Survey says . . .

I am working on a master’s degree in Sociology and have recently been delving into the world of social change and development. As one of my course papers, I was required to conduct a study (a very quick one) related to a topic involving social change.

I’m an educator, and I have a strong interest in the power of community, so I decided to do a study to begin to determine whether educator communities could conceivably be a catalyst for education reform, and thus, social change.

Big topic – no way I could possibly handle it in a study I’m supposed to complete over the course of two weeks. I decided to do a quick study that would, potentially, lay the groundwork for future, in-depth studies on the topic. I chose to create a survey which would be used to gather qualitative data from teachers on their perceptions about the influence formal educator communities have had on their teaching styles and skills.

Again, this by no means is a scientific study – it is just a gathering of data for the purposes of narrowing down a focus for future study. There is no quantifiable data to support the claims made by the educators who answered the study. There isn’t meant to be – it is meant to be a view of the perceived impact educator communities might have on teachers.

My study was conducted over just a few days, using a Google form tweeted and posted to FB, then subsequently retweeted and shared by others. During those few days, 124 educators responded to the survey. The average years of experience of the respondents was 17.

78% belong to an educator network. This was skewed because I asked for teachers who are in a network to do the survey when I tweeted and shared the link. 61% of the educators surveyed who said they were in a network belong to the Discovery Educator Network (DEN). Again, this was skewed because that is the network I am most active in, so a majority of educators who took my survey and who shared the link with others were also active in the DEN.

I wasn’t surprised that the response was overwhelmingly positive when asked about whether a community had positively impacted their teaching. When asked the reflective question, “Thinking back to your teaching practices before joining the community, then how they are now, would you say that the community has had a positive influence on changing your teaching practices?” 97% said “yes”.

Here are some of the other results. Note that this survey was about formal communities organized by businesses and organizations, not about PLCs at school or other district or campus communities. In order to obtain scientifically relevant data, one would need to identify quantifiable measurements and a way to include all kinds of communities.


Responses to questions about community influence. Click on the image to see full-size.

In addition to these questions, a comment box was provided for educators to add any information they wished. These comments were also very positive, such as:

  • “I don’t think I would still be teaching if I hadn’t attended DENSI!”
  • “Sometimes my job can be lonely – it helps SO much to be able to connect …. for support”
  • “…now the ideas I use are not always my own … and because I share where the ideas come from – my students also see me as a learner.”
  • “those who reach out, collaborate and intentionally connect with others are actively involved in growing their practice!”
  • “I always thought I was a good teacher but when I became a connected educator I realized how much more I had to learn and how much more I could do for my students …. I could not imagine teaching without these connections.”
  • “I like seeing what other educators do. It makes me step up my game.”

Thank you to everyone who answered the survey. The fact that I received so many responses in such a short time is evidence of the strength of the network to which I belong!

Coffee update from DENSI 2014

Yes, everywhere I go at DENSI, folks talk about the infamous Tim Childers and his coffee habit. Little do they know that I am the queen of coffee. My husband and I spend nearly as much on coffee each month as we spend on our car payments. When I’m traveling, i’m always looking for that perfect coffee shop, preferably not Starbucks. At one time, though, I was mayor (on Foursquare) of three different Starbucks in the DFW area as well as a little coffee shop in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. I’ve been trying to kick the habit, but still enjoy my morning coffee.

Because of this, I have been in search of coffee shops within walking distance of Vanderbilt. I thought I’d share what I have found here so that other coffee lovers like myself and Tim can check them out. 

1. Of course, everyone wants Starbucks. The scoop on Vanderbilt Starbucks is that there is one in the Barnes and Noble which is less than a block away, but if you keep walking, you will find a real Starbucks right next door to the Barnes and Noble. This brings to mind the original Shrek movie when everyone scrambled out of the Starbucks when Shrek walked in and they ran across the street to another Starbucks. I won’t critique their coffee because everyone knows Starbucks.

