A Plea for Education: A Response to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Something that’s been getting some buzz on Twitter has been Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s request for ideas for where he should put his money. On behalf of educationrickshaw.com, I wrote him a letter that includes discussion about the teacher turnover crisis and the importance of the maintaining a strong teaching profession. Enjoy!


Dear Mr. Bezos,

I see that I am already late to the party that you’ve started on Twitter, the one where you ask for “philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now – short term – at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” If you allow me to be so bold, I would like to use your money towards a kind of charitable work for which many of the solutions have already been identified. It also may be the most important issue of our time, as well as the most expensive. I’m talking of course about education.

Education is a complex beast, and one that I am relatively new to. I started teaching in a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in Washington State, before moving to teach in international schools in Vietnam and Sudan. Despite my enthusiasm for the work I’ve achieved in my classroom, I’ve begun to become disillusioned with certain aspects of this profession. You may very well have better data available to you than I have, but I feel that the teaching profession, specifically in the United States, is in a state of crisis. Sadly, due to a variety of reasons including the an American teacher’s inadequate pay, the steady loss of teacher autonomy, and a culture of teacher bashing, many of us American international educators – those talented teachers that could very well be teaching stateside – have chosen to move for greener pastures overseas.

Since I left American education nearly 5 years ago, so has much of my cohort for my teaching certificate. The difference is, however, that many of them are not remaining in education related fields. They are bankers, businessmen and women, and stay at home moms and dads. As has been reported with increasing frequency, teacher turnover is costing us billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, the real cost of this crisis is more difficult to measure. According to years of John Hattie research, the ability of a teacher to teach with effective strategies is far and above the most important factor that we can control. Just look at this following chart of effect sizes (minus the 6 Super Factors) and you’ll see that teaching skills and strategies (i.e. teacher clarity, teacher credibility, etc) hold the top of the list in regards to effect size:

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Additionally, one of the identified “Super Factors” in Hattie’s research, and the factor with the highest effect size that can be manipulated is collective teacher efficacy:

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It is clear, Mr. Bezos, that it is the teacher that is at the center of what makes students achieve. A teacher’s skill, competence, and attitude towards the profession is what improves educational outcomes. A sound policy to improve education would be to keep those teachers that have the most talent, and attract a new generation of talented undergraduates into the field. However, recent reports of teacher shortages suggest that we are doing neither.

What can you do?  

Some, including myself would say that it is the low salary that dissuades young undergrads from choosing teaching as a career. I remember an important moment in one of my lecture hall classes of 500+ students (it was Sociology 101, I believe) where the professor asked students to raise their hands if they would consider entering teaching if money were not a factor. Nearly the entire hall was filled with raised hands. Then the professor asked who student to raise their hands if they were seriously considering becoming a teacher. Only a handful of students raised their hands with me. Smart people don’t enter into professions where they aren’t adequately rewarded for their services.

Other findings point to the lack of control and teacher autonomy that is experienced by most in the profession. Maybe your money is best served there, as raising all of the salaries in the teaching workforce is an expensive proposition. Either way, if your philanthropy could focus short-term on re-professionalizing the teaching profession so that teachers are rewarded both intrinsically and extrinsically for the wondrously challenging day-to-day task of educating our children, it will pay off in dividends in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Bezos, for your time and your interest in philanthropy. If you’re needing an education czar for your new philanthropic organization, you know where to contact me.

Sincerely,

Zach Groshell


What do you think? Did I focus on what matters most in education for you? Did I leave anything out? Please comment below and follow me on Twitter, @MrZachG. 

Photo credit of Jeff Bezos: CNBC.com

5 KeyBoard Shortcuts Every Teacher Needs

The connected teacher of the 21st century has a need for speed. The following are 5 MacBook keyboard shortcuts that I find that I use everyday to get the job done for my class.

#1 Emoji Keyboard

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Command + Control, Space Bar

The emoji keyboard shortcut not only allows teachers to communicate with students in fun ways as they learn to use social media, but it also serves a number of purposes throughout  my lessons – from arrows, checkmarks, to any symbol, really.

