Archive for November, 2013

7 Ways to Keep Your Students Motivated Until Christmas Break

I’m writing this post from sunny Orlando, Florida. I’m on vacation for Thanksgiving week with my family. It’s actually kind of cold here — a whopping 40 degrees this morning, but I’m happy to be on vacation.

However, my mind is simply on my next vacation — Christmas break. And I’m sure your students are super excited for Christmas, too. But, you’ve got to get through a couple more weeks of school. With sugar cookies, christmas presents, and family coming in from out-of-town, things can get crazy.

Luckily, here’s 7 strategies to keep your student’s eyes on the board and acing their exams, all the way through the holidays.

1. Reward your students

It’s just a short couple of weeks between the two holiday breaks. So, putting a reward at the end of the three weeks will motivate your students. The rewards could be anything from a popcorn party to a cookie party or inviting parents in for a hot chocolate throw-down.

2. Use arts and crafts to teach lessons

There are so many craft ideas during the holidays – reindeer, dreidels, menorahs, christmas trees — you name it.  Get your craft supplies out and make holiday cards, reindeer masks, or construction paper menorahs. Teach your students stories about the history of all holidays to make it educational.

3. Let students share stories from the holidays

I love story time. Get out the wide-lined paper and a pencil, plus some crayons and have your students draw and write stories from holiday time. Keep the stories PG of course. Some prompts could be, tell me about the best place you’ve travelled for the holidays, draw your whole family around the holiday table, make a list of what you love about the holidays, etc.

4. Make lessons holiday-oriented

Math gets more exciting when it’s about cookies taken from the cookie jar, how fast Santa’s sleigh is going, or calculating the speed of a dreidel. Incorporate the lessons into holidays to get your students excited.

5. Extend recess – let those kids run!

When it gets colder (in much of the nation), students often don’t get outside enough. And when you have pent up student energy, it’s got to be released somehow. Recess is the perfect way for students to unwind, play with friends, and be creative. And in the winter, I don’t think there’s a problem with extending it a couple minutes to get the “wintry mix” out of your student’s system.

6. Calendar count-down

“10 days until holiday break!” Can you picture your students screaming for joy? Here’s one way you can make it even more exciting: have a holiday reward on each of the ten days (or month-long calendar if you can make it that long). Maybe it’s a joke or show and tell. Or, you could give your class candy canes on the last day of school before break. Each day, your students will be excited to see what the countdown calendar has in store!

7. Make gingerbread houses

Personal favorite, right here. Gingerbread houses were awesome to build as a kid. We would take old milk cartons (not the crates), coat them with white icing, and decorate them with random candies. They would harden and we’d take them home. Do the same thing with your students for an afternoon before they go home — it works the creative side of their brain and well, it’s candy so what’s wrong with that?

How do you keep your students focused and motivated for a few weeks before holiday break? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

6 Homework Ideas for Your Students Before They Head Home for Thanksgiving

A lot of schools get the whole week off for Thanksgiving. Some students stay home to have a great meal with their family. Others travel far to spend time with extended relatives.

With travel, comes an interesting opportunity for your students to learn lessons they’d only learn outside of school. Here’s a couple ideas for “homework” assignments for your students (and none of them require highlighting in a yellow textbook.

Here we go!

1. Draw a map of where you went with a story for each destination

I love roadtrips. Whether it’s to see family, a museum, or heck, even see the world’s largest rubber band, they never get old. The stories you hear, the people you meet. It’s an adventure. And that means your students are going to have great stories. Print out map worksheets and have your students write where they went along with a story. Or, use a US map to have students pin where they went on vacation.

2. Self-reflection: What are you thankful for?

This one’s simple, but I want you to challenge your students to think about what their thankful for. Jumping straight to family, friends, and a home, is easy. What are they truly thankful for? Ask them to give specific examples. In a page or two, you’ll learn a whole lot more about your students than you would giving them a simple times tables for multiplication.

