Where does PLC fit with Innovation?

As a great educator asked me in a conversation we were having the other day, “Where does PLC fit with innovation?” We are saturated in a moment in time in education where PLC is the thing. Everyone is part of one(whatever that means as I have found that it looks different and means different things across schools across the nation), but the end goal ends up being teachers doing a lot of the same. Is it good? I don’t know. Does it lead to the typical managing system where we teach for the middle? Get out our binders, turn to page 33, and now recite to kids….. I find myself struggling because I realize that we must do more to ensure learning is taking place. We must start viewing students as our students and not my students. But in doing so are we actually achieving the other goals of innovative, problem solving, 21st century thinking students or cloned versions of one another?

Great teachers are being asked to do more and more and more to prove that they are already doing the art of teaching. They are asked to document all their work that they already know is working. They are asked to lead the way, come up with answers that the big education institutions cannot develop while the inadequate teachers just tag along and use whatever paperwork or data is often collected. Nothing ever changes besides the good ones getting burned out. In this system our good teachers lose their chance for innovation because they are being forced to be mediocre as they are constantly being asked to bring up the inadequate. Students become numbers, not people. Focus is on data, not relationships. What I believe is that PLC’s are easy to manage and many schools flock to everyone doing the same thing mentality because it is easy to chart and manage. Real learning does not happen with management. Real learning is messy. Real learning happens at different stages, speeds, and paces.

I say this but I am lucky enough to be part of some good PLC’s. We actually do get quality work done. We challenge how we teach. We are constantly trying to get better. But I feel that with all the work it was what I did 10 years ago because that is just what good teachers do. It often reminds me of the typical school punishment where one kid is being a butthead so the whole class misses recess. Punish everyone because we are a “team” instead of going after the issue at hand.

Once again, I don’t know. My head spins. I read about PLC and like I say all the time it is one of those things that works really well in theory land, but in reality it is a whole new beast.

I have a fear. A big fear.

As education continues to push for a robotic like structure in classrooms and teaching I see innovation losing out. I see teaching being the focus and not the learning. Students will continue to lose sight of the excitement for learning. All the negative that comes with disengaged students will rise and we will have not solved anything that we hoped the spreadsheets would prove.

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Break down your classroom walls: Global Debate

It is here!



One of my favorite projects is almost underway. Over 700 students are involved in our Revolution Debate project are about ready to embark in a powerful learning project.

This is a project that started small two years ago. Two years ago teachers in our building created a debate on the topic: Revolution – Is It Justified? At this time we had students debate each other from separate classrooms. This was a great start, but we knew there was something special and could go bigger.

Last year we opened up the debate to the world. We had over 800 students involved. We had 9 different locations from around the USA. We had students doing all the judging to eliminate bias and another 800 debating the topic. It was powerful. We saw a spark in the eyes of students we had never seen before. There is that moment when you state your opening remarks and someone you don’t know voices a rebuttal stating how everything is wrong that just fires you up. And in a good way. It is something that is difficult to replicate alone in your classroom.

In a post from October 2015 I posted the following

PLN Support #1: I am helping operate a debate project on the American Revolution. During this process leading up to recording the first speakers this week we had a few classes drop out. It was not a big deal. After a crazy set of circumstances we had another teacher drop and with that left us with over 180 students and 60 teams empty with nobody to debate. I put out a plea asking for any teachers to possibly jump in and help last minute. Within 48 hours I had two teachers who I have never met before or worked with in my life step in and make things happen to allow students to learn, develop their skills, and not be let down. Because of my PLN who read the plea and then went to their schools to connect with other educators we now have a debate of over 800 students pushing their thinking and learning to new levels. We also have educators building their own PLN through this debate sharing resources, teaching ideas, and learning together. Without my PLN, this debate fails and a lot of students lose out on a quality learning opportunity.

The beauty and headache of a global project that goes beyond surface level learning is the coordination of events. Already this year, we have a teacher who has lost internet. We will all rally to help make things happen and work for everyone. And this is what I love. A built in global powerhouse of educators coming together working hard to do what is best for kids. Students and teachers are involved in a process where real world(I hate to use that phrase, but much of education is simply simulation) learning takes place. Teachers have to collaborate. Students have to adjust. Technology breaks down. People don’t do work. And through it all perseverance is developed and powerful learning takes hold.

As an instructional coach I am able to sit(not really sit, but deal with logistics) behind the scenes and watch it all develop. It ignites my love for educators who bend over backwards to make things work. It ignites my passion for showcasing that students can do more than we ever imagined if just given the chance.

