“Act like you own the place!” Tips for presenters :)

A few weeks ago someone came up to me and told me how he just accepted his first speaking gig. He was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and knowing I do a lot of presenting, asked me for a few tips. I gave him a few and have since been thinking about things I’ve learned in my first couple years of presenting at conferences.

1. Invest in a remote and a quality dongle. The only thing more frustrating than being in a conference session with someone who doesn’t have proper equipment, is being the presenter without the proper equipment. Most rooms come set up with a VGA cable, but most non-Windows computers will need a dongle adapter. Don’t pinch pennies here and buy the cheapest one. I speak from experience when I say it’s embarrassing when they stop working in the middle of a session. I also recommend a presenter remote so that you’re not bound to your computer. They’re relatively inexpensive and add a lot of fluidity to your presentation.

2. Act like you own the place! One of the many lessons my dad has taught me is to “act like you own the place, and no one will say anything.” When I present I have to believe in my ability and my authority. When I believe in it, everyone else does too. Because, as Taylor Mali reminds us, “it’s not enough to question authority; you must speak with it too.”

3. Use less words and more pictures. Resources like Haiku Deck make it easy for people to create beautiful presentations. Although it’s important to speak compelling things, it’s ineffective to put these long, beautiful sentences on a slide deck. Stick to photos that illustrate the power of what you’re speaking.

4. Manage your time wisely. Plan out how much time you’ll spend on each point. When you’re just starting out, practice your presentation. It’s always frustrating for conference attendees (who have paid for the conference) to attend sessions that are way over or under the allotted time or are filled with unnecessary information.

5. Don’t rely on the internet. I have yet to be to a tech conference where the internet works perfectly all the time. Be prepared to give your presentation without internet. Download your presentation and any necessary videos. Present like it’s 1995.

The Power of Second Chances

I, like most teachers, have really high expectations for my students. I also work with middle schoolers, and I know the first half of this sentence has a large portion of you thinking to yourself that I’m a brave soul. But I love them, and I know that they’re capable of great things. In fact, I believe that middle schoolers are the most underestimated people in our population. But I’ve only come to realize that as I’ve learned to give my students the power of second chances.

I really see this power come into play on large essays and projects. Students spend a lot of time pouring their hearts and minds into them, and I do my best to give them input along the way. Tools like Google Apps for Education are making this easier every day. But there are also many times when I’m unable to see their progress every day.

Because of their hard work, their projects turn out great. I enjoy looking at them, and they often prompt me to see a small sliver of the world in a new light. However, when I sit down to give them a summative assessment, I also find a few things I haven’t given comments on along the way. I see a few small things my students could tweak to take their project to the next level (or two or three), and these make up the final grade and comments I leave my students.

But I’d like to argue that it shouldn’t stop there. I’ve begun allowing my students to take that summative feedback and apply it once more to their project, just to see what might happen. Yeah, they can earn a few points back, but more than anything, I want them to see what just a little bit more time and just a little bit more feedback can do their work.

And they do. I’m sitting here smiling as I think of all the projects that really finalized in the stage after they’d received their grade. These are the ones that truly rocked my world. These are the ones that I’ll remember no matter how old I get. These are the ones I share when I present at conferences. But more importantly, these are the ones of which students are most proud. These are the ones that email to their grandparents or post on Facebook. These are the ones that make their faces light up. And that pride in their work, that makes it all worth it.



Story time: not just for kindergarteners!

Many middle school students will say that they don’t like to read, but all my students love the first ten to fifteen minutes of our Friday class: story time.

