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



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 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 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.

Posted in Technology, The cost of education.


Forgive my portmanteau: I am operating on little sleep right now. A parent on my district’s unofficial Facebook group posed an interesting question of how technology is used, (or used poorly) in the classroom as the case may be. All I can speak to is my own experience, motivation, gumption, grit, and determination to continue and share my own relationship with technology and how I help students use it to their full advantage.

I am a digital pioneer, and still exploring the vast, unknown territories of technology.

Pardon, though, I’m going to take a well-deserved shortcut and post links to past posts concerning this very subject.

Here are the big ideas and guidelines I crafted:

  1. Technology must be used to access critical thinking skills
  2. Technology is to be used to create, publish, and share voices.
  3. Technology is a means to share information and the teachers’ roles are to help students question and challenge that information.
  4. Technology makes the virtual and real world more accessible.
  5. Teach that technology is a tool: use the tool to build.

This is a start to how I think of technology. Currently, my greatest joy is providing a blog space via Edublogs for my students to write. Everyone student has access, from a first-year English learner, physical or special needs, highly capable, and so forth. My middle school students don’t trust me at first when I say they can write anything unless it promotes harm or hate. I am, first and foremost, an ELA teacher, with writing as my area of expertise. I can share wonderful stories such as Humans of New York, Storycorp, This American Life, The Moth, and many more. I can share CrashCourse and VSauce Youtube channels, and Khan Academy. There are podcasts, collaborative, problem-based learning ideas, engineering, coding, writing, creating: the idea is to have students become creators of content, not just consumers. These don’t replace curriculum, but help students engage.

Note: this blog is my own teacher site. It is not shared with students, but other teachers from around the country in my PLN (Professional Learning Network.) It is not supported or sponsored in any way by my district. I pay for this and write on my own time. If you want to engage in a collaborative, constructive dialogue I am here.

Posted in Teacher Troubles




Yesterday’s post concerned time: today’s post is all about…you guessed it…money.

And boy oh boy is this a touchy subject.

Let’s let go of the trope that teachers get summers’ off and don’t make enough and-and-and…I’m just looking at the nickel-and-dime new microtransaction model of economics. “What’s a ‘microtransaction‘?”,  You innocently ask. You know those times you’re playing Candy Crush, and to unlock the next level you need to spend .99, easily done from your PayPal account to the finer purveyors of CC, and voila! Your level is unlocked. Or, instead of simply spending $99 to buy Microsoft Office, and then upgrade every few years, it’s on a subscription fee basis, so you end up spending a little every month, but much, much more over the life of the software.

  • Prezi: $20/month, $240 year
  • Animoto $200
  • VideoScribe subscription: $144
  • WordPress subscription for fan-fiction blog: $99
  • Screencast-O-Matic upgrade: $96
  • Thinglink subscription: $120
  • Evernote subscription $50 (personal sanity)
  • Edublog upgrades for class blogs:
  • Doughnuts for class prizes spent this year so far: $120
  • Supplies for projects: $100
  • Special prizes for writing contest $200
  • New classroom books: $400
  • Graphics Fairy subscription $72 year
  • Misc. apps $50
  • Teachers Pay Teachers misc: $60
    • Subtotal for doughnuts and art: $1002





I hope my husband doesn’t read this.

As much as I enjoyed Leslie Fisher’s gadget roadshow at the NCCE, many of the things she discussed cost cold, hard cash.There was one gadget, a wireless document camera, and that was ‘on sale’ for $154. Yeah, not going to happen.

This is quite a revelation to myself, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not the only one who does this, one who loves the ‘new shiny first-adapter’ feeling, that ‘new tech’ smell that comes from the promise and hope of new, engaging means of delivering instruction. And that doesn’t take into account the time to learn the software, collect sprites,* storyboard, edit, etc. I have no idea what the costs are for Comcast, printer ink, web hosting, etc. I can rationalize most of these purchases, and therein lies the rub. I am masterful at rationalization and need to flip this skill with penny-pinching miserly ways. Somehow other teachers muddle through without Animoto or VideoScribe presentations.

