Don’t Teach For America

“Education reform” that helps only your resume

The Red Line

Last month, I got an email from a recruiter. An associate of Teach For America, citing a minor leadership role in a student organization as evidence that I “have distinguished [myself] as a leader here on Harvard’s campus,” asked me to meet with Harvard’s TFA representative on campus. Dropping phrases like “race and class,” “equal opportunities,” and “educational injustice,” the recruiter promised that I could have a significant impact on a classroom in an underserved community.

I have thought for many years about teaching high school history. But I stopped replying to this email after a few exchanges.

I am not interested in TFA.

For one, I am far from ready to enter a classroom on my own. Indeed, in my experience Harvard students have increasingly acknowledged that TFA drastically underprepares its recruits for the reality of teaching. But more importantly, TFA is not only sending young, idealistic, and inexperienced college grads into schools in neighborhoods different from where they’re from—it’s also working to destroy the American public education system. As a hopeful future teacher, that is not something I could ever conscionably put my name behind.

Princeton alumna Wendy Kopp originally founded TFA with the mission of filling teacher shortages in U.S. public schools. The program, which helps young college grads find placements teaching in public schools after they graduate from college, combines the persistence of a five-person recruiting team with the cache of a competitive on-campus-interview process. It has quickly become one of the most popular destinations for Harvard seniors after graduation.

Clearly, some Harvard students still believe that TFA’s model of recruiting young idealists, throwing them into five weeks of intensive training, and then placing them into schools in neighborhoods very unlike the ones they came from is truly the answer to everything from income inequality to underfunded public school systems. Perhaps they even think that teaching is such an unattractive profession that bright college graduates should be bribed with a feel-good resume booster to fill the vast shortage of competent teachers in the United States.

But it has become increasingly clear to anyone who thinks critically about teaching that there’s something off with TFA’s model. After all, TFA alumni repeatedly describe their stints in the American public education system as some of the hardest two years of their lives. Doesn’t it bother you to imagine undertrained 22-year-olds standing in front of an crowded classroom and struggling through every class period? Indeed, most of the critiques of TFA in The Crimson have focused on students’ unpreparedness to teach.

However, unpreparedness pales in comparison to the much larger problem with TFA: It undermines the American public education system from the very foundation by urging the replacement of experienced career teachers with a neoliberal model of interchangeable educators and standardized testing. If TFA intended to place students in schools with insufficient numbers of teachers, it has strayed far from its original goal. As an essay by Chicago teacher Kenzo Shibata asked last summer, “Teach For America wanted to help stem a teacher shortage. Why then are thousands of experienced educators being replaced by hundreds of new college graduates?” Journalist James Cersonsky notes that veteran teachers and schools alike may suffer from this type of reform: “Districts pay thousands in fees to TFA for each corps member in addition to their salaries—at the expense of the existing teacher workforce. Chicago, for example, is closing 48 schools and laying off 850 teachers and staff while welcoming 350 corps members.”

Chicago is not the first city where Teach For America has tried to replace veteran teachers with new recruits. Two years ago, The Crimson quoted the president of the Boston Teachers’ Union as saying, “Teach For America claims that it does not come in and take positions from incumbent members. That is a lie. They are doing it in Boston…Their arrogance is appalling.” Cersonsky and blogger EduSchyster have meticulously documented TFA’s connections to dozens of charter schools as well as education reform advocacy organizations that focus on standardized testing and privatization instead of grassroots community involvement and student voices. In doing so, TFA is working directly against the interests of teachers, students, and communities alike. Neoliberal school reform is the true “educational injustice” here.

Happily, Chicago does provide a model of truly community-driven and progressive education advocacy. Last summer, the Chicago Teachers’ Union organized with parents and students to advocate for quality public education including smaller class sizes, more staff like school nurses, less standardized testing, and progressive taxation structures for school funding.

I don’t mean to vilify students who’ve chosen to recruit for TFA—I’m sure they have only the best intentions of helping underserved students—but I would like to call on my classmates and current TFA corps members to reconsider their decision to be part of this program. TFA has positioned itself as an ethical alternative to Wall Street for college seniors looking for a short-term commitment. We should all have questions about how much we can actually help to fix structural problems with just a month of training and a few years of work.

Sandra Y. L. Korn ’14, a Crimson editorial writer, is a joint history of science and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays. Follow her on Twitter @sandraylk.


10 tips on how to make slides that communicate your idea, from TED’s in-house expert

Speaker David Epstein created a truly stellar slide deck for his talk at TED2014. When your slides rock, your whole presentation pops to life. Here, advice from our office slide master on making Keynote and Powerpoint presentations that communicate strongly. Photo: James Duncan DavidsonReposted from TED blog.Aaron Weyenberg is the master of slide decks. Our UX Lead creates Keynote presentations that are both slick and charming—the kind that pull you in and keep you captivated, but in an understated way that helps you focus on what’s actually being said. He does this for his own presentations and for lots of other folks in the office. Yes, his coworkers ask him to design their slides, because he’s just that good.We asked Aaron to bottle his Keynote mojo so that others could benefit from it. Here, 10 tips for making an effective slide deck, split into two parts: the big, overarching goals, and the little tips and tricks that make your presentation sing.Gavin-AllHands-20140710-1.0.001The big picture…

