Cool Cat Teacher Blog Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis
Be a Better Teacher. Live a Meaningful Life.
Updated: 8 min 23 sec ago

SEL & Classroom Safety: 3 Lessons from Sandy Hook Every Educator Should Know

18 January, 2018 - 22:13

Scarlett Lewis on episode 234 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Scarlett Lewis, mother of a 6-year-old murder victim of the Sandy Hook shooting, has turned her heartbreak into a passion to prevent school violence. In this show, she shares research-based practical information to promote social-emotional learning and what we should all be doing to help kids become healthy. In addition to making schools safer, the research shows these things also improve learning and help kids become healthier adults.

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript Preventing School Shootings: SEL and 3 Lessons from Sandy Hook

Link to show:
Date: Thursday, January 18, 2018

Vicki: We’re handling so many difficult things in schools today, and Scarlett Lewis @JesseLewisLove is with us today to talk about one of those very difficult issues.

Now Scarlett, tell us a little bit about your son Jesse… and his story… and what you’re doing as a result.

Scarlett: Thanks, Vicki. I’m so happy to be on your show, speaking with educators — who are my heroes, by the way, because they have the most important job in the world, and that’s the ability to transform and even save lives on a daily basis.

So following my personal tragedy, where my 6-year-old son was shot in his first-grade classroom, alongside 19 of his classmates and 6 educators in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

Of course, this was perpetrated by a former student of that school, also a Sandy Hook resident.

Following that personal devastation, I made the decision that I wanted to be part of the solution.

Actually, I was heartened to find that there IS a solution., and it’s called social and emotional learning.

In fact, there was a report that came out following the shooting called the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Report.

This was a commission of professionals that were given unprecedented access to all of the records, and they were asked to find out how something like this could happen and what could be done to prevent it from happening again.

What Can Be Done to Prevent This?

They came up with three things, in no particular order:

  • Gun Safety
  • More Access to Mental Health, and
  • Social Emotional Learning

In fact, the report says actually that if there had been social emotional learning (in place), the tragedy might not have happened. I had already been saying for two years before the report came out that the tragedy absolutely would not have happened with social emotional learning (in place).

I’ve really made it my life mission to make sure that every child has access to what we know is in the best interest of children for their entire lifetime.

Vicki: Now you’ve actually related social-emotional learning to neuroscience.

Now, there are a lot of folks who label social-emotional learning for all kinds of things, right?

Help us understand what actually works.

You’re also going to tell us about your free program.

Scarlett: Sure. Absolutely!

Our Free Program

What I did was look at what we’re currently teaching in schools, and the programming that is effective (statistically) and the programming that isn’t effective (statistically).

I really took the best of the best. It’s not only social-emotional learning, but it’s emotional intelligence. It’s positive psychology. It’s character education. It’s mindfulness. It’s neuroscience. I took all of the best of the best of them and put it into one program, a comprehensive PreK – 12th grade. And I made it free, so that every child can have access.

It’s based on CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic Social-Emotional Learning five core social-emotional competencies.

It’s based on CASEL

We made it easy to teach and easy to learn. I actually worked with educators to create this program, so it’s written by educators for educators. I think it’s the only program that is.

Vicki: So this is the Choose to Love enrichment program, right?

Scarlett: It’s the Choose Love enrichment program, and it’s available for free on the Jesse Lewis Movement website.

Vicki: OK, so give us an example of an activity or something that should be taught in this category of social-emotional learning that works.

Scarlett: Absolutely. So our program is based on a powerful formula for choosing love in any situation or circumstance. The formula that I use every single day — and I know it works in all situations — is this:

Courage (because everything starts with courage)

+ Gratitude (the great mindshifter*)

+ Forgiveness (the number one way to have healthy relationships**)

+ Compassion in Action ***

*Out of the 60,000-80,000 thoughts that we all have every day, going through our head one at a time, so you can’t have a grateful thought and an angry or depressed thought at once, so it’s the great mindshifter

**Harvard University did a 75-year longitudinal study that showed that the secret to happiness is positive relationships and meaningful connections. Forgiveness is the #1 way to have that.

***Not only identifying a need/suffering in someone, but actively doing something to help ease that pain***

So that formula:
Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion in Action = Choosing Love
(with all of the different elements falling under that formula)

It’s been profoundly impactful, not only for students but for educators as well. The educators get the opportunity to learn right alongside the students. There is no training required. We actually do have training available. I always like to go speak to the staff to launch the program when possible. But in reality, the teacher learns right alongside the student. The best feedback that I’ve received is that the educator gets as much benefit as the student.

Vicki: I love how you say, “We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond.”

But you live it every day. Isn’t it hard?

Scarlett: I absolutely live that.

Therefore I know that it’s true.

That’s where our freedom and our growth lie.

We can’t always choose what happens to us. Sometimes a chapter in our life has been started for us, right? But we can always choose how we respond.

When we thoughtfully respond, we can always choose love. That means even if your chapter was started for you, you can write the ending.

And that’s where your power lies.

A lot of times, I think — especially with everything that’s going on in our world today, we feel like all this stuff is happening around us and we have no control.

But I’ll tell you what. We have control of how we respond — how we perceive the things that are happening, and how we respond.

That alone is an incredibly empowering concept.

Vicki: You gave me a statistic before we started recording… about just how many school shootings there are now.

How frequent is it here in the United States?

How Frequent are School Shootings?

Scarlett: Well… since Sandy Hook Elementary, which happened 5 years ago, we have had over 220 school-related shootings.

So we have an average of one school-related shooting per week in our country.

And of course we don’t always read about them. Thankfully, they don’t always result in death.

But the fact of the matter is, it seems like it’s becoming our new normal.

And that is absolutely no OK with me.

Our schools must be a safe haven for our children and our educators. Absolutely. It’s the only way that they can learn!

We know how to do that. That’s by implementing a social-emotional learning program.

Social-emotional learning is the #1 way to have a safe learning environment.

Social-emotional learning is the #1 way to have a safe learning environment.

That’s why we offer this program for free. Really, this is so important that it cannot be priced out of the market for children and educators.

Vicki: Well, and educators, we can put in security systems, but we also have to have secure and safe thinking going on in our minds.

This is a difficult, hard thing.

We cannot just teach content and not teach healthy thinking — things like courage, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion in action.

These are all ways of thinking, ways of approaching the world. They’re things that we need to be discussing in our classrooms.

I hope you’ll follow and take a look at the resources.

Scarlett, I just want you to know that I appreciate you.

I appreciate what you’re doing and the struggle that you have and live every day, and how you’re turning that struggle into good for the world.

The Science Behind the Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning Says…

Scarlett: There’s so much science behind the benefits of social-emotional learning — so children that have access to social-emotional learning not only:

  • get better grades and test scores,
  • have higher graduation rates,
  • have less stress, anxiety and less bullying (because it proactively prevents it before it starts)

But there are long term studies now that have followed kids from kindergarten all the way into adulthood. They have found that those now-adults that had social-emotional learning in school had:

  • less substance abuse
  • less mental health issues of all kinds
  • less violence
  • less incarceration
  • even less divorce rates

It makes sense because we are teaching kids skills, tools, and attitudes that help them get along and have meaningful connections with others.

By the way, these skills and tools aren’t innate. We’re not born with them.

We must be taught them, and if we aren’t we don’t necessarily have them.

These Skills and Tools Are Not Innate. They Must Be Taught.


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Scarlett Lewis founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement after her son was murdered during the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012. Scarlett works to promote the Choose Love Enrichment Program, a free, comprehensive, evidence-based SEL program that empowers educators and their students to choose love for themselves and others. While we can’t always choose what happens to us, we can choose how we respond. This program teaches children how to handle adversity, have courageous conversations, and to respond with love


Twitter: @JesseLewisLove

The post SEL & Classroom Safety: 3 Lessons from Sandy Hook Every Educator Should Know appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Are you a Leaner or a Lifter?

18 January, 2018 - 09:11

Day 15 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

As my students and I were watching a John Maxwell video yesterday, he quoted this poem which hit me between the eyes. I’m asking myself: do I intentionally lift or do I lean.

Now, admittedly, we all lean sometimes. That is the nature of being human. However, lifting, as Maxwell says, is intentional. You have to decide to lift up others.

Which Are You?

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

There are two kinds of people on earth today;

Just two kinds of people, no more I say,

Not the sinner and saint, for it’s well understood,

That the good are half-bad and the bad half-good.

Not the rich and the poor, for to rate a man’s wealth,

You must first know the state of his conscience and health.

Not the humble and proud, for in life’s little span,

Who puts on vain airs, is not counted a man.

Not the happy and sad, for the swift flying years

Bring each man his laughter and each man his tears.

No; the two kinds of people on earth I mean,

Are the people who lift, and the people who lean.

Wherever you go, you will find the earth’s masses,

Are always divided in just these two classes.

And oddly enough, you will find too, I wean,

There’s only one lifter to twenty who lean.

So, today, as we ponder excellence yet again, let’s ask ourselves: do we lift or do we lean?

This post is day 15 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post Are you a Leaner or a Lifter? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Books to Africa and A Personal Transformation to a Global Educator

17 January, 2018 - 23:03

Julie Hembree on episode 233 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Julie Hembree and her students are sending Books to Africa. But that’s not all. She’s also started the Cultivate World Literacy Project and more. Learn about her transformation into a global educator because her students got excited and led the way. This is a pattern we can all emulate. Connect your students and join.

Screencastify is the screencasting tool I recommend for Google Chrome and Chromebooks. Built for Chromebooks, it saves all of your recordings directly to Google Drive.

Screencastify is an essential tool for making flipped lessons, student videos and creative formative assessments. I use this tool when students are making Scratch video games for them to record their games and explain their scripts. If you want to go for unlimited editing, request a quote for your school and mention Cool Cat Teacher for a Discount.

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript Books to Africa and My Personal Transformation to a Global Educator

Link to show:
Date: January 17, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with my friend Julie Hembree @mrs_hembree. She is in Seattle, Washington, and she and I have actually spent some time together when I was out there at an event.

Julie, you have kind of traveled some, and you’re doing a lot with literacy. But tell us a little about where your journey to connect to the world has taken you.

Julie: Well, I am very passionate about the fact that I think that all children should have equal access to education.

All Children Should Have Equal Access To Education

Through traveling to South Africa now twice, I have had the opportunity to bear witness to the inequities that I’ve seen in different places in the world. Some children have access to quality education, and some children don’t.

This bothers me because the UN is working on the sustainable development goals, and their belief and work toward making sure that all children have inclusive and quality education. I think that my students can be part of that, so I’m working toward that.

Vicki: So what are you and your students doing to help students in other places have a better education?

Julie: Well, at this point it’s threefold.

  1. I have had a Books to Africa program going since 2012. Every year my students do a coin drive, and they raise money to pay for the shipping of books. We shipped gently used or new books to teachers that I have met personally in Africa — South Africa, Lesotho, Nigeria, Zambia — I think that’s all the countries we’ve been sending to.
  1. The other project we’ve started this year is we’ve joined the WeSchool Movement, so we are also collecting books to bring to children who are in the local hospitals during the holidays who don’t have access to books there.
  1. The third thing that I’m trying to do is bring focus to illiteracy. I’m working with a teacher, Tammy Dunbar in California, and we’ve developed a program called Cultivate World Literacy that’s going to go live in January. It’s a global collaboration project, where teachers can sign up and be part of a 5-week project, meet with one another via Skype, and investigate the whole idea of literacy/illiteracy and how that is different around the world.

Editor’s note: I received this note from Julie about the project. The website is and the hashtag is #cultivateworldliteracy

Vicki: That sounds like so much!

Do you feel like your students are really passionate about literacy? Are they feeding off your passion? Are they becoming advocates for this?

What’s that looking like?

Students are Becoming Advocates for This Cause

Julie: Yes, I think they’re feeding off it, because I have kids coming in (saying), “And when are you starting Books to Africa?”

I love it when they come up to me and are asking about it. We always start this in January with the New Year. It works out better for our schedule.

To see the kids coming in and asking me (about it), wanting to know, bringing books ahead of time, or asking “Do you think this would be good for us to send overseas?”

I love seeing that energy coming from the students!

Parents give me feedback as well. They’re emailing me and wanting to know when we’re going to start.

I think we’re really trying to have a culture of literacy at our school, and sharing what we have with those less fortunate.

Vicki: I love that! So it really is becoming part of what they think.

Julie: Yes! Most definitely. They love it.

They like to be involved, and when we Skype with students, and they can see the other students on the other side and really realize, “They’re just the same. The difference really is that they live in a different country. So they are kids inside. They might not have the same opportunities, but inside? They’re kids. They love to play. They love to have fun. They play games. We eat different food, but the differences are few. The things that are similar are great.”

Vicki: What is the most remarkable thing your students have learned as a part of this process?

Julie: That they can make a difference.

My Students Have Learned That They Can Make a Difference

You know, when they see pictures, and I come back with stories about the books that they have sent — seeing pictures and stories from overseas — they really grasp the idea that the work that they are doing is just not going “out into the atmosphere” somewhere.

This person is holding a book on camera with us and saying, “Hey, I read this book.” They’re talking back and forth about it. That’s exciting!

They really begin understanding that they have the ability to make a difference in another person’s life.

Vicki: So if I had talked to you eight or nine years ago, before this transformation happened, would you have believed that you would be where you are now?

Julie: Absolutely not. (laughs) Absolutely not.

If you had asked me ten years ago if I would be doing this, I wouldn’t have.

It’s been a real huge transformation for me, and it’s been a wonderful way for me to find my passion because I’ve always been passionate about education and reading, but I’ve kind of found my global focus.

