Education Needs People, Not Programs

It's hard on my wife and I to nurture our 11-year-old daughter when the way some of her teachers communicate stresses her to tears. It's no wonder why people choose to home school.

But it's not the school. It's not the programs. It's the people, always.

Years of Tears

I wrote about helping my daughter with her personal finance assessment. She did poorly on it because her teacher did poorly facilitating her learning. (Parent Like a PIRATE)

Was there an opportunity to reassess? Yes, and by the time my daughter brought home the assessment marked for "redo" (grading system violation, BTW), we would have been outside the assessment window.

Having been on the teams that wrote the grading system, I know that this constitutes an "extenuating circumstance." But at this point in the year, I would've had to email the teacher, wait three days to hear back, get mad over the nonsense I usually receive, and schedule a meeting with an administrator present. That's a lot of time over something I can teach my daughter really well.

I took a breath and made the best use of our time.

The High Road

As a knowledge seeker, I decided not to chase the points, and I thought I was over it until the STAAR results came in. Wouldn't you know, the area that kept my daughter's scores from being in the upper level was personal finance calculations.

It's annoying that the record says one thing and reality says another. Can my daughter fill out a check registry and calculate it to balance an account? Yes, like a PIRATE! What does the program say? No.

It's People, Not Programs 

The years of tears will not invade our household because my wife and I intend to raise strong individuals who will show the world what they can do.

It won't be my daughter's grades that get her a job in graphic design – her portfolio will tell all. It won't be class rank that gets my son into MIT. It will be the robots he builds and his ability to lead teams to build better ones.

It's people, not programs.

Special thanks to Todd Whitaker for the wisdom. You are an inspiration to so many. Your authentic approach to schooling will impact generations to come.   

10 Digital Tools for Formative Assessments

When it comes to technology for assessment, the options can be overwhelming. Digital tools ... 
  • Work well on different devices, 
  • Specialize in a variety of tasks, and 
  • Vary in difficulty to learn.

I recommend exploring a few and choosing one to try for at least three months. Sometimes trying too many digital tools can take a lot of time. If one doesn't work well for your pedagogical needs, try something else. 

1. Quizlet for Building Background 

Sign up is only one click with a Google account, and students can join their teacher's class. Quizlet tracks progress on each deck, which can be helpful to quickly determine which concepts or terms need more class time. 

I use Quizlet for homework and practice checks to guide lesson planning. The scatter game pictured below is from a deck about causes and effects of the Spanish-American War.

2. Plickers to Check for Understanding 

No batteries. No clunky software. No need to even stay in the classroom. Just laminate the paper response tool and install the app on your mobile device. 

With Plickers, teachers can easily insert selected response items to check for understanding, and kids love the results graph because they can instantly see how they measure up to the class. 

3. Today's Meet for Current Events

Current events is an item on our homework menu, but for the longest time I couldn't figure out a way for students to share links to articles. 

Now, we use Today's Meet because we can access it in one place all year and easily scroll through the submissions while projecting it on the big screen.

4. Remind Stamps and Chat for Homework

How many ways can you use Stamps to collect responses outside of school hours (or during class)? 

My favorite stampable message is to summarize what the lesson was about. Students can stamp with a range from star for "mastered it" to X for "no clue." Teachers can see the student names with the responses and message them accordingly. 

Chat is a total game changer for formative assessment. Students can become contributors. They can send text responses to the teacher, as well as images and links to resources. Teachers can forget about PPT. Let the students show you want the know and can do with the Remind app

5. Poll Everywhere Word Clouds

The strengths of Poll Everywhere are that it receives responses in a variety of ways and allows users to share and present results in several ways, as well. 

My students submit their five vocabulary words that they are least comfortable with, and I present the results in the word cloud format. Starting with the largest words means we work from the most troublesome words first to ensure that our time is spent well. 

6. Google Forms for Reading Guides

When students are taught to ask questions that can guide their learning process, they can create their own meaning, which means they can solve their own problems. 

Google Forms can be used to receive thought process questions based on a prompt that's related to a reading. This makes a great pre-reading activity, and students can access the class's questions to guide them as they read.

7. Verso

If you haven't tried this app, you have to know that it's beyond its time. Either that or everything else is behind.

