of pictures and fluent, descriptive commentary one teacher provided.

I told her that her stories were something that people want to hear, which is when I recommended blogging. She stopped by my room at the end of the day, and we set up her account. Immediately, she began getting organized to share photos and what she learned from visiting one of our ESL classrooms.

What is Connected Learning?

That's what is means to be connected. It means building relationships through common bonds, whether goals or needs. It means having conversations that inspire people who can in turn inspire you and a worldwide audience.

What's in it for me? Information. Learning. People.

100 Words to Define Learning #youredustory

Learning starts with observations. Whether we see, hear, feel, touch, or smell, it requires information as substance for making connections, predictions, and conversation.

We learn best when we connect new information to old. This process requires questioning the value of our perceptions and synthesizing them into our point of view, which is also up for reworking.   

Interpreting other points of view is also essential because being social is a critical aspect of how we learn. Our needy infant selves are only successful if we master working with others. It is this ability to cooperate that will ultimately determine our fate.