Yeah. It makes me feel good inside. It’s very rewarding.

Vicki: So Julie, what started this transformation? What was the decision that has taken you in this direction?

Julie: Well, the funny story was that we found some books. When I went to the kids and said, “What do you want to do with it?” They said,, “Hey, we want to do this.”

It was turning the power over to students.

Every time I’ve turned the power to kids and said, “What do you think? What do you want to do?” they take it me on a ride that has been absolutely amazing.

So when I take myself out of it and let them drive, great things happen.

When We Turn the Power Over to Students, Great Things Happen

That’s been the transformation — listening to them, and going forward, and not giving up when times have been difficult, and just letting them see what they can do, and going along for the ride, I guess.

Vicki: So when you said, “What do you want to do with these books?” what did they say they wanted to do?

Julie: They said that they wanted to give them to some children that needed help.

They did some research. They found out where the most need was.

At that time, they found out it was Africa. So I met up with teachers through the Microsoft Educator Program.

My students had made a video, and kind of made an advertisement.

I took it to these teachers and said, “Hey, there are what my kids would like to do. Are you interested?”

And they were.

Now, we’ve had one person that we’ve been connecting with since the very beginning. He lives in Lesotho, and our student have been connecting for the last five years. So it’s really a long term project that’s had a lot of rewards.

Vicki: And you probably have some of those students now who are getting a little older, don’t you?

Julie: Yes! Some of them are now in middle school and high school. I hear back from time to time.

But we’re also expanding.

The Project Has Expanded Beyond Books

Last spring, we sent over some instruments because we found out that the school didn’t have any kind of instruments.

Our music teacher and P.E. Teacher — we all wanted to work together. So he found some old recorders that weren’t being used anymore. We packed them up and shipped them over to the school.

Tomorrow on their last day of the school year, they’re playing, “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” on the recorders that we sent over.

So it’s kind of fun to see — to bring literacy and music together — and let kids know! Look what they can do, when they have access to quality things.

Vicki: Do you ever get criticized for this?

Julie: Not so far, but… you know, it could happen.

Vicki: I know sometimes people will say, “Well, what are they learning? Are they taking the tests?”

I mean, how could you even say that? This is such a great project.

Julie: Well, I’ll tell you what the kids are learning.

They’re learning how to be global citizens.

You can’t be a citizen in this world without learning how to get along with others.

And so I think that what we’re doing — can’t be done on a test.

These are the soft skills that students need to learn so that they can be future citizens, so that they can be citizens that work well with other people around the world.

Vicki: Well, I’ll put the link in to the project, because this should be airing and going live in January 2018.

Julie Hembree is definitely somebody you want to follow. I find her very exciting. It’s also very exciting to get lost in Seattle with her. (laughs)


Julie: (laughs)

Vicki: She showed me Seattle, and it was so amazing and so memorable. She is just a charming, hospitable person who is changing the world with her passion for literacy.

I would just encourage you remarkable teachers to do two big things:

  1. She is handing over a lot of the drive and energy to her students, and going where they want to go. That’s one of my own secrets to transformation – really empowering my students. When you empower your students, you don’t just change your students’ lives, you change your own life!
  1. And then just connecting with the world, and being the connector. I think that’s a big job for teachers in the modern era. We’re kind of those connectors. We’re kind of that glue to the world, an introducer to the world.

So, this is just very exciting, Julie! Well done!


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Julie Hembree is a teacher-librarian at Cougar Ridge Elementary School near Seattle, WA. This is her 29th year of teaching. Prior to landing her librarian dream job, she was both a secondary and primary classroom teacher.

Julie believes that we need to use technology to lower the walls of learning. Together with her students, she started the Books to Africa program in 2012. They have sent over 7500 books to disadvantaged schools in Ghana, Lesotho, South Africa and Zambia .She has traveled twice to South Africa and volunteered as a teacher there.

She has been a Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator since 2012 and traveled with Team USA to the Global Forums in Prague, Barcelona and Budapest. She also hosts the Bulldog Reader blog and writes about books, lessons, technology and all things library.

Julie is always looking for more book partners to help with the Books to Africa Program. Let’s connect.

Bulldog Reader Blog

Books to Africa Partnership

Blog: Bulldog Reader Blog

Twitter: @mrs_hembree

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Books to Africa and A Personal Transformation to a Global Educator appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

The Lie of Giving 110%

16 January, 2018 - 23:05

Day 14 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

We cannot let how we feel determine how hard we work.

Famed basketball coach John Wooden always taught his players that there’s no such thing as 110%. If they didn’t give 100% in practice, it could never be gotten back later with some superhuman effort.

Therefore, a decision to do less than you can do is an irrevocable decision to settle for less than your best. You can’t get it back.

This post is day 14 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post The Lie of Giving 110% appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Engaging Kindergartners with Technology: Augmented Reality, Ipads, QR Codes and More

16 January, 2018 - 22:33

Greg Smedley on episode 232 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Greg Smedley Warren @kindersmorgie shares his tips and tricks for using technology in kindergarten. It should be simple.

Screencastify is the screencasting tool I recommend for Google Chrome and Chromebooks. Built for Chromebooks, it saves all of your recordings directly to Google Drive.

Screencastify is an essential tool for making flipped lessons, student videos and creative formative assessments. I use this tool when students are making Scratch video games for them to record their games and explain their scripts. If you want to go for unlimited editing, request a quote for your school and mention Cool Cat Teacher for a Discount.

Listen Now

Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript Engaging Kindergartners with Technology: Augmented Reality, Ipads, QR Codes and More

Link to show:

Vicki: How can we engage kindergarteners with technology?

Today we have a kindergarten teacher from Nashville, Greg Smedley Warren @kindersmorgie, or as his students call him, “Mr. Greg.”

He does a lot of work on the Kindergarten Smorgasboard.

So, Greg… How do we engage kids in kindergarten with technology?

Keep it Simple in Kindergarten

Greg: Hi Vicki. Thanks for having me.

So, I’m all about keeping it simple. I’m always on the lookout for very simple ways that I can engage my kids with technology — ways that are easy for them, but also easy for me so I don’t spend a lot of time fumbling with technology trying to get it working and set up for the kids. So I’m always on the lookout for really simple ways that the kids can interact with technology.

Vicki: OK. Give us some of those ways.

Ipads and Augmented Reality

Greg: One way is iPads. Most of the kids are completely familiar with iPads and tablets and phones, so we have some iPads in the classroom with some folders. We have a reading folder and a math folder full of apps, so the kids know they can grab those iPads, open those folders, and use any of those apps.

We also use Augmented Reality in the classroom. We use a program called Learning Alive Plus from Alive Studios, which is an augmented reality software that works with letters, phonics, and word building. So we use that a lot. The kids actually use that during Center Time, so they’re working with that augmented reality to build words and sentences.

Vicki: Describe for us how that works, because I know there are a lot of people — even though we’ve had some shows — they might not know what augmented reality is.

Greg: Augmented reality is basically 3-D without the glasses. So when the kids are interacting with the software, the images are coming alive in 3D on the screen for the kids.

Vicki: It’s just floating in space, or somewhere in your classroom.

Greg: Yeah… it’s on the screen. So it’s on the monitor, or if you’re using a projector it’s projected on the screen or a SMARTboard. The best way to describe it — which I think everyone can relate to — is Pokemon Go. So if you’re kind of familiar with Pokemon Go, that’s augmented reality. That’s kind of what it looks like when the kids are using it in the classroom.

iPad Apps to Help Children Learn to Read

Vicki: What are some of your favorite “go-to”s for reading?

Greg: For reading as far as apps, we do Letter School, which is great for letter formation and letter recognition.

Montessori Words for Kids is my favorite, probably, of all for reading and literacy. It’s great for sound identification, segmenting sounds, word building, and decoding words. It’s very interactive. The kids love it. They work on their letters, and once they build a word, then they get 10 seconds to play and draw before they go onto the next word. So there’s almost that instant reward every time they build a word. The kids love that.

Ipad Apps for Math

For math, I’m a big fan of Monkey Math School, because it’s not just focused on one skill. It’s a constant review of all the kindergarten math skills that we work on.

My kids’ favorite math app is called Subitizing Tree, which works on that all-important math skill of subitizing, which is basically number fluency. The kids love that. I hear them all day long, jumping up and down and screaming and cheering because they were able to subitize with that app.

So those are some of my favorites.

Vicki: Cool! So you have iPads, you have all of these things, you’re doing Alive Plus, which is augmented reality.

What else?

QR Codes and Kindles

Greg: We also do a lot with QR Codes. We use Amazon Kindles with our QR Codes. I’ve found that the Kindles work great with the QR Reader. I’ve never been impressed with the KIndles as far as using a lot of apps, but they work great for QR Codes.

I’ve created several sets of QR Codes for math and literacy. The kids use the codes, they scan the codes, and an image of a document pops up. They might be doing sounds or counting or shapes or word building. The kids really love that they can use the QR codes around the room and interact with technology that way.

Vicki: It’s kind of like passing out digital papers. Is that how you would kind of summarize the QR Codes?

Greg: Pretty much. My kids use them during Center Time. A lot of teachers actually post them around the room, so the kids are walking around the room with their tablets, scanning the QR Codes and working on them that way.

Vicki: Yes. And I believe that QR Codes are now built into the iPAd iOS for Apple devices.

Greg: Awesome. Oh, that’s good to know.

Vicki: Yeah! New little tidbit. I just read it, like last night.

Greg: (laughs)

Vicki: OK. Lots of cool things. What else?

Interactive WhiteBoard Uses in Kindergarten

Greg: Like I said, I’m a big fan of keeping it simple. So that’s really what we use, as far as technology.

We do have an interactive whiteboard in the classroom as well that we use a lot for whole group instruction. The kids use the SMARTboard during centers, so they’ll be doing some word building and word writing, and those kinds of things.

One of the things that I use my SMARTboard for is a lot of teacher things. So like in the morning, we take attendance. As the kids come in each morning, their pictures are on the SMARTboard. They move their picture from home to school, to show that they are at school.

And then I have what I call my boombox, which is a PDF document that has clipart linked to songs and videos that we use on YouTube. Whenever I want to pull up a song for the kids to use, instead of typing in the name or something, or searching for it on YouTube, I’m able to just touch on that boombox, and it will immediately open that song or video. It just makes my life a little bit easier as a teacher and keeps things moving.

What Mistakes Do You Make Using Technology with Kindergarteners?

Vicki: Have you ever made a mistake when you started using technology with kindergarteners?

Greg: Oh gosh. All the time.

Of course there’s always that inevitable, “The technology fails.”

But my biggest issue is always with YouTube, it seems like. One minute YouTube works great, and the next minute nothing will load. Or you pull up a video and even though it is a kid-friendly video, a kindergarten video, the ad before it is something inappropriate, so you’re scrambling to try to turn if off or make it stop.

That’s really where I struggle with technology — just, “Is it going to work today, is the internet going to work today, and then something inappropriate popping up on YouTube which is unfortunately not a lot that we can control.

Vicki: So what, Greg, is advice that you have for kindergarten teachers who feel a little bit scared of using technology in their classroom?

Greg: I get it. It’s new. It kind of seems like it’s more to have to do. So I would just say start slowly. If you’re comfortable with a technology, try to bring that into your classroom. Kind of build on it from there.

I always tell teachers, “We expect our kids to show up every single day and take risks. As teachers, we need to be willing to do the same thing.”

If technology is an area that we’re kind of scared of, maybe that’s a risk we need to take. We need to bring in some more technology into the classroom.

I always just say, “Go for it!”

The worst that can happen is that it cannot work. It can fail. And we can have great conversations with our kids about how, even as adults, we fail. Now we can learn from that, and we can be better.

I’m all about taking risks, so I always just say, “Jump in and go for it!”

What To Do When Technology Fails?

Vicki: Oh, that’s so great!. I have to ask this. What do you do when the technology just crashes and doesn’t work? That strikes fear in the heart of teachers!

Greg: (laughs)

It really does. But you know, I think as our kids are getting so much more used to technology, they’re now used to technology not working.

I think it’s gotten a little bit easier, because the kids are like, “Oh, it’s not working.” Or they’ll immediately say, “Oh, the internet’s not working.” They just kind of roll with it, and we move on.

Of course, they’re going to be disappointed. But we just kind of move on to whatever’s next, try to keep going, and not let it completely derail the lesson or derail the whole day.

Vicki: Really, though… what percentage of the time does it actually not work?

Greg: Probably 5-10% or less.

It’s not a major everyday occurrence, but it does happen. And of course, it always happens when you’re being observed and evaluated by administration.

Vicki: (laughs)

Greg: Never fails.

Vicki: (laughs)

Oh my goodness! That is what happens, isn’t it?

My principal always seems to come in when I have the wildest, craziest things happening, and I’m just like, “I don’t even know how you’re going to evaluate me on this.”

Greg: Exactly.

Vicki: And then you’re so scared about what they’re going to think.

Greg: Right.

Vicki: OK. So Mr. Greg has just shared lots of great ideas for our kindergarten classrooms. But here’s the thing. If he can do it in kindergarten, you know you can do it with any age.

It’s part of being a remarkable teacher. We’ve had so many fantastic ideas.

Get out there and try some of them today.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

I am Mr. Greg from The Kindergarten Smorgasboard. My real name is Greg Smedley-Warren. I have been teaching for 12 years. I spent a year teaching fifth grade, two years in second grade and am now in my 8th year in Kindergarten. Kindergarten is my passion and my calling but honestly, that wasn’t how it started. When I was moved to Kindergarten (not voluntarily!) I called my mommy and cried. But on the first day, I fell in love and knew that Kindergarten is where I belonged. I have remained in Kindergarten ever since. I plan to never leave the classroom as the kids are what drive me to continue my growth as a teacher and person.

