I Am the Ben Affleck of Teaching

Ok. Maybe the more correct title of this blog should be “I am the Zack Snyder’s Batman of Teaching” but this one seems to flow off the tongue better. Before I get into the whys of it, I want to give a brief response to the movie, Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice. There may be spoilers but in my opinion if you haven’t seen it by now, you won’t. Also, this is my OPINION. It only applies to me.

I read everything I could get my hands on before I saw the film a week after it came out. Wow. I felt like this is the movie Marvel is trying to make. It was philosophical, violent, Shakespearean, and modern. Like Perry White says in the movie, “Kent, it’s not 1938.” And it’s not. Man of Steel was written so that Superman’s only way to end it was to end it. I didn’t like that Superman killed. BVS answered my opinions and doubts by answering with the climate of 2016. I loved watching Supes struggle with what it means to be good and having to justify that behavior in the public eye. I can say something damaging but untrue about a public figure and that could ruin them. I’ve loved Superman since I was seven spending lots of quarters on the guy, but the real performance was Ben Affleck. He was so caught up in his own grief he almost became another guy who kills another Martha. How many people actually recognize when they fail people? in Life? in Death?

Ben Affleck’s Batman is older and just for full disclosure I’m 49. He’s wizened, grizzly, pissed, tired and weary. That is just how I feel as I end my 27th year of teaching. I’ve had so many of my teachers stay on the job into the 40’s. I cannot imagine how. I feel I am the best teacher I have ever been. Ihave taught so many grades and different subjects that I almost think I could teach math. But, I also feel so tired- tired of the stupid paperwork nobody reads, tired of everyone but someone in the trenches telling me the way we did it last year isn’t as great as they thought and we are going to do something totally different next year because we know what’s the best thing for students in stead of asking the people who teach the material, tired of students not doing their work and really not getting why they are supposed to, tired of parents coddling their children to the point that they won’t try anything because they are so afraid they will fail and so what if they do, and mostly tired because administrators who were in the classroom seem to forget everything and treat us like we have no voice when it comes to the classroom, curriculum, or instruction.


As I watched Batman on screen, he broke cardinal long-standing comicbook Batman rules. I got it. He was tired of just beating up bad guy after bad guy just to have them come back again. He was tired of living a double life of smiles and sure you can turn that assignment in two weeks late because… (oh sorry, I slipped into me.) He felt like he was just spinning his wheels. He finds out the already corrupted system is manipulated by Lex Luthor who almost got away with his dastardly plan. Just when he believes in what he is doing and believes what he is doing is not only right but necessary (getting rid of the alien menace, Superman), he gets the rug pulled out from under him and realizes he was played for a fool.

old batman

young batman







As I watched the movie, I was stunned by how much I felt like Batman. I promised myself years ago as I watched the old lady teachers I would never become that. Maybe it’s because it’s April. Or because this year more than any other I didn’t have any fun teaching or it doesn’t feel like we did as I think on the year. Sometimes I want to say what I really think in the faculty meeting.

Here is what struck me the most. At the beginning of the movie when Superman and Zod are fighting and destroying Metropolis, Bruce Wayne gets in his car and drives as close as he can. He does what he can to help. He rescues a girl from being crushed by concrete. He helps lift a steel girder off a man’s legs (said man become important later in the movie). Even if Bruce Wayne become Batman in that moment, there was nothing he could really do. The look on his face is the same look on mine. Almost. Every. Day. Defeat-he is powerless to really help. Anger-why can’t he help. Envy-why can’t he be powerful. Batman started the movie pissed– pissed because all the power he had as Batman couldn’t help at all.

                             that’s it.

His face was my face. His emotions were my own, just not about the destruction of Metropolis. I LOVE being a teacher. After teaching this long those students become adults and we have conversations on social media all the time about what they studied and how they use it in life. I have affected years of students in positive ways. I don’t want to be Batman. I want to be Superman again. I want to feel like what I do in my little classroom saves the world because up until this year I always thought it did. I can’t begin to explain what I think is wrong with the education system, a system that desparately needs an overhaul. But, I can thank Ben Affleck for his time appropriate portrayal. This movie made me think in so many ways. The most important way helped me see it’s easy to lose your way. I realized that as Batman realized it–save Martha. Nope, you just saved me.

