Digital Parenting BINGO

I’ve spoken with parents from all over the country. One item that constantly comes up is “how do I know what I don’t know?” when it comes to raising kids in the digital age. While I always emphasize that tech or no-tech, parenting is still largely about relationships, communication, honesty, feedback, rewards and consequences. When you add a layer of technology to parenting, there are some additional items to be aware of and some “tools” you should have in your digital parenting toolkit. I created the Digital Parenting Bingo card as a way to easily show some talking points for parents that are dealing with either school-issued devices and/or personal mobile devices. Listed below are the talking points listed out in greater detail. Feel free to use and share with your community!

Devices in a common space – whenever possible, try and keep devices in an open, common, shared space. Even with the best filters, it’s a good idea to not allow devices behind closed doors.

Check filter settings – While devices are filtered on campus, they are on your network at home. Check your filter settings with your Internet Service Provider. Many provide free filtering software or you could use a service like OpenDNS or Disney’s Circle to help monitor and regulate activity on your home network.

Turn off devices 30 minutes before bed – The brain comes equipped with a circadian rhythm that adjusts based on the day-night cycle of the sun. In his TED Talk, Dr. Russell Foster suggests that ideally, you should turn off bright lights and screens at least 30 minutes before bed to get a better night’s sleep.

Use Guided Access for focus – In the settings of your iOS device, scroll to General->Accessibility. There you find a tool called “Guided Access”. Once enabled, it will lock the user into an app until unlocked. The code used for take the device out of Guided Access is different from the one used to unlock the device. For more information, check this support page.

Charge the device nightly – One of the most common issues that affects learning with mobile devices, is forgetting to charge the device at night. Investigate setting up a centralized charging station in your home and try to avoid having your kids charge their devices in their bedrooms.

Rules at a friend’s house – A new variable when sending your child to a friend’s or neighbor’s house are reviewing what their policies are when it comes to the internet and mobile device use. Review these rules with your child and, if possible, with the family he/she is visiting.

Know their account information – You should have access to all your child’s accounts and passwords. This shouldn’t be set up as a way to “spy” on your kids as much as it is to help with openness and transparency about what your child is  doing and posting online.

Be a good role model – Do you tell your kids how to act with their mobile device, but then you demonstrate the opposite? Imparting wisdom on your kids is important and much of that comes with how you model those best practices when it comes to your own mobile device.

No devices at dinner table – With our virtual world continually intermingling with our face-to-face world, many families use dinner as a sacred “no tech” time. A time to have conversation, reflect and discuss the happenings of members in the family.

Spot check the photo roll – Many of today’s social media apps are very photo-driven. Periodically, spot check items in the photo roll and also which apps are accessing the camera on the device.

What happens if they come across inappropriate content – Even the best filters fail. If your child comes across something inappropriate online, discuss what steps they should take to communicate this to parents. Sometimes these can turn into teachable moments, but not if your child is hiding it from you.

Discuss how the device is being used – Ask your child to share examples of how he/she uses the device in and out of school. Doing this allows you to switch roles with your child as you become the learner and he/she becomes the teacher.

Who are they sharing their data with? – Even as adults, we often quickly read through the ToS (terms of service) agreements with companies that access our data. Be sure to review which apps have access to your child’s personal information. Also, make sure they are not sharing their account information with friends or people they meet online.

Balance entertainment with educational screen time – While there needs to be a balance of screen time versus non-screen time, you should investigate how they are using their screen time as well. Educational, interactive screen time has a more positive effect on the brain versus passive entertainment-based screen time.

Check battery usage for which apps they are using – If your device’s battery  is draining too fast, or you want to “see” what apps your child is using regularly on their device, look at the battery usage under settings. It will detail which apps have been on the screen the past 24 hours and 7 days.

Set limits – The average person spends over 4 hours on their mobile phone. At times, kids will need help monitoring both how and how often they use technology. Work with them on setting realistic limits as to how much time they spend on their mobile device.

Check browser history – If you suspect your child may be visiting inappropriate sites, check the browser history in either Chrome or Safari. If you notice the history is blank or they have been surfing in “private” or “incognito” mode, you might want to have a conversation with them about what sites they are visiting and why they would want to hide those from you.

Create a techie agreement with your child— Rather than come up with a set of rules and limits for you child, work with them to create a tech or media use agreement. There are several examples of these on the internet that you can start with, but it’s important your child takes ownership in creating the agreement.

Enable restrictions if necessary— If your child is having a hard time focusing or using the device appropriately, you have the ability to set additional restrictions on the device. Here are steps on how to set up parental restrictions on an iOS device.

Balance between tech and non-tech times— Too much continuous screen time and sedentary behavior can be unhealthy for people. Part of being a responsible user of technology is knowing when to take breaks throughout the day.

Encourage problem-solving— We want our children to ultimately be self-sufficient. There are times when a website or app isn’t work they way it should on your child’s device. Before running to a parent or teacher, encourage your child to troubleshoot first and try to solve the problem on their own.

Keep device protected— The majority of device damage comes during transport between classes or between home and school. Use the district-provided protected case whenever in transit and be careful when tossing backpacks  on the ground as the impact could damage the device inside.

What happens when they come across an online stranger?— Just like when coming across inappropriate content, you want to encourage your child to share with you if they are ever approached by someone online that they don’t know.

Spot check email and social media accounts— Having access to their accounts is one step, but also occasionally spot-checking email, text messages and social media accounts can help keep you informed of what your child is posting. Ideally, this would also involve a conversation with your child about transparency and not necessarily involve you “spying” on their accounts.

The above list and bingo card are NOT meant to be a substitute for parenting. While some of the tools allow you to check-in or “spy” on what your kids are doing, I would always encourage you to have a conversation with your child on being transparent about what they are doing and saying online and on their devices.

When Smart Homes Attack

Editor’s note: The following is a recreation of actual events that happened on January 16, 2018 in Austin, TX. No one was harmed as a result of the events, save for some emotional scarring.

This past weekend, I decided to install a new wireless router. While this seems like a fairly mundane task of the 21st century family, what follows is an actual account of the events that transpired as a result of this.

First, some back story.

The last time I changed our home wireless router was 2012. I remember it well. It was a much more peaceful time then. Wireless connectivity was really only needed for my laptop and phone on occasion to save on data. We frolicked in the fields, played video games and watched cable television.

As what happened next will prove, present times are not so innocent and simple.

10:06AM – I started the morning by unplugging my gerbil-wheel-powered first-gen Netgear router that I bought at Radio Shack.

10:07AM – I began to look through the manual for my new, fancier, ultra-strong bandwidth system that’s all but guaranteed to make your skin tingle when you walk by it (It’s called something like the RoBoWiFi 3000 or the like).

10:19AM – A cold chill began to fill our home as I fumbled through the various cables and plugs under my desk.

