Monday, December 28, 2015

Reflection in Learning, Teacher PD and More - Top Posts from 2015

2015 was a great year for “teaching like an artist”! I presented at a few conferences, wrote a lot of posts, finished a book and put it into practice on the job more than ever. I’ve seen many teachers and students inspired by these principles I love to highlight.

Several themes show up on this blog, but reflection took the center stage in 2015. I’m thrilled with that because it's always my goal to give teachers and students something deep and meaningful to ponder when I present to them.

Here are the top posts related to reflection questions for teachers. They are suitable for PD activities, a PLC or as a personal reflection exercise.

This top post presents reflection activities for students:

Reflection Journal Template and Resources - This is my student reflection journal created in Google Apps. It's suitable for many grades and subjects.

The Way of the Google Drive
I challenged myself to post on one of my blogs every day in the month of October. The goal was to highlight conference sessions I was presenting with two friends in early November. We called it The Way of  the Google Drive. Writing these posts was a great way to focus in on the heart of my message. I am grateful to see others found these top posts to be of interest.

Like Never Before - I almost forgot I wrote this post way back in February. It highlights the story that grew into The Way of the Google Drive months later.

Two Years of Teaching Like an Artist - A quick look at where I was and what I've learned since the summer of 2013.

My most popular page of the year (not counting the main blog page) has been the one about my Teaching Like an Artist daily journal. Please check it out to see how you can get a free digital copy!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Finding Strength to Do the Real Work of Teaching

I love to ask teachers questions that get all of us thinking. By using the right questions, we can learn from each other and from ourselves through reflection. If you’re interested more about good questions for reflection, please see:

In this post I raise one such question: How do you keep going when teaching gets tough? I’ll answer it myself first, then I’ll present the answers I received from an informal survey I gave to my extended PLN on Twitter.

Photo credit: DSC_1342 via photopin (license)

Doing the Real Work

The second step of The Way of the Artist is to do the work to make your dream into reality. There is no way around it. Some days great art demands sheer effort to push through. Everything else has to be put on hold. The final product becomes a work of art, in the truest sense of work.

Good teachers know that real teaching also demands that kind of effort. 

I reject any advice for success that promises an easier path. I've spoken with teachers who think they're doing something wrong when it requires so much. I say it might be a sign they're on the right track.

Certainly it's not always exhausting. But it's a challenge to lead our students through deep, personal learning experiences within the constraints of a largely outdated system. We often discover it takes more from us than we expected to give. And while we keep the classroom going daily, we must constantly improve our craft to keep pace with the change of our times.

I have so much respect for those teachers who, in these circumstances, do this hard work and regularly make a positive impact. I like to ask them what the do to press on even when the job gets tough.

Of those I know personally, they've told me things like they rely on God or they stay focused on the students. Many seek affirming relationships. A few press on, carefully tracking the years or days to retirement.

My Secrets to Success (or, at the very least, showing up for the struggle)

I don't have classes of my own anymore, but I still face discouragements and challenges common in education. The task of encouraging people (most often adults or young adults) to learn and to stretch wears me down at times. After more than 20 years in education, I learned, whether in the good or tough times, I need a daily routine to keep the right attitude for success.

My mornings start about 90 minutes before I have to leave for work. I believe teaching is a calling from God, so I start my day with a spiritual focus. I have a responsibility to teach in this place and time where I find myself, even when it doesn’t seem to fit me. I take time to read the Bible and pray. Through periods of depression and the many years I felt out of place teaching high school math, this is what got me through. I will continue to point to this foundation for any success I might achieve in my career.

My routine usually continues with a short workout. Through it I listen to worship music or other uplifting songs. Music is a passion and creative outlet that energizes me in profound ways.

I also make time for professional development and the big picture of education by going through Twitter and blogs I follow.

A shower and my 20 minute drive to work provide the opportunity for the big ideas to come. The visions and insights I get then stem from and fuel my passions. Whether on the job or as a side project, they can keep me excited for weeks at a time. When the daily job is tough, I look forward to what I might accomplish in the bigger picture through conferences, training and more.

As others will say below, I also rely on conversations with colleagues. I benefit greatly from continuing those conversations with my wife, who lets me express everything without the professional restraints required in the workplace!

Responses from Other Teachers

As I said, I posted this question to educators on Twitter. Thanks to everyone who anonymously submitted their thoughts. Also, thanks to Wesley Fryer for retweeting it and extending it beyond my reach!)

Almost all of the responses are from classroom teachers at different grade levels. Everyone except the last person still works in schools.

The themes of their answers are evident. Teachers get through the tough times by focusing on the positive things that are working and we rely on each other.

They also bring up a couple other less common practices that are great to consider.

Take a moment to read their responses in their own words. I phrased the question to them this way:

What are one or more things you do to keep pressing on when the work of teaching gets you down?

Teacher - Grades 5 and 6

There is always a good news story happening in a school. I focus on that.

Elementary Music Teacher

Take some time for me.

Remind myself that I don't have to keep teaching - usually the reminder reminds me that I actually do like it. Focus on the good things that happened that day and tell people about it.

Talk with a friend or - even better - a fellow teacher about it.

Read a book or watch something that takes me away from my life so I can have a more objective view of my struggles when I 'return' to my life.

Focus on taking care of myself. Making myself a priority makes me feel like the world won't end due to the fact I'm having a hard time.

Cuddle with my kid.

Laugh with my students.

Sometimes when I get so mad at my students that I want to yell, I speak in an accent instead - it works!

Director of Technology (Former Classroom STEM Teacher)

Find ways to laugh with co-workers & maintain a good sense of humor. Seek support of colleagues, both nearby in my building and virtually in my PLN.


I surround myself with positive colleagues who help me keep things in perspective.

English, Grammar, Linguistics Teacher

I remind myself of the sense of accomplishment I always get after finishing a tough project, telling myself I've gone through harder tests and succeeded. I remind myself of how far I've got so far.


I pursued National Board Certification. It helped me refocus my energy and find my joy again!

High School Teacher

Thinking back to the successes my students have made

Thinking back to the great things have helped make happen in the classroom

Colleagues who are also friends


Go visit the kindergarten class - It makes me appreciated my older kids.