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I even use the emoji shortcut to make the play buttons on my videos (WordPress doesn’t let me embed videos unless I pay mo’).

#2 Link

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Command + K

If you’re like me, you’re always wanting to give kids great links to great content, fast. I am constantly sending e-mails to students, commenting on forums and social media, and creating web pages on our LMS that require quick links. The link shortcut may be the most used keyboard shortcut in my teaching repertoire.

#3 Screen Shot

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Command + Control + Shift + 4

While you may have known that Command + Shift + 4 saves custom sized screenshots to your desktop (useful for many sites), did you know that you can save your screenshot to your clipboard with just the addition of one more key stroke?

I use this shortcut whenever I want to quickly paste a moment from a website onto almost any web page, textbox, or e-mail. I also quite often end up using the markup tool or Preview to make a few annotations before sharing my screenshots with my students.

#4 Switch Between Applications

Change applications

Command + Tab or ~

As teachers are constantly changing between applications and programs during lessons, this is one of those shortcuts that can make transitions easier and increase student attention and engagement. Press Q while holding the command key and you will quit whatever application you’re currently highlighting.

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This shortcut is also one of the most natural feeling of the macbook shortcuts, and one that I definitely miss when switching to other devices. As we are a 1:1 iPad school, the students can do the same thing with a double-click to their home button, but I’m not how many mac users regularly switch between applications in this convenient way.

#5 Undo

Link

Command + Z

An oldie, but a goodie! I make mistakes, and I make them a lot while I’m teaching. I sometimes wonder if the pioneers of the shortcut knew this when they designated the last letter of the alphabet and the first letter of my name to be the undo shortcut. If you’re not comfortable teaching with technology, I hope that you take this small piece of advice: Don’t worry about screwing up. There is always a way to undo what’s been done. Don’t be more afraid of mistakes than your students. And don’t be afraid to play around with edtech at school or on your couch. If you mess up, just push Command + Z!

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.

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The Couch Potato Approach to Educational Technology

Don’t wait for your school to develop your tech skills. Settle into your couch and educate yourself!

I’ve talked before about how teachers need to be given the opportunity to play around with edtech tools in order to be able to envision how they could be used in a classroom. The same goes with students. This could be called edtech sandboxing.

The problem is that not a lot of schools are willing to make time for this extremely important professional development. I’m talking about a faculty meeting entirely dedicated to edtech, and in which the only directions given are a list of apps to play around with. If you’re ever feeling like your school hasn’t developed you enough, I have a solution for you: The Couch Potato Approach to Educational Technology.

What is the Couch Potato Approach?

The Couch Potato Approach is a poorly guarded, super un-secret methodology dating back to the origins of computers. Before teachers were expected by their districts to integrate technology into their lessons, those few teachers that saw value in maximizing learning with technology simply had to other choice but to teach themselves. This involved digging around in handbooks and manuals for dummies, and consulting face-to-face with other like-minded tech teachers.

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As technology has changed from desktop to mobile, and answers to any query can be found in a simple Google search, teachers no longer have to go to tech conferences or resort to digging through outdated manuals. And because many schools nowadays provide their teachers with the same devices that they provide their students, passionate 21C teachers can now simply sit on their couches and create their own edtech sandbox opportunities as they watch T.V. and listen to music.

Where to go to find my answers (while sitting on my couch)?

1. Google and Youtube

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21st Century DIY Professional Development

Most any tech-related question can be found by making a simple Google or Youtube Search. 9 times out of 10 I end up clicking on the first thing that pops up at the top of my search, and it ends up leading me to the right answer. The step-by-step instructional videos that exist out there on Youtube for various edtech questions are particularly useful when you are trying to set up something complex. I usually split-screen the video and my sandbox area (or have the video running on my MacBook while messing around on my iPad) and follow the instructions until I get the desired results.

While I have always found Google and Youtube searches to be the best way to go, I understand that there can be skepticism over this method if you haven’t tried it out yourself. Before you submit another HelpDesk request to your school’s IT department, try Googling your question exactly how it appears in your head. If you remove your fear of clicking into various forums and instructional resources, you’ll very soon find what you’re looking for with a simple Google Search.

