Personalizing your PD part II; Podcasts

Personalizing professional development has become something I have become passionate about; I hear the stories of my colleagues who are sent to “sit and get” PD which has no merit to their particular grade level or subject. I am constantly trying to get better, so I can better serve my students. My late grandfather, a former General Manager of a local telephone cooperative, would always remind me: “Complacency is the silent killer.” Complacent is not where we want to be in education; we constantly need to evaluate our ways to keep up with the every changing world. Which leads me to our next stop in our series over professional development, podcasts.

Since the first family computer my parents bought in the 1990s I have been a huge proponent of technology. I would watch Leo Laporte and the screen savers when I would get home from school. TechTV was bought and changed its name to G4 and Leo left my television screen. I was upset.  For the next few years, I have used the internet for my questions about technology. In 2007 I discovered the world of podcasts and my dear old friend Leo Laporte was leading the way. He had created an online podcasting network.(now IP-based television network) Here I could geek out to my hearts content with the excellent programming created. Since then I have branched out to other shows such as: This American Life, Serial, Stuff You Should Know, Things you missed in History Class, Freakonomics, and Planet Money. All of whom have enriched my knowledge.

Podcasting can trace its roots back to the 1980s and was more commonly known as audio blogging. Radio shows would record episodes of their program and would send it to stations for replay. With internet popularity rising in the late 1990s information could be moved at a faster rate and a little company called Napster took the world by storm. People from all over the world could now share audio files with anyone. (The legal system eventually gets involved with Napster, but that is a different story.)  With the surge in digital audio, hardware companies begin to create devices to make the files more portable. Some companies entered the game of Mp3 players but when Apple debuted the iPod the company has not looked back since. The term podcast and the downloading of shows become more widely used with the introduction of Apple’s iPod in 2001.

In part I of the series I wrote on Twitter and all the excellent educators sharing content on that platform. Around the middle of my summer break 2015 while on Twitter one of the teachers I follow Greg Bagby @Gregbagby tweeted he Mari Venturino @MsVenturino and Justin Birckbichler @Mr_B_teacher were releasing a new podcast called Edu Roadtrip. I listened to the first episode and loved it. I witnessed the power of Twitter when I tweeted to them about how great their show was, and on episode two I was referenced as a listener on @Eduroadtrip. Receiving the shout out made my day, I then contacted Justin to see what recommendations he would have for other educational podcasts. He recommended Cult of Pedagogy by  Jenifer Gonzales, and House of #Edtech by Chris Nesi. I downloaded both podcasts and a few others. I was amazed by the content available by these educators who just wanted to share what they have to offer.

So, you now have a brief history of my discovery of podcasts a short history of the origins of podcasts, and my discovery of educational podcasts. Now you want to know how can I use podcasts for my professional development?

If you are an iPhone user, the native podcasting app works well, but I prefer the Overcast app. Overcast lets you sync your podcasts over the internet, if you want to listen on your desktop at school it will pick up right where you left off. If you are on Android, I have read good reviews about the podkicker app which is free. Just search for any of the shows I have listened or you can check out the Education Podcasting Network to see some of their shows. ( The Education Podcasting Network is my favorite place for educational content. The majority of the hosts are in still in the classroom, or they have extensive classroom experience.

I had the privilege to interview some of the stars of the Educational Podcasting Network. Chris Nesi, Host of House of #Edtech, Justin Brickbichler and Mari Venturino of Eduroadtrip, have also taken time from their busy schedules to answer a few questions.  We will begin with the Host of the House of #Edtech podcast Chris Nesi.

Chris Nesi has been in education since the fall of 2007, before becoming an educator he was involved with children for years as a volunteer. Chris was first inspired to become a teacher by his father, and many of the teachers he had in throughout his life.  “One particular teacher, my high school English teacher and Drama advisor, Mrs. MaryAnn Cochran. She was a teacher, mentor, and friend and still fills these roles even today.”

