Student Voices

Many people have written lately about listening to students and using their feedback to guide instruction and decision making. Recently, a colleague of mine and I created a survey for the students to take in our junior high. One of the questions was what you would tell someone about your experiences at our school. This is a short video with select quotes from the student's responses. We had over 650 of our nearly 800 students take the survey so this is just a small sampling. There certainly were some negative comments, but the overwhelming majority of the comments was positive. I encourage everyone to create a survey and ask their students what they think. If nothing else, it is a good reinforcement that you are doing good work. Kids are honest and their feedback is more valuable than any administrative observation...sorry administrators! :)

Goals for a New Year

As many of us approach the New Year we often reflect on the past year and set goals. We call these New Year’s resolutions but I think they are the same as goals. This is my list of goals for the upcoming year and I feel like posting them might help make me stick to them… and I hope my PLN will keep me honest!

1 – I will get more people on Twitter

I have written about Twitter in past blogs and how powerful of a tool I think it is. In 2011, I want to convince more of my colleagues to be a part of the collaboration and learning that I know is a crucial part in my professional development.

2 – I will unplug more

I am a tech junkie and will be the first to admit that. However, I am going to try to unplug more and actually set times to do so. I want to spend more time reading for pleasure, exercising, playing with my kids, and take time to play some video games…

3 – I will create more tutorials

I am constantly asked how to do things by coworkers and I am happy to help. However, I have started making tutorials on some simple computer tasks that have proven quite useful. It is nice because I can post them on our network drive and teachers/students can access them whenever they need to. I want work on creating a library of tutorials that cover a variety of simply and complex topics.

4 – I will run a half marathon

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I have done a variety of 5K and duathlon races over the past five years. This spring/summer I want to sun a half marathon with my wife…

5 – I will finally become a recognized Jedi

I have undergone a great deal of training but have yet to be recognized by the counsel… I look to make the final step this year.

6 – I will email or call 5 student’s parents a week

Too many of our student’s parents never hear from a teacher unless there is something wrong. As teachers, we only call home when a kid is failing, has a discipline problem, or some other negative purpose. I am going to either call or email five parents for a positive reason on a weekly basis.

7– I will start a book

This is one of those bucket list items for me that I have thought about for a few years now. I used to present at the introduction to education classes at the college I did my undergrad work. When I spoke to the classes I would share my experiences and what to expect in the first years of teaching. I was always encouraged to formulate those thoughts into a book… and this year I want to make the effort to at least get that started…

8 – I will expand my PLN

I have been actively involved on twitter for about the past three months and my PLN grows daily. I want to continue to expand my PLN and tap the invaluable and innumerable resources available at the click of my mouse.

9 – I will write at least five grants

I have been successful over the past years in writing grants and putting more technology into my student’s hands. At this time I have one grant pending for some Flip Cameras and have plans for at least five more over the next year at various grant outlets.

10 – I will read more than I write – listen more than I speak – solve more problems than I complain about

This is probably going to be the hardest one for me but probably my most important on the list. These three items will apply to every facet of my life. The goal of this item is to be more reflective in my life with an eye on making things better.

Potty-Training and Rewards

I was not planning on posting a new blog today since most people are busy with family, friends and holiday preparations. The reason for this post is that I realized today that I am a hypocrite. I have always been an opponent of incentives and rewards systems in class. I have tried to even downplay grades in my classroom with standards based grading and make learning the goal. In addition, I have always had a problem for rewarding students what they should be expected to do anyway.

With that being said I am currently potty-training my two year old son and this is where I have had a bit of a change of heart. About twenty minutes ago he finally went potty on the toilet and I rewarded him with a few M&Ms. My wife and I did the same thing with our older son when he was potty-training. I can tell you that both my boys are only going on the toilet initially because of the M&Ms dangling in front of their nose. They are not going on the potty because of some intrinsic motivation or self directed learning. I know there are kids out there that just decide to use the toilet, but for the rest of us that is not how it works.

So, here I am using rewards to get my kids to go on the toilet and I am wondering how this theory would work in my classroom. While my 5 year old no longer gets M&Ms to go on the toilet, it was those little candies that got him started on the road to potty-training. The key was to get him started and then gradually pull the reward away.

In my Social Science class, I recently did a concept map with my co-teacher and we had these left over yellow star cutouts. For the past week when we noticed kids doing something good we wrote their name on the star and gave it to them. While this is such a small “reward” the kids loved it. It encouraged other kids to pay more attention, get their books out quickly, engage in the activities, etc. Now, we don’t hand these out regularly and try to pace ourselves so it doesn’t lose it novelty.

Again, I am not all for rewards or a full blown incentive system, but for some kids a little reward or recognition can get them on the right path that should/will ultimately lead to a love a going on the toilet…and learning!

Change or Innovation?

Recently, I posted about being an agent of change, and I would like to clarify and change some of my previous statements. The word change sometimes freaks people out because it implies that we are doing something wrong and need to change. While there are cases where this is true, I like to think that in most cases we are just evolving. Take what we are doing and finding ways to do it better and more effectively for our students. To me this is innovation and I have had a lot of recent questions in response to me video post. The question I get is, “what does innovation look like?” Here are a few tangible examples from my classroom over this past two years.

Grading: I have changed my grades to be more specific and based on learning standards. I no longer grade based on participation, compliance, or general school related behaviors. A student’s grade in my class is directly related to their mastery of learning standards and nothing else.

Assessments: My assessments are now directly related to the learning standards and not just a photocopy out of a textbook resource book. I also have multiple versions of assessments that offer a variety of options for showing mastery. Some are pencil and paper tests while a majority are project based and individualized to a student’s needs. In addition, students are given multiple opportunities to show mastery which removes the test and performance anxiety.