2. Twitter and Facebook

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If you’re a teacher and you’re not on Twitter, you really should be. I get probably more than half of my ideas from my Twitter Professional Learning Community (#PLN), and it makes me feel like I am constantly connected to the most current ideas. I treat my Twitter as an education-only center for communicating ideas and networking. It is where I post all of these educationrickshaw.com articles, and where I get into a ton of education-related arguments.

While personally, I treat my Facebook as a personal repository of pictures and comments about life, there are a lot of great Facebook pages out there that I do follow (check out and join Shamelessly Self-promoting Educators). Both Twitter and Facebook are critical for helping me figure out edtech issues and to keep up with the most current uses that teachers have found for various technologies.

3. The Edtech Company’s HelpDesk

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Simply asking a question directly to the creator of the software is surprisingly helpful

If you’re having trouble with a certain tool, just ask the company themselves for help. I’ve found the folks at elink.io and seesaw.me to be particularly helpful. They respond back to any dumb little question I have, and will usually humor me when I suggest a new feature for a future update of their product.

4. Online Forums

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Pretty old-school, I know, but I have found many of my answers to very specific questions about teaching elementary school students with Moodle on the Moodle.org page. If I can’t find what I’m looking for by using, again, Google, I simply start a new discussion and typically I get my question answered within 48 hours or so. And because of the (sometimes) dynamic nature of discussion forums, I end up asking other unrelated questions and getting those answered as well!

5. The App Profile on Your Device

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Notice the couch.

Many schools nowadays provide teachers with a device loaded full of great learning apps and software. Take some time on your couch to familiarize yourself with everything on there. You wouldn’t neglect to bone up on your subject’s required reading, so why would you skip learning about all of the apps that your school is arming you with? While on your couch, be creative. Be fearless. Click into apps that you’ve never checked out before. Add apps based on recommendations from Twitter and Facebook and try those out. Test them out in class and share the results on social media, and in your next faculty meeting. You’ll be an expert in no time!

I hope you enjoyed this and other articles on educationrickshaw.com. Once you’ve gotten your own Twitter (see #2 on this list), be sure to follow me, and check out Stephanie’s Teachers Pay Teachers.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

5 Books To Start a Book Club for Teachers

There is something special about book clubs that you don’t get from other forms of teacher PD. I love the feeling of finally being able to share what I’ve read with a group of likeminded individuals, all of whom have a different perspective on the same source material. In book clubs, everyone comes in as an expert (presuming that you’ve read the book), and even when chapters are rushed through or skipped altogether, the main ideas can easily be jigsawed together by a nice bit of conversation with coffee on hand.

The following are 5 books for professional book clubs that I’ve had the pleasure of either facilitating or attending in recent years. I hope you find them useful in starting up a book club in your school or organization.

1. Clever Lands by Lucy Crehan

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This is the most current Book Club selection that we’ve been reading at my school, and it is an easy and important read for our time. As PISA scores continue to influence policy around the world, it’s important to take into account what makes these so-called successful school systems so great, and what makes their contexts unique and inimitable.

The best part of using this book for a book club is that you can frame each meeting as a “journey to a foreign land”, as the book is split evenly between 5 of the top PISA ranking countries: Finland, Japan, Singapore, China (Shanghai), and Canada.

Related:

2. Creative Schools by Sir Ken Robinson

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Creative Schools explores the entire breadth of the philosophy behind Ken Robinson’s famous TedTalks, such as “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”. While his writing isn’t as humorously tangential as his videos, the ideas presented in Creative Schools are equally intriguing. While those box checkers among us may come away feeling desperate for concrete solutions to the industrial model of education, us creative folk cannot help but leave inspired.

Related:

3. Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job by Yong Zhao and Co.

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This book literally kick-started my journey towards a truly blended model of teaching and learning. As the title suggests, Zhao goes into what machines are good for, and what they are limited to (at the moment), but he also helps us to learn from the mistakes of early adopters of educational technology, and to be more intentional in our instructional design when using technology in the classroom.

