Archives for posts with tag: curriculum development

I remember many of my teachers fondly, so it is difficult to pick a favorite in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. Therefore, I’ve decided to write about my FIRST favorite teacher, Mrs. Joy Sherman. As an educator myself, I now recognize many of the teaching strategies that today are known as those belonging to very effective teachers.

the author in 3rd grade

Here’s a photo of 3rd grade me circa 1983-84 

Mrs. Sherman differentiated instruction long before there was a half-dollar word for teaching students at their individual levels. As one of the third generation of a journalism family, I was (like my parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents) a voracious reader. Though other teachers made me stick to the prescribed curriculum for our 3rd grade level (snooze), Mrs. Sherman let me plow through the entire stock of required readers and then let me start picking hardback books (that were — gasp! — supposedly “above my level”) from her classroom library.

I sped through all my work and books, which resulting in my getting bored in class a lot. I would stare out the window once I had read all my textbooks, everything on the walls, my classmates T-shirts, and anything else I could see or reach. I’m sure my other teachers noticed this but likely had their hands full with my classmates and other duties. Since I wasn’t disruptive, I was usually left to my own devices.

Mrs. Sherman, on the other hand, was concerned enough that she looked for enrichment activities. She decided to teach me about genealogy when I finished my work early. I found the subject fascinating and was soon delighted to discover my aunt and grandfather had been enjoying the study of our family history for years.

Due to today’s emphasis on high stakes standardized tests, students aren’t ALLOWED to have weak areas (though the rest of us are). It is common practice today to have students spend extra time in the school day working on their weak areas. Because they already know they aren’t good in that subject, they’re generally not excited about or motivated to do the work.

Mrs. Sherman didn’t force me to spend extra time working on my weak area, math. Instead, she helped me grow and build on my strengths. I believe that Mrs. Sherman and our gym teacher (another highly effective teacher, Mrs. Campbell) collaborated to put on a program about our state. Mrs. Sherman wisely made this bookworm child the narrator of the Oklahoma program, and thus sneakily gave my shy 9-year-old self some practice in presentation skills by building on what I was already good at. Like other effective teachers, she knew to start with my comfort zone (reading), and then pushed me just a little past it.

Another trait Mrs. Sherman shared with other great teachers was her willingness to learn.  At that time, third grade was the year students began learning to write in cursive. I dutifully copied the paper and hand position Mrs. Sherman demonstrated at the board. One day, the observant teacher noticed that this left-handed bookworm was bending her wrist at 90-degree angle so as to see what she’d just written. Mrs. Sherman realized that I had tilted my paper, as instructed, the direction for right-handed writers.

Mrs. Sherman next did something COMPLETELY unexpected: she bent down to eye level with me and admitted she’d taught me incorrectly since I was left-handed, and she APOLOGIZED, saying she would find a better way to teach me, which she soon did. This was an epiphany for me. Even teachers made mistakes and had to work at learning?! Teachers aren’t supposed to know everything already? That means I don’t have to know it all already either! What a relief!


My teacher had one of these bad boys (or something similar) in our classroom back in 1983! How’s that for an ed tech early adopter?!

Parent involvement has been proven to be one of the most important factors in student success. Mrs. Sherman bravely let my dad put a computer in her classroom so that students could play a math game (Dad, I see what you did there!) if they finished their work early. Mind you, this was in 1983, people. It was a big clunky Radio Shack PC running an educational math game on MSDOS, not those fancy, schmanchy PORTABLE devices with the INTERNET many of you young whipper snappers have in your elementary classrooms today! But did that stop Mrs. Sherman from learning how to use it with us? Of course not!

That students know their teacher truly cares about them is critical for their learning from her or him. I was sure Mrs. Sherman cared about me and my classmates. I can still visualize her genuine smile that lit up her whole face.

The foundation Mrs. Sherman laid was built upon by subsequent influential teachers. I slayed my math demons in College Algebra by earning an A (thanks, Dr. Maharry), honed those presentation skills under the tutelage of Mrs. Bradt in speech and debate competition, read through great Literature under Mrs. Holder, Mrs. Ehrlich, Dr. Steed, and Dr. Yates, and, as for my handwriting . . . well, three out of four isn’t too bad, right?