I received my bachelors degree from Indiana University and received my ELL certification from David Lipscomb University. At the beginning of my career I spent two summers teaching in Ecuador which only helped to fan the flames of my passion for teaching. In 2015 I was selected as Teacher Of The Year by my peers. I have a monthly broadcast on YouTube called Submission for Smorgie LIVE. I enjoy blogging, creating curriculum and resources for my classroom and conducting professional development sessions to help teachers around the world make their classrooms a more fun, effective and interactive place to teach.

When I’m not in the classroom, blogging and doing all things teach, I enjoy spending time with my family. I live in Nashville, Tennessee with my husband (known as The Mister on my blog) and our dogs, Butters and LuLu.

Blog: The Kindergarten Smorgasboard

Twitter: @kindersmorgie

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Engaging Kindergartners with Technology: Augmented Reality, Ipads, QR Codes and More appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

How to Keep Disappointment from Derailing Our Dreams

16 January, 2018 - 13:18

Day 13 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Disappointment comes to us all. We believe in someone and are betrayed. Or we apply for a job and it doesn’t happen. Someone makes a promise and they break that promise. We try to achieve something – we fall short. It happens to everyone.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose birthday and legacy we celebrate today said,

We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.

But how can we do this?

Who Do You Feed?

I think that we can prevent bitterness the same way we prevent scrub oaks from growing in the flower bed: we pull them up when they are small.

However, we shouldn’t continue to revisit the hurt and focus and dwell on it. Instead, we must learn to redirect, forgive, and move on.

Perhaps the best explanation can be found in an old tale from the Cherokee Indians, the Legend of Two Wolves, that goes like this,

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

We cannot help being disappointed. Disappointment is a normal part of life. Inevitably it comes to us all.

Decide What To Do with Your Disappointment

However, when we’re disappointed, we can help what we do with it. Will we feed our anger? Do we feed our self-pity? Shall we feed our resentment?

If we do, bitterness will grow. It has too.

If you live long enough, you’ll meet someone consumed by their anger, self-pity, and resentment. They have fed all their disappointment to the angry wolf. He crowds out the good.

But if you live long enough, you’ll also meet someone who should be angry but is not. Who should pity herself, but does not. Who should be resentful but is full of kindness and joy and peace.

You can’t pick your pain. However, you can pick your wolf.

Today, as you pursue excellence, think of your most recent pain. Are you processing that pain in healthy ways? Or are you revisiting it to feed your anger, self-pity, and resentment?

The wolf you choose to feed makes all the difference in who you become.

This post is day thirteen of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post How to Keep Disappointment from Derailing Our Dreams appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

From Testing to Transformational Change with Pam Moran

14 January, 2018 - 22:15

Pam Moran on episode 231 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Pam Moran has been a leader in education reform in Virginia over the past several years as the state moved from testing to transformation. In today’s episode, she talks about the transformation, why they needed change, and implementing successful change. This multi-part series will run over the next several Mondays.

Screencastify is the screencasting tool I recommend for Google Chrome and Chromebooks. Built for Chromebooks, it saves all of your recordings directly to Google Drive.

Screencastify is an essential tool for making flipped lessons, student videos and creative formative assessments. I use this tool when students are making Scratch video games for them to record their games and explain their scripts. If you want to go for unlimited editing, request a quote for your school and mention Cool Cat Teacher for a Discount.

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript From Testing to Triumphant Learning with Pam Moran

Link to show:

Date: January 15, 2018

Vicki: Pam Moran is a superintendent and leader in Virginia and someone who inspires me. Once I was speaking in Virginia and some teachers told me I had to meet Pam, that she was a “teacher’s and student’s superintendent.” I admire her so much so we are doing a multi part series with her.

Pam, what is an update on what has happened with education reform in Virginia since we last talked?

Update on Testing Reform in Virginia

Pam: One of the things that’s pretty interesting since the last time we talked, Vicki, is that I was part of a group originally in 2010 that started lobbying of superintendents. There were several of us. We were called the DaVinci Design Team.

We started really pushing the State Board of Education to think about changes in the state testing requirements in Virginia.

We then worked as president of the superintendents’ association in Virginia, and we actually came up with a blueprint for sort of strategic focus that we thought should occur at the highest level of the state — which would be lobbying the governor, the general assembly, and the state board of education.

So we now have, over the last three years, been reducing state tests that are required. The latest is that we’ve reduced the high school requirement. It used to be that our kids — if you took Chemistry, if you took Biology, if you took Earth Science — all those had a state test. World History I, World History II, American History, Government all had state tests. English, Reading and Writing, Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry.

So our kids in high school, you know, if you were taking a full complement of coursework, you could take — in addition to things like AP tests and SATs and all those things — you also had up to eleven or twelve state tests. The state’s just reduced that to a requirement of one science, one social studies, one math, and a reading and writing assessment. So, that’s kind of cool.

New Profile of Graduate Model Based on 5 C’s

And the thing for us here in Albemarle, is that one of the things that the state has done, the general assembly also have basically developed direction to the state board of education — through its channels of bills that became a law — to move in the direction of reducing state testing with the idea that we would be building out a profile of a graduate model that would be based upon what the general assembly labeled as the five C’s, which were the four that most people are used to — Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Communication — and they added a fifth of Citizenship.

They said, “This is what we want you to work on in terms of the competencies that our kids will graduate from when they leave us after high school. That really changes the game for the state, not just in terms of the state assessments, but also how curriculum and standards, opportunities for multidisciplinary learning, for the localities in Virginia to be able to really take some risk that it’s been difficult to take under No Child Left Behind as it’s evolved into where we are today.

So, I think that Virginia’s feeling like a real breath of fresh air is rolling through the state in terms of really looking at things like more opportunities for kids to get out of school, particularly their junior and senior year, to be able to do internships or work experiences or independent studies or community-based project work.

Just really looking at a very different model that’s far more transitional to adulthood than walking out of a traditional high school and then being expected to go to college or into the workforce or gap years or whatever kids do, and be ready to do that. So that’s kind of cool.

Vicki: Yeah. So Pam, what are the challenges that you see, or obstacles that you see to fully implementing this vision?

Obstacles to Implementing the Vision in Virginia

Pam: I think that one of the things that particularly — in states like Virginia where the resources that localities have access to can be wildly different. We have districts that have all the resources in the world, and we have districts that are really challenged.

So you wouldn’t find, for example, with technology — Albemarle has been in a one-to-one environment for a number of years now, as has Charlottesville City. You know, Charlottesville is the center of Albemarle County. You go to Henrico County? They flipped to one-to-one sometime around 2002.

So all around the state you have school division, as we call them in Virginia, that have had strong commitments to professional development, to implementing technologies, to really providing resources for teachers to be able to do whatever the work is of the moment.

So if it was implementing state standards with the intention of kids passing tests, then people in some divisions had a lot of resources, people in other divisions far less.

How to Get Buy-in For Transformational Change from Teachers

So I think that’s probably the biggest challenge — taking a look at, “What does it take to really create the kind of transformative change that would go with something like the profile of a graduate work?

What’s the buy-in from the beginning point of the resources that are needed to building the investment among educators as to why transformative change is really critical?” I was just talking with some teachers a few minutes ago, and I said, “You can modernize spaces. You can create more transparency in environments.

You can change the dominant pedagogy from teaching at the teaching wall to more project based work or activity based and inquiry focused learning.

But if educators don’t have a sense of what’s the intentional purpose of doing this? How will kids benefit? How will I even as a professional gain something from this process? What you end up with are people who perhaps are implementing it as we educators often do because we’re pretty compliant people, but it doesn’t make sense.

So to me, one of the biggest challenges we have as leaders is how do you help make sense? Not everybody is going to make sense of it in the first day of a change, or the hundredth day of a change or maybe even two years of change.

But you’ve got to have something in place that really allows teachers with parents with even the students that we serve to make sense of the why. It’s what I call the why curriculum. And if you don’t have that built in — and I think there’s probably no district in the country that would say, “We have 100% success stories in terms of implementing change.”

But if you don’t have some sense of why you purposefully are doing what you do, then it just becomes, “We’re doing this because somebody said to do it.” And that’s not going to get you the rich, authentic, contextual learning for either adults or kids that I think that you need to really have fully transformative change.

Please stay tuned for future episodes in this series.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Dr. Pamela R. Moran has served as the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools since January 2006. She oversees a division with an annual operating budget of $180.5 million; a self-sustaining budget of $19.2 million and a five-year capital budget of $86.9 million. The division includes more than 1,200 teachers educating 13,700 students in 25 schools.

During Dr. Moran’s tenure, Albemarle County Public Schools has become one of the top performing school divisions for students in the state with an on-time graduation rate of 95 percent. Two out of every three high school seniors graduate with an Advanced Studies Diploma, 30 percent higher than the state average for all school divisions. In 2014, Albemarle County students had the second highest SAT scores among 133 school divisions in Virginia in critical reading and the third highest SAT scores for writing and math.

In 2015, a national survey organization ranked Albemarle County Public Schools in the top five of all school divisions in Virginia and among the top two percent of all school divisions in the county.

Among the school division’s flagship programs are its Learning Commons, AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) and M-Cubed. Both the Learning Commons and M-Cubed have received the National School Board Association’s Magna Award, given annually to the school division in the nation with the most innovative and effective program. The school division is the only one in the history of the Magna Award to twice receive the association’s highest performance honor. The school’s Learning Commons, which is a multi-disciplined, technology-infused learning center, has attracted visits by MIT, Harvard, the Universities of Virginia and North Carolina and from the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Hall of Science. M-Cubed is a program that supports black middle school males in year-round advanced math studies to improve their high school academic performance. The division’s Jack Jouett Middle School is in the top three percent of all schools in the world for the success of its AVID college and career readiness program.

A key component of the division’s project-based instructional model is its maker curriculum, which has been the subject of presentations by division educators around the country, including at the White House. In 2015, in partnership with two other school divisions and the University of Virginia, Albemarle County Public Schools was one of three public school divisions in the nation to receive an Investing in Innovation demonstration grant. The $3.4 million federal grant is being used to develop advanced manufacturing and engineering programs in division middle schools and is in addition to a $20,000 state planning grant to develop a “school-of-the-future” model.

The division has three centers of excellence. Students in the Math, Engineering and Science Academy earn an average of $24,000 per student in academic scholarships; the Health and Medical Sciences Academy became a Governor’s Regional Health Academy in 2013 and in 2015, a new Environmental Studies Academy began operations.

The division also is home to one of the first CoderDojo Academies in a public school division in the country, teaching computer coding and science skills to students. Other notable new programs include a high school Arts & Letters Pathwayand a summer Fine Arts Academy.

Dr. Moran is a leading advocate of an educational model that prepares students for “success in their century, not mine.” She emphasizes the value of student-led research, project-based learning and contemporary learning spaces that promote collaboration, creativity, analytical problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications competencies among all students.

A past gubernatorial appointee to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia, Dr. Moran was selected by her peers across the Commonwealth as Virginia’s 2016 Superintendent of the Year. She subsequently was one of four statewide superintendents of the year to be selected as a finalist for 2016 National Superintendent of the Year.

In 2016, Dr. Moran was selected to serve on the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.

She is a member of the MakerEdorg advisory committee and has delivered several TED Talks on the impact of creating a contemporary learning environment for students, one shaped around a student-centered project-based instructional model. Under her guidance, Albemarle County Public Schools was selected in 2015 for membership in the League of Innovative Schools., a nonprofit organization authorized by the U.S. Congress to accelerate innovation in education.

Dr. Moran has appeared on the cover of Education Week’s Digital Directions magazine as a “National Mover and Shaker” for her advocacy of a curricular digital integration model, which will be featured in an upcoming profile by Edutopia. She also was selected by eSchool Media as one of its national Tech-Savvy Superintendents of the Year and under her leadership, the school division received the Virginia Governor’s Tech Innovation Award.

Dr. Moran is a past President of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Women Educational Leaders of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Science Supervisors. She holds leadership positions with the regional Chamber of Commerce, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Education Fund, and the University of Virginia-Public Schools Educational Partnership.

Dr. Moran’s career in public education began as a high school science teacher. She subsequently served as a central office science coordinator and staff developer, elementary school principal, director of instruction, assistant superintendent for instruction, and adjunct instructor in educational leadership for the University of Virginia’s Curry School and the School of Continuing Education. She holds a B.S. in Biology from Furman University and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia. Dr. Moran also is an alumnus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Executive Educators Leadership Institute.


Twitter: @pammoran

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post From Testing to Transformational Change with Pam Moran appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

To the Woods

14 January, 2018 - 11:42

Day 12 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

As soon as we got home, we threw our shoes into our closets, put on our cutoff bluejean shorts and halter tops and ran out the back door, the screen door slamming behind us. We were headed for the ditch.

The ditch in the woods about a half a mile behind our house was an incredible place that changed with the seasons. Dad dug it to drain off a field as he put in a bright silver irrigation system that gleamed in the hot South Georgia sun.

As we ran through the backfield of wheat or rye or soybeans – whatever was the crop of the moment – we would sometimes stop to roll. We would roll out whole rooms and play in our flattened rye mansions. Perhaps Dad could have thought these were crop circles of the 70’s but he knew better — we were children.

As we got to the edge of the leafy, buzz buzz buzzing woods full of crickets, bugs, and even snakes, we’d all pick up a stick. The stick was to deal with those snakes or to poke at whatever critter or odd thing we found on the path that day.

