“The What” vs. “The How” of Education

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After reading the above tweet, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea that we may very well spend too much time talking about what we should teach rather than how we should teach. And the more I think about it, the more I crave conversations that concern the how of educationLearning-focused conversation is learner and pedagogy focused – The how not the what. If I had the power to singlehandedly change the conversation in education, I’d ask that we make a shift in the following ways:

Stop Talking So Much About What Curriculum We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How to Facilitate Learning in the 21st Century.

Since I began teaching only a short time ago, I have seen schools go from local standards, to national standards, to international standards. Never during these changes was I privy to training on how to implement these standards with the best 21C teaching practices. It was always more important to document what I was doing, than how I was doing it. Even the Common Core website seemed to foresee this implementation strategy:

“. . these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.”


How different things might have been in terms of buy-in by teachers for Common Core if we had known the strategies to implement these standards in the most research-based and pedagogically sound ways?

Stop Talking So Much About What Learning Platform We Should Be Using, and Start Talking About How We Can Redefine the Learning Environment.


I’ve written before about different tech tools that I have found useful, such as Seesaw for portfolios, and Moodle as a learning platform for my elementary class. But I’ve found that most any tool can be tweaked and modified to fit any purpose; To use some SAMR-speak for a moment, teachers can Substitute with Edmodo just as they can Redefine with Edmodo. It is precisely for this reason that I get so tired of conversations over which learning platform is best. Rather than looking at How blended learning can take place, we are focused on the new-kid technology on the block. Changing from Schoology to Google Classroom will not solve any of a school’s problems, because the entire premise of the conversation is based around what is best rather than how is best.

Stop Talking So Much About What is the Best Device, and Start Talking About How We Can Best Integrate Technology.

It is true that there are downsides to tablets – no keyboard, low memory, etc – but the minute you want kids to take pictures and video you’ll find that there are also downsides to laptops. The same goes for IOS vs. Windows vs. Chrome, and mobile vs. desktop vs. wearables. Next year, it’s entirely possible that the coolest new gadget will come out and completely change the face of education as we know it.


Rather than focus on the barriers inherent in any one school-adopted device, I’d like to concentrate more on ways to maximize learning in my classroom. How can we change the relationship between the teacher, the student, and their devices? How do we improve outcomes while promoting 21C skills and attitudes? How can I get the most out of my students and the resources that my school has?


What do you think? The irony is not lost on me that I have just written an entire post which focuses largely on what we should be talking about as educators, and not as much on how we should be talking about it. . .

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and please leave a comment or question in the section below!

How to Set Up a Week of Free Inquiry for Anywhere, Anytime Learning

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When I was just a first year teacher, I placed a lot of value on my ability to control student behaviors. While students were quiet and well-behaved to the passing observer, I could sense that I was not facilitating the kind of learning experiences that I wanted from my teachers during my own education. The relationship between the teacher, the students, and the learning was traditional and strained, and everyday felt like a battle for points and rewards. I felt like I was part drill sergeant, part cheerleader, part disciplinarian, but not at all a teacher.

As my teaching became more and more inquiry based, and more and more student-focused instead of teacher-driven, I began to see that the increased trust that I had for my students did not result in a dramatic increase in unwanted behaviors. In fact, quite the opposite. This year, for the first time, I felt that I had finally built up the structure necessary to facilitate a Week of Free Inquiry, aka a Week Without Walls, or, as my students put it, “College”. For the first time in my career, I had to give up control of movement and control of content as students pursued their own interests wherever and whenever they wanted. Here’s how I did it:

Related: 5 Ways to Give Your Class Back to Your Students

I Organized a Legit Online Learning Environment

When I say legit, I mean legit. There’s no way that you are going to get students to perform at the highest levels in a wall-less physical environment without a dynamic and organized online environment. When my students started the week, they knew how to contact me (e-mail, instant messaging, commenting on assignments) and they knew where and when to find me (in the cafeteria, by online appointment). For weeks I had to build up a wealth of knowledge and skill surrounding the apps on their devices, and I had to foster IT-specific problem-solving skills so that students were able to figure out their IT issues on their own.

