A Beginner’s Toolkit for Teaching Remotely

As the world has suddenly been sent into self-isolation, many schools are trying to figure out what to do next. Some are opting for extended Spring Break, while others are trying to figure out ways to continue learning from home. This pandemic and subsequent shut down of social interaction has shed light on some major issues when it comes to connectivity in our students’ homes. Those with internet may have limited access to a device as well as there may only be one smartphone that a family has access to.

Knowing all of those underlying issues exist in many of your schools, there are many schools moving forward with the idea of “remote learning” or eLearning. For a classroom teacher that has been trained in the day-to-day operation of being in a physical classroom, a virtual classroom presents many different opportunities and challenges besides the lack of access mentioned above. As you might imagine, teaching the exact same way you would in a face-to-face environment is a bit like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I’m offering up this beginner’s toolkit as a start for a teacher just now getting started. I’m not focusing on a grade level or subject area with this guide, but rather a set of tools, resources, questions, and ideas you’ll want to have in your virtual toolkit.

Consistent Communication

I’m starting with this before we dive into content and strategies. All of the other stuff is just noise if you don’t have a consistent method of communication with parents and students. Email is probably the most basic and universally accepted but could be cumbersome if you are teaching multiple subjects and students each day. Having apps that act as text messages like Bloomz and remind could also work.

As a way to streamline communication, many districts use Learning Management System (LMS) tools like Canvas, Schoology, Seesaw or Google Classroom as way to communicate and distribute work to students. If you are in a school district that does not have an LMS tool in place, I’d highly recommend either Google Classroom or Seesaw as a simple way to set up a remote classroom for your students.

Here are some tutorials you could use to get those set up:

Seesaw for Home Learning (Video)

Quick Start Guide to Google Classroom (Website)

No matter what you do or what tool you use, be sure to be consistent. Whether you are sending out the weekly work every Monday at 9am or checking in daily, be sure you are consistent and available for support. Which brings me to my next tip

Support Your Learners

Many students are confused, stressed, or excited by the prospect of being out of school for an extended period of time. Their parents are also under a lot of stress during this time and may have lost work or are struggling to work remotely while being self-quarantined with their entire family. Life and learning at home will look very different for each of your students depending on their situation and you no longer have the consistency provided in a single classroom environment. Just like communication, I listed this section prior to getting into content and strategies because supporting your students is much more important than turning in a digital worksheet. If you do nothing else during this time away than consistently communicate and support your students with periodic check-ins, know that you will have helped with their social-emotional well-being if nothing else.

Sending short videos saying hello, leaving a voice mail, or even sending a letter to their home can be a way to check in and make them aware that you care about them and their well-being during this turbulent time.

Virtual Office Hours

As part of those check in with students, some teachers have set up “virtual office hours”.  These can be in the form of brief 1-on-1 chats with students or possibly checking in with the whole group during your regularly scheduled class time. Many companies have stepped up to the plate and offered up free services for video conferencing for schools. Business video conferencing companies like Zoom and Webex are offering free versions or expanded basic versions for all schools. For Zoom you have to fill out this brief school information form and for Webex you can just download the app to get started. One thing to be cautious of is that many of the business versions of online video chat software are not COPPA-compliant (meaning kids under 13 shouldn’t use them.

For those of you teaching younger students, you could use a tool like Google Hangouts Meet (if you are GSuite school) or Microsoft Teams (if you are an Office 365 school). If these options aren’t available to you, here’s a list of kid-friendly video chat apps you might consider as well.

A couple of notes of advice from video chat experts:

  1. Keep the chats short. This isn’t the time for an hour long lecture. Figure on about 15-20 minutes of time to share any information you might normally do in a one-hour class.
  2. Have a script or set of questions to keep things on point. This can be as simple as asking students how they are doing to more academic questions.

Content Delivery and Retrieval

I saved this until later in this post as I know it’s probably the first thing many teachers are thinking about but also the most complex to deal with based on many of the items above. Before I list a few ideas, I have noticed that depending on the state you are in, academic work may or may not be counted on for a grade. You’ll want to follow whatever guidelines your school or district provides when it comes to grading. That said, many families are hoping or some direction and ideas when it comes to at-home learning. The two most common approaches when it comes to delivering content and work for students are these:

  1. Synchronous method: Teachers and students gather virtually in an online space during the time of their actual class period. So if you have Pre-AP Algebra from 9:30-10:20 normally, that’s when students would log in to work with the teacher. While this most resembles the actual school day, it’s also wrought with issues like students not being able to get connected, tech issues, or what to do when a student is “absent” and misses the virtual session. Recording these in Google Hangout Meet might be one option for later viewing, but just know the backend issues that can arise when doing this the first few times.
  2. Asynchronous method: This has by far been the most popular method for remote learning. Much like online university classes, assignments are handed out daily or weekly for students to complete. Teachers can record themselves using Screencastify for PCs, Quicktime for Mac, and the built-in screen recorder for iPad or iPhone. Then these videos can be uploaded and distributed via your communication method of choice (see item #1) along with any other materials you want to attach.

Collection of materials can be tricky without an LMS. Without a full-blown LMS you could ask students to gather their work in a folder or even in a virtual folder in Google Drive. One clever idea that was shared with me from a teacher in Illinois was using an ePortfolio system like Bulb for students to document their learning. Using Bulb, students of all ages can document their learning in a series of collections. Check out this 3rd grade and high school example for ideas.

Another tool that I’ve always loved for digital learning is Nearpod. This morning they released this Google Doc with a rough schedule of what a day of at-home learning might look like. What I love about their approach is that they focus a lot on building those SEL skills like meditation for middle school kids or goal-setting for elementary students. They even have lessons in Spanish! Ideally your school would have a Nearpod account, but if not, they do offer a limited set of tools or free.

Using FlipGrid is a great way to have a virtual, asynchronous class discussion around a multitude of topics. From virtual book clubs to selecting and sharing a variety of topics in their Disco Library, this web-based tool can work on any device and allows students an opportunity to see each other more often, even if it is not face-to-face.

Also, having a running Google Doc shared with your students could work in terms of sending them ideas or a daily to-do list much like the one Nearpod shared above. Collection becomes a little trickier without Google Classroom, but having Google folders set up to “turn in” work could be a work around.

I am working on a list of resources for teachers that are more based on grade levels and ages, but as this post is just a beginner’s guide, I’m just sharing the above tools that could be used regardless of age and subject.

The Power of Reflection

“We do not learn from experience….we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

Reflection is a powerful ally to learning. One thing I always struggled with until late in my teaching career was allowing kids the time to reflect on what they had learned and accomplished. Reflection coupled with goal-setting can help with productivity as well as a student’s confidence to achieve a goal. One of the best examples of this that could totally be done at home is the design and building of a Rube Goldberg machine. Using available utensils and tools, the student creates a device with multiple moving parts and then predicts how successful it will be and how many attempts it might take. (here’s one example by a young man named Audri)

Taking time to reflect on their day and the process of what they are learning would be a great use of time at home. Reflections can be done in a physical journal, in a Google doc, on a FlipGrid, using a tool like Book Creator, or captured in a Bulb ePortfolio. No matter what subject or age you teach, try and encourage your students to document and reflect on what life is like in this crazy new normal.

I hope that the above areas help you get started on your journey as a teacher who works remotely. Remember to take care of yourself too during this time away and take time to reflect, share, and breathe. I’ll be sharing more tools and resources in a separate post.

If your school or district needs help, I’m available for virtual consulting. Click here if you’d like more information or need some assistance in your school or district.