I Started a Makerspace… and Had the Whole World Laughing

If you grew up in my house, you were making all sorts of stuff. My kids had been making since they could hold the marker. I think makerspaces are long overdue.It’s all the rage and I am jumping on the bandwagon, too.

I facilitate a program called EAST. The students get to decide what they want to learn/study/fix/create etc. The problem is most of them have no idea what to do. Last year I did STEM experiments with them and planned to expand it but trusting them with it did not go as I thought. So, I decided to start to do a makerspace thing on Fridays. The first project was just a simple experiment. I gave them two weeks to bring an empty bottle. They could get it from anywhere. Out of 50 students I had less than half in each class bring a bottle. We did it anyway. My thinking was “this is pretty cool and if they see the fun they will get into the next one.” We did the elephant toothpaste experiment. If you didn’t have a bottle, you just got to watch. It was awesome. and gross. and awesome.

The next project was taking an old book and creating a decoration out of it. They had about two weeks to bring an old book. I even got people to donate so everybody had a book. I went to our elementary workroom and used the Ellison cutter and made some Christmas shapes. I made a tree, a stocking, a light, an apple, and a gingerbread person.repurpose book

All you had to do was trace the shape, cut pages, trace it again, cut pages. Glue the spine together and lightly paint the edges with tempera paint. I even sprayed glitter on them for a great effect. The plan was to create a gift for someone for Christmas. High school students rarely get to do that stuff, right?

Here’s what I discovered while doing this activity. They cannot cut. They cannot trace. They really can’t paint the edges of pages. Did they lose the ability to use scissors? Did they ever have them?

Our students have missed out on something wonderful. Technology is a great advantage in our world but it has smothered the ability to just make stuff out. Todays teens are really busy. Mine own children were coming and going when they were in high school. Every school should have some sort of makerspace so students have the opportunity to imagine and use their thumbs for something other than texting and selfies.

I’m not laughing. I am trying the makerspace in our elementary afterschool. I am also doing a crochet club after school. Right now, I am on the lookout for Legos. My youngest donated them to the local Methodist camp. He was a counselor last summer and they too suffered from too much electronics. They devoured them. I am going to flea markets looking for small motors to make bristlebots.


So, the next time you see me I’ll be the one in dumpster… looking for toilet paper rolls and laughing!


Why Videos Are Driving Everything

So, I was listening to Fox News Sunday in the car and the segment that caught my ear was about how Good Morning America seems to be using viral videos to drive their news segments. (I wish I could find evidence of that segment. Believe me I’ve tried.) The argument was GMA is winning the ratings war with less than traditional news worthy content. (Here is a link about ratings.) I think his name was Jay from the Baltimore Sun kept asking why… why is GMA doing it? and why are George and Robin talking about the tiny hamster eating tiny burritos. ( I don’t know if they talked about that or not. I don’t watch George and Robin.)

Besides the obvious that people would rather watch the cutest kitten ever meow at us than another day of killing in the Middle East, I have the answer to why viral videos seem to be driving news.

A couple of years ago I bought the book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image and my mind was blown. I sometimes pick it up and read it again. Mind blown every time. In the simplest of ways this book shows how literacy has changed our brains. Reading a book accesses a different part of the brain than watching television. The last chapters discuss how the introduction of the television has begun to change us- that images are becoming the main way are communicating. Think about it. Go back to Walter Cronkite times… he said it we believed it. People dressed like Mad Men. Order and logic ruled every decision. Then we watched our first presidential debate- the Kennedy Nixon Debates. People who watched it said Kennedy won; people who listened to it said Nixon won. Next thing you know we broke the internet by watching “Gangnam Style” over 2 billion times. How about President Obama and his Hope poster? Hope

We have become a image heavy 140 character or less rthr txt u society. I graduated high school in 1984. I remember being afraid of the Soviet Union. I don’t remember any news report or newspaper article about it. I do remember image after image of the mushroom cloud and how the movie The Day After made me feel not think. My kids knew where the happy meals were kept not by the word McDonalds but by the big golden M. I had a student write an entire Freshman Comp II paper on her phone. (It wasn’t half bad.) She would have loved it if I had let her text it in. We bombard each other not with “look at this article” but “look at this video!”