10:22AM – The chattering teeth of my family alerted me to a major problem. You see, we use a Nest thermostat to control our house temperature. Without wifi, it had gone off-line and in “away” mode thus shutting off our heater during the coldest day in Austin since 1884. Suddenly, I knew the pressure was one to get this new router set up.

10:27AM – I went to turn on the lamp near my desk to get some better light and nothing happened. Last year, I had installed a Twist speaker bulb that was controlled by my phone through our wireless. It turns out I didn’t set it into an off-line mode, essentially, making the bulb useless.

10:31AM – I hear a tremendous shriek from our living room. We had cut cable a couple of months ago, which has been great, but also meant that any type of TV watching experience was now reliant on a combination of Chromecast, FireStick, AppleTV and aluminum foil antenna.  My kids plans for snow-day of watching every episode of “Dragon’s Edge” was now interrupted.

10:33AM – Shortly after scrambling for something to distract them under their heavy blankets, I mindlessly hand them their iPad. One problem, their favorite Animal Jam app required network access. This was getting serious.

10:35AM – “Alexa, add firewood to the shopping list.”

10:35:08 AM – Alexa’s response, “Sorry, I can’t connect to the network right now and are therefor a useless black monolith sitting on your kitchen counter.”

10:37AM (or so I thought) – I checked my watch to see how long we had been without Wifi.  As chilly breath became visible out of my mouth, I realized my Smart watch no longer had connectivity.

The world was ending in the Hooker household in little less than an hour.

I saw my life flashing before my eyes but realized it was only the flashing amber light of the new router attempting to connect. Years later, when they become adults, I imagine my kids will be telling their families how hard life was for them. They’ll tell them about the time their father nearly killed them when he pulled the wifi during a snow storm. The struggle was real.

Back to reality.

10:55AM – I got the wifi back online and quickly connected all our mobile devices, laptops, Nest, security systems, Alexa, light bulbs and even our Crockpot. (Yes, our Crockpot has wifi, don’t judge!)  The whole scene played out like that scene in Jurassic Park where Samuel Jackson was frantically trying to get systems back online. (see side bar)


This whole experience made me reflect at how quickly we have slow-boiled ourselves into a world where we rely on constant connection. My family owns a  lake cabin and have recently been debating whether or not to put wireless access there. Currently it’s equipped with all the essentials of life: An Atari, board games, a campfire, and woods. Life seems different there.

Not better or worse…just different.

Today I came across a short story by Ray Bradbury called The Veldt.  He wrote this story in 1950 and essentially outlines a future world where our homes are uber-automated with virtual walls, virtual smells and experiences that feed off of our thoughts. Our bathtubs bathe us, our toothbrushes work automatically, and we don’t have to life a finger to fold laundry. (cue the Laundry-folding robot from last week’s CES event). I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say, life takes an unexpected turn for this family. (here’s the cheesy 80’s video version for those of you non-readers)

In a curious turn of events, I remembered one of my favorite Deadmau5 songs is called “The Veldt” and discovered the video is essentially a shout out to this Ray Bradbury short story. After you read the story, watch the video below.

I would love you to leave your comments below and hear your thoughts on what this all means for us as parents, as humans, and as a society.  I don’t see this future getting any slower for us, but I think an awareness of the pros and cons of automaticity should happen as we connect more appliances to our homes.

Hold on to your butts!



Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2018

Tim Ferriss, the renowned and often maligned podcaster and author, doesn’t make resolutions for the new year. Instead, he likes to reflect on the year that has been and look at what events in his life brings him joy and what events do not. Using that data, he then makes sure to schedule more of what brings him joy in the year to come. Not all of us have that freedom, but I do like the intent behind his reasoning in doing so.

For me, I too don’t make resolutions, I make predictions. Predictions that are not always that likely to come true, but may not be that far-fetched when it comes to technology and our classrooms. Consumerism and pop-culture certainly play a huge role in the creation of this list. For instance, the Netflix series Black Mirror and the book Ready Player One definitely had some influence on this year’s list as both propose alternate, but possible futures.

As Tim does, it’s always good to go back and reflect before moving forward. If you would like to go back and look at the previous 5 years worth of predictions, look here. While I try and stick to education and technology’s influence on learning, I do sometimes stray to the world of pop-culture, politics, and everyday life.

And with that, I present this year’s bold predictions sure to go wrong in 2018:

AR will help us “see” students’ level of engagement

A few years back, the Melon Band was looking for funding on Kickstarter and I wondered what the possibilities would be for kids in school.  The premise- you can actually see what your focus looks like via an app on your smartphone. Now extrapolate that technology out a few years and add a level of augmented reality. I predict there will be a future where the teacher can hold up their phone or a tablet and instantly see what the level of student engagement is in their class.  I bet with some upgrades, you could even change your voice to the Charlie Brown teacher voice, “Wah wah wah wahhhhh” and watch their engagement tank.

Digital badging will replace college degrees

In a future world where you need to be adaptable in an unpredictable work force, being badged as an expert in several different areas could be highly marketable. Rather than spending 4 years working on one field of study, why not spend a few weeks or months getting credentialed as an HTML5 coder or a social media guru? The other benefit (besides saving more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt), would be that current employees could use badging to continue to grow, learn and improve on their craft as well as other topics they are passionate about. The flexibility and targeted focus of micro-credentials could help a company improve in areas where they have weaknesses not by hiring more people, but by improving their existing work force.

A school will fully implement AI to help with learning disabilities

Sugata Mitra had the idea of putting a “computer in the wall” to help kids teach themselves through student agency back in 2005. While this concept showed that kids with proper motivation can learn just about anything, there were still some holes to fill. With artificial intelligence and enough data points, we could get to a future where schools and classrooms can immediately learn a student’s behaviors and preferences that help them learn. The role of the teacher would be more of a project manager and instructional designer for each student in their class as they use the data to create experiences that help their students expand their future ready skills both as an individual and as a member of team.

“4D” technology will help kids truly experience history

My friend and colleague Tim Yenca (@mryenca) just returned from a trip to Disney World and recounted his experience with the Pandora ride there. The ride involves the use of virtual reality goggles and physical experiences (such as the feel of the beast you are riding actually breathing on your legs) to immerse the player into the world. With improving VR technologies and high-end resolution, it’s only a matter of time before that experience is combined with some of haptic suit (via Ready Player One) to have your students truly experience an event in history. Imagine, being in the theater when President Lincoln was assassinated? Or being on the ground when the troops stormed the beaches at Normandy? That’s the kind of experience that you can’t get from reading a textbook.

A Presidential pardon will happen via Twitter

Really? Is this that hard to envision in today’s political climate?

This year #EdTechPoetrySlam becomes a thing

My attempt at #EdTechPoetry

Shout out to Lisa Johnson (@techchef4u) for getting this idea started at the last iPadpalooza when we took 12 speakers from around the country and threw them on stage for 3 minutes without anything (no props!) except their words and microphone. I’ll admit this isn’t that bold of a prediction as I know there will be a version of this at Tech & Learning Live in Chicago (May 11) and also a soon-to-be announced exclusive after hours event during this year’s ISTE. Stay tuned for more details on that….