Verso includes: 

  • A piece of content (text, image, or link to anything, etc.), 
  • Prompt (or provocation), 
  • Place to respond, and 
  • An opportunity to comment on other responses.
The magic of this app is in the anonymity of the responses and comments. Although teachers can see all, students are left to focus on the ideas, which is when we see voices open up – voices that may otherwise feel muffled by their own preconceptions about how their audience may react. 

8. Kahoot!

Kahoot! is just fun. There's no app to download, and users can join on the spot with a code. It's playful to use and quick when it comes to adding images for questions. Play around. You'll get the hang of it!

9. Socrative for Quick Questions and Exit Tickets

This is probably the most complete assessment tool on the list. If you're looking to get started with something that provides a lot of features without being too intimidating to learn, start here!

Socrative allows teachers to ... 
  • Ask a quick question and receive live results, 
  • Make an assessment with a variety of items, 
  • Promote group competition with Space Race, 
  • Group students for review, 
  • Use free response results for discussion, 
  • Protect student identities, and more.

10. Flipgrid 

This tool is about individual video responses and discussion. It's been used in higher education with much success. I like it because I'm a big proponent for students making video responses. 

Short video responses can do a lot for awareness of how we present our ideas. After a few videos for an academic audience, students will increase their communication skills significantly. You'll see it in their participation, writing, and reading comprehension.   

Sure, it takes some guts to make a video of yourself talking and share it with anyone. But I'm convinced that this skill is marketable and that video responses will replace many oral presentations, especially when educators discover the interaction a tool like Flipgrid offers.


Zaption is cool, but sit tight because YouTube will soon figure out how to make content safer for schools and include assessments in the video editing process. It already has polling in beta testing. You can enable it, but, like annotations, it does not work on mobile devices.

In the meantime, try Zaption. It allows you to stop the video and ask a question. The collected responses are formative at its purest – assessment for learning. 

4 Ways to Activate Student Voice

Developing your voice is very personal. It takes practice to find the words that best convey to the world who you are in such a way that establishes your authority and purpose. But this is not without stress, of course.

We fill our heads with preconceptions about our audience's response, and the implications in classrooms can be detrimental. For many kids, teenagers especially, the risk of damaging one's image is not worth openly participating in an academic conversation.
  • They may get it wrong. 
  • They may get laughed at. 
  • They may get it right and still get laughed at.
What if we establish a culture that initially focuses on the ideas, not the person? How would it empower individuals to become more confident while engaging in problem-solving?

I've been using these questions to guide my lesson planning because I want my students to build self-confidence and develop a growth mindset. Ultimately, we want them to solve problems that communities face, but it starts by solving real problems, like building confidence, in peer groups and other social settings.

Here's a handful of activities that's activated student voice in my classroom.

1. The Wall

Last year, I decided that we would focus on writing by mastering each piece one step at a time. This chunking approach led to the creation of the Tack Board and Magnetic Whiteboards (shown below).

The increase of student contributions to the lesson content meant more formative feedback, which became the focus of our discussions. Activities like this infuse assessment and practice into the learning process. They are the epitome of formative assessment.

Click here for further explanation about how we use The Wall.

2. Collaborative Note-Taking

I've seen kids – who won't write a note for themselves – work bell to bell to ensure that they write the best notes possible for their classmates. If that doesn't point to how powerful audience can be, then I don't know what would.

Encourage students to incorporate their own style as long as it is appropriate, includes the crucial information, and doesn't distract from accomplishing academic goals.

Click here for 5 EdTech tools for collaborative notes.

3. Verso App

Verso has figured out how to alleviate issues related to audience anxiety by making responses anonymous while increasing interaction. 

The platform is simple. Students start with a rich content piece and respond to a question (or provocation). They comment on the responses and can also "Like" comments and responses.

The data is reported for individual students and for overall activities (called flips) as shown in the image below. The blue is commentary participation and the green is how many "likes" a user received. I interpret the green as the more beneficial or relevant contributions. It's what the students want to achieve by doing the activity. 

If there's an issue with a response, comment, or a conspicuous amount of "likes" something receives, students can flag for teacher review – anonymously, of course. Someone always points out the dishonesty, especially when I remind them. 

Click here for more about confidence and anonymity with Verso.

4. Self-Assessment and Reflection

Students need the opportunity to express how well they think they are doing. I give my students a standards-based self reflection that they complete after summative assessments. It includes a 1-4 scale and a goal writing expectation. 

