Do you attend Khan Academy?

As you may recall from his TedTalk, “Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education” Salman Khan started Khan Academy after he got the idea from frequently Skyping with his cousins and subsequently creating videos on YouTube to help them with their math homework. The video lessons caught on and now Khan Academy has its own website and app.

What is Khan Academy?
According to their website, “Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom.”

What subjects does Khan Academy offer?

  • Math
  • Science
  • Economics & finance
  • Arts & humanities
  • Computing
  • Test Prep (SAT, MCAT, GMAT, IIT JEE, NCLEX-RN, CAHSEE, AP* Art History

As you can see, the subjects are focused on STEM. The “arts & humanities” sections are mostly art and some history; there is no English or writing at all. This is disappointing to an English teacher like myself, but I hope those modules are in development (or will be soon).

Who is Khan Academy for?
Everyone! Students, teachers, parents, and anyone else who wants to learn. Need to refresh a concept for a meeting? Khan Academy! Need to relearn elementary math to help your kid with homework? Khan Academy! Want to brush up on your history so you can sound knowledgeable on a date? Khan Academy! Want to study coding? Khan Academy! (Are you getting the pattern here? Good!)

Do I have to pay for Khan Academy?
No, it’s free! Forever. It’s a promise on their homepage. “For free. For everyone. Forever.”

Do I need a username/password to use Khan Academy?
Nope! You can log in to track progress, save content, etc., but it is not essential to log in to watch a video.

Are the videos hard to follow?
Some of the more advanced math may be difficult if you’re skipping around; however, in a general sense, no the videos are easy to understand and follow. There are two ways to learn in the video: visual and audio. The speaker walks the person through the topic with a drawing and audio information. Additionally, there is a transcript to follow if you want to skim through and find something specific.

Can you embed videos into your own website?
Yes! Click on a video and beneath it you’ll see a “Share” button. There is an option for embed. Paste the code into your site/blog and the result will have a heading and look like this…….

Adding fractions with like denominators: With like denominators, you’re basically just adding numerators. That’s not too bad, right? Can the resulting fraction be simplified?

Wave Interference:

Good Eats: Teaching the Next Generation How to Cook

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday vacation. I spent a lot of time with family and friends relaxing and eating delicious food.

Speaking of food, I spent hours watching DVRed episodes of Good Eats. It stars Alton Brown and was on both the Food Network and the Cooking Channel. It is very entertaining (not to mention educational!) to watch. Alton Brown describes it best as a combination of “Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, and Monty Python” (Wikipedia).

Each episode focuses on a food and several methods and recipes to prepare it. However, the show isn’t just simply Alton Brown standing up there adding ingredients and whisking them together. Good Eats brings in the science of cooking with supersized props, field trips, 30 second lectures, and demonstrations. There are a multitude of actors in the shows, but those aren’t just hired actors, they are the production crew for the show. In fact, over the 16 season production run, every single person (with the exception of DeAnna, Alton’s wife) has appeared on camera in some form, whether it is a hand puppet, a supersized onion, a “family” member, or the Dungeon Master.

There are so many recipes that trying to remember it all can be confusing. There are now 3 books with recipes, techniques, and pictures from the set. Good Eats: The Early YearsGood Eats: The Middle Years (with bonus DVD), and Good Eats: The Later Years all can be bought at B&N or Amazon.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the DVDs available for purchase on Amazon. There have been some old editions that have popped up here and there, but the prices are astronomical. Thus, I have been DVRing as many episodes as I can. I don’t know how well that will work in a classroom environment. However, there is a beacon of light!

Recently, Netflix added 39 episodes of Good Eats to its collection, titled Good Eats: The Collection. It seems Food Network and HGTV did the collection thing with a bunch of their hit TV shows at the start of December 2014. But, as some of you may know, how long they will be available on Netflix is a mystery. I hope they add more soon!

But what if you don’t have Netflix? No worries, you can purchase individual episodes for $1.99 from Amazon (sadly, even prime members must pay!) A cursory glance through the seasons on Amazon appears that all episodes are available for purchase.

Here are a few scenes different episodes from Good Eats! To change the episode, click on the “playlist” button.


What Do Teacher’s Make?

Read more on Taylor Mali’s humor, philosophies, and teaching lessons in his book, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, available on Amazon in paperback, hardcover, Kindle edition, and audiobook.  He also has several other books on Amazon as well.

Ted Talk: “The Danger of a Single Story”

“Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

This Ted Talk can be found here:

Flocabulary: Educational Hip-Hop

Getting students to writing poetry in class is torturous.  Most students don’t seem like to poetry…except for the fact that frequently it is shorter than prose.