3. Personal essay: Your favorite part about Thanksgiving

Similar to number 2, but a little looser, what do you students enjoy about Thanksgiving? Is it the food? The family? Or the football in the front yard? Whatever it may be ask your students to draw a picture, write a short essay, or both, on why they think it’s their favorite part of the Thanksgiving holiday.

4. Show and Tell from Thanksgiving vacation

Did your students get the bigger part of the wishbone from the Turkey? That’d be a fun show and tell item. So would your student’s Black Friday deal steal or homemade biscuits (especially if they’re amazing). When students get the chance to talk about something they loved about vacation you not only learn something about them, but it’s a chance for their peers to learn, too. Bring show and tell back to your classroom for Thanksgiving break.

5. A Story from Your Grandparent’s past

Family is all about storytelling. Whether you’re laughing about your sister’s go-kart story or how your uncle always makes Thanksgiving dinner a nightmare, there’s always opportunities to tell a good story. For me, a lot of the best stories come from my Grandparents. They have stories from a time I never experienced. And the stories are remembered so vividly, too. Chances are, your students hear some of these stories over Thanksgiving break. Give them the chance to write down the stories and share them with the class. They’ll learn other student’s stories and enjoy telling their own.

6. Your cousin’s favorite recipe

Everyone has their favorite recipes they look forward to every holiday – and Thanksgiving is no exception. Sometimes it’s Grandma’s homemade rolls with honey butter. Or, it could be your cousin’s famous bourbon pecan sweet potatoes. Have your students write about or bring in their favorite Thanksgiving recipe and share it with the class.

See? Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be textbooks and flag football. You can put meaning behind your student’s time off. And it’s more likely they’ll actually do the homework because it doesn’t involve a protractor or glass beaker.

Did you give your students any homework over Thanksgiving break? Let me know in the comments below.

Introducing the QuizBean Manifesto (aka What we’re all about)

Quizbean is about Quizzes. Making them and taking them. We’re not a LMS. We’re not courseware. In fact, we’re not bloated at all. We’re a lean quiz-making machine. No lengthy help section needed. Making a quiz should be just as easy as taking one. We don’t want you to waste time figuring QuizBean out.

You should be able have a student list populated, classes created and your first quiz sent in under 15 minutes.

To do this, data entry should have zero friction. It should be easy as pie. Blueberry pie. We need keyboard shortcuts and smart defaults. Screens should load instantly from any device — even paper and pencil. Every subject, regardless of how funny-looking the characters are, should work with QuizBean. And grading? It should be instantaneous. It should not disrupt your routine.

And we need to help you through the process.

If you distribute physical quizzes, we need to help you make the transition to a digital platform easier – not harder. QuizBean should save you hours of hand-grading. It doesn’t have to be a tool forced on you by the guy who heads up IT for your district. You should want to use QuizBean.

Quizbean is oodles of fun.

QuizBean should be delightful at every turn. Creation of a quiz should be just as fun as taking a quiz.  Animation, drag-and-drop image upload, and easy data entry help you build a quiz your students want to take (hard to believe, right?).

Students should have fun taking a quiz.  A Quiz should be engaging and not repetitive. It should further their learning, develop knowledge, and help assess where your students could improve.

QuizBean is a tool for the the future of education. A tool that’s simple and effective. And most importantly, makes your job easier.

Take QuizBean for a test drive.


8 Reasons Teachers Should Blog

I’ve come across hundreds of teacher’s blogs – from edtech, to teaching kindergarten, becoming an art teacher, curriculum design, and more. Maybe it’s because there are so many of you, but I’m blown away by the sheet number out there. And they all have their own niche!

But, there are still teachers who haven’t joined the technology band-wagon and started blogging.

Now is the time. It’s easier than ever before to get started. Heck, this blog was started in about 15 minutes. And you don’t even need your own website address. You can get something setup at Blogger or WordPress in even less time – and for free.

