Author - Kristina Allison

The Dilemma of Being a Teacher Leader

Teacher in front of board

As I sit in my living room, trying to press out the FOMO of #notatISTE18, my mind keeps drifting back to the place I flounder as a leader and classroom teacher. Being a Lead Learner for CUE means I get invited to deliver sessions to educators around California for events that districts and other organizations hold. These are paid gigs that offer me the opportunity to share my successes with other educators, as well as learn new concepts and innovative pedagogy right alongside them. As a classroom teacher, these experiences help other educators, but also facilitate my own growth. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to leave the classroom to do this.

Many educators feel this same push and pull. Tom Rademacher, an author, presenter and classroom teacher, wrote a blog this spring that really hit home with me. I have been thinking about it since and felt it was worth sharing. I see it as a real problem with our current system. Take a moment and read his thoughts in: It’s Damn Near Impossible to Be a Teacher-Leader and Still Teach. Is it possible there is a better way?

Feedback: No Time Turner Needed

Pocket Watch

I have been teaching English for a long time. A very long time. I have spent hours writing feedback, inking up student drafts with corrections as a service and gift to my students. I kid, but really, I just want them to succeed. I want them to think about where they can grow as writers and spend time considering suggestions. Most of the time, though, my students just shove their papers into the abyss of their backpacks, feeding the zippered monster of never to be be seen again assignments. Why? Because I handed those papers back with a grade.

This year was going to be different. I was going to get better at giving students feedback. I have read many articles and blog posts that referenced Butler’s study that showed  students who received comments alone demonstrated the greatest improvement (Butler, 1988), and Hattie’s study that showed student self-assessment/self-grading has the greatest impact on student learning  (Hattie, 2012). Only how was I going to get students to actually READ and DO something with the feedback? Then last June, I read Cult of Pedagogy’s post on Delaying the Grade: How to Get Students to Read Feedback by Kristy Louden. Suddenly, I had a “No, DUH,” moment. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

Collecting the Best Draft

First trimester my students were tasked with writing an original Hero’s Journey story. They wrote (and wrote and wrote) until some had over 40 pages (double spaced). They really got into it. We went through all of my “normal” ways of teaching: brainstorming, mini lessons, sharing and revising in writing groups, and when they were finally ready to collect, instead of calling it a “Final” draft,  I simply called it their best draft. “Best draft due on Friday.”

Streamlining Feedback

Being  an 8th grade teacher, unless I had one of Hermione Granger’s Time Turners, it is impossible to find the time to give extensive feedback to every student. Instead, I created a Doc with all the comments I could possibly make to an 8th grade student on a narrative. I started with looking at the rubric, then added as I was reading stories. Under each comment, I added a link to a video, website or blog post that could reteach the concept. This way, as I came across an issue in a student essay, I would simply add a comment on the document and paste the already prepared comment with the reteaching tool. I have also seen the idea of using Google Keep to house your comments. Another great tool is the Ed Tech Team’s Google extension CheckMark. However you decide, curating a list of common comments is the way to go.

Feedback without Grades

As I was reading each narrative, I wrote down a rubric score for my purposes, only. No grade was shared with the student. I simply returned the writing and asked each to revise before resubmitting. When I looked at the stories a second time, I simply looked at the grade I had given the narrative in my notes and clicked “See Changes” in Google Docs.  No need to read the whole thing again! This made the process so much faster and efficient.

As Expected 

It happened just as I hoped. Students paid attention to my feedback! Not knowing their grades made all the difference. Not all did as good of a job as I had hoped. Some only fixed the areas I made specific suggestions and not where I made general statements. That is definitely something to work on next time.

Growth Opportunities

I did find that my grade book was sparse. I had a parent ask me why I hadn’t entered any grades in such a long time. I really have no idea how to solve this issue, or even if it really is an issue. My students were learning during the process, and I didn’t want to stop them to assess, simply for a grade in the grade book.

I would also like to develop a more extensive Doc of curated resources so I could create individual playlists for each student based on what each needs to revise. I am hoping to work on that list going forward, with some help from my network of colleagues across the nation.

