Top 10 Posts of 2012

Expat Educator MovingThe year 2012 marks the end of another chapter in my expat life. I say good-bye to Hong Kong and relocate to Australia. You can look forward to hearing about the wonderful ideas I get from Australian colleagues. You may notice I’ve re-set my spell-check to the Oxford Dictionary as a step in getting accustomed to a slightly new form of English :).

As 2013 begins, I want to thank you for taking time to read my posts this past year. In case you missed them, my most popular posts of 2012 are listed below. I hope they will help as you plan for the New Year.

As I reflect on the posts I’ve read this year, the very best was written by a professor, Darryl Young, who spent a year teaching High School math. His thoughtful reflections make for a post I wish would go viral.

The most popular Expat Educator posts of 2012:

Expat Educator Electronic PortfoliosStudent Electronic Portfolios: A Model

Electronic portfolios continue to gain in popularity. Portfolios can be done using Evernote and Edublogs. Student Electronic Portfolios: A Model demonstrates how Google sites can be used to display student work.

Expat Educator 1_1Keeping Students Engaged in a 1:1 Project-Based Classroom

Aren’t computers a distraction? is a question many have asked. Distractions can be minimised with a few specific classroom management strategies. Read more…

Expat Educator Flipped ClassroomCan All Classroom Lessons be Flipped?

Yeah, this is a rather unpopular opinion in the online teacher community. I argue that individual lessons can be strategically flipped, but using the flipped model for every lesson is unwise. Read more…

Expat Educator SMART goalsPreparing Parents and Students for Fall Goal-Setting Conferences

My first few years of teaching, I prepared for parent conferences by figuring out what I would say. When I stopped leading the conversation, students began making more personalised, meaningful goals. Read more

Expat Educator First Year OverseasTop 10 Lessons Learned the First year Overseas

Moving to new countries comes with challenges. Rereading this post reminded me of those challenges as I embark on my new adventure.

Expat Educator Civil War JournalsA Low-Tech Project Students Treasure: Civil War Journals

Even if you don’t teach about the American Civil War, tea-stained bare books can be used to create projects that look rather authentic. Even after High School, former students tell me that they still have their 5th Grade Civil War Journal. How often can you say that about a project? Read more…

Expat Educator Report Card CommentsReport Card Comments: Outlines and Examples

You probably just finished your comments. You might find it more helpful to read how you can pre-plan to make comments more manageable next semester. As for the outline, read on…

Quick Formative Assessments

Google forms and Google docs are tools that allow for quick, ongoing formative assessments. Both you and students’ peers can give powerful feedback during the entire writing process. Videos on this post show you how. Read more…

Student News Videos: An Alternative to Newsletters

If you really want parents to pay attention to your communication, have students write and present the news. This post takes you through the process of creating the videos. Read more…

Expat Educator Problem Solving 1Math Problem Solving Series: Classroom Procedures

Problem Solving skills are tricky to teach. This post began a five-part series on everything from procedures to assessments. Read more…

Are there any topics you’d like to discuss in the New Year? Please tell me in the comment box.

If you find these posts helpful, please consider subscribing to Expat Educator by adding your email address to the box below. You will be the first to get all the posts from 2013.

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Free Professional Development for Teachers

Expat Educator Free Professional Development

What do you want to do better in 2013? If professional development is on your resolution list, this post will give you a jump-start.

Consider using a bit of time over the next couple weeks diving into one or more of the professional development opportunities listed below.

Webinar Archives

If you are fascinated by curriculum (like me), you can spend hours visiting ASCD’a Archived Webinars. These webinars helped me better understand the American Common Core Standards. They helped me more clearly differentiate between standardized assessment and standardized instruction.

Another treasure can be found on the Virtual Cafe Archived Webinars wiki. You’ll meet librarians, media specialists, proponents of gamification in education, and experts in technology integration.

Simple K-12 webinars are popular enough to be noticed by many who nominate and vote for Edublog awards. You can sign up for 500+ free webinars and, if signed up, will be offered much more for an annual fee of $279. Watch the prices. At least once per year, the price drops about $100.

If you sign up to follow the Australia Series Blog, you will have access to weekly, live, free webinars on a range of topics. Most topics relate to technology integration. The downside is that these webinars are not archived – so you need to be available to access them at a time compatible with Australian time zones.

