035: Living on the Edge of Chaos with Todd Flory

In this episode I have the pleasure to chat with Todd Flory. Todd is a 4th grade teacher from Kansas. He is doing some amazing work in regards to global education.

This was a fun episode as we explore the ins and outs of expanding your classroom beyond the four walls. This topic has been covered many times, but Todd brings a new level to the conversation as we discuss

  • How do you find another classroom to connect with?
  • How do you go about finding experts to speak to your students?
  • The benefits of mystery skype
  • What happens when a global learning moment ignites a spark for a student?
  • His latest project of doing a Skype BreakoutEDU
  • How to connect global projects to the standards

There are plenty of examples to get you started.

You can find more about Todd at the following


Check out the show and episodes on iTunes

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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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Africa Story Part 2: School Supplies Are Heading To Uganda

Yesterday, we delivered on our promise. It has been a long journey, but one very important and exciting one that will continue to develop and grow stronger over time.

Over a year ago we established connection with a village in Uganda, Africa. We collaborated on a project comparing what success means between students and have worked to provide school supplies to the village. As we worked to make this happen we have joined forces with Pencils of Promise in hopes of raising enough money to build a school. We have a long way to go and so far not made much progress.

However, we made huge progress in finally getting supplies to the village in Uganda.

The goal of this project is to help students think about others, care about others, and do good deeds to inspire more positive actions among one another.

Since our last post updating everyone with our friends in Uganda, I want to continue the story with the result being the supplies heading to Africa as we speak.

May 2014 

If we go back to May/June and the end of our school year we did a school wide locker cleanout which every school probably does. What we did differently this year is ask that any decent supplies not used or not in terrible condition be donated to gathering school supplies for our friends in Uganda and hopefully to other areas in need. I could not believe how many supplies we were given. It was both amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. Amazing in that we have so much supplies to help others in need. Heartbreaking that many students don’t care about the supplies and would just toss them out and not think twice, or worse yet were not used to enhance their learning.

Regardless, we have over 500 lbs of supplies

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June and July

Not much was done due to summer break. I did not want to move things forward because that would be me doing the work and not students. During this time I worked to contact other organizations, try to develop a plan to expand our work, and from new connections and ideas.

It was during this time that I decided to jump on board with Pencils of Promise. I was meeting with many people about creating my own platform, but with a full time job, kids, coaching, etc. I needed to join a cause. Pencils of Promise was a perfect fit as you can read about on the Build a Schools page.

During this time I connected with the amazing people who have helped so much – Eddy and Eden. I learned from Eddy that

Towards the end of January Eddy shared with me that the cool rains were returning. I asked him what that means for the people and how it affects life.

Eddy shared with me the following which I found quite fascinating:

Rain can affects life, here in Uganda in such away that , 
 Weather always changes to be cool and many fall sick closes changes to wetter 
 Heavy rains accompanied by storms normally destroy crops and affect harvest 
 Mountainous places experience landslides eg eastern Uganda 
 Heavy storms destroy crops 
 Heavy winds in rain always makes people homeless by destroying roofs of houses
 Floods normally displace people who are at lower places such as swamps and when rain destroy electric poles and they fall it affect the production of goods in factories 

Here is Iowa we love rain to help crops, cool off the temps, etc. Rains don’t affect us like they can in Uganda. It was another reminder of how important it is that we understand other cultures, landscapes, and people. It further fueled my drive to help the kids and to provide them materials to help with education.


School started back up. I shared with the staff the goals for the year. I updated them on all the supplies. During this time I had two teachers help with packaging. They took on the task of organizing, sorting, and putting together the care packages. While they were working assembling I finally connect with the headmaster via email. This has been a long time coming and was so happy to finally connect. Communication is vital, but not as easy as one might think. We are oblivious to easy communication with email, texts, and social media, but when you move beyond your circle to areas that are not as quick to communicate with it can be tricky.