We made our way through the woods to “the ditch.” We’d hold onto one another as we’d attempt to get near the ditch to squish our toes in the grey clay at the bottom of the ditch.

My Favorite Place

But my favorite place was the opening of the ditch right next to the main road. Sometimes little crawdads would grow there. I never really would hurt or catch them, but I would watch them flitting around the rocks. If I squished my toes there, they’d come near eating whatever goodies I was kicking up with my toe. But they made me afraid because they could pinch!

Whether we were running in the woods, rolling out hay in the fields, or poking at something unrecognizable in the road, our video game was nature. We ran free.

My favorite time of day was sunset which was often when Mom and Dad and my sister and I would “drive the farm” to make sure everything was ok for the night. Every sunset was different. How could one place have so many different colors each night!

What Nature Can Do

I do not tell this story to reminisce or say anything about the modern generation, for my own children played in these ditches too, although not quite as frequently since we live in town.

But as I think about as recently as this fall and a trip Kip and I made to a lovely lake to fish, I realize that nature is a place where my mood often soars

and I remember who I am.

I didn’t really think about it much until I posted this picture to the right on Facebook during that last trip. The next Sunday, my pastor stopped me and said,

“You need to have that look on your face more often.”

Wise Encouragement to Get Into Nature

And I realized that I have fallen victim to Robert Frost’s conundrum when he said,

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”

Albert Einstein said,

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

British Statesman John Lubbock said,

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers,the mountain and sea, are excellent school masters and teach some of us more than we could ever learn from books.”

King David says in Psalm 121

“I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My helpl cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

There’s an old John Denver song called Rhymes and Reasons where he sings of

“the music of the mountains and the colours of the rainbow” and “the graceful way of flowers in the wind.”

A Walk in the Woods and the Couch in the Den Can’t Compare

When I get out into nature, I dream again. I breathe. I am reminded of my Maker. And I am restored in ways that just don’t happen sitting on the couch.

I see things. Like this mushroom in a field in Dillard Georgia where I lay on the ground with my camera to shoot up at its beautiful canopy from underneath. It is a truly beautiful moment and memory captured on film. I can still feel the dew on my back as I stood up with grass in my hair and laughter on my lips.

Get Outside

So, this is a reminder to all of us to get out there and inhale fresh air. Take a walk in the woods. Lay on the grass and watch the clouds go by. Inhale the scent of fresh air and feel the breeze. In some cases, it is cold right now, but if we cannot remember the last time we’ve been outside to just enjoy the outdoors, then it has been too long.

You can take the girl out of the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

But somehow deep down, I think that the land is a restorative place and more of us need to put down our phones, put on our sunscreen, and look at the sunset, watch the bees dance among the roses, and wiggle our toes in the dirt. It won’t hurt us. It might actually do us a whole lot of good.

Here’s your challenge. Schedule a time outside this week. Even better, schedule an hour. Sit and observe. (And if it cold, bundle up!)

This post is day twelve of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post To the Woods appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Take a Rest

13 January, 2018 - 10:48

Day 11 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Sometimes you must rest to be your best. Get some.

This post is day eleven of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post Take a Rest appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Middle School STEAM: 5 Ways to Amp it Up!

12 January, 2018 - 22:35

Pauline Roberts on episode 230 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Exciting STEAM projects can ignite and excite any middle school. Today, Pauline Roberts gives us five important ingredients for amping up STEAM in middle school.

Middle School Science teachers should get the FREE Xplorlabs Fire Forensics kit.Solve a mystery. Meet Next Generation Science Standards. Have fun!

Go to today to get your Free Fire Forensics Kit.

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript Middle School STEAM: 5 Ways to Amp it Up!

Vicki: Today we’re talking with my friend, Pauline Roberts @Pr05bps. She’s an Instructional Specialist in Michigan, working with grades 3 – 8.

But Pauline, today you have for us five ways to amp up STEM in middle school.

What’s our first way?

Pauline: I think the first thing to consider is how you can collaborate with your science, engineering or math teaching colleagues.

Tip 1: Connect and Collaborate

At the middle school level, teachers tend to become more isolated as content experts, and in order to make your STEM activities more powerful and engaging, I would highly recommend that you connect in any way possible with those expert colleagues.

Explore the curriculum, look for natural connections, plan together, develop a common language and rubrics together. Try and observe each other teach, and use those opportunities to team teach.

Taking the time to develop a coherent approach to STEM in your building will help to develop STEM experiences for students and have a much greater impact on learning.

Vicki: Absolutely. And you know, change and innovation is all about relationships, isn’t it?

Pauline: Absolutely. Yes.

Vicki: OK, what’s our second, Pauline?

Pauline: I think the second thing to do is to provide an authentic, real-world context for your STEM projects by challenging students to generate creative solutions to real-world problems.

Tip 2: Provide an Authentic Context

The level of enthusiasm and engagement just soars as students learn to ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences… and to describe or explain and articulate their thoughts about the world around them.

In the process of solving real-world authentic problems, they begin to see themselves as true innovators who can make a positive difference in the world.

Vicki: I love that! Do you have any examples for us of something you’ve done at your school?

Pauline: Oh, we’ve got lots of real-world problems going on at the moment in my building.

We have fifth and sixth-grade students in a middle school setting who are working on how to save the bees.

They’ve learned all about the science behind the bee population, the reasons why it could possibly be declining, and they’ve contacted local experts.

They’ve worked very diligently to build their own beehives offsite, and they collect data and manage that data to try and learn how they can help save bees and spread what they’ve learned to the wider community.

Vicki: Oh, how exciting! I’ll bet they love it!

Pauline: They do! They love going out there in their full beehive outfits and then harvesting honey. They harvest the honey, and they sell that honey within the local community as part of an educational process and to raise funds to fund things they need to continue the project.

Vicki: Wow, We could just go forever on that one. (laughs)

Pauline: I know. (laughs)

Vicki: OK, what’s our third?

Pauline: I kind of just touched base on that. I would just say tap into experts within your community.

Tip 3: Tap into Experts within your Community

We frequently survey our community members about their careers and their passions in order to include them in the learning process. We often have family members come into the classroom to present or work alongside students as they work on their projects.

We look at local businesses or organizations who have expertise in a subject area that we need. We can go visit them onsite to gather knowledge firsthand, or for experts who are further afield, we interview them by phone or by video conferencing.

Connecting students with experts in the field really increases their level of understanding and results in deeper thinking for them.

Vicki: Awesome. Can you think of a recent expert that your students connected with?

Pauline: Oh, we have students in our fourth-grade classrooms who have been working on hydroponic gardening. They had a local expert called Pauline who is a 70-year-old hydroponic expert in our community.

She brought her hydroponic garden to our school and taught the students about how she manages it, how she increases the productivity, how to make sure it runs and functions smoothly, and the things that she does with her harvest afterward.

So she was an amazing expert for our students to learn from.

Vicki: Incredible. OK, what’s our fourth?

Pauline: Oh, I would say teach skills, not just content.

Tip 4: Teach Skills, Not Just Content

If you want students to collaborate, you really need to spend time explicitly teaching them how to communicate, how to be politely critical, how to reach consensus, how to ask questions and synthesize information.

If we want them to learn about high productivity, we need to provide them with challenges and deadlines and teach students the skills they need to hit those deadlines.

I would ask students to conduct a personal skills inventory and ask them to use those inventories to determine who will play specific roles in a team project.

For example, who would be the best project manager? Who would be the best lead engineer or technology manager, etc?

The STEM classroom can often be a noisy and chaotic environment, and by teaching students the skills and asking them to assume specific roles, we empower them to manage themselves.

Vicki: Oh, where did you get your personal skills inventory?

Pauline: We just created it at school. It’s basically just a list of skills broken down by what digital skills have you got, what organizational skills have you got?

Students kind of check on a continuum, on a scale of 1 – 5:

  • I have great organizational skills.
  • I have great communication skills.
  • I am a great problem solver with technology.
  • I spend a lot of time with technology.

And they use these personal skills inventories to kind of struggle amongst themselves when they’re allocated to a team. They kind of interview each other, based on those personal skills inventories to determine who will get each role in the team.

At the end of a project, they will sit and reflect upon those skills and see in which areas they grew, which areas they still need to work on, and use this information to keep improving on becoming a better team member.

Vicki: Fantastic. What’s our fifth?

Pauline: I would say teach empathy.

Tip 5: Teach Empathy

If we want students to generate solutions to problems, we need them to be able to walk in the shoes of others, in order to fully understand the problem and to develop effective solutions.

I would take time to develop empathetic habits, like cultivating curiosity about others, encouraging kindness. I would teach students about emotions and how to manage them and teach active listening skills. By providing opportunities that help students to become other-focused, then they can become the caring, responsible, global citizens that we want them to be.

Vicki: Oh, that is challenging!

Pauline, as we finish up, can you give us an activity or something you’ve encouraged teachers to do to help build empathy?

Pauline: One of the key skills of empathy, one of the first skills that is outlined by Michele Borba in her book, Unselfie, is to recognize and name emotions.

So we created various quizzes for students, depending on grade level from third through eighth. We created quick quizzes and activities for students to be able to look at images.

So, for example, in third grade, we used different emoticons and asked students to name the emotion that’s portrayed by the emoji.

And all the way through to eighth grade, we showed students photos of just eyes of people and asked them to name the emotion that they thought the picture of the eyes was conveying.

Just by being able to name emotions and accurately be able to give it an actual name, students are way more able to manage their own emotions.

Vicki: This actually hits home a very important topic. A lot of people don’t discuss, which is Non-Verbal Learning Disorders.

I have personal experiences with this. With a child with a Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, one of the things that you teach them is how to recognize emotions. Sometimes they can’t recognize emotions, and it can easily make them a target for both bullying, as well as just feeling misunderstood because they are also giving out mixed signals.

I love that you’re doing that, Pauline. That’s fantastic!

Pauline: Thank you.

Vicki: So teachers, we have five excellent ways to amp up STEM in the middle school.

I love how empathy and some of these things that are in here are not necessarily what some people would call STEM, but they’re a very important part of what we do in STEM.

Please check the Shownotes for all of the links and the resources that we will be sharing, as well as how to connect with Pauline Roberts. She’s a fantastic go-to.

I have no idea, Pauline, how long you and I have known or followed each other’s work, but it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Pauline: It has. And I learn from you every day. Thank you, Vicki,

Vicki: Oh, you’re so sweet. It’s just nice to connect. You know, we all have friends that we kind of connect with, and Pauline is one of those for me.

So let’s amp up STEM in middle school, and I think we can also apply this to other grade levels.


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Pauline Roberts – Bio as submitted

Pauline Roberts is originally from Liverpool, England and has been an educator for nearly three decades. She is currently an Instructional Specialist in Birmingham Public Schools, Michigan.

Twitter: @Pr05bps

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Middle School STEAM: 5 Ways to Amp it Up! appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Recklessly Abandoned to Love

12 January, 2018 - 13:00

Day 10 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

This reckless abandon of showing love to others can feel like you are not showing love to yourself sometimes. Yet it is part of reckless abandon to pour yourself out in love of others when you do not know how to go on. When you are tired. When you can go no more.

“If love is who I am
Then this is where I’ll stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back

I want to live like that
I want to live like that

Am I proof
That You are who you say You are?
That grace can really change our heart
Do I live like Your love is true?”

Live like that by Sidewalk Prophets

Love Costs Something

In times when I am exhausted (like now) I think of King David at the threshing floor where he was stopping to offer a sacrifice after the plague stopped and the owner offered to give him the property and David said

“I will not offer that which costs me nothing”.

And that seems to be what many want to do today. They want to serve others as long as they are not tired. They want to give money as long as they have enough. They want to show up if they have time on their schedule.


True sacrificial love can cost us everything!

I am not talking a lack of self- care or namby-pamby martyrdom— I am talking a conscious decision by healthy minded brave adults to give, show up, and do for others when all you want to do is lay on the couch and curl up under a blanket and hibernate for days.

Our Love and Encouragement is Needed

There are certainly times for retreat but not every time and every day. We have children and people who need encouragement. We need a world of brave people willing to be recklessly abandoned to being a pipe full of God’s love to a world that sees too much hurt and pain and wonders who is going to show up.

I cannot do everything and I might not can do much but I can serve my small calling with faith.

I can love kids and parents who wound me and be encouraging to others in my profession even when criticized.

For if we are called, we are equipped. But if we are called, we cannot wait until it is convenient and when we feel like it to show up.

I do not write as anyone who is good or perfect but as one who struggles every single day to show up when all I want to do is give up.

Your Work Matters

I write as one who hopes that this tiny insignificant blog post will remind you that no act of kindness is wasted and that your showing up, giving up, and bucking up MATTERS.

Live your calling, my friends. Be recklessly abandoned to show love to others. Be encouraged that your actions of love Matter.

As for me, I was recklessly loved first so it is a small thing to give the same reckless love to others. And if you knew the truth, you’d realize you are recklessly loved too.

This post is day ten of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post Recklessly Abandoned to Love appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Throw out Learning Styles and Replace it with UDL

11 January, 2018 - 22:15

Kathleen McClaskey on episode 229 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Kathleen McClaskey talks about the research on learning styles and the alternatives for teaching and reaching every child. Today’s show will help you think about the research many of us have used for years to design lessons.

Opening Graphic

Middle School Science teachers should get the FREE Xplorlabs Fire Forensics kit.Solve a mystery. Meet Next Generation Science Standards. Have fun!

Go to today to get your Free Fire Forensics Kit.

Listen Now

Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript Throw out Learning Styles and Replace it with UDL

Link to show:
Date: January 11, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Kathleen McClaskey @khmmc, founder of Making Learning Personal, about personalizing learning.