Chris became a “connected educator” and mentioned; “I love interacting with people and having conversations about the things I am interested in. Fostering relationships with people who have similar professional interests outside my place of employment has been very powerful and has given me what I need for learning and to gain an outside perspective on the good and bad of my work.”

Discussing podcasting I questioned Chris about his interest in podcasting his response was; “I started the House of #EdTech Podcast because I became tired of being merely a retweeter of other people’s voices and content. I knew I had a unique perspective on technology integration and education technology tools that I wanted to share with the world. A little nudge from my wife, who suggested podcasting, was all I needed to go all in on creating something I am very proud of. Prior to getting into this artform I was aware of podcasts but was not a consumer and I am now addicted to creating my show and consuming a wide variety of podcasts for my own growth personally and professionally.”

I asked Chris, How can an educator benefit from podcasts? His answer; “A podcast should cause the listener to laugh, think, cry, or do in addition to educating and/or entertaining you. Everyone, not just educators, should consumer podcasts. They are more enriching than radio and they can be consumed anytime and anywhere. You don’t need to focus solely on what you’re listening to in order to enjoy it. You can do laundry, mow the grass, run, etc.”

Becoming a well rounded person via this platform can only enhance your teaching. If you consume podcasts related to your content that’s growth. If you consume content related to education in general that’s growth. If you consume content related to your passion — you guessed it, that’s growth!

So grow!”


Getting to interview Chris Nesi was great, and I have more from him later in the article. I will now turn my focus to two of the three hosts of the Edu Roadtrip Podcast Mari Venturino and Justin Birckbichler. Starting with Mari; Mari just finished her fourth year teaching 7th grade Science and is a Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA. She is a Google For Education Certified Trainer, a Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2, and is Leading Edge Certified in Online and Blended Instruction. She is the co-founder of #FlyHighFri, a movement to share positivity in person and on social media, and the co-founder of Breakout EDU Digital with Justin Birckbichler.

Mari’s inspiration for teaching comes from; “Teaching has always been a passion, and I have had many incredible teachers along the way. However, I didn’t seriously start to see it as a career until college. I was at Camp Winters Music Camp as a counselor, leading a sectional rehearsal, when it hit me that teaching is something I’m good at and I enjoy, and therefore I should pursue it seriously.

How Mari became a “connected educator”:  It was a slow process. I signed up for a “professional” Twitter account in February 2014 (I created a personal one back in summer 2008), but it took me almost a year to actually dive in headfirst. Once I realized that there were many other teachers looking to connect and share, I was hooked. I’m thankful for #caedchat (California’s ed chat, 8pm PST Sunday nights) for pushing me to reach out, connect, and grow.

Mari, you are the host of Edu Roadtrip. What interested you in podcasts? “A lot of our podcast started as a series of inside jokes. We realized there are far too many twitter chats, so we branched out and decided to start podcasting. It took a few months to research and solidify our content, and it has been a wonderful growing experience for us all!”

 When asking Mari how a teacher could benefit from podcasts her answer was: “Podcasts are easy to access for anyone with an internet connection. I download them and listen on my commute to and from work (about 25 minutes), at the gym, or while cleaning the house. It’s easy to multitask and listen–usually. When I’m in the car, I often have idea sparks that I’d love to remember; I have tons of voice memos and reminders in my phone with new ideas and ways to approach teaching and learning.

One of Mari’s partners in crime Justin Birckbichler just finished his third year of teaching fourth grade in Virginia. Justin became inspired to become an educator from his 2nd-grade teacher Mrs. Ghessi. Justin said; “she made learning fun and was a pivotal person in his life.”

Justin stated he became a “connected educator” from a close friend named Jenn Guido.  Justin, you are the co-host of Edu Roadtrip with Mari, and Greg Bagby. How did you become interested in podcasting? “Mari, Greg, and I connected on twitter, and said let’s try podcasting.”

