Post Conference Personal/Professional Reflection

I’m back from the CUE (Computer Using Educators) Conference this weekend in Palm Springs, California.  I had a great time seeing old friends, meeting online friends, and being (re)energized by engaging sessions and words of inspiration.

I’ll write about the conference itself shortly.  However, I woke up today with my head full of ideas about great tech things I want to try in the classroom and in my life.  I’m sometimes frustrated because there are a lot of things I want to try with a limited amount of time.

I created this form to help me prioritize the things I hope to work on over the next months.  I imagine this could be used by anyone engaging in any personal or professional reflection.

What I’m Already Good At

Narrative moviemaking
Video editing
Creating effective presentations
Using HTML 5 to create apps

What I Want to Work on Next

DSLR filmmaking
Creating simple databases attached to HTML pages

What I Might Work on in the Future


What I Don’t Need Yet


What’s on your professional to do list?  Feel free to share whether it’s technology related or not.

The Case for Blogging in the Classroom

My blogging output has certainly suffered as I’ve been finishing up my last semester of graduate school. I’ll be all done December 5th when I take the comprehensive exam to receive a masters degree in Education Policy and a California Administrative Credential.

I thought I might combine my blogging and my graduate work by sharing one of my final research papers, an article on blogging’s role in the school community. I make the case for blogging on three fronts:

  • Home-school communication

Schools are increasingly aware that they need to have a web site to have a public presence on the web. However, the majority of school web sites in a district like Los Angeles Unified are static pages set up by volunteers, experts, and other school outsiders. Often these sites sit without updates for years when teachers and administrators find themselves too busy or too intimidated to update the pages that they did not create themselves. Posting to a blog, however, is as simple as sending an e-mail.

Even in low income schools where many students do not have computers at home, many parents do have access to e-mail via cell phones. If parents subscribe to a blog by e-mail they can easily receive reliable updates and teachers can easily send valuable information as they find it.

  • Student achievement

Blogs in the classroom can replace paper and pencil journal writing, showcase student work, collect student research on a particular topic, or be the format for creative writing. Aside from the novelty of working on a computer, the main advantage of blogging as a writing activity is that online writing has an audience whereas most classroom assignments normally begin and end with the classroom walls and the teacher as the only reader.

  • Professional Development

Professional development often consists of one hour scattershot presentations with little follow-through and even less teacher input. By providing time for teachers to participate in blog reading or writing as professional development, administrators can support self-reflective practice and differentiated instruction tailored to teacher’s needs.

I also address practical concerns like pedagogy, lack of equipment and financing, and student safety.
You can download the entire paper here which includes my references.

Shoddy Research

As the phrase “research-based” is thrown around to sell textbooks, ideas, and curricular materials, it’s important that we think critically about research presented. This week, two new articles have come to light which shed doubt on some  educational beliefs.

We DON’T Remember 90% of What We Teach Others

This one is an older article by Dr. Will Thalheimer which researches the figures that appear with the Cone of Learning to say that we remember 90% of what we do and 5% of what we hear or read. Although the article is two years old, it evidently hasn’t made its way around my district yet as you hear this figure at nearly every professional development session you attend.

While it’s true that most classrooms employ mostly teacher lecturing and that student retention would likely increase if teachers taught to different learning modalities, the exact percentages are mostly bogus. Much depends on an individual’s learning modalities, the material being presented, and how it’s being presented. The idea of putting percentages to the different modalities is pretty silly.

I can’t say I remember 90% of what I’ve ever taught. Can you?

Music Doesn’t Increase Test Scores

Bummer. Ken Pendergrass, music teacher, presents this New York Times article which looks critically at research stating that music increases academic performance in other areas.

Maybe we should be teaching music for the way it enriches our lives, teaches teamwork, concentration, and rhythm.  Other reasons?

Manipulatives Don’t Help Teach Math

Elona, of Teacher at Risk, comments on another New York Times article which calls into question the benefit of real-world examples and manipulatives to teach abstract concepts. Certainly, just putting manipulatives in a kids hand isn’t going to improve mathematical understanding. We need to do more work in terms of bridging the gap between the concrete and the abstract.


I believe in teaching music. I believe in using manipulatives and real world examples. And I believe that we need to break free from lecturing and begin to employ material that appeals to different learning modalities. However, I can’t use shoddy research as justification for those things.

Teachers As Researchers

Teachers are in a unique position to gather data, informal, observational, as well as standardized testing data because of the access we have to our students. Doing research doesn’t mean doing what you’ve always done because it “just works.” Research means looking critically at one area of your teaching and analyzing data to see how it is working. Please join me in continuing to research the use of concrete mathematical examples in teaching or any other area of the curriculum you’re willing to look at critically.

Who do you trust for your education research?

Presenters (and Teachers) Shouldn’t Make Excuses

I was lucky to come across Sue Hershkowitz-Coore’s post, 4 Ways to Destroy Your Next Presentation just as I was planning for my session at CUE. Sue asks,

“Would you juice up your PowerPoint, and say, “I know you can’t see this but…”?

I just don’t get it. If you knew they wouldn’t be able to see it, why in the world would you plan to show it?

I’d like to take this a step further and say that presenters shouldn’t point out flaws in their own presentations.

It goes without saying that planning is extremely important when preparing lessons or professional development. However, inevitably something will go wrong. Presenters undermine their own credibility and make themselves seem unprepared by pointing out flaws in their own presentation.

This is basic piano recital rules. If you make a mistake, keep going. As a presenter the way you frame your mistake makes a big difference.

For example, let’s say you haven’t made enough copies. Don’t tell your audience, “I didn’t make enough copies because I didn’t know how many people would be here.” Your audience doesn’t care and they don’t believe you. You’ve pointed out to them that you messed up. You’re creating disappointment where there doesn’t need to be any.

Instead, you might say please write down your e-mail and I will send you copies or you can find copies on my web site. If you say this before people start to complain about there not being enough copies, it makes you seem organized and responsive instead of unprepared and sloppy.

I’ve heard teachers tell students we were going to (insert fun activity here) today but I forgot the candy bars at home today. Don’t tell them that. You’re creating disappointment in your students. Just present them with another engaging activity and present the candy bar lesson on the day you remember to bring the candy.

Keep your mistakes to yourself and tell your excuses to your close friends, spare your audience.

Back to Speaker Sue’s example of a presenter showing text on a powerpoint that can’t be read. First I’d make Don McMillan’s “Death by Powerpoint“, Scott Elias’s Taking Your Slidedeck to the Next Level, and Dan Meyer’s recent “Powerpoint: Do No Harm” required viewing to avoid such problems. However, let’s say you end up in a situation where the lighting is such that a particular font is unreadable (it’s happened to me). Rather than saying I know you can’t read this which makes an audience think as Sue did, “this guy’s an idiot” how about saying, “Let me read this to you..” or “As you can see in your hand-outs…”

Your goal every time should be to provide a positive interaction with your customer (your students, the audience, etc). Don’t point out your flaws or they’re not going to want your product.

Do you have any tips for presenters?