Defining Personal Learning

Kathleen, how would you define personal learning?

Kathleen: Personal learning starts with the learner.

One of the big problems today is that we’ve got all sorts of different definitions around personalized learning, but I’d really love the audience to just remember that personalized learning starts with the learner — where we’re trying to have learners have ownership to their learning.

Vicki: So when we personalize learning, does that mean that everybody’s doing something different in the classroom, or what does that mean to you?

Kathleen: No, not everyone is doing something different in the classroom, but the learner’s actually having some choice in what they do and how they access information. They may also be doing something a little bit different in how they express what they know and understand.

The teacher is actually designing lessons based upon who the learners are in the classroom. I know that’s a broad statement, but we’ll get a little bit further into that as we go on.

Why Kathleen Thinks We Should Abandon Learning Styles

Vicki: Now you think that Learning Styles — we just need to throw that out the window. Why?

Kathleen: Well, I did about six months to a year of research around Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences, and I looked at a lot of reports and studies around Learning Styles.

There was this set of cognitive scientists who actually put out a pretty extensive report on Learning Styles about five or six years ago. It basically says that there is no evidence that knowing a child’s Learning Styles has ever made any difference or has ever impacted their learning.

In fact, it probably has done the reverse. It may have developed a fixed mindset around how a child learns. So that’s why we need to not use that anymore. There’s just no research around that.

Vicki: Yeah. But you know, I guess that I’ve always looked at it as…

We know that dual mode teaching of reading (listening to it as you read at the same time).

We know that that helps learning.

Kathleen: Right.

Vicki: So I guess I’ve used — and written quite a bit about it — more as a guide to help me provide diverse experiences in the classroom, rather than ever saying… I mean, don’t you think that where people run into mistakes? When they say, “You are THIS, and this is the only way you learn.”

Kathleen: Yeah.

Vicki: That’s where they run into trouble, right?

Kathleen: Yes, and when the child says, “This is the only way I learn.” That’s when you really get into trouble. (laughs)

Vicki: Yeah. So you’ve seen it, and some of the cognitive researchers say that it’s caused kids to have a fixed mindset.

Kathleen: Right.

Vicki: That, “This is how I learn…” OK, so what do we do instead? How can we add value?

Because I know that, for me, thinking that, “How can I have interpersonal activities. How can I make things more diverse?” That’s helped me plan my lessons, but I need something to replace it with.

Universal Design for Learning

Kathleen: Yeah, well, I’d just like to introduce you to Universal Design for Learning, and the terms, Access, Engage, and Express, that really represent the principles of Universal Design for Learning. It’s really based on the neurosciences and how we learn.

So why use these particular terms? Well, here’s what they represent:

Access means how a learner would access and process information. And let me just say then, that in each one of these, there are strengths and challenges. So it’s really important for teachers to know what those are, and to be able to have conversations about them.

The second element is Engage. How do we engage with content? How does a learner engage with content?

The third is how do we Express what they know and understand?

Now, let me just tell you that, with that particular lens, in our publication, How to Personalize Learning, we really outline how to use this with the learner. It’s about empowering the learner to be able to talk about how they learn.

I think that we’ve not spent enough time in doing that, and if we expect kids to take ownership to their learning, we have to have them understand how they learn. And then we have to find ways to help kids develop the skills around their strengths or challenges, so they can become more independent and self-directed in their learning.

Vicki: How do we help them understand how they learn?

Kathleen: Yeah. Using the lens of Access, Engage, and Express.

A learner could certainly share with you what their challenges and strengths are in each of those areas.

As I said, in our publication, How to Personalize Learning, we’ve really outlined and given some really good descriptions that any teacher could use or adapt to really find out more about the learner.

What it is… it’s a great conversation starter with kids, because we need to have conversations from kids in about how they learn.

Now some kids may prefer to Access, or maybe some children have a problem accessing content in the printed word. So a learner could say, you know, “I have a challenge in reading and decoding. I would really like you to develop a good set of skills using this type of tool.” And we’re always hoping that’s where that goes.

But this is where the learner’s more in charge of saying, “This is who I am, and I’d just like to talk about what I’d need to help me become more independent.”

So the focus in the classroom is really developing great independent learning skills, based upon who they are, using the UDL lens of Access, Engage, and Express.

Vicki: So how would I grapple with this?

For example, a student came to me some years ago. He was having trouble learning the Hamlet, “To Be or Not to Be” speech. He needed it to graduate. And he — I’m just going to use my old term, because I have to understand how to replace it —

Kathleen: (laughs)

Vicki: He learned by listening. So under the old framework, we would call him Auditory. He was more auditory. It helps to look at it while you listen to it.

So I said, “OK, let’s download it on your phone.”

He sat in the corner of the room. He closed his eyes. He listened to it for 30 minutes. He went in and said it like a pro. Actually, he ended up memorizing more that he was supposed to.

So… that obviously helped him learn it.

Is that under Access, that he may access it better in an auditory way?

Learner Preferences

Kathleen: Yes! Right! Exactly!

But just remember that that is a way — a lot of learners, by the way, like to use, you know, auditory. Just like people like to listen to books in a car. Personally, I would never choose that way at all… but that is really a preference.

What’s important is that if you could even find out what a learner’s preferences or needs are, around Access, Engage, and Express, that tells you so much about who they are and how they learn.

But if in fact we are going to create a learner-centered environment, we still need to empower that learner with that. I’ve worked with teachers who have used this Learner Profile, and they basically say, “It’s so empowering to the learner. They are so anxious to tell you who they are.”

And what happens is the teacher discovers things about the learner that they never even knew. Even after months of being with kids, they discover all new things, because kids want to have that conversation.

They have a story to tell, and we need to be better listeners about who children are and how they learn.

The takeaway of today is about empowering the learner.

Vicki: So Kathleen, as we finish up, where do they go? There are some things that I have on my blog, that we’ve done before on UDL that we’ll link to, and personalized learning and that sort of thing. But where’s a place for teachers to start?

Where do we start understanding UDL

Kathleen: Well, you know, as I said, you know, we have a publication, How to Personalize Learning. It’s a practical guide that includes virtually all this information I just discussed today. We also have an online website that has all the templates for teachers to use.

So that’s really a great way to really get started. Anyone that’s used this, by the way, has really told us that this has been so incredibly helpful to really empower learners and creating those learning environments that are far more personalized.

So that would be one way, really, to get started. A lot of people who want to learn about personalized learning start off with our first publication, called Make Learning Personal. That’s also a really good foundational work, when you’re trying to really decide what that is for your school.

But this piece here on Access, Engage, and Express? I also want to refer people to an article that I wrote for ASCD several months ago this past year. It’s called, “Personalization and UDL: A Perfect Match,” and that really gives a really good overview about how it really looks from the perspective of the teacher and the learner.

Vicki: Excellent. So we’ll link to that in the Shownotes as well.

Teachers, I would just encourage you to dig deeper. UDL has been around a little while.

I admit, and you can tell from my questions, that I’ve missed which pieces of understanding how kids learn — and when does it cross over the line into causing a fixed mindset.

We’re going to have to have some more guests on, so that we can explore this further together!

So thank you, Kathleen!

Kathleen: Well, you’re welcome! Thank you very much, Vicki, for having me.


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford


Bio as submitted

Kathleen McClaskey, founder of Make Learning Personal, co-founder of Personalize Learning, LLC and co-author of Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning. She is passionate in empowering learners with tools, skills and learning strategies so they become independent self-directed learners with agency who are future ready for college, career and life. Learn more about Kathleen at

Blog: Make Learning Personal : Empowering Every Learner to be Future Ready

Twitter: @khmmc

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Throw out Learning Styles and Replace it with UDL appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Setting Goals Helps You Get the Most Out of Activity Monitors (and Life)

10 January, 2018 - 23:15

Day 9 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Some people think just being aware of something is enough to improve. They think that to say less profanity that they’ll just have someone put a penny in a jar when they say a curse word. Or, they’ll track their steps so they’ll notice them and work to take more steps and get more exercise. Monitoring without goal setting may actually hurt your performance. New research shows that just being aware of activity on your activity monitor does not improve your activity.

This post is day nine of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

So, in this research — they find that if you want to have a benefit of increasing your steps, you have to set a goal for how many steps. In fact, if you DON’T set a goal, your activity may actually decrease.

So, is it 5,000 steps a day or 10,000? How many?

This fits with all of life. Setting a target makes a difference. For example, someone timing your run around the track may not make a difference unless you set as your goal to improve that time.

We all need goals. We all need to know what success looks like.

So, I challenge you today. If you have an activity monitor – what is your goal in steps or calories burned? Set it.

And if you don’t have one, then set a physical goal of some kind — 20 minutes a day or 30 minutes a day or walk 2 miles a day. Some measurable goal. Because exercising “when I feel like it” won’t cut it and it won’t get you the results you’re looking to improve.

Even more, if you don’t set your physical health as a priority, one day your body will make it a priority for you.

So, today’s challenge – set physical goals. Track them. Even better, have an accountability partner.

The post Setting Goals Helps You Get the Most Out of Activity Monitors (and Life) appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

iPads for Masterful Math: Randomizing Formative Math Assessment

10 January, 2018 - 22:03

Dr. Sean Nank on episode 228 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Dr. Sean Nank’s research shows that the single biggest method for improving learning with iPads is to use online formative assessments. However, his formative assessments have a twist — students are all answering DIFFERENT math questions. This intriguing research is a must listen for any school with access to technology. You do not need iPads to implement and learn from this research.

Opening Graphic

Middle School Science teachers should get the FREE Xplorlabs Fire Forensics kit.Solve a mystery. Meet Next Generation Science Standards. Have fun!

Go to today to get your Free Fire Forensics Kit.

Sean’s book is Teaching over Testing. Enter the contest to win a copy of the book. Just go to the show on iTunes and leave a review and your Twitter handle. We’ll draw one random winner.

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript Masterful Math: Randomizing Formative Math Assessment

Link to show:

Date: January 10, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking to Dr. Sean Nank, @Sean_Nank.

He is a Presidential Award winner for Math and Science Teaching.

But he’s really quite unique, in that he teaches for two universities, and he also teaches high school math.

Now, Sean, you’re currently working with iPads and some online formative assessments for STEM classrooms.

What kind of research are you doing right now?

Sean: About seven years ago, three colleagues and myself wrote a grant proposal for a quarter of a million dollars to implement iPads into math and science classrooms.

Honestly, when we started it, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know what was going to work, what wasn’t going to work. So we started doing research.

In the past seven years, I’ve found that the single biggest factor for student success with the iPads is being able to use online formative assessments. More so than any apps or anything else.

Vicki: So, what kind of formative assessments are you doing on the iPads?

Formative assessment on the iPad that Works

Sean: We decided to code certain assessments ourselves.

Quite honestly, the first time I coded the first test, it took a little bit of time, and I thought to myself, “I’m never spending this time making an assessment again.”

But then, seeing the students’ results after the first test, I thought, “There’s no way I can’t do this.”

So what we do is use randomization. We use Moodle as a Learning Management System. We created Assessment Items.

So what happens is that the students can take tests as many times as it takes for them to achieve and show mastery.

And I was quite surprised at the results. I had a ton of students coming in every single day after taking a test, if they weren’t successful, getting help from me, getting tutoring, and trying to take the test again and again.

Vicki: So… formative, typically, you don’t give a grade. It’s while while you are forming knowledge, right?

Formative Assessment and Grading

Sean: Right. Some people think that formative assessments cannot happen if you give any type of grade at all.

I think that formative assessments can happen with grades, as long as you give students the protocol and the opportunity to learn from that assessment, and to continue on and maybe get a better grade as a result.

So for me, it’s less a matter of giving them a grade, and more a matter of giving them feedback, giving them help, giving them opportunities to improve.

The Frequency of Formative Testing

Vicki: So they’re actually taking these daily…

Sean: Right.

We coded for warm-up activities, for exit activities — which was wonderful because we just go to our computer, refresh your menu, and you can see real time exactly how students are performing.

So those, they take every day. When we take any type of quiz or test, then all they need to do is…

The trick was that we didn’t have any type of protocol to start out with. We just let students retake assessments. That didn’t work, because they would keep re-taking it, and keep getting the same grade.

So, we started doing things like telling them that they needed to have all of their work completed, they needed to come in for…

Different teachers make different decisions, but usually it’s at least one or two sessions of tutoring so that they can learn from their mistakes, so that they can re-take it again.

Student and Teacher Feedback from Formative Assessment

Vicki: So, are they getting instant feedback on each question as they answer it, or are you the one giving the feedback after you look at their results?

Sean: You can do both!

And that was one of the amazingly wonderful, unforeseen circumstances.

So you’re giving a warm-up in class. And instead of just going through the three or four questions for the warm-up, and asking students if they have trouble, I can look at the data. I can say, “Number 1 and 3 you did great on. Number 2? Ahhh, 72% of you didn’t do well. So we’re going to go over this before we can continue with the lesson.”

But also, you can code in responses. So if somebody’s solving something like 2x + 4 = 8.

Then you know what the three major misconceptions are probably going to be, if they’re having trouble with this. So when they input that answer, you can not only code “Partial Credit” but you can also code “Hints”… so it will blast out hints to them.

So maybe they added 4 instead of subtracting 4.

So you could have the hints like, “Did you subtract the 4?” or something more vague, like “Watch the signs.”

So you can code in the major misconceptions so that they can get instant feedback, and they can know the right answer. Or you could block that. Like you could give them hints as well.

Vicki: Sean, it sounds like your view of excellent math teaching has evolved with using formative assessment.