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I received the address of the headmaster. I learned that the phone number is the most important part of the address because many people don’t have a usable address. Eden informed me that the post office will call them and let them know that a package has arrived. This is important and to be honest something I am bit scared of as I don’t think I wrote the phone number on the label. My fingers are crossed that it arrives safely. The package will arrive in Entebbe which is close to the international airport. From there, the headmaster will travel about 8 hours to arrive at the school.
The most important part of the address is the phone number. People don’t have a usable address per se, the post office calls them on their phone and tells them to pick items up. Entebbe is near the international airport so they should arrive with him within 10 days of sending.
We bundled the packages for 20 students. They will have to show good grades and hard work to earn the materials. These are not free handouts. We want to reward those who are working hard. Through our communication we have learned that the students in Uganda all have one pencil or one pen, no more and no less. If the pen runs out they buy another one, but not before. The model of ecological. Stationary awards would be like winning a competition for the winning students.
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September 8th we mailed the package. It was a bit under 30lbs and the cost to ship these school supplies from Bettendorf, Iowa to Uganda, Africa was $190. I paid for this out of pocket because I believe in the cause. We have not raised money. I have sold some books to help with the cost, but we need more. We have more supplies and we have more schools in need. In order to help we need more funds. Please check the Build a School page. I am currently selling books to help. We are taking donations as well as getting ready to sell more books. We want to help and we need your help to make it happen.
This has been the most inspiring thing I have done. More kids need to be exposed to this type of work. We need to learn from others. Every culture has something to offer and what I learn from Uganda is the power of family, working together, and not taking things for granted. These are skills that we can all learn here in America.
I will update as soon as I hear word of the package arriving. Until then we will work to establish our next school supply drop and how to raise money to send the next box.


Africa Story: Part 1 http://coffeeforthebrain.com/the-power-of-international-collaboration-iowa-africa/

Images of the kids packing the supplies https://www.flickr.com/photos/coffeechug/sets/72157647002521337/

Build a School http://coffeeforthebrain.com/build-a-school/

Books for Sale http://coffeeforthebrain.com/build-a-school-books/


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The Power of International Collaboration: Iowa – Africa

This will take time to properly develop, but I wanted to
Uganda - America.png
keep a running log of what we are learning and doing.
We have connected with a village in

Uganda, Africa where we are examining success, education, and life between our location and theirs. It is becoming very powerful as we learn that not everything operates like it does in our little bubble in Bettendorf. This is so powerful and when connections are made, the kids really gain a sense of what the world has in store.

Project Goal

The question that we are working with for the unit on Africa is something like this

“What does success look like to you?”

Our goal here is to force students to look at what traits or values they believe personally captures the essence of success. We will then move them towards looking at people they know, local, country, and then global. We would then like for them to find a country or location in Africa that is successful based on their personal definition. The goal here is to connect their personal beliefs and ideas with a country they know very little about and to try to bring down the walls to some of their American mindsets.

As I worked with Eden we started to think deeper. Here is an email from Eden, where he has really upped the thinking to the project. This showcases the power of collaboration.
“That is a great question to start a unit with. There are so many levels to it.

Perhaps you could ask your students to do a video interview type project, they could interview their peers or teachers or members of society focusing on that question. Then wrap it up in a short video.
Then, you could ask what success means to people in an African country focusing on the children and/or adults.

I think the contrast in answers would shock your students and be a good education to them. Also, it is a realistic project that your students could do. They could develop skills in interviewing and video work.Flag-Pins-Uganda-USA.jpg

As part of the project, you could also turn the question around and ask “Who does success look like?” They could point out their hero and then research why they became successful.

Example of Success in Uganda:A boy who I taught to in Uganda in 2007 called Ronald met my friend Crystal who came to visit me. Crystal was impressed by this boy and decided to sponsor him. He didn’t disappoint, five years later he came second in the entire state in his exams recently.

The reason for his success: he got up at 4am everyday to start studying and didn’t finish until 10pm at night.

So that is how you get some of the best scores in the state, get up before dawn and start revising, stop studying when the electricity is switched off in the evening at your boarding school.

