Posted in Teaching During the Pandemic, Technology

#edtech for parents

Please don’t be offended. If this isn’t your child, or you, or your child’s teacher, great! There may be some useful tips in here, maybe. I don’t know yet, and I’m in kind of a mood. A mood without filters.

Background: I have been teaching for 15 years. I have been using technology since the late 80s. When I met my husband to be, he had an Apple sticker on his truck. *Swoon* I love technology, and have written about it many times on this blog.

“Back in my day” when report cards were mailed out once a semester I kept track on paper what my grades were, or asked the teacher, and if I failed something quickly worked to make it up or redo it, and scrambled before the report grades got into my parents’ hands. Now parents can check an online grading system and get notifications if an assignment is missing, late, or if grades drop below a threshold.

And with 1:1 environments and now distance learning, many parents are witnessing what students have been experiencing for years now. Between Remind, Canvas, Google Classroom, medium agnosticisms, Microsoft, Peardeck, Nearpod, etc., the amount of platforms, programs, pings, pongs, and persistent pokes of online and digital assignments.

It’s stress inducing, to be sure.

  1. Many teachers and districts to not coordinate communication efforts to parents. From this place, move on. Do not allow their lack of coordination affect your peace.
  2. Your child will lie to you.
    Maybe not intentionally. Maybe so. If they are under the age of 25 their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed and they don’t want to get into trouble. That is their only focus now. They will tell you they did their work, their homework, their assignment, they don’t have any work, they’re caught up, they did the reading, the practice, took the test, whatever. And maybe they did. But the default answer is “I did it.” And it is not true.
  3. Everyone works better writing things down. Every. One. You’re not extraordinary, or special. Even if you set reminders on your phone and don’t hand write things, you’re still “writing it down.” Get your kid a planner and some cool pens. They need to write by hand anyway. Really.
  4. Read up on the adolescent brain.
  5. Set one time a week to check assignments. Trust with verification.
  6. Limit the amount of help, though. Productive struggle is great for brain growth.
  7. This is your child’s job. But they are not little Microsoft executives. They are not “digital natives.” Many of their teachers will smirk, act superior, smug, and generally awful about your child’s ability to turn in or not work assigned to them. Ignore it. Seriously. Ignore it. Just help your child make their list, use the Pomodoro method, and learn how to write an email to their teachers.

Two of the main “LMS” (learning management systems) are Canvas and Google Classrooms. Each have methods for students to upload assignments. I strongly recommend you look at tutorials on how to do this:

Canvas for parents:

Posted in Technology

Tech Tools

I have a YouTube channel, and I use it to post teaching and other silly videos. I’ve been trying to figure out how to verify my Youtube site with this blog, but the it’s out of my range of skills. I even asked my husband to come look at it, he just tells me to RT*M. Rude.


Let me start over. I have a YouTube Channel, and also wanted to list a few other tech tools I use regularly to create digital art and teaching videos.


The likelihood that we’ll continue to teach some kind of hybrid model into the next school year seems very likely. I’m not trying to downplay or dismiss the high levels of panic and anxiety most of us teachers, administrators and parents are feeling–but this is my coping post–focus on the lists.

Some of these cost money to buy, and some are on subscriptions. I am a Mac person, but have used Chrome and Windows, too.

Here are a few tools I use to make my teaching and other digital art pieces:


These cookies are delicious, and yes, I have lost some weight since the beginning of the quarantine.

I’ve used i-Movie off and on for a long time, but there are many video software options available. I’ve been meaning to dig into Wondershare Filmora (I bought the software, just haven’t done anything with it yet). My husband is highly skilled at video, and AfterEffects, but it’s too pricey for my purposes.


VideoScribe (Sparkol) is fairly easy to learn but takes time to master. And I am not great at it, yet.


Screencast-O-Matic is like Screencastify, and I’ve used Voila, too. Get yourself a decent webcam.

Vizia is a free tool to make annotations on existing videos.


