Sixth Day of Tech-mas - Adobe Spark


If you are looking to give your students a powerful creation tool, definitely check out Adobe Spark for Education! I have been using it for a couple of years. Infact, it is what I use to advertise and market my FlexPD courses that I offer. To see what it looks like, you can check out the page again here: (if you are interested, you can view the FlexPD classes and let me know if you would like to sign up for one:) )

There are 3 iPad Adobe Apps:

  • Adobe Video: allows you to produce great videos which can be downloaded or used in social media or websites

  • Adobe Post: allows you to create beautiful eye-catching graphics

  • Adobe Page: allows you to create simple, visually appealing websites (Like the one created for my FlexPd classes).

Adobe Spark's tools allow teachers and students to create websites, digital stories and videos, and images & graphics. Adobe Spark offers templates for those who are unsure where to start. Here are just a few of the cool things you can do with Adobe Spark:

  • Upload your own images

  • Search within their platform and freely use the images you find

  • Start with a template and customize it from there

  • Editing capabilities with photos

  • Good amount of fonts and formatting options to make the page visually appealing

  • You can embed buttons to take you to other links

  • It incredibly easy to use! I think even younger students would create amazing things using Adobe Spark.

There's NO limit to what you and your students can do with these tools ... and remember, they are FREE!

Fourth Day of Tech-mas - Science Journal

First off, a special bit of thanks to Sarah Kiefer (@kiefersj) for the idea on this one. Sarah is doing something similar to Tech-mas with her 15 Days of Tech You Can Do (check out the link to her blog). I’m not a “science guy” but there are aspects of this tool that get me excited for authentic learning. I mean, how cool would it be for a track coach to measure how fast an athlete can run?

Science Journal by Google seeks to “transforms your device into a pocket-size science tool that encourages students to explore their world. As they conduct eye-opening experiments, they’ll record observations and make new, exciting discoveries.” Check out their 1 minute video below to get an idea of the possibilities of using your iOS device (student iPad) to gather and report data.

 Science Journal by Google is available on all types of devices.

Science Journal by Google is available on all types of devices.

The Science Journal website has over 70 different experiment ideas organized by level, equipment, duration and features.

There is also a iOS app for use by students on their iPads. The app capitalizes on the microphone, the compass, the sensors of mobile devices to allow students to use an:

  • Accelerometer X, Y, & Z (in m/s^2)

  • Barometer (hPa)

  • Brightness (EV)

  • Compass (degrees)

  • Linear accelerometer (m/s^2)

  • Magnetometer (uT)

  • Pitch (Hz)

  • Sound intensity (db)

If you like this resource, don’t forget to check out the other tools shared in the 14 Days of Tech-mas.

Third Day of Tech-mas - Edji

If you have students read content from online articles, and have wanted a way to embed questions and record student responses right in the article, then Edji is something you should try. I heard about Edji last year, forgot about it for awhile, then returned to it this school year because of our Social Department’s PLC focus on Literacy this year. Check out this video from Edji’s founder (a Minnesota guy) to see what Edji looks like - it is less than 3 minutes long.

Will shows you how to create your first reading on Edji! Make reading engagement visible, with Edji. For additional info on using Edji in the classroom, check out our guides: If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out!

Edji is unique in that it allows for student responses to be text, audio, or emoji (might be helpful for emerging readers, or just something different for high schoolers). I think if you take a look at it, you could find a useful way to incorporate into lessons which involve independent reading. There is a free version of Edji, which just got better. Here is what I received in a recent email:

“Edji has always been a free tool, and that isn't going to change, however, we will be tweaking how the free readings will be delivered. Free users will now have access to most 'Hero' features, including questions, instructions, and comment replies!”

These features will be available for free to everyone starting in 2019. Hero is the paid version of Edji. It costs $5/mo. The social studies department is discussing purchasing this for the remainder of the school year.

You can also see the many great lesson ideas that edji has to offer here:

 Click on the image above to see some of the many lesson ideas that Edji has to offer.

Click on the image above to see some of the many lesson ideas that Edji has to offer.

If you have any questions about Edji or how to use it, please let me know.

If you missed any days of Tech-mas you can catch up here: 14 Days of Tech-mas

First Day of Tech-Mas - Edpuzzle

Monday, December 3

Edpuzzle is a fantastic FREE web/app based tool to use to turn videos into engaging assessments. Edpuzzle allows the teacher to take a video (YouTube, Khan Academy, Crash Course, TED talks, etc.), embed questions, comments, and links into the video, and record the responses of students for feedback or grading.

I have used Edpuzzle for the last 3 years, and it keeps getting easier to use, and the pre-made content library keeps expanding. Edpuzzle will take your roster from Google Classroom so that students simply have to log in with their school google accounts. It works well on an iPad in the Edpuzzle app, and also on the web in a chromebook or laptop.

 Examples of content from CrashCourse

Examples of content from CrashCourse

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 1.11.56 PM.png

Edpuzzle also lets you use pre-made content in the shared Edpuzzle library. Most videos I would like to use have already been used by another educator and shared to the public library. I can then edit the questions from ones already created so they fit what I would like to assess. In Edpuzzle you can create both multiple choice and short answer questions. The multiple choice ones are automatically graded for you.

There is also a gradebook, which can be used to show the scores of students. It doesn’t let me export directly to Google Classroom… yet (think growth mindset :) ).

 Snapshot of a gradebook without the student names.

Snapshot of a gradebook without the student names.

In the words of Edpuzzle: “Use Edpuzzle to make any video your lesson, engage your students to learn in a 21st century tool. Try it today!” I’d have to agree. If you have any questions about getting started or how to use it, let me know. I used it so much that I was invited to become an Edpuzzle Coach. Be sure to check it out here:

Be sure to check out the other days in the 14 Days of Tech-mas

14 Days of Tech-Mas

I have been re-inspired to create the 14 Days of Tech-Mas for teachers at Milaca Public Schools. Each school day leading up the the Holiday break, I will share 1 technology tool with some insight on how to use it in the classroom. I’m not expecting them to be used everyday, nor am I expecting everyone to use them all. I hope that by the time we leave for break, that you have explored a couple of them and have given some consideration to how you could use them with students. Hope you enjoy! Use this link to check out the days so far:

Changing the Learned Helplessness of Educators

This post is the third in a series for the #IMMOOC book study on Katie Martin’s book, Learner Centered Innovation. This week the focus is on changing traditions that don’t work anymore.

