Part 2: The Phase of Justification

Today's blog post is the first of a three part series on assessments in education. At Center High School and around the country, we are preparing to take a slew of standardized tests. Center has done well in recent years, so I suppose it is unfair to complain too heartily. However I cannot help but feel that there is something profoundly wrong at a foundation level with how we judge educators and students in America. This series was inspired in large part by this TED talk from Geoffrey Canada, founder and Principle of the revolutionary Harlem Children's Zone.

Click here for Part 1: Wandering in the Wilderness
May 7th, 2014 - Part 3: Data-Based Decisions

Part 2: The Phase of Justification

I've tried something unique in my classroom. I think I've been on the path to this moment since I started teaching. I remember the first time I gave and graded a multiple choice test being totally conflicted. On the one hand, I gave a big test and got the results back quickly to the students. That was a 100 point test! I mean, that's got to be a big deal, right? 

On the other hand, I sensed like many teachers have that the multiple choice test simply wasn't good enough. It was backed by a whole bunch of research and pre-test testing from a textbook company, but it bored the sin out of both me and the students and I didn't feel that the class moved forward in any way because of it. I do think that the multiple choice test has its place in education. It's just that it should occupy a nose bleed seat way up in the corner. 

This week I gave two different types of short-answer exam. Neither is, in and of itself, particularly revolutionary. The Modern World History exam can be seen here and the US Government exam can be seen here

The Modern World History exam is pretty generic short answer. Keep in mind that this is a 9th grade test. There are four questions that are at DOK 2, three questions that are at DOK 3 and three questions that are at DOK 4. 

The US GOV exam is written for juniors and seniors and is a bit shorter and more specific. This is a unique type of test. Students were given three tiers of question - 10 points, 20 points and 30 points. Students could pick and choose which specific questions they wanted to answer as long as the questions totaled 60 points. The students had to pick at least one 30 point question, which were very high-level, DOK 4 type questions; the rest was completely up to them. 

Now here is the truly unique part that I think is going to be the start of the Phase of Justification in my assessment journey - I allowed students to use anything they wanted as they took the exam. Textbook, internet, notes, homework...whatever. I had a conversation with each class* about my expectation for the assessment. I told them in very straightforward terms that getting what we tend to consider the "right" answer factually was not going to earn full points on this exam. They were going to have to justify everything that they wrote. Simply finding the knowledge from their tool-kit of resources was merely step one of a two or three step process. 

*I think this is important. I really had a conversation with back and forth. I told them what I expected and I listened to their questions and tried to help them understand my reasoning for this rather significant change.

This is a change that will take time. I expect some pushback on this first test and I expect many answers that are the same-old low level factual answers. I told the students my reasoning, which centers around the following beliefs:
  • We now live in a world where knowledge can be found instantaneously, therefore...
  • The ability to know this knowledge is becoming less valuable, because...
  • The average person is able to become knowledgeable on nearly any subject quickly, therefore...
  • The ability to become knowledgeable and articulate knowledge is far more important than the specific knowledge itself, therefore...
  • Preparing students to enter the workforce should include assessment on their ability to answer legitimately difficult and open-ended questions (like they will do in their lives) with all resources available (like they will have throughout their lives), therefore I should...
Let students use all of their resources and ask questions of them that push them to apply their knowledge to new problems that they have never seen before. 


The idea behind all this is admittedly nothing new. If anything is truly unique about this, it is my decision to allow students to essentially have open resources while they take their assessment, including the internet. I see two main things that could cause this method to fail terribly. 

First, I have to write really good, thoughtful questions. If I ask all DOK 1 or 2 questions, or all questions that are information recall, the whole idea is shot. Without challenging questions* the whole thing is a glorified assignment. 

*My little phrase in class is that the answers to these questions will never be found with a Google search. 

Second, and in my opinion more importantly, I have to grade the tests quickly and rigorously. Quickly so that the students can gain something from the feedback. That is not unique to this particular assessment - think back to what Dr. Canada said in the above video about how quickly standardized tests get back to students and teachers. The rigorous part is the difficult part for a teacher. You see, when I grade my students' test really rigorously, I am not only grading them - I am also grading myself. 

If grades are low on this test* then it is not only an indictment of where the students are but also an indictment of how hard I have pushed them to not only do but to think. I am excited to start an entire class with this method of assessment next fall. This is probably the kind of change that will take some getting used to for both myself and the students. 

