March 21, 2014

Weeds in the (em)beds? Mulch, spray kill, or pave over?

Filed under: creativity,digital citizenship,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 11:25 am

Our students can create and embed their creative projects from thousands of tools into a blog, wiki, or other social network. They love making Prezis, Glogs, and maps to share what they know. They love finding YouTube videos or making Powtoons or Vokis. If one student in your class knows how to copy/paste embed code, they all will within 15 minutes. Your class wiki becomes a veritable treasury of student projects from all over the web.

We want kids to be able to share visually — using embeds. Simply including a link to their projects does not have the “ta-da” factor they deserve after working hard to synthesize what they have learned. The “ta-da” is a fitting tribute to their ownership and pride in what they have done.

A cloud has crept into my love of embeds, however.  A friendly code-jockey I work with raised a concern as we were talking about enabling embed codes in the social stream we are creating. His concern is simple:

1. Savvy Kid creates project (glog, Voicethread, Voki, screencast, annotated image, etc)

2. Savvy Kid uses embed code to include the project on your class blog or wiki (or in a stream such as Edmodo).

3. Teacher approves said project. Kid gets accolades from classmates, etc.

4. Somewhere in the darker moments of adolescent experimentation and “cleverness,” Savvy Kid returns to the tool that hosts the glog, Voicethead, etc. and  changes the project to include an obscenity. Perhaps s/he simply puts in an additional placemarker with an obscenity or amends the Voki to utter a rude comment. Since the project is embedded on the class wiki, “pulling” from another place on the web, the wiki instantly displays the obscenity or other student “cleverness” smackdab ON your class wiki. Parents can see it, other students can see it, the WORLD can see it (and your principal can see it!).

A nasty weed has popped up in the (em)bed. As with real flower beds, there are several options to deal
with weeds.

  1. We can simply pave over the entire bed, removing the capability to embed anything. Our growing wiki becomes as visually exciting as asphalt, and the kids probably feel as much pride as they would in viewing a pothole patch.
  2. weedsWe can spray weed killer– sort of techie RoundUp–  thus killing targeted weeds while leaving other plants unharmed. Delete Savvy Kid’s embed, but leave the others.
  3. We can use preventative mulch, establishing an environment that is simply not friendly for weeds to grow. If we talk about the negative impact a weed could have and talk about the message an obscenity sends about ownership and pride in our work, the overall class attitude toward such “cleverness” might become so unfavorable as to prevent it from cropping up (sorry, could not resist the pun). I’d like to think so, anyway.  This is simply part of good digital citizenship, and we all need to talk about it — a lot. Any gardener will tell you that you must add and arrange new mulch on a regular basis to maintain healthy (em)beds where learning can grow.

If you have dealt with students abusing embed codes to grow “weeds” in class (em)beds, please comment here about what you did — and plan to do in the future — to solve the problem.

March 14, 2014

A playground moment: How to eliminate teacher meetings

Filed under: about me,edtech coaching,education,iste14,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 12:05 pm

What role do you play when you meet with other teachers (or ed tech coaches)? Do you chime in with ideas but pray they don’t ask you to take on too much responsibility? As busy teachers, we all know that temptation. This week I had the pleasure to witness the positive power of educators to move the boulder forward — and quickly — simply by leveraging a little tech.

I am part of a dynamic duo(?)  leading a powerpack of ed tech coaching superheroes. Together we are planning a “playground” event* at ISTE 2014. About eight of us met on a conference call, preceded by an email with a link to a shared Google doc. Before the call, the doc was pretty much an empty shell. No more than 3 minutes into the call, I watched a little flag typing across the doc, adding the ideas as they began to flow from our conversation. Kim McMonagle was keeping a running record of our ideas as they flew by.  She didn’t say anything. She just did it.  We ended our call with a bunch of work DONE, not just planned-to-be-done. 

How often do you simply take up a tool to help the cause during a meeting? Imagine the power of such simple modeling in front of your teacher-colleagues, especially the hesitant ones who always say they don’t have time for tech. It isn’t hard. It’s not a big deal. You don’t even need to say anything. Just give them the link to use it when the meeting ends.