Professional development in many schools, including Milaca, traditionally have taken the form of one-and-done, sit-and-get workshops. We have brought in many “experts” who came to share their ideas about what should be done in the classroom. In the past 19 years, very few of these have stuck.

One of the first I remember was on standards assessments for the Minnesota Profiles of Learning. We were trained for three hours about what represented a 4, 3, 2, or 1. Then we broke for lunch and in the afternoon met with department members so we could practice assessing using the new scale. These assessments were never discussed again after this day and the Profiles were scrapped after my first year of teaching.


Another training was called CARS, which stood for Content Area Reading Strategies. Honestly the name is all I remember from that training. The biggest problem was that it was a three hour guilt-trip about how it is not just English Language Arts teachers that are responsible for teaching and developing readers. It’s too bad, because improving reading strategies in the classes I teach is now something I would like to improve on, and I think that workshop could have helped.

The tradition of the one-and-done, sit-and-get, and one-size-fits-all professional development for teachers has come and gone and needs to be limited or eliminated from education. This has a direct impact on the learning experiences we give our students because if teachers are expected to learn in that style, they will expect the same to work for their students (see my post Teachers Create What They Experience).

Despite this, there are many teachers, some of whom I work with, that want the path of least resistance; they want the easy road; they want to be left alone; they want to return to their rooms to grade papers, prep a new unit, or create elaborate bulletin boards. While each of these have their place in a teacher’s workday, they can also get in the way of providing the teachers with their own authentic learning opportunities.

The worst part of the traditional professional development is that it creates a culture for educators of “learned helplessness.” According to Katie Martin in her book Learner Centered Innovation, “Too many kids put in little effort and just wait to be guided, which is also known as “learned helplessness” (p. 135). Replace the word “kids” with “learners” and you could just as easily be referring to teachers. Without buying in to the goals of the training, teachers withdraw. Their minds wander. They begin thinking about all those other things they could be doing.

“If we want to close the gap between how we say we want learning to look in schools and how it actually looks, we must change how we design learning experiences for students and educators” (#LCInnovation, p. 137). Allowing for teachers to engage in their own personal learning experiences to further develop their strengths, or find other areas in which to grow, will provide opportunities for teachers to #ChaseCuriosity. Teachers will then encourage personal learning for their students, which will allow them to #ChaseCuriosity also.

Applying Katie’s 8 Questions to Create Personal Learning Experiences (#LCInnovation, p. 147-149) to the learning of teachers can help us create innovative, new Professional Development. We need to start by recognizing that each teacher is an individual, with individual needs. Then we need to allow teachers to develop and own their own professional learning goals. Providing necessary support to teachers is essential. This can be done by participating in Professional Learning Communities, working with an Instructional Coach, or seeking out other resources they may need. Finally, making learning visible is essential in this type of professional development. If we don’t share what we learn with others, do we really learn anything?

Not all of the responsibility for changing professional development lies in the hands of teachers. Our schools and administrators have perpetuated the traditional model because it serves some of the needs they have to make sure all teachers get the same messages. In this way, they encourage the “learned helplessness” of teachers. This helps to explain Katie’s message that, “the reason we don’t see more schools devoted to meeting the unique needs of each learner is that we are still operating in systems where standardization is deeply ingrained in our procedures and policies” (#LCInnovation, p. 149). Changing the culture of a school is no simple thing, but there are other ways to spread a consistent message, while at the same time allow for individual personal opportunities. Flipping a staff meeting is one that comes to mind.

Jennifer Gonzalez, in her Cult of Pedagogy blog post called, OMG Becky. PD is Getting So Much Better!!, lists suggestions for schools to try if they wish to change the traditional model of professional development. I would add to this one other suggestion, which we are currently using in Milaca, the FlexPD model. Flex PD is an opportunity for teachers to personalize their professional development. Teachers are given 15 hours, two contracted days, to engage in growth opportunities in areas of interest and need. If interested, I describe this in detail in another post called The FlexPD Project.

I think all of these suggestions would help alleviate the “Learned Helplessness” of teachers and lead to empowering opportunities for professional growth where Learning Matters Most.

Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence

This post is the second in a series for the #IMMOOC book study on Katie Martin’s book, Learner Centered Innovation.

Most districts have a vision statement, but few know what it is or use it to guide their work.
— #LCInnovation p. 97

I remember a couple of years ago, our Superintendent formed a committee and hired some consultants to help formulate both a Mission and Vision Statement for our school. At the time I was aware of both. Since that time, I had forgotten the Mission Statement, however, I am daily reminded of the Vision Statement: “Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence.” See this picutre? That’s the classroom I use everyday. I do love the classroom; the wall of windows is amazing.

 Outside of Room 218 at Milaca High School

Outside of Room 218 at Milaca High School

We also have a district Mission Statement. I’ll be honest, I had to look it up on the school website:

Mission Statement:

To educate, empower, and engage all students to become caring and responsible citizens who will succeed in an ever-changing world.

Do the decisions made at district, building, or classroom levels align with our mission and vision statements? Or have they just become words that look nice painted on a wall in the new addition of the school?

I really don’t think there is anything wrong with the statements themselves. They were developed in a very collaborative process which included students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. They set a purpose and include goals of what we want for our students when they leave the school after 13+ years of education. However, I don’t feel we live up to these standards we set for ourselves. I’m certain that Milaca isn’t the only district not to live up to these standards, so while I might be directly discussing my school, this shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment of Milaca alone.

In her book, Learner Centered Innovation, Katie Martin discusses 3 common themes for why districts don’t fully live out the visions they create: No Buy-In, Multiple Visions, and a misalignment of Accountability Focus.

