Asking the Right Questions

Anonymous 1 Comments

My wife and I recently went to our son's parent-teacher conference. Micah is in 4th grade and is having a great year. One reason he's having such a great year is because he has some amazing teachers who have connected with my son.

In talking with Micah's math teacher we began to talk about the way he occupies himself when he's done with what the teacher asked him to do. He'll draw, read, lean back in his chair, or talk. You know, typical kid stuff. 

We talked about how Micah is into comic books and likes to draw his own super heroes. She talked about how he has plans to sell his comic books for a profit. None of this is new to me because my son is always trying to find a way to make some money on the side.

However, then she begins to tell me how she asked him a pretty simple question one day when he was talking about selling comic books. I'm not sure if the following conversation is 100% accurate, but it's close.

Teacher: How much are you going to sell your comic books for?
Micah: $1.00
Teacher: Why a dollar?
Micah: Just seems like a good price.
Teacher: Will you make your money back?
Micah: What do you mean?
Teacher: How much money does it cost you to make a comic book? Is $1.00 the right price?

After this conversation Micah began to research to see how much his comic books were costing him and how much should he sell them for when they are done. He looked at the cost of paper, markers, pens, and desks. He considered the amount of time it takes to make one and if he has the ability to make multiple copies. 

It's not a graded project and there's no deadline. It's just a little project he can work on when he has some time. It's not about the curriculum or a test. It's about connecting math with the real world. Micah's teacher could have made him put away his drawings and forced him to do something more "educational" but instead she saw an opportunity to connect my son's passion for comics with mathematics. 

The best part is that I don't think Micah has any idea that she did this. All he knows is that she started asking him questions that he didn't know the answer to and then she helped him find a way to discover the answers. 

The ability to ask the right questions that peak our students' interest is a skill that all teachers could benefit from working on. That's what my son's teacher did that day. The right questions led Micah to think about math in terms of business and production. He was doing math without even really realizing it. 

So how can we ask the right questions? Here are some times.

1. Ask questions that connect content with your students' interest.
2. Ask questions that lead to more questions and less answers.
3. Ask questions that lead students towards collaboration.
4. Ask questions that connect your content area with other content areas.

What are some tips you have for asking the right questions? Why is questioning more important today than answering?

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Thursday #smackdown: InfuseLearning

@mr_brett_clark 3 Comments

Hey everyone! So I'm trying out a new weekly feature on Education Dreamer. I am going to do a weekly feature on a tech tool. As an eLearning coach I get to have the time to explore lots of new tools in education. So I thought I would share a tool each week. My good friend Troy Cockrum does a weekly podcast for the Flipped Learning Network and he has asked me to do a weekly "tech tool" spot on the show. I also work with an amazing group of coaches in my district. As part of our weekly meeting we have a time for tech "smackdowns" where we share out something cool we came across the previous week.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to sharing these tools with you and I hope you like the new weekly feature. I promise this will be the only time I have a lengthy introduction.

This week's #smackdown is a tool called InfurseLearning. InfuseLearning tools any mobile device into a student response system. You can hear me talk about InfuseLearning on Flipped Learning Podcast #18: Quinn Barreth Flipping Without Video.

What I like:
It's a great tool if a school is doing BYOD because it works on any platform. In my district we are 1:1 but a lot times our students' devices are in the shop for a lot of reasons. This allows my teachers to use our 1:1 device and give the students with devices in the shop an iPad and never miss a beat. It's very easy to use and can be set up in a matter of minutes and can be used on the fly. However, if you want to put in your class rosters and make it more structured, it does that too.

I also like the variety of questions you can ask. You can do open response, multiple choice, sort/order, ranking, and even draw response.

Here is a quick youtube video I made for my teachers. You can also find this video on my YouTube channel.

How I've used it and seen it used:
I've used it in PD sessions to get audience feedback and I've been in teachers classrooms when they've used it to collect formative assessment data.

What I'd like to see:
I think it'd be cool if I could relinquish control to a student. I just think it'd be neat if a student had a question and could ask it to the class and then have a record of the data from his or her peers' thoughts and ideas.

Alright, that's my first #smackdown. I plan on doing one every Thursday. Let's see how long I can do this before I get bored and move on. I'm the guy who has changed positions every three years. So we'll see how long I can keep this up. Place your bets now. :)

So what do you think? Would you use InfuseLearning in your classroom? Why or why not? If so, how would you use it? What other tools are our there like this one? Finally, do you like the new weekly feature idea? The comment section awaits!