*And we'll see! They finish the tests on Friday and then I'll grade them over the weekend.

Now that I've started this, I want to know who else is assessing this way. From everything that I've read and learned about Common Core, this seems like exactly the way that the world wants assessment to go. I also am not sure I'm totally in favor of Common Core. Then again, I'm not as negative as the Tea Party is...

If you missed the first part in this series on how I assessed during the first four years of my career, check out
Part 1 of this three part series on authentic assessment. Join in the conversation below about how you assess in your classroom or in your profession!

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!
Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

Monday Tech Minute [4/28/14] - Movenote Part 2

Every Monday morning, check this blog for three quick reasons to try out a new little piece of technology. These are all tech tips that I have used in class or that I am excited to try out very soon. If you missed last week's post on Movenote* then check it out here

*I know! Two weeks on Movenote! It's that awesome. Seriously, check it out. 

Do you have #edtech tips that you want to share? Great! E-mail them to me here! Share them on twitter! Post in the comments section below!

Monday Tech Minute [4/28/14] - Movenote Part 2

I like to try and feature new technology in this space each week. I will often discover through twitter or a great colleague a new little piece of #edtech and feature it in a lesson. It may stick for some students and bore others. If I am not careful, the use of a particular #edtech tool will slowly drift away not to be seen again. The benefit of this is the regular rotation of educational tools and the survival-of-the-fittest mindset that comes with this strategy. Any tool that sticks around must be good both for me and the kids. However, there is some danger in this. What if I made some mistake that hampered the use of the tool? What if my kids were just off that day and I read that to mean that the tool didn't work well? What if...

That's a scary mental exercise, one which is deserving of at least 3 blog posts, a book and 19 tweets. Later. 

That's how #edtech goes in my class, and that is how I came to know Movenote. It was shown to me by my brilliant wife, Angela (@autismteacher13). That's why you spread good ideas. You may end up on a sparsely-read educational blog! 

Without further babbling, three more reasons to try/ways to use Movenote in the classroom: 

1. Students get to practice presentation skills
Young students carry with them uncountable terrible public speaking habits. We can start basic and talk about the fidgets, the lack of eye contact, the desire to read content straight for a presentation or the pace of speaking. That doesn't ever get to a conversation about moving from a proficient speaker to a good speaker people want to listen to. I could write an Encyclopedia-sized book on the flaws that we teachers see coming from students as they present their work. 

As a teacher, I try to set up situations where students are forced to present information for this very reason. We don't make kids practice this skill enough. Any situation that brings up some tense nervousness and some pressure is good. It mimics the feeling that professionals have as they prepare for formal and informal presentations every day. 

Movenote uses a webcam to allow the presenter's face to be viewable during the presentation. I tell my students that the eye of the camera is like the audience in a face-to-face presentation. The more eye contact you make, the more professional it feels. We can then look at the video and, on top of whatever benefits there are for learning content (and there are plenty), we can discuss presentation skills almost immediately. This quick feedback time is vital for any good assessment.

Several learning points from this sample video. This was the
student's first attempt at Movenote - a quality first try!

2. Use Movenote for teacher-created content review
This is the first use that I thought of for my class. I give predominately short-answer/essay question assessments* and like to review main points and ideas before each test. The answers I'm looking for are more on the analysis and synthesis of ideas spectrum, so I encourage students to find the basic information from study materials, the text or the internet - even during the exam. We live in a world where basic knowledge can be found online in seconds. I want to assess students partly on their ability to utilize the greatest information database the world has ever known, not just on their recall and memorization ability.

*Check out part 1 of 3 on assessments and how we as educators can rethink how they benefit students here

Review video for test question 8. I was getting a bit loopy at this point in the night...

For the most recent test, which my students are taking this week, I uploaded a video between 1 and 4 minutes long for each of the test questions. Students were able to spend time looking at the video and coming up with information and ideas to create a well-developed answer.

3. Use Movenote for student-created content review
This is the part that I'm really excited about for next year when all of our students have their own devices. The review videos I made were for a 9th grade class on Modern World History. For my 11th grade class on US Government, I decided to let them try to make their own Movenote presentations. I had each student pick a section of the chapter, spend 2 days prepping their presentation, and finally another 2 days to get everyone through the filming of the presentations. The first Movenote above is one of those student presentations. 