The first is a lack of buy-in. Either decision makers (includes: administrator and teachers) don’t know what the vision or mission statements are, or they have no connection to them. Either way, the vision will not be seen in the decisions made which impact student learning. The fact I had to look up what the mission statement was is a testament to the fact that there is little buy-in. I’m certain I am not the only member of our staff who would struggle with that one. Also, even though the words of the Vision Statement are painted for all to see everyday, how much thought has really been given to what the words mean, let alone, pondering how we can create opportunities to put these visions into practice?


The second problem faced has to do with having multiple and competing visions. I don’t feel having both a Mission and a Vision Statement is causing identity issues for Milaca. I think what has failed to happen however, is what Katie suggests must take place: “Each school, team, and department should take time to define what the vision means for them and how their work is guided by it.” In Milaca, there is not clear consensus exists on what “Instilling Pride and Achieving Excellence” means. I fear the decisions we are making, and the actions we are taking, are instead “Instilling Compliance and Achieving Conformity.” Each month we have a High School Staff Council meeting that turns into a place for others to air their grievances, and it’s not even Festivus (see the Seinfeld reference there).

  • Do students need a make-up slip when they were absent?
  • What about cell phones?
  • Should kids be allowed to wear hats?
  • Can kids carry backpacks? - By the way, the handbook says “no” to backpacks. My response to kids is to tell teachers it’s a purse; they’re not banned by the handbook.

The message each of these sends could have something to do with Pride - if the message was delivered correctly, but the message which is received being received by students is about compliance. We could engage kids in conversations about signs of respect and that wearing a hat in a building is a sign of disrespect, but instead what we do is yell at kids to “Take that off!” - hardly a prideful response.

The third problem schools face when aligning decisions to their mission and vision statements has to do with accountability. Schools put admirable and desirable goals into their statements, but then hold people accountable in ways that don’t align with the intended mission or vision. Our Mission in Milaca includes empowering students to be caring and responsible students who will succeed in the world of the future. I really like this part of the statement. However, there is a disconnect between what we say and what we do. Students are prepared for passing state mandated tests, using curriculum designed to give them the skills to pass the test. Teachers hold fast to countless standards prescribed by the state of Minnesota as benchmarks they cover. Very little is being done to empower teachers, and as a result, even less is being done to empower students.

As I said above, I like our Vision and Mission Statements. I don’t think the problem lies in what they say or the goals we should strive for. Where we fail is in the implementation and application of those in driving the decisions that are made. Not only can we do better, but we MUST do better. As a classroom teacher, I should be asking myself with each lesson, if this is something that will educate, empower, and engage my students. If I am honest and answer no, they I must adapt the lesson to align with the Mission, or I must scrap it and replace it with something that does. #ChaseCuriosity. As a Technology Integration Coach, am I locating and providing the tools which will help teachers accelerate the learning of students? If not, what sort of help or assistance can I provide to empower teachers? If I were a principal and running a staff council meeting that is turning into a gripe (replace this word if you wish) session, I must redirect the group and remind them of our vision, so that the focus shifts to those ideas that will Instill Pride and Achieve Excellence. #LearningMattersMost

The question I keep coming back to is this:

Are your systems designed for people to comply and implement your programs and policies, or are your systems designed to empower people to learn, improve, and innovate?
— #LCInnovate p. 57

This isn’t a unique struggle to Milaca, it is one that permeates our educational system. I know it can’t be fixed overnight, but beginning to move our decision-making into alignment with our Mission and Vision is a step we can all take in the right direction.

Teachers Create What They Experience

Recently I began season 4 of the #IMMOOC experience. If you haven’t checked it out before you should. This is my third time participating in the Innovation Journey with thousands of other educators across the world. It is some of the most energizing professional development I do all year. This year, as part of the program I am reading and reflecting on the book, Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin. Each week contains a choice of different blog prompts. This week, I chose: Why is it critical to spark curiosity and ignite passions in learners?

In the introductory chapter, called What If?, Katie says, “If we want to change how students learn, we must change how teachers learn.” This really connected with me because I often work with teachers as part of being a technology integration coach. I see some fantastic teachers who really find ways to connect their content with kids. They are creative and innovative and I really admire them. I also see teachers that are stuck. They are afraid to evolve. They resist challenges to try something different because it was “not they way they learned.” As Katie puts it, “Many teachers rely on the models of how they have always taught, despite the resources at their fingertips or those of their students.” Teachers create what they experience.

This is a part of education that we need to change. To change it, we need to change the way teachers learn.

Our students need empowering and authentic learning experiences which stretch their thinking and promote creative solutions. Students become passionate learners when they are given the opportunity to #ChaseCuriosity. Teachers become important to these learners not because they are the holders of some special content which is release in small doses, but because they are the ones who guide students to ask critical questions, then assist them along the path of discovery as solutions are sought to real-life problems. To get to the point where students are given this voice and choice, we must first allow teachers to have the same experiences with their own learning that we want for the students. Teachers create what they experience.

We need our teachers to have empowering and authentic learning experiences that stretch their thinking and promote creative solutions. We need to empower teachers to be part of the problem/solution process with innovations that must take place in order for student learning to flourish. Teachers need opportunities to explore their own curiosities and find ways to bring their passions into the classroom. After all, what good does it do the world if you keep the best ideas for yourself. Teachers must feel supported to take risks. Some may need to see the safety net; some may be ready to jump in head first, but they will all need to know someone will be there to help them if they need it. These same things are needed from our students. If teachers experience them first, they will recognize the benefits and begin to expect them from our students. Teachers create what they experience.


Every teacher is different. They teach different ages or levels of kids. They have different areas of content specialties. They have different areas of need and different areas of strengths. Therefore teachers need personalization of learning as much as students do. They need to be offered choice and voice in their professional learning opportunities. Give them the chance to explore their strengths even deeper and the learn ways to grow in their areas of weakness. Flexibility in the when, where, and how teachers learn should be the guiding principle. At Milaca Public Schools, we have taken two days of the calendar that teachers no longer need to show up for work. Instead, teachers to create their own learning plans for professional growth and development. They do two days of learning when they want, where they want, and how they want. If you are interested in the FlexPD model, please check out my earlier post about how we have instituted this at Milaca Public Schools. Teachers create what they experience.

