Category: Education reform

Build Empathy Among Students

It used to surprise me that it became the school’s job to teach empathy. Shouldn’t parents do that? The truth is it doesn’t always happen in homes. Since children spend much of their daylight hours in school, it is a logical place to reinforce empathy as a life skill.

Edsurge has an interesting article, How to build empathy among students, that shares one teacher’s experiences:

Lessons in empathy often are taught with a focus on the individual, rather than the collective community, writes Ka’ua Adams, a ninth-grade English teacher at Kealakehe High School in Kona, Hawaii. In this commentary, Adams suggests strengthening these lessons by shifting individual activities to collective ones and focusing on care instead of skills.

Read on… (may require a free membership)

Ask a Tech Teacher has covered this topic often in the past. Here are some articles you might like:


What is ‘Technical Math’?

The difficulties with engaging children in math learning grows each year. I have several articles coming up next week that discuss that issue (links won’t work until publication date):

What is ‘Technical Math’–December 10, 2021 (this article)

Returning to Rigorous Mathematics–December 16, 2021

Math Scores Drop Again–December 17, 2021

An excellent solution is to change the focus, teach kids what will be required. One of our Ask a Tech Teacher partners has a good article on that topic:

What Is Technical Math?

There’s an old joke about how kids are forced to learn algebra and trigonometry in school, but have no use for those subjects in real life. But in reality, that depends heavily on what kind of profession you choose to go into. A lot of professions you might think wouldn’t call for much math actually require it as a core skill set for certain trades, including plumbers, electricians, welders, and construction workers.

Why do trades like this require so much mathematics? These are supposed to be the jobs you don’t need extensive education for, right? Well, as it turns out, they’re not.

In fact, many technical trades require more math than some white-collar professions. Let’s look at welding, for example. To excel in their profession, a welder needs to understand and calculate concepts like material usage, which requires using fractions and sometimes algebra. They’ll also need to know how to use charts and graphs for some processes.

The same is true of construction workers, who must deal with equations, conversion of quantities, and taking measurements. In a typical workday, a construction worker may have to use equations to convert between units of measure, or use ratios to figure out the proportion of a roof’s length to its height. Getting some calculations wrong in construction work can have dangerous, if not deadly, consequences. In more advanced construction work (i.e. the jobs that pay well), they’ll even have to know some geometry.

The skills required for these sorts of jobs comes from a particular field, called “trade math” or “technical math.”


Artificial Intelligence in Education: Anecdotal Evidence

Artificial Intelligence has made its way into our classrooms. Good or bad, only time will tell but some early reports say there are some real positives about using AI-powered program to boost literacy. Here’s an article from Hechinger Report, a national nonprofit newsroom that reports only on education, that’s pretty interesting:

Can an AI tutor teach your child to read?

When Jaclyn Brown Wright took over as principal of Brewbaker Primary School in Montgomery, Alabama, she knew she needed to figure out a way to boost literacy rates. At Brewbaker, which in 2020 served more than 700 students in pre-K through second grade, nearly 20 percent of her students are English learners and 71 percent are economically disadvantaged. In 2019, a year before Brown Wright was hired, less than 20 percent of students were proficient on the school’s reading assessments, the principal said. Brown Wright knew the stakes were high: In Alabama, students can be held back if they are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Read on…

We’ve discussed artificial intelligence often at Ask a Tech Teacher. Here are a few articles you may find interesting:

Digital Assistants in the Classroom

8 Practical Ways to use AI in Learning


4 ways to use Tract in the classroom

If you haven’t heard of Tract, it’s a new way to inspire students to become lifelong learners. The platform focuses on student growth and learning rather than state or international standards (it does meet them–just don’t look for that in the detail). The purpose of its videos, hands-on projects, and more is to spark student creativity, empower them to explore their own passions at their own pace. Lessons are given by high school and college-age peers who clearly show their love of the subject. Students engage through tasks, projects, and peer interaction. Content is vetted, curated, and reviewed by teachers to ensure its educational rigor.

Click for a more detailed review of Tract or visit Tract’s website here.

When I dug into Tract, one (of many) pieces that appealed to me was how well it fit into so many parts of a student’s education journey. Here are a few of my favorites:

Afterschool program

It’s challenging to persuade students to think deeply, especially after a long day of learning. Using Tract as an afterschool program changes that. This can be a one-day activity or longer.

Here’s how it works:

  • Students pick a subject from the many offered by Tract, watch a peer-presented video on the subject (like how to make mac and cheese or what are some careers with animals), and complete a project which is shared with classmates.
  • If students are inspired to dig deeper than what is shown in the Tract learning path, you can have them research in the ways used in your school–online, classroom books, or something else.
  • When the project is finished, students present it to classmates, maybe parents, as an evening event, a virtual event, or during the program time.

