December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Filed under: about me — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:59 pm

confettiAs 2015 dawns, The Thinking Teacher behind this blog, Candace Hackett Shively, has moved on to new creative endeavors in her retirement. This blog will remain online with posts from 2007-2014, but no new posts will be added. Enjoy browsing by search, tag, or calendar dropdown in the right sidebar.

If you need to contact the author, please use the contact form at the Source for Learning site and make it clear that you are contacting re the Think Like a Teacher blog. They know how to get in touch.

Watch for a new blog coming later in 2015 as our new Director of K-12 Initiatives joins the TeachersFirst team at The Source for Learning.

Happy New Year!

December 19, 2014

A Gift to You: My All-time Favs

Filed under: about me,creativity,TeachersFirst,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:05 am

giftsAs I approach the end of the year and the end of my time as lead “Thinking Teacher,” I am using my gift-giving powers to share my all time favorite TeachersFirst resources as the “Featured Sites” for December 21/28 and January 4 (my last week to select the Features).  I don’t want to ruin all the surprises, but will open a few  presents a little early.  You will have to watch the Featured Sites or TeachersFirst Update for the rest. (New Featured Sites appear every Sunday, except when we leave them online for two weeks during the holidays.)

I had no stated criteria when I selected The List, just holistic, “gut” reactions.  With over 16,000 resources from which to choose, I knew some that were destined for The List  before I even started.  Only after The List was complete did I stop to analyze why I choose certain resources as all time favs. Three reasons:

  1. Some resources inhale me through imagery, color, and a powerfully visual interface. I am a very visual person and love a visual experience of learning, wondering, and creating.
  2. A resource that allows me (and all users) to be creative, not just witness someone else’s creative musings. If it is both, even better: a creative product that entices me to try my own.
  3. Intellectual intrigue. If it makes me ponder something I never thought about — and I can imagine using it to pass along a feeling of intellectual intrigue to my students — it is a candidate for The List.

There are other, less important criteria, but the really good ones have all of the above. Secondary factors include open-endedness,  tools or resources that are not “schooly,” places where the process of writing is a celebration and not a chore, places where history becomes real, tools so versatile they will never wear out, etc.

Bookemon made The List before I started. They may be selling printed books, but you never have to buy one. Anyone can make and share an online, interactive book. They added the EdCenter for teachers early on in their development, and they seem to be economically stable. Teachers need tools worth investing time in products without fear of “losing them.” I have made many books using Bookemon for both personal and professional use, and it is my go-to choice.

Inklewriter is a lesser known tool, but it has such potential for writing and creativity. I forgive them for not being more visual.  Inklewriter is a challenge to any digital writer: planning for branches and the logic of how readers will experience what you write.  I would have loved using this with gifted kiddos. Yes, you could create branched writing using other tools, but the inherent structure of Inklewriter tool helps you build a branching piece of writing and be sure you do not leave any “loose ends.” (Note I do not say it makes a branching “story” because it could make ANY type of branched writing.)

Lino is my go-to sticky note tool. Yes, many people know Padlet (once Wallwisher), but Lino had an app version earlier on, something I needed when I first bought an iPad.  Visual, collecting, color coding… enough said. I have been using it to prep new web content, brainstorm, plan for ISTE presentations, etc. for a long time.

Murally is Lino on steroids. I haven’t used it personally, but I’d like to. Collect and collaborate live with all types of media. What a great way to grab stuff, sort it, and decide what to do with it, all as a group. Now if these tools would just automatically add a field for CREDITS attached to the things we grab from all around the web, we’d be modelling good digital citizenship, too.

Others on The List for Dec 21/28 include more writing/word tools and three amazing map-related resources. I will not tell you about January 4. I can’t spoil all the surprises that will be online soon.

It’s been a great run. I will miss crafting weekly posts for you. Pay it forward.

As you start your New Year with the TeachersFirst Featured Sites, I hope you will resolve to model creativity, consider a visual approach, and inspire intellectual intrigue.  Thinking Teachers… Teaching Thinkers.

December 12, 2014

New flight plan

Filed under: about me,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:55 am

Take off. Soar. Land. Do it again. Such is the pattern of a teacher as we travel through each school year. Somewhere in the middle of each school year, the rest of the world celebrates the official “New Year” with resolutions, etc. We teachers — and our students — go right on with our flights into learning.

