Friday Finds: Spooky Edition

It’s the end of another week, and we’re heading straight into the very witching time of the year. Hocus Pocus 2, Halloweentown, and The Nightmare Before Christmas have been on repeat at my house.

Many of us enjoy a good scare from time to time (because humans are weird), so here are ten things I found this week to help get you in the spooky mood…

  1. I love old-time radio shows, which likely explains my love for podcasts. Here’s a playlist of 149 vintage Halloween radio shows to enjoy while you hand out candy.
  2. While we’re on the topic of spooky sounds, this was the soundtrack of my early Halloween memories that I thought had been lost forever. Thanks, random stranger on YouTube.
  3. One of my favorite spooky stories is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Poor Ichabod Crane. For added creepiness, here’s a retelling of the tale done with shadow puppets and a cool behind-the-scenes video.
  4. It’s not all that spooky, but the tale of how Toy Story 2 was almost deleted before ever being released is certainly scary and a great lesson in backing up your digital life.
  5. For streaming fans, here are some new spooky tales to check out this spooky season (I am hearing amazing things about Werewolf by Night and Cabinet of Curiosities from my friend, Brian Rodman).
  6. Speaking of Brian, if you’re a fan of all things comics & horror, you should check out his work. He’s venturing into prose in the coming months, and I can’t wait.
  7. I keep talking about AI art generators and their ability to create some amazing creations from strings of words. Of course, they can’t take the place of true artists, nor should they. But they’re fun for projects like reimagining scary movie posters.
  8. At my house, we buy one box of Boo Berry cereal as soon as it hits the shelves in the fall. I had no clue that the monster cereals had such a weird history.
  9. If you happen to get a little too spooked, here are some tips to help you calm down and maintain your sanity.
  10. Finally, here are some of my favorite scary books. Like, super scary. There’s Something Wicked This Way ComesIt, and everything Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote (The Tell-Tale Heart is my personal favorite).
woman wearing tank dress
Photo by Edilson Borges on Unsplash

As always, thanks for reading. Enjoy yourself this Halloween, and remember to check your candy for anything suspect or ridiculous (Seriously, drug dealers aren’t going to randomly give their product away. They make money selling it.)

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Respecting Solitude and How Students Work

I finished Susan Cain’s Quiet this week and came away with several notes. Of course, my interest in this book on all things introverts was personal. I’m the introvert’s introvert. Yes, I stand in front of students and teachers every day. And I have given more in-person talks than I can remember, but I pay a price for that work.

I’m more comfortable at home. I curl up with a good book or build something in Minecraft. Both are more comfortable for me than being in front of people. I’m more expressive in my writing than I am while talking. I have time to collect my thoughts, and even now, I still worry about sounding like an idiot when I’m in front of people.

I’m much better in public now than when I was a kid, but I still have to put on my super-suit to make it through the day. And I often come home and collapse from the weight of being around people.

Reacting to the World

Turns out, there’s a reason why introverts like me respond to the world in the way we do. Cain presents research on people who have low- and high-reactive nervous systems. At first glance, you’d think that introverts are low-reactive and extroverts are high-reactive.

My friend, it’s the opposite. Introverts have high-reactive nervous systems. We have visceral reactions to the smallest events. Extroverts are extroverts because they’re looking for external stimulation. They need the excitement.

Introverts? We have plenty of excitement walking out the door in the morning, thank you very much. We don’t need anything else.

Now, put yourself in the place of one of your introverted students. How often do we do things in our schools that will throw this student’s nervous system into chaos?

I often think about why we do so many things in education the same way for every student. Yes, we provide interventions when students aren’t meeting achievement standards. But why do we make them sit in overfilled classrooms when we know some of them would rather be alone or in a small group?

We’re stifling great students by putting them in situations that wreck their world. And sometimes, we keep them from learning all they can.

Photo by Robynne Hu on Unsplash

Group Work isn’t Always the Right Choice

Teachers ask students to collaborate all the time. We’re trained that collaboration makes for great student experiences. And that “we’re better together than we are apart.” I’m the first to admit that I follow that motto when working with students and teachers. Many times we’re right to put folks in groups.

But sometimes we’re not.

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Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, Inc., created the first Apple computer alone. He worked early mornings and late evenings around his job at HP. No workgroup, team, or other souls to talk with about his ideas. But he created the computer that began a revolution.