Speaking of bending over backwards, this project would never happen or work without Voicethread. There is no tool on the market that currently allows us to do what we are doing. Voicethread works smoothly and flawlessly. The ability to record audio, load up text to showcase our research, and leaving a space for judge feedback is amazing. Students can record to Voicethread using any device, tool, or phone as long as they have internet. Mix this tool with an amazing help support from the company we simply could not do this project. If you have not used Voicethread, then I suggest you check it out. It is a tool that leverages the power of global collaboration.

Looking forward to this year we are currently sitting at over 700 students with classes that span all over the USA as well as India. We will be debating asynchronously, but still mimicking a live debate. Students will listen to one speaker and respond within one hour of listening to mimic live debates as much as possible.

We will have room to add other classrooms. At this point we could really use about 60 more students to balance the sides of the debate.

My challenge to you is to bust down the walls of your classroom. Allow your students to connect with other students. Allow them to showcase their learning and skills. Allow yourself as an educator to build up your PLN by connecting with other powerful teachers who share your passion for teaching. Allow the learning in the classroom to have a built in real audience. Allow the the learning to have a purpose. Allow it all to happen with tools that readily available like Voicethread.

130 debates are ready to rock and roll. Students are building up their cases or will be soon. Speakers will begin recording in the next week and the games will begin. Which side will win – Affirmative or Negative? A lot is on the line and all in the power of learning. Come join us. Sign your students up or let them be a judge, or simply follow along on the journey. Each year we scale and build. None of this could happen without the teachers who are involved pushing the boundaries of learning and teaching. None of this could happen without the technology that bridges the classrooms like Voicethread. None of this was possible 10 years ago, but it is all at our fingertips today. Don’t make excuses anymore.

If you want to learn how to get started, then you can start here or simply join this project and we will support you along the way.




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Skype in the Classroom: Enhancing Learning For All

I have been super fortunate to be named a Skype Master Teacher. Most of what I do with Skype these days is dependent upon the amazing educators that I work with in my school who constantly challenge the status quo of education and how kids can and should learn. It is also used to connect with educators from around the world to help me learn and improve on a daily basis.


Regardless of how much experience you have with Skype, I think it is important that we continue to share ways in which classrooms around the world are connecting to bring real life connections to our learning.

There is something special about hearing the tones of a Skype call and that moment when the screen showcases a group of students or expert or author on the screen. It is at this moment when everyone involved knows they are part of something special.

I created a Sway to showcase all the ways in which I have used Skype in the past few years. This is just a small sample of ideas, but I hope that it will inspire or ignite new ideas in how we can help foster global classrooms.

What I challenge you, the reader, is two things

  1. Find another class to connect with and enhance the learning. Just looking forward to this week I know that my robotics teams will be Skyping with another team in Michigan to share their gracious professionalism to help a team with the robot. Later that night we will be Skyping again in India to help create some solutions to the village that needs help.
  2. Find an expert. Head over to the Microsoft Education site and find an expert. There are so many people volunteering their time to help students. We have 6th grade students participating in the Mission 8848 project to strengthen their PBL unit this year after being blessed to speak with Mark Woods and others last year.

We can no longer act like connecting globally is not possible. The world has come together to make it happen. It is easy. Start with a mystery skype and go from there. Check out the October picks and join the Skype-A-Thon, check out a tutorial, or explore the lessons.

Are you a GoNoodle fan? If you are nodding your head yes!, then join the GoNoodle Mystery Skype song and dance event.

Go out there, bust down those four walls in your classroom and get connected with the world. I promise you that once you give it a try you will be hooked.


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Google Sheets: Import Range Function To Share Data

In education there are times when we gather data into a sheet and need to share parts of the form out to others. How does one do that so that it populates automatically over time without copying and pasting time and time again?


Warning: My goal is to take the questions people have about technology and provide solutions. This is just one solution. If you have other ideas or methods to solving the same issue, then please leave a comment or reach out so we can showcase the method. This is not the only method, but simply one that I use.





For those who don’t want to watch a video, here is a quick guide. To do this tutorial you need to have open

  1. Existing spreadsheet with the data you want to move to another Sheet
  2. The new Sheet you want to create

Step 1

Grab the key from the URL of the Google Doc you want to import.


Step 2

Write down or take a mental note of the columns or range you want to import. You can import entire columns by entering something like Tab Title!A:F. Or, for a specific range, something like Tab Title!A6:F100.

Step 3

Go to your new Sheet that you are creating. Enter the following data in the Sheet where you want it to appear.


Make sure you swap out my key with your own as well as the range of data you want to copy over.


Step 4

Format your data. You can do it by hand or use the Explore option to make it look nice. This is why choosing where to add the function is important.