A ride-sharing app for parents will be invented

I have to give credit for this to my own local group of amazing community parents who brought up the need for this at a recent tech talk. Our students have tons of after school activities that they attend. You see a parent pick up their own kid to take them to the same place you are going with your kid after school. Rather than having parents play chauffeur to their kids and never have time to run other errands, why not coordinate all of that in an Uber-meets-NextDoor type app? This app would allow parents in a community to coordinate driving kids to similar activities thus cutting back on traffic and helping connect people with similar interests. Of course, the old fashioned way to do this would be just to go talk to another parent about this, but who does that these days?

Oprah will run for President

Just making sure you were still paying attention, but she did deliver a powerful Golden Globes speech!

Drones in education could be a thing

While the rules and regulations around drones seem to be ever-changing and all over the map, the role of these devices in our future is certainly going to be disruptive. Knowing that these devices will play a part, what do we need to teach kids about it? How can we use this technology to give us a different view on learning? This is more than a lesson on how to build a drone for sure. The sky’s the limit….(get it?)

“The Learning Festival” aka LearnFest launches with some unexpected twists

This past year was the last of our iPadpalooza event. The rebranding of this event into “LearnFest” has been a long time coming and this year will only feature a smaller prototype version of the event (LearnFest launches to the public in June of 2019).  That said, there are a couple of ideas we’ll be trying that I can promise you have NEVER been done at a conference or learning event. Keep alert for special invites to this year’s event by following the @TheLearnFest twitter account or this blog.

My new children’s book gets a publisher and is actually published!

This is less a prediction and more of a call for help.  Maybe I should launch it on Kickstarter….

A Boba Fett movie will be announced

Just making sure you read until the end. It’s been rumored but this is the year it becomes official! 🙂

Happy 2018 everybody!

A Look Back: Bold Predictions for 2017

This marks the 5th year I’ve laid out a series of bold predictions around education and technology. Some years I’ve hit it out of the park (like in 2015 when I predicted Pearson would lose it’s massive testing contract in Texas) and others I’ve totally flubbed (like in 2013 when I said a non-Apple tablet would lead in educational sales).

Going back over the 30+ predictions I’ve made, I would say that about half of them have now come true. So while I may not be a Carnac the Magnificent, I’d say I’m just a step above Miss Cleo.

Let’s take a look back at this year’s predictions and see how close they came to becoming a reality.

Prediction: A Dual-Language school will open with coding as the second language

Outcome: Nailed it! (sort of)

More and more coding is getting integrating into the curriculum and not just become a thing to do on Fridays or for one hour in December. That said, we are still a long ways away from it truly being thought of as a second language. The state of Texas did pass a law this year that  counts coding as a foreign language credit, but only if a student has attempted and been unsuccessful in a traditional foreign language course. (See item 74.12.(b)(5)(B)(iv) buried deep in the TEA rules). However, some schools have now started to embrace coding as a second language and some schools (like Willmore Elementary in California) have started their own “Coding Immersion” programs in elementary.

Prediction: The POTUS will use SnapChat to give the State of the Union

Outcome: Wrong social media platform

I may have been stretching it but if you think back, I wrote this post prior to Trump taking office. Little did I know how he would utilize social media (Twitter specifically) to press forward not only his agenda but also some crazy tweets early in the morning to insult random people in the press. Thinking back at this first year in his presidency, I don’t know how far-fetched it would be for him to tweet out the next #sotu rather than deliver it. And who thought this was a good idea?

Prediction: The Learning “Movement” will take center stage at this year’s iPadpalooza

Outcome: Almost

We did take a stab at some “walk n’ talk” sessions and of course with the APPMazing Race, had people running all over the place. However, with this year being the LAST year of iPadpalooza, I will say that in the future the movement will shift more towards “learning” as we prepare to launch the next iteration of the Learning Festival formerly known as iPadpalooza. (stay tuned to for more news coming in 2018)

Prediction: Someone will invent a PokemonGO type app for education

Outcome: Not quite

Much like the PokemonGO movement, this idea had legs early, but hen fizzled out. However, as you may see with a later prediction, this could be a possibility in our future.

Prediction: Data actually gets sexy

Outcome: Maybe not sexy, but mildly attractive?

There have been a slew of companies trying to make headway in this arena around Ed Tech tools lately.  The one I mentioned in this piece last year (CatchOn) has grown leaps and bounds and is now receiving almost a Terabyte of data from over 10 Billion data points. All that data is taking us from this exploratory phase of Ed Tech towards a more robust and meaningful approach to how we use learning technology and applications in our school. I’m excited for the future, even if it’s not sexy…yet.

Prediction: Mixed Reality makes it’s way into the mainstream classroom

Outcome: Still a ways off

My excitement for mixing virtual and augmented worlds in our classrooms may still be way off base, but I think the concept still makes some sense. We have static classrooms with dynamic devices, why not have kids explore Mars while walking across the hall or visit Egyptian tombs while drawing hieroglyphics in Art class? The possibilities are endless.

Prediction: VR-Enhanced Movies!

Outcome: It’s here…just not mainstream yet

A couple of months after I made this prediction I was made aware of the documentary “Clouds Over Sidra“.  This film was created for the United Nations with the intention of making government officials “feel” what it was like to be a 12-year old girl growing up in a Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The responses from U.N. Officials were overwhelming, not only from the story but from the immersion into Sidra’s world via Virtual Reality. While this has all sorts of real-world applications, like the documentary, I’m curious to how this could affect education for the better. And more importantly, how long until George Lucas re-releases Star Wars in VR? I can’t wait to be sitting inside the Millennium Falcon next to Han and Chewy.

Prediction: The Classroom becomes “Smart” with Frank

Outcome: “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”

In this prediction I joked about a future classroom where much of the “low-hanging fruit” were taken care of by a digital teaching assistant called Frank. Much like Alexa and Google Home, Frank can respond to questions but also control various aspects of the classroom (imagine automated attendance!?). With the Internet of Things (I.O.T.) still in the early stages of consumer use, we likely wouldn’t see this in our classrooms for a few more years. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for using our fingers to type out important internet searches like “When was the battle of 1812?”

Prediction: I finally publish my first children’s book…and this time I mean it!

Outcome: In progress

For the last couple of years, I’ve ended with this threat…er….prediction. It took me a couple of years of motivation, but I finally found both the story and the medium with which I want to create my first children’s book. (Check out my “7 Strange Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Keynote” post for a hint)  While I haven’t published the book yet, it’s about half-way finished and should be ready for release in the Spring of 2018. Stay tuned for more details on that and if anyone knows of a good children’s book publisher…send them my way.

So that wraps up another year of bold predictions. I have to say that this past year was my best year so far, but I don’t want to start patting myself on the back quite yet. Now it’s time for me to go into my private bunker and strategize what will make 2018 list. Flying school buses? Self-tying tennis shoes? Tune in to find out.