Justin says the biggest benefit of an educator listening to podcasts is; “You have a choice, and availability of podcasts is a help. Plus, it is on the go. Podcasts can be consumed anywhere, and with the ability to speed up podcasts help to finish an episode in half the time.”

It was truly an honor to speak with these amazing educators and picking their brain. I asked all my interviewees more questions about Podcasting. I asked all of them What is different about podcasting that makes it a great form for personalizing your PD? Justin informed me; “Choice, thousands of podcast are out there. You can also hear the passion in the voice of the person hosting the show.” Chris stated; “As a podcaster, I get to talk with people who I might not normally have access to and that’s my dirty secret. I’m the first person in line for learning from my podcast. The conversations are ones that I am having and then sharing. Guests are teaching me first and I let the listener in. The other personal aspect is that I get to choose what I listen to, when I listen to it, and if I will continue listening at any point in time. Nobody mandates anything about it to me.” Mari also said; “I love the opportunity to ask incredible teachers, administrators, and educators about their passions, their successes, and learning opportunities. It’s all recorded, so I can go back and listen at any time, and share what I learn with others. Twitter chats are great, however it’s hard to convey emotion and dive deep in only 140 characters. With podcasts we can hear the person’s voice and passion in their words.”


If anyone is interested in becoming a podcaster who would they go about doing so?

Chris: “Contact me. As someone who is 2+ years into creating podcasts I have experiences that I am willing to share along with recommendations I can make. I am also connected to people who are in the world of podcasting and aren’t necessarily teachers but they teach podcasting.”

Mari:The EduRoadTrip podcast is very low tech and is done almost entirely with free software. There are three of us on the team: Greg Bagby, Justin Birckbichler, and myself. We spent a long time together figuring out the format of our podcast and logistics. We had to ask ourselves: Will I have a theme? What segments will I have? If I have interviews, how will I set those up? How often will I release new episodes?

We keep track of everything using Google Forms (scheduling) and Docs (episode planning). Then, we record our episodes using Google Hangouts on Air, and Justin strips out the audio and edits it using a paid program. We publish our episodes through Blogger, which sends the episode to iTunes and Stitcher via Feedburner.

We released a Rest Stop episode last fall where we talk about our entire process:

Justin:Just reach out to podcasters, Jeff Bradbury is who I contacted to help us with Edu Roadtrip. All of what we do is free, but pay options could be a better option. Just don’t hesitate to reach out.”

My last question I had for the three was. Is there any advice you would like to give our readers to help with their personal PD discovery?

Justin: “Pick something you are interested in, and pick something you might want to get better at.”

Mari: “We’re all growing and learning together. It can be scary to connect and reach out at first, but remember everyone else had their first tweet, first blog post, first podcast episode, etc. Ask for recommendations from people you trust and respect, and be prepared to share your favorites too. Remember “Sometimes teaching is smooth highway, and other times it’s a bumpy mountain road. As long as you’ve got your friends with you, it’s bound to be an adventure!”

Our lives have become busier every day, and podcasts have a great opportunity for educators to expand our knowledge, traveling to work, working out, or even gardening can create your own space for learning. Finding the right podcast for you may take some time and digging, but I hope I can steer you in the right direction.”

 Chris: ““Follow your passions and knowledge is truly power. There’s always a choice and whether it’s podcasts, Twitter or something else, you have the power to choose the what, where, when, and how you want to learn. Start with subscribing to House of #EdTech :-)”

Using podcasts are a great way to enrich your life. There are thousands upon thousands of podcasts at your fingertips. Discover your passion, find your favorite podcasting app, download and enjoy. Please make sure you visit and support the websites of the individuals I interviewed.

Next week Voxer! 




The Importance of Professional Development

Today, as I finished my first professional development for the upcoming school year, I realized the importance of professional development, more than ever, that makes me a more effective teacher. We’ve all been in a PD meeting that, is …. well, boring. At WCHS, we completed our very first EdCamp and it was eye-opening. To see educators engaged, and not getting the traditional “sit-and-get” and focused on student-centered learning, was refreshing.

