Category Archives: Teaching Practice

“There Will Always Be an Overhead.”

Marcy Hannula — a fantastic teacher and friend who has challenged my practice for the better part of a decade — was cleaning out her professional library the other day when she stumbled across a chapter in a book on computers in the classroom.

The graphic below caught her eye because she knew it would rile me up.  See if you can figure out why it drives me completely crazy:

(click to enlarge)

Overhead Projector

Have you figured out what it is inside the text that rubs me the wrong way?

It’s not the suggestion that overhead projectors would be around for “many generations to come” or that overheads have always been “a much loved tool” of teachers.  It’s not even the suggestion that overheads “have undergone a metamorphosis” as teachers use tools like PowerPoint to “make their transparencies more effective.”

It’s the tacit suggestion that the primary job of classroom teachers is to communicate information to the kids in their classrooms.

What frightens me the most is that while we may have pushed our overhead projectors aside, we are STILL hell-bent on finding new digital tools that can make it easier to deliver information to the kids in our classrooms.  Teaching — which ISN’T synonymous with learning — still stands at the forefront of the work that we do in our schools each day.  We still control what our students study.  We still control the questions that are asked and the ideas that are shared in our classrooms.  And we still control the steps that students take and the pace that those steps are taken through our “courses of study.”

Isn’t it time that we retire “content delivery” as an instructional priority?

In an era where instant access to ideas and opportunities is nothing more than an internet connection away, shouldn’t we be working to create learning spaces that encourage students to discover essential truths — about themselves and about the world around them?  And if discovery really is more important than delivery, shouldn’t we be investing in technologies that allow teachers and students to challenge the existing structures of schools instead of using our purchases to reinforce the status quo?

Worth thinking about, right?


Helping Students be Comfortable with NOT Knowing [ACTIVITY]

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

Note to Principals:  STOP Spending Money on Technology


I’m Planning a Pokemon Go Rally for My Middle Schoolers

I have a confession to make:  I spent the first two weeks of July rolling my eyes as I read article after article in my social stream about the “transformational power of Pokemon Go.”  I had the app on my phone, I’d caught more than a few Pidgeys, and hit up more than a few Poke stops — but to me, there was nothing truly transformational about it.  In fact, I was pretty sure that I’d delete the app before school even started.

But then I showed it to my seven year old daughter, and she was hooked!

Something about the clever monster names, colors and actions caught her attention and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has enriched our lives.  Each day, the first thing she asks me is, “Dad, want to go for a walk and catch some Pokemon?!”  Those moments together are worth everything to me — including the extra $25/month I had to plunk down because I blew up my data plan.

And when my sixth graders started school on Monday,  I realized that I just couldn’t ignore Pokemon this year.  As soon as I mentioned that I was a Level 16 trainer with a pretty hyped up Vaporeon, stories started.  “Oh yeah?  Well I have two Snorlaxes!” said one girl.  “My dad wasted like 15 Poke balls on a Pidgeotto.  He stinks” said another.  Needless to say, catching Pokemon is well and truly a middle school craze — and that makes it worth exploring.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I STILL don’t think there’s anything transformational about chasing imaginary pocket monsters around.  Pokemon Go ISN’T the silver bullet that we’ve all been waiting for to save education.

But I have hatched a plan to use it as a fun team building activity.  In just a few short weeks, I’m going to host my first ever Pokemon Go Rally.  

Here’s the handout:

Handout – Pokemon Go Rally

The basic plan is to invite parents and their kids to work together in teams to catch Pokemon at a local hot spot that offers free Wifi.  My guess is that our first rally will happen at the local mall, given that it is like 105 degrees outside here in North Carolina.  To make the game more challenging and to encourage strategic thinking, I’m limiting:

  • The time that players have to capture Pokemon.
  • The number of Poke Balls that they can use during the rally.
  • The extras — incense, lucky eggs, lures — that can be used to increase capture rates.

I’m also awarding bonus points for a range of different captures.  Participants who hatch the most eggs or catch the most Rattatas can earn a huge bump to their final point tallies. 

All of these limiting factors will force participants to think critically about their choices.  If you have only 60 Poke balls, can you really burn four of them trying to catch a Pidgey with a Combat Power of 30?  If hatching an egg is worth 100 bonus points, would walking further be a better strategy than hanging out at a Poke stop where a lure has been set to catch whatever happens to show up?  Will staying in the well-trafficked areas of the Rally Grounds be a better strategy than traveling as much ground as possible to get away from the other teams who are playing?

In the end, I’m hoping to get a ton of parents and kids to come out and play together for an hour.  If it works, it will be an easy way to build a bit of team spirit.  Better yet, it will be easy to replicate.  All I’ll need is a list of public spaces with free Wifi!

Can you see my unique technology lens here?  What matters to me is building a classroom community by bringing people together for a shared experience.  Pokemon Go makes that possible.  My goal is driving my technology choices — not the other way around.

Technology is a tool.  Not a learning outcome.

So whaddya’ think?  I know this isn’t transformational, but is it worthwhile?  Is it something you’d think about doing?

