Educating Kids for Life not for Tests

Pam Moran on episode 236 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Pam Moran, superintendent in Albemarle County in Virginia, shares about some cool virtual reality in Virginia, some challenges with helping new teachers get started, and how she thinks education is entering a new Renaissance of creativity and innovation. Get motivated today listening to Pam. This is part 2 in our series with Pam.

Pam Moran - episode 236 edreform

PowerSchool is my SIS and LMS and is the sponsor of today’s show. On January 31, they have a free webinarPreparing Students for Success: Measuring What Matters. Jake Cotton, a superintendent from Virginia, will be sharing.

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Enhanced Transcript

Educating Kids for Life Not for Tests

Link to show:

Date: January 22, 2018

Overview of Today’s Show

Vicki Davis: This is part 2 of the conversation I had recently with Pam Moran in Virginia. Now, last time in episode 231, we discussed education reform in Virginia and how they have been moving away from overtesting. But today we have four big and very interesting points:

First of all, the challenge of helping teachers who grew up in the multiple-choice testing environment.

Secondly, four examples of virtual reality programming in the classroom.

Third, why creativity is important and a little bit of an upsetting story from one of her middle school teachers about what testing was actually doing to harm students in his classroom.

And finally, why Pam believes a new Renaissance in education is upon us. Enjoy!

The Challenges of Educating New Teachers Who Grew Up with a Multiple Choice Education

Pam Moran: But I do think that one of the things that we also have that’s a real challenge — as some states are starting to emerge from the “test them until you drop” mentality that we lived in for two decades — that is that we have a whole generation of educators that are now entering our classrooms as first and second year teachers. That’s the world they knew as students.

Vicki: (agrees) Oh yeah.

Pam: And so, for them, the multiple choice test is the “test du jour” because that’s what they were accustomed to in terms of test prep and state testing. One of the things that we really spend a lot of time doing is trying to help people “unlearn” some of what I think that we built into the system over time that people just came to accept. The goal, the end in mind was educate kids for tests.

Vicki: (agrees)

Pam: My perspective is that we should be educating kids for life — and that’s life in the here and now, and it’s life in the future. You don’t do that by putting all of your time and energy into educating kids for tests.

4 Virtual Reality Examples in Virginia

Recently, Vicki, I watched a young woman in one of our high schools. We’ve been putting some Virtual Reality spaces into a sort of test bed. What does Virtual Reality have to offer to the learning process?

And you know, I’m kind of technology agnostic in some ways. I like technology. I was a science educator, so I’m pretty comfortable and confident using technologies of all kinds, although the kids have really surpassed me when we start to get some of the newer tools that their using, particularly as part of their Maker Work.

But I’m not uncomfortable around it. It doesn’t scare me.

But what I saw recently were three kids that were using VR technology, and the stories are a little different.

Example #1: An autistic student using VR

One young man who is autistic, is on the spectrum, was taking us for a tour of favorite places in the world that he had visited and telling us why. It’s my understanding that his communicative skills, as a result of immersion in VR really have accelerated.

Vicki: Wow.

Pam: So I thought that was pretty interesting. So he was there that day. They were doing kind of an Open House to share how different kids were using technology.

Example #2: VR and Beowulf

Another young woman had actually created inside VR sort of a story around Beowulf. You can’t get much more traditional in terms of English canon than Beowulf in the high school. But she had turned it into something that was pretty fascinating.

Example #3: A student designing fashion in VR

A third kid was using a VR technology that allowed her to design clothes. She has a real interest in fashion, would love to be in the fashion industry. She’s in there. She’s got a mannequin, and she’s doing this amazing almost ballet-like series of motions, and we were able to watch her on a screen where it was being projected. What she was building, the process of building a dress on this mannequin, and I was just like, “Oh, wow. This is just beyond anything I can imagine.”

Example #4: Pam’s experience in VR with Field Trips

Then they put the headset on me, and they sent me into the underworld of the Great Barrier Reef, and I felt like I had left the world and entered this sort of marine space where I was seeing anything and everything that you might find there swimming by.

And I was thinking to myself, “Kids can get an immersive experience that takes them places that you could never envision in a 2-D movie or in images in a slideshow or a PowerPoint or any way shape or form, or book. They truly become a part of the environment.

Where does this technology fit? How they are discussing VR now

So one of the things that we’re trying to figure out is, “Where does that technology fit?” That’s not something that when you’re in a testing world, it’s hard for school districts to really take the risk to say, “We’re going to try out some things. We’re going to prototype.

We’re going to try a test bed, and figure out where this fits, because it’s not something that’s going to be tested. The fact that Virginia’s really backing off of state testing in high school?

I think it’s going to open doors for teachers to explore learning in ways that we haven’t seen since probably the late 70’s or 80’s in the United States, where there was a lot more freedom on the part of teachers to be able to be the creatives that they are.

Encouraging Risk in our Schools is Important

You know, you are that. You’re a risk taker. But that’s not something that we’ve really reinforced inside the education world. But boy, I tell ya. It’s something that, if we want our kids to be prepared for life in the 21st century after high school, if we don’t help them really maintain that sense of curiosity and flexibility and that sense of, “I can learn anything I need to learn to be successful in life.”

