Stepping Aside

I’ve wanted to be a teacher ever since I was 15 years old. I remember the English teacher who helped me love having Socratic discussions. I remember the band teacher who challenged me as a young adult. I remember teachers coming to swim meets, concerts, plays, and even graduation parties when we were done with school.

As a teacher, I’ve continued to grow my love of teaching by working with my colleagues to grow in our practice. My first principal showed me that it was okay to ask questions as well as proudly share what we’re doing in our classes. Doing so taught me how to grow in my own learning. He also gave me the okay to go to my first professional conference, where I learned about Flipped Learning, where I first heard about TechSmith.

Through all of this, I’ve developed a new love of teaching teachers. I shared at my first conference after nearly a year of flipping, and I caught the bug. I continue to look forward to sharing successes, failures, insights, and questions, at conferences. I also look forward to being challenged and being forced to explain why I do what I do in the classroom. It’s where growth happens. It’s also where I feel like my career is taking me.

I went to Colorado in the summer of 2011 and shared my learning. It’s also where I got to meet Dave McCollom and Troy Stein for the first time. Ever since then, I have had a fantastic working relationship with TechSmith.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I’m very excited to (officially) announce that I’m going to be shifting into a new role at the beginning of March. TechSmith has asked me to join their Academic Team as the Academic Customer Solutions Engineer. So, what does that mean?

It means I’m going to be a resource for teachers regionally and across the nation. My purpose is to help teachers use technology in their classrooms more effectively. I’ll be the bridge between classroom practice and TechSmith as they look to help teachers solve problems through the better use of technology.

While the timing isn’t ideal, leaving in the middle of a school year, I believe this is the correct next step in my career. I’m simply stepping aside in order to serve where I believe I can make a greater impact. I won’t have my own classroom anymore, and that’s a very difficult thing for me at the moment. But, I’m looking forward to having my feet in many, many more classrooms as I transition into the new role. I’m excited to continue to work with everyone I’ve worked with in the past as well as people I have yet to meet.

#FlipCon13 Fliers

The 6th Annual Flipped Learning Conference is being held this June 17-19 in Stillwater, MN. Registration is open, and I took it upon myself to generate a little buzz with some Snagit fun. You can see each of the promotional fliers below. Feel free to repost them or Tweet.

We hope to see you in June.

Chemical Reaction Cards

I came in today and found out that every computer in the building is being used for testing for the entire week. That kind of threw off my plans. So, I came up with a quick activity I thought I’d share in case you’re in the same place with your chemistry.

We did an activity a week or so ago in which students placed chemical reactions into five categories based on their similarities. These, of course, were synthesis, decomposition, combustion, single replacement and double replacement. Today, we’re doing something similar with note cards. I’m hoping to see two things:

A) I’d like to see if they remember the indicators for each type of chemical reaction and B) They’ll copy down these representative reactions into their notes for reference as we move on in identifying reaction types.

Color coded cards. Photo is CC-SA by Brian.

I took example reactions and wrote each chemical down on an individual note card. I also threw in a couple of distractions to make sure kids were thinking about ion charges and bonding. I chose to put the balanced coefficient with the chemicals so kids have another clue to whether or not their reaction is correct (if it is right, it should be balanced).

They’re thinking and engaging with the cards, making critical decisions about which to include, and which to throw away. It is also forcing them to work together, listen to input, and make collaborative choices and then adjust based on feedback.

*UPDATE* – Since I’m doing this activity on the fly, I came across a problem I hadn’t anticipated. I noticed students were not putting the proper “punctuation” into their notes (plus signs and reaction arrows). To correct for this, I had them write them in neon marker on the tabletop to help them space the cards out correctly. You could also do this by including plus sign and reaction arrow cards in each set.

Cheesy Valentine’s Day

I saw a post from Alan Levine this morning that connected back to an old DS106 assignment. I’ve started dabbling in the 106 community this year, so I decided to give this one a crack. The assignment was to use a painted romance novel cover and overlay some text, making one of the creepiest Valentine’s Day cards ever. Here’s what I came up with:

ds106 Valentine's Day Caption

Weird, huh? To do this, I downloaded a photo from the public Flickr folder and then imported the image into Snagit. Then, because I’m very happily married, I Googled some pickup lines. I chose one of the creepier lines I found and then used the text tool to overlay the quote and export as a new image.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Classroom Landscapes

I love adventure stories. I can’t wait to read the Lord of the Rings series with my kids someday. I’m excited to look at Tolkein’s maps and talk about whether Frodo, Sam, and the Fellowship should have taken a different route.

As a teacher, I ask myself the same questions every day. Did I make the best decision in the path that I’m choosing? Should I be the one leading the group? Should I backtrack and try a different direction? It’s part of teaching. It’s part of life.

We need to help our students navigate a non-linear activity (learning) within a system that demands linear thinking (standards, testing). Roadblocks and challenges aside, how do we set the path? How often do we have to make corrections? How far back to we jump? I think there are some major areas in our classroom landscape that will help us move forward.