Summer program

I often use student-choice activities in summer programs. They are student-directed, student-driven, and provide a plethora of differentiation for varied student interests. The problem is, too often, they become complicated to administer and confusing to follow. That won’t be the case with Tract. It offers plenty of choices to students, presented as an easy-to-understand step-by-step process that is intuitive and clear, and fulfills the platform’s promise to be inspiring and engaging.

Here’s what you do:

  • After students sign up for your summer class, ask them to pick either among Tract’s many learning paths or from a group suggest by you that fits the summer school theme.
  • Students can work individually or in groups as they dig into the topic and complete the project(s).
  • If students require it, offer training in video production for youngers or those not comfortable creating their own learning path.
  • Students present their completed missions to the group or parents.

Depending upon the length of the summer program, you can offer one or more learning path opportunities. This option is easily adapted to remote or hybrid learning because everything can be done online, including the presentations (using a platform like Google Meet or Zoom).

Enrichment program for high achievers

Enriched learning for high-achieving students, like GATE (Gifted and Talented), Honors, AP (Advanced Placement), and IB (International Baccalaureate), often requires teachers augment daily class activities with additional lesson plans and resources. Tract simplifies that process to where it barely takes any additional teacher time. Students who finish regular work select and pursue topics offered through the Tract platform that build student creativity, critical thinking, and independence.  Because these learning paths are intuitive and peer-to-peer, they require minimal adult guidance and give students considerable independence in their work.

Here’s how it works:

  • Students finish the regular curriculum requirements and then access the Tract Learning Paths to select one that appeals to them or one from a group suggested by the teacher.
  • Because these projects are designed to be student-driven, teachers can expect students to work independently at their own pace.

Tract is available online which means inside and outside the classroom, anywhere the student is. High-achieving students appreciate that learning isn’t confined to the four walls of the school building.

A nice side benefit: These projects are enticing enough that other students will want to try them. Of course they can, once they, too, finish the assigned work.

Develop SEL 

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process of developing the self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills that are vital for school, work, and life success. The importance of SEL has made it a sought-after add-on to a school’s curriculum. Unfortunately, too often when I talk to colleagues, SEL has become another layer on top of an already bursting education day. There are SEL curricula, rubrics, toolkits, videos, parent guidelines, and more. You’ll be happy to know if you’re enrolled in Tract, you don’t need any of those:

“Using Tract can help to promote the development of social-emotional learning skills as students become self-aware as they design their own project and track growth, build social awareness as they learn from their peers, and build relationships during the learning process.” – Rachelle Denè Poth, Getting Smart

The most effective way to develop social-emotional learning in students is to make it integral to their education. That’s what Tract does.


If you want to put project-based, peer-to-peer learning into practice, you’ve found the right platform with Tract. Be one of the first 1,000 to request access at Use the access code ASKATECHTEACHER to get your free Tract teacher account.

–This post is sponsored by Tract. All opinions are my own.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Tech to Help With Masks

The pandemic has changed teaching in many ways–remove vs. in-person vs. hybrid for one, the need for internet access in homes for another. Schools struggle to find the right technology to address these many changing needs. One that caught my eye was reported in The Dispatch–technology to address the sometimes garbled communication that results from speaking through masks. Here’s their interesting story:

New tech installed at SOCSD helps with teaching through masks

Starkville High School student Peyton Willoughby sat in his 10th grade English class Thursday not worried about struggling to hear his teacher because of new technology installed in the classroom.

As his teacher discussed poems and literary elements, information flowed throughout speakers across the entire room, giving Willoughby the assurance that he was obtaining all of the necessary material.

“For me, I really love (this new technology),” Willoughby said. “I think it’s absolutely amazing because the teacher can be up and vocal and moving around while still maintaining that audibility … it makes the teaching much more engaging and more enjoyable.”

Read on…

For more about teaching through COVID, here are a few more articles:

Teaching During COVID-19

Teaching Online During COVID-19

8 Ways Parents and Teachers Support Remote Teaching


SEL in Your Classroom

SmartBrief, news on technology in education, recently published an article, Uniting technology and SEL to teach the whole child, on the importance of SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) in an educational landscape shaped by COVID-19. In part, they shared:

Social-emotional learning is seeing a surge in mentions in the educational landscape. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic clearly illuminated the fact that academic growth and social and emotional wellness are interdependent and that educators must take into account the social and emotional aspects of a student’s reality as they consider academic development.

I know firsthand the power of SEL, both as a teacher and as a former student. I was born and raised in the rural mountains of North Carolina and was greatly influenced by a teacher who led with compassion. This educator forever changed my life because she saw “the whole child” — she recognized me as more than my abilities in reading and math. She saw me as a hurt child from a broken home, although it was the only home I knew, and knew she could help me reach my potential by engaging me on a social and emotional level.