Professional development should be thought-provoking. It should cause an educator to sit back and evaluate what they are doing in the classroom. Are they focused on the student learning what they need or is it the same thing continuous without any desired effect? Einstein famously said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If, as an educator, you are having students complete similar tasks and its ineffective the, then why bother?! PD challenges you to become better. It should make you want to dig deeper. Strive for perfection in your classroom, not only for better test scores, but for increasing the whole student. 

Occasionally, I am asked by students, family members, etc. reasons why I started teaching, and the answer is simple. I enjoy helping people. My goal is to give every student every opportunity that I didn’t get as a child. I teach my students to strive for perfection. Why don’t we do the same for ourselves in our teaching? Professional development allows for that to happen. 

“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” 

-Teddy Roosevelt

Personalizing your PD Part I

Summer break is upon us, and while you are planning vacations, sitting by the pool, or enjoying your favorite music festival there is still the ever looming professional development days most states and districts require. We have all been there looking over the list of days your district has for you dreading or wondering what you will have to go to or sit through.  You may even wonder will this even be tailored to fit the needs of my students or myself. So I made it a mission to help myself in the classroom, and this will be part one of my journey.

Most of you have heard of Twitter; it is the social media site which allows you 140 characters or less to get your message across. I had been on Twitter since the beginning; I was fortunate to get my name @jacobdunn as my “Twitter handle.” For the first few years of being on Twitter, I treated it like a Facebook that never took off. Many of my Facebook friends never made it to the social site, and I used it as a way to consume content that was interesting to me.

Five years ago I began blogging about teaching and discovered the world of Twitter. I thought could share my blog with thousands of teachers. I then discovered other teachers doing the same as I, creating content and exchanging what they knew. It wasn’t until 2015 I began participating in educational Twitter chats on a regular basis.I admittedly was disappointed I hadn’t done it any sooner. Within the past year, I have learned so much from my colleagues on Twitter. I have expanded my professional learning network (PLN) and made wonderful connections with teachers all around the world.

Using Twitter may seem very intimidating at first, and you are more than welcome to ask me any question you may have about using it. You are probably wondering how you may participate in a Twitter chat. Twitter uses the hashtag as a way for people of like mind to search for specific topics. One of the first Twitter chats I participated in is possibly the largest of all chats #edchat. I was very overwhelmed at first, so many people seeming to go hundreds of miles an hour on a topic about education. I did learn a lot from this chat but since then I have branched off to more relevant conversations which benefit my teaching. I still go back to #edchat often. The most Twitter chats I am active in are; #BFC530, #sschat, #TNTechChat, and #TNEdchat. Being a Social Studies teacher in Tennessee, you can see my where my focus is.

The first step for you to explore the world of Twitter should join an Ed Chat. If you are and English teacher I recommend #Engchat or a second-grade teacher #2ndchat. I will add a link below which has the list of all Twitter chats.

Wanting more information on Twitter? Check out this link, or you may contact me on here or on Twitter @jacobdunn

Happy connecting through Twitter! Part II will be over Podcasts and hopefully will come within the next week.