I am sure that any robust LMS could be used for a project like this, but I used my class Moodle page (See Moodle in elementary), and students were working on their own school issued iPad throughout the week. Assignments were turned in for review onto their online portfolio (we use Seesaw) and students had their own e-mail addresses. I wish that I had added instant messaging, like WhatsApp or something, to their iPads before the week began, but we communicated fine with just e-mail, Seesaw (see Using Seesaw to Teach Social Media), and the class chat activity on Moodle.

Students Put Together a Game Plan


As the above sketchnote by @trev_mackenzie suggests, there is indeed a lot of autonomy and independence that comes from true free inquiry. However, even in the illustration we see that there isn’t total, complete freedom. To continue with the pool analogy, the above students may have increased freedom of movement, but they do have to remain in the pool at all times; they are not free to leave the complex without permission. Similarly, they are not allowed to make choices that put others’ safety at risk, or ruin the experience for themselves or others. At all times there is a “guide on the side”, but this guide is much more hands-off than during Guided Inquiry.


To structure the inquiry I used both of these sketchnotes by @trev_mackenzie. The goal setting (#4) and the calendar (#6) were particularly important in organizing the project.

As students neared their final days of preparation, I had a litany of questions from students to go through, but the main question that kept coming up from my 10 year olds was: Can we do whatever we want? 

I tried to answer this question about the same way every time: This school is a learning space. You can learn whatever you want, however you want, and with whom you want, but you may not choose NO learning. You may take a break whenever you want, but in the end, this project is all about what we can accomplish in one week when we put our minds to it. I think you’ll realize quickly that you’ll need and want every minute that you are given during this special week. 

I Started the Year with a Plan for Gradual Release of Responsibility

There’s no way that a form of learning like this can be possible the first day of school. There are a lot of discussions, mini-lessons and student reflections about how we learn that must take place before a class is ready to embark on a solo journey of this magnitude. Gradual release does ultimately mean giving up the responsibility to the students. I knew my class was ready to take on this project when I felt that they had proven mastery of certain skills at least a few times before in a variety of guided inquiry sequences.


This one pic says it all about how my class has developed. Idea wall and green screen in the back, flexible seating, blended learning, conferencing, and engagement, engagement, engagement. The students pursuing their own learning is at the center of every experience, not me.

You also have to accept that some students may take longer during the year to get to a point of independence where they will get anything out of a week of free inquiry. For those students, I put them with partners that I knew I could trust to move them along, and I checked in on them more frequently than I did other students. I tried to make sure that their failures at the end were limited to the product rather than the process, i.e. a bad final project, but abundant learning nonetheless.

I Proceeded with the Mantra of “Never Work Harder than Your Students”

After taking attending a workshop at the 2016 Africa Ed Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa by Karen Boyes called Never Work Harder Than Your Students, Let Them Do the Thinking, I began to see how the onus has to be on the student to take responsibility for their learning. When my teaching was teacher-directed, I was doing all of the work, and the students were merely passive consumers of information.


Why do a song and dance and waste all of your energy while students passively watch the show? Let them do the thinking. Let them plan their path forward. We teachers sometimes just need to get out of the way.

After the workshop, I was very clear with my students about my new expectations: I should never be working harder than any of you! And if I am, then you’re not doing your job right and I’m not doing my job right. This idea of never working harder than your students was critical when I began the Week of Free Inquiry because I had to come to grips with what it meant to release all responsibility to the students as I sat back with a cup of coffee while waiting for my next appointment with a student group.

I Trusted and They Pulled Through


Our class culture is built around mutual admiration and respect between learning partners. The traditional top-down relationship between teacher and student is virtually gone, replaced with a “learning partnership” model.

In the end of the day, building relationships with students to make them better people is why I became a teacher. I wouldn’t expect a teacher that feels differently and puts less of a value on relationship building to be able to pull off the Week of Free Inquiry. It takes really getting to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses, and really building a culture of trust and a love of learning. Because I trusted them, and they respect me to the point that they will go to the ends of the earth to impress me, they were able to accomplish amazing things during this highly unstructured time.

