February 27, 2023
ChatGPT is like Hello Fresh, it can provide the ingredients, but the teacher is still the chef. An image of a teacher wearing a chef's hat and a sample of Hello Fresh ingredients.

Using AI Tools to Level-Up Your Teaching Game

I’ve been fascinated by the rapid growth of AI tools that support teachers. Since ChatGPT was made public back in November,  hundreds of tools have surfaced and even more ideas have been shared across social media channels. My intention is to help you sort through those tools and ideas to present to you specific ways that AI can support educators. I want to begin, though, by addressing a question that has come up frequently in my own research around this topic. Will AI replace me as a teacher? The answer, even among the most prominent voices across the landscape of education, is no. Teachers using AI tools will, no doubt, work faster and more efficient than those teachers who don’t use AI tools. That could be happening now. Charity Dodd, from Learning Innovation Catalyst (LINC), provided this illustration recently and I made it into a graphic of my own:

ChatGPT is like Hello Fresh, it can provide the ingredients, but the teacher is still the chef. An image of a teacher wearing a chef's hat and a sample of Hello Fresh ingredients.

I have previously shared my own version of 20 Ways Teachers Can Use ChatGPT to Save Time and Work Smarter and I suggest starting there if you’re still learning about ChatGPT and the kinds of prompts you can ask this AI model.

Ways Teachers Can Use ChatGPT by Derek Oldfield

Dan Fitzpatrick ran a poll on Twitter asking teachers which tasks are most likely to eat into your own personal time and the results are below.

Poll results, 250 votes, which tasks are most likely to eat into your personal time | Feedback or Grading, Planning lessons, Creating content, all of the above is highest with 38.4% of the votes
Credit to Dan for selecting these three areas of need. I support and inspire teachers primarily at the secondary level and I can echo these concerns about time spent grading or giving feedback, creating content, and planning dynamic lessons. Let’s dig into ways AI tools can support these processes.

Grading or Giving Feedback

ChatGPT generating a writing rubric for a grade 8 essay

You may be thinking, well can’t we just ask ChatGPT or other generative AI language models for a rubric based on our assignment? Yes, you can! I’m learning more and more about prompt engineering and that will most certainly be a skill we’re all going to sharpen the more we use AI tools. I really like Dan Fitzpatrick’s PREP model of prompt-writing. Let’s take this example of an 8th grade teacher. The prompt: Create a rubric for a grade 8 writing essay. You are an expert teacher. The essay is about song lyrics. Students are to select a song with lyrics that they can identify with. The essay should explain why they selected that song and how they identify with the song lyrics. Students should identify the theme and message of the lyrics in their essay.
The follow-up to that prompt would be to ask ChatGPT to score a student’s paper according to the rubric, but to be practical, we probably aren’t doing that with 120+ essays and unless you upgrade your ChatGPT account, I’m not sure you’re going to be granted that many prompts in a single day. But the ability is coming! It’s coming to word processors like Google Docs and Microsoft Word. In the near future I’m predicting we’ll be able to access generative AI like ChatGPT inside of Microsoft Word or Google Docs and the AI will provide feedback to written work automatically. For now, get inspiration for your own rubrics by brainstorming with ChatGPT.

Creating Content and Planning Lessons

This is probably the category in which generative AI has exploded the most in the recent months. I could never include every tool here, but I’ll include a few that have potential and certainly fall under the purpose of saving teachers time.

  • Curipod.ai Curipod will generate an entire interactive lesson from a single prompt. Curipod has already grown in its list of features. I imagine with enough funding this product will be around for a while. I’ll share a sample of my experience with Curipod, but you can access the video of my initial experience here. My opinion: this might provide ingredients, but as I often do with recipes, I would add a bit of my own spice to this lesson. Could this save time? Absolutely.Curipod is generating a lesson from the following prompt: Introduction to Photosynthesis
  • Conker.ai takes a single prompt and generates assessment questions from that prompt. The questions can then be exported into a Google form. So in a matter of seconds, teachers can have formative assessment questions in a Google form.Conker.ai generating assessment questions from a prompt: Create a quiz with 5 questions for grade 5 students about the water cycle.
  • ChatGPT can build an impressive lesson with the right prompt(s). In this sample, I take the PREP model and ask for a lesson generated from a TedTalk topic. The TedTalk is on YouTube. If a teacher was using an article or a video as the center of their lesson, ChatGPT can generate a lot of content based on that video or article. For the YouTube video, I copied the transcript of the video and pasted that into the prompt using the PREP model. My entire prompt:
    Write a lesson. You are an expert at writing quality lessons that engage students and progress their learning. Write a set of lesson objectives. Create an engaging opening task that sets the context for the lesson. Write three paragraphs based on the content. Use short sentences that are packed full of meaning and key learning content. Include a multiple choice question at the end of each paragraph that tests students learning of the paragraph. Add the answer for the teacher. Add a list of subject-specific terms and simple definitions. Write a set of questions based on the content. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy. Create a group task based on the content. This is for grade 6 students. Make the reading age 12 years old. The content: (I pasted the transcript of a YouTube video)ChatGPT generating an entire lesson using the PREP model

