In this edition of the Roundtable, host Tim Cavey connects with educators Bruce Reicher, Paula Neidlinger, and Erika Sandstrom to discuss media creation in schools. Why should we invest time and resources in media creation for students, and how can we get started?
About Our Guests
Bruce Reicher and Paula Neidlinger are two of the three co-authors of Scripted: An Educator’s Guide to Media in the Classroom, published in August 2020. Erika Sandstrom is the Green Screen Gal, a digital learning coach with a passion for media creation and social-emotional learning.
Questions That Guided Our Discussion
1:11 – Who are you and what does your current context in education look like?
5:29 – How do you use media creation to inspire your learners? What sorts of projects energize you?
12:44 – What sorts of wins or opportunities for learning do you see during the time of COVID?
20:45 – Why should school leaders be thinking about investing more in media creation resources?
As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!
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JESUS HUERTA is an elementary school teacher at Kennedy Gardens Elementary School in El Centro, California. He’s also an instructor for the Krause Center for Innovation, a 3D print enthusiast, a futurist, and a believer that technology is for everyone.
Competing During Uncertainty
About a year before our interview, Jesus was a finalist for the Leroy Finkel Fellowship, an award given annually to a teacher who presents “an innovative technology-enhanced curriculum project that is standards-aligned, replicable, relevant … and fun.”
Jesus had entered the contest and had made it to the short list, but he was laid off by his school just days before he was expected to present. Despite the professional uncertainty, Jesus gave everything he had to the presentation and won the award based on the 3D printing work his students were doing to create prosthetics (see a full description of the project with videos). As gratifying as it was to be recognized in the contest, it was equally satisfying to be given another teaching position shortly afterward.
The Evolution of 3D Printing and Learning
Jesus has been teaching for six years, and he’s been 3D printing the entire time. From classrooms to conferences, he carried his printer around with him wherever he went in his first years.
One way that 3D printing has really changed in the period since, Jesus says, is that the financial barriers to entry have come way down: printers and filament have both fallen a lot in price. Software has also improved and diversified and the 3D printing community has grown over these years as well.
It’s an exciting space, because 3D printing just keeps moving forward. Jesus shares a number of ways (other than prosthetics) that 3D printing technology is being used to provide medical solutions and improve quality of life around the world. On top of all the other competencies and skills that students build as they learn to design and print in 3D, the list of real-world applications only seems to grow.
Board Games, the Design Process, and Entrepreneurship
Another project that has really energized Jesus and his 5th graders is a board game project. The project combines the best of entrepreneurship, the design process, collaboration, and presentation skills. Working in partners or small groups, students begin by drawing a board game design, followed by a cardboard prototype. Further iterations follow.
Jesus describes a very authentic learning experience that occurred when one 5th grader forgot to bring her group’s prototype into class for her group’s pitch. Yes, there was some distress and some tears in that instance, but after thoughtful debriefing and reflection, he knows the real life lessons learned will last a lifetime. By project end, Jesus is always impressed by what his students manage to come up with, saying he would likely purchase them for his own family if they were commercially available.
Increased Access to the Joys of STEAM Learning
Something that Jesus has wanted to do outside of his classroom for some time is offer evening classes that align with his core passions: 3D printing, robotics, the design process, engineering, game design, coding, drones, and anything else related to STEAM.
In particular, he wants to create opportunities for kids who can’t access this kind of learning in their schools, districts, or towns. He’s built a partnership with an LGBTQ center to share space, and he’s proud to support diversity and equity for all learners by doing so.
“Learning is for everyone,” Jesus says. A kid’s gender, culture, language, religion, or orientation shouldn’t be limiting factors – and that’s something that Jesus has always been passionate about. Historically speaking, STEAM learning has tended to include more boys than girls, and evening that playing field is another part of his mission. He’s also looking at ways to include adults and mature learners, too.