Of course, a hesitant teacher will say he/she does not know how to do Google docs or prefers to use paper or prefers to just sit and listen, but (s)he really cannot ignore the leverage of one Google doc against the boulders we teachers must move. Maybe if (s)he noticed the power of one doc without being threatened or “taught,” and the doc were perceived as useful, (s)he’d try it in the secrecy of his/her classroom.

This nearly invisible moment made me stop — and wonder that would happen if teachers took up a tool to move the boulders forward during every meeting we had (or had to attend).  No “we’ll write this up and send it out” or “we will be sending you a form,” or “will” anything. It gets done while you are there, in front of your eyes. We can all take the next steps without waiting for a report, an email, or some other “afterward.” It’s a “duh” thing that too many teachers neither notice nor initiate.

We’d probably have far fewer meetings. Wouldn’t that be a shame?

 *The Ed Tech Coaching “Playground” will be held June 30, 9:30- 1:00 at ISTE Atlanta. Playgrounds offer a couple of small group demonstration areas with casual seating and multiple walk-up stations for smaller demos/conversations, all in an open area that screams, “Come on in!” Conference attendees happen by or make deliberate plans to see big-name presenters in this up-close-and-personal opportunity, all focused on a common theme, in this case Ed Tech Coaching. My experience with playgrounds is that the presenters are approachable, and the learning is immediate. In these venues, there is no doubt that learning is play and play is learning. If you’re coming to ISTE, I hope you will join us.

February 28, 2014

Looking inside on a cold, cold wet day

Filed under: deep thoughts,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:57 am

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
all that cold, cold wet day.

In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday coming up, I reread the book I could once recite as a child — and later as a young mom. It is a tale of fun, surprise, fear, mischief, skepticism, and guilt. That fish speaks in the back of our minds throughout our lives, warning us not to allow the Cat or Thing One and Thing Two into our house for fear they will upset everything.  

Tell that Cat in the Hat
You do NOT want to play.
He should not be here.
He should not be about.
He should not be here
When your mother is out!”

(Photo credit: Joe Gauder,

In less than a coincidence, I learned today about a teacher who was offered a grant to provide consistent, in-school Internet access to students involved in a national research pilot of an innovative (and free) program for learning science in a safe social network.  The grant would mean that the teacher — and her students– would have the solid, reliable connection they need to connect with a world outside their very small, rural community. Their world, much like the Seuss kids inside on a cold, cold, wet day, would be open to allow outsiders in.

But the worrier fish in this real life story had a greater say than the one in the book.  The Cat in the Hat — and Thing 1 and Thing 2 — did not get past the door to bring the reliable Internet connection to the kids in that classroom. For whatever reason, the school administration did not feel comfortable allowing an outside funder/stranger to bring in such disruption(?). And so the grant was politely but officially declined. Sally and her classmates simply stay inside, watching out the window and connecting perhaps during the few classroom hours when “mom” is home and the Internet works?

Every teacher faces different barriers, stressors, and challenges. And the fish in this tale probably has a very good (or legally protective) reason to refuse to allow the Cat into the classroom.

The message to me is that none of us really understands what others face inside their teaching houses on cold, cold wet days.  We may be risk takers and have school administrations that allow more open doors (and permit the mess caused by Thing 1 – the Internet and Thing 2- social learning). We may worry about how to clean up after the fun our students have when it gets a little messy. Or we may face much more basic challenges like just being allowed to open the door. Don’t assume you know every tale. You might even try rereading The Cat in the Hat through the lens of adult experience. It adds a new layer of meaning to Read Across America.

February 21, 2014

Be a (teaching) Olympian

Filed under: deep thoughts,edtech,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:05 am

medalI know nothing of the Olympics except what the television networks feed me. They have taught me that Olympians are specialists in many things I never thought about — or knew existed. Olympic skiers know the details of ski materials, edges, turns, and lines on a course. They know what wax technicians do and all about different characteristics of snow. They adapt their skiing strategy for every nuance, and they also push the envelope in hopes of hitting just the right combination of risk and experience to feel a medal ’round their neck. They measure themselves by their finishes and their cumulative racing success. As they grew from novice skiers, their support teams grew with their success until they reach the Olympic pinnacle. They are specialists, and they know where they stand.