Like Photoshop, but much less expensive, easy to use, and fun. That’s how I create a lot of the art for this blog:


Make yourself a YouTube channel. Still working on making it organized, etc.


I haven’t posted much on TikTok, but many other teachers have, for better or worse.


I still love Prezi. Even though it’s $$$.


Love thinglink.


I’ve had great success with this in the past, but not last year. I’ll try it again, though.


I use a lot of apps, but these are my most frequent choices:

  1. Artisto
  2. Boomerang
  3. GifX
  4. Gilful
  5. Nutshell
  6. PicMonkey/Canva (desktop versions)
  7. Pixomatic
  8. Plotaverse
  9. Repix
  10. Snapchat for funky filters, videos, etc.
  11. Snapseed
  12. WordSwag (WordSwag Story just came out, too)

Some of the equipment I use is a very old but still functioning Mac, BlueSnowball Mic, Logi webcam, and a quiet place to work. The last one is just pure luck.

Plotaverse can make these: (made with WordSwag, Repix, and Plotaverse)

Now, the next question is what am I going to rebuild/build with these tools? I’m pondering on how to decolonize my syllabus, and juggle the district’s requirements, ELL standards, ELA, and Visual Art. This is my draft of how I’m going to organize the calendar year. As of today, it’s essentially blank. I do know a lot of choice will go into the schedule, along with weekly, regular assignments. This seems to work well for most students, most of the time. I tried it with a Question of the Week when we closed for the quarantine, and overall it wasn’t too bad–but once students knew all they had to do was answer a phone call or send an email to pass their classes, work dropped off. And that’s okay. I’ll start to organize the Google Classrooms, set up the interactive Google Slides, and try to organize academic and emotional needs remotely. We all need luck, don’t we?

Posted in Technology

Let’s talk: “Digital Native”

The term, “digital native” has always bothered me. It was coined by a man named Marc Prensky, and its original intent:

Prensky defines digital natives as those born into an innate “new culture” while the digital immigrants are old-world settlers, who have lived in the analogue age and immigrated to the digital world.

Okay — hold up.

First: Native.

Second: Immigrant?

His word choices always bugged the **** out of me. And I am not qualified to respond to his intent, but the impact his work had on two important groups: teachers and students. The amount of ageism and opportunity for misunderstanding and poor instructional practices grew from his work. It became assumed that teachers did not embrace technology unless they were of a ‘certain age’ and that students could run circles around them, that they didn’t need to be shown how to use technology tools. They were born with them in their hands. When I told my husband about this term, his first reaction was to call it garbage, and if anything he and I were both digital “pioneers,” which I also cringe over.

Let’s start by dismantling the ‘manifest destiny’ language. There are no natives, pioneers, or immigrants.

And to find other voices who feel as I do, all I had to do was search for issues with digital native term. Lauren Parren wrote this back in 2015, “The Digital Native Problem.” She says what I have experienced first-hand with students: the term assumes too much. It makes teachers believe that if a student can navigate apps like Snapchat they can switch to more “business” software and somehow instinctively understand how to send an email. There is no discussion about how companies spend millions to create UX and UI so that users do not have to navigate language or syntax to communicate something.

Let’s also talk about the lack of technology and internet for many US children and families

The Loss Of Public Goods To Big Tech

“The world’s largest tech companies have become propagators of deadly information, while they simultaneously profit from it.”

And since there are 70 days for my building before the first day of school, and even states like Arizona and Texas are finally getting the message about COVID19, there is a strong chance we will not be returning to the buildings this next school year.

Read Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus by Harley Litzelman:

If you were horrified by the dystopian, disease-ridden classrooms I described in my previous piece, if you shutter at the thought of the viruses your children will bring home to you, if you cannot study while you fear that your classmates might kill you, I ask: What are you willing to do about it?

This post is mushrooming: started with a small annoyance over language. The author has readdressed the concerns and now calls it ‘digital wisdom.’ Good for him. But there are way bigger issues going on.

But here we are. And I can only share my experience with students. It may not be yours.

