A Piece of My Mind

my ideas, thoughts, experiences, and lessons learned in education

Be a Part of Our Family Experience

February 11, 2014 by · 1 Comment · Random Thoughts

Hope you don’t mind if I stray from my normal topics for a post…..

As many of you know, my family is headed to China soon to adopt a little girl. My son has been capturing video at family events and baby showers to put together a montage for my wife and Alexis (our new little girl). At the last shower, he asked everyone in attendance if they would take a few seconds and record something to share with Alexis, be it well wishes, wisdom, etc.

If you’re interested in being a part of our project, I’d appreciate you recording a short video piece and sharing it with me in some fashion. More than likely, putting it in Dropbox or Google Drive and sending me a link will be the best options. Catch me on Twitter if you have any questions. If you’re one of our local friends, we can swing by with the camera and shoot the piece, too.

Christian and I both would love to have you help us out with this. We want Alexis to see all of the people who are important in our lives.

There’s This

January 31, 2014 by · 2 Comments · Classroom Tools, Math, Science, Teaching

There are just so many awesome educators out there who go above and beyond to engage their students in the learning process. Watch the videos below, but be sure you watch THIS VIDEO as well. It will not let me embed it, but it is well worth your time. Great stuff. And be sure to follow Heath on Twitter.

What we need is a movement!

January 5, 2014 by · No Comments · Leadership, Learning, Random Thoughts, Teaching

If you’ve never taken the time to listen to Sir Ken Robinson speak on education, please do that now. While his talk is roughly 19 minutes, it goes quickly. He sprinkles in humor amongst the seriousness of the need for change in education. The evidence he points to should encourage the educated decision makers to right the ship, but it falls on deaf ears. Folks, educators can want change. Educators can study change. Educators can even implement bits of change. What they cannot do on a full scale, is wipe the slate clean and start again in the right direction. Well, they can, but they need parents to begin the movement. Until the parents (taxpayers and voters) stand in unison, we will continue to wring every ounce of love for learning right out of our children all in the name of test scores.

Listen to Sir Ken’s ideas. We can start with one paradigm shift. He repeats one that I have been sharing with the Texas Legislature since I testified before an interim committee in 2007: make the test a diagnostic tool instead of a high stakes weapon. Then, we can actually put the $100 million a year we spend with Pearson to good use. Oddly enough, the one committee member who didn’t like the idea was Pearson’s lobbyist. Not sure how him sitting on a legislative panel doesn’t qualify as a conflict of interest, but who am I to judge?


Massive #FAIL. AKA: Never give up

August 27, 2013 by · 5 Comments · Classroom Tools, Elementary, Learning, Secondary, Teaching

Photo Credit: flickr user deeplifequotes

It all seemed easy enough. Christian had spent weeks putting together a 20+ minute iMovie on his iPad using the iMovie app. Basically, it was a BUNCH of pictures we took on our 10 day father-son Montana/Canada fly fishing trip that he ordered and narrated. He was ready to upload it to YouTube for embedding on his blog. Easy enough, right? Well, not so much. What should have been a 15 minute process turned into a day of problem solving.

First of all, Christian broke rule number 1 of any media creation: he deleted his source material before he published the final draft. In his defense, he didn’t know. He wanted to see the preview in iMovie, and to see a higher quality of it, he needed to clear more space on his iPad. So he did what many would do and deleted the pictures he didn’t need. After all, he already put them in his video. Right? Not so much. For those not in the know, you are really only putting a shortcut in the software to the media. You are not putting the media in. Delete your source material, and you have a bunch of blank spots in the video.

What confused him, though, is that the iMovie app showed him a little lower quality preview with all of the pics in place. It would have confused me, too. Keep this in mind: the original files are still not there. Lesson learned on his part.