Until then, see you on the other side.




7 Strange Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Keynote

I use Keynote for MacOS for pretty much everything these days. I’ve even starting teaching some “Keynote Master Class” courses for teachers and coaches in my district and at other events that I’m a part of.  Even in rooms with the most polished Keynote users, I always show them something they didn’t know they could do with it.

Here are a few things I bet you didn’t know you could do with Keynote:

1. Make your own icons

With the latest iOS11 update there is now a bevy of new icons available. All of these icons can be manipulated, edited, color formatted, and broken apart. However, there may be times when the icon you are looking for is not in Keynote. Did you know you could create your own?

Here’s how.  Let’s say you are wanting to make a cloud icon different than the one in the shapes kit. Simply make a bunch of overlapping circles, select all of them, then click on “Arrange” and “Unite” to create a solid icon that you can now change into multiple colors. This is different than “Group” as it binds all the assets together into one solid shape. You can also use tricks like “subtract” to create voids or spaces in your shapes (like when creating an iPad icon).

Once you’ve finished creating your new icon, two-finger click (right-click) on the object and choose “Save to My Shapes”.  You’ll be prompted to give it a name and from now on, this icon will appear on your “My shapes” list in Keynote.

2. Create a Choose-your-own-Adventure story

Do you remember HyperStudio stacks? How about those old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories? With slide hyperlinking in Keynote you can recreate this same feel by making text or images “hyper-linkable”. Two-finger click (right-click) on an object to “Add link” then select Slide as the link destination. Select the slide that you want the image to link to.  The good news is, you can re-arrange slides and the links will remain intact.


3. Make powerful Infographics

Keynote comes with multiple export options including images and PDFs.  You can also change the size and shape of your keynote slide in the “Document” menu of your presentation. Besides the standard and widescreen options, you can create a “Custom slide size.”  One note, do this BEFORE you create your slides or infographic as it will alter the images and text on your slide if you do it after the fact.

Now that Keynote comes pre-built with icons and you can create your own (point #1), you can design, group, and arrange items on a longer slide that is visually appealing. Since Keynote has pre-built guides, it will do the spacing for you and lock them into place when they are evenly distributed.

Once you are done creating your infographic, export it as either an image or a PDF to share with others in device agnostic formats.

Side note: I also use Keynote to create custom banners for Google Forms, since you can change the slide size to something wide (Like 940 x 360) and export it as an image. (I even made the featured image for this blog post in Keynote)

4. Create a Color Pop effect with black & white images

I love seeing black & white images where a part of the color of the image stands out. In the past, if I wanted to make this “Color Pop” effect, I had to import the image into Photoshop, remove the color, create a layer, lasso the object, add back the color, etc.  Now, since I can change the slides into any custom size and import as an image (see #3 above), that means I can do the same thing with an image that I alter.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Add the color image you want to alter to your slide.
  2. Customize your toolbar (go to View->Customize toolbar…) and add the “Adjust Image” tool and the “Instant Alpha” tool to your tool bar.
  3. Select the image. Copy/paste it on top of itself.
  4. Select the image and click on the Adjust tool.
  5. Turn the saturation all the way down (-100)
  6. Using the Alpha tool, carefully remove part of the black and white image (click and drag in small amounts) to reveal the color image behind the black and white image.
  7. For bonus, add a text box that matches the color with a quote or saying (use the eye drop tool on the color palette to match colors)
  8. File -> Export to…Images

Here’s a finished example:

5. Design art for a Children’s book

Every year I try and predict certain educational or technology innovations. I also use this post to “blackmail” myself into trying something different and expanding my skill set. This year, I said I would create a children’s book and after months of struggle, I found inspiration in a strange place….Keynote.  Since you can create and edit your own icons (#1 on this list), and Keynote comes with a freehand drawing tool, I can now create icons and characters for the book and design all the art on custom-sized Keynote slides (#3 on this list).

I don’t want to give away the final design as it’s still in draft mode, but because I’m creating this entire book in Keynote, that means I can also “read” it to kids in full-screen mode (via Keynote) once it’s published. I’ll even add animations to it…

6. Create a GameShow Spinner (as seen on Jimmy Fallon)

I absolutely LOVE the random celebrity generator that Jimmy Fallon uses on his show to get celebrities to do impersonations of others or singing random songs. (Here’s a good example of Ariana Grande remixing songs with other artist’s voices.)  As I watched this bit, I wondered…could I recreate that random wheel spinner in Keynote?

It turns out the answer is yes. It takes a lot of steps so rather than list it out, I created a little video of how I did it:


7. Recreate the Stranger Things opening title animation

This was admittedly just for fun until my friend from down under (Jonathan Nalder @jnxyz) approached me to create a workshop on thinking creatively or “Stranger Thinking”.  I decided to see if I could use Keynote to re-create the iconic opening credits from the hit Netflix show Stranger Things.

Using the Magic Move transition and the soundtrack to the show, I was able to recreate my own version of the opening sequence. Here’s how:

  1. First I created the “ending” slide, or where I wanted the words to end up when they finished moving. For this particular animation, I broke apart the words into different parts and changed the shadow to red with some blur to give it a semi-neon effect.
  2. I found a found that matched the show opening (Benguit font) to create my word and made some transparent rectangles with red borders to create the moving shapes coming into focus.
  3. After I finished the ending slide, I duplicated it. On the first slide, I moved all the objects off the slide canvas into various areas in the grey area around the slide so it starts out blank.
  4. I then added the Magic Move transition and set the duration to 10 seconds.
  5. I added the Stranger Things audio file to the slide deck soundtrack. (choosing Document->Audio)
  6. I recorded the slideshow (Play-> Record Slideshow)
  7. I exported the file as a Quicktime movie.

Here’s the final result:

Now that I’ve started unlocking the potential of Keynote, I know I’m going to find more uses for it in the future. I also am working on making the above instructions into instructional videos on my YouTube channel for HookerTechTV. One person to follow that has really expanding the uses of Keynote is Katie Morrow (@KatieMorrow). She recently released a “Coding in Keynote” project and has even used Keynote to create 3D Hologram images.

School for the UnDead

As I approached the my new school, I had some serious apprehension. Why did mom make me transfer to Zed Middle School? None of my friends were here and the stories about this school were unreal. Scary stories. Stories I really don’t want to believe.

There were rumors of vampires living in the attic and strange creatures living in the basement. Stories about detention being one of those spike-enclosed coffins where you couldn’t move without fear of losing a limb. As I walked into the front doors a loud creeeeeeak echoed down the dusty and cobweb-filled hallways. Were the stories true? Or were they worse?

The front office secretary was a witch. I’m not sure if this was because today was October 31st or if she was an actual witch, but after speaking with her, I supposed it was the latter.

“Where’s your transfer slip?!?” she screeched.