Leonard Shlain, the author of The Alphabet and the Goddess explains it much better than I do. While  I think he wrote the book to explain the importance of literacy he inadvertently provided proof of why viral videos are driving everything today. We have gone from a logical order written word driven society to emotional video/image driven mobile app society.


Last word… Pinterest.

Are You Ready to Level Up?

I am not a gamer. I never have been except when Atari first came out and I ODed on the home version of Galaga. I just don’t have the time or want to spend it on a game. But, I have discovered that today’s students love games. A LOT. I decided at the end of last year to change how I grade and incorporate gaming principles into my classroom. I read everything I could get my hands on concerning gaming. The books that have helped the most are The Multiplayer Classroom by Lee Shelton, Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, and Loyalty 3.0 by Rajat Paharia. (Loyalty 3.0 is more of using gaming philosophy in the business world but it so fits in education too!) These books have been invaluable in opening my eyes to changing how I do things in class.

Look. I hate grades. I think they are really dumb. I would much rather sit down with a student and parents and have a plan. Measuring the worth of a child’s learning at certain designated points in the year really does not make sense to me anymore. (This is from an English teacher who used to be so strict that if a student did not write the proper heading the entire paper would not be counted. At this point I would like to apologize to all of those students in the late 80’s/early 90’s. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing. Although if I had done anything different I probably would have been run out on a rail.) Grades unfortunately are the world in which we live, so grades it has to be. I wasn’t reaching some students. Some of my students have been beaten up by English class for years. Some of my students just don’t care. Something had to change.

So in this year’s English 9 syllabus I had a section that included Leveling Up. A student’s final semester grade would not be the average of the grades from the past semester but a total counting of those points. Instead of getting a 70% out of a 100 on a paper a student would have earned 70 out of 100 points. That may not seem like much of a difference but if you look at it over weeks there is. At first the students were griping in other classes about it. They didn’t really understand what I had said to them. But at the first mid nine weeks grade they saw the difference. On their progress report they got the traditional grade. I also told them their other grade. The one that takes total points earned against total points they could earn. In all cases but three the grade was higher with my method. In the three cases it was the same letter grade. Finally last week when the students were discussing their points and rankings, a student looked at me and said, “so you mean it doesn’t matter what I make it matters how many points I earn?” Yes. It’s all about the points.

First thing I did was have the students make an avatar and choose a name. I used Marvel Superhero site, Hero Machine, and Hero Factory. I let the students choose which site they wanted to use. After they made their superhero and gave themselves a name, I screen shotted the image to a jump drive. I put them in their respective classes and printed them off. I used the paint program to crop the images. Next I made a leaderboard for each class. Each week I post the top ten students in the class according to their points earned. As they level up they get a sticker. It wasn’t until the second time I changed the leaderboard that the students really showed interest in the process. Now, it’s like a battle. The points show them where they are in respect to the different levels. While the students are really battling against his/her self, they don’t see it that way. They see it as a battle royale.

Students have these preconceived notions of how smart they are in this class or that. With the leaderboard many have been surprised at their place. I have had so many students say the didn’t know they were that good at English until the board. Now do the students know who each other are? Yes, but it’s not their name but their superhero name. And, it’s not their grade but their total points. I also waited until everyone had leveled up enough to get a sticker. Students now refer to their achievements as how many points they have earned instead of failing another class.

Do I have students failing? Yes. It’s ninth grade English. The students failing are failing because they are not doing work as a whole. They also have a lot of absences. Is this new grading system working? I think so. My first goal is to get the attention of those students on the bubble and who have been beaten up by previous English classes. The second nine weeks has started and I am going to change it up. I am going to put them in groups and put them on the board as a group. This way everyone makes the board and everyone has to contribute to the group. I want no Leeroy Jenkins!!

Next post: I will discuss the leaderboard and the grading practice.

Become a 21st Century Teacher- RSS Feed

Teachers ask me all the time, “how do you find this stuff on the internet? You must spend hours and hours looking for the stuff you find.” Nope, I tell them. I have it all come to me.

