Education Blog Reviews: Livia Chan, Rachelle Dene Poth, and More

In this unique episode, education bloggers and writers were invited to share their blogs for a free and LIVE review. Many responded – so much so that it will take an additional one or two shows to finish this round of reviews. The collaborative learning was rich as host Tim Cavey analyzed 12 different education blogs for content, design, navigation, stickiness, and the About Page.

  • Content: What does your site offer?
  • Design: Is the site appealing and easily accessible?
  • Navigation: Is it easy to get around?
  • Stickiness: Is it easy to subscribe, connect, and follow?
  • The About Page: Does it properly represent the creator in Google-friendly language?

Blogs Featured in This Show

  • 1:13​ – EduCalc Learning by Nora Wall
  • 7:20​ – Chromebook Classroom by John Sowash
  • 13:57​ – Mike Washburn by Mike Washburn
  • 20:50​ – Diving Deep EDU by Matthew Downing
  • 28:58​ – Learning as I Go by Rachelle Dene Poth
  • 34:51​ – Livia Chan by Livia Chan
  • 41:01​ – Authenticity in EDU by Karen Caswell
  • 48:28​ – Nicole Biscotti by Nicole Biscotti
  • 54:55​ – Saved by the Beldin by Allie Beldin
  • 1:05:08​ – RockNTheBoat by Laura Ingalls Steinbrink
  • 1:12:43​ – He Gave Me A Melody by Melody McAllister
  • 1:18:24​ – Grow Creative Thinkers by Jason Blair

Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE

As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTubeFacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Twitch 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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Episode 142 – AnnMarie Thomas: Playing, Learning, and Making

Meet Dr. AnnMarie Thomas

DR. ANNMARIE THOMAS is the director of the Playful Learning Lab, creator of Squishy Circuits, author of Making Makers, co-founder of OK Go Sandbox (co-PI), and a professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas. Dr. AnnMarie has also given a number of TED Talks and was the 2020 recipient of the international LEGO prize.

Questions That Guided Our Conversation

3:34 – Let’s start off by digging a little deeper into your work at the Playful Learning Lab. What is your mission and vision there, and what does your work look like? 

7:36 – AnnMarie, in response to schools closed by COVID-19 in recent weeks, you recently co-created the The PlayLine Resource Guide, which provides play-based activity ideas and hosts supportive digital meet-ups for educators. Can you tell us more about the thinking behind this resource? Who is it aimed at, and what can educators expect to gain when they visit the site? 

13:15 – We also need to touch on your receipt of the $100,000 2020 Lego Prize for your work dealing with how children learn through play. How did you earn it? Tell us more about the work LEGO is doing in this regard.

16:40 – As you look across your professional learning network and your own practice, what else is setting you on fire about education and learning today?

19:19 – How are you looking to grow professionally and improve your practice next year? Can you share about a specific professional goal or project that you’re currently working on?

21:13 – Share about one personal habit or productivity hack that contributes to your success.

Voices That Spark AnnMarie’s Thinking and Ignite Her Practice

Connect with Dr. AnnMarie

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Song Track Credits

  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*
  • Species by Diamond Ortiz
  • *tracks courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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We Write for Life

The more reflective you are, the more effective you are. — Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Last year I read Sparks in the DarkLessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney.

Wow. What a powerful and inspiring book.

If you’re passionate about literacy, about promoting the place and pleasure of effective reading and writing in your classroom, I strongly recommend this title.

I said “in your classroom,” but one of the things that comes across so powerfully in Sparks in the Dark is the fact that literacy must be a lifestyle.

To be genuine, to be vibrant, to be contagious — reading and writing must spill out of our personal lives.

And this goes for all teachers — not just those who teach English Language Arts. As educators, as thinkers, as lead learners, we must model a life of constant reading and writing.

Literacy is Breathing

If we say that communication, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking are the core competencies at the foundation of today’s education, we must practice what we preach.

In an age of digital amusement and easy-everywhere distraction, we must show our learners what it looks like to mentally breathe. To stop, be still, and practice the acts of mental inhalation (reading) and exhalation (writing).

One of the most important reasons that we write is to know ourselves. As Don Murray says, “You write to discover what you want to say.

It sometimes feels like the act and art of self-reflection is a vanishing habit. But we must show our learners that these practices are essential aspects of living a healthy and productive life.

When Our Reading Lives Are Shallow, So is Our Teaching

Speaking especially to educators, Crowder and Nesloney write “We prioritize what we value, and when we do not value reading or learning, it shows. Our instruction is a mixture of what we have read, and when our reading lives are shallow, so is our teaching. It isn’t an insult; it’s the truth.”

We cannot be effective educators if we are not regularly reading and reflectively writing.