  1. Think about your slides last. Building your slides should be the tail end of developing your presentation. Think about your main message, structure its supporting points, practice it and time it—and then start thinking about your slides. The presentation needs to stand on its own; the slides are just something you layer over it to enhance the listener experience. Too often, I see slide decks that feel more like presenter notes, but I think it’s far more effective when the slides are for the audience to give them a visual experience that adds to the words.
  2. Create a consistent look and feel. In a good slide deck, each slide feels like part of the same story. That means using the same or related typography, colors and imagery across all your slides. Using pre-built master slides can be a good way to do that, but it can feel restrictive and lead to me-too decks. I like to create a few slides to hold sample graphic elements and type, then copy what I need from those slides as I go.
  3. Think about topic transitions. It can be easy to go too far in the direction of consistency, though. You don’t want each slide to look exactly the same. I like to create one style for the slides that are the meat of what I’m saying, and then another style for the transitions between topics. For example, if my general slides have a dark background with light text, I’ll try transition slides that have a light background with dark text. That way they feel like part of the same family, but the presentation has texture—and the audience gets a visual cue that we’re moving onto a new topic.
  4. With text, less is almost always more. One thing to avoid—slides with a lot of text, especially if it’s a repeat of what you’re saying out loud. It’s like if you give a paper handout in a meeting—everyone’s head goes down and they read, rather than staying heads-up and listening. If there are a lot of words on your slide, you’re asking your audience to split their attention between what they’re reading and what they’re hearing. That’s really hard for a brain to do, and it compromises the effectiveness of both your slide text and your spoken words. If you can’t avoid having text-y slides, try to progressively reveal text (like unveiling bullet points one by one) as you need it.
  5. Use photos that enhance meaning. I love using simple, punchy photos in presentations, because they help what you’re saying resonate in your audience’s mind without pulling their attention from your spoken words. Look for photos that (1) speak strongly to the concept you’re talking about and (2) aren’t compositionally complex. Your photo could be a metaphor or something more literal, but it should be clear why the audience is looking at it, and why it’s paired with what you’re saying. For example, I recently used the image above—a photo of a container ship about to tip over (it eventually sank)—to lead off a co-worker’s deck about failure preparation. And below is another example of a photo I used in a deck to talk about the launch of the new The point I was making was that a launch isn’t the end of a project—it’s the beginning of something new. We’ll learn, adapt, change and grow.

Here, a lovely image from a slidedeck Aaron created about the redesign of View the whole deck from this presentation.

And now some tactical tips…

  1. Go easy on the effects and transitions. Keynote and Powerpoint come with a lot of effects and transitions. In my opinion, most of these don’t do much to enhance the audience experience. At worst, they subtly suggest that the content of your slides is so uninteresting that a page flip or droplet transition will snap the audience out of their lethargy. If you must use them, use the most subtle ones, and keep it consistent.
  2. Use masking to direct attention in images. If you want to point something out in a photo, you could use a big arrow. Or you could do what I call a dupe-and-mask. I do this a lot when showing new page designs, particularly when I don’t want the audience to see the whole design until I’m finished talking about individual components of it. Here’s the original image.mask-1Here’s the process for masking it. (1) Set the image transparency to something less than 100. (2) Duplicate that image so there is one directly over the top of the other. (3) Set the dup’d image transparency back to 100. and (4) Follow the technique here to mask the dup’d image. You’ll end up with something that looks like this.
  3. mask-3
  4. You can use this technique to call out anything you want in a screenshot. A single word, a photo, a section of content—whatever you want your audience to focus on.
  5. Try panning large images. Often, I want to show screen shot of an entire web page in my presentations. There’s a great Chrome extension to capture these—but these images are oftentimes much longer than the canvas size of the presentation. Rather than scaling the image to an illegible size, or cropping it, you can pan it vertically as you talk about it. In Keynote, this is done with a Move effect, which you can apply from an object’s action panel.
  6. For video, don’t use autoplay. It’s super easy to insert video in Keynote and Powerpoint—you just drag a Quicktime file onto the slide. And when you advance the deck to the slide with the video that autoplays, sometimes it can take a moment for the machine to actually start playing it. So often I’ve seen presenters click again in an attempt to start the video during this delay, causing the deck to go to the next slide. Instead, set the video to click to play. That way you have more predictable control over the video start time, and even select a poster frame to show before starting.
  7. Reproduce simple charts and graphs. Dropping an image of a chart into a presentation is fine, but it almost always disrupts the feel of a deck in unsightly fashion. If the graph data is simple enough (and you have some extra time) there’s a way to make it much more easy on the eyes. You could redraw it in the native presentation application. That sounds like needless work, and it might be for your purposes, but it can really make your presentation feel consistent and thought-through, of one flavor from soup to nuts. You’ll have control over colors, typography, and more. Here are some examples.users-chart

Lastly, I’d love to leave you with a couple book recommendations. The first is Resonate, by Nancy Duarte. It’s not so much about slides, but about public speaking in general – which is the foundation for any presentation, regardless of how great your slides are. In it, she breaks down the anatomy of what makes a great presentation, how to establish a central message and structure your talk, and more. (One of her case studies comes from Benjamin Zander’s charming TED Talk about classical music, a talk that captivated the audience from start to finish.) Think of this as prerequisite reading for my second recommendation, also by Duarte: Slide:ology. This is more focused on presentation visuals and slides.