Teachers are specialists but without the support team, medals, or media. (We are thrilled to find free donuts in the lounge!) Since we do not “compete,” it is much harder to measure our success or earn sponsors, but we quietly build as strong a repertoire as an Olympic skier. (And our bodies don’t give out as soon!) We know the edges of different approaches to learning. We see different lines to take on a course, and we seek a balance of risk and experience every day. We speak a specialized language that unfortunately mystifies parents but makes sense among our team of colleagues. So how do we measure our own success and needs for growth?

I was part of a panel this week with James Welsh from FCIT, home of the Technology Integration Matrix. As he shared the matrix, a tool for self-evaluation or administrative evaluation of how a teacher integrates technology,  and I shared about apps in the classroom, I thought about just how specialized we really are and how tough it is for us to see our own accomplishments. The non-teachers in the audience made me realize we are the Olympic skiers talking about edges and lines and wax and snow.  So how do we know how to grow? I have more questions than answers for teacher-specialists right now. Obviously, edtech or instructional coaches can play a role in this, but what role do you want to take yourself?

  • How do you measure yourself as a specialist?
  • Do others ask you for teaching ideas? (Should they?)
  • Do you use a self-evaluation or rating scale like the TIMS? Would you like to? Do you compare yourself to exemplar videos? Would you voluntarily watch a video of another teacher?
  • Do you let an administrator label your “level”?
  • Have you ever tried to explain your chain of decision-making to someone who is not a teacher?
  • Have you ever watched the same event/class/student and shared what you observe vs. what a nonspecialist might see?
  • Do you realize how much you know — and how much you have to learn?

Be an Olympian. Take the risk of measuring your accomplishments.



January 3, 2014

Simplify: A handful and a bushel basket

Filed under: about me,edtech,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:01 am

Simplify. It’s a common New Year’s Resolution. As teachers, we laugh. How can we simplify with so many requirements, so many masters, so many changes, and so little time?

How can we not?

simplifyMy strategy for 2014: A handful and a bushel basket

I have a handful of go-to tools I use constantly:

  • To do the simplest tasks
  • In the shortest time
  • To accomplish the greatest amount

Nearby, I have an electronic bushel basket to choose from when:

  • There is more time
  • I need a solution for a complicated challenge
  • I seek to inspire

What’s in my handful? This handful is so much a part of my daily life, I do not see them as “tools” or “technology” anymore. That’s what “simplify” is all about:

Dropbox– because I can share big files and give people a direct link without fearing that Google is watching my every move. Besides, it shows up as “part” of my computer (Finder)

Google Docs/Drive – because so many people already have memberships and I LOVE being able to make color coded folders to organize things, no matter whether they are “owned” by me or not

Doodle – because I hate endless emails chains about possible meeting times

iStuff: iMessage, iTunes, Contacts, iCal and plain old Mail. Yes, my Mac is my right handful.

Evernote – because I carry it with me everywhere: iPhone, iPad, laptop. I keep everything from hotel confirmation info to saved images of what an outfit looks like to information I fear my sieve-brain will lose. And I can keep it organized in searchable notebooks. I love grabbing travel info to read later when planning a trip! I do the same with info and ideas about anything. I even keep things to help when visiting a hospitalized relative.

Hootsuite – because I have a professional Twitter account, a personal FB account, and a TeachersFirst Twitter account, among others.    I can preschedule what I want to “say”!

Grammarly – because I am unapologetically the world’s WORST typist, even though I am a very good speller. This saves a LOT of embarrassment.

Screencast-o-matic – so I can SHOW instead of TELL. (I love using this to show writers what I edit in their work.)

Plain old screenshots – as above, only in freeze-frames.