LMS cartoon

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a useful tool in K-12, particularly for schools using one-to-one and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) technology. For one thing, an LMS gives secondary students a preview of how their college coursework will be organized (every university in my region uses one). If you want to know more about the benefits of using an LMS, check out Why Use a Learning Management System over at

Once you decide that your school needs an LMS, you’ll need to select one. How to Choose the Right Learning Management System offers a good overview of the complex and time-consuming process of choosing an implementing an LMS. This is not that blog post. Instead, I give you how not to choose an LMS:

1. Have someone far-removed from the classroom, like the PR guy, superintendent, or the IT director in your district choose the LMS (or at least make a short list to pretend to get input from teachers about). He or she will definitely be familiar with the instructional goals of the teachers, the preferred learning modes of the students, and the data needs of the administrators.

2. Don’t involve too many (avoid including any, if you can help it) actual potential users of the system when choosing an LMS. Students, parents, and teachers couldn’t possibly provide any valuable input, right? Listening to them would be too time-consuming.

3. Pick an LMS based on one simple and easy-to-measure factor, such as cost. Ease of use/navigability, possible accommodations for SPED and ELL learners, and integration with currently used 3rd party software aren’t important and shouldn’t really factor into the decision.

4. If you make the mistake of getting buy-in into the chosen LMS from several district teachers, and they implement it with enthusiasm the first year of the roll-out, quash that movement quickly so it doesn’t spread. Provide no ongoing professional development, lock down the teacher/user permissions so they can’t use the LMS easily, refuse to help integrate your district’s third-party software, and most importantly, don’t tell anyone in the district, whether parent, student, or community member, about the LMS. Aim for confusion, frustration, and despair on the part of those pesky early adopters.

5. Plan to dump your chosen LMS after paying for it, shelling out money for PD costs, and providing support after just a year or two. Either provide no LMS at all so teachers are left to their own devices and secondary students have to learn a different (free) LMS to use every class period or just pick another one. Base your decision on which LMS vendor gives you the most freebies at a conference or else just draw names out of a hat. Don’t forget to block the previous LMS on your network to make sure no one uses all the valuable content they spent hours creating in the former LMS. Teachers and students have loads of spare time, so they can just make it all again.

6. Do not, I repeat, do NOT, use an educator trained in project management, instructional design, or educational technology to manage the process of selecting and rolling out an LMS. All the various school sites in the district can just figure out how to implement it in their own way, if they bother to use it at all. When the LMS fails to be used by all but a small percentage of teachers, blame them and then reallocate the budget money you used to use on an LMS to buy a stable of ponies for the next school year.


Hopefully, this post has given you some examples of outcomes you’d like to avoid when selecting an LMS for your school district. Be sure to do your research, involve stakeholders, use project management principles, and prepare to use your chosen LMS for years to come in order to capitalize on your investment.

As a parent, I have often admired brightly colored and well-organized learning stations when visiting my own kids’ elementary school classrooms. For years, I’ve wished that I could integrate more movement and hands-on learning in my classroom, but there were three main barriers: 1. space 2. attitude and 3. time.

crowded secondary classroom aisles

These are a few of the backpacks I trip over in the crowded aisles in my classroom.


Though I’ve taught in several high school classrooms over the years, most have narrow spaces for walking. With dozens of students and their large, heavy backpacks, coats, and lunch bags to navigate around, I can barely monitor my students’ work, let alone plan for large motor movement!

Teen Attitude

I remember listening to some classroom management tips given by an elementary school teacher to a K-12 group of teachers years ago. While her ideas were clever, the secondary teachers in the room smirked at them. One technique in particular, which involved students holding up an index finger to signal that they were listening, prompted one experienced secondary teacher nearby to mutter, “Yeah, the high school kids would hold up a finger all right, but it wouldn’t be the index!”


As a teacher who sees about 130 students every day in my room, I’ve tended toward looking upon planning for stations as an idealistic and quaint notion. Gazing at a stack of 100+ essays to grade does not inspire creativity.

Learning Styles

While I pondered these barriers, another important reality emerged: when I gave my students a learning style quiz at the beginning of the year, I learned that the vast majority are kinesthetic and musical learners. Those styles are more than just “fun”; they’re how my students learn, and I need to teach their way.