 

 

Because Nothing Can Stop the Learning! An #AltSXSWedu Recap

Last Friday was an upsetting day. The conference I had attended for the past 10 years (SXSWedu) announced it was cancelling along with the larger SXSW that often brings thousands of people to Austin and over $356 million dollars in revenue to the city. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I was frustrated. I realize that being frustrated at something like a conference cancellation is extremely small in the scope of what is happening around the world, but I’m just being honest. This event was the most diverse conferences I have attended, and selfishly, I looked forward to growing global collaborations and connections as well as the sharing of ideas for learning.

That night, I agreed to meet my friends downtown at their new bar, called Idle Hands, on Rainey Street here in Austin. When I arrived the mood was somber. The service staff were depressed. Uber drivers, stage crew, bands, waiters, bartenders, valets, food trucks and more make a significant amount of their income from the SXSW event and all the subsidiary events that happen before and after it takes place. In the case of one of the bartenders I spoke with, he makes almost half of his yearly income in the span of just a few weeks because of it.

While this was happening, I pulled out my phone to look at see what the reactions were on Twitter, Facebook, and text messages. The responses ranged from “thank god they cancelled it” to those that were now stuck here because of the late cancellation. Many of these people were from overseas.

People like Ryan King from China and Tracy Mehoke from Wisconsin (by way of Abu Dhabi) were here in Austin and now wondering what to do with themselves. Others like Krista Vaught from Florida and Vitor Bruno from Brazil were educators in a similar predicament of having already arrived here and literally collecting their baggage when the announcement came out. These people began to find each other through various social platforms and quickly formed an “EdUnconference” Slack channel as a way to connect and try and coordinate some meet-ups around Austin.

While this was happening, an idea started to rise up in my mind. We have all of these brilliant minds trapped in Austin, but no way for them all to gather. I’ve hosted educational conferences for years in Austin and around the world. While those events take months to plan, I didn’t have that kind of time. I had 72 hours.

I also needed a place. Enter Idle Hands. Like many bars in Austin, their space had been rented out for SXSW, but those sponsors had since dropped out leaving a fully-stocked event space with complete with service staff but missing an important thing….people. I pitched them the idea of hosting “an alternate event” to SXSWedu. They were all for it and excited to help out. The owners of Ranch Hand, a local food truck that had taken up residence in the kitchen of Idle Hands said, “We have nothing to do and would love to have some people to serve!”

I immediately put the news out on Twitter that night.

Within minutes Krista reached out and told me about the Slack channel. Magic started to happen. On Saturday, I got up and bought a domain and built a website out for AltSXSWedu.com. I threw together a quick form for presenters to submit ideas (so quick that I left off the field for people to enter a presentation title!) and an Eventbrite page for people to get their free tickets. By mid-day Sunday we had 20 submissions with over 50 people that were listed as attendees and I started to think…this might actually happen.

On Monday, I met up with Krista and Tracy for the first time in person. We started going over the logistics of what the 2-day event would look like and how we could utilize the space (a former house converted into a bar) to facilitate discussions and learning. I’m the type of person that thinks and creates better collaboratively and having these two share and bounce ideas off of was amazing. Krista agreed to lead the opening session with an activity called “Collaborating with Strangers” and Tracy was going to MC some “Flash Talks” – quick, 5-minute talks with no slides, for anyone that wanted to get up and speak. We had poetry, topic mixers, round-tables, and immersive experiences. Late Monday night some signage was put together and name badges were created.

First attendees begin to arrive on Tuesday morning of AltSXSWedu

I reached out to some local vendors like Bulb, Kahoot, Squarecap, Firia Labs and Brainpop to cover items like waters, coffee and snacks for attendees. I contacted good friend Humberto Perez to see if his band MariaBloom and another band could play both days to wrap up the event. All of this happened in less than 48 hours. My INCREDIBLE wife, Renee, who always is so supportive of my crazy creative ideas, was by my side for the next two days helping run registration, logistics and answer questions.

Then Tuesday morning arrived. I didn’t know what to expect. As people started to arrive, I grabbed my portable speaker and started blaring some Stevie Ray Vaughn to welcome our international guests to the event. The learning could not be stopped!

Photo credit: @MissJShields1

In all, over 120 people would attend and over 30 sessions were shared either face to face or virtually. Using my daughter’s portable karaoke speaker, I kicked off the event by telling everyone that they were not attendees….they were organizers.

We shared ideas.

We invented the #AltHandShake (photo left)

We argued about educational strategies and theories.

We collaborated on how to address the rapid shift to online learning that was about to take place.

We learned.

As the event wrapped up on Wednesday afternoon, I was physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally fulfilled. I made connections and learned ideas that I rarely do at a large conference. This event COULD NOT have happened without the support of the amazing companies like those mentioned above and amazing people like Ryan, Tracy, Krista, Renee, Anne, Jami, Humberto, Vitor, Meghdut, Pauline, Anna, Claudio, Carolyn, Al, Nikki, Rebecca, Sarathi, Maru, Suzanne, Reyna, and many, many more that made this event happen.

Minds from all over the world, brought together because of a virus, showing me that learning can’t be stopped even when the world around us is facing uncertainty.

I will cherish the new connections I made, the things I learned and the memories I made for the rest of my life.

Press:

We did have a few news agencies come by to see what we were up to. If you’re interested in hearing more, here are links to their stories about AltSXSWedu:

CBS Austin –  Group organizes alternate version of SXSWEdu conference

KXAN Austin – Educators in Austin for SXSW rally to form 2-day AltSXSWedu

EdSurge – SXSWEdu is Called Off. But the Sessions and Parties Are Still Happening

Photo Credit: @meghamind_7

 

 

How Prepared is Your School for a Long-Term Pandemic?

It’s been interesting to watch the world react to the COVID-19 pandemic, also known as the “Coronavirus”. In the age of social media and instant notifications on our mobile devices, it’s made this pandemic seem like the worst on record when in fact, it’s not even close. That said, as with any disaster or pandemic, there comes an increased awareness to how schools and districts respond to it. Many schools are on alert, creating plans and awaiting guidance. While others, like this school in Seattle, are shutting down as a precaution.

Last week I posted the question of how schools prepared for a long-term closure using Facebook, Twitter, and group texts as ways to crowd-source responses.  Those responses varied from “packets, we’ll just give them lots of packets” to “we’ll use Google Classroom to hand out assignments.”  Neither of these responses are inherently good or bad, but it does open the door to a slew of questions schools and districts need to be asking themselves when it comes to continuing the learning even when the building is closed to students.

This post is a cumulation of those responses crowd-sourced from school administrators across the globe. As every district is different, it’s impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach to long-term closure. However, I do hope these questions can help guide you as you see what kind of plan you have in place should the unfortunate happen. Being from Texas, I know that weather can cause long-term closure as well (see Hurricane Harvey). For the purposes of the following questions, I’m going to assume that it’s a pandemic and that it’s affecting the entire community and surrounding districts. I will also post some ideas and solutions that were shared with me in the hopes of sparking an idea for your school or community.

1. How will you deliver learning to your students?

I purposefully put “learning” instead of “content” as too often times we default to what we know. Learning online looks a lot different than learning in a physical classroom. Some mentioned using LMS platforms like Schoology or Google Classroom to deliver the learning to their students but this assumes that A) they have devices and B) they have internet access (see next question). Also, most of the responses pertained to students in grades 6 and up. Some had some measures for 3-5 students while most had no plans for online learning when it came to K-2 students.