My students often don’t have internet at home. They have to struggle and hustle to get the hardware and the internet. Often, English is not their first language. Sometimes their early childhood experiences are with ‘input’ of media, and not time to produce creative works. They are savvy with this input and consumption. The act of using technology as tools to create is unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable, and having created curriculum and taught CTE is sometimes fraught with shame that they don’t know something that someone else does in the classroom. They don’t want to ask. I worked very hard to structure the classroom community to be one of support–I took pictures of the staff displaying tech tools they rocked, and where they needed help– this helped minimize and diffuse the angst associated with students who were told they were “digital natives” and assumed to be “good” at technology. And while I enjoyed students telling me, often, that I was ‘better’ at technology than they were, or how I supported colleagues in their 20s and 30s who were self-reported ‘hated technology’ it wasn’t about my skill or strategy set in knowing how to use the tools.

Because that’s ultimately all they are. Tools. There is no shame that should be associated with learning how to use a tool to create something.

If we have to use platitudes and catch phrases, I don’t have a replacement suggestion. “Digital Wisdom” might be a little too hokey for me. Maybe I’m struggling with my own history with technology: to go from wax and typesetting to word processing tools in a span of a few years, and then how much we have now–should we have a week long class in tech history from 1990 to now?

Here’s what we do know: if we don’t get ourselves together and fortified to ensure everyone has reliable, publicly funded access to internet, hardware and software that works, and foundational instruction in digital citizenship, purpose and basics it’s going to be more difficult to connect, teach and learn. I can’t be the only one who’s afraid of losing students, losing that connection.

Posted in Technology



Told a student I’d make a TikTok if he did his work. ##teachers ##teacherlife ##teachersoftiktok ##onlinelearning ##studentsbelike ##mathteacher

♬ original sound – misterflattery

I know, I know — this is a snarky TikTok, but it did give me a chuckle. I call myself a ‘digital pioneer’ — been steeped in tech and all its magic since the 1990s, and my husband even longer than that: I mention this because I realized when students tried to use technology to learn, create, complete assignments, etc., it’s not easy for them: just because they often know how to use VPNs and play games on the laptops, open multiple screens and tab out quickly when you’re checking in on them doesn’t mean they instinctively know how to use UX/UI designed by mostly, well, engineers, to turn in their work.

Many teachers don’t know how to use technology well. And before you imagine some 60-something woman fumbling over her Outlook settings and Reply-Alls, I’ve known many teachers in their 20s who admit to not liking or using technology. And when I say “well” I mean to have some sense of how technology is designed (user interface/user experience) to promote smooth communication experiences. Because what is school for anyway, if not to help us become clear communicators and thinkers? There is no end point to this – we are never going to be perfectly clear–we’re designed to be muddy, seeking clarity and love. Our language acquisition is the language of being social and learning. If we’re a parent, we remember our children’s first words that aren’t related to mom and da: (“seaplane” and “moon”).

Teaching students how to use a LMS (learning management system) such as Google Classrooms or my personal favorite, Canvas, takes time. But more importantly, it takes time for teachers to learn how to use these systems well. I have often said we expect children, elementary to secondary, to think like little business people, when really we should be teaching how to think like creators and designers. Tech is a tool: it serves the needs of the creator.

One thing I’ve heard repeatedly from teachers after the school closures due to COVID19 is this attempt to maintain the curriculum in its current state, just put it ‘online.’ Teachers will get defensive when it’s suggested that they pare it down now. But trust me: please–take whatever you’re asking your students to do and divide it by half, and if you’re still at eight things, get it down to four at the most. And even that might be too much.

As we’re all daydreaming and reimagining schools and our society, it might be helpful to look to the past few years and educational technology decisions and focus a mission on what worked and what didn’t. No one can sit in a Google Meeting or Zoom all day. Perhaps we just need a ‘report back’ idea: provide an experience for students and allow them the means to report back what they learned. I’m thinking a lot about things I always thought a lot about: how to balance direct instruction with richer, creative projects? The direct instruction piece (grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence construction, reading literacy and comprehension, etc.) enables the richer projects to happen. But I also know it’s not a flat, forward path: language and communication circles, spirals, flexes and weaves.