Take a break from marking and do something fun.

English Instructor

Devote the opening thirty minutes of every day to my PD -- If I'm sitting at my desk working, nobody knows what I'm working on.

Set up doable tasks for my breaks -- Grade four essays, populate my online class calendar for next month, etc.

Director of Technology

Look for small successes. Always be positive!

Art and Business Teacher

I talk to other teachers.

I put things into perspective and tell myself if i only reach one person, then I'm doing a good job.

Try to see things from a student's perspective.

Know and believe I can make a difference.


Having a supporting learning network is huge; but having a will to improve above all else keeps me going!


This final response is from someone who eventually found their place in education outside of the school setting. Many of us have considered such a move and there's certainly nothing wrong with the decision to leave. Obviously the conventional path of a teacher is not the only road to success and fulfillment.

Former Middle School Social Studies Teacher - Now the Chief Academics Officer in an Ed-Tech Start-Up

I used to scroll through teaching jobs overseas - I had taught English in China right after college and traveled a lot so these bookmarks with job posting were my little escape route after a horrible team meeting.

When the teaching got me down so deep that I could no longer see the ladder up, I turned in my letter of resignation. It was relief and joy that I felt (I even went shopping and bought a new Coach purse!).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Five Thought Provoking Questions for Teacher PD, PLCs or Personal Reflection

Image by Bart Everson from here.
If you’re interested more about good questions for reflection and PD, please see:

Asking questions is probably my favorite part of teaching. Whether it's in the classroom, at a conference for teachers or just while talking with friends, I love giving people something to think about. (I even made a party game about asking one really BIG question.)

My math students weren't always thrilled with my idea of a good question in that subject! From my career and college class to my teacher professional development sessions, though, I've received a lot of thanks and appreciation for thought provoking questions I've raised.

Good questions at the right moment can make a tremendous impact on our lives. In searching out the answers, we experience the excitement of discovery. They help us see the wonder that is around and within us.

I like to ask teachers questions that remind them why they chose a career in education. I want to awaken dreams and that vision they once had of making a big difference. Questions can draw us back to those moments and give us a fresh perspective on the daily challenges we face.

So here are some of my favorite questions for teachers. With each one I'm also including followup questions for further reflection or discussion. For all of them, keep in mind:
  • You should alter the wording and list of followup questions to fit the specific needs of time and the purpose of the meeting or activity. (As worded here, some of these could be too personal or time consuming for some settings.)
  • Some of these are suitable for small group discussion or sharing in pairs. Others are probably best for each teacher to write a response individually that no one else will read. 

1)  What is your favorite advice that you share with students? 

This might be something you have told students for years or something you recently started saying. It might be that thing that they say in a mocking voice, to make their classmates laugh when you're not in the room.
  • Is there a particular way you say it (or otherwise present it) to help them remember it?
  • Why is this advice particularly meaningful to you or how did you come up with it?
  • Do you have a story to tell about how students have received it or what difference you have seen it make?

2)  When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?

  • What do you remember about that moment? Explain it in detail.
  • What appealed to you about the job?
  • Who did you first share that dream with and what was their reaction?
  • How does the vision of yourself that you had in your mind then compare to the reality that you see in your classroom each day?
  • Did you believe that those early moments of the dream to teacher were, in some sense, a calling? Explain.

3)  Imagine writing a letter to yourself as a first year teacher. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?

I thought of this question after reading Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist. See my own letter to myself here.
  • What struggles and successes did you experience that first year that relate to this advice?
  • Would you try to talk yourself out of the job (maybe even just a little) or encourage yourself to stay in it?
  • Did this activity bring back a memory or make you think about your work in a new way? Explain.

4)  What are your three favorite books and why?

  • When did you read these? If it was years ago, do you think they'd affect you the same way if you read them now for the first time?
  • Do you recommend them to your students or colleagues?
  • What is the most recent book you've read that had a big impact on you? Explain.

5)  Imagine your retirement party. Three people stand up to pay a tribute to you and your work. Who would these people probably be and what would they say? 

This is a spin on Stephen Covey's excellent Funeral Exercise in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the most memorable, emotional moments that took place in my classroom was the day I had high school seniors work through that exercise.
  • Also imagine you give a closing speech to the friends and colleagues in attendance. What message would you most want to leave them with? What story would you almost certainly share?
  • The purpose of this type of exercise is to know what you're aiming for. What did the activity reveal about the mark you want to leave?
  • How well have you done so far at making that mark?
  • What changes could you make in the remaining years of your career to be sure you have this desired impact on your students and colleagues?

You can get a link to download your free copy of my journal 31 Days of Teaching Like an Artist by subscribing to my monthly newsletter. 

Like my blog posts, it comes with inspirational thoughts, tech tips and insights on teaching and learning. Just enter your email address in the form below to sign up!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A note to myself as a first year teacher

This is a slightly edited version of a post I wrote a few years ago for my other blog. The original was inspired by Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist.  In it he gives advice about creativity by thinking of what he would tell his younger self.

If you’re interested more about good activities or questions for reflection, please see:

After 21 years in public education, what would be the most important tips I'd tell myself?  I boiled it down to the list of six things below.  They're personal, but I think others can find some application in them for their own situations.

To set the scene I have to admit that the first half of my teaching experience was rough for me.  I did not enjoy much about teaching high school math.  There was plenty to be thankful for and a lot of students liked my classes, but dealing with difficult students and seeing my inability to reach all of them was tough. I felt like a failure many days.

Here's my list of what I'd tell my 25-years-old self, in that first year.

1)  Be realistic about what you're getting into.  The students you will be asked to teach are coming in with poor math skills and a poor attitude toward the subject.  Very few of them will see math class as the positive experience that you did.  Be prepared for this!  Set realistic goals of what you can accomplish in those first years as you are learning to be a good teacher.

2)  Take the work seriously, but don't forget about the relationships you are building everyday with your students.  You tend to get focused on the job and forget about people, but they are most important.  Even the difficult ones will respect you for your hard work if they also know you care about them.

Years after the class is over you'll see some of them.  They'll remember that you cared and worked hard more than they ever will the details of lessons, rough days, all those assignments or the grades they got.