“YOUR TRANSFER SLIP!” she bellowed.

“Oh, you mean this?” and I handed her the slip of paper that had come with me from Viva Middle School, along with my tattered backpack and my Ghostbusters trapper keeper.

“Go down the hall. Room 666. You are late for Mr. Stein’s class. And he HATES it when kids are late.”

I approached my first class and looked for room 666. Frank N. Stein had been a teacher at this school for what must have seemed like hundreds of years. His style of teaching was a mash up of body parts and trendy instructional approaches of years past. Think Madeline “Vampire” Hunter-style with some SAMR (Scary Anthrax Mummified Ruins) model thrown in for good measure.

“Come in. So nice of you to join us.” Mr. Stein grunted.

My teeth were starting to chatter as I made my way towards my seat where my first of a series of horrors would begin. Unlike the nice flexible furniture at Viva Middle, the desks in these schools were akin to all-in-one torture devices. A metal arm bar dug into my ribs as I sat on the hard, flat chair. My back began to ache but I dare not move.

“I wonder what it looks like to collaborate with other students?” I asked myself inside my head.  The truth is, there was no collaboration in this class. In fact, I’m not sure exactly sure there was even learning taking place in this class. I looked around at my classmates to see if there was any hope of friendship or salvation in this hostile environment.

That’s when I noticed it.

Something was off.

All the kids had their heads down, noses buried in their textbooks. I looked at the kid to my left. He had blood coming out of his ears.

“Um, excuse me,” I whispered, “you have blood coming out of your ears.”

GRrrrraaaaachhh!” he moaned back.

Part of the Fearson textbook revealed!

His eyes seemed to have a cloudy haze over them and brownish-drool began to drop from his mouth. I looked around the room frantically for help. All the students seemed to be in a dazed stupor as they looked at their Fearson textbooks. Mr. Stein continued to speak to the class in what seemed like some sort of spell or chant. I leaned forward and tapped on the shoulder of the student in front of me. She turned to reveal greenish, torn skin and black teeth.

“Arrrrrrraaaach” she growled as her head turned and red eyes looked me up and down like a piece of meat.

What is this place? Where am I?

The next class wasn’t much better. In fact, it was worse. The teacher was some sort of banshee. You couldn’t see her face through her stringy black hair and she walked almost like in fast-forward at times. Jumping around the room from desk to desk. In her hands, she clutched a piece of paper with lots of little dots on it.

Oh no. I had heard rumors of these. The scrolls of the dead. They were called Scaretrons. Little bewitched pieces of paper that you have to fill out with blood and slowly suck away your soul.

It was at that moment that I realized where I was.

Zed was a school for the undead.

Torture-device desks in rows.

Scary, unapproachable staff.

Fearson curriculum.

And the soul-sucking high stakes assessments filled out via Scaretron.

This was not a place to learn. This was a place where brains go to die.

Sound familiar?

When Should I Give My Kid a Smartphone?

We recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launch of the iPhone. That means the iPhone has been in production two years longer than my oldest child. Every student in elementary school today cannot fathom a world where smartphones don’t exist. I LOVE this Douglas Adams about technology in our lives:


With the invent of the smartphone being so new to those of us over 35 yet part of the natural way of things for those under the age of 10, you can see how this can become a major topic of contention. One of the major discussions amongst parents in my community and others is when is the right time to give a child their first phone. This is an ongoing debate in the Hooker household as well. While my kids have access to devices like iPads (both at home and at school) there are times where it might be helpful for them to have access to a phone.

Here’s one example that was shared with me recently:

When we were kids and we went to a friend’s house, we had to call our parents to let them know we had arrived.  The only problem with that solution today is that many households are getting rid of landlines which makes it hard to communicate with your child when they aren’t within your grasp.

Now, some could argue that may seem like more of a convenience then anything and to just get your kid a “dumb phone” for that purpose. While we’re still on the fence about when to give our oldest her first phone, here are a list of reasons why it might make sense to do it sooner rather than later.

Becoming a Good Digital Citizen

What does it mean to be a good citizen much less a digital one? Much of this practice happens at home at an EARLY age when we teach our kids how to be respectful, say “please” and “thank you” and not to chew with their mouth open. While there is much more to being a good citizen than just that, we do start building those traits as soon as our kids can speak for the most part.  Enter in the smartphone and the world online.

While many of the rules of modern society apply to an online environment, some do not. The ability to be “anonymous” (I put it in air-quotes because no one is truly anonymous online) on the internet can bring out the worst in some people. Just look at the comment section of any online discussion or better yet, listen to the story of Lizzie Velasquez (video below), who’s father I used to work with. Lizzie was looking at YouTube one day when she came across a video that was titled “The World’s Ugliest Woman” and was shocked to find footage of herself on the video. While this is an extreme example of what the online world can do to people, her reaction and subsequent inspirational talks turned what could have been life-devastating to life-defining.

The sooner we start to work with our kids on appropriate online behavior the better. When we thrust them into this world in the middle of their teen years, many bad habits have already started to form. Throw in the fact that they have “teenage” brain and don’t believe a thing their parents try to teach them, and you start to see that it might be more beneficial to have those conversations about online behavior at an earlier age.

Handling a Cyberbully or Troll

Lizzie’s example from above was just one of countless examples of cyberbullies or trolls that you can find on the web. Bullying has been around long before the days of Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver. With social media and instant communication, it is now easier to torment or harass someone. Every year it seems, there are stories out there about teens committing suicide due to being the target of a cyberbully. Your first reaction as a parent is to protect your kids and prohibit them from entering this online world. I know that’s mine. You figure, if they aren’t online, they won’t have to deal with a cyberbully.

These stories are tragic and shouldn’t be ignored, but we also shouldn’t completely put our kids in a cyber-bubble. The numbers of teens that have experienced or witnessed some form of cyberbullying is nearly 90%. However, bullying behavior, whether online or face-to-face begins as early as Kindergarten. As kids get older, they tend to be more reluctant to report bullying to parents. While this may not seem like the best reason to give your 10-year old a phone, one thing is for sure, the sooner they learn how to handle this sort of online behavior with your support, the better.

Regardless of when you give them a phone, you need to be actively involved in your kid’s online and daily life. That means understanding the social media sites they frequent. While we may not understand the fascination with the SnapChat dog-face filter, we should look for opportunities to have our kids teach us the ins and outs of a platform while we play the role of student. Not only will this open up lines of communication, but it will also give you an opportunity to relay some life wisdom to your child and discuss scenarios of what to do when a troll or cyberbully attacks.

Again, just like with citizenship, when our kids are in their primary grades they is a strong likelihood they will witness, become a victim, or participate in some form of bullying. We need to be involved and on the look out for signs like depression, anxiety, anger or fear. Unlike face to face situations, we have a multitude of digital tools to help us monitor and track when a cyberbullying situation may be taking place. I like the advice given in this article which includes setting up a Google Alert for your child’s name. The sooner we can have these hard conversations and problem-solve the solutions the better.