    This was one of my most impressive results from ChatGPT but I think it was most impressive because the prompt was of higher quality. The better the prompt, the better the result. The questions were great, the group project was good. These were good ingredients that likely would yield a palatable dining experience on their own. Would this save teachers time? Yes. 

  • Charity Dodd @CharityDodd introduced me to this idea and I think it has merit. Teachers can use ChatGPT to provide an adaptive assessment to students. I see this working most effectively as a student-led station. ChatGPT will provide questions to students and will increase or decrease the complexity of those questions based on the student response. With the right prompt, this will work.
    You will create an adaptive assessment. You will generate a reading passage for a grade 5 student. You will create a reading comprehension question. If I answer the question correctly, you will ask a harder question. If I answer the question incorrectly, you will ask an easier question.
    Obviously my prompt below was based on reading comprehension but this could be math problems, science concepts, or almost any topic you happen to be studying. The key, again, is in the prompt. What was not captured in the GIF below? I got an answer wrong just after the video cut. ChatGPT not only provided the correct response but it provided supporting details directing me to that information in the passage. That’s amazing.
    ChatGPT is creating an adaptive assessment by generating a reading passage and asking more or less complex questions about that passage based on the answer provided by the human.


Dan Fitzpatrick released this article over the weekend titled 21 Ways to be a Leader in the AI Era.

For the education system to survive and adapt to the rapidly changing world we find ourselves in, our leaders must embody courage and innovation, fearlessly taking the necessary steps to empower their students and staff to thrive in the AI revolution.

Original from The AI Educator at https://thirdbox.org/

His call is clear and powerful.

A rush of tools and ideas have surfaced since ChatGPT became public on November 30, 2022. That trend will likely continue if not increase in its potency. Districts, schools, and leaders alike will need to sort through these tools to empower their staff to get better results, save time, and improve learning. I like this matrix related to ChatGPT and pedagogy. I used this filter when deciding which tools to share in this post and I think it’s a necessary frame to keep around during this time.

A correlation matrix with quality of pedagogy on the y-axis and quality of prompt on the x-axis. The greatest quadrant in the upper right says work with AI to get better results, hours of time saved, learning is improved. That's the goal.

Original from The AI Educator at https://thirdbox.org/

May 24, 2022

The Wretched Zero

Is there a more divisive and combative conversation to have with a staff than the zero? Just ask the question, What should a student receive when they don’t submit their work? Let’s clarify, we’re talking about the zero on a traditional 100-point scale. For the purpose of this post, we’ll assume the traditional 10-point intervals in the 100-point scale. I am aware this varies wildly if you check schools, districts, or even states across the US.

I’ll begin by saying that many schools and districts have attempted to have this conversation, but some have back-pedaled when the explosion of deep emotions erupted across the school or district. The enemy here is not the zero. The enemy is the 100-point scale, and I’ll do my best to explain.

A zero on a 100-point scale is mathematically inequitable. The entire scale is too heavily weighted on the side of failure. When giving a 0, we actually give a student a score that is worse than failure.

K is for “kill grade”

If you look at the images above, you can see equal intervals between the other letter grades, but there’s this huge gap when we get to F. We could argue over what an A means, what a B means, or what a C means, but let’s hold that for another post. Whatever your descriptors are, F has to mean failure. In the traditional 100-point scale, it would appear there are degrees of failure. Take these humble descriptors as an example:

The zero has an undue deflationary effect on a student’s overall average, the same way the scale would have an undue inflationary effect if we flipped it.

I’ve never seen a teacher give a student a 140 on a test. I imagine they would look at me sideways if I asked them why. Of course, a 140 would be an inaccurate score that would inflate the average of the grade. The zero on a 100-point scale is just as inaccurate and just as deflating to that average score. Let’s do an experiment.