Musicians, especially professional musicians, know what makes or breaks their careers. It’s not the time they spend practicing with their ensemble. It’s how much time they spend in solitary practice. Great musicians practice around 4 hours a day alone, then practice more with their group.

Students sometimes don’t want to work in groups because they don’t want to do the work. Sometimes, it’s because they know they work well alone.

Flexible Collaboration

What if we allowed students to collaborate as they see the need? How could we design our classrooms and schools to facilitate this option?

We can use tools like instant messaging or chat tools. These tools create spaces where students can share ideas as needed. Jason Fried from 37Signals tells his employees to practice “passive collaboration.” Don’t meet unless you have to do so.

As a matter of fact, Jason tells people to cancel meetings. If you attend the same meetings I do as an educator; you know this is a good idea.

Microsoft has offices that offer sliding doors and removable walls. When appropriate, people can chat with their peers on a project. But then, they have the control to retreat into solitude and work.

closeup photo of body of water in timelapse photo
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Getting Into a Flow

Cain speaks about the “flow state” that people enter when they can concentrate and work. I experience this myself often when I’m working. It isn’t easy to get there without planning to do so, but when I can, oh my.

For me, I put on my headphones and crank up a playlist of techno, lo-fi, or some other repetitive music. It’s always in the background but never in the front of my mind. Sometimes I’m like Tim Ferris, and I’ll repeat a movie or TV episode repeatedly.

When do we allow students to get into a flow state? Do we ever? Introverts love to get into this flow state of uninterrupted work. They hate distractions.

Yet, we break it up every 50-60 minutes of every school day. Imagine how frustrating this is for some of your students.

Finding Your Restorative Niche

Your restorative niche is the place you go to rebuild your strength. This holds true for introverts and extroverts alike; their restorative niches look different. It doesn’t have to be a physical place; it can be a mental state of being.

Regardless of what it looks like, our students have restorative niches they need to visit. Many times per day. Likely, you have a restorative niche yourself that you need to visit.

What Now?

I don’t have answers for what I’ve talked about, but I know that we need to be more aware of how we take care of our introverts. Because I’m one of them, I know how terrible my school experience was all those years ago.

Is there a place for collaboration and group work among students and teachers? Yes. Is there also a place for solitude and quiet focus? Yes, and yes.


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Thinking about Lesson Redesign for Deeper Learning

There’s a project that I’ve wanted to begin for a few years. I thought I’d have the chance during my first year as a full-time digital learning coach, but then COVID happened, and things went off the rails.

Now, my project is running. I’m working with a group of teachers in my district; the Future Shift Fellowship. The teachers represent grade levels from K-12 and several different content areas. Our focus is on redesigning lessons to create deeper learning experiences for students.

In case you weren’t aware, this process isn’t easy. But, with the right outlook and tools to help, we’re making some headway on this journey.

The Right Tool for Framing Conversations

We’re using the wonderful 4 Shifts Protocol as our guiding light during all our conversations. If you’re not familiar with this protocol, here’s an overview:

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a questioning protocol that focuses on redesigning lessons in four areas: deeper thinking & learning, authentic work, student agency & personalization, and technology infusion.

It’s a simple tool to begin using, but it opens the door to much deeper conversations about what we ask students to do and how those tasks align with meaningful work in settings beyond the classroom.

purple and black computer keyboard
Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash

Before this week’s meeting, I asked the fellows to read through the 4 Shifts handbook to guide our discussions. From the group, here are some of the thoughts they shared and their takeaways from the book:

The 4 Shifts Takeaways

My fellows know that one of my rallying cries about any change we undertake in our classrooms is to “embrace the suck.” It’s a military term used by trainers to get their trainees to understand that you must lean into being uncomfortable and push through difficulties. I use it to encourage teachers and students to keep going despite whatever difficulty they face with technology usage, rethinking lessons, or anything that “sucks” about change in education.

The fellows agreed that this book and protocol give them some support and encouragement to embrace the suck. And to know that things won’t always suck.