Two thing went majorly wrong, but I think that both are fixable issues. First, none of the computers that we currently have were working quickly enough to make the streaming video usable. There would be really long lag times which were too much for students to work through on their first time with the technology. I think that this will be fixed when we get newer and faster laptops next year. Plus, the students will have their own laptops, which I expect will make them better at working through hiccups like these. 

The second and more major problem was the logistics of uploading the presentations to the Movenote software from Google Drive. I did not want to mess with the student's creating their own Movenote accounts, which was a mistake. Not taking that single step added 3 or 4 steps as students had to make their presentations accessible to me so that I could upload them to my Movenote account. It moved a lot more of the logistical work to me and away from the students, which is not realistic. 


Movenote has a lot of potential. I am excited to play around with it more over the summer. I think there is the potential to create some video vocabulary lessons that could be really cool. If you have ideas, I would love for you to share them in the comments section below!

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

A Journey in Authentic Assessment

If you have been reading my blog since the beginning, you may remember a post a while back about authentic assessment and I what I believe it is. Check it out here if you want. As we enter this time of year, schools around the country are preparing for the horror that is the standardized testing season. This is my first year teaching an EOC class - a class with a Missouri End of Course Exam that is required by the state.

As we start down this path, I am reminded of a TED talk from Geoffrey Canada, founder and Principle of the Harlem Children's Zone. Dr. Canada discusses many things, but at one point he talks about standardized tests. It was a light bulb moment for me, so much so that the day after I saw the video for the first time I showed it to my students. I told them that it didn't particularly relate to anything - I just wanted to them to hear it and I wanted to see what they thought of it. Needless to say, I enjoyed the heck out of our discussion that day.

Watch the video here:

And then check out part one of a three-part series on assessment in education.  

Part 1: Wandering in the Wilderness Click Here

Part 2: The Phase of Justification April 30th, 2014

Part 3: Data-Based Decisions May 7th, 2014

Part 1: Wandering in the Wilderness

Today's blog post is the first of a three part series on assessments in education. At Center High School and around the country, we are preparing to take a slew of standardized tests. Center has done well in recent years, so I suppose it is unfair to complain too heartily. However I cannot help but feel that there is something profoundly wrong at a foundation level with how we judge educators and students in America. This series was inspired in large part by this TED talk from Geoffrey Canada, founder and Principle of the revolutionary Harlem Children's Zone.

April 30th, 2014 - Part 2: The Phase of Justification
May 7th, 2014 - Part 3: Data-Based Decisions

Part 1: Wandering in the Wilderness


Assessment is one of the most vital pieces of the educational puzzle. It is an important part of any profession. Without assessment, one cannot find flaws to improve and find ways to become a better [fill in the blank]. Assessment should be a key point of data collection for teachers and a key benchmark for students and parents. It was also a key flaw of much of the first four years of my teaching career. I am evolving as a teacher like we all are. I have gone through a few different phases of evolution with how I have assessed my students. I have learned from each as I have experienced successes and failures.

The New Teacher Phase
What an awful phase of teaching. If fraternities are not allowed to haze, then educators should never have to be first year teachers. It simply isn't good for the soul.

In this phase, my assessments could be characterized by the term plagiarism. Teachers are encouraged to beg, borrow and steal, and that is what I did in earnest for the first six months of my career. I either gave tests straight out of a textbook-provided test bank or I copied a test that had been given by another teacher. There was very little in the way of matching my assessments with my in-class teaching.

Grades were simply a number. I was slow to grade tests* and slower to get them back to students.When I finally did trudge through the process, I entered the number in the book and forgot about it.

*One of the key mistakes of assessments in education is how quickly results are delivered. What the hell good does an EOC test do when teachers don't get results until the summer!  And then teachers come back the following year to teach a different set of students. Any value such an assessment had as a tool for improving learning was lost in the two months it took to get results and the following two months before the teacher actually interacts with a kid again.

The Performance Event Phase

My principal for the first four years of my career, the wonderful Beth Heide (@BethHeide) is a big proponent of the performance event. It has been a required portion of our class finals in addition to any multiple choice portion the teacher chooses to give. A performance event could be any number of activities, from conducting a lab from start to finish on your own, to a speech or video that the student makes, to an in-depth discussion or essay that the student participates in.