As you see above, the student received a zero and after 11 additional 85s in the gradebook, the student still had not raised the grade back to a B. This is an example of the hole a zero places students in, and it represents the deflationary effect a zero has on the average. The student who received a zero has little motivation moving forward because their grade has been falsified by the impact of the zero.

Let’s compare the effect of the zero versus establishing a floor of 50. Some schools or districts choose to use a 50 to represent missing work because the 50 maintains the equal intervals 100-90, 89-80, 79-70, 69-60, 59-50.

I appreciate the work of so many educators who influenced my thinking on this topic several years ago. Alexis Tamony created a wonderful YouTube video where she displays and discusses this very topic and I appreciate her influence on this post. Despite the evidence presented, I’m not naive. This is still a hard philosophical pill to swallow. I recommend schools and districts seriously consider moving to a scale where a zero makes sense. We use a 4-point scale to calculate GPA, for example. An A is worth a 4, B is a 3, C is a 2, D is a 1, and F is a 0. In this scale, educators could use zeroes that make sense. There are plenty of conversion charts out there if you feel the need to convert these to percentages. The use of percentages are primarily used to rank and sort students. Are there additional advantages to using a smaller scale? Yes! Inter-rater reliability increases dramatically when using a smaller scale. Think about it, can a human really discern learning to 101 different levels (0-100)? No. Can you really communicate the difference between a 78 and an 82?

There also seems to be this fear among some educators that if we establish a floor of 50, some students might do nothing until the end of the grading period where they turn in 2-3 assignments and suddenly they have a passing grade. Here’s an example:

The student had ten scores during the grading period and seven of those were a 50 for missing or deficient work. You see the student submitted three assignments and scored an 85 on those three, which has raised the average to a 60.5, barely a passing score (D) on the traditional 10-point intervals. This leads us to my final consideration. Measuring and communicating learning is very much a human act requiring professional judgment. Educators dismiss this act far too often by allowing computers and phony math to place the final declaration of learning on a student’s grade. As professionals, we should be using professional judgment anytime we place a grade. What would you do in this situation?

February 18, 2022

Reflections from PETE&C – Taking Notes

*Cough *Cough *Brush the dust off this blog.

*Clears throat. I had the great pleasure of attending PETE&C last week, the statewide educational technology conference in Pennsylvania. Where we live in WV, the conference is about 90 minutes away and always provides a quality experience for educators. I was part of a number of teachers, technology integration specialists, and district-level instructional technology staff that attended from my district. Before we left, my team and I shared a OneNote Notebook with those attending from our district and challenged them to create new pages in the notebook and capture some of their learning during or after the sessions they attended.

Screenshot of a section in the notebook

We returned from the conference Thursday February 10. On that day, Matt Miller at DitchThatTextbook released a blog post titled Is Student Note-Taking Relevant in Classes Today. It’s an incredible post and you should check it out. Matt’s post caused me to reflect on the reasons why myself and others in my team engaged in note-taking during PETE&C.

When we consider the value of note-taking for today’s students, I think we’re sometimes guilty of imposing our own history of schooling and what worked for us, on the learners in our classes today. I find myself doing that in other circumstances as well, but we need exercise caution because today’s students are growing up in and preparing for a world vastly different than the one we experienced in school. One idea Matt posed in his blog post was this understanding that educators attended college and received a degree, so we have a tendency to lean on the “note-taking prepares students for college” reason for copious note-taking in our classrooms. But college isn’t for everyone and college courses can sometimes represent the worst in pedagogical practices. When I think back to my own college courses and the ones that stuck with me. They included hands-on labs, field experiences, observations, and clinical work. I recall sitting in a lecture hall with 200 other students in Biology 101, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing I learned in there.

I think we owe our students rich opportunities to activate the brain in complex ways during class. This can include forms of note-taking. I also think we owe ourselves the chance to step back and reflect on how our students take notes, the reasons why we’re taking them, and if there’s any value in that experience.

February 9, 2021

Blended Learning Playlists

playlist is a sequence of resources or activities for a student to complete. I’ve been experimenting with the notion of learning pathways or learning playlists for a few years now. Unbeknownst to me, a pandemic would strike in the spring of 2020 and this pedagogical concept would become an easier embrace during this challenging time for teachers. I admit, it’s a paradigm shift, but bare with me through this post.