Homework: I no longer assign homework…on the rare occasion that I do, it is not a part of a student’s grade. I view homework as practice and preparatory work. You are not judged on how you practice in basketball; the game is all that counts. In class, the practice or homework and class activities prepare you for the “game” which is the assessment activities.

Technology: The use of technology in my class is varied, routine, and hard to predict. Most people by default think you are being innovative and forward thinking just because you have a SmartBoard in your room or kids are on laptops. I disagree with that and strive to make sure the technology is pushing the learning further and not just a “cool thing” in the room. I use technology to offer another outlet for different learning styles and as a resource to push learning past the lecture and textbook.

Again, these are just a few examples of things that I have done to evolve my teaching and continue to be innovative. I try not to be innovative just say that I am…there is no value in that. I try to innovative to simply make the learning experiences for my students richer and more valuable.

Power of Choice

There is a lot of talk about best practice in education right now and the changes that need to be made. First and foremost, the fact that we are at least thinking and talking about change this is a positive sign. In an effort to increase motivation and learning in my class we have been harnessing the power of choice. While this may seem like such a simple concept, the outcomes are simply amazing.

Many people are aware of Sugata Mitra’s work and his “Hole in the Wall” programs in India and his work in London. One of the basic premises behind his ideas is choice. Students are choosing what they researched based on what they were interested in and/or wanted to learn. This appears to be a very basic principle but with great impact.

Recently, a colleague of mine, Rob Hunt, and I have been letting go of control a bit in our classes. We have been giving students more freedom in their learning and it is largely based on choice. I have used this analogy before; we are giving kids the destination but not the turn by turn directions. Instead of lecturing to students or organizing a step-by-step project on a given topic, we are giving the students a topic and telling them to determine how they want to find, organize, and present their information. This is a concept that is being used in certain professional developments (@L_Hilt) and is the backbone of twitter (@PB_H).

With only a few times of this idea being used in our classroom, the results are amazing. Students are engaged throughout the entire time period we set for them to work and are often taking the work outside of the classroom. In one instance, I had students staying two hours after school while I held a basketball practice because they want to keep working. Many are choosing to work collaboratively and deepen their learning through constructive conversation. They are finding information and then synthesizing that information into a final product to serve of learning evidence. At the heart of it all is choice.

Next time you are writing a lesson plan, creating a project, or planning a staff development, ask yourself what role choice plays…the results are astounding.

What is Innovation?

 A lot of people are talking about innovation and what it means in education. Simply having students use a computer is not innovative. I summed up my thoughts on innovation with two pictures and a short video clip. How do you define innovation?

This is a revised version of my orignal video posted earlier this week. Comments welcome as always.

Traditional Learning Model

Innovative Teaching and Learning

Don't Touch the Mouse

My week was busy even by my standards… In my Social Science classes students were creating Photo Story projects for Ancient Greece. They were tasked with creating a story of the role culture played in Greek life. We used creative commons sites to gather pictures and a graphic organizer to get out facts together from our text. Today we got all our pictures in order and will narrate and finalize the movies on Monday.

In my Language Arts classes I told the students they had five days to create a product to show their understanding of sensory imagery in a piece of literature. I wrote about this project in my Cure for the Book Report post earlier in the week.

With both of these projects, a very valuable lesson was reinforced with me: Don’t Touch the Mouse. What I mean by this is that as a teacher it is very tempting to help a student by doing something for them. When you see them struggling to right mouse click and save an image, you want to grab the mouse and do it for them. It would be easier for me to just crop Johny’s pictures for him and align them on his timeline, but then he never learns how to do it. I am thinking of some fishing quote right now and feeding men… Anyways, whatever you do, don’t touch the mouse. Teach through your words and modelling and let students perform the tasks on their own. By not touching the mouse you empower students rather than enabling them.

Proud to Work Here

Last year I along with other team leaders in my building attended a series of training workshops aimed at defining and evolving our school's professional learning community. We defined and discussed the key components of a PLC and were tasked with presenting how we changed as a result of the training. Most groups chose to put a trifold board or PowerPoint together. Being the innovative folks that we are, we put together this video. The people in the video are a mix of team leaders as well as "regular" teachers. The impact of the training was not something that was exclusive to the leadership team, but building wide. We specifically addressed the components of a successful PLC so that is the text you see.

In reflecting on this project as well as my school vision project I feel blessed to work where I do. Surrounded by dedicated and innovative professionals, I wish everyone could experience what I do on a daily basis.

Cure for the Book Report

If you are a Language Arts/English teacher you know the book report drill. Student reads a book and then regurgitates the back cover in an elaborated form to turn in to you at the end of the month. As painful as these are to grade, they are even more painful for kids to write. When I think about the low level of engagement and thinking involved in such an endeavor, I have flashbacks to this scene with one of my favorite movie characters. In addition, what learning is actually happening with such an activity? I still make the kids read a book of their choice and teach a reading strategy for them to use. I instruct them that they will need to demonstrate their use of that reading strategy in some final end product. I give them no indication of what that final product has to be. This week my students were working on the final touches on their products. The reading strategy was using sensory images and this is what they are doing in place of a traditional book report:
• A play-doh claymation video using digital camera and MovieMaker

• A PowerPoint and a Prezi

• A movie trailer using digital camera and MovieMaker

• A play using sock-puppets and various “small” props

• A trifold board/scrap book combo with orginal pictures and content created using

• A diorama of a mansion with each room depicting one of the senses

I urge you to try to get out of the box and let your students use their creativity. Remember that the evidence of learning is what is crucial, not what the evidence looks like. Here is a sample/test book trailer that students did earlier this school year.

Teacher Resources

My recent posts have been a bit to philosophical and a bit too deep for me. I felt the need to get back to the basics and post something that can directly benefit teachers. Here are just a handful of resources that I have picked up and used as well as passed on to my colleagues and want to share to my PLN as well. Please read, comment, add your own, and share!