In a perfect world, I would be able to sit down with each student and conference on each piece of writing many times during the process. The reality is, that takes time, the most valuable and scarce resource of my classroom. For now, I’ll work on improving this process. I am sold.

Ease the Pain of #NOTATISTE18

Puzzle Piece Missing

As most of you know, ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education) holds a huge conference every year in a different city in the United States. Educators and vendors from all over the world gather and nerd out on the latest in education technology. This year Chicago holds the honor. Unfortunately, most of us have to watch from home, jealous of learning along side great thinkers and deep dish pizza. We hope for any crumbs of innovation that make it on to Twitter. The FOMO isn’t just a fear. It’s real. Those of us at home are missing out and it hurts.

Thankfully, to ease the pain and fill the emptiness, edublogger has put together a great list of ways that you CAN follow along at home. Time to wipe the envious tears and read all the means you can be part of the learning. Plan your virtual trip now! Watch a Cubs game, make an Italian beef sandwich, and get ready. ISTE is only a week away.

Read the blog, written by Kathleen Morris here.

Confessions of a ClipArt Junkie

Blurred flowers on the ground

If you follow Ryan O’Donnell (aka creativeedtech) on Twitter, or around town like I do, small pieces of brilliance seem to drop from the sky. That’s mostly because he has a way of taking new tools or tech ideas and creating practical ways to use them in the classroom. He’s also a pretty tall guy so his ideas tend to fall on normal humans like rain. Lately, O’Donnell has been creating these amazing graphics of listicles, (what the internet calls writing in the form of a list). Not only is this idea a great way to disseminate ideas to fellow educators online, it’s also a great template to use with students. I am definitely incorporating some graphic listicles next year in my classroom. Of course, O’Donnell is quite the Jedi Master of templates. Check out his website for more awesome ideas.

A few weeks ago, one of O’Donnell’s listicles caught my eye. His tweet read:

Confessions of a Clip Art junkie: I LOVED clip art. Tried to find the perfect image & even bought those mega-pack CD’s. Finally kicked that habit though. Now it’s all about photos & graphics.

Therefore, on behalf of Ryan O’Donnell, I am here to urge you to STOP using clip art!  Here are the tools he has suggested to use to shift your addiction to something more contemporary and relevant.

List of Image Sites

  1. The Noun Project— Icons are the answer for your latest projects and the Noun Project will provide you over a million for free. Simply sign up, search and download as Creative Commons. (Royalty Free requires a paid membership). I even found some really cool Star Wars icons! Credit is embedded in the icon already.
  2. Flaticon–Much like the Noun Project, this site is about the icons, but it groups icons into packs. Therefore, if you are working on a project, you have a set of icons all downloaded that go together. Download for free with attribution, just like Noun Project.
  3. No Backs— This site offers high resolution images in PNG format. No need to sign up. Free to use as long as proper credit and a link to the site is given.
  4. Pixabay–One of my favorite sites for stock photos. Over 1.4 million. Each image designates the licensing. Most are labeled Creative Commons, with no attribution needed.
  5. Freepik–This is a large search engine of free vector designs (which is graphic designer talk for computer images). Not all are free, but many are, only requiring attribution. No sign in required. Just search, find one that’s free and download.
  6. Unsplash–Supported by a large community of photographers, this site allows you to download beautiful images. They ask that you credit the photographers only out of appreciation and for the photographers to gain exposure. Absolutely stunning images!

    Trees an

    Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

  7. Pexels–Thousands of free stock photos that are completely licensed as Creative Commons. No attribution required. When you download, they offer ways to say thank you to the photographer: add a link, follow him/her on Instagram, or embed the citation. Another site I could spend hours looking for the perfect picture!

Adding images effectively to your projects gets results. Consider using one of these sites. O’Donnell also suggests busting out your camera or simply taking out your phone and snapping your own pictures. Those images are always free.

Now that you have been educated in all the great FREE sites out there, it is time to break up with your clip art. Snip it out of your life. It is far more picturesque on the other side. Join the revolution.

Be sure to follow Ryan O’Donnell on Twitter @creativeedtech and check out his website at creativeedtech.com.