I have always loved technology. I got a Vic20 when I was in the 6th grade and it hasn’t slowed down since. I have also watched teachers be the most resourceful group on the planet and master multi taskers yet when it comes to using technology they seem to be the most afraid. Teachers today think hardware is easily broken and must be mastered before used in the classroom.

I think it comes from teaching like we learned. My junior/senior English teacher was a big influence on how I taught early in my career. The teacher’s edition was her bible and all the rules had to be obeyed. If things had stayed the same, I would have kept teaching using Pat Herring’s philosophy. Mrs. Herring used an overhead, a mimeograph, 16mm film projector, and a red pen. She was the law of the land!!

I am here to tell you that you don’t have to master it all. You can have the students do that. You just master what you need.

The first step, in my opinion, to becoming a 21st century teacher is to get an RSS feed. RSS stands for a couple of different fancy terms but a feed is just an aggregator or collector. You set up a feed and that feed will collect new material on all the websites that you connect to with that feed. Instead of spending all that time looking at all the websites you like to read, they send their new info to you. You just have to read your feed– it’s kinda like a digital newspaper and you get to choose the content.

Do a Google search for “popular RSS feeds” will get you a whole list of them. My favorite was Google Reader but it was shut down last year. I found a great one called The Old Reader. It looks and acts a lot like Google Reader. Here is a typical day in my reader.

the old readerYou can see some of my subscriptions on the left. If I want to read something later, I star it. When I have looked at everything, to make it go away I just click the “mark all as read” and it disappears. To connect a website you just grab its URL and click the “add subscription” button at the top. Put that URL in the spot and its now connected. So I don’t have to visit these websites, when they post new content it comes to me.

There are several tools on each item in the feed. The Old Reader 2I can star it, share it, and even send it to someone else. In fact I am always sending something that I can’t use to someone else. If you click on the title of the individual item, you are taken to the original site. It’s just like reading a newspaper. I scan the headlines and click on the ones I want to read and skip the ones I don’t. There is hardly a learning curve and when I find a site I like I just open another tab, go to theoldreader.com and connect it to my feed.

So find a feed. Connect to the world. Get smarter.

NCLB– What Have You Done To Me?

At first, I was all for NCLB. Getting all students to 100% proficiency sounds awesome. Implementing that we all found was impossible. The years of NCLB have shown us it’s worse sin… Putting all of our children into the same cookie cutter and expecting them to also become the best of what makes America great-our creativity. I knew these things in an abstract way but could never really put a concrete thought to it until this week. We have killed the creative part of our public schools and our children suffer because of it.

Back story- I teach Freshman Comp through a local community college at the high school where I teach. This semester I have eight girls. Four of them were my students in Pre-AP 9th grade English and went on to take AP English by distance learning and four had regular English for the past three years. Their first big paper due this semester was an analysis of a short story piece we had studied. The AP students performed well. They didn’t need much help from me and their papers were insightful and interesting. The other did poorly. In fact, they plagiarized and two literally copied something from the internet word for word. Brains literally exploded, I think.

As I thought about my failure with them I realized that the AP girls had been taught to think and the regular girls had not. I’ve taught English for 25 years and don’t tell any of my former/current administrators but I never taught to the test. I would format my tests to resemble the ACTAAP format but I never used old questions we were always given to practice with our students. Have you read any of those prompts?? Here is an old 8th Benchmark writing prompt– “Write a letter to your City Council (because 8th graders do that all the time) about what color you would paint the trash cans in the city park.” I taught form and substance. We used technology to demonstrate proficiency. We collaborated on study guides instead of one kid doing a worksheet and the rest of them copy it.

One of the AP girls told me, ” in 9th grade we all thought you had no idea of what you were doing. We had never been taught that way. When we took the first AP English class, we realized how much we already knew. That was because of you.” The Distance Learning Facilitator told me that she always knew which students had me the previous year. They were able to think and not get frustrated by the pace of the assignments.

I don’t know if Common Core will allow teachers to bring back thinking to our schools. I guess only time will tell. Luckily, I’m a rule breaker. Common Core will probably come and go too. I will keep doing what I do. Yes, I teach English. More importantly, I teach thinking.