If I’ve got you interested, read on to discover 10 more reasons you should be putting pen to screen and writing your own blog.

1. You connect with teachers across the globe

One of the most amazing benefits of writing on a consistent basis is the people you meet. From teachers to school administrators, press to principals. You’ll meet a ton of people. And they won’t just be located at the middle school down the road. Teachers are global. Your blog is global. Just through the QuizBean blog, I’ve met teachers from France, Canada, England, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands. etc. Do you want to meet them, too?

2. You build credibility and trust

Think you’re an awesome teacher? That’s for the web to decide! Starting a blog builds credibility and trust. It says you know what you’re talking about. It means other teachers seek you out for knowledge. Start a blog. Take what’s in your head and put into posts. Add pictures and an email sign-up. Then press go. Watch as the world explodes in-front of your eyes.

3. You can be a role model to your students

There’s almost always one aspiring writer in your classroom – and maybe more. By you writing your own blog it may inspire your students to write their own blogs, get creative, and find their own online following. And if they get hooked, blogs are one of the best tools for them to build their personal brands.

4. You get better at writing

No matter how long you’ve been writing, there’s always room for improvement. Writers who have been crafting paragraphs for decades are have their eye on improving. When I started writing, I was horrible. Now, I kind of actually get the hang of it. And internet writing isn’t your run-of-the-mill research paper. It’s fun, light, and personal. This is probably writing you haven’t done in a while – that’s why it’s such a joy!

5. You can write about anything

Passionate about curriculum design? What about teaching new math strategies for 3rd graders? Your blog’s topic is up to you. Someone out there will find it valuable. And you’ll build a following. Oh, you don’t want to write about teaching? Then start a cooking blog. Or a travel blog. Or, just write for he sake of writing.

6. You have something to put on your resume

Hiring managers and principals love to see personal websites. Why? Because it not only shows how you communicate, but it shows your thought process. It puts a human-touch to your resume and gives you a leg-up from the competition.

7. You get your thoughts off your mind…and on paper

As a teacher (or, really any working professional), there’s a ton on your mind. You’re constantly thinking about your students, grading exams, lesson planning, packing lunch (we all know cafeteria food is sub-par). What if you could get those thoughts out of your head? You can with blogging. Pick a word-count, say 500 words, and start typing. There. Is that better? You’ve gotten something off your chest that upset you about the school day. You wrote about how you made a difference in a student’s life. And hey, you don’t even have to publish it. But you should.

8. It’s fun (isn’t that reason enough?)

Who ever thought writing could be fun? Well, if you start a blog, it will be. It’s fun to see your blog posts on the first page of Google. It’s fun to connect with teachers across the world – and even teachers in your own school. Plus, if it ends up not being fun, you can always take a break – you know, like a summer vacation!

Do you have a blog? Let me know why you blog and include a link to your blog, too — I’ll bookmark it!


7 Resources to Help Students Figure Out What They Want to Do

When I was in grade school, I wanted to be a pharmaceutical salesman. Why? Because they made a lot of money and played golf all day. Then, after I realized I couldn’t play golf well, I moved on to culinary school. But, that takes years to climb up the food chain – no pun intended. After culinary school, I was interested in becoming a graphic designer. Now, I do online marketing.

I jumped around because I never quite knew what I wanted to do.

The same is true with your students.

They are only exposed to so much throughout their middle school and high school years. They have no idea certain career paths even exist. And that’s a problem. We need to help our students explore everything – from plumbing to architecture, cooking to biology.

That’s why I put together a list of tools I found online that’ll help your students explore different career options while they still have time to decide. Let’s take a look:

1. O-Net Online

This treasure trove of a website has all the information your students will be looking for when they start to explore their career options. You can search a myriad of different ways. One of which sorts careers by the amount of preperation needed to enter the industry. That can be beneficial for students who may not want to gain a lot of post-secondary education.