If our kids don’t leave us with that, then we’ve done an incredible disservice. I think that we’ve had really almost two decades in Virginia where our kids have been held in thrall. And our teachers, in terms of being able to exercise that creative juice, that it lets them really explore learning in a way that gets at passions of teachers.

Not every teacher is passionate about every aspect of some of the things that they teach in history, or every book that’s on the list in English. But if teachers can find spaces to be able to bring that passion and that curiosity and that love of learning — that I think most teachers have, deep down — it turns kids on, and then when they can release the kids to be able to explore as well.

A Sad Story from a Middle School Teacher During the Days of “OverTesting”

One of the saddest stories I have from a few years ago was when I had a teacher say to me — that taught middle school — it used to be that our kids took a 6th-grade history test, a 7th-grade history test, an 8th-grade history test. Sixth-grade history was the history of the United States up through the Civil War.

Seventh-grade history was Reconstruction through current times. Eighth-grade history was Civics and Economics.

They took tests every year, multiple choice tests.

This teacher said to me, “You know, Pam, one of the toughest things I had, knowing the pace of coverage that I have to move through to get kids prepared to take a test that gets labeled as either Failed or Proficient, is when I had kids say to me, “Gee, we want to stop. Can we talk more about why people fought the Civil War?”

And he said, “All I could think in my head was, ‘Do I have time to stop and have that conversation?’”

Vicki: Oh…

Pam: And now, because the state has gifted the time back to teachers to not have to be responsible for teaching to a test in 6th grade and 7th grade in history? Our kids are getting some time back, as our teachers are, to be able to explore learning and to take a side road, not just stay on the main highway. I kind of like that.

Vicki: So Pam, you actually sound excited.

Pam is Getting Ready to “Retire” but Still Excited about Education

Pam: I do get excited. It’s kind of wild because as you’ve heard, this is going to be my last year in the superintendency. Primarily one of the things that’s a real driver for me is that I have a husband who’s fully handicapped, and I’ve got to kind of re-evaluate priorities in my life in terms of needs in terms of family time.

The superintendent job is a job that’s 24-7. But one of the things that I’ve said to people is that I would love to be able to work in education for another thirty years.

My mom, who is down in South Carolina, is 96 years old and can still touch her toes and carry on a conversation about every golfer that’s in the top ten in the world. She stays up with the news, and we can argue politics and everything else. So I sometimes think, “Well, maybe I’ll gthose kindsind of years, if I got her X chromosome.”

Vicki: Yeah.

Predicting a new Renaissance in Education

Pam: But the reality is that I think that education is about to hit a new Renaissance. And I’d love to be able to spend another 30 years watching the next phase unfold. I think that technologies are certainly a part of it. But Vicki, I also think that one f the things that’s really critical in my mind is that, if you had talked to me maybe around 2007, 2008,

I can’t remember when Clayton Christensen wrote the book (Disrupting Class) about how, you know, we were going to see this flip to kids walking out of schools and becoming virtual learners and staying at home and doing everything kind of virtually in terms of learning… And you know, it looked like, “Oh wow. That could really happen.”

But as I started spending more time talking to high school students about what they really value, what I heard from them is that when high school kids have a teacher or teachers with whom they have really great relationships, who they value, respect, regard, who they engage with, they love that.

Vicki: (agrees)

How Education Will (And Won’t) Change

Pam: They love time with peers, and I think that despite the fact that technologies are going to change and evolve, and what kids will be using in ten years will work really different than anything we maybe have today, the reality is that humans, at the core of who we are, we are people who are parts of a social community people.

I think we like to learn together. I think we like to socialize together. I like to think that, as teachers evolve practice, and sustain and maybe even enhance and deepen their understanding of how important it is to build relationships with young people that are authentic and real, and kids have experience working on work with peers that’s really important to them, that schools may become even stronger and more powerful as spaces of learning than they ever have been in history.

I’m pretty optimistic about the future of education, and I’m optimistic about the young teachers I see and the young leaders that I see. You know I feel like that, as I’m the expert exiting out, and as other who are kind of in my age span are out, we’re going to be leaving education in really good hands with this younger generation.

The millennials are now — you know, they’re not so young anymore — and they’re not in our schools anymore. I think they’re going to be great leaders. They’re going to be very much focused on social good, on collaboration, on understanding that experience is really, really important for them, and it’s important for kids.

It’s not the resources that make the biggest difference, it’s the relationship. And I really love that.

Stay tuned next week for the next episode with Pam on Motivational Monday!

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Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Dr. Pamela R. Moran has served as the Superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools since January 2006. She oversees a division with an annual operating budget of $180.5 million; a self-sustaining budget of $19.2 million and a five-year capital budget of $86.9 million. The division includes more than 1,200 teachers educating 13,700 students in 25 schools.