What a perfect heading that Katie Martin uses on page 8 of Learner Centered Innovation. She also has a great TEDx Talk on it. Teachers DO create what they experience. As Katie says, we have not just an opportunity, but rather an obligation to change how students learn. If we are serious about what to change how students learn, then we must first change how teachers learn. If we want to spark curiosity and ignite passion in students, teachers must be the ones that first #ChaseCuriosity and model that #LearningMattersMost.

Flipping the Roles of Student and Teacher

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher asked if I would take over his 8th grade class to introduce iMovie and the features it has so that they can use them for a video project they will create over the next few days. At first I was pretty worried and I was ready to have a conversation with him about how it shouldn’t just be all about the app and that you must start with a curricular goal, then find the best tool to meet the learning objective in the most engaging way possible. I didn’t say that right away, instead I listened to what his objectives were, and I had to agree that using iMovie would be a very creative and unique way for students to demonstrate the learning he wanted. I then said I would be happy to lead a student training on the use of iMovie.

As I started to prepare to lead a lesson for 8th graders, which is pretty scary when you are used to working with seniors, I was inspired by a story told by Carl Hooker in his book, Mobile Learning Mindset: The Coach’s Guide to Implementation. He recounts going into a First Grade Classroom where the teacher had asked him to teach kids to use an app called Chalkboard. Carl had never used the app before this and had never even heard of the app. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to disappoint the teacher and the class, so he began with an “exploratory” period, where students just played around with the app. Pretty soon, there were some students who started “getting it” and began showing off the features of the app to their friends and neighbors. Some students were becoming frustrated because they didn’t understand, and soon they were being helped by the emerging student experts. Near the end of the exploring period, Carl started asking kids questions about Bats: what they looked like and where they lived. Kids were then encouraged to draw a bat and a cave, using the new app they just taught each other how to use. Carl describes,

In the period of 30 minutes, the class had gone from an exploratory lesson, to one with some direction, to one where the students were the lead learners (and teachers)
— p. 54

What Carl was demonstrating and describing was that,

Empowering learning moments happen for everyone when the roles of student and teacher become reversed.

This was the experience I wanted the kids to have while learning iMovie. Knowing that they would have enough class time to work on their project for the teacher later, I thought they would have more fun trying to learn something new, something most of them wouldn’t know how to do, juggle. I put 3 objectives on the board as we began: 1) Learn how to juggle, 2) Document your learning process using the iPad, and 3) Play around with the app, iMovie.

The students partnered off and began to work. I provided each pair with 3 kleenexes and instructed them to document their learning process by having a partner videotape them. Students played around with this for a good 10 minutes, taking turns behind and in front of the camera. They had a blast. They laughed, they struggled, and even one was able to conquer!

By the time 10 minutes was up, there was some frustration, so I asked students, where do you go for help when you don’t understand something. “A teacher” was the quick answer, but then I pressed for more. Eventually we got to YouTube and then searched for videos about learning how to juggle. Students were then sent off again for more exploration, more practicing, and more filming.

After about 10 more minutes we then had plenty of footage to begin playing around with to utilize the features of the app. I spent about 5 minutes demonstrating how to add clips, cut clips, trim clips, add voice-over audio, and add text titles. The final 20 minutes of class was spent editing their new videos documented how they learned, or failed to learn, how to juggle. I also encouraged students to continue exploring other features of the app and if they found something “new” to call myself or their teacher over to show us and explain how to use it. We would then announce it for the class and students then began checking that out too. My favorite one was when one girl called me over and said, “LOOK! It has FILTERS. It’s just like Instagram.”

Overall, it was really amazing to watch the students really get into it. After the class was over, the teacher came up to me and said, “This was perfect. I can’t believe how much I learned and how much the kids showed me what to do.”

Empowering learning moments happen for everyone when the roles of student and teacher become reversed.

Epilogue moment: I dropped in on the class today as they were beginning work on their actual project and 100% of the kids were not just engaged, but 100% of the kids were innovating in their own ways, ways I hadn’t even considered.

Creating the Class I Want to be a Student In

In the past I have written about two of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. Check out my post about What is Resiliency and How Collaborations Have Made Me a Better Teacher. Recently, I have been coming back to a third of those characteristics: Creation. The inspiration to write on this topic came from the Week 2 of Season 3 Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC blog post ideas.

 Part of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros

Part of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros

Innovators design, they iterate, they build/experiment, they redesign, they iterate again, and they rebuild/re-experiment. It is an essential part of the learning process. We need to view ourselves and our students as Innovators, as people who want to create new and better learning experiences. These creations aren’t just physical products, but they can also be new and better ways of thinking, mental models, processes, systems, or a variety of other things.

As teachers, one thing we NEED to create is the type of classroom that we would like to a student in. This becomes a central theme for George Couros in his book, Innovator’s Mindset. Couros highlights a passage from the Center for Accelerated Learning, “Learning is creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates… Learning is literally a matter of creating new meanings…” These new meanings are created by making connections. Connecting previously learned material with new in ways that personalize learning for students fosters deeper learning.

As a Technology Integrationist, I believe tech will most definitely help students make these connections. If I were a student in my class, I would expect the teacher to effectively integrate technology in (almost) EVERY lesson. To leverage technology in meaningful ways however, teachers need to push themselves and their students to get beyond just consuming and regurgitating content they find online or in digital sources. Think of how many digital worksheets we have students complete. How is a student supposed to personalize this and create new and more meaningful learning? I’m just as guilty of using these digital worksheets as anyone. There is a time and place for such low-level SAMR substitution, but there needs to be the realization that it isn’t leveraging technology to its fullest possibilities to increase learning. These moments should be chosen carefully and cautiously. Would I want to be in a student that only used their technology for guided reading? NO.

If I were a student in my class, I would expect Voice and Choice. I would expect the teacher would create opportunities for me to find my own path toward learning. Allowing students the opportunities to choose their own ways to demonstrate and express learning in meaningful ways is accelerated through the use of technology. 1:1 devices (we currently use iPads in Milaca) are full of creation apps, video and photograph tools, and recording possibilities. These tools allow for students to express themselves in their own “voice.” Allowing students to choose the best ways to share their learning experience while also empowering them to work through the creative and innovative process of design, iterate, build/experiment, redesign, iterate again, and rebuild/re-experiment.