Read on…

For more background on SEL, check out our article discussing “The Importance of SEL to Education Success“:


Life is much simpler when you — as a parent or teacher — can point to one solution for a problem, solve it, and everything is golden. Success in school was like that when grades were the barometer and studying harder was the tool. Now, we know academic achievement is much more complicated.

“Students are telling us there’s a big missing piece in their education” –John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic

Today’s educators realize learning has as much to do with academics as how students get along with themselves and others. This is called “Social Emotional Learning” or SEL. It’s akin to the importance of play in teaching preschool kids to socialize with others, develop tenacity, and learn respect for those around them. If you’re not convinced of the importance of SEL, here’s what students say:

“Students and young adults believe SEL schools would create a more positive social and learning environment” — report by the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

A positive attitude about themselves and others is linked to not only academic success but correlated to lessening the negative impact of future-ending problems such as drug use. It should surprise no one that as of mid-2018, two states have passed SEL measures, sixteen SEL-related bills and resolutions have been introduced, and twenty-three states are working on SEL standards.

    • What is SEL
    • Why teach SEL in schools
    • SEL exercises
    • SEL resources
    • Vocabulary
    • More

Read on…


Technology and Teaching: A Conversation with Teachers

Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Christian Miraglia, taught for 36 years before retiring. Here is Part 2 of his discussion on technology’s place in education:


Part II Technology is Here to Stay: A Conversation with Teachers

In my previous post, I wrote about the permanency of technology in the instructional setting for educators. Over the past weeks, I have spoken to a few educators about what has changed for them in this area. There is no doubt that the use of tech tools beyond the general record-keeping for attendance and grading has now found a footing in most classrooms around the nation. Some teachers who were initially hesitant to jump into the depths of technology integration find themselves fully immersed. Some who were on the proverbial edge of the diving board have been pushed into the pool and some have embraced the change with the excitement of a child playing with a new toy. 

I recently spoke with a fellow history teacher who has embraced the technology and been quite creative in the process. With a focus on the social-emotional component of instruction, he utilized a master Google Slide deck coupled with one of the Eduprotocols skills such as Number Mania or Iron Chef and the content he was covering. This procedure allowed him to see all of his students responding to the prompt and kept him connected to the students throughout the year. Taking the learning to another level as well as incorporating the 21st Century skill of communication, his students showed their parents an exhibit using Flipgrid they had built based on the unit essential question.  Without the use of this recording tool, the work would have been relegated to the school’s LMS as a click-through for the teacher. Moreover, with the exhibit being published, the student’s parents now had validation of their child’s work. Very powerful indeed.

Another teacher found that utilizing an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that was cloud-based gave her students round-the-clock access to work in their programming class instead of relying on a downloaded file to a school computer. In our current environment, this addresses the issue of student access to content extending beyond the limitations to work only done in between walls of the classrooms. 

In another conversation with a colleague of mine who is also a history teacher at the high school level, it was pointed out that because students were just glad to be back in a classroom setting they embraced any assignment that he pushed out. Because of the social distancing mandate in his district, it was important that he be strategic in his instructional strategy.  In the previous year of pandemic instruction, he explored how discussion panels could be used specifically using Canvas. He found that students were inclined to post well-thought responses as they looked forward to the feedback from their peers. The same collaborative approach was taken once students returned back to school in the summer utilizing the Eduprotocols. Once school started a couple of weeks ago with limitations on classroom movement students were able to collaborate on Google slides and communicate with each other by using the same strategy. More importantly, after students collaborated they had to report out on their choices. The selection of the strategy and technology tool was very intentional to create a more engaging environment as well as providing for a platform for the students learning experience. 

What is clear in these conversations is that these teachers have adapted and for the good. Providing more student agency, collaboration opportunities, and embracing the 21st Century Skills in this new environment has taken on new meaning. Purposeful selection of technology tools and platforms has become key. As the pandemic continues to affect educational institutions, teachers are becoming innovators in their strategies for instructional delivery. Yet as I read commentary on school openings and interact with teachers nationwide I hear a resounding cry for investment in professional development in these areas. Along with an investment should be a concrete plan for reviewing what is working in the classrooms and a commitment to training teachers in these platforms and applications. Technology is here to stay and is now very much part of teaching whether it be with delivery platforms or applications. The ultimate question remains, how does it affect student achievement?


Christian Miraglia is a recently retired 36 year educator and now Educational Technology Consultant at t4edtech where he also blogs. He can be found on Twitter @T4edtech and on his YouTube Channel Transformative Edtech.

@T4Edtech #edtech

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Does Mindfulness Make Your Class Better?


