Chicken or the Egg – Whose Learning Should Schools Prioritize?


The topic for Thursday night’s #moedchat was “Out of the Box PD”. I guess the first question was my favorite, because I’m still thinking about it.




I didn’t get the feeling that it was a very popular answer – maybe only because the focus of Thursday’s chat was on TEACHER learning – but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I’m convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.

Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.

What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.

1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results.

We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there’s a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.

2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.

I am not a fan of “cool tool” sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If “how will my students use this” or “what challenges will my students face” is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.

The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative “clicker” app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate – they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem – Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.

3. Focusing on teachers’ learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.

Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.

The students’ learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.



EdTech, Valuing Culture and Fulfilling “Every Tribe and Nation”


The critical nature of building relationship with students has been an overarching theme to my identity as a teacher this school year. My heart felt burdened with an insurmountable task as the first day approached in August, and it continues to dominate my end-of-the-day reflection into the spring.

No, you can’t just go sit in the office today.
Yes, I hear everything you say. Even under your breath. (Because I think its important to hear more of what you’re saying than just x=4)
Yes, its breaks my heart that its not even halfway through the quarter and you’ve already decided you won’t try.
No, I won’t just go away because you obviously have enough people in your life that just ignore you because its easier.

The ethnicity of my students has not really changed since I started 6 years ago, but this year I perceive that many of my students see me as a the white guy that cannot or will not understand them.

Do you ever feel that?

I don’t believe its an accident. The title of this blog, Evangelizing the [digital] Natives, is really about the importance of teaching and training technology use even to the generation often perceived as “getting it,” but tonight I do want to talk about Jesus, ethnicity, and mission.

If you’re a teacher that’s a Christian, you must believe that just as He has with your spouse, your family, your friends, and your co-workers, God has placed you and those students together. And its about more than just math. (or English, science, art, history, personal finance, etc). The objective is different depending on the kids you get any given year, but the mission is always about God’s Kingdom.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John write about a vision of heaven that he receives from Jesus. Sure, a lot of it is symbolic, but surely this is not:

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

This post is not about prayer in schools or religious freedom. It’s about acting intentionally for “all tribes and peoples and languages” because that’s what God says heaven will look like (And so we should practice the same here).

It’s February, Black History Month, so our student news in the morning is featuring short interviews of local African Americans talking about success. By default, many of my students tune out the Star News and would rather just talk to classmates around them or bury their face in their phone, but I’ve made a very obvious point of emphasis during this month to focus attention on Star News.

Today, I got this question: “Mr. Baker, why do you care so much about this?” [Yes! He noticed I cared!] To be honest, I don’t even remember my answer, but I love that he noticed. It’s more logical for English teachers or history teachers to openly care about race because they must discuss its role in literature and history. It’d be weird NOT to address it, but I think many STEM teachers (and students) view their subjects as transcendent of it.
You can imagine a teacher saying something like, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, purple, or green – you’ve gotta solve an equation.”

Yes, that’s a true statement, but the context of that truth is different because of the difference in how my students interact with the general culture. I don’t have any lessons on African number systems, or projects on famous African-American mathematicians, but I think doing “culture” that way would do my kids a disservice. I polled them recently on if they wanted to do a “Black History Month” themed math lesson and the summary of their responses was a resounding, “Eh.”

When we are culturally responsive one unit at a time, or as an obvious add-on, it continues to strengthen a disconnect between my students’ life experience and “real” math.

My students don’t need more lessons on the contributions of Benjamin Banneker to geometry, they need more tools to address, communicate, and solve the problems of their community.

Your use (or lack thereof) of technology in your class can do a lot to sculpt students’ self-perception, their outlook on math relevance and their capacity for future success.

I think schools with high percentage of racial minorities need to be the MOST innovative with their use of technology in the classroom, because I don’t know about you, but the only time I see brown children doing cool stuff in the media with technology is when Bill and Melinda Gates are posing for photo-ops. Schools with high-needs students MUST make bold, creative budget and resource decisions so that kids can stop waiting for the next (grant funded) savior and know that having or not having is often about intentional budget choices

You must be MORE uncomfortable with letting the kids use technology when you are MOST afraid of it getting trashed. You’ll probably be one of many adults that was highly protective of the new technology around them, but you might be the first to let them kick the tires. Show them how to care for it, and have consequences when they aren’t, but let them USE it.

Leverage social media and Web 2.0 tools to give your students an audience for their work. As far as interactions with my students, i think the prevailing attitude is that what they say or do is only important as an athlete or musician – that their only worth to the Internet is highlight reels and music videos. This is true for any kid, but tell a kid that you’re so proud of the work you know they’re going to do that you want to put it on the Internet and watch the pride or shock in their reaction.

