My Passion & Curiosity Quotients

In this final week of CEP 812, I read an article by Thomas Friedman, in which explains how in this new and emerging economy, IQ is worth less than PQ (passion quotient) and CQ (curiosity quotient).  Because knowledge is so easily Googled and so quickly changes, it is more important to be able to learn, create, and connect.

As I reflect on my journey through the Graduate Certificate Program in Educational Technology through Michigan State, I can see how true Friedman’s claims are.  I think I’ve learned a lot about specific tools in this program.  But the courses have not been focused on those specific tools.  The tools are just a way to creatively express the ideas that I’ve learned, explored, and become passionate about.

The 3 courses in this program shaped my teaching practices and philosophies in indelible ways, not only in the way I taught chemistry or the way I engaged in social media to learn, but also in the way I’ve been able to step into my new job as an instructional technology coach (ITC).

My students are now not just the high school students, but also the teachers who teach them.  And I have a large amount of input into the professional development they receive.  Katie (the other ITC) and I share the view that teaching teachers how to use a tech tool is most helpful when taught in a way that unleashes the passion and excites the curiosity of the teachers.  It has to connect to their classroom practice, and we want them to see how the tool can be used in a way that engages and excites their students to learn more deeply.  I believe that this is the way that the culture of the school will shift and learning will become more focused on developing the PQ and CQ of our faculty and students, so that they are prepared to innovate and learn.

In the following graphic, I illustrate some of the ways in which I’ve used my PQ and CQ to enhance my abilities as a tech coach and how that has inspired teachers and students at York to develop their PQ and CQ.  I used Piktochart (my newest, favorite obsession) to create the infographic and ThingLink to add hyperlinked bubbles.  Hover over each segment of the graphic to view the links.  If anything you see here inspires your own passion and curiosity, feel free to modify and reuse it.  After all, as we learned in CEP 811, everything is a remix!

(if you cannot view the image below, click here to view the image in ThingLink)

Unfortunately some of the Google links may only work in my school’s Google domain.  If you are interested in viewing any resources that are not linking correctly, please contact me and I’ll be happy to send you a copy.


Friedman, T. (2013, January 29). It’s P.Q. and C.Q. as Much as I.Q. Retrieved December 11, 2015, from

All images were created by me or my colleague Katie Diebold, or taken with permission from the websites to which they are linked.


Solving a Wicked Problem: Failure as a Learning Mode

The educational system is a very complex and long-lasting institution, and it doesn’t respond quickly to societal changes.  As a result, it faces many wicked problems that are difficult to solve.  One such problem is failure, as illustrated in this infographic I created:

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Throughout this semester, I have collaborated with my Think Tank (CEP 812 classmates Cody Bernard and Julie Rigling) to explore the problems with how failure is used in schools today, and to consider how emerging technologies, the TPACK model, and recently published research can inform a solution.  We have developed a three-pronged approach to solving the problem of failure in schools.  This will require widespread changes in the way institutions, educators, and students think and act.  In the white paper embedded below, you can read more about our solution, which involves turning failure into a learning mode by helping students developing self-assessment skills, educators utilizing student-centered pedagogies such as Problem Based Learning, and schools re-thinking their grading systems.  After reading the white paper, I hope you will be inspired to bring change to the institutions in which you participate!


Rexamining my Info Diet

I have been a faithful blog reader and Twitter user for many years now. The network of educators, organizations, and news sources I’m connected with has impacted me in incalculable ways.  I’ve learned new ways to use technology to make my life better, found ideas for my own classroom and ideas to share with the teachers I coach, and been challenged to think about many issues in new ways (by people I don’t always agree with, like Diane Ravitch and Adrian Dingle).  I could not do my job as an instructional technology coach without these connections.  I am able to create Minds, as both Henry Jenkins (2011) and James Gee (2013) discuss, as I connect my knowledge and experience with the other people in my network and the technology.  