Don’t Forget to Take Care of You

Book and sunglasses

As the school year winds down and summer break begins, many educators use the time to read books on new strategies to improve student learning, attend conferences to connect with others in our field and spend hours on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest looking for ways to change up the classroom for the new year. Educators are natural learners. We can’t stop.

This articleTeachers: Summer Reading to Cultivate Your Emotional Resiliencepublished on Edutopia by Elena Aguilar, got me thinking about how important it is to do something this summer that will renew me as a person, not just a teacher. So choose something that will renew yourself for the coming year. Aguilar has put together a great collection of books to do just that. What will you do this summer to make sure you are emotionally ready to tackle a new year? Don’t forget to take care of you.


Thank You, Mrs. Shaw

Thank you CUE

We all love to be recognized for the impact we have on learning, whether it’s students in our classrooms or adults in a professional development setting. Here at CUE, we are no different. We received this letter from Mrs. Shaw, who, through Donors Choose was able to make it this year to Spring CUE. If you have had the chance to attend the annual event, you will probably find yourself nodding along as you read.

This letter also reminds us of the lengths dedicated teachers will go to find good professional development. Many of us shell out our own money or ask for help though sites like Donors Choose. We know that growing as an educator means constantly stretching ourselves to learn more.

Thank you, Mrs. Shaw for not just saying thank you, but for recognizing your need to be refreshed through learning. CUE thanks you and the thousands of educators who make the pilgrimage to our events to improve classroom practices and student learning. Because of you, innovation will continue to be a priority for our schools.

Dear CUE Board of Directors,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn so much valuable information to take back to my school with me. I learned about several new websites/apps, some new ways of using technology that I had heard about, and was able to do some networking. I feel like I have upped my knowledge on new technology which is important to me and my craft!

The highlight of the event was the learning! I was amazed by how phenomenal the speakers and presenters were. I honestly didn’t leave any sessions early due to disappointment. I have been to conferences in the past that have left me disappointed because the topics weren’t interesting. I actually had a challenging time narrowing down which sessions to go to because so many sounded interesting! I want to go to CUE every single year now!

Something that I learned and plan to implement (when returning from maternity leave) is Nearpod. Nearpod is essentially an interactive slide deck. Another thing that my team and I plan to create is choice boards. We see this being useful in many academic areas, but we plan on starting with choice board homework.

Thanks again for your financial help. I am so thankful for the opportunity to attend amazing CUE!

With gratitude,

Mrs. Shaw


Coaching is not just for the New Teacher


The traditional model of coaching in education has always focused on supporting new teachers. This assumes, of course, that the rest of us who have been in the classroom for years are not in need of growth and improvement. In this recent article, published by the ASCD, Kim Greene suggests that every teacher deserves a coach. Instructional support should not be focused on deficits, but the idea of growth as an opportunity. The culture of coaching needs to change. Teaching is not something that you master, but something that is constantly evolving. Building relationships with educators of all levels and giving opportunities to reflect and collaborate, coaches can make huge differences. As Jessica Johnson, principal of Dodgeland Elementary School in Juneau, Wisconsin, states, “Sometimes it’s easy to think my best teachers don’t need me in their rooms. But if you want to grow your other teachers to be like your best teachers, you need to get into the minds of your best teachers.”

Isn’t it time to change our culture of coaching? Read this eye opening article here.

Choosing Little Changes

Two Signs with Choice pointed in opposite directions

You’ve seen the blog posts. You’ve read the Tweets. Heck, you may have even read the research. Well, what are you doing about it?

Choice in the classroom matters.

Are you finding ways to give your students choice?

Many of us work in traditional school settings, often large school districts that spend millions of dollars on adopted boxed curriculum. We are expected to use it. Often we feel there is no room to veer from the prescriptive path. “I’m no maverick,” you think. “I’m not like Mrs. Solo down the hall that doesn’t follow the rules. I want the best for my students, but I also respect my administration and want to be a team player.”

Remember, you can do both. It only takes tweaking. Little changes.