So now that I know the numbers, what’s my plan? What am I going to jettison off this money boat to keep it afloat? Probably VideoScribe and Animoto, and will not renew those subscriptions. I have one year, and then if I don’t see amazing results or enjoy using them, they’re gone. Prezi is too damn expensive for teachers, but I’ll probably keep that one. Thinglink is super fun, and I’ve just begun to tap into those possibilities.

As I look at my grey hairs and neglected haircut, my shabby couch and dingy bathroom, and unpurchased plane tickets to destinations of home and love, it’s time to seriously rethink how I spend our money. And word to these educator tech companies: please stop trying to make money off of teachers. I’m spent.

And no more doughnuts.


*I’m calling anything that is collected or curated a sprite from now on.

Posted in Classics, Media and Mischief, Myth-of-the-Month Club, Mythology, writing prompts

Myth of the Month Club: Krampus

Brom's Krampus
Brom’s Krampus

Krampus is the dark companion of St. Nicholas, the traditional European winter gift-bringer who rewards good children each year on December 6. The kindly old Saint leaves the task of punishing bad children to a hell-bound counterpart known by many names across the continent — Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf, and Krampus. Usually seen as a classic devil with horns, cloven hooves and monstrous tongue, but can also be spotted as a sinister gentleman dressed in black, or a hairy man-beast. Krampus punishes the naughty children, swatting them with switches and rusty chains before dragging them, in baskets, to a fiery place below.


Just when you thought stuff couldn’t get any weirder: ‘t round out the week before Winter Break, prevent the need to scrape kids off the ceiling, and harmlessly, innocently, integrate some technology skills I created this prompt:

There are a lot of strange and wonderful ways to celebrate in December around the world. Now’s it’s time for you to come up with your own! This is a group project contest for the best, new, weirdest plausible holiday!”

And they were off! They were given a list of items they might include:

  • Food served
  • Special clothes or costumes
  • Mascot or Character
  • Tradition/ritual
  • Activities

And while none came up with a variation on Festivus, we did have a “Wishing Day” and a “Squidmas.” The students worked with Power Point on-line through their Office 365 software, and had a ball. They only had one block class to consider, create, and design their presentations.  They were all winners in my book! This proved to be a great way to introduce Power Point on line, collaborative creativity, and a low-risk activity that was accessible and funny. The ones who didn’t quite get it at first were those who thought this was a simple regurgitation of researched holidays: once they saw others with their original ideas it helped to model. The truth is, as much as a teacher can model something, middle school students look to their peers to see what else is happening in a creative crunch.


Posted in Being a better teacher, Big Questions

Chasing the Golden Techie: Part II

kids and tech


Okay – thank you for indulging my history lesson on one school’s adventure with 1:1. I saw this passing ’round the Interwebs not too long after posting, and realize, just like a thousand other Dorothy with ruby red shoes, I had the power all along. And I’ve been doing this all along. Units I have planned for my content area this year balance a “this is how it was/what happened” and “this is how it is now” approach: everything from the Salem Witch Trials, to the upcoming Yellow Fever and Second Amendment units I’m planning. Years past, using Burning Questions blog and presentations students demonstrated huge understandings of the world, resources, and their views.

But my expert friends on PBL: how can I construct this with a math and science teacher? I can do this on my own: how to bring others into the conversation who may not want to look through the lens of early American history? What if they have something completely different in mind–it can’t be driven by my content area? Here are some troubleshooting guides, but what advice is there for working with partners on the adult/professional level? 

Ultimately, there is only one rule–make it student-focused. Any other thoughts? Feedback? Potholes you’ve fallen in and you can help me avoid? All advice is welcome.

As an aside, more tools: The Ultimate List of Tutorials, Apps, and Games to Teach Kids Coding