This holiday season, however, the New Year brings an entirely new flight plan for this teacher. My professional career as a longtime teacher and as Director of K-12 Initiatives at The Source for Learning will be making its last landing. I have filed a new flight plan for 2015. I am both excited and a little nervous to announce that I will be retiring as of January 1 to pursue the many creative endeavors that have always been pushed to the bottom of my to-do list. 36848050

I look forward to creative aerobatics in a wide open “sky.”  I expect a little turbulence, and I know my flight will involve much personal learning. I will miss more than I can say here. In my mind, I will always see the contrails from decades of terrific colleagues and amazing kids.

TeachersFirst will have a new “pilot,” and our team is ready. My successor has been chosen and is fulfilling her contract in her current school district. I know her well from shared activities within ISTE, and I know TeachersFirst will be in very good hands.

Thank you for making my nearly nine years as TeachersFirst’s lead Thinking Teacher a true joy. In my final blog post or two before I go, I plan to share a few “gifts” to keep you thinking!

December 5, 2014

Awe lighting

Filed under: about me,creativity,musing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:04 am

Any adult over age 40 (yup, I admit it) has moments of professional pondering, musing about what  other career they might choose if they were 18 years old in today’s world.  Among many other diversions, I muse about whether I would have applied my creativity to the world of code. I wonder what it would be like to “make” a screen do what I want it to do. I imagine generating images, sounds, and experiences by describing what exists in my imagination through a special language called “code.” I am very good at the language of words, and the idea of another way of speaking and describing is intriguing.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 3.56.26 PMTeachersFirst recently featured Google’s Made with Code, and you can learn a lot about code from simply poking around that site. I especially enjoy the Projects area. Just in time for the holidays, they have a way to use code to “program” a set of virtual Christmas lights. They hooked me, for sure.

December 8-14 is the annual celebration of the Hour of Code.  If you have even ten minutes, you can make a tree dance with lights. Who knows what you could do in an hour? The fact that Google has the power to make it real by “publishing” your tree in lights on one of the state trees on the National Mall is — well, simply breath-taking.  Forget tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. This is tree lighting in our minds! Yes, Google says the project is for girls and for kids, but how will they know our age or gender?

Some things about creative coding writing that lure me:

The role of play and experimentation. Scientists talk about it all the time. Code lets you do it, especially when people like Google make easy access “code toys.”

Accomplishing a mission. Yes, it seems trivial, but making that light actually do what your imagination says it should do is a real rush.

Making it perfect. If you are like me, before you finish one mission, you have already thought of a way to make it better… and better… and perfect! In the process, you learn some more. Isn’t the iterative process of creating/testing/improving what we want all kids to experience, whether they are writing, drawing, code-writing, or presenting ideas about an event in the lab or in history?

Tolerating things that break. Seeing “oops” as a challenge, not a failure, is the resilience we all aspire to.

Serendipity. I never understood what that word meant until I experienced it and someone gave me the name for that experience. I was so happy to have a name for how I felt! Code gives us serendipity if we are willing to play.

A language we can speak without words. In school, I always saw math is a language, a funny way to say things quantitative. Code is a way to speak step-by-step and logically to describe an experience or on-screen event.

The role of awe. The word itself is simple, short … worthy of silence on either side.


When code works. It evokes awe. Little bits of letters and symbols can make THIS?

While it lasts, especially during the week of code, inspire your own awe. Muse visually with Google’s Light Project. If it is gone into Internet heaven before you read this post, you can always try one of the other Made with Code projects. You might even find that being a grownup is still fun. And maybe you will wonder what you would do if you were 18 again.

November 21, 2014

A Teacher’s Thanksgiving: The deepening basket

Filed under: about me,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:05 am

For teachers, there is no holiday better positioned during the school year than Thanksgiving. We spend precious summer days flexing and pressing in mental cross-fit training for the coming year. Then the real fitness test begins. With ferocious intellectual muscle, organizational stamina, and some fast-twitch adjustments, we sprint head-down into the first months of the year. By Thanksgiving, we know our students well, are well along the route of the year-long marathon, and have found a good pace. For many of us, Thanksgiving day is the first day off since the first day of school. We give thanks– MANY thanks!


After so many Thanksgivings as a teacher, my basket of things for which I am thankful has grown and deepened. I share a few in honor of all my colleagues who are too tired to talk this Thanksgiving, much less write.