When I return their marked papers, they compare their self-reflection to my feedback and write a personal academic goal to focus their improvement in the next unit. 

The Take Away

The more I learn about the importance of student voice and ways to exercise different audiences, the closer my classes get to achieving student ownership of the learning. This is not something that can be done without focusing on ways to make thinking visible, sharing ideas efficiently, and developing growth mind sets.

5 Steps to Make Quizzes with QR Codes

Try separating a teenager from their phone. They text and search to solve a variety of problems. Instead of fighting it, put it to good use.

Here's a way to incorporate QR code readers and practice assessments that will get them up and moving.

1. Make a Quiz in Slides

The benefits of using Slides to make the quiz are in the print options. Slides can be printed one per page for a placard activity that will promote more movement in a lesson.

The other favorite print option is to set two on a page. This places the question and content on one half and the answer choices on the other, which works well when students are seated at tables or desks.

2. Make Two Images for the Responses

I made these two images in Google Drawing. This application is simple to use and provides a variety of file formats.

Download a png file and place it in your Google Drive. This allows you to get a link to turn into a QR. When students scan the code, they'll know whether they chose correctly or not.

To ensure that the link will open, set the link to the png file to "Public on the web" (see image below).

3. QR Code 

You can use whichever code generator you want. Test the QR to make sure your file in Google Drive opens.

I use a Chrome extension that generates a QR. Some of the extensions require you to copy the shared link, paste it into the omnibox (where you type URLs), and generate the QR from the loaded page.

4. Incorporate QR Codes as Response Choices

Remember that you only need two codes – one for each image. I arrange the codes in a four-corner layout because it provides space needed to avoid an unintended scan.

5. Print the Placards 

Print these in color (if you can). We like to post them in the hallway so other classes can get involved. If you have three other teachers in your PLC, that means each can contribute different questions.

I don't use this as a score in the gradebook, but it works well for practice and review.

Tip: Try different QR readers before you make a recommendation to your students or staff. Some of them are trying to make money, while others have slow browsers.

10 Activities with Google Slides

New technologies are changing the way students learn. These days, those old PowerPoints that we've spent so much time on aren't cutting it.

Not to worry. Put your slides to work in new ways. Better yet, have your students do it. Here's some ideas on how to use Google Slides beyond the traditional use.

1. Digital Storytelling 

Take full advantage of the digital medium. Consider embedding the finished product in a website or LMS to provide a flipped learning opportunity for any level. Use clickable images and embed YouTube to bring the story alive in ways that print media cannot. Some teachers use a green screen to enhance the digital storytelling production. Kids love the possibilities.

2. Make a Book

Play around with the print settings and page set up to make a print book. You could also make an eBook with live links by printing to PDF. The example below shows the image and text turned left 90 degrees because the print options are set to include two slides on a portrait orientation.

3. Collaborative notes

Although making notes as a class works well using tables in Docs, sometimes collaborative notes with Slides makes it easier to present (see #9) or turn into a tutorial (see #10).

4. Photo Essay

Visual analysis is a creative and critical literacy. My students love finding images that tell the story of what they learned. I have them add captions and make sure to include a beginning, middle, and end. This is also a good opportunity to practice citing sources.

5. Slideshow on Sites

If you use Google Sites, you can use a gadget to turn a slide presentation into an automatic slideshow without the Slides border.
  1. Make a presentation in slides with a 4:3 aspect ratio. 
  2. Publish the slides to the web and copy the link. 
  3. Insert the gadget (see image below), and follow the directions on Sites.
  4. Make adjustments on Slides and to the gadget for desired look.
6. Study card decks

Whether your students like print cards or digital, making them with Slides provides both options. As with using Slides for collaborative notes, making flash cards can organize content for making any of the items on this list.

7. Placards for Gallery Activities

This activity is all about print options. Students or teachers can make slides for presenting or print them to use as placards for a note-taking or inquiry activity with more movement. I usually post them in the hallway, which works great if other teachers in your PLC want to join.

8. Thank you card templates

The print options allow for a variety of size and orientations to make single-fold thank you cards. I call these templates because they should be finished off with a handwritten message to make it more personal. Printed cards are great for acknowledging achievement.