2. My second day in Nashville I had to try Atmalogy.Atmalogy is located next to Chili’s, which is across the street from the dorms. According to their website, the term means “the finding of one’s true self.” Atmalogy is a funky space within a large converted house. They serve coffee along with healthy sandwiches, wraps, and other small snacks. The service is a little slow, as it often is with local coffee shops, but the atmosphere within the shop is worth slowing down a bit. Each room of the house has been decorated into really cool spaces to gather and talk with friends. One space doesn’t allow shoes, another has one of those cool hanging egg chairs in it. Atmalogy also offers classes in guitar and philosophical talking groups. The coffee itself was okay – I don’t believe they roast their own, but it was good. Note to my fellow soy lovers – they don’t have soy, but they do have almond and coconut milk. I love almond almost as much as soy, so this was okay with me!

3. At lunch Sunday, Pam Inabinett, first-timer Audra Barton, and I decided to take a little walk to Cafe Coco. This is a longer walk, but still very doable. Cafe Coco is open 24 hours, which is convenient for DENSI attendees. They have a coffee shop, sandwiches and pastries up front in the converted house. Around back is a small bar which also offers the same menu as up front. This is important to know when there are lines, which according to Foursquare there always are. When we went, there were no lines and we sat outside in the patio area (which has electrical outlets!) and enjoyed a really nice lunch. I went back in to sample the coffee and my iced soy latte was really good – their coffee has a nice flavor to it.

Let me know if you find a great spot!

DENSI Sunday (losing track of days!)

Today was a great day. It included the culminating event for the LC pre-con and the arrival of all the folks for DENSI. 

In the morning, we made sack lunches and created sock monkeys to donate to a local homeless shelter. The monkeys, along with books that LC members brought with them, will be given to children. At the beginning of the sock monkey creation, none of us really knew what we were doing. With Dacia’s expert direction, we got into a pretty decent assembly line. Many of us began to take a special interest in the monkey we were making and by the time it was time to add a birth certificate and box them up, it was hard to let them go. Here is the monkey I dressed. I named her Summer:


Special thanks to Matt Graves, who took the picture. Matt also was the recipient of the first DEN finger for DENSI 2014 for being such a great example of the DEN by making many trips to the airport to pick up folks, including me! Thank you Matt!

As attendees arrived in the afternoon, it was so cool to see their excitement. Those who are attending DENSI for the first time renewed my own excitement as their shining faces and huge smiles were very contagious!

In the evening, we had a barbeque, which was delicious, and exchanged our state gifts. I got a wonderful pecan pie from Susanne Mahone, who is from Alabama. The pecans are significant to her state, but she also had a great story to tell about why pecans are significant to her. I love this tradition!

At the opening session, Porter announced keynote, Greg Siers, who is a TV and film producer. Greg kept apologizing for not being an educator, but his perspective as a gifted and bullied student who has made a huge success of his life was something no teacher could have given us. His story hit so close to home for me, I was moved to tears at least a couple of times. I feel moved to respond in some way, and will definitely be trying to find a way . . .

After dinner, we met with our teams for the week. It was great to begin to hear the stories as we did a teambuilding question and answer session. I can’t wait to learn more about Team Neene!


Today, we joined the Principal Summit for an unconference. This was really cool because today was also EdCamp Fort Worth, which I was supposed to be at as a member of the planning team. I still got to unconference and watch both streams (#DENSI2014 and #edcampfwtx) on Twitter.

The blending of DEN LC members and principals was a unique opportunity and ended up providing a great diversity of perspective into the sessions. My day started off with a session I proposed, which was the gamification of professional development. The double room I was scheduled in was packed and we had a balanced blend of teachers and administrators in the room. Lots of resources were shared but the thing I’m most excited about was the decision to attempt to come up with a framework and basic “game” written by DEN members that can be used in any school or district. Many districts do not have the staff or the resources to pull something like this off very quickly, so here is another chance for the DEN to provide a much-needed resource to those who need it most!

