Summer Technology Ideas: Social Media

Changing America: To Be Free App

On January 1, 1863, The Emancipation Proclamation changed the lives of everyone in our nation. Regardless of our race, age, or gender, all of us can connect with this historic American event. Changing America: To Be Free is a free App to correspond with the Smithsonian exhibit in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

I really like the fact that this App provides users with the ability to personalize their experience. As educators, we need to find new ways to engage our students. In the "Make a Connection" section, students can personalize their experience by making connections with historical figures who are similar in age, race, or gender.

There are a variety of known and little-known historical figures available for students to explore. Each historical figure's profile contains a short bio and quote. Students can browse through all historical figures at once or filter by age and/or race.

Finally, there is a social media component built into the App, where students can join a much larger discussion by Tweeting their feedback in the "Share Your Thoughts" section.

How would I use this? 

This App could be used in a variety of ways. If I were a History teacher, I may assign each of my students a historical figure to research and present to the class.

If I were a Language Arts teacher, I would search the "Make a Connection" section and find someone similar in age to my students. As a writing prompt, I would have my students read their short bio and write a short story about what they may have been experiencing during this time.

I feel that it is important for our students to connect with history in different ways. This App would be a great tool to do so!

Part 5: Teaching with Poverty: Reading Strategies

In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned the term "Matthew Effect," a term coined by psychologist Keith Stanovich, referring to the fact that the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer." He was referring to the fact that if a student has negative experiences with reading early on in their career, they are more likely to experience difficulty and avoid reading altogether. How do we give our students opportunities to be successful in reading? 

My blog post mentioned yesterday that it comes down to understanding vocabulary. If students don't understand it, then they won't read. What other strategies can we use to get our students reading? 

Tip # 1: Access to Materials

There was a study done outside of LA, which found that affluent and middle class students had significantly more access to reading materials than students in poverty (newspapers, books of varied reading levels, etc.). It may sound simple, but we need to provide access to a variety of reading materials in our classroom. 

Budgets are tight, so how do we do this? One school I know collects used newspapers and magazines from members of the community, so that students have access to reading materials. I have a retired teacher who drops off used copies of Time Magazine, Business Week, and Forbes when he is done reading. I make sure that I have them placed throughout my room for kids to access during down times.

Tip # 2: Opportunities to Read

We need to provide opportunities to read in school. This is something that is often forgotten in high school. A high school that I used to work for used the first 15 minutes of class (in a block schedule) each Friday for students to read. It was called POWER (Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading). Each Friday, teachers, administrators, and students would use this time to stop and read whatever reading material they chose. Test scores dramatically improved!

Tip # 3: Have Supports in Place

Many of our students in poverty are intimidated by reading and shut down when it is time to read. One student of mine would automatically start acting out when it came to reading. He was embarrassed that he couldn’t understand the text. 

This really changed my perspective and made me think that perhaps we needed to think about potential barriers that could exist and have supports in place to address them. I began looking through the article and pre-teaching vocabulary before we read the article.

This same student was able to comprehend text better by "hearing it." Initially, I gave him the opportunity to listen to the reading assignment by copying and pasting text from a digital copy into Voki, while reading silently. As I saw how successful this was, I began having students record themselves reading the article on a free podcasting program called Audacity. I would use this recording for future reading assignments.

 Other teachers have used reading stations, where students can either read silently or go to another part of the room, where they can read aloud. By providing options during reading assignments, we could develop their reading ability. 

Tip # 4: Reading is Social

We need to give students an opportunity to talk about what they have read by focusing on what the University of Pennsylvania calls the social lens. This gives students an opportunity to connect with what they read and with what they already know. Literature Circles are a great way to do that. For high school students, I have found that you really need to have structures in place. One of my favorite protocols is called the 4 A's protocol.  


I personally want to thank you for taking this journey with me and I would enjoy hearing your feedbackUnfortunately, poverty is something that seems to be on the incline rather than the decline in this country. We may not be able to control why our students are living in poverty; however, we can control what happens within the four walls of our classroom. Theodore Roosevelt said it best, when he said "Do what you can with what you have." I challenge you to do the same! 

Part 4: Teaching With Poverty: Teaching Vocabulary

According to research, by the time MOST children start school, they will have been exposed to "5 million words and should know about 13,000 of them." What does this mean to educators? We may have to help our students in poverty "catch up." 