10 tips for editing video

One of TED's video editors, Kari Mulholland, hard at work. Below, her editing advice. Photo: Biljana LabovicThe techniques that video editors use to shape their content reveal a lot about how people create meaning in the world. Editors have a deep understanding of how people think, feel, remember and learn, and we use this knowledge to build powerful, moving stories and experiences. The best editing decisions come from empathy — both for the people who exist virtually on the screen and for the audience watching them.The TED Talk editing toolkit is small when compared to ones used to cut a narrative feature or documentary. And that’s why it’s a good place to start as an introduction to the art of editing. We use continuity editing to maintain a consistent feeling of space and time over the duration of the talk. But overall, we strive to keep our edits invisible. What does that mean, exactly? I’ll make the invisible visible by editing a short excerpt from a TED Talk badly.


Now, compare that to the same excerpt edited competently.



What made the first excerpt so uncomfortable to watch was that the edits were unmotivated; every edit was random. Here are ten tips for making meaningful edits:

  1. Choose the best camera angles for each moment. As you look at your footage, your goal is to balance speaker intent with the expectations of the web audience. Think about where the audience would want to be looking at different points during the talk if they were in the room — that will help you select the best camera angle to reconstruct each moment. By thinking about that, you are also choosing angles that help the speaker better express his or her story.
  1. Use more close-ups and medium shots than wide shots. It’s important to cut between different camera angles so that the audience understands the space where the TED Talk took place. But once the talk is contextualized, close-ups and medium shots hold the most meaning for the audience. It’s engaging to watch speakers’ facial expressions and body language as they speak and, with a closer view, you can just see it better.
  1. Watch a speaker’s body language and pay attention to the way they talk. Language is embodied. A speakers’ thoughts, words and breath are all revealed through their body language. Meanwhile, each speaker has a unique rhythm and cadence to their voice. If you pay attention to these things, it will provide a natural rhythm for your editing and it will all feel intuitive for the audience, too.
  1. Cut on action. One way to make the edit between two shots seem invisible is by cutting on a gesture. The viewer watches the beginning of a motion that begins in one shot and follows it as it crosses the edit and finishes in the next shot. The completion of the gesture masks the edit. Here is an example of a cut made on the subtle gesture made as the speaker completes his thought and begins a new one.



  1. Cut on words. The sound of a word, especially if it contains a hard consonant, can make an edit feel less obvious. When the word is one that is relevant to the main point of the speaker’s talk, the edit can also highlight that word and make it more memorable. Let’s listen to example of an edit cut on a word.



  1. Keep things moving. The web audience has a short attention span. Framing a speaker’s words with multiple camera angles is more dynamic and interesting than holding on one camera angle for a long period of time.
  1. Break up graphics. At TED, the slides that speakers use often stay on-screen for quite a while. We try to break the slide up into sections, so that only the relevant parts of the slide are revealed in time with the speaker’s words. This may or may not help in your own editing, but the point is: be methodical with directing attention.
  1. Edit out mistakes. At TED, we do edit out both technical errors and speaker errors. We often mask these edits by cutting on action. Let’s take a look at an example of how this is done. First you will hear two sentences that are hooked together by an “um,” something many speakers do without realizing it.



Now the “um” is edited out, by cutting between two shots during an action-filled moment.



  1. Think about who’s speaking and who’s listening. One challenge we sometimes get in the TED editing room: interviews. To explain the best approach to editing one, let’s watch a short excerpt from an interview Chris Anderson did with Bill Gates. In this example, only one camera angle is used.



Now let’s watch the same excerpt edited like a TED Talk.



The edits are motivated by the words spoken by both Chris and Bill. This works, but a better way to edit this interview would be to reframe Chris’ words with shots of Bill listening. Watch the same excerpt edited with footage of Bill Gates listening.



All of a sudden, the point of view of the interview shifts. Because the purpose of the interview is to give the audience an opportunity to know more about Bill Gates, watching the interview from Bill’s perspective is just more interesting.

  1.  Take some space from your edit. After spending some time with the same edit, it’s easy to become desensitized to the material. So it’s important to step away. Taking a break from an edit and returning with fresh eyes can help you maintain your sense of audience and help you do your best work.

Hope that these tips have been helpful. One thing I often think about when it comes to editing TED Talks: The Internet is still very young and doesn’t yet have its own, unique vocabulary for video editing … but one day it will. As new technologies introduce new models for telling stories, and audience expectations shift as a result, the way TED Talks are filmed and edited will change. It’s fun to imagine what the TED Talk of the future might look like.

Remembering Robin Williams

Robin Williams hijacks the TED2008 stage before the BBC World Debate. Photo: Andrew HeavensIt’s 2008, moments before a BBC broadcast live from the stage at TED. But something’s gone wrong. The house lights are still up, the camera ops are looking at one another, official-looking folks are wandering at the stage apron muttering into headsets, and the panelists are sitting patiently onstage but looking, increasingly, baffled. Minutes go by.And then a voice rises from the audience, wondering “why at a technology conference everything is running so shittily”! As Kim Zetter wrote: “at least that’s the word I think he used; it was hard to hear the last word through the audience’s laughter.” It was Robin Williams, who’d spent the day watching TED, and who now jumped out of the audience to grab the mic and reel off 10 or 15 minutes — reports vary — of improvised comedy about the day of ideas, TED in general and his own wide-ranging future shock.The BBC shot the whole thing while waiting for their own production to come back online, and they eventually posted the monologue, cut into 3 minutes of breathtaking tightrope work.

And when I read the news today, I watched it again, and it reminded me of what we just lost — but it also gave me 3 minutes of pure, wild joy. Just watch him go.