Next, they realized that lesson redesign will look different for different people because of the protocol’s flexibility. The 4 Shifts protocol respects teachers as professionals and masters of their craft. There is no dictation to use certain tools or methods in any of the shifts, merely yes/no/maybe questions to start conversations about how to change. It’s up to each teacher to determine how to best change each no to a yes.

people sitting down near table with assorted laptop computers
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

One fellow brought up how, when used properly, infusing technology into lessons can give students greater control over their learning. Good technology integration should provide students with greater agency and provide them with opportunities to present their work to an authentic audience and setting. Thinking about lesson redesign with deeper learning in mind makes this possible.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

We talked about our overachiever desire to do something spectacular with our students. If we’re going to redesign a lesson, we thought, we need to do something that’s never been done before and end the lesson or unit with some impressive technology project to show off to as many people as possible.

Of course, that’s not the point of this process. And the redesign doesn’t have to be difficult to implement or require huge changes to lead to deeper learning. Even small tweaks to your existing lessons can open new doors for students. Changing one small part of your lesson can give students a greater opportunity to think more deeply or, if appropriate, lead them down the path of becoming creators of content rather than consumers.

Ultimately, our goal in lesson redesign is moving students from inert learning to active learning, getting away from simple test prep to acquiring knowledge that sets them up for success in the world beyond our school walls.

What Happens Next

Our journey is just beginning with this fellowship. We’re starting small to spread this work across our school district. We will learn much along the way, and I’ll be sharing our work with all of you as we go. It’s an adventure for us and, we hope, for our students, too.

Change does not happen quickly, especially in education. However, our students are worth whatever changes we can make to help them be successful and live the life of their dreams, whatever that may be. The struggle is worth it because our kids are worth it.


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Will Students Use AI to Write Papers?

Since the dawn of time, students have been looking for ways to get out of writing papers. How do I know this? Because I was a student who tried to get out of writing papers.

I was terrible at it since I’d mostly just end up not writing the paper (Have I told you how horrible I was as a student in middle school & high school? Or maybe I wasn’t horrible, I just didn’t want to do things that were busy work and it all seemed like busy work…) and placing all my hopes for decent grades on awesome test-taking abilities.

Regardless of the wonderful technologies our students can use today, at some point, they are going to write a paper. Until we convince every teacher in the world that there are other ways to demonstrate learning mastery, there’s a paper in every student’s future. And there are times when a paper is the best form of assessment or communication.

With advances in artificial intelligence, we may need to rethink writing assignments for students.

Rethinking Writing with AI in Mind

As we think about creating deeper learning experiences for students and moving past work that doesn’t have applications outside the classroom and only asks for evidence of low-level learning, we educators need to know what’s possible with AI writing programs.

If you’re asking students to give an answer that looks something like a “listicle” you might find on a website, an AI writer can craft an incredibly decent response.

Without AI, innovate_rye says the homework they consider “busywork” would take them two hours. Now homework assignments like this take them 20 minutes.

from Vice

And some budding entrepreneurs learn quickly that if they know how to use AI writing software, they can make a quick buck from classmates.

I quickly searched for “ai writing apps” and retrieved around 82 million matches. The first page of the search results is littered with articles like “21 Best AI Writing Software Tools of October 2022 (Top 3 Picks)” and “21 Best AI Writing Tools of 2022,” amongst many others.

My point is this: students will find a way to game the system. They will put more effort into getting out of work than they will in doing the work if the work they are asked to do seems pointless.

white robot
Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Can we honestly say we don’t want to do the same? If we could have an AI attend the average staff meeting in our stead, wouldn’t we?

You could even use AI to write up some helpful tips for other teachers if you want to. The quality of the work may not be what you’re looking for, but is that wrong?

Technology is a tool that we can leverage to complete mundane tasks. The part of that statement that is difficult to define is the mundane part. Who decides what tasks are mundane and which ones aren’t?

A Plea for More Authentic Tasks

I’m not saying that papers can’t be authentic; I’m saying that we have to think carefully about what we ask students to write about. As with all the work we ask of students, a move toward more authentic, student-centered learning is essential in our modern world.

Planning frameworks like the 4 Shifts protocol can help us think about the tasks we ask of students and how we can modify those tasks for more authentic work.

And maybe worry a little less about software writing student responses.

BONUS: I had this newsletter ready to launch when I saw an AI-generated podcast between Joe Rogan and Steve Jobs. Disturbing? Yes. We need to know what’s out there and what it can do. The future is now.


