Use AnswerGarden To Grow Your Class

As you’ve heard me discuss before, our school has recently initiated a One to One program.  The idea is that every student has a laptop on loan to them by the district.  They are expected to bring this laptop to every class and to take it home with them every night.

Personally, I love it.  So far it’s gone wonderfully and is exceeding my expectations.

One activity I really like to initiate with the students is real-time word clouds.  They get to plug in a word or phrase and the word appears in a bubble.  The more the word is repeated, the larger it becomes within the bubble.

I wanted my students to visit our class’ “Recommended Readings” page, click on titles that sounded interesting, explore those titles further, then list the final three choices in a world cloud.  I hoped they’d get to see the word cloud formulate in real time while noting what books looked good to their peers.

But, of course, I know that all classes have a few comedians, so I also wanted to retain the ability to remove any irrelevant additions to the word cloud.  After a little bit of research, I settled on AnswerGarden.  (Full disclosure: I was one of those “class comedians” and still am, even as the teacher.)

AnswerGarden does not require students to log in, it can be used by a simple link you give to the students, and it allows the teacher a great deal of editorial abilities.  No, it cannot tell you who exactly posted what, but it does allow you to remove anything you want in real time as soon as any malicious material appears.

I tried it out yesterday and it worked perfectly.  In fact, here’s the word cloud of books my students were most interested in reading …


(Note: they added a few not actually suggested, but that’s okay.  And yes, I totally recommend Fight Club.  Great book.)

If you’re looking for a simple way for students to experience real time word cloud building, I recommend AnswerGarden.  You will need to open an account to access the editorial control, but it is completely free with no strings attached.



5 Items I Need To Remember When Meeting My Freshmen For The First Time Tomorrow

  • These are people’s children – treat them as I expect my own to be treated
  • I could be the only positive male role model they encounter – act accordingly
  • Everyone learns at different speeds and in different ways
  • Some of these kids are dealing with things I can’t even fathom – keep an open mind and a kind heart
  • No matter what, I have to remember I’m the grown up (even though it’s sometime’s really hard)


*Find me on @ScottWFoley

A Safer Way To Show Video Content In the Classroom

If you’re like me, there are times when  YouTube proved vital in showing necessary video content in the classroom.  Frankly, though, there have been times when the video in question ended and something inappropriate appeared in the little thumbnail previews they offer pertaining to other content.  I would close it down typically before any students noticed, but it still agitated me that this could be an ongoing problem.

We all use video in nearly every aspect of our lives.  Want to see the hot new trailer for a cool movie coming out?  Go to YouTube.  Want to know how to bake chicken ?  Go to YouTube.  Want a refresher on how to raise your kid’s handlebars?  Go to YouTube.  I love that when studying literature, we can now watch video content that relates to topics introduced by the novel.  I love that my students can go and watch interviews of contemporary authors.

But with my school’s students going One-To-One and each having their own laptop, that ever-present inappropriate preview may prove too tempting for some.  Yet, I want them moving at their own pace through modules and links.  The Internet is fertile with information and provides limitless learning opportunities, but I need a way to make sure students ONLY see the content I intend when I post video links.

That’s where SafeShare.TV comes into play.  I happened across this site when researching resources for the blended classroom.  The idea is that you take a link to any video anywhere on YouTube, run it through their site, and they eliminate advertising and get rid of those distracting buttons everywhere that you tend to see on YouTube.  Is it 100% effective?  No, but any extra level of protection makes me feel better when linking to online video.

You can visit SafeShare.TV by clicking HERE.  Be sure to then click on the FAQ link to learn how it works and how it can bolster your teaching.

I’ve also provided a quick video I made with YouTube then filtered through SafeShare.TV.  You can view the origional YouTube version by clicking the below link …

You can now view the same video through the SafeShare.TV filter …

Unfortunately, SafeShare.TV does not yet provide the opportunity to embed video within a post.

I hope you found this information useful and feel free to offer feedback in the comments.



Do You Have a Child In Elementary School? I Have a Request.

I make this request every year, so prepare yourself because I’m about to sound super pretentious, which is way more more than my usual pretentious …

It’s around this time of year that I notice, online, the parents of elementary students discussing teachers they hope their child will get.  Now, I won’t pretend to lie to you — my wife and I have definite opinions about who we hope our children will get, too.