But as Nicholas Carr (2011) talks about, the wealth of new information coming from these networks can sometimes feel like a painful deluge rather than a joyful flow.  I confess that I currently have 739 unread blog posts, and I haven’t actually read anything on my Twitter feed for at least a week.  When I do have time to catch up, I often find myself just skimming the headlines.  With constant access to limitless knowledge, it’s easy to see why we are prone to narrow our intake to just the content that makes us feel good and re-affirms what we already think.  This cuts the flow of information to a manageable amount.  

The danger in this is that our thinking isn’t challenged and we settle into what Gee (2013) calls affinity spaces, where the only things we hear are things we agree with.  This leads us to think that everybody is on the same page, and that the issues we enjoy thinking about are the only issues that matter.  To make matters worse, because companies like Google and 


Facebook know so much about our preferences and habits, the information we’re presented on the internet is often filtered to our personal preferences (Pariser 2011).  It’s like we’re eating “comfort food”, like grandma’s chicken and dumplings, all the time!  



In CEP 812 this week, I was challenged to intentionally work against these powers by expanding my infodiet to include some healthy sources that bring balance to what I’m reading about online.  Here’s a brief overview of the new “salad” of sources I added:

  1. Feed of posts tagged with “Game-Based Learning” on Edutopia:  I added this source because, while researching Failure as a Learning Mode for my Wicked Problem Project, I have come across a lot of information about the benefits of gamification.  I can see how games help students learn basic skills, but struggle to see how this approach can effect real, deep learning.  This article by Andrew Miller clearly explains how a teacher could begin to organize game-based units in their classroom.  I hope to learn more from the wide range of teachers writing about this topic on Edutopia.  
  2. StudentsFirst blog & Twitter account: Students First is a pro-reform (pro-charter school) lobbying organization founded by Michelle Rhee.  I am not opposed to charter schools, but they often throw the baby out with the bathwater and more effective change can come from within existing public school structures.  Following this blog (which unfortunately does not have an RSS feed) and Twitter account will force me to think through the nuances of my stance as I’m confronted with new ideas about how to approach problems in the educational system. The article about potential LIFO policy changes and its link to NCTQ data comparing state policies is particularly interesting.
  3. Literacy Beat: This blog is a wealth of literacy instruction resources for all content areas. In the past, I have gotten frustrated by literacy initiatives that imply that literacy is more important than science content (or any other discipline).  I didn’t become a science teacher so I could teach students how to read better: I want them to become scientific thinkers!  There has to be a way to do both well.  From this blog, I hope to learn new techniques to seamlessly integrate literacy into other classes.  Bonus: this blog often includes tech-related literacy strategies!  I loved this post about how driver’s ed classes created videos to explore multimodal literacy.

Just like with a food diet, I know that committing to this new diet over the long haul (rather than just going on a crash diet for a few days) will bring about the most change.  After including these sources in my infodiet for a few months or years, I know that my views will probably soften, or at least be more thoughtful disagreements.  

If you are reading this post but are not part of CEP 812, first of all, thank you for reading!  And also, I hope that you will consider joining us on this diet to become healthier, more thoughtful, and more balanced in our information consumption!

And to everyone, including my CEP 812 friends, I want to challenge you to take it to the next level!  As we are adding some healthy new info-food to our diets, what “junk food” can we cut out so that we have time to actually read closely, think about the new information, and do something meaningful with it? Personally, I’m trying to work up the willpower to unfollow Buzzfeed.  But who doesn’t love a good “which Disney princess are you?” quiz every now and then?


Carr, N. (2011, July). The dark side of the information revolution.  [Video File].  Retreived from

Gee, J.P. (2013). The anti-education era : creating smarter students through digital learning. New York City: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jenkins, H. [DMLResearchHub]. (2011, Aug 4). Media scholar Henry Jenkins on participatory culture and civic engagement. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Pariser, E. (2011, Mar).  Beware online “filter bubbles”. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Results of the 2015 York Instructional Tech Needs Survey

instructional tech 2015

Last week, I distributed a survey to the 185 teachers I work with at York High School, to gather some information about how they are currently using instructional technology and about what professional learning needs they have.   As we are currently in the first year of our school-wide 1:1 Chromebook implementation, I’m looking forward to using the results of this survey to inform decisions about professional development opportunities for the upcoming semester.