Becoming a Writer

To those who feel defeated by identity before they even start (“I’m not a writer”), James Clear describes his own evolution as a writer in his recent book, Atomic Habits.

You may not be a reader or writer today. But you can and will become one — one paragraph, one page, one article at a time.

So pick up a book. Grab a pen or sit down at the keyboard. Score some small wins, and begin the gradual process of redefining yourself.

Start breathing.

Because the more reflective you are, the more effective you are.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug
Image Credit: Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Episode 118 – Kristin Merrill

118 - Kristin Merrill

Meet Kristin Merrill

KRISTIN MERRILL is a fourth grade teacher in south Florida who specializes in language arts and strives to make lessons interactive and engaging through the use of educational technology. She teaches at a smaller elementary school with a diverse school community, where she’s affectionately referred to as “the Dinosaur of Fourth.” She recently co-authored The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom.

Questioning Her Vocation

Kristin recalls a time in her career when she found herself questioning much of what she was asked to do as a teacher. She decided to start making changes to her practice based specifically on what was good for students and their learning, but the changes weren’t always warmly received by colleagues. At times, she felt a sense of distance and isolation as she worked to reinvent herself, but she found strength and support in a growing PLN.

Today, she’s happy to report that as her network has grown and her influence has increased, she enjoys much more support and collegial relationships in her current context. One takeaway for other educators is that professional resistance to innovative practices tends to be a passing season; keep pushing through it and consistently grow your practice, and things will eventually get easier.

The Interactive Class

Writing The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom was never on her bucket list, Kristin says, but as she and her husband Joe shared their teaching ideas and strategies on social media, a friend encouraged them to publish a book. Kristin and her husband Joe are passionate about helping other educators build classrooms that are student-centered, fueled by the creativity and collaboration of students, and the book helps them share that message.

The Interactive Class is divided into two parts: first, the philosophy and rationale behind interactive teaching strategies, and second, the applications and best practices of interactive teaching and learning. Although Kristin and Joe come from primary classroom contexts, many of the lessons and strategies they describe could be applied at middle school grade levels or higher. 

On the Subject of Recess

When asked about whether recess should be used by teachers as a carrot or a stick, Kristin says that recess should be considered an essential part of childhood. There is so much that kids learn just through play and social interactions outside of the classroom, she observes, not to mention the processing and recharging time that recess allows young learners. Why would we ever want to take these times away from them?

What Else is Setting Kristin on 🔥 in Education Today

Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt is a kindergarten teacher who does a phenomenal job of building student inquiry, interest, and relevance into her learning activities. Kristin has been obsessed with her lately, following Rebecca on Instagram and taking notes from her latest projects. Recently, Rebecca built an impressive inquiry-based learning experience around pets, and Kristin is a big fan.

A Professional Goal: More Relevance

Motivated by Rebecca’s example, Kristin’s professional goal for the year is to make her teaching more relevant. This means more than just making sure her content and teaching strategies are as current as possible — she also wants to better understand what students view as meaningful. She plans to do this by looking for more ways to incorporate student voice, choice, and inquiry–even when that takes her into uncomfortable worlds like Fortnite! 

Personal Passions and Recharging Activities

“Education is my passion,” Kristin admits, explaining that professional learning really does energize and inspire her — even when she’s at home. Aside from education, she enjoys the simple things, and often those simple things relate to life with family. Whether it’s walking at the beach, exploring a nature trail, or sitting by the fire, it’s in the simple and quiet moments that she feels recharged and prepared for more creative work.

Personal Productivity: A Personal Planner

Social media doesn’t always portray an accurate picture of what life is like for educators, Kristin observes. We all have moments when we don’t have it all together and the tensions between personal and professional spheres make things a little chaotic. Her go-to tools include a personal planner that she maintains on paper, and she writes down every task, priority, and concern that she sees weeks or months away on the horizon.

It’s not to say that none of the plates ever fall, she says, but as long as she’s intentional about her most important priorities, she’s learned to give herself the grace she needs when the house doesn’t get cleaned perfectly or other ideals aren’t met.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Kristin’s Practice

Over on Twitter, Kristin recommends following Andy Knueven @MrCoachK15. He’s a master of Flipgrid, Minecraft, Wakelet, and a ton of other interactive learning approaches in fifth grade.

It’s just too painful to narrow her favorite edtech tools down to one, so Kristin shouts out three legendary creative apps: FlipGrid, DoInk, and Adobe Spark

Kristin has two book picks to share. The first is a children’s lit favorite: The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. The second is an education classic — The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck–101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers, by Ron Clark.