If you’ve got high school students, send them here. They have detailed info on every major you can think of. And if your students are stuck, take them through a career test to see what the crew at recommends. I wish I had this tool when I was in school.

3. Science Pioneers

When it comes to career prospects, students looking to dive into math and science should browse this website for job postings and descriptions on what life is like as scientist. And yes, we do need more of them, so encourage your students to take a look.

4. CareerKids

Not only does this site provide job descriptions, it’ll give your students salary information (so they make sure they’re in a job that’ll pay for the big yacht they want :P). When they find a job they’re interested in, CareerKids has articles to help students figure it all out. Plus, there’s a section to help craft your student’s first resume.

5. WordPress

Yes, it’s not a career website, but I firmly believe your students should start to make an online name for themselves as early as possible.  Do this by simply starting a blog on WordPress (this blog is hosted using WordPress). Once students start writing and ranking in Google searches, they’ll be well on their way to developing their own career.

6. 25 Tough Job Interview Questions

It’s great if your students know what they want to do, but what about landing a job in their chosen industry? They have to get past the interview! And they’re not easy when you’re 15 or 16 years old. This resource from the Huffington Post provides a list of questions your students should be ready to answer.

7. 9 Amazing Teen Entrepreneurs

Many students think they have to follow a traditional career path. Not so! Teen entrepreneurship is on the rise and this article highlights 9 amazing teen entrepreneurs who started their own business – and they’re successful. Don’t let your students count it out quite yet.

Does your school have a career services department? Do the counselors help your students identify what they may be good at? Truth is, your students could switch jobs and industries several times in their lives. Just this past week, I met a Sales Manager at a cookie company whose background is in engineering. You never know. But, with these sites, your students will have a better idea of what they want to be when they grow up.

QuizBean featured on

As an ed-tech startup, we love free press. Today, we got more free press. Emma, one of several incredibly talented writers at chose to feature QuizBean because we have a vision to disrupt education and how teachers assess their students.

The article, which launched this afternoon, also highlights our parent company, Bluehouse Group, who’s team has been building QuizBean for over a year now. It’s press like this that gets us super excited. Excited that we’re making a splash in the edtech community.

Thanks to Emma and the KillerStartups team for writing about us.

Here’s a link to the article:

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.

8 Reasons You Should Have More Guest Speakers in Your Classroom

Guest speakers for your classroom

Having a guest speaker in your classroom is probably better than when the TV on wheels rolled into your classroom. They’re new, fresh, and hopefully engaging.

Many teachers bring in guest speakers to illustrate points in their lesson plans, and give students a break, but I believe guest speakers have the power to do so much more. Here are 8 reasons you should invite more guest speakers into your classroom:

1. It’s a break from your teaching

Hate to say it, but students are probably bored of your teaching methods and class. Break up the monotony with a guest speaker. They’ll speak at a different pace, use different teaching aids, and engage with students differently. Plus, it’s an opportunity for students to interact with unfamiliar people and get comfortable talking to other adults – always a plus for networking down the road!

2. Students have the opportunity to learn something new

This is my favorite reason on the list because I love to learn something new. When I had scientists come in to class, travelers, and even firefighters, I learned a ton – even if it had nothing to do with the class I was in. Learning new, interesting things is part of education, and guest speakers are often overlooked as one of the better sources.

3. It supports subjects you may not know a lot about

Have you ever gotten to a point in your semester’s curriculum where it might be better for someone else to teach the section? That’s a perfect scenario for guest speakers (or another teacher if that’s easier). Having another person teach a quick section of your class is a nice break for students – and it lends a different perspective, as I point out below.

4. Creates amazing community relations

A lot of schools struggle with good “town-gown” relations. Some are disliked by the community while others prosper. One of the best ways to get in good graces is by working with community leaders and organizations to bring in their staff to speak to students about what they do and how it relates to the curriculum. You’ll be making new friends in town in no time.