20130213_1332571. Home – Home is comfortable. In the LOTR series, home is the Shire. It represents quiet, comfort, and safety. Our students enter our classes each year with a home mindset. They’re comfortable in what they know. As the teacher, we have to coax them out of their own comfort zone and into something unknown. From here, students are relying on our wisdom and leadership for the path.

20130213_1333142. Sage Forest – It’s easy to jump on stage and being spewing everything we know. We don’t have to answer to anyone, and our pupils dutifully follow along. We have total control and our word is taken as truth. Unfortunately, this limits the exposure our students get to the larger world, save for the window that we provide. It is isolated, and while our kids can learn, it often isn’t meaningful. Think Yoda on Dagobah. Luke could do a lot of fancy tricks when he was alone, but Darth Vader handed it* to him when he tried to put his learning into practice.

20130213_1333233. Plain Crossway – This region isn’t uneventful, but it isn’t terribly exciting, either. The travellers and the the leader can discuss the appropriate path, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter which direction you go. This can be a good thing, but oftentimes leaves the traveller feeling unsatisfied. In other words, the teacher isn’t acting as a sage, but isn’t really providing enrichment or growth on the basics. Instead, they’re focusing on making it alive to the other side rather than building a new trail together.

20130213_1333394. Digital Highlands – Navigating the peaks and valleys of the digital learning space takes a person who is confident, wise, and willing to take risks when they can’t see around the next corner. Digital learning is an important piece of the learning space, but it cannot be the only learning space for our students. We have to allow for forays, but we can’t get sucked into the bottom of the digital sphere, never to emerge again.

  1. The Great Beyond – The goal…the unknown…the unknowable. Hopefully, as we move from region to region in school, our students learn valuable skills that will help them move beyond school and into “real life.” Ultimately, we cannot stop our students from getting to this point, but we can equip them to better deal with it when we get there.


One space isn’t more meaningful than another. The meaning in each space comes in how they’re combined with the other; the journey isn’t defined by one stop along the way, it’s the trip as a whole that brings meaning. I know we all love Twitter and apps, but let’s try to remember that we have to vary our focus and settings to have a good story to tell.

*I know the pun is terrible, but I couldn’t resist.

Internet Dance Party

If you’re on the Internet frequently, you may have noticed a new phenomenon spreading across the tubes called the Harlem Shake. If you haven’t, well, you’re in for a treat. Take a look.


I can’t resist this kind of thing. So, I want to put together the first Internet Dance Party (from what I can tell, at least). It will take you 60 seconds of your time and the returns are enormous.

  1. Go to this YouTube video of the song. We only need the first 30 seconds.

  2. Record yourself on your webcam (or other recording device) doing something normal. Typing, reading, grading…whatever, for 15 seconds.

  3. When the beat drops at the 15 second mark, record yourself throwing down some sick dances moves. Costumes are encouraged.

  4. Save your video and upload it to this folder.

  5. Watch for the link with the finished video.

Thanks to Jeremy Macdonald for introducing me to the Harlem Shake.

NASA Shares Awesome Science

Update 9:00 PM – I added a link to the docking procedure run earlier this morning.

If you teach science, get on Twitter or Facebook and follow NASA. Now.

I know a ton of science happens here on the ground, but what I love about NASA is that they’ve embraced the fact that science can be shared with social media. They have one of the best online presences by an organization I’ve ever seen. They have Twitter accounts for most of their major missions, including the Voyager spacecraft (which are still operating, if you didn’t know).

They livestream most of their satellite launches so anyone can watch.

Heck, this afternoon, I watched a Russian supply probe dock with the ISS live. That was quickly followed up by a tweet from a Canadian astronaut on the space station.

Long story short, NASA is making science real for an audience that will (most likely) never get the chance to experience the work they do first-hand. I share it with my students. Maybe, one of them will see what science is all about and be inspired to begin a science career.

I want to go to space now.

NASA media of note

Voyager 1 – Twitter

Voyager 2 – Twitter

ISS Research – Twitter

Commander Hadfield, Canadian astronaut currently on six-month ISS mission. – Twitter

Curiosity Rover – Twitter

NASA TV – Archived footage of launches, ISS events, briefings, press conferences, etc. Also, includes links to NASA UStream page.

NASA YouTube Channel

Using Video to Liberate Class Time – Cross Post

I originally wrote this for the INDOE 28 Days of Learning blog as part of Digital Learning Month. This is a cross post of that article. I removed the byline inserted by the INDOE and the bio at the end.


What does your typical class period look like? If you’re like me, you have between 20 and 30 (or more) students that are all vying for your attention so you can meet their needs. There’s nothing wrong with that…in fact, you’re at your best when you’re working one-on-one.

But, in reality, how much one-on-one time do you get with kids? Probably much less than you would prefer. We’re often relegated to the front of the room, at the whiteboard or projector, speaking to a large (mostly captive) audience. Then, we get some time to practice as a group before the class period is over.

This is not effective.