Students come into class, sit wherever they want, and listen to me read a selection from one of my favorite books. Here’s why:

  • It builds community. As people, we love a good story. It’s just part of who we are. But even more, we love to share a good story. It creates a common experience, a common feeling, a common thought. By relating to the characters and sharing that experience with each other, we share with one another who we are.
  • It shows students I love to read. It’s harder than you think to share a different book that you love every week. By reading a portion of a different book every week, I’m able to show students that I’m a reader; I practice what I preach. It’s my hope that this passion is contagious.
  • It demonstrates the power of reading with emotion. I believe that the way we say our words is even more important than the words we say. Hearing words read with emotion changes us. It makes us happy or sad, enthusiastic or apathetic. I want my students to recognize and learn to utilize this power.
  • It gets students excited about reading. After I finish the Friday readings, I put the book on the ledge of my whiteboard for students to check out. I’ll have students rush to my room after school to be the first to get it. Then they whiz through it and pass it on. Story time fosters a community of readers.

Give it a try. Ask students (of any age) to gather around your feet while you read to them. It’ll be one of the quietest times in your classroom the whole week.

“Didn’t I just say that?” Teaching and Reteaching with Video

“If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, I’ve said it a million times.” Whoever started this phrase had to be either a teacher or a parent. I love working with people as they learn something, but it can often be frustrating as a teacher when it feels like you’re saying the same thing over and over and over again.

However, I know I don’t learn things on the first try either. The first time I tried to water ski, despite listening closely to instructions, I fell on my face. The same thing happened the next time and the time after that. Despite doing it for years, I’m still by no means an expert. It’s not natural for my body.

In his book Outliers, Malcom Gladwell cites that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a skill. And since I only see my students about an hour a day for about 180 days a year, we’re very far from that 10,000 hours. I, on the other hand, have been doing the skills I teach for years. They’re natural for me, and I can therefore sometimes have unrealistic expectations for how quickly my students will catch on. My students need to hear it explained multiple times and have feedback in their attempts.

However, I’m not always available to re-explain a concept to them. Therefore, I started creating videos for them, explaining skills we constantly use. They’re really simple screencasts, but they allow students to go at their own pace. To pause the explanation. To replay it as many times as they like.

And the beautiful part: they do. I hear them listen to it in class (it takes a little bit to get over hearing your voice come through their speakers). I see the view count go up as they work at home.

Further, this frees up my time to give them feedback on what they’re creating. As I look through their work, I can give them more specific help. For some students this means commenting with a link to my video, asking them to watch it again. And for others, I join them face-to-face to discuss the holes I see in their skills.

And it’s great for parents, too. I can share with them the things I’ve taught in class. This allows them to understand my expectations and give their students more specific help.

So give it a try. It doesn’t have to be complex. Just talk into your device as you would teach your students in class. It’s finally an opportunity to clone yourself and give students the reinforcement they need.

(On a Mac use Quicktime. On your tablet explore Explain Everything, Screenchomp, or Educreations. On a Chromebook try Snagit. On a Windows machine look at Jing.)


“Your ideas are so worth sharing”

I often get asked how I got started presenting, especially at such a young age. And as much I’d like to pretend it was this long and beautifully thought-out process, it wasn’t. I just went for it.

My first awakening to all things ed tech came in the summer of 2011, after my first full year of teaching. A few of my coworkers and I attended one of the Ed Tech Team’s summits featuring Google Apps for Education. I was blown away by the possibilities. Our school made the transition the next week, and I was young and naive enough to try anything. At the end of the year one of my colleagues and I decided to submit our first session proposal about the things we’d done with Google in our classrooms that year.

At first, I was mortified. Teaching people older (and in some cases way older) than me was intimidating. I get middle schoolers, but adults… scary. It helped going into it with a partner. I had someone to plan and practice with and to reassure me by standing alongside me.

But if you’re looking to present, this is all you need to do: find something you’re passionate about and share it. I believe that passion is contagious, and I can’t help but gush about the cool things my students do in my class. Choose something you love that’s worked for you and find an avenue to share it.

I want to know what you do in your class, and I want to steal it. My favorite thing about educational technology is that it tears down the walls of isolation. I need you and your ideas. They help me be better. So whether it’s in a blog or on Twitter or signing up to share your ideas face-to-face, just do it. Your ideas are so worth sharing.