Thoughts on Assessment

In the past, I was conflicted on how to perceive assessments results. During my first two years of teaching, I was extremely disappointed with the results that I would receive. Over half of the United States History students received failing grades, some as low as 45 or 50. I discovered through TVAAS, the issue was with me and my role in the classroom rather than the students. The students had no information concerning individual expectations and goals. The lessons and assessment were only sections of lectures formulated into a review day then churned into a test. These test were made from a test generator the department had received from a book company that claimed to be in line with the state standards. I was in survival mode: how I taught, how I assessed and especially how the results were analyzed.
Through implementing different types of assessments, I have challenged myself and the students to think differently about how standards are taught, assessed and analyzed. Now, at the beginning of the year, we as a department embrace data and enjoy breaking down test questions by words and phrases. At the middle of the first nine week period, I see that students are ‘hitting their stride’ or finding their pace to perform on assessments. My goal is to identify one or a group of students who are falling short and reward those who are going beyond their expected level of performance. Rather than using assessments as a 50/50 shot (you fail/ you pass), common assessments, norm referenced, formative and summative assessments shed a light on the students’ true and continuing academic performance.
Common Assessments are Vocabulary Quizzes
In the history department, we implemented common assessment three years after the push of PLCs. The assessment consisted of five questions, multiple choice, that were aligned with and taken from the item sampler online directly correlating with state SPI’s. We picked the questions based upon how often the standard appears on the practiced test. The validity of the assessment shifted to vocabulary issues rather than Historical knowledge. The most popularly missed questions consisted of political cartoons in which caricatures used a word that was beyond the students’ level of comprehension. As a department, we adjusted instructional strategies and addressing content validity by placing key words into lectures and conversation with students. We found that students became self-managing and would genuinely ask for the definition if the word was used in a causal manner. After analyzing common assessments, we mandated that the key words be integrated into formative assessments to measure the students’ performance of application skills. For manageability, we placed key questions of vocabulary focus on the first page of the formative assessment.
Integrating Norm-Referenced and Formative Assessments as a Learning Tool
While analyzing and addressing vocabulary skills, we tracked formative assessment data reliability based on how many questions the student would miss on a forty question assessment. During the period of the students, “hitting their stride”, I monitored the students achievement and compared performance based upon TVAAS projections, then converted the percentage into a baseline for how many questions should be missed on the assessment. Over a period of five weeks, the average student score would deviate from two to eight questions. The goal was for 70% of students to meet or go above their TVAAS projections. The assessments were 70% multiple choice, 30% short answer. For the class as a whole, I identified common questions the students missed on the first few assessments, linked the standard and composed spiraling questions addressing the standards in various ways. After week six, I requested that the students write down how many questions they should miss on an average assessment consisting of 40 questions. Over 80% of the students’ prediction matched or went above the TVAAS projectiles. If the student wrote down a score that was below TVAAS projections, we would have a conference to enable the students to self-monitor their progress. For example: students states they should miss ten and TVASS projections show they should miss six. The student and I set a goal for missing only eight in the next formative assessment, in one month only missing seven. The student became self-directed. In Paul Black’s words, the student has tasted their soup. The system was called a “magic number.” The students were provided clear targets and informed that if they fell below their own projections it would require remediation.
The frequencies of formative assessments were an issue that needed consideration in order to maintain reliability of the assessment findings. The timespan in between assessments was no more than two weeks at the most. If an assessment was delayed by an unforeseen issue, a short formative assessment was implemented with no prior review or forewarning. In order to receive honest data and reflection of student performance, we informed the students that the grading rubric would be more forgiving and stakes would be lowered if they did not meet their “magic number.” This version of an assessment could be an ego stroke or an opportunity to learning from mistakes. It was not a lengthy assessment, and was given in a casual manner. If the students fell short and felt guilt we identified that reaction as empowerment or taking ownership. For the purposes of self-modifying, I requested that students highlight missed standards in their individual notes.
Summative Assessments: The Showdown
Most of the pressure I observed the students placed upon themselves was during the days before a rigorous summative assessment. The stakes were raised and test rigor was based upon how the stage is set for the summative assessment. The main goal was gaining objective and reliable performance documentation. The soup was being delivered to the customer. In rigorous, high stakes norm referenced assessments, the results of positive growth had a substantial impact on increasing interest in subject matter and to improving behavioral patterns in class. The assessments were 100% teacher manufactured with 25% using multiple choice and 75% focusing on short answers. The short answers questions implemented spiral learning techniques with an objective goal of answering the questions using two to three words (if the students mastered a standard via multiple choice, the assessment question would shift to answering a question and applying knowledge in their words). Magic numbers were heavily discussed and student/class goals were provided, for instance: 70% class wide achievement reached equals extra day of enrichment activities.
When the class was motivated with reaching not only individual goals, but class-wide targets, I transitioned from recall and response pass/fail to an empowering learning coach.