Data Privacy

This past year, I started having social media and cyber safety talks with 4th and 5th graders. I did this for many of the reasons stated in this post but mainly because I felt like a lot of bad online habits were already forming by the time students were in middle school. One of the most interesting discoveries in talking with 10 and 11 year olds wasn’t that they don’t know what a floppy disk was (although I found that depressing), it was that they were adept at identifying what information to not tell a stranger online.

They knew not to give out their personal information, address, credit card number, etc. whenever they were involved in an online discussion or game. However, when I showed them the terms and services agreements that often pop-up where a company wants access to your information, most just said they click “ok” or “I agree” and continue on (Parents are guilty of this too). A stranger can come in all different forms, from an online person acting like a child to a multi-million dollar company stealing your information and selling it to others.

Be careful what you agree to…

Having kids check with their parents before downloading malware or accepting terms and agreements that make their data privacy vulnerable is important. When kids enter middle school, they are testing their independence and for the most part, decide they can make these choices for themselves. While it’s important that they gain some independence, we need to scaffold and build a foundation of understanding in them early on when it comes to their data privacy online. Otherwise, they might all be trying to give a Prince in Nigeria money by accident.

Learning How To Balance Life

Research shows that most habits and much of a child’s personality are formed by the age of 9. One thing we started working with our kids on as early as 4 was self-monitoring their screen time and appropriate times to use technology in everyday life. While we as parents don’t always model this the best, our kids have begun to internalize the best practices that come with using technology and social interactions in everyday life.

By scaffolding these skills early on in their life while their habits are forming, we will likely be more successful battling against things like internet addiction or social isolationism. Will there still be battles in the future as our kids become teenagers? Absolutely. But by building those habits in their early years, we’ll have a strong foundation to build on. My wife and I are far from perfect parents and still have moments where we battle this digital balance with our kids. However, as the years go on, we’ve found that our kids have become much more cognizant of an overuse of screen time.  Recently, during my usual Sunday football viewing, my middle child told me, “I think that’s enough screen time for the day, let’s go out and play.”  This type of internalized self-awareness doesn’t happen without tons of practice while they are in their highest habit-forming years.

Building Healthy Relationships

Part of that life balance besides just screen time, is building the skills to have healthy relationships both online and in person. Many adults and older teens, to whom the smartphone is still considered “new” have struggled with the management of peer-to-peer and parent-to-child interactions. Some of this is due to the instant gratification and distraction that comes with constantly checking our phones.  Modeling when to be on our phones and when not to is one of the best ways to show how to have healthy relationships and interactions. Modeling can only go so far in teaching our kids the best practices of relationships though. Having some access to a device to “practice” and fully internalize this skill early on will help as they enter their later teen years.

Avoid Parent Shaming

At this point I should put a MAJOR disclaimer: This post is not to be considered a persuasive essay on why we should give every kid a smartphone at the age of 6. Let’s agree on something – every child and family is different. Some kids can easily handle the social pressures of online interaction early on in life. Others have noticeable changes in behavior just by having access to a screen for more than 5 minutes. Regardless of which child you are raising, teaching them to be digitally aware is not easy. But then again, neither is parenting.

Much in the way that I won’t judge or shame a parent that gives their child a phone in first grade, I won’t judge or shame a parent that has chosen to wait until they are in high school. We all carry with us a variety of ideals and ideas when it comes to raising our child. I have respect for those that are choosing to wait to give their kids a phone until later in life. A smartphone is an expensive device that requires a level of responsibility that some kids can’t manage. The truth is, as a parent, we’ll never know the perfect age to give our child their first smartphone.

But keeping it out of the hands of our kids hands because of our fears or worry of being shamed isn’t right either. This post is more meant to give parents that have chosen to give their kid a phone some skills to work on and be aware of. Why not take advantage of building those skills early on in life rather than later when the more harmful online encounters happen?  Doing so could give your child an edge on their peers when it comes to online and social interaction. It could also create a trusting, open line of communication between child and parent throughout their teenage years and beyond.


My Attempt at Retreat 2.0

I’ve been in education for almost 20 years and some of the campuses I’ve worked for have made attempts to do a “retreat” as a way of team-building and goal-setting. When it comes to retreats run by public education, we are a bit limited in scope. As we are funded by tax payers, we can’t take our employees on a boat cruise to Hawaii or a weekend in Vegas. Private companies have been hosting get-away retreats for years as a way of celebrating past successes and setting goals and benchmarks for the future. In general, the anatomy of a retreat is made up of the following items:
  • An off-site location
  • Some sort of team-building activity
  • Some time dedicated to goal-setting

While I am , I have never attempted to host a retreat.  Sure, we’ve gathered at my house for happy hour or gone out to lunch together, but generally, these are social gatherings (which are necessary from time to time).  We’ve also done quite a bit of revamping of our meeting structure to make it more retreat-like (more on that later), but still not technically a retreat. With the pressure mounting on what would be our first ever retreat, I felt that we needed a mixture of the following:

  • Inspiration
  • Appreciating our differences
  • Problem-solving in collaborative teams
  • Opening up avenues of communication between the team
  • Identifying passion projects

Adding those elements into the previous anatomy of a retreat, I had a mission. And since I do my best thinking with others, I brought in a couple of team members, Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and Jennifer Flood (@floodedu) to help build some of the structures of the retreat.


Finding places to meet around Austin isn’t a problem.  Finding FREE places to meet that also cultivate creativity is an issue. So rather than just meeting at a local coffee shop, I contacted Joshua Baer (@joshuabaer), head honcho at Capital Factory – the epicenter of entrepreneurs and start-up companies in the city.  Josh was kind enough to set us up in the “Willie Room” on the 16th floor of Capital Factory (located in the Omni downtown).  What I love about this space is not only the breathtaking views, but also the openness of the space and proximity to other start-up companies working in the same space. that we have access to for free.  With our base location set-up, it was time to build the agenda.

Ed Techs gathering in the Willie Room at Capital Factory (Can you see Willie in the background?)

Team-Building Activity #1 – Guess Who

During the retreat, we working on getting to know each other better. The first thing I sent the group was a pre-survey that asked them a few basic questions.  Some of these were for future activities, but for the retreat specifically, I asked the team to identify the following:
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What app do you love?
  • What was your childhood nickname?
  • Where is your dream place to visit?

Using this information, I printed out cards that read “FEAR” or “PLACE TO VISIT” with their answers on the back. We used this to play a pictionary-meets-charades version of the Guess Who? game. Splitting the group into two teams, each team member took turns either acting or drawing out the answer on the back of the card. The team had 1-minute to guess the answer and if they got it right, they got bonus points for identifying the correct Ed Tech who said the particular item.  While there were a lot of cherished moments during this activity, one of my faves was rookie Ed Tech Chris Hanson (@tejashanson) doing a flip to demonstrate the app FlipGrid in charade form.