I give thanks…

  • For my best bosses, principals, and department supervisors who never said, “No.” Instead, they asked “Why?” or “How?” — the two most important things I should think about as a teacher.
  • For my top desk drawer,  filled with reminders of student success and my own growth as a teacher: the sticky notes saved, a “special” pencil a student gave me, light bulb note paper, pens and ID lanyards from conferences,  leftover invitations to classroom events, teacher gifts, sticker sheets with one remaining smily face, and goofy trinkets I took away from a funny student I actually loved but had to discipline. I really should Google that kid to see where he is now…
  • For the teachers who always came to lunch with something positive to talk about.
  • For turning off my computer and iPad — and muting my phone. I still like face to face talk best. Especially the laughing part.
  • For the gym teacher who shared lunch duty with me every day– and helped me break up the fights every day. We were like a two person theatre act. I am even more grateful that duty lasted only one semester.
  • For early dismissals (for snow). Yes, they forced me to completely re-plan lessons, but we are all still kids when it snows– at least the first snow each season. I am less grateful for the drives home in that snow.
  • For a mother and father who were both teachers — and a grandfather as well. I would not Think Like a Teacher if it were not for them. My brother says it is in our genes.
  • For a scary prof/advisor who made me teach a college Shakespeare class (90 minutes!) about a play he had acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company. After that, no lesson or audience seemed intimidating again.
  • For a family that tolerates living with a teacher. They do ask me to turn it off, though, “Does everything have to be a teachable moment?!”
  • For watching a niece share about becoming a teacher on Facebook. Her enthusiasm vibrates.
  • For people who don’t make fun of my license plate, TCHR2GO.
  • For Google. So every wonder can be followed by discovery and critical decisions about whom to believe.
  • For writing a blog. So many reasons.

Happy Thanksgiving to all teachers. Enjoy the rest, and add an extra dollop of whipped cream to your pie. You made it through to Thanksgiving!

Photo Credit: faith goble via Compfight cc

October 3, 2014

I am not a “real teacher.”

Filed under: about me,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:03 am

I am not a “real teacher.” At least that is the reaction I have heard for decades when telling people the specifics of my teaching assignment. Over the years, I have been:

  • teacher in a middle school library/media center (teaching language arts and cultural arts minicourses on media production, research, and more)
  • push-in teacher of process writing (co teaching with middle school language arts teachers)
  • gifted program specialist, grades 2-8 (implementing individualized enrichment and advancement per IEPs for which I was case manager)
  • technology integrator (peer coach to teachers on effective use of technology in their teaching)
  • Adjunct grad instructor (teaching Technology for Educators to teachers and teachers-to-be)
  • Director of K-12 Initiatives (running TeachersFirst, an online friend and “coach” to any teacher seeking ways to improve their own teaching and enhance/facilitate learning using technology)

What I have never been:

  • a teacher of a self-contained, elementary class
  • a teacher of a narrowly defined or scripted curriculum
  • a teacher with a textbook or teacher edition

In the world of teaching, there are “real teachers” (aka “regular” teachers) and “specialists.”  “”Real” teachers’ days follow predictable patterns and behaviors (the ones most adults ascribe to teachers based on our own experience in school). Then there are teachers whose patterns are less easy to explain or envision. Unless you have shared the same role, you have no idea what a teacher-librarian, Art teacher, school counselor, learning support teacher, speech/language clinician, reading specialist, instructional coach, or ed tech coach actually DOES. Those of us who are not “real teachers” do not use a specific textbook — or teacher edition. Our patterns, while possibly predictable, are not like those of “real teachers.” We are the ones who are assigned extra bus/hall duty (and the worst Friday afternoon study halls) or who are told to fill in when a “real” teacher is sick and there is no sub. We are the ones that “real teachers” do not fully understand. On the worst days, “real” teachers may even covet our mysterious positions.

As education grinds toward the divergent goals of 21st century individualization and test-based accountability, those who are not “real” teachers may be best prepared to handle the push-pull of change. All teachers today are pushed beyond previous patterns. Those of us accustomed to inventing our own wheels may have a slight advantage. “Real” teaching has changed. Now is the time for us to share ideas and strategies to invent our own teaching wheels. Those who embrace technology have some helpful tools. Those who embrace collaboration, questioning, reflection, and mutual support have even more. Let’s make teaching and learning “real” together. Thinking Teachers Teaching Thinkers are much more important than “real” teachers.

September 26, 2014

Language Limits: Captioning the pictures of learning

Filed under: about me,learning,myscilife,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:53 am

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 11.30.22 AMHow do you explain what you know and do every day as a teacher? Would anyone other than another teacher understand you?

I gave a tour of MySciLife to some non-educators this week. After decades as an educator, it is hard to explain anything about teaching or learning without slipping into the language I use among teachers. I use terms like differentiate, ESL/ELL, prompt, scaffold, and digital citizenship. Like most teachers, I do not even realize when my audience is thinking:


Differentiate… means to delineate the differences between two things. What is she telling the differences between?