Personal Passions: Creating with Wood and Playing the Violin
One of the areas of learning that Jesus recalls fondly from his childhood is drawing. In recent years, he’s revisited this passion through woodburning and carving. He’s also passionate about the sounds of the violin, and it’s been a joy to practice an instrument he’s always appreciated but never played. Jesus brings these passions into his classroom, too, using applications like Google Quick Draw, Google Music, and SoundTrap to helps students create a wide variety of digital art and media pieces.
A Productivity Tool: Wunderlist
Jesus loves using the Wunderlist app to track to-do items and track his progress, and the gamer in him enjoys the satisfying ding the app makes every time he checks off another task.
Voices and Resources That Spark His Thinking and Ignite His Practice
When it comes to a Twitter follow recommendation, Jesus doesn’t waste any time. “Paul Gordon does even more than I do,” Jesus says. One of Paul’s core passions is esports, but he also does 3D printing, laser cutting, design thinking, and more. He’s an advocate of risk-taking and a culture of yes, and he’s been a great education partner. Follow Paul @TeachTheTech.
One edtech tool that has really captured his imagination is the Oculus Quest, an all-in-one VR set. Users no longer need controllers – the set will now recognize user hands. His kids have played around with an Oculus app called Virtuoso that allows them to play piano in VR, and it’s blowing their minds. Other apps, like TiltBrush or Sculptor VR, allow users to paint and sculpt in VR as well.
Because his wife works in the criminal justice system, Jesus says they’re both enjoying a podcast called Crime Junkie. The series is so good that occasionally Jesus gets a few episodes ahead of her, and then he’s got some explaining to do! Follow this podcast on Twitter @CrimeJunkiePod.
Over on YouTube, Jesus points to the Uncle Jessy channel as a great source for 3D printers, techniques, and projects. Jesus appreciates how he follows up review videos with subsequent videos that clarify and update previous evaluations. Follow the creator on Twitter @UncleJessy4Real.
On Netflix, Jesus and his family are enjoying NCIS. They’ve been enjoying it so much that he’s actually a little sad that he’s been missing it for the last 15 years.
In this special episode of the pod, long-time supporter of the podcast Bryon Carpenter (@BryonCar) takes over the microphone and interviews me, Tim Cavey, using the same questions I’ve used to interview my 99 previous guests. It’s a fun conversation and a great opportunity for me to reflect back on the Teachers on Fire journey.
My Current Role in Education
I am an 8th grade homeroom teacher at a middle school in Surrey, BC, Canada. I teach most subjects, including elective courses in Entrepreneurship and Media Arts – elective courses that allow me to share my passion for content creation.
House on Fire
Back in December of 2012 I found myself in a very challenging set of personal circumstances. I was renting a basement suite in Vancouver and going through a divorce when I received a text message one day while teaching. My landlord’s instruction simply said “Come home quick – the house is on fire!”
I came home to a burned out house and found myself temporarily homeless, with no family in the area. My colleagues were incredibly supportive during this time and a huge reason why I am where I am today, but I’ll never forget the experience of teaching a class of middle schoolers in the days and weeks that followed with so much emotional turmoil and personal chaos in the background. Teaching felt robotic, and it was hard to conjure up genuine emotion in the classroom.
As much as authenticity and transparency are important in our practice, we also need to be that source of warmth, love, and encouragement for our learners. That isn’t always easy – especially when chaos, pain, or upheaval reigns in our personal lives. The support of my colleagues during this period is a reminder that I need to check in regularly with the people around me, mindful of the fact that my colleagues are fighting battles that I know nothing about.
What Sets Me on 🔥 in Education Today
What really sets me on fire in education today is the opportunity of passing on my passion for content creation with my students. Whether it’s blogging, podcasting, photography, video production, or other forms of expression and communication, the age of the internet gives us all tremendous opportunities to represent our values and share what we are all about.