But song lyrics!  Students LOVE music.  I can’t seem to get them to get those ear buds out of their ears.  Poetry and song lyrics are rather similar in terms of objectives teachers seek to have students learn and practice, but the latter is a much more desirable medium.

Flocabuary is a website that “presents academic content in a highly-engaging, contemporary format.”  It has hip hop songs about language arts, vocabulary, social studies, science, and math.  Videos are tailored for students of all grades, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  All videos come with downloadable PDFs of the song lyrics.  Lyrics also appear on the video website page (no downloading required).

Want to ask students challenging questions without spending hours of your own time watching and re-watching the video to write them?  Flocabulary already has several questions written for class discussion.  Content great for classrooms because it is aligned with the Common Core, especially with English/Language Arts and math.

It is a paid service, for the most part.  There are pricing plans for classrooms, schools, districts, home, after school, and virtual school.  Some content is available for purchase on CDs and DVDs.  However, there are a few videos available for free.  There is also a free trial available for 14 days.

Bonus: the website has a “classroom view” which turns off ads and distracting navigation menus.

I used the Pit and the Pendulum rap as a lead-in for students to write song lyrics about several of the Edgar Allan Poe stories we had been reading.  I was looking for a way for students to utilize several literary terms in a way that was more appealing than poetry.  It was definitely a hit!  Students took to the challenge by making spoofs of popular songs, adding more literary terms and length than I required, and surprising me with their creativity.


One assignment for my research methods graduate class required me to use the technology/website VoiceThread to reflect upon a well-remembered event prior to our current teaching practice.  I reflected upon my experience of a lockdown drill.

VoiceThread is a great technology that allows a user to upload a video, PowerPoint, or most media files and add audio to it, then other users can comment on the video using audio, video, or text.  Audio comments can be uploaded using a phone or a computer microphone.  Additionally, a commenter can pause the video while still continuing to speak and use a pencil tool with multiple colors to draw attention to an element in the video.

From their website:

Voice Threading:

  1. to communicate ideas using more than one of the senses
  2. to connect with an audience in an authentic and simple manner
  3. a discussion that simulates a live presence

It has great applications for K-12, higher education, and business.  VoiceThread would be a great tool to use for a Flipped Classroom or an online class.  There even an app for the iPad that will allow you to create and edit your VoiceThreads.  VoiceThreads can be embedded using an object code (see below) to websites, linked to on VoiceThread’s servers, and sent in an email.  VoiceThread will even post directly to your Facebook or Twitter account if you give it permission to do so.

However there is a major drawback.  It’s a bit costly.  The single K-12 educator license is $79/year.  Have more than one teacher using it at one school?  You can purchase a school license, which starts at $450/year.  Some features cost more while there are discounts for number of users.  However, if you are not affiliated with a school, individual plans start at $20/month.  There are discounts for teams and companies.

So why is price such a big drawback?  There is a free account, but it is so limiting that it essentially allows you to try it out once or twice and then you have to make a decision to purchase a license or not.  Commenting is always free, but uploading your videos will cost you.  Also, the free account limits you to 25MB per upload, which can be a bit difficult if you have a longer video.  While using my free account, the iPad app seemed a bit restricting as well.  I could not use the microphone on my iPad to record audio over a video that I uploaded using my laptop.  Lastly, the free account restricts a user to only 5 video uploads and does not allow you to delete any video.  Thus, you really need to record video using another program and then upload it once it is completely done, if you want to capitalize on the restricted 5 uploads.

Overall: I really like VoiceThread.  I think it would be excellent with a paid account, but the price point is a bit difficult for me as this is a technology that can only be used with itself (you can’t really use it to add an audio comment to a YouTube video; you can only use VoiceThread commenting on VoiceThread videos).

Below I have embedded the VoiceThread I made for my assignment (direct link here).  This specific video was created by first making a PowerPoint presentation, which I then published to video in order to preserve fonts, transitions, and set slide advancement times.  Then, I uploaded the video to VoiceThread.  While I could upload the .ppx file, VoiceThread could not read the fonts, even after I embedded them into the file.  Thus, this video is actually number 3 of my 5 allotted VoiceThreads.  Once uploaded, I then had to use an external microphone to record my voice because I could not get my laptop microphone to work nor could I use my iPad.

Feel free to comment on the video using VoiceThread or in the comments section on this blog entry.

“Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”

A few weeks ago I saw a video on Facebook titled “Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”.  It was posted on June 15 by Aliēnātus: the truth is out there.  The goal was to open people’s minds to what was in the Common Core curriculum and that the curriculum is horrible because it “indoctrinates” students starting in the 1st grade.  According to the commentators in the video, the book(s) shown have been approved by the state of Utah.