Obviously, the idea of centers has to be modified for the secondary classroom, but it’s not impossible. I’ve been integrating more movement and music over the years. Here is one activity I came up with to address all of the above issues. Here’s how to give it a try:

These are the main supplies you'll need (clicker optional).

These are the main supplies you’ll need (clicker optional).

Supplies Needed

12 sheets of colored of paper (2 per color)

Subject area workbooks/worksheets (I used test prep work since that’s what we’re about to do around here)

Access to a printer & copier (black ink only is fine)

Class set of student response devices or clickers— optional

Computer with speakers and playlist – optional


This part is the most time-consuming, but it’s no worse than for any other lesson I’ve made myself. First, simply choose six different areas  in which you’d like your students to practice. Mine were vocabulary, literary elements, reading comprehension, and revision. I divided the latter two into two centers each. Assign them each a color and print signs with the category label on them (see photo below).

My Literary Elements center sign & Extra Practice folder label

My Literary Elements center sign & Extra Practice folder label (color coded)

Choose a couple of multiple choice test prep worksheets per category. One will be the actual center and one will be extra practice. Re-size the one you chose for the center on the copier so it’s easily read when posted on the wall. Make copies of the extra practice (I’ve no advice on this one – I made 30 of some, which wasn’t enough – 75 was too many).

Post the six colored signs around your room (with enough space for students to congregate). These are the beginnings of your centers. Then affix the second sign for each color/label on a folder. Put your extra practice copies for that category in there.

Be sure to have keys for both the center and extra practice worksheets for each station. If using clickers, input your center keys and randomize the order the clicker gives the questions to the students. This keeps the students from clumping up at one station.

Make some student instructions on your interactive whiteboard, chalkboard, or whatever means you typically use. Whether using clickers or not, students should write the station names/abbreviations on notebook paper. They can track their progress around the room this way. Make sure they record whether they got the item right or wrong because they’ll use that information to self-remediate in the next step.

Students pondering the best change to make at Revision Station 1.

Students pondering the best change to make at Revision Station 1.

Tell students that when you start the music (I made a peppy YouTube playlist with songs about circles but didn’t show the videos – we just listened as we worked), they will have 10 minutes (or whatever amount of time is appropriate for your activities) to go through the stations. They should mark whether they got the question right or wrong on their papers. Mine used the clickers to grade their work, but if you don’t have clickers, you could simply grade them together after everyone sits down.

When students finish all the stations, they’ll grab extra practice from the folder at the station where they missed questions and complete it. Those who didn’t miss any should have other work to do (mine had novel analysis to fill out). Place the answer keys at the stations so they can self-grade their work (I put them out AFTER they’re all seated, then take them up at the end of class).

After giving students time to complete the extra practice and grade it, you can do another rotation. We did the first question at each station the first time, and the second one the second time. Have them turn in the notebook paper they used or use the clicker data to get feedback from the activity.

Student Reactions

The best comment I heard was, “We should do this every day!” When asked why, the student answered, “Because it’s a lot of fun, we get to move around, and we burn calories!” I took the smiles and groovy dance moves of other students as they moved between stations as positive feedback too. Best of all, there wasn’t a bad attitude in sight. Since it’s standardized testing time around here, that’s saying something!

If you have questions or want to share how this idea might work in your classroom, please comment!

Teacher portfolios have been around for years. Pre-service teachers use them to gain admission to graduate school and apply for a position. Experienced teachers may use them as candidates for Teacher of the Year, or, increasingly, to demonstrate teaching effectiveness for evaluations by administrators.

Why digital?

Digital portfolios have several advantages over the traditional binder version:

  1. They can provide an impressive example of an educator’s proficiency with technology
  2. Privacy controls allow teachers to specify and monitor who sees their portfolios
  3. No cost for printing/copying/binding
  4. instant access for anyone with a computer and an internet connection
  5. They can grab attention through interactive elements
  6. Many universities now require educations majors to have digital portfolios


It is unrealistic to expect to create a polished teacher portfolio in an hour or two. Instead, consider it a work in progress, like a scrapbook of your career. Most experienced teachers already have a resume prepared, so we’ll start with that first. Second, we’ll add a page on which you can place artifacts to showcase your teaching abilities. Finally, we’ll set your privacy settings and I’ll share some resources if you want to expand  your portfolio.