The image above represents a playlist for students in a high school geometry course. As you can see, the playlist begins by clearly stated learning targets derived from content standards. Choosing the targets, the end destination, is the first order of business when designing your own playlist. The teacher will need to consider the length of time required for students to acquire the concepts included in those targets. Is there a specific length of time that works better than others? In my experience, the longer the playlist, the more likely it is for students to lose their location or their purpose. You’ll have a better understanding of what that means in just a moment. I typically shoot for 10 instructional days.

First, let’s take a look at the research that serves as the foundation for this pedagogical shift.

Author of the book Drive, Dan Pink describes intrinsic motivation as motivation 3.0. This notion is developed from bodies of research around motivation. Dan uncovers several studies that reveal the dangers of if-then rewards, or carrots and sticks. It turns out, carrots and sticks can do serious harm to a student’s desire or motivation to learn. This seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? Education has been employing carrots and sticks for years. Wasn’t Pavlov’s dog offered a reward for behavior? Dan breaks down motivation into extrinsic and intrinsic. One such study including MIT students reveals some truth around carrots and sticks. A group of students were given some games, complex games that involved creativity, concentration, and motor skills. Their performance was incentivized based on three levels of performance. The highest performers would receive the greatest reward. The results were clear. Incentives worked as expected for tasks that required purely mechanical skill. Once the task involved any amount of creativity or critical thinking, rewards led to poorer performance. This study was repeated over and over, even in contexts where monetary rewards would mean more, but the results were the same. Carrots and sticks work for low level tasks that don’t require much thought. But if the task increases in complexity, rewards actually damage performance. As Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and Richard Koestner explain, ‘Rewards do not undermine people’s intrinsic motivation for dull tasks because there is little or no intrinsic motivation to be undermined.’

Dan uncovers three primary drivers to amplify intrinsic motivation – autonomy, mastery, and purpose. You’ll see these drivers threaded throughout the learning playlists. It’s a misconception to think we design these playlists and set students off on an independent journey hoping they make it to the end. That is not the case. The playlists do involve a healthy measure of autonomy as we allow students to navigate through the playlist at their own place. Whole-group activities are done together as a class. Students have little say in when those are completed, but they do have some control over their independent work. In a traditional model of schooling, there are a number of constants in the learning equation. Time, practice, and assignments are all constants defined by the teacher and applied equally to the students. The teacher decides what assignments to complete, when they are due, the numbers of problems, and more. Learning is the variable in this model. Some students learn it all, some students learn parts of it, some students learn very little. The blended learning playlist flips the script. Time, practice, and assignments become a variable, and learning becomes the constant.

Checkpoints or progress checks are critical to the success of the playlists. If students are never asked for check their progress against a formative assessment, they are never informed of their location, their success, or their next steps in the journey. As you can see, the playlists offer strategically placed checkpoints that are designed to inform students about whether to move forward in the playlist, backward, or stay put. The majority of the independent work in the playlist is computer adaptive, meaning the software adjusts inputs based on student outputs. There is constant feedback provided to the learner. What might take me 18 problems to demonstrate proficiency, might take another learner 12 problems. That personalization is allowed within the system.

John Hattie’s meta-analysis of over 1200 bodies of research on instructional practices is fascinating. This blog isn’t about his research but you can read about how he determined the hinge-point for effect sizes. According to Hattie, 0.40 represents a year’s worth of achievement for a year’s input using that specific strategy. Any strategy with an effective size greater than 0.40 has an influence greater than a year’s worth of growth. 0.80 would represent a strategy that yield’s two year’s worth of growth. 1.20 would represent three years of growth, an incredible influence on student achievement.

Self-assessment and self-efficacy are among the highest influences when it comes to strategies that yield high achievement. Self-assessment is threaded throughout the playlist. Putting students in control of their pace by informing them of their progress through feedback becomes a powerful influence fueling intrinsic motivation. Self-efficacy refers to one’s confidence to complete tasks or exert control over their motivation. Students are in control of their own mastery inside the playlist. They can complete independent work until they demonstrate proficiency. They can retake progress checks, and they get at least two takes on the summative assessment at the end. The clear learning targets, the map of the journey, and the pursuit of mastery all contribute to a greater purpose. Learners become involved in the process advancing towards a specific goal.

What does the teacher do? It’s a mistake to think the teacher sits at the desk with his/her feet up. The teacher is furiously referencing the feedback provided by the adaptive platforms students utilize for independent work. The teacher is also diagnosing misunderstanding or misconceptions provided during whole-group experiences. The teacher uses this information to make decisions about small groups and seating arrangements. The teacher spends a considerable amount of time on a knee or seated at a desk beside students asking questions and listening to gauge understanding.