I am an English teacher. I teach other things, too, but I think like an English teacher. I can’t help it. When my district decided to adopt material to use at every grade level, I was optimistic. The curriculum was theme based and had tons of embedded writing. Always a plus for this bibliophile. The second unit was a study of dystopian literature. The curriculum offered two choices for whole class novel study: Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver. Now, I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention to young adult fiction lately or even the many books that have been made into movies, but dystopian literature is one of the most popular genres out there. Kids (and adults) are devouring books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Ready Player One. These stories are also making movie studios millions of dollars at the box office. To say dystopian literature is ubiquitous, might be an understatement. So, why would we limit our classroom readers to one forced book study? Why not give students a broader choice. A real choice.

That’s exactly what my colleague and I did. We divided our classrooms into smaller book clubs, let students explore different titles, then let each book club choose a novel. Since we didn’t have copies for all students, we asked that they find the books at libraries, or simply ask their parents to shell out the $4-$8 for the book. (That’s really just two Starbucks drinks, after all). For the few who still couldn’t get a book, I ended up purchasing. It was worth it to me.

The choice wasn’t even just about the book. Students also got to choose their book clubs. Being in a reading group with their friends made a huge impact on motivation to read. In my own (very unscientific) survey, 54% of my students responded that they enjoyed reading the same book as their group. Many claimed that’s what kept them on track. The peer connection kept them reading.

Daniel Pink writes that intrinsic motivation comes from three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is a sense that we are in control of our own destiny. Students need to feel they have some say, some choice in the decisions that affect their lives. Are we honoring that element?

As my favorite musician, Frank Turner sings, “The big things stay the same until we make little changes.” Start with something small. Let your students choose their seat. Let them choose their own research topic. Let them choose music for writing time. Make that little change of choice. No need to be a total maverick, just yet. We can work on that later.

The Barboza Space Center’s Robotics Showcase Comes to SoCal this Summer

Showcase Information

Looking for something to do with the kids this summer, or maybe something super cool just for you? Why not check out some robots? Bob Barboza, a long time CUE member, has put together an impressive line up and his showcase is coming to Long Beach and Los Angeles, California this summer, free of charge!

Bob Barboza reciving 2018 Gohardani Presentation Award in Aeronautics and AstronauticsBarboza, who has has recently been honored as this years recipient of the 2018 Gohardani Presentation Award in Aeronautics and Astronautics, a certificate and award sponsored by the Springs of Dreams Corporation and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, works with high school students participating in the Occupy Mars Learning Adventures Fellowship Program. His students are currently designing and prototyping robots, satellites, Mars science labs and Martian habits. Barboza is hoping to share with educators by bringing the Mars Robotic Showcases to Los Angeles and Long Beach California this August.  At least 20 of the top robots used in education will be displayed at the showcase. A hands-on, fun packed experience will be expected for all!

Check out the following press release with all the details:

Master robot designers and builders are coming to Long Beach, California. Bob Barboza has invited some of the most creative robot designers and builders to showcase their robots and support technology at an event that is free to the public. He has called upon Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Texas Instruments and Barnes and Noble to provide cutting edge products, training materials, software and hardware. It is rare to have such a collection all in one place at one time.

The general public will have an opportunity to witness hands-on demonstrations of humanoid and other types of robots. Members of the Robotics Society of Southern California and Riverside, for instance, will be demonstrating robots built with 3D printers and artificial intelligence, rolling robots, and custom robots. Audience members will hear about STEM solutions that are leading the way in K-12 education, as well as in the larger community. Students who have been designing and building robots will display their work. And throughout the day, attendees will be able to ask questions and glimpse technology that has the capacity to change the way we learn and live. Of special interest to many will be demonstrations of ways in which technology is enhancing the lives of children and adults with disabilities, as well as people identified with autism.

Among the most inspiring projects for young people is the Barboza Space Center’s Fellowship Program. These five-day events staged in schools engage students in simulating the tiger teams used by NASA to address challenges of interplanetary travel. Themed around the Occupy Mars Learning Adventures, the fellowships provide abundant opportunities to put knowledge into practice in dynamic and memorable ways. Aspiring astronauts, designer’s and engineers will find specific information about participating. The Long Beach Robot Showcase has something of interest for everyone seeking to understand and participate in the world of robotics. You can catch it Saturday, August 25 at the Long Beach VA Blind Learning Center Auditorium , 5901 East 7th Street, Building 166, Long Beach 90822.