Don’t let tech scare you – how to digitize your classroom!

As a teacher, I have a love-hate relationship with “what-ifs.” On one hand, I love dreaming. I love wondering about what’s possible if we make changes to learning environments, curriculums, and expectations. These thoughts propel me forward and empower my students to do great things. However, “what-ifs” can also put up boundaries to innovation. What if students make poor choices online? What if the laptop becomes too much of a distraction in learning? These kinds of “what-ifs” stifle innovation and can easily paralyze my teaching.

This past year, my school was lucky enough to pilot a 1:1 laptop program. I was a bit nervous incorporating this program into my classroom. I said to myself, “What if I can’t control all of this technology?!” Despite my worries, we went forward with the pilot program. Things didn’t go perfectly. However, through these mistakes my students and I learned a variety of life-lessons:

1. Staying on task

Before the 1:1 program students would find ways to be off task. They would pass notes or stare up at the ceiling. But now there was a beautiful shiny object in front of them at all times. We had to work together to find ways to stay focused. I loved seeing my students become more aware of their temptations and set better boundaries for themselves. They wrote themselves reminders and held each other accountable.

2. Paying attention to people 

About half way through the school year, my students became obsessed with an online game. Their recess became consumed with trying to beat the high score. Even class conversations surrounded who was currently the leader. Shortly after I realized this, we sat down for a heart-to-heart. I shared with them my observations and told them I didn’t want to see them on their screens anymore during recess. I saw relief wash over their faces as I freed them up to be social again. We challenged each other to pay attention to people and have real conversations about real things. We learned why it’s important to look up.

3. Helping others improve

Going 1:1 changed our classroom environment. Suddenly everything was collaborative. Through Google Apps for Education, students were able to easily share their work with one another and receive feedback. We learned to work together and seek out many voices throughout the creation process. A proud moment was when I discovered that each student had shared their final essay with an average of four other students. They are working together to become better readers, writers, and teachers.

So yes, the “what-ifs” of going 1:1 can be scary, and I promise you students will make mistakes. But I believe it’s worth the risk. My students and I learned so many life lessons through both the mishaps and the success stories — I would say our pilot program was quite a success.

Day 1: Don’t just share a lesson, share a vision

Many teacher preparation programs tell you not to crack a smile until December. They say the first days of school are for establishing respect, rules and routines. While this advice is grounded on sound ideas, it overlooks an essential classroom practice: building community. It is community that makes a student look forward to going to class, and helps a student stay strong when the rest of his or her world falls apart. Community that encourages a student to work at his or her full potential. A strong community creates a learning environment where all students can succeed.

This past year I scraped all of my former first day plans in favor of activities that built our classroom community. We went outside and I shared my “vision statement” for the year. I asked students to help me complete an exercise that demonstrated that vision. Students looked at me a little confused as to why I was asking them to splatter paint on a canvas instead of reading a list of rules. However, this set a completely different tone for our year. Our vision, fully know(n) and fully love(d), created a community where we could freely express our ideas. We had to trust that when our classmates fully knew and understood our thoughts and feelings they would still love us. This vision encouraged us to share openly with one another, making our community that much stronger.


After the first day I hung the paintings and our vision statement on a bulletin board in a prominent part of the classroom. Each day my students and I were greeted with this reminder. During class discussions we’d go back to this vision and let it mold our conversation and tone of voice. On presentation days we’d start with a reminder of our vision and let it influence our feedback. When conflict arose we discussed where the breakdown in this vision occurred and how we could prevent it from happening in the future.

We eventually discussed our rules and routines, but this first day activity set the tone for what was most important in my classroom — it was the first impression, and I only have one chance at delivering a great one for the classroom! It both deepened our curricular learning and encouraged us to be better people. Isn’t that what every teacher wants?