9. Share Out Group Work

After students get comfortable using Slides collaboratively, like in #3, they can present their completed work to the class. Our class works from a common Google Drive folder to make access an transitions quick and easy.

10. Make a Tutorial 

This activity takes a little bit of practice, but it goes to show the power of doing work with Slides. Download individual slides in png format, and upload the png files to a slideshow in YouTube (second image). If you haven't played around creating in YouTube, this is a great way to start. 

7 Fixes for "Kids Don't Know Tech"

The idea that kids know how to use digital technology because they are digital natives needs to go away as soon as possible. The assumption that texting and online gaming makes kids digital wizards is careless.

Don't take this the wrong way. Kids pick up digital skills pretty fast, but that has more to do with the lack of baggage they bring to most learning situations. All I'm saying is that it's the responsibility of digital immigrants -- the ones who put computers in classrooms -- to explain email, desktop publishing, and how to conduct a productive Google search. 

More than likely, it will be the Oregon Trail Generation that will finish their teaching careers with rosters of digitally literate students in their classrooms. That's if we even have "classrooms."

For now, here's a list of things to consider that just might get us there.

1. Naming Files

Labeling items is an important part of general literacy and a critical step in managing files. We don't always think about it when we start producing a lot of work, but one day a folder of a few files could grow to several hundred.

Keep it simple. Instruct students to name the file based on the assignment title and perhaps the class. Include a last name or initials if you're not using cloud storage like Google Drive, which automatically displays names. 

2. Storing and Sharing

You never know where technology will go next, but it's safe to say that sharing digital work on the Web is only growing

Make sure you don't put more than two levels of folders in your cloud storage. Some say this doesn't matter, but I've managed 150 Google Drive accounts at once. More than two folder levels generates unwanted lag when accessing files linked to websites, blogs, email, or social media.

Use the search tool to find your files that were named properly in the first place (refer back to fix #1).

3. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

Once kids start using computers to produce a lot of their work, they will need a break from the mouse and clicking. Here's a few of the more common shortcuts.

4. Use Google to Search Like a Ninja

Most people don't use the full potential of the Google search engine. Filter your results with the taps at the top, such as "News" or "Images."

Try accessing other countries by using the country code top-level domain. Here's a list of codes to replace ".com." Remember to consider point of view and cultural idioms that may be different in another country. Alan November asks, "What did Iran call the Hostage Crisis?"

Want to read more? Check out "6 Classroom Routines to Search Like a Ninja."

5. Using Apps for Learning

Some apps are great for learning. Remain focused on the outcome and what students will learn by using the app. Avoid being captivated by the novelty. That stuff is important, but not nearly as relevant as the knowledge skills students will be able to apply to other situations, other apps.

I love Google Apps For Education because they allow my students to make their own patterns. This is not to say that other apps don't do this, of course. It's just something to remember as we look around a see people jumping up and down about the shiny new friend they found in the app store.

6. Become Producers

Make stuff. Memes are a kid favorite, but stop using apps that do it for you. They need to learn how to start from scratch.

Kids need to learn how to make their own content and have a lot of control over it. For example, they should take their own photos, format text, and download a file based on the way they intend to incorporate it into a bigger project as rich content.

Check out this post on using Google Drawing versus ThingLink.

7. Practice Marketable Skills

Writing an effective email, desktop publishing, basic website development, and cloud storage are some examples of marketable skills. If you can make videos and manage a YouTube channel, companies may need you to do those things or others like them.

We have to think beyond the content and teach the basics of technology to these digital natives. 

Parent Like a Pirate: Helping with Homework

Parenting an 11-year-old is hard enough. Add homework, tears, and the feeling like no one understands, and you have one stressed out dad who needed to give his daughter 100 percent.

Want to hear it? Here it goes.

Balancing Act

I wasn't thrilled when my wife told me that our daughter got a zero on a math quiz. It wasn't the zero. It was that she didn't say anything or do anything about it, which is why my wife was mad.

My daughter already got the lecture from her mother, so it wasn't necessary to hear it from me. I did the next best thing – a bunch of burgers went on the grill.

Happy for hamburgers, I asked my daughter to show me the quiz. It was on checkbook balancing. I was so excited because I can still remember learning these skills in 6th grade.

Then came the tears.

What's the Purpose?

The error was immediately obvious. She didn't understand the anatomy of a check. She confused the check number as an amount and wrote it in the wrong cell of the transaction register.