Since he was seeing it in the preview, I thought maybe it did something different than other video editing software programs and decided to just push it up to YouTube. Fail. His GAFE account limited him to 15 minute max videos. So, I used my GAFE account. It said I was limited to 15 minutes, although I knew that wasn’t true. I swapped to my GMail account. Same problem. This tells me that the iMovie app is set to think all YouTube accounts have a 15 minute max video length. That’s a horrible setting inside the iMovie app, but we have to live within it. Lesson number 2 on the day.

I swapped to my Vimeo account. Another fail. It said I had a 500MB max upload size on my account. That might be true. I don’t know. I don’t use it that much. But, I do have a PRO Vimeo account we use to post higher end, longer videos. It is unlimited, so I figured I could push the video to that, download it to my MacBook, push it to my YouTube account, and then embed it in his blog. (Keep in mind, it would not let me go straight to YouTube.) Failure. Again. It said I had the same limit as my regular account. Lesson number 3 on the day: the iMovie app sees all Vimeo accounts as limited. Another weakness of the iMovie app.

My last option (or so I thought) was to just move the iMovie file to iTunes and open it in iMovie on my Air and push it out from there. Easy enough. Wrong. Lesson number 4 on the day is a loop back to Lesson number one: don’t delete the media before you publish. All I got in iMovie on my Air was a lot of black and no pics. The narration was still stellar, but that was no consolation to him. I did learn how to do this process for the first time as I had never tried it before, so that might be a win.

At this point, I went to lunch. I took him and my wife to Pizza Hut to try to get a mental break. After what amounted to two large pizzas worth of slices from the buffet, we were ready to get back to the problem at hand. On the way back to the office, he and I were running through what worked and what didn’t. He mentioned that he still didn’t get why he could watch the preview on the iPad in iMovie app and see everything there even though he deleted the media. It was something I still cannot explain to him. But, this conversation led me to think of a solution. Hence, Lesson 5 on the day.

I got to thinking. If Christian could see his preview full screen, then why not stream it to my Air via Reflector app and do the screen recording option in Reflector? It would kick it out in an MOV file (or similar) that I could put in iMovie and edit if needed. At this point, I was thinking it might work and I would just have to add the narration track to it somehow. After 22 minutes and 7 seconds, Christian and I learned Lesson number 5 on the day: Reflector did an excellent job on a long video.

When we watched the video being played back after the lengthy rendering (about 45 minutes), we got the added bonus of Lesson number 6 on the day: the audio came through like a champ. Reflector pulls in the audio built into whatever is streaming. It does not record conversation around the devices, but it does record what audio comes from the iPad. Thank you, Lord.

From that point, we just pushed the file to my YouTube account and embedded it in his blog. He’s happy. Mom’s happy. I’m ecstatic. It was the best possible outcome to what could have been a horrid lesson to him about video editing. It’s a lot of work to create a good piece of media, and it’s heartbreaking to not have it work out and have to redo it. That’s not high on a 12 year old’s list of things to do. In the end, the good Lord was smiling on us and we are now published. I’d embed it here, but he needs to see people actually do read his blog. Jump over there and take a look when you get a chance. 20 minutes is long, but it’s nowhere near as long as our day was trying to get it to this final stage.

As Audri says, “If you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

iHeart Devices Presentation Resources

August 8, 2013 by · 1 Comment · Conferences, Presentations

iHeartDevicesAs promised, here are the resources I promised during my session Thursday. I hope they help guide you through the process of utilizing your iOS devices as part of the storytelling process. Publish your work. Publish the kids’ work. Everyone can use a global audience to provide feedback and encouragement.

Using your iPad to shoot video & upload to YouTube plus QR Code

How-To: Upload your video from the iPad to YouTube & embed it in your blog

Movie Trailers on the iPad - Jim Gates

Filming with mobile devices - Royan Lee

45 Interesting ways to use your pocket camera in the classroom

Engaging Learners through Digital Storytelling: 40+ Resources & Tips

iPad Publishing in the Digital Era


iMovie for iPad – Storyboard help sheets for trailers

Digital Storytelling with the iPad


Creating Book Trailers with iMovie and iPads

Create an Online Radio Show with Spreaker DJ for iPad

Search Creative Commons Licensed works

Videos used in the presentation (not in above links):

Case File 13: Zombie Kid - thecdfloyd

Call Me Maybe Josh Davis - Samantha Reid

Melted crayon art - ChloeM

Three Beats for Beatbox Flute Movement I by Greg Pattillo - jeeminiii

The Shining (happy version) – Rob Miller





Truth. It hurts sometimes.