The Barboza Space Center will also stage a Robotics Showcase Saturday, August 4, at The East Los Angeles Rising (formerly, Boys and Girls Club), 324 N. McDonnel Avenue, Los Angeles, 90022.

Both showcases are free to the public. Times: 10:00 AM. To 3:00 PM both days. The robot showcases are projects of the Super School Design Center (SSDCC), a California 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations of both money and STEM learning materials will be used to promote participation by K-12 students in summer and after-school robot & STEM programs.

Super School Design Center Production
California Nonprofit Corporation

Check Your Backyard

This week, CUE posted the call for presenters. Presenters. You know those confident educators that are the experts in their field. The ones that are willing to draft a beautiful slide presentation, share resources, anecdotes and examples of how you can improve your understanding of the seamless integration of technology at your site or district. You know. Those people.

Well, why aren’t you applying? Not quite ready?

That was me, not too long ago. I remember my first CUE event: CUE Rockstar, Lake Tahoe. The first time I saw Joe Wood teach a session on Google Maps. He was so confident. He barely spoke, really. Just guided us through the tool. Let us click. Let us explore. Let us play. It was invigorating. Joe created a safe space for me to learn: a safe space to collaborate with the other educators in the room.

I was hooked. Hooked on learning. Hooked on connecting. After that, I knew I needed to step beyond the Twittersphere and actually do some IRL connecting. But how?

My journey began at CapCUE, the local CUE affiliate in the Sacramento area. I answered their call for presenters. Each Fall, CapCUE hosts their own collaborative learning opportunity: Techfest. I threw my hat in the ring and decided to share a plethora of tools for speaking and listening.  About five people showed up to my session, but we had the best conversations!

Since that tiny session, I have only grown as an educator through the connections I have made getting involved in my local affiliate. I eventually joined the board as a director. Better yet, I have made some incredible friendships with like-minded and crazy fun people. CapCUE has become an important part of who I am. The members support me in my professional and personal life. CapCUE has become my extended family. Soon these educators pushed me to present at FallCUE, then Spring. My journey started a few miles from my house.

So, if you’re thinking about sharing all the great ideas you have, all the ways you make a difference in students’ and teachers’ lives, but you’re not quite ready for a large event, don’t forget this advice: some of the best connections you can make are right in your backyard. Seek out your local affiliate. Apply to present at their events. You might even consider joining other affiliate events and reaching out beyond your backyard. Check the CUE blog page for opportunities to connect near you.

Get involved. It might just change your life. It changed mine.

“My first time presenting was at the CapCUE TechFest at Natomas Charter School.  It was after lunch and only three people showed up. I had so much fun working with CapCUE and the connections I made led me to present at more and more conferences.” —Corey Coble CapCUE Board Member

“After being excited and going to CUE and wanting to get involved, I reached out to my local affiliate. It offered me a chance to be a part of something larger and get connected to a community. It allowed me to grow as a professional and share that learning with others.”Tom Covington  SGVCUE Board Member

The SVCUE affiliate Board of Directors is comprised of educators who seek quality, fresh, collaborative, and vibrant members who have identified strengths to embody and execute the team’s mission. We work collectively, with students at the heart of what we do. Beyond that, I stay with this affiliate because I remember my roots. I remember where I started. I remember where I was given a chance, and even a second chance. No matter where you go professionally, remember who helped you along the way. That’s SVCUE! —Kristina Mattis SVCUE Board President

“Looking back, it wasn’t unusual at the time to find myself helping my colleagues develop their tech skills, but I will never forget that first time I stepped out and presented for total strangers at my first CapCUE Techfest. The experience opened my eyes to possibilities and network connections I never knew existed. Since that first presentation, I have traveled the country dropping nuggets of knowledge that I have learned along the way, I have learned to blog, to podcast and to curate the most amazing support network imaginable within my #CapCuePLN.” John Eick CapCUE Board President