Here are some tips:

Tip # 1 - Strategically Teach Vocabulary 

Why do many of our students refuse to read? For many students, its because they don't comprehend the vocabulary within the text. Students typically need to know 90 -  95% of the words in a text to be able to understand it. 

Beck, I.L., McKoeown, M.G., & Kucan, L. (2002) offer a 3 Tier model for teaching vocabulary.

  • Tier 1 words are everyday vocabulary terms that we don't need to reteach. For example, you wouldn't need to teach a group of third graders what alphabet, add, or subtract means. 
  • Tier 2 words are general academic, meaning students should understand these terms across the curriculum. Tier 2 words should be our primary focus for instruction. For example, you would want your high school students to understand the meaning of the words analyze and hypothesize. 
  • Tier 3 words are domain specific and may require pre-teaching before an assignment; however, they shouldn't be our primary focus. For example, the term balance sheet is associated with finance and is not essential in a Chemistry classroom.
Tip # 2 - It's About Meaningful Interactions

According to Marzano, students need to have at least 6 meaningful interactions with a vocabulary word to understand it.  It begins with creating opportunities for students to use and interact with vocabulary in different ways. Here are tips:
  • Writing prompts are a great tool to have students practice using vocabulary. At the Milton Hershey School, each class begins with a writing prompt called a Do Now. This idea is so that students can begin thinking about a particular topic or reflect on their prior knowledge.
  • Many teachers incorporate "Word Splashes," where students are provided a list of vocabulary terms and have to incorporate them into a writing assignment. 
  • Not all students learn the same and often need different ways of interpreting the meaning of a word. Perhaps you want to use video clips, visual dictionaries like Visuwords or Infovisual, or hands on activities to encourage learning. One teacher that I know has students create comic strips of complex scientific concepts, which help students attach meaning to the term. 
  • Word walls are excellent tools for students to have available. It should be an accumulation of your Tier 2 and 3 words throughout the semester. Not only do they serve as a visual, but you can design activities and games around the vocabulary. You can put them on a poster, bulletin board, or simply use your chalkboard. 
Our final installment of this blog series will feature specific ways of encouraging students to read.

Part 3: Teaching With Poverty: Influencing Growth

As we continue our discussion on poverty, we have discussed the definition of what poverty is and how to create a positive learning environment for our students. Today, we will focus on how to  influence growth.

Tip # 1 - Encourage a Growth Mindset

When we deal with "at-risk" students, we may have the tendency to lower expectations; however, high expectations have been found to be a critical element in a student’s cognitive growth.  It is essential that we help develop a "growth mindset" in our students, which not only places importance on academics, but also attitude, effort, and strategy.  These characteristics are what will help our students become resilient and successful in life. At my school, we not only give quarterly academic grades, but we also give effort and conduct grades. We value the effort that our students show and realize that effort often leads to current and future academic success. 

We also need to let our students learn from the school of reality. For example, students in my Principles of Management Class had the opportunity to go through the Kauffman Foundation’s Ice House Entrepreneurship program.  The book discusses how to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. As part of the culminating activity, we had students develop their own business ideas and pitch it to a Shark Tank (like the TV Show) of business experts that I organized. The “sharks” gave both positive and negative feedback. The students learned more from this experience than a book could ever teach them. They needed to feel the pressure of reality, the taste of failure, and the sweetness of a successful idea. Even though they didn't have completely "perfect" products, the experience helped create a growth mindset for my kids to want to learn more to fulfill their dreams. 

Tip # 2 - Reading is the Key to Vocabulary Development

Reading is a critical element of not only a child’s cognitive development but also vocabulary development. Poverty and educational levels tend to correspond to one another. When it comes to vocabulary growth, many of our children living in poverty do not receive the same enrichment at home as those not living in poverty. For example, according to Eric Jensen 36% of low income parents read daily to their kindergarten aged child, compared to 62% of upper-income parents.

It comes down to the “Matthew Effect,” which is a term that was coined by psychologist Keith Stanovich. He has done extensive research on reading and language disabilities. The "Matthew Effect" refers to the idea that in reading (as in other areas of life), the rich tend to get richer and the poor tend to get poorer. 