Our learners are all comfortable consumers, but what are they creating and contributing? How are they adding beauty and utility to the world? How are they launching their projects and learning in authentic ways? These are the questions that motivate me and guide my practice today.
The Teachers on Fire Origin Story
My journey with podcasting began over a decade ago. Some of my first podcasts included The Dave Ramsey Show, The Real Estate Guys, Stuff You Should Know, and Hockey Central at Noon. In more recent years, I also started to listen to business and entrepreneurship podcasts, including figures like Gary Vaynerchuk, Pat Flynn, and John Lee Dumas. These figures spoke regularly about the possibilities for creation and communication afforded by the internet, and as I listened to their conversations with entrepreneurs and business pioneers, I thought about how amazing it would be to feature educators in the same way.
Back in early 2018, I wasn’t seeing a whole lot of education podcasts in the iTunes store, so I decided to give this podcasting thing a try. Inspired by John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneurs on Fire, I launched Teachers on Fire in the spring of 2018. My mission was and continues to be the exposure of tremendous educators who are leading and transforming K-12 education. This passion project is a sweet spot for me, because my passion is at least as strong now as it was when I first launched the podcast.
My Professional Goals
I recently finished my MEdL thesis, bringing a 2-year degree program to a close. That was a huge relief, and now I’m excited to shift my energy into other creative passions, including blogging and eventually vlogging. In my practice, I’m excited to push my 8th grade entrepreneurship students to interview entrepreneurs and business leaders in our community and share their recordings on our Gr8 Expectations student podcast.
Personal Passions Away from Education
Outside of educational settings, I’m passionate about getting out on the ocean on paddleboards and hiking new mountain trails with my beautiful wife. I dream about one day getting a drone that will allow me to document both passions in beautiful ways as well.
My Biggest Productivity Hack
I love productivity hacks of all kinds, but one of my biggest and best is the habit of waking up at 4:30 on school day mornings so that I can get to my neighborhood Starbucks. When I’m on my game and this is happening, it allows me to get after the day before the day gets after me. I do some journaling work, review my calendar, set some goals, complete some prayer and meditation, and then get some work done. It’s an incredible feeling to get to school knowing that the day is already a win because of what I’ve accomplished before 7:00 a.m.
Voices & Resources That Shape My Thinking & Inspire My Practice
Over on Twitter, I recommend following the dynamic Nina Pak Lui, my guest on episode 97 of the podcast. You’ll find her @NPakLui. A former middle school teacher, Nina now teaches pre-service teachers at the university level. She’s a whirlwind of intensity when it comes to the issues that matter in education today, including equity, diversity, and assessment for learning. She’s also just launched a blog and is beginning her own graduate level research, and I know big things are ahead for her.
My pick for edtech tools is WeVideo, simply the best cloud-based video editing solution available today. Get to know this company on Twitter @WeVideo.
I’ve always got a bunch of books on the go, but one that has kept me laughing and inspired lately is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. As the title says, this book is essential reading for those looking to flex their creativity, particularly in the writing and blogging spaces.
My podcast pick has to be the one hosted by the delightful Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart, Teach Better Talk. These two have a passion for education and a playful back and forth that is simply unmatched in the podcast space. Follow them on Twitter @TeachBetterTeam.
On YouTube, you need to subscribe to C. J. Reynolds at his channel, Real Rap with Reynolds. There’s not much rap involved, but C. J. brings it every episode, tackling the very real challenges that teachers face in their classrooms. He’s inspiring. Get to know him on Twitter @RealRapReynolds.
My family enjoyed The Office and Brooklyn 99 on Netflix, but lately we’ve been checking out Jack Ryanon Amazon Prime (although we’ve had to skip a few scenes when our boys are watching). If you like spy flicks and can handle John Krasinski in a serious role, this might be a series to check out.
We sign off on this milestone conversation, and I thank Bryon for hosting this centennial edition. If you’re new to the podcast, make sure you connect with me on the platforms below!