During Dr. Moran’s tenure, Albemarle County Public Schools has become one of the top performing school divisions for students in the state with an on-time graduation rate of 95 percent. Two out of every three high school seniors graduate with an Advanced Studies Diploma, 30 percent higher than the state average for all school divisions. In 2014, Albemarle County students had the second highest SAT scores among 133 school divisions in Virginia in critical reading and the third highest SAT scores for writing and math.

In 2015, a national survey organization ranked Albemarle County Public Schools in the top five of all school divisions in Virginia and among the top two percent of all school divisions in the county.

Among the school division’s flagship programs are its Learning Commons, AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) and M-Cubed. Both the Learning Commons and M-Cubed have received the National School Board Association’s Magna Award, given annually to the school division in the nation with the most innovative and effective program. The school division is the only one in the history of the Magna Award to twice receive the association’s highest performance honor. The school’s Learning Commons, which is a multi-disciplined, technology-infused learning center, has attracted visits by MIT, Harvard, the Universities of Virginia and North Carolina and from the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Hall of Science. M-Cubed is a program that supports black middle school males in year-round advanced math studies to improve their high school academic performance. The division’s Jack Jouett Middle School is in the top three percent of all schools in the world for the success of its AVID college and career readiness program.

A key component of the division’s project-based instructional model is its maker curriculum, which has been the subject of presentations by division educators around the country, including at the White House. In 2015, in partnership with two other school divisions and the University of Virginia, Albemarle County Public Schools was one of three public school divisions in the nation to receive an Investing in Innovation demonstration grant. The $3.4 million federal grant is being used to develop advanced manufacturing and engineering programs in division middle schools and is in addition to a $20,000 state planning grant to develop a “school-of-the-future” model.

The division has three centers of excellence. Students in the Math, Engineering and Science Academy earn an average of $24,000 per student in academic scholarships; the Health and Medical Sciences Academy became a Governor’s Regional Health Academy in 2013 and in 2015, a new Environmental Studies Academy began operations.

The division also is home to one of the first CoderDojo Academies in a public school division in the country, teaching computer coding and science skills to students. Other notable new programs include a high school Arts & Letters Pathwayand a summer Fine Arts Academy.

Dr. Moran is a leading advocate of an educational model that prepares students for “success in their century, not mine.” She emphasizes the value of student-led research, project-based learning and contemporary learning spaces that promote collaboration, creativity, analytical problem-solving, critical thinking, and communications competencies among all students.

A past gubernatorial appointee to the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia, Dr. Moran was selected by her peers across the Commonwealth as Virginia’s 2016 Superintendent of the Year. She subsequently was one of four statewide superintendents of the year to be selected as a finalist for 2016 National Superintendent of the Year.

In 2016, Dr. Moran was selected to serve on the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.

She is a member of the MakerEdorg advisory committee and has delivered several TED Talks on the impact of creating a contemporary learning environment for students, one shaped around a student-centered project-based instructional model. Under her guidance, Albemarle County Public Schools was selected in 2015 for membership in the League of Innovative Schools., a nonprofit organization authorized by the U.S. Congress to accelerate innovation in education.

Dr. Moran has appeared on the cover of Education Week’s Digital Directions magazine as a “National Mover and Shaker” for her advocacy of a curricular digital integration model, which will be featured in an upcoming profile by Edutopia. She also was selected by eSchool Media as one of its national Tech-Savvy Superintendents of the Year and under her leadership, the school division received the Virginia Governor’s Tech Innovation Award.

Dr. Moran is a past President of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Women Educational Leaders of Virginia and the Virginia Association of Science Supervisors. She holds leadership positions with the regional Chamber of Commerce, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Education Fund, and the University of Virginia-Public Schools Educational Partnership.

Dr. Moran’s career in public education began as a high school science teacher. She subsequently served as a central office science coordinator and staff developer, elementary school principal, director of instruction, assistant superintendent for instruction, and adjunct instructor in educational leadership for the University of Virginia’s Curry School and the School of Continuing Education. She holds a B.S. in Biology from Furman University and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia. Dr. Moran also is an alumnus of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business Executive Educators Leadership Institute. story at


Twitter: @pammoran

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post Educating Kids for Life not for Tests appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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Cost of hosting Olympic games

Clicking on this image will show it larger in a new window.

Hosting the Olympics sure does cost a lot. Why is that? How much money is $5 billion dollars? What is a cost overrun? Why would a country want to spend that much money to host and Olympic Game?  Does a country recoup what they invest?  Do you see any trends?

The activity: Cost-Hosting-Olympics.pdf


For members we have an editable Word docx and solutions.

Cost-Hosting-Olympics.docx      Cost-Hosting-Olympics-solution.pdf

More Olympic activities:

How is ski jumping scored in the Olympics?  – Students learn about the ski jumping rubric and decide if they think it is fair or not. 5.NBT, 5.OA, 6.NS, 6.EE, 7.NS, 7.EE, HSA.CED

Lighting the Olympic Torch – Study the reflection of the Sun’s rays off the Mount Olympus parabolic mirror to understand how the Olympic Torch is lit.  4.G.1, 4.G.3, 7.G.2

The Torch Relay through South Korea – Participation rates, metric conversions, and per person distances traveled. 6.RP.A, 6.SP.B, 7.SP, HSN.Q.A

from Yummy Math

The Poverty of Overcommitment: You Have to Say No So You Can Say Yes Sometimes

Day 18 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

This past Monday, Kip and I sat down with my calendar. After we added up the time for commitments, we had a heart to heart about what I could do and was called to do versus what I wanted to do. As a result, I had to say “no” to three very important things to me. I had to disappoint some people who I care about. It was hard. But one thing those who seek excellence forget — saying yes to everything will impoverish you of your time. You’ll have no more time to give to important things because you never said “no.”

poverty of overcommitment

You have to say no a lot if you want to be able to say yes sometimes. Life is full of choices. We have to make hard choices in order to focus on what is best.