In many instances, if a parent had negative experiences in school as a child, they are likely to pass along a negative outlook onto their children. If a child has negative experiences with reading early on in their career, they are more likely to experience difficulty and avoid reading altogether.  The key is to providing opportunities to provide both positive experiences to parents and children. One urban school in my area has created "family nights," where they encourage parents and kids to come into the school for a night of fun, games, and fellowship. Although this doesn't have a direct impact on academics, it does provide parents, who may have had negative experiences with school, a positive experience. When parents feel connected with their child's school community, they are more likely to become involved in the school community and in their child's education. 

 In my next post, I will discuss specific reading strategies that educators can use to help students experience this success. 

Part 2: Teaching With Poverty: Learning Environment

With over 47 million people living in poverty, chances are that you are teaching students who are living in one of the 6 types of poverty mentioned in my last post. The fact is we cannot control the fact that many of our students live in poverty; however, we can control what happens within the four walls of our classroom. So where to we begin? Today we are going to discuss creating a positive learning environment.

 Here are some strategies for overcoming poverty and increasing learning:

Tip # 1 - Build Relationships

James Comer was right when he said that "no significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." It doesn't mean that we have to be buddies or friends with all of our students, but it does mean that we insist on high quality work and offer support. It means meeting students where they are at and helping them get to where they need to go. In a way, we all have a responsibility for building relationships because many of our "at-risk" learners often lack long-lasting, stable relationships in their lives. Trust is the foundation of learning. Without it, learning cannot occur. 

We often expect our kids to understand how to react and behave in certain situations. Many "discipline" issues sometimes emerge when teachers expect more than what students are currently capable of. This may mean teaching our students how to act appropriately and talking about the behavior and how it impacts others. Why? Because they honestly may not know better.

Tip # 2 - Create a Stable Learning Environment

Creating a positive and stable environment means developing a classroom of respect. Ruby Payne, is an expert in the realm of working with students in poverty, and through her research found that students who felt respected by their teachers experienced the following situations:

  • The teacher calls me by my name.
  • The teacher answers my questions.
  • The teacher talks to me respectfully.
  • The teacher notices me and says "Hi."
  • The teacher helps me when I need help.

It all comes down to Maslow’s Hierarchy and the fact that students need to feel safe in order to learn. This may mean that we need to rethink sarcasm and the way that joke with students. I personally have trouble with this and often need to bite my tongue because a sarcastic comment can create a tremendous amount of unintentional damage. Why? Many of our students are oblivious to this and may feel it’s an attack rather than a joke. Immediately the “survival of the fittest” mentality begins.

Next week, we will discuss actual teaching strategies to incorporate in your classroom.

Part 1: Teaching Students in Poverty: What is Poverty?

I recently gave a webinar for SimpleK12 on teaching students who are living in poverty. At the Milton Hershey School, 100% of our kids come from impoverished situations. In fact, as of 2011 it is estimated that the number of Americans living in poverty is approximately 46.4 million. Over the next few blog posts, I would like to stray from my normal educational technology posts to explore strategies for dealing with students facing poverty. Today we will focus on what poverty really is.

We see the effects it has on kids each day:
  • A lack of motivation
  • Cognitive lags
  • Chronic tardiness
  • Inappropriate behavior
  • Lack of parental involvement
  • High transience rates 
Do we truly understand what it is? Ruby Payne defines poverty as“the extent to which an individual does without resources.” Many of us attribute poverty to a lack of money, but it  is more than a lack of income. 

In fact, many experts, like Ruby Payne and Eric Jensen, state that there are at least 6 different types of poverty facing our students today: 
  • Poverty can be situational, where a sudden crisis emerges (health issue, job loss, divorce). 
  • Generational, occurs where 2 or more generations of a family are living in poverty. They are often not equipped with the tools like education and finances to move out of this type of situation
  • Absolute is rare in this country, but does occur in many parts of Appalachia. Families face the struggle of day to day survival, often struggling to find shelter, food, and running water.
  • Relative refers to the economic status of a family who meets the poverty thresholds set by the government.
  • Urban poverty occurs in areas of 50k or more. Individuals facing urban poverty deal with stressors (violence, crowding, noise) and are often left to rely on often inadequate large-city services.
  • Rural poverty occurs in areas of less than 50k. It is the fastest growing type of poverty in our nation right now. Families experiencing rural poverty often do not have access to quality resources and support for disabilities.
The fact is that we cannot control that our students come from poverty; however, we can control what happens within the four walls of our classroom. Our next post will focus on actual strategies that teachers can use to connect with students and increase learning. 