What do you think? Could your kids pull off a Week of Free Inquiry? Are you ready to tear down the walls and let them be free? Be sure to follow me on Twitter and check out @SGroshell’s Teachers Pay Teachers account.

First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth - TeachersPayTeachers.com

Teachers Need Tech Sandbox Time

Have you ever met a teacher that had too much planning and nothing to do?

Me neither.

We fill our planning times and the cracks in between being extremely busy with a litany of time-consuming tasks. That’s why administrators and instructional coaches like myself need to give teachers time to just play around with all of the newest tools in a Tech Sandbox format. Just giving teachers a little time to figure this stuff out can do wonders to building a community of digitally literate educators.

Try it yourself! Dive into the Tech Sandbox with these 5 cool tech tools.

1. Try TodaysMeet


Try TodaysMeet, posted by my “Fake Student” named .Sandbox on my school’s Seesaw PD account.

2. Try Visuwords


Try Visuwords, a visual thesaurus.

3. Try Wordclouds


Try wordclouds, and think about how you could use this to improve student learning

4. Try Making a Chatbot


Try making a Chatbot during your sandbox time

5. Try A Web Whiteboard


How could you use this tool to get kids collaborating and improve student learning?

Did you enjoy your Sandbox Time as much as I enjoyed making it?

If you haven’t already, check out @SGroshell TPT, and follow us on Twitter.

First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth - TeachersPayTeachers.com

Using Keynote to Teach the Scientific Method


I love teaching science to my students. You get to play, use your hands, and discover new things.

For those of you who aren’t teachers, I have to emphasis how incredibly fun this actually is. I spent an hour today with my students fashioning scissors, raising flags on pulley systems, clicking together wheel barrels and rolling out cars out of K-Nex. I’m living the dream!

However, I want to hold my kids to a high academic standard, so I always keep Adam Savage’s quote in mind:



The Scientific Method

In order to keep the fun of playing while maintaining the integrity of science, it’s important to me to have students use the scientific method in the least painful way possible.

In the past, I’ve always used worksheets that have a different block for kids to fill in for each of the steps. These make it easy for students to understand where to put their planning, results and conclusions. However, I found that they became dependent on the worksheet to know how to do an experiment. On the other hand, trying to have my second graders hand write all the steps provided them with too little structure, and I found they needed lots of help remembering to label and figuring out where it all went.

This year, I decided to try using Keynote presentations for the same thing and the difference has been amazing. It has the exact amount of scaffolding my students need in a really fun package.

For each step in the Scientific Method, students create a new slide. It looks a little like this.


I don’t need to prompt them to put a heading on their slide, because it is automatically formatted for a heading. At the same time, they do need to type the heading in, so as they work they are memorizing the steps of a quality science experiment.


Formatting is easy. Students just click on the paintbrush to switch between numbering the steps of the procedure, making bullet points for the different conclusions they made, or having normal typing.


Adding pictures and tables just takes a few clicks. Once in, they can easily change the size of the pictures of add/delete columns and rows on their tables.


It is also easy to share their work on Seesaw. When logged onto Seesaw already, they can export their presentation directly into their journal for their teachers, parents, and peers to view and comment on.

The students love it!

It makes them feel really sophisticated and professional putting their work up in such a neat and tidy fashion. One student brought in her iPad from home for Show and Tell and showed the class a science experiment she did at home and wrote up on Keynote. Although it is possible she would have done the experiment on her own, Keynote was the key motivation behind her recording her data and turning that play into science!

If you haven’t already, follow me @SGroshell on Twitter:

And be sure to check out my TpT.


Teacher Tool Kit For Seesaw

Many teachers are using @Seesaw for student portfolios or as an online work journal. Here are some resources that I’ve cooked up for how to go beyond simply posting student work to creating an environment that facilitates learning.