You’re in the classroom you’re in with the kids you have for more than just teaching your subject and giving tests. You’re all there to work to the greater glory of God, and you’re there as the teacher to nurture an environment that reflects God’s will for His creation as “all tribes and peoples and languages.” Let’s use education technology as a tool in service to that.

5 Reasons NOT To Use Remind 101

Remind 101 is a website and mobile app with one singular purpose – sending text or email alerts to your subscribers’ cellphones or inboxes. Its used mainly in an educational setting, but there’s no reason any organization with a need for quickly distributing information to its members could not utilize Remind 101.

We’re hosting a Remind 101 session in our building this Friday during our half-day PD, so I wanted to get ahead of those that may be curious and give you some reasons NOT to use Remind 101.

1. You don’t have a smartphone. Or a tablet. Or a computer.

Oh, you do have at least one of those? Nevermind. There are many ways to access and send Remind 101 messages! I don’t have a smartphone, but I use the website and the app on my iPad equally.

2. You don’t know how to write an email.

Sending a Remind 101 alert is as easy as sending a short email message. In some respects, its easier, because you do not have to address it to individual recipients. You just click on the class, type the message, and it goes to every student that has subscribed to that class. Even BETTER than email, you can schedule the message and control when it gets sent. I usually type my messages during class, but set it up to send during passing time or after school.

3. You don’t want students to have your cellphone number. (or you don’t want to be responsible for knowing your students’ numbers).

NOT A PROBLEM! Students sign themselves up using the class code you provide and Remind 101 takes care of all the phone numbers. The only thing you see are your students’ names and YOU never even have to enter your number.

4. You want your students to be responsible for ALWAYS writing down the homework off of your chalk/white/SMARTboard.

Sending reminders and alerts to their cellphones will train them to be lazy. Just make sure you’ll hold yourself to that same standard when it comes to your own text and email alerts. I get the responsibility angle, but does that mean we SHOULDN’T use a technology at our disposal? Honestly, if I could get a text alert every Tuesday night at about 10 o’clock to make sure I put the trash at the curb, it would change my life.

5. Homework is really just a tool to punish kids who refuse to do it.

Sending a reminder to a kid’s phone would increase the chance they might study on any given night, and you won’t be able to triumphantly enter a zero into the gradebook the next day.

Our students look at their cellphones ALL DAY LONG. We compete all day long for attention with Instagram, Twitter, and text messages from family and friends. Remind 101 is an easy to use tool that puts your class information right in front of their faces.

The Five Points of Technology and Education: We need more stinkin’ badges (or, how to increase student participation without using grades as a reward)

This was a great badge summary! Badges work well into PBIS strategies, as well. We give out tickets at my high school that can be redeemed for stuff, but I wonder if badges would be cheaper (most of the rewards cost the school something) and perhaps even more “meaningful” because peers will know WHY a student got that badge instead of the generic tickets we hand out.

If you use Edmodo or Khan Academy, badges and achievements are built right in, so you wouldn’t even need a new service.

The Five Points of Technology and Education: We need more stinkin’ badges (or, how to increase student participation without using grades as a reward).

(Effective) Teacher Technology Use Is Growing (INFOGRAPHIC)

A buddy of mine, +David Hallmon, forwarded this infographic from to me today and it had some points that really grabbed my interest.

1. 68% of students reported in 2012 that their teachers used technology effectively.

It doesn’t go into what technology proficiencies made for “effective,” or at what level, but that seems like an encouraging number.

2. Of teachers surveyed, 90% have a laptop or PC in the classroom.

This astounds me that is NOT at least 99%, but good for perspective, I guess. Even on days you’re upset that your favorite tech tool isn’t behaving, it could be WORSE.

3. 3 in 4 teachers say that tech allows them to reinforce and expand on content, motivate students, and accommodate multiple learning styles.

Is it statistically appropriate, then to link my first point, and this one and assume that of the ~75% of teachers that report these benefits, only 7% aren’t doing it well? (Probably not, but it would be an interesting test of significance to run)

4. In a study of AP Calc students, the half in a #flipclass model scored an average of more than half a point higher on the 5 point AP exam scale

I feel like my most effective days teaching in AP Stats are the days we clarify misconceptions and reinforce what is understood. Giving lectures, which is something my kids DID ask for more of, seems like a bit of a time waste for kids that I know can and will mostly read/watch when I tell them to.

I have a hunch that at least a segment of these higher AP scores are because the brighter kids benefited more from the self-paced learning afforded by the video model, but it’s significant enough for me to give it a shot next week when we return from Spring Break.