3)  Start a game club right away.  That love you always had for games will be a highlight of your time working with students.  A lot of them won't fit in anywhere else, but they'll hang out with you at lunch.  Buy a few more of those games no one else has heard of and use them to connect with the students as much as you can.  Meet every couple weeks or so after school for gaming.  You'll like that extra-curricular work a lot more than organizing the prom.  (For the good of all, tell them you don't want to be a class sponsor!)

4)  Keep up on the technology.  You're kind of a traditionalist and in the debate of calculators versus no calculators you'll be tempted to keep it old school.  Instead, remember that many kids can learn the concept better if they come at it differently than you did.  It doesn't have to be all pencil and paper and a ton of steps.

Keep an open mind on that and use technology to give them a conceptual understanding useful for problem solving. When the principal asks you to try more with technology, do it.  Doors will open for you and you'll enjoy the change as the best years of your career.

5)  Assign creative projects, even in math.  Your department will focus almost exclusively on the state MEAP test, but don't let that drain your classroom of creativity.  You'll be busy and it will be easier to just keep it simple and routine, but things like the video assignment, personalized story problems and the artistic projects are vital.  Keep developing those assignments.  Add a new one every semester so that when students think back to your class, they remember those things they made.  You'll like it best when students say you're not like the other math teachers.

6)  Remember that you felt called to teach.  In frustrating times you'll think you should have gone into programming instead of working with kids who don't want to be there.

All those visions of being an amazing teacher will be shattered by reality and you'll think you misunderstood what you were supposed to do with your life.  But just like you did that day when you got the unexpected call and they offered you the job, trust that God knows what he's doing.  You are supposed to be there.

You won't reach everyone personally or with the math, but you'll connect with many students.  You'll remind them that life is exciting when chasing a dream.  They'll take notes when you talk about what true success looks like and many will thank you.  Among other things, you were called to pass on those messages.  Let them flow through all aspects of your work.

Here's the key to success you'll eventually share with them:
Always do your best
At what's most important
Whether you feel like it or not

You and many others will be thankful for the lesson.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reader Survey - And chance to win a free copy of my journal!

Looking for a way to "stay inspired to inspire others"? This book could be for you or a colleague.

You can receive a digital copy of my Teaching Like an Artist reflection journal guide just by filling out this survey. You'll also have a chance to win a free paperback version. If you want more information about the book, please see this page.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Free Daily Reflection Journal: 31 Days of Teaching Like an Artist

I'm happy to say my reflection journal guidebook is now available here to anyone who takes my reader survey. I'm also giving away two free copies of the print editing.

It's designed to help teachers "stay inspired to inspire others".

Over the course of 31 days, the short activities and entries will raise thought provoking questions to get you started along The Way of the Artist. Each is meant to take about 10 - 15 minutes.

They come from 22 years of my own experience as a teacher, with some based on the most powerful lessons I've shared with students and teachers.

I trust that as you work through the journal on a regular basis, you'll see your work in a new light. It's my hope that it will help you:
  • Connect with your passions.
  • Find a deeper sense of purpose in your work.
  • Get exciting ideas to recharge creativity in your classroom.
  • Gain some practical experience in making and sharing amazing work.

The journal is a Google Docs booklet so you can type your entries in it and easily access online resources that it refers to. I should have a print version available shortly, but you can get started with this flexible, portable digital version right away.

Please visit this post to find out how to get your copy!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Reflection Journal Template and Resources

This is (and probably always will be) a work in progress, but I want to share it now. It's completely usable as is, but I'm looking for feedback so I can expand the basic prompts and improve the video tutorials.

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is giving students creative ways to reflect on what they've learned. I've found that good questions will engage them. We also know the time spent pondering the material in new ways or summarizing it can help cement all the pieces that are otherwise separate in the students' minds.

You can find everything you need for the reflection journals at this site: (There's an underscore between reflection and journal in that link.)

Most importantly you can get a copy of the template there. The journal template itself starts as just a single slide in Google Slides. Students can rename it, title it and make it their own with images and all the other tools.

If students are on a Chromebook or signed into Google Chrome, they'll be able to keep their journals for all classes or subjects on their Bookmark bar for easy access on any device.

From that first "page" of the journal, you and the students can click a link to open this other Google Slides presentation made up of prompts

Students would copy the prompt slide that you ask them to use, then paste it into their journal. Here's one simple example.

You would tell students what to put in the blank on the prompt, possibly the story you just read or the math skill they just learned. In this case, the students would respond with images and text. Sometimes they will require writing. Of course, nothing is stopping you from just using your favorite prompts to make your own blank prompt page.

The website has a page of video tutorials that can help you or the students learn the basics. One shows how to easily share the project to students using Google Classroom. A few tutorials are still "coming soon", but there is enough on the page to help you see the main idea.

Please let me know if you have comments.

If you liked this post, here are others related to reflection in learning:

As I mentioned, I have always found reflection to be an essential element of learning experiences. However, in way of inspiration, I'll point out that Larry Ferlazzo's recent interviews on reflection is what got me thinking of this project.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Simple Music Video Projects

I'm highlighting a couple ways to create music video projects at conferences next week. I love these types of projects. They are a good example of how tech can let us "create like never before". I've seen them excite many students. They can be very time consuming, though! (I spent much of my Christmas break editing videos with this method for 5th graders.)

Taking the whole class through a music video project is going to be difficult, but it's good to know some basic tools and options.  That way you can recommend them to interested students who might prefer them as a presentation method.

In contrast to the very involved process above, here are some relatively simple techniques you can refer students to.

First, this is an example a teacher sent me of two students doing a rap that they worked on with the teacher. This was an early draft and it kind of falls apart after the first 30 seconds. You'll get the idea of how easy it can be though. There's no editing, just some background music for rhythm and their performance.

Using those simple lyrics, I had my two kids make pictures on paper. Using the "paper slide" model for videos, here's what I came up with. (Editing is not required on these, but I did take the audio from the above performance and combine it with the video using Corel VideoStudio editing software. You might choose to just play the music loudly in the background as you reveal each picture.)