Ideas/Solutions: As mentioned, using LMS platforms seemed to be the most common response to this question, with Google Classroom being mentioned the most. Sometimes these can be online assignments, digital worksheets, or journal prompts. Some mentioned using live chats, YouTube, and Google Hangouts as a way to supplement the learning, including having “office hours” where teachers take 10-15 minutes to check in virtually with each of their students. A couple of districts mentioned their teachers creating lessons on Nearpod and using the “student-paced” option to send work home as it tracks their answers and allows them to upload work. Andrew Wallace from South Portland Maine Schools shared another creative solution. In his district, they send home a “one page cheat sheet” with passwords and usernames for online resources like Newsela, Tumble Books, Overdrive, and BrainPop (which already has a new lesson on the CoronaVirus – see below) In Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, Kyle Berger deploys a Classlink portal for all teachers, parents and students to access resources. Of course, this all still assumes that all kids have devices and internet at home which leads me to my second question.

2. How many of your students DO NOT have online access at home and how do you deliver learning to them?

This is a question many schools may already know the answer to. Online survey tools like Survey Monkey and Bright Bytes can help collect this data (ironically, you have to be online to take the survey) or you could collect this information during school registration. Regardless of how you collect it, you’ll likely have a percentage of students without access that you’ll have to plan for.

Ideas/Solutions: There were a WIDE variety of ideas and solutions for this question. Bonnie Blan from Southwest Christian School was able to leverage discounted internet access for families in need using Kajeet and the BroadbandNow initiative. Others mentioned giving out hotspots as it would be likely that students wouldn’t be able to go to places like McDonald’s or Starbucks during a quarantine (although some adults might risk it for coffee :). With either of these solutions, you would need to set these up well before disaster strikes, but I like that schools are solving this issue regardless. In general, the responses from educators seemed to indicate that you should be prepared to have some analog mixed with digital. Writing in journals and reading are easy enough for ELA, but having prompts for writing helps. Some schools mentioned having students check out extra books out of the library just in case.

3. How prepared are staff and what is their role?

Like Jennifer mentioned, setting up a bunch of brand new tools during a stressful time like a long-term closure wouldn’t be wise. Staff will be worried about their own families as well as their students. Anything that is implemented would either need to be put in place before hand or easily deliverable to a teacher’s existing curriculum and instruction. While not ideal, this could mean just sending home paper or digital worksheets, but even that can be a challenge.

Ideas/Solutions: Having a plan in place with deliverables to staff would be a smart thing to create and have on hand regardless of a global pandemic. These can range from having some one-page step-sets that show teachers how to deliver a variety of content on your LMS of choice to an internal website with a range of ideas for online learning. Schools can leverage tools like Microsoft Teams as a way to collaborate or have conversations or create Padlet walls that students can post ideas on. Any and all solutions should be web-based, device agnostic and able to work on a smartphone as that may be the only online access they have.

One bit of advice from Jennifer Pearson, a Tech Coordinator who works at the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen in China – “There should be a plan. The plan should be consistent and NOT introduce a bunch of new techy tools.”

4. Are these days recognized by your state or country as actual instructional days?

As you might imagine, each state and country has different rules around this. Here in Texas, we count instructional days based on the actual amount of minutes our students are physically in school. While there might be exemptions made, currently those days won’t count and schools would presumably have to extend the school year to make up for the loss of days and weeks while shut down which would likely push through the end of June. While I think learning should still continue even if your state or country doesn’t recognize it officially, this brings about many other questions, including contract lengths of your professional teaching staff.

Ideas/Solutions: Some states, like Illinois, recognizes a handful of “eLearning Days” that can often times come about due to poor weather. These days are counted as official instructional days and were recognized by the state, which means no make-up days at the end of the year. Phil Hintz from Gurnee D56 in the Chicago area was a part of a handful of districts that ran the pilot for eLearning days starting in 2016. While not a solution for weeks of closure, the framework they built was around giving students windows of time to complete assignments and using Title 1 funds to get those without access Kajeet Hotspots. Here’s a video of his school’s experience with eLearning day.

5. What role do other “non-classroom” professionals play?

In an average school building there are many professional, salaried staff working along side the classroom teachers. Some of these teach special area subjects like art, music and PE. Others include counselors, nurses, and campus administration. While the majority of the interaction of students will come from the teacher in an eLearning concept, these staff still have a role to play.

Ideas/Solutions: Principals are the go to source for school-to-home communication. They should be posting updates regularly to both parents but also to staff and help identify families that might not have online access at home. They also have to set expectations for teaching staff in making sure online instruction is consistent. Special area teachers should continue to serve students and provide instruction whether it be having students post a video of them doing push-ups on a FlipGrid or capture their art and reflect using a digital portfolio tool like Bulb. Counselors and nurses can provide support to families in need either through one-on-one at home visits or through online video chat tools.

6. What about itinerant and paraprofessional staff?

Those professional staff on salary can rest easy knowing that they are still getting their paycheck every month, even if the school is closed. Sure they may have to work some extra days, but they aren’t clocking in to work an hourly job. Custodians, administrative assistants, cafeteria workers and teacher aides don’t have that luxury. For them, a shut down could be a devastating hit to them financially if they aren’t working.

Ideas/Solutions: There are still roles for many of these staff to play even if the building is closed, but they may be very different compared to the normal school day. Custodial staff should do a deep cleaning of the building and prepare it for the eventual return of students. Admin assistants can help connect teachers with students and vice versa as they have access to parent contact information. Cafeteria workers can help provide and deliver meals to those families in need. Teacher aides can use tools like Google Hangouts to meet with those students they serve and check in or assist on the work that they have to do at home. In some cases, while human contact in masse is to be avoided, they can also make one-on-one home visits like the counselors and nurses. While the building may be closed, there is still plenty of work to be done and these staff are vital to keeping things running efficiently as well as helping our students with special needs.

In summary, there is a LOT to consider before shutting a school down for a few days or even a few weeks. The questions above are just the tip of the iceberg, but they come from a multitude of librarians, teachers, and administrators across the world that genuinely care about keeping the progress of learning happening despite the closure of a physical building.

What plans does your school or district have in place? Please post your ideas and solutions in the comments section below. If I’ve learned anything from this post, it’s that we all are better when we work and collaborate on ideas together.

It’s Not All Black and White: A Conversation Around Equity

“People have one thing in common; they are all different.” – Philosopher Robert Zend

Last summer, Adam Phyall and I were engaged in an interesting conversation. This isn’t uncommon as anyone that knows us knows we can debate and discuss just about anything under the sun, but this time it was different. For one, we weren’t at a conference or a school building. We were “tubing” down a river in central Texas (a favorite past-time of ours down here). I throw that in not as a non sequitur, but to mention that we were both out of our normal “professional” environments which enabled some freedom in what turned into a highly engaging discussion around equity. During our 3 hours down the river we discussed our backgrounds. Where we came from. How we were raised. What we each had to overcome and what kind of supports we had. How we raise our children and how we find and cultivate “our crew” of friends.

We discussed race openly and honestly. This included conversations that might be uncomfortable for some, but with our years of friendship and genuine empathy, it was absolutely captivating.  We wondered – how do we help students understand the differences in race and culture in a way that is productive? Too often uncomfortable conversations are avoided or left to HR personnel that come in and talk to staff about equity in the hopes it makes its way into the classroom. Not knowing how to proceed on that front, we stuck a pin in the conversation until a later date.

That later date was a month later. I was about to take the stage at the GAMEIS conference in Savannah when Adam came in to chat. We sat in the front row and re-engaged in the conversation from a month before, albeit in a much more formal setting now. As we went back and forth, we weren’t aware that more and more people began to seat around us and listen in to our discussion. They were both “highly engaged and intellectually stimulated” (their quote, not mine) at not only our content but how we addressed what they admitted was a hard topic to tackle with honesty. At one point near the end of the conversation, Adam remarked, “We should just do this as a session.”

Image courtesy of Rick Bough @rbough

Our opportunity would arrive just a few weeks later. As we are both national advisors for Future Ready Schools, there was an opportunity to present our idea at the February TCEA conference in Austin. Future Ready Schools not only tackles the issues of technology, budget, privacy, and curriculum, but is also an organization that champions opportunities to solve issues of inequity in schools across the country. Adam and I had our opportunity to formalize what started as an informal discussion and turn it into an interactive conversation around equity.