I quickly attached to this idea of a performance event. It was the center of my assessment world for the end of that first year and most of my second year of teaching. This phase was so long because there is a lot of merit to it. In fact, I think this phase is probably the cousin of the phase that I'm currently entering. More on that later.

The issue with the Performance Event Phase is that it is easy for a performance event to feel authentic and real even when it is not. This particular flaw is a recurring theme in how assessments can go wrong. I would give a lab (I was a science teacher at that point) or a data table that had to be turned into a graph, call it a performance event and feel pretty damn good about what I was doing.

This phase ended towards the end of my second year of teaching when I realized that I could successfully train students for a specific type of performance event, give that type of performance event, enjoy their success, and at the end realize that they were no better at thinking through a never-before-seen problem and finding a solution from their intellectual tool kit. I was teaching a more complex version of rote memorization.

The 'We-Are-All-English-Teachers' Phase
This is one of my favorites!* I thought I had found it. The key to success! If I could get students to write, I would win! I would be the best teacher ever! Common Core, here I come! So I talked with a colleague of mine, Steve Parker, about giving tests that were all written response and no multiple choice. I stayed in this phase until probably a month ago. Much like the Performance Event Phase, there is a lot of good in this phase - I was putting it into action poorly.

*By the way, I do still believe this to be true, even if I've moved on from this phase! Reading and writing are the foundation of success. The task must be started earlier (shout out to the brilliant Kelly Wachel (@KellyWachel) and the Center Made Smart program), but I still have a role in the process as a high school teacher.

I started to give assessments that would have some multiple choice questions and some short response questions. I felt pretty good about what I was doing, but the test scores were low. Like many teachers, I figured that when the entire class scored low, it was at least partially on me. I still believe that to be true, but the story was much more gray than that.

I made a big mistake at the start of this phase. I started changing the type of questions that I would ask on my assessments because these new questions saw higher test scores. I got away from why in my questioning and strayed darkly into the zone. This zone, while it has its place in education, has a mansion built in the land of DOK 1 and 2. I got better test scores, but I was not really assessing critical thought or problem solving. The students, again, were being assessed on a higher level of rote memorization. That is not where I wanted to be.


Now we get to the million dollar question: How do you create an assessment that reflects student learning and growth both in your content area and from a holistic perspective?*

*Spoiler alert: I don't have the answer. Yet. 

In large part due to the writing of this blog, I have started to ask myself more questions about how I teach. One of the great benefits of this is that I am finding more simple errors in what I do before I start the topic in class because I know that in a week or two, I'll want to write a post about this. As 3rd-grade as it sounds, that knowledge encourages me to be better in the classroom each day.

Like the essential questions that guide a good unit, I have started to look at a few barometer questions for the assessments that I give:
- Does the assessment require the student to think? Like really, truly, deeply think?
- Can the answer or solution to the assessment be found with a quick google search? If yes, then the assessment needs to be changed.
- Does the assessment require the student to utilize multiple skills or resources?
- Does the assessment give the teacher and the student usable feedback that can help feed changes in future instruction and learning?

The idea that a child's learning can be assessed through a multiple choice test is bogus. How many young people flop on the ACT then go on to be wildly successful in college? Equally as bogus, though, is the idea that fill-in-the-blank alternative assessment is inherently better than that multiple choice exam. Each form of assessment needs to be carefully thought out before the unit ever begins. The end-game must drive the entire unit of study. Further, the idea of a single, big, scary test at the end of the unit is becoming more false to me each day.

Assessing students is similar to an orchestra in concert. I may have an affinity for the sound of the trumpet much as I may do particularly well with a single type of assessment. Though the trumpet may have a glorious solo at a moment in the concert, the beauty of the whole orchestra will always supersede the singular sound of the trumpet just as a mixture of well-developed and well-timed assessments will give a much clearer picture of student achievement and progress. It is the role of the teacher, much as it is the role of the composer, to find that perfect tune for each and every unit of study.

It is this string of thought that has led me to change the way that I assess students once more. I have entered the Phase of Justification. I hope you'll check back in a week for Part 2: The Phase of Justification.


Check back again next Wednesday for Part 2: The Phase of Justification. I'll take a deeper look into authentic assessment in my classroom and why I chose to allow students to use the internet while they take their tests.