Ronald = Focus, determination and the understanding that he was given a chance in life which he took with both hands and didn’t look back. You could even turn the question around again and ask “What does failure look like to you?” For Ronald it would have been ‘missed opportunity’ if he hadn’t done his very best he would have missed a great opportunity to do well in life. He plans to become a teacher in the future.”
Eden shared with us a video of students talking about their school from 2008. This was a good video to give us and our students a sense of school in Africa where we would be communicating.


We started communication between teachers. We were working on the issues and how to make sure we could connect.

Over the summer the Atiira School was being built and updated when a lack of funds has kept it from being completed. Below are some images of the village and school.

Inline images 1
Inline images 1

The teacher’s accommodation that fell down.

How far we have built:

Inline images 2
Inline images 2



Inline images 3
Inline images 3


We prepared our materials, packed a camera with batteries and memory cards as well as some other goods and mailed off a package to Uganda.

Atiira Primary School is located in Soroti, central Uganda. It is seven hours north of Entebbe. Entebbe is where the largest airport in Uganda is located. It is a nice town and many rich people have their home there, including the President. It is half an hour from the capital, Kampala City.
We were trying to figure out the mailing system and this is something our students are still intrigued with. We learned that the post can be unreliable and the process can take a long time of sometimes months to reach certain areas. We had learned patience which is a good thing in our culture of instant and now. We wanted to make sure we provided money to send goods back to us. We learned that teachers make about $100 a month, so shipping costs of $5 – $10 are just not feasible for them. It was interesting packaging everything and hoping we hid money and the goods properly.


As we waited for our package to arrive, we viewed another video to teach some lessons about Uganda. Students received a complete view of what Uganda is like and began to understand the reasons why the meaning of ‘success’ is different. 

We watched Midian’s story. The video had a huge impact on students and really opened their eyes and lead to some great class discussions. Most have no idea what the life of a child in Uganda is like day-to-day.

Here is what I shared after viewing the video.

I am eternally grateful for what you are helping us do. We have one of our students who is considered one of the biggest bullies in the grade completely absorbed in this project. It has been an eye opener for her in ways that no other platform has been able to reach her.

I showed the video you linked of the beautiful Midian to the teachers doing this project. They were caught off guard a bit by what they saw. We have decided to show this in our 7th grade classes as well as the 8th grade group working on soccer equipment.

We were discussing a few things today and not sure if you have any answers or insights.

1. What are the possibilities of establishing a pen pal type structure to this project? I think if our students can connect to one person at the school they will be emotionally connected. I was thinking a picture and letter (very basic) might be something we could pull off if we supplied the materials and template of a letter. I don’t know enough yet about the school and the community to know if this would be too difficult or not.

2. We were also talking about transportation. How often do vehicles come to the village? We were on Google maps and just trying to make sense of the area. Do people in the village leave and travel elsewhere or remain permanently where they are located?

Thanks again for everything. I love it when the teachers are as excited and devoted to the project as the kids. That is when you know you have something special developing.

We later learned that the School location is here
All the children walk to school. Some walk for up to 45minutes to an hour to get to class. There is a main road near the school that vehicles pass along. This school is lucky in that fact, some schools are miles away from the nearest good road.

If a family is very rich they may have a car, rich family = motorcycle, middle class = bicycle, poor = no transport. People travel to the nearest town for supplies, using a friend’s motorcycle, cycling, or in the back of a truck.

On November 2nd the package finally arrived! We were so excited because we were starting to worry about it not making it to our friends.
As we continued to move forward with our project here locally we watched

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

On November 22nd, 2013 we received their video. It is AMAZING! And I cannot help but watch with a smile each and every single time.
The video was sent by a young man named Eddy, who is helping with video, editing, and communicating. He is working hard to ensure things are being done between schools. He has been fantastic in helping despite our minor setbacks due to the language barrier and technology needs. I am hoping to help him out as he is working hard to rise above and make something of himself.