Related:

4. The First Days of School By Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong

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While not as up-to-date as the previous three books, I never go a year without flipping through a few pages of The First Days of School. Even as my practice has adapted in response to changes in my own life and environment, including the diverse populations that I’m serving, I find solace in the Wongs’ simple charts and graphics that help beginning teachers create an environment that responds to every child’s needs. The idea that every day, especially the day after a bad day, can be reworked into a first day of school, is reason enough for me to keep a copy of it on my shelf.

Related:

5. Trivium by Martin Robinson

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It wouldn’t be a book club if someone came without reading the book, and Trivium was my moment to carry the torch. I guess this book was about where the three divisions of classical education (grammar, rhetoric, logic) meet, and how this conceptual framework can be used to help students today. Basically, I’m just repeating what it says on the cover of the book.

Did I come even though I didn’t read it? Yes. Did I talk about things that I didn’t know much about? Yes. Did I write on some chart paper? Oh yes. At the end of the day, I had a good time and met and talked about my favorite subject in the world while sipping on iced coffees. Totally worth it.

Keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com, follow us on Twitter and check out our TPT.

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Can a Class Teddy Bear Raise Achievement?

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A few months ago I attended a fantastic session on how teachers can do their own Action Research at an AISA conference. In the session, I decided that I wanted to see if teaching my 2nd grade students specific strategies for what to do when they get stuck would help raise their achievement. To make it easier to track progress, I would start by looking only at math and if the strategies did help, I would move towards also looking at other subjects.

How does the teddy bear fit in?

In addition to my session on Action Research at the conference, I also went to a session on Habits of the Mind with Karen Boyes (see her blog here). She gave me a number of fantastic ideas on how to develop these and one that stuck with me was using a teddy bear.

Talking out tough problems

As an adult, lots of my thinking is done silently, but when I really need to flesh out an idea or I am completely stumped, I need to discuss my thoughts orally. Although it is a priority for me to give students ample time to talk to each other about their ideas, there are situations in which a student is stuck and no one is available to work it out with them. That’s where the teddy bear comes in. Students can go over to him, sit at his desk and talk out their thinking. It feels a little silly at first, but it actually seems to work.

Practicing reading out loud to improve fluency

Although I’m not taking data on reading for my Action Research project, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to use our teddy bear in reading as well. Many of my students are English Language Learners and although their reading comprehension is coming along well, to read more fluently they more practice reading out loud than they are currently getting. While students read to self, I always take one student to read with and now our teddy bear does too. They sit with him in their favorite spot and read away, loving it and getting that extra practice they need.

Having a teddy bear is really fun

My students love him. They love him so much that they brought in an old school uniform so he matches the class, set up his desk with all of the materials any teacher could ever want and have even started talking about the possibility of him being alive after a student said she saw him blink.

Will the Teddy Bear Raise Achievement?

I will have to wait and find out, but I think his chances are good. And, whether or not he makes their math scores rise, he is making school an even more fun place to be, so he has definitely been worth the investment.

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Has anyone had similar experiences with class stuffed animals or toys? If so please comment below.

By @SGroshell

#AISA Conference Day 1: Keeping Connected

We’ve Arrived!

I am so looking forward to the opportunities to learn this week in Johannesburg for AISA conference 2016. For a learning event like this, it is important for us educators to be connected. For the adults in my life, I am mostly going to be using Twitter (@MrZachG) in combination with my class twitter account. For my school, I am going to be writing a series of posts on Google Sites in addition to here on education rickshaw, in addition to here on Sites.
But how to share this experience with my 10 year old students?
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This bunch of Year 5 students are surprisingly keen on keeping connected throughout the conference. Before I left we discussed what the best way would be to exchange ideas and stay in touch, and students agreed that Seesaw would be the easiest and most fun way to do this.
My first post to students was simply the above #africaed photo, which I’ve posted here and onto Sites by simply pasting the provided embed code into the html editor (a really cool feature of Seesaw is the variety of ways to share!). I will save time by tweeting some of these posts directly from Seesaw so that my PLN and my school community can see what we’re up to.
I’m excited about this opportunity to share what I’m learning with you, wherever you are. Keep in touch!