Month: August 2015

Food for Thought Friday: How Do We Let People Know That They Matter?

jackie robinson quoteby Kristie Burk

People universally want to know that they are appreciated and that someone cares about them.  We all want to feel like we matter. It’s true of our students, but it’s also true of our colleagues, our supervisors, the people who work for us and, of course, ourselves.

How do we let people know that we care? Angela Maiers wrote this excellent article called “The 12 Most Important Ways to Let People Know They Matter.”

Some of her suggestions are obvious, like being present and listening with interest. However, she also offers some more interesting tips, such as “ask mattering not matter-of-face questions” and “sweat the small stuff.” Take some time to read the article this weekend and see if you can put some of her suggestions into action right away.

Is there someone in your building who really makes you feel like you matter? Is there someone who really makes the students or other adults in the building feel as though they matter? Let me know at and I’ll share the responses in a future article.


Learning Student Names

Today’s guest blogger is Justin Staub, social studies teacher at the Downingtown STEM Academy.  This article was originally published on his blog and is reposted here with permission.


As a classroom teacher now in my 12th year, I know learning student names is difficult for me. I also know I get very nervous speaking in front of groups, unless I know the audience. So, the quicker I learn the names of students each year, the more comfortable I feel. I suspect the students feel the same way; the quicker I learn their names, the more comfortable they feel.

Some teachers are fabulous at learning student names. I am not!!! I realized I learn names best from repetition, usually from passing back papers. For me sometimes, this does not occur until the second week of school. Until then, I am sunk. To practice repetition, I am trying something different this year. My online gradebook has photographs of most of my incoming students. Why not use this to study… but how? As a student, I practiced mindless repetition through studying index cards (i.e., large amounts of Latin vocabulary or Geometry theorems). I could do the same with student names, since I have the photographs.I have decided to use an iOS app for flipcards and make a study game out of my students’ names and faces. I reviewed Quizlet, StudyBlue, and Flashcards+ by Chegg against three criteria. It had to be free; it had to allow me to add pictures to cards; and it must allow me to “hide” cards I knew and only practice those I did not know. I found Flashcards+ by Chegg to do all three.

In the Chegg app, you can create your own deck(s) or import common study criteria (great for other classroom applications). I put all of my students into one deck, not a separate deck for each class period. I wanted to make my memorization more challenging, but I also wanted a way to keep the students separated by class. So, I put student pictures on one side of the card and student names + period number on the other side. The Flashcard+ app allows me to sort and practice cards with “period 5” on them (though I just typed “5”). So, I can still practice all the names or just those of a certain class.The process of using the Flashcard+ app (or any of the others really) does have drawbacks.

Mobile-only setup. In all three cases, I could only set up pictures on cards on the iOS app. This meant I had to save the student pictures to my camera roll, then upload them into the app. This was very tedious. I wanted to create a database in Google Sheets then import (or copy) the data into the app. None of the apps I reviewed let me do this with pictures (text only? yes.). The mobile-only set up is a drawback as I am quicker with this sort of work on a computer rather than a tablet or phone.
Laborious. The setup was not smooth. I have four classes of new students (the fifth class is a returning class of seniors who I already know). Setting up four classes of students took me about two hours on my phone. If not for my extreme handicap learning names, this might have been too long.
Missing faces. Yes, if students move into the district or were for some reason were absent from picture day, their faces will not appear. I have six such cases in my entire roster of students.
Errors. I am sure there are database errors for names of faces or typing errors on my end (hopefully nothing more than a misspelled name). This issue is problematic in any system and should not keep you from setting up electronic flash cards.So, what do I hope to gain from two hours of set-up labor? I should know all my students’ names on the first day of school. Measure that however you will, but I think it will be awesome.
So far, after an hour of “studying”, I know 85% of the names! I was going to struggle for a week (or two) to know some names; now I will be better prepared. What an impression to make! Greet your students at the door with a smile, a handshake, and a correct greeting! For me, the setup was very long, but I will reap huge rewards from this work. Good luck and enjoy your new school year.

Website Wednesday: Readability

by Kristie Burk

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…sometimes the best websites are the simplest ones.  Today, I want to talk to you about Readability. Readability is a website (and an app) that allows you to take articles from the web and put them into a better reading format.