Would I want to be a student in a classroom where I am able to creatively express my learning and use it to spark new ways to #ChaseCuriosity? Most Definitely.

Brace Yourself, The Game of School is Coming... to an End?

It can be a devastating feeling when you become excited and passionate about something (a new idea, a new lesson, or a new activity you're certain with engage and empower students to learn) and to have someone, especially someone you respect, burst your bubble, try to knock you down a few pegs. Recently, I've been reading Carl Hooker's Mobile Learning Mindset: The Coach's Guide to Implementation. In the preface of the book, Carl describes a situation in which his director shot down an idea he was passionate about. It happened to be the belief that iPads could open up new and innovative pathways in education. Like Carl, I've had it happen to me too. I've been very inspired by new things I learn from workshops, PLN, or blogs or books I've read. When the first thing your colleague says about it is, "That will never work," you get this sinking pit feeling in your stomach. Your demeanor changes as you now feel defeated and dejected. Unfortunately, if I'm being truly honest, I know I am guilty of committing this sin with others: colleagues, friends, family, and students.

Recently, I was reading a post titled, How to Be a Difference Maker in Education by AJ Juliani that dealt with this topic. AJ says, "We are also surrounded by teachers, leaders, parents, and even students who are playing the game of school. It’s been set up this way for years and it is hard to break decades of doing things “the way they always have been done” (even when we know it isn’t best for kids)." Students in the Game of School try to accumulate as many points as possible. They rack them up by turning in completed assignments, getting as many questions as possible correct on tests and quizzes. They ask for extra credit opportunities to get more points if their grade isn't what they want. They use their accumulation of points to show their parents, their friends, their prospective college admissions officers, etc. that they have learned what was expected of them. Unfortunately, the game students have learned from their earliest years of their education does a poor job of preparing them with skills needed to be successful in life and career.

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AJ Juliani continues this train of thought by suggesting 3 ways to move away from playing this game in another post entitled, Stop Teaching Kids to Play the Game of School

  1. Give Students Choice in their Learning Experiences, and support them when they fail. I hope by now you've noticed the hashtag #ChaseCuriosity that I tag all of my blog posts with. This is becoming my "WHY" in education: Empower students with the ability access limitless knowledge and to utilize the best tools to find it (consumption) and make it their own (innovation).
  2. Teach Students to view Challenges as Opportunities. In other words, move kids toward a growth mindset. To jump off of what George Couros says, "Challenges are Opportunities to do something Amazing."
  3. Teach Students how to make their own game. Students become the Innovators of their own education. They no longer need to compete for points to show others they learned, instead they learn for learning's sake.

I don't think Carl's boss was intentionally trying to destroy Carl's passion for harnessing the power of tablets in education. I believe it is easy for teachers and administrators to also get caught up in the game of school by perpetuating the way it has always been done because it promotes the path of least resistance. I admit I've been caught up this game a time or two also. I admire Carl Hooker's resolve to stay true to what he believed was best for students, even if it meant taking risks, blazing new paths, and innovating new games. Games that will empower students to take control, #ChaseCuriosity, and be successful in life and career.

Update from 10/6/17:

Recently Kasey Bell in her blog Shake Up Learning also addressed this topic in her post, In the Game of School, We Change or Students Lose! Kasey reflects on the point of assigning points and grades based on those points to students,

At what point do grades actually reflect learning, and not just how well students play the game of school.
— Kasey Bell, Shake Up Learning

Kasey also suggests some other changes to help students and teachers break away from the Game of School. Start breaking those bad habits and routines we haven gotten ourselves into. Challenge the status quo - rock the boat if needed, try new things, create change that you believe in. I would add to that, find those colleagues that are will to take those risks with you. It will be a small group, but the support they provide will help you stay the course.

Students Presenting to Students: The Dragon Tech Summit Experience


Congratulations to the students and staff at Pine City, MN High School for organizing and hosting the Dragon Student Tech Summit on Sept. 19. Thank you for inviting me to share BreakoutEDU with students and staff. A big shout out goes to Dihanna Fedder, Pine City's amazing Technology InteGREATionist (@DLFedder). 

I LOVE this idea and want to see it repeated at other schools. Check out the link to the Summit, to find out more about the event itself, but here is a run down from my perspective.

I arrived at 11:15 for a "Presenters" lunch. There were about 6-8 adult presenters (including me) and 20 students from Pine City that were there to present to their peers. We ate lunch together, had informal conversations between students and adults about what presenting would be like, a few tips on how to handle the unexpected situations that arise, and just getting to know one another. It was the perfect way to begin the day.


Students then arrived to the auditorium where Ben Friesen (@benjaminfriesen), from EdTech Team, gave a humorous Keynote with an empowering message for students. After the Keynote, students were split in half. The first group stayed for a panel discussion dealing with use of technology in education and digital citizenship. The other group then went on their way to breakout sessions which they were able to choose, just like a professional conference. The groups then switched. The first went to the breakouts, the second to the panel discussion.

I presented the BreakoutEDU game "A Case of the Mondays" to 2 separate groups. First a junior high age group. They did well, but near the end started getting frustrated with each other and some bickering began. I ran out of time to do a full debrief in which we could have discussed some of the group dynamics that took place. Needless to say, they didn't breakout. The second group was  high school age kids. All but one student was really into it, and I think they had a lot of fun working through solutions to the clues and locks. They broke out with 10 seconds to spare. Well done!


What a great opportunity to for the students who presented. I wish I would have been able to sit in on their presentations, but I was presenting my self. I love how they fed the student presenters, gave them swag and treated them like VIPs. I loved that students attendees had Choice in the sessions they wanted to attend = #ChaseCuriosity. I loved that they brought in a Keynote to fire up the crowd. I admire their admin for giving up "classroom" time to take a risk with holding a less structured event. I appreciate the Pine City Teaching staff for attending sessions with students to model learning and growth opportunity. I loved the innovation this conference showed and allowed the students to experience. It was not just engaging, but empowering.