Learning to Say No Can Be Hard for Some People

Many years ago, when Kip and I were first married, Kip realized that I had a huge problem. I like to please people. Too much sometimes, in fact. So, after I was overcommitted for one weekend yet again, we were on the couch talking and Kip said,

“Vicki, I want you to practice something.”

And I looked at him and said “what?”

“I want you to look at me and tell me no ten times. I want you to practice saying no.”

Well, at first, I admit, that it was hard. Of course, we were married because I’d said yes to him in the first place, so saying no to him was hard.

After I was done, he said,

“Now, how hard was that? To say no.”

I admitted it was kind of hard. So, then, he said,

“Now, go and start saying no sometimes or we’ll never see each other ever and that will be very bad. You have to remember that when you say yes all weekend to everyone else, that you will be saying no to me — and we’re married! So say yes to me on Saturdays and no to everyone else.”

Since then, I’ve had to learn to say no to several things and people I cared about deeply. However, many times it was necessary so I could say yes to my family.

Yes to my church.

Yes to the deepest callings of my life and yearnings of my soul.

Yes to the greatest accomplishments of my life so far.

To be excellent you have to say no many times if you’ll have the time to say yes.

How Do We Decide?

Admittedly, there are those selfish souls who never say yes to anyone for anything. However, I’ve found that the most successful among us aren’t stingy with their time. In fact, they’re in huge demand because they are so excellent. So, they have to learn to be stingy with their yeses to the important things and generous with their no’s to non-priorities.

Notice, I didn’t say “important people” or “big jobs.” Don’t mistakenly think that someone has to have a title or power to be worthy of your time.

My assistant, Dr. Lisa Durff, knows that I want to read every single classroom teacher’s email that is sent to me. That is who I serve.

At church and at school, I want to spend time with the children. I always have time for hugs from little kids and conversations with older ones. These are the gems that make life glisten that are often overlooked when my calendar is too full and the list is too long with things that really don’t need to be there.

We can’t make more time. We can’t manage it. We can only use the scarce time we have in the best way possible.

Today’s Time Challenge

For today’s challenge. Ask yourself if you’re overcommitted. Is there anything you know you need to go say no to right now before you get into it too far?

And if you’re a Christian, remember John 15:5  and make sure you’re called to something.

The Poverty of Overcommitment

by Vicki A. Davis

Wouldn’t it be sad

to see the life you could have had

if you’d just learned to say “no”?

Instead of galloping ahead, to say “whoa”?

You’d have had more success

if you’d had time to say “yes”

to your greatest few deeds

instead of a thousand minor needs.

This post is day 18 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post The Poverty of Overcommitment: You Have to Say No So You Can Say Yes Sometimes appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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Setting Appropriate Expectations for Success

Day 17 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Some people don’t have realistic expectations for life. Kip sent me this joke today that fits what I’m talking about…

Your productivity system is only as good as your habits.

Reaching the end of his job interview, the HR manager asks the fresh young engineer, “what starting salary are you looking for?”
The recruit replies, “$125,000 and a full benefits package”
The HR rep replies, “how about 5 weeks vacation, 15 paid holidays, full medical and dental, 50% match on retirement, and a company car.”
The engineer says, “wow, are you kidding?”
The HR rep says, “yeah, but you started it…”

One advantage teens have when they work is understanding what things cost.

However, I often think that many of us forget what things cost:

  • Relationships take time to develop
  • Schools take time to build a legacy
  • It takes time to build a reputation
  • A tree takes time to grow

In today’s world of instant this and instant that, people want a “just add water” success formula. Guess what? It doesn’t exist.

Success can take time – even if it looks fast, it typically takes time. Practice. Hard work. Sacrifice.

Sometimes we expect things to be easy and they’re not.

Decisions to Pursue Excellence Always Cost Something

Even now. I’m exhausted. I had a tiring day at school and had gate duty tonight. I came home exhausted. Kip fired up an old movie and I’m ready to watch.

However, I made a commitment to write once every day for 80 days and only to take off Sundays.  You might wonder why I’d do that – well, it was the result of praying, but honestly, I’ve been blogging so much about my podcast, that I had gotten out of the habit of just writing.

And it seems to me that I can’t write about excellence to you if I’m not willing to consistently work at it myself.

So, today’s challenge is this: Ask yourself what you’re taking time to build? Your health? What relationships? What dreams?