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Reversing Learning Loss, Rethinking Exit Tickets, and Respecting Introverts

Happy Monday to you all. I’m back after a nice break and ready to get things going this week. I’ve got some cool things to share with you today.

What I’m Reading:

Reversing Learning Loss

There’s a new working paper out of India that discusses the “learning loss” experienced by 19,000 students in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. I’m not the biggest fan of the term “learning loss” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not a battle I can fight. I’m just diving into this report, but the results from the interventions provided by a government-run program show a significant reduction in the deficits.

Rethinking Exit Tickets

I’m more invested in student-centered, personalized learning and taking the focus of our classrooms from the teacher being the “ultimate source of knowledge,” so when I saw an article from Eric Sheninger on rethinking exit tickets, I jumped right in. Eric presents an example of an exit ticket that isn’t just a “did you learn” activity. It’s a short exercise, to be sure, but it provides a student a chance to reflect on their learning and think about their level of understanding of the topic.

I haven’t read Eric’s most recent book yet, but I’ve enjoyed his Learning Transformed and Digital Leadership immensely.

Respecting Introverts

I am, without a doubt, the introvert’s introvert. I thrive in my alone time. Susan Cain’s “Quiet” has been on my TBR list for some time, and I finally started reading it during my break. It’s brilliant.

I’m about a third of the way through it. My first big takeaway is society’s focus on being an extrovert. Extroverted behavior is encouraged in our schools, companies, and governments. Nobody wants to be an introvert. Until you dig a little deeper…

For instance, Cain points out that the ranks of CEOs are filled with introverts. She quotes the imminent business expert Peter Drucker who said when speaking of companies he consulted with, “the most effective leaders had little or no charisma and little use for the term or what it signifies.”

Another interesting point from the book: 128 companies studied showed that CEOs considered extroverts had bigger salaries than their introverted counterparts but not better corporate performance.

I wonder what damage we do to introverts in our schools by not letting them be who they are and working in ways best for them.

Quote of the Day:

The one who has no wounds has never fought a battle.

– Erwin MacManus, The Way of The Warrior

naked man statue
Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash

What I’m Watching:

As a reward for completing some of my coursework, I binged three episodes of Andor on Disney+. Oh my goodness, it’s so good. I highly recommend it to anyone but especially to my fellow Star Wars fans.


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A Scandal in Chesslandia

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a huge scandal in the world of chess. I’m fascinated by the game even though I’m a terrible player. Maybe I’ll dedicate some time to learn like an athlete and become a more respectable chess player.

I bring up the story of Hans Moke Niemann to talk a bit about the pressure our students put on themselves. Of course, sometimes they’re pressured to achieve by parents or other family members, but many times it’s the student’s inner demons pushing them to do and be more.

I wonder what other instances of cheating we’ll find in the next few years if we can’t find a way to move away from pursuing high-stakes achievement. We’ve already seen a college admissions scandal and now an alleged instance of cheating in the exclusive world of chess.

There has to be a better way.

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Steve Jobs Returns from the Dead

Sort of. While wasting time and avoiding writing a paper for my doctoral studies, I saw John Mayer (yes, I’m a fan, aren’t you?) share a story on Instagram with a link to something called the Steve Jobs Archive.

The site, recently launched, will archive emails, letters, audio & video clips, and more to celebrate the life and impact of the Apple co-founder.

Jobs would have been 65 this year but passed away 11 years ago from pancreatic cancer.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The site is sparse right now, but I’m sure will grow over time. On the front page, an email Jobs sent himself offers a poetic look at his respect for humanity. Written near the end of his life, I wonder how the contents of that email would differ were it from an earlier time. Jobs was a visionary but certainly was not a shining example of a good human (if you haven’t read Walter Isaacson’s biography, you should).

I wonder what we’ll learn from this new archive and if we’ll gain a better perspective on Jobs.

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Doodling a Doodle House

Yes, you read that properly. The YouTube sensation Mr. Doodle (aka Sam Cox) bought a house in 2019. He then spent from 2020-2022 doing what he does best: doodling.

He made a stop-motion video of the process. Yes, this is all real.

While the doodle is a fantastic achievement, this also speaks to dedication and consistency, two things we should spend more time on with our students. Doodling an entire house is a big (ok, ridiculous) goal, but significant progress is made by doing a little bit at a time.

We could do with a few more people in the world dedicated to doodling a house. We could stand a few more people with the discipline to see more projects through to the end.