There are few things, now that I've seen a Student Tech Summit that I would like to see different. First, I would like there to be an option for students to go to more than 1 breakout, perhaps shorten the presentation to 1/2 hour sessions instead of 1 hour. Second, I feel there should have been a culminating event at the end of the conference, perhaps with door prizes. Third, make it a possibility for presenters to attend other sessions, perhaps if more session times were offered, a presenter could present once and attend 2-3 others. Finally, I'd like to know if this is an annual event, or something to offer a couple times per year.

Next step. Bring the concept to Milaca and other schools. I'm going to begin trying to make this happen. Stay Tuned. I think I found my next curiosity to chase.


The Open House

So, it is probably cliche to write about an open house at the start of a school year and the new beginnings it brings, but I have to admit I am feeling especially excited for the start of this year. Several changes have taken place for me personally and professionally; changes to my philosophical approach to education and my physical teaching environment. It also helped that I had an amazing summer filled with the perfect amounts of vacation, travel, and leisure, but also balanced with just the right amount of professional development. Perhaps in a future post, I can draw connects with our family trip to Big Sky, Montana.

What can students expect to be different in my classes this year? And, what am I super-excited about?

 The family stopped by #Room218 during open house for a selfie. Love them :)

The family stopped by #Room218 during open house for a selfie. Love them :)

  1. Physical Location. We expanded with a small addition to the high school, and I was fortunate enough to get one of the new classroom spaces. The room was designed as a 21st Century learning space, with moveable furniture, windows that open to the commons area with seating arrangements that both promote group study and collaboration, and also provide quite chillax opportunities.

  2. Room Name. This new class space is NOT going to be Mikla’s Room. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the kids and to the school. This idea I picked up from reading Joy Kirr’s book, Shift This. In it she encourages teachers to make their classes, including the physical space more empowering for students. Part of that is shifting the focus of room ownership. Right now I am referring to this classroom as Room 218. Maybe that will change as the year unfolds. I want it to be natural and I want it to be something that the kids will feel the ownership of. One parent who walked in to check out the new room called it the “Fishbowl” because of all the interior windows. I kind of like it. We’ll see if the kids like it too.

  3. Innovation. My personal professional development plan since last spring has been centered around the idea of innovation in education. It started while reading George Curous’s book, Innovator’s Mindset, which hooked me and encouraged me to enroll into A.J Juliani’s online Innovative Teaching Academy, and taking part in a cohort called Digital Learning Leaders at TIES (Technology and Information Education Services). Milaca High School has been a 1:1 iPad school for the past 5 or 6 years. In that time, I have spent part of my day as a technology integrationist. The staff here is incredibly proficient at using an iPad with kids in the classroom, however, I we have stagnated. We have nailed the consuming part of technology, not it is time to allow for creation, and innovation. My goal this year is to work my way out of being a “technology integration specialist” and become an “innovation integration coach.” Technology will still play a huge role in that, but technology and teaching should just go together. You shouldn’t need to separate them. We need to progress to the next stages of preparing our students for college and career by sparking independent curiosity in learning.

  4. Personalized Professional Development. The goal for each of us teachers should be to continue to learn and grow along with all of our students. Students and Teachers each have their individual strengths and areas in need of further growth. I have yet to meet a person who has reached their learning and curiosity levels. Planning for growth needs to be a personal endeavor. I realize I need that for myself. I need to keep chasing curiosity. I need to keep learning. I know there are many others, both teachers and students, that feel the same way. I want to be able to help them take risks and step outside their zones of comfort to find the things that make them curious. Students need the chance for PD as much as teachers.

Open House is a chance for new beginnings. It is a chance to begin and renew relationships . It is a chance to step out of our comfort zone, put our best foot forward and begin to #ChaseCuriosity in our learning journey. Wishing everyone the best in the 2017-2018 school year.

Busy ≠ Important. Important = Important.

Let me begin with an admission of guilt. I am one of those people who has felt being busy was a badge of honor. It made me feel important to share with others how busy I was.

“Let’s see, I’m a really busy person. I can’t make it at 2:00 because I have another really important meeting. 3:00 doesn’t work either because I must take my daughter to swimming. How about tomorrow? It looks like I can fit you in at 6:30 - in the morning.”

It made me feel superior to know I was more involved than others.

“You know, I am on that committee, so I have some inside knowledge you aren’t aware of. What do you mean you aren’t serving on the Youth Committee at Church. Don’t you realize how important it is?”

What I was really saying was "I’m more important than you. My time is more valuable. My opinions should count more." These weren’t the messages I was intending to send, but they were the meanings that were received. Being busy does not mean what you are doing is more important than someone else. Being busy does not make you more valuable than someone else. I’m really not that arrogant of a person. So why was I feeling so busy all the time? The truth is, I was simply using “Busy” as an excuse to avoid and resist working toward the more important goals in my life. I was allowing the “busy” to be the important.


One of the ways I had learned about to deal with being busy was to do fewer things, but do them better. This is something I am now conscious of. I have weeded out a few things from my “busy” schedule, which has definitely helped. However, there are still some that I am not ready to give up on, that still compete for my time. I believe in making my school, my community, and the society in which I live a better place. It is important to me. I don’t want to be someone who sits on the sideline while others work to make things happen. I want to be there in the trenches. This is the reason why I participate in, and often lead, many committees, boards, councils, and other groups. I know being involved in many of these groups makes me busy and distract me from other important goals. However, having a singular, narrow minded focus on one goal is not what I want either. Simply eliminating all distractions that pull me away from some goals may cause me miss out on opportunities or other experiences that may be equally fulfilling - being present and soaking up the journey, not just the destination.

Being important to me, makes it important. Working towards goals I am passionate about, makes it important, not being busy. I want to stop being “busy” by focusing on two ways to rid myself of that “badge of honor.” The first is a mindset shift. Stop using the word "busy" to describe my life and actions. When someone says to me, "I can't believe how busy you are and how you are always on the go," I want my reply to be, "I am very passionate toward the things I care about and generously use my time for them." Secondly, play more. In his article, How to Turn Uninspiring Goals Into an Epic Adventure, Benjamin Hardy says, "The more your life pursuits can become a playful adventure, the more enjoyable - and likely more successful - they will be." Playing helps to reframe goals as quests and takes the emphasis off of "busy."