May 6, 2013 by · 2 Comments · Random Thoughts

Dare to Imagine

May 1, 2013 by · No Comments · Random Thoughts

An abundance of anything can stifle imagination. Hmmm.

An Academy Award nomination….from an iPhone

April 26, 2013 by · 2 Comments · Classroom Tools, Elementary, Secondary

When this film maker ran out of money, he turned to the $2 8mm Vintage Camera app on his iPhone to finish up. So, why aren’t your kids turning out media content with those iPods?


Why is it always about money and failure?

February 27, 2013 by · No Comments · Leadership, Learning, Politics

159/365. Agony.<rant>

I am growing increasingly tired of the lies, misrepresentations, and half truths being spewed in Austin about public education during our Texas Legislative cycle. The pro-public ed side says we need more money. The anti-public ed side says schools are failing, teachers suck, admins get paid too much, schools waste money, and we need more tests. The anti-public ed side says we need more charter schools (nobody talks about the number of failing charters)  and offer vouchers (nobody talks about the exclusivity of private schools or requiring those who accept vouchers to follow TX mandates). It’s all about rhetoric and personal gain from their business ties. It’s not about the kids.

Everyone paints with very broad brushes. Nobody wants to pay attention to the fine details needed to move education to the next level where we are graduating college and career ready students at a high rate.

Will someone ask the most foundational of questions and build from that point?

How do kids learn best?

Let’s progress from there. </rant>

Photo Credit: Anant N S

I’m just not sure he gets it completely

January 11, 2013 by · No Comments · Politics, Random Thoughts

Listen in on TribLive and Evan Smith’s interview with TEA Commissioner Michael Williams:


To answer the question of why Exemplary schools spend $1000 more per student than unacceptable schools, Williams says the reason some schools are Exemplary and some are unacceptable is based on the makeup of the students. “It’s not the dollars. It’s the characteristics of the youngsters we’re trying to train.” So….. it’s the dollars.  What am I missing here? It is about Equity across the board.

His “answers“:

  • Closing racial achievement gap. (Me: not a problem schools can solve at home and costs lots of money at schools via individual tutoring, smaller class sizes, special remediation, etc. You cannot catch kids up by pouring them into giant classes and not individualizing their instruction. That’s what the rich kids get on top of pressure from home life to be successful at school.)
  • “Put world class instruction in front of every youngster in every classroom.” (Me: costs money to train/retrain)
  • Early school readiness. (Me: Money!)
  • More time in class and not in AEP. (Me: This is as much a family issue as it is a school issue)
  • “Do more things better/faster/cheaper.” (Me: Really? This is based on his experience from what? Teachers are on burnout mode already. There are only so many hours in the day for so many kids per teacher. Toss on the massive amounts of documentation required for most kids these days, you have to add instructional staff.)


  • gave first speech in 1990 promoting choice
  • developed school choice proposal in 1991
  • “I won’t be promoting choice in the halls of the Capitol.”
  • “We will answer the implementation questions.”
  • On accountability structure for private schools question: “We are not doing any work in the building on school choice.”

“We have TX college readiness scores around 30%.” (Me: Where should this number be and who decides that? Why should every kid be “college ready.” I like the idea of the foundational body of knowledge, but that’s not college ready.)

Williams blames local school districts for too much testing. (Me: To think that benchmarking shouldn’t be a part of state testing shows his lack of understanding of student progress. He also fails to realize that federal law requires regular monitoring of ALL students via probes and benchmarks for RTI identification. Even if he knows it, leaving it out in his comments is tantamount to misrepresentation of the facts.)