Grades are communication, not compensation



It’s easy to get this backwards.

We get this backwards when we give a student an A for working hard regardless of content mastery.

We get this backwards when we pad a student’s grade with multiple assignments regardless of rigor and relevance.

We get this backwards when we assign and grade busywork.

We get this backwards when we rely on the gradebook to communicate with parents instead of taking the time to conference in person.

We get this backwards when we don’t post relevant grades in a timely manner.

We get this backwards when a student turns in an assignment late and points are deducted.

We get this backwards when a student doesn’t do an assignment and we assign a zero and move on.

We get this backwards when we don’t allow a student to make-up or redo an assignment.

We get this backwards when a student fails anything and we fail to remediate.

We get this backwards when we allow students to be more concerned about the grade than the learning.

We get this backwards when we count “did-you-do-it?” grades.

We get this backwards when we enter grades for the sake of entering grades.

We get this backwards when we give participation points.

We get this backwards when we give bonus points for bringing in classroom supplies.

We get this backwards when we use a student’s grade as leverage for compliance.

The bottoms line:  Grades should communicate content mastery— that’s it.

The Secret to Encouraging Reluctant Teachers to Use EdTech

The beauty of educational technology (EdTech) is also it’s biggest hurdle:  there is always something newer and better.

For some teachers, finding out about the latest and greatest EdTech is invigorating, challenging, and rewarding. They can’t wait to try something new and see if it will help their students.

For some teachers, finding out about the latest and greatest EdTech is paralyzing, intimidating, and draining. They don’t know where to start, so they refuse to learn and feel defeated. They say things like “There’s just so much. I don’t know even know where to start” or “I’m not like you. I’m so far behind that I’ll never catch up.”

I don’t buy it. My response is always the same for teachers who fear integrating technology into the classroom: “Start with what you know.”

This artwork hangs in my office as a daily reminder for me and my colleagues to avoid the analysis of paralysis:

A reminder hanging in my office (courtesy of Hugh MacLeod)

“If in doubt” by Hugh MacLeod

That’s what I would tell students. Why not tell teachers the same thing?

Start with what you know.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this:

A friend of mine teaches Geometry and coaches football. Last week his kids were fighting off the flu and it’s still hanging around. As a result, he missed a few days last week and he’ll be out all of this week. That’s not good for him, his kids, or his Geometry students.

I suggested he create some video lessons for the sub to play so he and his students wouldn’t fall too far behind. I told him about apps like ShowMe and Educreations, but without an iPad to use, he was stuck. He went home, did a little research, and found something that might work for him… but sadly after trying to figure it out, it just didn’t work.

He texted me pretty bummed and said he’d just find another worksheet for his students to do while he was gone. I suggested he record a video with his iPhone (which he knows how to do). He could angle the camera on a piece of paper and teach his lesson with pen and paper. When he finished, he could send the video for the sub to play.

He loved the idea and then said rather than emailing the video, he’d post it on HUDL— a program he knows well from watching, editing, and sharing game films with other coaches and players.

The next morning he emailed a link to the HUDL video, and when his students came to class, they were able to have a “normal” class day even though their teacher was absent.

The reason this worked is simple:  Instead of being paralyzed about learning something new, my friend started with what he already knew (recording iPhone videos and uploading videos to HUDL) and created a learning opportunity for his students.

That’s how EdTech is supposed to work. It’s supposed to help us in the classroom and give us options that didn’t exist in years past. It should be liberating– not intimidating.

The next time you hear colleagues saying they’re too old to start using technology in class, call them out on it. Tell them to start with what they know. They often know more than they’re letting on. Heck, they probably have more Facebook friends than you do.




How Students Can Create Animated Movies to Teach Each Other

In addition to learning our content and curriculum standards, today’s students also need to be able to do the following effectively:

collaborate with one another,

synthesize ideas,

create content,

communicate ideas clearly, and

use technology.

A great way to accomplish all of these learning goals is to have students create movies of classroom content (i.e., textbook) to share with each other.

About a year ago, I came across this blog post to learn the ins-and-outs of using RSA-animate style movies in the classroom. After learning all I could I created the example animated movie below (using Ch. 9/Sec. 1 of our Arkansas History book) and mapped out a daily schedule to share with our teachers.

Wouldn’t it be great if your students created similar videos to share with their class? Wouldn’t they be engaged and have fun learning?

Having students create RSA-animate style movies is a fun way to teach content– by having the students become the teacher. It’s not too tough once you get the hang of it, and in a BYOD or 1:1 school, the tools are there.