There are innumerable web sites that offer free or low-cost possibilities for teacher portfolios. Google Sites is a popular choice because it is free, user-friendly, and, once you’ve mastered the basics of setting up one Google Site, you can make sites for many other purposes, whether for classroom or personal use. Below, I’ll walk you through how to get started.

Site Set-up

First, log into with your Gmail account. Then go to or (you’re logged in if your Gmail is at upper right corner), type “Google sites” in the search box.

Choose red “create” button (top left), then choose a template:

Name your site (this will be your domain name and you can’t change it later, so make sure you’ll be happy with the name for years) and select your theme (color, font, design scheme). You can change your theme later if you wish.

After you type in the verification code at the bottom of the screen, select “Create Site” and the information you just put in will pop up as a basic website template.

How to edit a page

To edit a page, click  “edit page.”

The edit button looks like a pencil.

The edit button looks like a pencil.

When you do, it allows you to type in the Title bar and in the Body bar.  The format tab allows you to change the appearance of font and alignment of font.  The layout tab allows you to add columns to the body of your site. I recommend starting with a resume page because it’s easy to do if you have a resume already typed and saved.

Making a resume page

To make the resume page, choose one of your new site’s pre-made pages or follow the directions below to create a new one. Click the edit button, then, in the title bar, type whatever you wish to name your resume page, such as Resume, My Resume, or Cleatus T. Justice’s Resume.

Then open your resume document. Select all of the resume text and copy it (control-C on the keyboard or right-click to select “copy” with your mouse). Paste it (control-V on the keyboard or right-click with your mouse and choose “paste”) into the body section of your resume page. You will probably need to adjust the font and formatting so that it is easily readable. Don’t forget to click “Save” at the top when you’re finished or you’ll lose your changes!

How to create a new page

To create a new page, click “create page.”   There are several page options, but the easiest to work with is “web page.” You will need to create a page name (which becomes part of its URL) and then choose whether or not you want the page to be directly under the main site (top level) or if you want it to be a sub-page of a page of your site.  If the part of the site that you want your page to be under is not the default option, select it by clicking “choose another location.”  Once you have chosen the directory option, click “create page”. Then edit it.

Creating an artifacts file cabinet

The second page I recommend experienced teachers create is for artifacts that demonstrate effective teaching. After you click “create page”, choose “file cabinet”.

Once you’ve made your file cabinet, you’ll want to set up some organization. I made a folder for each of the items evaluated in our district’s teacher evaluation rubric. An administrator can’t possibly observe each item in one short class period, so it is helpful to provide him or her with uploaded examples of each skill he or she is looking for.

Privacy settings

If you don’t want your new partial portfolio out there on the web for public viewing, the blue Share button on your Google Site  (top right corner) comes in handy. Click the “share” button. A window showing the “Public on the Web”  setting and you as the owner will appear. Next to the words “anyone on the web can find and view”, click “Change”.  You can then change your privacy settings as you see fit and save. When you’re ready to share your portfolio with others, go back to these settings and change them as needed.

Just getting started?

If you’re new to making a website or portfolio, pace yourself! Don’t expect to have an extensive portfolio overnight. Prioritize which aspects of your online portfolio are the most important to complete first, and set SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals for yourself. A sample goal for an experienced teacher new to technology might be to select and upload one good example to the artifact page on your site at the end of each school day.

As you continue to work on your portfolio over time, consider adding other page titles/content, such as:

  • Philosophy of Teaching
  • Curriculum Development
  • Teaching Skills
  • Learner Assessment
  • Continuing Education
  • Honors and Awards
  • Long Term Goals

Teacher portfolios should be considered works in progress. Expect to modify your portfolio as your needs change. If you’d like to add  more visually interesting or multimedia elements to your portfolio, browse the sample portfolios linked below for ideas and check out the list of other Google Sites tools you can use on your portfolio site.

Other tools in Google Sites for further exploration

The table tab allows you to create and manage a table in the body of your site.

Use the Insert tab to add pictures, presentations, word documents, spread sheets, slide shows and links to other sites. You can add images manually, if you wish, by uploading them to the site.  However, make sure you only upload what photos you intend to use for the page you are currently editing.