Next, I went to a session led by Howard Martin about how resources can be shared within the Discovery Education platform. This discussion led to some great ideas and suggestions for future development by DE.

While the principals went to a session led by DE staff, the LC broke out into their teams for planning. I’m a part of the blog and social media team. I won’t tell you the things we discussed in there because I want them to be a surprise if they ever happen! What I will tell you is that the blog and social media team is filled with a terrific bunch of ideators who brainstormed enthusiastically the whole time. Lots of great stuff being talked about!

After lunch, I went to a session about online spaces. This session was facilitated by DENnis Grice and Marita Diffenbaugh. They shared the platforms their districts have used and/or have quit using to open up the discussion about providing online spaces for students and teachers. A lot of discussion was given to Edmodo and Schoology and the logistics of rolling out a new platform.

The mid-afternoon session was when many of us became overwhelmed with the activity for the day and a few even participated in #napchat which was held in the second floor lounge area. I went to a session in the cinema hosted by Sandy MacDougall, where he shared ways his district has developed and used PD.

During the 3:00 session, I spent time in a discussion facilitated by Rachel Yurk to toss around the idea of a way to tap into the talent that exists in the DEN. It was a great discussion, and I think some really cool things will come out of that session.

At the end of the day, we gathered in the cinema for a closing by Jannita. In it, she encouraged us to decide who we are and what our goals are, then do something about it. She awarded each of us the “Light Award”, which was a really powerful way to remind us that we make a difference every day.

All of the session notes are attached to the unconference schedule. You can access it here.

The evening festivities included a bus trip to the Wildhorse Saloon. It was perfect. There was good music, fun dancing, and space to talk with friends.



I decided to (attempt to) write a blog post each day that I am at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (DENSI). DENSI is a week that Discovery brings together a hundred or so educators from across the country to learn and share with each other. This is my sixth institute and, as always, I already started a journey of enhancing my understanding of true technology integration yesterday.

Our day was short – checkin was at 3:00, but we still had a lot of time to sit and visit with each other. Before checkin began, Judy Uhrig and I started talking about her news stories and I shared an app with her called TouchCast. TouchCast is a simple way to create news casts that look like real news shows. Adding names, tickers, and images is very simple and with one touch, you can begin a live newscast while it records. I created this TouchCast the first time I tried it out.

Later in the evening, I also shared a time-waster called Thisissand. This app probably doesn’t have a use in the classroom, other than a calming influence on those students who need to have something in their hands in order to focus. However, I was at a conference talking to Hall Davidson once, and he came up with a great use – start the app at the beginning of a conference session. At the end of the conference session, the size of the sand art you have created is a measure of how good the session is. You will just have to decide whether you will add sand to it for each thing you learn or whether a large piece of art means you were so bored that you played with Thisissand the whole time. Here is one of mine from a session I attended – I won’t tell you which way I did it:



6 alternatives to slide presentations

This morning, I began a search to see what new, innovative options there are for presentations. After doing a search, I found many blog posts touting alternatives to boring presentations, but all of them listed presentation websites and software whose only real stray from PowerPoint was the name of the website or software itself.

This blog post aims to give folks an alternative to presentations using websites which are not laid out like and serve nearly the exact same purpose as PowerPoint. You won’t see Haiku Deck, Prezi, or Powtoon here – although they are all good, free resources, they are still basically a slide show. Yes, even Prezi is basically a slideshow that has exploded and landed in whatever array you choose.

The six tools I have selected here meet the following criteria:

1. They can deliver customized content
2. They allow for incorporation of websites and video
3. They do not have default settings that encourage us to simply recreate our presentation on its platform
4. They are all free and web-based
5. They allow for easy sharing

Bonus if they also allow for downloading so that a presenter won’t be stuck with nothing in the event of internet connectivity issues.