This game could have gone on for a couple of hours, but after a few rounds and my “Who’s line is it anyway?” type scoring, we ended in a tie and then went through the remaining cards to guess who said what. This activity was a great way to start out the retreat and it really highlighted the unique-ness of each of us, including our strengths and weaknesses and ways in which we can support each other. Finding out that Ed Tech Debbie Smith (@dsmitheisd) had a fear of small spaces made it particularly interesting for an upcoming challenge where we all crammed into an elevator together.

Goal-setting (Individual & Team)

This team is composed of visionary thinkers and ideators with a wide variety of expertise. While it’s important that we create and share some common team goals, I wanted to use some time during the retreat for the team to reflect on individual goals as well. I set up this next portion to help the team answer the following questions:

  • What is something that you want to learn this year?
  • What are goals for your campus?
  • How do you know when you are achieving these goals successfully?
  • What is your BHAG or Passion Project for the future? (could be more than a year out)

We then gathered in teams (elementary and secondary) to discuss our individual goals and using district goals to guide the creation of one or two team goals for us this year. I think that third question above is one that I often struggle with. I love creating goals and ideas, but going back and checking on their success (or failure) is often a missed step.  I’m hoping these goals guide each of us individually and as a team, and that at next year’s retreat, we can check in and see how successful we were in accomplishing them.

VIP Tour & VR Room Experience

Another benefit of hosting the meeting in Capital Factory (besides the free food and beverages) was the VIP tour that we got of the complex for one of our breaks. One stop on the tour was the Virtual Reality Room. We each got to participate in a wide variety of games and simulations. I was immediately blown away with how far these VR simulations have come in recent years. In talking with the resident VR resident (who went by the name “Justin”), it was clear to see the educational impact a VR environment could provide to students and their learning experiences. One thing that was even more compelling was the idea that students could create and program their own worlds, which is certainly an area we want to investigate bringing into our schools in the future.

iVenger Fred & Chris (background) experiment with VR as Han Solo watches on frozen with anticipation

Creating Avenues for Collaboration

I’ve been experimenting on ideas to get our team to cross-collaborate more often. One of the benefits to having campus-based Ed Techs is that we are able to have a lot of just-in-time learning opportunities for staff on campuses. However, this does create more silos when it comes to the team sharing and collaborating on ideas. To battle this isolationism, I’m testing out something new that I call the “Ed Tech ShareCase“.  The concept is that one Ed Tech is the campus Lead and two other Ed Techs collaborate with them as assistants so to speak.  They collaborate on a project or professional learning experience for the campus and then go there to help deliver it.  My initial goal is for the team to do this a couple of times throughout the year in an effort to build cross-collaboration. Then, during our monthly meetings, Ed Techs will not share their own work, but instead the work of others that they are supporting.  

Going on an Adventure!

With some goal-setting and team-building under our belts, and a much needed lunch break, we set out for our next challenge. Using the EventZee app that we’ve used at past iPadpalooza events for photo-hunts, I created a city-wide scavenger hunt for the team to complete. My goal for this part of the retreat was not just getting everyone up and moving around our fabulous city, but also getting breaking up the teams into groups that don’t get to collaborate often. A couple of days before this challenge, I actually walked the course myself as I wanted the hunt to end in a specific final location. (see below). I perched myself on top of a tall parking garage structure to see the teams walking towards various clues throughout the city and sent them occasional alerts when their time was running out. I love the scavenger hunt concept for the competitiveness and collaborative problem-solving aspects. Plus the walking makes for a great “after lunch” activity.

Ed Techs Tanna Fiske, Lisa Johnson, and Rich Lombardo caught wandering down a random alley during the Scavenger Hunt


The final stop during our retreat was the Escape Game Austin. Having never been a part of an escape room experience I didn’t know what to expect, but this ending event really brought our team together and as a great way to wrap up the retreat. The rooms/games you can choose from vary in size (4 to 12 people) are complex and really encourage collaboration, communication and problem-solving. The particular room we chose was called “Playground” and actually involved several elements from a school (ironically enough). Once I heard about escape rooms, I’ve always wanted to do one with this team.  I brag to anyone that listens to me about how clever and collaborative our team is and how we would escape without an issue despite the 11%-15% success rate of most teams.
I’m happy to share we escaped with 10+ minutes to spare!

The iVengers Escape!


The retreat was a major success in accomplishing the goals we set forth at the beginning. While there were a couple of activities we didn’t have time to accomplish, it did a great job of getting us all on the same page and also gave us much fodder to harass each other for the rest of the year.  If you are planning a retreat, think about the experience and what you hope your team to gain out of it. And what ever you do, don’t just make it a meeting only longer. Otherwise, you may have your team trying to escape!

It’s Time for a New Core Curriculum

Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies. For decades, these subjects have been the staple of the modern American educational system. The creative arts and physical education have also been played somewhat of a secondary role in that system. While all of these subject areas play a role in the development of our youth, they are based on career needs of the mid-20th century. According to this Pew Research study on Changes in the American Workplace, there has been an exponential demand on the social and analytical skills.

However, in our schools, we still teach the same “four core” areas and then fill in the rest with other subjects ranging from World Languages to Robotics. What’s interesting is, those original core 4 were considered the staple in preparing students for a 1950’s factory model work force. In this Sir Ken Robinson animated video, he talks about how our schools are designed for the assembly line.  One only needs to look at the following graphic of companies that no longer exist to see that the American economy has shifted rapidly since the early 1970’s.

Compare the above with the graphic below which shows companies that didn’t exist in the early 1970’s that are now on Forbes top 200 list.

While there are some mainstays in terms of travel, service and retail companies, there is a huge growth in technology based companies. Now taking these new companies into account, let’s focus on the skills they desire for their future employee and see where schools stack up.  This graphic by Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) has been one that I’ve shared for many years.  It’s sort of a “Soft Skills Bingo” chart of things that employers in those Fortune 500 companies look for when hiring.

I don’t see any of the “core four” subjects listed on that chart.  While you could definitely argue that communication plays a role in language arts and critical thinking plays a role in math and science, I start to wonder why we are trying to “fit” these soft skills into our 1950’s core?

What would a modern core curriculum look like? And probably even more importantly, how would we transition from the current curriculum to a more updated model?

Let’s break apart both of these questions so I can attempt an answer.

Future Ready Curriculum –

If we were starting the American school system from scratch today, knowing what skills our students will need, we could change the subjects and not base them on what big-time publishers want us to focus on with our students.  Building on some of the great work from, the ISTE NETS for Students and keeping in mind those most desired future job skills from above, I would propose the development of the following 7 courses for every student:

Collaborative Outreach – A way for students to both serve the communities around them, but also work in teams, plan projects, and practice empathy.

Entrepreneurialism  – Thinking “outside-the-box” but in a class form. Many of the ideas from this class could work hand-in-hand with the other courses listed here. Again, working in teams, students create solutions or products with the goal of developing the entrepreneurial spirit.