Could I live with just this handful? Probably. Will I limit myself to these in 2014? Definitely not. If I need more reach beyond the fingertips of this handful, I know where to find my trusty bushel basket. Although I rarely recall the tool names, I know I can find unlimited, good options at the TeachersFirst Edge. As chief editor of the site, every week I see the latest additions and add my own creative ideas to reviews of ones I particularly like (what a cool job!). The exact date we listed them as Featured Sites may be a blur, but I know I can search for them by keyword, Edge category, or tag, such as device agostic tool. I don’t Google it. I TF it. And every tool is already vetted (saves time).

If I were still in the classroom, I would choose a half-dozen-handful together with my class:

And if we were a BYOD school, I’d have them choose the handful from DAT (device agnostic tool) choices so kids could help each other. That’s it. Everything else waits in the bushel basket until a student or I needs more.


November 27, 2013

A Teacher’s Thanksgiving

Filed under: about me,deep thoughts,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:45 am

thanksgivingAs a teacher, I am thankful for many things over the course of a rich career, some small details, some lasting legacies:

For EMPTY butterfly clips, signifying that I have no “homework”

For “teacher shoes” with extra cushiony heels to survive days-months-years-decades of standing and walking on concrete thinly clad in carpet

For donations of Kleenex

For permission to play music in my classroom

For Apple IIe, IIgs, HP, IBM, Lenovo, and MacBook Pro, my friends for decades

For www

For the parent volunteers who organize kids on field trips, at special “culminating” events, and at after school celebrations

For gift cards to the local teacher store (stickers!!!)

For the colleagues who organize the teachers’ room potluck lunches, filled with comfort foods and things none of us should eat

For the invention of microwave ovens cheap enough to have multiples in the teachers’ room

For the kids who come back as grownups

For being blessed with my own children — whose lessons make me a MUCH better teacher and a better mom. Today I read this on the blog of one of my now-adult children and cry the most grateful tears:

As the child of a public school teacher–and a gifted education teacher at that– I was raised with extreme appreciation of the importance of having the proper resources available to children to foster creative learning and independent growth. That is not to say I learned that every educational opportunity required substantial spending. Rather, I grew up realizing the impact a few generous parents or school board members could have on a classroom. Whether it was helping my mother scour the sale rack for stickers to use in her own classroom or seeing the look of gratitude on her face when thanking the moms who volunteered at the various district-wide events she organized and hosted each year, I grew to value the importance of parental participation in the classroom. And, even more importantly, I learned the importance of listening and responding to teachers’ requests.[…]

When I dropped off the new toys yesterday, his teacher was overwhelmed. So much so that she asked if she could give me a hug to say thank you. I told her it was the least I could do. And I meant it. After all– in choosing childcare, we trust a great deal to the folks who spend each day with our children. I was more than willing to help ensure that she had everything necessary to continue doing an excellent job fostering the creative and loving learning environment for [my child] and his classmates.

My greatest thanks are for all the teachers and students who pay it forward.

November 8, 2013

Super Bowl #eduwin

Filed under: Digital media and learning competition,edtech,learning,myscilife,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:47 am

When learning works, it feels like a Super Bowl victory to a teacher. Unlike the Super Bowl, we receive no media hype, give no interviews, wear no ring, never have a sexy half time show, and certainly don’t make a profit on clever commercials. But we celebrate as best we can, and it feels GOOD. We WON! #eduwin!

Today I celebrate a BIG victory: MySciLife WORKS! And now we can share the report that proves it. Both the documented learning and the act of publishing the report are victories. Believe me, I am celebrating!Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 12.41.08 PM

Key findings in the report:

  • When asked to compare MySciLife to their experience with traditional methods of science instruction, most students replied that MySciLife helped them understand content, that they enjoyed the social interaction, and that MySciLife was fun and creative.
  • Three out of four groups using MySciLife showed a statistically significant increase in students’ science content knowledge as compared to the control groups using traditional instruction.