Learn More

Check out the resources on my Google page on this website as well as my YouTube playlist of tips

Please be sure to leave a comment with other ways you sort data and any questions, tips, tricks, and ideas that you have.

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Reflecting on Reflection, Learning, Connecting, and More #ITECIA

Two days after ITEC my head is still processing all the good that comes from ITEC. Each year I spend countless hours stressing over my materials, slides, presentations, and more. In the end none of this matters as much as the connections and being present with educators.


Don’t get me wrong, I care deeply about running quality sessions as well as attending quality sessions. I view my chance to lead sessions as a way for me to produce a quality lesson plan. Can I still deliver a lesson that is engaging where the audience walks away with solid ideas, expansion of their thinking, and motivation to learn more? That is the reason I share. It challenges me. It stresses me out. It pushes me out of my comfort zone.

It allows me to grow as a person.

As I drove home from Des Moines(the second time) I drove in silence for a good hour. I allowed my brain to process. No music, no notes, no tech. Just me and my thoughts.

It is tough. It reminds me of the Twenty One Pilots song, Car Radio

Sometimes quiet is violent
I find it hard to hide it
My pride is no longer inside
It’s on my sleeve
My skin will scream reminding me of
Who I killed inside my dream
I hate this car that I’m driving
There’s no hiding for me
I’m forced to deal with what I feel
There is no distraction to mask what is real
I could pull the steering wheel
I have these thoughts, so often I ought
To replace that slot with what I once bought
‘Cause somebody stole my car radio
And now I just sit in silence
While I was driving I reflected on what I learned. I was able to be mesmerized by Pernille Ripp during her early 8 am session. Her demeanor and candid talk spoke to me. I am so impressed by all that she does while still being in the classroom changing lives. She really is the real deal. Her ingite talk was just as powerful and really had me stop and pause about perspective in life and learning.
I reflected on the message of George Couros during his keynote that was amazing as well. I was talking with him via Voxer just before while driving into town as part of the #IMMOOC Voxer group where we were having powerful conversations. I was already being challenged by him before I actually saw him in person and keynote. The beauty of technology has now leveraged the playing field for connecting. His message spoke to me several times and helped ignite a flame back in my soul to continue to push for necessary change in education despite the stumbling blocks that lay ahead.
I reflected on a session I lead on the first day that I was not satisfied with personally. I felt like it was not as good as I had thought it would be. It was not the great feeling I had hoped for and it sucked my energy right out of me. I learned how to bounce back and get back to my A game for the second day of presenting. As people we stumble and we must reflect, recognize, and own the moment. Listening to George reminded me to get back up and try again. All will be okay.
I reflected on the importance of sharing. So often we think that what we know everyone else already knows. Time and time again I picked up a new idea from someone and hopefully others learned from me. We can no longer assume that we don’t have value to share. Someone can benefit greatly from our experiences and insights.
I reflected on my personal goals. I developed over 200 pages of typed words for guidebooks for my sessions, created over 500 slides between the workshop and sessions, and built out some new web pages. A bit overboard perhaps, but I wanted to develop resources that have a lasting impact. 50 – 110 minutes is not a long time. I wanted to ignite the curiosity and then provide enough help for people to go back and do. I also wanted to force myself to begin to my ideas down into the written word. So hard. So incredibly hard
I reflected on my next steps. I challenged others to go back and move into action. I did the same. I had to transition straight to teaching and leading as I had to get a podcast ready for students before the newspaper ran an article. Talk about tight deadlines. But to work with an educator that challenges how we teach and how kids can learn is exciting.
Because of that awesome joy of kids creating quality work I stayed up late Wednesday night build a new podcast on YouTube, Speedgeeking with Coffeechug
In 2014 I challenged myself at ITEC to create an Iowa Educator Voxer group and to be honest this has probably been one of the most powerful PLN groups to challenge my thinking, keep me grounded in reality, and forcing me to really think through my ideas. Over the summer it sort of died down a bit where I thought about closing it down completely.
After seeing so many wonderful people at ITEC I want to get it back up and running. There are some of you already involved, but we want to get new voices and more voices engaged in the conversation. Reach out to me to join and maybe this link will work as well. This is open to all educators not just ones from Iowa.
Finally, I want to say thank you. As I reflect on it all I cannot help but be amazed by what educators are doing. You are awesome. You are a source of motivation to so many. I encourage you all to keep sharing, to keep experimenting, and asking What If?
I promise that next year I will be rocking super duper awesome bowties BOTH days and will bring my A game both days as well. In the meantime we must stay connected and continue to support and learn from one another.
Reflections, Links, and Resources

And in the end, maybe driving in silence is a good thing because I was able to sit back and appreciate the opportunity my school gave me in coming to ITEC. Now I have the pleasure to come back to Bettendorf and share what I learned and continue to push my thinking and learning.