You can view the survey here.  A visual summary of responses is provided in the infographic I created and plan to share with the administration and department chairs in an upcoming meeting. In this Google Doc, I provide a more in-depth analysis of the responses.

Schools, Grading, & Frozen Thought

I love schools.  But my friends and colleagues know they can easily get me on a rant about how broken the education system is: over-emphasizing standardized tests and grades, providing unequal education based on socioeconomic status, not thinking about what students really need long-term, letting decisions be made by politicians or based on tradition.

anti education eraAfter reading the first half of James Paul Gee’s book “The Anti-Education Era”, I am sure he would join in on my rants.  But he would also agree with me that even though they are flawed, schools are valuable institutions.  I found his insights into human thought and action very helpful as I considered the struggle my school is facing as we re-evaluate our grading practices.

Gee explains that when a group of people form an institution, they have to create policies that “freeze thought” about certain issues in order to make the institution function properly and to make it easier for the people involved to function.  For a long time, schools have followed a “frozen” grading structure based on the 0-100% and A to F scales.

But as schools and society have changed, and as we have learned about what really motivates learners, it seems that grading practices might need to be changed.

How can a school overcome frozen thinking about grading and rally individuals around the institutional goal of assessing student learning consistently and effectively?  I don’t have the definitive answer, but in this white paper, I examine how Gee’s claims can shed light on the grading problems in my school.  If you read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Supporting Literacy Skills for ELL Students with Newsela

Reading: An Ill-Defined Problem

Teaching reading is no longer just within the purview of English teachers.  The Common Core standards place a great emphasis on literacy across the content areas, so teachers of science, social studies, and other disciplines find themselves looking for ways to help students develop literacy skills.  Many middle school and high school teachers feel ill-equipped for teaching literacy skills, assessing reading comprehension, and selecting appropriate readings for their students.  

English Language Learners

At the same time, schools across America are increasingly seeing a need to support students who are identified as English Language Learners (ELLs).  In my district, the percentage of students identified as ELL has almost doubled since I started working here 8 years ago. As more students who need ELL support start taking general education classes at my school, many teachers feel a need to find new strategies to meet the unique challenges these students face.

One of the greatest challenges is the diversity of backgrounds of ELLs.  Not only is there variation in their English language proficiency, but also in their educational backgrounds, native languages, life situations, and academic skills (Spinelli, 2008).  Even a high school student who has met the criteria for exiting out of ELL support can still struggle with reading because of the intense academic and content-specific vocabulary used in articles, textbooks, and historical documents.  Studies show that it can take 7 to 10 years for students to master the skills needed to be fully academically proficient in a new language (Bowman-Perrott, 2010).  


At my school, many teachers are looking to technology to meet the deman
ds of teaching reading and meeting the needs of ELL students.  One of my favorite technology tools is called


Newsela curates a collection of current events articles on a variety of topics, including science, war, money, law, and health.  Teachers can assign a specific article to students, or have students search for an article that interests them.  Students who find reading to be a challenge often benefit from having a choice in what they read (Bowman-Perrott, 2010).  Bringing individual interests into the classroom enriches the experiences of all learners, not just ELL students.

Perhaps the best feature for ELL students is that the reading level of every article can be modified to fit the needs of the students.  Articles can be adjusted from a 2nd grade reading level up to a 12th grade reading level.  A teacher could assign the same article to all students, but could differentiate the reading level.  Students have the option to toggle between the 5 reading levels for each article, so they can find a version that is understandable.  This is particularly helpful for ELL students who struggle to comprehend complex sentences and content-specific vocabulary (Bowman-Perrott, 2010).  By adjusting the reading level, teachers can appropriately scaffold all of their students, including their ELL students, without drawing attention to the fact that students are at different levels.  

Additionally, many articles are available in Spanish as well as English, so students who are literate in Spanish can read in their native language.  A student can toggle between the English and Spanish versions of the article to facilitate their comprehension.  As Bowman-Perrott acknowledges, it is important to assess students’ language and literacy skills in both languages as they work toward comprehensive literacy (2010).  Spanish is the most commonly spoken language among ELL students at my school, but we also have 53 other languages spoken in the homes of our students.  Hopefully over time, Newsela will offer articles in other languages as well.  