I asked her how the teacher taught the lesson. She said, "All she did was talk, and then we practiced it."


I was immediately inspired and my inner PIRATE started to crawl around. She didn't know why any of this mattered, nor was it clear about how it related to other methods of payment.

The pieces were all there, just waiting for her to make the connections. All she needed was a little help from a PIRATE.

The Lawnmower Man

That's when I came up with a lesson idea centered on two plot themes: (1) I'm old school and always use a transaction register, even though my wife does online banking; (2) The Lawnmower Man always asks for odd amounts, like $23.64, so it's just easier to write a check.

I took out the credit card, debit card, cash, and checkbook and went through the payment possibilities while telling jokes. The jokes were easy because I could use the character traits I strategically chose to make exaggerations. The jokes weren't great, but the tears turned to giggles.

Then, I went through the anatomy of the check because I wasn't going to be in town and needed to teach it to mom who usually did it online. This cushioned the "don't talk to me, dad" issue that we sometimes experience.

The giggles continued, so I kept going.

In dramatic fashion, I tore off the fake transaction register that her teacher provided. Her jaw dropped, I told her not to worry because she was going to use a real register, which was swiftly fetched from my pocket like a microeconomic ninja.

Did It Work?

She balanced the checkbook and we ate desert.

This was the most successful homework help session of all time. I was so inspired by Dave Burgess and his Teach Like a Pirate approach that I had to share.

Sometimes it's frustrating being a parent and an educator. Tonight, it rocked!

Interactive Maps with Google Drawing

Using tools like Google Drawing reminds me of the Maker Ed movement because it allows students to bring together raw shapes and colors to explore the possibilities.

Since ditching the worksheets, I have learned so much about how to push my students to do more with basic tools. Here are the steps my use to make interactive maps.

1. Individuals or Groups?

Since Google Drawing has collaborative work space possibilities, it needs to be decided whether or not the product should be completed by groups or individuals. I often consider how much time we have, how many different variations are likely to turn out, and how much students could benefit by working together versus making their own decisions.

2. Insert an Image

I like having my students pick their own outline maps to insert using the search (without leaving Drawing) because it allows them to decide whether the format or the quality will work.

3. Insert text boxes.

When students are first learning how to make maps with Google Drawing, I give them some labels and ideas about what to include. Once they gain some fluency with the tools, the goal is to use the lesson question and themes to make labels and decide what text would be most appropriate for the map.

4. Link Text Boxes to Resources

Here comes the interactive part. Any shape, including text boxes, can become a clickable link. By making the text box a link, the entire box becomes the link, which works great on touch screens. The best part is that the links are preserved when the drawing is downloaded as a PDF.

5. Download as ...

This is one of the features that I love about Google Drawing. Your work can be downloaded as a PDF, SVG, JPEG, or PNG. These formats make it easy to add rich content to projects made with other programs or online sharing possibilities.

6. Share a Link or Embed a Drawing

Publishing the work with a reflection on what was learned is a great way for students to catalog learning artifacts. This makes it easier to share it later in a showcase portfolio.  

Link the PDF in Drive to a png. The png can also be used to promote the work on social media.

Instructional Coaching is Not Fixing

Every teacher has something they do really well. It's the job of an academic leader to find it and use it as an inroad to that teacher's development. Teacher appreciation week has come to a close, but I'm still reflecting on what I've learned this year that will help me be a better teacher and leader.

Being trained as an instructional coach has provided me with a few tools to find the answer that awaits in those who reach out for help. But it's not fixing. It's coaching. 

What's a Coach?

This year, I was fortunate enough to be on a team of instructional coaches that received a lot of training, practice, and follow up development. Before this experience, I thought I knew the role a coach plays, but I was mistaken.

Coaches don't fix. They support teachers by meeting with them to learn about problems. It's a process that allows a professional in need to talk through what they know about a problem, what they can do to solve it, and, most importantly, it provides the opportunity to build a trustworthy audience. 

Coaches don't mentor, either. If a coach begins to offer suggestions that include strategies outside of what the professional being coached adds to the conversation, the coach has the obligation to acknowledge that s/he will be playing more of a consulting role.

This respect for boundaries and the focus on the strengths of the individual being coached is what maintains the trust. These aspects of coaching have been the most powerful lessons I've learned this year. They've also made me a more empathetic listener for my students.   