You are what you do consistently over time. So, examine one area where you are eagerly pursuing success and look at the habits you’re doing to help build that success. And then, expect that those habits will cost you something and prepare to pay the price.

Excellence has a price. Make sure the type of excellence you’re pursuing is worth it. And make sure that you expect that it won’t be easy. In fact, succeeding is often very hard.

The post Setting Appropriate Expectations for Success appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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5 Ideas for Writing with Technology

Jacqui Murray on episode 235 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

Follow @coolcatteacher on Twitter

Jacqui Murray shares how we can encourage an improvement in writing using technology. These creative ways will help you think about how to help children, particularly those who struggle with handwriting and typing.

Screencastify is the screencasting tool I recommend for Google Chrome and Chromebooks. Built for Chromebooks, it saves all of your recordings directly to Google Drive.

Screencastify is an essential tool for making flipped lessons, student videos and creative formative assessments. I use this tool when students are making Scratch video games for them to record their games and explain their scripts. If you want to go for unlimited editing, request a quote for your school and mention Cool Cat Teacher for a Discount.

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Enhanced Transcript

5 Ideas for Writing with Technology

Link to show:
Date: Friday, January 19, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Jacqui Murray @askatechteacher about writing with technology.

Now we will include in the Shownotes the K-8 Curriculum, which has a lot of the tips.

But, Jacqui, how do we teach writing with technology?

Jacqui: I think what happens to a lot of teachers is that they confuse the idea of teaching writing — when they are talking about technology — with teaching handwriting or keyboarding.

But I try not to do that.

I try to focus in on the standards of the writing curriculum I’m using — augmented with Common Core or whatever other standards I’m using — and focus on those, rather than sitting there with a paper and pencil and doing it that way.

I think that there’s handwriting without tears. Obviously, a lot of kids have a lot of trouble with handwriting and keyboarding.

Tip #1: Focus on What You’re Trying to Get Students to Do without Letting Mechanics Get in the Way

So if I remove that feature from it, then I can focus on the things that writing teaches kids, like my national standards for writing:

  • Provide evidence and support of opinions,
  • Examine complex ideas and information clearly and accurately
  • Communicate in a way that is appropriate to task, audience, and purpose

You see, that never mentions what tool to use to do that. It just says that’s what kids should get out of writing.

Tech Options to Accomplish the Same Goals, But Without the Pain

So that’s what I think.

Vicki: So you let them write whichever way they’re more comfortable with — handwriting, typing? How do you do that?

Jacqui: I do it even more than that. I focus on what I want them to get out of the writing — which is examining ideas or providing evidence — and then I might do it through Minecraft.

Example of Tip #1 Use Minecraft to Scaffold Story Writing

I might take a Minecraft and then pose questions to them, saying, “What is the story behind what you’re building? Who are the characters in your made up world? What is the setting?”

I’ll have a series of (these questions) that applies specifically to their grade level appropriate writing standards.

But they do it through something like Minecraft, or I can do it with art, or an audio program that they talk it, rather than get caught up in handwriting or keyboarding.

Do you see where i’m going with that?

Vicki: Yeah. So you’ve got the writing standard, but they may actually meet the standard without written expression?

Jacqui: Yes!

Now obviously I do want them to write also, because lots of kids are very good at writing, and they love it.

So I’m making it available to the kids who are kind of afraid of handwriting or writing — putting their thoughts on paper — and giving them these options that accomplish the same goals I want them to accomplish without the pain that goes along with it.

Tip #2: Use Audio or Voice Dictation

Vicki: Well, I teach my students voice dictation. You know, there are some student who are far better at voice dictation than they are at typing or handwriting.

Then they go back and edit. I mean, they still have to edit.

Jacqui: Correct.

Vicki: But you’re just saying that as long as we end up getting “there,” that kids may go multiple pathways to get to that final destination of a written piece?

Jacqui: Yes.

Yes, that is the way I teach it.

Now I teach online classes. I teach grad school classes for teachers. So this is an alternative I propose to them when they have students really struggling with writing.

(These students) have the ideas in their head. They know exactly what they want to do, but they can’t get it down on paper. So we do it that way instead. It just gives them options.

Vicki: Well, and it doesn’t make the child say, “I hate writing!”

Some of the most creative writers actually struggle with the mechanics of writing.

Jacqui: Exactly. Exactly.

Another one I really like is this 140-character novel in Twitter.

Tip #3: Twitter Novels

Kids love Twitter. They just — they love it!

So to write whole novel in a 140 characters? You start by saying, “It’s impossible!”

But you remind the kids of how you tell a story and the requirements of that.

You have them write the story. Now they can do 280 characters, but synthesize it down to a Twitter post.

If you search 140 character novel on the internet, you’ll find a ton of very good ones. They grab you instantly. You can just get caught up in them, even though you think, “Who could do that, with 140 characters?”

So that’s a very fun one that takes the focus off of the writing, but reminds them of what they’re supposed to do with writing. They’re still writing, because it’s Twitter. But it’s not a lot. And they love Twitter!

Vicki: And of course, if Ernest Hemingway can do it, we can do it too, right?

Jacqui: (laughs) Yes, exactly!

