A New Approach to an Old Quiz.

Last week at our iPad Academy training day, Ann Feldmann told me about an activity she did during a Twitter chat using the app Book Creator. The moderator designed a series of tasks for the participants to complete, then they compiled those tasks in a book.

I’ve struggled every year with how to use the iPads in my Pop Culture Class as a creation device, but as Ann explained what she did during this chat, my mind started thinking about the Postmodernism test that my Pop Culture classes would be taking soon.

I usually have them take a traditional quiz–matching, true/false, fill in the blank–basic-level Bloom’s Taxonomy kind of quiz, as a formative assessment to make sure they know the bare minimum about Postmodernism. What would happen if I changed the quiz entirely to a more interactive, application-of-knowledge kind of quiz?

I designed five tasks for my students to complete. The tasks required a little bit of video, a little bit of writing, a little bit of Google image searching. Then, using Book Creator, the students compiled their knowledge into a book.

I’ve graded one class’s quizzes, and I’m so impressed with what they’ve done. One issue I’ve had in the past with the summative exam over this unit is that students used the same examples provided in class discussion. On this quiz, I stipulated that the examples had to be original. I haven’t been disappointed once. Their examples have been fantastic.

Also, I’ve loved watching their “selfie videos” as they explain different concepts in their own words, again with original examples.

My room during my two sections of Pop Culture Studies today was a little noisy, but as I walked around helping students, I was thrilled with what I saw.

I saw collaboration, as one of the tasks required students to ask another student to explain a concept on video. They were also often collaborating with each other on what examples would work and what examples wouldn’t.

I saw focused engagement, as they knew they only had 47 minutes to complete the quiz. Ideally, they probably needed 55 minutes–a lesson to learn for next semester. But my point is that there wasn’t down time–and when students finished before others, they helped with exporting and turning in the books.

But what impressed me the most was the quality of the questions I was getting. Most of the questions students asked me were not about the app itself, the questions were about the content. In the past when I’ve tried assessments like these, I have fielded so many questions about the app that I’ve wondered if any learning actually took place. Today, I didn’t have that same experience, which speaks to how user-friendly Book Creator is.

Today would not have happened without the iPad Academy work day last week. I rarely see Ann, and the session she ran about infusing creativity in the classroom led directly to today’s lesson plan. I had the gift of time to look at quizzes I’ve used in the past and wrote a new quiz that relied so much more on application and synthesis of knowledge than just basic recall.

In a time when public schools are under more and more scrutiny for all the things they are doing wrong, it’s important the share the stories of when they do something right. And that’s exactly how I feel about iPad Academy.

15 Years.

On this exact date 15 years ago, I (finally!) graduated from college. I’d spent a semester student teaching English and Journalism, and while I balked at the Journalism assignment when I received it, that placement ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. I knew I wanted to be a newspaper adviser someday.

Someday arrived one year later, when the newspaper adviser at Murray High School in Salt Lake City decided to retire. Knowing my student teaching experience (and I may have put a bug or two in his ear), my principal offered me the position. To prepare for the job, I attended the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Washington, D.C. In a session specifically for high school teachers, I met three people who really impressed me with how they approached publications advising. I soaked up everything I could from them. I kinda wanted to be them when I grew up.

At the beginning of 2015, I applied for the American Society of Newspaper Editor’s Reynolds High School Journalism Institute. The institute takes place at the University of Texas, Arizona State, Kent State, and another school that I can’t recall, because its institute didn’t work with my summer schedule. I was selected for the program and placed at Kent, which feels like a homecoming of sorts, since I completed my Master’s degree at Bowling Green State, a mere two and a half hours away.

Today I received the first set of instructions to prepare for the Institute. The welcome letter included the names of our teachers–the same teachers I met and admired at that AEJMC conference so many years ago.

To say I am excited is an understatement. I am beyond thrilled, and can’t wait to spend an entire week not only learning from them, but also learning from the other advisers who will be part of the institute.

Some days, I just can’t believe my luck.


Yesterday, I presented at NETA, an ed tech conference in Omaha. I’ve presented at several conferences at local and national levels since grad school. I’ve presented on how female athletes choose to be photographed, how administrators censor online student speech, how pop culture can infuse relevancy in an English curriculum. But yesterday’s presentation had me completely rattled.

My session was scheduled to follow the keynote speaker, which by 9:30 a.m. just added to the rattling because he was such a dynamic presenter. Toss in some minor anxiety over unreliable wifi–so I couldn’t use my phone to control my presentation–and my VGA adapter sitting at home, and my mind was blank at 10:20.

(The tech crisis was averted thanks to my friends Jeanette and Jenny, who lent me the peripherals for my session. Life. Savers.)

After I connected my computer to the projector, I stood at the front of the room and watched people filter in…and filter in…and filter in. I panicked a little more, and my mind grew more and more blank. I was really hoping that maybe 15 people would show up. A lot more than 15 showed up.