In no particular order, here are my top six picks:

1. Thinglink – Thinglink is a classroom favorite of mine. Its simple interface and rich functionality makes it suitable for teachers, students, and administrators to deliver information. As a presentation platform, simply upload a picture relevant to your presentation, then create touch points which you can use to pull up additional websites and media. Your audience will not be subject to text-heavy slides and you will not have to click through slide after slide to jump ahead or back in your presentation. This is important because we all need to be flexible in our delivery, according to our audience, and as speaking guru, Kevin Honeycutt taught me, you should always have more content in your presentation than you will realistically be able to cover so that you keep your audience wanting more. Adding text to a Thinglink being used for a presentation also gives your audience information to review after your session is over.

2. Symbaloo – This website is basically a visually interesting bookmarking site. Teachers can use it in the gamification of their instruction, for self-guided learning, or simply providing useful links to their students. As a presentation tool, Symbaloo’s simple design in pages called webmixes allows for a presenter to pre-load every link they will be visiting during a presentation and eliminate the need for slides with hyperlinks. As with Thinglink, Symbaloo’s webmixes are shareable, so audience members can return later to review the information. I learned from web guru, Steve Dembo, that innovation exists when something is being used for something other than its intended purpose. Using Symbaloo to link to a selection of documents, images, videos, etc. that you have stored in the cloud can be one of those innovative uses.

3. LiveBinders – This tool is unique in this list because it has been created with presentation features in mind, although it meets my criteria because it isn’t a slideshow. LiveBinders allows you to create a virtual binder of information. You can link to websites, embed video, or create your own pages within the binder. Of the five in this list, I have used LiveBinders most often for my presentations. As with the others, I can share a link to the LiveBinder I created for that topic and my participants can use it during my presentation for any audience response items I’m incorporating. After the event, they can return to it for reference. I enjoy adding pages to the LiveBinder as we go through the session and will often continue to add additional information after-the-fact, so that the binder becomes a dynamic resource my audience can use for as long as they wish. An example of one of my presentation LiveBinders is this one I created for a BYOT session. You can see that I used Symbaloo as the starting point for this presentation, then linked to the LiveBinder from there.

4. Infographics – This choice isn’t a specific website, although there are plenty of options out there, including Piktochart,, or Smore. The concept of using an infographic as a presentation platform is desirable because of the potential for it to be smooth, succinct, and useful as a standalone resource. Creating an infographic with the high points of your presentation can be visually interesting and useful as a poster in a classroom. Although I normally don’t use an infographic by itself for a presentation, I do use one as a piece of my presentation (you can see an example of that in the Zoho section, next).

5. Zoho notebook – Zoho notebook is another favorite classroom tool of mine. Students can log in using their Google account, which means one less login for them to remember, and the notebook can store literally anything they may want to store. Books can be created with numerous pages, embedded websites, videos, audio, and text. Zoho can even record video and audio for you. Once a book is finished, it can be published to the world, or individual pages of it can be shared. As a presentation tool, Zoho can be one location for a presenter to compile all of the information they will be using during a presentation, along with any files, websites, or other information they may want to share with audience members. The published version works much like a book and its clean look is just my style. One big, big drawback is that it only works 100% of the time in Internet Explorer. In Firefox, you can often get it to work by clicking on a page. In Chrome, it often just doesn’t load websites and images. This is a huge drawback which hopefully will be resolved. Here is a presentation example I created for a presentation I will be doing next week (be sure to open it in IE!).

6. Timeline JS – As I sat down to write this post, I intended to stop at five, but then I remembered this gem. Designed to be a timeline creator, I immediately saw its potential as a presentation tool the first time I discovered it. One of the really cool features of Timeline JS is that it uses Google spreadsheets to create the timeline. There is an easy-to-use template to download from the website. Just place all the info you would like to have on your timeline in the spreadsheet (incorporating video and other media is as easy as putting a link in the media column). Timeline JS will use the link to your spreadsheet to create a visual representation of the information within the spreadsheet. Presenters can think of the timeline as the agenda for the day, with rich media quickly available.