A Way for Historical Figures to Text Each Other? Try SMS Generator!

So what would Abraham Lincoln text John Wilkes Booth? How about George Washington and Benedict Arnold? What would Neil Armstrong text JFK? You may be scratching your head and thinking...Matt has really gone off his rocker! :)

I want to introduce you to a tool from called the SMS Generator. It is a creative way of having a conversation between two historical figures or even characters from a book! When you create your own SMS conversation, you can save it using a unique URL. To make it even more secure, you can give it a password, to make sure no one makes any unwanted changes.

When you are finished, you have several options to share your conversation. You can embed your conversation on a website, share the URL, generate a QR Code, or even save a web shortcut to your desktop!

This is a really creative way to help your students "think outside of the box." Not only is it another way to engage students, but you are giving students a chance to express their thoughts, using an everyday tool in their lives. Want to see my text conversation between Neil Armstrong and JFK? Check it out!

Want to learn how to use it? Check out What to Do in Just a Few:

Put Down the Tape and Staplers and Try Smore

When you were young, did you ever post "missing pet" on every telephone pole that you could find? Or did you ever post "Vote for Class President" on every wall that you could find? How about putting fundraiser flyers on every car in the parking lot? What if I told you that those days may be over?

With advances in technology, there are plenty of sites that will allow you to create virtual or electronic flyers for your events. One that I came across recently is called Smore.

Smore is a free site that you can use to design stunning electronic flyers that can been seen on a PC, Smart Phone, or Tablet. You can embed video files, Tweets, and product reviews by effortlessly editing your flyer by dragging and dropping. When you are ready to share, you can do so via email, social media, or a link.

I really like the user-friendly analytics section, which keeps track of who is seeing your flyer on Facebook, Twitter, websites, or searches. Have a school event coming up or just want to create a cool page for an upcoming event? This may be a good solution.

Not sure if this is for you or need some inspiration? Then you might want to check out sample flyers that already exist.

Have an idea for a story? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Contact me for more details.

Special Guest Post by Daniel Turner: The Gamification of Education

Author Bio: Daniel Turner currently works in community outreach for, which serves prospective teachers, as well as current teachers looking to learn more, with a wide variety of motivational and informational resources that range from STEM Education to how to become a teacher anywhere in the U.S. Outside of work, Daniel enjoys movies, sports and all things Philly.

The Gamification Of Education

Video games have found their way into many classrooms, and gamification has become the new buzzword. Gamification can be defined as applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging. In education, this can mean incorporating learning games into the curriculum, whether students are playing a teacher-created Jeopardy game to review for an exam or playing Dance Dance Revolution in physical education for exercise and improved coordination.

Gaming has become hot in schools, with students finding the curriculum to be more engaging and motivating when games are involved. Many students already spend a lot of time outside of school playing games so they naturally gravitate towards this learning tool.

How Gamification Works

Learning games have been around for a long time, but until recently most did not have social aspects. Forbes claims that it’s these social aspects of games that often draw people in, which can be seen through social media games where players become fiercely competitive while playing Words with Friends and connecting over watermelon gardens in Minecraft.

Children and adolescents are naturally competitive and respond well to the immediate feedback that games provide. Since students are not always internally motivated, teachers are relying on the “oldest tricks in the book” by motivating students through incentives to ramp up that motivation. Students are having a good time, but they are also retaining and mastering important educational content.

Why Electronic Games are Good for Learning

In a separate article, Forbes praises game-based learning for helping students to develop “ automatically” when it comes to being able to recall information or repeat tasks. Experts in every field rely on this important skill to be able to excel in their work. Professional athletes and surgeons alike have automatically down so they can focus on more advanced skills.

The increase in mobile learning devices has given educators the platforms that they need for students to develop these skills both in and out of the classroom. Students are not excited by rote learning experiences through reading textbooks and listening to lectures, but electronic devices offer interactive, hands-on experiences.

Games also appeal to multiple learning styles and preferences, giving more students opportunities for academic success. Education can be more individualized so that electronic pre-assessments can deliver the information that teachers need to tailor a student’s leaning path. Math games can be used in remediation, and students who have mastered content ahead of their peers can engage in individual or small group games at more advanced levels.

The use of portable devices and social media also motivates students to engage in learning beyond the traditional school hours.