A favorite podcast that works with her limited time for listening is the Ditch That Textbook Podcast with Matt Miller. After taking a two-month break in the fall of 2019, Matt is back and publishing short episodes almost every day.

One of Kristin’s favorite YouTube channels is The Bucket List Family, a family that travels the world and documents their adventures.

When time allows her to enjoy some Netflix, Kristin’s tuning in to Grace and Frankie. She connects with their sense of humor!

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Kristin gives the best ways to follow her online. See below for details!

You can connect with Kristin …

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel!

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Episode 116 – Caitlin Krause

116 - Caitlin Krause3

Meet Caitlin Krause

CAITLIN KRAUSE is a learning and design specialist, education leader, keynote speaker, and an authority on VR, AR, and AI. She is also the author of Mindful by Design: A Practical Guide for Cultivating Aware, Advancing, and Authentic Learning Experiences.

In addition to experience as a computer programmer, Caitlin has taught and developed curriculum at K-12 schools in the United States, Belgium, and Switzerland. Today, she owns and operates her own company which allows her to facilitate meaningful learning experiences for learners around the world.

Caitlin is fascinated by the intersection of arts, collaboration, communication, relationships, and the newest applications of XR technology. Her learning and teaching is predicated on the idea that we learn and grow as whole human beings, and she resists the disciplinary walls and binaries that we often erect between subject areas in education.

Lessons Drawn From a Novel Failure

“Isn’t it great that we are not great at everything?” Caitlin asks rhetorically. “Life is not a simulation. It’s beautiful that we’re not in control.”

Caitlin recalls introducing a novel to a British literature class for juniors. It was a novel that resonated powerfully with her, and she was sure her students would connect with it. But it required a lot of deconstruction, it lacked a compelling love story, and no matter how much she wanted it to work, it became a serious struggle to work through it with this class.

Eventually, she worked through her own resistance to the situation and embraced the failure and necessary surrender that followed. It was a reminder that what is close to our own hearts may not be close to the hearts of our learners. We need to meet them where they are, and sometimes that means letting go of our treasures.

Teacher Wellness

Caitlin has created an online course for educators on the topics of mindfulness, SEL, and teacher wellbeing. Statistics tell us that many teachers struggle with anxiety and burnout, and we see many teachers leaving the profession after only a few years in the classroom.

We need to remember that humans are reactive beings, and the effects of being constantly on and emotionally available for days on end can be damaging in the long-term. Mindfulness is a practice that offers some powerful counter-effects to these emotional demands. Even though mindfulness can actually raise stress in the short-term as practitioners recognize sources of anxiety, over the long term it has been shown to decrease anxiety as we raise awareness and address sources of stress more proactively.

Mindfulness and self-awareness are powerful measures for learners, too, as they adopt simple practices of quiet reflection, intentional breathing, gratitude exercises, and other strategies for self-regulation. As anxiety comes down, opportunities for learning increase.

Mindful By Design

In 2019, Caitlin published Mindful by Design: A Practical Guide for Cultivating Aware, Advancing, and Authentic Learning Experiences (Corwin Press). Caitlin is an authority on AR and VR and anticipates a major shift in the adoption and application of these technologies in learning spaces throughout 2020. She sees them shaking up teaching, learning, storytelling, site exploration, and other immersive learning experiences. Although the applications are powerful and improving all the time, she also points out that the deep learning actually happens before and after students utilize these technologies.

Advances in Artificial Intelligence

We see AI technologies creeping into the learning environments more and more each year, and tools like Google’s Smart Compose, Google Home, or Apple Siri are making content more accessible for all learners. Artificial intelligence often conjures notions of sci fi and Ex Machina, but AI technologies are serving learning well and informing the improvement of a lot of applications. Caitlin shouts out John Carmack’s interview on the Joe Rogan Podcast and celebrates the amazing innovations he has led at Oculus.

Voice commands and operating capacity continue to improve across all devices, and Caitlin is fascinated by the research that MIT and other authorities are pioneering regarding the recognition of human emotion through facial expression and speech. The companies and institutions leading innovation in AI technologies require richer and more diverse data sets, she observes, noting that “You’re only as good as your data set.”

Making sure that a diversity of cultures, genders, and other factors are properly represented and included remains a central challenge, complicated in some contexts by privacy issues. There are obviously some important ethical questions to be asked and answered regarding how these companies and institutions source their data sets.

Relationships with Robots

Caitlin bears no ill will toward robots – in fact, her approach is much the opposite. “I think it’s good to be considerate to our robot friends,” Caitlin chuckles. “I kind of bristle when someone yells at Alexa.” Machine life and artificial intelligence is taking us into some interesting philosophical territory, particularly as we experiment with creative impulses for robots. Yes, a robot can write a piece of poetry or create a song, but does it have a soul? These are some of the essential conversations that must continue going forward.