On February 3rd, we walked into our session with both excitement and un-easiness as to how our conversation would be accepted. To ramp up the talk, we decided to wear coordinating t-shirts of “Ebony” for me and “Ivory” for him. As it was a Monday morning session in a week-long conference focused on technology tools, we weren’t sure how many people to expect around the topic. We were pleased to see so many show up ready to engage and discuss the truth about stereotypes we make regularly in our schools and how to use student backgrounds as a way to better inform our instruction rather than pass judgment on their character.

During one of the segments, we asked the audience to list what words we use in education that could lead unintended stereotypes. While Adam and I brainstormed a few, they came up with an overwhelming amount as you can see in the screen shot below:

We also discussed recent cases in Texas and New Jersey of students being asked to change their appearance and what other cultural assumptions we might be making in schools. Technology also has a part to play in this discussion. As was witnessed at the conference, eSports is making a HUGE splash across many high schools throughout the country. Those students on eSports teams can practice in school but many also practice at home on $3000+ computer gaming systems.  That immediately eliminates many of our lower-economic students from participating, a talking point many in the crowd hadn’t immediately considered.

While I won’t go through every point of the talk, our main goal was not to tell them how to solve every issue of inequity, but rather to make them think and reflect on their current situations. Neither of us represent an entire race. We only represent a viewpoint of two educators that have lived somewhat mirrored lives only from opposite identities when it comes to race. We listed the following three questions for audience members to reflect on:

At the end, we attempted to summarize our unique viewpoints with passion and emotion in 3 minute co-poetry slam titled “Ebony and Ivory”. After the talk ended, we were overwhelmed with the amount of support and interest from the audience. Many commented on the fact that these were the conversations we needed to be having regularly in schools. What kinds of conversations are you having at your school around equity and race? Too often times, these conversations are not conversations at all. They are a set of bullet points on a powerpoint at the beginning of the year staff orientation or a required video that staff watch along with blood-born pathogens so that schools can “check the box” on equity training.

We had definitely touched on a nerve while at the same time stretching both of us out of comfort zones when it comes to presenting. We’re not sure where this goes next but we do have some plans on how to engage students more in this conversation at the classroom level (stay tuned). We also hope to expand this session to more events in the future, as we feel this is a conversation that needs to take place in district offices and classrooms across the country.

Interested in having Adam and Carl come to your district or event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak

The Power of an Outside Voice – A Reflection on Professional Learning

I spent the past 21 years in education as a teacher and administrator. During that time I spent a great deal of my efforts on bringing high quality professional learning to our staff and community. In many cases, the professional learning events we provided would have not been possible without the help and support of an amazing team of educational technologists and coaches. While surveys and reviews of our work was always very positive, I started to learn during my career that sometimes, teachers need a change of voice and perspective to inspire them.

In 2011, I remember Dean Shareski being in Austin for a TEC-SIG event. I’d followed Dean on twitter like thousands of other educators and had been a part of his highly engaging conference sessions. When our librarian (Carolyn Foote – a superstar in her own right) told me that Dean was willing to come in a day early and do some training with staff, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Dean spent the entire day at Westlake High School training teachers on digital literacy, creativity and the importance of building a good network. While these were all things that Carolyn and I had been preaching to staff for years, there was something magical that happened when Dean said it. The staff lit up with ideas and began to come to us inspired to try new things.

As I left that day, I remembered two things that have stuck with me and are now the driving force in my new career as an educational consultant and speaker:

  1. Timing is everything when it comes to having a culture ready to try new things along with the tools and support with which to implement the change.
  2. Having an outside voice validate and align with your beliefs while also inspiring staff is a powerful catalyst to implementing campus and district-wide change.

Dean on stage at ISTE with me during his 2018 poetry slam

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Dean better as well as many other educators that travel the world making an impact on education through story-telling, resource-sharing, and idea-inspiring professional learning. As someone who now does this for a living, I hold that responsibility with the upmost importance. A district is putting their trust in me to not only align with their vision, but also inspire their staff to grow, innovate and learn.

Flash forward to the fall of 2018.

Our district had run several extremely successful professional learning events with iPadpalooza and LearnFestATX. These events brought in speakers and ideas from all over the world. Our staff were exposed to some of the greatest minds and most passionate educators I had ever met. As we were gearing up for our 2018 Professional Learning Conference (an internal-only event required of all staff to attend at the beginning of the school year), we debated who to bring in as a keynote speaker. In the past we had brought in a mixed bag of speakers. Some were inspirational (like Angela Maiers) and others were not as well received for a variety of reasons.

When we surveyed the staff the number one reason why they didn’t respond well to certain speakers, the top reason was a lack of authenticity. They felt as they were being sold an idea that either they weren’t ready for or felt like they didn’t have the support for (see my reason #1 above on timing). One staff member even wrote in her review of a particular speaker that she felt like she was “listening to a used car salesman”. Those reviews and the feelings of staff have greatly affected the way I do things when handed a microphone and a stage, but also really put the pressure on me and my team to bring in the best speaker possible. One that was authentic and would inspire as well as someone who truly cared about being on stage and sharing their story.

Tom Murray on stage during our 2018 PLC event

Enter Tom Murray. I’d gotten to know Tom over the years through my work with his organization Future Ready Schools. He and I share similar beliefs and approaches when it comes to making the most of your opportunity on stage in front of a school staff. As we are friends, I didn’t want to introduce him as I felt like that could affect perceptions of the staff (“oh, it’s one of Carl’s friends), and wanted to see how they would take him without any background. One of the trademark moments of many of Tom’s talks is a part where he talks about “misunderstood song lyrics” and how what we communicate can sometimes be misread. While I’ve seen him do it a bunch of times, it culminates with the crowd singing Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer with extreme enthusiasm.

Knowing my staff as well as I thought I did, I bet Tom back stage that there was NO WAY the staff would respond to this. Needless to say, I completely lost my bet. Not only did they respond to him, his message, and his story, when the Bon Jovi part came, they stood up and sang. And not just the next lyric, they sang the ENTIRE SONG!(See below) Later, I came on stage as Tom received one of the first standing ovations I can ever remember our staff giving.  I told the crowd that he was my friend, but if he didn’t do well, I was going to claim I didn’t know him :).

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Tom, Dean, Angela, and others have spent thousands of hours working on their craft as orators of information. They truly embrace the opportunity to share with staff from all over the world. They provide an authentic and different voice that schools need when the timing is right. This blog isn’t necessarily a tribute to them, but more of a reflection of an “awakening” I had while being in their presence as well as the many amazing speakers we had hosted over the years.

Having someone who agrees with your vision and can effectively articulate your message is a powerful thing. If the timing is right and the staff is ready to hear the message, brining in the right outside voice can have a positive impact on your learning culture for years to come. And most importantly, as teachers take ownership of that message, it will ultimately impact the learning of thousands of kids in classrooms in your school.

School districts spend millions on technology and flexible furniture, but the hardest thing to change is pedagogy and culture. Do not feel like you have to do it all by yourself. Bring in authentic voices to help you light a fire behind your vision and use them as a catalyst for the change your striving for.

I for one am glad we did with Dean, Tom and Angela. Their impact and support over the years is still with me and I will forever be grateful to them for both inspiring me and seeing the power of this work.

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Interested in bringing Carl in as an outside voice for your next event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak

My TCEA 2020 Manifesto

This year marks the 22nd year that I’ll be attending the TCEA conference. For those of you joining me at the event this year, I thought it might be nice to share a few ideas on how to make the best of your TCEA experience.  I created this “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.