And here's a final example using that same background track. This time I created the slides in Google Slides and combined them using WeVideo. It's a technique I usually use for narrated slideshows.


I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from Teaching Like an Artist with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Friday, October 30, 2015

10 Things that Make Life Exciting (and that even schools can afford)

I tried to generalize what I've seen excite students in school or what has moved me in big ways over the years. While new things and entertainment can achieve some of these, I wanted to focus on contributing rather than consuming.

Getting a glimpse of what you could be
Taking a step closer to what you could be
Playing a significant role in a successful endeavor
Having a big dream
Bringing a dream into reality
Seeing other people excited about your dream
Showing off what you made
Making a positive difference for others
Discovering something you care about or are curious about
Being lost in the wonder of amazing things

What am I leaving out?

What does this mean for school in general? Or for the lessons we'll soon teach?

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from Teaching Like an Artist with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Balance Is Overrated

People generally strive for balance in their lives and I know there's wisdom in that. Moderation has its place. Still, we do not live in isolation. In an organization, a bunch of "balanced" individuals might not be what's best for the overall purposes of the group.

It can result in a group that's very out of balance in significant ways.

It might require a very out of balance individual (in some sense) to right the community. 

I'm not talking about that odd uncle who keeps the family gatherings interesting, even though his life is out of control. I'm talking about stepping out for what you believe in because it needs to be noticed.

I've written a lot lately about my colleague and friend Jake Gentry and our recent inquiry-based lesson. He goes out on a limb sometimes to try something new for his class. It takes more work than doing just what he did the year before. When he shares what he's doing with other teachers, he loses some social points with those who like to keep business as usual. Heck, even I tell him to tone it down sometimes.

But it's been exciting working with him. I see how it benefits the students. A couple weeks ago he gave me a high-five after we looked at survey responses. That doesn't happen in most classes!

Reasonable risks and extreme measures on the part of individuals can bring life back to the group.

What radical steps could you take to tip the scales back toward excitement in your school?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Always Striving to Improve - An interview with Jake Gentry

Jake Gentry is a teacher in the district where I work. He will be teaming up with me and Clark Rodeffer next week to present at the miGoogle conference in Brighton, Michigan. We'll present a similar session at the campus of Michigan State University a few days later.

Jake was one of the first teachers in our district to have a class Facebook page and he was flipping his lessons before most teachers knew what that meant. We have had a lot of fun together working on his annual project-based learning activity for his Geometry class. It made sense we'd work together on this conference session that focuses on "learning and creating like never before".

If you want to follow Jake on Twitter, you can find him at @jacobgentry1026.

As a way of introducing him for this session, here are a few questions I asked him recently:

Mike:  What are you teaching, where and how long have you been there?

Jake:  I've been teaching high school math at LakeVille High school for six years. In that time I've mainly taught Geometry and our Introductory Algebra courses.

Mike:  Why did you go into teaching and why math?

Jake:  To be honest I started studying Law and had a bad PR experience at work that made me question my path. I had some amazing college math professors and thought, I can do this.

I was one of those students in high school where things came naturally and didn't require a lot of effort. However, after getting distracted and having complications with a teacher, I failed Algebra II.

So there I was, looking for my path and realizing, I can teach math a little better than I was taught. Yeah...that's it.

Mike:  You've described yourself as an early adopter and I've seen that in your willingness to try new teaching strategies. What is your motivation when you so often change your approach?

Jake:  Well, when I first started teaching I realized there needed to be some type of system in place for students who were absent to catch up on missed material. I certainly couldn't sit down with them one on one, however. I thought if I made videos of my lessons than students could watch what they'd missed and not fall behind. That led to a summer of recording and editing.

That following school year I had a student say that they'd already taken Algebra II and wanted to take Geometry faster than the pace I was teaching at. My videos were the solution. That led into flipped teaching, which led into cooperative groups which transitioned into blended learning and here I am today trying PBLs and inquiry-based lessons.

Simply because I realize that I won't ever be able to teach every kid perfectly. But...if I can create a system in my class that gives students options (traditional, flipped, etc.) then I'm dramatically increasing their responsibility to their own learning and removing excuses for lack of engagement.

Students have responded dramatically well to the change in style of teaching. Each year the number of failures decreases and the number of students improving increases and isn't that the whole point of education? To take a student from where they are and get them to improve? However, most rooms are built around a system where the middle increases and the top and bottoms are bored...I'm simply trying to create a system where students can improve wherever they are.

Mike:  What will you be sharing in our session at miGoogle?

Jake:  At miGoogle I hope to give other teachers real world examples of how they can improve their classrooms by incorporating tools that allow students to be more involved in their learning. In one class this will look differently than in another, but motivated and equipped teachers may just need some positive examples to take the plunge.

One example will be our most recent inquiry-based lesson. After it, students were asked if they felt technology in the classroom could help them learn "a tremendous amount". Over 70% said they either agreed or strongly agreed. (You can read about that activity and the survey results here.)

Mike:  What's the biggest thing you've learned about technology use in the math classroom?

Jake:  Whether the technology helps the teacher create videos for sick students, give a formative assessment to the class, allow students to research and answer a guiding question or create and present a project, technology belongs in every classroom. From Twitter to Google Forms, the teacher's job is to direct or facilitate the learning and to determine the most opportune times to incorporate the technology (not to makes excuses why NOT to incorporate it).

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lifelong Learning, PBL and a Passion to Encourage Others - An interview with Clark Rodeffer

I'm really excited to be presenting with Clark Rodeffer at miGoogle next week! He will be joining me and Jake Gentry for our session, The Way of the Google Drive. (Here's a video trailer for our session.)

I met Clark about 12 years ago through our mutual hobby of game design. He worked in the automotive industry, but around 2010 our conversations began shifting toward education. He was tutoring and substitute teaching at that time and I could tell from his stories that he was a gifted, insightful teacher. He was eventually hired in a district that offered promising innovations along with enormous challenges.

I'll let Clark tell more of his story, but suffice it to say I have learned a great deal from him and his straightforward approach to teaching and learning. He met with me and Jake last summer through a Google Hangout and that discussion helped fuel Jake's passion for the inquiry-based lesson I wrote about a couple weeks ago.