  1. Developing Seesaw Activities into Authentic Learning Engagements

  2. Using Seesaw to Teach Students Social Media

  3. BLE Feeling Stale? 3 Kid Friendly Tools to Spice up Your E-learning Platform.

  4. 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Seesaw

  5. Seesaw Trick: The Imaginary Student

  6. All of Seesaw’s Videos: Seesaw Help Center


Introducing Subtraction with Regrouping Through Inquiry


A few weekends ago, I went to a great workshop on ‘Teaching and Learning through Inquiry’ by Kath Murdoch and came back to work inspired. My class was ready to start using regrouping to subtract 3-digit numbers, and I wanted to help my students get a deep understanding of why we regroup.

Inquiry learning is very different from a traditional lesson. Instead of the teacher telling students exactly what they need to do, students investigate a question, taking the learning into their own hands.

The Provocation

To make the lesson have real world meaning, I began with a situation someone could actually find themselves in.

I love Mentos. I love them so much so that I bought some huge packs from the grocery store. I already ate some, but I still have 2 single Mentos, 2 packs of ten, and one big pack of 100 left (the pack of 100 is actually 10 packs of 10 – like you could get from Costco).

As a class we then worked out that 2 units, 2 tens, and 1 hundred is 122 Mentos.

As much as I love Mentos, my sister enjoys them even more. As a present, I decided to give her 98 of them.

Once I give her the Mentos, how many will I have left?


Working in Groups

Students then got into groups and got to work. They had already done 3-digit subtraction without regrouping, so they knew how to line up the numbers correctly.


Additionally, I gave them base 10 blocks to use as manipulatives and poster paper to draw on. What came next were some amazing discussions on what to do now.

My Job

As the students discussed what to do and tried things, it was my job to walk around and ask questions about student thinking as well as provide scaffolding where needed.

A common mistake for 2nd graders to make is this:


Instead of telling them what they did wrong, I asked questions like:

  • When you subtract, is your answer bigger or smaller than the answer you started with?
    • Smaller
  • Is 176 bigger or smaller than 122?
    • Bigger
  • What do you think happened there?
    • Oh, you can’t take 8 from 2!

When students were completely stumped, I would ask questions to help guide their thinking.

  • If you can’t take 8 from 2, where can you take from?
    • No answer
  • If I have 122 Mentos, do I have enough to give 98 away?
    • Yes
  • If I have enough to give 98 away, then it’s possible. So where can I get those extra units from?
    • Can you take from the tens place?
  • Why not? Try it!

The Results

The results of the inquiry lesson were great. Once the groups had found their answers, they shared their posters and thinking with the class. Although they did it in different ways, all 3 of the groups were able to get to the concept of why we regroup – if we don’t have enough units, we need to borrow from the tens place. If we don’t have enough tens, we need to borrow from the hundreds.

group1inquiry         group2inquiry         group3inquiry

As you can see, one of the groups did get the answer wrong. This was great, because it got us to the conversation of why that happened.


Once the groups had explained their thinking, we brought the analogy back to the packs of Mentos to make sure everyone understood exactly what we were doing.

Together, we drew these conclusions:

I have 1 pack of 100, 2 packs of 10, 2 single Mentos. When I give my sister the 8 Mentos (I always start with the units place), I see that I don’t have enough, so I open a new pack of 10. Now I have 12 single Mentos. 12-8=4. I’m left with 4 in the units place.

To give my sister the other 90 Mentos, I look at the 10s place. I only have 1 pack of 10 left now that I opened the other, so I need to open the pack of 100. When I do that, I now have 11 packs of ten. 11 tens – 9 tens = 2 tens. I have 2 in the tens place.

My Conclusions

I could have just used the Mentos analogy and explained how to subtract with regrouping, done a few practice problems and sent the students off to practice on their own. Although that would have surely gone smoothly, setting up the lesson in this way really allowed students to think more critically about the situation and why we subtract the way that we do. I think this has helped them have a deeper understanding of the concept as well as continue to develop their critical thinking skills.

By @SGroshell