Here’s the thing: I’m a teacher and I’m married to a teacher. We can tell you it hurts when there’s a chance we can have someone’s child and they say they hope their child gets someone else.  Of course, the parent may not mean anything malicious by it, but it’s still hard not to take it personally.

But it can actually get worse.  When a parent’s child gets a particular teacher and publicly states they wish they’d gotten a different teacher — yikes.  That can open a wound that stays fresh all year long. I know teachers are supposed to be above such reproach, but we’re only human.

Anytime something is said on Facebook, Twitter, etc., there is always the potential for it to get back to the teacher in question.

Do I blame you if you’re upset about getting a teacher you didn’t want your child to have?  Absolutely not!  We all have opinions about such things.  I’m just asking that you keep it off social media.  The Internet is already such a breeding ground for misinterpretations and misunderstandings, no need to add to the mix, right?

So, as a teacher, I’m asking you, the parent, to help set the tone for a great new school year.  Even if you don’t like the teacher your child gets, let’s avoid publicly stating you wish you’d gotten someone else.  It will save everyone hurt feelings and lingering resentment.

Okay, I’m switching off “super pretentious” and now going back to “regular pretentious.”  Thanks for reading.

The Importance Of Appearing Positive When Returning To the Classroom At Summer’s End

Teaching is a tough job.  We are part manager, part philosopher, part parent, part mentor, part babysitter, part drill-sergeant, part psychologist, oh, and I think we actually educate somewhere amidst all that.  When summer rolls around, most of us need that time to regain our sanity, recharge our batteries, and reacquaint with our own families.

The job is absolutely relentless.  If you’re doing it right, there are very few “breaks” during the day, virtually no downtime, and you are assessing and making decisions on a nearly constant basis throughout the entire workday and typically even after it ends.  Furthermore, most of these decisions have a significant impact upon a young person and are not to be taken lightly.  It’s no wonder I come home almost every day with a splitting headache.  We have no bonuses, no real raises, no stock options, and, if we want to stay in the classroom, very little opportunity for career advancement.

On the other hand, though, teaching affords one the opportunity to truly affect the future, to positively influence hundreds (even thousands) of human lives, to change society, and to experience tremendous personal satisfaction.  A teacher is never bored, always remembered, and largely autonomous.  We’re paid more than many, not as much as some, and typically enjoy satisfactory health benefits (excluding dental and vision, but alas …).

Oh, and let’s not forget the vacation time.

We have excellent vacation time. There is simply no arguing that matter.  I’ve heard many complain that we have too much vacation time, to which I typically respond by encouraging the complainer to go back to school, earn an education degree, and enjoy that same vacation time.  They rarely seem enthusiastic to do so.

For me, teaching is so psychologically and emotionally draining that I need the vacation time to stay sharp, enthusiastic, and able to perform the job well.

But to my fellow teachers, let’s be honest — nobody wants to hear us talk about being sad or bummed to return to work.

Now, when teachers do this, I totally understand.  It’s not that they don’t want to teach again, it’s not that they aren’t excited to see their students and set to work forging the future, it’s not that they don’t want to earn a living.  Rather, it’s that they don’t want to get back on the lock-step schedule, the chaotic unending cycle of creating, grading, and assessing, the inability to ever truly relax.

Most teachers love teaching.  So when they complain about returning to work, they are really lamenting spending less time with their own family, losing a liberal amount of freedom in their schedules, and putting an end to ample traveling and personal pursuits.

But here’s the problem — the public at large do not take such considerations into account, nor should they.  When they hear a teacher complain about going back to work in August, we should not expect them to take that statement beyond face value.  So the issue is that we have the public, many of whom are parents, who believe that teachers don’t want to be in front of the kids.  Of course, this sets the wrong tone for the start of the school year, even if it’s not what’s truly in our hearts.

As teachers, we are always watching, assessing, judging, and criticizing.  However, we are also always being watched, assessed, judged, and criticized.  It’s important to remember that a simple off-hand joke could be repeated by a talkative pal, a tweet could become a trend, and a Facebook post can always be shared.