You can follow Clark on Twitter at @CDRodeffer.

Read on to learn:

  • What he will be bringing to miGoogle
  • What he sees as the best attitude for success in education
  • What keeps him inspired.


Mike:  You came into education later in life than most, but just this year you had another job change. Where are you working now and what does this new job entail?

Clark:  In an effort to both reduce costs and improve service, over the summer, the boards of education for Lincoln Consolidated Schools, Ypsilanti Community Schools, and Washtenaw Intermediate School District came to an agreement to share technology services. Beginning September 1st, technology services for the two local districts are contracted through WISD, where my title is Instructional Technology Specialist.

My role is transitioning away from fixing broken technology (one of the many hats I've worn for the past 20 years) toward instructional technology (a hat I enjoy a whole lot more). Instead of fixing broken stuff, now I get to open educators' minds to the possibilities technology enables. As you put it so well, I get to show teachers how technology can help them and their students do more, not just the same thing faster or more easily, but do more.

My job entails research (both original and external) for using technology (including any efficiency tools, not just computers and electronics) to improve learning in the districts I serve. I plan and lead professional development, run workshops, and train educators at the individual, team, small learning community, building, and district levels.

Mike:  So even though the tech support is not your job anymore, you are still juggling a fairly wide range of responsibilities!
Now, as I've always said, you bring a perspective into the schools that is very different from most educators I've talked to. Tell us more about your unconventional entry into the field and what advantages you think it offers.

Clark:  I grew up in a family of educators -- both of my parents are retired special education teachers, and my grandfather and several other relatives were or are educators -- but you're right, I took a different path, one you might describe as elliptical.

Let me explain. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are both in chemical engineering, and my main focus throughout college was research. I researched oil additive chemistry, gas-liquid separation science, diffusion, and fiber-reinforced composite materials. But at the same time I had an educational focus at the other end of my ellipse. I led Bible studies, tutored, assisted professors with their instruction and grading for courses I'd already taken, and taught general chemistry lab courses.

This continued in my first post-college job as a research associate in the legal/automotive industry. My focus was on automotive safety, but my work included the educational aspects of helping lawyers, engineers, and scientists understand one another, and of how technology could be used to improve that communication.

When my job disappeared in the 2009 automotive industry bust, I found work tutoring and substitute teaching, and after a year as a long-term special education substitute teacher, I was brought on as Site Technology Coordinator and Technology Coach for the New Tech program at Willow Run Community Schools.

The New Tech instructional model orbits around project-based learning, often integrating two or more subject areas, and more group work than in most traditional instruction models. Students are graded, not only upon their demonstration of knowledge and critical thinking for the subject area, but also upon their ability to collaborate with peers, to express themselves orally and in writing, and to demonstrate agency, advocating for themselves and others.

A couple of years later, Willow Run Community Schools and neighboring Ypsilanti Public School District consolidated to form Ypsilanti Community Schools, and the New Tech high school programs from both schools continued as one. From the consolidation until September, my role within these New Tech schools has been more than the basic tech support of fixing broken laptops. I help teachers (often referred to as facilitators) research, plan, and develop projects that meet their curriculum standards, are relevant and engaging to the students in the district, and that sometimes push the boundaries with original methods. So while my path to public education was nontraditional, I always had those two focal points of research and education to define my ellipse, my orbit.

Your second question, about advantages, is harder to answer. I don't like the standard pat responses many would expect, "Having worked in industry prior to academia helped me gain a real-world perspective," along with its equally condescending corollary, "It takes someone from the outside to recognize, repair and prevent the damage education is doing to itself." Neither is true!

There are intelligent and observant people both within and outside of education who are trying to make a difference.

Instead, I'm going to answer that I merely come with an attitude of lifelong learning, a growth mindset (to use the popular buzzwords), and a genuine care for the students in the districts I serve. Being an outsider coming to education is, of itself, neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. What matters is attitude.

Mike:  There's that straightforward approach I referred to! I appreciate how you zero in on what matters most.

When Jake and I were getting started with PBL activities in our district, the conversations you and I had were a ray of hope. They helped me see it was something to keep working for. Coming from a New Tech High School, what do you see as the strengths of PBL?

Clark:  Before answering that, I need to review the context from our earlier conversations. In our Hangout, you mentioned having used a more traditional approach to learning (direct instruction, assigned reading, classwork, writing prompts, etc.) followed by some sort of final product other than a traditional test or research paper to assess the learning.

By itself, this "project-based assessment" (your wonderful term for it) can be valuable. Instead of a research paper, assigning a graphic novel or a music video as the final product encourages creativity, appeals to different learning styles, and is a great example of how technology can help teachers and students do more.

However, the problem is, even with wonderful technology, innovative assessments can eat up class time. Imagine a traditional unit beginning with some sort of formative pretest, then a week or two of learning, then a test on the last day of the unit. If a project-based assessment is used instead of the test, it may add several days to the unit, throwing your class pacing off. By the end of the school year, you might not reach your curriculum targets.

In project-based learning (e.g., the New Tech model), the expectation for the final product is expressed right away, usually on the first day of the unit (or project) through some sort of entry event. Depending upon the content, your formative assessment could be an ongoing (the ongoing part is important) group or whole class discussion of what students know and what they need to know to complete the project and, along the way, acquire the curriculum content. Based upon their current needs, students collaborate with one another, the teachers (a.k.a., facilitators), and possibly community partners to fulfill those needs.

The lists of "knows" and "needs to know" has to be kept current, and students need to demonstrate agency by asking for workshops when they get stuck. Some classrooms even use Agile methods and hold brief stand-up Scrums in their groups to keep things moving forward. (What have you done since our last group meeting? What are you going to do before our next group meeting? What, if anything, is blocking you?)

Sometimes students work together as a group, and sometimes they work independently on different parts of their final product that will later be synthesized into a coherent whole. Instead of homework or a worksheet, teachers might have students use technology to make a YouTube video for their future selves explaining key curriculum concepts they need to remember. "How do I complete the square?" Such self-scaffolding videos are also formatively valuable.