Why Instructional Coaching?

Professionals build trust and bonds with colleagues all the time. Why would they need a coach when they could talk to someone they already trust?

Sometimes the nature of the problem requires a trust that's more protocol based, similar to a doctor-patient relationship. For me, playing the role of a coach, especially with my "teacher friends," has added another layer of discipline when it comes to being a good listener and holding back fixes that only come from my toolbox.  

Not Another Thing To Do

I truly believe that it's people, not programs, that make a difference. Practicing instructional coaching has allowed me to grow as a professional and a leader in ways that are far more powerful than a rule or policy.

Coaching provides the opportunity for teachers to address a special kind of audience – one that will be in confidence and show the utmost respect and belief in the teacher's capacity. 

7 Ways to Manage Project Procrastination

I guess, for some of us, we reached a point at which feeling the deadline anxiety was more painful than making steady progress. Here's 7 ways to help students shake the monkey from their back.

But first, I wanted to share this clip from Brian Regan's comedy.

1. Encourage students to lay out the plan the day it's assigned.

When we start projects the day that it's assigned, it's easier to come back to it later. Tell your students that they don't even have to complete any particular part. Ask them to simply jot down a few ideas related to each criteria. You're not asking them to carve anything in stone – simply make some considerations.

2. Think backward from the final product to the first steps.

Keeping the outcome in mind is critical to staying on track with a project. Like tip #1, it's important to do this from the beginning. Teaching kids to think backward will help focus on making the right decisions moving forward. 

3. Have students write the dates and times they will spend time working on the project.

It's proven that when we write down our "appointments," as opposed to someone else doing it for us, we are about 30 percent more likely to honor the commitment. Make an explanation of a project into a lesson on time management with a simple agenda or calendar activity. 

4. Don't give students too much time.

Three weeks to do a few hours work outside of school will turn into doing it the night before. Also, remember to coordinate with other teachers who might also assign large projects to be completed outside of school. Set mini-deadlines to ensure that procrastination is held accountable more often. This might also show your students the value of working consistently throughout a given time frame.

5. Provide ample class time toward working on the project. 

I assign smaller pieces to larger projects and give students time to work during our regular class time. Why should they have to complete the project at home? I want to see them do it and ask questions right away.

6. Communicate with parents about what they can expect.

These days, we use email, Remind, phone calls, and video explanations. I like videos because I can show them the directions and project details on my computer screen while making a personal connection.

Since I started doing videos with parents, the communication over tough topics is more pleasant and less stress for everyone. Maybe they experience the person when they watch a video whereas email can be become lifeless and unemotional.

7. Be honest. Tell them that "when" they wait for the last minute, their stress level will be very high.

Assuming that your students will wait for the night before gives them the opportunity to prove you wrong. Let them. Need I say more.  

Issues with Sharing Personally Identifiable Student Work

The recent issues of privacy and student work discussed among connected educators has me rethinking what it means to share the work students do in my classroom.

I have a student work blog that I use for the purpose of sharing work. Additionally, my students have their own blogs that they use to publish reflections on learning. After what was posted by a Colorado teacher, I'm pacing back and fourth wondering where I am in relation to the line that should not be crossed.

What Happened in Colorado?

For those who didn't catch the story, a third-grade teacher wanted to learn more about her students, so she had them use the stem in the image above to share something. This is a powerful activity. The poor choice on the teacher's part was posting the student work on Twitter.

It didn't have any personal information, right? Handwriting is enough. But let's think about this. My niece is in fourth grade. She sends a few handwritten letters to our house every year because she's awesome. That means I might recognize her handwriting.

If my niece's teacher posts student work on Twitter and I have to learn about a family issue on social media, I will be highly offended and feel like our privacy has been invaded.

That's the issue in Colorado. Let's look more closely at the law.

Privacy Issues and Consent to Share Work

Data privacy is limited to publishing anything that could be used to identify an individual. In the case of the #IWishMyTeacherKnew issue, the handwriting of the students could be identifiable by a relative, for example, who shouldn't have to learn about family issues on social media.

Although schools can publish information like names and post photos, which is considered "directory," parents have the option to opt out.