If Australian time zones are difficult, Teacher 2.0 and Classroom 2.0 offer a multitude of webinars accessible to the US time zones (usually 2:00-3:00 Eastern time). Again, these need to be accessed live (with some rare exceptions).

Conference Archives

OK2Ask has archives of video “snack” sessions. All online sessions and materials are provided by Teachers First, an ad-free cornucopia of practical resources for teachers.

Seminar Archives and Lectures

Math Teachers will appreciate NCTM eSeminars Anytime. You’ll find seminars on research intervention, common core implementation, and more.

TeacherCast recently tweeted about Academic Earth Video Lectures. These could be used for personal interests or for flipped classroom lessons.


Vital podcasts, videos, webinars, and resources are delivered by The Open University and part-funded by the Department for Education. On the site, Vital says it “aims to support practitioners in sharing their expertise and thus enhance the quality of teaching and learning.” Search by teaching level and subject to find topics relevant to your professional growth needs.

Laura Candler is very popular on the Teachers Pay Teachers site, but she has some free Livebinder resources available. Laura will periodically offer free resources to followers of Corkboard Connections.

Connected Online Communities of Practice (COCP) in cooperation with the U. S. Department of Education has contracted with the American Institutes for Research and five other organisations to declare August as Connected Educator Month. Archives of all webinars, sessions, and discussions are available.


Elizabeth Peterson from The Inspired Classroom lists some excellent podcasts to which you can subscribe.

Also check out the podcasts nominated for Edublog awards. You’re bound to find one or two that meet your professional development needs.

Teaching English

Shelly Terrell and TESOL team up to offer Free Friday Webinars Archive – a tremendous resource bank of ideas.

American TESOL has other webinars available as well.


Perhaps 2013 is the year you need to recharge or, as Shelly Terrell calls it, reboot. While the current challenge is #26 at the time of this posting, you can look back at previous goals. Can you meet all 30 by 2014?

What do you want to achieve in 2013? What free resources would you recommend? Please tell me in the comment box below.

If you find this resource list helpful, please consider subscribing by email to Expat Educator. You’ll get updates delivered to your inbox.

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A 20th Century Prophecy?

We tell our students that some stories are worth reading multiple times. We tell them that the same story can have different meanings as we age mature.

While on holiday, I challenge you to consider (or re-consider) a story that existed far earlier than MOOCs, Content Management Systems, or email. Consider the story in the light of blog posts you have read in 2012.

What message does this story hold for you in 2012? Please share in the comments.

Expat Educator Asimov

The Fun They Had

by Isaac Asimov

Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2157, she wrote, “Today, Tommy found a real book!”

It was a very old book. Margie’s grandfather once said that when he was a little boy his grandfather told him that there was a time when all stories were printed on paper.

They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving the way they were supposed to–on a screen, you know. And then, when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that it had had when they read it the first time.

“Gee,” said Tommy, “what a waste. When you’re through with the book, you just throw it away, I guess. Our television screen must have had a million books on it and it’s good for plenty more. I wouldn’t throw it away.”

“Same with mine,” said Margie. She was eleven and hadn’t seen as many telebooks as Tommy had. He was thirteen. She said, “Where did you find it?”

“In my house.” He pointed without looking, because he was busy reading. “In the attic.” “What’s it about?” “School.”

Margie was scornful. “School? What’s there to write about school? I hate school.”

Margie always hated school, but now she hated it more than ever. The mechanical teacher had been giving her test after test in geography and she had been doing worse and worse until her mother had shaken her head sorrowfully and sent for the County Inspector.

He was a round little man with a red face and a whole box of tools with dials and wires. He smiled at Margie and gave her an apple, then took the teacher apart. Margie had hoped he wouldn’t know how to put it together again, but he knew how all right, and, after an hour or so, there it was again, large and black and ugly, with a big screen on which all the lessons were shown and the questions were asked. That wasn’t so bad. The part Margie hated most was the slot where she had to put homework and test papers. She always had to write them out in a punch code they made her learn when she was six years old, and the mechanical teacher calculated the mark in no time.

The Inspector had smiled after he was finished and patted Margie’s head. He said to her mother, “It’s not the little girl’s fault, Mrs. Jones. I think the geography sector was geared a little too quick. Those things happen sometimes. I’ve slowed it up to an average ten-year level. Actually, the over-all pattern of her progress is quite satisfactory.” And he parted Margie’s head again.