There is a noteworthy connection between the tasks a teacher chooses to include in the playlist and Bloom’s taxonomy. Computer adaptive platforms have their place in blended learning, but as long as teachers understand their limitations. My whole-group experiences are rich and require intellectual agility in order to complete. These tasks require students to analyze, compare strategies, evaluate work, and create.

The most common concern at this point becomes “do students navigate all playlists at their pace? How do you manage the chaos when students are working on different playlists?” Students move to the next playlist together with their classmates. I never have more than one active playlist at a time. In my experience, this is the best way to do it. What if students aren’t ready to move on? Believe it or not, that rarely happens. Why? The classroom culture transforms to a degree that classmates just don’t allow other classmates to fall behind. If I’m doing my job, analyzing the feedback, and making informed decisions about who to spend time with, and what seating arrangements would maximize students’ strengths, then the gap between the first student and the last student never grows too wide. I’ve done this in the secondary classroom with over 100 students and I’ve never felt bad about moving to the next playlist.

In conclusion, I want to wrap this up with the best representation of equality vs equity that I’ve ever seen. This is relevant to learning playlists because I hope you can see the value in giving students what they need to succeed. This is a theme throughout the playlist. Students are provided what they need to succeed, not equal portions of time, practice, and assignments.

Image Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

July 24, 2020

Power-Up Your Course Organization and Lesson Planning

One of the many lessons learned during the last quarter of the 19-20 school year was how critically important it is to organize your course in a student and family friendly manner. We were all caught off guard by how suddenly we were tossed into an entirely new model of schooling. For many, there just wasn’t enough time to refine course layout, reconsider our folder structures, etc. I hope this post provides you with some inspirational ways to layout your course content this upcoming school year. Let’s not kid ourselves either, reorganizing our courses will only enhance the student experience even if we find ourselves back in a face-face model of schooling.

I really like these samples from two fabulous teachers at Mill Creek Intermediate – Joanna Smith & Tiffany Quade. I used the drop-down to display the inside sections of one of the folders.

Joanna Smith


Tiffany Quade

Need to know what you missed on Tuesday April 28? ☑️

What are we doing this Friday? ☑️

Where do I find the assignment we did last week? ☑️

Want an easy-to-read overview of the week? ☑️

Are there embedded videos showing me how to do this work? ☑️

What are the learning goals for my child this week? ☑️

Continue reading

June 28, 2020

What I Hope Teachers Learn From Our Summer PL Courses

As I imagine many school districts were doing this summer, my district, Berkeley County Schools (WV), unleashed a robust series of courses for teachers to complete over the summer. I had the fortune of being on a small team of three that designed and is currently facilitating the learning. The courses were voluntary. Given the experience everyone was thrust into suddenly last spring, high quality professional learning was a critical priority for BCS this summer. Even though no one knew what to expect for the 20-21 school year, we decided to prioritize a learning experience that would immerse teachers in a model that they could transfer no matter what the 20-21 school year looks like.

We use Schoology in our district so we facilitated the teacher courses through that LMS. We created three courses, beginnerintermediateadvanced. The first task for our teachers was to create a sandbox course they would use to produce the content they would need to complete the assignments in the PD courses. We designed our courses with assignments that required teachers to create, organize, share, capture, and submit evidence in order to receive credit for the assignments. We partnered with Shepherd University to offer our teachers 3-hours of graduate credit for completing all three courses.

According to my count, we have about 30 assignments that are required in order to receive credit for completing all three courses. There are certainly some very explicit outcomes throughout the courses. Several assignments required our teachers to create video content and embed it in their sandbox course. Other assignments required our teachers to create tech-enhanced questions using Schoology’s assessment creator. Our teachers were required to submit evidence of their ability to generate a Microsoft Teams Meeting, invite their students, record a mini lesson, and post the link to that recording in their sandbox course. These are just a few of the explicit outcomes that appeared throughout the course.

There are also a number of implied outcomes that I hope our teachers are aware of as they complete these courses.

At this point, three educators are facilitating learning for over 500 educators. There’s no way we could successfully do this by replicating the traditional face-face model of schooling (or sit-n-get PD) that we have known for over a century. At the end of each course, our teachers are required to submit to a discussion communicating what they learned in the course and how they intend to use what they learned. It’s also an opportunity for our teachers to provide feedback about the course. The response we’ve received so far is overwhelmingly positive, but the most common piece of feedback we receive is in reference to the instructional design.