It is now time to stop writing and take my daughter to swimming. Important or Busy? I know the answer for me. What's the answer for you?

Level Up! Bring your Tech Integration to the Next Level.

One name keeps coming up every where I turn this summer: John Spencer. If you are not following his blog posts, youtube videos, or social media, you are missing out. AJ Juliani and other members of the Innovative Teaching Academy reference him, or his work, often. Three of the four sessions I went to at the recent EdCampMidMN shared his ideas about design thinking, genius hour, personalized learning, and empowering students. He is also often shared on Twitter. It is incredible, but there is a great reason for it all - he is an innovator.

zelda bitmoji.png

Recently, I viewed his presentation, The Seven Stages in the Technology Journey. In it, John discussing the 7 stages a teacher goes through when working to integrate technology in education. When viewing this presentation, I imagined myself as going through these stages as if they were levels in a computer game. I envisioned The Legend of Zelda (original Nintendo version - that makes me feel old). Here are the "Gamified" Levels (mine) and the bulleted stages of John Spencer's presentation.


Level 1: The hero of our game is isolated in a room with 25-30+ creatures and must keep them all in line. Their focus is preventing them from being distracted, because that when problem occur.

  • Isolationism - Teacher believes technology gets in the way of real learning. "Put your device away. It is distracting you and the rest of the class."

Level 2: The hero of our game finds a secret weapon and begins to use it to help maintain control of the creatures.

  • Awareness - Teacher believes that maybe technology can help with a few things. "You know that spell checker is a good idea to use."

Level 3: The hero of our game discovers their is a world outside of the room where the creatures are confined and that while it is a scary beyond the walls, there are adventures awaiting them if they are willing to explore.

  • Tourism - Teacher believes technology is a learning event or reward. "Great work today everyone! We are going to go to the Computer Lab now to play (educational) games."

Level 4: The hero of our game discovers that having adventures outside the room are fun and reward and begins to spend more and more time there, saving more and more creatures along the way.

  • Assimilation - Teacher buys in completely integrating technology into every aspect of learning. "I'm going completely paperless this year!"

Level 5: The hero of our game discovers there are road blocks and challenges along the way. Those challenges become more difficult to manage and defeat all the time. They win some battles, lose others, have to hit the reset button a few times.

  • Culture Shock - Teacher realizes technology failed to change every aspect of learning. "Everything is taking way too long. Students aren't the Digital Natives I thought they were."

Level 6: The hero of our game refuses to give up and begins seeking advice from other gamers who have been through these experience before. While our hero doesn't have all the answers, they are willing to keep trying new things to find out what works, or what works better.

  • Integration - Teacher is effectively integrating technology to match learning goals. "What kind of learning do I want to see? Will technology help students learn this? What technology tool(s) will best help this learning?"

Level 7: The hero of our game has become an innovator. They learn alongside their creatures and fellow gamers as they advance through new, and ever-change game situations.

  • Citizenship - Teacher and Students choose to use technology wisely. "How is technology reshaping what we learn and how? How can we innovate and share our learning to improve the world we live in?"

If you are being honest, where do you see yourself in this game? Where do you want to be? How are you going to get there?

I'm pretty sure I skipped level 1 all together. I don't remember a time where I thought that all distraction from technology must be eliminated, or that I was there to shelter my students from the world.

I do remember Level 2 however. When overhead projector was replaced with an LCD projector. I thought, "Cool, now I can project my notes from my computer instead of on transparencies!"

Level 3 was when our school got a cart with 30 laptops. I created a project (actually a recipe) so that my students could use these new laptops, because they were cool, not the content.

Level 4 engulfed me for a long time. I was the first to buy in that technology was going to fix education. 1:1 iPads were going to make it so that students would have the world available to them with one click. They would innately be creative digital natives, who with just a little push were going to revolutionize the world. Everything in my class had to be done on the iPad, I didn't use paper for anything. While there were many incredible moments, there were also many challenges I hadn't anticipated and the results on learning and student achievement weren't as drastic as I'd hope.

 ~ John Spencer

~ John Spencer

It is then I realized that I had entered Level 5. "Technology won't fix education." I was growing more frustrated by the day. I wasn't ready to give up on the use of technology, instead I started thinking about why technology was used, how it was being used, and what it was being used for. Can you tell this was about the time I read Start With Why by Simon Sinek?

I had entered Level 6. My current challenges and battles are testing me at this level. But the great thing is that I find it extremely rewarding to take the risks because, even though set backs may occur, I understand and desire the rewards they will bring. "What is the best way to use this tool?" "What kind of learning do I want to see?"

Each day I get closer to Level 7. I know what I want from my teaching. I want learning that is personalized for students and for them to feel empowered to pursue that path. There are still obstacles and challenges standing in my way. What do I think will help me reach this next level? Like in the Legend of Zelda game, the map is hidden from me. I haven't found it yet, but maybe it is because it doesn't yet exist. It is a map I am continually making for myself. Maybe it will never be finished, but, the journey of creating it will be the best part.

There is no guidebook or instruction manual or how-to video for how to be a great teacher. There is no secret formula or codified list of best practices that will guarantee success in your classroom....
There’s no point where you “have arrived.” You are always arriving at new places and new ideas and new insights. As a creative teacher, you’re always exploring, always experimenting, always innovating. That’s what makes the journey so amazing.
— "Teachers Need a Roadmap, Not an Instruction Manual." John Spencer. 22 June 2017. Web. 23 June 2017.

How Collaborations Have Made Me a Better Teacher

Do connections fuel innovation in education?

Connections on their own, don't fuel innovation - Collaborations do. I am connected with many people via Twitter, and other platforms. I also work with many other SUPERSTAR educators. I steal many great ideas from those fantastic educators. Sometimes I use them as is, sometimes I make modifications to suit my own needs. Those connections help to share ideas to a large audience, which is amazing. However great these connections are, they don’t hold a candle to the brightness that can be achieved through collaboration. Two or more brains working together to create and support new ideas that work. Wonderful things happen when educators are given, or take for themselves, the opportunity to collaborate.