Margie was disappointed. She had been hoping they would take the teacher away altogether. They had once taken Tommy’s teacher away for nearly a month because the history sector had blanked out completely.

So she said to Tommy, “Why would anyone write about school?”

Tommy looked at her with very superior eyes. “Because it’s not our kind of school, stupid. This is the old kind of school that they had hundreds and hundreds of years ago.” He added loftily, pronouncing the word carefully, “Centuries ago.”

Margie was hurt. “Well, I don’t know what kind of school they had all that time ago.” She read the book over his shoulder for a while, then said, “Anyway, they had a teacher.”

“Sure they had a teacher, but it wasn’t a regular teacher. It was a man.” “A man? How could a man be a teacher?” “Well, he just told the boys and girls things and gave them homework and asked them questions.” “A man isn’t smart enough.” “Sure he is. My father knows as much as my teacher.” “He can’t. A man can’t know as much as a teacher.” “He knows almost as much, I betcha.”

Margie wasn’t prepared to dispute that. She said, “1 wouldn’t want a strange man in my house to teach me.”

Tommy screamed with laughter. “You don’t know much, Margie. The teachers didn’t live in the house. They had a special building and all the kids went there.” “And all the kids learned the same thing?” “Sure, if they were the same age.”

“But my mother says a teacher has to be adjusted to fit the mind of each boy and girl it teaches and that each kid has to be taught differently.”

“Just the same they didn’t do it that way then. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read the book.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it,” Margie said quickly. She wanted to read about those funny schools.

They weren’t even half-finished when Margie’s mother called, “Margie! School!” Margie looked up. “Not yet, Mamma.”

“Now!” said Mrs. Jones. “And it’s probably time for Tommy, too.”

Margie said to Tommy, “Can I read the book some more with you after school?”

“Maybe,” he said nonchalantly. He walked away whistling, the dusty old book tucked beneath his arm.

Margie went into the schoolroom. It was right next to her bedroom, and the mechanical teacher was on and waiting for her. It was always on at the same time every day except Saturday and Sunday, because her mother said little girls learned better if they learned at regular hours.

The screen was lit up, and it said: “Today’s arithmetic lesson is on the addition of proper fractions. Please insert yesterday’s homework in the proper slot.”

Margie did so with a sigh. She was thinking about the old schools they had when her grandfather’s grandfather was a little boy. All the kids from the whole neighborhood came, laughing and shouting in the schoolyard, sitting together in the schoolroom, going home together at the end of the day. They learned the same things, so they could help one another on the homework and talk about it.

And the teachers were people…

The mechanical teacher was flashing on the screen: “When we add the fractions 1/2 and 1/4…”

Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had.

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How to Plan a Memorable Parent Night: Classroom Videos

Call it “Open House” or “Parent Night”, this one evening greatly influences the relationships you will have with parents.

Last year, I posted on how to get parents involved in Parent Night. Parent involvement keeps the night active. But, at the end of the night, parents want to see what their children are doing in school.


Videos help parents become a “fly on the wall”, watching their child’s typical school day. Below are two of the videos I used at this year’s Parent Night. (Note: Skips and gaps exist due to students being edited out of the videos. Parent permission was granted by all students represented in the videos below.)

Video Footage

Throughout the year, older students can have experience taking good pictures and gathering video footage. While establishing routines at the beginning of the year, it tends to be less hassle for you to take the video footage yourself. Also, a camera in the classroom works magic for classroom management.


Ask students, “Why do we study music?”

Blank stares usually follow. As far as many students are concerned, school consists of a series of random activities or tasks that teachers plan. It’s interesting to ask students to address on their video the reasons they study what they study.

The next question for the students: “What do you think our parents want to know?” This leads into an authentic discussion of voice and audience.

Finally, students should address both what they do and what they learn. Most groups miss one or the other unless it is highlighted. Why do we play math games? For what purposes do we use computers in the various subject areas?

Students usually want to open iMovie right away. Help instill the idea that “Content is King” by requiring scripts be approved before any video clips are imported into the movie-making program.

Group script-writing can be tricky. While students can create scripts on Google docs, the system backfired this year. Google docs works better for asynchronous work. Consider having each team member write a draft script on paper, compare scripts, and combine the best of the best into one script. You might also have one team member type for 15 minutes, then pass the script to another team member so that each member gets 15 minutes to add to the initial draft.