Vicki: (laughs) He wrote a very short one.

OK, so you talked about alternate ways of getting to the written word.

You talked about 140-character novels, or 280-character novels.

What are some other strategies?

Jacqui: You know, a really fun activity I do for older students? Once they have the basics of writing — say middle school or high school — is to take the class and write an eBook.

Tip #4: Authoring eBooks

It could be fiction or nonfiction. But they do all of the steps you would normally take in writing a book.

  • You write it.
  • You meet with your critique group to go over it, and you can do that virtually on Google Hangouts or Skype.
  • Review the writing.
  • Edit it and refine it.

At the end of the probably year-long — I don’t have a too many people who do it in a semester class — they have a book they can publish.

Vicki: (agrees)

Jacqui: So it’s very fun for them to come out of that. First, to go into a writing class with this wonderful goal, and then come out of it with something in their hands.

Vicki: Absolutely. And I’ll link to some. My students did eBooks this semester. Some of them did it on Google Docs and then pulled it over to Book Creator.

When they have an audience, when it’s an actual book they can open on their iPad or they can print a PDF, it’s just such a powerful piece to have in your portfolio. But also, it so great to know that THEY created it.

Jacqui: Yes! Excellent.

Vicki: Awesome.

Jacqui: Very nice.

Vicki: OK, so what other idea do you have for us?

Jacqui: You know, I’m a real fan of blogging.

Tip #5: Blogging

I think blogging accomplishes so much of what we want kids to do now, which is

  • collaborate with each other,
  • share their ideas,
  • Task-Audience Purpose (write for the task at hand, the audience that’s reading it, and the purpose they have)

Blogging does all of that. I’m a real fan of that for any subject, for any purpose. It could be expository or fiction or nonfiction or essay — whatever it is. The allow students to share it with each other and comment.

So I like that one a lot, too.

Vicki: Oh, blogging is wonderful.

So, Jacqui… you’ve given us five great ideas for writing with technology.

Is there anything that you think that teachers may make as a common mistake?

Jacqui: In using these?

Vicki: Yes, in writing with technology, specifically.

Jacqui: I do.

And I’m glad you brought that up. I do.

Mistakes Made in Teaching Writing with Technology

A lot of people, when they think of writing with technology, they think of (things like) Or something like that comes to mind.

Not to pick on them, I don’t mean it that way, but they think of — if you know the SAMR model (Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition), then you know that the website is at the Substitution, maybe the Augmentation level.

But technology is very effective in Modification and Redefinition — which are the ones I’ve mentioned, with Minecraft and Twitter Novels and blogging a little bit.

So, yes, I think they make the mistake of thinking they have to do it like, “OK, I’ve taught writing. Now I’m going to use technology to practice their vocabulary and spelling, rather than Modify and Redefine.”

Vicki: Just not taking it to that higher level of thinking and problem solving that we need to get to, so that our students can be critical thinkers and creators.

Jacqui: Exactly. Exactly.

Vicki: Excellent.

So we have gotten today five ideas for writing with technology from Jacqui Murray.

We have lots of links in the Shownotes to her curriculum, her K-8 Tech Curriculum, Keyboarding Curriculum… All kinds of material. (Note from editor: Scroll down to Jacqui’s bio below.)

She’s a fantastic resource. She’s been teaching K-8 for 20 years, so she has a lot of experience, a lot of different grade levels.

I love these ideas, and I hope that — if you teach writing, it’s so important to engage students in the process of writing. Sometimes that means NOT getting too hung up in the mechanics before you get them excited about writing itself.

So thanks for listening, and get out there and be remarkable!


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 20 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum (, K-8 keyboard curriculum (, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum ( She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning ( Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days (available on Kindle).


Twitter: @askatechteacher

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

The post 5 Ideas for Writing with Technology appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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What Questions Do You Ask Yourself Every Day?

Day 16 of 80 Days of Excellence

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Experience is not the best teacher. As John Maxwell says,

what questions do you ask yourself every day

“Reflective experience is the best teacher.”

I could touch a hot stove a thousand times. And unless, I figure out the stove is burning me and I shouldn’t touch it, I’ll get burned again and again.

What have you learned?

Kip, my husband, has a well-known saying around our house. After anyone makes a mistake, he’ll look at them before addressing the mistake and say,

“What have you learned?”

So, whether it was my son shooting out the back window of the Durango with the beebee gun or me getting my feelings hurt because I trusted someone again who had not proven themselves trustworthy. “What have you learned?” Is our family saying when we make a mistake.

Craft Your Questions Based On Your “To Be” List

So, that is a great start. However, I’ve come to the point where I intentionally craft my questions based upon the person I want to become.

I first learned from my friend Angela Maiers to make my “to be” list before making my “to do” list. Admittedly, my questions often come from the Bible.

You’ll have your own questions. I hope those of you who do not share the same faith as I do will understand that these are mine and will challenge yourself to create your own. I do believe in being truthful in who I am. So, here we go.

My Current Questions as Part of 80 Days of Excellence

But right now, I ask myself a few questions. The questions are first. the italicized items are just to clarify a question for you.