If you want ten alternatives to PowerPoint: Thanks @MZimmer557!

If you want to find pictures, videos, music, etc. that are free to use:

If you are looking to have your students make comic/animations:

If you are looking help your students make word clouds:  and

If you are new to Twitter and need help to get going:

If you are looking for a great visual of Blooms connected with web2.0 tools:  Thanks @ktenkely!

If you want to read a blog that guarantees to provoke your thinking:  Thanks @gcouros!

If you are looking to use your cell phone to broadcast to an audience via a phone blog:

Again, please share and add resources that you want to share. Thanks!

Be an Agent of Change

Today’s #edchat topic was what about the barriers and policies in education that educators deal with. In thinking back, my final comment to the group was “Be an agent of change for your student's learning and not just a complainer!” I have had some time to reflect on this and I wanted to give this a little more of my time to expand on what I meant. Sheryl Nussbaum recent wrote about a similar topic here:  I will be the first to say that I am a complainer when it comes to what I don’t have in terms of resources, time, technology, etc. However, I like to think that I am also an agent of change in my building. I will complain about things, but I will also do something about it. With that in mind, I want to put some ideas here that I have done myself that hopefully will help you to become an agent of change in your building.

• Write grants – Don’t complain about not having something if you are not willing to seek out money and help.

• Model new “stuff” – Do things yourself and be your own PR agent. Get other people to see you doing great work with kids that is new and innovative. If there is real value, people will join you.

• Get a PLN – Create a network of teachers that you can go to for support, guidance, and perspective. You don’t have all the answer, but somewhere someone does.

• Attend conferences – Go and find out what other people are doing and how they deal with similar issues.

• Present at conferences – Again, be your own PR agent and bring good press to your class and your school. Share the great work you and your students are doing.

• Talk to your administrators often – Getting your administration on board is key and a must. Has to be a partnership and must approach as a team effort. Key is to always put it in perspective of the students. If you want to change a policy, tell how a change helps students.

• Get allies – Get people in your own building to partner with you on projects and new initiatives. Strength in numbers always helps!

• Remember your customer – With everything you do, remember that the student’s needs trump anything and everything else. Students want change too…and they deserve it.

I leave you with one final thought…more of a question. What are you going to do this week to change the learning opportunities of your students? Don’t complain about what you don’t have, but rather use what you do have. In the slightly mutated words of JFK “Ask not what your administrator can do for you, but ask what you both together can do for your students…”

PS: Even with change needed, I still love what I do, a large majority of the people I work with and especially my twitter PLN…however, we can always do things better and I think we owe it to our students to try.

Tech Junkie

My name is Josh Stumpenhorst and I am addicted to technology. There, admitting it is the first step to recovery… But in the words of Amy Winehouse, I am not going to rehab

Now, most junkies don’t realize they have an addiction problem until their drug is taken away from them. This is exactly what happened to me last night. My normal Sunday routine is to put my kids to bed and head to my basement sanctuary and turn on Sunday Night Football. While the game is noise in the background I hop online for a few hours of reading blogs, writing blogs, catching up on twitter, and a whole host of other online activities.

As I booted up my computer I opened up Tweetdeck to catch up on the post from #edcampcitrus and #ecampnyc and none of my columns were loading…began to worry. Checked internet explorer with the same result…no connection and yet my wireless signal was strong and connected. I then got my ladder out and headed to the access panel to my attic and avoided a Clark Griswold moment. I got up there and reset my wireless hub in hopes that would fix it… no dice. I then called Comcast where I heard the pre-recorded message that the high speed internet in my area was down and they were working on it…great!

So, that brought me to my backup plan which was my new android phone where I could at least read updates on Twitter and hop online to do some blog reading. Again, I was disappointed to find my phone’s data connection not working. After two hours on the phone with tech support I had my entire phone “reset” which means all my stuff was gone. I spent the next hour getting all my accounts set back up on the phone. By that time I was down for the count and headed to bed incredibly frustrated and upset.

On the ensuing car ride to work I reflected on my experience and utter frustration of not having my beloved technology at my fingertips. I felt I had missed out on something and was “behind” the game before Monday morning even got rolling. I was a bit like Golum losing his precious, As I thought about this, I wondered if it was a good thing that I was so distraught about my lack of connection for just one evening. I need technology and I am not afraid to admit it. It is my drug. I need it to connect to people. I need it to research what I can do in my class to make learning better for my students. I need it to share my ideas and have my voice heard. I need it to see what else is out there. I need it to learn a new Chuck Norris joke. I need it break down barriers for me and my students. I need it to enrich my life and my student’s. I need it to go places I otherwise would never go.

My name is Josh Stumpenhorst and I am addicted to technology and I am proud of it!

Twitter Tutorial

I have recently spoke and chatted online with folks about the power of Twitter as a professional development tool. I have also posted to blog posts on my feelings and experiences with Twitter titled Twitter 101 and Twitter Has Changed My Life. Some of the reservation I have encountered is just the fear of the unknown and not knowing where to start. So, I hope this video will help get newbies started. The video quality is not as good as I would have liked due to the size of the file that I uploaded. If you are interested in obtaining a high def version to share direct message me on Twitter @stumpteacher.

In addition, I mention in the video some folks to follow on Twitter to give education people a starting point. Please comment on this post with some people you think would be good places to start for new "Tweeters".

Teachers are Professionals

Recently I saw a tweet that asked if teachers or parents were the final word on a child’s education. I have also had conversations with some overly involved parents that I know personally. In speaking to them it bothered me that at no point in time did they concede the idea that a teacher is in fact a professional. Personally, I have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and numerous other trainings and certifications on top of that including an additional 54 credit hours of graduate level work. And yet, even with all that education I am still seen as a teacher, rarely a professional.

The difficult thing is that I know I am not alone in my feelings on this. The phrase, “those who can’t do, teach” is one that is out there in society and we have all heard it. Going into teaching I know I wasn’t doing it for the glamour and certainly not for the money. However, I know that the job I embark in on a daily basis and the work I do with my colleagues is of great importance and holds implications on the future.

While I don’t want to diminish the role of a parent, I do think teacher’s have the final word when it comes to a child’s education. When my car is broken I take it to a mechanic. Why? They are trained professionals when it comes to fixing cars and making decisions about what is needed. When my plumbing is backed up I call a plumber. Why? They are trained professionals when it comes to fixing plumbing related issues. So, why is it that when it comes to educational decisions, our opinions as teachers are not always held in such a high regard. Now, I am not to say that we have not all experienced bad mechanics and plumbers. Also, I am not going to stand here and say that all teachers adhere to the gold standard. However, as teachers we are trained professionals that go through training to be experts in what we do. We need to remember that we are professionals and be confident in ourselves but also now that we need to always conduct ourselves in a professional manner to earn our due respect.

Next time a parent questions your decisions or makes you feel less than the professional you are, stand confident and trust in yourself as the trained teacher you are. On the other side of the coin, be supportive of new teachers and those that may have strayed from the path of good teaching. Remind them that we are professionals that need to be treated as such but also need to act in a manner that reflects that.

The Journey of SBG

Recently I posted about standards based grading and a few questions were asked of me via Twitter and email. I put together a brief video exaplaining my "journey" with standards based grading in my own classes. In the video I stress that I am not an expert, just a teacher trying to find a better way to grade student's learning as well as a better way of reporting student progress. This is still a work in progress and I welcome comments and questions!

10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Students

I recently read 10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Teachers by Liz Davis at  This got me thinking about this list in terms of students. I have taken Liz’s list and “tweaked” it a bit to reflect 10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Students. I left number 10 the same but simply changed teacher to student because that was perfectly written as it was and I could not agree more.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions!

1. It isn't really about the tool it is about how you use it: It isn’t about how pretty you make your essay using borders and clipart on Microsoft Word, it is about the content. The animations and sounds in PowerPoint are great but do they help demonstrate your learning or your message?

2. Differentiate: Provide lots of choices and options for students to use. Let them type an essay, create a movie, put together a photo story, use Crazy Talk to animate a “famous dead” person. Choices and options are key!

3. Don't be the only teacher in the room: Students know more than most teachers on a lot of the new programs and software out there. Let students teach each other and share their knowledge and experience. Make groups with a group leader who is proficient in the technology being used.

4. Ask lots of questions: Encourage your students to ask questions and look for answers with them. Don’t provide the answers to them but give them the opportunity to seek out the answers themselves.

5. Enlist your PLN: Have students work collaboratively with their PLN (Peer Learning Network). Before they ask the teacher a question have them ask their neighbor or peer in the classroom or connect online with Skype or another tool to other classrooms.

6. Remember there is great learning without technology: Remind students that they can show their learning without technology. Technology is a great resource but learning can be shown and can take place without technology.

7. Acknowledge your students' anxiety and expertise: While many students will come in with a more extensive skill set every year, some students simply do not have the technology access that other do. Some students walk into my classroom that has a reputation of being “technology heavy” and are anxious. That is where differentiated instruction and flexible grouping come in to play. The key is to have high expectations but to be aware enough to check everyone’s technology “pulse” from time to time.

8. Start with the early adopters: In every class there will be some kids that are far and above other student’s in their access, experience, and competency with technology. Get those students on board with your projects and let them be your models and you assistants in the room.

9. Have Student Observe Each Other: If you can, get students to see other students who are more advanced than them. They can learn from each other and pick up ideas just from watching. In addition, through those observations they will feel more comfortable talking to a peer than a teacher about things they don’t understand.

10. Don't touch the mouse: “Tie your arm behind your back if you have to, but try not to take over mousing for your (students). This is one of the hardest things for me to do, but also one of the most important. When people mouse they learn to do things themselves, when I do it for them they learn to watch me do it.”

Do Something... Twitter 101

I sit here contemplating my upcoming week that includes coaching two basketball games, running a student council meeting, attending a building leadership meeting, running three team meetings, preparing my biweekly news show broadcast, a post observation meeting with my principal, reading new blog posts, participating in #edchat, presenting Twitter to my team, and TEACH my Social Science and Language Arts classes. It is a busy week but this is pretty much par for the course I play.

With all those things on my plate I was thinking about a recent blog post by Jeff Delp at He challenges us to stop talking and “do” something. I could not agree with him more. Over this past Thanksgiving I was talking to my brother in law about Twitter and he initially scoffed at the idea that it was worth his time. It didn’t take long but I finally got him on board and he is just starting the educational journey that is the Twitter stream. After reading Jeff’s post I wanted to take it a step further than simply one convert…

I am a team leader within in my building and often struggle to find agenda items that are worth my colleague’s time given the time constraints we are all under. I am not a fan of meeting for the sake of meeting. So, tomorrow I am going to preview Twitter and try to get a few more contributing members to my PLN and hopefully yours as well. Here is my rough outline for how it worked for me and how I will present it to my team.

Twitter 101

Step One: Head to and sign up for a free account.

Step Two: Download and install TweetDeck at

Step Three: Follow a few key folks in the educational realm. I will be suggesting: @justintarte, @tomwhitby, @brokenairplane, @web20classroom, @L_Hilt, @thenerdyteacher, @kylepace and of course I will suggest myself @stumpteacher

Step Four: Add columns to keep tabs on some key discussions. The ones I will suggest are #edchat, #midleved, #sschat, #scichat, and #ntchat. Head to for a complete listing of the different conversations out there in Twitter thanks to @cybraryman!

Step Five: Read, Read, Read and Think. Spend at least a few days or weeks just reading what is out there and soaking up all the resources shared and conversations happening. To start it is very overwhelming to try to keep up. Your first experience with a Tuesday #edchat will blow your mind if you try to keep up on live stream via TweetDeck.

Step Six: Retweet what you read and agree with or think is worth sharing. This gets your name out in the stream and people appreciate their work be retweeted and shared out.

Step Seven: Share your thoughts and ideas with the groups you are following. Be a contributor and engage in conversations with people all over the world. If you want your Tweets to show up in those specific conversations remember to use the hashtags.

What's an "A" mean anyway?

Just read a recent post by @L_Hilt at and it got me thinking. I have been in the midst of reflecting on the practice of grading for a few years now. Starting two years ago, a colleague of mine, Rob and I decided to look at how we were grading in our Language Arts classes. Neither one of us were happy with how kids were being assessed. What it boiled down to was that students who turned in neat, creative work on time were those that received an "A". Often times those students were not learning more or less than anyone else but rather they were "good students." That lead us to investigate standards based grading or at least a version of it.

Last year we took all the Language Arts standards and aligned every activity we did in class around those standards. When it came time to assessing student's work, we only looked at their level of mastery on those standards. Regardless of when work was turned in, or how neatly it was done, their grade was purely reflective of there attainment of that particular Language Arts standards. For the first time in my teaching, I could give a student an "A" and feel 100% confident that that grade was reflective of their achievement and not other behaviors that often figure into a traditional model.

This past week before the Thanksgiving holiday we had an institute were we discussed this idea of standards based grading. One idea that came up and got me thinking was as a parent, those behavioral components are crucial to the development of your child. School should be a place to develop responsibility, compliance, and good work habits. However, how do we monitor that without mixing it in with their achievement grade. One idea was to have to separate grades show up on the report card. A student would get a grade based on their achievement toward learning standards and another one based on the behavioral component of school. I like that idea as it gives good feedback and makes it very clear how a student is learning as well as behaving. While those two things are often related, should a student's grade solely reflect their learning?

Personally, I would love to see a report card that is simply more than a letter grade that leaves parents to interpret exactly what that letter means...

Give Thanks!

As I sit in the lobby of my sons' gymnastic classes, I felt it appropriate to reflect on the holiday looming tomorrow. Most of us like to take this time to reflect on what we are thankful for in our personal lives. I wish to very briefly mention the things that I am thankful for in no particular order.
  • I am thankful for the creators of Twitter for giving me a place to interact with educators around the world and engage in rich professional development constantly.
  • I am thankful for the colleagues that I have who I will not name, for their willingness to put up with my impulses to try new things in my classroom.
  • I am thankful for the local education foundation that has helped fund my efforts to continue technology integration in my classroom and my peers'.
  • I am thankful for the parents of my students who support what I do and help create a strong partnership between home and school.
  • I am thankful for my administrators for getting out of my way when I want to try something new and let me continue to push the envelope in the name of student learning.
  • And finally... I am thankful for my students and their frustration with mediocrity in their education that pushes me to never be mediocre when it comes to their learning.
I hope everyone has a great holiday!

Waiting on the World to Change

Many people have seen the video from  about the "new" vision of students. This video was set in a college setting but I think the points mentioned were valid and apply more universally. I took that video and formed my own set of questions and asked some colleagues in my building with is a 6-8 Junior High. The questions were aimed to see what teachers were doing to help get kids engaged and involved in their learning. This is the product with the help of John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”. I tried to do it in one continuous take but that didn't turn out like I had hoped... here is what I came up with though. All of the teacher responses are genuine and self-created from their own answers.

Keeping in the spirit of the education reform blog day this will serve as my submission. I know we are supposed to advocate for better rights for teachers and more support for the work we do. However, at the end of the day we are the reform within our own classrooms and schools. The reality is, we work in districts and schools that have rules and parameters that we must follow. While we might not always agree with them, those are what we must deal with. As a result, I choose to “change” my own world within my classroom. I want to reform what I do to give my student’s the best learning chances possible within the constructs of the parameters of my school. I will still work for change and reform, but if I keep waiting for the change, I miss the opportunity to make small changes every day that can go a long way.

Reflections on IETC 2010

This year I was only down in Springfield for the final day of IETC and saw some great presentations. I wanted to share some of the information that I saw and pass along the knowledge. First of all, those that stopped by and saw my presentation of Movie Magic click this link to get the file download for the blue screen transition for Movie Maker. Just take the file and copy it into the Movie Maker folder and into a self created folder titled "shared files".

A few things to share for those that were not here...not all of these are brand new ideas but a good refresher for some of us:

A great little session on creating Book Trailers in your Language Arts classroom. Link to presentation below. My students are currently working on these so I look forward to using some of these techniques to fine tune my own work.

Was thoroughly impressed with Noah Phipps and his presentation on transitions. He has created musical transitions complete with prompts to help his students reflect on their work and provide closure to activities. This guys is truly talented! Check out his site and click the "podcast" link on the top for some great work

Attended a session focused on using web 2.0 tools in a Social Science classroom. Check out the site below and view the links on the left. Some new ones that I was not in tuned with.

Thanks for all the sharing and great presentations!

Movie Magic and the Power of Sharing

As I am preparing for another IETC conference I am reflective about why I decide to present at these conferences. I was talking to a colleague of mine and mentioning that I was going to be out of the building to do a presentation at IETC as well as attend some sessions. His first question to me was, "are they paying you to present?" Not sure if it was too early in the morning or not, but the question struck a nerve with me and caused me to reflect. Clearly, I am not being paid to present and don't see anytime in the future when people will be paying to hear what I have to say. Of course, I am not doing this for the money. I know that is a phrase many educators have said more times than we can count. However, the fact that someone would only want to share their experiences and knowledge for money was a rather ignorant belief to me.

So, why take a day off work and put time into preparing a session to present to a room full of strangers? For me the answer was simple, to share. One of my biggest frustrations is that teachers too often don't share and hide behind their classroom doors. I enjoy seeing what is going on in other places in my building, my district, my world. I look into those places not with a critical eye, but with the eye of a student. Keeping that in mind I want to see what is working well in other places and bring that into my classroom to benefit my students.

Back to my original question... I enjoy presenting because I get a chance to share the amazing work that my students have done. My hope is that something they have done will spark an idea or interest that will be brought to another classroom and another group of students. For those of you out there hiding good ideas behind your classroom doors, I ask you to open the door and share your knowledge with the rest of us.

With that in mind I share a short video clip that will be a part of my IETC presentation tomorrow. This particular video was done by a small group of students in my Social Science class. They were tasked with sharing contributions of the Indian Emperor Asoka. Rather than turning in the typical paragraph or PowerPoint they decided to write a short rap. Enjoy!


In my school we toss the word innovation around quite a bit as a way to help change and evolution happen. Some people think that simply using technology is innovative and forward thinking. If you would have asked me if I was innovative three years ago, I would have said, "yes" with no hesitation. I was using laptops almost daily in my Language Arts and Social Science classes. My students could create brochures in Publisher and do some pretty amazing PowerPoint presentations. To even think of those things as forward thinking or innovative today would be laughable. PowerPoint itself has almost became a dirty word in my building. I was using technology because I could and basically to say I was using it. Looking back, I could not make a compelling argument that anything I was doing was innovative. I was on the bandwagon of technology in the classroom and felt comfortable that was I was "in" as long as I was using it. Nevermind that the basic conceptual things my students were doing has not changed. Reading journals were now done on a computer... but they were still reading journals.

At a recent team leader meeting our principal had us read a great article by Frederick Brown titled "Just How Forward Thinking Are You?" One of the details I really gravitated to was that if you pulled a teacher out of 1909 they would be able to function and teach without a problem. They might not be able to use a data projetor with a Smart Board, but could they not grab the chalk and still teach? This got me to thinking about the work I was doing with technology. I wanted to make sure I was using technology to help push learning and not just for the sake of using it. I initially signed up for twitter to say I was on... now I can't imagine my life without it given all the learning and collaboration that takes place. Instead of those reading journals, I am now have students doing podcasts as a character from their books, creating book trailers, and bringing their characters alive in Crazy Talk. My goal is now to use the technology to deeper my student's understanding of a character, a concept, or event in history. I view my technology use in class not as a fad but now as a tool to differentiate my students work and help them push the limits of their learning. My goal is to ask myself the question, "am I using this technology because it is cool or because it will help my students learn?"

Voice of the Students

As a teacher we are most prone to having our decision making driven by our personal feelings, prior experiences, administrative feedback, and basic time constraints. We like to teach lessons we are comfortable with and have had success with in the past. Pulling from our own experiences in life we craft learning activities that we think our students will connect with. If we are being evaluated we use administrative feedback or suggestions to determine what and how we present material to our classes. Plus, if you are like me, there are times when plans and decisions are made in the shower or the commute to work in the morning. How often though are we asking students what is working and not working for them? Do we ever give them a chance to tell their story and give us their input?

Those were some questions I had asked myself over the past few months and decided to go about doing something about that. A friend and colleague of mine decided to create a student survey for the junior high that we teach at. We wanted to ask questions that got at the heart of the learner and what we were doing as teachers and as a school that impacted their learning. Our goal was to use the results of this survey to paint a picture of what a student experiences at our school. Overall the results were very positive and confirmed what we were doing was good and having an impact on kids learning in a positive way. However, there are still students that expressed concerns and raised questions that need to be addressed.

What I find interesting is just how much you can learn about your students and in turn yourself as a teacher just by asking. Many of the decisions we make on a daily basis, we do with the best intentions and with hopes of positively impacting our students. However, if we never stop and check in with the students, we don't know what is working and what is not. A full school wide survey worked well for us, but it can be something as informal as those conversations in the hall and lunchroom. The key thing is that you must listen to all the voices, not just the kids who want to speak up. It is often the quiet and unheard voices that have the most to say, and if an anonymous survey is the answer, then give it a try. If nothing else, it will help affirm what you are already doing!

Jedi Power!

At my school, like many, we have a character education program aimed at building positive character traits in our students. Ours is called P.R.I.D.E. and each letter stands for a different quality we look for in our students. Throughout the school year we do various activities to help students recognize the qualities in themselves and others. We also try to help them realize the benefits of having "PRIDE" and how it can ultimately make you a better person. The computer club that I supervise has been doing some ad campaigns for PRIDE by creating commercials that air on our school video news broadcast. Currently we are mimicking the GEICO commercials. With a little help from a green screen and some creativity, the results have been great. This one is the latest one that they wanted to do that included me. While I am not normally included in the news show programs, I couldn't resist when they asked me to be a Jedi! Again, the power of digital media to engage an audience (students!) is once again proven.

Twitter Has Changed My Life (professionally speaking...)

Yes, you read that correctly, Twitter has changed my professional life. Jeff Goldstein wrote a wonderful article about Twitter being the new water cooler. I could not agree with him more. 

It was not too long ago that I sat at the annual ICE conference in St. Charles, IL in a Twitter conference and thought to myself, "how in the world is this going to work in schools?" I could not see any way in which I would use this tool in my classroom or in my professional life. That all changed about three months ago...

I took some advice of a friend and started small. Just pickings some random folks, I started consuming and just following others. From @azizansari to @teach42, I followed everyone that was a comedian I watched on TV and picked up a few education folks as well. Within a few weeks I had removed the "fluff" and stuck just with the education personalities. I knew a few of these tweeps personally so I trusted them and therefore grabbed some of the folks they were following.

Before long, I downloaded tweetdeck and have constant streams for a variety of education related streams. I honestly can't get enough of it! My district blocks twitter so I use tweetdeck to get my updates at school. I look forward to my weekly #edchat conversations where I soak up and now contribute as well.

I recently tweeted that I have learned more on Twitter in the past month than nearly eight years of traditional professional development... and I mean it. Being able to connect to tweeters all over the world and see what is going on is amazing. One of the chief complaints I have always had is that teachers traditionally don't share well. This is due to either a fear of rejection of their ideas or a lack of time and opportunity to do so. Twitter takes those excuses out of the equation by allowing teachers to tweet in "safety" as well as it is versatile in time. You can hop on when it is convenient for you and there will always be someone there to talk with.

If you are not on yet... get on as soon as possible and you can add me to your list so I can follow you @stumpteacher Happy Tweeting!

Talking Heads

Most language arts teachers struggle to get unmotivated readers to attach and connect with their novels and specifically their characters. There are many ideas out there about how to help these kids and what works and what doesn't. For each kid there is typically a different variable that gets them "plugged" in. I have found a neat little activity that has helped me in this area. I have students use the context clues as well as details within the story to create a "police sketch" of a character. They then take those pictures and put them into the facial animation program, Crazy Talk. Once in there, they give their characters voices and have conversations. For the particular example I posted, I have the students asking each other questions and answering them from the perspective of the character they are portraying. Don't mind the background noses as I was doing this in a full classroom with multiple groups working at once. This could be applied to just about any reading strategy and it a great way for students to engage in what they are reading. My students really enjoyed this and want to do it all the time now!

This is one of many little "commercials" I do with my Social Science class. I find it easier to have students retain knowledge when they "do" something with it. I typically do them at the end of a chapter to review what they know. This particular one was an advertisement format for a product or innovation in history. This was taped in front of a big piece of green construction paper and then chromo-keyed out in Pinnacle, but could be done in a whole host of programs out there.

Science Videos

I am not a science teacher, nor do I play one on television. However, I was passed this website from a fellow "tweeter" and thought it worth sharing. It appears to have short videos clips for all the elements on the periodic table. I have not played with it enough to see if you can pull the videos off the site. They look to be through youtube so you could grab them from there using a downloader. Personally, I like using  Enjoy!

News Show Broadcast

I have attached a sample news show broadcast that my students and I did. As part of a computer club that I supervise, we create a bi-weekly news program that is broadcast to the entire school. We use a huge green screen in my classroom for most of the news desk footage. I started out a few years back with a simple piece of green construction paper and have evolved since then. We use a sony handycam for the recording and import it into Pinnacle on our PC to do the editing. The book trailer was done by a student using imovie on his personal mac. I muted certain sections to avoid using names and cut some other sections out for reasons to avoid sharing student names that were in the broadcast. Enjoy!

Simple Podcasting

At the beginning of this school year my old laptops were replaced with a newer model that came with a webcam. Today was my first attempt at actually using the webcams in my class. In Social Science we were doing some reading about the geography of Ancient Greece and how it impacted the settlement of people there. Rather than having students take notes or fill in a graphic organizer I had them create 30 second podcasts. I found that the students were not only more engaged in the activity but also in the reading itself. They new that they were going to be on camera and someone else was going to see it. I eventually posted them on my class website for other students and parents to view. The program we used was cybercam which I think came standard on the laptops. The one I attached here was from a student that discovered what I called the John Madden pen and decided to get a little creative.

Pigs Fly!!

Here is a short promo video my computer club put together for our bi-weekly news show. Not terribly clever... we took the idea from the newest run of Geico commercials. I took our narrator's audio into audacity and dropped in a few octaves for effect. We recorded just a random patch of sky behind the school and then took a picture of the furry bacon bites on the green screen in my room. Chromo-key it and add a squeal and it was all good to go. We will be doing a few other of this style that I hope to post later... enjoy!

Web 2.0 tools

Just passing this along... something I picked up off one of my twitter friends about another list of the top ten web2.0 tools out there. Many of these I am currently using or have used.

Just broad casted my first news show of the new school year this morning. Still going through some confidentiality issues so I can share some of the great work here on this blog. I hope to have something soon.

Crazy Talk meets Avatar creator.

Today I taught an introduction lesson to the Paleolithic Age of early humans. I created a caveman type avatar at and imported the image into the program Crazytalk . I then narrated/animated the avatar with a narration from some of the content I wanted to introduce to my students. To finish it off I pulled the movie into Pinnacle and added some picture in picture as well as titles. Here is the final product...

Ice breaker...

As most of us are getting going with the new school year, we are always looking for neat ways to break the ice. I have tried many different activities and some are better than others. I came across a neat website for the students to enter their birth dates and it gives them a brief report about what happened the day/year they were born. In class I have them look up their birth dates then share their reports. It helps them find something out about themselves as well as each other.

Text to Speech

As a Language Arts teacher, I am always looking for ways to help my students proofread and revise their writing. One of the most simple ways to do this is to have a student read their paper aloud to themselves and listen to what doesn't sound "right". This simple activity can help show inconsistencies in the flow of the writing and trouble areas in the grammar. A lot of students don't like to read their writing because it is tough for them to hear the problems when they read it themselves. If you partner kids up you can have them read out loud to each other which will help. Another option is if you have your kids go to When you go to this site you can have your students copy and paste their writing into the text field. The site will then create a audio file of that text that your students can listen to. It also gives you an option to download an MP3 file if needed. This is great because it is a digital voice reading with no emotion or attachment to the text. This will allow students to simply listen to the text and identify trouble spots in the writing.

Screen Capturing

As a teacher you are always trying to model good practice for students, especially when introducing a new concept. When it comes to technology there is always a spectrum of ability within your class and often times you have some students that can't seem to keep up with your demonstration or read along with the directions you have created. Screen capturing is the solution to this problem. Personally, I have been using Community Clips which was created in the Microsoft Labs. Although they are not still working on this product, you can still download it for free at: I like this program because it allows you to video capture everything that is happening on your desktop real time. In addition to the video capture, you can narrate using a microphone. When you are done doing a capture, it outputs the video directly into a windows media file that can easily be pulled into movie maker for additional editing if needed. Here is a sample of one I created a while back to introduce my new students to the various network drives on our school computers.

Another program that is out there is called Jing and is also a free download found at: It does many of the same things that Community Clips does with some additional features such as direct upload to Twitter and YouTube. They also have a Pro version for a minimal annual fee. Either one of these programs are great for capturing videos of demos you are doing on your computer. I have used this method numerous times when I am introducing a new technology to the students for the first time. The best thing is that once you create your video you can save it to a network drive or website so the students can refer back to it while they are doing their work.

Art Teacher... read on...

I have two websites to share will all those art teachers and wanna be artists out there. We all know how useful it is have students draw and illustrate in our content areas. The first resource is which is a drawing site where you can literally draw on the computer using either a mouse or some sort of a tablet pen. You can email your pictures as well as invite others to work on the same picture. When you invite a friend to work on your picture with you, two pens will appear and both can draw on the picture simultaneously.

The other site is and it is similar to the previous site but with more bells and whistles. You can create a sketch as with the previous site, but you have more options in terms of colors and drawing medium. Another unique feature is that you can view sketches already created by different users. When you view the sketches, you not only get to see the picture but you will see a video of the actually drawing being drawn. This would be a great modeling tool in an art class to see how the artists actually created their sketches one mouse stroke at a time.


Cure for the Disease that is PowerPoint

For those of you have officially seen too many PowerPoint presentations from a colleague or a student... or your self, there is help out there! There is no disputing that PowerPoint is the most used and viewed presentation software out there, but if you are like me, you want something different. The Microsoft Labs created a software add on called PPTPlex to help revamp the program but it did not work and they gave up on the project. So, that left me to search for something a little more interactive and not so linear in it's format.

One that I started using at the end of this past school year was prezi, which was passed on by a colleague of mine. You can sign up and use it for free at There are advanced versions that do come with the price, but the basic version is free and easy to use. To be the best features of this program is that it is not linear like PowerPoint and is more aesthetically  pleasing for your audience. On the site there are some great sample presentations created that can give you a great idea of what it possible with this program.

Chat Room for Class

If you are like me, you are constantly battling your students to get information out of them in terms of sharing their thoughts and ideas. However, if you checked their cell phones or their Facebook accounts, you would probably find out they have lots of thoughts and are not as "shy" as they appear in class discussions. Rather than spying into your student's inner thoughts, there is a neat tool that can help open that door up a bit. If you go to you can create a chat room on the fly. When you go to the site you will be prompted to create a name for your room as well as a time duration. You will then get a url right when you create the room that you can post on your website or physically give to your students. It is nice also, to put a limit on the chat room so that it will close when you are done using it for class.

Now that you have created this quick chat room you can use it in your classroom. For example, when students are watching those amazing History Channel clips, you can have them post thoughts and chat about what they are watching. This is better than them sitting trying to stay awake, and more stimulating that writing on a photocopied worksheet. Another idea could be to have students chatting while reading a novel or set up a collaborative project chatting about a topic with students in another school, state, or country!  Bottom line it is a simple and easy way to have students share their thoughts in an environment that they are increasingly more comfortable with.

Crazy Talk 6

For those looking for a great relatively cheap software program to add some spice to your lesson or projects, check out a program called Crazy Talk 6. You can get it at If you do some searching around you can get a cheaper education discount. I have used this program to have Abe Lincoln talk to my kids about the Gettysburg Address among other things. At the end of this past school year I had my Social Science classes use it to create biography sketches for some of the historical folks we studied. Here is a short example a student created for Martin Luther... enjoy!

For the Music Folks

Here are two more resources that I picked up at a session with Tammy Worcester at ISTE. These are great for music teachers but I can see some application in other areas as well. The first one is which allows you to create, edit, and download your own music. Even a novice musician can create some great music. Personally, I think of some of the little movie projects my students do and how cool it would be to let them spend some of their free time in class or at home creating some theme music that is authentic and theirs. I also plan on using this site to have my school News Show crew create our own personalized anthem. I am a PC guy and I hear this is a similar to Mac's garage band.

The other site is more specific to music and really to a piano player. When you go to you can turn your keyboard into a piano which is pretty sweet!


Welcome to my newly created blog. My intention and goal of this blog is to share technology tools for teachers and educators. I am a 6th grade teacher in suburban Chicago, IL and am always on the look out for the newest and greatest Web 2.0 application or something to help bring my curriculum to life in an engaging way. All of the stuff I will post here will be things I have either found or stolen from a conference or a colleague. I will do my best to give credit to all that I have stolen from! I will also do my best to share things that I have actually tried myself with "real life" students so if you have questions don't hesitate to ask!

The first tool I wanted to toss up is one I recently picked up at the ISTE conference in Denver, CO. Being a Language Arts teacher I like to find new ways to engaged kids in writing and vocabulary. One site that I think many teachers are familiar with is which allows you to create a word cloud or collage of sorts. However, it is fairly limited in terms of really going to the next step and creating shapes and more advanced options. So, check out and see the difference. Not only can you create the word clouds, but you can also manipulate those clouds into specific shapes. So if you are doing a poetry unit and want to have students take their writing and put it into shapes, this is your site. It is really just a fun way to get kids to interact with vocabulary. The great thing is that you can do this in any subject area. Think about taking your key vocabulary terms from your unit on Ancient Rome and putting it into the shape of Italy... cool stuff!