Apologies for my abstract-randomness: let me talk to my inner concrete-sequential: plan it out before you tackle a tech project. Think about what your goal is, and the old axiom, KISS (keep it simple, stupid) applies.

Some resources to help:

Cult of Pedagogy

And– even me. I’m happy to help with a project or find a resource to help you with yours.

Posted in Creativity, Exploration, Making Stuff, Technology

Favorite Digital Tools

One of my favorite digital tools and also most frustrating is Favorite because it enriches and uses imagery and media to create an interactive experience; frustrating because I’ve haven’t seem attract many students to its wonders. I am not sure why. Before our building closed, things and digital instructional methods that I was “going to do” came to an abrupt halt.

I’ve determined a few things: for the next seven weeks of school, I’m going to ask only one essential question a week, but leave the last week for a wrap-up.

Six Questions

Each question will have one to two short texts to read, a short film, and a discussion question. My goal today is to curate the short film for each question. For the first one regarding beauty was a simple and clear choice:

Descendants from Goro Fujita on Vimeo.

I’ve been enjoying Google Sites, and learning more about how to use Google Docs, etc., for instruction. Screencast-O-Matic has updated its features and is wonderful, and I am going to dig back into VideoScribe and Prezi, too.

But with all of these gorgeous digital tools, ready and kindly waiting for me to create, one thing that has reached all but one of my students: letters sent in the mail.

I am facing the hard truth that these next seven weeks may be filled with me yelling down the wishing well, and getting few echoes back. I’ll have created six mini units with no clear knowledge if my students used them, learned from them, or helped them. I’m not concerned about their grades–that’s the last thing we’re worried about. I only want them and their families to stay healthy, and bluntly: alive.

Seattle Times

While I sit motionless, working from a keyboard and pen to continue to reach out to students, working on these mini units keeps me busy. I will provide my content curation over this next week. If you have something you think would be appropriate for my units, please pass it along.

I am glad you’re here.

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Big Questions, Teacher Troubles, Technology

Make Stuff, Not Subscribers

Middle School Misfortunes Then and Now, One Teacher’s Take

Please read this post that provides an excellent example of then and now–before smartphones and their dopamine enhancers embedded into our psyches. I’ve been the classroom teacher who has witnessed this first hand. The students who find out that I have a Youtube channel and never, ever ask me what’s the content, but always “How many subscribers do you have?” (Currently 52.) The students who graffiti on any free surface: AMOS@(Snapchat username). The students who looked at me blankly when I suggested they use their Snapchat filters to create a monstrous portrait for a writing prompt. Here is one example using Snapchat, and another using Snapseed:



I can’t find the one using WordSwag to create a mini-quote print, but no matter. So many fun apps to make and create fun things, satisfying my artist’s soul. When they looked at their Snapchat and Instagram accounts with new awe and wonder: you mean, my work is my art, and it’s important and valuable simply because it’s mine? A shocking concept.

If you belong to this age of parenting where you don’t know this is the case for so many students because your family does things together, have built a culture of creativity and exploration then you may not see this issue. I am fortunate because my own family is a family of musicians, photographers, and artists. My husband and sons are excellent musicians, my husband and younger son love to photograph, and my older son is a skilled musician and actor. I just make stuff–I was an art major and I love tinkering with digital apps to create and blend new things. But that’s not what students are taught. Art is diminished. Conversations about making things don’t exist in many classrooms or homes. Be mindful of that: technology is not the problem. How it’s perceived is.