  • Am I seeking first the kingdom of God? (What is God telling me to do?)
  • How do I need to seek His righteousness? (What are my flaws that I am convicted I need to work on right now?)
  • What things are being added unto me? (This is my gratitude list of things I’ve really seen and am excited about.)
  • How am I seeking Kononia with others? (See 8 Great Ways to Develop Great Relationships where I explain this type of fellowship.)
  • What Kairos moments are opportunities that I must seize today? (See Make Time County By Understanding the Two Kinds of Time — Kairos is a moment in time opportunity.)
  • Personal Goal Questions. The next three questions are based on my personal 12 week goals for this period of the year.
    • How am I progressing on building a healthy body?
    • How am I progressing on building healthy finances?
    • How am I progressing on learning about excellence and building a healthy mind?

Then, at the end of the day, I’m asking myself one question. (Hat tip to Kip.)

  • What did I learn today?

Sometimes I write myself an answer that isn’t something I learned but a question I still have or am grappling with now.

For example, today I interviewed a neuroscientist who was explaining the difference between empathy and compassion.

And while I don’t want to steal the thunder of that upcoming podcast episode, I’m grappling with what this means for me and how I live my life. So, sometimes in addition to writing what I learned, I’ll write the questions I have. These jog my memory as I seek wise counsel from my husband or talk to friends.

Grow Brave by Reflection

Leonardo da Vinci said,

I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death. (emphasis mine)

Many days, the morning questions completely transform my day. As part of the 80 days of excellence, I’m reflecting on these questions for 80 straight days (not counting Sunday.)

I’m also writing here about excellence.

These eighty days have been a challenge for me as there are times that I feel like I’m writing only for myself and wonder if it is helping anyone else. However, I’ve learned that to not only reflect privately in my journal, but to write for an audience helps me understand more clearly what I think and who I am. It helps me become brave by reflection.

Challenge: Design Your Questions

So, your challenge today is to examine the questions you’re asking yourself now. When can you ask yourself those questions for maximum impact?

Don’t make them too long or too fancy.

Don’t spend too long answering them, but do spend time asking yourself good questions based on your personal goals.

Why not?

This post is day 16 of 80 days of excellence. I’ve created an email list below for those of you want to be emailed the full posts written as part of this series.

The post What Questions Do You Ask Yourself Every Day? appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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SEL & Classroom Safety: 3 Lessons from Sandy Hook Every Educator Should Know

Scarlett Lewis on episode 234 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis

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Scarlett Lewis, mother of a 6-year-old murder victim of the Sandy Hook shooting, has turned her heartbreak into a passion to prevent school violence. In this show, she shares research-based practical information to promote social-emotional learning and what we should all be doing to help kids become healthy. In addition to making schools safer, the research shows these things also improve learning and help kids become healthier adults.

Listen Now



Enhanced Transcript

Preventing School Shootings: SEL and 3 Lessons from Sandy Hook

Link to show:
Date: Thursday, January 18, 2018

Vicki: We’re handling so many difficult things in schools today, and Scarlett Lewis @JesseLewisLove is with us today to talk about one of those very difficult issues.

Now Scarlett, tell us a little bit about your son Jesse… and his story… and what you’re doing as a result.

Scarlett: Thanks, Vicki. I’m so happy to be on your show, speaking with educators — who are my heroes, by the way, because they have the most important job in the world, and that’s the ability to transform and even save lives on a daily basis.

So following my personal tragedy, where my 6-year-old son was shot in his first-grade classroom, alongside 19 of his classmates and 6 educators in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

Of course, this was perpetrated by a former student of that school, also a Sandy Hook resident.

Following that personal devastation, I made the decision that I wanted to be part of the solution.

Actually, I was heartened to find that there IS a solution., and it’s called social and emotional learning.

In fact, there was a report that came out following the shooting called the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Report.

This was a commission of professionals that were given unprecedented access to all of the records, and they were asked to find out how something like this could happen and what could be done to prevent it from happening again.

What Can Be Done to Prevent This?

They came up with three things, in no particular order:

  • Gun Safety
  • More Access to Mental Health, and
  • Social Emotional Learning

In fact, the report says actually that if there had been social emotional learning (in place), the tragedy might not have happened. I had already been saying for two years before the report came out that the tragedy absolutely would not have happened with social emotional learning (in place).

I’ve really made it my life mission to make sure that every child has access to what we know is in the best interest of children for their entire lifetime.

Vicki: Now you’ve actually related social-emotional learning to neuroscience.

Now, there are a lot of folks who label social-emotional learning for all kinds of things, right?

Help us understand what actually works.

You’re also going to tell us about your free program.

Scarlett: Sure. Absolutely!

Our Free Program

What I did was look at what we’re currently teaching in schools, and the programming that is effective (statistically) and the programming that isn’t effective (statistically).

I really took the best of the best. It’s not only social-emotional learning, but it’s emotional intelligence. It’s positive psychology. It’s character education. It’s mindfulness. It’s neuroscience. I took all of the best of the best of them and put it into one program, a comprehensive PreK – 12th grade. And I made it free, so that every child can have access.