The background:

Almost four years ago, three creative teachers got together and dreamed up MySciLife, an entry in the 2010 MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning competition. A few months later, we were finalists. Then we “lost.” We did not receive the funding. I blogged throughout the process and have shared more as the project moved ahead in new venues. Fast forward to 2012, and we had enough funding to conduct a limited research pilot of MySciLife with middle school science teachers, collecting data throughout the 2012-13 school year. We watched the dream unfold and shared it at the ISTE conference 2013.

Unlike the Super Bowl, the learning game does not end. As MySciLife moves well into its second year and a much-expanded control group study, the players are going without a huddle, eager to engage with each other inside MySciLife. The teachers meet for monthly collaboration where learning also happens. Unlike the Super Bowl, the “coaches” cooperate and share strategies. Unlike a football game, there are no losers. We share the triumph as we watch learning unfold.

Today feels like a Super Bowl victory for social media-based learning, and we won unopposed. Here’s to us!

October 25, 2013

A TechToy Story: Why tech geeks fail and edtech coaches succeed

Filed under: edtech,ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Network,Ok2Ask,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:48 am

This is a fable — of sorts.

After sharing the joy of figuring out a new tech toy for online professional development sessions, the tech geek (TG) and the edtech coach (ETC) stopped for a quick chat.

TG: Looks perfectly simple. Shouldn’t be any problems.

ETC: I wonder if the iOS app version looks the same.

TG: I’m sure it’s close enough.

ETC: Did we test to be sure the links in chat were clickable? We do send teachers off to explore things then come back to share a lot during these sessions. That gets them involved as learners.

TG: Who can’t figure out how to use a link?

ETC: IF the links are clickable, that’s great.

TG: They can copy/paste, can’t they?

ETC: I’ll have to test to be sure that the iOS copy handles are available inside the app chat box.

TG: I don’t have time to load an app just to check that.

ETC: I’d rather check now than start a session with people saying things don’t work. Do you know if the Android app looks like the web interface? Or the iOS version?

TG: You’ve gotta be kidding me.

ETC: I know some people have trouble using the little text selection handles to copy in iOS. And that’s if  the copy tool works at all in this app.

TG: Just show them how when they get to the session.

ETC: We aren’t screensharing from a tablet…. Wait, do you know how they enter a session if they are on the app version?

TG: No idea. They’ll figure it out.

ETC: Yeah, except for the ones who need professional development the MOST. This gives them an excuse not to try.

TG: They’ll get some kid to help.

ETC: I hope so. But this is after school.

TG: You’ve gotta be kidding me.

ETC: I’ll check both apps and give the hesitant teachers a few screenshots on our wiki — or email to them.

TG: You’ve gotta be kidding me.

ETC: I can see why they get frustrated when they didn’t even have the tablets to play with until the first week of school. I wish they’d take one home… Maybe I can host an online play session one evening and give them prizes for coming.

TG:  You’ve gotta be kidding me. You coddle them.

ETC: No, I respect them. I expect them to learn, but I know where they’re coming from. And every one of them is different. Like the kids in their classrooms.

TG: Kids aren’t that different. They’ll figure it out.

ETC: Glad you weren’t my teacher.

TG: Be a teacher?  You’ve gotta be kidding me.


Moral: Effective edtech coaching means constantly imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes. 

October 18, 2013

Dream tools for ANY writer, including your students

Filed under: creativity,edtech,teaching,writing — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:09 am

pencil-leafIf you frequent this blog, you know that writing matters to me. As a teacher, I helped many a student improve his/her writing skills, even when the subject was not “English” or “Language Arts.” As a college prof helping educate teachers-to-be, I emphasized the importance of writing for a teacher’s professional presence, even in the short notes scribbled to go home in a backpack or in the short paragraph of directions at the start of an assignment. Today’s Common Core underscores writing across the curriculum as part of college and career readiness. If you cannot write, you are very limited in what you can accomplish. Even the carpenter who left notes during my basement  renovation had to write understandably so I knew what he was asking. So, yes, writing is a passion of mine. In this post I share two recent Featured Sites from TeachersFirst that sing out to me.