If you are a first-time or veteran TCEA-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.

If you are with a group, create a back channel

Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. At my previous district, I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. If you aren’t comfortable with Slack, using a running Google doc or a Wakelet board would be another way to collaborate and share resources. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #TCEA2020 hashtag, but using a private back channel can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.

Download the app

Once on site, you’ll want to make sure you have a mobile version of the schedule. You can grab the giant paper notebook schedule if you prefer, but lugging that thing around can be cumbersome and you won’t know when sessions cancel at the last minute. Create an account and save sessions you’ll want to attend on the app. There’s also a social feed, a map, and a few other goodies located in the app. Be sure to upload a profile picture so you aren’t just a walking silhouette. 😉

Events

TCEA has several vendor-sponsored events that happen each evening of the week (especially Tuesday-Thursday). While it’s nice to have free food and beverages, I’ve found that these events are where I make the best professional connections. Sharing stories about our successes and failures over a malted, fermented beverage can be quite the bonding experience after all. The Exhibit hall opens at 3pm on Tuesday this year, so be sure to visit some of the vendor booths and see what is going on in terms of evening events and the tons of amazing giveaways they seem to always have. Also, check your email, as many VIP or after hours events may get lost in your spam.

Scheduling Quirks

TCEA doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 50-minute talks to 90-minute hands-on to 2-hour poster sessions and even half and full-day workshops. When you are locating your favorite sessions in the app, be sure to pay attention to the start and end times as many overlap.  Also, note that this year, TCEA has a dedicated time slot for the Exhibit hall (2:00-3:00) on Wednesday and Thursday, so that will likely be when it is most packed.

Sessions that intrigue me

I’m lucky enough to have 5 sessions accepted this year, but as they are spread out throughout the week, I’ll likely get a chance to check out many more sessions than I normally do (see my session list at the bottom of this post). Here are a handful of the sessions I’m intrigued with by day:

Monday – 

Fake News, Alternative Facts – Jennifer LaGarde

Empowered by What You See – Kasey Hutchinson & Adam Phyall

Making OER SMART – Leo Brehm & Bruce Umpstead

Tuesday – 

Curating Virtual Reality w/Spark – Monica Burns

Esports Immersive Experiences

Future Ready Culture: Creating Equity through Empathy – Brianna Hodges

Wednesday – 

Digital Wellness: Engagement Toolkit – Lisa Johnson & Chris Hanson

Educated by Design – Rabbi Michael Cohen

Creative Story Telling with Spark – Claudio Zavala Jr

Thursday – 

Personal & Authentic – Tom Murray

Let’s Bring Literacy to Life with Making – Shannon Miller

Infographics: Not Just Posters, 25 Creative uses – Rachelle Poth

Friday – 

Top Apps and Practices for Busy Administrators – Leslie Fisher

Create Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality – Jaime Donally

Takeaways and Reflections

Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.

Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (shout out to Lisa Johnson @techchef4u for these)

  1. What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
  2. What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
  3. What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
  4. Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
  5. Who are the top people that engaged you?
  6. What are the top resources you found most impactful?
  7. What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
  8. How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?

While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending TCEA allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.  Learning doesn’t happen in isolation.

For me personally, my barometer of success is fairly low. If I walk away every day and have both learned something new and met a new colleague, I consider the day a success. I hope you all have many successes next week and please come by and see me either at my sessions or somewhere in between!

 

My Professional Learning Nightmare

If you’ve been in education for any length of time, you’ve likely experienced a myriad of professional learning experiences. Conferences, webinars, book studies, workshops, and the dreaded “mandatory training” are all part of the lexicon of learning for the everyday educator.  Strangely, a large part of our profession dreads these events. Then again, maybe that’s not so strange.

We try and tell teachers to make their classrooms student-centered with voice and choice. We want them to incorporate movement and mindfulness as well as risk-taking into their instruction. Then we absolutely do NONE of that when it comes to professional learning. During my 10+ years as a provider for professional learning, I try to emulate all the things we are asking our teachers to do. If you’ve ever seen one of my sessions you know there’s movement, voice, choice, and conversation taking place regularly. I’ll admit, there are some times when I can tell educators just want to sit in the back and surf on the web or grade papers, but usually by the time we are finished, they approach me with comments like:

“You know, I hate ice breakers, but I’m glad I did that.”

or

“I really just wanted to sit in the back and get my 6 hours credit, but I’m glad you got me to participate and try new things.”

I think at our core, all of us are learners. However, I think for many of us, we have been subjugated to instructional malpractice when it comes to the teaching of adults, otherwise known as andragogy. Brianna Hodges and I are in the midst of a several-year debate on the subject that teaching adults is different than teaching kids, otherwise known as pedagogy. We recently took this debate on the air with the OnEducation Podcast, and while the debate remains unresolved, I do think we need to consider the learners in our audience whenever we plan professional learning.

Last night, I woke up in a cold sweat. I’d just had a series of nightmares about attending a variety of professional learning and ALL of the worst things I could imagine were happening. I quickly grabbed my notepad to write down some of the things I remembered so I could think about a cure for each uncomfortable situation. The following scenarios may make you cringe or may hit a little close to home, but please know, these are all completely hypothetical and pulled from my series of nightmares.

Nightmare #1: The professional learning that could have been an email

As I walked into the room I could tell there was something wrong. Everyone had their laptops open around the table and no one was making eye contact. Had I done something that offended them? Was my zipper down? Had I forgot my clothes? (remember, this is a nightmare). Finally my boss says, “I’m glad you all are here, this shouldn’t take very long but we need to go over our TPS reports.”  Obviously I had been watching Office Space recently and that had crept into my dream. I looked down at my watch and it was 9:02. I sat down in my chair and a foggy haze seemed to drift around me. It seemed like the clock was spinning rapidly and people’s faces seemed to get sucked into their laptop screens.

My stomach started to growl. You know, that uncomfortable growl that everyone else notices but you try and pretend your chair was just making a funny noise? Was I hungry? Or starving? Had we taken this meeting right through lunch?

What I looked like following this meeting

Then, I noticed my beard was growing at an abnormal rate. How long was this meeting going to take? What was this all about anyway? At the end, my boss asks me in a question in a voice that now sounded like my old varsity basketball coach, “Well Hooker, what do you think?!”

And then I wake up. The anxiety I was experiencing was similar to those that recount tales of being stuck in a small space or trapped in an elevator. It was like I was suffering from some sort of claustrophobia of learning.

Cure: I think that schools and districts have the best of intentions when holding meetings to discuss things. However, rather than making the meeting focus on items that could easily be handled over email, make it about outcomes. Consider “flipping” your faculty meetings so that time together is time to collaborate and problem-solve, not just disseminate information.

Nightmare #2: The all-day sit-n-get

I drifted back off to sleep and awoke in a strange room.  The walls were colored that sanitarium off-white tone. Everyone was in a chair and desk, but they all appeared to be wearing straight jackets and Hannibal Lecter-like masks. Suddenly, the lights dim and a person wearing what appears to be some sort of 1940’s style army sergeant clothes walks in. He begins to show us videos of classrooms, a wide variety of apps, and even shares some clever quotes. I was almost in a hypnotic state as I watched slide after slide loaded with bullet points about “optimal learning production” flash across the screen.

My back started to ache so I tried to stand up, only to find that I had been chained to my desk. Others in the room seemed to be struggling to move in much the same way. The presenter didn’t stop or even recognize the discomfort. He continued to drone on in what was quickly becoming a very monotonous voice similar to Ben Stein’s teacher voice in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The room began to spin. The walls closed in as the florescent lights over head began to buzz and flicker. The temperature seemed to be increasing. I was in hell. Finally, I got the courage to try and rock myself back and forth to try and tip over my desk in the hopes of breaking the chain. When I finally started to tip over, I awoke with a jolt. I had fallen out of my bed and found myself wrapped up in my sheets.