I hope our teachers recognize the value in outsourcing the transfer of information. Sharon Dove, Sharon Collins and I outsourced the majority of our content by utilizing Youtube videos, Help Support in our various platforms, and we created our own instructional content in video/screencasts. This alone allowed us to personalize path, place, and pace for every participant. The result is each participant’s experience becomes unique. This new model of education will place a new premium on face-face time, it’s important that we reevaluate what we do during that time.



I use this image as part of a presentation on healthy and effective grading practices, but it applies here. The outcomes for the course are the same for everyone, but the experience, the paths to mastery, and even the evidence submitted can involve choices.




I really like this graphic from George Couros:

From George Couros


It makes so many connections to the overall experience our learners have had during these courses. There are many school contexts represented in our courses, spanning from Prek-12.






I hope teachers realize the pedagogical connections to their own courses. Many teachers commented about the value of utilizing video or audio in directions, for example. Multimodal directions must become routine for all educators. It reminded me of Holly Clark’s new post at The Infused Classroom




I hope teachers recognize what they could do with face-face time. For example, we chose to outsource the bulk of our instruction or the transfer of information. For the purposes of our courses, we didn’t have to include any whole-group experiences, though our teachers will certainly want to do that to some degree. I hope they realize what they could do during that time if they were liberated from delivering content or providing instruction. During the summer courses for teachers, my face-face time with learners has been spent diagnosing misunderstandings, brainstorming practical applications to their specific school contexts, and giving feedback on work submitted by our learners. That’s purposeful use of the most valuable time we have with our learners, and that represents a learner-centered step in instructional innovation.

Leave a comment if this has stirred some thought about the pedagogical impacts of this new model of schooling.

Posted with permission

Posted with permission

Posted with permission

One of the assignments in the course was to use a multimedia tool we have available to us through MyVRSpot, and create a class newsletter to keep families up to date on what’s happening. I loved this example and received permission to share.

June 4, 2020

Developing Metacognition & Executive Functioning

I completely agree with Tiffany Wycoff’s recent response in tweet:

This is the perfect moment to leap forward and I believe teachers have acquired a tremendous amount of new skill that may serve them well as they move towards a learner-centered model. Let us be careful to provide support, not just technical support, but pedagogical support as we navigate these new waters.

As teachers begin to shift the ways they lay out content, provide instruction, curate student work, provide feedback, and measure learning, it is ever more important to be intentional about the ways in which we develop metacognition and executive functioning skills.

“The ability to think about what we are learning, how we are learning, what we want to learn in the future are important skills that must be explicitly taught in classrooms.” – Catlin Tucker
How can teachers incorporate intentional opportunities for kids to reflect on and monitor metacognition and executive functioning skills? If schools begin in a remote setting, it’s going to be critical that we provide our students real opportunities to talk about, reflect on, monitor, and track progress across skills like time management, task initiation, persistence, and more. 
*Flipgrid – Include a weekly topic designed to allow students an honest place to reflect on how they’re learning, whether their phone was a distraction, how they mitigated distractions, the role their earbuds play in learning, etc.
*A simple page in a notebook designed to allow students to place a point on a number line tracking progress across any skill.
*A correlation chart
*A discussion post – collect video or audio responses
*SMART Goal Setting
*End of the week exit ticket (Google Form, Microsoft Form, etc)
*Self-assessment doc
Click here for a Word version of the template below. Click here for a Google Doc version of the template below.
I think you’ll like this Powerpoint/Slides/Keynote template. I created templates for the six middle schools, but they can be easily edited to reflect any of the BCS schools. Click here to download the Powerpoint templates yourself.
March 27, 2020

The MOST Valuable Time

I found myself considering recently, in reflection about this journey into distance learning that we’re experiencing right now, what is the most valuable portion of the learning cycle? If you’re reading this, you are most certainly aware that many teachers are video conferencing with their students using a number of possible solutions available to educators right now. I began to consider how unrealistic it might be for a secondary educator to video conference with his/her students everyday. Not that I’m trying to indict anyone who may be doing so, but I tried to consider the nightmare of scheduling such times with secondary students who have 6-7 additional classes on their schedule. So in reflection, I thought of all the time in a learning cycle, what portions might be considered the most valuable time? This is a question I’ve proposed during blended learning trainings I’ve facilitated before, and I believe it can serve us even now. Let’s lay out a typical, albeit generic, learning cycle for students.