Due to crazy weather, winter break, and other things to wrap up first semester the project stalled a bit

January 2014

We worked to capture photos and videos of our area and what success means to us. Students brought in thousands of images and videos. After sorting through it all, a computer crashing, then crashing again, and issues with audio we finally had our video ready in……

2.13.14: Our video in response to our friends in Africa


We received word today that the video is in the hands of our good friend Eddy. The issue we have now is once again waiting. It is hard for the students and our friends to see our students on a small phone screen. He is working to find a laptop that could be borrowed so the village can view our video properly. Once again this proves to be a powerful reminder that we are quite fortunate to have what we have. We often complain that our 11 laptop carts are just not enough to do proper learning. Perhaps we need another reality check.


We received a video from the children of Atiira Primary School produced by Eddy!

It was great to see the children’s reaction to our video from Bettendorf. We also saw glimpses of their life, for example, how they collect drinking water.

A fascinating video! Thank you Atiira for making and sending it!


As we wrap up the year we are hosting a school supply drive. As students clean out their lockers we are having boxes placed in the social studies classrooms. We are working with the headmaster to reward the students in Atiira for working hard in school. We are learning some very important lessons in human connection. We have learned that we just don’t give out freebies because what is there to be gained for them in the long run? We are currently developing the system now to deliver the supplies to the school and continue an international communication between two schools who are very different, but are striving for the same thing – excellence in character and academics for their students.

We have larger and bigger plans for the next that we don’t want to unveil yet, but this has been one incredible journey this year. We have learned more than expected and are so excited to work together as a school to provide supplies to others who can really benefit.

I will continue with the updates throughout the summer as things develop.

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(this post is a cross post from my ALCOA Eagle Eye to the World blog)

It has been sometime since I have last posted here on the blog. Things are going as fast as the development and growth of Rudy.

Ever since the beginning of the year we have had students from all over the world connected using tools like Edmodo, blogs, Google Hangouts, Voicethread, and other tools to help share the power in watching and observing the ALCOA Bald Eagle Nest.

The last few months students have been working to connect and make a global collaborative project. This is not as easy as it sounds. I know we read all the time about technology and how simple it is, but there are many factors that come into play.

When working with various classrooms we must consider


-vacation days of school districts

-weather implications

-requirements of a regular school

-age differences

Despite these factors the teachers and students involved in this project (you can check them out here) made it happen. It has been a pleasure and honor to work with so many amazing educators and students.

This is only the second year of doing this project and once again I have learned so much. I will be sharing these thoughts soon, but today I want to unveil the projects created by the kids.

They used their research, their voices, and their artwork to showcase to the world what they have learned. We have students from kindergarten on up to 5th grade represented.

If you go to our project page  and on the menu locate Student Pages you will see several categories. Each category has Voicethreads created by the students. These are voices from all the classrooms.

I would love for you to take a listen and to provide any feedback you can. I am always striving to improve as a leader of this project, but more importantly it is vital that these students understand their voices are being heard by the world.

So, please leave a comment on this blog or email me at aarmau@gmail.com

I will share it all with the teachers so the students can gain feedback as well.

I have a few more things I will be sharing as we continue to watch Rudy grow and test the boundaries of the nest.

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Coffeechug Global Projects – Feel free to participate and join! #coffeechugPLN #flatclass #edchat

1. Spanish Skype – Looking to connect classrooms of Spanish Language? We have created a Google Doc to share contact info. We have our middle school Spanish teacher ready to Skype and develop some projects as well as a high school teacher that recently jumped in. Come connect and expand the boundaries of Spanish class.

2. Global Journal Project – I have developed a new global project where the goal is to create some journals documenting various schools from around the world. Sign up for the journal, I will mail it to you and then it is up to you and your students what you want to share. All things will be digitized so we can all learn from one another. In the end we will have an amazing artifact of global education. Who is ready?

3. BettPassion Project – I have already blogged about this project quite a bit, but come see what our students are doing to change the world. We are almost ready to share out our projects. Come join us and offer your genius!

4. Coming Soon – New Bald Eagle Project – the link is from last year. Hopefully, the grant will go through and we will be conducting this global project again, but on a bigger scale!

5. Global Youth Debates – I am acting as an ambassador for this project. I will not have a class involved this year(bummer!), but will be helping out and making sure things go according to plan. This is a great project and one worth checking out.

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