For more information on your rights, go to

Up Against the Line 

I share pictures of handwritten student work, but it's anonymous summary statements for the purpose of evaluating a sampling of the classwork. The photos let the students see what acceptable work looks like and how to fix their work to meet the expectation and beyond. The photos are accompanied by commentary and published for reflection.

This process of sharing work in a blog started when students who were absent had a hard time catching up. We do a lot of formative assessment in class that's based on cooperative activities, so when a student asks me what they missed, my brain wants to explode trying to show them. The blog helped our classroom continue to operate without worksheets.

How is this different than posting student work in the halls of schools? Visitors can take pictures of the posted work and share them with other educators or post them to Twitter. The questions is less about the student work and more about safeguarding the identities of our kids within a worldwide audience. They have that right, and teachers have that responsibility.

Communication is Everything

Sharing student work that is not personally identifiable or work that contains no family issues can still be a violation of an individual's rights. My response in the classroom is to teach students about the importance of protecting their identity and to keep parents informed about what we are publishing and why.

I made a video for parents to show them how students added my email address to their district Blogger account. Whenever they post or someone comments, I get an email right away. All the feedback from students and parents has been positive.

Teachers who are not as comfortable with technology can try Kidblog if they still want to broaden the audience for their students.

Next year, I plan to add more forms of communication, including a written explanation to be signed separate from the syllabus. Even though the nature and purpose of publishing student work is very different than the Colorado issue, Refranz Davis is right. Parents and students have a right to know what will be published and the opportunity to make an informed consent or opt out.

7 STAAR Tips for U.S. History Students

By this point, you must have figured out that I'm not a teacher who cares about the school ratings, silly banners, or achievement pins they give us for your success. Go be awesome at something you like, and come back to tell me about it. That's the only win that keeps me coming back for more.

But since you have to do it, let's kick this STAAR test all over the place with a few tips.

1. Read the question, and read it again.

Read the question and the choices before rereading the question and testing answer choices. Consider each answer choice at least once and two of the better options a few more times. Whatever you do, don't waste time second guessing yourself (refer to number 4 on this list).

2. Let your own questions about each test item help you understand what's it's asking you to do.

Trust the inquiry skills we've practiced this year. Use the basic question you think about as you read and pull apart the question.

3. What's up Doc?

Whether the document is an image, cartoon, newspaper headlines, excerpt from a speech, poster, or any number of possibilities, read the question and answer choices before getting too involved in the document.

Use these tips for visuals. For all documents, consider who wrote it or made it and what message is supposed to be conveyed. Put yourself in the author's shoes.
  • What do you see?
  • Read the title and look for a date.
  • Is there any text? 
  • What's the relationship between the title and what you see?
  • Refer back to the question and answer choices to make a decision. 

4. Mark the questions in the test booklet that you're unsure about.

If you're unsure, there's no sense in worrying about it. Whatever you do, don't second guess yourself. More often than not, your first guess is the correct the answer. Make a choice and mark the item with a question mark or a star (or something), and go back to it after you tackle the questions that you're more confident about.

5. Expect some questions to require you to think about causes / effects or similarities / differences.

One of these things is not like the other, or maybe it is. Be on the look out for any historical thinking that question might want to test. Just play around with how the information in the question, in the answer choices, and in you noggin might relate.

Where would everything fit in a Venn diagram? Does the information seem like dominoes knocking down the next event?

In addition to the skills listed above, a question might require you to summarize by choosing a likely newspaper headline or categorize by asking you to choose the answer that completes the graphic organizer.

6. Only watch your favorite parts of Crash Course.

Stick to the "Thought Bubble" or the summary piece that John Green does when the text scrolls and the icons pop out to jog you memory. Since you don't have time to watch hours of Crash Course videos, just find the two and a half minutes that work best for you.

After each segment, stop the video and practice thinking of five main ideas or words that describe the points he has making about the topic. When you put it in your own words, you'll own it.

7. Spend time on what you're good at.

The reality is that you'll probably get some questions wrong. Don't agonize over the ones that you don't know. Do the ones that are familiar. Also, don't be afraid to look back at your choices when you finish. You'll probably be happy that you finished, but wouldn't it be great if you finished knowing that you didn't make any careless mistakes bubbling choices.

I could probably go on and on with test-taking tips, but I probably could have stopped at number 3. Good luck. I wouldn't get every question right, but I'd pass it. Commended? That would be cool, but either way it would over and I'd be the same person.