Here’s how students in your class can create their own animated movies to share…

Chapter Notes (Day 1)

On Day 1, divide the students into groups of 3 (if possible— but having one or two groups of 4 isn’t a deal-breaker). I highly recommend that you assign the groups rather than having students select their own group. Before students begin working on the assignment, do a quick check to make sure that someone in each group has a device with a camera on it.

After all the groups have been formed, assign each group a section from your textbook. Have them use the class period to read their section and write down all the key facts, ideas, and vocabulary words. As students work, the teacher should float around the room answering questions, monitoring students, and making sure students aren’t leaving out key ideas from the section. Having students divide their paper into 6-10 squares seems to help them organize info (see example below).

Textbook Notes


Check each group’s work when they are finished to make sure all of the key ideas you want them to know are included. THIS IS CRITICAL!

Rough Draft Sketches (Day 2)

On Day 2, after checking each group’s notes, have them begin to sketch their ideas that will help them illustrate their ideas. I used ShowMe on my iPad for this, but students can use pen-and-paper and it will work just fine. I was able to condense my key ideas from notes (6 boxes) into four sketches, but students may prefer to have one sketch per box of notes.

SketchesRecord Video (Day 3)

Day 3 is a fun day— time to record (so students need their devices)! The beauty of recording these videos is that it doesn’t have to be quiet in the room and students won’t need a lot of space— just a few markers and a section of whiteboard. While one student in the group draws their sketches, another student needs to be recording which will take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. (By the way, because I was working alone, I used ShowMe to create my video and I downloaded it from their site.)

When they’re finished, they’ll need to import the video into iMovie or the Motion Pictures app and speed it up to 5x the normal speed.

Write a Detailed Script and Record Audio (Day 4)

Now it’s time to put it all together. Once the video has been recorded and sped up, it’s time to add the audio narration. In my opinion, this is both the most important and time-consuming step (because students will need to match up their script to the video they’ve made).

Here is a copy of my script:

By 1835, 24 states had entered the Union— and Arkansans were eager to join as well. Due to the Missouri Compromise, states entering the Union needed to join in pairs— one free state and one slave state. The talk going around the land was that Florida and Michigan were getting set to join, so Arkansans needed to act quickly to beat Florida to the punch.

In January of 1836, after much debate over the issue of slavery, delegates wrote state constitution to send to Congress. Charles Noland of Batesville was assigned the task of taking the proposal to Washington.

At the same time, William Woodruff had sent a special edition of the Gazette using the good ol’ U.S. Postal Service. As shocking as it might seem today, the U.S. Postal Service provided fast delivery— beating Charles Noland and even beating Florida’s proposal (yet another shock for Arkansans today— beating Florida at anything).

Arkansas officially entered the union as the 25th state on June 15, 1836.

The final version of the first state constitution was completed January 30, 1836, with the following key elements:

     I. Governors, state legislators, and almost all local officials were to be elected by popular vote.

     II. The governor had to be old— at least 30— and must have lived in Arkansas for at least ten years.

     III. Voting was limited to free white adult males— not necessarily property owners

     IV. Poll taxes were prohibited

     V. The legislature would choose US Senators to represent Arkansas in Washington, state supreme court justices, the secretary of state, the state treasurer, and many other important offices.

Much like today, in 1836 two main political parties emerged for the Arkansas wealthy elite and those parties campaigned for political office— the Democrats and the Whigs. The democratic party was made up of planters and the working poor. The Whigs were made up of planters and businessmen. The Democrats, also known as “The Family” won all the key offices during the first election.

The state’s economy was booming in 1837— it was so great, the state realized it had a $50,000 surplus burning a hole in their pocket. One option was to start a state university, but instead the state chose to give the money back to citizens by lowering taxes. However, the government chose to build a state prison which was located on the hill where our state capital stands today. The state’s university wouldn’t exist until 1871.

Around that time, the federal government also began building a military arsenal in Little Rock and things are looking up for Arkansans.

However, as often happens when things are going well, a big problem emerged as state banks began borrowing too much money from other banks (over $2,000,000!), which led to the Panic of 1837 when we faced an economic depression. It would take several years for Arkansas’ economy to recover— but at least we had a prison, right?

When they’re ready to record their narration, students will need to go to a quiet area (either the office, library, empty science labs, etc.) and record using iMovie (or any voice memo app). After finalizing

Movie Premieres (Day 5)

Spend Friday watching each group’s video. Students can take notes or just watch— your call.


What do you think? Will it work in your class? Feel free to comment below.