All of these tools are free and easy to use. All of them can be shared to an audience. Some of them do have the ability to download for offline use. All of them should help you to think outside the slide and create stimulating presentations your audiences will appreciate.

Top three classroom management tips that have nothing to do with procedures

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my profession, I have worked with first-year teachers, seasoned teachers, and teachers in between and have noticed one common thread – struggles with classroom management. This is not to say that all of the teachers I have worked with have classroom management issues – instead what I’m saying is that when I see issues in a classroom, or ask a teacher what their biggest struggle is, classroom management is usually at the top of the list.

When I see classroom management issues, I can usually see the reasons for it. It isn’t always about procedures and it isn’t always about whether the teacher has prepared a meaningful lesson that will reasonably take the whole class period to complete. Often, it has so much more to do with the way the teacher interacts with his/her students.

I’d like to point out the three most important things (in my opinion) to consider when examining the reasons behind classroom management issues:

1. Like children. We all got into this profession, hopefully, because we wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. However, I have seen teachers who clearly do not like kids. Whether they have always disliked youngsters or whether they have become burnt out and resent them, the result is always the same – constant battles between students who are keenly aware of their teacher’s dislike for them and the teachers who are just counting the minutes until class is over.

If you find yourself in a position where you are quick to make statements like “kids nowadays have no respect” or “teenagers are just a bag of hormones” – you may want to step back and see your students for what they are – young versions of the adults you and others will influence them to be. Young people are all the hope and possibilities contained in our futures, wrapped up in little bodies and brains that are (or can be) excited into wonder. Be in awe of them as they walk in your door. Smile at the realization that you have been given one more class period to be a part of who that child will be for the rest of his/her life.

2. Have clean slates. I’m not talking about making sure to clean your whiteboards or chalkboards, I’m talking about wiping clean the slate in your brain that says “Johnny always gives me trouble” or “Susan never has her books”. This slate absolutely must be clean every single time a student walks in your door. If you are remembering Julio acting up during yesterday’s class while he is trying to answer the question you just asked, you will react differently to his answer than you would if you had wiped the slate clean. It is so important that each new day is truly new – that our students understand that if they made a mistake yesterday, it will not be held against them today. If you tend to hold grudges, or predict how your “troublemakers” are going to react, the result will be constant battles with specific students which quite possibly could be because of your own influence.

3. Think about the big picture. I have witnessed teachers spending many precious minutes of instructional time enforcing rules that have no bearing on the potential for learning in that classroom. If I have a rule that says my students cannot chew gum in my class, and it takes me the first five minutes of class each day to make students spit their gum out, I’ve just placed gum as the most important thing in that classroom for the day. We all know it is going to take longer than five minutes in a secondary classroom, because students who are subject to rules that make no sense to them will stretch those rules to see how far they can go. I’m using gum as an example, but what I want you to do is take a look at the rules you have in place – are they really necessary? Did you just add this one because the teacher next door has it on her list? Does it really matter if Tanya has a pierced lip?

Ask yourself: Does this affect the ability of students in my classroom to learn? If the answer is yes, then it must be a part of the rules you enforce in your classroom. If the answer is no, choose your battles wisely, because it is very easy for us to make a small situation much worse and demand much more time than is warranted. When working with teenagers, this is especially important because when they are in your classroom and you think they are thinking about other things, they are often considering the reasoning behind the rules and the reasoning behind the assignment you just gave them. If they cannot “buy in” to why they have to comply, they won’t, and some of those students will turn nonsensical rules and irrelevant assignments into the miserable hours of disciplinary issues that some teachers face daily.

I’m not trying to say that procedures should get thrown out the door. Obviously, there must be procedures in a day of learning that has so much in it and so little time. These tips are just a way to think about classroom management AFTER you have the procedures in place and are still struggling.

Take a look at your style from an outsider perspective. Then take a look at it from a student perspective. Reflect on those perspectives and make the changes necessary to provide the best learning environment for your students. You will go home at night much less stressed and there is a bonus – you will build stronger relationships with your students.