One focuses on poetry. Poetry, while not a life skill, certainly celebrates the power of a single, carefully selected word. Like the scarf that picks up the blue in your eyes or the bright orange sweat socks that define your persona as a tennis player, a single word can relate far more than its own meaning. A tool like Tranquillity  lets us play with poetry. Poems are infinite jigsaw puzzles of ideas: the piece with a green edge and one with a curly, jagged side fitting together after you flip them around until they make sense. Tranquility lets you play with words and shows the value of one word to fulfill a rhyme and hit the final note of your thought melody. Play with some words in Tranquillity. (This really should be an iPhone app to de-stress people waiting in lines!) Share it in a science class, and challenge students to write poems to explain Newton’s Laws or to tell the tale of oxidation/reduction in chemistry. Even self-described “tech nerds”  like those who created Tranquillity enjoy poetry.

The second, Slick Write, is my dream tool. I have been looking for this tool since I was fellow in the Capital Area Writing Project in the early 1990’s. I tested a simple piece of software back then that could tell a writer about such things as the number of prepositional phrases in a passage. Why bother?  A surfeit of prepositional phrases means you have weak or imprecise word choice. As a statistician would put it, conciseness of writing varies inversely with the number of prepositional phrases. (Take that, data mongers!). Slick Write also targets other writing foibles: passive voice, cliches, and much more. You can configure it to focus your writing self-analysis on one area at a time. (Sports coaches know the importance of focused correction in skill building.)

I like Slick Write I so much I’d like to politely share it with my adult friends and colleagues, especially those who… well, don’t get me started on the amount of passive voice I read. Try it secretly and see if it makes a difference in how you write.

—————Stop reading here if you don’t care about the example——————-

Slick Write analysis of the above: (I have bolded the things I wish to improve)

Words: 508
Function words: 217 (42.72%)
Adverbs: 22 (4.33%)
Pronouns: 66 (12.99%)
Uncommon words: 69 (13.58%)
Filter words: 9 (1.77%)

Avg. word length: 4.61
Passive voice index: 9.84
Prepositional phrase index: 108.27 (The tool explains that a score above 100 means you should consider revising)
Automated Readability Index: 9.31
Unique words: 284 (55.91% of total words)
Unique function words: 61 (21.48% of unique words)
Unique uncommon words: 59 (20.77% of unique words)
Paragraphs: 4
Average paragraph length: 6.50 sentences


October 11, 2013

Declare victory! (and send a colleague where he/she belongs)

Filed under: edtech,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:07 pm

winTeachers don’t brag. In fact, most teachers usually minimize their accomplishments by pointing out the shortcomings. When complimented on a really cool lesson or activity, the first thing they usually tell you is what went wrong or took too long or didn’t come out exactly as planned. After that, they tell you about the one student who didn’t finish or the parent who complained. If none of these problems occurred, the teacher will surely tell you what he/she needs to do to make it better next time or that it wasn’t really his/her idea in the first place. He/she saw it on… (TeachersFirst… or Pinterest?)

Declare victory! Share your student’s successes, however small they might seem to an outsider, via “What is your #eduwin?”  I have written about #eduwin before, but it bears repeating. And now there is even more reason to report an #eduwin.

If you have seen an #eduwin occur in a colleague’s (or your own child’s) classroom, now you have a chance to highlight that success and send that teacher where he/she belongs. You can nominate someone for an #eduwin award — a chance for that teacher to share the #eduwin at the Annual CUE conference in March, 2014 in Palm Springs, CA. (CUE is the California group of Computer-Using Educators, a strong and creative edtech bunch made up of teachers and edtech users/coaches like you.) You can declare the learning victory of students who “get it,” of a culminating or motivator project that sings, or of a small win over confusion… even something as small as kids who finally use there, their, and they’re correctly!

As October spins headlong toward Thanksgiving, help the rest of the world know,”There are amazing things happening in education every minute.” As the #eduwin site asks, “What did you see?”

You could be sending a very deserving (and self-effacing) teacher on a professional trip that will be his/her personal learning #eduwin! At the very least, you tried.