Join in the conversation be getting in touch or by commenting below. I am especially curious what non-educators think about assessments in schools. After all, schools should prepare students to be more than just a good student.

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

Monday Tech Minute [4/21/14] - Movenote

Every Monday morning, check this blog for three quick reasons to try out a new little piece of technology. These are all tech tips that I have used in class or that I am excited to try out very soon. If you missed last week's post about using screen-capture technology in the classroom, check it out here

Do you have #edtech tips that you want to share? Great! E-mail them to me here! Share them on twitter! Post in the comments section below!

Monday Tech Minute [4/21/14] - Movenote

A quick post for this Monday. Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate this holiday! I enjoyed a wonderful and tiring weekend with my family myself. I hope you got to spend some time with your family also. 

This week's Monday Tech Minute is a website - This site was brought to my attention by my wonderful wife Angela (@autismteacher13) a while ago, but I have just recently started playing with it. It is, essentially, a mixture of a screenshot video and a selfie video. Here are three quick reasons to give it a shot. 

1. It's a screenshot - with your voice!
So this is my favorite part of the site. I can do a screen capture easily enough using Smart Notebook or Quicktime. The feature that both of those lack is the ability to show my face as I talk. I love this for videos that I make for my students because of the relationship factor that exists in any assignment we teachers create. Anything I can do to make it feel like I'm working with the student is a step that I want to take. 

One of the things I do with my assessments is to give kids the test a week before I give them the real thing. All of the questions are of the why variety, which means that they cannot be googled or found directly in the textbook. I've come to believe that the process of preparing for a test like this (I allow them to use work from the unit - even the internet - while they take their test) is very much a reflection of a task in the business world. My current project is to prepare a Movenote video for each of the questions that are in my upcoming test to help the students study in a more personalized way. Check out the test here and the first in the series of videos below:
2. You can upload the slides easily
One of my big complaints with many online programs are that you often have to recreate the content you would like to use. Prezi is a great example. You can upload powerpoint slides, but the features in Prezi are so unique that the traditional powerpoint that you have already created usually doesn't fit well with the features of Prezi. If you want to fully utilize Prezi, I often find that I need to start from scratch. 

With Movenote, you can easily upload your powerpoint and it fits right in. It also like .pdf documents. In the video above, I took the single extra step of saving my study guide I had already created as a .pdf file and its ready to go. 

3. Movenote is web-based
So this is an advantage that is not unique to, but it is still a great feature and one that I look for in #edtech resources. I have plenty of things saved on my flashdrive and do not feel the need to have more stuff there. Plus, I never forget the internet at home! That which is web-based cannot be lost!*

*Yes mom, never say never. It can be lost. I just trust the internet not to lose it more than I trust myself not to lose my flashdrive. 

The above video that I uploaded is the embed feature in action. One of the many options you have when you have completed a video is to embed the video into a website using HTML code, which is easy to understand even for non-coders like me. You can also share the video with several social networking sites. You can also easily download as a video and upload the video to if you would like to share it that way. Again, lots of options, which I love.

Have you used Movenote before? Do you record lectures/study videos/other class videos with another tool that you really like? Share below in the comments section!

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

Frustrations of Project Based Learning

I took a summer online course on Project Based Learning in 2013. It was really helpful and taught by the wonderful Colleen McLain (@colleenmclain) via Intel's education initiative. The class helped me develop a project that seemed like a game-changer at the time and was, in reality, relatively successful. But that first project this school year was not the game-changer I was hoping for. As I delve deeper into becoming a project-based educator, I've learned many important lessons. Among those lessons:

Projects can be frustrating as hell.

I figured a good post for this week would be to discuss a few commonly-held beliefs about PBL that I have found to not always be true.

Myth 1: Projects are less work for the teacher

This might be a myth that is held more among non-teachers than it is by teachers. Most educators that I talk with about PBL readily admit that there is a ton of front-loaded work to prepare the project. Unlike a lesson or a discussion that can develop as you go and branch off in many different directions, projects tend to need a lot of structure and guidance. I have never been particularly keen on the use of rubrics for things like discussions - a 'successful' discussion looks very different for each student, some of whom will achieve 'success' simply by participating once.