Saving Room for Anomalies

Additionally, Caitlin notes that AI devices and technologies must always leave room for the element of surprise and irregularity. In other words, if AI algorithms learn our profiles so effectively that they can supply us with a steady stream of content tailored exclusively for expressed interests, passions, and familiar comforts, we actually reduce or eliminate our exposure to unusual content that has the power to provoke curiosity and inspire further learning. We already see that segregation at work in social media networks and news aggregators, and to lose further ground would be a significant loss to humanity.

“They say the brain learns the best when it has the element of surprise, when expected patterns are broken,”  Caitlin says. How much can we be surprised? This is a great question to ask ourselves as educators and lifelong learners.

What Else is Setting Caitlin on Fire in Education

The metaphor of being on fire is an apt one for Caitlin, and she takes a hopeful view of how voice and creativity and storytelling will continue to strengthen and add momentum to learning. Our fire is essentially the stuff that we find meaningful, she says, and it’s up to us to spread those ideas to others.

We’re all telling stories as educators, and it’s our place to invite listeners to enter into these stories and write their own heroic odysseys as they enter into unknown spaces and then tell their own tales. “It makes me really excited to be in worlds where not only can we lift each other up but we get to stay curious, stay connected, and create love over fear,” she says.

Professional Goals for 2020

Last year was the year of her book, Mindful by Design, and 2020 will be her year to spread her message, ideas, and mentorship. The book is applicable at so many levels, including education systems, leadership, teacher wellbeing, and classroom practices, and she wants to continue to develop online supports for those who wish to integrate these values and strategies into their own unique contexts.

She also wants to continue to build SEL training through immersive VR experiences and AR applications. It’s a fascinating area that requires further development but offers tremendous promise for the future. Will we see a day when groups of educators can connect in virtual environments to practice breathing and mindfulness exercises together? Perhaps that day has already arrived.

Other Personal Passions

“I’m a very human, curious learner,” Caitlin says, “and anything involving photography really excites me.” She’s enjoyed cameras since childhood, and treasures the activity of photography as a mindfulness tool. She also comes alive during opportunities to run outside, especially trails that wind their way through picturesque settings through the woods or along the ocean. Last but not least, Caitlin loves consuming and learning about chocolate from European countries and around the world – so much that she’s even tempted to write about it some day in the future.

Productivity Hacks and Philosophy

One of Caitlin’s favorite productivity hacks is to break simple numerical goals into smaller pieces. For example, instead of aiming for 20 full push-ups, she sets a goal of 40 half push-ups, which gives her a greater sense of momentum and optimism about achieving the target.

She also avoids goals or resolutions of deprivation, choosing instead to always frame her actions in a positive light. “Being productive means realizing that we are not our worst enemy, so be kind and gentle to yourself,” she encourages.

Finding ways to gamify our goals – even simple routines or chores like cleaning – can add joy and pleasure to ordinary exercises of productivity. She shouts out Lisa Johnson’s book, Creatively Productive, as a convincing argument that productivity doesn’t have to look like grueling deprivation or robotic behaviors.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Her Practice

Over on Twitter, Caitlin recommends following Kent Bye @KentBye: historian, philosopher, and host of the Voices of VR podcast. She also shouts out the New Hampshire’s Poet Laureate, Alexandria Peary @WriteMindfully, someone who’s done some interesting work around the effective use of mindfulness to break through writer’s block.

One edtech company that Caitlin has her eye on is Engage, which is doing some innovative work to support learning experiences in VR environments. Another company called 3D Bear is pioneering some exciting AR technologies as well. Consider following both industry leaders on Twitter @3DBearOfficial and @VReducation.

Two books that have impacted Caitlin’s thinking recently are There There by Tommy Orange and Get Weird: Discover the Surprising Secret to Making a Difference by CJ Casciotta.

Caitlin does enjoy podcasts, and she’s especially a fan of the big ones: RadiolabThis American Life, and The Moth. Any content that includes a mix of storytelling and technology will tend to hold her attention.

On YouTube, Caitlin makes a shameless plug for her own channel where she plans to post more creative work in 2020.

When she’s feeling relaxed and ready for some pleasure viewing, Caitlin is streaming Mr. RobotThe Good Place, and The Watchmen on Netflix and Amazon.

Before we sign off on this conversation, Caitlin shares some beautiful poetry pieces. Make sure you’re in a relaxed setting and enjoy.

To connect with Caitlin and learn more about what she’s all about, make sure to check the links below.

Connect with Caitlin:

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Song Track Credits

Listen on YouTube and subscribe to the Teachers on Fire channel!

*This page contains Amazon affiliate links.