You can manually add files and documents by attaching them to the website under “attachments” at the bottom of the page.  Again, just like the pictures, you must only upload what you want on that particular page and repeat the process for any new pages.

To fully take advantage of these you may wish to use  Google Drive.  When using Google Drive, you can upload spreadsheets, presentations, and documents for other people to view and to incorporate into your website.

You can also include “gadgets” such as news tickers, mp3 players, feeds, weather, etc.  You can see the list by selecting  “more gadgets” at the end of the Insert tab.

Links to sample digital portfolios



Other sources

googlecalsyncMy first blog in this series introduced Google Calendar for the Classroom, so if you missed it, check it out first.

Using online calendars is all about getting one’s various events, appointments and schedules in sync. Syncing paper calendars, such as your desk calendar at work (which may have athletics practices, sectional practices, IEP meetings, lab schedules, faculty meetings, duty, conferences, etc), family appointments, and volunteering committments, just to name a few possibilities, can be nightmarish to keep up with! If you don’t sync them, you may schedule a personal appointment on top of an after school event, which results in stress and chaos.
Google Calendar can put all of your calendars together in one central location for just you or multiple people. Just as your ITunes music or Kindle books can sync across devices, your classroom calendar can too.

Today I’ll show you how to embed a classroom calendar into your Teacher Site, how to subscribe to multiple calendars, and share some ideas for using Google Calendar to collaborate with colleagues.

Embedding Your Calendar

If you already have started putting lesson plans, due dates, and objectives in your classroom Google Calendar, you should embed it on your classroom website. Or, if you’re an activity sponsor, scheduler of school facilities (like the auditorium or gym), or department head, you may want to make a calendar for that group and post it on a webpage accessible by faculty members. This will allow everyone to see the schedule as soon as you add to or update it. You only have to embed it once.

Get the Code

First, you’ll need to get the code from your Google Calendar. While logged in on your Google Calendar, select the calendar you want to embed on the menu at the left by clicking on the down arrow button next to it. Choose “Share This Calendar”.

Sharing options for your calendar.
Sharing options for your calendar.

On the screen that pops up, select “Calendar Details” at the top. About half way down, you’ll see “Embed this Calendar” with a code provided in a box. Select the code, making sure you get all of it. Right click to copy it onto your computer’s clipboard.

Google Calendar produces an html code so you can embed your calendar.
Google Calendar produces an html code so you can embed your calendar.

Embed the Calendar on Your Website

Then, go to your website. Decide where you want to place the calendar. I put mine on the homepage so it can be easily found. Use your website’s software to begin to “edit” the page you selected. Finally, click in the exact location on your website in which you want to embed your calendar.

My website software allows me to click an “html” button at the bottom left of the “Edit” screen. If you can switch to html, do so first. Then simply right click and “paste” the code for your calendar onto the page. Save your changes. Be sure to check your web page either by using the preview (mine is called “View page”) function or by logging out of the software and viewing your page as a visitor. You should see your calendar and its events displayed there.

Group Collaboration

My husband and I sync personal Google Calendars. This allows us to see when we’re free or busy. For example, if I want to schedule a parent-teacher conference for one of our own children, I can check his schedule to see if he’s available to attend too.

Even those who aren’t experienced with online calendars can benefit from a collaborative approach. A few months ago, a high school athletic coach asked me about using Google Calendar for his practice schedule. He was proficient in using online calendars with his smart phone, but had an assistant coach who wasn’t. After our discussion, he concluded that he could set up their athletic team’s practice schedule, along with notifications to remind him about them, on the assistant coach’s smart phone.

Subscribing Versus Sharing

Depending on how you plan to use the calendar in question, you may want to allow others to subscribe to it or you may want to share it with certain people.

Subscribing means that others can overlay your calendar on their own calendar, but they can’t add or change events. Subscribing works well for students who want to know what’s going on in the classroom (or at practice or rehearsal) when they’re absent. Like the assistant coach mentioned earlier, they don’t need the ability to change the calendar – just view it easily.

Sharing a calendar typically means that you’re giving or sharing control with others. For instance, If your 300-member high school choir has section leaders, you may want give those students the ability to add sectional rehearsals to the main choir rehearsal calendar.