For a project, though, there needs to be crystal clear guidelines for what product will satisfy as proficient, which makes a rubric and a bullet-proof plan vital. Walking the line between being clear and restrictive has been one of the great hurdles of transitioning to a project-based classroom A student can still be allowed and encouraged to be creative with making her product and to do something unique as long as it pings off of the baseline that is provided in the rubric. An example I like to give to students is the difference between a poem, a song and a short paper. I can show an example of each of the three being simplistic or complex. The fact that you wrote a poem does not inherently make a good project. It is the creativity and synthesis of skills and topics that are needed to write a relevant, quality poem that make it a good project.

Myth 2: Projects automatically equal higher-order thinking

Depth of Knowledge ranges from 1 (most basic) to 4 (most complex). The closer to DOK 4, the better.
I'm a big believer in teaching with Depth of Knowledge (DOK) in mind. When I think back to my favorite and best teachers, they are the ones that made me question and think. They are the ones that got under my skin to a point that I wanted to prove them wrong. Everyone has a story of a teacher like this who brilliantly tricked us into learning and thinking as much as we tried to avoid it.*

*Teachers. So manipulative. 
The Palace at Versailles. So. Many. Fountains.
And they weren't even turned on most of the time. 

So back to the myth. A project does not inherently, on its own, make a student think. Let me give you an example of one of the terrible projects I did earlier in the year that will never, ever be done in my class again in this way. It was a timeline project based around the French Revolution. I wanted students to think about the big picture story of the French Revolution; make connections between the ridiculously expensive Palace at Versailles built by Louis XIV and the debt that led to increased taxes, hunger, and eventually the French Revolution. I wanted students to see the ideals of the Enlightenment spark in Paris and spread throughout the world to create a world-changing storm that is arguably still going on today in places like Egypt, Libya and Ukraine.

What I got were the most basic, DOK 1, low-level thinking timelines one can imagine. They were completely un-creative. They were completely un-original. They were completely un-enthusiastic. All the wonderful sparks that we dream about when we imagine young people aggressively learning via a brand new project did not exist. It was like the anti-good-project. A lot of this was my fault. I was probably too detailed in what I asked for and not ambitious enough to ask for more than just the timeline. This created too restrictive of a structure. While structure in PBL is good and necessary, we as teachers have to be careful not to make our plans so detailed as to choke off creativity.

Myth 3: All students love projects

This is the one that really got to me this week. My government students are creating their second round of Public Service Announcements. The first set was over the legislative branch and covered issues like gerrymandering, money in politics and the Senate filibuster. You can watch them here:

They were good, not life-altering. The kids got into them, but were a bit confused and intimidated by the editing of the videos. The ideas were well-thought out, but not to a DOK level 4. The big complaint I got from viewers of the videos was that they were not informative enough for an audience unfamiliar with the topics being discussed to really get the videos. We took all that into consideration* as a class and decided to make another round of PSA videos on the Executive Branch, the unit we are currently working on.

*This is the most frustrating part of it all! I sat down with both of my government classes and debriefed the projects. We watched them all, talked about feedback I had received and feedback they had received, agreed on some of the basic issues...all that good teaching stuff. And then without my prompting the kids asked if we could try making another video for our next project now that they had learned from some mistakes! I mean, that is the request that a teacher dreams of! "Hey, Mr. Chambers. That was a cool activity and all, but I think we could have done it better. Now that we've learned a bit more, could we try it again?" YES, YES AND HELL YES! 

Then it all fell apart.

The crash happened when I assumed that when about a third of the class literally asked to try the project again in the next unit, the other two thirds of the class would jump on board and excitedly go for it again also. Unfortunately, not every student loves projects and not every student loves the idea of being pushed to improve upon a previous project. Repetition of a task is really important for learning a new skill* and repetition of activities is really important to allow time to analyze, reflect and refine. All those tasks - analyzing, reflection, refining - they all are closer to DOK 3 and 4 than they are to DOK 1 and 2, which if you'll look back to the chart you saw earlier, are the more difficult zones of thinking.

*Read "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle and follow him on twitter. Seriously great read.(@DanielCoyle)

News flash to myself: teenagers don't like to think hard. While I caught the interest of some students, and I'm excited about that, I forgot that I still needed to trick some other of them into thinking. The simple act of having a project was not, and I suspect never will be satisfactory enough to push students to think in and of itself. I need to continue to think of new ways to engage students rather than assume that what worked last time with student A will work this time with student B.