So as I waited for the magic time of 10:30 to pop up on my phone, I thought, “what calms me down in high-stress situations?”

I pulled out a small notebook and did this:

Pre Conference Doodles

I wrote and doodled for a good five minutes, looked at my phone, and at 10:29, mind still pretty blank, I started my presentation.

I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous in front of an audience. But once I launched into how I use Google Classroom, muscle memory took over. My brain remembered that I am a teacher, and really, that’s what good presenters do. They teach.

Why would I blog about my pre-conference neuroses? Because I am human.

I teach writing, and I have 100% perfect empathy for how my students feel when they solicit feedback (or even when they don’t and I just give feedback anyway) for their writing, because in my own published writing, I get feedback. Excruciating feedback. Feedback that makes me drop to the fetal position and eat my hair for a good 20 minutes before sitting back up, drying the tears, and getting to work.

I ask my journalistic writing students and my newspaper students to interview people all the time. Sometimes they are lucky and get to interview people they know. Sometimes not. And I have 100% perfect empathy for how my students feel when they have to talk to people they don’t know.

One of the overarching themes of the conference was relationships. That in spite of it being a technology conference, we mustn’t allow the technology to supplant human interactions, feelings, or relationships. That is why I chose to blog about my panicked pre-presentation thoughts and doodles. To remind both myself and my students that at the end of the day, I am human. I get nervous. And that’s okay.


I didn’t want to like him, let alone agree with him.

There I sat yesterday morning, in a high school auditorium on my last day of summer vacation, listening to Rick Wormeli spout his radical, subversive, unconventional approach to grading.

I teach Rhetoric, so I went to the presentation armed with my best Rhetoric weapons: looking for logical fallacies, paying close attention to connotative language, trying to poke holes in his argument.

Two problems I didn’t expect to encounter. First, he was an engaging presenter. Second, he made some sense.

I still have questions–the most pressing is if we move to standards-based grading, will it translate to effectively preparing our students for college? Which just leads to more questions, like…what does it mean to prepare our students for college? My idea of that started to shift today.

But here’s what I’m starting to learn about myself: I like to try things to prove they don’t work. For example, this summer I embarked on two major endeavors. I set a goal to run/walk 100 miles, and then I decided to give up diet Coke. I figured if I didn’t feel better, or if my body otherwise revolted through injury or mental insanity, I had my evidence: running bad, diet Coke good.

Well, I’m 15 miles away from 100 miles, and I’ve converted to the gospel of sparkling water. My body has not revolted–no shin splints, no ankle or knee pain–in fact my body is stronger, can run longer and faster. Plus I’ve experienced all those other health benefits like lowered blood pressure (not that mine was high to begin with), lowered blood sugar (again–never a danger), more restful sleep, blah blah blah.

I’m not a convert by any means, and like I said, I still have many questions. But perhaps I should at least give some of Wormeli’s ideas a try. You know, to prove they don’t work.

But if my summer health experiment is any indication, I’ll probably just end up proving they do.



Pot, Meet Kettle

In a meeting on Friday, I suggested that we ask teachers to reflect on their practices. Specifically, what they do to enhance reading comprehension in their classrooms. I was shocked at a colleague’s suggestion that we make a survey that staff could just “click through,” rather than what I wanted, which was narrative, thoughtful response.

I just don’t want to give them on more thing to do, was the rationale. And that’s when I lost all professional decorum.

How can we demand more from our students if we don’t hold ourselves to the same expectations? Aren’t we all professionals? Don’t most of us have master’s degrees? I’m asking for one paragraph. You’re telling me that’s asking too much?

Written here, these questions might not appear decorum-less. But let me assure you that the longer I ranted, the louder and higher my voice got, and I’m sure my face flushed, and I may or may not have banged my hand on the table for emphasis.

When I set up this blog at the beginning of the year, reflection was its purpose.

Well, I’m reflecting now and I haven’t been doing what my goal intended. I’ve posted about once a week, usually about something that is education-related. But I’m not using this blog to reflect on my teaching practice and how I might get better. Perhaps my rant on Friday was a tad more about self-loathing than it was about frustration with my colleagues wanting to make things easier for our staff.

Well, pot, I’m kettle. Time to do for myself what I wanted to ask of others.

So how did today go? Well, I forgot to plan a class. So when that class started and I reached for my notes and found nothing, I had to wing it. I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t let them talk enough. It wasn’t a good day, and I wasn’t at my best.

But here’s one of the many things I love about teaching: no two days are the same. So tomorrow will be better. And I won’t have time to reflect on it immediately, because right after school I teach piano lessons, and right after lessons I’m going to see Mary Poppins. But I’m reflecting now.

Time to practice what I preach.