TEA Survey

I apologize to anyone who is not a reader of this blog in Texas, but I feel that this is so important I need to share it on all of my social media. The Texas Education Agency has put out a survey asking stakeholders for their opinion as to how the remaining 4 billion dollars of the American Rescue Plan money set aside for education in our state should be spent. The state has to submit a plan to the US Department of Education by June 7th, and has set a deadline of May 21st for people to fill out this survey. I don’t know about you, but as a retired teacher who is still very much invested in the education of our students and the plight of educators in Texas, I have been feeling that more politicians and bureaucrats have been making decisions about schools than the people with boots on the ground. This survey could be for show, especially since the turnaround from the deadline to June 7th is so quick, but I think it behooves any of us who have opinions about how this money should be spent to speak up. For the record, this was my response in the final box asking if I had any other comments, “A lot of great teachers are about to leave the profession because they have not felt supported this year. Some work in schools that are falling apart, teaching large classes, dealing with students who are carrying a lot of emotional baggage, and the teachers feel alone and disposable. They need more personal days, more qualified substitutes, more campus staff to work with students who have emotional issues and safer working environments. They need to know their opinions matter and that they have a voice.”

I urge you to please fill out this survey by 5 PM on May 21st in order to record your own views on how this money should be allocated in Texas. If you are in a different state, please research the plans your own state has for spending the American Rescue Plan money set aside for education. This is a lot of money that could do a lot of good if it isn’t eaten up by political pet projects and selfish lobbyists.

Photo by Tim Samuel on Pexels.com

Think Again

I know that it’s hard to imagine doing anything “extra” after this crazy school year, but some schools like to do book studies over the summer – and some teachers, like me, get reinvigorated by reading professional books. I’d like to toss this one out there as an idea for those of you searching for a book for one of those purposes or even as just as a non-fiction book to read for enjoyment.

Think Again is by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at Wharton. I received this book as one of three that arrived in this quarter’s Next Big Idea Book Club subscription box. When I read the intro on the book jacket, I thought this book was ideal to read given the current state of our world. “The bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.”

Before you read, you may want to take the free quiz to find out which type of thinker you most resemble: Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, or Scientist. This tends to influence the methods you use to open the minds of others when you disagree.

If you have never read a book by Adam Grant, I can assure you that he is a talented writer who engages the reader with anecdotes sprinkled with relevant facts. I was prepared to find some good nuggets of advice in Think Again, but didn’t realize I would use up all of the ink in one of my highlighters as I turned each page to discover more and more guidance that would be helpful in my everyday life.

Even though the entire book is valuable, I want to summarize some takeaways from one specific chapter because it addresses “teaching students to question knowledge.” As this is primarily an education blog, “Rewriting the Textbook” is probably the most pertinent to you, the educators who read this blog.

Grant discusses the importance of questioning information no matter the source, being willing to take risks and accept being wrong some of the time, and students taking ownership of their learning – all precepts that I have also encouraged in my classroom and on this blog. He, of course gives evidence to support why these are vital skills and interesting examples of teachers (including himself) using student-centered techniques that encourage this type of thinking. One of the observations he makes from a collaborative lesson he taught in his college classroom is that the Straight-A students often struggled on the open-ended project, quite possibly because the obsession with being “right” was interfering with any inclination to take creative risks.

Among the teachers Grant showcases in the chapter, he mentions Ron Berger who worked summers as a carpenter and during the school year as a public elementary school teacher who “devoted his life to teaching students an ethic of excellence,” which includes “constantly revising our thinking.” I liked reading about Berger’s habit of posing “grapples” to his students that were multi-phase problems rather than beginning every lesson by presenting information. As Grant described more of Berger’s unconventional methods, I was impressed by the iterative mindset he instilled in his students, prioritizing revision and increased mastery rather than racing to completion. It should not have surprised me (but it did) that Berger became the chief academic officer of EL Education, one of the schools in which the famous video, Austin’s Butterfly, was filmed.

From the Black musician who confronts members of the KKK to an epilogue that analyzes the communication of leaders during the pandemic, Think Again is a book that parents, educators, leaders, and followers in all walks of life would find meaningful and timely. I plan to thumb through those pages often to remind myself of the power of re-thinking.