ESL… or did she say easel? Is this for Art?

prompt… what does this have to do with being on time?

scaffold… are they painting her classroom?

digital citizenship … is that something about online voting?

When I use an education-specific term in a parent conference,  I make sure to circle back and define it in context. I do the same with unfamiliar terms I use with students:

Today you are going to work in small groups on an issue related to digital citizenship. When we talk about citizenship in social studies class, we are talking about the way we read, listen, and evaluate what our government does. We especially focus on how citizens participate in that government. Learning to do this responsibly is what makes us good citizens. So talking about digital citizenship…

This is easy when I am in teacher mode with kids. Sharing the intricacies of teaching and learning, especially  a form of learning unfamiliar to most adults over 30, however, is a real challenge. There is such richness in student-centered, social-media based learning that giving an introduction to MySciLife requires circling back over and over — risking listener dizziness.  The intelligent adults who are listening would never expect me to understand the intricacies of what they do every day in their professional roles. But any adult touring MySciLife carries along their own school experience. It is hard for them to understand MySciLife without comparing/contrasting with that experience.

Teacher to teacher, I would say that MySciLife is:

  • a safe, online learning space where your students can learn local science curriculum through student-driven learning and interaction with peers across the U.S.
  • a social learning community where students take on and maintain a role of a science identity, such as Mighty Mitochondria or Gregarious Gravity (they choose the name but concepts are determined by curriculum)
  • student-centered, meeting today’s digital learners in a familiar digital space while respecting and directing their use of the digital tools they know so well for productive purposes in social-media based science learning (now that is a mouthful!)
  • a learning community designed in accordance with specifications and experiences of our teacher-ambassadors throughout over 2 years of research pilot
  • designed to offer scaffolding and opportunities for differentiation for ESL/ELL, gifted, and learning support students
  • well-suited to the needs, strengths, and interests of emerging adolescents
  • a whole new experience in teaching… that gets easier and better with each unit
  • engaging to ALL students, promoting participation and interaction among peers. No passive learners here!
  • aligned to best practices in process writing (drafting, feedback, response, publishing, response…) and centered on experiences with digital writing and informational texts a la Common Core
  • infused with models of good digital citizenship
  • creative, open-ended, and focused on deeper learning
  • in short… amazing. It changes your whole view of what science learning can be.

I can talk to teachers about MySciLife for hours. I have not, however,  perfected an introduction to MySciLife that connects with non-teaching adults’ prior knowledge of school, redefining what it means to teach and learn using safe social media. I can give them a gallery of mental pictures, but captions for those pictures rely on my educator-specific language. I ‘ll keep working on ways to make the captions circle back.

September 18, 2014

Hold the Gravy: An opportunity

Filed under: about me,SFL,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:15 am

Almost nine years ago, I allowed myself to consider the unthinkable. I allowed someone to “pitch” the idea of my taking a new job. I had left teaching once — years before when I moved across a state line and thought I would never go back. Within a few months, I was organizing all the kids’ activities at the neighborhood pool. It was silly not to get paid for what I was drawn to do. So I dove into another state’s bureaucracy and conquered the certification dragon. For nearly 20 years thereafter, I thrived, moving onto new and different teaching challenges every 8 years or so, but ALWAYS a teacher.

One of the things we teachers don’t do so well is to consider change as a real possibility. The cycles, routines, and pendulums of August to June, new kids to old kids, new school goals to forgotten buzzwords, and on and on hypnotizes us into gravy-like sameness. We pour on the gravy and never consider a whole new menu.

In 2006 I made a move that changed my life as a teacher. Yes, I am still a teacher, but I am also a teacher of teachers and a voice for many who never speak up. As the person who directs the Thinking Teachers of TeachersFirst, I advocate for what teachers need, listen to them, and most of all SHARE with them. I have met more people in the last eight and a half years than I ever imagined, many of them only virtually — but genuinely. I have grown, learned, learned, and grown. I learn something new EVERY day. I have been able to spread my creative teaching wings farther than the bald eagles who fly past my house each winter morning.

Now I share with you an opportunity to grow and learn. I hope you will read it, consider it carefully, and pass it on to every adventurous Thinking Teacher you know.