5. Give professionals a chance to connect with students

There are many professionals who would jump at the chance to come speak to a classroom full of your students. If you’re an elementary school teacher, interactive science demos would be neat. In middle school? How about a world-travel presentation from someone who’s done a lot of globe-trotting? And if you teach high school students, what about an intro to personal finance or a college admissions counselor? At any level, reach out to businesses in your area. You’d be surprised at what you find.

6. Parents love participating in their kid’s class

Bring your parent to work day is super-fun. But, what if someone has a not-so-fun job? (I mean, how long can you listen to an accountant talk about what they do?) Offer another option like displaying a hobby or fun side project they worked on. Parents like to be involved and see that their child is proud of them – and vice versa.

7. There are important lessons to learn

Sometimes it takes a guest speaker to hammer a point home. Whether it’s from their personal or professional experience guest speakers have the chance to make an impact. For example, when I was going through driver’s education, we listened to a father who lost his daughter in an auto accident because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Lesson learned. I don’t turn the car on until I have my seat belt on.

8. It’s just fun

You see your student’s smiles on their faces when someone amazing walks through the door. That’s what makes it all worth it — especially when you bring in someone students know. I remember when my college would host a speaker series. The excitement on campus was unforgettable.

Have you brought a lot of guest speakers into your classroom? How do they benefit your students? Do they detract from the curriculum? I’d love to start a discussion about why you’re pro or con on bringing in guest speakers. Start the discussion off below.


The Broken Feedback Loop in Education (Plus 4 Ways to Fix It)

Education's Broken Feedback Loop

“A+, Michael! Job well done.” I looked down at the English paper that was just handed back to me. It couldn’t have been that good. I wrote it in a couple hours. Heck, I probably didn’t even cite correctly.

Was it truly an A+ paper?

I flipped through the pages (spotting several spelling errors) and there’s a tiny red pen mark at the end of that paper. That’s it. There was nothing wrong?

Where’s the feedback?

This doesn’t just happen to me. It happens to thousands of students every day. They receive poor feedback from teachers who, quite frankly, have gotten lazy. Not a mark on the paper. Just a grade.

I bring this up because I saw a picture on Facebook this week that depicts a student’s “blabbing on” as an “answer” to the question. He received an A- on the short essay and clearly states the teacher won’t read his answer anyway. And he’s right.

I realize teachers have a lot on their plate, but shouldn’t they provide feedback to their students? Shouldn’t they be working with students to improve their skills?

Without feedback, students believe there’s nothing wrong with what was handed in. It’s perfect, less a few grammatical errors and maybe a typo.

This made me think I had stellar writing skills.

Until they were ripped apart by a demanding former boss with high standards. According to him, I simply could not write well. So, he taught me.

He taught me how to make logical arguments using the pyramid principle. He taught me how to keep sentences shorter. And to keep readers heading down a slippery slope until they need to take action.

It’s a different style of writing.

That’s not to say my history and English papers should be thrown out the door. It’s simply persuasive writing – something I never got exposed to in grade school. At least, not in the way I am now.

Feedback needs to improve student work.

Constructive criticism only works if students are given a chance to improve on what they turned in. Sure, there are first and second drafts, but if an assignment is poorly executed, and there’s no chance for feedback, how does the student become a better student?

Feedback is broken in education. It’s perceived as a chore for many teachers. While I haven’t been in school for a couple years, I’d like to propose a few ways of fixing the broken feedback loop:

1. Go beyond the red pen

Sometimes feedback that comes in the form of red pen is intimidating — not to mention useless. Think about other ways to provide your students with feedback. Maybe one-on-one meetings about papers or picking a student’s sample (with anonymity of course) and going over it in class. Close the cap on your red pen and start giving personalized feedback to help your students grow.

2. Work on more than a couple drafts

One and done is the worst vehicle for effective feedback. Do at least two drafts before students hand in the final assignment. This gives them plenty of time to work on what they believe is the best they can do. And it also means you have to provide actionable feedback on each draft. Do this a couple times over the semester and watch your student projects improve dramatically.