Think Again, by Adam Grant

Interactive Google Slides Templates

With many schools beginning the 2020-2021 school year virtually, a lot of generous educators have been sharing interactive templates to use with Google Slides.  I have been bookmarking sites as I find them on Twitter, and I thought it would be nice to have a curated list here.  I am also sharing this link, which I think is a huge game changer, on how to update student Google Slide Decks after you’ve already shared them in Google Classroom.  (Video by Jessica Wilding)  Remember that you will need to make a copy of each presentation in order to use it and edit it.  Since there are a lot, I tried to put some examples next to each one to give you some idea of what is included in each set.

  • Peel the Fruit Slides Activity includes a template for this Visual Thinking Routine, along with a link to some other Visual Thinking Routine templates.
  • Templates and Games created and shared by @EtownScience (Each slide in this original presentation can be clicked on to access a presentation you can copy and use.) Includes Scrabble, a Netflix template, and many more!
  • Templates created and shared by @KrissyVenosdale. Includes Fridge Poetry and Post-It Notes with a few others.
  • Interactive Slides for any Content Area created and shared by @TheresaWills.  Includes SO MUCH, like collaborative math manipulatives and Would You Rather.
  • Open Middle Problems slides by @DanShuster, adapted from the Open Middle math site created by @RobertKaplinsky.
  • Graphic Organizer Templates created and shared by @DrCDMendoza. Includes Venn Diagram, Cause & Effect, and others.
  • Depth and Complexity Slides adapted from the work of Bette Gould and Sandra Kaplan, slides created by @Venezia_Megan. Includes the icons and thinking prompts with areas to enter responses.
  • Google Slides Templates curated by @HistorySandoval. Includes Hyperslides, a TED Talk viewing guide, and more from various contributors.
  • Notebooks, Manipulatives, Choice Boards and Games created and shared by the incredible @SlidesMania.
  • Free Templates from Mrs. Park (@MrsParkShine) Includes several types of Check-In templates and Learning Stations Menus.

Let me know if you have any other collections that I should add!  Also, remember you can quickly make your own slides interactive by using one of my favorite tools, PearDeck!


“Peel the Fruit” Slides activity adapted from Project Zero Visible Thinking Routines

How Lazy Is Your Child’s Teacher?

Usually my posts are not about anything that most people would consider controversial.  I try not to sound “preachy” because I’ve been in the trenches, and I know that the majority of the educators are doing the best we can – but we all make mistakes, and we can certainly disagree on what is “best.”

I’m about to bring some hate down on me, and I know this because of a recent Twitter interaction, which definitely resulted in mixed responses.  But I want to clear the air of some misconceptions that I’ve been hearing lately, and this is the only way that I can think to do it.

I was listening to a podcast called, “Reasonable Doubt,” while walking my dog on Monday.  The show is hosted by Adam Carolla and Mark Geragos, and they discuss different current legal issues.  I find their comments intriguing, and they often open up my perspective on topics.  There are times that I don’t agree with what they have to say, but I enjoy hearing a variety of views, and they sometimes change my mind.

During the 3/28/2020 episode, the two hosts made a few comments about how teachers would be more willing for schools to open back up if they weren’t getting paid right now.  They suggested that teachers are not currently working, and that they are enjoying this paid vacation.  This was completely contrary to what I have been hearing from the teachers I know, so I decided to disagree with them in a Tweet:

Surprisingly, @adamcarolla responded with, “got it,” which is a nice way for him to say that I was heard, without necessarily agreeing with me.  Not a problem.

As one person replied, and rightly so, “You know most teachers?!  That’s a lot of people!”

I responded, “You are correct.  I should have said that as an educator of 29 years I know a lot of teachers, and many of them have shared with me the stress of switching their courses to remote learning, and that they miss face2face with their students.”

A few people have supported my response, with specific examples.  A few people have said they know teachers who are useless or are just playing video games.  One person – so far – has used an obscenity.

I’m a big Devil’s Advocate kind of person, so I often look at my own arguments and think, “What if I’m wrong?”  So, here’s the thing:  I understand that I’m in a bubble of educators who will, of course, claim they are working hard.  It’s probably not going to change anyone’s mind if we barrage social media with teachers protesting that they are working long hours, many of them also having to take care of young children simultaneously.  What I would like is for you to share this, and for anyone who parents a child currently involved in remote learning (or for any child who is old enough to respond) to tell us your perception of how hard (or not) teachers are working.  Let me know in the comments below, or let @adamcarolla and @markgeragos know (politely!) the level of effort you think teachers are making right now. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


Gimkit – Update

I wrote a descriptive post about Gimkit last year around this time after learning about it at TCEA 2019.  This online quiz game resembles Kahoot, but has some distinct differences which you can read about in my first post.