Looking forward to your feedback.


Related Radical Reads:

Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

More on Technology is a Tool.  Not a Learning Outcome.

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks.  Not your TECH Geeks.




Edpuzzle Just Made Transitioning from Zaption Simple.

A few weeks back, I shared an example of digital resilience here on the Radical when I learned that Zaption — one of my favorite tools for creating digital tutorials for my students — was going out of business in early September.  

To be honest, I was devastated.  Zaption tutorials have become the first step that I take in my classroom whenever I want to reteach individual concepts to my students or to provide enrichment for kids who are ready to move on before our lessons even begin.  Stated more simply, Zaption tutorials made differentiation doable — and I had invested a ton of time and energy into creating tutorials on dozens of topics connected to my required curriculum.  Losing that work was hard to imagine.

That’s when I stumbled across Edpuzzle — a service that makes it possible for users to create the same kinds of digital tutorials.  Better yet, Edpuzzle is seamlessly integrated with Google Classroom — making it possible for users to import their class rosters, assign content, and track progress back and forth between the two platforms.  For a guy like me working in a Google Apps for Education district, that is an awesome feature that Zaption didn’t offer.

After tinkering with Edpuzzle for just a few minutes, I knew that I’d found a great replacement for Zaption.  Creating videos and tracking progress is just as easy in Edpuzzle as it was in Zaption. Edpuzzle users can also ask the same kinds of questions and include the same kinds of content in their digital tutorials as Zaption users.  In fact, the final products made possible by Edpuzzle are nearly identical to the final products made possible by Zaption.

The only hitch:  I wasn’t all that excited about recreating the 30+ tutorials that I had stored over in Zaption.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.

That’s when Edpuzzle saved the day yet again, dropping me a message in Twitter that pointed me to a new feature that they’d just finished developing:  One click transitioning from Zaption to Edpuzzle.

Here’s the details:


Do you see how ridiculously valuable that is to Zaption users like me?

Thanks to the work of the folks over at Edpuzzle, losing Zaption isn’t going to hurt me at all.  By making it possible to automatically import my Zaption content into their service, Edpuzzle has saved me a ton of time AND made it possible for me to continue providing differentiated learning experiences for the kids in my classroom.  That matters.



Related Radical Reads:

Goodbye Zaption. Hello Edpuzzle.

Zaption Makes Differentiation Doable

Being Digitally Resilient

In Celebration of Teaching Geeks


Simple Truth: Kids Want to Be Noticed.

Back at the end of April, I decided to spend a few minutes each day writing positive notes to the parents of every student on my learning team.  It was a simple idea, driven by the stark reality that the only time parents ever heard from me was when their child had dropped the ball academically or socially.  My goal:  To make sure that the parents of my students knew that their kids were valued.

So I sat down during my lunch period and wrote to two students per day for just over two months to get through my entire middle school roster.  

What I learned first was that the notes I was writing were having as much of an impact on me as they were on my students and their parents.  Intentionally writing about the positives that I saw in students meant that I was always looking for those positives — and spotting positives put me in a different frame of mind every day.

More importantly, consistently spotting positives tempered my reaction when students made poor choices in class.  It’s easier to coach a kid that you believe in than it is one that you’ve grown frustrated with — and believing in kids is easier when you are writing about their successes every single day.

What really blew me away, though, was the reaction that my students had to the letters that I was writing.

They knew that if I handed them an envelope, it was a positive letter celebrating their strengths — and almost without fail, they opened it immediately to see what I had written.  I loved watching their reactions.  They’d start with serious looks on their faces, not quite sure what to expect.  Then, they’d inevitably sit a little taller, put their cards back in the envelope, and smile.

Wanting to know more about the impact that positive notes had on my students, I had them answer a simple question for me in Socrative last week:  Should Mr. Ferriter continue writing to his students next year?  Did you appreciate receiving your letter?  Why/Why Not?

What I learned from their responses was SUPER instructive.  Many students talked about enjoying the anticipation that came along with waiting to receive their notes from me.  They knew that I was going to celebrate something that I’d seen in them and they couldn’t wait to find out what that “something” was going to be.  They also totally dug their parents’ reactions to their letters.    “We had a whole family meeting about my letter!” one boy wrote.  “Mine ended up on Facebook,” said another.  “I don’t even know what my mom did with it,” said a third.  “It’s probably in that box of special things she keeps about me.”

But the message shared over and over again was that my kids just appreciated being noticed.  Read some of these comments:

It was nice to know that the teachers actually pay attention to you and notice you. This shows that the teacher appreciates everyone and not just a few students. I really appreciated the letter because I knew Mr. Ferriter cared when I got it.

I apprecated getting my letter because I don’t ever get bad reports from school, I just rarely get anything. This helps my parents and I hear something from school other than numbers and gives a more personal aspect to that.

Its nice for the kids and their parents to receive something almost like a reward for being a good student. Sometimes, the only students who get “recognized” for good things are the kids who normally do bad things whereas its expected from the other kids.