In short, the learning is integrated into the project work itself rather than front-loading it, and this helps restore the curriculum pacing as opposed to the project-based assessment model.

I'm not sure this fully answers your question, but I see both strengths and weaknesses to the PBL approach. One weakness is that students need to be at least somewhat self-motivated. If they aren't, it's very easy for a group to get behind when one member doesn't contribute.

If the lists of "knows" and "needs to know" are not kept current, gaps can arise. The teacher's role definitely shifts from the highly controlled mode of direct instruction toward continuously monitoring individual student knowledge and support through workshops. That shift can be chaotic and uncomfortable.

On the other hand, project-based learning may make it easier for students to learn in the ways they learn best, and it develops time-management and project-management skills. As long as the end product is interesting and relevant, students are more engaged in their learning.

Mike:  I'm thrilled that you are able to present with us next week at miGoogle. What will you be sharing in our session?

Clark:  I'll be sharing how to create what I call "enhanced assessment items" in Google Slides as a way for teachers to help prepare students for high-stakes exams (e.g., M-STEP). It seems really small, just another thing that teachers can use, along with traditional writing prompts, paper worksheets and the like.

But using them could have two big benefits. First, by mimicking the types of questions students are going to see on these high-stakes exams, students will become more comfortable interacting with them and, if practice really helps, do better on the exams. Second, when a teacher models creativity and, as you say, teaches like an artist, it engages students and inspires them also to be creative.

Mike:  Through our talks, email conversations and thoughts you post on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve often been an inspiration to me and you set a great example of giving 100% even when it’s tough. What’s your secret to “staying inspired to inspire others”?

Clark:  This is the easiest of your questions. It's all for the kids, these kids. The districts I serve are, for lack of a better term, disadvantaged in many ways. I get to know these students day-to-day, and I see the discouragement they face. As young innocents, they deserve better. They need hope. They need a chance to succeed.

Obviously, I can't do everything by myself. But if I can encourage teachers, if I can ensure that technology never hinders their teaching, if I can model the energy that these students need, then I'm doing my part.

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from Teaching Like an Artist with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Life as Art

I've been writing a lot about The Way of the Artist in this series. I sum it up in the three "not so simple" steps:

  1. Dream big
  2. Do the work
  3. Share it
My point is that as the dream transitions to reality and people are touched by it, inspiration happens. The artist is inspired and so are those who enjoy the work.

We can think of any project as art in this way. Maybe it's something we'd normally consider art, like a painting or a song, but it doesn't have to be limited to those things. 

My wife helps run a homeless shelter in our community. She could talk about the initial vision, the work it takes to make it real and how the end result is shared with those in need. I call that art too. People are inspired to take part in it.

But what if we go beyond projects and look at our lives as art? Or if not our entire lives, how about roles we play such as teacher, father or husband? I think there is great value in reflecting on ourselves and our actions in this way.
  • What was the initial vision that got us in this role? Was it our vision, someone else's or a combination of many? The power of the final work starts in the uniqueness of this original vision, so it's worth exploring.
  • What work did we do to make that vision a reality? How close have we come?
  • How are the results of this vision and work being shared? It might be shared with only a few people, but my guess is there's a way in which it can inspire.
Of course, when our lives is the work, we almost always talking about a work in progress. It is a special type of art that's never done. It's like a song that changes as many people play it or a long-running play that develops over the years.

There's always a chance to get closer to the vision (or maybe alter the vision). There's a chance to share it with more people or share it in a better way. 

I encourage everyone to think about life this way, some aspect of it, some ongoing work you're involved in. Look long and hard at it. Connect with the original dream and do what it takes to make it real. Tell the story and stay inspired to inspire others.

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from Teaching Like an Artist with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Thoughts on 'Most Likely to Succeed'

This post first appeared on my Classroom Games and Tech blog.

I first heard about Most Likely to Succeed about six months ago when organizing some staff professional development for project-based learning. I watched the trailer and all the sound bites gave me chills. The things the teachers and the experts were saying in the film were all the best things I was discovering in the job as I was implementing project-based learning.

A few weeks ago, while my mind has been swirling with ideas for my upcoming conference sessions, I was thrilled to learn they were screening the movie at a nearby college. My wife and I were able to watch it tonight.

I won't give a detailed review of the movie. I would want to watch it again and dig into a few claims before I would do that. I want to get a few thoughts out, though.

To provide some background, the film contrasts the traditional education system with innovative teaching methods and organization of High Tech High. What's wrong with the current system and the promises of the new approaches to teaching come out through interviews with familiar faces like Sal Khan and Ken Robinson as well as staff of High Tech High and experts in business.

I enjoyed it thoroughly from start to finish. I want to watch it again as soon as I can. Every educator should watch it the first chance they get. It raises excellent questions and even if you think some of the visions were too idealistic or that High Tech High is too unrealistic, it offers at least a glimmer of hope for what education can be. Seeing the students perform or show their work in the exhibitions was powerful.

As someone who has been working in ed-tech now for almost eight years, a lot of the points were nothing new. Yes, the current system was originally designed over 100 years ago with a purpose of turning out good factory workers. Yes, computers are making many jobs obsolete and we don't know exactly what careers will even be available for today's K - 12 students.

Some of these insights will be new to many, though, and what I appreciate most is the film made them loud and clear. Viewers will be forced to think about the questions that are raised. Teachers will have to form convictions.

One of my favorite statements came from Dr. Eric Mazur. He raised the question of why we test students the way we do when we know the posture and restrictions of a student taking a test is never what we see anyone doing in the world of work. I have a lot of respect for Mazur's work and it's something I've pointed out myself. He put it brilliantly.

I enjoyed how it let parents and students provide the counterargument to the ideal world of High Tech High. Parents of the students who attended the school asked great questions of the teachers about the lack of course content. In one school, the students banded together against their innovative math teacher and said they just want to be prepared for college, not necessarily life. In some cases the teachers didn't have much to say in return.

The film ultimately portrayed a decision between these extremes as a gamble for the parents. The facts are simply not in yet as to which is better. As a parent, I waver on this myself. The traditional and the innovative approaches have some benefits. Is a good balance possible? If not, which is best? What about the majority of us who don't have a very innovative option for our children anyway?