It’s based on CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic Social-Emotional Learning five core social-emotional competencies.

It’s based on CASEL

We made it easy to teach and easy to learn. I actually worked with educators to create this program, so it’s written by educators for educators. I think it’s the only program that is.

Vicki: So this is the Choose to Love enrichment program, right?

Scarlett: It’s the Choose Love enrichment program, and it’s available for free on the Jesse Lewis Movement website.

Vicki: OK, so give us an example of an activity or something that should be taught in this category of social-emotional learning that works.

Scarlett: Absolutely. So our program is based on a powerful formula for choosing love in any situation or circumstance. The formula that I use every single day — and I know it works in all situations — is this:

Courage (because everything starts with courage)

+ Gratitude (the great mindshifter*)

+ Forgiveness (the number one way to have healthy relationships**)

+ Compassion in Action ***

*Out of the 60,000-80,000 thoughts that we all have every day, going through our head one at a time, so you can’t have a grateful thought and an angry or depressed thought at once, so it’s the great mindshifter

**Harvard University did a 75-year longitudinal study that showed that the secret to happiness is positive relationships and meaningful connections. Forgiveness is the #1 way to have that.

***Not only identifying a need/suffering in someone, but actively doing something to help ease that pain***

So that formula:
Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion in Action = Choosing Love
(with all of the different elements falling under that formula)

It’s been profoundly impactful, not only for students but for educators as well. The educators get the opportunity to learn right alongside the students. There is no training required. We actually do have training available. I always like to go speak to the staff to launch the program when possible. But in reality, the teacher learns right alongside the student. The best feedback that I’ve received is that the educator gets as much benefit as the student.

Vicki: I love how you say, “We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond.”

But you live it every day. Isn’t it hard?

Scarlett: I absolutely live that.

Therefore I know that it’s true.

That’s where our freedom and our growth lie.

We can’t always choose what happens to us. Sometimes a chapter in our life has been started for us, right? But we can always choose how we respond.

When we thoughtfully respond, we can always choose love. That means even if your chapter was started for you, you can write the ending.

And that’s where your power lies.

A lot of times, I think — especially with everything that’s going on in our world today, we feel like all this stuff is happening around us and we have no control.

But I’ll tell you what. We have control of how we respond — how we perceive the things that are happening, and how we respond.

That alone is an incredibly empowering concept.

Vicki: You gave me a statistic before we started recording… about just how many school shootings there are now.

How frequent is it here in the United States?

How Frequent are School Shootings?

Scarlett: Well… since Sandy Hook Elementary, which happened 5 years ago, we have had over 220 school-related shootings.

So we have an average of one school-related shooting per week in our country.

And of course we don’t always read about them. Thankfully, they don’t always result in death.

But the fact of the matter is, it seems like it’s becoming our new normal.

And that is absolutely no OK with me.

Our schools must be a safe haven for our children and our educators. Absolutely. It’s the only way that they can learn!

We know how to do that. That’s by implementing a social-emotional learning program.

Social-emotional learning is the #1 way to have a safe learning environment.

Social-emotional learning is the #1 way to have a safe learning environment.

That’s why we offer this program for free. Really, this is so important that it cannot be priced out of the market for children and educators.

Vicki: Well, and educators, we can put in security systems, but we also have to have secure and safe thinking going on in our minds.

This is a difficult, hard thing.

We cannot just teach content and not teach healthy thinking — things like courage, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion in action.

These are all ways of thinking, ways of approaching the world. They’re things that we need to be discussing in our classrooms.

I hope you’ll follow and take a look at the resources.

Scarlett, I just want you to know that I appreciate you.

I appreciate what you’re doing and the struggle that you have and live every day, and how you’re turning that struggle into good for the world.

The Science Behind the Benefits of Social-Emotional Learning Says…

Scarlett: There’s so much science behind the benefits of social-emotional learning — so children that have access to social-emotional learning not only:

  • get better grades and test scores,
  • have higher graduation rates,
  • have less stress, anxiety and less bullying (because it proactively prevents it before it starts)

But there are long term studies now that have followed kids from kindergarten all the way into adulthood. They have found that those now-adults that had social-emotional learning in school had:

  • less substance abuse
  • less mental health issues of all kinds
  • less violence
  • less incarceration
  • even less divorce rates

It makes sense because we are teaching kids skills, tools, and attitudes that help them get along and have meaningful connections with others.

By the way, these skills and tools aren’t innate. We’re not born with them.

We must be taught them, and if we aren’t we don’t necessarily have them.

These Skills and Tools Are Not Innate. They Must Be Taught.


Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Scarlett Lewis founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement™ after her son was murdered during the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012. Scarlett works to promote the Choose Love Enrichment Program™, a free, comprehensive, evidence-based SEL program that empowers educators and their students to choose love for themselves and others. While we can’t always choose what happens to us, we can choose how we respond. This program teaches children how to handle adversity, have courageous conversations, and to respond with love


Twitter: @JesseLewisLove

The post SEL & Classroom Safety: 3 Lessons from Sandy Hook Every Educator Should Know appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!

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