Communication & Design – Oral and written communication still play a major role in our current system, and by all accounts they will in the future. However, what about visual communication? What about making a visually pleasing presentation to pitch a product or reflect on an outreach opportunity? This course would encompass those skills.

Creative Expression – Having outlets to express yourself creatively and time for passion projects is huge in the workplaces of Google and Apple. The same should be true for schools. This course could be all about an app you are designing or a sculpture you are trying to complete (either by hand or by 3D printing).

Critical Problem-Solving – Much of the curriculum from math and science would fall into this course, although elements would be sprinkled in the other courses (like economics in the entrepreneurial course and science in the Environmental Mindfulness & Outreach courses)

Investigative Thinking – This course takes many of the research skills taught in social studies and applies it with a twist. How can looking back and investigating history help predict future outcomes? Traditional statistics would play a role in this course too.

Environmental Mindfulness – We need to allow time for students to be outside and/or active during the traditional class day. We also need to allow time for students to reflect on what they have learned and set goals for their future. This course takes some of traditional P.E. and mixes in meditation and deeper thinking exercises as well.

Transition to the Future

Creating these courses is the easy part. The hard part would be transitioning our current core areas into the above. It will take me an entire new blog post to outline that plan for this transition, as it involves some heavy change in mindset (by both educators and community). In the meantime, here’s where I feel parts of our current courses would fit in the above new curriculum:

Mathematics – Critical Problem-Solving, Entrepreneurialism, Investigative Thinking

Language Arts – Communication & Design, Investigative Thinking, Creative Expression

Science – Critical Problem-Solving, Environmental Mindfulness, Collaborative Outreach

Social Studies – Investigative Thinking, Communication & Design, Collaborative Outreach

World Languages – Collaborative Outreach, Communication & Design

Fine and Performing Arts – Creative Expression

Physical Education – Environmental Mindfulness

Career and Technology – Entrepreneurialism, Collaborative Outreach, Creative Expression, Communication & Design

If we really want to prepare kids for what’s next, whether that be in a high-tech career or the service industry, we need to transition our curriculum into areas that will help them be more successful in a highly automated future. I feel like the new core curriculum I am proposing does that while at the same time folding in some of the ‘classic’ curriculum models of our educational fore-fathers.

What did I miss? Chime in on the comments below.


10 Demands For Professional Learning – A Ransom Letter

Dear administrators, 

Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a large faction of educators. While we respect the way you have run the training methods of your organization in the past, it is time for a change. As such, we are holding your teachers’ learning hostage. Their learning is safe and unharmed at this time, however, if you would like to release their learning, you must meet our list of demands when it comes to how you provide training for adults. Failure to meet these demands will result in the wide-spread lack of professional growth and lack of improvement in pedagogical practice by your staff. 




It doesn’t hurt to spend a little energy and effort promoting professional learning and getting teachers excited for it. Come up with a theme and make it feel like an exclusive “members-only” type event. While some of them may come because they “have to”, it helps start the training off with excitement and energy. One example would be to send out a video or graphic that highlights the training in a fun way. Here’s one that takes a “Point Break” theme to make learning about High Quality Assessments just a tad more exciting:




Building on the buzz and excitement from your promotion, take some time to create an atmosphere for your training event. This can be as simple as having some appropriately-themed music to adding some simple decorations around the tables. When someone walks into your room, they should be excited about being there, not dreading it. Know that many educators are entering your room with the expectation that this will just be another 6 hours of “sit n’ get”, which is why it’s important to create that exciting first impression when they walk in. Have fun activity for them that involves more than just making a name card like “tweet what your first job ever was” or “find a picture of what super hero best represents you”. This will give you as the trainer an opportunity to connect with the attendees as well as give you some material that you can use later.




Research shows that hunger affects the brain and cognitive development. While we know funding is always tight and food is the first thing to get cut, this is a list of demands. If you want your staff to learn, make sure they are not hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to provide a 5-course meal, it can be as simple as a basket of chocolate or some protein-heavy snack mix. Having protein in your diet not only creates better avenues for neurotransmitters to help with learning and retention, it increases happiness according to this study.




And this doesn’t mean have 10 minutes set aside for walking around and adding notes to those giant sticky chart papers on the walls. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Would you attend your own professional learning? “Fun” can sometimes be a negative word when it comes to learning and it shouldn’t be. Making learning fun, even for adults, will not only increase engagement in the learning, it will keep them coming back for more.




Having periods of movements or “brain breaks” throughout your training not only provide some much needed breaks from what is being input into the brain, research shows that movement facilitates brain plasticity (essentially the science of having the brain learn something new). Doing a brief improv activity or having your attendees move and stretch increases oxygen flow to the brain as well as this plasticity. A side-effect of doing a group improv activity is that it creates an environment of trust and risk-taking as well as collegiality between staff that might not normally be working along side one another.




How many times have we heard that adults shouldn’t lecture children all day? Do we think that what’s best with pedagogy wouldn’t also apply to what’s best with andragogy? Who’s doing the work and talking during professional learning? If it’s more the instructor than then the attendees, you need to rethink how you are engaging your adult learners. When outlining your day for professional learning,  try and employ somewhat of a “chunk n’ chew” method to the day. Break the day up into 20-30 minute segments that involving both introduction of a new skill, but also time for attendees to try it out and discuss ideas for application.




Taking into account the demands for engagement, movement, and making things more student-led, you must create opportunities for staff to collaborate on an idea or solve a problem. Providing time for collaboration in your professional learning allows opportunities for staff to discuss best practices around a topic or share strategies around a particular pedagogical problem.

Taking time for collaborative conversation at a recent training




Learning new things and skills takes a lot of cognitive ability. Having a training where all you do is show a series of new tools or tricks can be overwhelming to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to internalize all of it. As mentioned in demand #6, creating “chunk n’ chew” learning opportunities throughout the training will give staff an opportunity to try out the new skill as well as plan for application. Taking time to plan for application of the skill when it is learned, has a greater chance to translate into actual practice in the classroom.




We try to differentiate for learners in our classrooms, why not do the same for staff? Every single person comes into a training session with a different set of prior skills, knowledge, and preferred learning methods. When planning your professional learning, you need to allow opportunities for both the struggling learners and the high-flyers to be successful. This can be as simple as sharing your outline for the day ahead of time on Google docs or a website so that some can go at their own pace, while others can revisit a newly learned strategy.




Our final demand is that you provide some time for staff to reflect on what they have learned.   When planning the professional learning experience for your staff, make sure there is time to reflect throughout the day. This doesn’t mean just spend the last 5 minutes reflecting on something they learned that day, but rather actual pockets of time throughout the day where they can reflect in the medium of their choosing. After all, educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

We feel our list of demands are not unreasonable. Please secure these demands prior to your next professional learning event or your teachers’ learning will suffer the consequences. 


The E.B.P.L. (Educators for Better Professional Learning)