I was outraged, but not by the curriculum, rather by the ignorance of the commentators in the video and by the comments on the video.  It still outrages me, thus, I have decided to embedded the video and share my thoughts.

My Issues with Statements Made in This Video

The commentators have no authority on the subject matter.  The commentators who are evaluating the curriculum have no stated background in teaching, curriculum planning/design, or education.  One commentator claims he has a 6-year-old (1st grader).  This does NOT make him an expert on what is taught or should be taught but isn’t being taught in the 1st grade.  It is apparent that he has not seen the entire K-12 system as a whole, its successes and its failures, from the standpoint of an educator.  He is a parent.  He may be an expert on the interests of his child, but that does not translate into the expertise of the educational goals for that grade.

The commentators’ narrow focus on the title, “Literature and Writing” ignores the benefits of working with content in different contexts.  Since the commentators are not well-versed in educational issues, they do not understand that one of the major problems of the American school system is that we pulled apart our content and put each one into different boxes called grade level and subject matter from which we were told to never deviate into another subject or grade level.  In other words, the 1st grade English teacher taught 1st grade English, which included reading, spelling, writing, and literature.  Students were not taught reading in 2nd grade science class because “that’s the 1st grade English teacher’s job.”  We now know this chunking to be very problematic and the term “cross-curricular” has entered the educational vocabulary.  Encouraging students to write about advocacy in a “literature and writing” class highlights that you don’t just write papers in an English class and talk about society in social studies, you can mix them!

It’s also important to note that writing is not just about the motor skills of writing letters and sentence structure.  Why should we waste students’ precious time writing about insignificant things like, “The sky is blue.  I like puppies,” when they are capable of so much more?  Many students have already grasped these basic verbal concepts by the 1st grade, thus, we are wasting their time by re-teaching the same concept with only adding the motor skill of writing.  We end up hindering the grow of their mental skills; and when their brain isn’t stimulated, students get bored, which can directly lead to learning, “nothing” all day and hating school.

The commentators project their adult understanding and definition of “advocacy” and cannot fathom that a 6-year-old can advocate for anything.  The concept of “advocacy” can be complicated or boiled down to a very simple basic element: standing up for what you think is right.  Isn’t that the exact same message behind the anti-bullying campaigns in elementary schools right now?  The commentators laugh and one says sarcastically, “Yeah, my six-year-old does that all the time.  She looks at what is wrong in the world and says how do I organize my people and my community to fix these social problems?”  By six years old, kids are able to identify things that are right and wrong as well as come up with ideas on how to change the status quo.  Why tell a six-year-old, “no, you’re only six, you have nothing positive to contribute to your family/house, neighborhood, your school, or your city”?  We’re not talking about six-year-olds organizing and starting a national revolution, but they can see that there are people who are starving and that creating a community garden and donating the food to a local food bank can help.  It’s also fathomable that 1st graders could organize a school-wide blanket drive to donate blankets to the American Red Cross for the upcoming winter.

The commentators ignore the intended audience of the curriculum guidebook that they mock.  The guidebook is written for a college-educated educator.  The voice and style of the paragraphs is written such that it will not be an insult to the intelligence of an elementary school teacher.  The educator is able to translate the broad concept of “call to action” into simpler words that each individual student will understand.  The concept of “call to action” really isn’t difficult to understand at all.  A six-year old definitely understands, “the sentence that says ‘I want you to clean your room.’ is a call to action because ‘clean’ is a verb, and a verb is an action, right?”  Why are we insulting the intelligence of six-year-olds?  If they are capable of understanding the concept, willing to learn it, and desiring more out of their education, then we should be teaching them.  It is the role of an educated, effective teacher to translate concepts from complex to simple.  Teacher guidebooks are written for the teacher, not the student.

The commentators have ignored the basic principles of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.  Logos ethos, and pathos are Greek words that used to describe the three types of appeal that are used to convince people in an argument.  They are essentially logical appeal, credibility appeal, and emotional appeal.  These are very complex subjects that are repeatedly studied throughout middle school, high school, and college.  However, the commentators do not understand that the fundamental understanding of these complex concepts must begin early.  Since the commentators do not seem to have an education background, they have not experienced the problems that occur later when this ground work is not laid.  An effective elementary teacher is able to teach a very basic understanding of these concepts.

The commentators have ignored the value of recognizing how someone is manipulating you in favor of focusing on the fact that we are equipping 1st graders with tools to manipulate.  A six-year-old has already experienced manipulation using all three types of appeal: in video and/or print advertisements, in overhearing an argument between their parents or other adults, or by engaging in an argument themselves.  It is imperative that students begin to understand how peer pressure works (usually a combination of all three, but typically lots of logical and emotional appeal) and how to avoid failing prey to it.