3. Incorporate peer feedback

Teachers aren’t the only ones who can provide feedback. Often times, students are the best to give advice, criticism and feedback. Why? Because students listen to other students and take their opinions to heart. Just like comforting friends after a high school break-up, they have a connection to each other you and your students will likely never have.

4. Incorporate real-world scenarios and education

Who wants to work on something that doesn’t impact their lives? Students want to make a difference. That means working on real-world projects and providing feedback on how to generate better results, write a better fundraising letter, or explain history to 3rd graders. Get your student’s hands dirty with experience and they’ll learn lots.

Feedback is only as good as the person giving it. That means poor feedback results in poor results. Work with your students to create great works of prose, models, and other projects. They’re only going to improve if you constructively tell them where and what they could improve on. Don’t make them think what they turned in is perfect.

Feedback helps students learn. And isn’t that all what we’re after?

10 of the Best Thanksgiving Resources for Teachers

Thanksgiving Resources for Teachers

One of the big movements on social media this month is the November Thankfulness Campaign. It’s when you write something you’re thankful for each day of the month (It’s also no-shave November, but that’s a story for another blog post!).

The thankfulness campaign got me thinking about Thanksgiving this morning. The food, family, and the meaning of the holiday. That prompted a quick Google search to see what was on the web to help you incorporate Thanksgiving into your curriculum. Turns out, there’s a few resources out there you should know about:

1. Scholastic’s Guide to the First Thanksgiving

Want to know literally anything about Turkey Day? This is your website. It’s got everything you could ever imagine – from history to worksheets categorized by grade. They’ve done a great job.

2. Thanksgiving Story Worksheet

What I like about this worksheet is it’s interactive. Your students read about the story of Thanksgiving and are asked questions as they progress like “What do you think the pilgrims brought with them?”. I like that it can either be done as a solo activity or a group discussion.

3. Thanksgiving Color Pages (You’ve got to color, right?)

So, this is a little bit of stretch. Coloring was always therapeutic for me in school. so I figured it might be a relaxing activity for your kids. This page has a couple print-outs for you to use. And make sure your students color inside the lines. :p

4. History of Thanksgiving from the History Channel

Video is an amazing tool for the classroom. It keeps students engaged and is a nice break from reading or using a whiteboard. This History of Thanksgiving video gives you a great overview – and it’s not dry (like some things on the History Channel).

5. Map Your Recipe

I thought this resource was unique. Enter in any recipe – let’s say pumpkin pie – and it’ll tell you where all of those ingredients originated. While Home Economics isn’t really a class anymore, this could be fun for high school students interested in cooking and the migration of ingredients throughout the world.


With a brand-new revamped website, this guy has everything you’d want to know about the Mayflower – from a passenger list to genealogy. It’s neat to browse through everything, so head on over and take a look.

7. Thanksgiving Vocabulary

You’ve got to know the words of Thanksgiving! Here’s a list to get your students started so they’ll sound so well versed at the dinner table. Your students will blow their Grandparent’s minds when they start talking about gizzards and libations.

8. Hand-Turkey Templates

Who doesn’t love a hand-turkey? These are awesome and every student needs to make one at least once. Make this year, the year of the hand-turkey. Color and black & white templates are available here.

9. Kid-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes

Cooking is a lesson, too – and it helps bring families together (which is what Turkey Day is all about). Send your students home with recipes to make with their parents the morning of the big feast.

10. Visual History of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

And the parade. Oh, the parade. It’s a Thanksgiving tradition. And it turns out there’s a ton of history behind it. The great part about this site is it’s a visual slideshow. Interaction for the win! Enjoy the visual history behind one of America’s largest parades!

What Thanksgiving resources have you found that help teach the meaning of Thanksgiving to your students? List them below in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.