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032: Quad Cities Ghost Hunters

I am really excited to share some amazing work of 7th grade students. One of our incredible educators from Bettendorf Middle School launched a project in her language arts class where students went on field trips to a variety of locations in the Quad Cities to explore whether or not these places are indeed haunted.


Students conducted field research and came back to work and develop a podcast to showcase and highlight their experiences.


What you are about to listen to are the top recordings of each location to give you the best listening experience.

Sit back, listen, and enjoy the podcast. The students welcome any feedback, comments, ideas, and most importantly if you have any stories from these locations or other locations.

In a future episode we will record a podcast with the students and teachers about the actual project and how to implement in your classroom.

But for now, we hope you don’t get too scared and maybe check out some of these locations for yourself.

Follow and Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Follow and Subscribe on Stitcher so please follow here if you use Stitcher

Here are the posters for the other four locations(fifth location posted above) also created by students in case you want to learn more



carter-m-canva kate-m-canva

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Minecraft Education and LEGO to Enhance Math Learning

I am not the best at math(I know, wrong mathematical mindset). Perhaps it was my poor math classes of sitting in rows, copying answers from the homework the night before, listening to a short lecture, and then working on the evens in the textbook.


Repeat process for 6 years.

As I am getting older and wiser(questionable) with STEM, robotics, coding, and more I realize how important math skills are and will continue to be.

I challenged myself to see if I could take a lesson that my son(6th grade) has been learning to see if I could spruce things up, mix up how it was taught without requiring more time.

In the end I used a mixture of LEGO and Minecraft Education to make it happen. Check out the video to see how these two tools can be implemented in a very quick, low entry fashion to help students grasp the concepts.

For this lesson we will focus on


  • Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.

In particular, we will be covering square units and area of rectangles

Enjoy and let me know what else you do.

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Tetrix PRIZM Tutorial 3: DC Motors

It is time for another tutorial with the Tetrix PRIZM. We are ready to make things move. Are you ready?
For this activity you will need

  1. PRIZM
  2. USB cable to connect to computer
  3. Arduino software
  4. Battery supply
  5. On/Off switch
  6. DC Gear Motor

If you have not already downloaded the PRIZM library, then please do so as we will be using the example code provided for this challenge.

Step 1: Make sure everything is up and running by double checking that your PRZIM boots up and is ready to go.

Step 2: Pull up the Move_DCMotor sketch from the PRZIM library

Step 3: Wire your DC motor to the PRIZM

Step 4: Manipulate code to meet your needs.

In this video I go into great detail about programming and setting up the motor. I also showcase my own struggles to get a robot to move straight as I believe it is important to share the learning process.

I welcome all questions, feedback, and suggestions for upcoming videos.

Previous Tutorials

Tetrix PRIZM Tutorial 2 – Hello World http://wp.me/p4covo-1J6 

Tetrix PRIZM: Tutorial 1 – Connecting the Battery and Connecting to Arduino http://wp.me/p4covo-1Iy 

Tetrix PRIZM: Overview of the Next Generation of Robotics http://wp.me/p4covo-1Ia


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Google Drive Tip: Color Coding Folders in Drive

This tip is super short and super sweet. If you are like me, then your Google Drive continues to fill up with folders and documents over time.


Here is quick to get organized.

  1. Color code folders
  2. Star folders and filter by clicking Starred on the left hand side.

Let me know what you think.

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Autocrat Tutorial- Using Google Forms As A Rubric and More

A question was posed to me today. I love it when questions come my way where I don’t know the answer and am challenged to find the answer.


The challenge was that a few teachers wanted to use Google Forms as a rubric. They want to be able to quickly and efficiently score the work of a student using a Form and organize all their grading in one spreadsheet.

Easy and check.

They wanted to use the same spreadsheet for students to upload their self evaluations using the same Form.

Easy and check.

They also wanted to be able to take the scoring/feedback of each student from the spreadsheet and email the students their assessment in real time


Do what? Is that possible?

Today I am happy to report that indeed it is possible. It is amazing. It is efficient. It eliminates stacks of unnecessary papers and provides real time feedback that requires very little extra time on the teacher side of things.

What is this mystery? How do I harness the magic powers of all of this in which you speak?

Check out the video as I attempt to walk you through it. As always, I am super excited to see examples of how this plays out in real classrooms.

Even more important I plan to run PD and do live trainings to help those who need it. I really think this could be something big for teachers and students.

Go be awesome. Hi Ho!

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