But the biggest question in my mind during the film was this: Who decides what matters?

Is development of "soft skills" like empathy and leadership more important than the broad exposure to traditional content? Do we let the government decide the standards by which schools are measured? Or do we listen to Sal Khan and the rep from Google, as they talk about what the most forward-thinking companies should be looking for in their employees? Do SAT scores matter just because they matter to colleges?

I look forward to exploring these questions with administrators in my district and with my colleagues. I hope the film will be widely available soon. At least parts of it will be excellent for use in class. I want to hear what students have to say.

Let's keep the conversation going with a focus on being the best educators we can be.

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from Teaching Like an Artist with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Monday, October 19, 2015

How I know we're doing something right

Five things I see or hear from students that help me know we're on the right track:
  • Real questions that reveal curiosity or a desire for understanding
  • Excitement to share what they figured out
  • Excitement to show what they made
  • Hard work without anyone mentioning grades
  • Sincere thanks for helping them along the way
What else could we add to the list?

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from this blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Finding Your Place

When I talk about The Way of the Artist, it's easy to see it in terms of the students' and the teacher's work. Maybe it's a class project the students dream up, work on and share. Maybe it's the entire lesson or activity that the teacher created.

But on another level, we can look at our very lives as the work of art. Day by day we move closer to a vision of what we could be. We do the work and, hopefully, we share the story.

With any creative work, it is fascinating to me how one's vision develops from the first conception to reality. This is all the more true when looking back over my life or periods of my life, such as my career or my marriage.

We set out with a picture in our mind of how it will look. We work for it, adjust to frustrations and surprises of what real life hands us and ultimately end up as we are, where we are.

It's worth taking a long look at ourselves from time to time, to see how close or how far we are from the initial vision.

Like almost anyone, when I graduated from high school nearly 30 years ago I had some big dreams. My particular dreams were to make movies and to play in a rock band. Over the years I drifted close to and far from those goals. I even gave up on them more than once, then I would return again.

It was amazing to me last year when I stopped to think about those dreams and I realized how much my music and my desire to make movies had crept into what I was doing almost daily. I still play music nearly every week in our church. I work at the high school and middle school directing and editing as I help the students complete video announcements. 

Had I seen myself doing those tasks 30 years ago, I certainly would have said they were not what I had in mind. Where is the glamour and fame?! Still, I find it rewarding now. I don't think I gave up on the dream and settled for less. I'd say instead that I found my place. 

The dream was important, but there was more to it I didn't know. Finding that "more" and being grateful for it is the gift of seeing life as art.

Our lives are the ultimate work of art. They are a collaboration with chance, other people and (as some of us believe) with God. We can't see the end result or know fully what it is we should become. We get hints though, through our passions, talents and dreams. 

The trick is to keep working at it when it's tough and to know when to let go. Sometimes the specifics of our dreams just aren't meant to be.

Wherever we end up, whether close to or light-years away from our original dreams, it's important to marvel at the art of it and to be thankful for it. It's important to share the vision and the end result with others, so they can see art unfolding in their own lives.

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from this blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

photo credit: Throwing 4 via photopin (license)

Friday, October 16, 2015

Art and Risk

I've heard it said if there is no risk, there is no art.

The juggler has to take on just one more pin than he's completely comfortable with. The big song has to include the highest note the vocalist can hit. The performance has to take the performer and the audience to the edge of certainty.

I always refer to The Way of the Artist as dreaming big, doing the work and sharing the result.

After that big dream, when the work starts, risk is always present. There is always the possibility that it won't come together. Maybe you misjudged the value of the original idea or the level of your talent. Maybe there isn't enough time to make it happen.

Along with the work required to create, there is the battle within against doubt and uncertainty.

The bigger the risk, the bigger the chance for amazing art.

It's funny how easy it is nowadays for me to commit myself to something and then spend a good number of hours terrified that it won't come together. I'm referring specifically to email or other online communication. I send out messages way too soon after I get my big ideas.

This conference session feels like that sometimes. In the slow pace of a summer morning I read the call for proposals for miGoogle 2015. It was easy to dream up something big. I imagined the session I always wanted to attend and wrote and submitted a nice sounding description in no time. Within minutes, I also wrote three colleagues asking them to join me. I was pumped.

I'm still looking forward to the session, don't get me wrong. I still think it will be amazing.

But some unexpected things came up in the district this week. I've been busy with other projects. It all adds up to distraction. When I sit down now to work on the conference or to write this blog, it's way too easy to start to wonder what I got myself into. I wonder if it's going to work.

I admit that in weak moments, it scares me to the point where I want to bail. I start thinking of ways out. (I know by now there are no good options for escape from this one!)

When I stop to think about it, though, I'm glad for the doubt and the risk. It's a sign that it could be every bit the work of art I envisioned that morning. It's the possibility of failure that makes it exciting to give it a try. It's the anticipation that builds friendship among those of us presenting.

We're in it together and if it works, it will be something to tell about.

Just thinking about school...

When is the last time you experienced something like this with a lesson? What would it take to make more learning experiences like this?

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from this blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

 photo credit: Karl Saliter via photopin (license)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Step by Step

I've been going to school in one way or another for over 40 years now. I think there was one September in the past four decades where I didn't start school again, either as a student or a teacher. In the class or in front of it, I've tried hard to pay attention to what's going on.

One thing that's becoming clear to me after all this time is how each step in our work--each assignment, test, professional development session or evaluation--is only part of the long journey of learning. It's never just the task at hand, as if we're done with it and we got what we needed. Every one of them is an investment for something later. It's value can be missed without reflection during and after the work.

In my job I'm often helping teachers with technology. I realized at one point the ones who struggle the most with tech tools are the ones who think it is about the particular project we're doing. It's like when I'm helping them edit a video, they think the goal is to have a finished video. At first it can take way too long to make one video. Was it really worth three hours to get those 30 seconds?

And even after all that time it might turn out bad or the tech doesn't hold up for us. Maybe we couldn't finish it in time at all.

Of course the finished video is important. Not having a good one might have negative consequences. But in education, the trick is to remember there are at least a hundred other things going on for further learning (ours and our students').