The key question for students: Does your final script address all the questions a group of parents might have about what we do and learn?

Choosing Video Clips

Consider breaking the script into three or four parts so that each child team member can work on a proportional part of the video. Putting together four mini-videos is easier and more time-efficient than trying to have four people work on one computer.

You may have noticed that, in the videos above, some clips were used numerous times. Oddly, students had close to 100 clips to choose from as they matched their scripts to pictures.

If possible, leave one or two days for editing and revision of videos so that students can discuss ways to keep this from happening.

Edits and Revisions

Some things you will want students to note for edits/revisions:

  • Are any clips repeated? What other clips might fit?
  • Do the pictures match the words?
  • If you have music or sounds, do they fit the tone of the presentation?
  • Are there any embarrassing moments that should be clipped out (i.e. nose-picking and such)?
  • Do you see any hand-waves or other gestures that don’t match the purpose of the presentation?
  • Are any volume adjustments needed?
  • What do you think about the pace of the film?
  • Have you kept last names out of the credits?


Parent evaluation forms indicate that they appreciate the students’ videos more than anything else. They see their children happily learning.

As the year progresses, the class will become more adept at creating quality multimedia presentations. Keep videos like the ones above. Show them again at the end of the year. The class will be able to see how far it has come!

What do you show parents when they come?

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Math: Challenge Students Before They Challenge You

“I’m done.”

The dreaded words.

You look the child in the eye and know that you can’t give them more of the same work. You can’t leave them with nothing to do. You can’t create something new while a handful of other students need help.

One of three things is possible when a student says “I’m done.”

  1. The student rushed through the work and will have to re-do at least part of it later.
  2. The student is a quick study. He or she truly understood the work in less time than most students.
  3. The student didn’t need the lesson in the first place. He or she already knew the material.

Giving students more of the same work does not address students’ needs in either of the three scenarios.

Yet finding new and interesting challenges is tricky. Challenges that seem interesting to you may induce eye-rolling or worse.

Resist the urge to assign more problems. Really. Resist. Keep a continuous list of “things you can do when you’re done” either on the board or in some other format. One of my favorite ideas is the “I’m Done, Now What?” board.

The key to a successful challenge: A choice of challenges.

Different Problems

Have a range of different problems available. Allow the quick learners to choose from a range of “extra” problems. Mark them on a scale from “some extra fun” to “diabolically difficult.” A fair amount of students really like working alone on worksheets. Give them the opportunity.


Make math games available. Everyday Math has a great boxed set of games for classes. Over time, create a drawer of game files. Ideally, some game options match the daily objective or overall goal(s) of the math unit. The social learners appreciate the opportunity to play learning games with friends.

Give students links to online games that match the lesson. Everyday Math has a list of games online. Challenge students to beat your high score. Students then begin discussing strategies – which gets them to authentically use mathematics vocabulary.


Let students consider entering math competitions. It may be worth the $39 fee to keep your extremely high math students engaged in an online math league challenge. A few students may want to work together to form a Math Olympiad team. Hoagies’ Gifted Education page has other ideas.

Intriguing Picture Dilemmas

Show students a picture that elicits questions. Ask pairs of students to formulate questions then work out answers to those questions. Dan Meyer has an archive of three-act videos that get students thinking deeply.

STEM Challenges (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)

Consider STEM challenges like the teapot challenge or the Pringle challenge. In these challenges, students create a container that can be used to safely transport a teapot or a Pringle by mail to another world location.


Let students choose a challenge to find the best cell phone plan or buy a car. Offer them the classroom arrangement challenge. What other challenges might you suggest?

Video or Multimedia Projects

Challenge students to make videos that will help other students with a math concept. In this way, students are using their learning to contribute to the learning needs of others. Show students a wide variety of common mistakes. The video should address concepts, algorithms, and common misconceptions.

How do you find or create all these options?
Get a team of people together, ideally colleagues. Spend a grade level meeting searching for resources. One teacher looks through books of challenge problems. Another looks for games. Still another searches for intriguing images.

If you’re already hiring a babysitter for your children, offer them an extra dollar amount for every great game they find related to a particular math topic.

Search the Teachers Pay Teachers site. It is likely that some other brilliant professional has created a resource to meet your needs.

Add at least one challenge to a unit every year. Any other suggestions to add to math challenge collections?

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