Month: July 2015

Food for Thought Friday: Can We Teach Students “Grit?”

by Kristie Burk

Earlier this week, I shared with you a blog on growth mindset. Today, we are going to talk some more about how teachers can improve students’ grit in class.

Do you believe that it can be done? Can you teach students how to be “grittier” or is it a fixed part of their personality?

Can teachers help develop students’ grit?

I found an excellent article on edutopia called “True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It” by Vicki Davis. In the article, she discusses 11 ways that she is “tackling grit” in her classroom.

“In my ninth grade classroom, January starts with a video about John Foppe, born with no arms, who excelled as an honor student, drove his own car, and became a successful psychologist and speaker while creatively using his feet. We also talk to Westwood alum Scott Rigsby, the first double amputee to complete an Ironman competition. These are gritty people. Life is hard, and luck is an illusion.” – Vicki Davis

If you’d like some food for thought this Friday, read the article and think about ways that you can help students develop their grit…and maybe your own!


What if Teachers Were Treated Like Athletes?

by Kristie Burk

Every once in a while, you just need to watch something that makes you laugh.  My friend Stephanie Heavens, music teacher at Brandywine Wallace Elementary School, posted this video on Facebook last night and I thought it was fantastic. After just one day on YouTube, over 1.5 million people have already watched it!

What if teachers were treated like athletes?  Check out this spoof of SportsCenter by Comedy Central.  And make sure you stick around to watch the BMW commercial at the very end; it’s my favorite part!

Website Wednesday: Growth Mindset = Success for All

by Kristie Burk

Since it’s summer, perhaps you would like a little more reading material? If so, I highly encourage you to check out Deborah Kerschner’s blog on growth mindset. Inspired by the book Mindset: A New Psychology for Success by Carol S. Dweck, Kerschner blogs about her experiences as a sixth grade teacher and her mantra that “time + effort = excellence.”

“Teaching kids to adopt a growth mindset works. It teaches them that any challenge, no matter how daunting it seems, can be overcome. This is what we need all kids to know, to understand and to do.” – Deborah Kerschner

If you’d like to be inspired, view some of her most recent pieces, including:

Check it out and let us know what you think at

Tech Tip Tuesday: Free Tools to Get More Organized

Today’s guest blogger is Alyssa Day, a social studies teacher at DHSE.  

by Alyssa Day

It is often easy to get frustrated with technology and to feel like it is something that only makes our jobs as educators more time consuming.  We all know how much extra time we have during the school year… none.  Ultimately, effective use of technology makes our lives easier, our teaching more successful, and actually even saves time!

At ISTE, I attended a BYOD presentation, Top Free Tools to Differentiate, Communicate, Assess, and Organize BYOT Classrooms, about how to do all that.   The presenters Kevin Bower, Melissa Henning, and Louise Maine were teachers from elementary through high school and contributors to Teacher’s First, so they had a variety of resources to share.

These were my favorites:

  • Todoist is the “world’s most powerful to-do list.”  I have always been someone who needs to have physical hand-written to-do lists, but the Todist app won me over.  You can implement this for personal or classroom use.  You can enter and prioritize tasks and even make them different colors.  It really is a one-stop shop to organize your life, both personally and professionally.
  • Celly is an app and website dedicated to helping make communication easier and more effective.  If you are familiar with the Remind app, you will see many similarities.  Though it is not limited to classroom use, Celly provides a safe and private environment for you to communicate with students, parents, and staff.  It can be used for “afterschool homework help, classroom mentoring, and parent-teacher collaboration.”  I heard about this at nearly every session I attended at ISTE, so it is something everyone should at least try out.
  • Flipit, also referred to as Flipboard, is a tool to make differentiation easier at any grade level.  “Use Flipboard to collect, explore, and share information from many sources, all in a magazine-style format.”  I will definitely be using this tool when organizing resources before the Socratic Seminar I have each unit in Psych.  You can share your Flipboard with students, and colleagues. You can incorporate materials at different reading levels to share with your varied level students, and allow students to explore what is of interest to them.  You and your students can easily personalize their learning.

Take a minute to explore their presentation page above and find some tools to make incorporating technology into your classroom (and life) a successful endeavor.

Tech Tip Tuesday: Taking Pinterest To the Next Level

pinterestToday’s guest blogger is Fran Evans, a blended Family Consumer Science Teacher at Downingtown High School East and West. After attending the ISTE 2015 conference in Philadelphia in June, she wanted to share what she learned about taking Pinterest to the next level.

by Fran Evans

If you’re not familiar with Pinterest, it works like an electronic bulletin board or a visual bookmarking system. You “pin” pictures from the web (or upload your own photos) to boards you create on the Pinterest site. You can share the contents of your boards with others or keep them secret. You may invite others to pin to your boards. Many retailers and websites have made it even easier to use Pinterest by including a “pin it” icon to allow you easily pin from the site to your board – click “pin it;” your Pinterest app opens and asks you where you would like to pin the image.