August 29, 2014

A labor of love: My(insertadjectivehere)Life

Filed under: about me,deep thoughts,Digital media and learning competition,edtech,myscilife — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:26 am

MSL logoSince April, I have been involved in a project that has stretched my thinking, my imagination, and — at times– my patience. After over three years of looking, The Source for Learning (SFL), the non-profit parent company where I work and direct TeachersFirst, has found a developer to help us create a customized platform for MySciLife®. Perhaps I should offer some background…

You remember MySciLife, the project I led to finalist status in the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Competition 2010? I have occasionally written about it here. Three of us (Ollie Dreon, Louise Maine, and I) cooked up the idea one wintry afternoon in an online meeting. We hustled to become finalists. Then we did not get funded.  Since 2010,  SFL has managed sufficient funding to launch MySciLife, and we are now beginning our third year of a research pilot with teachers and students across the U.S.. For the first two years, we used a well-accepted, safe social learning platform as the “home” for MySciLife. This “home,” however, was a candidate for a full Property Brothers makeover to really suit our needs. Unfortunately, the platform was NOT designed for the kind of student roles (we call them “identities”) and interschool interactions that happen in MySciLife. Our tech-savvy teachers and their clever students were troopers at devising work-arounds to accomplish MySciLife tasks. The research came back showing that MySciLife works — and kids LOVE it.

The gist of MySciLife is that students LIVE as a science concept, creating their identities in a safe, social learning environment using status updates, interactions, and a full range of digital media within the MySciLife platform. MySciLife is personal, dynamic science learning, interaction, and assessment. Imagine living your life as a cell…(think Facebook).

We shared about MySciLife at ISTE 2013, thanks to our curriculum experts, MySciLife creative collaborators, teachers, a student, and a parent. Later that summer I ran across a relatively new tool called Mashplant Studio, the third or fourth tool I had encountered that showed promise to possibly be adapted for MySciLife. After MONTHS of discussion and negotiation… we had a deal.

Fast forward to spring and summer, 2014. Code writers are building the new platform as I write this. We have used a very messy version of it (dubbed MyMashedUpLife) for our summer Boot Camp and have 23 teachers AND their middle school science students from across the U.S. starting the school year in MySciLife right now.  We are literally laying the track in front of the train to make all the features work THIS school year instead of waiting until 2015-16.

So what have I/we learned so far? (This may have to be part 1 of many…)

  • Teachers need time for Boot Camp style PD and even more time to absorb and collaborate when they are radically changing the way they teach.
  • Students need far less time!
  • Developers/code folks re-order lists to their view of what comes first. Users have a different view, and ed tech coaches yet another. Add the visual designer, and you have cacophony!
  • No level of list making can keep track of a project perfectly.
  • Bugs reproduce.
  • Online meetings only work after you get to know the “sound” of your collaborators’ true feelings.
  • Timelines sound great, but imagination and innovation resist such limits.
  • More details and to-do items rear their ugly heads between 3 and 4 a.m. than at any other time of day or night.
  • Creating a new learning “space” is just like lesson planning. You will never get it “just right.”

Stay tuned for further updates in My(insertadjectivehere)Life. Happy Labor Day!


August 22, 2014

Breaking the Edtech Ice: #2techtruths

Filed under: about me,creativity,edtech coaching,learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:10 am

liarTwo Truths and a Lie. You may have played it as an icebreaker during a professional development session or even a party. It is a terrific “Getting to know you” activity for the first day of school with middle or high schoolers. In thinking about it, I decided to offer My Two TECH Truths and a Lie as a way for ed tech coaches and teachers to break the ice this back to school season. It’s simple. Offer up two TECH truths and a lie about yourself. Share them on a wiki, blog post, or Twitter post — with #2techtruths as a hashtag. Choose your sharing method depending on the learning tool(s) you are trying to introduce. Or allow teachers to choose their OWN tool and figure out how to share it with the rest of the group. For the simplest version, try using  chat tool like Todaysmeet for people to share. Imagine trying this on the first day in a BYOD classroom or workshop for soon-to-be-BYOD teachers!

Have everyone in the session to do the same. Then have everyone browse, read, comment, discuss, or tweet back their guesses as to which is each person’s LIE. You will not only teach social learning, you will build trust among a cohort of learners, including yourself. Isn’t that what learning with technology is supposed to be all about?

Here are my Two Tech Truths and Lie:

A. I once co-wrote a text-based, “adventure” style game called Ice Cream Mountain to play on Apple IIc.

B. I once shared a porn site on the projection screen in a teacher inservice session.

C. I once shared resources for teaching gifted with the US DOE.

Guesses? Tweet @cshively with hashtag #2techtruths or comment here.