Oct 2014



25+ apps to make your everyday life easier


For random life stuff…

Dark Sky
A weather app with startling accuracy, its interface tells you things like: “Light rain starting in 22 minutes.” It also shows you beautiful weather maps that let you play local-news weather expert. “It’s like a wizard,” says our CTO, Gavin Hall. “If this app were available in the 1600s, it would have been burned at the stake for witchcraft.”

Like your Google Calendar with key improvements, several staffers swear by this app. It offers shortcuts for adding events, and also bakes things like weather reports and Facebook birthday reminders into the mix of your daily calendar.  “It’s awesome,” says IT Manager Francil Richards.

Communications manager Samantha Kelly was excited to download this app, as she recently got locked out of her apartment. She says, “You scan your keys by taking a photo of them and then you have ‘digital copies.’” With the copy, you can get a key made for you at a KeyMe kiosk (they currently have five in New York) or through the mail. Fingerprint scan is required.

*Think Dirty
This app tells you exactly what’s in the personal care product you’re about to buy. You scan the barcode, and it shares information about potentially harmful ingredients (and gives alternatives, if you want them). It’s useful for fact-checking label claims like “all-natural” and “organic.” Kyle Shearer of our Events Workgroup says, “It helps me make informed choices on products that I am bringing home.”

Yoga Studio
Yoga Studio reminds us of the “Surprise Me” feature on the TED app. You pick the kind of yoga class you want (strength, flexibility, relaxation), your level (beginner, intermediate or advanced) and the amount of time you have (20 minutes, 40 minutes or longer) and it creates a class for you. “Whenever I am traveling or too busy to exercise, I sneak in a lesson,” says Product Development Manager Jai Punjabi.

One of those apps on this list that you may already know about, it lets you save blog posts and articles to read when you’re offline. TEDx Digital Strategist Alex Rudloff says, “I’m able to keep track of all the articles that get sent my way. In this post-Google Reader world, it’s my primary way of keeping up on things.” Community Support Manager Mireille Pilloud adds, “They send out a weekly email I like that shows the most-Pocketed articles and suggests articles for me based on what I generally read.” Another feature that gets big ups from our staff—the fact that you can set the font size because it strips out the content’s original formatting.

It doesn’t have a name that rolls of the tongue, but this app is great for helping turn ho-hum snapshots into arty photographs. Janet Lee of our Distribution team says, “A year ago, I was scanning my Instagram feed and noticed a lot of ‘moodier’ photos. The beauty of this app is that it doesn’t matter how bad your framing is, you can just wash it out. It’s maximum likes on instagram, with low effort.”

This app has more than 200 photo filters and 10 modes. But the real benefit, says Executive Producer of TED Media June Cohen, is that images are for your eyes only. “I like Camera360 for creating Instagram-like photos I don’t want to share publicly,” she says.


For staying organized…

An app that lets you create shareable lists of favorites—be they restaurants, sites in a city, or movies. But it’s better known for its shareable to-do lists. “It organizes my life,” says Anjali Mohan of our Client Services Workgroup. “I use it at work and at home. My husband gets reminders from the app when he needs to clean.” Production Manager Kristel Ottis also swears by this app. “There’s simply no other way I could keep track of all the nitty-gritty details that go into each production,” she says.

This app does one thing really well—you can send yourself an email in two taps, for quick reminders or ideas you don’t want to forget. “It’s helped me get rid of all the fiddly bits of paper in my pocket,” says Product Development Associate Bedirhan Cinar.

A slightly more visual rendering of your to-dos, this app allows you to create boards for different projects and separate sharable lists within them. Each task goes on a separate card. “I’ve tried tons of task apps, and Trello is by far my favorite,” says Social Media Editor Nadia Goodman. “I love how easy it is to customize, color code, and rearrange things. It’s also really easy to make collaborative boards and store information — like files, notes or images — within a task. My one complaint is that I wish it would ping me when a due date is coming up!”

A spin-off of Notational Velocity, this app is popular with techy types because it includes MultiMarkdown functionality. Front-End Developer Joe Bartlett explains, “I’m naturally scatterbrained and love nvALT for storing and indexing the sorts of details I used to jot down haphazardly and forget: conference notes, obscure math and command line tricks, what cartridge the printer takes,” he says. “It adds extra customization options.”

Like both Wunderlist and Trello, this to-do list helper has both an app and a web client that communicate. “I found this in my never-ending search for the perfect task management app,” says Product Development Associate Will True. “This isn’t necessarily it, but it provides simple task organization—by project, category, priority, due date. It’s not fancy, which is honestly why I like it. It also has great APIs so I can hook other things or build my own little tools on the data it provides.”

This app keeps track of all your bills and when they are due, and also monitors your bank and credit card accounts. Most importantly, it tells you when there’s a mismatch between the two — i.e. when you’re about to get charged an overdraft fee — so you can fix the problem. “It’s way better than Mint,” says IT Manager Francil Richards. “It means I’m never late on payments.”

Evernote is an organizational tool that you can use as a storing place for short notes, or as a place to collect all your thoughts—links, photos, notes, checklists—for larger projects. “Evernote is awesome because it’s versatile,” says Junior Designer Lilian Chen. “You can use it for storing receipts and outlining travel plans and meeting notes.”


For getting around…

CityMaps2Go Pro
This app downloads offline, zoomable, searchable maps of major cities, so that even if you are roaming around Tokyo and can’t read any of the signs, you can still find your way around. “It’s good for people like me who travel internationally, but don’t like to get data plans,” says Thu-Huong Ha, of our editorial team.