In 2010, I decided I was going to fight hard to always stay positive at work.  I’d spent several years going way too far the other direction, and it had real adverse implications on my mindset, my health, even my job performance.  They say you are what you eat; I believe you are also what you think.  So, six years ago, I told myself I wanted to be a force for good.  Hokey, I know, but true.  I wanted to try to stay positive — for myself, for my own children, my wife, my coworkers, my administrators, and for my students.  It made a tremendous difference in all aspects of my life.

There’s an old saying that goes “Fake it until you make it.”  There were many, many days I had to fake it.  Even to this day, there are times that negative version of myself creeps back in — none of us are perfect.  But overall I try to stay positive.  Life isn’t perfect, the job isn’t perfect, but honestly, I’ve got a lot to be happy about.  A lot.

Am I happy about going back to work?  Absolutely.  Would I tell you if I wasn’t?  Absolutely not.  We are teachers, we are role models, we set the tone.  If we don’t act excited and happy to be at school, how can we expect our students to?  Actions always speak louder than words with kids, so we’ve got to model what we expect.  Should we sing songs and do cartwheels?  Of course not, but a simple smile and a pleasant demeanor can go a long way with students, and adults, for that matter.

So, to my fellow educators, I’m encouraging you to act positive about going back to work.  Tell your friends you’re happy to get back to it.  Share with our students’ parents how glad you are to teach their children.  Let any students you bump into know that you can’t wait to see them.  Set the tone.  Model expectations.  Be the teacher you would like your own children to have.  If necessary, fake it until you make it.

Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker – A Book Review

Blended (subtitled Using Disruptive Innovation To Improve Schools) entered my world when a representative from Edmentum recommended to my staff that we read it before going one-to-one.

It’s important I provide some background before reviewing this book.  My workplace, where I teach English, is rolling out a new initiative this August in which every single student will be given a laptop to use both at school and at home.  I’ve been teaching since the year 2000, and I’ve been teaching predominately using traditional textbook methods and using mostly whole group instruction.  One-to-one is an incredibly exciting adventure, and I’m very glad to finally reflect the society in which we live, but I’d be lying if I pretended to have any idea where to start with a classroom fully utilizing laptops.

That’s where Blended has been so incredibly helpful.  This book takes a big picture approach to how to utilize blended learning not only in the classroom, but as a school, as a district, even as a culture.  It offers several different models of technology in the school, and it explains which model is probably best suited to your current situation.  It goes into great detail as to why blended learning is vital to the student, and it especially stressed the importance of most student populations having face-to-face time with teachers.  Any teacher fearful of technology replacing them will feel greatly heartened after reading Blended.  It truly values the importance of professional educators working with children and young adults.

I also appreciated that it explained basic terminology, offered some useful websites to help you get started, and provided several anecdotes in each chapter offering real-world examples to illustrate points being made.

This book proved extremely effective at helping me wrap my head around one-to-one, it taught me several different methods I could employ in my own classroom, and it encouraged a positive attitude about technology in the classroom which will help contribute to a productive culture in my workplace.  Best of all?  It straight out tells you that it will not be an easy process and it will take time to find a comfortable method specific to your school and population, but it also explains how to go into blended learning purposefully and strategically.

Though it gets slightly repetitive near the end, I urge you to read this book if you have any questions about one-to-one or blended learning.  Personally, I would consider Blended required reading for any teacher about to embark upon technology in the classroom.

My Tentative Technology Plan Concerning the First Week Of One-To-One

I am so very excited for our school to go One-To-One this August.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that every student in the school will be given a laptop to use during the school day and to take home.  I’m reading a book called Blended in preparation for this new initiative, and it’s really opening my mind to what a great opportunity this is for students and teachers alike.

I won’t go in-depth about the book as yet, but it’s generally stating the importance of students having somewhere to go (the school), having face-to-face time with a professional adult (the teacher), and having the chance to learn in a personalized fashion that also allows them to move at a comfortable pace.  Thankfully, the whole-group factory model of teaching is now a thing of the past and we can start individualizing education.