Cure: There are many days in our lives where we have an entire day dedicated to professional learning. Sometimes, the provider has only one job: to make sure you hear and see every bit of information they have prepared. The average adult brain can go 18-20 minutes in lecture setting before needing some sort of transition. My cure for the all-day sit-n-get is to break the day up into 20-minute chunks. Some of those chunks may involve some lecture or information sharing, but they never go longer than 20 minutes without some sort of brain break or discussion question to focus thinking. I often have my attendees “Stand-n-talk” to someone across the room about a question or idea. This accomplishes a couple of things:

1. It gets them out of their seat, thus increasing oxygen flow to the brain.

2. It makes them talk with someone that might not know as well, thus helping them expand their thoughts outside of their echo chamber.

Need other ideas on how to break up your professional learning day? You can find some of my favorite brain breaks on this google spreadsheet.

Nightmare #3: Drinking from a firehose

After picking myself off the floor and crawling into bed, I quickly fall back into the dream I was just in. Only now, something is a little different. I appear to be the only person in the room. I’m still strapped to my desk, but now there is a spotlight blaring into my face. I can’t quite make out what or who is behind the spotlight, but I do notice a 60-second countdown timer on the wall and what appears to be a panel of people sitting at a table taking notes.

Ready to drink from a fire hose?

The timer goes off and a door to my left opens. Someone walks in as a slide lights up on the projector screen. They quickly go through their presentation (about an app or idea, I can’t quite remember) and then proceed to walk off to the right and punch a giant red button.

I hear the squeak of a nob turning and look up just in time to be blasted in the face with a stream of water. As I shake off the water, I notice the timer go off again as another person walks in from the left.  They also rapidly go through their presentation as the 60 seconds counts down. Again, after the rapid-fire presenting of non-sensical information, the presenter slaps the red button and I get sprayed by a hose. And then another presenter walks in, followed by another and another and another. Each one does the same thing. They present information quickly and then punch the red button. After what seems to be 50 or 60 of these, I wake up in a cold sweat (and realize I need to go to the bathroom).

Cure: This scenario reminds me of the early days of apps when you would see all sorts of sessions that were “60 apps in 60 minutes”. They are referred to as firehose sessions for a reason. I will admit that one of my more popular session offerings is a “list” session, however I try and do it a little differently by building in some time for attendees to reflect on what I had just covered. Another cure for these rapid-fire sessions besides doing a little less and allowing for reflection, is to differentiate and prepare self-paced challenges ahead of time. I’ve started doing a session on “Google Tips & Tricks” which can admittedly be a misleading title. However, once the session starts, I give all the attendees access to the resources, which include a ton of self-paced challenges. I tell the crowd that there is no way I’m going to rapid-fire through all of these and that I know most people learn best by actually using the tool or strategy. Creating self-paced challenges ahead of time transfers the voice and choice of instruction from the presenter to the attendee.  They can self-monitor how much information they are taking in and decide whether or not to crank up the hose.

While these nightmares may seem extreme, my dreams were influenced by real events that I’ve experienced during my 21+ years in education. I do not have cures and solutions for every problem when it comes to professional learning. However, I do think if we begin to be just a little more mindful of our adult learners, we can start to make perceptions and attitudes around professional learning change for the good. One of the biggest compliments I ever get as a professional learning provider is when someone says, “I always look forward to your sessions because I don’t know what to expect but I know I’ll walk away entertained and with something useful.”

I think for providers of professional learning the best way to judge the success of what we provide is a simple math problem. Take the speed of which people are running to your workshop and divide it by the speed of which they are running away from it.

And hopefully don’t make these nightmares a reality.

 

 

 

Bold Predictions Sure To Go Wrong in 2020

A new year AND a new decade.  WOW. That went by pretty fast. It feels like just last year I was in the classroom trying to figure out why the Reader Rabbit CDs weren’t working on my Compaq computer. A lot has changed in the past decade and a lot WILL change in the next one. It’s hard to believe that I’ve done these predictive posts every year now since 2013.

Last year, one prediction that I totally missed was that I would leave my district administration job after 21 years in schools to take on the role of full-time consulting and speaking. While I didn’t predict that, I can say that so far I’ve loved working with schools and conferences all over the world to collaborate on thoughts and ideas for improving education. When it comes to my predictions over the last 7 years, my success rate has been around 50% which is much better than any baseball player or professional gambler.

That said, these predictions are meant to be taken with a grain of salt. They are meant to challenge both your thinking and mine. Some of them may seem like a future Black Mirror episode while others are just silly, but I’m trying to be BOLD so cut me some slack. So buckle up for 2020!

Social Media gets a mute button

With the 2020 election coming up at the end of the year, you know social media will be rabid with people from both sides of the aisle as well as a LARGE amount of trolls from Russia. While some companies like Facebook have tinkered with a snooze button, I think this is the year that an app comes out that takes all of your social media, text messages, emails, smoke signals, etc. and mutes them all for a period of time. This would be much simpler then having to delete all of your accounts or even mess with notification settings (although those are good skills to teach students).

A school goes 1:1….exercise bikes

Last week I caught wind of a tweet by @MrHamiltonPE (which as since been deleted) where they started a “READ and RIDE” program at their school designed to get some motion into their day. Almost immediately twitter tore it apart claiming it had to have been an article from the Onion or at best it was a misinterpretation of “active learners”. Part of the dangers of thinking differently is that you risk ridicule, but I don’t think the concept is completely out of realm of possibility. Personally, part of my daily routine is to now spend an hour on a stationary bike doing research or reading a book. Movement is a good thing when it comes to increasing oxygen levels in the brain and awaking the receptors for learning. So while this strategy might not be the right fit, there is something to adding more movement to the classroom. So why not go 1:1 with exercise bikes?  Remember when we used to spend thousands of dollars on eClickers?

With gamification and Orange Theories popping up everywhere, it might only be a time before a tool like CyclePath becomes widespread.  It connects to games that you play on a mobile device so if you want to run in the game, you have to actually cycle faster.  Not a terrible idea…

The Ed Poet’s Society goes Global

Back in 2017, following Lisa Johnson’s inspiration, we began an Ed Tech Poetry Slam (click here to watch the ISTE 2018 version). What started as a fun after-conference event idea has grown substantially since then, mostly due to the amazing educators who are a part of the Ed Poet’s Society. Brett Salakas (@mrsalakas) has taken this idea to Australia and really started to run with it, hosting his own poetry slam events down under. This year, he and I have a couple of tricks up our sleeves, but our hope is that this becomes less a prediction and more of a self-fulfilling prophecy as we try to make Ed Poet’s a global phenomenon. Stay tuned!

The 2020 Election will be heavily influenced by TikTok

As I mentioned in my first post, social media will play a huge role in the 2020 election. This particular prediction may have seemed crazy a few years ago, but when you think about how the last few years have gone with our leaders and their use of social media, is this really out of the realm of possibilities?  I think with TikTok announcing tighter security measures and guidelines last week, they are setting up to potentially be the go to source for where the masses get their information. While the company wants to remain politics free, this is social media…they should know by now that they have no control over that. This year, the election will be televised! (in little 10-15 second cute, loopy videos)

Elon Musk takes a crack at “disrupting” education

Will this be the year Musk takes a crack at education?

The mogul has taken on space travel with SpaceX and extremely strange concept electronic cybertruck recently. He is known for taking on concepts and ideas that seem to be rooted in traditionalism and then re-imaging them. So why not education? It’s 2020 and we are still hearing terms about how education needs to take a step into the 21st century. Flexible furniture and mobile devices aren’t enough, we need significant changes in mindset and vision. Time for Mr. Musk to take a crack at disrupting education. Let’s just hope it turns out better than his truck windows.