And here are my responses to his recommendations:

  1. Propose that administrators and teachers stop using social media for school related purposes. In many districts, teachers are encouraged to employ Twitter and Instagram for classroom updates. This is a bad thing. It normalizes the process of posting content without consent and teaches children that everything exciting is best viewed through a recording iPhone. It also reinforces the notion that ‘likes’ determine value. Rather than reading tweets from your child’s teacher, talk to your children each day. Ask what’s going on in school. They’ll appreciate it.
    Propose that schools are diligent in terms of engaging, embedded technology used to create: more video and digital art production and know-how. But please: start talking to your children, even if they hem and haw and put up walls. That’s what adolescents do, it’s their job. But do what you can to find a common place to talk, even if it’s a drive in a car together, have them make the playlist for the drive or a family event/holiday. Have them start an Instagram account for a family pet or story. There are multiple tools to use to create: encourage creativity, not the likes. 
  2. Insist that technology education include a unit on phone etiquette, the dark sides of social media and the long-term ramifications of posting online. Make sure students hear from individuals who have unwittingly and unwillingly been turned into viral videos.   Yes.
  3. Tell your children stories from your own childhood. Point out how few of them could have happened if smartphones had been around. Remind your children that they will someday grow up and want stories of their own. An afternoon spent online doesn’t make for a very good one. And have them document those stories using the technology tools available: curating photographs, collecting sound recordings and videos of family members, bringing back the ‘home movie’ concept and most importantly, underscore WE ARE THE HEROS IN OUR OWN STORIES. We own our narratives. 
  4. Teach your children that boredom is important. They should be bored. Leonardo Da Vinci was bored. So was Einstein. Boredom breeds creativity and new ideas and experiences. Cherish boredom. Yes.
  5. Remind them that, as the saying goes, adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins. They have to be found. Tell them to go outside and explore the real world. Childhood is fleeting. It shouldn’t be spent staring at a screen. Yes, again.

Ultimately, I would prefer that the normalization of technology is the normalization of creativity and creation, of making and doing, not the false idols of likes and followers. If you haven’t been in a classroom in the last three to five years you may not believe this is a reality for students. It feels like a Black Mirror episode some days. Flipping the conversation to “how many subscribers?” to “what do you create is a simple but important acknowledgment.


Also read:



Together alone
Above and beneath
We were as close 
As anyone can be
Now you are gone
Far away from me
As is once
Will always be
Together alone
Anei ra maua (here we are together)
E piri tahi nei (in a very close embrace)
E noha tahi nei (being together)
Ko maua anake (just us alone)
Kei runga a Rangi (Rangi the sky-father is above)
Ko papa kei raro (the earth mother is below)
E mau tonu nei (our love for one another)
Kia mau tonu ra (is everlasting)


Posted in Technology, Writing

Student Writing: Blogs

This post is a bit specific, written for a colleague: if none of this helps you, swipe on by.

The question is how to start student blogging and grading with an LMS like Canvas.

There are a few paths to take, and of course, if your district allows Google products, things like Blogger, etc. are easy. However, Blogger can be a bit risky for students, and I had a lot of trouble with it with my district’s firewalls, etc. For over ten years, my greatest success came with Edublogger. Before a district contact left the district, he was asking me about it, but unfortunately, my recommendation left with him.

Here’s what I love about Edublog:

  • You can set up a ProAccount for a very low yearly cost.
  • You can have students create their own blogs you can supervise and manage. That gets a bit advanced, and I would try it at the start:
    • Set up an Edublog site for all students, (and go through the Gmail process if students don’t have email addresses) (Edublog’s support is unparalleled)
    • Important: make sure students do not use their real names but come up with an avatar name. You will be able to see your users
  • In Canvas, set up an assignment that requires the students to either a. put in a URL or b. a Text file and they’ll past the URL DIRECTLY TO THEIR POST. Yes, ALL CAPS because this is important: when you have 150 students writing blog posts it’s is up to them to direct you to their post.
    • Canvas assignments will allow you to provide a rubric to a post, give it a score, etc. This is a 21st Century technology standard. Have students learn how to import media, YouTube, embed HTML code, tag, and add the proper categories.


Canvas has great discussion capabilities, but it doesn’t have a blogging option.

4. ALSO IMPORTANT: give them author status so you don’t have to approve of every post. You are still the administrator and can delete or edit any post a student writes.