Parents Have Power

Anonymous 1 Comments

I'm not going to lie, I have had those moments when I dreamed about having a movie made about my contribution in education. If John Goodman was still young or if Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill were still chubby, then they would certainly be in the running for the lead part. I'm not sure how I could get JJ Abrams to direct it but I sure would try. However, I am certain that no movie about about my life will be made.

Not only have I come to grip with the fact that there will probably never be a movie made about my life but I am starting to think that my greatest contribution to education will not come from my role as an educator. You see, I am starting to think that the biggest contribution I can make to education is the one I make while wearing my "parent hat". It's the hat I prefer to wear anyway. You see, I won't always be a professional educator but I will always be a parent.

I don't know about everyone else but I am often approached by friends of mine on how they should handle an issue their child is having at school. More often than not at some point in the conversation I will say to them, "Parents have power." A group of parents can get things done in a school faster than any teacher or politician.

When it comes to the issues that matter in education like poverty, standardized testing, teacher/school evaluation, funding, equity, and the digital divide, just to name a few, it is going to take a collective push from students, parents, and educators. Of all the great contributions Will Richardson has made to education I think one of his greatest accomplishments was the day he and his wife opted his son out of his state test.

I have hope that we can improve education. I just think it's going to take more than just educators to fix it. We have got to get students and parents involved in this. Those of us who still have children in schools have the unique opportunity to attack our issues from two different fronts. We can't be afraid to put on our parent hat and demand a better education for our own children. I hope my sons, as they get older, will work towards improving education as students.

This is not to say that teachers who don't have kids or who have kids that are out of school are not making a difference. Obviously it is going to take all of us if we are going to see the change I think we all want to see.

Parents have power. I think it's a power we don't tap into enough in education. As teachers I think we sometimes fear parents. As parents who also happen to teach I think we fear we are "biting the hands that feed us". We have to got to get parents involved in this fight for education on a larger scale. As a parent/educator I have got to push myself beyond twitter and blog post. If all I ever do is tweet and blog about what I dream education can be but never fight for it, what good am I doing?

This is why I moved my kids to a different school last year. The school they were at was a good school but it wasn't the right fit for my kids. I had to get over my fear of the possibility of the people I work with being insulted and do what was right for my kids. This is why my wife and I are talking about opting my oldest out of the state test. I think they're harmful to education and they don't tell me anything about Micah that his teachers don't tell me on a weekly basis. All it's been used for is to inaccurately grade my kids' school and to help foster a competitive, non-collaborative, school culture. There is work to be done and we must work together. I'm sorry, but I don't think who gets elected next month is going to change much in the world of education.

Educators, what can we do to help get more parents and students informed and involved in this fight? Parent/educators, do you face some of the fears I have talked about? How do you leverage your dual role to improve education in your city?

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Shuffling the Deck (slide)

Anonymous 8 Comments

I've decided to take an idea from my friend Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) and share a slide with you from a recent presentation.

This week I've been preparing to host some educators for the flipped classroom open house. It's always fun to share my journey as an educator and learner.  One thing that's always important to me is to share with folks that flipping the classroom is a lot more than just doing videos at home and homework at school. Which lead me to creating this slide for my opening presentation.

If we are going to innovate our classrooms then we have to do a lot more than just shuffle the cards around. Shuffling the cards just allows us to say we are doing something different without actually doing something different. 

Instead of shuffling, we must decide what cards we are willing to trade in for another. This is the thing I hate about playing cards. I'm always second guessing my decision on what cards to trade in for new ones. However, I know that if I don't trade in any cards, I have no hope of winning. Yes, there is risk involved and yes it doesn't always work out, but just shuffling the cards doesn't change anything.

Here are seven things we should consider trading in when flipping our classrooms.

1. How we define learning.
2. The roles of the teacher/students.
3. The best use of face-to-face time.
4. Assessment/Grades
5. Content Delivery
6. The design of our learning space.
7. Homework

When people reach out to me about the flipped classroom I know it's because they feel like what they are doing isn't working. The worse thing I can do for them is just tell them to shuffle the cards. 


Are We Talking About Practice?