*Word Lens
Another great app for travelers, Word Lens visually translates printed text into your language in real time. When you snap a photo of a sign or document, it shows the image to you in English. “It’s crazy,” says Kyle Shearer of our Events Workgroup. “The translations are not always 100%, but it’s good enough to get by on.” Hello, food menus.

Moves tracks every step you take, which sounds creepy, but is actually useful. “It quantifies how many miles you’ve walked, cycled and run,” says Patrick D’Arcy, of the TED Fellows team. “It’s not about the calories burned for me, but the ability visualize where I’ve gone on a map. A friend actually introduced me to the app when he came back from Mexico City and he was able to show me the exact routes he took.”

An app to help you get stuck in traffic as infrequently as possible. Drivers share real-time traffic delays—accidents, traffic jams, and the like—so that you can avoid them. The head of our Media Team, June Cohen, once mentioned this app a staff meeting, and lots of us are using it now.

This app gives you real-time data on transit info in 50 cities in the US and Canada. “I know when the next bus or train is coming and, if it’s not there, the reason for the delay,” says Anna Verghese, Deputy Director of the TED Prize. “Psychologically, I like knowing when I reach the subway station that the train is four minutes away, so that I don’t have to hurl myself down the subway stairs.”

Exit Strategy
This app is for New Yorkers only. (Sorry.) It helps you plan your subway route, down to where to stand on the platform, and which exit to use to get to your destination in the quickest amount of time. “It speaks to my need for efficiency,” says producer Roxanne Lash.

Other staffers also recommend Embark, which is a route-planning app akin to Hop Stop that integrates information about delays. It’s available in 10 cities and has a big bonus: it works underground, without connection.

*Couch to 5k
“This app trains you to run a 5k. It gives you audio alerts when to start running/walking,” says Accountant Erline Maruhom. “The idea is that you should be able to run a 5k in nine weeks. We’ll see … I’m hopeful.”


For computer and email ease…

This is app for Gmail that is majorly handy. It lets you set a notification to pop up if you haven’t gotten a reply on an email within a specified amount of time. It also lets you boomerang messages back to the top of your inbox, closer to when you actually need to pay attention. But the feature our staff members love: you can schedule emails to send later. “I tend to write emails in bulk at night or on the weekend—but don’t want to bug anyone then,” says writer Kate Torgovnick May. “It’s nice to be able to schedule an email for a more appropriate time and hit send.”

This app helps you archive and trash email—or put off emails you don’t have to respond to immediately until a later date—with a left or right swipe. It also shows whole conversations with a cool interface that looks a lot like a chat. “On the train into work, I can quickly sift through all the emails and start my day with a clearer head,” says Post Production Manager Gwen Schroeder.

This app disconnects 2-step authentication from text messaging, and does it in a way that’s a little more secure, should your phone fall into the wrong hands. “This is especially handy for when I’m in areas with no reception or am international and don’t have a texting plan,” says Product Development Associate Bedirhan Cinar. “Google offers an identical app, but I like Authy better because you can password protect it so if someone has your phone, they can’t easily access your 2 step codes.”

“It lets you search, find and open applications and files on your Mac quickly using shortcut keys,” says TEDx Branding Coordinator Boian Filev. “It has really sped up finding and opening files that might be buried deep in folders.”

This app rocks for anyone who has eyes that are sensitive to the bright light of a computer screen. It makes your computer or iOS device display adjust to the time of the day, and get warmer and dimmer at night. “It keeps me from getting a headache in the evening,” says writer Kate Torgovnick May. “I also appreciate it at TED Conferences, when we can sometimes end up being in a dark theater all day. It’s nice to get some demarcation of what time it is outside.”


Could the Apple Watch be headed to your classroom?

By Maureen Yoder 9/9/2014

Maybe you’ve heard of the Apple Watch. You may have even given some thought to its potential for education . But since it’s still not available to the masses, and its price tag will likely be out of reach of most school budgets for some time, you probably filed the idea under “fantasy” and forgot about it.

For you realists, I’ve got some news. Wearable technologies for the classroom are not a pipedream! The New Media Consortium’s 2014 K-12 Horizon Report, which highlights technological trends likely to affect education in the near future, recently predicted that wearable devices will be common in schools within the next four to five years. In fact, many wearables — mostly watches and armbands so far — are affordable and ready for prime time in the classroom right now.

Classroom applications
Activity trackers, such as Jawbone’s UP, Nike’s Fuel Band, Garmin’s Vivofit and Fitbit, were the first wearable gadgets to proliferate in schools. Physical education teachers and coaches have been using them to track students’ physical activity and fitness, then collect and graph the data so they can use it for problem solving and motivation. Some of these gadgets even let you award digital badges to students, who can use the armbands to track their own progress as well.

A new development in the wearable tech market is devices designed for the youngest students. Many of these new tools are meant to allow children to become independent while protecting their safety. In addition to a GPS tracking device, some of these devices let children quickly contact a preprogrammed set of individuals.

Wearable tech also holds a lot of promise for helping students with special needs. Those on the attention deficit and autism spectrums, for example, can benefit from devices that send them regular reminder alerts to pay attention, do their homework or take their medication.

All of the new wearables for students are easy to use and colorful. For educators, they offer a new way to motivate students to get active, keep on task and stay safe. And for students, they offer an engaging and convenient way to take responsibility for deadlines, track their own progress and feel secure while gaining independence.