I will continue to try new and different projects, even with the frustrations that come with them. I believe in Project Based Learning because of the immense amount of research* that justifies its use. I also believe that true learning tends to feel and look messy. These projects, if nothing else, have checked that box. While I won't go so far as to say that data never lies, it does tend to show us trends that we, as educators, need to listen to carefully.

*This study references Outward Bound, a fantastic expeditionary learning program I was lucky enough to participate in while I attended William Jewell College. Learn more about it here

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

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Monday Tech Minute [4/14/14] - Screen-capture

Every Monday morning, check this blog for three quick reasons to try out a new little piece of technology. These are all tech tips that I have used in class or that I am excited to try out very soon. If you missed last week's post about using Google Drive in the classroom, check it out here

Do you have #edtech tips that you want to share? Great! E-mail them to me here! Share them on twitter! Post in the comments section below!

Monday Tech Minute - Screen-capture

The screen that you work with is a powerful thing on a computer. Often it becomes an ever-changing canvas on which you try to work your magic. Like art, sometimes one creates unadulterated sloppiness. But eventually, hopefully, mercifully, that sloppiness will occasionally turn into something that transcends; something, perhaps that can touch another person's life. 

And sometimes, you just need to show a student how to connect to their email account.

Either way, screen-capture is a technology that has become increasingly diverse and easy to use, so let's look at three ways that you can use this in a classroom setting. 

1. Simple instructions with images
This is a great place to start with screen-capture technology. Our fantastic tech specialist, Colleen McLain (@colleenmclain) uses this frequently to give teachers step-by-step guides to a new piece of technology or a new system. I have also used them with my class to give an example chapter outline using the CRISS strategy of turning headers into questions and then searching out those questions in the reading. You can look at the example I'm talking about here. I created this by snapping a few quick pictures of the pages that I wanted to focus on, taking a screen-shot of the specific header I wanted, and placing it like a picture into my document.

What I love here is that the student gets to see, in color, the details that I'm discussing with them as they learn a new skill. They can quickly follow the type of questions that I'm looking for - in this case DOK 1 and 2 level questions as they are doing a simple chapter outline. When students have questions, we are referencing the exact same point in the text as we converse. 

2. Labeling a map
OK, as a social studies teacher, this could be my favorite! It is so easy, through an add-on such as Jing or Smart Notebook, or through the Grab feature if you're using a Mac. I use Jing at school largely because it has both the capture feature and the ability to annotate an image quickly and easily. If you read my first Monday Tech Minute on using Google Maps, you saw a few examples. 

My class is finishing up a project on revolutions, so we are referencing the events going on in Ukraine often to provide a modern-day example. We'll be looking at the map below while we listen to an NPR interview to start our day today:

3. You can make your own videos similar to what you may find at Khan Academy
This is, in my opinion, where screen-capture technology is truly unleashed. If you're unfamiliar with Khan Academy at this point, check out their site here to see what I'm talking about. As cool as these videos are, they are also largely impersonal for the kids in your class. By using the screen-capture feature, you can record your computer screen and voice to create a simple instructional video like this one from last school year when I taught Physical Science:

Or you can give higher-thinking guidance to a group of students working on a project, like this video that guided my students through a debate question they had to prep for during the We The People competition:

Go try it out for yourself. Like Project-Based Learning, using screen-capture technology front-loads the work for the teacher. I promise that you'll appreciate the benefits of taking this time. 

Do you have a piece of technology that helps you teach or learn? Share it below in the comments section! Don't forget to check in again next Monday for another tech tip!

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

The Power of Movement

Me: "Alright everyone, if you agree with the statement on the board, move the left side of class. If you disagree, move to the right side." 

One student moves to the left side of class. The rest stare with eyes that pierce like needles.

Me: "OK...let's try this again. Does anyone need clarification on the statement on the board? Does it make sense to you?"


Me: "Great, then let's move. If you agree, go left. If you disagree, go right."

The one student who originally moved switches sides. Everyone else - motionless.

Me: "Hmmmm...OK, let's try this. I'm going to go to the hall way and stand there for 10 seconds. When I get back we're going to try this again."

I walk to the hall and give a silent-scream at the window, locker and the lady bug staring curiously at me on the wall, as if she is asking why I chose this profession in the first place. I stare at the lady bug and tell her that at least the job pays well. I re-enter the class.

Me: "Everyone stand up!"