District Administration recently published an interesting article on how mindfulness creates kinder classrooms and reduces problematic behaviors by 18%. Click the link and check out their thoughts.

If you’d like background on Mindfulness, check our article published earlier on

How to Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Class

Students learn best when they are relaxed, happy, and feeling loved.  It is challenging to include those characteristics in classes when you are concurrently trying to achieve school goals, comply with curriculum timelines, juggle parent concerns, and blend your lessons with those of colleagues.

This is where mindfulness becomes important. It reminds teachers that the fulcrum for learning is the student’s emotional well-being.

Let’s back up a moment: What is mindfulness? Buddha said:

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

If that’s the plan, mindfulness is the path. It teaches students how to quiet themselves — get to a place where their mind is settled sufficiently to pay full attention to the task at hand. Experts offer many suggestions for incorporating mindfulness into your classroom experience. Consider:

  • pause and take a deep breath before beginning an activity or in the middle of performing it
  • reflect on an activity as a group
  • reflect on the student’s own experiences and background and how that relates to the topic

Delving into these rudimentary steps isn’t the goal of this article. Today, I’ll share five ideas on taking mindfulness to the next level in your classes:


Creative Options for Remote Learning

With schools closed for in-person learning and many children being educated at home, parents are scrambling for quality alternatives that work in a home environment. One of our Ask a Tech Teacher contributors has some ideas you may not have thought of:

How to Make Remote Learning Work For Your Children

Many parents are choosing to opt-out of traditional schooling, but the question of how to create a well-rounded curriculum or who to hire for this task is often the barrier that prevents at-home learning. In this article, we’ll help you make a decision by presenting popular remote learning options or childcare resources that can support homeschooling or non-traditional approaches.

Traditional Homeschooling

Homeschooling is a progressive movement where parents educate their children instead of sending them to public or private schools. Families will choose this option for various reasons, including dissatisfaction with public education, constant relocation, or a bad social environment. 

Some of the many positives of homeschooling your children include:

  • Home-educated children score 15 to 30 percentile points higher than other students.
  • Homeschooled children get accepted by colleges at a higher rate than other students.
  • Homeschool helps children develop better social skills than their public school peers.
  • Special needs children receive a significantly higher level of education on average.
  • Adults who were homeschooled are more politically tolerant and happier on average.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but the legal requirements for this education option vary from place to place. If you’re in the process of pulling your children out of public education, you’ll need to write a letter of withdrawal to the school board that describes your intent to homeschool.

There are many curriculum options available for parents. As long as your curriculum of choice follows the requirements of your state, they can apply for college once they graduate. Parents don’t need a formal teaching degree to qualify as homeschool teachers. It may be beneficial for you to take an online course that goes over teaching fundamentals and how to run a classroom.


Technology is Here to Stay: Now What?

Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Christian Miraglia, taught for 36 years before retiring. He has some interesting reflections on technology’s place in education:


Remember the days of Oregon Trail on the old Apple IIe’s or students drawing pictures with Kid Pix. Much has changed since technology has made inroads into education, and much has not.  I recently retired from public school teaching after thirty-six years as both a US History teacher and TOSA. I dedicated much of my career to finding the appropriate role of technology in the classroom. Although the pedagogy of utilizing technology was not readily available in the early 1990s for educators, it is ever-present today. Companies with a vested interest in their products publish studies touting their applications. I tend to favor independent studies on technology use which take a more balanced approach. However, one thing seems to be lacking: the input of users who will integrate these products in their daily lessons. 

Those first years of the excitement of having a computer for one class in which students would perform of what we would consider a primitive use of gaming seemed so distant. Many platforms offer a more advanced gaming process that builds student vocabulary or is more engaging today. Edudadoo, Endless Alphabet, Spelling City are just a few. Applications on readily available for Chromebooks, IOS, and Microsoft platforms. Integrations into delivery platforms abound. The ongoing debate on whether to use Pear Deck or NearPod is one that I am familiar with. The question arises,  “How does one know if the applications have an impact on student learning?”

My approach was to pilot any software application, if possible, for at least 90 days. Most companies offer such opportunities. Although not a data scientist, I documented how the students interacted with the platform. Typically students enjoyed the novelty of something new and exciting, especially if the tools allowed them to become more than passive participants. However, I made sure that students understood that this was a new integration, and it was vital for them to provide feedback on the platform.  I remember one particular platform a couple of years ago that had a draw option.  Being integrated into my delivery platform, and the students asked if I could incorporate it daily. I had to consider whether the function was more of a distraction because they could spend time drawing or representing learning ideas in my history classroom. After at least 30 days of usage, I concluded that the platform had some perks that enhanced student learning. Not only was I involved in the process, but I utilized student input via a brief survey. Student agency can occur at any level of instruction, including technology integration.