How Sean’s Views of Excellent Math Teaching Has Changed

Sean: It has, quite a bit.

There’s actually a few things that have made it evolve.

One is that over the years, I’ve passed probably 40 more students per year than I should have, if I was the average math classroom.

And it’s not me. It’s not that I’m a wonderfully excellent teacher that’s reaching all the students.

It’s that I’m giving them a chance. And if you give them a chance, then it’s not that they take the first chapter assessment, they get an F, and they have to ride through with tha F for the rest of the semester. Students start giving up.

They never have to give up, up until the semester ends. They can always try again.

Another thing that’s changed my perception a lot is teaching at American College of Education and Cal State San Marcos.

I see a lot of credential students and Masters students and Doctorate students. With the papers they write, quite honestly, we borrow a lot in education.

A lot of the things that I’m doing in my classroom come straight from them, from their Master’s theses, from papers they’ve done in my class, because people have a lot of wonderful ideas out there.

Vicki: So if you could condense this down. Math teachers across the world are listening to this show.

It sounds like you’re saying that having formative assessment with instant feedback to you as the teacher, right at the beginning and ending of class… and then the opportunity to retake questions, the opportunity to have hints…

Does that summarize it, or are there other things that you want them to take away from what you’ve learned?

How Formative Assessment Changes the Conversation

Sean: Most of it is how it changes the conversation, because when you give them feedback and they have a chance to do it again…

Let’s say two students are sitting right next to each other. They’re doing a warm-up activity. Instead of one student being able to turn to the other and say, “What did you get for #2? The answer is 17,” and then people just move on. They have to turn to their partner and say, “How did you get that answer?” They could have a similar problem, but the numbers will change from the bank and from the randomization of the testing items.

So it absolutely changes the conceptual and procedural conversation that happens between you and students, and between students as well.

Testing for Concepts but Using Different Numbers and Problems for Each Student

Vicki: Oh, wow! So I think I missed that.

So what’s actually happening is, they’re having a warm-up activity, but each student is being asked a similar conceptual question but the numbers are different.

Sean: Right. So like for the problem 2x + 4 = 8, you can set up the parameters to where the student next to them has 3x – 9 = 16.

Vicki: Ahhhh.

Sean: So it’s not much of a difference, but it’s enough to where they can’t just copy off of each other. Some of it’s procedural, but you can also design conceptual questions, so they can talk about the question behind it. They can talk about the misconception.

So that’s one of the biggest things. Whenever I design any of these, I always have the three most major and common misconceptions in mind. Conception and procedural misconceptions. Then that helps to catch them before you send them home for the day.

Vicki: Wow. So where can people access what you’ve done? This sounds like a whole lot of work. I totally understand why having them do similar problems, but not exactly the same problem. That actually blows my mind. It makes sense that that would work. But how can the everyday math teacher apply this and use this in their classroom?

Sean: I would try as much as possible to find resources that are already out there. As teachers, we have a ton of work. There’s not enough hours in the day.

So I’ll go to different sources. One of the sources I use a lot is — or any other type of resource that already has test banks. That will give you a good idea for which lessons and what types of assessments can go well with them.

There are some outlets that are starting to give you access to already-randomized assessment items. But honestly, my biggest concern — and the biggest consideration — is that it’s all contingent on what your district’s doing.

So you can have these types of assessment items on a Moodle platform. You could have it on Canvas. You could have it on Haiku. That’s what you would need to find out first, is what system is your district using?

Otherwise, you would have to spend your own money, which I don’t want any teacher to do. And you would have to get a website, and you would have to house it on your own website.

Vicki: (sighs)

So I think the important thing concept here is that we’ve got a lot to re-listen to, and to learn from Sean. This whole idea of randomized formative math assessment, and assessing on concepts,and encouraging students to have that conversation.

I know, Sean, that for me the lightbulb has really gone on. I’m even wondering how I would apply this into the subjects that I teach, because it really makes a whole lot of sense to test for the concept — and to make it so that it becomes more about the process of solving the problem, and less about the right number to answer. Right?

Sean: Right.

And I think, overarchingly, I’m glad you said that… because I hope people don’t think that this has to be just for math, or just for science. You can use this in any subject matter. I think one of the biggest things is realizing that we talk a lot about growth mindset now. But all of that tends to stop — and I was just as guilty as anybody else — when we give assessments.

“Let’s grow as students. Let’s have the conversation. Here’s your test. This is it. You either pass or you fail, and we’re finished with it . And you have to live with that consequence for the rest of the semester.”

So I think what it really boils down to is giving students multiple opportunities, and doing something I call Grading for Learning which is letting them retake assessments until they achieve mastery.

Something I talk about in my first book is something that concerns me — especially with standardized assessments — is that we try to boil schools, students, teachers down to one test result. Just one score, and that determines how good or bad they are.

There’s nothing wrong with standardized assessments. It’s just the meaning that we’re making, and the way we’re using them — concerns me.

If I had it my way, one of the major thing I would change is to always look at the student as a whole, and always look at multiple measures of how the student is doing.

So assessments are important, but they’re no means the only thing.

Vicki: So we’ve been listening to Dr. Sean Nank.

We’re also going to be doing a giveaway, of Teaching Over Testing.

He has a lot of other resources, so check the Shownotes.

This is a fascinating conversation about excellent math teaching.

This whole idea of randomized formative assessment is definitely one that I’ll be investigating more.

I think it’s one that all math teachers should be discussing, as well as teachers of other subjects.

So thank you, Sean!

Sean: Thank you!


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Dr. Sean Nank earned a Ph.D. at the University of California Riverside. He received the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) in 2009 for mathematics from California. He has published two books titled Testing over Teaching: Mathematics Education in the 21st Century and The Making of a Presidential Mathematics and Science Educator, has published numerous articles, was a lead in writing the world’s first cloud based open source CCSS-M aligned K-8 texts (, and is currently working on his third book.

He has worked in leadership positions with the United States Department of Education, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Science Foundation, California Department of Education, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. He was appointed to represent the USA at the International Congress on Mathematical Education in Korea as the mathematics assessment expert, which culminated in a congressional address as to the current state of mathematics education in the USA. Sean Nank is the President and Program Chair of the Greater San Diego Mathematics Council.

He has been a coach, Domain Specialist, and is currently a Facilitator and Ambassador for LearnZillion. He also continues to consult for various districts across the country at the elementary, middle, and secondary level training teachers and administrators. Topics include transitioning to CCSS-M while aligning classroom and district curriculum, pedagogy and assessments in a coherent manner using technological resources.

His current research agenda includes how teachers negotiate the balance between the procedural, conceptual, and application via technological resources. Sean has been on numerous conference planning committees. He is currently the chair for a national educational summit in Washington, DC which will include Presidential awardees and members of various state and national educational agencies.

He has authored several articles:

Nank, S. D. (2017). Seven steps for adapting technology to the classroom. Southeast Education Network (SEEN) (19, 1).
Retrieved from:

Nank, S. D. (2011). Editor of The making of a presidential mathematics and science educator. Volume 1. Chicago, IL:
Discovery Association Publishing House.

Nank, S. D. (2011). The present moment. In S. Nank (Ed.), The making of a presidential mathematics and science
educator. Volume 1 (pp. 77-84). Chicago, IL: Discovery Association Publishing House.

Nank, S. D. (2011). Testing over teaching: Mathematics education in the 21st century. Chicago, IL: Discovery Association
Publishing House.


Twitter: @Sean_Nank

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post iPads for Masterful Math: Randomizing Formative Math Assessment appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

The Process of Success

9 January, 2018 - 23:03

Day 8 Challenge of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

John Maxwell in his video series Today Matters says,

“In life, we typically overestimate the event and underestimate the process.”

This post is day eight of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The students didn’t understand this. To me, the famous Coach John Wooden expresses the meaning,

“When opportunity knocks, it is too late to prepare.”

So, when you’re standing on the free throw line with no time left on the clock and you can tie the game with one shot and win with two, it is too late to work on your free throw shots — you’re there.

Champions are made during the preparation process. The true work happens not at the state or national game – although that is very hard – most of the work happens before.

I once heard a man say,

“I spent twenty years preparing to be an overnight success.”

Sometimes when we see success in others it is easy to think that it was easy. Great deeds require great sacrifice.

Everybody wants to ride in the parade, nobody wants to hit the weight room every morning at 5 am.

Day 8 Excellence Challenge

Think about the success you desire.

Are you longing for the outcome or are you realizing that the process of success is what gets you there?

What are you willing to do on a daily basis with no one noticing in order to achieve that success?

The post The Process of Success appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

7 Productivity Power Tools for the Busy Educator

9 January, 2018 - 22:03

Dr. Frank Buck on episode 227 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Become more productive today with these seven tools from Dr. Frank Buck. Automate what you can and save time.

Middle School Science teachers should get the FREE Xplorlabs Fire Forensics kit.Solve a mystery. Meet Next Generation Science Standards. Have fun!

Go to today to get your Free Fire Forensics Kit.

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript 7 Productivity Power Tools for the Busy Educator

Link to show:
Date: January 9, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking to one of my dear friend, Dr. Frank Buck @DrFrankBuck. He’s really a productivity guru for education leaders.

We’re going to talk about seven productivity power tools for the busy educator.

So Frank, what is your first tool?

Tool #1 Toodledo

Frank: First and foremost, Toodledo.

That’s my task manager. That’s where everything that I have to do “lives.” And I’m surprised that it doesn’t get nearly as much press as it deserves. It is a free tool. It is web based.

I can add to it with my voice. It includes a large notes field for each task, which is free whereas a lot of other tools you have to pay for that. I can forward emails to it, so that helps me keep my email inbox empty. I can move unfinished tasks en mass to a future day.

It is a great tool; it’s sort of like my brain, I couldn’t live without it.

Vicki: Wonderful. OK, what’s your second one?

Tool #2: TaskClone

Frank: Well, my second one… most people would say Evernote, but I’m not going to say Evernote because everybody knows Evernote. But for everybody out there that’s either using Evernote or they’re using OneNoteTaskclone.

This is a wonderful tool,. It’s about $15 a year, but it integrates either Evernote or OneNote with your digital task manager.

So let’s say that I’m in a workshop, and I’m taking notes in Evernote. As I’m taking notes, I think of some things that I want to do, following that workshop. Well, I just continue to take notes right there in Evernote, but I put a little checkbox in front of those things. Before I close down, I just tag that note “taskclone.”

Magically, those things with the checkbox beside them appear on Toodledo on the day that I want to see them, and then the little attached note is a link that takes you right back to the note in Evernote.

Fabulous tool! It’s a must-have if you use Evernote or OneNote.

Vicki: It is truly a remarkable — in somes ways, secretary. It just takes care of putting things where they need to go.

Frank: Oh gosh, absolutely.

Vicki: OK, what’s your third?

Tool #3: IFTTT

Frank: The third one is IfThisThenThat (IFTTT). In the world of productivity, one of the mantras I keep hearing is, “Eliminate. Delegate. Automate.”

Teachers are pretty good at the first one — looking at things that just don’t need to be done and getting rid of them.

Most teachers are also pretty good at delegating, especially those master first grade teachers. You go in their classroom at the end of the day, and twenty kids are doing twenty different jobs. Everybody helps.

But the third one, automate, is really our opportunity for growth. IfThisThenThat does that. It allows different services to work together. For example, Instagram and Twitter — when I put something on Instagram, I’d like the same thing to go on Twitter. But instead of having to do double duty, I just have a little applet that I’ve created. This is an applet that says, “If I post to Instagram, then post to Twitter.”

Some other things that I have on there — on Twitter, when I see really good articles, I’m usually reading those on my phone, and I’d really like to read the articles when I get back to my computer desktop. So how do I hang on to all those little links? Well, I just have a little applet that I created that says, “If I “like” a tweet, then send it to Toodledo.” So all I have to do is click the “like” button, and then there’s a task that’s sitting over on Toodledo, so I can just forget about it, work through my Toodledo list, and there it is for me.

Some other things… “If I add something to my Google calendar, then send my wife an email.” That automatically keeps her updated on some of the things that I’m doing.

So it has so many features, does so many things. I used to not teach it in workshops because I thought it would be too difficult for people to understand, but I have been dead wrong. People eat it up.

Vicki: Well, and if you’re looking for home efficiency, I actually use it. I have Philips Hue at my house. It takes sunset times, and it starts powering down one of my lights because I tend to work too late. So at sunset, I know that I have about another 30 minutes. And that changes throughout the year, and I just love it because it kind of helps me keep my internal clock straight.

Frank: (agrees)

Vicki: OK, what’s our fourth?

Frank: OK, the fourth and fifth help me with my writing.

Tool #4: Hemingway App

The fourth one is a website called Hemingway, like the writer. So this free site does more to clean and tidy my writing than anything I can think of.

You copy and paste your draft into that site, and then just check your ego at the door, because it turns all these sentences colors. It flags sentences that are hard to read. It flags passive voice. It flags words that it suggests that you simply eliminate.

When I start working through that, and start resolving the suggestions it’s making, my writing actually really is a lot, lot better.

And then the next one… Vicki, I don’t know about you, but I cannot proofread my own writing.

Vicki: (laughs)

Tool #5: VoiceInstead

Frank: My brain tells my eyes what I meant to say, not what I said.

And even if I read my stuff out loud, no. My eyes… they see what I meant, and not what I wrote.

But I have a little Chrome extension called VoiceInstead. So while I’m there at that HemingwayApp, and I’ve got things cleaned up, I just highlight the whole thing, right-click, and in the little menu will be VoiceInstead.