Using Video to Inspire Student Writers

I’m writing a book called Using Technology to Inspire Student Writers. I am going to post about different chapters in the book. The first chapter is on video.

Video is a great source of inspiration for getting students to write. Let’s face it. When most students enter the English classroom something immediately changes inside of them. They are gearing up for the warden of the English language and their sentence would be over when the bell rang. While I cannot understand why anyone wouldn’t love all things Shakespeare, I can sympathize when I apply those feelings to math. Yuck.

When I decide to use a piece I try to discover a way to introduce, supplement, evaluate, the text with technology. It is amazing what a one minute video will do to students and their interest in the text. Don’t just stop at you using video with the students. Let the students demonstrate mastery of the text with video. According to an Education Week article, 51% of high school students have smartphones. I say that statistic is low. I teach in a school with 70% free/reduced lunch and only one to four students in any give classroom doesn’t have a smartphone.

1. Use video to help explain the text. The first short story that I teach in 9th grade English is “The Most Dangerous Game” which is about a hunter who gets stranded on an island and becomes the hunted. It is a long short story and because it was published in 1924 the language sounds stilted against the English today. The story is rich in plot elements, both good and bad, and its message is a great one for 15 year olds to ponder. I use video with this piece in two ways. One, I show a Gilligan’s Island episode called “The Hunter” which takes its plot directly from this story. Gilligan’s Island has many episodes based in literature. After viewing the episode there are so many questions to ask just with comparison and contrast.

General Zaroff, the antagonist of the text, is described as a vampire by the author Richard Connell. He doesn’t use the term but everything about Zaroff screams vampire. Students don’t see it because they are too wrapped up in the syntax of the text. I use YouTube as a visual when leading them to his description. Once they connect Zaroff to vampire the text becomes current to them, especially when you discuss what the word “Vampire” really means. Now all the connections and the questions fall into place. Another great place to find video on your piece is Wikipedia. You can find all sorts of interesting information on your piece that the teacher’s edition doesn’t give you.

2. Use video as an evaluation tool for the student. When studying a piece from Shakespeare, the students will do an assignment called Found Poetry. You take the words of a text and rearrange them to form your own piece. I also apply this technique to evaluate students’ mastery of a piece. When the piece is prose, I let the students use their music to create found poetry. Open source software like CamStudio can screencast the video. Audacity can record audio and blend several parts into one. The product can just be on paper using the lyrics of the different songs. They are creating something new plus using their medium to prove mastery of the text. The kids today call it a mash up. We call it an example of Common Core Standards.

Here is an example of a mash up. Although this mash up is by rhythm instead of words, the explanation is obvious.

Just google “Mash up” and you will get many examples. Another way is to pick a song and change the lyrics. 

This video uses One Republic’s song “Apologize” and changes the words to explain why the founding fathers revolted from King George. There are karaoke versions of so many songs this has almost endless possibilities. The students change words to fit their  mastery of text.

3. Use video to explain figurative language. I have tried to teach figurative language to students and so often they just look back with blank stares. 

This video by Tim Hawkins is called “Cletus Take the Reel” an parody of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Between Tim Hawkins and Weird Al Yankovic, figurative language has become very simple to teach. This is not even counting the original songs that the students listen to that contain figurative language.

The point is by using video you take the students out of the textbook, which is the one thing that turns their brains off, and puts them in front of video, which is the one thing they love. Remember the written word came first. Whether it was to craft a song or storyboard a video, there were words on paper before there was the video. Common Core is all about the students creating something authentic and publishing. Video is a great way to get students to do just that.



Where’s The String For My Finger??

Because my own kids went/go to the school I teach at, I am more familiar with its students and their parents. That does not mean I have an easier time contacting them. “I forgot to…” is still a typical answer to any question asked of students. About two years ago I found Remind101, and each semester I have used it more.


I began a search for something to help me communicate when I needed to get a message to a group of cheerleaders. I sent a message to 8 of 12 on Facebook but couldn’t find them all. I asked the girls to pass on my message to those that didn’t get it. In my message I asked those other girls to tell me they got it. Within a minute all 8 received the message. Within 7 minutes the other 4 had received it. WOW. but, there had to be a better way.