Tools you can afford
Here are five new wearable tools designed for elementary students for $150 or less:

  1. LeapBandLeapBand by LeapFrog is an activity tracker designed for young children that incorporates gamification. It encourages active play and healthy habits with 50 fun challenges, such as “walk like a crab” or “pretend you’re popcorn.” An accelerometer measures activity throughout the day and awards points that allow children to play games with virtual pets and unlock surprise activities. Teachers can turn off the sound for classroom use. Teachers can monitor feedback, but federal regulations concerning data collection on children limit advertisers and other third parties from accessing the information. The device, which is water resistant, comes with a quick-start guide, a mini-USB cable for syncing and a rechargeable battery.Take a look at this review from CNET to see what it can do:Ages: 4-7
    Price: $40
    Apps: LeapFrog Petathlon Games (free)
  2. WatchMinderThe WatchMinder3 is a vibrating watch and reminder system invented by a child psychologist. Parents or teachers can program the watch to generate reminder vibrations, which are more discreet than audible alarms, as well as personalized display messages at scheduled times or intervals. The watch can help children — particularly those who have attention deficit or autism spectrum disorders — to stay on task and monitor themselves, allowing them to become more independent. It can also remind kids to take medications at prescribed times, to breathe or do other mindfulness activities or to exercise regularly. The device, which is waterproof and has a rechargeable battery, features on-screen programming, 65 preprogrammed messages and a countdown timer.Learn more about the WatchMinder in this video:Ages: Kindergarten through adult
    Price: $69
    Apps: WatchMinder (free)
  3. HereoHereO is a GPS watch for kids. Billed as “the smallest cellular-connected GPS tracking device in the world,” the watch features an accelerometer that sends an alert when it is shaken horizontally five times. A SIM card connects to a local carrier, which alerts teachers and/or parents if a child leaves a designated area. The device, which is water resistant and has a battery life of up to 50 hours between charges, is scheduled to be released in December.See TechCrunch’s interview with one of the device’s inventors to learn more about how to use it:Ages: 3-12
    Price: Preorder for $149, which includes a three-month subscription. After the introductory period, the subscription fee is $4.95 per month.
    Apps: None
  4. TinitellTinitell is a small mobile phone wristband with a minimalist design and a singular use. Its complete set of features includes one large button to answer or hang up a call, a microphone, a speaker, an on/off switch and volume control. There is no display. The beauty of this simplicity is that even pre-literate children can easily make calls. They just speak the name of the person they want to call into the microphone. Sound matching, rather than a full-fledged voice recognition application, identifies the name on a list of preprogrammed individuals and connects the call. They can also use the volume controls to scroll through the list and listen to the options before making a selection. The device can also take incoming calls, which an adult can limit to a predefined list of acceptable numbers, without the child having to press a button. The device doubles as a GPS tracker and is both water resistant and “sandbox-proof.” Though targeted to parents, many educators will find the Tinitell, which is set to be released in April 2015, useful for young children and students with special needs.Watch Tinitell’s Kickstarter video to see how kids might use it:Ages: 3-12
    Price: $129
    Apps: None
  5. PebblePebble is a smartwatch you use in conjunction with your smartphone. Although this device is marketed mostly to the adult consumer market, its access to a wide range of apps provides a variety of powerful functions that students will find useful in and out of the classroom. Partners such as Evernote, which allows users to access all notes on their Pebble, are increasing the possibilities too. For instance, teachers could communicate with their students by sending notes to the entire class or individuals. Students can also set silent alarms on their devices as reminders of events throughout the day. Some teachers create virtual help desks and use Pebble as a classroom management system. Others have challenged advanced students to write an original app for the watch. The Pebble has an LED backlight display, 3D accelerometer, Bluetooth 4.0 and a battery that will run up to a week before it needs to be recharged.Want to see the Pebble in action? Check out the stop animation commercial the company’s interns made:Ages: Middle school to adult
    Price: $150
    Apps: Pebble Smartwatch accesses the Pebble app store, which houses a growing number of user-created apps. You can also use the PebbleKit JavaScript framework to allow iOS and Android apps to communicate with the watch, or you can create and publish your own Pebble apps.

“My Country” Assignment—21st Century Fluency Project

via Look Who’s Chalking

The Year Five students spent eight weeks focusing on their ‘My Country’ assignment. This assignment was designed to encourage students to explore their own knowledge and answer a question that could not be answered by simply looking it up on Google. They needed to create an online resource as their final product.

Students worked through the Six Ds of Solution Fluency. These are; Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver and Debrief. This is a model I was introduced to earlier in the year at a development day with Lee Crockett. The below link explores the Six D’s in more detail.

This essential 21st Century Fluency is actually the foundation upon which the other Fluencies are built. Recently, two longitudinal studies found that teaching a structured problem-solving process to a student will instantly increase their IQ by 10% and that this increase is sustained throughout their lives. Let’s make sure our students benefit from this. Everyone identifies problem solving as essential, but without a process like Solution Fluency, it’s just an ideal that never gets implemented.

Lee Crockett

I introduced the assignment with this statement:

Everyone loves to travel, especially when they get to travel overseas. They can explore different types of foods, visit famous landmarks and immerse themselves in the culture of the country.

I created a website (using that students could refer to throughout the assignment stages. This meant that they did not need a paper copy of their rubrics. It was fantastic to have this website for them but if I were to complete the assignment again, I would add more to the website. I will go into more detail regarding this later on.