Connections on their own, don’t fuel innovation - Collaborations do.
— Jeremy Mikla

I remember being a first year teacher 18 years ago. I taught 8th grade Civics along with 2 other new teachers, Patti and Erin. None of us had taught the class before, so we collaborated every day with one another to create a course which was engaging and purposeful for our students. Erin has since moved on, but I still find myself collaborating with Patti at least on a weekly basis; still working on ways to be innovative. This was the first time that I realized it is better to teach in a school of openness, rather than behind a closed door, isolated to my own thoughts, beliefs, and biases. Individually, we affect the students in our own classrooms, but collectively the impacts grow exponentially.

 Join us for the 4th Annual Lake ECMECC Conference at Cambridge-Isanti High School on August 9. Register at:

Join us for the 4th Annual Lake ECMECC Conference at Cambridge-Isanti High School on August 9. Register at:

About 5 or 6 years ago, I was asked by my principal to start attending a monthly meeting of technology integrationists from other schools in our East Central Region of Minnesota. The meetings of this group for the first year were a little strained, conversations were reserved, and people generally felt uncomfortable. The second year, things became easier, ideas shared more freely, and connections that were made the year before became solidified. The third year, we took the connections to the next level - we collaborated to create a local technology in education conference for teachers from all 13 schools represented by our small group. These connections and collaborations have led to an even bigger and better network of educators that we can all turn to when we have questions or problems. Now when we get together, I feel like it is a chance to work with my friends, not just colleagues. 

Working with all these great people, either face-to-face, or virtually, through twitter chats or google hangouts has kept me on top of game. It’s not that I’m trying to impress others with what I know, but rather it is about chasing my own curiosity, and continually trying to improve. It is knowing that my own growth will lead to gains in learning for students. After all, Learning Matters Most.

9 Myths Uncovered about Flexible PD

Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, 15 hours of Flexible Professional Development is coming to ISD 912 in Milaca, MN and perhaps a school near you. If your school is anything like mine, what starts out as a beautiful plan meets initial push back and opposition.

Here are 9 Myths uncovered about Flexible PD (at least in Milaca).

Myth #1: Teachers don’t have time for Flexible PD. 

Flexible means you can structure your professional development during times that fit your needs. By definition, flexible means you schedule your opportunities for growth and strength building during the times that work for you. It also means that it can change or modify the time of your PD based on ever changing demands on your time.

Myth #2: Flexible PD must be done after school, in the building.

Flexible means that locations of learning are varied. Some staff work/learn best in school, others learn best at workshops, others learn best in their PJ’s on the couch with a cup of coffee. Flexible PD allows the teacher-learner to choose the setting that works best for them. I know the visualization of some of us in our PJ’s can be scary, but the opportunities that can be unlocked are not.

Myth #3: Flexible PD topics are chosen by principals; teachers won’t have a choice.

Flexible means that PD opportunities are varied and versatile. The best PD is that which is most relevant to the teacher and to improving learning in the classroom. That means individual choice is essential. Cindy Helmers, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Bloomington School District 87 in Bloomington, IL describes what teachers should look for in choosing their own PD, “Pick professional development to follow your passion or remediate a challenge area.” Flexible PD opens opportunities to try new things. It gives you a chance to work on areas of strength and develop in areas of needed growth.

Myth #4: Flexible PD must happen all at one time.

The idea here is that if you are really going to set aside time for growth and development, that it should be meaningful and significant amount. A half hour here and there spread apart by great periods of time will not allow for sustainable professional development. Delving deep for even two hours at a time helps to make the PD more relevant to you and as a result to your students. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be two consecutive hours, but 2 hours should be dedicated to the same topic. For example, if I am going to watch a 1 hour webinar on a math instructional practice and then meet with other math teachers for 1 hour a week later, I’ve just completed a 2 hour block. Think of the amount of learning which could take place if these routine was completed over the course of a semester, or even a school year.

Myth #5: Flexible PD must be completed with people you already know.

 These 2 have Flexible down to an art form.

These 2 have Flexible down to an art form.

Flexible PD will work best when you have someone to collaborate and share with. You can hold each other accountable and can debrief more deeply when you have someone to bounce ideas off of. However, Flexible PD offers a great opportunity to grow you Personal Learning Network (PLN). Many social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, provide a great outlet for this. Experts in many areas of education routinely share amazing ideas and opportunities and routinely make themselves available for teachers who are trying to improve their craft.

Myth #6: Flexible PD time must only be completed during the school year.

Flexible means it is available to you anytime you are ready for it. Even during the summer. Even as you dip your toes into the lake or want to connect while sunning on the beach. Many great workshops/conferences are offered during the summer because teacher schedules become more open. These give teachers not just the opportunity to learn new things, but also to make connections with other teachers and grow your PLN.

Myth #7: Workshops can't be counted as Flexible PD

Flexible PD can be done at any time, but to avoid contractual issues of “double dipping” you are probably not going to be able to count any workshops you go to that take place during normal school hours. You may be able to count any of the hours that you are at a conference or workshop that fall outside of the normal school day. If a group of you go to a conference and then spend 2 hours afterward debriefing and discussing what was learned, you can probably count those hours

Myth #8: Reflecting on Flexible PD is unnecessary.

At Milaca, 1 of the 15 hours of Flexible PD must be used for reflection. It is a minimum as it reflects only 1/2 hour per semester. As education and learning pioneer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection is where connections can be made from what was learned by the teacher to how it can be directly impactful for students in the classroom. While reflection might be slightly uncomfortable to start with, it will actually be a beneficial and worthwhile endeavor.

Myth #9: Flexible PD is personal and only matters to the individual teacher. It doesn't need to be shared.

What you learn matters a great deal to your students, especially if it is going to lead to new and better ways of teaching and learning. What you learn can also make an impact on other teachers who may have a similar passion or growth area. You won’t ever know unless you share it with others.

What other myths about Flexible PD exist? As you start to make your Flexible PD plans for next year, ignore the myths and focus on what matters most: Learning!