Using these techniques, I was able to identify students who were falling short based upon specific SPI’s before any major high stakes assessment, as well as reward students who would not normally be recognized in other classes. Student felt empowered rather than embarrassed of their performance. Students needed, and secretly wanted, structure and feedback that could be provided through these types of communication through assessments. In the past, I handed back graded test and observed reactions of quiet apathy. Now when I given back assessments results, I observed a postive climate of students discussing questions with each other to looking for the item they missed then going into their note book and highlighting the SPI to making statements such as “not next time” or “OK, this is what I need to work on.” I felt that I made an impact by empowering students take ownership of their own targets of academic performance.

Always Adapting,

Joe Collier

A Brief Study In Data and Growth

Scatterplots on the TVAAS website show multiple schools in the middle Tennessee region making significant growth in the end of course assessment despite evidence of economic disadvantages.

What sets these schools apart? Why are they making significant gains when surrounding counties with similar demographics counties are falling short?
Do student factors, such as poverty, correlate with growth and effective learning?
Testing the data:
A teacher questionnaire was developed that broke down subjective and objective factors of potential for higher rates of student growth. The questionnaire was entitled: POET (Potential of Effective Teaching). After developing POET, phone calls were made to teachers within the selection of the schools listed above. A L5 teacher from a middle Tennessee school was chosen as a prime candidate for this model based upon growth in this economically disadvantaged school. The L5 teacher was interviewed and revealed multiple findings ranging from setting high expectations through teacher made essay-based summative assessments, implementing common core models, and establishing a positive classroom environment.
Does poverty play a significant role or barrier to student growth? No. The Sanders and Horne study (the original developers and the value added system) proved this finding as well, but strong personality teachers and student knowledge are not enough to make growth in rural areas of Tennessee. There is a combination of growth obtaining factors that are worth consideration. Where do schools with low growth go from here?  There are multiple barriers to making significant student growth. The largest factor is that of teacher and subject placement.  The next barrier to success is the uncertainty of the upcoming field tests and future state assessments for US History. The L5 educator stated in their interview that they were using graphs, charts and maps in composition books for the past ten years and assessed the students through read and response assessments. The L5 also stated that they were not concerned about methods of state testing or projections as much as setting and maintaining high standards for all students in the classroom.
Recommendations for Administration
Based upon characteristics from effective to novice teachers found in these POET interviews, the following concepts should be considered for schools that are lacking in academic growth.
Refrain from using 100% multiple choice formats for testing, and implement essay and response driven assessments that can provide overarching summaries or themes of state standards rather than focusing a majority of time on specific SPIs.
Develop closer knit PLC environments among freshman social studies teachers with a goal of establishing similar assessment formats, notebooks and especially goal tracking techniques based upon TVAAS projections to set higher expectations. (Model feeder schools)
Establish better lines of communication with the special education department in order to provide quality modifications to achieve success for all students.
Develop more mentoring and coaching, where successful or veteran teachers can help novice or lower scoring teachers
Ponder the ethical and dreadful debate of teacher placement.

Further Research
A range of questions manifest from the research that would be worth consideration for further research. The initial findings on the TVAAS scatterplots showed multiple schools that meet the criteria for high growth in economically disadvantaged schools in Middle Tennessee. Among these schools other factors emerge from involving system wide educational policies to years of average teacher experience. Examples include reward schools, feeder school systems with close knit PLCs, block schedules, Doctorate level educators, and schools have crafted outstanding school homepages that indicate a positive school environment. How would others score in the POET questionnaire? Would a majority of these high growth schools have teacher with high POET scores? Could these high growth schools have teachers with small potential for growth, who are benefiting from school or system policies? What system wide policies do these schools have in common that lead to higher growth versus their neighboring counties?


Always Adapting,

Joe Collier