Anonymous 2 Comments

This post originally posted on SmartBlogs.
It’s been over 10 years since Allen Iverson went on his famous rant about missing practice. Yet, I’m sure a majority of you immediately thought of this clip as soon as you read the title of this post.
I basically had this same reaction about every time a teacher would get on me for not doing my homework when I was a student. I hated homework and avoided it at all cost. I just didn’t see the point. I didn’t see the point then, and I don’t see it now. As a young teacher, I assigned and graded homework because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. Then as I moved on and grew as an educator, I assigned homework, but didn’t grade it. I’d provide answers for students to check their work, and I’d happily sit down with them and help them as needed. Finally, my last three years in the classroom I assigned zero homework assignments.
It was the best three years of my teaching career. My students were happier and less stressed. They worked harder for me in those 42 minutes a day that I had them because they knew I wasn’t going to require any more of their time than that. Also, the work that students chose to do outside of class was far more valuable than any homework assignment I had ever assigned.
When I tell people this I almost always get the same responses:
1. What about the kids who need practice?
Yes, there are students who would benefit from extra practice at home. I had a list of ways they could practice outside of the classroom each week. I’d have problems out of the book they could do, maybe a worksheet with some problems, a link to a website or sometimes a project. Each week, I was prepared to help my students think about how they wanted to improve their math skills.
If a student chose to practice something outside of class, I was always more than willing to help that student look at his or her work. The point is, I gave my students choice and made them responsible for their learning.
2. What about the kids who need to practice but chose not too?
This question almost always follows the first one. What happens when a kid needs to practice but doesn’t? The same thing that happens to a kid who wants to play a sport but doesn’t practice. Eventually, it catches up to him or her. As educators, we like to talk a lot about natural consequences. We say that when a student doesn’t do his or her work and receives an after-school detention that is a natural consequence. However, I’ve had a lot of days when I’ve not finished my work and I’ve never been forced to stay after to finish it. I didn’t study a lick for my AP calculus exam in high school because I didn’t care. I failed it miserably. So I had to retake calculus in college. That was a natural consequence, and it was the last test I remember failing.
3. What did you use for grades?
My gradebook was paper-thin, which gave me more time to communicate with parents and design amazing lessons, and it relieved me of a lot of stress. I had summative assessments designed around learning targets, and my students took those or offered to prove their learning another way. In the end, I had around six to eight grades per nine weeks. My students knew exactly what was going into my grade book, and they didn’t offer to prove they learned something unless they were certain. If they messed up a summative assessment, they could do it over again if they wanted to. I never forced it because I wanted them to want to do better.
4. Did I still have students fail my class?
Yes I did, but having to repeat my math remediation class again the next year was the natural consequence of their choices.
Homework has really been on my brain lately thanks to the creation of Teachers and Parents Against Homework Group on Facebook, John Spencer’s Week Without Homework Challenge, and this post from Patrick Larkin. I also recently wrote a blog about my kids’ life without homework.
So tell me where you stand on this issue. What’s your ideal homework situation as an educator, parent or student? If you have eliminated homework from your class, how have you done it?
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Leadership: Vision, Passion, and Emotion

@mr_brett_clark 2 Comments

I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately. I've been thinking about it from the standpoint of a follower and a leader. In some ways we are always following and we are always leading. Even if we don't realize it. So I think it is real important that we think about the type of leaders we want to follow and the type of leader we want to be.

One could look at leadership as a combination of a person's vision, passion, and emotion. I think it's real to watch leaders balance these three components and the effects it has on those who are following them or are suppose to be following them. 

I have seen leaders who you knew what they wanted but were hard to read emotionally. Does that make sense? I knew exactly what they wanted and what they expected out of me but when I talked to them I couldn't really tell how they felt. Their decisions were based on their vision and passions but they kept their emotions in check.

Then I've seen leaders who you knew exactly how they felt but you didn't know what they wanted from you. I could tell if they were pleased or angry but I never knew what they wanted. Therefore I was always more nervous talking to them because I felt like I was flipping a coin and I was either going to get happy or mad. When this type of leader makes a choice it is hard to tell if they made it based on their vision, passion, or emotion because they haven't articulated where the are headed.

I must admit, I'm not sure if any of this makes sense. Let me just boil it down to some bullet points.

  • I can't over emphasize how much I want a leader who has a clear vision and can articulate it well.
  • I want a leader who has passion but keeps his/her emotions in check because I think emotions can effect decisions and it's not always positive.
  • Not only do I want these things as a follower but I want to have them as a leader.