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The students needed to answer these questions:

  • Where does my family come from?
  • Why is this country a fantastic place?

We started with the Define Stage. In this stage, students need to state or define what is being asked of them and fully understand this. Students videoed themselves and uploaded these onto They were then able to comment on each other’s videos regarding what they had defined as the problem. Students also had a teacher – student conference with me. In this conference we discussed what mark they were aiming for. I had set up the tasks so that there was multiple levels of success, rather than multiple levels of failure. Students told me whether they were aiming for a 1 (not completed), a 2 (minimal completed), a 3 (expected stage) or a 4 (extended).

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Next, students worked through the Discover Stage. In this stage students research how the problem occurred, they gain context to the problem and they shift their thinking towards analysis. Students began to research their country, specifically focusing on the geographical and cultural information. They also needed to interview a family member about this country.

Majority of the students were able to complete their interview in person but some completed an international Skype call and filmed the conversation using One student did this and then set up a new Screenr to film the conversation whilst pausing to translate it into english. It was fantastic and really blew me away!

We then moved on to my favourite stage, the Dream Stage (creative/crafty side of me!). Students needed to look into the future and see the problem solved. They had to think of ‘what is’ and imagine the possibilities of ‘what could be’. The Dream Stage is one which cultivates creativity, innovation and imagination, and these skills are extremely important for people to have in today’s world.

Students put together a poster to outline what they imagined their finished product to be. They used key words, sentences and pictures to show this. They then presented these in small groups, explaining what they had found out so far and what they still needed to do.

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Then came the Design Stage. This is when students work backwards from the future, from their Dream. They identify the critical milestones that happened and decide how to implement the solution. This is the Action Plan, the Design of the Dream.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 10.16.22 PMIn this stage students needed to create a 10-day holiday to their country. They needed to include flight details and costs, other travel costs (cars, taxis, etc), accommodation, sight seeing and attractions, food expenses and spending money. The created a budget for their holiday as well as an itinerary. Students used Pages to complete this and majority of them set up a form of table within their document.

Students also used an online timeline to create a schedule for themselves. On this they included the dates (across the week), what they planned to complete each day and how they were going to do this. Students printed this and ticked off what they had completed each day. This was a great way for students to reflect on their learning over the week.

Students then came to the Deliver Stage. There are two sections in the Delivery Stage:

Produce and Implement.

In this stage students put their plan into action and complete the process of solving the problem which they originally defined.

P7030251Students were given the option of using EdCanvas or Weebly for their online resource. These were selected as they were both relatively new to students and therefore created an ‘even playing field’. Unfortunately, students had difficulty creating their websites at school (due to proxy settings) and therefore had to use EdCanvas.

EdCanvas was great to use as students could upload videos, photos and text. As a teacher I was able to set up a class group and give them the code. Also, students did not need to have an email account to access it. When students had completed their EdCanvas, they printed them off so that I had a hard copy to mark.

The final part of the Deliver Stage (Implement) was to persuade their audience (Year Four students, Year Six students and parents) to go on their holiday. They needed to create a range of resources to assist them with this. They also had to focus on the language they were using and how this could persuade someone to agree with them.

We set the classroom up as a travel agency with students positioned around the outside of the room. This was great as visitors moved around the room in a circular motion. Majority of the parents came to the travel agency as we had it over two days and from 2.30 – 4pm. This was perfect as student pick-up is at 3pm, so most parents where already here.

The final section was the Debrief Stage. This is the most important part of the Six Ds as student look over the process they have taken and reflect on it. They ask themselves about how this product or process could be made better this time or next time.

Students completed a written self reflection task based on their assignment. Once completing this I had another student – teacher conference with each student to explore how they had gone with each stage and if they had reached their original goal which they created in the Define Stage. It was very interesting to hear student insights on the different stages and majority of them said they would aim higher next time.

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There are so many great students achievements that come out of setting an assignment like this. Not only are the subjects being integrated together (English, S&E and Mathematics), but they also have the opportunity to be responsible for their own learning. The rubric they are assessed on has multiple levels of success and students can therefore set a reachable goal. Students were taught about SMART Goals (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely). They referred back to this throughout the assignment to make sure they were pushing themselves to do their best work and, also, not setting unachievable goals.

I found that majority of my students challenged themselves and achieved what they had set out to do. I was extremely proud of all the work they completed and the constant reflection they did throughout this task.

The Year Five classroom was open to visitors on Wednesday 3rd July and Thursday 4th July.  Many parents, friends and students from other year levels came to observe the travel agency.

I am very much looking forward to running the next 21st Century Fluency task in our classroom. Stay tuned for more.

Gabrielle Trinca. @GabrielleTrinca

22 Ways To Use Twitter For Learning Based On Bloom’s Taxonomy

Last year we created a “twitter spectrum,” an image that clarified different ways that twitter could be used in the classroom in (hopefully) authentic ways.

TeachBytes has followed that up with an excellent graphic of their own that uses a pure Bloom’s Taxonomyapproach. The specific ideas range from “remix trending tweets with video and music” to creating concept maps showing the relationship between tweets.

We must admit to going back and forth over the exact fit of a social media platform like twitter in a formal (or informal) learning environment. Clearly it’s a great way to skim and monitor information streams, but just like we wouldn’t use sing Shakespearean sonnets to toddlers at birthday parties, using twitter as an in-depth critical thinking tool requires a bit of squinting, even as an Avante-garde 21st century learning tool.