In this example, when we realize the real goal is to develop digital literacy so that we can help hundreds of students over the course of our careers, suddenly a few setbacks and unmet expectations are not complete failures. Important lessons were learned. We took a step toward the real goal even if the task in the moment ended with some frustration.

Could we really imagine we'd inch along such an enormous, important journey with anything less than some periods of pure work?

And when we try, yet fail in the short term, it's not so bad when we realize it was at least a step in the larger journey. To not try was to only stay where we were. If that's not wrong in how it affects us, it certainly shortchanges the students we will teach.

To see these possibilities that lie before us, this endless road of repercussions, is both encouraging and overwhelming at times. It is a  journey that we'll never really complete. It's important to get as far along as possible, though, because it's the only way to catch a glimpse of what could be.

Just seeing it from afar, somewhat clearer today than yesterday, is a gift.

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from this blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

photo credit: Forest via photopin (license)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Student Opinions of Our Inquiry Based Learning Activity

Yesterday I posted an interview I had with Jake Gentry about an inquiry based learning activity we worked on together. We considered it a success and we gained many new insights. Today we gave the students a short survey to see what they thought about the experience. We received 86 responses and a few significant findings are reported below.

Overall, Jake and I were again encouraged by what we learned. This makes it even more likely he will continue exploring these teaching strategies in future lessons.

We first asked students to indicate how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement:

I prefer to learn by exploring on my own instead of just having the teacher explain material to us.

Here are the results, from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree:
I was surprised to see only about 15% of the students disagreeing. This was a great sign that the students were with us in this endeavor. I thanked them for trying this out and being such great sports about learning with us.

For many the seven class periods spent exploring a guiding question without much direction from the teacher was the first experience with such "hands off" learning in math. It was wonderful to see the students were this open to it.

After reading some comments from the students, I made it clear that our intent is not to replace teachers with computers. Obviously it helps to have an expert in education designing the learning experience, even if he or she is not delivering the material to the class in a traditional manner.

Results of this second question were most significant to me. Again, they were asked to rate how much they agreed or disagreed with this statement:

I can learn a tremendous amount on my own by exploring online tools such as search engines, videos and interactive websites.

Note first of all that this statement is not limited to Geometry or even math. It is simply a statement about being able to learn with online resources. 

Also, it's interesting to me that Jake and I debated about using the word "tremendous". I pushed to leave it, even though we knew it could make some students less likely to agree.

This is how they responded.

Jake gave me a high-five when we saw the graph after the first period. When the upper ratings remained high class after class, I was excited. I get chills when I talk about this stuff! To me, 4's and 5's on this graph (submitted by a full 73% of the students) means students are aware of the possibility before them to learn in amazing ways. 

Doors of opportunity opened to students who realized this through our lesson. In whatever areas they choose, they inched a step closer to success this past week.

We had a couple open ended questions on the survey and many students did say that through this activity they realized they could learn by exploring online resources. Some admitted they didn't think they could, but now they know otherwise. Some referred to gaining confidence by working through the lesson.

Jake and I know there's a lot we can do to improve the activity. Realistically students might be giving themselves way too much credit for what they actually learned. Still, this is the kind of thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. I love encouraging students to use the power of technology for learning. I look forward to seeing where it takes them.

I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from this blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Taking the Plunge into Inquiry Based Learning

In preparation for our conference presentation, Jake Gentry, a Geometry teacher at the high school where I work, decided to try an inquiry based learning activity in his classes. We have worked together on a couple project-based learning activities in the past, but we both felt we weren't being "hands-off" enough in letting the students explore the concepts.

To see if inquiry-, discovery-based learning could really work, Jake went all in and had students explore and discover using technology instead of using any direct instruction.

In this recording (around 10 minutes long) I asked him some questions about what he did, what he learned and how effective he thought it was. They're still working through the project, so these are his thoughts so far. I'll let you listen to the recording for the details, but we both feel so far this has been a very enlightening experience. I'm really glad to have been a part of it.

The general outline of the talk is:

  • Why we did it
  • What the activity was like
  • What has he seen so far - is it working?
  • The level of thinking that was going on during the activity
  • What tech did the students use for learning?
  • What tech did he use to run the activity?
  • What effects has he seen on the students?
  • Was there support from the principal?
  • How the focus shifted from "Is this right?" to the learning goals


I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from this blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Examples of The Way of the Artist

Last week I wrote about The Way of the Artist, how we can inspire with art by working through the three "not so simple steps":

  • Dream big
  • Do the hard work to make it real
  • Show off the final result
Here are a few examples of projects I've done in the past that illustrate how it plays out in the classroom. Notice that these projects require the students to work through those three steps, but I as the teacher am doing the same thing as we go through the project. I dream up the end product, work to take the class through it, then write about it on my blogs. Art (and therefore inspiration) is happening at several levels and I try to make sure it impacts as many people as possible.
  • Live video announcements - My work in the high school Communications and the Media class is filled with examples of students working to bring a vision into reality.
  • Smart Jams Math Music Videos - This was one of my most ambitious projects. We made math music videos with fifth graders in their Music class. It was a great learning experience for all involved.
  • Digital Storytelling with WeVideo - I made this creative project to introduce students to WeVideo. It's a good example of giving all students the same starting elements (photos in this case) and they combine them in imaginative ways to make something unique. It eventually grew into this much more popular project...
  • Using Comics and Google Tools for Digital Storytelling - There are countless ways to use this tool, but I usually stick pretty closely to the process outlined here. This post links to some updates I've made since that original article was written.
  • Reminding Students Dreams Matter - This is another music video project, this time a lot simpler than the Smart Jams one above. I put a lot of work into recording the song, but that's because music doesn't even count as work for me! It's another example where art was happening on several levels, for the students, teachers and my family as we made up the song. We shared it on Facebook to our community and it got a lot of love.


I'm doing a challenge this month to post on one of my blogs every day. It's in preparation for my conference session, The Way of the Google Drive. Be sure to follow me on Twitter or on either blog to keep up with the "thoughts and tools to inspire". 

Click here to see all the posts from this blog with the tag The Way of the Google Drive.