Me: "You heard me! Everyone get up. Stand right next to your seat. Everyone. That means you too! All of you. There we more...and we're up. OK, now you have no excuse to stay where you are because you're already up. One more time now - if you agree with the statement on the board move to the left and if you disagree move to the right."

All but two students shuffle slowly to one side or another. The remaining two are peer pressured into taking a stand by their friends. 

Me: "Let's start with the agree side. Raise your hand if you want to give your argument and we'll get to you. In a minute, the disagree side will get a shot. You're allowed to switch sides at any time that you change your mind."

15 minutes solid of thoughtful, colorful debate. Some upset students who get too into it. Some students switching sides and immediately raising their hand because they want to say why they switched. Some students starting with the phrase, "Well this is kinda like during the French Revolution when..." All but a few of the students say something during the 15 minutes, even if it's a short something.


I've learned a lot about teaching since my first day in August 2010. For example, you must occasionally assess students. My first unit of my first year, I got 7 weeks into the year before my wife asked when they were taking their first test. I realized that I hadn't given a test yet! I was so in over my head. 

Some lessons, such as that whole assessment thingy, came really quick. I entered the teaching profession without a teaching certificate or an educators background. The pedagogical lessons of the trade hit me like a train that first year, but I picked things up as quickly as I could. I felt like I had my first good lesson about 5 weeks into the year. I felt like I had a good, thoughtful discussion in class a few months into my first year. I felt like a finally wrote a quality unit from start to finish over winter break of my 2nd year of teaching. I was taking night classes the entire time, experimenting with what I learned in night class with my classes during the day. 

I am now in year four of my career and I feel like I have got it down pretty well. While I am certainly not a master teacher yet, I have well-planned, thoughtful, relevant and (in my opinion) interesting units of study called LAPs that prepare students for college and the "real world"*. The other week, I learned another lesson about student engagement. I hope I never stop learning these lessons - teaching would become extremely tedious if that were to ever happen. 

*I hated when teachers used this term. I still hate when I slip and use it. It makes me feel like an old grandpa on the porch yelling for the kids to get off my lawn. Back in my day...blah blah blah.


Moving into 4th quarter, I started to get frustrated that the same 5 or 6 kids in each class were answering questions. I felt like I was getting those students to think and argue and debate, but I was losing everyone else to boredom. What's worse was I became afraid that not speaking up in my class had become a habit for some of my students. So pretty randomly one day I decided to try a discussion and debate activity that required students to take sides and argue their opinion. That's when the scenario above played itself out.

I have a tough time expressing the frustration that I felt when no one was moving. I wanted to scream at them that I was trying to be more interactive, I was trying to get them to think, I was trying to get them to speak their minds - all normal complaints that teachers hear from students - and they weren't going with it! Stepping in the hall was the best choice I made. It gave me time to settle and think about why they were doing what they were doing. And I think it, in a slightly humorous way, showed the students that I wasn't happy with how this was going. 

I think that nearly every teacher has had moments where they felt like this with each group of students. Another lesson I've learned is that my reaction to these moments is very important in the relationship that I form with the kids. If I can respond with patience and love and some tweak to break the frustration, this can earn me a lot of trust with the kids. That lesson wasn't learned until my 3rd year. It's a lesson I'll never forget. 

I was telling my dad the other day about this and how I felt like I needed to embrace chaos in my class a bit more. I have the procedure thing on lock and have very well-behaved students. I rarely write students up and rarely have to give detentions out. But now I need to evolve to be comfortable enough to let true, difficult, painful learning occur. This process, as has been noted by countless individuals before, is messy and sloppy and noisy. 

It's also a lot of fun. I'm starting to see certain students do and say things that are surprising to me. I am seeing certain kids open up and be passionate. Are they on task the entire time? Nope. Are they awake and paying attention most of the time. Yeah, they're starting to. I've had multiple students come up to me after school and want talk or argue about the topic of class that day. I even heard a student last week leave my class and tell a student in the following hour, "Mr. Chambers' class was really fun today. You're gonna love it!"

Talk about whoa...

I took this video at the end of a pretty intense 10-minute debate about the pros and cons
of socialism. One side started to claim that they owned all the businesses and were sick of
supporting the other, lazy side. I mean, they were actually accusing the other side of being lazy! 

It got emotional quick. It was AWESOME.

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec