An interesting video to simplify communication with parents

On Wed, Jul 22, 2015 at 11:44 AM, Ryan wrote:
I find this video very interesting.

I thought I would share it with you and see if you have done this before. 

If I make the time, I would like to do this for my communication with parents.

Very interesting indeed. Think about the workshop standards based grading method that we talked about earlier. Instead of a blank to type in your comments you could have the eight teaching points from the unit in your form, check box style. During the day as you conference you walk with your iPad around and have the form up. Click the kids name. Check any mastery boxes that you notice as you confer with the student. At the end of the day you have a record of which kids you conferred with and what demonstration you have seen from each one. You have typed almost nothing, communicated clearly with students and parents what they have demonstrated. You could also have a section next step suggestions, including some videos for reviewing teaching points for kids who have not mastered anything and some advanced teaching points for kids to go deeper on. I like this so much I invented a sample letter.


Today you demonstrated good use of commas. You demonstrated correct use of quotations to support an argument. Thank you for the work you did to learn and practice these skills. 

While not required, an idea for honing your craft of writing is using more vivid verbs. Your current project could really benefit from this. 

You have not demonstrated proper capitalization yet, even though this is an expectation of the unit. Here is a link to a video** demonstrating what was taught and is expected.

Mr. Teacher

*At the high school level I would be sure to include kids in the communication. In fact I would write the email to the kid and CC the parents, rather than writing right to the parents. This continually reinforces that the responsibility is with the student.

**Any video links I would send with a or short link so that you could gather stats on whether parents were clicking them.

Thanks for passing this along.

What is school for?

Below is the text of a snow day email between me, a trained physics teacher, and one of our art teachers. Three or four times a year we have conversations like this. I thought I would share one. 

Mer started it out.

hoping we can do some of this out of school learning IN school too! 


I replied.

The article was fascinating to me. I obviously love some of the things said. What I thought was really great was his emphasis on collaboration. But then I thought this about school and adults looking back on school as opposed to students thinking about school right now. An adult has at some point learned the need to collaborate and how to invite others into collaboration and where that is appropriate. At school what we do, or what we should do, is invite students to collaborate with us and show them how people that think a certain way collaborate, solve problems together, and generally get along. You do this in an art way, and I do this in a science way, but we both do this in a teaching way, and we do it in a Christian way. Frank Smith painted this beautiful picture for me of welcoming kids to the club. The club of painters or modern physicists. Welcome. So you want to be a painter? This is what painters do. This is how painters relate. This is how painters collaborate. This is how painters disagree. This is how painters solve problems. Most importantly, welcome, we painters are glad you are here. School is the intersection of loving experts and vulnerable hungry learners who do not know yet how to figure out who is a loving expert and who is just an expert. 

Sorry about the morning philosophy.

She replied.


Wonderful...I love reading your morning philosophy so much. Send anytime. :  )

"school is the intersection of loving experts and vulnerable hungry learners who do not know yet how to figure out who is a loving expert and who is just an expert."

I love your quote too...and how to navigate a world when the experts stop being loving and learners are still feeling vulnerable...phew. 

talk soon,

I am thankful to Mer for keeping me on my toes.

Notes From Drew Vanden Heuvel Presentation To The Global Physics Department

I wrote down these notes when listening to Drew VandenHeuvel's presentation to the Global Physics Department. He is a genius who happened to student teach with me. I learned a lot.
  1. For a scale I wondered if there was something commercially available that were good enough for your students to use, like a food scale that all Meijer would have or something they could get from Amazon. I read of a teacher recently who used all online textbooks for readings and the like, and instead of putting a book list together made a equipment list so each student had these items for class.
  2. If you required an iPad for the course you could use apps like Screen Chomp, Explain Everything, or Educreations for problem explanations. There must be Android equivalents of these apps.
  3. As soon as you require a tablet, you can also assume they have a camera. Cameras should be huge in making online physics instruction come alive.
  4. Could you somehow take advantage of the fact that all your kids are in different places to make a single lab that required data from all the students to make the final lab data that is evaluated? I read this idea somewhere, but I forget where.
  5. Finally, I am reminded of the attached screen shot of a presentation by Ken Heller about Context Rich Problems at the Global Physics Department. Having students make problems for each other seems like a way of increasing engagement with each other online. If we move to have students make problems as part of their understanding what role to Heller's rules have for students?

English Language Arts Feedback

From: Scott 
Do you know how your English teachers grade papers?  Do they do that with printed copy on paper, or do they do this online?  If so, is there a software you use?

We are at this point all over the board, but I think we fall into three camps: all online with the UploadPDF tool in Moodle, all online (may be the final printed) using Google Docs, and computer creation with paper turn in for feedback. 

We are also having a pretty deep discussion with the pilot Writing Workshop group about wether to put grades on papers. For that discussion we are using a book called, Rethinking Rubrics. For a sample of the direction that would take us in see Moving Beyond Judgement upon which the book relies for the heart of its solutions.

Advice To A First Year Physics Teacher

I am on the emailing list for the Global Physics Department and lurk at their meetings. Last week they had a meeting giving advice to new physics teachers. Members were invited to give out advice ahead of time though a form. I thought the questions were great. All the responses are here. The websites section was filled with great resources beyond my suggestion. I claim mine here: 

What is the most important/useful object you've brought into your classroom?
Short answer: Laptop and projector. Long answer: For years I had a coffee can with a rubber band through the top and bottom and a 500g mass hanging from the rubber band. I called it the can of wonder. Once or twice a week when students were walking in I would roll this can up the middle of the room and it would roll back to me. We did not study this for months, but it built up an expectation that wondering and questions and the unexpected were going to happen. 

Here's a great way to get feedback FROM students...
My absolute favorite question to ask (and you can do this on scrap paper, in a public forum, in a private assignment depending on your needs) is, "What did you hear today?" This question cuts through the your expectations and their nervousness about being right and asks them to report without value what went through their head. I always learn from the answers.

Here's a great way to give feedback TO students...
Right when they ask for it, not when you think they need it. It took me years to figure out that if a student came up to me during a test and could not figure out a question and really wanted to know the answer now I had a teachable moment that I had to use. Now I take them a little out of earshot and explain. 

What would you tell your first-year-teacher self to STOP doing?
Taking kids behavior personally.

What would you tell your first-year-teacher self to START doing?
They did not exist then, but reading blogs about teaching and at least lurking in the greater world of teaching and learning and physics. I guess I did this by joining AAPT, NSTA and MiAAPT and going to conventions and in the Michigan meetings.

One awesome website you should follow is:

Measuring the creative use of laptops in the classrooms.

On Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 5:39 PM, Nancy wrote:
Jim, we are working as a big committee on measuring out digital classroom initiative and
whether or not it is going well.  One of the things we want to
measure and create a metric for is creativity and creative expression.
 You mentioned at our most recent meeting that you have ideas
regarding this already.  Are you willing to share any?  So far we
thought a good way to keep track of what is being accomplished is to
archive via a digital portfolio.  I saw a great tool for this that
works with Moodle called Mahara, or maybe it was Mahoodle....or even
both.  Right now we are using Google Docs/drive.
If you are willing to share a paragraph about how you might measure or
have a metric to show the increase of creativity because of computers,
that would be great.



Good to hear from you. I hope your summer is going well. I have little systematic in place yet. It was always my dream, but there were never resources to give a creativity test of some kind. A commonly used test is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking. I do wonder if it would be easy enough to make your own test that you interpret. You could even administer a fairly simple question to every student twice a year: for two minutes write down all the things that you could do with a brick that a brick was not meant to do. Change the noun every time, or every three years so no one middle school student gets a repeat, or every test so the first month of sixth grade is always a brick. Tag the posts with their grade and graduation year, and allow anyone to make judgements about improved creativity by sorting through the posts. I wonder a little about the power of just collecting the data and allowing the interested parties to make their own conclusions about the data. 

I think that an ePortfolio of work collected by teachers over the years will show the gains you are looking for. We set this up as a group blog that everyone has the ability to write posts for. We use our own internal blog server, but you could use Blogger or Posterous as well. Posterous would be best, but I am not sure what the future of it is as a long term storage place. 

I have looked into Maraha and have not yet had the technical knowledge to make it happen. One thing that has helped me when thinking about ePortfolios is realizing that each student and teacher will be involved in several and there might be more than one best place for all these. For this creative piece you want a portfolio put together by teachers for the three to five lessons a year that they thought produced the best creativity. You then want them to post the assignment, a range of example product without names (making sure that a low and a middle response are included along with several high examples) and some reflective work by the teacher on why they thought these things. Over time you should see the creativity of the assignments go up and the responses, two things you can track qualitatively. In the first part of the answer to this I suggested a student contributed portfolio. Both portfolios have district rather than classroom or personal goals. It will be important in either case to admit that upfront.

What do you think? What would be convincing to your committee? Do they want the comfort of numbers that will always be an incomplete picture or are they OK with the messiness of subjective data?


What do you do for advanced Moodle users in PD?

On Wed, May 16, 2012 at 4:26 PM, Frank
Any suggestions for pd homework so my Moodle high flyers don't get bored?

This is a great question. I have a few quick options off the top of my head. 
  1. Explore the MoodleNews blog there are tons of little articles about the cool features of Moodle there.
  2. Explore features in the Moodle Documentation that are advanced but cool. I would recommend starting with GlossaryWorkshopConditionalSocial Topics Course FormatChoices, and Wiki. Also the Moodle Documentation pages on philosophy and pedagogy are great reading and help you start to understand not only Moodle, but how technology can changes teaching and learning. I put this list from the pedagogy page in front of my staff every year. I ask them to reflect on where they were and where they are now and where they would like to go. I wish I had them write down those reflection every year, it would have been a powerful assessment of the program.
  3. Around The Corner is another good blog with a lot about Moodle. Explore.
  4. Another challenge I give teachers at workshops is to think how it would change their assignments if student had to post the answers in a public forum. This starts to get at the changes we would like to see in student work where they have to write responses to our creative prompts that are unique to them. 
  5. I am not sure I would teach this again, but it is compelling for some teachers. Have them look over the quiz question import tools and experiment with importing questions. Better yet, have them prepare a presentation on importing questions and share it with the faculty.
I hope some of this helps. Moodle has been invaluable in our transition to a digital environment. 

How do I use one iPad in a classroom?

On Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 10:19 AM, Steve wrote:

Hi Jim,

I have a teacher here at Byron that would like to control his Mac with his iPad so he can walk around the room. I don't remember the apps/setup to do this. Was this the same app that allowed the iPad to be a web server too? Or was that a different app?



Here is our list:

  • Most success, easiest setup, cheapest, but does not control the computer: AirSketch.
  • More expensive, controls (but not a lot of teachers use that part), has awesome presentation mode: Doceri.
  • Like Doceri and very promising, but for us has been buggy: Splashtop. This was also the one I heard about the most at MACUL.
  • True control but no integrated presenter mode: MobileMouse.
  • Interesting with an iPad 2 or 3 and an Apple TV: Skitch. I have used Skitch on my mac with a Bluetooth tablet as my sole presenting tool for years. With AirPlay it could be awesome.

My dad asked me about Kahn Academy.

On Sun, Mar 11, 2012 at 8:49 PM, Dad wrote:
We saw a segment on 60 Minutes on Khan Academy.  It's an organization that puts teaching segments on the internet for anyone to use.  They are on all kinds of subjects.  It could be something to look into especially with your unhappiness with textbooks.

I have used some of his videos in class for review and the like. I struggle sometimes with what the role of a teacher is in the new world that is unfolding before us. I also wonder what the difference between Kahn and a textbook is. All the same stuff is in a textbook, but if you are not motivated to learn and express your learning you won't. Here is an excellent blog article on the Kahn Academy that has a lot of links to articles critical not of the videos but of how they are likely to be used and all the attention he is getting. Frank is a excellent physics teacher.

If you want an interesting read that goes much deeper into the education issues that Kahn Academy brings up I would encourage you to check out this free eBook called Stop Stealing Dreams [PDF]. There are other versions for downloading and printing. It is an easy to read summary of why Kahn Academy is just the last of the old way of schooling while still being an important but tiny piece of the future of education as well.

Ideas for short tech PD, then give teachers time to brainstorm and explore.

On Sat, Mar 10, 2012 at 11:21 AM, Mike wrote:
Hi Jim,
I sat in on your session at MACUL and it was a good start to the
convention for me.  I tried to avoid the "how to use this tech tool"
sessions and I wanted to get beneath the surface a little more.  Your
talk gave me some things to explore and will help with planning.  I
like the idea of the 15 minute sessions each week with staff.  Can you
send me three or four topics that you recently used in those sessions?
 I'd like to give it a try in my district before the end of the year.
(Better late than never!)

Good to hear from you. If I can be of any other assistance please tell me. To answer you question about Tech Tips and Treats, here is my list straight out of my notes. We have moved to more of an every other week schedule this year. We also do celebrations of awesome student work. 

Full Tips
DONE - socrative
DONE - New/Updated blocks, including the drag and drop upload and comment block.
New conditional assignment options.
Moodle 2.2 Workshop Module: all the same goodness with more stability.
Moodle Blogs
Moodle Wiki.
The lesson module.
Download all assignments.
DONE - New Google Presentation 
DONE - New Power Teacher
PowerTeacher App
Google Doc Templates
New Features in Google Forms
New rubric feature in Moodle
Google Drawings

Short Tips To Add Into Others
Activity cloning
email with a +
click on name on side of email to get details

I also picked up a few at MACUL12
Jetjaw like poll everywhere but cooler
Wufoo. Like google forms but easier
Gosoapbox google moderator on steroids.
CollabraCam app
Action Movie
Green Screen FX
Coaches Eye
Voice thread has an app