And it reads it back to me. When I hear someone else reading it, I catch everything. It’s just a simple little Chrome extension called VoiceInstead that you can just get from the Chrome store.

Vicki: Those are two great tools, and we’ll just add one little caution. HemingwayApp does not like GoogleDocs. It does not save it for you. So if you close the web browser…

Frank: (laughs) Exactly!!!

Vicki: … without copying it… as my students have learned, because we love Hemingway. It’s a fantastic way to teach, making writing more concise.

OK, what’s our sixth?

Tool #6: igHome

Frank: Number six is igHome.

Several years ago, a lot of us used to have those personalized Google pages as our home pages. I loved it! But then Google discontinued it.

Right about that time, someone created igHome to really fill that void.

So here’s what happens. When I open my browser, right there, staring me in the face is my Google calendar, Toodledo, and Gmail — side-by-side. Right below it is the weather forecast for the day, the local news and the national news beside that. I have an electronic sticky note where I just need to paste something electronically. I have commonly used bookmarks.

I really think of it as my internet organizer, because really, all of my internet-based tools are in some way connected to that homepage. I can get to it from anywhere. I love it. Couldn’t live without it.

Vicki: So we don’t have to complain about iGoogle going away, we can use this. Of course, there’s Netvibes and Pageflakes, but I’m really intrigued by this.

Frank: I have used Netvibes. I liked it, but really the igHome I like even better.

And what I tell people is, “Good tools come, and good tools go. But usually good tools are replaced by better tools. So don’t worry about it, because something better is coming along. Just watch for it.”

Vicki: OK, what’s our last one?

Tool #7: Spreadsheets (like Excel or Google Sheets)

Frank: The last one, Vicki, is spreadsheets.

If I had to point to one tool during my professional career that is the biggest game changer, it would be that. I’m so glad that back in 1987 — that long ago, 30 years ago! — I read some little chapter in a book about using Appleworks spreadsheets, and I had this epiphany.

I thought, “I could put my gradebook on this thing!” And suddenly, I was no longer spending one Saturday out of every six, hand-averaging grades and getting them ready to go on to report cards. Huge gamechanger.

And the thing that I would say to that busy educator is not that you necessarily have to go out and become the Excel guru — because I’m certainly not — but just start to formulate the question…

“Here’s the problem that’s in front of me. I wonder if maybe Excel or Google Sheets would do XYZ?”

Because once you’ve got the question, there’s probably a sharp student who can find the answer for you.

And I’m still running into situations where I don’t know the formula or if there is a formula to do the particular thing that I want done, so all I do is just Google it.

I put the word “Excel” in the Google search box, whatever it is I’m looking for, and somewhere in the world, somebody else has had the same problem, the same question, and has posed it on some bulletin board. And somebody else, somewhere else in the world, a lot smarter than I am, has come up with the answer. Just copy and paste it, and change the little cell references, and you’re good to go.

So that’s my number seven, spreadsheets.

Vicki: Well, remarkable educators, I think it’s important that we all have productivity power tools.

Do our students have power productivity tools? I’m amazed at how many students don’t know how to set a reminder, or set a calendar appointment, how to put things on a list.

These are some great tools that Frank has given us. Frank tends to pick things that are very, very reliable and rock solid. So if you need a place to start, these are awesome.

But the big thing is — do you have a place to put your calendar? Where are you going to put your notes? Where are you going to have your reminders, and your To Do List? We all need these essential things so we can be productive in today’s modern world.

Thank you, Frank!

Frank: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you, Vicki.



Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford


Bio as submitted


Frank Buck is a veteran school administrator, public speaker, productivity coach, and author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders. He has spoken to audiences throughout the United States and internationally to help busy professionals achieve total control over their time and the peace of mind that nothing is falling through the cracks.


Twitter: @DrFrankBuck

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post 7 Productivity Power Tools for the Busy Educator appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

A Secret of Finding Joy In Life: What You Count — Counts

8 January, 2018 - 23:03

Day 7 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Kip is an engineer. One cardinal rule of engineering is that if you want to improve something, track it. This relates to whether we focus on the positive things of life or negative. I believe that as we focus on excellence for these eighty days, that learning to focus on certain things can make us not only more positive but also spur us on to greater excellence as we shed the frustration and load of focusing on so many problems.

This post is day seven of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series. One Big problem: No heat!

So, last Thursday night on one of the coldest nights of the year (so far), our heater went out. So, when I got up Friday morning, I was tempted to number all of the things that were upsetting me.

But I stopped.

I thought to myself,

“I REFUSE to count my curses. I will not do it.”

Why on earth would I count how many things are wrong with my life?

Would it make me feel better to go to school and be able to say ?

“I have ten big problems right now. Poor me.”

What good would that do?

Decide to count the good things each day

So, each morning as I journal, I ask myself a few questions. As we pursue 80 days of excellence, I will share all of those questions at some point. But I have 3 questions each inspired by my verse for this year,

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”

I have a journal for dreams, one for prayers, one for things I’m thankful for, and one where I just write thoughts. You don’t have to go to this extreme, but using paper to think can improve your life. I love journals

So, after asking two questions related to the first two thoughts in that verse, I go back and count “what things are added unto me.”

In other words, what blessings am I thankful for this moment?

I even thought about counting all my blessings and charting them every day. When I did that, I realized that the blessings I have would number the hundreds if not the thousands! Really, I have so many blessings!

Do I have things wrong? Oh yes. Big things. Things I don’t talk about publicly but are deep dark moments of life – some of the deepest I’ve ever experienced.

Do I have to deal with them? Yes.

But do I count how many of those dark problems I’m dealing with right now? No.

What color do you see?

I teach this concept to my students this way. I ask them to notice how much red there is in the room and around them. I ask them to start naming things that are red. Suddenly red is EVERYWHERE. It is everywhere!

Who knew there was so much red in the world?

Well, the person who notices lots of red is the one who looks for it.

I notice the color blue. I love blue and so I’m always noticing blue things and lovely blue colors I’ve never seen before. That is because blue is my favorite and I look for it.

What is your favorite: problems or blessings?

So, what is your favorite side of life? Do you like problems? Like Eeyore, the stuffed donkey on Winnie the Pooh who is always losing his tail, are you perpetually gloomy?

Or do you like good things?

Whichever you like best you should look for every day.

John Wooden’s Seven Point Creed includes encouragement to count your blessings. It works! 1. Be true to yourself. 2. Make each day your masterpiece. 3. Help others. 4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. 5. Make friendship a fine art. 6. Build a shelter for a rainy day. 7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

I once read that when a person is struggling with depression that often psychologists will ask that person to do two things: exercise and list five things I each morning that are blessings. Now, of course, many people need medication in addition to these.

As a person who has been in the seemingly dark hole of depression myself, I would never minimize just how hard and dark those times can be. But in my own journey back to the light several years ago, I started listing blessings each morning.

One thing: I counted the good things. I measured them.

Today’s Challenge: Sit Down and Count the Good Things In Your Life

So, as we pursue excellence during these eighty days, today’s challenge is to sit down and list all of the great things in your life. Don’t sit down and list the bad things! The good things. The blessings. If you want a challenge list 20 or even list 100.

Sometimes Gratitude Comes From Problems

And sure, when you struggle, sometimes you can list blessings you’ve never thought of before.

For example, I saw a new blessing on Friday morning after waking up in my house which was 54 degrees farenheit.

On Friday morning I walked to my classroom and thought,

“Wow, I’m so glad to be at school because I’m finally warm.”

And then I realized what I’ve heard said before at many conferences,

“Understand that some kids want to be at school where they are warm, fed, and in a safe place.”

First, I am thankful that I can understand that feeling. It cost me one night in cold and a little fear (wondering if it could be fixed.) But what a blessing to be able to understand that very hard feeling. Someday there will be a child or adult who I can better relate to because of that.

Second, every single day before that Thursday where I’d slept in a warm house suddenly became a blessing to me.

I have thousands of days of heat that I’m now epically thankful to receive.

Sometimes we have to NOT have something before we appreciate having it. But it shouldn’t be so.

Just ask those who have had cancer and lived through to the other end. Every day is sweeter for many of them.

We all have blessings. We all have problems.

What you count — counts!

You’re programming yourself to notice whatever you count!

So, count the right things.

  • Count friends, not enemies.
  • Count blessings, not curses.
  • Count excitement, not boredom.

Count each day of life you and your loved ones live as a blessing not how many days you’ve been without them or how short life is.

Counting the right things, my friend is a secret of excellence that counts.

The post A Secret of Finding Joy In Life: What You Count — Counts appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Maker Monday: Start the Week with Creativity and Purpose

8 January, 2018 - 22:12

John Spencer on episode 226 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

John Spencer, co-author of two different best-selling books, Launch and Empower, talks about the creativity (and test score) boosts his classes experienced when he began Maker Mondays.

Middle School Science teachers should get the FREE Xplorlabs Fire Forensics kit.Solve a mystery. Meet Next Generation Science Standards. Have fun!

Go to today to get your Free Fire Forensics Kit.

Listen Now


Enhanced Transcript Maker Monday: Start the Week with Creativity and Purpose

Link to show:
Date: January 8, 2018

Vicki: Today we have with us John Spencer @spencerideas, coauthor of two different best-selling books, Launch and the other one is Empower, that he co-authored with my friend A.J. Juliani, who is also an awesome person.

Today, we’re going to talk about “Making on Monday,” and getting creative.

So, John, you have an idea of something you used to do when you were in middle school.

What is it?

John Spencer saw test scores and engagement ride when he implemented Maker Mondays.

What is Maker Monday?

John: So, this actually began when I taught self-contained. So I was teaching all subjects. I had kids for a full day. Mondays were the hardest, because teaching is an exhausting thing.

I’d always kind of wait until Friday to do like a Fun Friday Maker Activity.

And I realized, “Wait a second! We could start the week with Making!”

So we would do Maker Mondays, and there were all kinds of different options that we did.

Sometimes they were kind of rapid prototyping and making things with cardboard and duct tape.

Sometimes they were digital products that they made.

Sometimes they were things like Sketch videos.

But we would always start every single Monday morning of with a Maker Monday.

Does it put you behind on content?

Vicki: Now, a lot of people wait until Friday because they kind of feel like, “OK, Monday, I gotta get ahead on my content.”

What’s your thought on that?

John: Well, my first thought is, you know, getting the buy-in from students on Monday is really important. So, setting the tone for the entire week.

And a lot of teachers will do something like, “Talk about your weekend,” and those types of things. And that’s OK, but you know, I had a lot of students who — to be honest — had faced trauma over the weekend, or things weren’t necessarily great for them on the weekend.

So, starting with doing something creative and honoring sort of that student agency and creative impulse in the students really… I felt like it sort of “centered” them a little bit, in the beginning.

And then the other thing that I would say is, you know, all of our Maker Projects were aligned to the standards. So we were trying things back into information literacy, and informational texts, and digital composition, and the different ISTE Standards, like connected to kind of design. And so these were always tied back to the standards.

It wasn’t, you know, a break from the standards. But the idea was that, starting a Monday morning off with that, you kind of set the tone for the whole week that says, you know, “We’re going to think creatively in this class.”

How much structure do you need for Maker Mondays?

Vicki: So… one of your books, Empower, is really about empowering kids. I like this approach because you’re really letting kids start of by creating. So instead of, you know, talking about your weekend, it’s about, “Let’s make something together.”

I mean, did you prescribe what they had to make, or did you just give them lots of options of things to make and let them choose?

John: You know, it really depended upon the week.

One week — and this is part of the fun, and they didn’t know what to expect — they would come in, and there would be a box of items. We would do a sort of a divergent thinking challenge to come up with as many different uses of these items. The after that, they would have to build it.

So it was at that point, pretty prescribed. I mean, it’s pretty tight, and they have to work within that creative constraint.

And then another time, they would kind of do a mini design thinking project, where they worked through the entire cycle, and I would tie it into whatever we were doing for reading. So instead of working for 45 minutes, that might be 90 minutes.

And then there were times when we did Maker Stations, where I’d kind of set up things in the classroom in different areas. They would come in, and they knew that they could work on whatever they wanted to work on. So you might have students who — what they really wanted to do was digital storytelling and blogging and podcasting. And then there were other students who wanted to do, say, circuitry, or like I said, Cardboard Challenges, or working on their Scratch games.

And so, you know, it really depended on the week.

I felt like sometimes, having them all do the same thing built community, and that was really important.

But then it was also really important to have those weeks where they had kind of free reign to choose what they wanted to do, and it was more about honoring their individual student agency.

How do you pitch Maker Mondays to administrators?

Vicki: So let’s pretend that you are pitching this to administration. And I know you ended up in administration, so I’m sure you had teachers pitch ideas to you sometimes.

John: (laughs)

Vicki: But you know, why on earth, John, is this still so new? I mean that’s my first thing. It’s why are people still having to pitch this? (laughs)

John: (laughs)

Vicki: But they are.

John: (laughs)

Vicki: So if you could, you know, coach a teacher on how to pitch this to their administrator, what would be your elevator pitch if you were that teacher?

John: Yeah, so and I would just say real quickly, I was never a formal… like I was never a principal or AP. I did get the chance to be a Tech Coach and work kind of on that level, and now I’m at the university.

But I understand that principals care about certain specific things. They want to know that students engagement is high. They want to know that the classroom culture is good. But they also want to know that students are going to do well on a test. And we felt that kind of pressure.

And so, I kind of came in and pitched it from a few different directions. It really depended upon the principal that I had.

One was, you know, “We need kids to be innovators. We need them to be problem solvers.” I would begin the conversation by saying, “What do we want students to be?