Remind 101 is simple. Messages are sent by SMS. I sign up and make the groups I want to communicate with students. They text that name to a number assigned to the group. The service will ask them to send back their name. That’s it.


I can send a text up to 140 characters. I can also schedule texts to be sent at a specific time and day. The great part is I don’t know the phone numbers of the students and they don’t know mine. They also can’t respond back to me. I first used this with my yearbook kids. I then used it in my classes. Now I also use it with our seniors. As yearbook adviser and senior sponsor I have to communicate with them all year. Last year I had 95% participation. The students that didn’t have a cell phone or unlimited texting (texting rates do apply) I got am email account to send the message. I also made sure they had a buddy who did have a cell phone. It was up to the two of them to exchange the messages. It was awesome because I even had parents who signed up. When I met with our juniors (soon to be seniors), I had them take their phones out and they signed up right then. I sent the directions home to their parents and most of them have signed up.

Remind101 it has an app for Apple/Android devices. It is safe. It is easy. It is awesome.

Now, I can take this string off my finger.


AR… Where Have You Been All My Life?

aurasma logo

I just love technology. I really love it when I figure out something that can help me do great stuff. I have known about Augmented Reality for a couple of years but haven’t had the time or the guts to try and figure it out. Well, last week I faced my fear. AR is so cool!!!

There are several apps out there but the app I am using is called Aurasma. AR works like this: you overlay content onto a trigger image. When you open the app, place your device over that trigger image, the overlay content will play. Move your device away from image and the content stops.aurasma logo

(Two places helped me figure this tech out. Erin Klein made a how to pdf which is generous and awesome. Nena Land and Jimma Holder from Mena Public Schools presented a one hour session at HSTI on AR. Plug for HSTI… This is a technology conference in Hot Springs, AR. The only tech conference that is better would be ISTE. That’s just my opinion!)

My first aura? I linked the cover of our 2013 yearbook to the Harlem Shake we did at school. So anybody with this app and following me (lisabyrd-education) can hold it over this image or their yearbook and the video will play. How did I do it?

Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 7.52.30 PM


1. Download the Aurasma app.(This is an itunes app.)

2. When the app loads, there is a tutorial. Click through it. You will get a screen like this.Screen Shot 2013-06-28 at 8.18.15 PM


3. Click the “+” and you get a short tutorial.

4. Click the square and go explore for auras with your device.

5. Click the magnifying glass and search for auras.

6. Click the person and you access your profile. To be able to access other auras you need to follow other people. My profile is lisabyrd.-education. But, I only have one really awesome aura so far… Once you follow me, you can hover your device over the yearbook cover and the video will play.

You can make auras with your device or on the computer using Aurasma Studio. I have so many ideas to use this next school year my head is spinning. To get you started, here is a Pinterest board on AR. Want to learn even more? Here are a few more links.

The Aurasma channel on YouTube.

Goodbye, Google Reader… My Old Friend

“Goodbye my friend, it’s hard to die,
when all the birds are singing in the sky,
Now that the spring is in the air.
Pretty girls are everywhere.
When you see them I’ll be there.
We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.
But the hills that we climbed
were just seasons out of time.”

by Terry Jacks
source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/onehitwonders/seasonsinthesunlyrics.html


I love Google Reader. I joke that I would marry Google. When it was announced that Reader would go away in July, my heart sank. I have used Reader for many years and I go to it several times a day. What I love most about it is it’s simplicity. I don’t want bells and whistles. I just want the stuff. So I checked out all the popular ones. Many sites are trying to come out with their own RSS feed to fill the gap that will be left by Reader.

I tried Feedly. I tried Flipboard. I just don’t like either one. I wish I could put it into words. They look great and lots of people love them. Just not me. I stumbled onto The Old Reader. I love it!

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 10.51.23 PMIt was very easy to load my subscriptions to The Old Reader. First, register. Next, open a new tab and go to Google Takeout. Now, just follow the directions.  Takeout will put your subscriptions into an OPML file. (I don’t know what that file extension is but I don’t have to understand. I only need to have it.) Go back to The Old Reader and import the files. Mine were put into a zip file which I had to unzip. That was all.

Here is a screenshot of a typical view of my feeds. It’s clean. No bells and whistles. Just information. Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 11.10.04 PM