The Ambient Classroom becomes a concept

We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence and the use of digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa to help us through our day at home. Despite some security concerns, some schools have even started to implement programs with the consumer listening device in classrooms. This isn’t a new thing as you can find articles from the past couple of years about using inexpensive Echo Dots in the classroom.  “Ambient Intelligence” is the next level in artificial intelligence and I predict (assuming security concerns are addressed), that it could have a HUGE impact in the classroom.  Imagine a classroom environment that adjusts based on the mood, lesson, time of day, activity, etc? It is technology that actually reacts to the users in the room. How’s that for personalized learning?

“WiFi for All” finally happens

In 2013, President Barack Obama announced his ConnectEd initiative with the goal of getting internet access to underserved schools all over the country. While this has only been mildly successful, there are still many without access. With the rapid push towards 5G and the launch of satellite internet in the past year, there should be a point in the near future where students shouldn’t have to go to Starbucks for free WiFi. The LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites launched by Amazon and Tesla claim to offer robust internet access to even the most rural communities. Not only that, but with more internet options (like in my neighborhood, where I only have one), that would mean competitive pricing for current internet services. So, while it might not be free yet, I think we are closer to being a completely internet-saturated country, which will be important for all the TikTok videos we’ll be watching this year.

The micro-projector movement takes hold

A kindergarten teacher does small group instruction as her Nebula projects her iPad in the background

Remember back in the day when schools would spend over $5000 to install an interactive whiteboard to be mounted on the wall? It was one of ed tech’s early attempts at “modernizing” the classroom, but in reality, it only perpetuated the ‘sage on the stage’ approach to learning. Now many districts are shifting to large, mobile interactive displays. While I like that these are becoming more mobile, they are not very cost-effective for the district trying to keep their budget afloat. One of the districts I consult with was trying to come up with an idea for making presenting information more mobile but at a lower price than those large mobile displays. We decided to try a mobile micro-projector. For around $250, they purchased a handful of these Nebula Capsule and almost immediately saw benefits to both teacher and students in having an alternate way to display information. With built-in airplay and an HDMI port, any device can connect and display information on a flat surface. The screen instantly adjusts and bezels based on what it is projecting on. (hint – the lighter the color of the surface the better) It was amazing to see how just having one other projector made the classroom much more dynamic and less “front of the room” focused.

I will publish three VERY different books this year

I’ve been predicting that I will publish a children’s book for the last 3 years and failed on that prediction every year, but this year, I’m raising the bar.

This year I will publish 3 books in three different genres.

This prediction could be more about me blackmailing, but I already have the early ground work laid to make this happen. I’m hopeful I can find a willing publisher out there to take a risk with me, but if not, maybe I’ll take the ultimate risk and self-publish!

There you have it folks. My latest bold predictions for tech and it’s impact on education in 2020. One thing I didn’t list is less of a prediction and more of a hope. As I travel around in my new role, I hope that I get the opportunity to meet and engage in conversation with more fellow educators and colleagues. Despite all the excitement and rapid changes in technology, I still find that having good discussions with thoughtful educators is the biggest thrill for me.

I wish you all an innovative and safe 2020 and hope to see you at an event in your neighborhood this year!

A Look Back at Bold Predictions from 2019

For the past several years I’ve made an attempt to make some bold predictions on the future of technology and its impact in schools and society. They range from semi-realistic to too-silly-to-be-true, but ironically, some do come true. Before I post my list for 2020, it’s always good to look back and judge how I did. After all, the internet never forgets, so I might as well own my mistakes.

Prediction: Virtual Reality takes fright…er….flight in the classroom

Outcome: Getting close

While some would say this post is a bit of a softball toss considering VR has been around for more than a decade, recent explosions in inexpensive hardware has made it much more attainable. I still think we are only scratching the surface of this prediction and will be interested to see how it progresses in 2020.

Prediction: The Universal Translator will make learning a foreign language obsolete

Outcome: No lo creo (translation: I don’t think so)

Like most new things in tech, the first generations of these translators are still pretty awful. I don’t think the foreign language department or language immersion schools have much to worry about…yet. However, my guess is people that worked for Blockbuster thought similar things about Netflix and Redbox….and you see how that ended up.  Not very bueno.

Prediction: Alexa will accidentally burn down someone’s house

Outcome: Nailed it…unfortunately

Yes, this was a strange and morbid prediction loosely based on my story from the previous year of “When Smart Homes Attack“. However, about 2 months after I posted this, a retired firefighter actually returned to his home and found that his 3rd gen Echo Dot had set ablaze. While this wasn’t exactly what I predicted (my thought would be that some sort of stove would turn on by accident), it does raise awareness of the power of AI as we put it into our homes.

Prediction: Netflix will launch an EDU Version of its service

Outcome: Still out of service

While many other video streaming companies are out there vying for clicks and views, the major player in paid video streaming is still not taking my calls or emails to launch NetflixEDU. Sounds like a wasted opportunity to me or more than likely a way to avoid major copyright infringement by them. Some how, it has to work though…

Prediction: Restaurants will post non-device zones similar to non-smoking areas

Outcome: Going unplugged is trending

My blurry pic at a recent restaurant banning phones

It’s becoming more and more of a status symbol for fancy restaurants to block and ban cell phones to the supposed joy of patrons. However, it’s not just fancy restaurants doing this as I snapped this quick pic of a BBQ joint outside of Ft. Worth over the holidays. (blurry because as I took out my phone, someone yelled at me)

Prediction: Someone will write a blog/paper using only predictive text

Outcome: It has been predicted

This one was definitely silly, but I thought I would put it out there in the universe and even tried to write a sentence in predictive text. I will say, that my Gmail is getting smarter and smarter at completing my sentences for me (at what cost? who knows…) but we are still a few years off (maybe?) at this happening over an entire blog post. Yes there are tons of social media bots out there doing this to manipulate us daily (reminder folks, it’s 2020 – election time), but not a blog post. However, someone at the New Yorker took my idea an ran with it in this October 2019 article titled “The Next Word“. Close enough for a win for me!

Prediction: A couple will get married over Facetime

Outcome: Still illegal, but not for long

In doing some more digging around this prediction, technically it is possible to have a proxy marriage and Facetime could facilitate that. However, that still hasn’t happened. That said, it is interesting that there are a WIDE variety of Facetime marriage counselors out there…which is interesting.

Prediction: There will be a FortniteEDU for schools

Outcome: Won the Battle Royale

I might have cheated on this one a tad as I know Mike Washburn was working on this behind the scenes. I chatted with him a bit last month while being interviewed on his recent OnEducation podcast and while we didn’t bring the topic up on air, he mentioned some recent developments on this front.  In December he posted a link on his twitter account (pic below) to Epic Games reaching hosting an Interactive 3D contest for teachers with likely more ideas to come.

Prediction: A SMART toilet will save someone’s life

Outcome: Not fully flushed-out yet

I’m a CES nerd, so when I saw these trending last year, I thought there might be a chance someone would buy one and have it save their life via early detection.  As of this writing, it hasn’t happened yet that I can find, but someone did write just a few weeks after my prediction about the future of these devices and our health. This prediction isn’t totally down the toilet yet(although my puns are starting to stink).

Prediction: LearnFestATX will again break the rules when it comes to a conference

Outcome: It was a game-changer (and ender)

LearnFestATX Dueling Keynote – Ann Kozma vs. Matt Joseph

Little did I know when I wrote that post that it would also mark the end of my 13-year tenure with Eanes ISD. However, we did do some pretty epic things to finish out the event including the still-never-attempted “Dueling Keynotes” using silent disco headphones. What a great way to end my run in the district and kick off the #NextChapter in my career as speaker/consultant. I’ll miss that event and iPadpalooza that came before it, but predict there might be other exciting events to lead in my near future…..stay tuned. 