Sharing also has unlimited collaborative uses. Here is but one example: if the teachers and the librarian both currently write in the library’s printed calendar to schedule class work in the library, that calendar could be converted to online use. The librarian would be the “owner” of the calendar, but would be able to share the calendar with teachers, who could add the times and dates their classes will visit the library without ever having to leave their classrooms.

Subscribing to a Calendar

The iCal subscription button on my district's calendar page.

The iCal subscription button on my district’s calendar page.

Before you try to set up your calendar so that others can subscribe to it, you’ll want to make sure you know how to subscribe to a calendar first. If your school district has a calendar you can subscribe to in an ical format, subscribe to it. If not, a universally useful one to try is Weather Underground’s ical. Here’s a link to instructions on how to do the latter.

Once you’ve succeeded in subscribing to one or more other calendars, now it’s time to make sure students, colleagues, or parents, depending on your calendar’s purpose, can subscribe to your calendar. Luckily, Google provides helpful instructions detailing various sharing/subscribing options, so I don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Check out their step-by-step instructions here.

The Wrap-Up

If the numerous benefits motivate you to share your Google Calendar with others, you can make it happen with some trial and error. My best advice is to make sure you try out everything you want others to do (such as subscribe to your calendar), because you may have to help them (or provide directions, or links to directions, with your calendar). Let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear how others are using their calendars!

Edmodo and Common Sense Media offer free Digital Citizenship curriculum.

As a high school teacher, I’ve witnessed many parents try to monitor their children’s internet usage, with varying levels of success. I’ve also noticed that many school districts choose to censor or block what sites students can access. However, my observations of students’ online behavior tell me that most of us fall short in teaching students what comprises smart, safe digital citizenship.

Particularly for secondary and post-secondary school students, removing all computer privileges is a consequence that interferes with learning. Anyone who’s taken more than a passing glance at the Common Core standards knows that students will be using technology extensively in the coming years, though many are required to do so already.

Educators and parents often first provide “scaffolding”, or extra support, for students to support their learning. Gradually, the assistance is removed as students gain confidence in using a new skill on their own, such as when training wheels are removed from a child’s bike. This same graduated support should be applied to learning digital citizenship skills, yet few parents and schools seem to have a plan for such support.

Educators and parents often act simply as gatekeepers to the internet. While reports that most parents monitor their children’s Facebook activity are encouraging, the overwhelming evidence in my classroom and home, at least, is that they aren’t effective in helping kids learn to be good digital citizens.

Instead of thinking they’ve fulfilled their responsibilities by limiting or removing access, school districts and families should consider a graduated approach. We shouldn’t allow young children unsupported internet access any more than we would give a two-year-old a large bike without training wheels for her first spin around the driveway.

Here are some ideas to discuss with your colleagues or family members when considering a graduated approach:

1. Find out how the kids in question already use the internet.

2. What is the goal or objective? Finish the statement: by age _____, children should be able to ______________.

3. What online habits do children in our school/family need to practice regularly to be safe and avoid compromising their future goals online?

4. What can we do to support students as they practice these skills until they become habits and how/when should we gradually remove those supports?

5. Do we as parents and educators model and discuss these habits?

6. How can different grade levels (or, for parents, family sites, such as grandma’s or uncle’s house) our efforts to make sure that support is gradually decreased so that by age eighteen, students will be independent digital citizens?

7. Check out sites like Digital to help generate ideas.

The fact is, nearly every job either does or will soon require basic online competency. Schools and families can help kids learn the online skills they need in an online environment appropriate for their abilities, or leave them to flounder through and learn the hard way.

Freebie! Here is the Digital Citizenship Guidelines handout I developed for my students:DigitalCitizenshipGuidelinesgeneric

This blog was inspired by conversations with friends, colleagues, and family members about technology. Many people are intimidated by technology and claim they just don’t have the “talent” to use it.

I, however, think almost anyone can become comfortable learning new technologies. There are numerous reasons to do so: keeping up with industry trends, shrinking the world by connecting through technology, and ensuring that the next generation can use the tools they will need to succeed in their college and career experiences.

Follow my blog and join the conversation!

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