Another great feature is the built-in assessment feature that Newsela offers.  Each article comes with a set of 5 multiple choice questions and a writing prompt.  The questions are specifically written to match the reading level selected on the article, and they are aligned with the Common Core standards.  With a subscription to Newsela Pro, which my district has purchased, teachers can view a dashboard of student data.  This allows them to see data for individual articles, individual students, and longitudinal data over the course of the year.  Teachers can use these features to track the progress of each student, including ELL students, and adjust their instruction in response to the growth they see.  

Newsela provides many additional tools such as annotations, customizable questions, and suggestions for classroom activities and literacy strategies that teachers may find useful in their own classrooms.  

Check out this video if you want to get a glimpse of the features offered by Newsela:

(This video was created with WeVideo)

Works Cited:

Bowman-Perrott., L.J, Herrera, S. & Murry, K. (2010) Reading Difficulties and Grade Retention: What’s the Connection for English Language Learners?, Reading & Writing Quarterly, 26:1, 91-107.

Spinelli, C. G. (2008). Addressing the issue of cultural and linguistic diversity and assessment: Informal evaluation measures for English language learners. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 24(1), 101-118.

Problem-Solving for Teachers (Differentiated Coaching: Chapter 3)

Chapter 3: What Problems Do Teachers Want to Solve?

This chapter of Differentiated Coaching addresses the importance of helping teachers clearly define the problems they have in their classrooms.  Properly defining the problem allows teachers to implement the right changes, motivates them to start the change process, and helps them evaluate their success accurately.  


Teachers feel like more and more demands are being placed on them:  Get trained in this.  Give your students this test.  Collect this data.  Use this new strategy.  They feel like there isn’t enough time to do these new things AND do the planning, grading, and work with students they have always done.  

Yes, student data is important and informative, but just telling teachers to improve student test scores isn’t going to create change.  Teachers’ beliefs about why students struggle and fail have a HUGE impact on what teachers are willing to try.  

The power in the coaching model is that the “professional development” is closely coupled with the teacher’s day-to-day reality.  A coach can take advantage of that by starting with a teacher’s immediate concerns, using those as an opportunity to talk about other things, and creating positive results that foster the teacher’s desire to continue to work together.

Learned Helplessness

In this chapter, Kise applies the idea of “learned helplessness” to teachers.  I’ve heard students labeled with this, but never teachers.  But I think it can be helpful to reflect on how even we as adults can get stuck in a “learned helplessness” or hopeless posture.  

We fall into despair when we feel like our failure is universal. Having hope requires you to see that your failures are temporary and limited to specific situations.

When teachers hit wall after wall and get used to failure, they feel like they have no control over student behavior, no ability to meet expectations placed on them by administrators or parents, and no power to change.  They give up.

A study by Peterson, Maier, and Seligman (1993) found that dogs who had given up trying to escape from electric shocks had to be dragged to safety by researchers 30-50 times before they began to respond on their own.  And other research indicates that humans take even more interventions than animals.  Do we intervene with failing students this many times before giving up on them?  What about with the adults we work with?  

Generating Alternatives & Evidence

We all have preferences, biases and blind spots based on our strengths, experiences, and beliefs (such as learned helplessness).  A coach can provide alternate perspectives and solutions to a teacher who feels stuck.  

After defining the problem accurately and implementing change, it’s important to help a teacher quickly generate evidence to determine if the change was effective.  A quick success can energize a teacher to keep trying, and can even start to chip away at their learned helplessness or erroneous beliefs.  

It’s important to note that evidence doesn’t just have to be student test scores.  You can look at quarter grades, student time on-task, or percentage of work completion, among other things.

Last Thought: High Expectations

“The teachers thought they had high expectations, but what they really had was high standards.  High expectations mean expecting that all students will succeed.”  When it comes to grades, teachers need to see failing grades as a problem to be solved rather than as an inevitability they can’t change.  (p. 48)