I want to propose a simple solution to help mitigate the lost time in whole-group instruction: record a lesson. Or, record multiple lessons. Record something that can be moved out of the public space (class) to the private space (on-demand), wherever and whenever that may be.

Now, some of you may be thinking that this is far too hard to do on a regular basis, and I’m here to politely disagree. Screen capture technology has improved dramatically in recent years and it is easier to get started now than it ever has before.

Entry Level – Screenr is a website that will record your screen for free. You can log in using Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Yahoo! account in order to save and share your recording. Screenr will record your screen for 5 minutes at a time (more on that in a minute) and then host them on the site, which is great if you can’t access YouTube.



Jing – Jing is a free download that runs on your computer. It also records five minutes at a time and hosts the videos in a linked account to a site called The videos can be shared and even password protected on Screencast, and again, the hosting serves as a place to go if YouTube isn’t an option.




There are different ways to advance your recordings. Essentially, these are videos that have edited portions to enhance the content sharing. Imagine taking a video of your computer screen with Jing or Screenr, and then running it through iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, which is, in fact, one way to accomplish the goal.

The program I would recommend for more advanced recording and editing is called Camtasia. It is created by the same company that makes Jing and they offer education pricing. If you feel comfortable with video editing, this may be something you look into as you research screen capture.

How Do I Use This?

So, should you record absolutely everything and just put it online for kids to access? Absolutely not. Should the use of these videos be relegated to home? Absolutely not. Content is available 24/7, and we need to begin allowing access to content wherever and whenever students are ready to use it.

There are some lessons that lend themselves to recording, others that are terribly ineffective if recorded. My general rule of thumb: if it is rote, procedural, algorithmic, or lower-level information, it might be a good recording. This would be something like how to log into a Google Apps account for your class. It could also be how to perform a chemical conversion or how to spot an adverb in writing. The video is to help offset some of the initial (or remedial) skill-building that comes with learning new content. Even then, a topic you may think would make a good video could bomb with students…and that’s okay.

Think of using video in your instruction like a chef prepares a meal…it cannot be just salt, but it also cannot be the main course. It has to be used intentionally to solve a particular problem. For me, recording lesson segments allows me the time and opportunity to move throughout the room and focus on higher-order problem solving and learning with students…together.

Let’s go back to our opening question: What does a typical class period look like for you? Here’s mine:

  • I speak with every student, every day.
  • I know my student’s individual strengths and weaknesses.
  • I celebrate breakthroughs and victories after working through a tough problem.
  • I guide and prompt students out of misconceptions and frustration.
  • I teach.

The Challenge

Take the one question that bugs you the most, record an answer, and post it online as a resource. When a student asks you that question, point them to the resource. This does not have to be a lesson…it can be something simple like how to add a file to a folder in Google Drive. Free up some of your valuable class time by moving some lower-level tasks from the public space (class) to the private space (on-demand). Post a link to your video once it’s created and share your learning.

Make a Webpage into a Chrome App

There are some websites that I visit frequently. My class website, a few news outlets, and some blogs that help me wake up in the morning (or afternoon). I also hate the bookmark bar. I think it’s ugly and I usually have it hidden in my Chrome browser. Now, it does appear on my “New Tab” page, but I’d rather get rid of it entirely.

I came across an article that showed me how to take any website and put a link on the Chrome “App” page. This is different than the “Most Visited” section, which makes it helpful if it isn’t used enough to make that list.

The process is very simple:

  1. Open up the page you want to save as well as a new tab (click the images to enlarge).
  2. Click on the page favicon – the little icon that appears to the left of the URL in the address bar. Sometimes it is an icon, other times it is a blank page.
  3. Drag the favicon to the New Tab and drop. It will create a link in your Apps page.

So, why do this rather than use bookmarks? Simple answer: speed. Many times, I want to get to a particular site. Rather than clicking through multiple levels of bookmarks (if they’re nested) or scanning the bar, I know what sites are on my apps page. This could be especially useful for teachers in Chromebook environments.

Any other Chrome tips for usability and improved workflow? Leave some thoughts in the comments.

Chemical Equation Inquiry

Liza Basden is a chemistry teacher in Illinois that I connected with earlier this year. Periodically, we’ll share resources with one another for labs or other activities that we run in our classes. Last week, I was browsing for a lab to run with students on the different types of chemical reactions when Liza sent me some awesome pictures from her own class:


I really like the fact that she pulls in inquiry to get the students thinking about similarities and differences in the chemical equations before the students begin to categorize them as single replacement, double replacement, etc. It forces the students to make connections between various chemical equations that are really quite obvious when we sit down to compare. Plus, asking them to draw out a representation of the reaction pushes critical thinking and analysis of what they’re learning, which increases retention and understanding.

She was kind enough to share the prep materials and the student papers and has given me permission to share these materials with anyone that may want to use them in their class.

If you end up using this activity, we’d love to see some photos of your student’s work shared either here in the comments or shared Twitter.

All photos in this post are from Liza Basden, used with permission.