Prediction: Robotics enter mainstream curriculum

Outcome: We will See-3PO if it happens

I think this ground swell is continuing to grow and we’ll see more and more examples of teachers using inventive ways to use coding and robotics to showcase student learning. I’ve been lucky to advise on one of the companies (Trashbots) and have seen them really work hard at seamlessly integrating STEM into mainstream curriculum without a ‘heavy lift’ for classroom teachers. I’m excited to see where the future of this ends up in our schools.

Prediction: THIS will be the year my children’s book series actually gets published

Outcome: Progress, just not published

I predicted this for 3 years and finally started down the path to production. By soliciting the help of best friend, fellow educator and amazing artist Chris Parker (@kreyus), I might have finally overcome the final roadblock holding this project back. Hoping for a summer launch of this new series as well as…wait….don’t want to give too much away. 🙂

So there you have it. Overall, 2019 wasn’t a bad year for my predictions although there were some surprises. I’ve got some ideas brewing for 2020 and will have those up in the next week but here’s a hint: It’s time to be BOLD.

Mr. Hooker’s Winter Guide for Heating Up Learning in Your Classroom

It’s cold and dreary outside. There’s the smell of snow or musty wetness attached to all your students as they come in from the weather. The dreaded “indoor recess” phrase is on everyone’s minds but what is a teacher to do? How many episodes of Koo Koo Kangaroo can kids dance to on GoNoodle? I mean, what’s the limit?

Worry not! Below are a collection of fun, engaging, and interactive ideas to get your students moving, grooving and learning in a different way. Many of the examples below are meant for classrooms that might only have access to a few devices and around the idea of mixing both hands-on with digital interaction.


Create an “Amazon Box” Village 

The days that follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday can only mean one thing….TONS of boxes from the company with the little smile on it. As our houses fill up with these boxes filled with holiday joy, why not take advantage of all this material as a teacher? On Monday after Thanksgiving break, send a message home to parents to send in those boxes! (As a parent with an office full of these, I’m happy to comply)

Have some left over boxes? Put them to use!

Drawing inspiration from the Caine’s Arcade documentary, have students bring in a handful of boxes of varying sizes in order to design a small village. Each student will design a place of business and tie in components of financial literacy. Then, using markers, construction paper, glue and scissors, they’ll design their building facade and discuss its placement with the village commissioner (a student elected by the class). Students can write advertisements for the local village newspaper advertising their goods and services (tying in language arts) and even make commercials that can be tagged on the buildings using FlipGrid’s new Augmented Reality tool.

As the winter break approaches, slide the desks to the side of the classroom and layout your village for all to enjoy! Students can even record “flyover” tours of their village like those found in Apple Maps or even design their own mini-virtual realty tours using panoramic photos in Google’s Tour Creator.


Make a Virtual Realty Holiday Scene

It is important for students to understand that the holidays are much more than just Christmas or Hanukkah. Why not have students research the many different cultural celebrations of the holidays and then use a tool like Panoform.com to have them draw out a virtual scene?

As a teacher, this is a great mix of both analog and digital tools as you print out the grids from Panoform and discuss how items will need to be laid out to go from a 2D worksheet to a 3D virtual world. Students place important items from their holiday celebration throughout the grid then upload it to any device via the web to enjoy the new virtual world.

When everyone is finished, take a virtual gallery walk of each scene and have students explain the items they place in their virtual holiday celebration.


Use Brain Breaks to Open Up Creativity and SEL Skills

Most of the sessions I do at schools or conferences involve a WIDE variety of brain breaks. While movement in general is a good thing for awaking the brain (especially on a dreary day of no recess), many of these brain breaks also stimulate thinking while enhancing 21st Century skills like collaboration and communication. Here’s just a few of my faves that are good for any age or classroom and only take a few minutes which is great for waking the winter mind!

Endless Handshake

My favorite way for finding random partners is to play a song while students walk around shaking as many hands as possible. (You can also do fist bumps or high fives) As soon as the music stops, whoever they shook hands with last is their partner. I try and do this between or before each brain break activity. Think musical chairs, only without the chairs.

Thinking on the Fly

In pairs students are given one minute to generate a list of as many items that fit within a certain category. One catch – they must alternate responses. The teacher can either put the category up on the board or on the screen and to add to the fun/pressure, have a large timer somewhere that the kids can see it. Categories can range from “Things Found In Winter” to “Holiday Movies” to something more aligned with curricular topics like “character types found in a fantasy novel” or “settings found in books”. For those teachers that teach world languages, have students create their lists in the language they are learning!

Here’s Ms. Reyna (@MsReyna2) using Thinking on the Fly with her students.

Three-Word Stories

I was inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s Three-Word Stories and have been using it as a brain break in many of my workshops. The idea is that you and a partner take turns telling a story using 3 words at a time, but here’s the catch, one of you has to get the other to say a particular secret word. I usually have the partners face each other with one of them with a back to screen where I flash the secret word on screen for a few seconds. Feel free to tie the “secret word” into any themes or units you might be reviewing and sit back and watch the hilarity ensue!

Team Charades

Team charades in action at a recent workshop

Starting in pairs, students make up the shapes or objects you assign them. After a few rounds, have the pairs match up with another pair to make a group of four. You can then have the groups recreate scenes from famous stories, make up math problems, or recreate historical events. Then have the groups of four merge with another group to form a group of 8. Larger groups, mean larger objects. Have them recreate the water cycle or Stone Henge, the choice is ultimately yours.  Just be sure to emphasize and applaud the creativity as students think outside the box when creating their objects.

If you want to see some more brain break ideas, check out my giant Google spreadsheet of ideas here for free!


Have a Game Show!

Nothing like a little competition to raise the heat in the classroom. There are a wide variety of quiz gaming tools out there (Quizziz, Kahoot, Quizlet Live) but in this iteration, you put kids into teams of 3 or 4. If you have time, you can design your own Jeopardy! like game show using Powerpoint, Google Slides or Keynote, but to save time, I would recommend using a Flippity.net’s game show template. (Note: be sure to publish to the back-end spreadsheet to the web to make sure it works)

Then, students use mini dry erase boards or clipboards or a device to post their answers. The key here is making sure students are discussing their answers before posting them. Award bonus points as you see fit for groups falling behind or pick a random question as the “Double Jeopardy” questions for more points. This is a great way to review a unit and adds some competition and collaboration into the classroom.


Make the Classroom Into an Escape Room

One of the best activities for really getting kids to discuss feelings/frustrations is having them work collaboratively on solving clues using something like BreakOutEDU. Last year, when I got to substitute for my daughter’s 4th grade class, we busted out a few BreakOut kits for the kids to experience for the first time. Don’t have the means to purchase these? Check out the bevy of Digital BreakOuts available online for classrooms that have access to a few devices. While only half the groups succeeded in the particular challenge, what was amazing to me was the inability for some of the kids to persevere when faced with adversity and pressure. Some gave up and some argued with their teammates constantly.

This may not sound like a joyous time as a teacher, I found that the time we spent on discussion after the 45-minute BreakOut to be the most valuable. How can we do a better job listening to each other? How do we overcome adversity as a group and support each other?

In this day and age of social media discourse, disagreement and vitriol, spending a few moments to have an outward discussion around this would go a long way to handling arguments in the future while also promoting a sense of community in the classroom.

BreakoutEDU success and fail w/4th grade

I hope some of the above ideas are useful in not only helping you survive the gap between Thanksgiving and winter break, but also as ways to enhance learning in your classrooms.  Happy Holidays everyone!