So now you can tell me if this blog post makes sense or not? How important are vision, passion, and emotion to you as a follower/leader? Can you really be called a leader if you have no vision? Can you be passionate but not emotional? Should you be?

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Thoughts on Homework - Survey Results

@mr_brett_clark 5 Comments

A week ago today, on September 27th, I sent out a survey with the intent to collect people's thoughts on homework. It didn't matter if you were an educator, parent, student, or a combination of those titles. I wanted to know what you thought about homework. I am so honored that 115 people took the time to fill out and survey.  I have really enjoyed reading through everyone's responses!

I want to share some different data points, some comments and data that stood out to me, and some things that I am now wondering.

I also want to share the results of the survey so you can draw some of your own conclusions.  Feel free to post your own blog about the survey results.  All I ask is that you point back to this post if you use the data from the survey on your website.


What did I notice? What did I wonder?
Here are some things that I noticed, with what I wondered in parentheses.
  • I didn't have very many student responses. (I wonder how I could get more student responses.)
  • The majority of people who responded were teachers and/or parents. (I wonder how many were elementary teachers and how many were secondary. I also wonder how many kids each parent had and how old their kids are.)
  • The majority of the teachers who filled out the survey don't assign homework. (I wonder what this says about my audience. I wonder how the survey would have been different if the teachers in my building would have filled it out.)
  • The majority of parents said their student doesn't come home with homework. (I wonder how many of those students have homework, but don't bring it home. I wonder if parents with less homework feel disconnected from their child's learning experience.)
  • Most people said they or their students spend less than hour a night on homework. (I wonder how the survey would be different if students tracked their time spent on homework for a month and then took the survey.)
Comments that stood out to me.
I really enjoyed reading everyone's responses. This is a great conversation to have and I really appreciate the time and thought everyone put into this. I'll quote the responder with how they identified themselves in parentheses.

"Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent." (Teacher) I really like this quote. It really resinated with me. It made me think about the number of times I've had to help a student unlearn something because I sent him or her home to practice something incorrectly.

"It helps him hate math." (Teacher/Parent) I am going to assume that this person wrote that with his/her parent hat on.

"Yes as it helps to reinforce the concepts learned. Mathematics is a "doing" subject." (Teacher) I thought I'd put these back to back just for fun. I wonder if the fact that one person is not a parent had any affect on his/her response. I know my perspectives on education have changed since I've become a dad. I also wonder what subject and grade these two teachers teach.

"Have parents be more involved with students homeworks such as projects that would have to involved parents. Going to the Library to get books for an assignment,getting materials for a science project or any others project that would involve parents." (Instructional/Technology Coach) We need to rethink how we involve parents. Actually, I'll say it, I don't want to involve parents. I want to engage and empower them. I want to give them options on how they can help their students. I want to empower them to make the decisions that are best for their students. Parents are busy and I am not going to be the one who tells them how they should spend time with their children. To me involving parents just means I want compliance out of them. When I say that I want to engage and empower my parents, I am saying that I want commitment. Does that make sense?

"No. I think that too often, homework is used by teachers who don't know how to design more effective instructional approaches." (Administrator) I hope and trust this administrator is having this conversation with his/her teachers and community.

"Homework doesn't really help that's why I hate it so much. It includes printing stuff from home and written stuff. I have too much of it basically" "I do believe it does help me understand the concepts." "I think it helps improve the skills." "Sometimes teachers should have a regulated test every so offen to make sure they know what they are suppose to be teaching and giving, as far as homework." "I think homework makes us students learn a little bit better. I honestly think in-class work that is taught very well is better for us because if we have questions, our teacher is right infront of us." (Student) I wanted to end with some of the quotes from students. I really wish I had more responses from them.


This is a conversation that we as educators should be having with each other, our students, and parents. Parents, don't hesitate to talk to your child's teacher about this issue. Never apologize for advocating for your child. Remember he may be our student but he's your child. If there are any students out there reading this, try to work with your teachers and parents. Let them know your needs so they can help. 

When you look through the survey results yourself you will see that there are some great thoughts on how we can improve our homework practices. Let's move beyond dreaming about how we can make things better and put things into action that will benefit the lives that walk through our classroom doors.

So here is the spreadsheet of all the responses I receive this past week. You can also find the spreadsheet here.

Thank you again to all who took time to fill out the form and to those of you who shared out the survey! I have the best PLN ever and it's growing every day! 

Please share with me in the comments what you noticed, what you wondered, or any other thoughts you had on the survey results! 

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