I really did appreciate it because usually you never know where you stand with a teacher and it gives you a kind’ve confudent boost.

I felt appreciated when he wrote the letter to me. And it made me feel proud about myself that I’ve been working hard in science this year and have been paying attention in science class.

I think you should definitely keep doing these because sometimes I don’t always feel like I am doing the best or even that I am noticed in class, but this definitely reassured me that I am doing good and hopefully it will help brighten other kids and let them know you appreciate our effort and work. 🙂

That was an eye opener for me, y’all.

I knew that making every child feel noticed was an uphill battle — particularly in a middle school where I serve 100+ students in 55-minute class periods every single day.  But I never realized just how much feeling noticed mattered to my kids.  To hear student after student talk about how good it felt to realize that I was noticing all that was unique about them was the evidence that I needed to prove that the time I spent writing this year was more than worthwhile.

My only change for next year:  I’m going to start writing during the first quarter!  With luck, I’ll be able to write to every kid at least twice before the year ends.


Related Radical Reads:

When Was the Last Time You Wrote a Positive Note Home to Parents?

This is Why I Teach:  They Make Cards

This is Why I Teach:  Individual Moments Matter


Lessons Learned from a Decade of Blogging

Are you ready for a truly startling statistic?

This is the 1,000 post that I’ve written on the Radical.


If you would have asked me nine years ago what I hoped to get out of blogging, I probably would have told you that my goal was to elevate teacher voice into important conversations on educational policy.  I probably would have told you that I wanted to prove to critics of our profession that folks who choose to make a career in the classroom CAN be experts on everything from school leadership to instructional techniques.  I probably would have told you that I wanted to give readers a better picture of what happens inside our nation’s classrooms every single day.

And my guess is that I’ve accomplished most of those outward-facing goals.  I’ve written extensively about the impact that the policy decisions — think No Child Left Behind, Merit Pay, and Race to the Top — passed over the course of the last decade  have had on my classroom.  I’ve pushed for teacher leadership and professional learning communities and other strategies that empower practitioners.  And I’ve shared countless handouts and lessons in an attempt to help readers improve their teaching or the teaching of the colleagues that they support.

But if you asked me today why I continue to write, I wouldn’t list any of those goals.

Instead, I’d tell you that:

I continue to write because writing gives me weekly opportunities to reflect:

Over the last ten years, I’ve fallen into a pretty comfortable routine — sitting down every Friday night and/or Saturday morning to write for a few hours.  Those hours are selfish moments of reflection for me.  Trying to put my thoughts about issues or instructional practices or policy decisions or my position within this profession into words forces me to think carefully and to polish my thoughts.  Sure, I walk away from the keyboard with a new post a few times a week.  But I also walk away from the keyboard with a better understanding of my own core beliefs about the true nature of teaching and learning.

I continue to write because I see it as my responsibility to give back to the educational commmunity:

One of the things that blows my mind about being an educator in today’s day and age is JUST how easy it is to find valuable resources and ideas.  Gone are the times when finding new lessons or materials was a time-consuming process of ripping through someone else’s file cabinet or subscribing to Mailbox magazine.  Instead, great ideas are a few digital clicks through our Pinterest pages or Twitterstreams away.

But what many forget is that those great ideas aren’t magically dropping out of the sky.  They are being shared by regular people just like you and I who are willingly giving away their best thinking in order to improve education.  The way I see it, if I am going to take from that well of shared knowledge, I have an obligation to give back.  Each post I write is my contribution.

I continue to write because transparency keeps me tempered:

Calling myself the “Tempered Radical” isn’t a mistake.  In fact — as I explained in the very first post written here on my blog — I don’t think there could be a more accurate description of who it is that I want to be.  Being radical comes easy for me.  I am a guy who makes up his mind quickly and is ready to move forward whether you are willing to come with me or not.  I’m also always ready to tell you what I think whether you like it or not.

The hitch is that in my haste to push forward, I often fail to think through all sides of important issues or to listen to people who disagree.  Everything becomes black and white to me.  Merit pay?  Terrible idea.  Race to the Top?  Failing America.  People who work beyond the classroom?  Not as important as us teacher types.  North Carolina’s legislators?  Don’t get me started.

I can’t get away with that here on the Radical.  Take a one-sided stance online and you’ll hear about it pretty darn quickly.  That means when I’m writing about controversial topics or issues, I’m far more thoughtful than I am when I’m shooting the breeze with my buddies over beers.  My positions are more measured and I’m intentional about looking at things from more than one angle.  That matters, y’all.  Not only does it make MY VOICE more powerful because it is reasoned, it makes ME more powerful because I see value in tempered positions.

Long story short:  The most important lesson that I’ve learned in a decade worth of writing here on the Radical is that blogging isn’t about voice or audience or influence in our profession at all.  Instead, it’s about reflection and making contributions and learning through thinking. 

And I can’t wait to do more of it


Related Radical Reads:

So You Found Me

The Digital Equivalent of Strip Malls

Lessons Learned from an Amazing Group of Student Bloggers