5. You can change the privacy settings in Edublogs so only students and parents can see what’s posts.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is the site I’ve used in the past and will continue next year (back to ELA/SS! YAY!)

If you want to try to join my site as an author to see what it looks like from the students’ point of view, here is a link:

I’ve had students post on class blogs, writing club blogs, etc. You may have noticed I use WordPress for my personal teaching blog, and no longer Edublogs. The reasons are simple: it’s my professional work and I may choose to monetize it.

Students’ voice and choice are critical to their engagement and growth. There are few things more powerful than a student who chooses to write and share his thinking.


Posted in Big Questions, book recommendations, Book Reviews, Books, Teacher Troubles, Technology

Summer Series of Saves: It’s not just you.

Artwork by Mr. Babies
@mr.babies on Instagram

I am concerned about my #ProjectLIT project stalling out. I need these books. Don’t want: need. They aren’t some glib luxury for my incoming 8th students, they are a lifeline.

These books pulled me out of my own fractured, terrible attention span thinking. They brought back mental stamina– what my students lack, and desperately need if they’re going to move through high school with courage. Eighth grade is the worst of years, and it’s the best of years. Someday I’d love to teach Freshmen, but until a high school English team wants me, too, I am honored to continue to teach 8th-grade humans.

Why do we become fractured in our thinking? I am sure I can dig up the brain research about our current political and social climate combined with our devices, and the impact it has on our abilities to be in our own heads and dive deep into another’s narrative. But right now I have eleven tabs open, things on the to-do list, and a humble request: please help my students.

Anyway: please consider donating $5 to $10 for my students to get their hands on great books, books that reflect who they are, not what we think they should be. 

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Big Questions, Technology



George Couros has me thinking (again): “What is the difference between school and learning?”

His article, One Question We Should Always Ask… made me think deeply about how the relationship between the classroom teacher, the students, and technology. The battle between getting a student’s attention when all they want to do is gaze at the Mirror of Erised of their smartphone is no joke.

You do not have unlimited data, Harry…

Compare two schools’ data; one with 1:1 technology and one without:

report 1
School #1: Little or no access to consistent technology

report 2
School #2: 1:1 laptop, technology-rich-environment

The reading and math scores are both well below 50%. There is a lot wrong with the SBA test–more wrong than is right when it comes to students of poverty, ELL, and marginalized communities. But one way School #2’s district tried to level the playing field was to provide technology to all students. Is it fair to judge a single point of data as a measure of success or failure? Of course not. But since the SBA was introduced to School #2, the scores have remained flat. I would argue that one glaring reason is that teachers are not trained in the metrics of the test. This is far beyond ‘teaching to the test’ — this is a complete paradigm shift in what is being measured. And since we teachers aren’t allowed to look at the test, and sign a blood oath, there is nothing to share or discuss until released items come out.

And one tragedy of my professional life is I did have the work done and was ready to share it. But because I didn’t deliver the message in a pleasing way, (thanks again George Couros), it was ignored. Literally. Was told by admin that my SBA Brief Write work ‘had too many slides.” Reminds me of Amadeus’ problem with the King: “too many notes.”

My friend Jennie had a great idea: conduct a research study of high-functioning tech-literature teachers (such as myself, hmm-mm) and see the data associated with their students. Hmm. I know when I taught in the Technology Academy my students’ scores were between 65% and 75%, which is included in the overall population.

But ultimately, I know that technology helps if done right: it must have the intentionality of being a creative tool– not just a hammer–but paintbrush, wand, or quill and ink. And ultimately, students will never be inspired to create or learn unless one thing is taught above all:

Teach students it’s okay to be in their own heads. To make their inner life more rich, more interesting than any external force.

From The Most Important Skill Nobody Taught You by Zat Rana:

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

All the technology in the world will continue to be a drain on souls and imaginations, an external reflection that never creates a new meaning for us.

Look away from the mirror, and do the work of teaching. Even if the messenger is crabby.