Unless you’re using it as a cultural survey of sorts. Or study media design. Or following experts. Then it works swimmingly.

As with all things, sweet spot matters. To help you find it, this graphic should help.

Social Media Meets Bloom’s Taxonomy: 22 More Ideas To Use Twitter For Learning


Bryan Setser’s: Ten Tips for Teacherpreneurs

Since Arnie Duncan’s new normal speech, we have seen teacher tenure battles, evaluation tool ideas, frozen pay schedules, and a host of reforms define an American Crisis moment for teachers.
Yet, the market I see reminds me of how the Chinese define the term crisis:
For the family members and friends of mine who are teachers, I remind you of Michael Fullan’s phrase, “Being right is not a strategy for change”. Nor is wearing red to school and yelling in a microphone. Now is the time for a whole new opportunity culture for the teacherpreneur.
Here’s ten tips to unleash the “teacherpreneur” inside of you:
1.     Teach for another district – In many states including my home state of North Carolina, multiple years of teachers having their pay frozen can be undone with one simple move – across the county line. Many districts will negotiate supplements, signing bonuses, or starting teachers out on their correct step on the pay scale simply by driving a few more miles.
2.     Teach for a virtual school – many teachers supplement their income by teaching for one of the state virtual schools or a configuration of them. See more on your state virtual school here:
3.     Teach your talent- provide content design or assessment services to the field. Many jobs are often listed for teachers weekly on sites like or Postings like these are fairly common as to help  wanted from teachers oncourse content development.
4.     Teach as tutor 2.0 –As examples like the 4 million dollar teacher in Korea emerge, tutoring has become big business and far more than just after school at a desk. Think differently about marketing your talents to your community, state, and nation.
5.     Teach for DoDEA – many Department of Defenses Education Activity schools in the United States and around the globe offer great salaries and benefits packages as well as housing and utility allowances.
6.     Teach for start ups – many non public school markets like charters or next generation model schools often hire teachers to help in their planning years and when they open. Market you services to one of these sites.
7.     Teach in a SMOOC – while many have heard about the Massive Open Online Courses such as EdX and Coursera – you may not have heard of Synchronous Massive Open Online Courses or SMOOCs – this is an emerging e-bay teacher model where you can pick the times or amounts of intensity you provide as an instructor, assessor, coach, or tutor. Companies like Straighter Line are starting to pay teachers for these services.
8.     Teach and travel – many countries around the world value teaching more than we do here. Explore, take a fellowship, and experience these destinations with your family.
9.    Teach for a company – Connections Education where I sit on the board recruits teachers for services as does a host of for profit companies. Before you think corporate America is evil, really spend some time checking out organizations who are mission driven likeConnections or My Virtual School.
10.  Teach for a shingle: Graphic designers often learn their trade on Lynda or Udemy; they find their work on Elance or dribble. Similar markets exist for software engineers. Virtual law groups make legal services more accessible and affordable.  On you can find a babysitter or elder day care.  Angie’s LIst doesn’t manage a distributed workforce but they extract some friction from a decentralized market by improving discoverability and sharing recommendations (Getting Smart, 2013). Develop your shingle for education and help others through lighter, more nimble ways.
As with any educator or worker, you’ll have to define the right balance of family and work life. But, you are a gifted educator – consider sharing your expertise more broadly than between four Bryan Setser - Partner – 2Revolutions

Film Group Backs Antipiracy Curriculum

This could turn out to be an essential part of curriculums developed in the future that focus on digital citizenship skills and awareness. This article featured in Stuff talks about the Center for Copyright Information’s push to have schools teach kids about anti-piracy and the importance of respecting copyrights.”



When it comes to learning about the evils of internet piracy, Hollywood studios and the major music labels want kids to start young.

A nonprofit group called the Center for Copyright Information has commissioned a school curriculum to teach primary-age children about the value of copyrights.

The curriculum, still in draft stage, includes lesson plans, videos and activities for teachers and parents to help educate students about the “importance of being creative and protecting creativity,” with topics such as “Respect the Person: Give Credit,” “It’s Great to Create,” and “Copyright Matters”.

The nonprofit is backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and others, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Some critics say the curriculum, called “Be a Creator,” would promote a biased agenda. Others contend it would use up valuable classroom time when public schools already are struggling to teach the basics.

“While it’s certainly a worthy topic of discussion with students, I’m sure some teachers would have a concern that adding anything of any real length to an already packed school day would take away from the basic curriculum that they’re trying to get through now,” Frank Wells, spokesman for the California Teachers Association, told the newspaper.

The MPAA blames the illegal distribution of movies and TV shows for causing billions of dollars annually in lost revenue. The trade group has tried various tactics over the years to fight the problem, from filing lawsuits against college students who illegally downloaded movies to backing ill-fated federal laws that would shut down rogue websites.

The program is being prepared by the California School Library Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition, known as iKeepSafe, a nonprofit focused on helping children thrive in the digital environment. The group partners with educators, law enforcement agencies and major corporations, including Google.

The MPAA declined to comment and referred calls to the Center for Copyright Information, which is also working with iKeepSafe on the curriculum.

Jill Lesser, the centre’s executive director, said the curriculum has not been approved.

“It’s unfortunate this got out because we were nowhere near done,” she told the newspaper.

Lesser told a House subcommittee in September that she hoped the curriculum would be tested as a pilot program in California in the current academic year, and eventually be adopted at schools nationwide, the Times reported.