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AARON BLACKWELDER is a high school English teacher and golf coach at Woodland Public Schools in Woodland, Washington, a rapidly growing community about 35 miles north of Portland, OR. The school has about 700 students and Aaron has been teaching freshman and senior English there for about 13 years.
Aaron is also the founder of the Teachers Going Gradeless website and Twitter chat @TG2Chat and #TG2Chat. He’s a father, husband, autism advocate, Google Certified Educator, and he’s loving life!
Disillusioned by Traditional Assessment and Curriculum
Aaron describes the professional journey that led from disillusionment with traditional grading practices and instruction to a thoughtful exploration and eventual embrace of gradeless practices. It’s been an evolution, he says.
Fundamentally, he’s trying to pour more energy into feedback and pay less attention to grades, because it’s the instructive nature of feedback that really helps kids learn. He’s been gradeless for about four years now, and he’s enjoying strong support from administrators and his department.
Gradeless assessment has also affected his course content, curriculum, and culture, and he’s leveraging project-based learning and problem-based learning to leverage his students’ own passions, interests, and needs around their learning activities.
He’s also become passionate about helping students become agents of change, creating world-changing products for authentic audiences. His seniors are tackling real-life problems, and it’s been exciting to see their work unfold and skills develop in the process.
Aaron loves the process of tailoring feedback to the learning and needs of each student – that’s another important feature of the gradeless paradigm. Are we preparing students for the test on Friday, or are we preparing them for challenges beyond school?
Answering the Critics
To high school teachers in the maths and sciences who say that gradeless practices can’t be applied to their specialized courses, Aaron points to the abundance of high-level project plans and resources available for exactly those subject areas.
For schools and educators who look at gradeless practices with skepticism, Aaron makes a strong case. Schools and educators don’t like being placed on a scale of assessment, he observes, and the same is true of students.
Scores tend to label and encourage fixed mindsets (“I suck at Math,” etc.), while feedback tends to inform and direct next steps for growth. Scores also reinforce a fear of judgment, which crushes creativity and risk-taking.
The Work of TG2
TG2 (Teachers Going Gradeless) promotes the idea that teaching and learning are better without grades, and from the outset, Aaron wanted to put the focus on teachers. Coming from that perspective, it only made sense to open the TG2 site to educators and contributors from all over the world, and as a result the blog features a rich diversity of voices.
Digging Deeper Into Aaron’s Reporting Practices
Aaron explains how his reporting practices and system translate into student report cards (he was actually busy filling them out at the time of this interview). Just about all of his students earn a ‘P’ for passing, and he writes lengthy narrative comments about the strengths and weaknesses demonstrated by each student throughout the term.
His philosophy is that if he expects high quality writing from his students, the least they can expect from him is the same quality of writing in their feedback. At the end of the course, he also conferences with students to determine their letter grade, but generally speaking, he accepts whatever students suggest as their grade. After all, grades aren’t really the point!
Once again, it’s really the feedback that will inform and motivate further growth – not the grade.
Aaron’s chief passion is his family. His wife is an amazing source of support and inspiration, and he relies on her heavily. He also has two boys with autism, and he takes pleasure in his ongoing learning from and contributions to the local autism community.
Favorite Productivity Tool
Google Forms has been an incredible resource for Aaron as he completes report cards, solicits self-evaluations and progress reports from students, and communicates with parents. He also recommends an Add-on called Forms Publisher, which allows him to do even more with Forms.
Voices & Resources That Inspire Aaron’s Professional Practice
Some incredible things happened in my 8th grade English classroom today.
I’ve been slowly making my way through Sparks in the Dark on my Kindle this year, and every time I return to this book I’m inspired to facilitate more authentic writing in my middle school classroom.
I mean, my students write every day. But how much of that writing is meaningful, passionate, or authentic? How much of it do they personally care about? I know I need to create more space for this kind of expression.