The commentators take issue with the example of arguing with their parents.  My gut instinct is that the reason parents were chosen is that they were looking for an authority figure that a child may feel comfortable arguing with, and it’s pretty safe to assume that each child has at least one parent (or guardian).  But I think the bigger problem is if you are worried that we are teaching six-year-olds how to argue back to their parents instead of simply obeying and doing as their told without incident…perhaps you need to re-evaluate your parenting style.  I mean..if you can be outsmarted or outargued by a six-year-old…then you probably have not taught your kids WHY you want them to do something, which is just as important as the WHAT.  Why don’t we want to equip our children as early as we can with the weapon of words instead of the weapon of fists?  Why do we want to enforce blind obedience, but then wonder why kids aren’t thinking for themselves?

The commentators fall victim to the exact “problems” they criticize in the teacher’s guidebook.  The commentators emphasize and pause on certain words to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.  They are trying to convince the viewers that this guidebook is indoctrinating students by using their “authority” as a parent of a six year old, emphasizing emotional words, and trying to insert sarcastic commentary as part of their emotional appeal.  The end goal of this video was not to objectively review the Common Core approved, curriculum guidebook for 1st grade in the state of Utah, but it was to stir up emotions and fuel rage-filled comments.

Flipped Learning: How Does It Work? Where Did It Originate?

I really like the idea of a flipped classroom.  I think it promotes the “teacher is a coach, not a preacher” idea and enables students to learn at their own rate. Recent technological advances in screencasting, and videos in general, allow teachers to create material and students to do their learning in a comfortable location and as often as necessary in order to fully understand the concept.

I cannot count the number of times when I was in school when the teacher moved on to the next section of the lecture because “we were running out of time” but I was not finished writing my notes.  Forget even trying to color code using different pens or highlighters, I could barely keep up with scribbling what was written on the board (eventually, the PowerPoint) in a legible manner.  If I didn’t finish the section?  Too bad, the sentence was left incomplete.  The majority of the class had and we needed to move along or else students would get bored and chaos would ensue.  I’ve tried using my laptop to keep notes, but most teachers actually banned the use of laptops in class because students weren’t really taking notes–they were playing games or chatting on AIM (different devices, same issues nowadays!).  The most frustrating thing was if the teacher “jumped back a minute” because he forgot to say something, but there was no room to insert into my notebook without writing tiny in the margins and not really doing me any good.

Flipped learning solves all of these problems. A student can pause a video to finish writing notes, to go use the restroom, to grab a snack, to take a nap, or whatever life throws in our way.  A student can replay any part of the lecture if he/she didn’t understand something (or missed it).  Some students who already know the information can skip segments that they do not need, or play the video with their parent sitting next to them so a parent can see what the student is learning and perhaps be able to help with homework.

So how does the flipped learning system really work?  How does the student benefit?

Check out this graphic:

Flipped Learning CycleSource: via

A flipped classroom still has students and educators responsible for education; however, the cycle begins and ends with the educator with the student’s responsibilities sandwiched in between.  The cycle begins in the lower right quadrant.  It begins with the “what” and educator-suggested content.  Then the cycle moves clockwise to learner-generated, the “so what” content.  Once the student has made the connections, the cycle moves to “now what” and the demonstration of the content.  Learning does not end with simply demonstrating content, learning continues on to experience what you have learned by engaging with others who are currently utilizing the content in their professional lives.  These experiences should be educator suggested, or perhaps even educator orchestrated, to give students the chance to have experiences that students may not even know exist at the moment.

Where does the term “flipped classroom” come from?

The concept is not that new.  The coined term is recent; many people attribute it to high school chemistry teachers, Bergmann and Sams (2012).  Interestingly, the two do not claim to have invented the idea of a flipped classroom.  So if not them…then who?

Julie Schell traces the use of the term and the idea itself in her blog entry, “Use of the term Flipped Classroom” on her blog Turn to Your Neighbor: The Official Peer Instruction Blog.  She mentions that though it is a stretch, the idea of a “flipped” classroom can be traced all the way back to Socrates because he, “emphasized the necessity of active dialogue.”  The possibility of the idea of a flipped classroom relating all the way back to Socrates has been mentioned on a few sites that I’ve read while doing my own informal research.

Of course, Socrates didn’t use screencasting and videos to teach his students, but he emphasized to his students that they are partially responsible for their own learning.  They must go out and attend lectures, attend festivals, and talk to everyone they could about anything.  Socrates did not tell his students that they need to come every day ONLY to listen to him talk about the wealth of knowledge that he has accumulated over a lifetime.  He told them to go and experience life, then come back and we will talk.   Again, it’s a bit of a stretch, but the principles of a flipped classroom and of Socrates are one in the same.