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Creating Your Classroom Student Tech Team

With today’s ever-changing technology and the constant turnover of cables and computer components, it’s more challenging than ever for an IT team to be everywhere at once, or for an Instructional Coach to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for minor inventory concerns. For these reasons, establishing a Student Tech Team in your school is an excellent option.

Student tech teams may be used to relieve the burden and responsibilities of both coaching and IT staff, as well as educate youngsters about responsibility, budgeting, entrepreneurship, and marketing.

Any classroom can benefit from having a student tech team. These are the students who help others with technology-related issues and problems. They’re probably also the kids that like to take things apart and figure out how they work. Whether you realize it or not, you probably have a few kids in your class who would be perfect for this role.

How to Create a Student Tech Team

Creating your own student tech team is not difficult. If your school has a vision for what you’re looking for, you may establish a program that satisfies the demands of pupils, instructors, and the community.

Of course, the first step in creating a student tech team is getting your administration’s approval. Once you have that, you can start recruiting members. Let your students know that you’re looking for kids who are interested in technology and who are willing to help others with their tech problems. You might even want to put up a sign-up sheet so that interested students can sign up.

Once you have a few interested students, it’s time to start training them. Partner with your school or district IT department to set up some training sessions with your students. The folks in the IT department will appreciate having help, and I’m sure they’ll jump at the chance to show your students all the cool “tech stuff” they have access to at your school.

Show them how to troubleshoot common issues and problems. Have them practice with each other to get comfortable with the process. Their training should include using basic repair tools with your school’s devices. This is the perfect chance to repurpose old Chromebooks or other devices. Perhaps your kids will even get the itch to build their own computers!

Once your students are trained, they can start helping out other students in the class. They can also act as a resource for you, the teacher. If you ever have a question about technology or need help with something, you can always ask your student tech team for assistance.

Also, your student tech team can be available for other teachers. If a teacher is having trouble with technology in their classroom, your student tech team can help them out. This is a great way for your students to get some leadership experience and help other teachers.

Student Tech Teams Develop Leadership

The goal of any student tech team is to provide students with the opportunity to gain leadership experience. Student tech teams can be used during the school day and year to help students learn how to collaborate as a unit, form a team, and lead digital learning experiences in the classroom.

Any student tech team’s second goal, which is just as important as the first, is to learn about the technologies being used inside and outside of classrooms. Your student tech team can serve the school community by helping during lunch periods, recess, after school, and, if necessary, at after-school events in the community. Imagine having a community night where your students teach adults to use different apps that they use daily in their classrooms!

As your students continue their work, they aren’t just building technology skills but their communication and collaboration skills. Likely, they will encounter new problems along the way that will require them to partner with others and develop creative solutions.

Your student tech team will build become a valuable part of the school and, as they work with sensitive information, build trust amongst the staff and administration. The likelihood that one or more of these students will pursue a career in an IT field will be high, making you a part of navigating a student’s future course.

Creating a student tech team in your classroom is a great way to ensure that everyone has access to the help they need regarding technology. It also allows you to take advantage of your students’ unique skills and knowledge. So if you’re having trouble incorporating technology into your classroom, consider forming a student tech team. It could be just what you need to get things up and running smoothly.

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Surprise, Surprise: Teachers Make Less Money Than Their Peers

I’m just going to talk about this for a minute and then move on because I’m pretty sure everyone who cares is aware of this issue by now.

I’m also sure that everyone who doesn’t care about it and/or doesn’t believe it isn’t going to listen to anything I say, regardless of the data backing up my statements.

According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, teachers make about 76.5 cents on the dollar compared to their peers in other comparable professions.

On average, teachers make about 23.5% less than their peers. Unless you’re a teacher in Colorado. Then the gap increases to 35.9%.

Also disturbing, teachers’ inflation-adjusted weekly wages since 1996 have been flat. Flat.

Considering what teachers have been through the past 2.5 years, you’d think something would have changed.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t. I wonder if it ever will.

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References:

Teacher pay penalty reaches record high. What’s at stake? (2022, August 22). EdSurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2022-08-22-teacher-pay-penalty-reaches-record-high-what-s-at-stake

The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high: Trends in teacher wages and compensation through 2021. (n.d.). Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.epi.org/publication/teacher-pay-penalty-2022/