  • Teacher provides some instruction.
  • Students complete a learning experience related to the previous instruction.
  • Teacher reviews the student work, provides feedback, diagnoses misunderstandings, offers remediation.
  • Cycle repeats.

This is certainly a very general framework and is not intended to represent all classrooms at all. But in general, I imagine most classrooms loosely follow a repetition of a very similar cycle that often concludes with a test or exam of some sort before everything starts over.

I believe education will experience some tremendous changes once school does resume again. Perhaps we won’t see the fruit of those changes until the ’20-21 school year begins, but I believe we will no longer see the schools many walked out of just a few weeks ago. One consideration I believe all secondary teachers will begin to make is this: If my instruction has been outsourced to Google, Youtube, etc. where does that leave me? I would propose that the most valuable portion of teachers’ time, especially during distance learning, might be the portion of the learning cycle where teachers review student work, look at data, provide feedback, diagnose misunderstandings, and offer remediation and enrichment. This isn’t rocket science and many may read this and say “I’ve always felt that way, Derek.” I would propose that if you’re engaging your students in video conferencing, leave the instruction to Google, Youtube, your online textbook, etc. I believe we’re in the midst of a shift from Masters of Content to Managers of Learning.

Two of my favorite tools are Nearpod and Desmos Activities. I love the platforms both of these education companies utilize and I think they can provide a lot of merit for distance learning. Given the proposal I made in the last paragraph, how could teachers utilize tools like these to provide instruction, offer a learning experience, and review student work, give feedback, diagnose student thinking, etc.? When considering when to engage my students in a video conference where we might have real conversation that is tougher to manifest digitally, I would suggest letting your video recordings, your own screencasts, Google, Youtube, or Khan Academy provide the instruction necessary. Lay out the learning experience for your students. Then engage in a video conference to offer the component of learning that I believe is most human and most valuable. Engage your students in real conversation, through a video conference, to review student work samples you’ve previously collected, share data revealed by your learning platforms, diagnose misconceptions, correct mistakes, highlight divergent thinking, and have thought-provoking questions on hand that allow you some insight into your students’ thinking.

November 14, 2019

Desmos Activities in the Elementary Class

I’ve been a fan of the Desmos activity platform for quite a while. If you’re teaching math and don’t know about it, stop reading and check it out now at teacher.desmos.com. I love the transparency the Desmos team places on their philosophy of learning math. I’ve read Dan Meyer’s blog posts about the thought invested into designing the platform and how it relates to how they believe math instruction could look and sound for students today. This post on orchestrating more productive math discussions is great! I often use this post on how Desmos designs learning activities, because it provides a good context for math teachers to reflect on their own practices.

It’s no secret that most of the content the Desmos team releases is designed for secondary students and teachers. If you glance at their teacher webpage, you’ll find it difficult to locate lessons for anyone under grade 6 or 7. The search bar on the teacher page only yields activities that have been approved or reviewed by the Desmos team. The platform, though, is free to use and if used effectively can result in quality learning experiences for younger learners. I’ve been working with a 3rd grade teacher during his 90-minute math block. I used the learning platform to design an experience his kids could use to review for a test they’re having the next day. The experience would be the first whole-group experience his kids have had with a Desmos activity. Mr. Shchurtz and I decided to utilize the pacing feature in the platform to move his students together, slide by slide, for most of the activity, since it was their first experience with it.

I can’t say enough about how engaged his learners were throughout the experience. We mirrored Mr. Schurtz’s Ipad to the projector through the whole lesson. I supported Mr. Schurtz in planning the activity, meaning we sat and looked at each slide trying to anticipate student responses, which slides would require a pause to interject instruction or support, and which sections we could allow students to work at their own pace.

During the experience, I quickly noted how the students responded to seeing their work projected on the board. Their motivation and attention skyrocketed! Even Mr. Schurtz made a statement about it during the activity. It was as if their work had more meaning knowing it was being shared with a wider audience. It’s worth noting, the Desmos learning platform allows a teacher to anonymize names when displaying student work, and you also don’t have to display the work at all.

As students draw or input their work on a slide, the teacher can view the work in nearly-live fashion. Mr. Schurtz noticed one student’s creativity when solving a problem, so he used the platform’s pause feature to pause everyone’s work simultaneously. Next, Mr. Schurtz asked Liam to explain his work to the class. You can view Liam’s explanation and the classes response here.