And you know, inevitable, they would say, “Well, they need to be problem solvers, critical thinkers, all of that kind of stuff.”

Well, this is a chance to begin the week with that.

And then other times, it was more about the chance to talk about how it will prepare them for the creative economy. And I would say, “Look, you know, Design Thinking and Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Thinking and Divergent Thinking — these things are all vital for the future and the kind of jobs that kids are going to have when they’re older.”

And then other times, it was a chance to kind of “prove” that this was a hands-on way to make connections to the standards they were learning already.

And so, it was a chance to show, for example, that when they were doing the Tiny House Project. (And that started as a Maker Monday Activity, and we actually kind of did it three different days. But they had to design a Tiny House.

And I was able to demonstrate how that was applied mathematics connected to proportional reasoning, volume, surface area, etc. And once our test scores came in, and they were, you know, near the top if not at the top in the district, then I felt like I had that “permission” to be able to do that.

I do want to point out that it felt risky to the principal. And it felt risky for me, and that’s one of the hard things about being a teacher, is that we do have to take those creative risks. Risk-taking is always going to feel a little bit scary!

Vicki: It sure does! I just think that it’s fascinating that you can think about starting the week with creativity and purpose. It just makes a lot of sense.

Fears that accompany Maker Mondays

John: Yeah, and it’s one of those things… you know, now working with pre-service teachers at the university level, it’s so fun to share this idea with them.

The big thing that they’ll say is, “Ooh, I’m only a student teacher. I don’t know if my teacher will let me.”

The same fears crop up. Will the kids be poorly behaved? And you know, they’re surprised that student engagement is actually really high, and the behavior problems are less of an issue on Monday morning (which tends to be kind of a tough time for classroom management).

So that’s been kind of the fun thing now, is to watch some of these preservice teachers, ranging from second grade teachers up to high school, doing this on their own in their classrooms — and honestly, watching them implement it in a way that’s even better than what I did, has been kind of fun.

Vicki: So, remarkable educators, we have a new thought for us. Maker Monday.

So it’s Monday! Why don’t you get out there and “Make” and try this concept in your school.

Use this podcast as something to share with your administrator to help them catch the vision for what this can do for your school!


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

John Spencer is a former middle school teacher and current college professor on a quest to transform schools into bastions of creativity and wonder. He is the co-author of the Amazon-bestselling books Launch and Empower.


Twitter: @spencerideas

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Maker Monday: Start the Week with Creativity and Purpose appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Why Do You Run? Understanding Your Motivation

6 January, 2018 - 23:07

Day 6 Challenge of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

There’s a fantastic scene in Chariots of Fire where runner Eric Liddell tells his sister,

“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

This post is day six of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

You see, his sister didn’t want him to run. She thought it was a distraction. Yet he knew he was called to run. Then, when he was at the prime of his career and could have done and had anything, he left to be a missionary in China. In fact, he could have gotten out of China to go with his wife and daughters to Canada but felt led to stay behind.

According to the documentary Eric Liddell, Champion of Conviction, He was so beloved by all in the camp that when he died, just before liberation, that everyone went to the funeral. An atheist said even though he didn’t know God that he knew Jesus and he had lived in the camp and walked among the people and died the day before.

According to his biography, Sweet Surrender, he taught the boys in the camp. An internee in the Camp remembered Eric’s explanation to the boys in the camp of the meaning of the word ‘sincere.’ The word comes from Latin sine ceres – without wax.

“If a Roman sculptor accidentally chipped a statue he was making, he would fill the crack with wax, which went unnoticed until hot weather melted it and the flaw was exposed. So a perfect work was one sine ceres — without wax. ‘I always think of Eric as that true statue, a sincere man in every sense,’ reminisced Mitchell. Indeed, Liddell once received a letter from one of his pupils signed, ‘yours without wax.'”

So, Eric was sincere. He ran because he felt God’s pleasure. He stayed in China because he believed God called him to China. He was without wax and when his family left for Canada, he did not melt and stayed in China. Certainly many today would not understand this kind of person.

Finding purpose can be a challenge. Pastor Michael Catt, author of The Power of Purpose, says on page 57,

“If you don’t begin to see yourself on a mission, you’re just going to be miserable for the rest of your life.”

So, here’s the question for today: Why do you run?

For me, I’m called to write and teach and share. I didn’t find my mission, my mission found me. God called me to blog in 2005 and it scared me. I was afraid. I went home and told Kip that I felt God called me to blog but I didn’t know what it was. He said,

“I don’t know either but I know when you’re called to something that you have to do it.”

Now, as I write and when I speak and when I teach, I feel His pleasure. When I make movies with kids. When I podcast (well maybe not editing so much, I hate editing) but when I record and post, I sure do. I know and feel God’s calling on my life. And DOING that calling is some of the most joyful, exciting moments of my life. I’m in the flow and moment.

Running can be a reward even if you’re running for a prize

There have been mistaken years. Times when I was competing for an award or a prize of some kind. Lots of times I’d fall short. But sometimes I would win. And those “wins” are memorable. Thunderous applause. Usually tears. Kind thank you’s and giving God the credit. But in the end, I felt the same the next day.

No award has ever given me lasting satisfaction of any kind. Awards on this earth are and will never enough. I have to polish and dust the award and sometimes I take them off the wall.

Knowing Your Calling is a Joy

However, for example, I knew as I prayed over my goals for this year that I was to commit to 80 days of excellence. While I still think I may just post an inspirational photo or something some days, so far, it has turned into six blog posts for the first six days.

And as I write, I feel His pleasure. But that doesn’t make it easy.

And tonight I came home and asked Kip, “what am I supposed to write about excellence?” He didn’t know. It wasn’t his to know.

So, I went and took my big blazing hot bubble bath I take every night and read and then prayed and closed my eyes. As I closed my eyes, I saw the scene from Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell is running and I heard the quote in my mind,

“God made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Sometimes It Takes Time to Know Your Calling

Finding your calling isn’t easy. It is different for everyone. But for me and my beliefs, there’s another quote in Chariots of Fire that summarizes how I feel about finding that calling. Eric Liddell is giving a speech the day of a race and says to the spectators,

“You came to see a race today. To see someone win. It happened to be me.

But I want you to do more than just watch a race. I want you to take part in it.

I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires concentration of will, energy of soul. You experience elation when the winner breaks the tape – especially if you’ve got a bet on it.

But how long does that last? You go home. Maybe your dinner’s burnt. Maybe you haven’t got a job. So who am I to say, “Believe, have faith,” in the face of life’s realities?

I would like to give you something more permanent, but I can only point the way. I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within.

Jesus said, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.” If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race.”

Why I Run

I’d love to pretend I’m smart enough to deserve some of the accolades I’ve listed on the side of my blog. I’d like to think that I’m super great at something. But I’m here to tell you, that I’m one of those people Eric Liddel talks about who is “committed to the love of Christ.”

Like this very blog post, I seek God and He helps me and guides me. Oh, I am not perfect. Not by a long shot. I make mistakes every day. Sometimes I go my own way and owe people big apologies. But in the end, I know that my only purpose is to honor God with my life.

And while Eric Liddell ran, I do other things. I run my own race. You run yours.

How About You?

And you, my friend, you have a race. You have a calling.

Don’t know it yet? That is OK.

But if you don’t know something and you don’t start trying to do something about it, that is a problem. Ignorance may be bliss but if you finally figure out you’re ignorant and you don’t do anything about it, you’re not ignorant, you’re dumb.

There’s much wisdom to be found for those who seek it. There are many purposes to be found.

Life, to me, isn’t about being the best. I believe that “world class” excellence is available to us all.

But to me, life is about finding our purpose and throwing everything we have at it.

For when this life is done and they play the organ at the end of my funeral and roll me out, everybody will file out but me. I won’t be there. I’ll be appearing before the audience of One who will give me the only prize that will ever mean anything to me. The only one that lasts. And I hope when my race here is finally done that I’ll hear,

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

That, my friends, is why I run.

How about you?

The post Why Do You Run? Understanding Your Motivation appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet

Don’t Chase the Cat: Determining When Interruptions Are Worthwhile

5 January, 2018 - 23:12

Day 5 Challenge of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Interruptions can come in all forms. Some interruptions are worthwhile. Others are not. I was interrupted three times today with people asking for password resets. No fun. But I was also interrupted by a child who needed to have a life-changing conversation. It wasn’t necessarily fun, but it was meaningful and important.

This post is day five of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.   Tonight, I had a problem. I needed to talk to someone I could trust. Although it was the evening and I don’t usually bother my friends at night, she said I wasn’t interrupting. She made time to talk to me. She knew it was important and I don’t ever ask. She prayed with me. The result will be life changing no matter how it turns out. When are interruptions worthwhile?  So are we bothered by interruptions? I think sometimes we can be so intense getting the job done that we don’t do the job.   For example, my job as a teacher is not just to teach lessons and content. I believe I help kids learn how to live a good life. Teaching and interruptions  Sometimes kids need to have a conversation with me that has nothing to do with binary numbers or how the Internet works. Instead, they want to discuss how life works.   I could see these students as interruptions. Or I could realize that children with real problems are worthy uses of the time of a good teacher. Friends and interruptions  The same principle applies to having friends. Sure, you can set appointments and have lunch dates. You can fit friends into your little appointment schedule.   However, a true friend will interrupt their life when you’re in need. If you’re crying, they will cry. If you need prayer, they’ll pray with you. If you’re hurting, they’ll listen.   It doesn’t they have to take hours on end every single day in order to be a friend. That isn’t necessarily healthy. My friends and I aren’t like that because we’re very busy professionals. We have a lot going on and love spending time with our families.   But there are times we need to talk to someone. There are times kids or our employees need to talk to us.   I mentioned it before on day two’s post about kairos versus chronos time. These moments are kairos times.   Pointless Interruptions: Chasing the Cat Then, there are the massive distractions. Let’s call it chasing cats.   This comes from a story my friend and math teacher at my school told me today. Azalee Vereen, also the math teacher at my school, gave me permission to share. I believe this story fits this thought of worthwhile versus pointless interruptions.   When I looked at her today, I could tell she didn’t feel good. When I asked, she said she thought she had cracked a rib or two. This is what happened.   She was at the beach over break with her husband. They had taken the cat to the beach. When she opened the door one night, the cat flew out of the beach house. So, she proceeded to run in the dark after the cat. There was a huge rock in the front yard and she tripped and fell over it. She said if she’d fallen on her face, she would have lost a mouth full of teeth. But she didn’t fall on her face, she fell on her ribs and cracked those instead.   She said she was worried about the cat but her husband told her to stop running after the cat. She was more important than the cat. If the cat was smart, he’d come back. If not, then they couldn’t catch him anyway.   So, they got her ribs wrapped and she went up to the bedroom. Her husband went back to peek outside. When he opened the door, the cat came running in! Smart cat. My friend said she wasn’t so smart, though.   I asked Azalee what she learned. She said   “It is pointless to chase cats… especially when you’re over 50. You’ll just hurt yourself.”   That’s the thing about cats. They do stupid things. Sometimes they just like to be chased. Other times, they don’t know what they want. But either way, chasing them is pointless. You can’t catch them and it won’t change anything.   When are interruptions like chasing cats?   How does this story fit with interruptions? So far, we’ve talked about how sometimes we need to be interrupted for something important. And sometimes we need others to interrupt their lives for our important thing.   But some people and circumstances are literally like chasing the cat.   Talking with some people in perpetual crisis is pointless. Nothing is going to happen from it. Let’s look at cat chasing a different way. Right now, I’m going through John Maxwell’s Today Matters with my ninth graders. He makes the statement that not all hard work brings success. The kids wonder how that is true. Hard work brings success, right? Wrong. Not always.   To demonstrate this point, I take my index finger and I do what looks like some crazy finger exercise. I point it at the ceiling and then the wall and back at the ceiling. Back and forth and back and forth. I keep doing this as we talk.   Then, I say,   “Wow, I’m working hard. My finger is really working hard. Hard work brings success, so if that is true, I’m going to be a really successful person as long as I move my finger like this all day.” Now, is this true or false? Is this finger exercise going to make me successful because I work at it? Does all hard work make me successful?   I admit, every time we have the “crazy finger” talk, the kids look at me like I’m the one who is crazy. Finally, some brave student will tell me that moving my finger like that is pointless. It accomplishes nothing. And my finger moving is keeping me from doing other things that could be a better use of my time (and kind of annoying.)   Just like working hard at pointless work does not bring success — working hard at pointless conversations doesn’t make successful relationships.   What does “chasing the cat” look like in real life?   Actually sometimes chasing the cat is not just time wasting. Sometimes you can injure yourself chasing the cat.   For example, you know that person who always does drama. They are always spouting off about something that makes them furious. They are mad all the time. They become completely unhinged about something they cannot control. Whether it is politics or the person who got their parking place, they are rabid with fury about some injustice that they nor you can fix. They run in circles with no solution and no resolve.   So, you decide to try to talk to this angry person to calm them down and give them your wisdom. You’re chasing the cat. You spend all your energy trying to help them relax. But in the process, you completely stress yourself out and you almost lose your mind. And you never calm them down. It won’t happen. It can’t.   Our Action Item for Today: Examine Interruptions for their Worthiness   Today, I just want to encourage you to examine interruptions. Ask yourself if the interruption is purposeful or if you’re just chasing cats.   I hope this will help you understand an element of excellence.   Because excellent people don’t chase cats.   Excellent people interrupt themselves for people and for moments that actually mean something.

The post Don’t Chase the Cat: Determining When Interruptions Are Worthwhile appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

Categories: Planet
ACCE Partners
ACCE Partners
ACCE Partners
ACCE Partners