Game-Based Learning in Action

USA Today reports that video games have helped a number of students with autism to be able to increase communication and social skills. In several schools, students have used Kinect sensors to create their own avatars, which interact and communicate with each other. The virtual world provides fewer threats than school hallways and cafeterias, so students feel more comfortable having these valuable interactions. Software engineering students from the University of Michigan have been designing Kinect games specifically for children with autism, like Tickle Monster which helps teach students nonverbal communication skills, like facial emotions and acceptable touch.

In addition to the many applications gaming offers for students with special needs, games can help all students master important academic skills like reading proficiency. The Oxford Student Online describes an upcoming game intended to popularize works of classical literature for children. A partnership between Oxford University Press and develop SecretBuilders, the games will entice children to read by putting classical plots and characters into a “digital format.” They are also choosing a different book each week and hosting numerous activities and contests, as well as a “Bookworms Club” to entice children under 15 to read great literature. Games will be offered on mobile devices like iPods and tablets.

The future applications of gaming in education are limitless. Soon, students might be playing first-person games based on Shakespeare tragedies!

Self-Directed Learning in the 21st Century

Everywhere you turn is a new online program for adults wanting to further their education. In the 21st century, if you are a university who is not embracing online learning, you are one of the few. I am currently looking at online PhD programs in Instructional Technology for the fall of 2013. In my research, I have found one common thread among all of the programs – an emphasis on self-directed learning. 

This is not a new concept, in fact, this concept has been around for a while; however, in the digital age there is a new emphasis on self-directed learning and accountability within a distance learning environment. I believe there is an internal desire for adults to want to have control of their own learning. It’s a sign of maturity and success.

Some of the most successful people I know have been self-directed learners without being in a PhD or online program. One mentor of mine, Dr. Chris Adams, really emphasized the need to become a life-long learner in the field of education. He introduced me to publications like Phi Delta Kappan and Educational Leadership. Without his influence, I wouldn’t have developed the habit or reading, with the desire to grow, each night.

Self-directed learning is one of the reasons why the social network Twitter has thrived in the world of education. There are communities of educators who thirst to grow and share their knowledge to a forum of other self-directed learners. About 4 years ago, I took the plunge into Social Media and have found tremendous benefits to using Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In, and Edmodo to further develop my classroom and professional self. Twitter has helped me connect with other educators across the country through sharing ideas through chats, links, and attending events.  Recently, I was able to meet one of my Twitter followers at a conference I spoke at in South Carolina. This was unheard of twenty years ago.

In the 21st Century, I believe we will see another “divide” occurring, much like Prensky’s Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. The main focus of Prensky’s article emphasizes the divide between adults (“digital immigrants”) and students (“digital natives”); however, many of these “digital natives” now have their own classrooms. I believe the next divide revolves around social media and its use in growing professionally. I believe that the successful educators will be the ones that embrace, use, and thrive in the realms of social media, while educators who fail to embrace social media will become obsolete, irrelevant, and replaced, much like many of the teachers I knew who refused to embrace email and the Internet. 

Bloxp Tells the Story of Your Favorite Blog on Your Favorite eReader

Very few people know the story of how I started this blog several years ago. In 2010, I found myself out of a job, due to budget cuts, and was lucky enough to find a job at The Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA.   A few months into my job, I was asked to lead a professional development on blogging and wikis. I didn't have a lot of experience with blogs, but I figured I would give it a try.

After the professional development session, I was inspired to start my own blog, which you are reading today. Initially it was set up to help teachers at Milton Hershey, but as you know, it has quickly spread! Thank you!

Why am I telling you my story? I found a unique website called Bloxp, which allows you to take a blog and turn it into a downloadable file to be read on your eBook. I tried it out and it was very easy.

1. Copy and paste the URL of the blog
2. Click Start and your blog will begin to compile a list of posts.
3. You will see a listing of all blog posts. Choose which ones you want to keep or not keep.
4. Download as an eBook, Kindle File, or email your results.

This is a really unique way of capturing information from your favorite blogs. I had the opportunity to download my blog and found it really interesting to see the progression of a teacher who knew barely anything about blogging to a teacher who is very passionate about helping others through social media.


5 Tips for Engaging Learners with UDL

Phillip Schlechty (2011) theorized that the highest levels of learner engagement require learners' full attention and commitment. While ...