I left the experience encouraged by the rich conversation and the depth of thinking that was required of the students. It was almost as if the rigor of thought or the effort that was required was disguised as something fun.


October 23, 2019

Equal vs Equitable

Full transparency here… Rick Wormeli wrote the book Fair Isn’t Always Equal and it is excellent! It is on a must-read list for many educators, including this one. I’ve recently put a lot of thought and consideration into the notions of fairequal, and equitable and the roles they play in learning design. I am writing to share my context with other educators. My role in education has recently allowed me to jump back into the design of a learning pathway for a classroom of students. Honestly, I miss this. Before I left full-time teaching in a classroom setting, I was experimenting with a better way to design learning experiences that differentiate for my kids.

Several years ago, I began a relentless pursuit to liberate my students from this conveyor belt of learning that is one-size-fits-all (or is it none?). Prior to increasing my capacity and skill with technology, this was a task that seemed out of reach to me. The current model of schooling still restricts my students and teachers to arbitrary calendar dates, meaning that all students have to attend school for 180 days before they can advance. Even though no one really knows how long it will take any one student to learn x, y, and z, I could still innovate within the constraints of the calendar. As a math teacher, the conveyor belt of learning meant that all kids would receive equal time for instruction, equal time for practice, equal numbers of problems to practice, and equal number of days to learn before providing evidence in equal number of ways. There was a time in this journey that I realized that I didn’t have to force this level of uniformity onto my students any longer. As Rick says, I will always be fair, but I will rarely be equal. To be clear, the conveyor belt sends several messages to students. To some, it says if you can’t keep up, sorry. I don’t want to imply that all teachers feel this way, but doesn’t that message also say it is more convenient for me to plan this way, so keep up. For others, the message says I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wallow in mediocrity even though you’re ready to move on.

My journey began to shift when I realized I could leverage technology to better respond to my students and that response would greatly impact my instructional design. The pathway you see laid out in the image above represents an experience that embraces the understanding that all kids learn at different rates with various levels of support.

One of the more enlightening experiences I had along this journey came when I realized I could leverage technology to provide students a number of practice opportunities that reflected what they needed in order to demonstrate proficiency. No longer were all of my students receiving the same 25 practice problems on the same night. I also recalled nightmarish experiences when I would pass out tests on test-days and cringe when I got to a few desks of students I knew were not ready for this test. Those days are in the past. I could get into the nuts of bolts of that learning pathway, how students navigate it, the face-to-face learning experiences (whole group and small group) vs the self-paced ones, the role the formative practice plays and how it impacts student ownership, autonomy, and self-assessment. Not to mention the depth of learning, the mental dexterity required to complete some of the experiences, and the metacognition included in reflective opportunities along the way. But I want to hone in on the grip that fairness has on so many classrooms.

I fear too many classrooms are focused on being equal with students, in the interest of fair practice. But let’s be clear about equality.

Image Credit: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

What we really want in our classrooms is equitable and responsive teaching. Being fair and equitable is giving kids unique and specific supports so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, or learn. That means we have a responsibility to provide those supports when possible. So what practices fly in the face of equity? Consider whether your own instruction rides on a conveyor belt of one-size-fits-none instruction. Let’s consider what equitable grading practices look like. Are our grading practices handcuffed by equality? I know some teachers that allow redos or reassessment in their class, for example. Hats off to those teachers for recognizing the value of iterations in learning, something that applies to nearly every single profession in the world. But, in the interest of being equal with all students, teachers give partial credit to the second or third iteration or redo. The most typical response here is this practice ensures fairness to those students who got it the first time. Are we punishing students for learning at a different rate than we’re teaching?

I appreciate you reading this far. After some recent work in a classroom, I began to reflect on fairness, equality, and equitable teaching. The pathway I provided represents just one example of how instruction can be designed and innovated in ways that provide students healthy and equitable experiences. I think it also points to the greater world in which we live. If teachers still consider themselves the master of content in their class, they’ve been outsourced by Youtube and Google. We’ve got to start providing students opportunities to learn how to learn. That doesn’t mean they do so in the absence of a teacher, but it does mean the role of the teacher has to change from delivering content to managing student learning. Are we providing kids opportunities to inquire, filter information, and apply it in authentic ways? Think about how much learning we omit because we hold students hostage to arbitrary timelines.