I’ve had the Pinterest App on my IPad for about a year now. I’ve used it intermittently – I have boards titled “Recipes to Try”, “House Ideas”, even “School Ideas.” All my boards are secret. They function as a warehouse of ideas for my very visual self.

At the June ISTE conference I had the opportunity to attend a session called The Power of Pinterest, presented by Noemi Rodriguez from the Pascack Valley Regional High School District. I attended with some reservations, thinking Pinterest was pretty simplistic for an hour presentation. But its inherent simplicity is what makes Pinterest so usable. The most common way to use Pinterest is a visual filing cabinet, as I had been using it.

But Pinterest can also be used to collaborate, to showcase student work, or to collect and share images with students. Pinterest is accessible (and free). Many students and parents are already Pinterest users, so there is little learning curve. Pinterest can enhance learning and bring a visual perspective to the classroom.

Participants in the session had some great ideas for using Pinterest:

  • A librarian was going to use it to showcase new books.
  • An elementary school teacher was going to invite students/parents to pin pictures of places they had traveled to over the summer.
  • Another participant suggested using it for lesson planning.
  • Throughout the session, we were invited to pin to a Virtual Field Trip to Philadelphia board. Within 5 minutes, there were 25 great ideas for what to see, do, or eat in Philly.

The Family and Consumer Science classes I teach are very visual. I take photos of student work but, admittedly, only a few make it off the camera.  Next year, I hope to use Pinterest to showcase and share what we create, to invite students to share ideas, and to collaborate with others in my department.

How would I sum up Pinterest? Simple, usable and accessible – three characteristics that together make Pinterest a classroom tool worth trying.

Website Wednesday: Using Unsplash to Spark Your Writing

by Kristie Burk

I don’t know what to write about!

Have you ever heard these words!?  Who hasn’t experienced writer’s block at some point? My new friend, Jon Harper, had a great suggestion for inspiring students (and adults!) to write using the website unsplash. He talked about it in his blogging session at #edcampldr in Philadelphia on Monday, but I think it would also be a great tool to use with students.  Look at the pictures below:



















Would these pictures inspire you to write? Do they spark an idea?

These images were all found on, a website that posts free images that can be reused and copied.  Every 10 days, new images are added that can inspire you or your students!

Food for Thought Friday: Gamifying Your Classroom

by Kristie Burk

When I attended ISTE 2015 last week, the educational technology trends were obvious.  There were a lot of sessions on 1:1, blended learning, project-based learning, and, of course…gamification.

Gamification in education hopes to seize upon our students’ (and their parents, admittedly) intense interest in games and harness that enthusiasm for classroom learning.  Unfortunately, there are a number of different ideas about what “gamifying” looks like, which is why I decided to attend Dr. Harrold’s session on gamification at ISTE.

Dr. Harrold, a high school English teacher, has gamified his classroom and offers some great points about how to do it successfully.  He emphasizes that you don’t need technology to gamify your classroom, but it can certainly enhance the game.

Here are some things I learned from Dr. Harrold:

  1. Losing has to be an option.  In a real game, players always run the risk of losing. Students need to have this option.
  2. There should be multiple paths to winning. In most games, there is not just one way to finish the game.  Your classroom should be the same; give students choices as they progress.
  3. Incorporate scaffolding.  Give your students easy rewards early in the game, but make it more challenging as they progress.
  4. Require mastery. In a typical classroom, the students move on to the next material as a whole class.  In a gamified classroom, students cannot move on until they’ve demonstrated mastery of the current material (85% in Dr. Harrold’s classroom). Of course, this means that the teacher has to determine what qualifies as “mastery” ahead of time.
  5. Don’t give away an “A” for finishing the game. Dr. Harrold’s students get a “B” if they complete the material in his class (finish the game) and earn all the “experience” points. Students can earn additional “gems” and “badges” for more points toward their grades if they go above and beyond expectations.
  6. Add “power ups.”  Dr. Harrold gives his students a chance to power up if they earn enough extra gems and badges; they earn special privileges, such as the ability to design their own projects or to create new ways to show mastery.

Dr. Harrold has a great site with resources on how he has gamified his literature classes. If you’re interested in learning more, you can also watch Dr. Harrold’s video on gamification:

Are you thinking about gamifying your classroom? Have you done it already? Let us know at