What does that mean? Readability will take the online articles and remove all of the clutter – headlines, banners and ADVERTISEMENTS!

Sometimes, seeing is believing.  So check this out…

1.  Here is a link to a Forbes article online:

2.  This is a link to the same article in Readability:

Which do YOU like better!?

Readability is free and only takes a few seconds to start using. Let us know if you like Readability at!

Tech Tip Tuesday: Using Schoology Portfolios

by Kristie Burk

One of my favorite new features in Schoology this summer is the addition of portfolios. Now, students can create portfolios outside of courses and groups.  These portfolios can include assignment submissions, files, links and pages. Once the objects are added, students can edit them to add more details. Students can add as many portfolios as they would like.

The best part of the portfolios is that they can be shared by using a private link that allows the receipient to view the portfolio, even if he or she doesn’t have a Schoology account.

The uses for portfolios are endless!  Terri-lee Cook, art teacher at Downingtown High School East, is planning to use portfolios with her students, especially since AP Studio Art students are required to submit a digital portfolio to the College Board as part of their AP exam.

Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center teachers can also start writing portfolios with their students that they can add to as they move on to middle school and high school.

Seniors can create portfolios that they can share with colleges.

Want more information on using portfolios with students? Look at some of these articles:

37 Very Cool Teacher Hacks!

quotescover-JPG-87by Kristie Burk

In case you haven’t noticed, “hacking” is very trendy right now. There is a television show called “Hack My Life” on truTV and a widely popular website called Lifehacker.

To “hack” means to modify or change something to be used in a new and clever way.  Lifehacker is one of my favorite websites because of the clever tricks it shares.  I’ve learned to get more room into my suitcase by stuffing things into my shoes, to keep my USB cords in sight on my desk by using binder clips, to cool down warm drinks by wrapping them in a wet paper towel and putting them in the freezer, and to reuse old plastic hangers as chip clips. I mean, this is useful information, people!

For fun, I thought I would share this article called “37 Insanely Smart School Teacher Hacks” by Peggy Wang.  There are some great ideas in here!

Do you have a favorite life “hack?”  Let us know at

Website Wednesday: SAS Curriculum Pathways

by Kristie Burk

If you’re creating a new course or a class from scratch, or if you’d just like to revise the one that you’ve been teaching for a while, it’s always helpful to find new content. A great website for finding online content is called SAS Curriculum Pathways.

SAS Curriculum Pathways offers over 1,200 interactive, standards-based resources in ELA, math, science, social studies and Spanish.

There is just so much to see on this website that I encourage you to spend just a few minutes looking at all it has to offer. In addition to the lesson plans, you can look through “Explore! Primary Sources, “Writing Navigator,” and “The Data Depot.”

Check it out and see if there are any resources that you can start adding to your class!

Tech Tip Tuesday: Schoology Question Banks

by Kristie Burk

Schoology, Downingtown’s learning management system, enhances teachers’ ability to share with their colleagues. One of the best ways that teachers can share is through the use of Schoology question banks.

Teachers can create (and share) a question bank in their resources. Question banks can contain all types of questions, including multiple choice, essay, true/false, etc. For example, this summer our driver’s education teachers at East and West created one question bank that they could share.  Not only does this practice cut down on work (each teacher only has to input half the questions), but it also creates equity between the two schools.

When creating a test or quiz within a course, one of the options that a teacher has is to “add from question banks.”  Once this option is selected, teachers can choose to import “individual questions” or “random questions.”

Individual Questions

When you select the individual questions feature, you can choose any of the questions in the question bank to add to your quiz. I love that you can select multiple questions at one time and even specify their point value.

Random Questions

This feature is pretty amazing. When you select random questions and the question bank, Schoology will ask you how many questions you would like and what the point values will be.  Then, Schoology will select questions for each individual student.

For example, if you have 100 questions in your question bank and you select “10” random questions, each student will get 10 different questions from the bank. Can you see the value in this feature?

Enable Question Tracking

Another great feature in the Schoology question banks is the ability to track your questions.  When you select this option, Schoology will “lock” the question, which means that it will no longer be editable. Later, teachers will be able to run a report that allows them to analyze the results on a particular question. This can be useful to compare data among teachers’ sections or among teachers using common assessments.

Click on this link if would like to learn more about using Schoology question banks.