Since last February, I’ve used Gimkit quite frequently with my students in grades 8-12.  It hasn’t lost its novelty, and quite a few of my students asked for it every week.  In order to do this, I had to do something that I rarely choose to do with educational resources – I decided to pay for it.  (For a great explanation of why Gimkit has chosen to go this route instead of a full-featured free version with advertising, you can read this blog post.)

Why would I pay for something that is available in other versions for free?  Because this game is different than anything out there.  Not only do students get to “purchase” fun upgrades during the game, but those upgrades can change based on different game themes that the developer (a high school student!) provides throughout the year.  For example, “Thanos” was a such a huge hit with my students last spring that when it was offered again for a limited window of time I scheduled an unscheduled review game just so they could play.  And don’t even get me started on the buzz that “Humans vs. Zombies” created in my classes in October.

In the past year, the developer has:

  • improved importing questions from other platforms, such as Quizziz
  • added “KitCodes” – a mode designed to get your students moving around the classroom instead of just sitting there playing the game
  • bulked up its website and customer support
  • continued to be open to educator and student feedback (you can get a sense of this from blog posts like this)

Gimkit takes risks with new ideas constantly being rolled out.  In December, the company mysteriously touted a “Winter Challenge.”  I told my class we were trying it out, but that I had no idea what we would be expected to do.  I hit the button, and everyone’s screens went black.  The groans were probably heard downtown.  But then numbers started showing up on their screens, and it was clear that this was not a game glitch, that we were supposed to do something.  I had no idea what it was, but that didn’t matter.  The students started talking it out, and collaborating.  As they slowly figured out what was going on, it became clear that some leadership was needed.  Again, my presence was superfluous.  Natural leaders rose to the occasion, and with everyone’s help, the challenge was accomplished.

The Challenge wasn’t even part of my review.  (That began after they completed the Challenge.)  Instead of a waste of time, though, it taught my students so many things that I am constantly yammering about anyway – Growth Mindset, Collaboration, Communication, Perseverance.  Multiple choice quizzes are generally not very deep learning, but this Challenge threw problem solving into the mix, and that was a huge bonus.

Some of my favorite classroom memories have been made using Gimkit in the past year: students choosing wild nicknames so their classmates won’t know who to target, kids snickering as they “ice” each other, groups gathering around a few classroom monitors because they want to see how the champions fare against each other, cheers and groans when the “Thanos Snap” lists its victims, and everyone clapping when we finally solved the Winter Challenge.

I don’t work for them, and I get no compensation for writing this post.  I just really like what Gimkit does for teachers and for students.

Zorro Astuto Badging

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we have made some changes to our makerspace this year, one of them being to rebrand it as Zorro Astuto Studio.  Another major improvement we are implementing is a badging system for all students who create in Zorro Astuto.  Throughout grades 4-12 (all of the levels that attend our school on the Fox Tech Campus) students can earn badges when they reach certain criteria for each of three levels.  The criteria for Level 1 includes students getting a 100% on the relevant safety certification test and creating a project with that tool or software.  Levels 2 and 3 increase the expectations, and students who reach a Level 3 in any area will be prominently featured on our “Studio Masters” bulletin board, which is in the mall area outside our space.

Once a student earns a badge, we laser-cut a physical one using special acrylic from Inventables.  We provide them with a small chain so they can hang it on their backpack.

In addition, we wanted to digitally manage the badges.  Our intention is to keep a running record for students as they move through grade levels.  We also want teachers to have a quick reference.  This will allow teachers, when students ask to use Zorro Astuto resources (like the 3d printer) for projects, to know if the student already has experience or will need to spend time learning a new tool or software.

I researched many digital badging systems and ultimately decided that the Flippity Badge Tracker would best serve our purpose.  Although it is does not have as many features as Mozilla Open Badges or others, it does have simplicity going for it.  With as many students as we have going through Zorro Astuto, we needed something that would work with multiple users and could be easily accessed by teachers across campus.

Tomorrow I will talk about who comes through Zorro Astuto, and the many ways we are trying to make it a place where all of our learners have multiple opportunities to create.