How is this possible, you ask?  Our school is using an Edmentum educational software tool called Plato Courseware.  As you know, I’ve written about my limited experience with this software, but so far — I like it!  Of course, I know until I’ve got students in the room I won’t fully grasp my feelings concerning it, but at this point I like the content it provides, the format it uses, and the pace at which it progresses.  Best of all?  You can edit it completely to make it fit your needs.

However, Edmentum won’t be the final answer in my classroom.  I plan to also utilize several different web services including Turn It In and even the Khan Academy.  And that’s just scratching the surface.

So, as I see it, my primary concern at the moment is where do I send my students to start, how do I keep all of this organized, and how do I help my students navigate the various websites and online tools we plan to utilize?

The answer has literally been at my fingertips for over ten years — WordPress.

I’ve spent a decade maintaining a website to promote my fiction, share book and movie reviews, and generally talk about whatever struck my fancy.  I’ve utilized it both as a blog, but there were moments I treated it as a static webpage.

As I ran through all the things I want to achieve, I realized that I’d done it all through my own website.  I know what you’re thinking.  “But, Scott, your website isn’t called WordPress!”  It’s not, but that’s because WordPress allows me to buy a domain name and call it whatever I want.  If you don’t want to buy a domain name, you can still name it whatever you want, but you’ll have “” at the end of it.

So, here’s the plan. I already have a totally free classroom website set up through WordPress called “”  (Check it out if you want, but keep in mind it’s in the middle of a makeover pertaining to this article.)  In the past, I treated it as a place students could go to basically download Word documents from class or to find links to any audio or visual things we covered.  I used it as a static webpage, meaning it really didn’t change from day to day.

Here’s where things get fun.  WordPress allows you to treat it as a daily blog, instead.  That means every time you post something, it shows up at the top of the webpage and it is specific to the date you posted it.

WordPress also allows you link to anything on the web (as you’ve noticed from this writing), it lets you download basically any MS Office tool, you can embed video or audio, you can post polls — you can do a lot.  Probably more than you would expect.

Also, when you post something, you can assign it a category.  This writing, for example, has been designated part of my “Gladly I Learn and Teach” category.  If you wanted to click on that category alone, you would only see those articles belonging to “Gladly I Learn and Teach,” but you would see every article I’ve ever written for that category.  Consequently, if you posted something and used the category “Freshman English,” your freshmen could click on that category and go back indefinitely to anything you ever posted.

I also like that WordPress allows you to post a calendar that will always appear on any update you post.  (You can see it on the lower left of this screen if you scroll down far enough.)  For any dates on which you post, that date will be highlighted.  If you click on that date, it will take you to that day and show you anything posted that day.  Imagine a student is absent.  They can click on the date they missed and see everything you did that day.  Not only that, but if your site is interactive, they can make up the work from home on their One-To-One laptop!

So, my tentative plan is that I will send the students to our class website at the start of every class.  I will have that day’s events at the top of the screen and ready to go.  (Remember, WordPress does this automatically for you, and you can even manipulate the dates of when you want something to appear.  In other words, you can create an entry but set it to appear a week later on a specific date.)  Everything will be embedded or linked.  If I want them to go to Edmentum, I’ll have the specific link ready for them to click on and set to open in a new window.  After that, they can click back on my site and watch an embedded or linked video I need them to see.  I can then link them to a formative assessment tool or guide them to a brain break.  My students won’t be on their laptop the entire period of every period, but for the times they are on the laptop, WordPress fits my needs perfectly.

I have a very rudimentary example set up for you to view if you want to take a look at what I’m talking about.  It’s not meant for students to ever see, but it’s something I’ve been playing with as I experimented.  You can view it here.  You can also explore this site which is also a WordPress site.

You can customize your WordPress site in an almost limitless fashion.  They have free pre-made templates and “looks” ready to go for you, or you can try to build your own (which I don’t recommend unless you’re an expert).  What’s really neat, though, is you can customize their pre-made “looks” to add a little personal touch.

If you work at Bloomington High School, I’d be happy to help you set up a site.  Bear in mind that, like any new technology tool, playing with it is the best teacher.  But I’d be glad to help you get your basic page going.  If you don’t work at BHS, feel free to ask questions in the comments below.